Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Signing Off the Blog ...

Dear Everyone:

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.

Stay tuned,
-Prof. Graban

Monday, December 5, 2011

Race as a trope

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.

Cooper and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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.

Helen Keller and Specialist Discourse

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.

Just some thoughts

After watching Up the Yangtze, I thought I'd do some research about the shopkeeper's (at least, I think the shopkeeper said it) claims that the dam will benefit the country as a whole and that if some people need to be relocated, then so be it (very loose paraphrasing, one that is a bad representation of his words). According to Water Power Magazine, the total cost will be 180B Yuan or roughly 22.5B dollars. Of this, around 69B Yuan will be spent on relocation, which translates to 11B dollars. There are roughly 1.3 million people relocated, so after doing some division, that's roughly 8600 yuan per person. But here's the kicker: in 2000, 97 officials were convicted of embezzling money from that fund. So then that means that the people who were most hurt by the dam, get the least from it, both in terms of relocation money and the power that the dam generates. The energy is redistributed to more wealthy areas of China, so the sacrifices made by the poor have a poor return. But as long as the country benefits, it should be worth it (I'm not saying it is). When will China make a return on their investment, or should I say, the peasants sacrifice? Not until around 2015, a full 22 years after the beginning of the undertaking (started in 1993, people not relocated until mid 2000's).
As far as progress goes, yes sacrifices will be made. But in general, the sacrifices are supposed to allow for better and/or safer living. Ripping the homes of 1.3 million people is no small thing. Understandably, as a percentage, it's very small: China has a population of 1.35 billion, so .096%. But that's also the entire population of Trinidad and Tobago or all of Hawaii. Sure, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but not when the "few" is 1.3 million.

  • (translated into English)
  • (translated into English)

the Dam and the Prison

In "Up the Yangtze," the Three Gorges Dam project induces flooding of the coastal areas of the river, forcing people to relocate from their homes. The film focuses on the struggle of the Yu family, one of the many families directly affected by the dam's production. By the film's conclusion, the Yu family has transferred from their home on the river bank to what appeared to be a run-down apartment, a stark contrast to the homes of other relocated families shown to the tourists in an earlier sequence. Director Yung Chang points out in his director's comments that in regard to the families like the Yu's, "the standard line is the small family must sacrifice to help the big family - the nation" (Chang 2). Yet, what appears to be happening is the consumption of the small family for the sake of the nation, a concept interestingly parallelled by the filmed stages of the Yu family's home being flooded until it is completely under water, erased entirely from view.
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 ( 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.

What We Can Learn From China

So, I wrote my SCD and even my prospectus for the Final Project for class tomorrow about tropes created in representation. I generally have seen these tropes as something that is negative, or limiting. Also I have previously just look at characters as carrying representation. But now that I think about it, can't Up The Yantze be a representaton of unfair class distiction that we could apply to our own situation here in the States.

I blogged last week about how self-representation that Cooper called for may not be the answer for limiting misrepresentation. I was starting to agree with Butler that representation in and of itself was a dead end kind of undertaking. However, maybe this is a more positive function of representation. If we can somehow see ourselves in others even if they are different. What I mean is we should see in Jerry an elitist attitude that Americans often display themselves. The struggles of Cindy's family should remind us that poverty is real, it should call us to action. I am thinking that maybe responsible representation is very much up to the reader. We aren't supposed to figure out how we view other people based on these representations, but rather we are supposed to see ourselves. This is just a thought, I'm thinking McCloud or Barthes might help me here and when I get a chance to read those again I think I am going to continue this thought via comment. Any thoughts?

The Act of Representation.

In my last SCD, I decided to focus on the paradox of representation in terms of identification. While its already been turned in, I have had some time to reflect on the essay I wrote about Burke's identification and Butlers representation of identity. For me, I picture the paradox as a two step process that ultimately is contradictory. While I would have liked to include this in the scope of my SCD, these are just some spillover thoughts regarding the paradox.

