February 1, 2013
This is a one-day participation event, bringing together teams of activists, artists and academics from Los Angeles and New York. The goal is to set a collective agenda for militant research practice in the year ahead.
Militant research is research carried out with social movements to think about social change. So it questions the nature, practice, formats and outcomes of research. We hope to merge ongoing and new projects into a collaborative, rolling project of mutual aid.
The global financial “crisis” is already five years old, perhaps permanent. In its name, all other issues must disappear. How can we visualize the crisis of the 99%, from personal debt to the climate, and recovery from disasters like Fukushima and Sandy? What still remains out of sight, whether concealed or overlooked?
Three workshops will set these questions into specific contexts. One will be co-ordinated by the group from Los Angeles and another by their counterparts in New York. The final session centers on organizing from the local to national and international levels.
The real agenda will be set by you. At this event we will all be there to learn from each other and to share ideas and insights. There is no “audience.”
9.30 AM Coffee
Militant Research: Los Angeles/Southern California
A workshop led by Natalie Bookchin, Jack Halberstam, Alex Juhasz, Kara Keeling and Lisa Parks
12.00-1.00 PM Lunch
Militant Research: New York
A workshop led by Amin Husain, Yates McKee, Andrew Ross, Joan Saab, and Marita Sturken
3.00-3.30 PM Break
National and International Networks:
Organizing and Research Workshop led by Nicholas Mirzoeff and Marina Sitrin
5.00 PM Reception
February 8, 2013, New York University
Hemerdinger Hall, Silver Center, 24 Waverly Place
9:30 am – 5:30 pm
January 30, 2013
November 28, 2012
Please do pass the word, as reported on Palms Springs Life:
“Although the day is titled, A Day With(out) Art, the opposite will be true Saturday (Dec. 1) at the Palm Springs Art Museum.
The museum will present a series of art forms to coincide with the World Health Organization’s World AIDS Day, which began in 1989. Admission is free.
Robert Atkins, co-founder of Visual AIDS, which created A Day With(out) Art 24 years ago as a day to use art to raise awareness and honors those who have died of AIDS, will lecture on In Mourning and In Rage as part of the day’s theme: – In Memoriam: Loss, Identity and History in the Age of AIDS.
There will also be a screening of the film, Video Remains, a documentary by filmmaker Alexandra Juhasz to honor her best friend in his final days, and a panel discussion about memory and loss.”
The schedule of events is here.
Alex and Michael, at Rudy’s Barbershop, Silverlake, still from Video Remains.
July 27, 2012
I’m in Boulder Colorado, teaching a summer course on Feminist and Queer Documentary in their film program. My class on Tuesday—on Talking Heads Feminist Labor films—was nothing if not queer: but not in that gay way. Rather, it was stunning for me to re-teach films that are seminal in this history, films I’ve taught many times over the years, and to feel like the words, images, and very ideas being projected are suddenly so strange as to be utterly unfamiliar and therefore outside of comprehension.
In Barbara’ Kopple’s 1976 Academy Award winning, Harlan County USA, the working-class (poor) American laborers interviewed frequently call the corporations they work for “the capitalists,” but stranger yet “the enemy.”
In Julia Reichert (and James Klein and Miles Mogulescu’s) 1976 Academy Award nominated, Union Maids, the women laborers are not just eccentrically and unrecognizably in unions, they are union organizers, and weirder still, call themselves “socialists” and even “radicals.”
Now, as I’ve said, I’ve taught these films a million times, and in previous years the talk was all about documentary form: the pros and cons of talking heads. While these seventies staples still perform this role in film history and on my syllabus, I couldn’t but also queer the docs’ content: the wacky idea that laborers deserve decent working conditions and benefits, that all American citizens deserve education and health care, and that collective organizing is our only tactic to gain and insure these rights, given the structure of capitalism. The illuminating lesson of reteaching this class in 2012 (I first offered it as the very first class I taught in 1990) turns out to be that identity politics really have proven successful in our many visibility projects that have made the representation of women, and queers and people of color relatively innocuous to contemporary audienecs; yet, it seems, we left not just class, but an overt class critique, outside of these so-readily available pictures that I now teach as historical oddities in class.
Now, in Boulder (unlike at Pitzer), I am teaching in a State school to young people who are working—at movie theaters, bakeries, behind counters, and in stock rooms—while attending college. Certainly, all my students at Pitzer are not wealthy (many of them are the first in their families to attend college), but the culture of private liberal arts education insures that they don’t work while they are at school (they take loans, and sometimes, grants, and work in the summer).
