(I've written or revised fifteen posts the past two days but lack the nerve to post them. No doubt I'm developing a complex which will end in utter silence. But what else can I do? Adam ain't posted either lately [no doubt for better reason]. I could be introspective about this sudden involuntary reticence, but who knows what I'd find in the heart of fear. [Certainly nothing worth blogging.] I'm sure I'll recover soon enough from whatever this is ... unless this is THE END. You know, THE MOMENT when you can no longer speak for sake of meaning. But I don't think I'm on the point of silencing myself. [Yet.] This probably has more to do with my being hormonal because I've been without levothyroxine for two weeks now [THANKS THIEVING LIBRARY!] and that's three times TMI and I'm going to shut it now. Enjoy the rewind and pray for rain.)
My copy of Hardt and Negri's Empire has an interesting history. It begins in 2000, the year of its initial publication, when Jim Ziegler (since tenure-tracked somewhere) and I were discussing it in the "TA lounge," a.k.a. the round table in front of the graduate student mailboxes ... which the faculty use as a short-cut between the main English department office and the primary graduate seminar room. (And why shouldn't they? It's their department.) So Jim and I are idly chatting about Empire when Julia Lupton walks up, pauses, greets us, says something to Jim (I'm deaf, remember?) and then hurries off. (Julia's an important person around UCI—a model academic whose standards I fail daily to live up to—she's always hurrying somewhere, and with good reason.) Point being:
Julia and Jim exchange words both assumed I could hear. I couldn't, but as I often do in such situations, I nodded my head and pretended to hear all. So when Jim's email arrived later that afternoon asking me what times worked best for me, I had no clue what he was talking about. I related my schedule. "Perfect," he responded. "I'll get right on it."
"Get right on it?" I thought to myself. "Get right on what?"
Turns out everyone rightly pegged Jim as (but mistook me for) the
resident Hardt & Negri expert, and that I was now the
co-coordinator of the faculty-dominated Empire reading
group. You heard me correctly: a first year, in his second quarter,
was assumed expert enough in the Hardt & Negri corpus to lead a
faculty-dominated reading group. (In retrospect I realize the faith
Julia placed in Jim was well-founded, and her willingness to defer to a
graduate student on the topic a sign that she practiced the
egalitarianism she preached. But I digress.) So I participated in
this reading group with Jim, Julia and a host of imposing faculty
members like Mark Poster and Andrzej Warminski. One of the highlights
of my first year, I tell you.
The year is 2005. It is Spring Quarter. I haven't thought about Empire or been all that theoretically inclined for years. I still own the book, mind you, and it still overbrims with my original marginalia. I'm invested in every page. Manic glossing. Attack this point here, cheer-lead that point there.
The phone rings.
"Hello?" I say, assuming the voice at the other end belongs to a machine which desires nothing more than to clean my carpet, lower my mortgage rates or help me refinance my loans.
"Yes, I'm told you have Empire," the voice says.
"What? I have empire?"
"Empire, Empire, Hardt, Negri, Empire."
"Can I borrow it? Wait, hold on, you talk to him."
On the line now is someone who knew I helped organize the Empire reading group. He had tried to contact Jim, but Jim had since fled Irvine for fields criss-crossed by tracks of tenure. So he went to the next name anyone knew. Mine.
"Hi Scott. Spivak needs a copy of a Empire for her class next week and she left hers at home. Can she borrow yours?"
"Sure. Why not."
Later that day, my copy of Empire is hand-delivered to Spivak.
The quarter ends. I check my mailbox after turning in my grades, and there is my copy of Empire. No note. No nothing. Just the book in the box. I put it in my bag and walk home. When I take it out of my bag, something falls out of it.
A postcard. The second strangest thing I've ever found in a book. Written on it is the following:
I need to excuse myself from auditing your class, as I will need to miss tomorrow's class. Which is too much to miss in a four-seek seminar. (I will hopefully catch up next Spring if you're back.) I will, however, attend your lecture the final Friday.
No name. Signed only "With warm thought." I think that a strange thing to leave in a book you knew would be returned to someone else. I wonder if there's anything else in the book, perhaps something more important, something she'd like returned. Flipping through the pages, I notice unfamiliar handwriting. Check marks. Exclamation points. Things I hadn't written. I start to read this new marginalia. Next to a note of mine on 181 which reads "empire resides in a world constantly calls it into existence" I find a giant checkmark. Next to the more cryptic "Hobbes: sovereignty, transcendence, representation" on 84 appears "What?!?"
My marginalia has been judged. By Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. And been found wanting. I flip through the book and find a running dialogue in the margins. She approves of some of comments; is baffled by others; and on occasion scribbles corrections. I realize that my copy of Empire has been glossed. Not merely glossed, but glossed twice over, first by myself, then by Spivak. I wonder whether she responds to Hardt and Negri's texts or my comments.
I wonder what she said in the seminars. I try to reconstruct what she said about Empire in the public lectures which I had attended and which her anonymous correspondent said he would. I wonder if he did. I wonder all of this and realize that I was supposed to finish the two-part series on Foucault and not prattle on and on and on about the books I would use to do so.