Critiquing Citation: An Interview with Annabel L. Kim

The latest issue of Diacritics, "Citation, Otherwise" is a special issue exploring and questioning of the concept of scholarly citation through many lenses. The issue explores ideas of intellectual property, intellectual economy, and the politics of citation. Guest Editor Annabel Kim graciously answered our questions about the issue and its contributors. 

What is your specific area of research? What brought you to your area of academic focus? 
 
My specific area of research is the twentieth- and twenty-first-century French novel. In terms of how I came to focus on the novel over other literary genres, I think it has to do with it being a kind of “Goldilocks” genre: I don’t feel like I know how to properly read poetry because poems tend to be so short and I feel incredible pressure to extract meaning from every single word. I don’t really know what to do with theater because of the complex interplay between the play as a text and the play as a theatrical production, and when it comes to the cinematic forms of narrative, I’m thrown for a loop by their audiovisual dimension. The novel, on the other hand, is for me an ideal convergence of duration, length, immersion and its pure textuality makes it easier for me to account for it as an object. 
 
As for how I came to focus on the modern and contemporary novel over novels from earlier periods, I’d say it’s because novels from the last century disturb me in ways that novels from earlier centuries don’t. I love eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century novels—because I find them so enjoyable, I have a difficult time approaching them critically. Novels from the last century, though, are writing from and into a historical context that I consider my own, and that non-identical overlap between their temporality and my own results in an interesting discordance that arrests my attention: it’s like when the dubbing for a movie or TV show is a fraction of a second behind or ahead; things are still comprehensible but that non-alignment between the actor’s mouth and the things that are said is aggravating. And for me, that experience of aggravation makes me want to look at what’s happening in that interval, to make sense of that non-alignment. 
 
 
How did this special issue come about? 
 
The issue has its origins in a panel I organized for the 2019 Modern Languages Association convention in Chicago for the MLA Forum for 20th- and 21st-century Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies. I wanted it to be a truly comparative panel, as open as possible, so I decided to organize it not around a shared object but rather a metadisciplinary question of method that would cut across the usual distinguishing lines of national tradition, language, or medium, and citation, as something so basic and foundational to all scholarship, seemed like a really rich site of inquiry.
 
 
How did you come to edit the issue? 
 
The panelists agreed that the panel had been a success and the Q&A was particularly rich as the metadisciplinary nature of the questions asked by audience members meant that every single panelist had something to say in response to the questions posed. A throughline that emerged in the Q&A was the idea of intellectual capital, which was an exciting one that we continued to talk about after the panel. Reluctant to have the conversation end that day, we collectively agreed that it would be worth it to develop things into a publication. As the organizer of the panel described above, it made sense for me to take the lead on editing a special issue. 
 

Was there a call for papers for submissions on the topic? 
 
There was a call for papers for the MLA panel but not for the issue. For the issue, I thought about what fields I wanted to see represented in the issue beyond those of the original panelists who agreed to be contributors to the issue—queer studies and literary studies—and solicited contributions from scholars working in other fields—Black feminism, history, Asian American studies—so that the issue would cover wide humanistic ground, contend with questions of race and gender, and interrogate the archive as a site and object central to the work of many humanities scholars. 
 

In your thoughtful introduction, titled "The Politics of Citation", you note that "the issue calls for a new relational economy of knowledge to be built through a new citational practice". What does that new practice look like to you? How might it be implemented? 
 
The issue as a whole is invested in moving citationality away from a “propertarian” model of knowledge that treats ideas and scholarship as capital that can be possessed. The consequence of moving away from treating ideas as property is a more fluid and freer exchange of ideas, a more capacious citational structure.  
 
