I promise you this hardly ever happens

You would have to go a long way back in this blog to find the one other instance of the ‘gratuitous blank verse’ tag, because as I claim above, this hardly ever happens. But on the occasion of the post below, written pretty much direct into a browser in early June 2019, I had been reading. Specifically, in my working time, which for a brief moment then was bent on my usually-dormant project Rethinking the Medieval Frontier, I was reading Chiara Brambilla, “Exploring the Critical Potential of the Borderscapes Concept” in Geopolitics Vol. 20 no. 1, Borderscapes: From Border Landscapes to Border Aesthetics (Abingdon 2015), pp. 14–34, DOI: 10.1080/14650045.2014.884561. But, in my leisure time at exactly the same point I was reading Brian Aldiss, Barefoot in the Head (London 1969, repr. 1974) for the first time. You may not know both these works, but one of them is a studiedly literate effort in confusion, neologism and futurism taken to a darn-near psychedelic level and the other’s this famous novel by Brian Aldiss and the other, well, has some similar qualities. I mean, I also read Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, “Theorizing Borders: An Interdisciplinary Perspective” in Geopolitics Vol. 10.4 (Abingdon 2005), pp. 633–649, DOI: 10.1080/14650040500318449, which is brilliant and about the best piece doing what it claims to do of its length that I’ve so far found; but really, it was the combination of Brambilla and Aldiss that caused the result below, plus a certain amount of background Daevid Allen, who is by now part of my lexical composition like teflon is of our bodies. I thought about trying to edit it and decided that spontaneity might be its only actual charm. I do stand by its general message, though. So here you are. No non-literary substances other than tea were involved…

Collaboration my Siblingry

It doesn’t get us anywhere
To disaggregate everything down to the individual case
and always insist that complexity
Prevents its connection with anything

Where that leads is a place to hide
In the irreducibility of your expertise
And sure no-one can impeach you there
But the party’s happening in the other room

So what can we take to the party?
You can of course bring a bottle of wise
You fully intend to drink by yourself
Being there and participating
But making no ultimate imprint
On the shape of the ruins the next morning
Without responsibility for breakage or change

But if you want to be remembered
For having dones and thoughts with matter
That weighs upon the afterwards
Distorts the rubber sheet
So the ball runs towards your imprint
Till people have to kick it out again
Then you rather have to share your bringing
And that means terms of reference
That link your worlds to others
Temporally spatially thematically humanly
Someone somewhere gotta see it like you see it
In other words comparability
However you care to build it

Caring too much, in comparison or classroom
Stops you giving it up for free
But a thought freely given, enalienated
Is a victim of collision with another

The interest is in the offspring

But still at the end we need the goods in order
Because reducing to order is the means of transport
Without some order you can’t get across
The borderline of mutuality
And the meaning is lost
And the whole thing just cost
Which makes us all cross
When we should be across
To whatever land the other has got
On which to build something that lasts
Till the next wave of surfers comes in hot
To deconstruct our building too

But utter deconstruction just leaves you sand
A desert of inclusions disincluded by specificity
To allow deconstruction you have to construct
And there’s no harm in building to last
To make sure that new tools are needed
To take it all down and turn over again
When the time comes, when the time comes, when the time comes…

Put it this way
If your thing is incomparable
It can only matter to those with no thing
If I gotta thing
You gotta thing
An’ everybody gotta thing

Common thingness is needed
For any thing to touch another
And we all only got here
Because someone touched someone else’s thing
With the result of making a new one
If you won’t make commonality
No-thing can result from your own
So find your common ground
And I’ll argue about it
And we’ll all join in at the chorus
You ready?

I mean, given what I was reading it could have been much worse…

12 responses to “I promise you this hardly ever happens

  1. Jonathan, I needed that this morning after a week of deconstruction conversations! I am passing it along to my seminar on the global Middle Ages. The only thing not in there is the ubiquity of “scare quotes.”

    • Thankyou! I’m not sure I was attempting to satirise so much as inhabit, but to recover my intent properly would require a state-specific kind of memory I don’t think I could now achieve!

  2. “You can of course bring a bottle of wise”.

    Ya beaut! Accidental or intentional it’s spot on.
    In vino, sapientia.

    I suppose “wise” must measure no more than 12% alcohol and is best accompanied by a pipeful of Balkan Sobranie.

    • That was, I admit, intentional. I think wise can be any strength we like; sometimes, distillation may be required, that’s all. But there’s usually some in almost all scholarly concoctions. Best accompanied with? Probably a pinch of salt!

  3. Lovely paean for a pre deconstructionist-and-theory-is-enough era.
    You are fortunate in speaking, mostly, to fellow professionals.

