Like many of you, I'm simultaneously intrigued and exhausted by watching, listening to, and reading about today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, investigating sexual assault allegations brought forth by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. As the positions from which various senators spoke oscillated between critiquing the process, critiquing the investigative ethics, questioning what counts as evidence, and making statements about one another’s motives and behaviors—and moreover, as the performances oscillated between expressions of maltreatment, expressions of solidarity, and expressions of mistrust—it became less clear to me what should be at stake in the hearing at this moment, let alone what will have been at stake when the hearing gets taken up in other historic moments. (What should have been clear became so easily obfuscated.)
What exhausted me was contending with the knowledge that a single line of discussion enabled parallel but intersecting (even conflicting) truths; a single line of discussion simultaneously shored up one issue while leaving other issues untouched. What exhausted me was the fact that there were multiple conversations occurring within the same space under the aegis of a single hearing, and yet by the end of the day very little had changed.
As analysts ourselves, we can do just as well as the pundits in calling out and deconstructing all of the plays in our book, noting filibusters where they occur, noting what particular responses during the hearing seemed predictable and even reasonable, given the positioning of each speaker, or noting other moments of misdirection and surprise, both during and after the hearing. But perhaps what we can do that they cannot is to engage with the complexity of the hearing in more self-reflective ways, suggesting new ways to study the positions from which people speak or can be (dis)enabled to speak in such a public setting.
There is a great and well defined need for what the members of this organization do—not only to assuage crises in settings as public as the SJC hearing, but also to make the less conspicuous publics that we occupy every day of our lives into more critically visible and audible spaces. More often than not, the discourses we find ourselves having to engage in involve the promotion of fear, the preservation of self, the shoring up of a single position, or the mitigation of an immediate crisis. This post is a humble bow to all of you—for what you do, for what you strive to do—as well as quiet encouragement to those who occupy ambiguous or contentious spaces between programs, departments, colleges, schools, and institutions. More often than not, the intersecting spaces that we occupy do politically and emotionally conflict. Here’s to the work you do in finding ways to occupy them better.