here is the link to the Prostitution Project report I was gushing over in class. SO worth your time to read.
THANKS ASHLEY! (OMG IS THAT HOW YOU SPELL YR NAME? I HOPE SO!)
here is the link to the Prostitution Project report I was gushing over in class. SO worth your time to read.
THANKS ASHLEY! (OMG IS THAT HOW YOU SPELL YR NAME? I HOPE SO!)
This blog won't let me easily cut and paste by hand out from class :(
But I wanted to tell people how to make text boxes that will impress other people and help you seem mega cool.
First step: make a text box
In MS Word, well I have the fancy MSWord one for Win 7, but hopefully this copies over to older versions. you just select Insert > Text Box. Make the text box however big you want.
Then, for the arrows, I select Insert > Shapes. There are many arrows to chose from, so chose one, and then you can drag it around for the perfect angle and size.
The bummer is the text boxes and arrows act as their own kind of world, so it is hard to start typing full paragraphs underneath them. I would press enter a whole bunch to get the cursor BELOW your intended text box area, so when you want to resume regular typing, the cursor will be in the right spot.
Happy Nerding Out!
I thought I would start an open thread about how we did and didn't use the blog and twitter in our class this semester. Some questions to consider:
You can post your thoughts as comments to this entry.
Throughout this semester I've been interested in conceptualizing a posthumanist material ethics, by which I mean an ethics that responds to nonhuman, nonlinguistic, and possibly even nonliving traces and processes and which conceptualizes responsibility to nonhuman others and nonliving, nonhuman forces. In my senior project, which also deals with material ethics, I'm particularly interested in trying to articulate an ethical approach that attempts to struggle with the dynamic, on-going material processes of the world, or the difficulty of "reality." There I'm trying to explicate the ethics of the limits of human perception and knowledge concerning nonhuman entities and stress the need for an ethics that directly challenges anthropocentrism and speciesism. In the paper I specifically take up the issues of plant genetics and crop breeding in industrial, monoculutre agriculture and farming to provide a practical, grounded example of material ethics.
Here though, I'd like to take some space to explore some texts that have been influential in prompting me to write about material ethics. The Butler we read in class, "Ethical Ambivalence," put me on to Emmanuel Levinas's Otherwise Than Being: Or Beyond Essence. Although the text is very difficult and I must therefore rely on Butler's reading of it to help me make sense of it, I am intrigued by Levinas's illustration of the ethical relationship, and the ethical address, the mode by which ethical demands are made.
In what is arguably his most important and influential work, Otherwise Than Being: Or Beyond Essence, Emmanuel Levinas states, "Saying is not a game. Antecedent to the verbal signs it conjugates, to the linguistic systems and the semantic glimmerings, a forward preceding languages, it is the proximity of one to the other, the commitment of an approach, the one for the other, the very signifyingness of signification," (5, my emphasis). What Levinas means here is that prior to all languages and linguistic accounts, there is a primordial saying, an approach that signifies an ethical responsibility. Because of the inevitability of proximity, of "I" and the Other, I am approached by the Other, and asked, as it were, to receive an address in which the Other lays a responsibility on me, or accuses me of failing in a responsibility. In a later essay entitled "Peace and Proximity," Levinas introduces the figure of the Other's "face," as being that which speaks the primordial saying. Though, as Judith Butler notes in the final chapter of her book of the same name, Precarious Life, "Someone or something else speaks when the face is likened to a certain kind of speech; it is a speech that does not come from a mouth or, if it does, has no ultimate origin or meaning there. In fact. . . Levinas makes it plain that "the face is not exclusively a human face."³," (133). Here we see that not only is the face not necessarily a human face, but the face also does not actually speak, per se. Butler further expounds upon the structure of the ethical address itself:
"To respond to this address seems an important obligation during these times. This obligation is something other than the rehabilitation of the author - subject per se. It is about a mode of response that follows upon having been addressed, a comportment toward the Other only after the Other has made a demand upon me, accused me of a failing, or asked me to assume a responsibility," (129).
"So if we think that moral authority is about finding one's will and standing by it, stamping one's name upon one's will, it may be that we miss the very mode by which moral demands are relayed. That is, we miss the situation of being addressed, the demand that comes from elsewhere, sometimes a nameless elsewhere, by which our obligations are articulated and pressed upon us," (130).
Here Butler articulates the primordial structure and origin of the ethical address: it comes before one's will, before one's judgment, and lays upon one a command, or holds and persecutes one for failing in such a commandment. According to Levinas, the primordial address that sends me an ethical edict, Levinas uses the example "thou shalt not kill," (for Levinas, the life of the Other takes primacy over one's own and the edict "thou shalt not kill" is what signifies the face; "the other for the other") is that which comes both before and after oneself. This is what Levinas means by his key phrase "otherwise than being." One's responsibility to the Other precedes one's existence, to language, and will continue after one's death. He states, though, that:
"The otherwise than being cannot be situated in any eternal order extracted from time that would somehow command the temporal series. . . It is the temporalization of time, in the way it signifies being and nothingness, life and death, that must also signify the beyond being and not being. . . the differing of the identical is also its manifestation," (9).
This passage highlights the decay and transformation of the address through time, of the meaning extracted from such an address, and the specific and conditional nature of an ethical responsibility. It also highlights the difference, the trace, or the diffractive disturbance of sameness that the face of the Other marks. "This difference," Levinas later states, "in proximity between the one and the other, between me and a neighbor, turns into non-indifference, precisely into my [ethical] responsibility," (166). Thus, it is not necessarily in language in which all meaning (ethical or otherwise) is located and produced - meaning can also be located and produced in the trace or difference, the pre-discursive without which language would not exist.
While Levinas's precise point in Otherwise Than Being is to critique the location of meaning in ontology as such, arguing that it is rather what is beyond being that constitutes the revelation of the meaning of being, I would like to take the liberty of using Levinas's theory of the ethical relationship in an ontological direction, although not in the sense that ontology is concerned with "things as they are." Indeed, Levinas's point about the temporalization of time, signifying the decay and transformation of address which in turn signifies otherwise than being would seem to belay the idea that the world is composed of "things" that await understanding and representation, harkening instead to an ontological understanding of "things in their becoming with others." It would seem to me that there cannot be any understanding of "what is ethical" outside of our understanding of living (or outside of death and the nonliving forces which perpetuate the possibility of living), which would necessitate an exploration of the stuff of the living - not in order to fix it into a permanent position of knowing it, but to attempt to awaken ourselves to the pre-discursive traces which form an ethical address from a nonhuman face. For in talking about 'I,' the strangeness and impossibility of 'I,' and the ethical obligations of 'I' to the 'Other,' it seems necessary to talk about that which brings 'I' and 'Other' into being, forms them and makes their becoming possible, sustains them until their subsequent death, and perhaps even brings about that death. This is why I am interested in conceptualizing an explicitly material ethics and this de-centering of personal interest, the consideration of forces outside the human in particular to which the human owes its existence with/beside other nonhuman life forms, also suggests that the ethical approach that is required is one that does not privilege the human, and even radically challenges anthropocentrism and speciesism, in the guise of benevolence in which humanism and its incarnations cloak themselves. What I am suggesting is that material - actual material - must be foremost in ethical inquiry. As suggested by Levinas's articulation of the temporalization of time, however, the engagement with material in ethics can not be one that stops short at an understanding of material as inert, static, as waiting to be inscribed by discourse (though matter certainly is inscribed and constructed by discourse). It must also engage with matter as a transformative force in its own right, allowing it its own weight in a materially accountable ethics of becoming.
At this point however, I am still left with some rather basic-seeming questions about some of what appear to be key concepts for Levinas, such as the "temporalization of time." As I said before, these texts are quite difficult, so I'd really appreciate any help anyone might have to offer in understanding them. I also welcome any and all criticism anyone has to offer.
Hey Reina and everyone! It's time for a Diedrich Diablog Summary! Here I'll take a moment to recount my experience of diablogging.
I actually really enjoy the process of diablogging. I feel that although all readings should be close readings, the diablog forces me to account for my close reading in a particularly productive way. Because we had to post a summary of the reading that attempted to do justice to the complexities and nuances of the arguments of the book, I think I spent more time with the reading thinking about it and generating questions.
It was also really fun to have a discussion on the blog with you, Reina. I wish I'd had more time on Monday to respond to everything and ask more questions, but I feel the discussion was productive and really helped prepare us for class discussion. It also honed me in to different things in the readings I'd missed, or hadn't paid enough attention to, and discussing a reading with others always contributes to everyone's understanding of it, I think. Although it might have been fun to do the diablog with more people, I also liked only doing it with one other person. I think it was more challenging to explore the text with only two people and I feel it pushed me to try to know it better.
It would be really interesting in future to experiment with having a preliminary class discussions about the readings on the blog before the in-class discussion, especially for difficult material. It might help to generate questions about the text and make in-class discussions more lively.
Hi again! Just thought I would share this story in case anyone hadn't heard of it. I think there are interesting conversations happening on both sides of the story. I don't think race or class have been addressed in the case of the J.Crew ad, but its an interesting moment in which to consider queer/ing children. The public response to the ad is what is making the story such a hot topic. How does this relate to ethics? Queer/ing ethics? Responsibility? Thoughts?
Hi everyone. I finally remembered the name if the author who had written on epistemological failure. The name of the book is Fictions of Feminist Ethnography and it is written by Kamala Visweswaran. Although her book deals mostly with the possibilities of "failure" that happens during "fieldwork" I wanted to share a few passages that I thought connected to our discussion on the ethics of failure. Visweswaran begins her chapter called "Feminist Ethnography as Failure" by reflecting on a "fail" moment she had while in the field. She writes, "For our failures are as much a part of the process of knowledge constitution as are our oft-heralded 'successes.' Failure is not just a sign of epistemological crisis (for it is indeed also that), but also, I would argue, an epistemological construct" (99-100). Visweswaran goes on to critique the feminist ethnographer as "trickster" because as she states this "trickster" relies on "giving voice" and the knowledge that we can never fully know (100). She urges instead for a "suspension that we can ever wholly understand and identify with other women (displacing again the colonial model of 'speaking for,' and the dialogical hope of 'speaking with')" that allows for possibilities in failure" (100). I felt this related to our extensive discussion of the ethics of failure as Visweswaran is working through the possibilities that come from recognizing and acknowledging failure in research, ethnography, writing. It also made me think of how "giving voice" might relate to "bearing witness" and experience. Thoughts??
note: I was originally going to attempt to live tweet notes from this class, but I soon realized that Judith Butler's Giving an Account on Oneself was going to be difficult to present in 140 characters or less...I take full responsibility for any mis-interpretations/mis-communications in my presentation of the class notes. We had a particularly intense conversation surrounding this text. (One that I am not sure I "got" completely) I hope you will be generous in my attempts to make sense of Butler and our subsequent discussion. Thanks!
p.s. after almost a month delay, I am presenting the notes as is! Please see Mary's awesome Diablog here, here, and here. A wonderful afterword can also be found here.
After a brief check-in about the course, we began with a wonderful summary and outline by our facilitator, Mary. As Chloe pointed out, Mary's thorough outline/summary of Butler's work was complete with footnotes! ☺
Our discussion began with the question "What is Butler doing in this text?"
Liora asked, what is the usefulness of it? What is the value of a text like this?
Mary responds that she didn't think about the text politically, but instead thought about it theoretically as a way to think through "responsibility."
Memorable essay that seems apropos to this week's reading.
In Diedrich's conclusion, she ends with a discussion of an ethics of the experience of failure (body, conventional/alternative medicine, and/or language) that she reads through two illness narratives. The first is Atul Gawande's Complications that focuses on the doctor side of the doctor-patient binary and the next is Gillian Rose's Love's Work, from the patient's side (148). Diedrich borrows from Lyotard and Scarry's respective works to highlight the "experience of pain" that attempt to draw out methods for "idioms which do not yet exist" (148). Diedrich also lends significant attention to Croce's "the undiscussable" (148-149) as she aims to highlight her own "undiscussable"-the possibility and reality that doctors and their patients may "get things wrong" and thus may not have a language or an ethics of getting it wrong (149). Lyotard's "differend" becomes important in Diedrich's discussion of "unstable states" where something cannot be put into language or phrases. An example of this differend, for Diedrich, is the hyphen that separates the two subject positions in the doctor-patient relationship (150).
Diedrich begins her discussion of the ethics of failure with Gawande's focus in Complications that medicine is an "imperfect science." Gawande's experiential statements assert the "fallibility, mystery, and uncertainty" (150) that surround western medicine. Simply by questioning the credibility and power of medicine, Gawande opens up the discussion to allow for failure. Pointing to the "undiscussable" and "messy" and "uncertainty" that is a reality of medicine, Diedrich calls Gawande's narrative a "differend" (151).
In chapter five of Treatments, Diedrich questions the possibilities and impossibilities of illness narratives to write and read the body. She begins by asking a series of questions about the relationship between language and embodiment within illness narratives. Diedrich asks,
"Is the experience of embodiment determined and structured by language? What is lost in the attempt--the urgency even--to bring the body to language? Can we encounter the body outside of or prior to language? Can we tell stories and bear witness, not only about the body but also through the body?" (115)
The chapter centers on the "telling and listening" and "language memoirs" in Paul Monette's autobiographical accounts on HIV/AIDS and the mourning of his partner Roger Horowitz as well as John Bayley's writings on his wife, Iris Murdoch's, journey with Alzheimer's disease. These narratives offer a critical engagement with language(s) and embodiment.
In the second chapter of Treatments, called Politicizing Patienthood: Ideas, Experience, and Affect, Diedrich is most concerned with reading three separate accounts of breast cancer with and against each other in order to evaluate their prospects as effective and/or affective histories and "arts of being ill." She also wants to situate the illness event of breast cancer and the activism that sprung up around it in the 1990's in connection to the women's health movement of the 1970's and the AIDS activism of the 1980's. She credits these movement for bringing about a "politicization of patienthood" which she argues, "brings into being various techniques for doing illness in new ways, and that along with these new forms of doing illness come new forms of writing illness. What Diedrich is most directly referring to, I believe, is the re-positioning of the patient as active and decisive in their own treatment and diagnosis in a way that treated their illness as not only an illness event, but a political event and a call to political efficacy. This re-positioning challenges notions about the "personality" of the cancer patient, and opposing in particular neoliberal discourses which place responsibility for contraction and recovery from illness squarely on the shoulders of individual patients, which Diedrich discusses at the end of the chapter.
Diedrich moves to a discussion of Susan Sontag's work Illness as Metaphor, and writes, "Although at first glance Sontag's work does not appear to be a personal response to her own experience of illness, I argue that it might be read as, paradoxically, a depersonalized personal narrative of illness. In fact, Sontag depersonalizes, and also de-heroicizes, her response to illness in order to, in her view, offer a strategy to others that she believes is most effective in the face of illness," (26).
Sontag, according to Diedrich, wishes to drive out the notion of an inherent moral meaning in illness, to "unify and purify" the language surrounding and experience of illness. She does this in an attempt to free ill persons from the debilitating and mystifying metaphors and stereotypes that surround cancer, such as that there is such a thing as having a "cancer personality." Thus, Sontag's rendering of illness in Illness as Metaphor is purely an effective history, one that is opposed to an affective history. Of course, Diedrich cites several paradoxical readings of Illness as Metaphor in which Sontag's work is read as a thinly disguised, deeply personal work. In a later book entitled AIDS and Its Metaphors, Sontag revisits her earlier work, this time asking the question of what is useful for people experiencing illness - effective or affective histories? Sontag is invested in the use of ideas in and of themselves to combat the darkest fears of those experiencing illness.
Diedrich then moves to a discussion of Audre Lorde's two works, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, and The Cancer Journals. She maintains that for Lorde, her experience with breast cancer had everything to do with her experience being a poor, black woman in the US. Through making the affective and personal visible through her illness narrative, Lorde is attempting to utilize that experience to produce an effective history, so that other women with her and after her might take something away that enables them to form new, productive political subjectivities. Diedrich writes, "For autobiography scholar Thomas Couser, Lorde's work is particularly powerful because it "shifts back and forth between the proximate and the distant, between the emotional and the intellectual, as Lorde struggles to bring all her resources to bear on a new and frightening challenge" (1997, 50-51)," (36-37). Lorde's illness narrative is thus both and effective and affective history. Lorde sees the transformation of illness and writing about illness and personal experience as an ethical engagement in which one seeks truth and meaning within language, poetic representation, and that opens up space for questioning. She uses her illness and visualization of that illness to incite political militancy and to connect mastectomized women in political movement. "According to Lorde, health is first and foremost a political issue; it is not an effect of or a means to personal happiness," (43).
In her evaluation of Eve Sedgewick's work Performativity and Performance, Diedrich again asserts that Sedgewick's illness narrative constitutes both an effective and affective history. Here she describes how Sedgwick imagines the terms queer, ill, and performative in radical ways. She understands queer, it seems, as a doing, a movement across, "transitional, and strange," and she wants to explore performativity as a "means of "understanding the obliquities among meaning, being, and doing; not only around the examples of drag performance and (its derivative?) gendered self-representation, but equally for such complex speech acts as coming out, for work around AIDS and other grave identity-implicating illnesses, and for the self-labeled, transversely but urgently representational placarded body of demonstrations" (2)," (45). Diedrich goes on:
"For Sedgwick, exploring the connections (and disconnections) between modes of being ill, the meanings attached to illness, and the politics surrounding illness (that is, between forms of meaning, being, and doing that surround the experience and event of illness), requires that she hurl her energies outward into new forms of representation and embodiment, rather than, as Sontag proposes, inward into a "pure, untranslatable, sensuous immediacy" (1966, 9)," (45). In particular, Sedgwick find shame, a bad feeling attached, "not to what one does, but to what ones is," a "near-exhaustible source of transformational energy'. . . "Shame is productive not only of normalizing identifications, but also of transgressive disidentifications," (46).
In contrast to Sontag, then, Lorde and Sedgwick find that through "mucking about" in the affects of illness one finds new, effective forms of being ill that have the potential to provide space for questioning, transformation, and the politicization of patienthood and illness. Diedrich concludes, "Yes, ideas are useful in the face of life-threatening disease, but so are stories, dreams, and hypotheses about the panic, terror, shame, and the institutional violence that we endure and resist. To queer the experience of patienthood is to "include, include" no to "purify, purify," (48).
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS. . .
-Is there necessarily an opposition between feelings and ideas as seems to be implied in several passages in this chapter? Do not feelings come from ideas?
-Is it possible to locate ethical/moral meaning in the experience of illness itself? Or is it always in the affective aspects/the doing of experience?
-The narrative/concept/act of transformation plays a central role in this chapter in the kinds of e/affective histories that Lorde and Sedgwick are trying to make. What are we to make of the ethics of transformation? Of practices of the self? What does this say about the self?
In the first chapter of her book, Diedrich examines two case studies of illness narratives of tuberculosis in the early twentieth century US: those of Betty MacDonald in her book The Plague and I, a white woman who received treatment for her illness at a top-notch institution called the Firland Sanatorium (the Pines Clinic and Sanatorium in the book), and Madonna Swan, a Lakota woman who narrated her experience of being kept in the Souix Sanatorium near Rapid City to St. Pierre, a pastor in her community. She illustrates the ways in which these two narratives are examples of ". . . the anatomo-clinical method and the two modes of biopower: the disciplining of bodies and the regularization of populations," (1). She also presents these two illness narratives as examples in which the hegemonic structure and categories of the medical industrial complex and US genocide/eugenics are both upheld and challenged through the stories of both women.
Diedrich first launches into an explanation of her approach to the two case studies, using the theories of biopower and subjugated knowledges as posited by Foucault. She is interested in exploring the subversive/productive potential of these two illness narratives as subjugated knowledges (as apposed to hegemonic ones) that position "the patient" in other ways besides the passive body upon which medical practice and theory is inscribed (though this indeed still occurs). She writes:
"For Foucault, the investigation into subjugated knowledges in the past opens up a space for thinking, being, and doing otherwise in the present and future. . . Subjugated knowledges always threaten to disrupt the power/knowledge nexus; they are something of a Freudian "return of the repressed" in terms of socio-cultural rather than individual histories," (2).
