February 2010 Archives
In "The Masked Philsopher," Michel Foucault describes curiosity and the care it suggests:
From the beginning of the story (in the book and both versions--1970 and 2008--of the movie) Horton exhibits the qualities of curiosity-as-care. Here, let me break it down in terms of the 2008 version. First, let me offer a scene from early on in the movie. Horton is trying to explain to the Sour Kangaroo why he is talking to a speck of dust on a flower:[Curiosity] evokes 'care'; it evokes the care one takes of what exists and what might exist; a sharpened sense of reality, but one that is never immobilized before it; a readiness to find what surrounds us strange and odd; a certain determination to throw off familiar ways of thought and to look at the same things in a different way; a passion for seizing what is happening now and what is disappearing; a lack of respect for the traditional hierarchies of what is important and fundamental.
Foucault: it evokes the care one takes of what exists and what might exist; a sharpened sense of reality, but one that is never immobilized before itKangaroo: That's absurd. There aren't people that small!
Horton: Well, maybe they aren't small. Maybe we're big.
Horton: No, really. Think about it. What if there was someone way out there looking down on our world right now? And to them, we're the specks.
Kangaroo: Horton! There is nothing on that speck!
Horton: But I heard.
Kangaroo: Did you, really? Ohhoho my. Then how come I don't hear anything?
Kangaroo: If you can't see, hear, or feel something it doesn't exist. And believing in tiny, imaginary people is just not something we do or tolerate here in the jungle of Nool.
Horton: Horton is interested in and attentive to the world around him and open to imagining new possibilities. His sharpened (and heightened) sense of reality enables him to hear the tiny cry coming from a small speck floating by as he is bathing in the stream. Instead of not hearing (or more common, hearing but refusing to listen), Horton listens and responds to the voice that signals the possibility of another world beyond his, a world that seems unimaginable within his world (with its empirical, physical and "natural" laws). He is not threatened or even incredulous at the possibility of a tiny world on a speck; it does not immobilize him. Instead it sparks his curiosity and his imagination about what lies beyond his own observations.
Foucault: a readiness to find what surrounds us strange and odd
Horton: Horton is ready and willing to be open to how our surroundings, such as flowers, trees, specks of dust, may not be what they appear to be. They may be strange and strangers to us (we don't really know them or what they are).
Foucault: a certain determination to throw off familiar ways of thought and to look at the same things in a different way
Horton: Once he hears the voice and believes there that there is a small person on the speck, he is committed to never look at flowers and dust (or the world, for that matter) the same way again. He is committed to staying open to the possibility of other worlds (ones that are smaller and bigger than us).
Foucault: a passion for seizing what is happening now and what is disappearing
Horton: [a stretch perhaps?] Horton is unwilling to let the moment pass and the speck of dust and its inhabitants to perish. When he hears the small voice crying for help, he acts immediately.
Foucault: a lack of respect for the traditional hierarchies of what is important and fundamental.
Horton: Horton refuses to honor the jungle of Nool rule (at least as created and enforced by the Sour Kangaroo): If it you can't see, hear, or feel it then it doesn't exist. He steadfastly stands behind his (empirically unproven) claim that there are people on the speck of dust.
Now, this kind of care--the care for remaining open and interested/attentive to the world in its different permutations--is not often recognized as such. Maybe that is because care-as-curiosity is hardly ever about being careful. It is exhausting, dangerous and quite frequently gets us into trouble (and demands that we stay in trouble by being resistant to rigid rules and ready for new possibilities). But, what if we imagined the type of troublemaking and troublestaying that Horton is doing as an ethics of care? Then, could we begin to value (and honor and promote) troublemaking?
Class today began with the presentation of heavily frosted and sprinkled cupcakes, which were enjoyed along with the video Expression = Life: ACT UP, Video and the AIDS Crisis. The fact that we were feeding our bodies while watching the bodies of the ACT UP protestors lie "dead" in the street and suffer the "violence" of police brutality did not escape notice--- nor did it stop us from biting into the cupcakes' lemony-vanilla, butter-creamy goodness.
Following the video, Raechel started off our discussion by introducing the readings and summarizing the questions she posted on our blog. In particular, she highlighted the fact that Foster celebrates the non-violent, direct action of ACT UP, the lunch counter sit ins, and the WTO protestors without problematizing (or "troubling") the concept of non-violence. While the actions of the protestors themselves were non-violent, as Raechel pointed out, many of the protests were actually designed to provoke others to commit acts of violence against them in order to call attention to their cause. If this is the case, can these protests still be considered non-violent?
As we began discussing violent vs. non-violent action, and whether Raechel's example of protestors engaging in sex in a Michigan church can be considered an act of "violence," Sophie asked that we define "violence." In response, we came up with several different classifications of violence: physical violence, emotional violence, psychological violence, intellectual violence, and so on. While we all seemed to agree on what constituted physical violence, other categories, such as intellectual violence, were more complicated. For Angela, intellectual violence meant plagiarism or stealing someone else's ideas, while, for me, intellectual violence meant someone, like a teacher, telling a student that their ideas were wrong or stupid, thereby inhibiting the student's intellectual growth and development.
