Wednesday, 14 August 2013

precarious persistence

As I look at the vicious seagulls that populate the skies of a city I still don't understand, I feel vulnerable. To feel vulnerable here is to realise that without this pavement, my body would not be able to move. But the pavement is here. And as my feet touch it, I walk, one step at a time. I have all the surfaces at my disposal. They are here to help me touch, eat, drink, hear, sleep, wash, feel. It is different from the kind of vulnerability I felt when I was on vacation. To feel vulnerable then was to experience a certain desire for immobility once I thought that I was standing upside down from the point of view of a map of the planet Earth. But back to this place called Exeter. A talk about vulnerability comes to my mind as I walk. It was a talk I was privileged to access, simply because I had a Raven account. A Raven account is another kind of pavement that helps you get noticed. Judy felt too vulnerable about her work and did not want it to reach the ears of the world just now. So the wisdom landed on Cambridge and was sealed in. Yes I understand. Sometimes when I walk I also hold my breath when people pass me by. I do that to close some form of secret pathway into me. But then I have to take a deep breath and take in all that is in the air. Now that I have a window overlooking a new green campus, I can say that behind this window I am experiencing a form of precarious persistence as she said, yes. I am vulnerable to all the people I don't know but know I will meet, and to all the visions of the city I will come to know, and to the agendas of others, and to all the possible failures and successes that are coming my way. It feels like an unstoppable train that makes the pavement shake ever so slightly. That train is always coming, it is not a passing train. And yet I persist, here, avoiding the seagull that comes for my sandwich.

"Although we often speak as if vulnerability is a contingent and passing circumstance, there are reasons not to accept that as a general view. It is always possible to say: "I was vulnerable then, but I am not vulnerable anymore", and we say that in relation to specific situations in which we felt ourselves to be at risk. They can be emotional situations in which we are very much vulnerable to rejection but later on find that we have lost that vulnerability. Even as it makes sense to speak this way, about episodic vulnerability, it makes equal sense to treat with caution the seductions of ordinary discourse at such a moment. (...) The condition of vulnerability is not in itself precisely changeable, and it is not always known to ourselves. This only means that vulnerability is a more or less implicit or explicit feature of our experience. To say that we are all vulnerable beings is to mark our radical dependency not only on others but on a sustaining and sustainable world. Strength is not the opposite of vulnerability. (...) We must connect to the world we wish to see, or refuse the one that is doing us in. Is this not a form of deliberate exposure, precarious persistence, as the very demand for a livable life? Vulnerable acting." (Judith Butler)