I remember these lovely moments from college, moments that continued into grad school, though without quite the wonder they’d earlier produced. Moments at which it seemed that all my classes were suddenly speaking to one another, and I’d get a hazy glimpse of the ways that all forms of knowledge were in some mysterious fashion interconnected. The grad school version of those moments of synchronicity was less thrilling, somehow, only because it was more expected; when you’re only taking classes in one department (and, by and large, classes focused on the literary production of one continent and in one century), such overlaps are inevitable. In college, though, I felt a real shiver every time my history professor would mention the same writer or concept or event that my English and political science professors had independently mentioned just the day before.
I’ve never had one of those moments as a professor, for no other reason than that there are very few openings for the unexpected; the woman who writes the syllabus is hard to surprise. Except when she’s not really paying attention.
Yesterday, my Intro to Media Studies class covered bell hooks’s “Eating the Other”; tonight, my Intro to Cultural Studies graduate seminar discussed the volume from which the essay came, Black Looks. I didn’t plan it that way. In fact, I didn’t even realize until this weekend that this was going to happen.
The conversations in the two classes were quite different, in no small part because the context each course had to this point created was pretty specific. It was nonetheless fun to remember, however briefly, the excitement of those glimmers of interconnection among diverse fields, glimmers that gave me the sense that there was something transformative to be found in interdisciplinarity.
The feeling is fading already, though, I’m sorry to report, and I’m trying to figure out what to make of the sense of nostalgia — of loss — that is lingering in its wake. I wonder if there’s something in the institutionalization of interdisciplinarity that robs it of its magic. Once one teaches a course — worse, once one has repeatedly taught a course — entitled “Introduction to [Interdisciplinary Field],” have the pathways between subjects become so well-trodden that little room for exploration, and for the random connection, remains?