While we were able to conceptualize the difference between physical violence and other, less tangible forms of violence, we struggled to come up with a satisfactory definition. In fact, some of us, myself included, did not feel that it was possible to come up with such a definition. Because "violence" has so many different meanings, both negative and positive, that I don't know that it is possible (or productive) to come up with an all-inclusive definition. Turning to outside resources for assistance, Angela used her phone's internet to look up a dictionary definition for "violence," which included "denying someone their full humanity." Immediately, this reminded me and others of Judith Butler's notion of intelligibility and what constitutes a livable life.
Pushing us to think of violence through the lens of troublemaking, Sara asked us: "Is violence morally good or bad? Or can violence be used a productive form of troublemaking?"
While Angela acknowledged a dislike for concepts like "morality," she said she felt violence (while it could not be explicitly defined) did have negative connotations and that, in her working opinion (which might change throughout the duration of the class), violence could never be justified. Well, she qualified, not unless it was used in self-defense or as an absolute last resort by someone who was so oppressed that they had no other choice. In this kind of situation, using violence could be justified if it was absolutely the only way to make one's life and oppression intelligible to others.
Questioning Angela, Shannon asked: "If violence cannot be defined, then how is violence never okay?"
Angela, along with the class, laughed and agreed that Shannon had brought up a good point.
Continuing, Shannon said that, as a white, middle-class female in the US, she could not justify using violence herself because she felt she had the agency and opportunity to find alternative solutions. However, for people in less privileged situations (i.e. people in war zones protecting their children) there may be instances in which violence would be justified.
Transitioning from our conversation about violence to our readings from Foucault, Raechel brought up the notion of polemics. Excited to talk about Foucault (one of my department's favorite old, dead white dudes), Sara asked: how do you guys define a polemicist, as articulated by Foucault in our readings?
Pulling out yet another blunt, one-liner, Angela responded: "a polemicist is an asshole, not a troublemaker."
Expanding on Angela's insightful comment, we, as a class, discussed that Foucault's conception of polemics is limiting. For him, polemics does not allow for conversation between two equals. Rather, "the person he confronts is not a partner in the search for truth but an adversary , an enemy who is wrong, who is harmful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat" (112). In other words, a polemic is unproductive because the participants are not willing to listen to one another or have their positions challenged. Rather, they are certain of their beliefs and are unilaterally focused on convincing one another that they are correct. In fact, this could be seen as denying the other participant in the polemic their full humanity. Thus, no new idea can come from a polemic.
"What then is an alternative to the polemic?" Sara asked. As a class, we suggested that troublemaking is a good alternative. By engaging in troublemaking, not only are we questioning not only the status quo, but we are asking questions of one another, of ourselves--we are willing to have our own positions questioned as we question others. Thus, we are creating the possibility of coming to new understandings or ideas.
Acknowledging that Foucault is often cited as being critical of identity politics, we raised the question of whether it is possible to maintain a critical distance when one has political convictions. Many of us, myself included, stated that while we can remain critical of the political movements of which we are a part, we cannot maintain distance or objectivity. Again invoking Butler, Sara suggested that perhaps it is not possible to be distant but, perhaps, it is possible to be "beside oneself."
With our weekly readings covered, we spent the last few minutes of class discussing Johnny Weir's "fabulous" ice skating, Lady Gaga's sexual practices as discussed with Barbara Walters, and combining "fabulous" with Lady Gaga music through Guerilla Gay Bar. It is my personal opinion that we should engage in this form of troublemaking at a local Minneapolis hot spot. Minnesota flannel, fur hats, and duck decor--- here we come!
Here are some youtube clips from "This is what democracy looks like?" and "We aren't scared of your jails":
A friend forwarded this article to me (I think I'm going to have to start reading slate.com!), and I wanted to share it. It's a commentary on new French anti-smoking ads (here are all of the pictures) where a teenager is shown in a position that suggests forced oral sex, but instead of a penis there's a cigarette.
It strongly implies that having sex is as bad as smoking cigarettes, and that oral sex (specifically on a man) is always a forced act. Yikes! The article also shows how the creators of the ad have given some hugely contradictory statements about what the ad is supposed to signify--they say first that it has nothing to do with sex, then that it does, but not rape, but then points to the element of submission (which is obviously important when thinking of cigarettes and addiction--but that is not always the case with sex!).
This article clearly troubles the ad, but does the ad (effectively) trouble smoking?
I think all of the readings provide room to trouble the notion of "non-violence," or, more specifically, "non-violent activism." The concept of non-violence is something that has always been of interest to me, and I actually did an activity for Sara's Fem Ped course that I learned at a Direct Action training for the SOA, in which we were given scenarios and asked to stand on the "violent" or "non-violent" side of the room. Scenarios included "throwing a brick through a Starbucks window" (clearly a nod to the WTO), "breaking a plate during a fight with your partner," "training a dog to attack trespassers," "wearing clothes from sweat shops" etc. The Foster article very much celebrated the "non-violent, direct action" (Foster, 2003, p. 397) enacted by the lunch counter protesters, ACT UP and the WTO protestors, but never really problematizes to what non-violence refers; Foucault seems to challenge this to be a potentially a-historical move, one that would not "allow one to step back from this way of acting or reacting, to present it to oneself as an object of thought and to question it as to its meaning, its conditions, and its goals" (p. 117). For example, why does Foster not address to potential violence inherent in performing/doing "dead," or witnessing death, as enacted by ACT UP? And for a piece that is focused on the importance of the role of the body, it seems odd that the violence done to the protestors by the cops is not explored more as a means of troubling the idea of non-violence direct action (when violence is clearly part of the script) Since she does describe how "[r]ather than register pain or suffering, [the activists] were encouraged to announce their actions in advance and to observe the effects of another's actions on them, e.g. "You are hurting my arm'" (p. 407). As someone who has had her body physically threatened by riot cops on horses and police officers in vehicles (in both cases, they were trying to run us off the road and onto the sidewalk, literally almost running over and trampling us), I don't think I would register my experience as non-violent, or that I didn't "register pain or suffering." My body reactions were visceral and felt quite violent (even if I didn't physically attack the cops, I allowed my body to feel repression, and that became productive). I'm rambling now, but I think you see my point (?).
