Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Thanks for a thoughtful and engaging semester, on and off the blog. Your propensity for working through critical problems was wonderful for me to witness. I hope you feel the benefit as keenly as I have felt it. Good luck finishing up this week. In my "spare time," I'm going to see if I can convert our blog into an e-book and make it available to you as a memento of the course, particularly for those threads that became your favorites.
Monday, December 5, 2011
In Gates’ article “Writing ‘Race’ and the Difference It Makes” he focuses on race as being a trope and as a result, helps “with the shaping of an economic order in which cultures of color have been dominated in several important senses by [other] cultures and their traditions” (Gates 6). In order to better understand what he meant by this, I referenced Jimmie Killingsworth’s article “Appeal Through Tropes” from earlier in the semester. As you probably remember, Kilingsworth classifies this piece in several sections that explain the use of and result of tropes. The one most applicable to Gates’ argument is the theory of Association/Metonymy: it points out that, “the tendency of metonymy to objectify and depersonalize people can thus prove all too effective in negative appeals to gender and race” (128). Therefore, metonymy can be seen as an example of how people view material objects as more important and meaningful than the person using them, for oftentimes, people are stereotyped and judged based on the objects associated with their respective race or gender. However, this cannot be completely applied to Gates’ work as he notes how “Race is the ultimate trope of difference because it is so very arbitrary in its application” as in comparison to gender, where biology can be used to account for physical differences and the like (Gates 5). Because of this, race has become one of the primary tactics when attempting to explain variations cultural norms, social behavior, religious beliefs, language and linguistic characteristics as well as other categories. As Killingsworth says, “Tropes help us to classify and study other functions of speech;” however, in this context, using race as a trope seems to only provide a poor excuse for explaining certain characteristics by simple association because it has been done so often before.
I recently read Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for another class, and couldn’t help but think of Anna Julia Cooper and her call for greater (in quantity and quality) representation of blacks in the arts. Skloot’s book follows her journey in contacting and researching the lives of Henrietta Lacks and her descendents. The story was important to Skloot because Lacks was the unwitting donor of a cell line now known colloquially as HeLa cells, which have helped save the lives of countless individuals through advancements in medicine achieved with research on these cells. While HeLa cells are well-known to anyone who works in biology, the life (and even name) of Henrietta Lacks has been misremembered by the public.
What struck me as relating to Cooper’s claims was the opening to Skloot’s book. In it she says, "This is a work of nonfiction. no names have been changed, no characters invented, no events fabricated," (Skloot xiii). When reading The Immortal Life you can tell that Skloot took pains to dig deeper when a simple answer to a question would have made her telling of Henrietta's story a little easier. Skloot does not take the easy road, however, and I think that was because she understands the power an author has in telling another person's story.
Another line that stood out to me was a quote from one of Lacks' relatives: "If you pretty up how people spoke and change the things they said, that's dishonest. It's taking away their lives, their experiences, and their selves," (Skloot xiii). It is here where I stopped and thought about Cooper's call for black people to have greater visibility in the arts. While Skloot is a white woman who is unrelated to the Lacks family, she does exhibit the sympathy Cooper sees necessary for white authors to try to represent the black subject. Skloot explains to the reader that she leaves quotes from Lacks family members in their original dialect because as the quote about shows, they care that they be shown to the world the same way they are in real life. Furthermore, Skloot makes a point to address the use of the word "colored" throughout the book, which I also appreciated. She explains that while the word is problematic and offensive to some people (including herself) it was used by some in the Lacks family who lived during a time when that was the term used to describe blacks. As a person who constantly reads texts for racial, gender, and other similar implications, I appreciated the time Skloot takes to explain her choices in representation to the reader.
When re-reading the Ann George piece, “Mr. Burke, Meet Helen Keller,” I was struck by a comment Helen Keller made about expertise. George says, “...taking aim at specialist discourse, Keller expresses dismay at how many people are content to hire ‘‘experts’’ to do their seeing for them,” (341). I am unfamiliar with “specialist discourse” but I am intrigued by Keller’s claim nonetheless. I think it speaks to our current knowledge producing structure (in at least American culture) as one that favors hierarchical systems.
For example, we invest in firms and universities to conduct research relating to health and wellness so that they may find the answers to our ailments. At a time when going to the doctor for routine check-ups is impossible for many, it would make sense for those with knowledge to disseminate it through all means possible so that the individual can take charge of their health. While we may read article after article about ways to avoid obesity or address any number of common health problems, we are still reliant on a healthcare system that is hierarchical. Many doctors do not see their jobs as being to educate the public on how to better their health, but rather they are there to treat symptoms with medication. We all know how incredibly busy doctors always seem to be, and so we do not always challenge a diagnosis or treatment plan, and we are certainly not encouraged to seek alternatives to prescription drugs. I think this relationship between doctors and patients, researchers and the general public, are symptomatic of the problem Keller is pointing out. We are not encouraged to seek a full understanding of our health, and we have become complicit with an industry that wants to medicate away our illnesses.
