Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Kalamazoo '07: Claiming My Voice

As some of you may have already read over at In the Middle or Quod She, I’ve officially decided to reveal my identity. Reading that over again, I have to say it sounds a lot cooler than it is, I’m afraid. I'm just a medievalist. A graduate student. An Anglo-Saxonist. One who shares a name with an Olsen twin -- though you’ll note that I don’t hyphenate.

I suppose, in some ways, it makes sense that my first post-Kzoo post is about my decision to drop my pseudonym and blog under my real name. There are a lot of reasons that, in the past year, I left the question of my identity out of this blog. And there are still good reasons to do so – not least of which questions of power and integrity that seem to be inevitably involved in the online world when it intersects the academic one. Blogging “anonymously” – even if more than one person, on reading my name tag this weekend, was heard to exclaim “I read your blog!” – seemed like a safer route.

And I guess that’s where the ideas raised in the sessions at this year's conference came into play. I seem to be finding that “the pleasure of displacement” seems to sum things up rather nicely: moving out of my own small sphere of operation and into a zoo of medievalists of all interests and levels gave me a different perspective on my work, and a different perspective on my blog. The value of this displacement, in this sense, is also form of remembering something I seem to need constant reminders of: I am not finished. Not as a person. Not as an academic. Steven Kruger had a remarkable phrase in his Saturday afternoon paper that seems to speak to this idea: the idea of “identity as transition.” Having been displaced this weekend – taken out of New York, to the best Kalamazoo I’ve had the pleasure of attending, I was caught off my guard by the question of anonymity. Perhaps being away from the blog, and in the “real world” of my work and the bloggers I know who function in it, I realized that to continue writing this sort of a blog, my pseudonymity is no longer viable. For practical purposes, it never really was – those who know me have inevitably known that I’m “Anhaga,” and it doesn’t take much poking around websites to narrow down the possibilities of female Anglo-Saxon graduate students in New York City.

Moreover, I’ve realized what my engagement with the wider implications of my work, both as an academic and as a person who is involved in the world – and who wants to be involved in that world. There are a number of anonymous voices in the Middle Ages – some men, of course, but many, many women. Because of their social situation, women in the Middle Ages couldn’t – or didn’t feel they ought – claim their voices. Too many women in the modern world are silenced in the same ways, though perhaps sometimes for entirely different reasons. In the end, I’ve been a student of inspiring feminist scholars too long to be another anonymous voice.

I aim to maintain my voice as it has been for the past year. This blog is, after all, a “professional” blog. The difference now is that I’m choosing to claim my voice as it appears here. It’s not the right choice for everyone, and in fact, I’m still not entirely sure it’s the “right” choice (whatever that means) for me. However, I’ve told my students on numerous occasions to “take responsibility” for their written voices – and I suppose that mantra was always going to come back to haunt me. I don’t really know what claiming my name will do this blog. Though I won’t stop posting, occasionally, on my more light-hearted interests, in the past year Old English in New York has become an extension of my academic persona, and will now function in that capacity “officially”. These posts are my thoughts. They are articulated, however tentatively, in my words. After this most recent displacement to Michigan, and a surprising amount of encouragement from my senior academic colleagues -- among them these three inspiring academic bloggers -- I think I’m ready to claim my voice, and take on the responsibility to my work and to my professional self that this endeavor entails.

Appropriate, then, that I’ll finish posting on Kalamazoo once things have settled down a bit here in NYC.


Eileen Joy said...

Wonderful post. I hope it encourages some others to emerge from anonymity, if even so more of us can ask ourselves: what are we so scared of? I hear a lot about how important tenure supposedly is to "academic freedom," but I've never yet met an academic, tenured or otherwise, who felt "free." So, you make your own freedoms, you live in them, and guess what, the police almost never show up, and the world goes on. And a voice and writing style and original mind as good as yours deserves a proper home within a proper name. So, congratulations on your courage. But you didn't really need it.

Derek the Ænglican said...

Congratulations on finding your voice and claiming your name.

Of course, I knew it because I've sung Compline with you...

J J Cohen said...

Mary Kate, you found your voice a LONG time ago. It just took Anhaga a while to catch up to you.


(PS I too really admired SK's formulation of identity as transition)

Dr. Virago said...

Anhaga, I'm so inspired by this post that I'm thinking about shedding my own anonymity. And yet, I'm so very fond of the "Dr. Virago" persona and I worry that if I blogged under my own name I'd be less inclined to squeal about being able to see baby animals at the zoo or mock our U's president for his "newfangled" blog (which, as you know, deserves serious mocking). Your blog has always been a little more professional -- more "cooked" to use Michael Berube's term -- like In the Middle. It's a blog you, as Mary Kate, should be proud and pleased to claim. Mine, on the other hand, is something the real me wants my name on only about 50% of the time, though I have no illusions about true anonymity. (Indeed, Karl told me JJC figured out who I was before we met -- even though Eileen didn't and we knew each other before I began blogging! Te-hee!).

Anyway, if I haven't made it clear already, you *should* claim your writing here, becuase it's always beautiful and astute and thought-provoking.

I hope I didn't jump the gun in announcing your name, btw. I thought maybe it had been on your blog for some time and I was only just now noticing it. I'm a little absent-minded that way come the latter part of the semester!

Dr. Virago said...

Oh for pete's sake, I addressed you as "Anhaga." No, I wasn't being clever. It's because Jeffrey's comment before mine mentioned the pseudonym and it just stuck in my head. Too funny!

Nicola Masciandaro said...

