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Question #2 - Hedwig and the... Happy Inch?

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I am awfully sorry about posting this as late. It seems that my thinking about this class's issues always take much longer to "mature" than I expect. Before I start attempting to create the semblance of a line of thought, here are a few words on my academic situation: I am not completely sure as to what my field of study really is, being some sort of a misplaced piece in the French department - the only thing I do there is teaching... and being French (if that means anything). I am currently working on a big big project - my Masters thesis - for my university in Paris. I'm attached to the department of English over there, officially specializing in American literature and supervized by one of the very rare French professors who know more about queer theory than I do (and I'm not saying that I know much!). I left Grenoble, my hometown, just for him. Just for Jean-Paul Rocchi. I wouldn't say that I'm an American literature specialist: I'm now sitting somewhere across film studies, philosophy, linguistics, English, French, gender/sexuality studies and... shall future tell me what it is that I'm doing?

For now, on a more specific note, my focus is on Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I mentioned a few things about it in an older post (my class reflection). I have been very lucky with all these past few weeks' readings, since most somehow matched with my reflections of the moment.For instance, Munoz's Disidentifications inspired me a lot as I was struggling to find a way to express in which sense the scenic and non-scenic performances of Hedwig, the main character, are a sort of permanent disidentifications (or "disidentificatory performances", using Munoz's term), and that it is through a theatrical narrative that Hedwig - the character - and Hedwig (the movie) create "something that wasn't there before" (quoting Hedwig, who actually refers to love here - would this week's readings allow us to make a link between love and disentifications... or is it pushing things too far?).

Before becoming Hedwig, our main character was Hansel, a young fan of American pop singers, who lived with his mum in communist East-Berlin. He used to sing along American Forces Radio, his head in the kitchen oven, where his mum forced him to play. As Hedwig herself says, "[David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop] left as deep an impression on me as that oven rack did on my face". Munoz's reading of the star made me think of Hedwig/Hansel as this character made out of her/his childhood's role models, who is also our (spectator's) own star (or maybe anti-star?).

Tomorrow, I'll be showing two clips taken from the movie, which I think are particularly representative of what I understand as disentifications. I guess I haven't mentioned yet that the movie is what one would call a musical, however atypical (and way greater than most musicals). So I'll be showing two "music clips", namely "Wig in a Box" and "Midnight Radio". Both of them, in my opinion, touch on these issues of optimism, futurism and utopia. What I'd like to discuss, in relation to these clips, is whether Hedwig and the Angry Inch can be considered as a successful representation of queer optimism. So far (i.e. before this week's readings) I'd been seeing Hedwig's identy(ies) as melancholic, but Snediker's text made me ponder over my over-extensive use of the term... is melancholy's negative connotation a problem? Couldn't we broaden its meaning? And anyway, do I really want to buy into queer optimism? I know this is only a movie, so whatever intertwists between past, present and future make up for Hedwig's identity(ies) and relations with the world, they are much easier to interpret and work out than "real" life's (outter narrative's) social relations. By the way, (I know this is a difficult question), what can be the political strength of a movie (or any artistic work in fact)?

I have to say that I have yet to be convinced by the political efficacy of queer optimism - I have the feeling that one can only constructively write on queer negativity. Isn't optimism, as Snediker somewhere puts it (sorry I've lost the page), what simply is? How can theoretical work, being by nature so attached to the signifier - to what things really mean - reach beyond the negativity by which the signifier can only exist? Isn't it "counter-nature" for theory to inscribe itself outside of negativity? I am tempted to see political action and art (art often being, I would say, some sort of political action) as what has the potential to speak for itself (better than any endless theoretical speech), performing their inherent hope, utopia... however we want to name this "not yet queer" (Munoz, "Feeling Utopia").

