The best thing about having an Internet Curfew I more or less follow is that I spend my evenings doing important things, such as interacting with my husband like an Earth-human, and watching the season premiere of “Justified,” and yes, there is a recap coming soon. SOONER THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE.
Anyway. The “worst” (by which I mean also best) thing is that I am also largely blissfully unaware of any Internet-based ruckus in which I may or may not have involvement, peripherally or directly. Yesterday was kind of a big day internet-wise: I had two articles on Slate (plus my right-rail debut!), and my support of marijuana legalization got me on the WordPress “Freshly Pressed” front page. I also turned two other articles around (when you make changes your editor wants and send them in), met with a client, and went on a two-hour walk on the beach/health-food lunch out in Encinitas with my sister-in-law (yes, yes, go fuck myself–here is what it looks like here right now:
Yes, yes, I know.)
So when my friend Adeline Koh showed me a comic she made, I took a brief respite from Way Too Much Schuman Time and laughed my ass off at what appeared to me to be a good-natured ribbing of the idea of ‘critical making,’ which let me be the first to admit that I DO NOT UNDERSTAND AT ALL, largely because it involves talking about things like ‘transference between materiality,’ which to me might as well be the Swedish Chef going BORK BORK BORK, because I am eight months out of academia, and thus I don’t even have to pretend to understand theory anymore (and I wasn’t really a big theorist to begin with, having always been far more interested in literal-minded German stuff).
Anyway, speaking of the Swedish Chef, from what I can gather on the Internets (and, remember, I’m stupid), Adeline was part of a workshop in Bork Bork Land wherein she made a light ball out of origami paper, and was asked to think about ‘materiality,’ and somehow connect that to issues of cultural criticism in the Digital Humanities—which is a big, complex thing that I largely don’t understand, because again, eight months out of academia=I don’t even pretend to understand theory anymore, and, also, me=dumb.
ANYWAY. From what little my feeble brain could comprehend about the Critical Making Kerfuffle, this comic, which I thought was adorable and hilarious (I love the Adeline/Roopika side-eyes), was attempting to gently make fun of the idea of critical making as some sort of cultural panacea, when in reality (to me at least) it looks line an excuse to do craft projects on research money*, and further nudge higher education into the realm of the TED Talk:
So, I read the comic, I laffed, I thought, “Shit, I should make some comics,” I added that to my ten-thousand-item to-do list, and then I critical-made this Tweet:
— Rebecca Schuman (@pankisseskafka) January 8, 2014
Uh-oh. I fucked up. Because this was actually really hurtful to the people who are actually putting on an actual ‘critical making’ workshop at MLA, which I didn’t know, because, again, eight months out of academia + higher-ed journalist focusing solely on shit people outside of higher ed will be able to understand = I don’t have to care what panels are going on at MLA, and make no mistake, I don’t. So, when I critical-made that Tweet, I had no idea I was critical-making fun of an actual thing (although does that make it better…or worse?).
So I guess what resulted is that a lot of people went full-on apeshit at Adeline and Roopika, over a rather off-handed Tweet I did that they did not do and, again, wasn’t even making fun of something “real” (because, at the time, it wasn’t real to me, which means it wasn’t real at all–isn’t that how we do theory? No? Wait, what?). Adeline had to write an explanatory blog and then an apologetic addendum, and now there is going to be some sort of epic throw-down at MLA, where light balls will be lobbed and balsa-wood aeroplanes used as shields, and the victor shall once and for all have the power to declare exactly who has the right to criticize what.
In the meantime, the lesson learned from this is (surprise) the lesson I always learn when one makes a systemic critique about something in academia using even a modicum of personality or human emotion (and, in cases that aren’t me but that involve my friends, when one dares to be both a woman of color AND speak up): that critique will be met with MASSIVE amounts of personal offense, so much so that the original leveler of said critique will have no choice but to either issue an apology for her “tone” and thus bypass all discussion of the content of said critique to begin with, or to triple down on said “tone” and get a reputation as the Nastiest, Bitterest Person on the Ever-Widening Fringes of Higher Ed (talking about “a friend” here).
So, all this is to say: now I’m sorry if that Tweet hurt anyone’s feelings. It was supposed to be a joke. I didn’t think ‘critical making’ was an actual thing. I’m kind of suspicious of it, but I’m also suspicious of boats (I mean ALL BOATS), so it’s more than OK not to take me seriously. What I think it should have inspired, however–by someone who isn’t me, because, again, me=dumb, and also, because it is precisely this sort of shit that sent me running to the hills in the first place–is an actual substantive discussion of what ‘critical making’ actually is, and how it contributes to the lack of cultural criticism in the digital humanities. Said discussion should, however, involve a felt sculpture, or I won’t take it seriously.
*I wish I had thought of Critical Sewing when I was still on the market. I would probably have a job!