In my mind, such a new practice entails trying to bring about unexpected intellectual encounters. It’s not exactly interdisciplinarity in its usual sense, where one employs methods that come from different disciplines so that one could be identified as participating in X, Y, and Z disciplinary conversations, but rather, about seeking out exchanges with scholarship that, on its face, might not have anything to do with what one works on. For example, while I was working on my book on the excrementality of the modern French canon, reading a paper on slavery in late medieval Mediterranean France sparked an aha moment for me about freedom and universalism, when, at first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much common ground between scatological twentieth-century literature and court cases and notary records from over six hundred years ago. I’m not about to become more historical in my method nor am I going to start working on the medieval period, but there was something valuable that came out of forcing an encounter between these two very different subjects. 
 
Our usual practices of citation have a tendency to nurture forms of thinking with like-minded others (a citationality rooted in confirming our positions, in backing us up) or thinking against others, whose work we cite as examples of positions not to take. This results in citation having a communitarian function: we identify the intellectual community or communities to which we belong as well as to those to which we decidedly do not want to belong. Creating intellectual community is important and vital for being able to continue to produce scholarship in a sustained way, but citing in order to belong results in there not really being a place for more transitory, serendipitous, one-off intellectual encounters that can be valuable. In other words, rather than a citational practice that situates the citational practitioner vis-à-vis others along the lines of intellectual endogamy vs. exogamy, I would like for citational practice to become more open and fluid, allowing for, in this metaphor, encounters with the intellectual stranger and passerby that result neither in building community with that individual nor in defining community against them. 
 
I think that citation functions to make our work intelligible, to allow others to situate us and familiarize themselves with us. This is important, to be sure, but I am hoping for a new practice of citationality that can make our own work strange to us. How can we become different from ourselves? The best way to do so is to have an out of body experience, to leave behind familiar corpora of scholarship and inhabit, if only fleetingly, a very different corpus. 
 
As far as the always difficult question of implementation goes, I would say that it requires time, which is something that nobody has enough of: time to be curious, time to read something for which one might not necessarily have any use, time to go to a talk that has no bearing on one’s projects. But I think to change intellectual contexts so that one is in an environment where one is the stranger, the one with no expertise, the one lost in a different disciplinary language, is a salutary experience that makes it easier to be more open to encounters with intellectual strangers. I think a great way of expanding one’s references is to seek out intellectual encounters that are two degrees removed: asking someone who is in a different field what they are reading and checking it out.   
 

Did any of the papers or arguments in the issue surprise you? 
 
All of the papers in the issue surprised me. I was surprised by Jacob Edmond’s article, which could be seen as reinforcing the usual structures of citation that the issue is trying to critique by foregrounding the work of citational 1%ers like Barthes, Bhabha, Derrida, Foucault only to subvert the whole thing by putting forth Kamau Brathwaite’s mixtape as a citation device that can be used to decolonize citation, thereby demonstrating the subversive functioning of the mixtape by turning the article itself into a kind of mixtape. Something similar happens with Chase Gregory’s reading of queer critics reading each other, looking at Lee Edelman and D.A. Miller, stars in the citational sky of queer studies, to turn the work produced by these luminaries against itself and force a kind of estrangement from the citational scene staged by it. Vivian Huang’s article on Merle Woo and the invisibilization of Asian American lesbian feminist thought works carefully through overlapping genealogies of intellectual and political erasure to suggest, provocatively, that the keystone for our most urgent political projects might in fact be the stone we trip over because we cannot see it. Huang thus encourages us to think about what other stones—what other writers and thinkers we have blithely walked on or stumbled over with no second thought—we might be able to build with. The artist Beverly Acha’s essay on what citationality might look like in the visual world of painting was also surprising and thought provoking in pointing to citation as something that transcends textuality, raising the question of what kinds of citations permeate our work that exceed the apparatus of the footnote or endnote. 
 

What work sparked a sense of progress and hope for you? 
 