First and foremost, the process of identifcation through terministic screens within literary discourse allows for people to communicate effectively. This in turn promotes individual and cultural connection. But in representing this identification in literary discourse, the author must adopt the voice of the "other", subjectively constructing the subject on their own terms. For Butler, a feminist literary critic, this was a big no-no. According to her, the process of representation is a dead end. During the attempt of identification based on perceived similarity, the authors own conception comes into play. The similiarity, or identity, is automatically flawed, and thus so is the attempt at representation. I tend to think of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a novel in which representation of the subject based on the authors conception, or reconigiton of the "other" is contradictory in itself. The representation of the authors identification (or similarity) with individuals of a separate race and culture inevitably highlights the narrators dissociation with the intended subject as the "other." In addition, Butler argues that representation distorts identification as well. She points to women writing about women. To represent another based on femininity, to forge a sense of identification based on gender, is not representation. Instead, this further constrains women to a gender role assigned by a masculine society that forces women into the role of the "other" only based on gender. For Butler, this points out the flaw of identification and the paradox of representation. One cannot represent the "other" without both recognizing their similarities and exacerbating their differences.

Are Time and NG magazine supporting or abusing the subaltern?

The picture of the Afghan girl missing her nose instantly reminded me of this photo, a picture taken in 1985 at a refugee camp in Pakistan. The headline for this cover reads, "Along Afghan's War-torn Frontier."

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?

Hit the Nail on the Head

As I finished my SCD, I decided to reread Butler's Gender Trouble. For this re-viewing, I took off my critical hat and thought more about my own experiences and I realized that Butler is absolutely correct. She says "the very subject of women is no longer understood in stable or abiding terms" and "there is very little agreement after all on what it is that constitutes, or ought to constitute, the category of women" (2). These two statements have basically summed up my experiences with women as an adult. (I use the term adult quite loosely though.) By no means have these experiences been bad; in fact, most have been pleasant. But even so, the experiences have taught me that women are not easily identifiable, if at all. I think of them as an endless cavern with an ever changing hue and millions of paths. (Bad simile? I'm sorry, it's really early!) And this is a problem. Because, as Butler says "the qualifications for being a subject must first be met before representation can be extended" (2). So, if the term wome(a)n is not uniform, then they cannot be truly represented. (But really, is anything uniform? Does everyone think of the same thing when, say, someone says picture a refrigerator? I think not.) And that is the problem with gender and representation as a whole; no one thing can fully represent something else. But even so, I guess that having some sort of identity and representation is better than none.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Not Buying It: Agent/cy and Re/presentation

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 ( 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 Blog. WordPress. 1 December 2011. 4 December 2011. (

Subaltern's Awareness

With the subaltern, I know everyone has their own takes on what the role of the subaltern is and why does that even matter. While Prof. Graban was asking the class's opinions, I was sitting there thinking about the subaltern itself. I'm not sure if I missed this point, or if it wasn't actually a point at all, but does the subaltern need to be unaware their group is subaltern? I mean, I believe they at least know they are the minority (I assume they know, anyway), but do they know that they are the quintessential minority. I use the word quintessential here because the subaltern, to me, is the perfect and exact embodiment of a minority group. So turning back to my question, is the subaltern truly aware of their situation, or are they perfectly oblivious of the present situation. Do they have to have agency?

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).

Burroughs, time / space and epistemic exploration

Let us begin where Burroughs begins in this excerpt: "In my writing I am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas," this explanation of writing seems to be the inverse of de Certeau's writing of Concept-city (Burroughs 304).

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.

