Move your feet.

by Carl Dyke

Something my Dad told me many years ago when I was just a tyke Carl Dyke has always stuck with me. It’s a good example of how I do much of my thinking analogically, as for example in the last post on “getting clear.”

He was talking about how he played offensive guard on the football team in high school. He was a tall, skinny kid and guards are supposed to be the massive road graders of the offensive line so this was really an unlikely thing. What he told me was that the key is to move your feet. If you can keep your feet moving, he said (and of course I don’t remember his exact words), you keep your balance and leverage so you can maintain your position while never giving the other guy a clean shot to knock you over.

This is just beautifully (although of course imperfectly, as are all analogies) an image of metastability. There’s lots of shifting, preferably unpredictable in specific moves without being indeterminate in a larger sense, within a bounded range. No trouble keeping track of him continuing to be the same player playing the same position, but he’s otherwise not staying still or letting himself get pinned down.

As is so often the case during this, my blogging apprenticeship (N. Pepperell is my Yoda đŸ™‚ ), a thread on Rough Theory prompted this thought. The thread points to recent ‘theory wars’, which is a sort of thing I’m familiar to ennui with as an intellectual historian, although not the current instance. We all have to figure stuff out sometime, somehow.

The discussion on NP’s thread is worth perusing. In a very general sense it’s about how to ‘ground’ theories in real, sensuous histories without merely turning them into curios or losing an aspiration to broader engagement and relevance.

So it’s about our relationship to the ground. And it all made me think – move your feet. The problems come when we try to plant in one position. Too easy to hit from a blind side and get knocked over that way. Go ahead and stay where you are, but keep your feet moving. Keep turning, shifting, engaging.

Move your feet.

2 Comments to “Move your feet.”

  1. lol – this is nice. I have trouble expressing that I am not searching for a critical standpoint from a totality-eye-view – this is what I’m reaching for (without trying to flatten what you were saying back into what I do): that balancing in a complex context involves quite a lot of moving around within it, examining it from perspectives that no static position permits – this isn’t the same thing as some single privileged standpoint – it’s more (as Benjamin puts it) making history “citable in all its moments” – to get at those moments, you have to move around…

  2. Right. And the ‘privileged standpoint’ thing connects this all up in some other ways. For example, what gets defined as ‘privilege’ in the oppression studies is something like the imaginary standpoint where the entire game of [American] football is defined and played by the guards, or at least interpreted only from the guards’ perspective. And of course that’s silly.

    George Herbert Mead, who got a bad rap as the father of vulgar symbolic interactionism but is really quite spiffy, understood that “taking the perspective of the other” is an essential moment in identity formation. Of course we can derive the same basic insight from Hegel, etc. There’s a way of thinking of any game (which, following Wittgenstein, encompasses any social interaction) as a cooperative endeavor. Everyone there agrees (consents) on just about everything: who the players are, what the rules of interaction are, what everyone’s supposed to be doing, and so on. So to ‘get’ football my Dad had to not just move his feet but do so within a bounded field of interactions; to anticipate, based on a ‘feel for the game’, how his ‘opponent’ would be moving his. And vice versa, with the game a better and better one based on BOTH of them anticipating and moving well in relation to their ‘roles’ and the game as a whole.

    Like a dance, to shift analogies for the sports-challenged. There’s no privileged standpoint here at all, rather a series of moves in relation to the situation that may be made mechanically but should be made interactively. Because everyone knows the dance-partner you want is the one who dances with you rather than just doing the steps with their head down.

    Cue stock critiques of functionalism. Coming back to oppression studies and games, there’s a whole subset of the ‘interesting’ blogosphere and of course the field more generally where the entire content is a lot of complaining, in terms of ‘privileged standpoints’, about how the game is rigged. And of course it is, but that means the game has to be changed. You can’t keep being the same players (e.g. women) and playing by the same rules (e.g. gender) and expect that to work out for you. But that’s another post.

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