She refers this to the "overturning moment" in postmodernity as expressed by historian Michel de Certeau, in which the general, or popular knowledge of the "ordinary" man situates itself within and outside institutional, specialized, and authoritative knowledges. She also writes that Arthur W. Frank says, in his book The Wounded Storyteller, that the "proliferation of illness narratives from the patient's perspective is a necessary counternarrative to the narratives of doctors and other medical professionals. . . he [Frank] identifies the figure of the "wounded storyteller" as having emerged in postmodern times, because in postmodernity, "the capacity for telling one's own story is reclaimed" (7)," (2). Continuing with Frank, Diedrich writes how he explains that the modern experience of the patient is much different from the postmodern experience of the patient. The modern patient, Frank tells us, assumed the "sick role" characterized by absolute passivity and surrender to medical practices and technologies. The modern focus on acute illness meant that patients generally recovered or died. The postmodern patient, in contrast, is characterized by chronic illness, someone who negotiates the space between health and illness. Frank calls this a "remission society." Here Diedrich writes, "In a "remission society" the boundaries between health and illness are permanently disrupted, thereby challenging the dichotomous formulation of health as the norm and illness as that which deviates from the norm," (3). She writes that Frank argues that contrary to the postmodern proliferation of the illness narrative signaling an evacuation of ethics and a move towards a relativization of the experience of illness, it rather signals a "radical democratization of medicine."
Diedrich moves to an explanation of the mechanisms of the anatomo-clinical method and its relation to biopower through a discussion of the terms Foucault opens his book The Birth of the Clinic with: space, language, and death. Foucault's description of space is both an internal and external space: the space of the body as internal, and that of the clinic which is external. These spaces form the venue for the unequal meeting of doctor and patient, in which the "pathological fact" is located in the patient by the doctor, thus individualizing the patient as a body only, rather than as a subject of the experience of their illness. Foucault's second term, language, is explained through the way the doctor moves from examination to interrogation, and "makes the body speak," as it were, its pathology. Here, though the patient may speak of their illness, it is not their voice that matters, for nothing but the doctor and, supposedly, the body, speaks in the true, initiates-only language of modern medicine. Thus, the doctor resembles a "speaking eye" that interprets the objects of the patient's body and words into a pathological fact. Foucault's third term, death, becomes clear from the point that what matters is not the words of the patient but the doctor's interpretation of the patient's abstracted body. However, the uncertainty of the pathological fact present in a living patient can only truly dissipate upon the patient's death, at which point the corpse could be made to tell all of the body's internal workings. Foucault marks these medical developments within a larger philosophical development, in which the individual could now "be both subject and object of his own knowledge" (197)," (6).
Diedrich then moves to the next subheading in the chapter: Tuberculosis as Experience and Event. Here she summons the work of Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, who coins the term "pathography" to describe illness narratives. Hawkins defines the term "pathography" as, "our modern detective story," where we are transported out of the everyday, familiar world of health into the unknown, uncharted world of illness (1)," (6). She says that Hawkins draws a parallel between illness narratives and older narratives of religious conversion, ". . . what she identifies as the "myth of rebirth;" that is, that the experiences of religious conversion and of illness afford "a process of transformation so profound as to constitute a kind of death of the 'old self' and rebirth to a new and very different self" (33)," (7). Diedrich wants to illustrate how tuberculosis is both an experience of those afflicted with it and in what ways it is an illness event that differs dramatically based on the context in which it takes place. She also situates the telling of both women's stories as two separate events. Whereas MacDonald's story was published shortly after her discharge from the sanatorium, Swan's story was published much later, and she did not write it, but told it to St. Pierre, who therefore had a definitive and ultimate role in how the story was told. "Tuberculosis as experience and event comes into being through the various spaces, objects, and people associated with its diagnosis and treatments," (11).
Diedrich draws out the parallels between Foucault's anatomo-clinical method and the experience of MacDonald at The Pines. While The Pines itself is quietly sequestered from the general population, the clinic in which MacDonald is first diagnosed with TB is part of the same complex of buildings that houses a jail, police station, emergency hospital, and venereal clinic, ". . . the link between criminality and disease is designed into the architecture of the building itself," (10-11), showing the spacialization of criminality and disease in this illness event. At the Pines itself the doctors are illusive at best, engaging in little if any direct dialogue with MacDonald about her treatment and progress. Indeed her discharge from the sanatorium was unexpected - her doctors did not update her on her progress. The privileged position of being a patient at The Pines required adherence to a strict "new regime of living" that required absolute, rest, absolute inert docility of the patient, which MacDonald notes extended well beyond the time one actually spent at the sanatorium. This "technology of the self" required first and foremost a disciplining of the mind before that of the body. Diedrich writes, "The ability to monitor oneself effectively indicates one's desire fore health and, and one's desire for health indicates one's fitness for citizenship in a normalizing society," (13). Here we see not only the external space of the clinic in connection with deviance, but also the internal space of body, disciplined into an almost death-like posture, enabling the professionalized eye of the doctor to speak of the immobilized body, and thus also to make the body speak through compliance to a "regime of living." Diedrich also cites MacDonald's acknowledgement of the inevitable failure of TB patients to completely adhere to the tuberculosis routine as a possible proto-ethics of failure. MacDonald's experience is certainly illustrative of the disciplining of bodies described in Foucault's biopower.
Madonna Swan's experience and illness even, in her initial diagnosis and the time she spent in the Souix San, in contrast to MacDonald's experience and illness event, was characterized by the widespread death of other Lakota in a place to which they were sent to die. MacDonald describes this as being parallel to Foucault's assertion that the nineteenth century saw a shift from the "right of sovereignty to "take life or let live" to a new state right to "make live and let die" (241)," (17), though I would contend that "take life" is probably still appropriate in this instance. She describes TB as being a disease "endemic," in the Foucaultian sense, to indigenous populations, as death which, rather than being an event, becomes part of the backdrop of everyday life - it gnaws and saps at the general community. The eugenic intent of this massing of TB positive indigenous people together in a virtual hospice is the regularization of populations of Foucault's biopower. While Swan does survive her stay at Souix Sans, it is only when she is accepted into a white sanatorium that she begins to recover.
COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS. . . .
-Diedrich wants to challenge the binary between health/illness. How does she accomplish this/fall short? What nuances of this binary does she draw out here?
-Diedrich cites the tuberculosis routine describes by MacDonald as an ethical technology of the self. What might she mean here? Can we connect this to Foucault's virtue ethics?
-How does ethics and ethical practices of self making encompass both life and death in these case studies?
Hey Reina and everyone! I hope you're all well, especially in light of this somewhat gloomy reading about deadly illnesses.
Anyways, I thought I'd open open our diablog discussion by covering the introduction through the first two chapters. I'll provide a summary of each in separate blog entries and after each I'll provide a little subsection with connections made in the readings between chapters and authors, and with questions and comments about each chapter that we might use to structure discussion on Tuesday. I thought perhaps we might best carry out our dialogue through comments under our blog entries.
In the Introduction to her work Treatments: Language, Politics, and the Culture of Illness, Lisa Diedrich states:
"I explore the ways that illness narratives can be read as symptomatic texts of our time in at least two respects: as texts that literally describe symptoms (and struggle with finding a form to describe the affective and physical experience of symptoms), and as texts that describe illness as an event that goes beyond any particular individual's experience and account of it, reflecting wider cultural categories, including race, gender, class, and sexuality," (vii).
In the first sense of reading memoirs of illness as the struggle to describe the affective and physical aspects of illness, Diedrich wants to explore the prospects of "the gap" between "words and things," expressing the lack of words to make "accurate" or truthful representations of things. In particular, she wants to move toward an exploration of the prospects of the act of writing as a negotiation of such a gap, as an "art of self making" (borrowed from Foucault's "technology of the self" as an ethical act) that utilizes both language and sensory experience to produce both effective and affective change and experiential histories (as indicated in the second sense of reading memoirs of illness as events which go beyond one's personal experience). She asserts that the utilization of experience through the particular art of self making that is the memoir form is not always simply being an act of fishing for pity and attention. Rather, it is not only useful to the healing process of those with deadly illnesses, but in effecting political change that addresses the hegemonic subjectivities of patients and figures of authority in the medical industrial complex along the lines of hegemonic categories of sexuality, class, race, and gender, to name a few.
Diedrich goes on to describe the interdisciplinary nature of her engagement with memoirs of illness:
"In her book Ghostly Matters, Avery Gordon quotes Ronald Barthes on interdisciplinarity: "Interdisciplinary work, so much discussed these days, is not about confronting already constituted disciplines (none of which, in fact, is willing to let itself go). To do something interdisciplinary it's not enough to choose a subject, a theme and gather around it two or three sciences. Interdisciplinary consists in creating a new object that belongs to no one" (Gordon, 1997)," (vii-viii).
I find this quote from Gordon (from Barthes) compelling, as it seems to reflect the nature of that with which Diedrich is struggling in her book and expressed in her first sens of reading memoirs of illness as the negotiation of the gaps inherent in the attempt to represent some "thing." The negotiation of the ill person between boundaries of health/illness, patienthood (victimhood)/warrior (agent), and across hegemonic social categories seems to be an experience that does not, shall I say, make one feel comfortable in one's own skin. Rather, it pushes one to the limits of what can endure, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and politically, and confronts one with the limits of their own mortality. Diedrich contends that the "art of being ill" that memoir is a part of is a radically transformative practice, both for those writing memoirs and those reading them. Thus, it seems an interdisciplinary approach is the only approach for an engagement with such transformative material, as Barth implies that interdisciplinary work is all about confronting head-on the limits of one's own knowledge and ways of knowing, not to bolster a comfortable sense of owner ship in one's own disciplinary field, but to develop common ground that negotiates distance and creates new languages.
Diedrich deplores the backlash wave of condemnation of memoirs of illness she cites as being all too common in contemporary criticism, and seems baffled by accounts of experience-based writings and performances as "unmediated self indulgence and self pity." Such works, she insists, are hardly unmediated, and to reduce them to self indulgence denies their effective and affective characters and doings. She disagrees with the idea that one cannot judge a piece of writing or performance art that deals explicitly with personal experience, as one would then be forced to judge a person or a person's illness. She cautions that:
". . . to judge a memoir is not to judge a life but to judge a representation, which is always partial and contingent, and determined as much by the reader and what she brings to the text as by the author," (xvii).
Diedrich goes on to explain what she means by memoirs of illness being "effective and affective histories." To do this, she quotes Foucault's (borrowed from Nietzsche) definition of an effective history:
"The problem and the stake [of writing about topics in which Foucault had personal experience] there was the possibility of a discourse which would be both true and strategically effective, the possibility of a historical truth which could have a political effect," (64)," (xvii).
While Diedrich wants to highlight the political and ethical efficacy of memoirs of illness after the fashion of Foucault, she also realizes that Foucault's ". . . work sometimes fails to provide a theoretical and methodological model for reading experiences of loss such as those articulated in illness narratives. . . It is necessary, therefore, to do affective as well as effective history in order to grasp the ways in which the breakdown of the body that occurs in illness provides a phenomenological reduction of of sorts that allows one to look anew upon that which one has formerly taken for granted, in terms of one's relationship to the world, to others, and to the self," (xviii). Thus, "By doing both effective and affective history I approach the figure of the ill person and the writings that emerge out of the experience of illness from, in the terminology of Elizabeth Grosz, both the "outside in," and the "inside out," (xviii). Diedrich uses this terminology to describe the movement in illness narratives between a movement in "(the embodied self in relation to itself and to death) and a movement out (the embodied self in relation to others. . .," (xix).
At the end of her introduction, Diedrich alludes to her proposal of "an ethics of failure" which she develops in the final chapter of the book. She asks, "What aesthetic, ethical, and political practices must we invent to communicate across this incommensurability [between the idioms of medicine, among other things]?" (xxiii). She describes this ethics of failure as the persistence in the face of unknowingness and literal failure, the seeking of new routes, methods, and connection when old ones have died or collapsed. In this gesture, Diedrich hopes to revalue both loss and failure, ". . . the idea that we are fallible, that we get things wrong, that we might not be able to do, [etc.]. . .," (xxiii).
QUESTIONS, COMMENTS FOR MOVING FORWARD. . .
-What might be the challenges of "judging" a memoir, and how is "judging" understood here?
-Diedrich alludes to the effective and affective history of the illness narrative as going beyond one's self and one's own experience of illness. Later she cites Audre Lourde's book The Cancer Journals where Lourde says that her political work around breast cancer and women's health comes both before and after herself. What happens to the self in this understanding of a/effective histories, and what happens to the way personal experience is understood?
-I'm interested in exploring the interdisciplinary nature of "technologies of the self," and the "art of doing illness," through memoir. Thoughts, anyone?
-Where do you suppose the "backlash" against personal, experience based work comes from? What about work done through personal experience produces discomfort? What can be made of the tensions between the neoliberal obsession with self-responsibility, the backlash against the form of memoir, and the politicization of patienthood?
-Can we queer or stir up Diedrich's explanation of the movements from the "inside out" and from the "outside in?"
Rather than try to organize the highlights of our conversation chronologically I am going to devide it up into topic based sections. I appologize for any mispelled names and/or mis- represented comments.
We began our conversation by discussing the elderly woman, Helen. Two main questions that were asked were:
-How do we read Helen?
-Does adaptive competence mean happiness?
*Mel raised concerns about the way that the article erased factors, other than adaptive competence, that affect longevity.
Ahmed- the face of happiness looks much like the face of privelege
*Mary told us all about the happiest person in the world, and we discussed Sarah's post about the happiest countries in the world. We discussed how America, as a consumer culture thinks that happiness can be gained through possessing things. We also talked about how expectations impact happiness.
Grievable, Bearable, Livable
Rachel expressed frustration about a "lazy paragraph" in which Ahmed fails to expand upon a connection that she makes between the livable life and Butler's definition of the bearable life. We discussed whether life can be livable but unbearable. Here, Sara talked about her mother who was living but not really LIVING and Rachel questioned if it is possible to flourish while living an unbearable life.
THE "Good Life"
Sara explained that the good life references a philosophy from Aristotle that described what the good life was. Remy, however, questioned whether THE good life is the same as A good life. Here we discussed the subjectivity of a good or happy life and how people outside of the situation often view the situation differently than the person living it. Rachel questioned whether there is a binary situation good life/survival or if this dynamic should be more nuanced. Basically, are these categories mutually exclusive? Sarah, in discussing her parents, questioned what it means to pretend to have the good life.
Sara and Reina discussed family situations. Reina expressed how we can be given hope for situations that seem unlivable, while Sara examined the will to live through what seems unlivable. Mary wanted to know if there is a breaking point. When do we reach a point when things are no longer bearable? Sara described this as being TOO much.
The Dinner Table
We discussed the dinner table as a space. Here, people have a place that they are expected to take, or a role that they are expected to perform. We questioned what happens when someone refuses to take their place at the table? By upsetting the norm, we make people unhappy. Reina raised concerns about what the NORM is and who defines what is normal. Mary discussed how the dinner table implies a white, patriarchal, polite space in which, as Remy suggests, only certain voices are heard. Sara discussed how these situations can be changed in different settings, such as a conference table rather than the dinner table, etc.
Rachel expressed frustration Ahmed connecting the justice with the hap and happiness because Ahmed describes the hap as having to do with chance. She thought that this should not be attached to the hard work that she imagines as a part of justice. Remy wondered whether Hap must mean that something happens by chance. (this conversation is to be continued at a later date) Sara, however, did point out the connection that Ahmed makes between Hap, breathing and openning possibilities and worlds.
-goals for Ahmed
-power of endings, lesbian narratives.
-censorship and productivity of negative endings
-naming something as acceptable
-unhappiness as more than a feeling to overcome, creativity
-how happiness travels
-the authentic self
Earlier in the semester, we read an essay by Karma Chávez. She's speaking next Monday:
How can we read this NPR news report on health and aging beside Ahmed's happiness?
Sara's Sara Ahmed Mash-up: After the jump I do a mash-up of different bits of blog posts from my trouble blog and my course blogs for queering desire and feminist/queer/troublemaking on Sara Ahmed and happiness.
I sat in on Sara's Politics of Sex class (follow on Twitter at #posex2011) the other week to watch the screening of Orgasm, Inc. It is a documentary about the medicialization (and I'd argue capitalization, corporatization, and commodification) of the female orgasm. I want to discuss the usage of porn in the documentary. Before I do so I wanted to make something clearer that I think the documentary mentions but does not stress. The reason women are having issues orgasming is NOT due to something messed up with their bodies. It is due to horrible sexual education and a society that pushes male pleasure and discourages women from exploring their sexuality (I should mention here that all the women in the film appear to be heterosexual and are for sure all caucasian). The documentary makes the structural and social impacts on women's orgasms depressingly clear when an older women (at least in her late 50s) had her mind blown (no pun intended) when a person working on the documentary had to walk her through the idea that it is not normal for women to orgasm during intercourse. This older woman had the idea that "normal women" orgasm by a penis going in and out of her vagina. The older woman was so distraught by her inability to orgasm by a penis pounding on her cervix that she went and sought medical attention that resulted in a metal thing being placed on her spine (called the Orgasma-tron!) Yes. Ok. If you are a female-bodied person reading this and have issues with orgasms I highly suggest going to feminist sex toy stores like Smitten Kitten (Minneapolis) and looking through the books available there on female sexual pleasure.
On to my task at hand here: porn in Orgasm, Inc. There are two things I want to discuss. One is the images of porn seen in the documentary. The reason porn was even brought in was because the evil pharmaceutical and medical companies trying to produce medicine and metal things for women to get them to orgasm also used porn to test out their products. So, for example, during a trial for Viagra for women, they were shown porn. Funny thing is the women taking the placebo reported high sexual arousal when watching porn and "taking" Viagra. Ha, joke is on the medicine!! One company, Allista, commissioned a woman to make pornographic material for women to watch during product testing. The shots of porn shown in Orgasm, Inc. were fairly amusing. One was an early 90s porn of two women in obnoxious 90s style talking in a kitchen. Other brief shots included two heterosexual people having intercourse. And at various times there would be still shots of porn, one of a Black woman with her mouth gaping open in ecstasy, apparently. The images of porn in my eyes were generic, stereotypical, and boring. The viewer of the documentary should think about how pornography was depicted in the film on a more social level. A woman who runs a women's porn shop (whatever that means) was interviewed and talked about how women like all sorts of porn. Thus we can question the medical companies and their choice to "produce" porn and/or show particular kinds of porn. How do they know what kind of porn women like? Will the showing of particular kinds of porn impact the results they are recording when testing orgasm products? Here is a thought: porn IS an orgasm product!
The second thing I wanted to discuss is the assumptions built into women's porn. Interestingly enough I just read some research on women watching porn (especially porn made for women). A master's thesis written by Verena Chiara Kuckenberger and discussed here http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/mar/22/porn-women includes interviews with women after they watched five women's porn films. The results may be surprising: the criteria that makes women's porn just that (female desire stressed, natural lighting and bodies, developed plots) does not get all women off! In fact all the women found at least a few of the films undesirable. For example, a film that shows a woman being pleased by multiple people using multiple toys was marked as having low sexual arousal reaction by many of women. Why? For some it was because there was too much going on and it was hard to concentrate on the woman being pleased. So we could conclude there are some issues with producing porn for women and assuming that IS what women want. Female pleasure is not any easier to pin down than that pesky clit (I kid, I kid). For a political economy project I am working on, I am trying to track down audience data on feminist/women's porn; it is pretty hard to find. So right now no one can assume that it is just women who are watching porn made for them just as much as we can't assume it is just men watching mainstream porn. Until I can find some solid audience data I am reluctant to claim porn for women is watched by women; this claim being even more complicated by research that shows women are not always down with what is given to them in the porn world.
