John’s Message to All

John Vandermeer (May 10, 2016)

Dear Colleagues/Compañero(a)s/Comrades:

For those of you who were at my festschrift last weekend, thank you all for your incredible outpouring of praise for me.  As an unrepentant arrogant asshole, I could not have been more pleased.

But, more seriously, that outpouring was actually quite unexpected.  I think I mostly expected a somewhat more muted and academic set of discourses “John told me about intransitive loops,”  “John gave me the contacts that let me pursue my career,”  “John helped me navigate academia,” for example.  But you all said so much more, and so much more than I expected. I was, and am, overwhelmed.  Yet, again at the risk of false humility (which most of you know I am not capable of anyway), thinking purely analytically about it, there truly is way more of YOU affecting ME than ME affecting YOU.  I mean, seriously, what have I done?  I sit in my office and chat with you, and when I do so, you effectively tell me what my next paper or political activity should be.  I go into the field with you and you tell me the next place my research should go.  I walk the picket line with you and you tell me what is wrong with the political project I currently engage in and which one I should be pursuing.  So what exactly is it that I do?  I let you be my sounding board.  And where would I be without your patient willingness to tell me when I’m wrong? You are inevitably the anti-thesis to my thesis, and as you all know, it is the negation of the negation that ultimately matters.

I know some of you will say that I opened the door (physical and metaphorical) for you, and yes, I know that is true.  But who the hell is not able to do that?  Especially when I know that my own well-being (emotional, academic, political) ultimately depends on what you tell me, why would I close the door in the first place?  And how is it anything other than my own selfishness that keeps that door open?  Where would my goals and ideas come from?  Who would I plagiarize if it weren’t for you all?

In the end, as far as I’ve been able to process the weekend so far, it is all Dick Levins’ fault.  Dialectics not only characterizes the world, it characterizes my relationship with each and all of you, and each of you with all the others.  There is a synthesis that comes from you’re disagreeing with me, with your challenging me (and me challenging you).  But that synthesis is not just between me and you. It is a process among all of you also.  The community (or “lab” as Ed Russell so elegantly expressed it) seems to be a dialectical whole, with continual evolution/revolution, critically transitioning to greater heights of action and understanding.  So, adelante compañeros, you are in the process of making the revolution.  And thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of it.