Welcome to 2021. The year where embracing the fact of unpredictability (in our so-considered highly predictable world) might just help us through, and where I might just make it to the big three-zero.
There's no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.
— Gilles Deleuze
This year opened for me with a collaboration that indulged one of my greatest, secret loves. Most of you will know me for my writings. Lesser-known is my double life as an editor. This latter function is joyous for two reasons:
Its implicit invisibility and absence of limelight (writing is pain, editing—and being edited—is pleasure).
Its sense of the writer-editor team coming together in service of the work.
This piece by novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard for the Paris Review describes the writer’s own view of the role, and his relation to, the editor in words that particularly resonate;
[…] for the job of the editor is to exert influence, not for his own good, nor necessarily for the author’s, but for that of the book […] What any kind of boundary breaking always does is to draw attention to the boundary itself—in this case between editor and writer, who together with the text form a kind of Bermuda Triangle within whose force field everything said and done disappears without trace.
This notion of a relationship that creates a forcefield, which at once breaks bounds and disappears ‘without a trace,’ summarises the beauty of this form of collaboration. It requires trust on both sides, and a setting aside of one’s self (the editor is not interested in asserting their personal touch, just as the writer must disconnect any draw to take the hard cuts personally) for the benefit of the greater task. Together.
Into the Void
The work I wish to share here is by Italian scholar and writer Donatella Della Ratta, who has written one of the only critical accounts (I’ve seen) of the turn to ‘blended learning’ in university education during the pandemic.
In her long form essay—a genre that points to both depth of insight, and utilises the digital form—Donatella takes us on a journey across ‘Zoom cages’ and how the constant staring at oneself contributes to that sense of fatigue, to the emergent refusal strategies of students to turn on their cameras as more complex and signifying than first perceived… and so much more.
By interviewing colleagues and students at John Cabot University in Rome, and around the world, Donatella has produced a work that addresses the urgency of an educational crisis and the inability of digital tools to ‘fill the void.’
Teaching Into the Void
Reflections on ‘blended’ learning and other digital amenities
By Donatella Della Ratta
Most of the platforms we use on a daily basis for work and leisure have names that suggest collectivity and togetherness. They hint toward shared spaces that do not exist, and the hinting begins from the very moment we call these spaces into being, from the moment we engage in the performance of their sociality.
We say, ‘let’s meet on Zoom’ or ‘see you on Skype’, as if we are meeting on stools at a bar, on benches in public squares, or on the dance floor awaiting a concert. When in reality, we grab a drink and sip it in front of the gallery view. We watch our friends resemble the Brady Bunch opening credits, looking like a virtual stamp collection in their tidy repetitive rectangular spaces.
Throughout this charade, the oddest element is that we spend the social hour not so much looking at the gathering, rather we sit there instinctively watching, monitoring ourselves.
No matter whether one is casually drinking with friends, holding an online birthday celebration, showing up to a work meeting, or teaching a class—the self-reflecting gaze is always-on, ever-present whenever the camera is on too.
It is a Narcissus-like situation, except instead of loving yourself to death, you develop a constant sense of inadequacy and anxiety: Do I look professional enough? Do I look good enough? Do I look fresh enough? Fix your hair, apply a ‘resting smile’, adjust the camera angle to look less puffy, less tired. Just. Look. Happier.
🧨Continue reading Teaching into the Void at the Institute of Network Cultures.
Thanks to Donatella for the exemplary writer-editor Bermuda Triangle experience, and for doing this important work revealing what’s at stake.