Education, Media

Sigourney Weaver and Doing What You Want

Thursday, 22nd October 2020

“[A]ctors’ brands are now so much more narrowly defined and so much more painstakingly maintained, their presence on social media absorbing as much strategic thought as their actual professional development. [Sigourney] Weaver — and, as it happens, [Kevin] Kline — represent an entirely different ethos, a compulsion to stretch in this direction because you last stretched in another one, an understanding that variety is the handmaiden to longevity — or at least to longevity in a happy, mentally healthy state.”

I feel like this could be said about different paths in the academic world. No disrespect to those who know how to plow a furrow and do it well, but I’d rather be like Weaver. I’d get bored doing only one kind of thing.

The thing is, if the currency of our realm is fame and not money, that’s not the way to get it. People like it better when you are known for a thing, a single thing, a shingle you can hang out or a calling card that has “I Am This Thing” on it. If you don’t have that, it’s like you are queering academia, not this or that, a dilettante or a superficial thinker rather than someone who lets different kinds of things leak into each other and enrich each other. It’s made worse by the fact that some who can’t be easily named might indeed just be dilettantes. But then, some who can be named, that is, who have cashed in on the fame afforded by a single identity, aren’t necessarily all that either. They are good self-promoters, or they have a schtick that everyone likes and so they do it over and over. There are dangers in every path.

I have a hard time explaining to those who want to know, just what it is that I do. It’s not that any of it is especially technical or esoteric. It’s that there are a bunch of things that only really fit together in my head. And so, right now I’m finishing a paper on African philosophy, in the middle of writing one on university leadership and cognition, doing revisions on one on Heidegger and play, and another one on glocalization, waiting for a report on a book in African philosophy, about to start a paper on digital humanities, and preparing for another book on the nature of questioning in philosophy and beyond. I’ve done stuff in the history of mysticism, and on visual culture, and place and space, and philosophy of technology, and Deleuze, and postcolonialism, and phenomenology, and cognitive science, and interdisciplinarity, and a bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten about. How the heck does all that fit together?

Well, it does in my head. In fact, each of those makes all the others better. But the price I pay is that I’m the only one who sees that range, because anyone who reads what I do will only see the context of the specific piece, which usually does not include all these other things. It’s like the back story to a script.

I think I get why Weaver chooses the roles she does. Maybe she doesn’t have the awards that some others of her generation have. And yet, in the long run her way might be healthier, and I think much more interesting. I’ve always loved her work, even the silly stuff (Galaxy Quest and Ghostbusters are just as great as Gorillas in the Mist, IMO, from a character point of view). So, looking forward to seeing what she does next, even the Avatar things (which TBH I’m not all that crazy about as stories).

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