I had a whole post planned in my head about nation traitors and the film Soldier's Girl, but then I read Muñoz's introduction to "Performing Identities" and became absolutely enthralled. I will discuss nation traitors at the end of my post, but I want to first talk about the Muñoz piece, and my personal reaction to it. Perhaps this a bit overly personal, but I think it's fairly humorous as well, so I hope that makes up for over-sharing:


Muñoz's discussion of Marga Gomez, mesmerized, watching the "lady homosexuals" on the David Susskind show really hit home for me. Growing up, my first introduction to "real life" lesbians was watching the Maury show. I was probably 10 or 11 and I was flipping through channels and, suddenly, the caption on the bottom of the screen read something like "Surprise! I'm a lesbian!" I had an idea of what the word meant, and I knew it kind of, maybe, somehow applied to me.  So, I stayed on the channel, turned the volume down so only I could hear it, and locked my bedroom door so no one else could catch me watching the show and put the pieces together. Much like the "pre-Stonewall stereotypes of lesbians" on the David Susskind show, the women on Maury had short hair, were dressed in masculine attire, and were overweight (Muñoz 3). But, they had leather jackets. And those jackets somehow made them exotic and glamorous in my eyes, and "not as the pathetic and abject spectacle that [they would] appear to be in the dominant eyes of heteronormative culture" (Muñoz 3). Thus, just as Marga Gomez's fascination and desire for the lady homosexual's wigs allowed her to disidentify with "these damaged stereotypes and recycle them as powerful and seductive sites of self-creation," so the leather jackets of the lesbians on Maury allowed me to do the same (Muñoz 4). I thought they were fascinating and I wanted to get one of those leather jackets and become one of them--as long as I didn't have to cut my hair--and as long as no one in my "real" life would find out.


Over the years as I grew into a teenager, I continued to invest the leather jacket with the mythical, the erotic, and the forbidden--all of the things lesbian identity meant to me. At 17, I bought a fake ID and a leather jacket and convinced one of my friends to drive into San Francisco with me (we lived 45 min. out in the suburbs) and go to the Lexington. I remember looking at myself in the mirror, wearing the leather jacket, and thinking it didn't look good on me, but that I wasn't wearing it for myself. I thought that, somehow, simply by wearing the jacket, it would let all the lesbians I passed know "hey, I'm one of you" and it would it would make me seem "mythical, erotic and forbidden"-- just like the lesbians on the Maury show had seemed to me. When we finally got to the Lexington, and made it in with our fake IDs, I was shocked to discover that I was the only one wearing a leather jacket!  Without those jackets, how was I supposed to know whether they were "really" lesbians or not?  What if they were really straight, and they were just there to out me?  After about 15 minutes of failing to find a fellow jacket wearer and "known" lesbian, I got scared, and told my friend I wanted to leave. In my eyes, the jacket had become disinvested of its mystical lesbian power, so I took it off and I never wore it again.


Now on to nation traitors and the film "Soldier's Girl," which I will be showing a clip of in class on Wednesday.


First, here is a plot summary of the film:


Barry is a private with the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army, stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Calpernia, a former Navy medic, now works as a showgirl at a transgender revue in Nashville, Tennessee when the two meet in 1999. When Barry and Calpernia begin seeing each other, Fisher begins spreading rumors on base about their relationship, which appeared to be a violation of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy about discussing the sexual orientation of military personnel. Barry faces increasing harassment and pressure, which explodes into violence over Fourth of July weekend. While Calpernia performs in a pageant in Nashville, Barry is beaten to death in his sleep with a baseball bat by Calvin Glover, who had been goaded by Fisher into committing the crime. The film ends with a discussion of the aftermath. The film depicts Fisher as a sexually confused manipulator jealous of Barry or Calpernia or both.


My interest in the film, and its relation to our class, centers around the way in which Barry and Calpernia serve simultaneously as US soldiers/patriots and, by virtue of their gender and sexual positions, as nation traitors. After all, to be patriotic is often conflated with upholding hegemonic American values, including heternormativity. How, therefore, does Calpernia inhabit the seemingly contradictory identity of former soldier and transperson?  And, for Barry, of solder and partner of a transperson?  How does the film formally complement these two divided and/or contrasting selves? 