    When it comes to that borderland between scholars who’ve been taught methodology and ethics, and the social media audience for whom, trained on wikis, it’s finders-keepers-cos-if-its-online-its-mine, the problem has another dimension. Perhaps I might express it as: those who haven’t got a thing, but need to keep the illusion going that they have will see what thing you bring to share as personal tribute.

    • Interesting! I did use to worry about people stealing my thoughts from the blog. What I have had happen, once or twice, is people just copying posts word-for-word and link-for-link onto their own blogs without credit, and that’s always been resolvable so far by the threat of legal action either to them or to their hosts. But otherwise, in general, and despite the long-ago warning of Tom Lehrer to haunt us all, I’ve found that no-one can catch up on a blog author once they’re ready to write about something unless the blog author just never gets round to finishing the work; the ground-work is just too important. I suppose that in a field like yours everyone might be a lot closer to having all read the same stuff and the germ of an idea might be crucial? But for me, there is no single key to unlock the problem which I could risk leaving out for someone else to steal.

      • Jonathan – I have never had a problem in my field, only among ambitious amateurs who seem to imagine that if their eyes read it, it becomes all theirs. I wouldn’t mind so much if they did cut-and-paste, complete with argument, evidence and bibliography, but the worst culprits try to be clever by cherry-picking ‘ideas’ – that is, new insights, discoveries and other forms of contribution – and then just using those bits, or those illustrations to fit some theory or other. More than once, I’ve had followers of some theory accuse me of jumping on the plagiarist’s bandwagon! I just write in the hope there may one day be enough people of the serious sort interested in that manuscript who’ll find my contributions helpful. Which is all we scholars do. A half-life of 10-15 years for most work.

  4. Jonathan, I’m delighted to see that you have had absolutely no experience of the type I mean. I hadn’t encountered anything like it, either, in the previous thirty-five years, and I simply couldn’t believe it at first. Early on, I joined a forum in order to learn what work had already been done on one or another section of the manuscript. Research 101 stuff. There were absolute howls of fury, pack-attacks and a raft of absolutely insane ‘memes’ – that I was a teenager (far from it, sadly); that my students weren’t real people.. and more that is so patently libellous that I can’t repeat it in public. By some twisted logic, it was asserted that in asking what precedents existed that I should read, and credit, I was ‘out for glory’. Apparently, in that field, acknowledging one’s sources is deemed ‘unnecessary’ and now plagiarism is institutionalised. Let me give you one example. Over a period of some seven years, working through the manuscript’s sections, I’d found occasional details which suggested Jewish influence, but not mainstream Judaism, exactly. This didn’t suit certain amateurs, and the work was ignored. That I don’t mind. I approached some eminent specialists in such areas as historical palaeography, and medieval Jewish culture beyond Europe – still putting brief summaries of my work online. Suddenly, a certain person seems to have felt this was something he should own, and so (as this person typically does) he approached an outsider, presented the conclusions of my work (or someone else’s) to the outsider as ‘an idea’ which they were invited to ‘investigate’.. and when the gullible third party, flattered and with no idea that there’s anything rough going on, comes up with a paper… then suddenly that ‘idea’ is credited only to the PR-expert and his innocent third-party. ‘Information laundering. He’s done this to me at least three times, all the while urging others to ‘pay no attention’ to my contributions to the study. And so (a) it’s the innocent who seems to be the plagiarist (b) the person plagiarised is represented as imitating their own work and so on. For a now retired scholar with a lifetime of maintaining the normal sort of ethics, it’s bizarre to see how rarely anyone asks such things as ‘how do you know that?’ or ‘where’s the evidence and research which led you to form that opinion? I suppose part of it is that I’ve never felt inclined to persons who expect to win their point with no better evidence than a sneer, or cheap sound-bite. But the manuscript itself is really very interesting – more than the theorists can imagine. And I’d rather work than golf,

  5. When I was young I fell ill after several months lab work on a particular topic. While I was abed my supervisor – who was also Professor and HoD – read my lab book, repeated a few of my experiments just to make sure I was right, and then published the lot with only his name on it.

    What a crook! Eventually my colleagues levered him out of the HoDship and then later out of the university altogether. That was no mean feat in an ancient university.

    The lesson is that when the game’s afoot you will not be the only victim.

    • Well, damn. Stories like these abound, unfortunately, from supervisors feeling free to present things their student found out in their own papers to this kind of thing and beyond (I have a post in draft about some truly egregious 1960s plagiarism, but it’s not the same game). Unlike stories about sexual misbehaviour between teachers and students, which I think is rumoured far more than happens (though sadly still happens), I think this actually happens a lot more than it’s talked about… But yes, good (and unusual) that eventually he suffered the consequences. Does that, however, mean that he just went on somewhere else with a glowing reference?

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