The polemicizing themes chosen by the committee members of both The Scattered Pelican and the Comparative Literature/Theory and Criticism/Hispanic Studies Graduate Conference at Western University emphasize an important point: students working in interdisciplinary fields feel an increasing need to engage with the political, economic, and social upheavals that they are exposed to on a daily basis. Being a graduate student in the humanities—even in a (Canadian) context that still provides some much-needed shelter, especially for those among us who are immigrants, in real life or in imagination—no longer offers the kind of intellectual bubble or academic cocoon that used to foster academic development exclusively through explorations of ideas in the abstract. In spite of what many critics in the media have been spilling ink on lately, young academics are, for the most part, interested in the world and in touch with life outside of their immediate intellectual circles.
More poignantly, the whole outside/inside dialectic—equating studies, research, and polemics in humanistic fields with elitist privilege and awkwardly utopic ideas and discourses, supposedly self-reproducing and incestuous—is nothing but an attempt to dismiss some uncomfortable truths that radical scholars have been pointing out. Truths such as the increasingly precarious conditions (in the most materialistic sense possible) that have come to characterize academia, the growing divide between established and upcoming scholars, and the relentless shift towards intellectually neutered thought, justified by appeals to employability and positive thinking. For better and for worse, the world and its markets have long breached the ramparts of the academic castles, and nobody is more aware of the resulting paradoxes than those working in interdisciplinary fields.
The constant attack on theoretical and literary research as elitist and removed from reality, the condemnation of aesthetics as “irrelevant” and “high-brow”, and many such dismissing sneers are, then, nothing more than expressions of the will to domination; the latter phenomenon is nothing new, neither in general nor when it comes to interdisciplinary thinking (see Judith Butler’s discussion in the 1999 preface to Gender Trouble). However, instead of preaching for a unified, tranquilized field, we strongly believe that conflicts and quarrels are needed—when carried out in a manner that does not involve whiplashes of authority. In fact, not only can multiple schools of criticism coexist—even if theirs is a contiguity by bayonet—but the tensions arising out of their polemical proximity tend to produce some of the brightest intellectual sparks.
Imagine, then, a community premised on heterogeneity and difference rather than sameness: not a fuzzy one of smiling consumers holding hands as they gallop towards their future pay-checks but an embattled community of the wounded and the hopeful. Imagine a different kind of no-fly zone, where metaphorical Molotov cocktails are constantly thrown from square to square, lighting up the path for all to walk. A carnivalesque and Babbel-like bubble, where pregnant horses are welcomed with curiosity rather than with fear and pitchforks. Maybe the intruders would still bloody our ranks and the Molotov cocktails burn down our fortresses, but it is also possible that, at least for a mere instant, unconditioned thought would triumph over the gnashing of teeth. Let there be no-fly zones, let there be dreaming, and let the dreamers fight and laugh and cry, for it is those who scorn that are incarcerated within the prisons of their own making.