Language carries with it discursive genealogies and prior texts. Bakhtin notes the dialogism of language: every utterance presupposes a prior one. This assumption of shared knowledge is not always productive. The mere raising of contested topics can invoke highly unflattering imaginary priors. This essay explores this phenomenon in response to the topicalizing of Palestine by a research cluster at the University of Washington. Complaints about the cluster tended to rebut not our critical agenda but detractors’ imaginary of what those who do such work claim and do. The analysis demonstrates how our positioning as imaginary interlocutors worked to undermine attempts at dialogue around a controversial topic. A goal of our research cluster was to consider how to intervene into and displace this imaginary.

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