Similarly, WHAM's "STOP THE CHURCH" action reminds me a lot of the recent radical queer group Bash Back! action at a super-church in Michigan, which congregation members reported as being "violent" (the action consisted of mild property destruction, lots of glitter-throwing and public sex acts in the church). I am certainly not trying to deem these actions as violent, but it was interesting to me that Foster just said "non-violent" without any explication or disclaimer.
Furthermore, what does it mean to celebrate the idea of non-violent, regardless of how you define it? There is a book I really want to read called HOW NONVIOLENCE PROTECTS THE STATE, and, as a former bleeding-heart liberal pacifist turned vaguely radical anarchist who came to respect certain examples of (mostly non-US) militant direct action, I am curious to see how you all trouble the notion of violence and non-violence as it relates to activism? In relation to the abortion rights stuff, I am reminded of the organization, Anti-Racist Action (ARA); this group is known for their militant tactics in response to neo-nazis, other racist groups, and they are also very well known for abortion rights actions, in which they have gotten in fights with abortion protesters, to help ensure a safe entrance and exit for patients walking into the clinic. And, as we all sadly know after the recent death of George Tiller, violence on the right is alive and well. I guess this is just another example to trouble the un-nuanced celebration of pacifist tactics.
I guess this also leads to a question of a "diversity of tactics" a source of major debate on the left. Can we, as Sarah Schulman desires, "win" if we have a non-cohesive always-changing diversity of tactics, or is a more Marxist single-tactic strategy necessary? Does the idea of a "diversity of tactics" challenge the notion of the closed-off "polemic" that Foucault discusses? Do you think Foucault's critique of polemics is critiquing having strong convictions? And, the question that always haunts me, how can postmodernism be incorporated into a radical activis that relies on relatively unnuanced black and white binaries (there was certainly an 'us' and a 'them' in Greensborough, in Seattle, on Wall Street...).
Oh, and, if you're interested, I actually had an article published about a year and a half ago, called "A Polemic on Protest: Reflections on the RNC Resistance." Foucault made me feel bad for my title! : ) eep!
Okay, hopefully this will be enough to start us off, but golly, I have so much more to say!
I admittedly have been having some trouble (I question myself now every time I use that word!) figuring out what to look at for the final project. I am grateful for the opportunity Sara is providing to explore something that might be useful to each of us, but in some ways, it is also a little overwhelming.
With that said, here is what I am thinking about exploring: (1) I am very concerned about the lack of connection between activism and academia; (2) while I consider myself a feminist, I have been put off by a lot of academic feminism; this has much to do with how it has often not spoken to my lived experiences, both as a woman and as someone very concerned about white supremacy, and with the difficulties caused by identity politics; (3) I'm in my first year of grad school in education, a field that is heavily populated by women and; (4) I have been troubled (!) by several aspects of this gendered field: (a) why and how teachers (read: white, middle-class women) are constrained by notions of gendered nurturing yet (b) why most critical educational theorists are white men and (c) what this means for me as I begin academic studies as a woman interested in critical theory whose primary focus is race, not gender, and who wants theorizing to have practical, real-world applications.
Since beginning graduate school, I have gone back to gender more than I anticipated and so would like to see if I can use some of the following texts to think this through some more. I am hoping that this will do a few different things: (1) give me a chance to read some of how other people have been thinking about this; (2) help me to think about where I want to position myself in the next few years and how I might be able to trouble some of the either academic or "pop" thinking around these issues; and (3) see if I can integrate a few different things on this topic (e.g., gendered nature of teaching/education, identity politics).
I am not sure either where this will go (i.e., what the final "product" will look like) or what texts I will focus on from this long list, although I plan to start with the three that are starred (and likely pull only specific chapters from them).
Books in this pile on my floor:
School Work: Gender and the Cultural Construction of Teaching by Sari Knopp Biklen
Iron John: A Book about Men by Robert Bly
* Shards of Glass: Children Reading and Writing Beyond Gendered Identities by Bronwyn Davies
* Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, & Postmodernism in the Contempory West by Jane Flax
The Struggle for Pedagogies: Critical and Feminist Discourses as Regimes of Truth by Jennifer Gore
Bitter Milk: Women and Teaching by Madeleine Grumet
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks
Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics by bell hooks
"The Gender of Theory" by Catherine Lutz
Reclaiming a Conversation: The Ideal of the Educated Woman by Jane Roland Martin
"Ms. Representations: Reflections on Studying Academic Men" by Judith Newton and Judith Stacey
Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School by C. J. Pascoe
Outside in the Teaching Machine by Gayatri Spivak
Schoolgirl Fictions by Valerie Walkerdine
* Women Teaching for Change: Gender, Class & Power by Kathleen Weiler
Class Reflection for February 16
I got the impression that our discussion included and was centered around more questions than usual, and since we were discussing Judith Butler, this would certainly make sense. So I feel a bit like in my reflection, I'm re-positing all the questions we discussed. We started out our class with a question about whether or not Judith Butler's writing has gotten easier to read, and if so, why? Had she gotten away from troublemaking, or had her troublemaking simply matured? What about her argument that writing with challenging language is a way of troublemaking?