Much like de Certeau speaks to the future of the Concept-city's development/decay as a part of time, Burroughs speaks to the future of writing, saying, "Certainly if writing is to have a future it must at least catch up with the past and learn to use techniques that have been used for some time past in painting, music and film--" (Burroughs 305). Here we see the intertextuality (intermodality/ekphrasis) necessitated by the various modes of expression--Burroughs seems to value the ability to express the 'inexpressible' by taking a technique outside of its medium of origin. By placing value in the displacement of a technique (subsequently the ability of an artist to 'cross the creative strings' and re-represent the technique in another medium) immediately after his discussion of time/space, Burroughs implicitly leads the reader to the next landmark in this banter--

space/time ship a la Burroughs--

"The fold in method extends to writing the flashback used in films, enabling the writer to move backward and forward on his time track--For example, I take page one and fold it into page one hundred--I insert the resulting composite as page ten--When the reader reads page ten he is flashing forward in time to page one hundred and back in time to page one--the deja vu phenomenon can so be produced to order--This method is of course used in music, where we are continually moved backward and forward on the time track by repetition and rearrangements of musical themes--" (Burroughs 305).

The fold-in technique stands as an interesting concept when viewed through the lense(s) of 'critical theory as a historic conversation' and the 'origin of idea' inherent to the copyright system as shown in GoodCopy/BadCopy. I say this because by simply combining two texts with an utter disregard (simultaneously esteemed respect) for their placement in time/space history as one displaces/reaffirms the entire notion of the 'episteme' as an entire set of understanding existing at a given moment in a culture (the start of one episteme signaling the end of another). If we, today, have access to all of this great thought (text/art/oratory/music) outside of its original episteme, how can anyone feign to claim the knowledge with the label of their sixty or a hundred years of life and ideas?

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).

Eliot writes:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time. (Part 2 B.N.)

(eliot explains the 'still point' as 'where the light is' --- )

To Burroughs, the deja-vu of applying this method to 'Rimbaud folded into a page of St. John Perse,' breaks time by bringing both texts (separate episteme) into the present moment (present episteme) allowing the present moment to bear fruits of time/space-synthesis. This synthesis timless and therefore can be politely slipped in to any point of a narrative, all points always pointing back to the present.

Subaltern Connection

I know we have all been somewhat beating the whole "subaltern" issue into the ground, but I happened to stumble upon something that outside of the class that I thought was quite interesting in connection with women that would be considered part of the subaltern group.

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?

African Villages Designed as Fractal (Concept-city/Essentialism)

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's a self generating 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"))

English Curry Connoisseurs

A good friend and I are planning a study abroad trip in England next year. He's lived there before and has prepared me for all that I should come to expect from English culture. A few things he said I found interesting. Including the prevalence of Indian immigrants, and "I hope you like curry." How does this relate to Spivak's "subaltern", especially in terms of colonized India?

It seems a strange paradox that now, because of England's colonial tenure and cultural influence in India, Indians are finding it desirable and easy to immigrate and adapt into English culture. Why would they come to England? Well, I have never been to either place, but I can only assume it deals with the extreme English presence in Indian culture. Though England, through colonial subjugation, created the Indian "Other", it would now seem that those "Others" are somehow returning the favor.

By immigrating to England, these children of a colonized India are certainly having a reciprocal effect on English culture. I find this paradox very interesting, that England's influence on India is now causing Indian influence on England. And although I don't think the Indian immigrants are creating an English "Other" (in no way is their immigration a part of colonization), would it be safe to say they're limiting, even in the smallest sense, English peoples and culture, by taking over their jobs?

Maybe it's just the upper-class Indians that are immigrating, and, if so, maybe their is no subaltern presence coming full circle. But if it is assumed that one in England must have a taste for Indian curry, if my friend feels swayed enough to make a point of this when speaking of English culture, then I think it's easy to see India's influence and limitation of their previous colonizer's culture/voice, at least of the English culinary voice.

Though I think I'll be alright; I love me some curry.

Book Art

I saw a news report on the other day about a man who literally took old books and made statues out of them. He would read each page and cut it out until it made the shape that he wanted, but it was more then that. The new statue was also readable and he used the words to speak to the reader. What an interesting concept, and how many ways can this metaphor affect this class?
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.