One possible response to this question is that Barry maintains these identities through a linguistic fracturing of the self. While on the base or with his military friends, he goes by his surname, Winchell. And, while he introduces himself to Calpernia as "Winchell"--and she is comfortable calling soldiers by their last names given her own military background--she soon asks for his first name and, from then on, he is "Barry" in his scenes with her. This division of identity--between Winchell the soldier & Barry the partner of a transwoman-- is further complimented by the film's employment of color and mise en scene. In Calpernia's home and dressing room, Barry is surrounded by soft pinks and pastels & rainbow flags, and he is permitted to cry. On the base, however, the shots are overwhelmed by dark greens and browns, the American flag is ever-present, and Winchell acts sternly and agressively, adhering to what seems to be a code of brotherhood respect.  This leads me to wonder, can the two selves ever merge, unifying his identity as "Barry Winchell?"


Another point of interest for me, in the film, is how Calpernia and Barry's bodies become sites of trouble or are troubling/troublesome. In what ways does offering up his (Barry's) queer body as a vehicle of military service revise notions of the American body, as well as the attendant categories of identity, sexuality and patriotism? Do he and Calpernia have agency over their bodies, or are their bodies being written or acted on by others?  How do the film's formal elements contribute to the way in which their bodies are perceived?  


In the scene I will show in class on Wednesday, Calpernia is performing as a showgirl at the nightclub Visions (it's the night they meet), and Barry's army buddies are shoving $1 bills down her underwear. Clearly, their hands are all over her--her body is figured as spectacle and it is publicly accessible. Yet, she is on her home turf and she is the one who has constructed herself as spectacle--she has chosen to perform and, when a fight breaks out, she intervenes with her body, literally standing between Barry and his fellow soldier to break it up. She then takes Barry by the hand and leads him into her dressing room, where she cleans up the spill on his shirt (his body). Also, while Calpernia's body is often on display, it is Barry's body that is beaten (ultimately to death) later in the film. Therefore, while his body is never depicted as available or vulnerable, in the end, it becomes so, and it becomes so not in the soft hues of Calpernia's private bedroom, but in the cool green/brown world of the military barracks--with a baseball bat (a symbol of the traditional American pastime) and only feet from an American flag.


Another interesting thing about the characters' bodies is that the film does not include a "genital reveal" sequence, or a moment when the trans character's genitals are revealed.  As I mentioned in my previous blog post (about my big project, which is on this topic), genital reveal sequences are a canonical feature of 90s and 00s trans cinema, and often play out as moments of "truth" about the character's body while serving as a moment of sensationalism for the audience.  Therefore, by refusing to give us that moment, what is the film saying about Calpernia's body?  Does this deflect attention away from her body, or increase our desire to know and see?  What does it mean that we also are prevented from seeing Barry's genitals?  Instead, during their sex scenes, we see close-ups of the character's faces as they moan with pleasure. In fact, the scenes of Barry going down on Calpernia and Calpernia going down on Barry are virtually identical. Furthermore, these scenes are interspersed with Fish (Barry's roommate) catching a male & female soldier in bed together (it is forbidden for soldiers to date and/or have sex).  These scenes, therefore, be interpreted as both normalizing--their sex is just like straight sex--and as a way of reinforcing it's anti-patriotism--Barry having sex with Calpernia is against the military's rules just as the male & female soldier having sex is against the military's rules.


Another point I want to discuss (regarding the clip I'll show on Wednesday) is the "mission" that Fisher gives Barry. After watching Calpernia perform, Fisher tells Barry that it is his "mission" to find out if she has a penis or a "gash." By using the military word "mission" and using it to find out about Calpernia's body, Soldier's Girl merges the world of the military with the queer world of Vision's nightclub. And, as Barry thwarts his mission, telling Calpernia when they are alone that his mission was to "find out how she learned to dance like that," he de-values both the seriousness of a military "mission" and the importance of anatomy. Reporting back to Fisher after his time with Calpernia, he states "she is a lady," answering with a reference to her gender identity & expression, rather than her genitals. While these are my initial thoughts on the scene, I can't help but feeling there is more to it.





1. What do you make of the "mission" Barry gives to Fisher?


2. How do you see Calpernia's body working as a site of spectacle or performance, a tool, a locus of patriotism, and/or nation traitor in this scene?  What about Barry's body?


