This text is a part of a travelling conversation

Response to Keri’s letter

Reading your reflection makes me think a lot of Vanessa and colleagues’ Bricks and Threads cartography; the bricks and threads stand for a set of ways of being, the bricks representing fixed forms, linear time (‘things move forward’), and self-worth depends on external validation; threads emphasize shape-shifting, layered time, everything is living, and self-worth is grounded in connection. Knowledge under the metaphor of bricks is layered – it can be discovered, accumulated and transmitted – while knowledge in the threading metaphor is interlacing – oriented towards relationality, it comes from many places and is earned, rather than being an entitlement. The frustration I think you reflect on is with the brick sensibilities, a frustration that I share with you.

While I (unfortunately) haven’t experienced the final episode of Buffy, I think I can appreciate the comparison – Our job is not to rescue the university, but to create conditions for thoughtful cultures to grow. In the university, there are a lot of people (and other creatures?) holding threads of myriad colors, lengths, passed down by different ancestors. But the university is also physically a pile of bricks, stacked neatly, carefully preserving and protecting its monocultures within. Bricks are heavy to move. Perhaps using the threads, we can begin to weave, finding the cervices in the rock through which to thread our refusal of the exclusiveness of the academy. We braid allegiances – we do not erase differences, historical or systemic violences, contradictions or uncertainty. It is a mosaic. What would this do to the infrastructure of this place called the university?

Something else Vanessa also talks a lot about is our guts. And listening with our guts. Guts are also places where we build cultures, and the places that give us the sense that we are related to everything. Folks who practice fermentation understand that the bigger variety of bacterial cultures we cultivate in ourselves the healthier we are. So, if we think about sustainable academic cultures, we must prepare the ground for as much diversity as possible, bringing the worlds and struggles and matters of concern of the people. This is the foundation for thoughtful cultures to grow, putting all these into conversation. I can almost hear it now; the stories that emerge from these types of encounters, not words words words; the diverse ways of making sense that manifest.

I guess a lot of the Buffy series took place at night since that’s when vampires are active in whatever ways vampires are active. Women must then be battling vampires in the dark, and hanging out there a bunch if they are going to become prolific slayers of demons. So, to just take one more metaphor (apologies!), what does being in the dark allow (besides all becoming kick-ass vampire slayers rather than sleeping and relying on heroes)? I think back to the Dark Futures talk in Oslo – being in the dark attunes us to the multiple senses to which we have access if we only would stop just seeing. Sitting with the darkness invites us to rediscover the power it imbues which we have ignored as a society. So maybe it involves listening with our guts, to realise that the future is full of fucking light.

Sanna Barrineau, written June 2020, published here April 2021

This piece is the final one in a travelling conversation.