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Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Bad Back

BAckground: "I've got a bad back". A ridiculous piece of language when you think of it  - firstly the bodily area in question isn't a unitary thing, secondly it would be better to use a possessive pronoun,  and thirdly the back has'nt done anything wrong. Nevertheless, and ridiculous as it is, the phrase is accurate - to whit, I have a bad back. Or rather I have had a bad back in earnest  since about 1995 although even prior to that time, the back was suspect.  Suspect is another ridiculous word to describe a body part, used in soccer as follows:   'The boy Rigby has a suspect hamstring' (younger members of any given team are referred to as 'the boy...(name)'. Actually the more I think about it, the more ridiculous any and every language continues to be and a good part of me wishes we communicated in binary, with politicians limited to unitary. 

Anyway, the back (mine) has been bad (damaged not misbehaviour) probably the result of a combination of factors including yrs trly being long and stringy, damage caused by badly performed but  repeated physical actions (such as carrying  and lugging), bad posture and inappropriate or reduced exercise. The most recent bout has been the result of both inappropriate and reduced exercise but it has been in a good cause. This good cause has been the rapid writing of academic papers for publication which has seen me planted at the desk for much longer than normal.

The story: It all started with a visit from a famous academic in January. This particular academic is so famous that major parties consult him, he is frequently on tv and radio and now he was coming to my town to give a talk. I went along, not because I was impressed by the fame, but because I was interested to see that this guy's work had wandered into territory I cover in my research. I say wander, because the talk, although good, gave some impression that the speaker's interest in the topic was quite political and probably temporary - a kind of ideological diletante visiting 'immigration', possibly because every politician in the UK is obsessed with immigration at present, so the issue is 'current' (and we are obliged to swear in blood that our research will be current) . Equally however, the speaker's interest may be burgeoning and a lifelong commitment to researching immigration may follow. Whatever the speaker's motivation,  for me, and as being an immigrant is what inspired the PhD in the first place and because  I think processes of migration warrant further study rather than political visiting, the speaker's attention was welcome if, by dint of making a serious, academic and professional point at the conclusion of his talk, I could impress on him the need to make his visit (to the topics of migration) slightly longer and therefore have several important facts about migration relayed to senior politicians (who seem utterly unacquainted with facts of any type). That was the hope anyway, and if you think that the sentence immediately preceding this one is complicated, requiring a coupla reads before you understand what it says, you want to be there when I ask a question at academic conferences.

The problem is that I am so utterly out of place at academic events. No, really, this is not false modesty, I just dont belong at these things. Its not imposter syndrome either - I've discussed this with my good (newish) friends Riccardo and Cecilia and  they clearly  feel that someone will find them 'out' as new academics. If anything, I have reverse-imposter syndrome -  I believe I have found out the world of academia - a lot of it is constructed and stage managed so carefully  because some  people are terrified of (good)  radical new ideas . And this puts me out of place at academic events because although I recognize  the complex mirage-dance of manners, I just cant do it very well. Take 'the coffee bit' for example. I know that after you've grabbed your inadequately sized cup of shit coffee, you're supposed to chat, usually in some type of foyer, completely unsuitable for chatting. I havent got a clue what you're supposed to chat about , only that you're supposed to look intelligent or interested with a very controlled demeanour that should be pre-set somewhere between polite smugness and vaguely amused interest both with a dash of appraisingness while you drop names. In no circumstances ever  should you be "abso-fucking-lutely furious" (as I am about the immigration policy of the UK), and you should definitely not describe it in terms, or manner which indicates that you are abso-fuckin- lutely furious. You also should'nt find anything "brilliant", "really funny", "dead sad" or "a load of w***" all of which I have uttered during various 'the coffee bit'-s. If you do commit the crime of actually saying what you think, or talking about last night's footie or expressing strong emotion, there is a sideways glance and/or an imperceptible but perceptible shuffle on the part of your conversant and you find yourself alone-among-people in a large foyer that is completely unsuitable for being alone-among-people in. One solution to this is to take a conference-buddy, which is a bit like a f**-buddy (and may also be that as well), so that you dont have to endure 'the coffee bit' alone but this still means that if you ask a question within the talk, and you are not in the (or 'a')  'in crowd' you have to do so solo.

This was the point I was trying to raise about three paragraphs ago,  and that its taken this long to get 'there' may also be an illustration of why  I hate asking questions in academic situations: I find it really difficult to have  enough thoughts of the right standard while listening to an academic talk, let alone formulate coherent questions. Thus it is embarassing to feel that I have to ask a question at some point.  My accent - which is notorious  in the UK -  also doesnt help , threatening  (the accent that is) as it does,  through various social constructions of 'scousers',  to tell a joke, issue a threat of violence and be radically politically Left Wing simultaneously in a whiney nasal tone  in any question I ask even though I might'nt say anything which suggest any of those things with my words. The result is that when I do ask a question meant as a genuine enquiry it is wildly incoherent because I'm conciously trying to avoid sounding funny, threatening, Left Wing  or whiney but instead am trying to sound academic.

The result of asking my rubbish question is a bad back months after the event.  This is both a surprise and a problem because much to my surprise my observations strike a chord and I am identified as something of an expert, refreshingly regional and radical,  a bit dangerous perhaps  but academically sound. This is good for my research field, so is welcome, but is also a problem because having been identified in certain quarters as someone with something to say, I now have to say it, rather than (as was the current condition) say that I am going to be saying something (at some unspecified point). Thus much time has been spent writing furiously, glued to the laptop where I have had to concentrate on removing the word 'clearly' from everything I have ever written and replacing it with evidence. And such writing has reduced exercise significantly which has resulted in a bad back.  I've already resolved for the sake of the back never to ask another question in an academic conference again.

THe BA\d