The Art of Simultaneous Reading

January 12, 2011

Cypress Mountain, British Columbia

After a lovely couple of weeks off from research, it’s back to my desk and its stacks of books. Thankfully, I feel refreshed from a trip to the west coast (see pic above and previous post). The stacks of books, which looked daunting before the break, look slightly more welcoming now.

One of the skills that any good graduate student has to master is the art of simultaneous reading. It is not uncommon to be in the middle of several books at a time. Full disclosure – I have not mastered this art. I often have several open books on my desk, waiting for me to pick them up again. And although I am generally better when I focus on one book at a time, I can appreciate those moments when a phrase or paragraph from one book seems to speak to another in some unexpected way, or when an author picks up the thread of another to push an argument a crucial step further. And even when the authors are working with different ideas or themes, research is the most fun when you can figure out a way to put them into conversation with each other.

Arranged around the themes of visual culture, archival imagery and desire, here are a few snippets of conversation that I hope to engage as my research moves forward:

W.J.T. Mitchell’s What Do Pictures Want?:

What pictures want, then, is not to be interpreted, decoded, worshipped, smashed, exposed, or demystified by their beholders, or to enthrall their beholders. They may not even want to be granted subjectivity or personhood by well-meaning commentators who think that humanness is the greatest compliment they could pay to pictures. The desires of pictures may be inhuman or nonhuman, better modeled by figures of animals, machines, or cyborgs, or by even more basic images – what Erasmus Darwin called ‘the loves of plants.’ What pictures want in the last instance, then, is simply to be asked what they want, with the understanding that the answer may well be, nothing at all (48).

Julia Emberley’s Defamiliarizing the Aboriginal:

The colonial photographic archive, for example, constituted a key technology of representation that coincided with the epistemic violence of eugenics and miscegenation, forced sterilizations and hysterectomies, and, especially, the coercive use of domestic violence and wife battering, rape, and the sexual assault of indigenous male and female children in the residential schools (14).

Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History:

“Silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance).

These moments are conceptual tools, second-level abstractions of processes that feed on each other. As such, they are not meant to provide a realistic description of the making of any individual narrative. Rather, hey help us understand why not all silences are equal and why they cannot be addressed – or redressed – in the same manner. To put it differently, any historical narrative is a particular bundle of silences, the result of a unique process, and the operation required to deconstruct these silences will vary accordingly (27).

Still figuring out how the above work together, but it’s coming together. Slowly but surely.

Hope everyone had a happy new year.

2 Responses to “The Art of Simultaneous Reading”

  1. jb Says:

    Simultaneous reading…
    I’m still working on that one too.

    Thanks for the post Naomi.
    j.


  2. Thanks, jb. Simultaneous reading is also more fun with company. Come to Toronto for a visit 😉


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