Higher Ed

Fracturing tacit knowledge to create new possibilities

After reading Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing I’ve been mulling over some ideas about fractures in higher ed’s prestige economy, how those fractures make other ways of being and knowing possible. The precarity and opportunity of those spaces, the glimmers of light.

I think this is connected with silence/tacit knowledge—the mechanisms we cannot escape if we don’t know they’re there. Something about these silences, these fractures, seems like the space to explore. Though they bear the weight of trauma they also carry the spark of possibility, of imagining otherwise.

COVID has brought massive changes to higher ed, astonishingly quickly. This rupture brings the overall structure and assumptions into focus. Which institutions are bringing students back, heedless of all the pain and loss we have seen to date? Where are students finding care and support? Do these things ever coincide?

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On finally having read Maus by Art Spiegelman

I have just now finished reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I’m so late to this that the two volumes have been bound together in a 25th-anniversary edition. I don’t know why it took me so long; my dissertation focused on trauma in late 20th century literature, so it should have been on my central reading list. Somehow, it wasn’t, but better late than never.

There’s not much that I want to say about the book; it is as powerful and heartbreaking as I thought that it would be. Because I tend to think about what it means for a victim or witness to recount his or her story–why one might or might not break a silence to talk about something “unspeakable–I was struck by Art’s conversation with his therapist in part II, And Here My Troubles Began (p. 205 in my edition):

–Anyway, the victims who died can never tell THEIR side of the story, so maybe it’s better not to have any more stories.

–Uh huh. Samuel Beckett once said: “Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.”


–On the other hand, he SAID it.

Vladek Spiegelman’s story is impossible to tell, not least because in a world with even the faintest touch of rationality and morality, it is impossible to understand. Art Spiegelman works against that impossibility to tell a story that breaks the silence, giving voice to the unspeakable.

These are not cheery thoughts for the holidays, so I think I’ll turn to something lighter next. Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas with loved ones, and a happy and healthy start to 2012.