These questions on her writing or the intentions of her troublemaking or not (intention seems to have turned into an important theme for the semester) lead to questioning whether or not there is a place for difficult language. There is a possibility of elitism, of course, but not just that, as jargon is not only found in academia. This raised the issue of audience, specifically since Butler did not anticipate that many people would read her text Gender Trouble, and it turned into a phenomenon. Additionally, difficult writing is not restricted to vocabulary, but includes style, structure, and cultural references that are used to say as much as possible in fewer words.
From here, we moved on to questioning the possibility of finding elitism in assumptions being made by the academy, notably in who can or cannot read a difficult text. bell hooks argues that saying that theoretical works are not useful to African-Americans is racist. Also noted is the reality that while certain "difficult" texts or ideas may still be useful to non-academic groups, there may be little desire within these groups to examine theoretical texts, as a result of time and priority. Should the works be more readable, perhaps they would gain more readerships. This informs the notion that curiosity and investigating curiosity is quite a bit of work (reference: "The Curious Feminist").
A distinction was then made, that while sometimes Butler talks of complicated ideas that require complicated writing, sometimes it's just bad writing. This later turned into a discussion of what good vs. bad writing is, and it was linked to what is critical thinking/critical critique? It seemed that more than answers, we generated more questions--is there a universal standard for good writing? A formula? We discussed the formula, some argued against it (oppressive, doesn't allow for the "self" to come through in your writing), some for it (useful, a guide to how to succeed and hopefully, once tenured (!), the ability to use the knowledge of the formula to dismantle it).
From our discussion, Sara presented us with what she heard us define as "good" writing: intelligible, clear and fluid, logical, easy to follow, follows a set of formal rules (I think that's everything!), and most of us agreed that those qualities weren't necessarily what defined good writing. So we were back to more questions!
It seems to be that bad writing is easier to define than good writing, yet I still don't know how to put a definition to it. Was it someone on the Supreme Court who said of how to define pornography--
"I know it when I see it"? Not sure, but that's exactly how I feel about bad writing--I know it when I see it. Good writing, unless it's exceptional, to me, just blends in. I don't notice it as good, I think I tend to take it for granted--something to think about!
I see now some notes that I have on our discussion involving Butler's emphasis on intentionally as being important in terms of theory, yet I can't quite understand what my notes indicate--I do remember that this was an important part of the discussion, so I think I must have been concentrating on understanding it too much to write "good" (intelligible!) notes on this. Anyway, Lugones and her arguments on intentionality were addressed, as well as the responsibility of how a reader engages with the text. I apologize for my reflection on this aspect of the discussion. L
Question #2: Elizabeth presented her question on applying modern terms to the past and was this appropriate or not, what responsibility does a historian have in this context? The discussion centered on the specific example of the word "queer" and is it okay to apply this term to an historical figure who, although they may relate to the concept, would not understand the term. Also, specifically in this case, the distinction between queer practices and identities is important--it was only recently that queer came to be seen as an identity--so to use the term as a way of imposing an identity on someone who would not have understand it as such would be a misuse of the term. (Relates to Foucault and the split between practice and identity)
Somehow this got us onto the question of the idea of Absolute Truth vs. a more relative kind of truth--leading from the motivation to study history, coming at history from varying perspectives, therefore truth can often be thought of as relative. Given the potential differing opinions here, of what is Truth vs. truth, we wondered if it's possible to trouble our disciplines while preserving the foundation of the discipline. Again, intention came up as an issue, as well as the importance of honesty.
We got a slice of Elizabeth's' possible dissertation topic, looking at the trenches as a kind of womb, undermining the usual tropes of war as masculine. Her question about this was, is it honest to use this metaphor if it's not a sensation the soldiers would have felt (does this undo the foundation, perhaps was the larger, implied question?)
Critical thinking handout: Asking the question Why? In asking the question why, it's our chance to disobey, to push for more, to refuse the easy answer, even though we're taught it's disruptive to ask the question.
Butler tells us that the critique comes from the asking why, questioning government command, policy, and it can happen everywhere, not just in academia. (This seems to indicate to me that critical thinking does not necessarily have to be expressed through difficult writing--if it happens everywhere, it has to be, in certain spaces, expressed in comfortable, understandable language.)
And of course, we then came back to more questions: Is critical thinking linked to maturity? How can we reconcile this with troublemaking, which is often linked to immaturity? Is critical thinking then taking us back to childhood? Butler indicates that with critical thinking, we are forming ourselves as subjects, and it doesn't have to be a progression with an end, but can be viewed as a forward learning experience.
I'm going to end my short novel here--happy end of the week!
Uh oh. Hannah Montana is in (gender) trouble
Perhaps because this week's readings addressed interdisciplinarity (especially Butler's piece on critique and dissent), it stuck me that my own personal approach to troublemaking in my field involves bringing other disciplines into my historical work. I've found theories on race, gender, and sexuality to be essential to my work; not only do theories on the subaltern, for example, help me understand British imperialism, but they also help me ask better questions of all my sources. Literary criticism and the myriad lit classes I took as an undergrad have been especially important to me since I am interested in discourse; learning to do a close reading of a text has turned out to be one of the most crucial skills I use, and it was a skill that I largely learned outside of history classes.
