Anjuli Raza Fatima Kolb at the Poetry Foundation:
I’m not one to go digging around in old dirt, but sometimes you find good bones. Recently I’ve been doing some research in the papers of an important scholar and public intellectual who taught at my university and died on my twenty-second birthday. When he died, I was a baby editor, and bad at my job, but I felt a little grand. I managed to get the day off from work for the memorial and bought a prim looking black dress from Goodwill, linen with a satin ribbon. I dug out my interview heels. People like Noam Chomsky said very moving things, but I couldn’t pay attention. The shape of everyone’s grief was so different and it didn’t really make sense to me. Everyone took his death personally, and the obituary in the Times was less than totally respectful.
Since eye and mind were wandery—like when you’ve crashed a party—I stared and tried to stay very still. I followed the lines of heavy stone to the grand but unbeautiful ceiling, traced the bronchioles of the organ, blinked in slowmo to feel the quiet hubbub, and tried to remember who told me about Alice Babs singing there, in Riverside Church or was it St. John the Divine, and what was supposed to have been shocking about it.
These are hard times for theoryTM, the summer bookended by revelations of a scandal that has split my social world down the middle, largely along generational lines. One of the theorists weighing in—who has signed a letter suggesting that reputation and clout, “grace” and “wit” should be allowed to eclipse abuse—wrote recently “I am still against scandal culture.” It’s probably true that there’s more than a little schadenfreude involved in this #moment. The internet is interested in juicy shit, and this is soggy-ass laundry from an out-of-touch cadre on the intellectual left.
But when Derrida died, and Said died, it’s not like the public was more earnestly interested in what they were up to. People hate theory.