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By Swati Bandi
If I were to map myself, how would I begin? I am a 36 year old woman, a mother, a professor, a loving partner – writing a dissertation. Despite all of the things I am, the perpetual state of critique – that is the state of writing a scholarly, original piece of research that is supposed to be one’s dissertation overshadows, overwhelms and utterly overrides everything else. How does one move beyond this state then? I could finish the dissertation and after six years it certainly looks closer than it ever did. Then, would I be there? Do I want to be there?
For the ten years that it has been since I came to U.S I have clung to a state of critique like it was my own special suit of armor, laced with nuance, complexity and originality. For those who are also writing these words will hold special significance. As an academic I have repeatedly attempted to arrive at the space when it would no longer be difficult to find the words to say exactly what I want to say. I’ve failed so miserably sometimes so I cling tighter to my armor.
Unable to do what I want to do in the ‘real’ world – laziness, fear, and guilt being some reasons – I attempt to enact my activism in the classroom. I teach as an adjunct in a semi-rural, large public university with mostly first generation students who are not used to seeing a brown, short female professor teaching film studies. Computers or science – maybe. But film, race, gender – nope. I’ve had some successes and some miserable failures but mostly it has been a steady stream of students passing through my classroom doors. But the classroom is a continually shifting experience. To pin it down is impossible so I cling tighter to my armor.
At the beginning of last semester, I was told that I would not have my job after four years here. It was swift, people were sorry but it had to be done. I decided to hurry up and get on the “job market.” This was always my temporary job anyways. The market is just that, a market. It is a space where you mount attempt upon attempt to sell yourself. You might think you have the goods, you might even bargain with yourself – perhaps I could sell half my soul and apply for that position that wants someone to teach ten classes a year, carry out advising and administrative jobs and also contribute to the research agenda of the department. A soul is self-regenerating right, it will grow back, right? So, I cling tighter to my armor.
Nothing happens; only the end date of my work visa comes closer. So I start to look for two bedroom rentals and used furniture on the craigslist websites back home for my one year old and myself. My husband cannot join us immediately, he will stay back. I do lots of math, attempt to align a lot of numbers with a lot of desires. They don’t match. I check my email to see if I’ve gotten an interview. Then I get back to craigslist and downscale my expectations. Perhaps I can take that corporate e-learning job. I first have to research that. It will help me pay my bills and my student loans. I redo the math and cling tighter to my armor.
I like it. For now.
Swati Bandi is currently putting the finishing touches on her dissertation, which is a critique of neoliberal media interventions, particularly documentary, in the area of women’s rights in the global South. She is also an Instructor of Film & Media Studies at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She is looking forward to the uncertain futures that life after critique presents when her dissertation and job will end in two