curriculo-nimbuses, para-academia

As someone who would like to read and write and talk about books for a living, but is nowhere near achieving that impossible dream, often I feel like I’m biding my time before I return to university, get my next two degrees, and swan off into golden a future of research and teaching. In the meantime, I am lying to myself about the state of my savings for said degrees, and trying to prevent my brain from rotting in the meantime.

There are lots of ways that I try and prevent the dreaded stagnation. Recently I took part in the Norwich Fashion Jam, which required 3D fabric-based jigsaw puzzle skills that I haven’t exercised in years. I’m doing an evening course. I write pretentious snail mail to my friends so that when I’m dead literary historians will have correspondence to trawl through as they go looking for biographical clues about my many groundbreaking works (which, of course, I haven’t got round to yet). I’m very fortunate to work in an academic environment surrounded by people researching interesting things. Every now and then I stick a few paragraphs on the internet and maybe 2 people who I don’t know will read them. But mostly I just read.

I had the idea about a year ago, when I left academia and felt the first ominous waves of brain rot, to design my own curricula to keep my reading up. I’ve wanted for ages to design and run a degree module or seventeen, so I would use myself as my first guinea pig.

Currently I have three formal-ish curricula on the go, and I try and read a bit of something related to at least one of them every week. They are: women’s studies with a cultural studies/literature bent, Latin American literatures, and a broader one looking at creative non-fiction, again with a cultural studies bent. Their jazzy module titles fluctuate over time, but at the moment I’m going for “Women and Radical Politics”; “There’s More to Latin American Literature than Narcoliteratura and Magical Realism”, and “Other Stuff”.

When I say “design” a curriculum, what I mean is get a cool-sounding book out of the library or lose all self-control and splurge a bills-jeopardizing amount on a book in the bookshop, and read it, and then trawl the bibliography until I come across another cool-sounding book. Rinse and repeat, preferably with bills in between. If the books or articles in the bibliography are open access online, so much the better. I crack out my knackered old printer and print the latest fashions in radical pedagogy etc. onto the backs of old versions of my CV. In this way, I end up with a vague cloud of literature survey floating around my head. This is the curriculum. The design bit comes from focussing in on one of the points in this cumulo-curriculum, finding it and obtaining it by one of the two aforementioned methods, and reading it. I read it until either a) I have to go to work or sleep, or b) I can’t stand it any more and need to do something else, usually involving cab sauv and cursing at George Osborne’s big smug face on the TV news.

These curriculo-nimbuses are just enough for me to feel like my Continuing Personal Development has a structure and isn’t all for nothing.

Recently, I have discovered The Para-Academic Handbook, edited by Alex Wardrop and Deborah Withers, available here. I came across the Handbook by accident, and it speaks to Moten & Harney, to Halberstam, and has a heady number of Deleuze references. It fits, by accident, into my Other Stuff curriculum beautifully, criss-crossing with Women and Radical Politics, and in its theory of the “para-” manages to retroactively justify its coincidental but snug place in my curriculum. Somehow the right things just gravitate together sometimes.

So, I now have a fancy Graeco-Latinate word for my efforts, which (somewhat sadly) helps to make them feel legit, and an excuse to keep indulging in pretentious films,  library hauls, trips to obscure independent galleries, and for pride and renewed commitment to all these things. Here’s another point in the rhizome – let me know if it matches up with any of your own.


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