There are a lot of smart insights in this Bluestockings interview with Mimi Thi Nguyen. Feministing shared the link and gave me the heads up that there was some discussion of guilt and professional expectations in the essay. Nguyen seems persuasive to this punk professor when she writes:
The disjuncture then comes when I consider how we are encouraged to carry ourselves in the academy. I feel a lot of pressure to professionalize, and the prescriptions for professionalization often run counter to my way of being in the world. I also struggle with the directive that I am supposed to professionalize my students. I don’t hold with the idea that I should train students to be better workers, because the content of “better” — more obedient, more efficient, whatever — runs counter to what I want to teach. In my feminist theories courses, I say, “Yeah, I just gave you assignments with deadlines! But I also want to say to you, what’s so great about work? Why do we believe work is supposed to be edifying? Should we always have to be productive? Why do we imagine work as something that gives us dignity? What if it’s just wearing us down?” My history in punk totally informs these attempts to practice other ways of being in a classroom, and other ways of being a professor.
Like Nguyen I was a reader of Maximum Rock and Roll since my teens. I was deeply informed by the DIY spirit and raw love of music and counterculture that ran through MRR. Along with that inspiring freedom were some toxic interview discussions and columns that also were a big part of MRR. I remember a particularly racist / sexist sex column, perhaps from Mykel Board? Nguyen as a young punk writes MRR and challenges the columnist for MRR and gets a hateful column in reply. The scrap with MRR inspires her to create her own zine Race Riot.
The impetus for Race Riot came when a columnist at Maximum Rockandroll wrote about his Asian fetish, suggesting that Asian women’s eyelids look like vulva, and that their vulva might be also horizontal. It is an old imperial joke — there are all kinds of imperial jokes about how racial, colonial women’s bodies are so inhuman that their genitalia might reflect this alien state. I wrote a letter to Maximum, cussing and citing postcolonial feminist theory. He then wrote a lengthy column in response about how though I’m Asian, because I’m an ugly feminist, he wouldn’t want to fuck me anyway. There was a discussion at the magazine about whether or not to publish this column because the magazine had a policy — no racism, no sexism, no homophobia. But the coordinator and founder of the magazine decided that this column qualified as satire, and so it was acceptable.
It was really infuriating for me to be 19 years old, totally invested in punk and politics, to be attacked under the guise of racist cool in the punk magazine. I was like, “Fuck it, I’m quitting punk.” But I figured I should do something, to leave something behind as a practice and as a document, to reach other punks of color who might feel as isolated as I did in the aftermath.
I know a lot of punks who saw the academy as a reasonable place to continue thinking about punk praxis. Or more particularly, many of us go to an academic job and are reasonably punk in that and other parts of our lives. Many of the punks I knew are still working with intentional collectives, creating media, hosting shows, playing music, creating alternative spaces and doing-it-themselves. I’ll give a shout out to my friend Zack Furness and his book Punkademics. I think you can read the whole book at Minor Compositions.
I’ll note my appreciation and agreement with Nguyen’s analysis of internet communications and the need for pauses for reflection. She argues:
New technologies have produced expectations that we now have more democratic access to more knowledge, and that we must accommodate ourselves to an accelerated sense of time. But I am wary of this internalization of capital’s rhythms for continuous consumption and open-ended production. I hate feeling obliged to produce a post or tweet on a timetable. It makes me anxious. There is value in being about to respond quickly to an object or event, of course, but I also want to hold out for other forms of temporal consciousness, including untimeliness and contemplation of deep structures, sitting with an object over time to consider how it changes you, how the encounter with it changes the nature of your inquiry.
Good interview and strong arguments.