Monday, September 11, 2006

I May Not Be Gifted, But I'm Definitely a Cheetah!

So, I'm a doctoral student. For those of you who have been spared the "pleasure" of that experience, let me clarify that this means I read hundreds of pages filled with multisyllabic words and -isms from academic articles, books, and journals every week, am supposed to produce scholarly "commentary" about them, and am presumably pursuing "my own work/research" in addition to whatever else I must do (in terms of assistantships or jobs) to support myself. I realize that I am privileged to have the opportunity, and, like many humans who find themselves in privileged circumstances, often take that blessing for granted.

This week, the "appetizer" was the assignment to read a chapter from one book. It was followed by a large salad--the assignment to consume the last 250 pages of a 500-page book. The main course involved ingesting another 250-page book in its entirety, and the "meal" concluded with one additional article for dessert. Lest you think me too whiny and ungrateful, let me give you just a little taste of the dessert, "In sum, Baudrillardian apocalypse, Foucauldian limit-attitude, Deleuzean nomadology, Lyotardian language games, Lacanian Imaginaries, Derridean 'play' and excessiveness--all of these are intersecting with feminist commitments to praxis in ways that position Jamesonian nostalgia and despair and Habermasian concerns about irrationalism as panic discourses that mark the displacement of Enlightenment hegemony over cultural theory" (Lather, 1997, pp. 235-236).

As I re-read that, I do gain a bit of insight into how quantum physics might suddenly seem like a treat! Granted, the above paragraph was probably the dessert on the menu most reflective of culinary experimentation, so in fairness, let's try one more that I found a bit more suited to my personal tastebuds, "In a methodology of the imaginary, metaphysical images are transmuted into dialectical images in a postsubjective, socially eneaged form of thinking and writing, a 'grammatopraxis' poised at the frontier of the sayable and the unsayable . . ." (Lather, 1997, p. 238). Before proceeding, I should also admit that I quite liked the work of this author. I found the research that she and her co-author attempted to be meaningful and rather daring in both content and form. The majority of issues they chose to engage seemed worthwhile, and the manner in which they chose to represent their understanding was quite innovative, thought-provoking, and satisfying.

Nonetheless, my intent here is to create a sharp contrast against which the reader will be able to more clearly see why the following few paragraphs from Stephanie Tolan's delightful essay, Is It a Cheetah?, impacted me so profoundly:

"However, schools are to extraordinarily intelligent children what zoos are to cheetahs. Many schools provide a 10 x 12 foot cage, giving the unusual mind no room to get up to speed. Many highly gifted children sit in the classroom the way big cats sit in their cages, dull-eyed and silent. Some, unable to resist the urge from inside even though they can't exercise it, pace the bars, snarl and lash out at their keepers, or throw themselves against the bars until they do themselves damage."

So, although I may not be gifted, for today at least, I sure can empathize with that cheetah! I think my "keepers" would admit that they've seen the snarling and the lashing, and my "bruises" have made me wish for more padded bars on more than one occasion. According to Tolan, "If a cheetah has only 20 mph rabbits to chase for food, it won't run 70 mph while hunting. If it did, it would flash past its prey and go hungry! Though it might well run on its own for exercise, recreation, fulfillment of its internal drive, when given only rabbits to eat the hunting cheetah will run only fast enough to catch a rabbit." So what is yet to be determined is whether I'm really a cheetah (if I weren't in this cage, would I really be capable of running 70 mph?), whether I'm truly in a cage (after all, life is all about perception, right?), and if both of those do prove to be true, will I go hungry if I ever manage to escape?!

Lather, P. (1997). In W. C. Tierney & Y.S. Lincoln, Representation and the text: Re-framing the narrative voice. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Conversation with a Black Hole

After giving the matter some significant thought, she wondered why she continued to choose black holes for friends. You know the type--the ones who don't allow even a photon of a reaction to escape the event horizon that invariably seems to separate them from all those who orbit them. What DID they do with everything they consumed, anyway? Did it just get sucked into oblivion, as though it had never existed in the first place? Was it stretched, crushed, or torn into pieces before it disappeared? Or did it exert some sort of enduring influence on the hole first? She really wondered.

Hi! Black Hole here. It's all about the energy. So much going on inside the hole that . . . If you are posting this in the blogosphere, that only means . . .

She also wondered if her superficial understanding of black holes was accurate, and decided to investigate. According to Ted Bunn, "As you would expect, the escape velocity depends on the mass of the planet: if the planet is extremely massive, then its gravity is very strong, and the escape velocity is high. A lighter planet would have a smaller escape velocity. The escape velocity also depends on how far you are from the planet's center: the closer you are, the higher the escape velocity."

She imagined that probably held true for any number of other contexts too--the larger the "mass" (a.k.a. importance? influence?) of the thought, word, habit, person, culture, or institution in one's life, and the closer one was to that entitity (in both time and space), the more influence their gravitational field would be likely to have, and the more difficult it would be to disengage oneself from that orbit.

It did make her wonder why negative words seem to have a much higher escape velocity than positive ones.