OK, what does a trans person in academia like? Well, if you were to ask that question about me, I would reply with something resembling this post. It’s time to lay back and discuss some of my most cherished personal interests. In particular, I’ll be focusing on a couple of intellectual topics that are both interconnected and drive a lot of the scholarship I do both for school and for pleasure. Neither of them is directly related to my trans experience, but they both inform how I see myself, my body, and my place in the wider world.
1: Chaos and Complexity
This has been a preoccupation of mine for a few years now, though I am just starting to get a decent grasp of what theories of chaos and complexity mean for historical studies. This is mostly because I had not read as deeply in environmental history and the mathematical and scientific basis for complexity as I have now. In a nutshell, the reason I am interested in chaos (ways of describing very sensitive, non-linear systems) and complexity (mostly around the issues of predictability and what exceeds human control is because they are useful concepts for linking my sense of an unruly or unpredictable body to a larger set of relationships.
I find this especially pertinent since we are living in an age that is beyond purity. Our bodies are collectives formed not just of human bits but also of synthetic chemicals, organic agents, micro-organisms, and other products of a permeable and open body. Our skin, as it turns out, is not a good separator, but rather a bridge that, while it does filter out certain kinds of environmental detritus, also links us with the wider world, especially where chemicals are concerned. Learning how to think about humanity’s place within energy systems, air and water circulation, and other structures that we have built but have become an imposition or alienated from us like pollution is a vital task. We have to learn to cope with our own fundamental impurity and integration into our surroundings, as well as with fellow human beings and other forms of life. The politics of purity, exemplified by border security, policing, Christian morality, and racial logic, have bared their fangs, and defeating them requires a robust sense of how to live with and thrive with impurity.
Complexity and unpredictability are also an important aspect to this. Advancements in scientific studies of complexity and chaos, as well as biological and social applications of these concepts, have led to a greater understanding of just how much human beings could control even in an ideal scenario. Attempts to reshape the natural environment, or centralized attempts to reorganize human society and its relationship to nature, are often reckless and ill-considered. Even with perfect information, however, the sensitivity and chaotic nature of open systems makes planning every outcome impossible. Even acknowledging the value of large-scale social organization in some cases, as well as some forms of centralized coordination, our interventions require careful consideration and a more pronounced emphasis on flexibility and decentralized social power.
Environmental history is overall pretty great. It contributes some of the most vital perspectives within the entire discipline. Despite its many advances, however, most of its thinking has been dedicated to terrestrial landscapes. Since my heart yearns for the sea, I have taken on the challenge of studying the ocean, which is a challenging task for a variety of reasons. With some numerous but isolated exceptions, most human beings do not make permanent dwellings on the ocean. Though there are examples of oceanic nomads in history (golden age pirates being the most well-known in my circles) oceans are typically seen as transit points rather than places where events or large-scale processes unfold. Or else, as in a lot of spatial theory, the oceans and seas are treated as social or cultural metaphors. One or the other.
Oceans are, however, the site of both extensive resource extraction and scientific investigation as well as warfare. Though I haven’t read too deeply in oceanography or more humanistic oceanic studies, I think these bodies of salt water remain some of the least studied despite how vital they have been throughout recorded history. Not just as transit, but as sites of sacred fear or reverence, war, flight, and technological development. In other words, oceans are screaming at us to pay attention, but relatively few of us do. Rather than resent this fact, we’ll see what I can do about rectifying that.
OK, time for the next three posts! Getting into the home stretch:
March 25: Here I’ll be musing on about some issues related to how trans and queer people relate to each other as well as the concept of relationship anarchy. Serious issues, but full of potential hope for the future.
March 26: City mouse here talks about my affinity for cities and my struggles when I lived in a more rural area.
March 27: Left-wing politics have been a cornerstone of how I live my life for the last several years, so it’s about time I gave them their due with a journal entry.