So perhaps the film felt so queer because I was watching it with students who labor. But no: even these working students could not see themselves, could not identify, could not apply the strange terms and ideas of these not-so-distant sorta-even mainstream labor films to their own experience: organized, angry, articulate labor is really too queer for our times. And frankly, given the recent rush of this blog post, On Leaving Academia (for Google) by Associate Professor of Computer Science, Terran Lane amongst my hoity-toity professor friends (via Facebook), it seems that none of us can really see the corporation as the enemy anymore. While Professor Lane carefully, eloquently, and cogently spells out (in leftist terms) how the neoliberalization of academia has made the University of New Mexico an inhospitable place for him to work, he turns none of this critical gaze on the corporation to whither he flees.
Here, I find guidance from Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s brilliant writing in The Soul at Work. Berardi explains (among so many other things) how our work as intellectuals in this time of “Semiocapitalism” (where the mind, language and creativity become the primary tools for the production of value) has transformed away from an Enlightenment project that was necessarily ethical and political. Today, our work as members of the “cognitariat” “becomes a part of the autonomous process of capital” because it is now located on the Net and occurs every time we type.
Given this transformation, how do we insure that our work remains ethical and political? Is it really okay to “luv” or “friend” or labor for Google as all of my students so unselfconsciously, unapologetically, and even joyously seem to do? Aren’t corporations still the enemy? Is there a difference between knowledge work (“brain work”) and our “fragmented cognitive labor” (“chain work”)? Bifo and I insist: yes!
We can imagine and enact applications of our cognitive labor within environments and experiences that fall outside the corporate Internet (and here, on this web-page, I see that I must fail; but in the class, where I queer labor, ah, there, a moment where my soul is at work for and within the community of learners who puzzle over seeing labor together). Can Dr. Lane have similar experiences with his colleagues at Google? These answers do not seem easy, given the pull of the Internet and the pleasure we take in our work here. And, I don’t want to romanticize the University nor the “real” classroom. However, I will suggest that our most important work today, as the cognitatariat, is to find spaces outside of capital, as Occupy so daringly enacts, and to continue to name the enemy.
“Neoliberal policies are cutting back education and the public health system and is cancelling the right to a salary and a pension. The outcome will be impoverishment of large parts the population, a growing precarity of labor conditions (freelance, short-term contracts, periods of unemployment) and daily humiliation of workers….What is thrilling right now is the multiplicity of new connections and commitment. But what is even more exciting is finding ways that can set in motion the collective ‘exodus’ from the capitalist agony.” On #Occupy: Franco “Bifo” Berardi and Geert Lovink
July 12, 2012
Following closely on the heels of my last post on Jodi Dean and the possible affordances of writing and publishing some of our scholarly new media writing online, I’m happy to be able to look at Nick Mirzoeff’s “‘We are All Children of Algeria‘: Visuality and Countervisuality 1954-2011,” recently “published” by Duke University Press as an extension of his book The Right to Look. Built in the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture’s Scalar—”born-digital, open source, media-rich scholarly publishing that’s as easy as blogging”—the work sits in proximity to my own Learning from YouTube in that it was supported by many of the same institutions and collaborators (I did not write in Scalar, however, but rather in an earlier version of their authoring tool. Many of my cumbersome requirements for linking text and media became routinized with Scalar).
While Mirzoeff provocatively begins by suggesting that “whether or not you work ‘on’ or about Algeria, there is an ‘Algeria’ in your work,” I find that there is another shared metaphor, nay structure, that fuels possible intellectual connection: form. For, as seems definitive for many of our contemporary efforts in transformative scholarly communication, he writes as much about his writing and its structures, shapes, and tools as he does about his proper subject: “how can we “see” Algeria, its decolonization and revolution?”
He suggests that “this format, allowing as it does for a set of intersecting and interfacing threads to compose the whole, is better suited to reclaiming and exploring these histories than the linear text-based narrative.” And then he calls this kind of writing and reading a “march” because he understands it as “militant research.” This designation seems both apt and critical to me for many reasons. Mirzoeff notes how affect is set into play differently within digital writing practices, so that qualities of an experience (something that many of us have pushed writerly metaphor to reach towards [and one reason I also author in video]) become more readily a part of the expressive reach of the form, as does then, also, an altered relation (of trust) between writer, reader, and text. Kathleen Fitzpatrick has recently blogged that digital scholarship allows a “shift … from an implicit, buried acknowledgment that scholarship’s serialization practices are based on multi-directional exchanges to an explicit emphasis on such exchange.” Exchanging we are, and shifting, and sometimes even marching, if not exactly forward: “it’s not about getting to the end, this is not a video game. It’s about who you want to be, not as a consumer, but as a citizen: for we are all citizens of the International.”
