Some years ago, I began to notice the reticence of really smart people to answer what would appear to me to be even the most simple questions. I should have thought harder, at the time, about why that was. But, y’know, I didn’t.
Years and books later, I understand that reluctance much more. The world is a really difficult thing to wrap your head around. Even its non-material parts – things like history or politics – are proper devils. To the point that it becomes difficult to reach a final position on nearly anything of consequence. There’s always a manoeuvre that you won’t have guarded against, a shift of perspective or interest that comes along to make you look like a fool. I’m quite sure that reading this blog back far enough, I’ve inevitably spoken loudly and in ignorance on all kinds of things.
I’m in the process of applying for PhDs at last. A part of a long journey that likely began with my enrolment at Rhodes, and which hasn’t disappointed for a moment in the years since. I know that learning’s been happening, because I’ve started to feel that reticence towards final positions. Started to see far more contingency in all things human. Far more capacity for reinvention that a younger Richard would have had time for.
I’d like to think it’s made me a better person. But it’s also not a license to retreat in to analysis, not to write out of a fear of being wrong, being imprecise, being outrun by language in a matter of years. If being right were everything, if having the final word the first time I opened my mouth were important, this entire site would die in a fire. But there are, thankfully, things more important. Reflection. And historical honesty, for example.
It’d be easy enough to erase eight years of posts, put up a white page with sexy sans-serif font (helvetica neue anyone?). To pretend that a person who thinks about the implications of perlocution/illocution for race politics in South Africa, or the ethics of asking for the concealment of distant suffering just appeared fully formed. But that’s not how life works, and the filament that connects Richard of Southeast asian backpacking to the Richard of media theory and conflict is simply a matter of honesty. A personal-history hat-tip to the unfixedness of how we come to be who we are. A bus trip here, a conversation there. Were any of them different, I and this blog might well not be here.
So the history stays. The hundreds of notes explaining me to myself and those who take the time to read. An affirmation, in a perfectly-presented social media age, of the honest messiness of life. Because there are no final positions. We never quite arrive. And we’re never as smart or as right as we think we are.