3. How do you see the straight world of the military and the queer world of the nightclub merging together in this scene?


4. Do you see Barry's identity (Barry

Question 2: How to teach race in a foreign language

First, a preface: my question 2 was originally going to be about language pedagogy, since teaching is an aspect of the French program that we end up spending a lot of time on, but aside from one pedagogy seminar (which I have not taken yet) there isn't much discussion of pedagogical practice. More specifically, I was interested in how to trouble the idea of "fact-based" learning: it's great to teach English in a way that challenges students' social consciousness, or to think critically about how to make History relevant and reflective of students' lives, but how do we do this in a language classroom? When the ultimate goal is to get students to be able to read, write, and speak in another language - many of these skills requiring rote learning and repetition - how can we think about pedagogy in a different way?

Instead of focusing on this question, though, the week's readings on being a race traitor have led me to a different slant on a similar (pedagogical) topic: how to teach about race in a foreign language classroom.

This problem is very relevant to French teaching because of a variety of political factors. To be a bit reductionistic about these issues, here are some "racial" questions that are currently hot-button issues in and around France:
  • a large number of first-, second-, and third-generation immigrants, particularly from former colonies in North and West Africa which have turbulent historical relationships with France
  • complicating the issue, the marginalization of these immigrants and subsequent rioting which seems to erupt every few years. The French government does very little to change this from a structural standpoint, since it is officially "race-blind" on job applications - employers are not allowed to ask about "race" in job applications, which ends up meaning that there is a) no affirmative action, and b) applicants will be called in for job interviews and then rejected for reasons of merit when it is often (according to admittedly totally anecdotal evidence) more to do with skin color/country of origin. 
  • the position of the DOM (départements d'outre-mer), which are technically faraway parts of France (think of Alaska and Hawaii) but are sometimes treated more like colonies.
These are really difficult issues for anyone to think about - and postcolonial studies, as a field, is dealing with this in the realm of academia - but teaching them in a classroom, which we are expected to do as part of teaching about French culture, poses a unique set of problems. Some questions that I am concerned with are:

  1. Given the conceptualization of race and ethnicity in the United States - concepts which are not formulated in the same way in France - how do we explain these exceedingly complex political issues in simpler ways without imposing our own cultural biases? How do we expose students to the basics of a foreign culture while discouraging them from forming stereotypes? 
  2. Are there opportunities in a foreign language classroom to use these questions for critical reflection on more local experiences of racism? Or (maybe a more accurate question, since there clearly are opportunities) to what extent is it appropriate to broaden the teaching of a foreign language into the realm of social studies? This reflects back on my initial question about "fact-based" learning: what is the role of a language teacher, particularly in introductory levels, in negotiating the trade-off between valuable cultural lessons and valuable language-learning time?
What these questions, along with my initial question, sum up to is:
Given that language learning is also cultural learning, how do we (as language teachers) create a classroom space that is both pedagogically effective and "troublemaking" in the right ways?
[Before I get into the question, I want to give a brief explanation of what it is we do down in Communication Studies. Most Comm departments across US academies are broken up into the following focuses: interpersonal comm, organizational comm, critical cultural studies and comm, media studies, rhetorical studies, performance comm. I am most explicitly a critical cultural studies comm kind of gal--that means I study culture but instead of using social science methods from sociology or often problematic methods from anthropology, we study culture through an interdisciplinary approach, borrowing a lot from the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies (most notably the producer of Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams).  For me, my cultural studies often incorporates analyses of rhetoric, performance and media. Technically, however, I am a "Media Studies" student at the U. You can see from this little blurb that there is a lot that goes on in Comm, and those arbitrary disciplinary borders that Judith Butler challenges are easily blurred in my field.]

