by James D. Poborsa
Apathy is a ruse… an indignant ruse…
Yet apathy has its merits, as it at once maintains and punctures the banality of the everyday with the detached indifference and tepid contemplation necessary for overcoming its seemingly callous grip. To be intellectually apathetic is not to feign indifference or refrain from thetic discourse; rather, it is to bring the vicissitudes underlying any particular problematic to light. It is not a call to inaction, but instead the realisation of complexity. Academic life can at times engender the most poignant feelings of marginalisation, as though ones very existence were buttressed by the cajoling of an elevated few, while at the same time rendering ones voice wholeheartedly ineffective and benign. Years of cautious and meticulous study, sequestered in spaces detached from the concerns of others, one begins to feel as though this very marginalisation will develop into a permanent and irrevocable consignment – a resignation so solidly entrenched that it becomes malignant. But that is the challenge: how to effect some meagre measure of change in light of this overtly tempting docility? I have no interest in revolution, no grand desire to sweep away the fruits of tradition, no penchant for the radical, no desire to uncover the beyond of the beyond, that ebullient tautology. Yet nor would I wish to passively accept the dominance of received wisdom. Therein lies the quandary: can there be meaningful action in the absence of a desire to fundamentally instantiate some radical degree of change? Is it enough to engage in critique, or promote that which one feels to be the most progressive path? Will anyone care to listen?
While my academic research concerns itself with the rigourous extrapolation and interpretation of historical detail, due primarily to the institutional requirements necessitated by the discipline – indeed, a certain reduction to disciplinary docility is everywhere evident – I feel as though my writing in this context often lacks a certain poetics of expression. Any pretense towards even the subtlest of rhetorical nuances, usually and somewhat ironically through the detailed and heavily textual analysis of theoretically driven problematics, forecloses the possibility of institutional belonging. Though despite this seeming reticence towards the empirical, I have come to thoroughly appreciate the tremendous importance placed upon historical detail. An exhaustive knowledge of ones object, its relation to others within a developmental topology and contextually presented as somehow historically significant, is of tremendous importance. Yet historical significance is so often a product of institutional power, the very form of which elevates the seemingly mundane to a position of authority. One must perpetually strive to displace this institutional framing, the spectre of which impinges upon the possibility of experiencing everyday life differently. And it is towards this possibility that I gaze – intently, yet with an innate sense of detachment. I am interested in an aesthetic which elevates texture and detail, and combines an appreciation of the antique with the critical distance of the contemporary. Do I believe that the subtle pleasures emanating from quiet contemplation must of necessity coexist with the voice on the rostrum; that the goal of academic life is to radically alter our conditions of possibility? Yes, but I have no desire to occupy the rostrum.
This is therefore a manifesto which eschews the very validity of the manifesto, and instead finds merit in the simple fact of having a voice, and being heard. The most effective riot is the one you never see or hear, but which works its way into the texture of the everyday as though it were never there
James is a doctoral candidate in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, whose research examines the relationship between contemporary Chinese photography, aesthetic theory, and the intellectual politics of modern and contemporary China. He has previously taught modern and contemporary East Asian art in the Department of Art, and modern Chinese history in the Department of East Asian Studies.