Speaking and the Subaltern

We tried to discuss in class whether the not the subaltern are subaltern because they cannot speak, or whether their inability to speak has been caused by being subaltern. I'm not quite sure that we ever got an answer in class so I would like to take the question up here. I believe that they are subaltern because they cannot speak. I would like to quote on of Spivak when she says "[w]hen a line of communication is established between a member of subaltern groups and the circuits of citizenship or institutionality, the subaltern has been inserted into the long road to hegemony" (808). So, once the subaltern has learned to speak, they can be lifted out of that category and placed somewhere else. The pregnant woman was not born into the subaltern class, she was an upper middle class woman with a bright future, but we regard her as subaltern because she could not speak and the only way that she had to speak was to use her body and even that message has been lost or misinterpreted.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Protesters Silenced?

Talk of the subaltern has got me thinking about the occupy movement, about how the occupiers have steadily become societies "Other". Much like colonial India, modern America is creating a hierarchy where the poor's "identity is its distance" from the elite (Spivak, 805). The occupy movement is attempting to close the "gap between interest and action" by making noise, but are they really being heard? When politics and lifestyles are understood under the terministic screen of a capitalist, profit terminology, how can this quasi-subaltern group be understood?

What really sparked the connection was my involvement in this past Tuesday's protest at the JPMorgan Chase recruiting event. Our goal, well my goal, was to speak to not only Chase for its morally unjust practices, not only the school for inviting in such a toxic company, but also my fellow students, to get them to maybe examine their own morals before seeking just any job offer. And although I don't appreciate everything that happened during that protest, the next few days made me think I had really voiced my message.

But then the dissent came. The old-hat arguments of "get a job", "these students worked too hard for this", etc., which made me think the people I'd been trying to reach weren't listening. Either that or worse, I never really "spoke" like I thought I did. Like Bhaduri, whose suicide was muted, I often feel like the occupiers are putting effort into a silenced cause, like my roommates were arrested and are facing an academic hearing in vain.

America is most definitely creating a more and more imbalanced hegemony, creating a larger group of "Others" (the 99% if you will), silencing these American subalterns into repression. Can the American non-elites speak? Or is it more that, because of a perverted capitalistic terminology, most business oriented and powerful individual refuse or are unable to listen?

"Capitalism has been transformed into imperialism" (809).

True dat.

Class Representation on the River

After class on Friday, I started to think more about the representation of the Chinese people in Up the Yangtze. I really enjoyed the documentary as it gave me a chance to look at a culture that I admittedly do not know much about. Although the filmmaker might not have made the movie with the intention of creating a representation of Chinese culture, the characters he featured really functioned to mold an image of the people.
The two featured workers on the cruise ship, Jerry and Cindy, are products of very different lifestyles: Cindy coming from an extremely impoverished family and Jerry from an economically stable family. I thought the filmmaker's choice to have representation from two extremes was an interesting choice. While they function well to allow audiences to compare the difference in attitudes from poverty vs. stability, only having two perspectives seemed very limiting to me in terms of representation. The narrow view perpetuates the stereotypes of arrogance matched with wealth and ignorance matched with poverty; which reminded me of a part from Gates's Writing Race, where he writes, "Race has become a trope of ultimate, irreducible difference between cultures, linguistic groups, or adherents of specific belief systems which - more often than not - also have fundamentally opposed economic interests"(5). Although this idea of tropes is applied to race in Gates's piece, it functions also in the discussion of class. The class distinction between Jerry and Cindy are extreme, especially with the shocking story of Cindy's family provided in the film. This creates quick stereotypic tropes that are memorable and effective.
The obviously large gap in class representation led me to wonder if maybe the director was trying to prove a point about the nature of the cruise ship industry on the Yangtze. There is a great amount of unification that happens due to the problems with the river, and perhaps the filmmaker chose Jerry and Cindy as presentations of their class in order to create an overall representation of the flowing of life down the ambivalent river. One scene that sticks out as an example of this idea is the scene when the river is slowly rising and the boat s shown in the distance, carrying all to one destination. Working on the boat, it didn't matter where you came from or who your parents are because everyone is going to the same place. In choosing highly disparate characters, this representation is possible.