Thursday, December 31, 2009

On recovery and revolution

When I claimed this blog name, some months after a discussion with friends online about how to pronounce "succulent," I thought it might be primarily a cooking blog. I love cooking, and experimenting, and moreover, love to talk about food, and recipes. And I think of these activities as useful contrasts to my professional activities: writing a dissertation, being the assistant editor of a scholarly journal, and the co-editor of a smaller, wilder journal.*

I also felt uncertain about blogging anything that might make me identifiable. The literature and languages academic community is still full of diverse opinions on the value of blogging, and the risks or advantages that it will bring to individual faculty, and to their universities. Moreover, when I was last blogging semi-regularly, and with the identity that I had used for nearly three years, I had an uncomfortable encounter: though I was pseudonymous, both in name and location, I came home after serving as lector at my little Anglican parish, to find a commenter praising me for "read[ing] the Bible as though it were soft-core porn,"
implying, and admitting, that s/he had identified me, but unwilling to reveal him or herself. In the next few days, other unsettling things happened, and it became clear, to me, at least, that blogging no longer felt like a safe activity. It had become risky on both professional and personal levels.

It has taken a long time for that to change. And a number of parts of my life have changed since then-- the transition from teaching to editing, from M.A. to Ph.C., and most recently, my diagnoses, shortly after Thanksgiving, of celiac disease and a wheat allergy, which is certainly altering my life as an amateur chef. But that's nothing compared to how it seems to be changing my everyday life, and energy levels. I'd grown more and more tired in the last couple of years, so that it felt as though functioning required constant adrenaline rushes -- and otherwise, I was sleepy, if not exhausted. I associated this change with the exam process, with my dissertation -- not with the slowly intensifying GI tract symptoms. I thought seriously about considering that I was suffering from at least moderate depression. Shauna James Ahern, the Gluten-Free Girl, writes about her experience with suffering from celiac disease here -- and though our cases aren't identical, she captures a great deal of what I was feeling.

Needless to say, those levels of exhaustion and stress did not exactly improve my motivation or focus in blogging, or tweeting or Facebooking. But since cutting wheat and gluten from my diet, I've felt almost as though I had been given an entirely new body, a new constitution. It has been the most dramatic, and fascinating (to me) recovery that I've experienced in my life so far. And with it has come a stronger desire to return to writing, not just about my escape activities like cooking, but my more professional work as well -- and to be able to write about all these things with the steady, calm energy that I find is returning to me, as opposed to the frenetic/exhausted mode-of-life that I've lived, especially recently.

It seems to me, too, that the idea, even the word, "recovery," is central to contemporary discourse, whether formal or informal. It's not in the NYT buzzwords for 2009 glossary, or in any other buzzword list I've seen so far, probably because it's a fairly uncomfortable term at the moment: something that nearly everyone wants, whether in the case of personal health, the U.S./global economies, the language and literature job market -- but that no one is quite sure how to achieve -- so it's much harder to know how to discuss it. Recovery for whom? A political party? A particular job sector? And recovery of what? Health? Bonuses? Stability?

What recovery means is subject to argument. And I can't help but think of Reinhard Koselleck, writing about the "historical criteria of the modern concept of revolution," in an essay of the same title. Koselleck notes that in 1842, Hareau reminded his readers that the idea of revolution signified not something wholly new, but a "rotation of movement back to a point of departure, as in the original Latin usage." After the French Revolution, and 1789, this meaning had become incomprehensible.

In the older sense, recovery and revolution mean similar things: gaining back lost ground, returning to an older regime. I'm sure they don't have that similarity in most of the contexts where they're being used today. Even if they did, they provide little stability: there is nothing in the etymologies and definitions to indicate which ground, which regime or power, is returning.

But I'm wandering into abstract territory. To be more concise, there are multiple levels in which it feels to me that I am either in a state of recovery, or part of a community searching for one. Recovery and revolution; rest and relaxation: the meaning of R & R becomes rather ambiguous. I think that a number of the ideas I want to discuss here fit within that ambiguity.

Cover, recover, uncover. I've been hidden, or less visible, for quite a while. It's time I started exploring again.

* Note to self: it would be worth writing a post about scholarly, non-scholarly, and anti-scholarly, and what those terms might indicate.