Personal Update: September 2021
Updated: Aug 18
I've been reading a new book: Unthinking Mastery by Julietta Singh. It's a great book about the way notions of mastery have persisted subtly across de-colonial and anti-colonial modes of thought.
Along the way, though, Singh notes that the idea of mastery has also come to dictate our perceptions of knowledge and accomplishment. Whether an art, a trade, or an academic discipline, emphasis is often placed on control, totality, and completion. To master something is to subdue it, and find rest in the ubiquity of your own knowing.
As the title of the book implies, Singh's goal is to reshape the way we thinking about mastery. Knowledge, in particular, is recast as generative, experimental, and collaborative. Most importantly, it is unfinished, with new knots of knowledge being made and unmade throughout a life.
Reading Singh's book, it's clear to me that notions of mastery have been haunting my own ideas lately, too. When I read a book about cities, for instance, I am often intimidated by the numerous case studies or disciplinary histories referenced throughout. It's often lost on me that these authors are drawing on lived experience, accumulated through years (even decades) of travel along a career path that I am just now stepping into.
It's the same feeling I used to get when talking to encyclopedic music fans, able to retain swaths of information about bands that broke up long before I was born. Even in cases where their lives (or careers) haven't been much longer than my own, the truth is that some people just retain this type of information more easily than I do. Quotes, and dates, and discographies.
It's a pressure amplified by the fact that it's application season. I am bombarded with opportunities and deadlines that a quiet voice tells me I could meet if I sacrificed everything else and just 'figured it out.' Though it's helped me get over the new-semester hump I ran up against this month, it's a voice anchored in the idea that mastery should be an encompassing, exhaustive thing - as though I should already have a filing cabinet of resources to work with, to write with ad nauseum for the rest of my life.
With Singh in mind, I am trying to quiet this voice and be a more patient learner. I am trying to get back to the more vocational and, dare I say, spiritual fuel that made me want to be here, and do this work, in the first place. Bolstered by my ever-growing appreciation for Legend of Korra, I'm trying to find my centre and accumulate experience in my time.
Go Blue Jays.