On to the question:
Although Question #2 does not need to be directly related to the readings for the week, it's hard to be immersed in a particular text and not make associations to the assignment, right? As I was reading about Roseanne, I was reminded, so fondly, of my relationship with that program during my childhood. It was, along with "Grace Under Fire," the only media representation I had that looked anything like my life. My home looked eerily similar to Roseanne's--even that yellow-ish lighting tints my memories of my first home. Until I was 4, I had a dad that worked in a factory, much like Dan, and my mom was also in and out of working-class jobs (waitress, secretary, etc). We often had lots of people over, and playing card games around the kitchen table, littered with junk food and unopened mail, was a common scene, similar to the opening credits. Most of my dad's friends were from his racecar crew, and "crass" is a word that comes to mind when I recall the mildly inappropriate conversations I often overheard. After my dad got hit by a car, I related more to the single-mom on "Grace Under Fire," but what both shows had in common was the reality of a working-class family.

This ability to identify with something on TV was unarguably empowering, and I can't remember feeling resentful about my working-class status while I was a fan of the show (which would have been most salient between ages 4ish and 9ish, maybe?).  I do, however, remember when "Friends" became my favorite show, and I suddenly hated shopping at thrift stores, living in a small bungalow, and wanted nothing more than to be a hip 20something who lived in NYC.

I cannot deny the impact that television can have on its viewers, but I am also adamantly against the highly problematic "effects research" that some media scholars use to claim legitimacy as a field of study.  Effects studies will often use a social scientific method to show how, for example, violent films impact children; a test might include having two groups of 6 year olds from similar backgrounds watch a violent film in one room, while the other group watches a non-violent film in the second. After the screening, the researchers might have the kids play with dolls, and then, if those who watched the violent film play with dolls more aggressively, the researches will say: "Ah-ha! Violent movies cause children to be more violent!" This messed up logic seems to me to deny agency in viewers, and seems to assume that all viewers are "mindless dupes" who cannot negotiate media texts. (And can we nuance the difference between media affects vs. effects the same way we did in the Lady Gaga video worksheet?). 

These two responses to effect studies trouble me. While I don't like the "cause/effect" logic of the former response, I am also aware that the latter response seems to de-legitimize the importance of media studies in general. That is, if we can't "prove" that the media impacts its audience in certain ways, can our research really be used as a means of social change?

But what does "social change" look like when it comes to media decisions? Where does censorship become a tool for justice or a tool for repression? Can feminists be opposed to mysogynist portrayals of women on TV and also believe that viewers are smart enough to negotiate those portrayals in ways that don't perpetuate those cycles?

These questions often come up in relation to porn, and, as a sex-positive scholar and activist, I am very interested in this aspect.  Does (hetero, mainstream) porn "make" men have "unrealistic expectations" of their partners, does it make them inept at giving a woman real pleasure? Does porn "make" women perform those roles they see in the films "against their will"?

Do the media "make" us do things, or do we have agency that sometimes leads us to make decisions that are potentially not in "our best interests"? Who is to say what is and isn't in our "best interest" (for example, if a woman watches porn and decides she wants to be dominated in the bedroom, did the porn negatively influence her, or did it liberate a desire she had not yet been aware of harboring?).

If we do have agency, and media scholars critique the racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. problems in pop culture just for the sake of critiquing it, is there even a point? If we can sight all these "isms" seen in shows, do progressive and/or radical media scholars have a responsibility to try to create new media that *doesn't* perpetuate those "isms" or is that a denial of art, a denial of portraying realty, a turn towards conservative censorship?

I think I'm starting to get redundant, but hopefully you can see the things I'm struggling with here!

Question Two: The right to trouble

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I've been staring at this screen for an embarrassingly long time now, contemplating in which direction to take my question for this week's class. My research interests are rather ill-defined at this point; I can point to the 18th century and say, "There, I like French literature that was written there," and I can say that I am interested in irony and satire, but I can't get much more specific than that. I can think of ways to tie even this vague interest in to troublemaking, but I think that, rather than try to get everybody interested in the French Enlightenment, or talk about literature or literary theory, I'd like to take this in a different direction; one that doesn't have much of anything to do with my academic interests, but does have a lot to do with my personal interests. I hope this is allowable (and if it's not, can I argue that I am troubling the basis of this Question Two assignment?).

