I’m preparing a lecture at the moment on the topic of work/labour in The Simpsons; at three hours, I have more than enough time to belabour the point that neoliberal capitalism is killing us all, that women are exploited through the function of ideology in often invisible ways, and then, finally, that cultural products are very good at hiding their investment in the very systems they critique.
The problem, for me, is trying to disentangle my politics from the analysis I am encouraging. Of course I’m used to the easy determination that there is no exteriority between analysis and politics, that ‘objectivity’ is a myth structure that is just as surely a political position as any other, and that education, in its broadest sense, encompasses social criticism. (That’s right, I use the Oxford comma now.)
Yet it’s about here that I find myself reading over my speaking script and wondering. The problem with The Simpsons is the same problem that the historian Nicholas Branch faces in Don DeLillo’s Libra: at 492 episodes (and counting) there is a seemingly infinite amount of source material, I’m up to my ears in it, it explodes out of drawers and bubbles up beneath the carpet.
Thus I return to that awful word in literary studies, methodology; or, more precisely, I return to the fact that my selection ‘method’ is to remember those shows that seem relevant from my long memory of watching The Simpsons. What I find is that the episodes I remember are those that support my political orientation; what I find is that the structures of my memory are shot through with my politics. Am I, I begin to wonder, in fact just watching own biases played out in front of me?
It’s about here, though, that I realize that not everyone is as reflexive about analysis. If, instead of worrying that my structures determine my readings, I just thought ‘this is right’, or, ‘look what I found’, I’d be a lot less worried. If, rather than searching for exteriority between the structures of knowledge and the structures of discourse, I searched for the Truth, well, things would be a lot easier.
Which brings me to the final problem, the title of this post, where the reflexive researcher meets the disciplinary imagination. I have to mark essays, after all. What will I do if my students start quoting Ayn Rand at me? Is that analysis? We are always told that a well-made argument will ‘stand’ on its own merits: another one of those ‘sta’ words that imply that argumentation is stationary. But what if argumentation doesn’t work like that; what if the relationship of language, politics and analysis is a lot more complex than the marking schedules would allow?