- http://www.ctgpc.com.cn/sx/news.php?mNewsId=29096 (translated into English)
- http://chinaneast.xinhuanet.com/jszb/2009-01/11/content_15419027.htm (translated into English)
This moment of something large and beneficial for the greater good overtaking something smaller and seemingly insignificant reminds me of Sharon Daniel's "Public Secrets." Daniel's points out that the impoverished communities within the area of the three prisons are overtaken by their expansion, the prisons' viewed as an increasing industry (vectors.usc.edu). While not as obviously beneficial to the nation as the Three Gorges Dam, the growth of these prisons can be seen in the same light, expansion that consumes the smaller, impoverished areas for the sake of a greater good (note that the communities outside the prisons' radius are not described as wealthy or even urban).
In his essay "Walking in the City," Michel de Certeau says of the expansion of New York City: "It is transformed into a texturology in which extremes coincide - extremes of ambition and degradation, brutal oppositions of races and styles, contrasts between yesterday's buildings, already transformed into trash cans, and today's urban irruptions that block out its space" (de Certeau 1343). This passage seems to also fit in with the idea of the expansion of the prisons' and the flooding caused from the dam. Both overtake the old with the ambitions of the new, encroaching over what de Certeau would see as yesterday's offerings, obliterating them in the process. Either way, it appears that in both instances it is the impoverished that experience the most negative impact best exemplified when observing the Yu family helplessly watching their family home disappear under the currents of the expanding river.
This and the picture we viewed in class had me thinking about our discussion of Spivak's question, can the subaltern (as women) speak?
These images certainly invoke feelings of being sorry for the viewer, as well as great frustration. When I see pictures like this I feel the need to look them up and find out the story behind them. Yet although I go in and educate myself about their conditions, I keep coming back to the fact that their culture is determined by their historical social structures, and that I cannot do anything about it.
When I looked up the background information about Aisha's case. It had been said that she was married off into a family that abused her and her sister, treating them as slaves, that they lived in the stable. When she escaped, her husband had hunted her down and cut her nose off, because it was said in that culture, if a women shamed her husband he was said to have "lost his nose."
Later it was said that a fund corporation recognized the tragedy that had befallen her and offered to help her out with the surgery she needed. So in this situation does Time magazine's use of this trope that reveals atrocities in the third world help or hurt the image of the subaltern (as an afghan woman)? It is with this question that Spivak writes the sentence, "White men are saving brown women from brown men." Horrible crimes against humanity such as Aisha's occur everyday in more countries than we would like to know. When nationally recognized magazines use pictures such as this, with headlines asking painful questions of the reader, are they misusing the women's subaltern voicelessness to encourage support for the US war? These covers basically paint a sense of violence that shocks us in the US, but would simply be seen alongside with the everyday horrors of that war torn culture.
My question is similar to those seen earlier in the blog, which is to ask: Where does the voice of the subaltern succeed? What defines the breakthrough of that message?
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Recently, I stumbled upon the website of a new documentary, “Miss Representation.” This documentary focuses on the under-representation of women in influential positions in mainstream US media. The documentary aired at the Sundance film festival this year. The film’s makers also started an organization that aims to change representations of women in the media. One of the things that their blog encourages readers to do is to refrain from buying products from companies that portray women in sexist, sexualized, or degrading ways. (I’m somewhat afraid that this doesn’t leave very many companies to actually purchase things from…)
However, the graphic that went along with this blog post (http://missrepresentation.org/advertising/this-holiday-season-sexism-wont-sell/) caught my eye. The words, “This holiday, sexism won’t sell. #Notbuyingit,” are written on a red background next to a World War 2 – era Rosie the Riveter (from the J Howard Miller poster “We Can Do It!” – not the Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post one). However, we now see Rosie coming through a computer screen and she is holding an iPod. It’s certainly an unusual representation – one that emphasizes power rather than beauty or sexuality. It also emphasizes electronic power, rather than the physical power that the original Rosie did.
It’s taken me awhile to decide which theorist I should apply to this situation: Killingsworth? Butler? Someone from the agent/cy unit? But what about text/uality? Or anti/signification? This image, I think, fits every single unit we’ve had this fall. It causes me to question, who has agency? How does agency relate to power in this #notbuyingit situation? But then, how are the signs and symbols at work? What does Rosie signify? How is this a text? What other texts are present in this image? What possible genre is this? And, of course, what does this image represent? I’ve applied Campbell and Spivak because I think they reveal a link between agency and representation.