I'm Canadian. This always feels like a big confession; I make the statement and wait to be asked if I watch South Park or if I have ever seen a polar bear, eh? (I don't, and I have, in case you wondered) Anyway, I have always been interested in the question of my nation's identity - can such a diverse country have a single identity? - and this interest has only increased now that I've moved across the border. Much like the USA, Canada's cultural make-up is diverse. Unlike the USA, I think that Canadians often define themselves largely by saying, "We are NOT the USA." Bit of an inferiority complex there, methinks. . . In any case, where I am from, there is a significant Aboriginal population, and there are ongoing problems (the results of Aboriginal oppression by European settlers; this whole thing came to me while I was reading Sara Ahmed's discussion of Aboriginals in Australia in "The Politics of Bad feeling") with racism - most notably, Aboriginal people face the stereotype either of being lazy drunks who beg for money on the streets, or who get too many advantages (affirmative action hiring, fully funded post-secondary education, no income tax) because of the colour of their skin. It's a massive problem, but the interesting thing is that, as a white person, I am not expected to do anything about it except avoid making it worse. On a few occasions I have spoken out against racism, and I have been admonished for doing so, because it is "not [my] cause". Yes, I've been told that to my face more than once, and once by my best friend (an Aboriginal herself) - she told me, "Why are you mad? It's not your problem."

This is something I thought about a lot while I was doing some of the reading for past weeks as well as for this week. In "The Uses of Anger", Audre Lorde talks about anger and women and race, and although admittedly she is intentionally addressing women, I still read it and wondered what she would say about the idea of, say, a white man being angry about discrimination faced by a black woman. I wondered the same thing reading Judith Halberstam; she argues that queer studies has been too long dominated by white, gay men, but what would she think about a white, gay man talking about a black, gay woman? What about a black, gay woman talking about issues faced by white, gay men?

I guess what I am wondering about is the right to. . . well, the right to make trouble. "But everyone has the right to make trouble!" I hear you protest (as long as we're not just being assholes, right?), but it doesn't always seem that way. If a particular issue bothers me even though it has no impact on me personally, do I have the right to trouble it, or is my role simply a supportive one - standing behind my Aboriginal friend as she accuses someone of making a racist remark, letting my students make up a test they missed to be part of a protest, etc? Why would someone ever refuse my help (or my attempt to help) because it's "their" cause, not "mine"? What is with this possessiveness? Can a problem or cause belong to someone? Who decides this ownership, and how is it determined? And if something doesn't have the potential to harm me, why would I be angry enough about it to make trouble in the first place?

I think we talked about some of these things early on in the semester, but as someone who has some definite white privilege going on, I have often felt like my ability or my right to question or trouble issues has been questioned, and I want to think about why.

question #2: troubling narratives

my interest in troublemaking as a method or lens for my own work intersects surprisingly well with the readings for this week. which excitingly gives me more to ponder. in the Clare piece for this week, he writes: 

"In English there are no good words, no easy words. All the language we have created - transgender, transsexual, drag queer, drag king, stone butch,  high femme, nellie, fairy, bulldyke, he-she, FTM, MTF-places us in relationships to masculine or feminine, between the two, combining the two, moving from one to the other. I'm hungry for an image to describe my gendered self, something more... Without language to name myself, I am in particular need of role models. I think many of us are" (260). 

this is EXACTLY what i am interested in: the failure of language. the gaps, the troublemaking, the incoherentness of language when it comes to "troubling" identities. the failure of language to describe identities that "trouble" society. identities that "trouble" language. i want to study the complex, always changing, always failing narratives that specific identities and experiences perpetuate. my work (the stuff i hope to do in life) will center on narratives such as Eli Clare's who include sentiments like "I myself don't have many words" (258). 

thus, i am not sure that my work itself will "make trouble" so much as my work is an exploration and analysis of that which has already made, is always making, trouble. does that make sense? 

in a brilliant book How Our Lives Becomes Stories: Making Selves, Paul John Eakin writes: "When it comes to autobiography, narrative and identity are so intimately linked that each constantly and properly gravitates into the conceptual field of the other. Thus, narrative is not merely a literary form but a mode of phenomenological and cognitive self-experience, while self -the self of autobiographical discourse- does not necessarily precede its constitution in narrative" (100). 