I think that all of us in this class would agree that asking new questions and bringing new perspectives to history is a good thing (although the broader historical community is still far from convinced on this point, unfortunately). But there is a place where I am still a bit hesitant to make trouble in my discipline. I really like to think about metaphor, to make bold, controversial statements, to provoke questions and generally rile things up; but is there a point at which troubling history becomes dishonest? Do I have a responsibility to the historical subjects I study to present their history in ways they would agree with, or even in ways that they would understand?
To give a concrete example, I was in a class last semester with a professor who was very much of the Old School (I should note that the umn history department in general is a pretty progressive department with strong roots in social and gender history). When one of the kids in the class suggested that white settlers had "dehumanized" American Indians, the professor told us that it was unfair to use a term that people in the past wouldn't understand to describe their behavior/viewpoints. To do so, he said, was to "bang the past on the head."
Leaving aside for a moment whether or not mid-19th century Americans would have understood the idea of dehumanization (my personalview is that a country that could legislate that African Americans counted as 3/5 of a person would certainly understand the concept), is it really unfair to bring modern theory/terminology to bear on the past? I reacted very strongly to this idea. A woman in 1865 would not have recognized the term "marital rape," for example, but I really believe that she would have understood the inherent wrongness of such a violation, even if she didn't have the language to express it. And while a historical subject might not have understood his sexual behaviors to be "queer", is it irresponsible for me to ask how his behaviors fit into a broader queer cultural, or to place his experiences on a continuum describing the development of a queer identity?
Because my troubling relies on relatively new ways of thinking (about gender, race, etc.), I'm going to run into this problem again and again. As long as I don't intentionally falsify my sources, are there any ethical limits on what I can do with the past?
Now, the feminist response:
I'm a HUGE fan of the Green Bay Packers, and although my team was not in the Superbowl, I still wanted to watch the game because it's a fun excuse to get together with friends and of course, the ads are often quite well done.
This year though, there seemed to be a change in the approach to many of the advertisements, going from the traditional affirmation of masculinity and heteronormativity (because if you, as a manly man, drink this beer, you will get this sexy bikini-clad woman) to more of an affirmation of emasculation (while still affirming heteronormativity, of course). Now the ads are doubly problematic, because not only do they reinforce heteronormativity, but they go out of their way to show men's oppression by women.
Specifically complicit in this task was an ad for the Dodge Charger. View it here, along with a little analysis. A friend (a non-football fan who I watched the Superbowl with) alerted me to this podcast from Slate.com that discusses this year's Superbowl ads, specifically contrasting this Dodge Charger ad and one for Dove for Men (view here). Take a listen to the podcast, it's interesting, they take on this topic in pop culture and reflect on it in a slightly more academic way. The part related to the Superbowl ads start around 1:30, and is only about 10 minutes.
How does this relate to troublemaking? Can we read the troublemaking of the advertisers here as 1) troublemaking at all or 2) symptomatic of something else in our culture?
- Butler, Judith. "1999 Preface." Gender Trouble
- Butler, Judith. "Critique, Dissent, Disciplinarity"
- Butler, Judith. "The Value of Difficulty"
- Birulés, Fina. "Interview with Judith Butler: Gender is Extramoral"
- Butler, Judith. "A Bad Writer Bites Back" https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/wash/www/butler.htm
- Butler, Judith. "Introduction." Bodies that Matter
- Olson/Worsham. "Changing the Subject"
Feminist icon Jennifer Love Hewitt tackled this touchy subject when she appeared on the George Lopez Show. After a painful breakup, Hewitt abandoned the traditional remedies of Lifetime Original Movies and Ben & Jerry's, opting instead to enlist a friend's help with an avant-guard artistic form. She described the pioneering practice with poise and eloquence, stating that "a friend of mine Swarovski-crystalled my precious lady and it shined like a disco ball."
Basically it's like confessional poetry, but for your vagina.
But wait, there's more! Not only can vajazzling boost your confidence after a painful breakup, and distract you from your grief by refocusing your attention on the painful rash that you got from the craft-store glue that you used to D-I-Y vajazzle yourself, it can also spice up an existing relationship! In a ground-breaking interview with spa-owner Cindy Barshop, Fashiontribes.com revealed that vajazzling has actually been available in select NYC spas since 2000. She notes that it takes a certain kind of woman to appreciate the myriad benefits of vajazzling: "Hip, trendy and confident women like Jennifer get this done."
In fact, according to vajazzling is just one more service that women can do to
For the two of you who remain unconvinced, this Craigslist ad will certainly do the trick! This adventurous New Yorker has come up with several creative vajazzling designs, including a "snow leopard," a "Hello Kitty on rollerblades, or "Anything else representing undying, passionate and eternal love." I know when I think of undying love, Hello Kitty comes right after Romeo and Juliet.
But vajazzling also raising some important theoretical and methodological questions for the trouble-maker. Most importantly, in the face of the global economic crisis, how can we ensure that spa-going urban-dwellers will still be able to afford to complement their monthly waxes with a bedazzling? And what about the embarrassing problem of having Swarovski-crystals fall out of your gym-shorts after a vigorous jog on the treadmill?
