I recall a lecture at Goldsmiths (before I became a PhD dropout) – Mike Michael was talking about representations of the future and the role of future expectations in research methodology and approaching problems. He showed a slide of a piece of paper which displayed some form of diagram.
A diagram represents an idea, a concept, a reality. It outlines, contains and delineates the imagination; it is an imprint of something made tangible. In social research, methodology functions as a guide, often involving diagrams and tables, which take messy realities and puts them into tidy categories and variables*.
And then MM posed the question, what if we stop presenting ideas in diagrammatic form, but represent them instead like this. And then he showed a piece of screwed up paper.
I recently went to see my astrologer and asked him about the year ahead and what the future promised. He asked me if I knew what I wanted to do. No, I replied. Yes and you won’t know he stated simply, not until your early thirties. The worse thing you can do right now is to try and set out on a career, he continued. Though others will be frustrated and confused by your lack of direction this simply is not the right time to plan toward any defined future but instead simply enjoy going nowhere.
This was like music to my ears. Permission to carry on in my flaky existence, pursuing seemingly fruitless and rather ridiculous endeavours on a whim. And I remembered that screwed up ball of paper.
We plan our lives away and plan our ‘leisure’ time – it always made me laugh how people planned their time in Mysore with ‘productive’ activities, I could barely make it to breakfast before midday most days. But we never really pause to ask how this task of organising actually transforms our experience – what do we lose in all the itineraries and planning?
MM would argue that representing the future in a specific way and holding certain expectations about that future has a performative function. That is to say, that having expectations about a certain event shapes what is possible. Sharath always reminds us to have no expectations about our yoga practice. That through practice and through shedding expectations slowly transformation will occur. But of course there is no formula for this – and it was obvious that many people came to Mysore looking for that formula. But all they got was Sharath telling them to practice, and to come every day at 4am and sit outside the shala gates – in essence they got a screwed up ball of paper.
So what expectations can we hold in a life going nowhere? In sociological research we are trained to design aims and objectives and to formulate hypothesis before we have even undertaken the research – and then these aims have to correlate with the data we find. But as all sociologists that encounter the field know, reality always exceeds the expectations. Reality takes your aims and presumptions and pisses all over them. And then you have to write up those hours and hours of disjointed, incoherent stories into a neat 5000 word academic journal article. So it seems to me that when you listen hard enough you discover life, by its very nature, is always going nowhere when you take away your diaries and bus timetables and lunch breaks. And now it has been confirmed by the stars that my life is going nowhere for at least the next three years. But I must admit I do have one expectation, and that is to have a bloody good time.
*As Pierre Bourdieu puts it: ‘Is it really sufficient to account for practices by a ‘grouping of the factual material’ which enables one to ‘see the correlations’? And when one tacitly reduces them to the semiological juggling which the interpreters discourse makes of them, is this not another way of abandoning them to absurdity?’ (The Logic of Practice, 1980, p17).