according to Eakin then, there is no self beyond that self which is narrated into being. identity, narrative, and selfhood overlap and intersect repeatedly and unexpectedly. they cannot be unwoven. so then, when Clare says "without a language to name myself, i am in particular need to role models. i think many of us are" - Eakin would ask "without a language to name yourself, are you a self?" this gets into the readings we'll do for next week i think. Butler's questions of a livable life. if Butler's larger research question is what counts as human, mine is "how do we narrate, identify, and understand that which does not count as human, that which is unrecognizable." like our readings for this week i am interested in visibly, and invisibility, though not through staring, through narrative. what Eakin calls "dysnarrativia" or the anti-narrative. 

okay, enough, so my questions for the class: postmodernity might declare that if you do not exist in discourse, you do not exist. but clearly you still do. right? or maybe not? what kinds of selfhood is possible if you live or experience some moment in life outside of discourse? how is this troubling social and theoretical notions of identity? but also notions of a livable life? if you cannot narrate your selfhood are you somehow "denied your humanity" by language, by society? is dysnarrativia looming in the shadows of life for everyone? or just a specific existence for some [the queer/trans/disabled/oppressed/traumatized/etc]. what kind of social power and cultural currency is imbedded with "having words for yourself." can that discourse Clare imagines ever be found: "a solid ground with bedrock of its own, a language to take me to a brand-new place?" if you do not exist in discourse, do you exist? 

to me, this is the ultimate personification of "being in trouble"...

Question 2: Troubling a Troubling Past

History is a great place to make trouble. Although it has long been a bastion of the dead white man (or perhaps because it as been), history as a discipline has been the site of tremendous revision in the last 50 years or so. The process seems to have begun with exactly the kind of critical work Judith Butler describes; asking new questions, and asking them in new ways. Social historians uncover the past from the working class perspective; women's historians recovery the lost histories of women; gender historians have asked how we can use gender as a "useful category of historical analysis" (to quote Joan Scott, gender history diva and one of my personal heroes). Historians have developed a number of other historical methodologies that ask how race, subject position, sexuality, and other categories can be used to broaden our knowledge of the past. An important part of this process has been the innovative use of materials that traditional history would not consider to be legitimate source material. The goal of these new historical interventions has not been merely to supplement the hegemonic historical narrative, but to show the ways in which that narrative is insufficient and inaccurate, to permanently alter our understanding of the past.

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?

Question #2


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?   


Question 2, for the hooks, Kumashiro, Yancy, and Davidson/Yancy readings:

Since this is the question dealing with my own lens/interests/discipline, here are my background/interests: I'm a student in the Curriculum and Instruction department, the Culture and Teaching track (which "engages the study of education as a cultural phenomenon" and looks at issues of equity and social justice in education). The two questions in which I am most interested in engaging (for right now, at least) are white supremacy in K-12 classrooms, specifically as addressed by white teachers with white students, and the disconnect between activism and academia.That's where I am coming from.

I'm going to make the assumption (and you can correct me in class if I'm wrong), that for most of us, most education, especially in PK-12 (prekindergarten to grade 12), did/does not have antioppression as its goal/purpose/vision nor has the goal/purpose/vision of theory been liberation. (This latter might now be different for some--hopefully many--of us given our enrollment/teaching in this class! But, it is still generally not that prevalent in the academy. And I would be SO pleased to be corrected on being wrong on that!)

Yet I agree with hooks and Kumashiro that these must be the goal/vision/purpose of education and theory. Inherent in this vision is being allowed and encouraged to be all of who you are (and are evolving into/from) in the classroom. So, my question for us is: What happens to students' relationships to schooling and education when they are not allowed to name their own realities and identities and have them enter the classroom, and what consequences does this then have individually, collectively, and societally?

More specifically, how is creating and facilitating a space where students can bring all their identities, realities, voices, and knowledges--and using them as a basis for what happens in the classroom--transgressive and troublemaking? To whom and for whom? How does it change learning? How would our own schooling (and teaching practices) look different if we had gotten this in PK-12? What might it mean as teachers/students in academia?

I also encourage you to check out "news" about my colleagues and their work on the Bill O'Reilly show last month. I will likely share more about it in class.