To be serious for a moment, obviously I have an opinion on vajazzling, but we might be able to ask some legit questions about it. Is this possibly a way of celebrating female genitalia, or yet another way of altering and hiding it? And why has vajazzling become such a big buzz-word; what does it mean that a famous actress is sharing this info on a late-night talk show? If you have other questions, or just opinions, please post! Also, I did manage to find a picture, but didn't post it here for obvious reasons, but after extensive research I'm now prepared to answer most of your questions about the how-to's of vajazzling.
Chapelle's poem, "Fuck Ashton Kutcher," responds to the preponderance of black celebrities targeted by the show Punk'd. As Nyong'o states, "In this economy, another's pleasure comes at the cost of your pain" (p. 22). While Nyong'o was talking about an economy of words, the economy in Chapelle's poem is also literal--the money the MTV show makes by acting as a "public image butcher" of celebrities because of/through whose pain viewers derive pleasure.
Additionally, Chapelle argues, the pain for the punked black celebrities is specific: "whenever he [Kutcher] punks black people/it always involves the police." This echoes Nyong'o's look at how "wayward youth" in the documentary Scared Straight (supposedly) do not respond to shame so "must" be intimidated (which largely involves insinuations of rape/removal of "masculinity") by the penal system in order to "stay in line." Why and how is the penal/surveillance/police system used to respond to people who do not "stay in their place" in a white supremacist, heteronormative, class-based society? How do we challenge this?
Further, I am curious about how/if scholarship--like Nyong'o's article--can intersect (yes, I am intentionally using that word) with comedy/satire--like Chapelle's critique. How are both forms of troublemaking important and necessary?
During last week's class, an issue came up regarding K-12 teacher preparation for the diverse student population they will likely encounter, especially in light of the fact that most teachers are white women. I was very surprised to hear that little to no education is provided to future teachers to better prepare them for this reality. This issue made me think of a related topic in the office where I work.
I work in the administrative office for the pediatric residency program at the U. As a background to medical education - after an undergrad degree in some sort of biologically related science, future doctors then go on to have 4 years of medical school. At the end of medical school they must choose a specialty such as pediatrics or cardiology or anesthesiology, etc. Then they will receive several years of "hands on" training in pediatrics residency or cardiology residency, and you get the point. Only after completion of a residency do these doctors become licensed to practice medicine. Some go on for even more specialized training, called a fellowship in things like pediatric cardiology, pediatric pulmonology, pediatric gastroenterology, etc., but this step is optional.
Residency is a critical point in doctor education for learning about future patient populations. The Twin Cities especially has a unique population from a medical perspective because of the large numbers of immigrants such as Hmong and Somali immigrants, as well as a Latino population (with some being immigrants and some well established in the States), and an African American population, among others. Being a doctor in the Twin Cities requires knowledge of these different cultures, and how medicine fits into (or doesn't fit into) their daily lives. Cultural issues can, and do, spark conflict between ignorant doctors and patients of a background that is dissimilar from the doctor. For example, in the Hmong tradition, it is believed that one is born with a certain, predetermined amount of blood, and so drawing blood is to suck out some of your life force that will never return. This poses obvious conflicts when practitioners of western medicine deem it necessary to draw blood to test for disease, or screen for problems. This is only one common example, but there are many other conflicts that can arise between a doctor and his/her patient.
About a year ago, I sat in on a resident meeting that was created to specifically discuss the Hmong, Somali, Latino, and Ethiopian communities, with a representative from each community giving a presentation and also taking questions. I was impressed with the care that was taken by each representative to explain issues that may come up in a doctor/patient relationship and how the doctors might successfully navigate through those issues. There was a true feeling that the residents wanted to learn as was obvious by their curious, honest, and numerous questions for the panel. The notes from this meeting, as well and links to other cultural competence resources for the residents, were posted online here. I also personally know many of the pediatric doctors that work with the residents, and know that they are guiding the residents through these challenges every day, not just during this 2 hour meeting.
Why then, are pediatric residents at the U given such a higher level of cultural competence information than are K-12 teachers that will be serving a much more important role in the lives of a diverse group of young students? As I thought about the answer to this question, I just thought of more questions. Is it because K-12 education is government-run while residency programs are not? (Residency programs in the US are overseen by the ACGME, a private entity that offers mandates for training). Does the bureaucracy of government and elected officials get in the way of good education while residency programs are free from this burden? Is it only because the pediatric residency program is run by progressive minded pediatricians (and believe me, they are!) who understand the importance of these issues, therefore meaning that some other programs don't offer the same cultural competence education? I can only speculate about the answers to these questions, and I'm sure elements of each affect the picture as a whole.
I found this education of residents to be an interesting contrast to the education of teachers (which later affects the education of students). I'd love to hear thoughts from anyone in the class about the questions I posed, or really anything else I mentioned.
Relating troublemaking to French studies
My participation in this course on troublemaking has shown me that troublemaking is everywhere; I just wasn't looking for it (this certainly speaks to Shannon's post on the necessity of reading texts in a variety of ways to get everything out of them). Now that thoughts on troublemaking are on my mind, I can't not see people making trouble all around me, both in my academic world and my non-academic world. It's in the films I watch for class, it's in the novels I've read and am now reading. I see it when I take the bus to campus in the morning and when I relax in front of the TV.