In conclusion, Orgasm, Inc. leaves much to be desired. The issue of women's orgasms being medicialized is a huge problem and the documentary just skims the surface of what is happening on a social and structural level. But I think the documentary makes a possibly unintended argument. Having issues orgasming because your partner is more worried about banging your cervix and/or getting a sweet BJ? Watch some porn! Having issues with orgasms because you think your pleasure is not important? Watch some porn! Having issues with orgasms because your fantasies are getting dull and predictable? Watch some porn! Want to have an orgasm? WATCH SOME PORN!*
*I do not suggest watching any and all porn. I once again suggest checking out places like Smitten Kitten that are committed to selling "ethical porn." Sexy, hot porn that doesn't abuse anyone on the set! Do it up!
Here is a pdf of some of my favorite passages from our Foucault/Butler readings for today.
Here are two blog entries that serve (at least partly) as the inspiration for tomorrow's class on Foucault and virtue:
Here's the original animated version of Horton Hears a Who:
Here's some announcements from our class this past Tuesday (3.29):
A student in my Intermediate Poetry Class--who's actually 16 and PSEO, and took my Intro class last semester--emailed me this new poem last night that seemed uncannily appropos to some of what we discussed yesterday. I have to say that shit, and most other fluids that leak from bodies (vomit, breast milk, blood, pus, sperm, mucus, etc), is also a big trope in parts of the poetry world right now. There's a fairly large movement toward the grotesque (exemplified & explored particularly on the blog I occasionally contribute to, montevidayo.com) in, for example, the works of the Gurlesque, the (Soma)tic Poetry Exercises of C.A. Conrad (somaticpoetryexercises.blogspot.com), Bhanu Kapil, Vanessa Place, Nonsite Collective, and others. They derive from Artaud, Bataille, Deleuze, Cixous, Francis Bacon, Queer Theory, Sylvia Plath, and others. The Swedish poet Aase Berg (http://www.conduit.org/online/aase/aase.html) and Lara Glenum (http://www.fascicle.com/issue01/Poets/glenum1.htm) are particularly illustrative of this genre. As are the poems of Hiromi Ito, some of which I linked to on Twitter last week. Lara Glenum wrote a post for the Poetry Society of America on "American Poetic Excess" that also includes the somewhat controversial line "We are all totally queer," wonder what you think of her proclamation: http://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/poetry/crossroads/qa_american_poetry/page_30/
Here's the poem by my student (the apparent typos--died for dyed, caring for carrying--are, I assume, intentional):
In front of the mirror
-rosy cheeks kissed
by my recent slumber
warm, sweet kisses.
-lines on my face
stress lines/ worry lines
cracked mud lines
they show on my face my hard work, and
my disregard for beauty.
My legs itch..........................................................................................................................................tingle maybe.
-fresh blond in my hair
my winter dark brown has
been highlighted with
I died the winter out of me. And
- moisture at the edges
of my eyes
but not real tears, only from the excess energy
from the expulsion
the passing of my insides
the shit that I've been caring
around and that's essence has
permeated through me.
In the permeating process. The shit. Amplifies fear.
The feelings you had when you ate. And the feelin
gs.You have felt. As this shit has percolated. In yo
ur system. And so, then. In this magical release of
shit. The human tends to tear up. I tear up for my
And in this moment. I wish I could sob, and whimper, and moan, and sniffle a really ugly sniffle.
I would cry for my youth
(because I am flailing, tearing my time up at warp speed, and there isn't even a pause button)
And my future
I would cry for every kid
Who has shitty parents
Those kids who turn into teenagers with depression
And throw themselves around
(sometimes over bridges)
I would cry for a kid that never quite lives up to their potential. for the ACT. for mononucleosis. for.
But standing in front of the mirror
now. I feel serene and untouchable.
And this is rare for me. And so
I decide not to cry. today.
I thought I would post a brief update on the class notes from last Tuesday. I have been working on them, but i've been having a difficult time coming up with a productive way to present them. Our discussion was "intense" to say the least (at least for me) and I want to make sure that give a "responsible" account of our discussion :) As I mentioned to Mary, her facilitation great very helpful and her awesome summary/outline really helped me to make sense of Butler. Thank you all in advance for your patience while I get the notes up.
I wrote a blog post about Madison that got published elsewhere. The only reason I even focused my energy on this was due to this class. Our class was heavily on my mind when I was in the occupied Capitol.
The blog post does not delve into the ethics of care much because of a word limit, but I am sure we could discuss this in much more depth. And if I wasn't horribly behind on school due to being in Chicago for a conference and general end-of-semester stuff, I would write much more here.
But for now: http://www.ellabakercenter.org/blog/2011/03/the-ethics-of-care-in-the-occupation-of-the-wisconsin-state-capitol-building/
I've been spinning my wheels for the past several days on my uniblogging on an ethics of care, having started about six entries all of which trailed off into much larger territory than I could possibly accommodate in one blog meant to highlight relevant and provocative points for a singular class discussion. My personal thoughts about care and its ethical roots/potential/inequities are so vastly preoccupying already that I kept losing focus along with objective distance. In other words, I was not practicing self care, really, in the composition of my post, leading me to ponder how much self care I forfeit or deem unnecessary/undeserved/unseemly in my overall project of graduate studentship. And what that might have to do with why I am always so overwhelmed and behind. . .
But reading Sara's blog entries linking care and troublemaking--at this late hour!--helped pinpoint a few particularly resonant themes from the readings for this week from which I might be able to raise some questions for discussion.
First, it seems vital to note that what constitutes as "care" will vary widely among individuals depending on a host of factors not limited to gender, sexuality, race, age, or class. Tronto notes that "care derives from burden," and emphasizes the diversity in "cultural constructions of care" depending on privilege as well as culture. For example, one assumes that the average citizen of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti--regardless of station previous to the earthquake--has needs for care, due to cultural circumstance, far more burdensome than the average American citizen. The average citizen of Port-Au-Prince is probably homeless whereas the average American citizen is not. By the same token, the average citizen of the Barasana Indians in the Northwest Amazon of South America, whose homes are open communal spaces, who in fact do not distinguish the color blue from the color green due to the presentation of the canopy under which they live, might be considered "homeless" by American standards but feel no distinct need for a different "home" than the one they currently inhabit. Furthermore, the norms for people in this community are based in the mythological past, and who have a "marriage rule" called "linguistic exogamy" which demands that one must marry someone who speaks a different language from one's own. They describe a need for linguistic diversity that speaks to domestic cares perhaps quite opposite to those of American expectations. Or the Kogi Indians of Northern Colombia who--still ruled by a ritual priesthood--train young acolytes by sequestering them in stone huts for 18 years (two 9 year periods intended to symbolically mimic the nine months of gestation they now metaphorically spend "in the womb of the great mother") during which time they are inculturated into the values and myths of their society. These values include a belief that their prayers maintain a cosmic & ecological balance, confirmed for the 18 year old initiate when confronted for the first time with a sunrise--occurring only because they have fulfilled their mythic roles. These children are "cared for" by community priests, as young lamas are "cared for" by elder lamas in, for example, Tibet, a caring that manifests as an overarching caring for the future of their cultures.
In our culture, sequestering a child away in a stone hut for 18 years would constitute child abuse and such a "jailer," if discovered, would surely go to prison and face social condemnation. I offer these examples to stress the extent to which we can and should "trouble" the concept of care and what it entails and toward what end. In so doing we might also participate in the suspension of judgment Butler seems to call for in response to giving and receiving Accounts of Oneself.
It also concerns me that none of the readings for today give particular voice to an ethics of care for the nonhuman, both animal and nature. How can we justify caring for each other's welfare if simultaneously we're--either through "ignorance" or willful denial--abusing the environment which ultimately provides the resources that allow us to live and survive? The videos Mary posted yesterday showing the slaughtering of animals, for example, brings to mind a recent documentary film "Our Daily Bread"--a silent account of the treatment of corporately farmed animals and, consequently, an indirect accounting of the workers themselves whose livelihood results from daily exposure to and imposition of extreme torture and violence. In this scenario, no needs are properly cared for--animal or human, physical needs or emotional ones.
Sara's story about her son's "Invitation to Literacy Series" assignment reminded me of the work I used to do facilitating creative writing workshops in "marginalized communities"--Head Start centers, homeless shelters, sexual violence shelters, pregnant and parent teen programs (mostly work with women and children). This work was funded through a nonprofit organization who determined the "needs" of these populations and finessed their grant proposals to accommodate the "needs" funders determined deserved "taking care of" (e.g. writing the check.) My job, ostensibly, was to "promote the importance of literacy" among mothers so that they would pass it on to their children--the emphasis was on the children, not the mothers, and further the children's "school readiness" and capacity to "thrive" in society in ways, it was implied, their mothers had not. I found this type of prescriptive programming offensive, narcissistic, racist, sexist, and totally infuriating. On top of that, I--as an independent contractor--was the sole "care giver," and received no support other than financial to address these needs and care for these communities. What I found was that by caring about and for the personal narratives of the mothers, by providing a safe space for them to proclaim their story and feel encouraged and honored, they modeled the significance of literacy through their own empowerment by it, and naturally (rather than technically or in ways that could be rationally assessed) passed this on to their children. Rather than "mentor them" on "how to read to their children" or "write stories with their children," as I was paid to do, I allowed these adult women to determine their needs and show me how to best care for them.
Other questions raised in the readings and in tweets include whether pleasure could be a form of care, and if so, does that make us uncomfortable, and why? This seems to assume, with Tronto, that "care derives from burden," which automatically places a negative charge on both the giving and receiving of care. But couldn't caring be mutually pleasurable for both giver and receiver? Why shouldn't it be? For example, breastfeeding is a form of primal care, a mother providing nutrition to her infant. But breastfeeding is mutually beneficial to the mother--it stimulates the production of oxytocin, which in turn tones the uterus and helps achieve postpartum hormonal balance. Breastfeeding also (but not always) is a mutually pleasurable experience, forging attachment and bonding and also potentially providing a certain physical bliss.
But this evokes the maternal paradigm of care, which is troublesome and limiting, and perpetuates the experience of care as burden and as oppressive particularly to women. There are many types of care, and one problem I had with Tronto, if not all of the articles, was their failure to explicitly detail what care is on a practical level. We encounter few concrete examples of care practices--while Cooper theorizes on care in the Toronto Women's Bathhouse, and how care operates uniquely in that space, she does not show us narratives of care. Jeppsen waxes political about queer anarchistic practices of creating autonomous zones by moving so-called "private" behaviors (vomiting, sex) into public spaces (although, at least in the case of the Pink Panthers, the "vomit" was in fact oatmeal--a performance perhaps akin to using ketchup for blood in B flicks)--but fails to ground her zeal in practical application (which as Mary points out is not always what we're after, but in the case of Jeppsen there's no real theory to jettison us into a state of overwhelm; it feels instead like a cause celebre, occasionally even approaching the absurd as when she claims the act of vomiting in "public spaces"--although dark graffitied streets, abandoned houses, gravelly urban parks" don't seem, exactly, like genuinely public spaces--is both a sexual act and a way of putting "the body's innards...on display.")
I'm running out of time and have so much to say, perhaps I'll get a better handle on how to present my thoughts in class. But among other things, I wondered about the variety of care professions--from house cleaning and cooking for the privileged (as well as manicuring, stylizing, personally shopping, massaging, etc)--to various forms of therapy including psychotherapy and psychoanalysis (in which, I would argue, care is mutually pleasurable as well as beneficial and affecting), tattoo artists, sex workers, mothers, nurses, teachers... I thought about the government's symbolic position as "paternal order" in "taking care of" the people while simultaneously slashing social service budgets (which employ actual caregivers and serve actual care needers) and mass-murdering civilians (even intentionally as in the case of the Afghanistan "Kill Team") across the seas, and about how a so-called wealthy and "cared for" nation could consider itself thus when so many of its citizens are visibly homeless, its schools are inadequate, its people are unemployed, etc. Tronto's definition of care considers "everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our 'world' so that we can live in it as well as possible," which leads me to question again the notion of what makes a "livable" life. And if this definition is valid, how can we consider ourselves caring citizens when our world only continues to fall into further disrepair every minute.
I mentioned that I had been called to "care for" a sick family member during the time around spring break, and this situation very much "troubles" my sense of the complexities of care. My father is a retired surgeon, a so-called "caring profession" that, as Tronto notes, gains prestige precisely in response to its distance from hands-on care. My father could be a more perfect illustration of this point. Meanwhile, both of my sisters are nurses, while two brothers are also doctors. My mother was and remains a homemaker who taught elementary school for one year before having me and then never returning to work again. She continues to care for most of her grandchildren several times a week, and also now finds herself needing to care for my father on a more than full time basis. My mother's striving to epitomize an anachronistic feminine ideal of caretaker is rather astonishing. In any event, while she was being "taken care of" for most of her adult life by my father, who would write her a check once a month, a kind of "allowance" for groceries etc, she now finds herself caring for him, who suffers from advanced stage rheumatoid arthritis as well as heart failure. He's on a heart transplant list in Madison, and is a severely sick man at the age of 69. His heart failure has compromised his brain's access to oxygen so his cognitive abilities are subsequently and profoundly compromised. He recently had shoulder replacement surgery, and during recovery contracted c-diff, a stomach bacteria, and continues to be in a weakened state, so that he needs help getting dressed, bathing, walking, etc. While I was helping my mother care for my father during his recovery, I witnessed a new version of what I had always witnessed as a child in his relentless humiliation of her. For example, in attempting to help him get dressed, I heard him yell "I suppose you think you're some kind of hero now, well don't get any ideas," and when helping him bathe and commenting on the condition of his wound, he said "what do you know about wound care? who's the surgeon around here anyway?" This seems like a kind of microcosmic paradigm of how care traditionally is felt and viewed in our particular culture from within a patriarchal consciousness.
I have not addressed Hines, or so much else of what we read, nor hardly anything in my 10 pages of notes, but at least I managed to post something for now. I hope to have an opportunity to continue this exploration in the coming days, and to tie it to our consideration of mothering from last class based on the "mommy blogger" and the phenomenon of "daughter bashing." I'd like to look at how this relates to care, and also examples from Irigaray, Elizabeth Grosz, and the poet Hiromi Ito I mentioned and tweeted about. I also want to suggest ways in which artists might be perceived as "care givers" (in particular I am thinking about the Marina Abramovic performance last May at MoMA, "The Artist is Present," which I participated in), and also the role of "shamans" in culture and how we might define shamanic care as well as how/if theories of ethics can ever incorporate the creative process and/or the mystical. These are primary concerns of mine as an artist, feminist, citizen, and thinker that I would like to be able to weave more fluidly into discussions when possible.
See you all soon. Until then, take care!
In the moment in which I say "I," I am not only citing the pronomial place of the "I" in language, but at once attesting to and taking distance from a primary impingement, a primary way in which I am, prior to acquiring an "I," a being who has been touched, moved, fed, changed, put to sleep, established as the subject and object of speech. My infantile body has not only been touched, moved, and arranged, but those impingements operated as "tactile signs" that registered in my formation. These signs communicate to me in ways that are not reducible to vocalization. They are signs of an other, but they are also the traces from which an "I" will eventually emerge, an "I" who will never be able, fully, to recover or read these signs, for whom these signs will remain in part overwhelming and unreadable, enigmatic and formative. (Butler, 69-70)
Near the beginning of our discussion last Tuesday, we looked at a passage that had struck me, and stayed with me during the time I spent with Giving an Account of Oneself. The passage comes on page 84, and ends the introduction to the chapter on responsibility. Butler writes that we are "slaughtered beings." I don't know what this means, but it fascinates me. Butler references Laplanche, explaining that the primary address overwhelms, and cannot be interpreted or understood -- then comes the part about the slaughter. As Sara suggested, maybe we're being messed with here. Regardless, I have been touched by this passage, and it's all owing to her language; owing to my fascination with slaughterhouses, bodies, and organized blood baths.
But, is fascination useful? Do I need it to be, or want it to be?
In the passage quoted extensively above, Butler conjures an image of a child in early infancy being formed by the touch of another. Wanderings of these first instances of touch follow this growing being throughout life -- as Levinas would put it, infinitely recurring -- and remain unconscious. Fascinations, similarly, are often affective touches. They follow us, overwhelm us, and catch us off guard. And we use our fascination. Often our fascinations serve as transitional objects, and can, if we allow, become addictive. If I allowed, my fascination with slaughterhouses may become debilitating, surely I can think of certain fascinations and objects that have left me utterly beside myself in distress because I could not possess them completely. This particular fascination comes and goes, but never loses intrigue. I cannot speak of its usefulness, nor will I admit that it is useless, or without meaning. It is neither useless nor without meaning. Similarly, I cannot explain the "usefulness" of the theory that touches us, if we allow it, in Giving an Account of Oneself. Were we to allow ourselves to be fascinated without reason - without application, which is an ugly concept anyway - we would be able to experience the sensation that follows from being overwhelmed. That is not to say, of course, that we should not interpret or understand Butler's theory -- quite the contrary, actually -- but that we may not immediately need to find its political application, or usefulness, because it may be more useful, really, to be overwhelmed, and experience theory as an object of fascination -- a transitional object that follows us through life, recurs in our thoughts and then through our actions. Thinking is nothing without action, but action is nothing without thought.
At this point, my subject widens out into that of play, and of artistic creativity and appreciation, and of religious feeling, and of dreaming, and also of fetishism, lying and stealing, the origin and loss of affectionate feeling, drug addiction, the talisman of obsessional rituals, etc. (D.W. Winnicott, "Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena," from Playing and Reality, 5)
That is not to say, then, that fascination cannot be harmful -- sometimes it slaughters.
Forgiving Sabrina Harman
Recently, @newyorker re-tweeted this profile of notorious Abu Ghraib photo-taker and subject, Sabrina Harman. (The sudden re-fascination with Abu Ghraib was sparked by a new set of photographs, of which we may also consider our relationship of responsibility.) The article explains Harman's history with photography, recalling numerous fascinations that Harman attempted to possess through photographic mediation. Photography itself, perhaps, being the ultimate fascination. Harman is the most interesting subject of Errol Morris's documentary Standard Operating Procedure, and seemingly the most interesting and sympathetic person involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal. Just as John Waters has repeatedly asked the country to exonerate Leslie Van Houten for her involvement in the Manson murders -- claiming that among the Manson family members, she is the most forgivable -- I am in full support of the exoneration of Sabrina Harman, who has been both responsible and irresponsible to us, and who we have been irresponsible to, and so must be responsible for.
Flipping through a couple of your final project entries just now, I feel at home with peers who seem just as indecisive as I. Thank you.
As I've shared in class, I'm particularly interested in developing an ethics of evil in relation to pop culture texts, namely Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. I've been trying to write about Dr. Horrible, meanings of good and evil, and my relationship beside heroes and villains all semester, but am still struggling to put many... eloquent... words to my situation. Here's as much as I feel confident sharing:
"In the United States, one contemporary evil figure in which can be seen the greatest potential for exploring radical ideas of social change and social justice is Dr. Horrible. On the surface as well as between the (musical) lines, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008), originally a three webisode series, shows voyeurs delight in the personal life of one villain who, by his own account, wants to shake up the world for the better. He denies "the status quo." He is fed up with institutional power. He actively refuses to accept the skewed social order imposed upon the masses. Not without his own flaws, of course, Dr. Horrible clearly represents a complex understanding of the outrageously unequal power relations in which his superhero rival, Captain Hammer, remains infuriatingly complicit. The short back-story on "the Hammer" is revealed in a spoken Act I introduction by Dr. Horrible to the viewer:
We have... Oh! Here's one [an email] from our good friend Johnny Snow. "Dr. Horrible. I see you are once again afraid to do battle with your nemesis. I waited at Dooley Park for 45 minutes." Ok, dude you're not my nemesis. My nemesis is Captain Hammer. Captain Hammer, Corporate tool. He dislocated my shoulder... again... last week. Look, I'm just trying to change the world, OK? I don't have time for a grudge match with every poser in a parka. Besides, there's kids in that park, so...