Mirzoeff’s decidedly, abashedly, romantically political aims are what might be best-suited to the form. His militancy. And here’s the rub I often mention when touring my own overtly political digital media pub. It’s full professors who currently have enough institutional safeguarding to make these dangerous formal deployments even as its our junior colleagues who should be leading the vanguard. He writes: “In the end, the disciplinary form—in all senses—of the monograph finds itself yielding to a form that has no real name: Intergraph? multigraph? videograph? The videograph (say) depends on a relation of trust.” But these are dangerous times, as we know, given the paucity of jobs and tenure, not to mention the real punitive ramifications for some politicized scholarship in our ever more timid or corporate intellectual institutions.
Feminist, queer, and AIDS activist mediamakers have long theorized “trust” as a part of our authoring apparatus, and our more committed, ideological, intellectual and political digital connections are what I have been holding against some Internet theorists‘ fear of fickle or superficial “friends” and warranted subjectivity. Perhaps it is not so bold for those like Fitzpatrick, Mirzoeff, or myself, backed as we may be by powerful institutions and tenure (and Nick took the “easy” route by publishing a “real” book too…), to make and promote innovative formal work, however I do so with the trust that my comrades inside academia and out will join me here, in exchanges that demonstrate more radical ways not just to be professors, but as Nick suggests citizens.
May 17, 2012
Miss Representation (Jennifer Siebel Newsom, 2011) tells a critical and true story about the relations among mainstream media and women’s political and personal power. It follows in the footsteps of decades worth of disconcerting research about women in the media that takes any of four predictable tacks that most grimly have not seemed to have changed much in the many years that feminists have been doing such research:
- positive images: there aren’t any, or at least there aren’t enough
- media and violence: images contribute to a culture of (sexual) violence against women, and women’s violence against themselves (body image, mental health)
- industry watch: a tiny and disproportionate fraction of the humans in the mainstream media and politics are women
- media and sexuality: images contribute to a damaging, violent and early sexualization of women and girls
The documentary also takes up the tried and true form and method of such studies:
- it is a victim story: first and foremost, that of the film’s director and narrator, who begins the film’s journey from her own personal need to heal from the abuses of the dominant media she felt as actress, woman, girl, and mother and the related abuses suffered upon her by violent men who learn how to engage with women through dominant media; and, a great deal of the testimony in the film is about the devastatingly true disempowerment suffered by females in our patriarchal society (most clearly marked by girls’ tears)
- it is a pornotopia: montages of various abuses against women (body image, shaming, violence, objectification, sexualization) by the media are repeatedly and lengthily used as punctuation so that the viewer feels victimized by the film (hence doubling her victimhood), and ends up seeing more images of media violence in its 90 minutes than she might in days, weeks or months (depending upon how judicious she might be in her screen investments). This tactic has been most successfully used to scare and disgust women for decades through the industry of Killing Us Softly anti-pornography films by Jean Kilbourne.
The film’s demoralizing and abject findings, methods, and forms are not misrepresentations in the least; and they are an effective shock tactic in the face of post feminism, feminist complacency, and ongoing patriarchal misogyny and violence. However, as has long been the response to such feminist studies and documentaries, there is much that is missing here, which might already be self-evident given my ham-footed list above. Miss Representation misses:
- the Internet: where women make and watch media of, for and about themselves in equal numbers to men
- alternative media: where women make and watch images that are both critical of patriarchy and empowering to women
- alternative reading practices: whereby women turn toxic representations into inspiring media
- media activism: where women use the data and images presented in Miss Representation to advocate for and practice media empowerment through expanding access to production, distribution, funding, storytelling, and necessary infrastructures
- pro-sex feminism: that considers how diverse and open sexual representations of women are empowering and includes lesbianism, queerness and other non-normative practices as part of the possible sexuality spectrum for women
- the media in context: that attempts to understand the production and consumption of images as a powerful piece of meaning making that operates within a much more complex ideological, historical, social, cultural, and economic reality
- women and feminism in context: that understands the oppression of women as part of larger ideological, cultural, historical, and economic dynamics
- women and activism: that presents social justice organizing as an alternative to oppression
April 20, 2012
That’s grrr, like annoying, not Riot. Cuz there’s none of that in Girls (not to mention women of color).
In the early 1990s, I was around 25 and I already thought of myself as a woman when the grrrls played New York (I remember seeing them at ABC No Rio when my friend Alex Sichel was planning to make a movie about the scene [All Over Me, Sichel, 1997]).
