A human sneeze can explode out from our humble maw at 200 miles an hour (Bardi, online). So it’s no surprise that buffets from High River to Honolulu have for decades utilized ubiquitous sneezeguards as a relative failsafe against an impromptu achoo (Smith, online). And just as hunger gnaws at the tummies of mammals worldwide, globalization knows no bounds for we humans. Technologies and pathogens proceed apace. Capital and profit seeking re-investment winds its way over the planet like sneeze particles wisping their way through a ventilation system. Mortality and capitalism render us all equal in the hegemonic eyes of ideology; “all that is solid melts into air” within the cultural confines of our mass civilization (Marx, online). Just as AU allows us to study anywhere while carrying our maladies of procrastination and anxiety, global pathogens both social and medical know no bounds. Yet, sneezes can be magical, and so too can dull research yield moments of joy. Liberated from the incarceration of expectations we may discover our inner angelic essence and rekindle our greatest academic ambitions.
The world is certainly our oyster, research-wise. While webs and nets are used to corral and catch, and the internet can sauce us over with distractions, the potentials remain boundless. And so too do our humble hometowns and those of our friends! Shucks, the first time I saw the channel Al Jazeera on a TV was at a scrumptious Donair shop in High River, Alberta. And some of the best conversations I’ve had with new Canadians from India were in Golden, BC. So, in a historical moment when global travel has physically stymied our movements, the cultural colostomy bag (if you will) that gathers and congeals all of humanity continues to provide a thin barrier between our human societies and our earthly reality.
We filter our world and our studies through ideology even as those same ideologies restrict our understanding of reality. As Louis Althusser put it, “defines ideology as “our imaginary relation to our real conditions of existence” (Althusser in Benson, online). The reality that we know best, then, is the reality of our lives as they pass before our eyes. Our studies give us a chance to grow a new self and one aspect of that is the ability to take new curiosity out into the world with us and into all that we read. Sometimes it takes a proverbial sneeze to set us straight.
Time as Essential Commodity
As ideological beliefs form our views, wherever we go in reality, time is there too. Time marches on like ants in a sugar-seeking line or seeds sprouting in a mad rush to sunlight. We can learn something from flowers in the sun; and, recalling that the sun can cause a person to sneeze, put our momentary selves in historical perspective while enjoying each magical moment of life.
While a human sneeze is only a moment in time, one it was once believed could lead to death if it wasn’t allowed to burst forth, the irruptive force of a sneeze is one of many instances where we can gain new clarity on our life and our learning. So let us to pause when the present tense in our plague-ridden times seems overbearing.
Under it all, there we are, or were, and only a shock or a sneeze snaps us out of our stream of normality. Raw reality in mind, our studies too can then seem like a series of fractal moments of bliss of consternation, punctuated by long draws on the Gandalf pipe of serenity and excellence. We aren’t going to remember the small things about attaining our degree when we one day receive it, but it’s the special moments along the way that will matter most. Hopefully, they’re illuminating moments; they will be if we aim for them, maybe.
We read and write the book of our life even when it feels like our focus is on tangible learning objectives and essay outlines. Henry Miller once wrote that: “I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it. We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and the soul.” (Miller, online).
Flowers and feelings and reading unite in the most unlikely of places. The key is to keep our eyes open, to keep reading and keep being and to embrace the fact that it’s okay to sneeze as it’s okay to skim read or open a book to a random page. And so it was, with gleeful recklessness, that I opened a re-translated and Canadian-printed version of a Jacques Derrida classic that had never crossed my mind’s path before. The book, titled Glas, had even received a new name in its new English iteration: Clang. And, like the sound of an oddly-tuned bell or wind chimes meeting a dust devil, Geoffrey Bennington and David Wills, reminded us that one subject of this book, named Jean Genet, was to bring us to hermeneutic fruition by way of juxtaposing horticultural narratives within the all-too human realm of modern alienation:
“On Genet’s side, there is first the etiolated condition of the monochrome carceral universe, which is conversely enhanced by the colorful characters who inhabit it, by the florid language that describes it, and by the natural beauty of wisteria, tea-rose and hawthorn that abounds in its rural ambience. His comrade inmates represent the abject detritus of respectable society, but the fetid quarantine of their lives comes alternately to be celebrated or redeemed as a type of religion, and indulged as the site of overwhelming dejection and nostalgic desire.” (Bennington & Wills in Derrida, xv).
To all normality and lack of historical awareness Genet seems to prescribe a bold achoo!
Thus, joyful times meet existential awe if we remain open to beauty within our realm. At AU, the one thing we cannot do if we are to overcome the fear and trembling of our cultural climate and our own struggles with individualized study, is to lose ecstatic interest in the minutiae of our studies. In even the most random moments of reading pleasure, in the tiny and minor footnotes of our textbooks or in our advance reading research for a future essay, we may find the one thing that grand narratives and media mythology never can quite sell us: the magic of being right here and right now, paddle in hand, on this wonderful stream of life.
And if a sneeze propels us, so be it, for the scholastic cosmos is surely teeming with stars lit by eureka moments of discourse by countless solitary minds who in a moment’s time, itself uncounted other than by the seasonal sundials of ephemeral flowers, alighted on some magical conception of where they were at in the biggest of pictures.
(Dedicated to my dear wife who has taught me to see the beauty in flowers and in life in a way that no textbook ever could!)