Thus for the viewer Captain Hammer becomes iconic of "the man"-- the body on which is mapped patriarchy, capitalism, white supremacy, heterosexism, and so many other systems of domination intertwining with each other at multiple, painful points. I suppose that it is indeed through this tension between Captain Hammer and Dr. Horrible that interbeing, the profoundly simple interrelation of all existence, can be seen as integral to continuing to more deeply question the linkage of villains with an demonized "evil," and heroes with an overwhelmingly valorized "good." These limiting associations beg opening up to the possibility of more complex, messier relations to the good/evil divide."
Of course, ultimately Captain Hammer and Dr. Horrible both are incredibly misguided. I want to find ways to build bridges from this into queer/ing ethics and queer readings of Dr. Horrible, which seems manageable if I can just find more words. My second idea, coming up in a second, might be one way to work on that.
For the past couple of years I've thought that my senior project would focus on ideas of community (broken, found, chosen, rebuilt, estranged from, physical or geographical and digital, and so on) and transmasculinity-- and then last spring I saw Jules Rosskam's AMAZING film against a trans narrative (available at Walter Library) and I wasn't sure what to do with myself. That's silly. I know that this movie doesn't say everything I want to say, or "take the words right out of my mouth," but I also feel fits of being afraid of producing anything too perceptibly similar. Which is silly, because there still aren't nearly enough texts by and about transgender experiences, especially from a critical/ethical perspective.
The piece of this that I almost cannot bear not to produce, having imagined it since 2008, I conceptualize as a mash-up video of grabs (video screen captures) of transmasculine narratives on YouTube (just to start, check out the 18,000 some results for a search of "ftm"). I've had this long obsession with the repetitive/performative culture of these confessionals (there is now quite a tradition of them), both with admiration and simultaneously questioning how, and by what, people are held to such strikingly similar ideas of what it means to "achieve" (or "win") masculinity. My mind floods with strings of the most common words, concepts, and sentiments to touch upon:
(ways of talking about masculinity, singular)
...AND key spoken words (a chorus-- maybe auto-tune?) to be found in HUNDREDS of videos:
I also dreamed up a really long title for this project back in the fall...
The Beard I'm Always Growing [Toward a Thorough Interrogation of (Some) Ideas of Masculinity Circulating Trans Communities in Minneapolis and on YouTube]: A Story of Personal and Ideological er... Growth
I would call the intro "This Chin." Heh. There's that academic/personal line again.
This is mostly inspired by my desire to talk about what it means to me to identify as constantly in transition, and where exactly such non-linear and/or non-binary narratives fit into transmasculine ideas of community and/or are perhaps, as transmasculinities may be from lesbian/queer communities, estranged from clusters under the banner of of FTM. I'm intrigued by which users and videos "go viral" and how this informs the meaning of "transition"-- what narratives are valorized, the heroes? I don't know. Is this too much to manage?
After all of that, I have a third thread that has only developed (separately) over the past few weeks. I'm still short on it, so I'll keep it that way: queer/ing vegan ethics. I entered my partner and I in the Green Wedding Contest to win a $27,000 zero waste wedding at the Living Green Expo at the State Fair Grounds on May 7th (this year). That's the best way I can encapsulate the negotiations of LG politics, trans activism, and green and vegan sensibility that I'd like to explore here.
(I think 3 needs to become a blog...)
The lights raise upon the scene of "Primary Trauma."
How, then, do we understand responsibility? What will responsibility look like, or how do we view responsibility through this new ethical sensibility? Since we have limited our own accountability, as well as that of others, where does our responsibility lie? How are we responsible and where do we locate the limits of responsibility and accountability?
I want to suggest that the very meaning of responsibility must be rethought on the basis of this limitation; it cannot be tied to the conceit of a self fully transparent to itself.
To take responsibility for oneself is to confess the limits of one's self-understanding. (83)
And this confession, or open acknowledgment of our limited self-knowing also acknowledges these limits as a human condition, not merely the condition for the subject.
When I speak as an "I," I know that I know that I do not know what I am doing when I speak this way - I find that my very formation implicates the other in me, that my own foreignness to myself is, paradoxically, the source of my ethical connection with others. (84)
We are foreign to ourselves ...
Does this strangeness to ourselves, which as you say, implicates the other in me - that which precedes me, that which I cannot know or narrate, yet must acknowledge - lead me to suffer from my own strangeness in any way? Does my strangeness cause me anxiety, which then makes me anxious about the other's otherness? If I cannot fully know this self, but only know its limits, know that it has limits, and acknowledge them, do I not suffer from this not-knowing? Is my own strangeness not the source of an infinite anxiety that can never be satisfied? And I will never know what this anxiety is, for it is the effect - or perhaps not an effect at all, but an inescapable condition of my being - of a strangeness that I will never, can never know. Not just that I will not know it fully, but I will not know it, period. My anxiety is a passion without an object. Except this strangeness that is not an object at all.
If I am wounded, I find that the wound testifies to the fact that I am impressionable - that I am vulnerably given over to the other in spite of myself: I do not will it, I cannot predict it. It is hopelessly uncontrollable.
I cannot think the question of responsibility alone, in isolation from the other. If I do, I have removed myself from the mode of address in which the problem of responsibility first emerges.
An anxiety over one's own strangeness, then, may be an anxiety over being implicated in this mode of address that forces one - against their will (prior to their will(ingness)) - into a relationship with another; a relation of responsibility.
The impression of the other penetrates me - a penetration I do not will, and cannot control. So, I cannot be accountable for another or their actions, but I am responsible to them.
I am overwhelmed.
Yes. Being addressed is traumatic. One can be addressed in a harmful way. The primary experience of trauma cannot be interpreted or understood. This is precisely our unknowingess.
The trauma of address. This is why we suffer from strangeness.
Another word comes our way,
even as one lives on, strangely,
as this slaughtered being, speaking away.
But what does this mean?
I don't trust metaphors.
Franz Biberkopf walks across the scene to deliver a brief monologue in response to the gruesome metaphor.
Supply at the slaughter-house: Hogs 11,543, Beef 2016, Calves 920, Mutton 14,450. A blow, bang down they go.
Hogs, oxen, calves - they are slaughtered. There is no reason why we should concern ourselves with them. Where are we? We?
The big steer has a broad forehead. With sticks and thrusts it is driven up to the butcher. In order to make it stand still, he gives it a slight blow on the hind leg with the flat part of the hatchet. One of the drivers seizes it from below around the neck. The animal stands for a moment, then yields, with a curious ease, as if it agreed and was willing, after having seen everything and understood that this is its fate, and that it cannot do anything against it. Perhaps it thinks the gesture of the driver is a caress, it looks so friendly.*
End of Scene I.
We begin at the "Scene of Address", where there sits a round-table. Four subjects emerge from an unknown elsewhere and take their places (marked by name-tags) around the table. The subjects consist of two women, one man, and someone unknown - distinguishably human, but as yet without a face. The distinguishable subjects are Judith Butler, Emmanuel Levinas, and Myself. Judith Butler sits center stage right and Myself sits directly across from her at center stage left. Levinas sits slightly upstage from Judith Butler, and the unknown character sits directly upstage center, concealed from discernible view. There is an empty chair on the side of the table where Myself sits, just slightly upstage, to give the illusion of symmetry.
The four sit in perfect silence for 4'33".
Finally, someone speaks,
In Giving an Account of Oneself, Judith Butler surveys the question of moral philosophy - a question of doing - at the limits of self-knowingness. If responsibility for the Other is determined prior to action, prior to the will - if it is impossible for one to know fully or precisely everything that one claims, or everything that one does when speaking as an "I" - what are our ethical limitations? What are our ethical responsibilities? Butler argues for an ethics not in spite of these limitations, but based on these limits of self-knowledge as the limits of responsibility itself. In proposing this ethics of limitations, Butler necessarily addresses the inevitable ethical failures that accompany this new sense of ethics (42). What this new sense of ethics entails is a willingness to acknowledge the limits of acknowledgement itself, an experience of the very limits of knowing. Since we are constituted in partial opacity to ourselves - partial knowledge of ourselves - I, therefore, must be forgiven for what I cannot fully know, and forgive you for the same. I experience my partial self-knowing beside the partial self-knowing of another. Since no account of ourselves will ever fully satisfy, can never fully be satisfied (always without end), desire for recognition must continue to flow without satisfaction, with the knowledge (acknowledgment) that this desire can never be resolved finally. Therein arises the violent threat of refusing these limitations: satisfaction kills desire (43). The persistent desire for recognition, then, enables a new sense of ethical judgment: "recognition sometimes obligates us to suspend judgment in order to apprehend the other" (44). A judgment based on reciprocal recognition, precisely when judgments are suspended, is a way of owning one's limitations, and the limitations of responsibility. Butler's ethics of judgment moves beyond a condemnation that works unilaterally - inflicting violence upon the judged in the name of "ethics" - towards an ethical judgment that demands recognition, that is in the service of sustaining life (47).
In her final chapter, Butler asks, So, what will responsibility look like?
If one does not will responsibility, for it is prior to the will, what is one's responsibility to the other?
The "I" comes into being through prior conditions - these others and their norms are beyond the control of the "I" they form. The subject is dispossessed from the start, responsible for an Other exceeding willingness, or action. The "I" can never completely narrate or give an account of itself, for it was formed prior to its ability to claim the very "I" that it narrates. I am formed in ways that precede and enable my self-forming: "The 'I' is the moment of failure in every narrative effort to give an account of oneself" (79). Self-narration requires this failure. And survival requires this narration. "I" is responsible to "you" for the "I" that I am is nothing without this prior "you" - a dependency greater than dependency. But one should not -- does not -- try to transform the unwilled into the willed. Any refusal of the self-unknowingness in demand of full transparency of the self to itself does violence to the opacity of the self being addressed. Our responsibility to the other relies on that unknowingness - the very failure to know.
It is at the edge of knowledge - looking over the vast terrain of my own unknowingness - that I give an account of myself, and receive an account from you.
Don't know if anyone has watched Portlandia on the IFC channel. The show aired this past January and I heard a 2nd season is in the works. There is LOTS going on--lots to write/think/critique/analyze in the short clips that make up the sketch comedy show. There are a series of "feminist bookstore" sketches that warrant their own blog post. (most are on Hulu, btw.) The above clip on "ordering chicken" made me think about ethical conversations we have been having in class. As I watched this clip I couldn't stop thinking about the "good citizen" "bad citizen" with regard to consumption and food "rules." In addition to conversations of "judgment" that seem to surrounds all sides of ethical food debates. Here is another clip from the show on dumpster diving.
I just wanted to share these clips in thinking through Sara's question from our last class:
Generally speaking, I have never been the kind of person who understood how to "draw the line." I have been on the receiving end of many, "don't take it so personally!"..."Why do you get so upset!?"..."Learn how to 'let go'!" When I began my educational path, it was always an uncertain road. High school was horrible. I mean, I had a blast listening to Bikini Kill and L7 and becoming my own kind of feminist...but academically, I found it impossible to "do the 'right' thing." It seemed impossible and I was unmotivated to excel in my overcrowded public school. Community college was also difficult. I felt very lost and always so unsure of what I was working towards. I continued to follow this path because I had people (outside of my family) that pushed me to believe that I had important things to say. They made me believe in my potential as a scholar. Being the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college was a significant contributor to my uneasiness. My family (my parents specifically) supported me through love and encouragement. They lacked the necessary, fundamental tools and the academic capital to guide me to my dreams. Needless to say, I kept walking toward an uncertain future based on trust and hope that my faculty mentors were right. I had to believe in what they saw in me, because at the time, I didn't see it in me.
I suppose that I decided on Chicana/o Studies as a major because I didn't feel the pressure to "draw the line" between my personal life and my academic life. The salience of what I learned in classes and read in books was undeniable. My amazing Chicana/o Studies mentors and peers allowed me to imagine that I had a place in academia. Although I was pissed that my culture and history were denied and/or misrepresented in my K-12 schooling, I felt secure that I would never have to suppress my "whole" self again. I was pleasantly surprised that the "line" between the personal and academic no longer existed. (This next part may sound cheesy, but it's the truth!!) Reading Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera changed. my. life.
Cherríe Moraga's Loving in the War Years blew me away. These Chicana feministas were speaking to what I could not even begin to put into words at the time. They made their bodies, the center of their theorizing. It was a "theory of the flesh." How can one separate themselves from their flesh? Where does one draw the line from their body?
"A theory in the flesh means one where the physical realities of our lives-our skin color, the land or concrete we grew up on, our sexual longings-all fuse to create a politic born out of necessity. Here, we attempt to bridge the contradictions in our experience...We do this bridging by naming our selves and by telling our stories in our own words" (Moraga, 1981).
I read this "politic born of necessity," as an ethical move toward survival. I have found it very difficult, to separate/negotiate my "whole" self (true self? authentic self? "real" self?!?) from my work as a Chicana feminist scholar. Much of what I do/write/think/share is based on my own theory of the flesh. My experiences as a working class Chicana feminista are bound to deaths, accidents, "tragedies," discrimination, injustices, structural violences and many other realities that seem to not have a place in the professionalization of the academy. What do I do with all this other "stuff?"
Recently, I have been thinking about how feminist ethics and/or queer ethics can function as a place for these kinds (moral? ethical?) negotiations. For my final I would like to write a paper that expands on our discussions with the role of the "personal" within the "academic." I would like to focus on death, dignity, grief, respect, value and proper and improper mourning as a way to work through my own negotiation of how to confront the ethical decisions that we all make as academicians.
I look forward to any/all comments/reading suggestions/thoughts.
...and, here is a bikini kill video just for fun and also cuz I don't always know/want/care for the line between what's appropriate and proper ☺
For my final project I am putting together a portfolio of sorts in preparation for my senior paper, which I will be writing over the summer. Any advice you may have for me is so much more than welcome - it's eagerly anticipated.
Hannah Arendt is the primary thinker that I am working with, supplemental writers/writings keep piling up as I'm thinking through Arendt's moral philosophy. These writers include Kafka, Alfred Döblin and Rainer Werner Fassbinder (of the novel, and subsequently the film adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz), Jean Améry ("The Necessity and Impossibility of Being a Jew"), Elias Canetti (Crowds and Power), Levinas, and, finally (for now), Judith Butler. By no means do I intend to work all of my preparatory readings into the actual paper, I'm interested primarily in pooling together ideas -- about morals, and ethics -- and writing my paper with a plethora of inspiration beside me.
The first text I'll be working with is a story called "Investigations of a Dog," by Kafka, which is told from an unnamed narrator who is a dog who asks a lot of questions about existence and the laws of dogdom that other dogs are content to leave unanswered -- or even unquestioned. The narrator relates past experiences with trying to grapple with such questions about existence by means of scientific investigation. Some passages that the narrating dog relates are seemingly absurd confusions about the world around him -- questions about "soaring dogs" who sit on pillows high in the air, who are "nevertheless, dogs like you and me." Other dogs in the dog community, which the narrator says he is no longer a part of, hold firmly to "laws that are not those of the dog world, but are actually directed against it." The dog community does not question these laws, or even know these laws (something that Kafka more specifically addresses in "The Problem of Our Laws"), nor do they seem to know of, or acknowledge, the significance or presence of their human masters -- food falls mysteriously from the sky -- some dogs do not acknowledge that other dogs are dogs, which the narrator considers a grave offense to manners: "Dogs who make no reply to the greeting of other dogs are guilty of an offense against good manners which the humblest dog would never pardon any more than the greatest [...] Even if the law commands us to reply to everybody, was such a tiny stray dog in truth a somebody worthy of the name?"
I'll also be looking at a story called "He," and "The Problem of Our Laws," both collected in The Great Wall of China, copyright 1936.
I plan on looking at Kafka through and against Hannah Arendt's moral philosophies. I've been reading through her book, Responsibility and Judgment, which was written somewhat as a response to the shock and negative criticism/reactions sparked by Eichmann in Jerusalem, which I'll be reading over Spring break. As well as On Violence, in which she argues against Mao Tse-Tungs dictum, "power grows out of the barrel of a gun," and proposes rather that "power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent," which I want to read beside Levinas' writings on violence.
I also hope that Fassbinder's epilogue to Berlin Alexanderplatz may inform my thinking on such questions as "the call to be good," and the like -- Alexanderplatz is about a man named Franz Biberkopf, who has just been released from prison at the beginning of the narrative and who wants to change his life and "go straight," which proves to be impossible. The conclusion invented by Fassbinder in his adaptation, that is not in the book, emphasizes the impossibility for Franz, who may or may not be a good man, to live according to the law. The dramatization of his death is set in a slaughterhouse: the slaughterhouse scene of slaughterhouse scenes when viewed in relation to Fassbinder's entire filmography.
(sorry it's so late! see twitter explanation!)
So I'm going to be a bit of 'troublemaker' and offer more than one project idea...The one project I've been pretty hellbent on doing since I first learned about the "trans male quarterly," Original Plumbing magazine. I've thought through how to approach this and think that analyzing the articulation of class makes most since for me; but I would also position myself as someone who also enjoys the quarterly for my own pleasure, which will surely provide for some good conversation about ethics/positionality/desire/etc/etc. This is what I have for that option:
Workin' Stiff: Intersections of class and transgender identity depicted in the Original Plumbing Trans Male Quarterly magazine
Original Plumbing (OP) is a "Trans Male Quarterly" 'zine that was created in 2009 by two transgender men in San Francisco. According to their website, the publication seeks to "[document] diversity within trans male lifestyles through photographic portraits, essays, personal narratives and interviews." Issue Number 4 of OP, titled "Workin' Stiff," features interviews with "six different trans men with diverse jobs- a baker, a stunt man, a businessman, a drag queen, an activist, and a...writer" (OP #4, 2010). My reading of the issue will examine how class is discussed in relation to trans-identity, most specifically to determine whether or not the marginalized trans-population articulates solidarity with the marginalized working-class. Does OP's acknowledgement that "[b]eing a [trans person] can sometimes make the process of...[getting] a job...more daunting than it should be" (OP #4, 2010) also speak to the plight of the working-class more broadly? Using the framework put forth by Kitty Krupat and Patrick McCreery in their book, Out at Work: Building a Gay Labor Alliance (2001), I will argue that "social identity [is] fundamental to class" (xviii), and that to discuss queer work without an explicit discussion of class is a disservice to the goals of a politically potent transgender agenda.
But I've also been really compelled by the more personal accounts we've been reading, and particularly about the discussion of moms. Because I think about my mom all the time anyway, it's only natural that I started thinking about her and the work she does (--including her two low-paying working-class jobs, the work as a mom, the work as a daughter to two aging/sick parents, etc). I don't want to just do a repeat of mom testimonies, but I feel kind of moved to write about her. I dunno.
Finally, I really want to write more formally about gentrification, and bring in discussions of queer bodies and housing issues. Maybe something more coherent can come of that.
Anyway, those are my thoughts for now. I don't usually feel so uncertain about project ideas, so I apologize if this ends up changing dramatically before the end of the term!
(Trying to come up with an especially creative way to present these class notes was really really difficult! I promise, I tried my very damnedest.)
(Do a Google image search of the word "Dignity" (or just click the link, because I've already done it for you))
Class started out on just the right note. We discussed a river of shit, from a colloquium series that Sara and Reina attended last Friday, and which I am beyond regretful for having missed. This brought us to the topic of ethics in Madison, and the question of where the discussion in Madison of "good treatment" of workers falls in line with our discussion of dignity this week.
Mel and Raechel considered the use of the term "slob" in reference to protesters, even when their attire (corporate business suits, etc.), and behavior (cleaning up after themselves, respecting people around them, etc.) suggests otherwise: namely, that they are dignified people.
Raechel, at this point, brought up one protester whose style was particularly counterproductive: holding up a sign with Scott Walker's head on the body of an apparent "Street Walker" -- (we all note the obvious problems: denigrates sex work, transphobic, misogynist, (embarrassed) etc.)