I see this as a continuation of the question of surprise. Jennifer Nash’s article, with its thoughtful critique of #citeblackwomen envisions a citationality that doesn’t have to be the ethical minefield it currently is, where “to not engage Black feminist theory is to ignore Black women’s intellectual production and to engage Black feminist theory can be seen as an act of appropriation, colonization, or even anti-Black and misogynistic violence” (78). Nash calls on readers to be vulnerable and let go of citationality as the means of owning one’s intellectual work, an ownership that brings with it much affective consolation and benefit, especially when one’s field becomes institutionalized, as has become the case with Black feminism. Nash’s essay is deeply challenging, but I feel much hope in Nash’s faith that we have the capacity to let go of that territorial reflex, to meet the challenge. Matt Tierney’s article also sparks progress and hope in its attention to the academic precariat and its utopian call to stand in solidarity with the contingent, dispossessed academics we work alongside. Tierney doesn’t mince words and with unforgiving honesty aptly describes academia as an industry where we find ourselves “citing while others starve” (96). In the face of such grim labor conditions, which have only gotten worse with the COVID pandemic and its exacerbation of the academy’s already deeply entrenched inequities, Tierney puts forth the suggestion of transforming citation into a site of mutual aid that, while not perfect, might just be good enough to make the world we cite in and for more livable. Finally, Marisa Fuentes’s article on the violence of the archives, as manifested in the empty police report filed for Breonna Taylor’s death, the blankness of which is difficult to look at, might not seem like a work that might spark hope, given the too long history of Black death, of white supremacy’s unending treatment of Black life as disposable, that it articulates. But it is a call to action, to not be paralyzed by despair but to counter the violent, lethal power of hegemonic archives with “other archives, voices, and movements that counter the event of Black death” (123). Against citational structures that are lethal, we can build and create citational structures that would be aligned with life, able to resist and dismantle “archival and representational power” that has been aligned with death. 
 

What do you hope readers of this issue will take with them? 

I hope that readers of this issue will come away with the conviction that there is much at stake in citation and that as individual practitioners of citation, we have the capacity to rework and rebuild the citational structures we inhabit so that they might be used toward more just and equitable ends. I hope that readers will feel compelled to examine what animates and subtends their own citational practices, will attend to what exclusions they’ve made, both intentionally and unintentionally, and, most of all, I hope readers will feel emboldened to assume the kind of vulnerability that the issue calls for in moving away from a model of intellectual economy where ideas are possessions and fields are territories to be defended. This, I acknowledge, is asking for a lot, given the way the academy is so beholden to the market and institutions of higher education everywhere are feeling the effects of decades upon decades of austerity and scarcity, which results in a general atmosphere of despair and cutthroat competitiveness for the few resources that remain. But, to riff off Tierney, when we are citing while adjunct academics are dying (see the deaths of Thea Hunter, Margaret Mary Vojtko, and all the unnamed others), how can we keep going on with citational business as usual? In a moment where the academy, like the human species, is facing a mass extinction event, surely now is the time to move away from intellectual propertarianism and toward a citational model of mutual aid where mutuality is taken in as capacious a sense as possible. 
 

What are you currently working on / what's next for you, research-wise? 
 
I’ve just finished a book, Cacaphonies: The Excremental Canon of French Literature, which will be out with the University of Minnesota Press in Spring 2022. I’m now switching gears and moving away from the canon to work on contemporary French fiction and its penchant for the real, embodied in the autofiction and exofiction (a term that roughly denotes fictionalized biography) that dominates sales, prizes, and critical attention. I want to try to account for what’s responsible for this turn away from fictionality and invention and what this turn toward the factual is symptomatic of. 
 

Annabel L. Kim is an Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures (French). She received a B.A. in French and Art History from Williams College in 2007 and a Ph.D in French from Yale University in 2014. She is the author of Unbecoming Language: Anti-Identitarian French Feminist Fictions (Ohio State University Press, 2018) and Cacaphonies: The Excremental Canon of French Literature (forthcoming, Spring 2022, University of Minnesota Press). 

Photo Credit: Christophe Delory
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