But those nineties girls—a little younger, perhaps somewhat all-around less privileged, and still pretty white—fell back upon their generation’s love of Grunge, connected to a previous generation’s feminist rage, and espoused their own avowedly political commitment to the politics of expression. Meanwhile, Dunham’s new girls—yes, just one visualization of “her generation”—are separated, sequestered, cocooned off from the any sense of history, community, or body of (feminist) work or (political) thinking or (artistic) practice beyond their narcissistic dreams of socially-mediated “artistic” cross-over (or selling-out as we called it) and passing sexual pleasures (perhaps one of them will be lucky enough to become someone like Lena Dunham, although cuter). I do like some of it to be sure: their world-of-women and -self sometimes separated from men or hetero-coupledom; the unromantic depiction of young-hetero-sex and girls’ desire; Dunham’s funny, quick patter. However, I mourn the loss of Tiny Furniture’s uniquely 2000′s DIY sensibility (not so much grunge as google), where a YouTube-inflected sensibility, even if a tad studied, prevailed: “bad” camera-work and acting, no make-up, and a plot-line about Lena’s own YouTube celebrity. The HBO girls have been prettied up, as has Dunham’s craft, thanks to the goodies of her rise out of social media.
But it’s Dunham’s inability to connect (and not in that Facebook makes us lonely way) that leaves me the most enervated. I spoke about this generational phenomenon (my qualms about the return to the personal in works by the “younger generation”) in my responses to Pariah which I think allows us to re-think the real race-problem in Dunham’s work as also a generational-political one.
April 11, 2012
After my return from the Women, Social Justice, Documentary conference at Smith last weekend it took me awhile to name a certain disquiet that was raised for me there. Critically, my concerns had nothing to do with the strength of the presentations or the commitment of the community. It was reaffirmed for me there that:
- women need documentaries that represent female experience from a feminist perspective
- women hunger to make documentaries about their own worlds and experiences with their own voices.
However, Charlie Musser’s post about the same conference helped me to name some of my qualms through questioning how we know and frame this field of practice: are we women documentarians victims, adventurers, heroes, or champions? And if none of the above, what is or should be our trope or role of choice?
In other posts here, I have discussed how male documentarians (and fiction filmmakers in the documentary mode) often represent their documentary filmmaking about adventures as if they themselves were the hapless explorers, as if they were the rugged spelunker or fearless soldier; as if making a film was a war or a similarly endangering undertaking. Keeping men’s fantasies about such rugged film roles in mind, it seems particularly noteworthy that many feminist documentarians, who are themselves making films about women’s oppression, voicelessness, and sometimes even physical or emotional danger and violence, cast themselves and particularly their filmmaking in this light: as if documentary making is a form of victimhood and suffering.
Thus, as often as we discussed documentary-making as achievement, I heard this feminist mode presented as an expression of oppression: in that the industry is patriarchal, funds are scarce, the nation is conservative, and infrastructure is capitalist. And of course, all that is true. Many of the battles of current feminist filmmakers are the same as those of the generations before us; and in some arenas, it seems we’ve seen as much backlash as we have growth. And certainly, many women have and still come to their filmmaking as a first stop after, or as a response to lived oppression. However, the disadvantages we might encounter as women in film are similar to but not the same as the human rights violations we might document, or even the voicelessness that may have brought us to the medium, and when we tell the story of our film practice only using the disempowered tropes and experiences that brought us there we end up failing to build upon, yet alone even acknowledge, the successes we have made: the many, many films, careers, awards, institutions, festivals, books, or classes in the field. For, the conference also confirmed that:
- the history of earlier work, makers, and institutions are lost unless we reconstitute them
- and harder to admit, we get something from this perpetual losing
Which is to say, that once we do have some (more) power than we did, when we do have foremothers (now across a few generations) and a robust, generative, diverse, and amazing body of film, now that we are feminist documentarians with a real history and future (evidenced at the conference through the fire power of the “new” generation: Sonali Gulati, Anayansi Prado, Michelle Medina), how might we enact our self-representation as a field through and with power?
What are the metaphors and practices for having and using an empowered feminist voice amongst many?
We don’t have look far! Here’s just a small sample of some of the inspiring models presented at the conference:
Cynthia Wade: links her power with responsibility.
Barbara Hammer: lusty adventurer with politics.
Su Friedrich: angry citizen challenging film and social norms
Rea Tajiri: loving daughter and respectful neighbor reaching out with poetry
Lourdes Portillo: mother-maker opening our hearts in service or memory, justice, and complexity
April 2, 2012
Home after back-to-back events where I wore one hat that just might be construed as two (an interesting slip [of the tongue] or tip [of the hat] that helps point out some of my unease with [my place in] the “Digital Humanities,” more on that to come).