Sara begins our core class discussion with the rather broad, but no less necessary and vital question: "What does dignity mean?"
she quickly read through the key themes running through the articles for this week, and suggested thinking through these questions -- of humility and devaluation, respect, and bearing witness to dignity -- outside of shame.
Item A. of looking at passages beside one another leads the discussion to death (the topic of death, not the death of our discussion).
(P.S.: Here is a page reserved for notable deaths only.)
Remy asks some questions about death, and how death is dealt with by the living:
Sara brings Drucilla Cornell into the conversation - gesturing towards her discussion of bearing witness to the dignity of the dead, and asking, Who is the obituary for?
and, What do "respectful" omissions do for the person who has died.
Sara brings our conversation around to questioning the notion of privacy -- a concept seeming to emit a rather onerous fetor; and it remains there for some time - like an untraceable odor, at once subtle and seizing: the issue of privacy.
Dignity / Autonomy / Privacy
Interested in what privacy means for the individual
quick allusion to Butler and autonomy of the body
The Space: autonomy as space apart from others
And, what about keeping private lives private?
Certain information about people, depending on their particular life circumstances, may be, or become public knowledge: people who die who are on welfare, for example -- or depending on implications in the justice system, privacy is compromised (in death?)
Sara suggests that the right of (to?) privacy does not exist.
Raechel refers us back to Cornell's piece on labor, providing a personal example about her mother's work with elderly people -- which very productively informed our questions surrounding privacy and dignity. Through this example, she raised the question, "When is privacy desired?"
How do dignity and respect -- a claim for respect/dignity -- work in the readings?
Cornell: Dignity can't be lost / we are all born with dignity
In response to these two ideas that Cornell raises, Remy questions whether or not intersexed babies have dignity in birth, or whether they have claim to dignity, and, therefore, cannot their dignity be lost?
Sara engages this question alongside Butler's discussions of claiming humanity and personhood (in "Beside Oneself"?):
Referring to Cohen now, Sara asks (more and more and more questions), What do we think of as politics? When is something a question of politics, when a question of ethics?
Reina asks us to read dignity through death/mourning/grief -- she questions the griever's tendency to make sense of their individual role in that life (that is ending): those who ask questions such as, 'What could I have done differently? etc.
-- Critiquing Cornell specifically, she suggests that this is a selfish position to take: (this is not a direct quote: "Look at all the 'I' s, it's all about her!"
Sara poses a question (singular?) for us to think about during the break:
What is the role of ETHICS in judgment?
After the break, Raechel points us to a passage in the Cohen piece, concerning intent:
" ... instead of attempting to increase one's power over someone, people living with limited resources may use the restricted agency available to them to create autonomous spaces absent the continuous stream of power from outside authorities or normative structures. and while an act of defiance can be misinterpreted as having political intent and direct challenge to the distribution of power and may result in the actual redistribution of power, I would contend that the initial act was not one of resistance lies in recognizing the perspective or intent of the individual. It is my emphasis on understanding intent as it relates to the agency of marginal individuals where I believe I part ways with Kelley and Scott" (39).
As a reply to this passage, or what comes just before it, Sara again poses this question (which fails again to be answered):
This question is raised a little later (and since the rest of my notes from here on out are surrounded by question marks, we (okay, you all -- I was just writing them down) must have been asking some pretty great questions that just kept building and building on one another and are probably still lingering in the room where we left them -- maybe they'll wait patiently for us during the hiatus): What constitutes proper or improper mourning?
Raechel adds some more questions to this question:
Who are post-mordem actions for?
What is dignity/dignified? (actions/mourning, or just dignity as such?)
Is it respectful/dignified to deny, or reject, someone's personal beliefs?
she gives an example of a eulogy given for a person who was atheist -- people think that proper mourning implies that a person is somewhere wonderful, heavenly. Honesty, enacted by the brother in this example, may be received as improper mourning, even though it shows respect for the person who has died. (I just thought of this, but is there such thing as deviant grief, or deviant mourning? The deviants being those who want to deify the dead? or those who grieve through truth?)
Remy raises an interesting point (it looks like it was in reference to Cacho, p. 191) that notions such as "All life has value," is too reminiscent of pro-life rhetoric. So, who gets to question what life has value?
Reina asks the question, Why are people questioning?
And (and this is really true!) points out that, "these stories are so heteronormative! -- Which would be to suggests that deaths are grievable when the people being grieved lived the lives of good citizens ((re)productive lives).
(and I think at some point Reina exclaimed) "Bodies Matter!!"
Sara brings us back to some questions raised last week on the diablog about how the personal and academic are being negotiated in these readings, particularly the more personal essays by Cornell -- which brings her to the question of space: is this essay assigned in classes very often?
She adds, "The ability to bear witness to dignity is prevented in academic space in many ways. What prevents this?"
Remy provides a nice ending for our discussion surrounding dignity and death by thinking about how they reflect on their own death. This may be helpful in questioning and thinking about what is a dignified death? or a dignified approach to death?
So Im thinking about writing about how binaries are used in the graphic novel series Y: The Last Man. I want to discuss how distinct gender and sexual preference binaries are highlighted throughout the series. I will probably look to historical connections including Caniday's The Straight State as well as Duggan's Queering the State and John Howard's Men like that. I want to build off of some ideas from a short reflection i did in a class last semester by applying these thoughts to my larger projet about sexuality in Y:The Last Man. This is what I wrote:
Such stark binary thinking is beginning to become problematic for me because, somehow, it seems to be applied to every discussion in the exact same way. This binary formula is applied to all aspects of social behavior and interaction. I cannot help but think that this method of definition is detrimental to society's progress toward and understanding of differences. While creating these categories makes it easier to define what is and is not normative or superior, it forces us to reduce and simplify categories of people. As people have mentioned in their responses and class discussion, the Black/white binary excludes people of other races and ethnicities. In the same way, the rural/urban binary presented in this weeks readings identifies two places, the city, particularly extremely large cities such as NYC, and the country, specifically locations that are extremely far removed from societal interaction and allow for little outside influence. Left out, however, are the residents of small towns or suburbs. Binaries that are discussed in these readings exclude those who are located closer to the middle of the spectrum. I cant help but wonder, to what extent these types of cultural criticism become self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems, that often times, the element that is deemed the inferior side of the binary, while assuring those who reside within this space that they are not alone, subsequently forces those who are in between the two sides to assume that they are not welcome into either group; that they do not belong anywhere. This need to belong pushes people to strive for normalcy (meaning the superior side of the binary) or, if they cannot assimilate into this culture, to strive for what is, at least, acknowledged. I would like to see some of these writers abandon this formulaic binary writing and, instead, discuss spectrums of behavior.
looking forward to your suggestions, comments and concerns!!!
Sex Work and the Ethics of Care
My paper for this class will look into flipping the switch on the theory of ethic of care and apply it to sex work. I say I am flipping the switch because the ethic of care is known in mainstream feminist theory to be very "motherly" and/or rooted into traditional forms of women's morality. In Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care Joan Tronto argues for a care ethics that "includes the values traditionally associated with women" (3). Values traditionally associated with women include attentiveness, responsibility, nurturance, compassion, and meeting others' needs (3). I am not arguing that these values are unimportant. Rather I want to push this concept of care and "women's values" and explore the ways in which sex workers employ an ethic of care differently than what is typically theorized about. Ethic of care is often taken up to discuss labor in "caring" industries such as the housewife at home and the nurse at the hospital.
Sara informed me, and I shall soon read myself, that feminists who take up the ethic of care are usually anti-porn/sex work. So what happens when someone tries to apply this ethic to sex work? We shall find out. Why is a feminist ethic of care anti-porn? How can we understand an ethic of care to include a community devalued by certain feminists?
I am interested in this for a few reasons. One, I have done a lot of textual analysis with pornography (alternative/punk porn and feminist Black porn) but I want to move beyond that. My interest in labor organizing lends well to this project as I am always intrigued by how different communities stand up for their rights. I am especially interested in sex work organizing because it is a form of labor often made invisible. How can we use the ethic of care to talk about sex workers demanding safe work environments? Second, I am doing a political economy analysis of feminist porn for another class and I think the research on both papers will compliment one another and allow for a more extensive project than if my focus was pulled in two divergent directions. It is smart, then, to ethically "double dip" here. Third, I am struggling right now with my current dissertation topic, bike activism. I am having an academic complex over what project will be most beneficial to the communities I care about. I want a dissertation that reflects my activist mind as much as my scholarly mind (certainly the two blend). I think this paper will help me work through whether a drastic shift in my dissertation topic is a smart move.
I welcome any suggestions here. I am interested in talking with sex workers who are engaged with their work environment and strive to create safe working spaces. I have a friend who works in gay porn that I will talk with. But if anyone has hook ups to other people, I would appreciate an introduction. Of course any readings that you can think of in regards to this topic are also welcomed.
I just found out about this lecture happening this Friday:
Please join us this Friday, March 11 in Heller 1210 for our Workshop in the Comparative History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Professor Barbara Welke will be giving an early draft of a Keynote Lecture that she will present at the Western Association of Women Historians meeting in early April.
A word about the focus of the lecture from Barbara: In April 2010, in the course of a single week, my 18 year-old daughter Frances suffered a series of strokes and died. Frances' death has pushed me to a deeper understanding of the loss suffered by the subjects of my current research: 20th century American families whose children died or were grievously injured from flammable fabrics. Her death has also led me to reflect on how heart-breaking losses are revealed or concealed in that most public expression of our professional identities: our c.v.s. "Telling Stories" will weave these three strands into a narrative; a meditation on love, loss, history and who we are.
KANT AND DIGNITY (via Cornell):
Kant thought our desires were given to us by nature: as desiring beings, we are governed by the laws of nature. Our dignity, on the contrary, lies in our autonomy. As creatures capable of reason, we can value our own ends, but we can also discern which ends we should pursue on the basis of moral law ("Autonomy," 145).
The grandeur of every person acting as a universally self-legislating, rational being in an ideal pursuit of human freedom whose realization is always to come.
A human being regarded as a person...is exalted above any price; for as a person...he is not be valued merely as a means to the ends of others or even to his own ends, but as an end in itself, that is, he possesses a dignity (absolute inner worth) by which he exacts respect for himself from all other rational beings in the world. He can measure himself with every other being of this kind and value himself on a footing of equality with them (Between Women, fn2, 194).
CORNELL AND DIGNITY
Dignity inheres in evaluations we all have to make of our lives, the ethical decisions we consciously confront, and even the ones we ignore. Dignity lies in our struggle to remain true to a moral vision, and even in our wavering from it, since we are still the ones making it (Between Women, xviii).
...it is something that we cannot lose (Between Women, xviii).
Humiliation is the treatment by another that seeks to force us out of the reach of shared humanity, a shared humanity that includes our physical vulnerability, rather than degrading it.
The only truly humiliating thing that a human being can do is to seek to humiliate another, because in such acts, we deny both the other person and ourselves the respect that inheres in our dignity (Between Women, xxvii).
Putting some passages beside each other:
What did it mean that I had to recast who he was into someone he might never have been in order to narrate him as worthy and deserving (Cacho, 199)?
...mourning, at least as I am defining it, demands that we recognize that there was someone else, someone other than our fantasies of them, that we have lost (Cornell, Between Women, xix).
How do we write about the "disjuncture" between the structural conditions that constrain people's lives and the lives themselves? What stories can we tell to ascribe human value to devalued lives that do not depend upon the language of fairness? How do we evoke sympathy and empathy without deploying the logic of deserving/undeserving?...How do I write about my cousin's value without appealing to the same "family values" that his own life was devalued and disciplined by (Cacho, 201)?
On the day she died, she left me committed to the promise to write a book, dedicated to her, that would bear witness to the dignity of her death and that her bridge class would be able to understand (Between Women, xvii).
What does it mean to witness to the dignity of another woman? What does it mean to witness to the dignity of her death? What does it mean to die with dignity (Cornell, Between Women, xvi)?
Brandon had always confused me. I could not readily identify a purpose to his actions because they could not be neatly compartmentalized as either complicit or resistant; sometimes, his actions were not even legible as strategies of survival. It was as if he followed a logic all his own, but maybe that was the point. Brandon's defiant dreams refused to follow the logics that were prescribed by the American Dream, organized through heteronormativity, or dictated by capital accumulation, making his desires difficult to decipher within normative frameworks (Cacho, 203).
The imaginary domain is the moral and psychic right to represent and articulate the meaning of our desire and our sexuality within the ethical framework of respect for the dignity of all others ("Autonomy," 141).
Freedom not to fall prey to drives that prevent us from being able to express our desire, pursue it, and rationally evaluate it ("Autonomy,"144).
I hypothesize that most acts labeled deviant or even defiant of power are not attempting to sway fundamentally the distribution of power in the country of even permanently change the allocation of power among the individuals involved in an interaction. Instead these acts, decisions, or behaviors are more often attempts to create greater autonomy over one's life, to pursue desire, or to make the best of very limited life options. Thus instead of attempting to increase one's power over someone, people living with limited resources may use the restricted agency available to them to create autonomous spaces absent the continuous stream of power from outside authorities or normative structures (Cohen).
For my final project, I would like to do as series of entries that work in conjunction with my senior paper. And of course, I give a warm welcome to any and all suggestions/critiques/comments/questions that anyone has regarding this proposal and the ensuing work.
Basically, I'm writing about the ethics of inhabiting space, which, I know, is very broad. My focus is on a materially grounded ethics. Through engaging with authors such as Karen Barad, Cary Wolfe, Emmanuel Levinas, Judith Butler, and others (Cajete, Baridotti, Haraway, Hekman, and various articles of scientific research), I hope to explore humans' ethical responsibility to nonhuman "nature." I would like to use the blog space to explore specific writer's work in more detail (particularly the work of Cary Wolfe, which is extremely dense), flesh out central concepts of my thesis, and explore avenues of thought or sources that will not be in the final paper.
It is difficult to say too much more about my topic at this point, but I'm attempting to grapple with the "explicitly material" concerns of ethics, or the "difficulty of reality." As such, I'm concerned with questions about the material embodiment of humans and other lifeforms, questions about the distinction made between knowing/thinking, and being/doing. I attempt to reconstruct the human through its deconstruction, and complicate the position taken by many writers that our ethical and moral sensibilities come from our "human being," as such. I do suggest, however, that humans hold ethical obligations particular to their being in the world, and that, sort of along the lines of Levinas, Wolfe, and Butler, humans' ethical "awakeness," as it were, comes from being awake to face, and the traces of life. I hope to both complicate and explore the potential of binary modes of thought, and attempt to show that humans ethical obligations stem from "natural" forces in the world that not only exist prior to our formation as subjects and agents, but that create and sustain the possibility of our existence in the first place, as well as all other life on earth.
Again, I would be most appreciative of any feedback or engagement anyone might have to offer, as it's an extremely expansive topic.
Hi, everyone! Chloe here with another riveting installation of class notes!
Because there was so much going on in the discussion, my purpose here is not exhaustive. Rather, I will be focusing on the main topics and points of the discussion with the goal of providing a (sort of) easy-to-navigate documentation of the work done in class. However, I do want to stick to a sort of stream-of-consciousness form, as I find it interesting to view the unfolding of ideas and discussions in this manner. I will categorize portions of our discussion by readings, conversations among the readings and/or clips, and in each category I'll lay out points that were made and questions that were raised. I conclude each section with a summary of the points and questions I feel the discussion lead to.
Judith Butler, UNDOING GENDER, Beside Oneself
Jose Munoz, DISIDENTIFICATIONS, Introduction
Jose Munoz, PEDRO ZAMBORA'S REAL WORLD OF COUNTERPUBLICITY
Karma Chavez, SPATIALIZING GENDER PERFORMATIVITY
Sara Puotinen, LIVING AND GRIEVING BESIDE JUDITH
The discussion about Disidentifications in the beginning of class addressed just what Munoz means by "disidentification." Everyone seemed to agree that Munoz seems to be saying that disidentification is a way of engaging with the "raw material" of hegemonic codes, restructuring them and creating new worlds/modes of being that are potentially subversive to hegemonic, oppressive powers and apparatuses.
Munoz uses Stuart Hall's explanation of encoding/decoding to illustrate this point. Here, Mel was very helpful in articulating what Hall's encoding/decoding is. She gave the example of the response of a viewer to an MTV commercial. Here, MTV is said to have encoded a specific, hegemonic, message that is meant to be decoded by the viewer in a normative way. Identifying positively with the encoded message is being a "good" subject, while outright opposition to the message is associated with being a "bad" subject. A third response is understood as "negotiated," meaning that the viewer is involved in a more complicated process of identifying with some things about the message and rejecting others, thus creating a wholly new and unpredictable result. While Munoz seems to say at certain points that disidentification is an oppositional stance in the sense of Hall's encoding/decoding, Remy made the point that its sounds like a negotiated stance is closer to the true meaning of disidentification. This point was reiterated in later discussion on Munoz, in which Munoz gives his definition of queer as the failure to respond to the call of "hey, you!" that seeks to hail one into being read by heteronormativity. Sara pointed out that while this definition may seem to ignore the ways in which queers do or must turn to this call, the way in which Munoz writes this failure to turn is, rather than being an assertion that queers do not respond, a suggestion that there is room to work with and queer the ways in which they do and/or do not respond to this call.
Remy pointed out that disidentification is never a perfect or complete process, and Sara added that disidentification implies an on-going relationship with something/one. Disidentification is the process of failing to be interpolated by hegemonic codes. Raina also suggested, along the lines of disidentification being an ongoing relationship, disidentification also being a "tactical subjectivity." The questions below both help us transition into the next part of the discussion and serve to provoke further thought:
Raina: What might it mean to put Munoz's queer, disidentification into further conversation with Althusser's "being hailed into ideology/positionality?
Sara: If disidentification is meant to with/against conversations about "good/bad" subjects, how does this relate to discussions about "good/bad" in ethics, and what are the implications of disidentification as an ongoing (ethical) relationship?
CONVERSATION WITH BUTLER, MUNOZ, AND PUOTINEN
Sara begins with pointing out the presence of an amorphous, spiritual, urge or call in both the Munoz and Butler; the "something more" that is often problematically read as "excess," that compels people and drives them to seek and act. Rachael suggests that this might be akin to Marx's "revolutionary moment," a "something more or greater" that spurs motion. Raina suggests a connection between this "something more" and the future, hope, and possibility. Remy connects it directly with "possibility" as a central theme in Undoing Gender, where a specific goal of Butler is to make more space for possibility.
This articulation of "something more" as possibility leads us into discussion about Butler, the possibilities and limits of grief, rage, and vulnerability. Remy says that Butler's discussion of vulnerability awakens us to the interconnectedness of all life, and hence, of our condition is one of being beside oneself. This lead to a discussion about the effects of being beside oneself. One may, at any given time, be paralyzed with grief or anger, and it may be difficult to effect productive mobilization in these states. Remy, Rachael, Mel, and Sara, engaged in a lively discussion on the difference between anger and rage, the limits and possibilities of grief and rage. Remy expressed anger as something that momentarily happens to you, or a state in which one may become stuck and debilitated. Rage, on the other hand, can be a productive state of being, an "excess" that can serve to mobilize one in productive and resistant ways. Sara noted this interesting flip of two terms: in hegemonic discourse, people often seek to legitimize anger as a valid emotion, while suggesting that rage is unbridled, excessive, hurtful, and unnecessary. Mary added that in Remy's productive understanding of rage, rage has many objects as opposed to none. Sara reminded us of the writing done by feminist authors about rage and anger, bringing up the point that bell hooks makes that rage is something we "refuse to let go of." Remy asks if anger is, then, something that will not let go of you?
Sara turns our attention to grief through the discussion about the possibility of rage, pointing to where Butler tells us that the possibility of grief and vulnerability is that of breaking down the "I" as an autonomous subject, spurring us toward that "something" which is larger than ourselves.
The questions below are mainly questions for further thought and discussion on the topic of grief, rage, and vulnerability:
Remy: How can we work against the idea of vulnerability being "bad" and "weak" to pursue the ethical questions Butler asks of people and vulnerability?
