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December 2017
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2017, Dec 30

At the time that this blog was designed, I think I was using Tumblr more seriously. Perhaps I’ll use this blog as a Tumblr-like space at some point, or use it as a somewhat glorified Twitter. This blog was designed to be a container for longer posts, with the footnoted link system lending an academic sheen to the text. (This was before I started school.) If I really did learn the lesson from my post a minute ago, though, I will happily ignore any demand of “quality” that my own blog seems to expect.


							

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2017, Dec 30

I want to acknowledge the difficulty of graduate school here. In probably most any humanities PhD program, there is no reliable way to grasp your own progress, because the field itself is so expansive, and the skills that you’re meant to “develop” are not easily measured. In short, there’s just not enough time to read everything in your field. There will always be hundreds of essays and books that you haven’t read, and so your knowledge will always remain incomplete. Dealing with this realization is an existential and emotional challenge. In my case, I entered my program with literally no background in my field; I’d never taken an art history class until I started grad school. I felt acutely aware of this “deficiency,” and it seemed to me that I would never be able to find my feet under me, as it were. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, I often thought of leaving my program. I didn’t drop out, so what changed? Certainly not a sudden revelation from on high of newfound “mastery,” let alone an institutional validation (gold star!) that would confer upon me some unassailable position. No, instead I learned to accept that every scholar has deficiencies, not just the ones who started graduate school without any background in their field. Why even think of this negatively, anyway—perhaps this lack is constitutive in some way. In any case, after the trials and tribulations of courses, I’ve come to realize that there’s just no reason to worry about “mastering” a field. That’s a fiction. Getting to that point, though, is probably easier said than done.


							

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2017, Dec 20
“There are tens of thousands of cameras here”

“There are tens of thousands of cameras here,” said the officer, who gave his name as Tushan. “The moment you took your first step in this city, we knew.”

From a chilling article on the emerging police surveillance state in Xinjiang 1. Had a conversation yesterday in which I tried to suggest that photography differs from poetry in that it’s more closely tied to mass culture, but I didn’t even get to this kind of application. I suppose governments might use poetry for propaganda, but there’s no way it’s as easily allied to systems of control and classification. (The classic essay to consult here is Sekula’s “The Body and the Archive.”)



							

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2017, Dec 19
Scholarly identity

I realize I’ve posted almost nothing at all since I entered grad school, almost more than three and a half years ago. Quite frankly, I was too overloaded with work, too stressed out about what I was actually doing or whether I even belonged in school, too scared to make any sort of comment about anything because I was painfully aware of how little I knew. These days I’m more comfortable with the idea that there’s no such thing as “mastery” of a subject, and that everyone has tremendous gaps in their knowledge.

So, I came in to grad school knowing that I wanted to work on “photography in Japan,” but I wasn’t entirely sure whether I would focus on the former or the latter. A friendly conversation over the summer brought this realization to the surface, even if I probably could have guessed the answer years ago. When, in the course of chatting, I mentioned that I hardly knew anything about Japan before 1860 or so, one of my colleagues who studies premodern literature rolled their eyes at me, almost involuntarily. I didn’t process it at the time, but the next day I realized: I’m a photography scholar, not a scholar of Japan, and photography doesn’t even get invented until the mid-19th century, so I have no reason to be ashamed of knowing nothing about medieval Japanese literature! (As it happens, “Japan” also doesn’t get invented until the 19th century, but that’s a different story.)


							

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2017, Dec 18

What would it mean to write a post here every day? To write posts that perhaps make no sense even to me, but to push them out into the world anyway? To subject them to the (immensely fearsome, in my imagination) scrutiny of an audience entirely unknown to me? I should take it as a good exercise. An important aspect of this blog has been its function as a catalog of my own questions and interests. At this point, I assume that no one reads this blog, that no one checks the RSS feed. Of course I know that this is probably not true, but it feels like a productive story to tell myself anyway. It would be best to push past my doubts.


							

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