Nomadic inquiry in the smooth spa...
366 elizabeth a. st. pierre Thus, my research is not motivated by the desire to produce kn ow ledge for know ledge s sake. I urgently need to hear what these wom en tell me ab out thinking an d doing in fact, during our interviews two years ago, I often sat on the edge of my chair waiting for their respon ses to my questions. And even though I left M ilton and Essex County 20 years before the study began, I have learned that I am much attached to the place itself, to the land, which I now understand will always serve as the literal ground of my consciousness (Con way, 1989, p. 198), the mental and physical map against which all other places collide. Som e are born in their place, some nd it, some realize after long searching that the place they left is the one they have been searching for (Stegner, 1992 , p. 201). W hat is the meaning of our attachment to certain places why do we return to them over an d over again ? W hy do I need to do eldwork in this particular place, in Essex County ? W elty (1956) writes that we attach ourselves to places because they have a more lasting identify than we do and that we unswervingly tend to attach ourselves to identity (p. 59). De Certeau (1984) writes that : places are fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read, accumulated times that can be unfolded but like stories held in reserve, remaining in an enigmatic state, symbolizations encysted in the pain or pleasure of the body. (p. 108) An examination of ou r attachment to places, our histories, is not done for safety s sake (W elty, 1956, p. 70). On the contrary, as W elty (1956) reports, it is a risky business, but no art ever came out of not risking your neck. And risk exp eriment is a considerable part of the joy of doing (p. 70). An attachment to a place, then a particular and eeting con vergence of ideological, cultural, historical, and emotional relays does not necessarily produce perman ence or peace, for even the materiality of a place may shift. Fam iliar an d beloved landscapes woods, beaches, hilltop s may be altered by ood or hurrican e or earthquake, since, as Deleuze an d G uattari (1980 1987) explain, the earth itself asserts its ow n pow ers of deterritorialization, its lines of ight, its smooth spaces that live and blaze their way for a new earth (p. 423). The possibilities of that new earth,��� that di�� erent place, can on ly be imagined from a particular location and require risking the loss of the positivities that have coalesced an d rooted themselves there. The point here ab ou t attachment to places, and our histories in them, is that hom e is not a haven identity can never be a refuge. A consolation derived from an au thentic, stable essence is no more possible in places than in subjectivities. Both are performan ces accomplished within relations an d both, for the sake of ethics, require persistent critique. The purpose, then, of eldwork in our growing-up places (Pratt, 1984, p. 17), places like Essex County, as well as in the eld of a text such as this one, is to confront the constraining framework of one s past an d thereby to learn to what extent the e�� ort to think one s ow n history can free thought from what it silently thinks, an d so enab le it to think di�� erently (Fou cault, 1984 1985, p. 9). As one s past becomes a place (D ainotto, 1996 , p. 496), it is no longer an ab sent, out-of-date, or empty space (Serres & Latour, 1990 1995 , p. 48) but a very present, up-to-date, and busy site of agency, a productive location from which to practice Butler��� s (1994 1995 ) subversive citation (p. 135), Pratt s (1984) negative self-identity (p. 46), an d Spivak s (1993) deidenti�� cation (p. 6). W ith W elty (1956), I believe that it is by know ing where you stand that you are able to judge where you are (p. 67) an d then, perhap s, think of where you might rather
nomadic inquiry 367 be. Braidotti (1994a ), along the sam e lines, writes that, since identity is retrospective (p. 35), one must be placed for a time in order to remap one��� s cartography. The construction an d subversion of identity that Butler, Pratt, Spivak, and Braidotti describe, how ever, is hardly ever deliberate or intentional rather, it most often seems accidental and even capricious. It is the outside that folds us into identity, an d we can never control the forces of the outside. I believe the forces in certain places provide especially fertile conditions, exquisitely dynam ic intensities, that make us availa ble to a transformation of who we are, a contestation which compels us to rethink ou rselves, a recon guration of ou r place and ou r ground (Butler, 1994 1995 , p. 131). If we wish to practice identify improvisation, attention to places may be required. For this reason, I constantly return to my con tinuing history in that place in fragile, eeting junkets no matter where my feet are rooted, but when my feet do land on the red clay of Essex Cou nty, my body pau ses, settles, an d readies itself for an other motionless voyag e that always seems to involve painful desubjecti cation, joyful disarticulation. Stewart s (1989) words ab out eldwork could be mine : For myself, eldwork was not to be an encounter with an y primitive, or yet again, even foreigners. The other in my eld was heavily constituted out of a tension between my ow n memory of an earlier time, and the recognizab le changes of my return : out of the memory of how I used to be, and the inad equacy of my new cultural re exes. (p. 15) This risky business, homework (V isweswaran, 1994 , p. 101), the disturban ce of the saturation of identity in places, may create an over ow that produces those tiny explosions of the self that refuse to repeat the same I great, shattering revolutions, in fact. As a result, I refuse to valorize hom elessness, a certain placelessness (V is- weswaran, 