Sara: What can be gained for ethics by occupying states of grief and vulnerability?
Mel: Is there something on the other side of rage? What does/can rage become?
Sara: How is grief sustained? What can we do with what Butler asks of us (occupying grief and ecstasy)? What are the limits of grief?
CONVERSATIONS WITH MUNOZ AND THE REAL WORLD
We began the final discussion by viewing the episode of The Real World where Pedro and Sean get married, which is juxtaposed with Puck and Toni's obnoxiously juvenile relationship. Whereas Munoz argues that the portion of the episode allotted to Puck and Toni undermines the serious focus on Pedro and Sean, Mel says she doesn't buy this. Others agree. Sara says that she is surprised by the amount of time given to Pedro and Sean, especially their wedding/joining ceremony. Mel wonders about the time in which the episode aired and when the essay was written - what did academics expect of TV/media at this time? Others say that especially in comparison with Pedro and Sean, Puck and Toni look dysfunctional and stupid. Sara wonders if we might apply Butler's articulation of parody to what's happening in The Real World. Raina adds, though, that it seems the producers of the show "needed" to show a "normal" heteronormative relationship because of all the attention on a gay relationship. Rachael suggests that Pedro and Sean's relationship is not necessarily homonormative, and that their wedding might be considered a process of disidentification. Sara and Raina connect the the disidentificatory space created by the wedding ceremony with Munoz counterpublic and Munoz's assertion that "we need to risk utopia." Raina suggests that this means there are different risks different bodies need to take, based on their positionality, and it should not be dismissed as homonormativity.
CONVERSATIONS WITH BUTLER AND CHAVEZ
We begin by watching a trailer for Trained In The Ways Of Men. Remy asks what people make of the transformation of Gwen's mother (in many ways) after the death of Gwen. Rachael asks if this isn't what (should) become of grief? Speaking of the story of Victoria Arellano as told by Chavez, Remy asks what potential exists in retelling this story? What does this have to do with how it is retold? What problems arise from interpretation and interpolation? What kind of gendered subversion can be gained from retelling the story? Sara asks what Chavez does with the space of the prison in which Victoria is being held? Remy points out the problems and tensions within Chavez retelling of the story that identifies Victoria as a man, and that in other ways refuse what Victoria might tell us about herself. Raina points out that Victoria's transgender narrative is already situated within a social structure which categorizes Victoria in certain ways that she has no control over, but that this is, nevertheless, part of her narrative. Raina says that Butler is inappropriately used in Chavez's essay only to lend it academic currency, a point to which others agree. Raina suggests that This Bridge Called My Back might be better suited to deal with the issues Chavez raises.
Raina/Sara: How are we implicated and overwhelmed in/with/beside/by our own lives and experiences when we read theory? How can we make space within academia to pursue our personal and shared grief and relationships? How can we create an ethically accountable academic space? Why are we here and why does this matter to us? How can we maintain being beside as a mode of being/ethos?
One theme for today's class is "besides." Here are some of my thoughts, as inspired by the readings:
A METHOD...ETHICAL FRAMEWORK...ETHOS (ways of being/doing)
How do we apply this method/framework/ethos to our critical exploration of ethics?
How can we be beside/s Kant, Levinas, a feminist ethics of care, bioethics?
What does it mean to be beside the theories we employ?
To place our academic self/selves beside our "personal" selves (whatever that means)?
A loooooong introductory note from Remy: Half-way into hours of struggle with reading and analyzing this essay, I decided to google the author. Who is this person, and why are they writing about someone who is transgender? I think this is always a significant question to ask. Why do you want to use the life and death of a trans person (to back up your theory)? So, backing up, I'm going to "out" myself as prone to being rather prejudiced toward cisgender people writing about trans experiences. I don't think for a moment that "'they' just can't get 'it' (gender)," but I am forever wary of intentions (oops, there's that word again). There's a difference, and I think intention matters here! [A bit below, I dig into Judith Butler's trouble with using trans life and death in Gender Trouble.] I am now working on the assumption that Chávez is cisgender because there's this thing that happens... where, okay, in flippant terms, if a prominent-at-all (academic, authorial, theoretical) figure is transgender, we know all about it-- Kate Bornstein, Patrick Califia, Leslie Feinberg, Dean Spade, Susan Stryker, the list goes on-- because, more or less, it's their "duty" (only slightly tongue in cheek) to be outspoken trans folks. Let's be honest: the only other option is seamlessly passing for cisgender and managing a careful relationship to discussing issues of (trans)gender (and I also know some academics who are doing just that-- sounds even more stressful than being a/the token trans academic!). So, with this thing that happens, there's an accompanying other thing that gets talked about even less. See, if I can read bios and profiles about a (and intros to essays by a) prominent-all-all (academic, authorial, theoretical) figure and I don't see anywhere that they are transgender (or other rude yet sometimes necessary artifacts such as prior name-- necessary only if one has known/published work under said name), then I get to assume that they are cisgender. Get to. Do you know why? This whole process means that transgender people, on many levels, are consistently not granted the same privacy as cisgender people. [More on that.] Cisgender folks who use trans figures to prove a point, often (most of the time) just don't seem to feel the need to "out" their own cisgender status/identity and its relevance to the knowledge production that they do, so I'm left to find my way with the unsettling key "transgender = transgender (oh, that's why they're interested in this)" and "unmarked = cisgender (ooh, isn't it impressive that they're interested in this)." I think that there are other options to be explored more carefully. Here it is: if my trans identity is so related to my work on gender (and I believe that it is, that I need to examine my personal relation to my work time and time again), then why isn't your cisgender identity just as relevant? Ugh!!!
In "Spatializing Gender Performativity: Ecstasy and Possibilities for Livable Life in the Tragic Case of Victoria Arellano," Karma Chávez follows Butler's meticulously mapped arguments from Undoing Gender and the chapter "Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy" specifically, in order to examine Victoria Arellano's detainment, death, and subsequent responses from cellmates, as reflective of the possibility for subversion (not fully actualized, but at least) opened by gender performativity. Key for Chávez is first defining Butler's work on gender performativity and what it does (or aims to do). Chávez initially explains that "Resignifying norms to make life more livable for those rendered unintelligible through current norms is the ultimate political goal of the theory of gender performativity" (1).
I find myself immediately wondering... is that what this is really all about? Something about defining an "ultimate political goal" of gender performativity in this way just doesn't feel familiar to me, as Butler's theory on occasion does. I'm also curious about what, contrastingly, the ethical goals of the theory of gender performativity might look like. This middle bit about, about "making life more livable" certainly often strikes a(n ethical) cord with me, but still, I have trouble understanding the meaning here of resignifying norms. Do we resignify norms in order to normalize, and bring within the normative, currently marginalized experiences of gender and sexuality? How is this different than or preferred to assimilation strategies? Could we instead resignify (certain) norms in a different way, as partial, incomplete, even unnecessary? Why does the former feel like inclusion?
...In any case (whether I agree or not), Chávez's work thus becomes a project of possibility, and the ways that possibility works with ecstasy in relation to processes of resignification. Whew. Ecstasy comes up in "Beside Oneself" as, well, a directly related term. Chávez writes that "According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ecstasy refers to "the state of being 'beside oneself,' thrown into a frenzy or a stupor, with anxiety, astonishment, fear, or passion."" (2). Ecstasy is a non-specific way of being in somewhat skewed relation to the self (and presumably then also "other").
What Chávez then adds to this picture of Undoing Gender revisited is the idea of spatiality-- that, in ecstasy, with others receiving/viewing/reading performance, "facing our own mortality or someone else's in a way that pushes past any limit of life and bodily or psychic comfort, we are in a space to subvert the norms of the heterosexual matrix, so enabling the subversive and political utility of gender performativity." (Mona Lloyd in /Chávez 2). I have to admit that most of what this setup for how Chávez will now use someone's (Victoria Arellano's) life and death ("the case") "to demonstrate this argument," really doesn't sit well with me. I'm reminded of critiques of Butler's use of transgender figures [Venus Xtravaganza] in Gender Trouble, and hit frequent mental stopping points [Is this learning?] while trying to think through the problem with focusing on (reportedly at least mostly cisgender and/or heterosexual) reactions to transgender life and death. Was anyone else perplexed by this?
It's just... it's very difficult for me to stay focused and continue summarizing an argument with which I rather fundamentally disagree due to its treatment of the central transgender figure. Ugh! Okay. I need to move instead into some more critique, because I need perspective (Mel? Sara? Anyone?) on how to better deal with what this author is actually trying to say. I want to understand and appreciate the theory, but my problems with method are overwhelming... I just need to get them out for discussion. It feels like what's most important in this moment.
I'm deeply troubled by the repeated categorization of Victoria Arellano's "case" as "tragic." I guess lots of "tragic" things happen, but this trope of the "tragic transgender death" could stand to be looked at another way, I think. We could be horrified by the mistreatments that led to her death without regurgitating the tragic trans trope.
We could honor and celebrate her life by: not somewhat basing our theory on how her life/experience itself was so "not subversive," not making/reinscribing assumptions about her body, not digging up and playing on the name she was given birth (6-7).
That transfeminine (or MTF) people with "M" markers on identification frequently get placed in "M" marked facilities like jails, prisons, and detention centers, is not a new phenomenon. Who gets to decide that Victoria is "male bodied" for the purposes of this argument (regardless of how she was treated by ICE-- why must we repeat the same ideas in the very same words?)? Why does there need to be any focus at all on the name that Victoria was given at birth?
Winding down, I'm reminded of the media fuss I've been a part of since Krissy Bates was murdered in her downtown Minneapolis apartment this past month. Have you heard of Krissy Bates? In short, the Star Tribune, along with many other slips, called out Krissy's prior name in news about her death, and has been growing beside an uproar of local LBGTA activists ever since.
As a friend put it in a Facebook status update at the beginning of this media mess (that has now included a Star Trib trans panel and the creation of a new media guide to writing about trans folks), "If I am misnamed or mispronouned after death, I am going to haunt the shit out of you."
Somerville's newest project is entitled "Queering the State," which as she puts it intends to "de-naturalize naturalization" or to queer it. In this case, queer is meant to be used as a term that calls into question categories, particularly categories of identity. For Somerville, queering categories is a project that ultimately shows how categories are produced as social constructions. She notes that historically, identity categories have been used to police the lines between "normal" and "abnormal" -- she extends the analysis in this case to refer to the categories of "citizen" and "alien." She begins by discussing her intersectional approach, which is a notion we've been introduced to via "Queering the Color Line." Intersectionality is also central to her current project. Her intersectional approach is meant to highlight the notion that sexuality should not be studied in isolation, but should be studied in conjunction with other categories such as race. While the research that Somerville has looked at so far includes both laws and policy surrounding the naturalization process, for this particular lecture she looks closely at the rituals and ceremonies surrounding citizenship. Her project is to historicize the naturalization ceremony paying particular attention to discourses surrounding sexuality and race.
This is clearly just a short snapshot of Somerville's lecture, but you can start to see how this analysis is a continuation of her project in "Queering the Color Line." For my part, I found this lecture to be quite interesting -- particularly the images of the heterosexual nuclear family that are part of the armory of booklets that are given to newly naturalized citizens. It is clear from this image how the discourses of heteronormativity and citizenship overlap in order to instruct and compel various behaviors via the naturalization ritual.
A certain M. has long been known to blog scans of post-it notes from reading sessions [Queering Desire Fall 2010], and it is with inspiration from this history of sharing one's notes (specifically notes on Butler and this first chapter from Undoing Gender) [Queering Theory Fall 2009] that I present the first page of "Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy" as it appears in my worn copy of Undoing Gender, with both new and original notes (from Fall 2009). I hope that M. isn't too horrified by the minimal scribbles in my book. At least she can't see the highlights.
Central to this chapter are the ethical questions that Butler is asking around the figure of the human and the many possible ways in which it may be recognized, remembered, understood (or not).
Back in 2009 in an entry titled "Beside Myself", M. was already curious about these kinds of questions, and I remember so was I. She wrote:
"What constitutes the Human... and what does not?"
-- a question for ethics: whose lives count as lives?
As pictured above, Butler is already making clear on pages 17-18 that this (these) "question(s) of the human" are where she wants to venture. She writes:
I would like to start, and to end, with the question of the human, of who counts as the human, and the related question of whose lives count as lives, and with a question that has preoccupied many of us for years: what makes for a grievable life?
Sprinkled throughout these first pages: livable, bearable, valuable, grievable, vulnerable. All of these are themes which we've already explored this semester through Butler's newer works, the main difference being that in this chapter Butler specifically looks to the limits of gender (un)intelligibility in order to explore, in short, who counts as who does not. Alongside these questions, Butler more broadly encourages consideration of what it means to be tied to, beside, or undone by each other. This comes close to the idea that, as Leslie Feinberg has said, "My right to be me is tied with a thousand threads to your right to be you."
In this way, Butler also reflects our ongoing conversations in relation to intersectionality, assemblage theory, and Cathy Cohen's essay "Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens." She explains that, "In a sense, the predicament is to understand what kind of community is composed of those who are beside themselves" (Butler 20). I wrote a note in 2009 asking myself if this might be one place to explore connections between grief and desire and across "individual" bodies. How do we talk about and understand movements toward and away from self? Other?
Another related passage that captures the feel of this whole chapter is this bit from near the middle:
I suggested... that the way in which the body figures in gender and sexuality studies, and in the struggles for a less oppressive social world for the otherwise gendered and for sexual minorities of all kinds, is precisely to underscore the value of being beside oneself, of being a porous boundary, given over to others, finding oneself in a trajectory of desire in which one is taken out of oneself, and resituated irreversibly in a field of others in which one is not the presumptive center. (Butler 25)
...and what does this mean? In a blog engaging with JHalb from Fall 2010, I write about a similar process as interbeing. Interbeing does away with the ridiculous notion of "individual" autonomy and opts instead for seeing those threads so precious to Feinberg, the ways that we are all interdependent on one another in our very existence.
If many of this chapter's queries are ethical, then it is also noteworthy the way that Butler later discusses the real and true. "The question of who and what is considered real and true is apparently a question of knowledge. But it is also, as Michel Foucault makes plain, a question of power" (Butler 27). This "nexus of knowledge-power" is explained through the inseparability of the two terms, and finally the way they work together to determine the very ways this world may be thought. This is how reality is determined-- and Butler also notes that reality claims made by those ascribed to unreality cannot be simply explained as assimilationist. Something different happens to norms in such a scenario. Their instability, emptiness, tenuousness, can be made visible, and they may even become "open to resignification" (Butler 28).
Along with questions of ethics, this chapter articulates quite clearly Butler's position on (gendered) possibility. In response, she writes:
Some people have asked me what is the use of increasing possibilities for gender. I tend to answer: Possibility is not a luxury; it is as crucial as bread. I think we should not underestimate what the thought of the possible does for those for whom the very issue of survival is most urgent.
It is my hope that together we can explore more of what Butler is getting at in this passage and how it relates back to the terms of livability, bearability, grievability, and vulnerability. How best to rattle the norms of gender in order to open possibility, "space to breathe"?
Pedro Zamora's Real World of Counterpublicity
This chapter looks at Pedro Zamora's time on MTV's The Real World as a public performance of ethics of the self. Zamora is a HIV+ gay, Latino activist who "used" the show to educate viewers and fellow housemates about people living with HIV and AIDS. Zamora passed away in 1994.
The ethics of self is a Foucault term that entails working on the self for others (p. 196).
Munoz finds interest in how Zamora did such productive work, or creating a possibility for a queer and Latino counterpublic, through a corporate production. Although there are elitist restrictions on Foucault's work on the ethics of self, Munoz disidentifies with that and restructures it in the service of "minoritarian identity...imagining an ethics of the minoritarian self" (p. 196).
Munoz clarifies that Zamora's work was not for other activists but preached to the not-yet-converted, for those who do not have access to Zamora's type of grassroots activism. Munoz briefly situates the timing of Zamora's appearances on the Real World (TRW) during a surge in the Republican "homohatred" and "Latino bashing" (p. 200) -a time which sadly sounds a lot like what is happening today with Republicans. Later in the article Munoz situates this moment in regards to status of queers on television (pretty weak) and the backlash by jerks such as Rev. Louis Sheldon (206).
Munoz is interested in unveiling moments when the public sphere publicity is met with performances of counterpublicity that defy the public sphere's discriminatory ideology (200).
"The act of performing counterpublicity in and through electronic/televisual sites dominated by the dominant public sphere is risky" (201). Munoz approaches his analysis of Zamora and TRW through a blending of Habermas and Foucault. Habermas and Focualt are often pitted against each other when discussing the public sphere due to their differing opinions on rationality. Munoz is working from a "post-Habermasian" use of the public sphere (201).
Like the general understanding of disidentification, Zamora worked with and against dominant publicity via TRW (203). Munoz argues that Zamora saw political potential in the show by isolating some of Zamora's thoughts in his application for TRW (204). He exploited MTV; he used MTV more than it used him (206). Munoz discusses the amount and type of queer people that have been on TRW and argues that Zamora was a queer anomaly--he was a star of the season and his love and political life was followed closely. His love life was followed closer than any other relationship thus far on TRW (209).
In Munoz's brief analysis of Zamora and TRW, Puck's homophobia and relationship with a woman is oddly paralleled with Zamora's marriage to Sean. "Pedro's and Sean;s individual performances and the performance of their relationship were narratively undermind by a strategy of weak multicultural crosscutting that was calibrated to dampen the radical charge that Pedro and Sean gave The Real World" (214).
Munoz ends the chapter with a hopeful summary of Zamora and TRW: "I see the televisual spectacle leading to the possibility of new counterpublics, new spheres of possibility, and the potential for the reinvention of the world from A to Z" (216).
1. This chapter leaves me wanting more. The analysis was too short. If you have seen this season of TRW, what else could we discuss? What needs to be teased out more?
2. TRW has changed very dramatically since this chapter was written. Munoz's brief note that romance has yet to spark between cast members (p. 213) is humorous. If you are familiar with the show, how has the ability for queers to create counterpublicity on the show changed? Have other "types" of people been able to craft counterpublicity?
3. What is another media example of counterpublicity? And why is it a form of counterpublicity?
I am working on the other Munoz piece summary right now, but wanted to get this up before the Friday deadline passes.
Oh hey! It is Disidentifications; the book Raechel wished Somerville brought into QtCL. I was not in class, obvi, so my summary will be just of the text and will ignorantly leave out any discussion you all had about how Munoz's work connects to QtCL. Just sayin'
Munoz uses the introduction to do two things: discuss influences for this book and expand on conceptions of disidentification. Munoz weaves in works that embody disidentification that inspire (e.g. Gomez) with existing theories that help build a theory of disidentification all the while explaining what disidentification can understood to be. In this book Munoz charts the ways that minority subjects enact identity as they work with/resist dominant culture (p. 6).
For my project, I hope to present a creative work--poem, performance, action documents, lyrical essay--considering the physical, political, environmental, and cultural effects of the drug DES (Diethylstilbesterol) within the framework of Butler's ideas about norms, normativity, aspiration, bodies, precariousness, the human/non-human, failure, and a more generalized focus on the importance of sustained mourning. DES is a synthetic estrogen that was prescribed to pregnant women through the mid-1970s primarily to prevent miscarriage. Although early studies on animals and pregnant women, even as early as 1941, set off alarms about the dangers of this drug, it was swept up into the market and prescribed liberally, sometimes even as a hidden additive to prenatal vitamins, and also used as a "morning after" pill, to stunt the growth of "too-tall" girls, to treat breast and prostate cancers, to treat menopausal symptoms and certain STDs, and as a growth hormone in the beef and poultry industry. In 1971, a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine showed a link between rare forms of vaginal clear cell carcinoma in girls and young women who had been exposed to DES in utero. This made DES the first transplacental carcinogen known in humans; that is, it not only crossed over the placenta, but its toxic effects manifested sometimes decades after initial exposure. (Some older DES Daughters--as these exposed female offspring came to be known--are now faced with increased risk of breast and uterine cancer as well as auto-immune disease into their 60s.) Nevertheless, it was not until 1975 that the FDA finally banned the use of DES during pregnancy (although many doctors continued to prescribe it until as late as 1980.) The women, most in their late teens and early twenties, diagnosed with these clear cell carcinomas underwent extensive surgeries that included vaginectomy, or actual removal (castration?) of the vagina.
