It can be intriguing (and confronting) to get a sense of how others perceive you and your work. Reviews have that effect; so do introductions for lectures and other appearances, and sometimes just comments in passing. Once I was introduced with a surprised comment on how I “self-identify as an art historian” (which I do, but I never realized this was in any way noteworthy). Another time I was told that my writings “are tinged with wryness in the best possible sense” (that one I really liked), and recently I heard that “I think of him as the conscience of the Dutch art world” (which horrified me for a variety of reasons).
Aside from having my writing characterized as “dense,” the thing I hear the most is that I’m “so productive.” This goes back to my PhD days, when my professor ironically compared me to a novelist of whom it was said that “he writes faster than God can read.” Though there often is good-natured envy in those words, it has never struck me as an entirely positive comment. In my own subjective perception, of course, I never have been all that productive.
It’s also clear that production has been slowing down as I’ve become more entangled in a variety of academic obligations. This is not all bad: teaching, which is mostly a very satisfying endeavour, takes up a lot of time, but it also encourages you to take your time by developing research projects in the context of seminars, enriching and deepening your understanding of the problem at hand in dialogue with students and their own agendas. This takes the pedagogic process beyond teaching as it is currently conceived, with its enumerated “learning goals,” but such protocols have colonized Dutch universities to an extent that is truly unimaginable to, for instance, my German colleagues. A wide variety of ever more molecular and invasive bureaucratico-neoliberal control mechanisms has bred sujectivities to match, perennially afraid of the next visitation or evaluation.
Furthermore, the Dutch academic year is marked by short breaks between semesters. For years, my only periods for really sustained writing been from Christmas to late January and July through mid-August. Sabbaticals don’t exist. As luck would have it, I will have an unoffocial quasi-sabbatical in the second half of this year, since I don’t have any courses scheduled then. That’s the first time in almost fifteen years.
That being said, my low output in the first half of this year is due to the sometimes very drawn-out editorial and production process of various publications. Some texts that I wrote two or three years ago, and some newer ones, will probably finally see the light of day in late summer or autumn, as will hopefully two edited volumes. It looks like the autumn of 2018 just might confirm the dreaded prejudice about my productivity.