For a Different Academic Politics of Waiting

21 April 2022

Dr. Friederike Landau-Donnelly

Academics always seem to wait for something. Surely, academic humans sometimes also wait for someone to arrive for a meeting, invite us to a keynote, respond to urgent emails. Yet the kind of waiting I want to reflect upon here is the academic practice of waiting geared towards somewhat nebulous, contingent and disembodied timelines: We wait for acceptance letters of grant applications (or sadly, more often, the rejection); we wait for journal reviews, first, second, third revision rounds; we wait for abstract submissions to be approved, or not; we wait for travel reimbursements, third-party research funding to be shoved back and forth; we wait to be assessed, ranked, reviewed, indexed; do some of us might also wait to finally be assigned as reviewers? Temporary holders of power, yay!

Many of us wait for tenure applications to be processed, for contracts to be prolonged, to land the one job which ultimately will offer less precarity – you get the picture. And now comes the staggering news: the waiting will not wane. Yes, academic waiting can have purpose, it can have a goal, you can jump through hoops, send the icon via your daily Zoom interface, there are things to celebrate in academia – but the more fundamental realization is that waiting is part of the job, which is already a wild blend of different jobs (ranging from PowerPoint witch and wizard to public entertainer to empathic pedagogue to therapeutic advisor). Let’s think of academic waiting as politics without teleology, an ever-wavering, ever-exhausting phenomenon that sticks to us. Yet, instead of merely reversing this claim and suggesting the abolition of waiting (which might, however, be intriguing), I want to argue for a different academic politics of waiting.


Just so that you don’t waste spend your time, a programmatic guide “How to never wait again” does not follow. But poems do.

We constantly shed skins of disappointment after waiting, we rattle and shake off memories of refusal resulting from waiting, while writing about other people’s hardship. This waiting place is a bit sickening. In the face of this slightly upsetting unfinished business, Jess Linz and Anna Secor (2021, p. 201) offer wonderful insight in their essay Politics for the Impasse:

The impasse is a funny kind of space: it is a void. It has no walls, no ground, no fixed dimensions … the impasse is a wormhole… To be in the impasse is to be suspended in the cut, to inhabit the unlocalizable twist of the Möbius, to arrest oneself right where one encounters the impossible. Inhabiting the impasse means subsisting in uncomfortable dissonance, in the paradoxical co-presence of irreconcilable affirmations.

Hence, maybe we can grasp waiting as an impasse, the space of waiting as a wormhole, the embodied act of waiting as suspension in the cut. In other words, waiting can feel like being stuck in the mud, wanting to reverse and get the hell out of there. Yet, when understanding waiting as a political act to dwell in an impasse which will not fade away (but which is not menacing either), new opportunities of academic survival can arise. The politics of waiting I propose embrace the impasse as a space of catching your breath for possibilities beyond waiting, and the relief to be found when cuddling with the impossible. These dances at the verge of the impasse evoke a sense of time, timing, endurance, delay, a thrill. This conception of waiting as continuous impasse chimes with the visceral experience of constantly running against deadlines, schedules, time windows we have set up for ourselves: two hours of ‘deep work’ going by without having written a word. Noisy blankness. Academic speed – for better or for worse.  

What kind of answer will slow science be?
Slowness as new imperative commodity?  
What if my ‘slow science’ is not deliberately slow
what if slowing down is it not
generative asmuchasIbelieveitcanbe
I’m slow because I can’t stop thinking about the world burning down
Focus seems so (in) vain
Neoliberalism purchases slowness like a cute little leather handbag
the devil lies in the cute croc chic Chanel sorry Coco

Again, academic waiting is often not blissful anticipation, like waiting to finally wrap one’s arms around a lover again. Rather, academic waiting often ends up in a huge, big pile of ‘re’ – revision, resubmission, redoubt, repetition, rescaling, again and again and again. The waiting can get cringy. Waiting after rejection just adds more pressure to wait again. You wait to be judged by an ever-evolving audience; you’re never gazed at by the same critical eyes twice (but they check you out all the time, rest assured). The waiting isn’t particularly safe, your text isn’t safe either. Then, how do you write?

Angry Waiter

academic though’t, a collection of 43,503 droplets
triplet droplets
they run after themselves and you watch them running
trying to catch them in an enamel bowl
and then they amalgamate into thoughts
the genius thought Gedankenblitz is a rare species

angry waiter
angry waitress
I wish I knew when anger had a purpose

tears are dense
hiding behind my heavier eyelids
didn’t dare coming out

would you want to decouple the goal of your anger to be just – just-ish?
what they call waiting is
life at 85%
my passion is molding away
your clock has no arrow
battery out of shtock
there are a million little holes in this brain

the art of winding up
and down
troubulent

who lives happily ever after in clouds of brain fog?
caressing clouds of not exploiting the hour to the last second

Outlook

This was not a manifesto against waiting. What I do know at this point is that it’s OK to wait. It’s OK to not wait any longer. It’s OK to dream while waiting, run away while waiting. Tweak the waiting game, the waiting apparatus, the waiting machine the politics of waiting according to your own terms. While I am not sure what really qualifies as a waste of time, how you wait certainly matters – and might morph the academic ecosystem into a more caring place. If we wait in the impasse, as Linz and Secor imagine (2021, p. 204) , it’ll come with snacks; we can wait while in bed there, too. These different politics of waiting are lacking ultimate grounds (i.e., you never have to wait, waiting could always be otherwise), this waiting becomes temporarily grounded when we set foot somewhere (don’t forget the snacks). Hence, a different politics of waiting appeals to wait differently, to wait more boldly, with a less absolute belief that this waiting system is the only system. In addition to challenging and subverting the conventional channels of waiting, new spaces of academic temporality, production and waiting could calibrate waiting as act of choice, creative contemplation and transformation rather than one of felt or actual dependency and distress. In this uncertain journey, waiting appears anew as voyage without end or beginning. By piggybacking on the outside of waiting – the encounters in-between, besides and beyond the narrow confines of the disciplinary apparatus that told you to wait – we wait away into an eternal regression of sunsets out of sight.     


Dr. Friederike Landau-Donnelly (*1989) is a political theorist, urban sociologist and cultural geographer. In her dissertation, published with Routledge as Agonistic Articulations in the Creative City – On New Actors and Activism in Berlin’s Cultural Politics Agonistic Articulations in the ‘Creative’ City: On New Actors and Acti (routledge.com), Friederike explored the political organization of Berlin’s independent art scene(s). Friederike is interested in spatial and political theories of conflict, art-led activisms, politics of public art (esp. murals, monuments & museums) and the many forms, shapes and mo(ve)ments of ‘the political’. More information on www.friederikelandau.com.

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