In time, more anomalies were linked to in utero DES exposure, including increased risk for cervical and other reproductive tract cancers, infertility, higher rates of miscarriage, and a variety of reproductive tract deformities including uteri that are t-shaped, stenosed, mottled, and variously misshapen, vaginal and cervical adenosis, cervical hoods and other cervical anomalies, menstrual disorders, and other physical defects as well as higher occurrence of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. In addition to being carcinogenic, DES is also a known teratogen (meaning it causes physical birth defects; teratogen is from Latin meaning "monster-making.") The typical dosage of 125 mg/day for a pregnant woman is the equivalent of 700 birth control pills (a day!). DES, like bisphenol-A, DDT, and others, is an "endocrine disruptor," synthetic hormones loosed into the environment that greatly impact the expression and function of bodies (not only human bodies.)
I am a DES Daughter, and while I have thus far dodged cancer, I do house various teratogenic effects of DES and consider the drug in many ways to be a kind of "pharmaceutical parent" or ground zero of identity. In her book DES Daughters: Embodied Knowledge and the Transformation of Women's Health Politics, Susan Bell (Professor of Social Sciences at Bowdoin University), who has interviewed many DES Daughters, talks about their experience of feeling like "cyborg babies" and "cyborg women"--"Their bodies are hybrides, mixtures of machines--that is a pharmaceutical--and organisms."
I (many doctors/nurses have claimed "miraculously") managed to carry a baby almost to term (she was 4 weeks early) 20 years ago, but have had 5 known miscarriages, one an early stillbirth, and essential infertility since my early 20s. Additionally, I have a deformed uterus and cervix, severe endometriosis, have had countless cervical and endometrial biopsies and, due to scar tissue from those, episodes of cervical stenosis, irregular and abnormal menstrual cycle since menarche, and the constant anxiety of future cancers and other potential problems. Additionally, studies are now being done on DES Granddaughters who may also (though it's not proven at this point) have higher risks of infertility etc.
Much of Butler's ideas about normativity and gender, if not embodiment, bring to mind for me the situation of DES. Unlike Sanaura Taylor, my and other DES Daughter's "disabilities" are invisible, the non-normative physical manifestations and precariousness of gender are embodied but not readily expressed. Nevertheless, I know I'm not alone in having assumed throughout my life an identity of being "not normal," "not pure," "not feminine," indeed of somehow being hybrid or contaminated, which has had enormous impact on my experience of identifying as a "woman." DES Daughters (and sons, who also were affected) were bathed almost from conception in synthetic hormones and so were never "all human" in a sense. This ties into notions of ethics and gender for me on many levels, notably the unquestioned ethics of the medical community, largely a patriarchal structure, whose assumed control over the bodies and health of women--especially pregnant and birthing women--has evolved uncensored for centuries and has in many ways come to define the terms of physical femininity and feminine "disease." My work as a doula (birth assistant) has been illuminating in terms of birth politics and the pervasive fear-mongering imposed upon vulnerable pregnant women by the market and the medical patriarchy.
Is the DES-damaged body a queer body? Has that body been queered by synthetic estrogen (deemed, by Charles Dodds who is the discoverer of "Stilbestrol," "The Mother Substance"), the very hormone that is primary to female sexual expression and function, and further queered by corporate (e.g. pharmaceutical) pressures on ethical boundaries? Does this project seem too off-the-beaten track from the topics at hand in our class? I admit to feeling as if I've come radically late to the conversation, as an English major and poet with little academic training in gender and ethical theories per se, and sometimes fear that what I bring to our readings and discussions might be largely irrelevant in the context of the class. But I'm deeply interested and invested in transforming/radicalizing notions of ethics, and eagerly participating in troublemaking, even if the way I "take a walk" looks a little queer, if I can say that.
Any feedback or ideas or off-the-top-of-your-head references would be greatly appreciated. Look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow (if the snow stops) and to digging further into the incredibly thorough and helpful diablog!
For my major project for QE I am thinking of looking at "The Kids Are Alright" informed through Somerville's project of looking at the ways race and sexuality are intertwined. In terms of this film, it seems like a case could be made that gayness becomes a site of privilege and a version of moral superiority at the expense of the racialized characters who are minimized, mocked, and rejected. In this sense, "The Kids Are Alright" ideologically functions to accept "difference" but only a narrow, white, privileged version of difference. In particular, the character of the Latino gardener is probably the most offensive characterization in the film, reminiscent of a minstrel performance. Also, although maybe unintentionally, the film as a whole delivers a scathing critique of marriage between women. Fatherhood, after 18 years of a maternal parenting situation, is framed as necessary in order to intervene amidst the cloying and smothering behavior of maternal love. It would also be interesting to look at the ways in which desire is framed in the narrative in this film. While Paul (the sperm donor turned father) has women basically throwing themselves at him, the lack of desire between the moms (Nic and Jules) naturalizes his sexual prowess and tips the scales in favor of male heterosexuality. In the bigger picture of the project of ethics, this piece might interrogate the ways in which norms, normativity and normalization function via the narrative of the film. I think the queer futurity issue/debate will also become relevant here as the the title of the film implies, the narrative trajectory of the film asks us to primarily be concerned with the next generation. Lisa Chodolenko's film tells us that change and the future equal settling down passively for the long haul and that there is not much hope for future generations, and in that sense, maybe the kids are not alright.
In Chapter 4 Somerville provides a textual analysis of how both mixed-race identity and interracial desire function and become intertwined with issues of gender inversion and homosexuality in James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (anonymously published in 1912, reissued with credit in 1927). Somerville contends that the heterosexual (interracial) marriage that is pursued in the narrative is secondary to the "perverse" desire that is explored in regard to the protagonist's male homosexuality. As she states, "the representation of the mulatto body is mediated by the iconography of gender inversion, and interracial heterosexual desire functions in the text as both an analogy to homosexual object choice and a screen through which it can be articulated" (112). Importantly, the ex-coloured man is an unnamed protagonist, who is constructed as both object and subject of desire through the course of the narrative. "The very proximity of these oscillating racialized and sexualized 'perversions' is integral to Johnson's fascination with, and critique of, his unnamed protagonist" (112).
In the introduction to Queering the Colorline, Siobhan Somerville introduces two important legal cases that took place in the late 1800s. The first, Plessy v. Ferguson, illustrates the origins of "Jim Crow" segregation; and the second, the Oscar Wilde trial in which he was charged with "gross indecency" through the Criminal Amendment Act of 1885. In juxtaposing these two events, Somerville introduces her theory that "the simultaneous efforts to shore up and bifurcate categories of race and sexuality I the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were deeply intertwined" (3). Somerville stresses that she is not trying to say that race persecution was "like" sexual persecution, but rather tries to "historicize and therefore denaturalize their relationship" (7).
Somerville sets up the book by defining the terms she uses throughout. Her use of the term "sexuality" refers to "a historically and culturally contingent category of identity" (6). She defines race as "a historical, ideological process rather than [a] fixed transhistorical or biological characteristic" (7). She is influenced by Omi and Winant's definition of "racialization," defined as "the extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice or group" (7).
Somerville continues to explain how and why race and sexuality must be viewed as simultaneous historical social constructions, highlighting the material effect of "language and representation" (8). She states: "Those whose bodies were culturally marked as nonnormative lost their claim to the same rights as those whose racial or sexual reputation invested them with cultural legitimacy, or the property of a 'good name'" (9). Although she begins with examples from legal decisions, Somerville reveals that the remainder of the book will focus on other ways that discourse constructed race and sexuality (and the lines that otherized those that were "abnormal"). From medical and scientific literature, to early cinema, to African American fiction and non-fiction, Somerville's goal is to show how sexual and racialized identities were created through "repetition, resistance, and appropriation" (14).
In Chapter 1, Somervile focuses on race and sex in scientific and medical discourses. She utilizes a literary and historical method to conduct a textual and contextual analysis. Her goal is not to prove how racist or not racist the authors of the medical texts were, but "on how these writers and thinkers conceptualized sexuality through a reliance on, and deployment of, racial ideologies" (17). First, she explains the field of "sexology" as emerging in an effort to make medicine the definer of sexual "abnormalities" rather than the law. Thus, "deviant" sexual attraction (referred to as "inverted") shifted from being seen as "criminal" to "pathological." For example, the first terms used in this field to describe same-sex behavior were "Urnings" ("to describe the model of a female soul in a male body" (18)) and "contrary sexual feeling." One of the most important books to emerge from the field was Havelock Ellis' Sexual Inversion, which made some effort to "defend homosexuality from 'law and public opinion'" (19). Another essay, "The Intermediate Sex" by Edward Carpenter also tried to fight the stigma against homosexuality, and Carpenter's writings suggested that "inverts" were "'intermediate types' on a continuum of male and female characteristics" (20). Somerville notes that the audience for these writings extended beyond the medical field, and she sights one gay male as saying both works helped him understand his own sexuality. Sexology was challenged with the onslaught of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis which suggested that "homosexuality played a part, in differing degrees, in everyone's sexuality" (20).
From here, Somerville expands on evidence of scientific racism. She explains the meanings of two commonly held beliefs about race, monogeny and polygeny. Monogeny refers to the life that "all of the so-called races were members of the same species and that they had descended from common ancestry" (22), and polygenists believed that "different races were actually different species with distinct biological geographic origins" (22). Both were ways of maintaining white supremacy. Similarly, evolutionary models of race and sex were prevalent, including the idea that women and people of color weren't fully evolved in the stages of "evolutionary 'progress'" (24).
In what is perhaps the most disturbing part of the chapter, Somerville describes the horrifying method of "comparative anatomy," which "gave sexologist a ready-made set of procedures and assumptions with which to scan the body visually for discrete markers of difference" (25). This process enabled scrutinization and exploitation of bodies of color and women, but it was black women that were targeted most. The infamous image of the "Hottentot Venus" is an example of this kind of practice; scientists Flower and Murie focused on the "protuberance of the buttocks" and "the remarkable development of the labia minora" (26). Focusing on the sexed female body parts of women of color provided another way for race and sexuality to be simultaneously othered and objectified. Flowers and Murie's account of female genitalia as "appendages" also invoked a sexual and gender deviance in the African American women, invoking "the anatomy of a phantom male body inhabiting the lesbian's anatomical features" (29).
From here, Somerville explains that the eugenics movement as one that "advocated selective reproduction and 'race hygiene'" (30). Eugenics becomes another clear way to illustrate the connection between race and sexuality; Somerville notes that "eugenics was tied to the concerns of sexology, even though most eugenicists did not generally emphasize question of homosexuality" (31). Despite that blatant language against "inverts" wasn't common in eugenics literature, the hatred for all things "mixed" emphasized a disdain for same-sex practices. Mulattos, for example, were often seen as a threat to "white purity."
The next section of the chapter focuses on an article written by Margaret Otis called, "A Perversion Not Commonly Noted" (1913). In it, Otis writes about the same-sex relationships between black and white students at an all-girls school. Somerville asserts that the reason Otis found this important to write about is less about the same-sex "lovemaking" and more about the interracial element of the sex. Otis asserts that "the difference in color...takes place of the difference in sex" (36), and Somerville draws on other theorists who suggest that representations of lesbian desire "requires an added measure of difference, figured racially" (36).
In the conclusion, Somerville analyzes two more recent examples of race and sexuality construction through a reading of the 2000 Census and Leslie Feinberg's novel, Stone Butch Blues. Questions of language and interpellation emerge again, and Somerville notes that the history of the census has denied agency to people of color to name themselves; after only giving the option of "black" or "white" in the early 1900s, Sommerville explains that the 2000 census may be designed with a new "multiracial" category---(if anyone knows what ended up happening with this, I'd be curious to know!). Somerville then points out the way that race is a category that the government is willing to see as fluid, but gender is not. From there she brings in Feinberg's masterful novel (IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY, READ THIS BOOK!!!). She discusses ways that the gender non-conforming character Jess is simultaneously riddled with racialized elements to her narrative. From Jess' identification with Native American Dineh women who helped raise her, to her friendship with an African-American butch who provides Jess with W.E.B. DuBois' writing (which emerges at pivotal moments in the story), Feiberg "demonstrates how discourses of race have been available and indeed instrumental in providing a language and conceptual framework for [trangender] embodied subjectivity" (175).
1. In the introduction, Somerville goes to great length to critique the absence of discussion of race in LGBT scholarship, and the absence of discussions of sexuality in literature about race. In light of that, I was surprised that Somerville makes no mention of class. Do you think that there is an absence of discussion about class in this text? When it is mentioned (such as in Ch 3 when she sidenotes that Hopkin's protagonists are middle class), does she do it in a way that explicitly problematizes how class identity intersects with race and sexuality? Is it okay that it isn't made more prominent since it's not the focus of the book, or is it an integral component to this history that shouldn't be ignored?
2. In Chapter 1, Somerville highlights the F.O. Matthiessen response to the sexology literature that helped him understand that "[he] was what [he] was by nature" (20). Clearly, I cringed at this response, but then felt guilty about cringing over someone's own experience/feeling. This reminded me of the conversations we've had about "skipping to step 3." What's at stake in the challenging of biological notions of sexuality being an essentially determined thing vs. a choice? I also thought of Butler and her belief that "possibility is as essential as bread" for those whose lives are made unintelligible. Did problematic sexology literature act as a form of "possibility" and "intelligibility" for this population? Is the evolution of "queer" a result of more time to be imaginative and the ability to create more possibilities?
3. Reading about the exploitation of black female genitalia reminded me of the discourse around female circumcision (or, more commonly called, "female genital mutilation"). How can we compare the very public campaigns about black female genitalia in the present to what was occurring in the early 20th century? Are there problematic parallels?
4. What other examples do we see of interracial homosexuality in contemporary popular culture? Do you agree that there is often an interracial element in the depictions of lesbian relationships in an effort to show difference? I can think of a whole lot of that on "The L Word"....Other examples?
5. Outside of the items discussed in the conclusion, what other contemporary examples can we understand through Somerville's framework more generally?
Chapter 2 of the book discusses the use of blackface and drag both in stage productions and in film. In this chapter, Somerville uses the story A Florida Enchantment to demonstrate how the the use of cross-dressing both on stage and in film, "evoked contemporary excitement and anxiety over changes in gender norms," (Somerville, 46). In the time that passed between the novel and the production of the film, gender ambiguity and cross-dressing became increasingly associated with "abnormal" sexual practices and homosexuality. The chapter discusses the differences in how the two "mannish" women conduct themselves sexually. Lawrence's white masculinity is portrayed as being within the limits of genteel codes of behavior, while Jack's sexuality is portrayed as uncontrollable and agressive.
The white women who attended these movies also become a topic of discussion. Somerville explains how their attendence was a product of a shifting economy. As the economy shifted to a consumer based economy, in which women were responsible for much of the purchasing, walls between the tradition male and female spheres began to break down. Women were now moving from the domestic sphere into the public, formerly male, sphere.
Chapter 3 focusses on race and homosexuality in Pauline E. Hopkins' fiction. In this section, Somerville explains that, "because African American women were associated with sexual accessability under slavery while white women were priveleged as sexually 'pure,' it was crucial for African American women to begin to redefine their own sexuality," (Somerville, 93). This chapter also discusses how love between women in literature is often difficult to decipher and has come to be labeled "romantic friendship". Almost always, these "romantic friendships" end it heterosexual endings for both female participants.
She also discusses a story of male homoerotic desire, cross-dressing and interracial relationships. Hopkins explores ideas of interracial and homosexual desire as a means of establishing African American female sexual freedom. Importantly, though, Somerville explains that "in stories of impersonation, the exposure of the 'true' identity of a character usually signals a return to the established social order of a fictional world," (104).
One of the most important elements of the conclusion is the focus on black/white, male/female, homo/hetero binaries.
Topics to discuss:
-connections between drag and blackface in terms of performance and identity
-how and why are binaries established? Why are binaries problematic?
-Homosocial vs. homosexual desire
-female movement into the public sphere
-the literary convention of heterosexual resolution
Sara starts class with a clip from Funny Girl "His Love Makes Me Beautiful"
Announcements: See Sara's blog entry from earlier today.
Pick your brain activity: Sara shows us a video a student posted in Politics of Sex on the topic of heteronormativity.
"Impasse (Reel 13)"
Sara asks is the video problematic? Does it buy into thinking of female bodies as hypersexualized? Raechel thinks that yes the film is problematic. Desire and attraction as a way to break down racist ideology as displayed in this context is problematic. The classroom seems to come to some agreement that the film is problematic. Sara asks whether it would be helpful to show this video to a classroom to expose heteronormativity? Reina reads the video as looking at the guy character as the "hero" and argues that each body is sexualized differently. Where he's protected, "he sees her completely", her role is contingent on his cues. We can only understand her through understanding him.
1. In order to help you start thinking about your final project, you should post one blog entry about your project before spring break (by 3.8). This post should serve both as a way to document your preliminary thoughts on the project and as an opportunity to get feedback from the rest of the class. Shortly after spring break (the week of March 28- April 1, you will need to set up a time to meet with me to discuss your project. I will distribute a sign-up sheet soon.
2. Come here Melody speak at the Feminist Spring Colloquium:
Presentation: "Frontin' Gangstas, Getting Down With Thyself: Hip Hop, Sexuality, and Feminism in Afrodite Superstar
Date: Friday, February 18 Time: 2:00pm
Location: 400 Ford Hall, East Bank
The topic for today's discussion is: Norms, Normativity and Aspiration
One goal that I have for our discussion of J Butler, J Jakobsen, D Taylor and R Ferguson is to disentangle norms from normal, normativity and normalization.
Sara reviewed important themes that come up through Butler and the notion of queer ethics in general. (See blog post below for list). We then watch three Judy clips!
Clip 1: Judy discusses how she reposes questions of grief, mourning, melancholia in relation to AIDS and the war in Iraq. What is a grievable life? Her questions become deepened and more complicated, but she doesn't try to reconcile her old and new writing/questions. "It's not a system, it's a process that's on its way."
Clip 2: Gender is about doing, acting, making, becoming. What are the various things we can do with gender? Now she's asking a different question: how do the norms that constitute gender do us and undo us...They make us but they also prevent us from making ourselves. We don't want to say "we never want to be undone again, we only want to undo ourselves." We are undone by other people; we don't always know ourselves. Be open to a future of what we cannot know.
Clip 3-"The Examined Life": Judith Butler&Sanaura Taylor (What does it mean to take a walk?)
Sanaura says that most disabled people will use the language of "taking a walk." She notes that SF is most accessible place in the world. More access means more socialability, acceptability. "Physical access leads to a social acceptance." There is discomfort that is caused when she does things with body parts that people don't think is their proper use. No one takes a walk without there being something that supports that walk outside of oneself. Maybe we have a false idea that the able-bodied person is radically self-sufficient. We all have our own unique embodiments; then there's disability-social repression of disabled people. Socially and economically isolated. Disabling effects of society. Says it's a political protest to go into a coffee shop and demand help. "Help is something that we all need, but it's something that's looked down upon in our society." Judy says that gender and disability converge in a lot of ways; both get us to rethink what the body can do. Deleuze asks "what can a body do?" Challenge traditional ways we think about bodies. We are assemblages of our abilities/characteristics. The question is not what a body should look like. Tells the story of the effeminate walk leading to his murder. How could it be that someone's style of walking could engender the desire to kill a person? The walk could be a dangerous thing. The disabled body invokes hatred for being a reminder that we are going to age, to die.
Do we or do we not live in a world in which we assist each other? There's a challenge to individualism that happens in the moment you ask for assistance with the coffee cup.