Agency is, as Campbell wrote, the capacity to speak or write (or act) in ways that are understood by a discourse community (“Agency” 3). There are a couple of discourse communities at work in this graphic. First, refusing to purchase something is, I suppose, an agencial action. (Although, it is a rather unspecific one unless accompanied by some other communication about why you’re refusing to purchase the item.) However, this ad also invites the viewer to participate in the Twitter/Facebook discourse community using the hashtag #notbuyingit to signify that they are refusing to do something on principle – and this expression of agency will be heeded in that community. Writing “#notbuyingit” in a post is not only an expression of a particular kind of agency within the larger Twitter/Facebook communities, but it also means that a person is electing to be part of a community (group) of people actively engaged in not buying representationally objectionable items. Thus, they are using agency to (slowly) change representations of a target group in a target culture (women in mainstream American media/advertising). Alternative representations inspire folks to express agency is certain ways in discourse communities
This issue of “how can we represent _________ faithfully/with complexity/well/without essentialism” is a tough one, and I don’t feel equipped to answer it. I do feel equipped to answer questions about how discourse communities use agency to change re/presentation.
Although Spivak does not address agency explicitly at length in “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” I think that it is at work implicitly when thinking about how misrepresented groups come to have a voice or come to change their own representations. (Note: I am not equating American women with the subaltern – I am merely co-opting part of Spivak’s theory for my own purposes. J) She states specifically that the subaltern’s identity is its difference (803). There are multiple discourse communities which object to representations of American women in US advertising. These groups are not asking for a single, universal representation – rather, it seems that many are saying that the heterogeneous identities of the women who constitute these groups are not reflected in the media. That is, the identities of these groups are that they are different from whatever is portrayed in mainstream advertising. Thus, I think that the #notbuyingit campaign is not asking merely for “a” better representation: they are asking for multiple, diverse, different representations – ones that do not essentialize. Just as “women” as the subject of feminism is essentialism, “women” as represented by American advertising is also essentialism. To say: “That is not me. I am different from how you represent what you claim is me,” is quite a powerful expression of agency.
Newsom, Jennifer, “This Holiday Season, Sexism Won't Sell.” Miss Representation.org Blog. WordPress. 1 December 2011. 4 December 2011. (http://missrepresentation.org/advertising/this-holiday-season-sexism-wont-sell/).
So what does that say of their situation? The subaltern needs someone to speak for them, as we discussed in class. From what I've gathered, the majority is the only group who can speak for the subaltern, but do they just assume what the subaltern wants, or do they actually ask? I suppose the majority just assumes what the subaltern wants to fulfill their own selfish needs. With that "voice" comes responsibility and agency. I would say the subaltern here, in fact, does have agency because without the subaltern, the majority wouldn't have to speak for anybody but themselves (not to say they aren't only speaking for themselves anyway).
While de Certeau speaks of manifesting the tangible city from the conceptualization of a metropolis in the (minds of the) powers that be, Burroughs is discussing the brain as a metropolis in need of cartographers! Furthermore, Burroughs speaks of time as de Certeau speaks of the city as "a place of transformations and appropriations, the object of various kinds of interference but also a subject that is constantly enriched by new attributes, it is simultaneously the machinery and the her of modernity" (de Certeau 1345).
Burroughs writes, "To travel in space is to travel in time--If writers are to travel in space time and explore areas opened by the space age, I think they must develop techniques quite as new and definite as the techniques of physical space travel" (Burroughs 305). Burroughs does not seem to describe a tangible 'time/space-ship,' as it is implicit in his conversation that his headspace (personal episteme) and the art forms which make up his understanding of human experience equates to the physical apparatus necessary for this type of thought experimentation. This implied 'apparatus' (read city) of the brain (read city libraries and artworks manifested in reality by the brain) and the ideas that circulate the brain to make up understanding. By way of mapping his thought processes Burroughs' exploration as a cosmonaut parallels the 110 floors de Certeau must climb in order to find inspiration to comment upon the perspective shift experienced whilst moving from street level pedestrian to panoptic visionary. Watching from above the movements, constructions and designs of the Concept-city, text or though process.
I believe a timeless/egoless place to be the source of Burrough's described 'deja vu,' believing it to be the same as T.S. Eliot's 'still point in the turning world' (read 'present moment') as is written of the eternally present now in Burnt Norton (the first of the Four Quartets).
I was field experience teaching over at Bloomington North High School, and during what I suppose would be considered a study hall period, I was able to sit in on a film screening in the room of the teacher that I was assisting. The film was a documentary on domestic violence of African American women in economically poor situations. The film talked about how women of that lower economic community are constantly taken advantage of and subject to domestic violence by the males of the same community. After giving a lot of information and examples of the situation, the women in the documentary basically made a plea for help to stop the domestic violence, but the way that they went about making the plea spoke to the voicelessness we have discussed the subaltern having or not having.
