Centralia

Belgian Coast
Schmidt’s Belgian Coast (1979)

The standard metric for evaluating a case for tenure: is the candidate’s work central to the discipline? This question arrests me. I like it, insofar that I have spent so long assuming that anything worth doing is off to the sidelines; it makes me appreciate having to relocate my own strip of margin to the center. 

The painter Peter Schmidt, remembered today as a friend and collaborator of the musician Brian Eno, prided himself on not being a figure in the world of art, of instead teaching, making, of keeping quiet, of keeping his head down. This is very difficult to not read as sour grapes. For those of us preoccupied with communication, the drive that is basic in others – to demonstrate their thought, to outfox, to be excellent, to be recognized – is no longer intrinsic, natural, assumed. It is as though you were to think about every step as you walk, every controlled fall, the possibility of a misfire at every moment. Communication and dominion are intertwined, and seem equally impossible. 

If centrality means that the work follows what is already written plainly on the agenda, or that I must write it in bold strokes between the lines – even crossing out another line to put it in – than I am discouraged all over again. If instead I can find it implicit in the agenda, if I can argue it in, I can carry on. Centrality, of course, implies a figure whose center can be located. Pointing at the figure, I locate my own area of expertise everywhere and nowhere, in the integuments holding the figure together, in the dotted lines that could upon examination resolve into strings of texts with supporting images. 

Centralia smoke image
Smoke in Centralia, by Flickr user Jrmski.

(July 2016)