Saturday, May 02, 2015

#mybodymyhome (iii) at the new inquiry

Octavia Butler’s Survivor (1979) is an orphan novel.  It inhabits the world of the Patternist series, which started with Patternmaster (1976), and was followed by the prequels Mind of My Mind (1977), Wild Seed (1980), and Clay’s Ark (1984), a world that starts with the immortal Doro and Anyanwu and concludes with an ongoing, genocidal battle between their descendants—the telepathic patternists—and humans modified by an alien microbe—the clayarks. Survivor offers a different vision, a possibility that some left this earth-bound battle to travel to another world.

The protagonist, Alanna Verrick, is a bi-racial orphan, black and Asian, who chooses, at the end of the novel, to leave/live with aliens, “abandoning” her fellow humans.

Choosing is always strange in Butler—I’ll explore this at greater length in a subsequent post. The choice to survive in Butler’s works—“survival” is a key term for Butler and Audre Lorde—refuses a too-U.S. framing of agency as liberation from embedding. 

The choice to survive requires facing the ethics of complicity. Butler’s works are resolutely anti-sentimental (is that the right term?). Lives end. Tough choices are made. Protagonists are never permitted to be unreservedly lovable or even likable.

Sanctuary is never utopia. Merely another moment of survival. That “merely” is needed, because Butler always reminds us that survival is precarious—even the near-immortal can—and do—die.
More than any other novelist I know, Butler emphasizes that the ethical choice always tears and fractures: truthtelling is breaking hard against things.

A promissory note from a gorgeous voice, who is still teaching me how to listen:

Thiefing sugar has never been easy—sharp cane stalk can cut cane cutters

Friday, July 12, 2013

Charcot, Augustine

Charcot, a lesson: a hysteric (Marie "Blanche" Wittman) demonstrates fainting:

from “Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière” (Jean Martin Charcot,1878) (Augustine)

review of a book about Charcot:

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

the lyricism of oppression: against beasts of the southern wild

Two critical views from Jayna Browne and Christina Sharpe at Social Text

How does a little black girl child orphaned and abandoned become a vision for climate resistance for so many people who watched the film?  It is precisely this kind of misprision, this not feeling or seeing, that subtends  an event like the death of Glenda Moore's sons during Hurricane Sandy.  Riffing on Invisible Man, optic white does not see your plight. 

This isn't the first case of black children being depicted as insensitive to pain, or of black suffering and survival being used to symbolize American democracy….The film romanticizes their abject poverty….This is no maroon society, nor is it like any community of generationally poor people in the US or the global south I have ever seen. Instead the film recapitulates the continuing currency of black suffering, and acts as a kind of "crisis porn," showing how black pain is erotically charged.

Sadly, all the vibrancy in this film is generated by a crude pornography of violence. At the center of this spectacle is the continuous physical and emotional violation of the body and being of a small six year old black girl called Hushpuppy …. Subject to both romanticization as a modern primitive and eroticization, her plight is presented as comically farcical.  Some audiences laugh as Hushpuppy, when enraged at the antics of her disappearing alcoholic oftentimes abusive wild man dad Wink, burns her shanty house. … Hushpuppy has a resilient spirit. She is indeed a miniature version of the ‘strong black female matriarch,’ racist and sexist representations have depicted from slavery on into the present day. Like the unrealistic racist/sexist stereotypical images of grown black women in the recent blockbuster film The Help … Hushpuppy is a survivor. From the onset of the film, she is depicted as a wild child, so at home in the natural wild of the Gulf of Mexico bayou world

Screenwriter Lucy Alibar originally wrote Beasts of the Southern Wild as a play called Juicy and Delicious, which was about an 11-year-old white boy and his father in southern Georgia, where she grew up. In adapting it to a 6-year-old black girl in the Louisiana swamps, Queens-bred director Benh Zeitlin turns it into a maudlin exercise in cultural tourism

the reviewer for Forbes liked it, which is a bad sign

Beasts of the Southern Wild . . . . seemed to devolve into a kind of poverty porn . . . . with noble intentions attempting to redefine the spaces in which poor, rural communities exist in an American framework, but in my opinion, just keeping those same communities positioned as the strange, freaky, idiosyncratic Other. What’s worse here is that Beasts of the Southern Wild plays out as a kind of poverty porn put into black face, with no actual mention of blackness or race as a presence.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

thinking wars

Thinking, the creation of meaning, the internal pact we make with words that they will be moments of human sincerity, the reconstitution of near-historical texts attesting to intellectual lineages—all of these stand in the face of the Orwellian speech of generals, press secretaries, and government leaders obsessed with ensuring their class positions.

--Joan Nestle, "Wars and Thinking." Journal of Women's History 15.3 (Autumn 2003): 49-57.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Thursday, December 01, 2011

universities under attack (in britain as elsewhere)

Keith Thomas in the LRB:

Advanced study and research are essential attributes of a university and some of that research will have vital social and industrial applications. But that is not its primary purpose, which is to enhance our knowledge and understanding, whether of the physical world or of human nature and all forms of human activity in the present and the past. For centuries, universities have existed to transmit and reinterpret the cultural and intellectual inheritance, and to provide a space where speculative thought can be freely pursued without regard to its financial value. In a free and democratic society it is essential that that space is preserved.

Yes, the model of the university has been a residuum of the middle ages, a feudal formation changed by its recontextualization in later capitalism. But now it is even later for capitalism. While I share the intent to resist the commodification of the university, I suspect we have to develop something new, rather than simply try to preserve the old frame for cultural transmission, transformation, and creation.

Then there's Brian Holmes on the financialization of the university, arguing that "most of US universities have become systemically corrupt --that is, captured by interest groups - in the course of the neoliberal period, essentially since the passage of the Bayh-Dohl act in 1980 which reengineered the conditions under which knowledge is patented and sold by the intellectual property departments"; and raising "questions about the "public" nature of education where undergraduate tuition pays for the administrative execs, real-estate deals, six-figure professors and corporate labs." Although

"in an era where the critique of public institutions is carried on by the corporate class, the point is not to destroy those institutions .... However, what has actually happened in the UC system and in many other cases . . . is not so much the destruction as the appropriation and remodeling of those formerly public institutions. The ground has already changed beneath our feet. So to worry about whether we are losing the Enlightenment, at this point when the universities massively manufacture, not only neoliberal subjectivities but also neoliberal policy and technology, is . . . to be exactly the kind of humanist that the Frankfurt School thinkers would have excoriated for being unable to see that - how did Adorno put it? - "the whole is the untrue." "To defend the university as it is, means defending a highly advanced state of corruption."