If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.Elizabeth Bishop, “At the Fishhouses”
Any particular academic monograph in the humanities appears as a creature whose species is known in advance. Whether we choose to classify it via “the system” or “the method,” as Michel Foucault distinguishes the taxonomic procedures of natural history, nevertheless the particular kind of thing before us tends to display all or some of the following characteristics: an impressive array of footnotes (scholarly and/or discursive), an extensive bibliographic apparatus, a statement on method, acknowledgments, a title page, chapters. All this above and beyond “the argument” or the body of the thing, which itself of course must simultaneously internalize, disguise and yet manifest the requirements of those regimes – intellectual, institutional, interpersonal, economic, ideological – that variously sponsor (even as they impede) the production of academic things.