Over the last year, The Girlfriend and I invested a truly appalling amount of time in a full viewing of all the contemporary Star Trek series (Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise). Neither of us regard the JJ Abrams films as canon, and so for us, the Star Trek franchise effectively ended with a prequel — and since completing it, I’ve become strangely fascinated with the idea of living out a prequel. Partly this stems from my general habit of over-enthusiastically identifying patterns (an inheritance from my conspiracy theorist grandfather and right-wing radio fan father, presumably), and yet there is a sense that a certain phase of my life is ending over the next couple years: The Girlfriend will finish grad school, I will complete my biggest evaluation at Shimer, and I will hopefully be wrapping up major projects that have defined my life since I finished my PhD (finally doing the devil book, completing the pop culture trilogy with Creepiness, translating the last volume of Agamben’s Homo Sacer series). It’s somehow more aesthetically pleasing if this unit of time announces itself as a unit in superfluous, purely formal ways, echoing back to various beginnings.
Yesterday it struck me that our very process of packing up the house and preparing for a work-motivated move is a kind of prequel, harkening back to my unexpected good fortune in getting the Kalamazoo job. Yet as The Girlfriend points out, it might be more of a reboot than a prequel, since the one moving for work is her and we know for sure that we will be coming back (that is effectively what happened with Kalamazoo, but I could not have known that at the time). Another prequel is the fact that I’m beginning to work seriously on a course on Islam, which Laurel Schneider recommended to me as a first step after graduating (before she wound up connecting me with the Kalamazoo job). It also seems that this weekend’s conference is a kind of prequel, insofar as my big “academic debut” was a panel on Theology and the Political and both Zizek and Milbank will be at the conference. Other prequels were self-induced, as when I very explicitly asked the Agamben reading group if we could do the Paul book at the end, as a “prequel.” Some hearkened further back, as when I found to my surprise that one of the members of the Higher Learning Commission’s visiting team for Shimer this year was the dean at Olivet when I was there — and my trips to both New York and San Francisco hearken back to high school band trips to those cities, which fascinated and intimidated me, giving me a vision of a completely different way of life than I’d been familiar with.
One last prequel: this half-season of Mad Men will be ending just as I’m temporarily pulling up roots — and it will come to full completion during the summer when I will have finished my probationary period at Shimer and will be wrapping up the devil book and my most major Agamben translation. This is especially appropriate given that the first season premiered on my birthday, during the summer when I was writing my first book.
These are the kinds of echoes that, at a previous stage of my life, my parents might have cited as pointers to something like “God’s will.” They’ve given up on talking to me in those terms — mercifully, they don’t even tell me they’re praying for me, though I’m sure they are — and I like to think that I’ve given up on thinking in those terms as well, even unconsciously. It’s as though I’ve suspended the intentional fallacy for the story of my life: whatever meaning it has emerges contingently from the text itself. Recently Carol Levine wrote about the “literary” quality of Mad Men that keeps her coming back, even though much that she found appealling about the show has faded into the background, and it struck me that its “literary” quality is weirdly what makes it so deeply personal to me — it resonates deeply with the way I experience my own life.