The women said that the only way that the violence would stop is if other men were to take the initiative and make a stand against domestic violence. Only then would the violence come to a stop. I thought that this strategy was quite interesting based on what we have discussed about Spivak in class. This group of subaltern women are using their "voice" to make a plea to stop domestic violence, but their actual plea is for men to stop the domestic violence. The message that they are sending is that they are reliant on men to take action and make a real difference. Their voice isn't really taking action, it is asking another voice to take action. I thought this threw a wrench somewhat into the whole voicelessness aspect of subaltern women. They are speaking, but they are asking other to make a statement. Does this give them a voice if they are recognizing the total reliance on others to have an influence? I know that it is a little confusing, but it is that reason alone that I thought it was interesting enough to post about. These women have a voice, but it is a voice of indirect influence, so how much of a voice is it really?
Here is a fascinating TED talk about the design of some African villages in complex, self-similar mathematical and geometrical patterns called fractals which are the basis of nature's organization.
There are many, many important things to draw from this talk, but I found myself questioning de Certeau's notion that the 'city dweller' is someone 'down there' who actively participates in the fabrication of a city/text they themselves are not literate or aware of. Though this may be true in a place like New York city, Ron Eglash's research in Africa shows that as many of the townspeople knew (some did not know) how and why their villages were designed in fractal patterns. Eglash quotes a figure in the village who responded to the image of a mathematical set by saying 'Yes, the rectangle within the rectangle, we know this.' Furthermore his research repeatedly showed villages whose design matched up to the "pathological curves" mathematicians had been grappling with since before Benoit Mandelbrot pointed to the legitimacy of the fractal in the 70's via computer programming to overcome cultural and intellectual imperialism of the European mathematicians Eglash names.
Eglash states that when the geometric patterns of the fractal are repeated indefinitely, "you get human lungs, you get acacia trees, you get beautiful forms."
The timing of de Certeau's Walking in the City and Mandelbrot's fractal is rather synchronous as the 're/discovery' of fractals in math is chronologically placed alongside De Certeau's theorizing about the panoptic view from above NYC--and his discussion of the Concept-city as a text and its development/decay and growth.
(side note: saw art of computer circuit boards flipped and hung on the wall (painted silver) with red twig tied to it where the twig fit between the various elements soldered to the circuit board--it looked like a city)
By seeing NYC as a natural fractal designing and reinventing itself perpetually (like computer technology) it becomes very interesting to include Eglash's recent contributions regarding the villages in Africa.
This is a situation which exudes from this synthesis shows how nature overcomes Spivak's notion of intellectual imperialism--
1. de Certeau's belief that throughout time the city dweller has been illiterate to their contribution to the Concept-city // African villagers knowing the design as a part of nature
(9:30-11:00 on straw fences)
2. de Certeau's reference to only Rome and NYC in his discourse // existence of Great Zimbabwe as great trading center chronologically placed between Rome/NYC
3. Eglashs' discussion of the intellectual imperialists who disregarded the fractal pattern until Mandelbrot proved its importance--and the extension of this disregard into the modern day with regards to 'the AFRICAN EXCEPTION' found among Euro historians, mathematicians and scientists who refuse to credit African communities with ANYTHING of historic/cultural/scientific advancement, who justify this disregard with an essentialist view of the 'third world' culture as backward.
The African village designed in Fractal pattern is important because the fractal pattern is the way nature self-organizes (organizes itself) this holds true in many mappings in natural science (text/data set) and for a European intellectual to claim the fractal issomething outside of African understanding shows the imbecility of intellectual imperialism.
This fractal shaped 'break through' shows Africans as humans and human (regardless of Euro-colonial-centrism) beings with spiritual beliefs. Eglash says of speaking to a priest, "it turns out that its a pseudo-random number generators they are using deterministic chaos...it's a self generating diversity...you can implement this in hardware." (listen to geomancy bits 12:30-14:23). This shows the African builders of villages realized their communities place in nature's organizational pattern and chose to design its villages based on natural phenomenon. Furthermore it shows these discoveries travelled through Europe during the middle ages.
To synthesize, the African villages are Concept-cities built by seeing oneself and the city (environment) one lives in as a part of the same self organizing patterns as nature. This refutes African Exceptionalism in the tangible shape and structure of the buildings which have withstood the test of time.
This is a great step towards breaking down essentialist/exceptionist barriers in re/presentation of human beings--it rivals the presence of Great Zimbabwe in relationship to the Euro intellectual's refusal to associate the ruins with an African community. These are both examples of African exceptionism as its probably that had similar ruins been found on any other continent, the indigenous population would have been recognized as the builders of the ruins.
((see "African origins denied"))
This image is simultaneously text and image at the same time. It challenges the ideas of langue and parole. It creates an aura on a medium that has never had one, as each statue has to be made by him and they are thus unique.