1994 , p. 111) or being a citizen of the world (Braidotti, 1994a, p. 21), over hom e, thereby mythologizing exile (Quinby, 1991 , p. 148), since that practice sounds too much like Haraway s (1988) god tricks promising vision from everywhere and now here equally an d fully (p. 584). I also object, with Ann Gam e (1991), to those who con found the desire for a place with the nostalgic search for origins. Like V isweswaran (1994), I see hom e as the site of theory (p. 111). Like Gam e (1991), I am interested in the practices of space (p. 148), the practices a place makes possible, or closes o�� (G am e, 1991 , p. 183). So I go hom e to do my hom ework, to practice eldwork an d headwork (Van M aanen, 1995 ) and identity work. Nor have I neglected my textwork abou t Essex Cou nty. I have written an d written abou t my research there in a dissertation (St. Pierre, 1995), but the writing was not hap py. I mourned as the dissertation became a palimpsest that relentlessly overwrote the very di�� erent book I had been writing in my head abou t the wom en of Essex County. Text intruded upon text in rude and raucous ways. And unlike this essay that I am already thinking of as a joyful and playful rhizome, that very long essay employed an arborescent, circular architecture (D eleuze & Guattari, 1980 1987 Foucault, 1975 1979) an d lumbered along under a fairly benign disciplinary gaze dutifully tracking the prescribed grid. I did resist. First, I found I cou ld not write a proper introduction to the dissertation since I could nd no beginning to describe later, I resisted writing an ending, since I did not kn ow how to end something that had no begin ning. I was not surprised by my inability to perform a conclusion, for I had not yet nished. Indeed, I won dered whether I could ever nish. I felt trapped in the clarity of
368 elizabeth a. st. pierre the simple tenses edging the path I was exp ected to trace, a straight path from beginning to end, when I suspected that it was the incomprehensible future anterior in which I often worked. I felt trapped by the careless habits of accuracy (Kermode, 1966 , p. 43) of the over-determined plotting I was expected to reproduce, an accuracy that focuses on the facile comfort of a beginning and an end an d slips carelessly over the spectacular trajectories in the middle that deman d our most rigorous attention. W hy would I ever want to end ? Another reason for my failure to conclude was then and remains a problem many feminist ethnographers confront (see Behar, 1995 Gordon, 1995 M ascia-Lees, Sharpe, & Cohen, 1989 Stacey, 1988 Strathern 1987 Visweswaran, 1994 ) and has to do with the burden of authorship (G eertz, 1988, p. 138) that becomes heavier once we admit that we are not on ly inventing but then speaking for others (Alco , 1991 , p. 5) in our descriptions. The dilemma this burden produces is nding somewhere to stand in a text that is supposed to be at one and the same time an intimate view and a cool assessment (Geertz, 1988, p. 10). Abiding by that inside outside binary is bou nd to produce failure. How do we, rather, escape that binary to negotiate in praxis an d represent in text the never-ending contradictions that stym ie, the looping folds that shift us into som e di�� erent pau se from which we try to make a more tentative sense, or the last interpretation that is always presumptuous and often violent ? Com plications such as these have con tributed to my failure to end, and, since I am so an xious to return to the eld to think some more and then write a di�� erent text, I have troubled these problems in mental spaces and am now trying to write my way into them in this textual space. How ever, poised on the edge of the eld in this preface, I have discovered an other com plication as well : it is not just that I don t kn ow where the eld is, I don t know when it is either. M y study has been peculiar in many ways, but perhaps most unsettling (at rst, but not now ) has been my inab ility to separate space and time after all, I have been studying this community since I moved to the South from Yankee country as a child of ve. I have not been able to separate unoae cial data that I collected all my life ab ou t these wom en an d their community from data collected during the oae cial course of my research project. Nor am I ab le to stop thinking abou t what this community, my hom eplace, will be like when my subjects are gone, for I am now collecting obituary data. M y mother, who still lives in this community, sends me narrow columns of insuae cient words, skinny life histories, an nouncing the deaths of my participants, my friends. I ad d a death date to the top of a le folder, I reread an interview transcript (I dare not listen to the tape), an d I think ab ou t the empty place on the pew at the Baptist church, the empty place at the wom en s lunch tab le at the Holiday Inn, the empty house the children have sorted through, an d I wonder where all that intensity has gone. I mourn and envision a community empty of these women, a very di�� erent place. I nd I have far too many memor[ies] of the future (D eleuze, 1986 1988, p. 107). As D errida (1996) writes, it is the undeniable anticipation of mou rning that constitutes friendship. It reveals the truth of its topology an d tropology (p. 188). I do eldwork in mou rning and in the anticipation of mou rning, an d the data from my work in that eld-to-com e surely feeds all my inscriptions. So a tremulous simultan eity of pasts and presents and futures that will have been have produced a di�� erent ontological status for this ethnographer, a position that has kept her plunging through time at breakneck speed, so that a place, the eld, has simply become a pause in time (Tuan, 1977, p. 161), some time, any time. The ethnographic present, a welcome simulacra, has becom e a time to catch my breath an d rest a bit