this is not a literature review

Frome, Friday 8th July 2022

I hope this letter finds you and that you are well, because after knowing you for almost 9 months (a full cycle of human creation) I feel like we are intimately connected and yet I can barely sense who you are.  It is awkward isn’t it, this period of gestation? I had hoped to know you better by now, to understand your hopes and dreams, but you are so elusive and intangible. 

I want to thank you for the invitation to share a ‘kernel report’ today. At first the openness of this was overwhelming and I looked for clues about what you might be expecting from me, but you were shape shifting, your boundaries indistinct.  At your periphery, there are entities who are not fully absorbed, who perhaps aren’t even aware that they are somehow part of you.  I wanted to satisfy the demands of all these complex parts of you, to feel part of the whole myself.  I thought I might do a literature review, compare and contrast the work I was reading, find hypotheses to prove or disprove, to neatly synthesise different theories and practices, I thought this would be what was expected. But you framed it as a report, a record of what had passed in these few months, so yesterday I reconsidered.

I can report that in this time I have been deeply inspired by a complex and emotional collaboration with a fellow researcher, I’ve held my son as his grandad died in the next room, I’ve read a thousand snippets from a thousand texts and finished none of them, I’ve sat in a roomful of people cleverer than me talking talking talking over my grief, I haven’t slept as much as I should, I have grown nine varieties of oats, 2 of which got mildew but have flowered nonetheless, I have had a meeting with a disability and wellbeing officer who suggested I try writing to-do lists, I have filled my mother-in-law’s freezer with food to make up for the time I couldn’t spend with her, I have spent time instead eating broad bean soup and nourishing my own brain whilst grappling for clarity, I have joyfully nourished my brain, I have swum in the sea, I have submitted two successful funding applications and two unsuccessful ones, I have had to choose between my partner’s health and my personal development, I have danced, I have brought together a group of people for a ‘workshop’ that taught me far more than it could teach them, I have ingested more class A drugs than I ever did as a teenager – only this time on prescription and my brain is fizzing from the adventures it has been on.

I don’t offer this as an excuse for the missing 5000 words, but an explanation for why it is necessary to exercise an act of refusal and not produce the report you might have been expecting.  I respectfully refuse to produce a literature review because it can only be reductivist response to the complex knowledge I have only just begun to come into contact with.  I am not going to share the 5 different attempts I made to sound like 4 months was long enough to really process anything to the depths that would allow me to feel qualified to critique or judge it.  I am not going to translate the instincts and feelings I hold in my chest and my belly into cold text with Harvard style citations. I am not going to write like an academic today.

Instead, I am thinking about the way that knowledge is metabolised and the way that food enters the body. About the rhythms and assemblages of different ideas, different ingredients and the synchronicity of the seasons and other cycles that vibrate through the more-than-human commons. I am thinking about the vibrant materiality of food, about commoning as an embodied and embodying act of care and the impossibility of trying to present that as a piece of writing. I am thinking about language as a construct which can only ever reproduce the constructs that first built it.

I only really speak English, but I eat and I dance, I cook and I grow food. I am seeking a rhythmic, cyclical praxis, but to write in cycles might only lead to madness, so this letter of refusal is perhaps a refusal of madness.  Instead I make some simple, disjointed offerings for an alternative methodology that might not be totally visible yet but that is emerging.  I can’t yet articulate this methodology, perhaps it doesn’t have a name or I just haven’t found it yet, but it comes with the same urgency as the deep collective trust that is required by the commons but denied to a global majority.

It is easy to talk about trust with the privilege that I hold as a white middle class cis-het woman, but to understand how to work care-fully is going to take intense work. So to commit to paper at this stage, also risks a violence to beings (human and not only) who are vulnerable to my unearned confidence.  This act of refusal is therefore also an attempt to take a decolonial approach to my work, to acknowledge my ignorance and lean in to the polyphonic feminisms I hold close.

I am a person who is in love

This sentence was used yesterday at a gathering I convened which I thought would consolidate my straggling ideas into a neat box and instead it shook them all back out onto the floor. 

To be a person who is in love, to be consciously holding space for loving which is not subject to enclosure. Not love that is given to someone else but love that is enacted willfully across the boundaries of personal/private/public/work. Is this something we can share, CDT? A way of commoning together?  For ourselves, for our work to develop with authenticity and for the opportunity to truly listen. I could frame this as a reflection on my own positionality and it is this, but it’s also an offering of attunement and resonance.  To be ‘a person who is in love’ is a vibration – like echolocation – a sensing for care-full others, which goes far beyond the capacity of language.

This is a complexity that the body can hold but words cannot. At least not my words.