There are so many directions this question/presentation could go. I could point to the troublemaking that goes on both fictional and non-fictional literature and film. I could discuss troublemaking within a cultural or political context. While I don't explicitly work on cultural or political issues, they are a part of what comes up in a French language classroom, something that is indirectly related to my academic literary studies. But instead of these more practical applications of troublemaking, I'd like to take a look at how I see my job as a troublemaker within literary studies.
I think that part of my job is to trouble, through literary (and sometimes film) analysis, what a text is presenting on the surface. My aim, and what I enjoy the most, is to dig into a text and challenge what is initially presented. Often, the result of what others have written, troubling texts, is that those texts are read differently than they might have been without that particular reading (again, speaking to the reality that reading through different lenses results in different interpretations of a text, whether it's literary or not). Personally, I feel that troubling literature within the context of gender is particularly important, as I hope that it can result in a heighted awareness of issues related to gender that are not always addressed within traditional literary cannons.
In class, I'll share one example of how the "troubling" of a text changed how it was read. Then, I'd like to show a (very) short film clip, and have class discussion on how each person may "read" and trouble the material differently.
My question for class:
(How) does troubling literature/film/literary analysis change how certain texts, both canonical and not, are read? In whatever experience with literature you've had, either in academia or outside of academia, (how) has the discussion surrounding literature influenced your take on a text or a genre?
But when I took notes for my presentation for class, I did it in a completely different way. Mostly, my notes consisted of questions the texts raised and connections to things I have been thinking about in my first semester of graduate school. I think there could be several reasons for this:
- I had already read two of the texts (hooks and Kumashiro) and so wasn't reading strictly to learn what someone else thought; I had already spent some time digesting it and so didn't need reminders to myself of what their arguments were.
- I was using a different lens than I had in my previous class (which was about curriculum in education). Since I was thinking about troublemaking, I focused on what the authors' thoughts might be in relation to troublemaking and how to expand upon those ideas.
- I was conscious that I would be presenting on my own interests in the readings.
And finally, what is it about thinking about troublemaking that leads me to ask so many questions--many of which are probably unanswerable?
I just found this article in the NYT on a new anti-abortion campaign. Billboards around Atlanta read "Black children are an endangered species." I've never seen the abortion debate, on either the pro-choice or pro-life side, implying race so strongly (or at all, really).
Particuarly shocking are the claims that Planned Parenthood is attempting "to reduce the population of blacks".
Does this article signal that race will be the/a new way to debate abortion?
After a brief conversation about censorship and access in regards to the internet based on Sara's story about her blog being blocked by the internet connection at a coffee shop (and let us not forget Becky's story about the guy watching porn in the library!), this week's class started off with. . .
Shannon's Presentation and Question
Shannon gave us a presentation on "Troublemaking in Relation to Education", discussing what it means to be an academic, the purposes of schooling/education, and her/our role(s) integrating the community and the academy (thanks for the great hand-out, Shannon). She gave us a rave review of Kumashiro's Troubling Education, which is now on my reading list. In speaking about what it means to be an academic, she mentioned isolation, competition, an inability to say "I don't know", and a habit of apologising. This was only the first part of her presentation, but it stuck with me and continues to cause a swirl of thoughts in my head, because although I've been in school for, well, forever, I realise I haven't put much thought into what it means to be on my chosen path beyond being broke, owning a lot of books, and being something of a mystery to my incredibly non-academic family.
Shannon highlighted a lot of problems with the current K-12 education system, including the fact that schools were based on and continue to resemble factories, and some alarming statistics about rates of suspension, drop-outs, corporal punishment, and increasing demographic differences between teachers and their students.
Big questions raised were: how do teachers create a safe space? What is a safe space, and if it exists, is it particularly helpful if its "safeness"cannot extend beyond the walls of the classroom? How can a teacher open a discussion on a controversial topic without offending anyone? Is it always such a bad thing to offend people? How can a teacher facilitate such a discussion without imposing his or her own opinions? Yancy talks about creating openness, but how do we achieve this?
The question that made me think the most ties back to the earlier question of what it means to be an academic. Someone (Angela?) asked about how we value knowledge, and wondered why some classes or topics are considered more valuable than others? How can we, as teachers and as students, convince others that, while math and biology are important, talking and thinking about troublemaking, for example, are also worthwhile endeavours?
Question 1: Inequality, crisis and growth, and compassion
Alright, so that's not an official title so much as a summary from my notes. After the break, we took a couple of minutes to discuss critical thinking; how to do it, how to describe it, and whether or not teaching methods for critical thinking defeats the whole purpose of critical thinking. Beyond that, we moved into "Question 1" (I want to say this was presented by Liz [but not this Liz, obviously] but I'm terrible at names, so I apologise if I'm mistaken): does putting someone into a situation of crisis/tension lead to growth? As someone who fears confrontation, the idea of being put on the spot and challenged the way that some of you were fills me with horror, but I think that in some cases, it may be the best or the only way to push someone to growth. I also know that, based on my own experience, sometimes being forced into crisis causes nothing but harm, and so I wonder, specifically as a teacher, whether it's worth the risk or not.