The first was just that: Re:Humanities, a student-run undergraduate conference where a day of really impressive student presentations were book-ended by addresses by professors (myself and Katherine Harris) who spoke on our own pedagogic commitments to undergraduate research.
While there was much to note here, I’ll focus my observations on the related themes and contradictions of expertise, authority, authoring, and professional(ism)(ilization) in the realm of the digital (humanities). We enjoyed polished, first rate and diverse student presentations on topics ranging from the mapping of Soweto, to websites devoted to postcolonial feminism, Paris monuments, and global street-art, to pleas for better digital design or citation practices, to the digitizing and narrativizing of rare books. It was crystal clear that digital humanities opens up a place, multiple methods, and voice for qualified young participants who would otherwise not be so readily enabled to “publish” or circulate their work while also being so creative and impassioned about both the content and forms of their fledgling scholarly endeavors. Many of the students commented that doing work for an audience larger than one professor (and maybe their Mom), promotes a higher degree of commitment, professionalism, and passion then they feel when writing a paper, and this reminded me of something I already knew and already do…
The subject of the second conference: Women, Social Justice and Documentary, held at Smith College. Granted, this group of faculty, artists, and students had not really heard of the “digital humanities,” although they were also interested in thinking about the relationship between making things like documentaries, and their academic (arts and humanities) studies, and (feminist) passions and commitments. In this case, a decades-long struggle to find and circulate a voice by those deauthorized by gender, race, sexuality, and other forms of patriarchal oppression has created a substantive history of media objects, and an infrastructure that holds them (including distribution, festivals, scholarship, and pedagogy).
Why, we might ask, doesn’t Digital Humanities know about the work and struggles and conquests of (see Hammer Retrospective at the Tate above) the speakers at the second conference like Lourdes Portillo, Barbara Hammer, or Rea Tajiri who have been interpreting their impassioned, politicized ideas into forms of media and pedagogy for decades and this to an enthusiastic audience who has responded in kind with criticism and media production of our own?
I’d have to say the answer to this is why I don’t whole-heartedly embrace the digital humanities (while I’m happy to be embraced by them). The “field” does the amazing potentially radicalizing work of asking humanities professors (and students) to take account for their audiences, commitments, forms, and the uses of their work. But this was always there to take account of, merely being obscured by the transparent (and patriarchal) protocols of publishing and pedagogy that have suddenly been miraculously revealed because of the confounding force of the digital. However, this turn is occurring, for the most part, as if plenty of fields, and professors, and artists, and students, and humanists hadn’t been already been doing this for years (and therefore without turning to these necessarily radical traditions of political scholars, theoretical artists, and humanities activists).
I wrote just such a comment recently on Miriam Posner’s blog:
“Just got turned on to your blog. How thrilling! When I think (and write and d0) about doing as making as thinking I have often made videos as well as books, and more currently “ video-books” (which are really just big web-pages), so what I think has been lost in this “all Digital Humanities are communities of practice speak” (and particularly that this is a radicalizing moment for humanists) is not simply that people crafted before in that twee sense, but that academic writing is and always was doing, as it was craft, and that these added digital technologies have merely exposed that scholars were always making things, in ritualized ways, for particular users, with machines and for special(ized) uses (and now actually have to be accountable for this). I spoke with Victoria Szabo about this at length for a panel she co-ran recently, Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates at the 2012 MLA Convention. I love your four points at the end for the reason that it marks practice as political, and hope you’ll take a peek at some of the similar principles I’m working through at my Feminist Online Spaces site (a work in progress to be sure).”
March 31, 2012
So many anniversaries, and so much fascination with the 90s! Looks like Watermelon Woman (Dunye, 1995) is going to be part of the posse of re-views too (slated for Framline 2012 retrospective, more soon). Given the spate of new films focusing upon the history of ACTUP/AIDS activism circa 1987 (United in Anger, Vito, How to Survive an Epidemic, We Were Here, Sex in an Epidemic) and a new-found fascination for the now old new queer cinema that was borne from AIDS’ sorrow, anger, and community, it is a pleasure to get to also see a new film, Still Around, that both looks at the legacy of AIDS, and reminds us that it is a living, breathing phenomenon of our now.
The film links fifteen original, diverse shorts that remind us—without the safety and nostalgia of distance—how AIDS activism (and NQC) linked a fierce, radical, experimental, and beautiful cultural production with sharp political commentary and profound personal expression.