taking speed seriously in English

James Brown offers some interesting observations on the response of our discipline to speed, in terms of Virilio's dromology. As is certainly a truism, the world keeps getting faster. We thought it was fast in the 80s or 90s but we had no idea what we were talking about. Scholasticism, critical thinking, serves as a counter-balance to speed. Maybe it always has, even as professors proclaim their own versions of liberal, progressive thinking. Mostly "we" (especially "we" in the humanities) are about slowing down, about conserving culture, about skepticism for whatever excites anyone (or especially everyone) else.

That's fine. And maybe good. I'm not so interested in judgments (all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding).

However there is another way of thinking here. James notes: "Virilo’s description of the dromologist is telling: 'the analyst of the

phenomena of acceleration.' Could we not rethink the dromologist as a
practitioner rather than an analyst? … what would such a dromological approach offer English studies?"

Part of this question lies in how we view speed. You'll have to excuse if my take on speed is as much about Deleuze as it is about Virilio. (That's just the price of admission at this blog.) Speed is intensity. Speed alters affective relations. That is, it alters the kinds of effects we have in relation to others. We can think of this in many ways in our discipline, from "covering" large amounts of material in a survey course to "keeping up" with technology or new research. The goal of traditional research might be to have some permanence, particularly in the humanities. But given the proliferation of scholarship in our field, to say nothing of data in general, permanence is likely a pipe dream, which is affectively quite different from taking speed.

That said, the weight and ponder-ance of scholarly critique were likely never a better bet for long-term relevance than the lightness and intensity of speed-induced thought. Ginsberg's Howl being the archetypal example. Now I am not saying that's the path to take, but the point is that just because our rhetorical, discursive expectations call for certain behaviors, that doesn't mean that other compositional practices might not yield worthwhile thinking.

I can say in my own thinking it works this way. And perhaps you'll take issue with it. But in research, reading, and writing, I know in an instant, intuitively I suppose, when I am on to something. Then it might be hours or weeks or months of work to be able to really understand that moment, at least within the terms of discourse in which I work.

Could I get you there faster by other means? That's the question I see being asked here.


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