The discussion moved to the topic of compassion; how can we be compassionate while still pushing people, pushing boundaries? Shannon (I think) mentioned that because we're women and are often taught or told to be nurturing, we have to think about whether, as teachers, we want to accept that nurturing role and live up to the stereotype, or whether we want to refuse to be nurturers simply to act out against the stereotype? Is there a middle ground? And Sara asked the intriguing question: what do we mean by "nurturing"? Is it possible to be nurturing and be the tough teacher who forces people to move beyond their comfort zone? The term "comfort zone" has always been problematic for me. I tend to be shy about trying new things, and many times I've been told to "step out of [my] comfort zone". What is this comfort zone, and why is it okay for people to tell me where I should be in relation to it? Is it necessary to be uncomfortable while challenging your ideas (or having them challenged)? If being comfortable is a desirable situation (is it?), why do so many people enjoy putting themselves into uncomfortable situations?
Curious. Moving on, we spent more time thinking about things such as whether or not to allow issues of the body in the classroom, more problems with the idea of a safe space, boundaries, and so on.
The Big Project: to write a paper or not to write a paper?
Our states of preparedness in regards to The Big Project seem varied; a few us of (myself included) remained silent on the topic, perhaps because we are not yet sure (that's me!). A few of us seem to have topics in mind but have not yet solidified plans, and at least one of us is already moving, as evidenced by Sophie's recent post. The big question seemed to be: do we write a paper or not? Angela made a comment about not wanting to write an academic paper because that's all she knows how to do, and that struck home with me. I am tempted to write a research paper because I know how, and I know I can do it well. On the other hand, I feel like I have been given a great opportunity to try something I don't know how to do, which brings me back to my thoughts about comfort zones and our discussion about crisis and growth. Oh, dear.
That's all I have to say, I think; my main goals with this post were to (A) summarise what happened, (B) record my own thoughts and questions in regards to the class, and (C) write it all without apologising for how much I did or did not write. And so I will end it here, ignoring my impulse to comment on the word count.
Happy troublemaking, everyone.
Here's a reminder of what I mentioned in class about the readings for next week:
We will focus our discussion on N'yongo, Singer and Lugones. I have also added Cohen (Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens) and Crenshaw (Demarginalization) for background reading, particularly in relation to the N'yongo. All of these readings are now available on our Web Vista site. Happy Reading!
So, do you ever wonder what your authors look like? Does it/should it make a difference in how you read a text? Here are Maria Lugones and Tavia N'yongo (I couldn't find an image of Linda Singer).
After dinner, I found myself, my sister, my aunt, and my grandmother in the kitchen cleaning things up, while the remainder of the (male) guests sat about digesting. Being of a trouble-making type, I pointed this out, and when the male relatives ignored me, I pointed it out louder. After a few really funny comments ("Thanksgiving is the day when I give thanks that I have women to clean up for me!") someone managed to get my Uncle to begrudgingly collect a few dishes before settling back into his chair. The evening concluded with me getting a dirty look and a severe lecture when I responded to my dad saying, "Girls! Why don't you get [Bachelor Friend #1] some pie?" with a resounding "Why doesn't Dave get his own f*ing pie??!!!"
The point that I am getting at here is that although I agree with bell hooks that learning is a "liberatory practice," I can also see Kevin Kumashiro's point that this liberation can lead us to moments of paralysis or crisis. At the end of his essay, Kumashiro asks "Is it ethical to intentionally and constantly lead a student into crisis? . . . Could such a situation lead to a life with little feelings of hope or even peacefulness?" (69) I certainly found comfort and solace, and even liberation in queer theory, women's studies, various racial/ethnic studies that both explained the inequalities that I instinctively felt, and forced me to unpack my knapsack of (white/middle-class/abled/cisgendered/etc.) privilege. However, outside of the academy, and even outside of certain departments in the academy, being highly-attuned to inequality and oppression can be isolating and paralyzing. If I can't even convince my family to respect women, how can I hope to change the world?
Here come some questions on this point (I can't restrict myself to one, so feel free to answer as many or as few as you wish):
1) How do we create educational systems that will not only attune students to inequality, but give them the skills to confront these inequalities in their own lives and on a broader structural level?
2) Kumashiro's descriptions of curricula that constantly seek to trouble and disrupt normative structures (and also constantly question and revise themselves) is so appealing . . . but could it be executed in a public school, where instruction is often so rigid and where teachers who express non-normative opinions are likely to receive hostility from the administration? Does such a vision of disruptive education exclude the public school (and wouldn't that be a form of inequality)?
3) Is discomfort/frustration the price we pay for being attuned to inequality, or should we be thinking about ways to ease/address such discomfort? What might methods of intellectual support look like, especially outside of the academy? In your experience, how has the intellectual discomfort I'm talking to here compared to the more active, visceral discomfort of being Othered in your own life?
4) Have you had any experiences in your own education that provided an exceptional model of disruptive education? Conversely, have you had a really awful experience that you think is really enlightening? (This is the question I REALLY want to hear about).
By the way, I'm sorry this post is late. It totally snuck up on me and I didn't remember about the Sunday posting deadline! I hope you will still have time to think about these questions.
One form of troublemaking in which I am very interested is the use of words and terminology and how they shape collective and individual thinking. Specifically, when is word choice (including naming) simple navel-gazing or a distraction from action and when is it actually subversive and necessary to troubling? What ways/forms are necessary to challenge "coded language" (Saul Williams, see below) and how that language shapes worldviews? When are silences or lack of curiosity forms of submission? On the other hand, when is using subversive or troublemaking words a way to hide behind inaction--talking a good game and not walking the walk?
BTW, my trouble blog got me in trouble this weekend. Check out how, here.