One of the speakers was my PhD supervisor, with all that baggage of closeness and distance. Another was my colleague for two years in Amsterdam. Another still, is my colleague right now at Duke. The moderator is a fellow contributor to this blog, and beyond professional conspiracies, a friend. Why then did I watch the video of the Mini-Symposium on the History of Postwar Economics. What could I possibly have excepted to see?
I showed restraint, watching only the roundtable session. The ground covered in the discussion was familiar, not all, but most of it. So I looked at nothing radically new, but I was seeing/listening differently. I had become a spectator. Whenever I am with Mary, Marcel, Roy, or Pedro, I participate, engage, respond, probe, embarrass myself. But at the remove of a video streamed into my living room, locked doors, and tea cup in hand, I didn’t need to do anything. So I watched carefully drifting in thought. There was talk of historiographical frames: turns in philosophy and history, asking questions with graduate students, contextualizing in the longer past and the closer past, what we call our subject. There was the labor of difference, us and the economists, us and sociologists, us and our contribution to the present, us and the tropics. The production of meaning, suggested other things, which I keep to myself. Participating and not participating, the status of the spectator, consuming.
There is comfort in alienation. Everybody should try it sometime.