Melody brought up the question of help versus agency. How does this relate to vulnerability or precariousness? How do we read and value precariousness? To recognize dependency is not to have agency. She does assert agency by asking the question. Remy suggests that it is important to also realize that not everyone in a wheelchair actually needs assistance. Does this make you more human to recognize their humanity as maybe needing it, maybe not needing it; should we risk embarrassment--is not asking a selfish act to protect our embarrassment?
Raechel asks the group: is this a political act to ask for help if the others don't recognize it as a challenge to individualism? Ashley suggests that individual forms of resistance create visibility, which can lead to structural change (like more public access). What does it mean for her to use body parts in ways they weren't "meant for." What kind of visibility disruption is caused through her picking up a coffee cup with her mouth? Remy recollects an image from their past when they saw someone using their feet to do different tasks, such as eating, and remembering that they felt weirded out/grossed out by that. They then make the connection to gender and how others respond to their gender as a similar thing, and gender visibility does create space for actual change. Remy challenges the word "individual" and prefers word "solo"--Sanaura's act impacts other people; it's not just about her. Liora points out that coffee is treated as a basic human need. Some agree that it is. : )
Sara P. asks: How can we think about Butler as a body? What are the implications of the mundane experiences we witness? What does this do to our thinking about ethics? (This reminds me of "Stars: they're just like us!" Is Us magazine challenging our ethics?) There are issues that non-normative bodies experience in the everyday experiences--dressing rooms, for example. Sarah and Ashley note that Victoria Secret, for example, demands a lot of rules, a lot of surveillance. Remy notes that waiting for bathrooms is a similar experience.
(In Yo' Face!/) Precarious Life
How do these clips connect to the readings? Let's talk about Levinas' face. Remy points out the quote: "That language communicates the precariousness of life that establishes the ongoing tension of a non-violent ethics" (139). Mary points us to, ".....language arrives as an address we do not will." Is the address the same as interpellation? Althusser discusses being hailed by authority, versus hailed by the Other.
*Mini-lecture on interpellation!: Althusser suggests that one is hailed or interpellated by authority. His example is of the police saying "hey you!" When you respond and recognize yourself as the 'you' in "hey you" makes you come into being.
Sara struggles with the "ethic of non-violence": that struggle between self-preservation and resisting urge to kill other in order to preserve other, as our "duty to the other" (132)? Sarah compares it to being a mother and growing an Other inside your body. There's no violence in pregnancy, in putting your fetus before yourself. Can we relate this to the coffee shop incident? Remy says that the coffee shop doesn't seem like a kill or be killed situation. Ashley thinks the Other is more intentionally villianized in the other readings, but the precarious life reading every Other is a being to be killed. Remy reminds us of his feelings about the foot-tasks--there are ways in which we're taught to having other-ing thoughts about not quite as obvious Others. Butler highlights that Levinas never says the face is; the face, verbless: "The face as the extreme precariousness of the other. Peace as awakeness to the precariousness of the other" (quoting Levinas, 134). Also, recognizing the precariousness of the Other as just about the Other and not about your own precariousness means ethics is entwined with a removal of the ego. There is an interdependence that is necessary (we see this in the clip as well).
Undoing Gender. [let's face it. we're undone by each other.]
We point out, on pg. 3: "If my doing is dependent on what is done to me or, rather, the ways in which I am done by norms, then the possibility of my persistence as an "I" depends upon my being able to do something with what is done with me. This does not mean that I can remake the world so that I become its maker. That fantasy of godlike power only refuses the ways we are constituted, invariable and from the start, by what is before us and outside of us. My agency does not consist in denying this condition of my constitution. If I have any agency, it is opened up by the fact that I am constituted by a social world I never chose. That my agency is riven with paradox does not mean it is impossible. It means only that paradox is the condition of its possibility."
I'm confused! I pipe up. She sounds all structural-isty. I want to figure out her theoretical foundation here. Is my reading Marx in this just wishful thinking? Sara responds (helpfully): Our agency comes through the excess (Derrida); we always have the possibility to do something to them differently, even though they're given to us. This chapter is heavily influence by post-Marxist, radical democracy Ernesto Laclau. We have to undergo this process without knowing where it will lead--this democratic process is always 'on the horizon.' Sara P remarks, "She's a whole lot of 'posts'!" Looking at structures is looking at failures or excess.
Remy adds a helpful passage, p.7: "Conversely (and as a consequence), it turns out that changing the institutions by which humanly viable choice is established and maintained is a prerequisite for the exercise of self-determination."
The notion of "the livable life" is a salient, important Butlerian theme. On pg 8: "What is most important is to cease legislating for all lives what is livable only for some, and similarly, to refrain from proscribing for all lives what is unlivable for some." Butler says we must "distinguish among the norms and conventions that permit people to breathe, to desire, to love, and to live, and those norms and conventions that restrict or eviscerate the conditions of life itself" (8). Remy and I talk about trickiness in policy language. In MN "gender identity and gender expression" are included under the "sexual orientation" human rights declaration. Is using Butler in policy a good idea? Must you know the rules first before you can break them, Remy asks?
Moving on (quickly through): "Politics, Power and Ethics: A Discussion Between Judith Butler and William Connolly" (2000)
Responding to critiques that Butler has no place for politics in her work. So Connolly asks what are the political ethics in what you do? Critics ask "how can we tell the difference between acts that resist and acts that reinforce; you give us no way to proceed, no political vision." But in not responding, Butler may be queering ethics. Is a way of doing queer ethics, though, a shift away of giving rules or norms, to doing something else. For Butler this means, "possibility." Butler goes on to say that we need to "understand the relation among...language, discourse, practice, institution" (10). She also draws on Foucault to talk about codes: "it is not possible to study this moral experience without understanding both the codes and the shifts that happen between and among them, and the modes of subjectivation and the shifts that happen between and among them" (11). Then, Butler on universality: "Those who enact the performative contradiction, weighing in on the side of the excluded, positing their ontological effects, not only deepen the impression of the exclusionary universality's spectrality, but enact an allegory, as it were, of those performative acts by which ontological effects are achieved within the field of politics"(17). Finally, builds on Foucault/critique: "Do you know up to what point you can know?...is there any way to think the limits without undergoing that danger? And for a political reflection on the future of universality, is there any way for this question that I have just posed to be anything other than open?" (18)
And, "Frames of War":
Butler in conversation with Sontag. Butler says that question isn't about good representation v. bad representation, or representation v. lack of representation, but rather being able to capture the failure to fully represent. Sontag says "Narratives can make us understand: photographs do something else. They haunt us" (quoting Sontag, 69). Butler says that narratives can haunt, and photographs can make us understand. Sara P brings up Ahmed to address the relationship between affect, emotion and theorizing? What is the value of "being haunted"? Mel says that she has been moved by photographs, so she doesn't agree with Sontag. Ashley brings up the passage on disgust, when Bush responds to the pictures as "disgusting." Butler asks, "why did he use that word, rather than wrong or objectionable or criminal?" (87). Melody thinks a good take away is to be aware how involved photographs actually are. Mel likes last line: "...the circulation of the image outside the scene of its production has broken up the mechanism of disavowal, scattering grief and outrage in its wake" (100). Sara wonders about the ethical value of care; "I want to pay attention/care about this."
I ask how we can put this in conversation with Egypt? Mary suggests maybe "precarious life" is more helpful to answer that question when Butler asks which "Other's" we respond to/not respond to.
*note: do not call her judy. this term is reserved for those to whom she is connected intimately. because she is my girlfriend, it makes sense that i would call her this. but if you try it, she may get kind of mean, a la her response to the 'zine, "judy!" (http://90swoman.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/judy-the-judith-butler-zine/)
Judith Butler: An Ethical "Evolution"?
Today serves as a small/partial introduction to J Butler's engagement with ethics. We are discussing excerpts from Undoing Gender, Precarious Life and Frames of War. We are also discussing an interview she did with William Connolly on ethics and politics. Here's what I want to do today:
An Overview of some influences/traditions/themes
"It's not a system" (at 5:10) from Judith Butler: Philosopher Encounters of the Third Kind
What is meant by Undoing Gender? (2:27)
A close reading of some passages...
Here a few from me:
from Undoing Gender, page 12:
from "Precarious Life":
The focus of this week's readings are on the ethical "evolution" of Butler's work. I thought I would start an open thread to get us started thinking and reflecting. Here are a few questions:
Here's a reminder about the diablog assignment:
Diablog (dialogue + blog = diablog) 200 points
You and one other class member are required to engage in an online dialogue via our blog and twitter. You will sign up to discuss one of the course readings. Over the course of one week you will each post summaries of the reading and then post comments, follow-up entries and/or tweet responses to each other. Then you will be responsible for our class discussion. Finally, you will post a collaborative summary of your diablog. Here's a breakdown of point totals for this assignment:
Sneak preview screening this Friday, February 4th, 7-9 pm, at the office of MN Transgender Health Coalition, Trans Youth Support Network, and Rare Productions, 3405 Chicago Ave S in Minneapolis.
Before we get to our discussion for today, a few announcements:
Here are a few key passages from the authors that we read for this week. I'd like us to put them into conversation with each other as we critically reflect on what it might mean to "resist morality and the call to be good":
If we want to make the antisocial turn in queer theory, we must be willing to turn away from the comfort zones of polite exchange to embrace a truly negative political negativity, one that promises, this time, to fail, to make a mess, to fuck shit up, to be loud, unruly, impolite, to breed resentment, to bash back, to speak up and out, to disrupt, assassinate, shock, and annihilate.. (824).
hope is spawned of a critical investment in utopia that is nothing like naive but, instead, profoundly resistant to the stultifying temporal logic of a broken-down present....The corrective I want to make by turning to utopia is attuned to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's critique of the way in which paranoid reading practices have become so nearly automatic in queer studies that they have, in many ways, ceased to be critical....Utopian readings are aligned with what Sedgwick would call reparative hermeneutics (826).
Nothing is more promisculously sociable, or intent on hooking up, than the part of our being separate from selfhood (827).
we must respond not only by insisting on our right to enjoy on an equal footing the various perogatives of the social order, not only by avowing our capacity to confirm the integrity of the social order by demonstrating the selfless and enduring love we bestow on the partners we'd gladly fly to Hawaii in order to marry or on the children we'd eagerly fly to China or Guatemala in order to adopt, but also by saying explicitly what Lave and the law of the symbolic he represents hear, more clearly even than we do perhaps, in every public avowal of queer sexuality or identity: fuck the social order and figural children paraded before us as its terroristic emblem; fuck Annie; fuck the waif from Les Miz; fuck the poor innocent kid on the 'Net; fuck Laws both with capital "l's" and with small; fuck the whole network of symbolic relations and the future that serves as its prop (29).
I've also worried that it [a turn to ethics] has meant a certain heightening of moralism and this has made me cry out, as Nietzsche cried out about Hegel, "Bad air! Bad air!" I suppose that looking for a space in which to breathe is not the highest ethical aspiration, but it is there, etymologically embedded in aspiration itself, and does seem to constituted something of a precondition for any viable, that is, livable, ethical reflection ("Ethical Ambivalence" 16).
The prevailing law threatened one with trouble, even put one in trouble, all to keep one out of trouble. Hence I concluded that trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it ("1990 Preface" vii)
I am seeing the need for ethics in lesbian and feminist communities where I reside--understood as a need to know right from wrong, know the good, act rightly and be good--as a need particular to women trying to earn or maintain a certain status....this leads me to wonder if instead of seeking to create a lesbian ethics...we might consider learning to do without ethics entirely (58).
Now, some questions:
Here's the wonderful xtranormal video that Reina did (along with Brittany Lewis) for my feminist pedagogies course this past fall. Check out their full post here.
Today in class the focus of our discussion is: Queer Pedagogies and Productions. Before we get into our discussion of the readings, here are a few announcements:
1. Slight reading revision for next week:
2. Class notes sign-up sheet. Note:our class notes blog post should be posted within 48 hours of our class. If you decide to live-tweet our class, you should also post a brief entry summarizing the class + your experiences live-tweeting. Here are some examples from a past class: here and here. You can also check out my reflections on live-tweeting for a class last semester here.
1. What is paranoid reading? How do we distinguish it from reparative reading? Can an emphasis on reparative reading enable us to get out of the destructive/productive model that seems to always place ethics in opposition to queer/ing practices and visions?
2. What are the implications for pedagogy and queer/ing classrooms/University spaces of shifting from a focus on "knowing" (as learning through transmission, acquiring knowledge, etc) to ignorance, in the forms of: failing to know, resisting knowing, risking unknowingness, staying at the limits of intelligibility?
3. How can/does/should failure function in the learning/reading/engaging process?
4. On page 188, Shahani draws upon J Butler to suggest that "there is always the possibility of reworking failure in more reparative directions by identifying the constraints that 'mark at once the limits of agency and it most enabling conditions'." How can we rework failure? Is it possible to emphasize limits and failure without always falling into a logic of exposure/paranoia?
5. On page 195, Shahani asks: "how are the material conditions that surround the classroom inextricably linked to the failures within the classroom?" What are the material conditions that shape our classroom space? Do you see any parallels between Shahani's discussion of excellence (196) and the UofM's "driven to discover" campaign? How does the drive to discover (and the slogan "because") shape our learning/teaching/engaging experiences?
6. Explain: "The queer insistence is that non-straight sexualities are simultaneously marginal and central, and that heterosexuality exists in an epistemic symbiosis with homosexuality" (Luhmann 3).
7.Here are a few passages from Luhmann that we can discuss:
If subversiveness is not a new form of knowledge but lies in the capacity to raise questions about the detours of coming to know and making sense, then what does this mean for a pedagogy that imagines itself as queer? Can a queer pedagogy resist the desire for authority and stable knowledge; can it resist disseminating new knowledge and new forms of subjection? What if a queer pedagogy puts into crisis what is known and how we come to know (Luhmann, 5)?
Instead of focusing on the common concerns of teaching, such as what should be learned and how to teach this knowledge, pedagogy might begin with the question of how we come to know and how knowledge is produced in the interaction between teacher/text and student (Luhmann, 6).
As an alternative to the worry over strategies for effective knowledge transmission that reduce knowledge to mere information and students to rational but passive beings untroubled by the material studied, pedagogy might be posed as a question (as opposed to the answer) of knowledge: What does being taught, what does knowledge do to students (Luhmann, 7)?
Alice Pitt (1995) points out: "Learning about content is not the same thing as learning from it. In other words . . . learning is something more than a series of encounters with knowledge; learning entails, rather, the messier and less predictable process of becoming implicated in knowledge" [p. 298](Luhmann, 8).
Both queer theory and pedagogy argue that the process of making (sense) of selves relies on binaries such as homo-hetero, ignorance-knowledge, learner- teacher, reader-writer, and so on. Queer theory and pedagogy place at stake the desire to deconstruct binaries central to Western modes of meaning making, learning, teaching, and doing politics. Both desire to subvert the processes of normalization (Luhmann, 8).
at stake are the implications of queer theory and pedagogy for the messy processes of learning and teaching, reading and writing. Instead of posing (the right) knowledge as answer or solution, queer theory and the pedagogy I have outlined here pose knowledge as an interminable question (Luhmann, 9).
Such queer pedagogy does not hold the promise of a successful remedy against homophobia, nor is it a cure for the lack of self-esteem. This pedagogy is not (just) about a different curriculum or new methods of instruction. It is an inquiry into the conditions that make learning possible or prevent learning. It suggests a conversation about what I can bear to know and what I refuse when I refuse certain identifications. What is at stake in this pedagogy is the deeply social or dialogic situation of subject formation, the processes of how we make ourselves through and against others. As an inquiry into those processes, my queer pedagogy is not very heroic. It does not position itself as a bulwark against oppression, it does not claim the high grounds of subversion but hopefully it encourages an ethical practice by studying the risks of normalization, the limits of its own practices, and the im/possibilities of (subversive) teaching and learning.
8. What is the ethical practice here? How do we think about Luhmann, Shahani and Sedgwick in terms of queer/ing ethics?
9. What are/should the implications of these essays on queer/ing pedagogy be for our classroom? Our practices of engagement?
As I mentioned in class today, I thought I would start an open thread on reading and viewing recommendations. Post a comment to this thread with your suggestions. You can also comment with links to blogs--blogs you write on, read, or just want to encourage us to check out.
Hello and welcome to queer/ing ethics! In addition to all of the other ways we might be using this blog this semester, I thought I would experiment with using it as a space for organizing our individual class sessions. Here's what we are doing today in class:
To Each Other:
Discipline/areas of interest
Good book/movie/tv show you watched
Why you're taking this class
Experience with social media/online technology/queer studies
About me: Dr. Sara Puotinen
Hi, I'm Sara or Dr. Puotinen. My preferred pronoun is she. I was born in Houghton, MI, but I have also lived in North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, California and Georgia. I have a BA in religion (Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN), MA in ethics (Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, CA) and a PhD in Women's studies (Emory University, Atlanta, GA). My areas of research interest are: troublemaking, feminist and queer ethics, feminist pedagogies, queer theory (especially Judith Butler), feminist and queer social media (especially blogs).
Over break I read the Hunger Games trilogy and loved it. I really enjoy teaching in the GWSS/GLBT department--and I especially love teaching classes on queer theory! In addition to this class, I have taught queering desire, queering theory, intro to GLBT studies and a graduate seminar on feminist and queer explorations in troublemaking.
I have been using blogs in my classroom since Spring 2007 and I have been writing on my own blogs since 2009. I started my first blog, a research/writing blog on making/being in/staying in trouble in May of 2009 and I started two more blogs, both collaborative diablogs, this summer. One is on breaking bad consumption habits and the other is on feminist pedagogy and blogging. The feminist pedagogy diablog, It's Diablogical!, has been particularly helpful and inspiring for me this summer. Since 2009, I have written extensively about the value of blogs and blogging in feminist and queer classrooms. In addition to tweeting as gwssprof, I also tweet as undisciplined.
Not sure how to blog? Here's a primer that I put together last year.
HOW TO BLOG, A PRIMER
Step 1: Getting Started or How to Log In and Set up my Alias
1. Go to http://blog.lib.umn.edu/
This is the UThink main site for U of M blogs.
3. If you are not already logged into the system, you will be required to submit your x500 and your password. If you are already logged in then clicking on login should take you directly to your Dashboard. Your dashboard will list any blogs for which you are an author (courses, personal blogs).
4. Now you should be on the author page for our blog. This is where you can create entries, upload files, and edit entries.
Step 2: Creating a Basic Entry
6. Now that you are on the author (or, the behind-the-scenes) site for our blog and now that you have signed in and created your posting name/alias for our blog, you can create an entry. Click on create (located on the right hand side right above the course title) and scroll down to entry. Click on it.
9. When you are finished typing your entry, scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on save (If you want to preview your entry first, click on preview. This can be helpful in making sure that you formatted everything correctly and that you put in the right address for your links). Once you have saved the entry, click on the view site button which is located at the end of the row that starts with the "create" button.
11. Links: Okay, so now you have typed in your brilliant entry about the representation of feminism in 1970s popular culture, but the whole thing looks kind of...boring. One basic way to make it more interesting (not to mention interactive) is by adding in links to other sources (that you have referenced in your entry or that point to more information on the topic or that offer a different perspective). The way to add a link is to highlight the text that you want to create a link for (like Mimi Marinucci and her great article about third wave feminism and The Brady Bunch).
a. First, find the image you want. Probably the easiest way to do this is by opening up a new tab or window, going on images.google.com, and putting in a key word to search. That's where I have found most of my images...like this one:
13. Youtube clips: Now that you have started adding things, you can't stop. Links and images aren't enough. You want to embed cool youtube clips in your entry. Here's how:
a. First, find the youtube clip that you want. Open up another tab or window and go to youtube.com. You can search for clips. I searched for "feminism" and found this funny video about Ms. Pac Man: A Feminist Hero.
Once you find the clip, you need to embed it. To do this, you need to find the embed box (located on the right hand side in the grey box under the URL), highlight the embed text and copy it.