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!)
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...)
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!
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!!!
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.
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.