I never knew Anhaga (or you-as-Anhaga!) so for me the identity mystery has only deepened rather than been resolved, which is, I think, the only way it can ever go with identity. Are the truer names those that best express unnameability? I think so. See how "Mary Kate Hurley" names you more precisely but means less, or at least means less directly.

"Identity as transition." Now that I think about it that was a funny moment at Kzoo when I started quoting Kruger's phrase and you finished it, thereby _voicing_ the transition of identity _across_ persons. Behold the omnipresence of significance!

Eileen's "What are we so scared of?" Obviously there are practical considerations. Last year, for example, I decided not to be in a band when our lead singer started performing in porn movies, in large part because of how it might look to the uninformed professional observer. But I also think that there is no such thing as a purely practical decision, particularly when it comes to the bottomless issue of identity. What people are _really_ scared of I think is not having an identity, of entering into identity's question, who am I?, in all of its frightening and creative fullness. Curiously, the practice of anonymity both puts this mystery on display ("I have that within me that passeth show") and affords a way of forgetting it, of maintaining a fiction of identity, of being a more stable someone for onself by denying the same to others.

So my gloss on identity as transition is that identity's transition is dialectical, that it is about answering _and_ keeping open the who am I? question, of being the question that one is. Cf. Augustine's "I have become a question for myself" which suggests that a question may be, ontologically, more than we think!

Ergo, the phrase that is in my head these days for the New Humanism is "apophatic humanism" or even better, since -isms are so ugly, "apophatic humanity."

And to make this comment even longer, here's the contextually relevant panel, pending approval, I'm organizing for next year's magic gathering:

Why Am I Me?: On Being Born in the Middle Ages

The arbitrariness of identity, the ever-present absence of an explanation for why one happens to be oneself, is a fundamental feature of human life. It is an aspect of what Heidegger calls geworfenheit or the thrownness of existence, a kind of invisible, impossible originating of the individual that is always there, demanding to be recognized, negotiated, forgotten. On this arbitrariness rests both our strongest claims to self-knowledge and our profoundest desires for escape, which is, as Levinas says, “the need to get out of oneself, that is, to break that most radical and unalterably binding of chains, the fact that the I [moi] is oneself [soi-meme].” How was the arbitrariness of identity understood and represented during the Middle Ages? Proposals are sought for papers that address this question from any discipline and with regard to any related theme (individuality, origin, lot, birth, embodiment, et al.).

Welcome Mary Anhaga whoever you are!

meli said...

Just wanted to say - nice blog! Cos I've just discovered it. And good luck with those exams, they sound intense (we don't have such things in the uk).

Marina said...

of course, there's a difference, from the point of view of what one writes, between a blogging persona, and anonymity. A persona allows you to do things with a writerly voice, which perhaps Anon. cannot mannage...

Hmm. This is a wonderful post, and I'm glad you had a good time at the 'zoo. I'm off to the New World for a weekend, talk to you when I get back!

MKH said...

Thanks to everyone for all of the support and kind comments. Boy is my head inflated now! Luckily working on Latin this summer (again) should keep it from getting out of hand.

Eileen: you make your own freedoms Well said. I think it needs to be said that I'm lucky enough to have the space to do so -- and I feel like a part of academia is being willing to make -- and claim -- the freedoms that we are privileged enough to have access to.

Derek: I'm sorry I didn't make that connection earlier -- I definitely remember singing Compline with you!

JJC: Mary Kate, you found your voice a LONG time ago. It just took Anhaga a while to catch up to you. That is one of the kindest comments that has ever been made about my writings. Thank you.

Dr. V: First, it must be said: finally getting to meet you was one of the highlights of Kalamazoo this year. worry that if I blogged under my own name I'd be less inclined to squeal about being able to see baby animals at the zoo or mock our U's president for his "newfangled" blog That's a worry I definitely understand -- my silly side is a definite part of my personality -- it'll be interesting to see how often I let that part of me out on the blog.

As for jumping the gun -- I think I was just ultra-slow in announcing it "formally" so to speak. Comes of having a sister in town, and being indecisive about my "display name"...

Nicola: See how "Mary Kate Hurley" names you more precisely but means less, or at least means less directly. It's true -- Anhaga was something I chose for myself, as a part of a naming-project, in a sense. Mary Kate Hurley was the name given me by my parents -- and so, in a sense, has always been a name I'm growing out of (not "transcending" way, but in the way that it's where I start from, in a sense...)

What people are _really_ scared of I think is not having an identity, of entering into identity's question, who am I?, in all of its frightening and creative fullness. I definitely think that's spot on. Particularly because part of the problematic nature of identity is when it becomes a performance of self -- which in academia it often is, and needfully so. The question, then, is whether the performance is a genuine one -- not that there's a real method for judging that.

Why Am I Me?: On Being Born in the Middle Ages This panel looks amazing!! I love the idea behind it -- I hope it's accepted!!

Meli: Thanks! Exams are intense, but not too bad -- just lots and lots of reading. And thinking. And answering questions concisely. Which I'm terrible at.

Marina: A persona allows you to do things with a writerly voice, which perhaps Anon. cannot manage...Whilst I agree on the point of having a writerly voice, I think even being "Anonymous" can't escape it -- it's just a different kind of voice. In the end, I'd imagine, the main thing is that it's writing that's meant to be read...

It occurs to me that even as I shed my pseudonym, I'll still be Anhaga, in some ways (see Dr. V and Nicola's comments for proof!). And given that Anhaga was really just the part of me I let speak on the blog, I have to say -- I like that idea. I like it very much.