July 10, 2014
In the conclusion of my conclusion to Ada’s Special Issue on Queer Feminist Media Praxis, “It’s Our Collective, Principled Making that Matter Most,” I write:
AIDS activist video and New Queer Cinema are celebrating, respectively, their twenty-five and twenty year anniversaries, and I am connected, as a media maker and theorist to both traditions. As someone who participated in these earlier instances of feminist/queer media praxis (if not revolution), I first affirm that they were each deeply technological; we were always abetted by media, even if this was not yet digital in nature. And, in the living and doing—just as defines our work today—these “movements” (which were, at the time, something closer to linked moments of making; a movement tends to be found retrospectively), felt (as did the Sixties in its living and doing?) enormously small, fleeting, difficult, complex, impossible to render and realize and utterly wonderful and productive.
In my experience, the making and living of alternative, counter or radical culture, through media praxis, does not feel fully revolutionary in its own time because each act of making is too small, unstable, marginal, and precarious; the dominant culture, and its media praxis, looms large, solid, and powerful. And yet, each of these risky acts makes not just media that lasts for future study (and sometimes consolidation as a movement) but small, beautiful, fleeting instants of potential—”revolutionary-instants”—that we recognize and celebrate mostly in their doing and living, and of course, mourn in their immediate passing (only then, sometimes, to also reify in their later study and consolidation).
And, when I make feminist queer media praxis with others today (like this issue here and this writing in this issue), just as was true in the recent past, my work continues to feel incredibly small, local, marginal, frustrating, incidental and sometimes or even often emancipatory in the instants that are the instances of its more radical, collective, visionary doing and making. Brown continues about times better for feminist revolution:
When poetry becomes political, when politics becomes erotic, when thinking is de-commodified and comes to feel as essential to life as food and shelter, not only do ordinary fields of activity become libidinally charged, but this desublimated condition itself betokens (however illusorily) an emancipated world to come.
I know that there have been moments, and actions, and movements in the past where that feeling of revolution feels closer to hand and body than it can today with both technology and capitalism standing between us and nearly everything that we might want or imagine. But instances of essential, libidinal emancipation can be lived, felt, and practiced in our (digital) world structured as it is ever more deeply by capital, in the sparks of political and intellectual attraction, action, and energy we can read (about) here, in instants of ethical interaction that first built what you read here, and in your potential to produce ethical interactions through your own digital engagement with this material. A revolution; not in the least! But queer feminist media praxis that marks that there are alternatives through our collective, principled making, without doubt.
See what I’m talking about here: essays by Aristea Fotopoulou, Kate O’Riordan, Tully Barnett, Megan Bigelow, Dayna McLeod, Jasmine Rault, T.L. Cowan, Karin Hansson, Rachel Alpha, Johnston Hurst, Olu Jenzen, Irmi Karl, Susana Loza, Lusike Lynete Mukhongo, Darnell Moore, Monica J. Casper, Michelle Moravec, Lindsey O’Connor, Noopur Raval, Roxanne Samer, Jenny Sundén, and Joanna Zylinska.
Please see my conversation with Ted Kerr, Programs Manager at Visual AIDS, recently published at Cineaste. Initially asked to discuss Dallas Buyer’s Club we felt we needed to take a lengthier look at the much broader phenomenon of retrospective looking at AIDS fueled by home movie images of the crisis, often shot by AIDS video activists like myself. In the piece we suggest that “the past, signified by the home movies of AIDS, in particular, has many cultural functions, and just as many cultural formations. We begin with Matthew McConaughey’s butt (where else!), and use it as our entry into a lengthy discussion of Dallas Buyers Club, as well as nearly a score of past and present alternative AIDS videos that also broker in activist made home-movie-like images of a crisis past—Like a Prayer (DIVA TV, 1989), Keep Your Laws Off My Body (Catherine Saalfield, Zoe Leonard, 1990), Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (Mark Rappaport, 1992), Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993), Silverlake Life (Peter Friedman, Tom Joslin, 1993), Video Remains (Alexandra Juhasz, 2005), Sex Positive (Daryl Wein, 2008), How to Survive a Plague (2012), Heart Breaks Open (William Maria Rain, 2011), Liberaceón (Chris Vargas, 2011), Sex in an Epidemic (Jean Carlomusto, 2011), We Were Here (David Weissman, 2011), When Did you Figure Out You had AIDS (Vincent Chevalier, 2011), United in Anger (Jim Hubbard, 2012), Untitled (Jim Hodges, Carlos Marques da Cruz, Encke King, 2012), Bumming Cigarettes (Tiona McClodden, 2012), he said (Irwin Swirnoff, 2013), and the poster campaign Your Nostalgia is Killing Me (Vincent Chevalier with Ian Bradley-Perrin, 2013). With Philomena (Stephen Frears, 2013), we return our conversation to more conventional fare before concluding our thoughts upon so many home video returns.”
“Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me” (2013), a poster designed for posterVIRUS by Vincent Chevalier and Ian Bradley-Perrin
November 22, 2013
The new issue of Jump Cut (55, Fall 2013) is hot off the presses, and as always, it is bursting with great scholarly work on any number of issues near and dear to my heart: labor, third cinema, new queer cinema (by my compatriot, Roxanne Samer), feminist porn (by the delightful, Erica Rand), independent and experimental media (with an essay on Amateur Media by the always-on-the-money Patricia Zimmerman), and a statement on “The War on/in Higher Education” by the journal’s luminary editors (that thoughtfully addresses MOOCs, and other issues, a theme I will attend to in my upcoming post on my recent participation at the MWHEC meetings on this very topic.)
And that’s just my tip of the iceberg; there’s thirty or more essays to find and enjoy there!
Of course, while you’re checking it out, I do hope you’ll also spend some time with the special section I co-authored with Marty Fink, David Oscar Harvey and Bishnu Gosh on contemporary HIV/AIDS Activist Media. Our shared effort looks to links and disturbances across time, generation, place, region, and activist representational practices and media over the lengthy and always changing history of AIDS activist media. My piece, “Acts of Signification Survival,” focuses on both the spate of recent documentaries by my peers about AIDS activism’s past, and what their online life tells us more generally about activist media within digital culture. I write: “it is my belief that digital media brings in new concerns and different cycles. For one, in regards to the documentaries under consideration, the digital allows for what might seem an over-abundance of digital discourse and debate about what also can be perceived as a torrent of images and discourse that have as their subject our past fights for visibility. This produces a particularly clumsy incongruity: these many instances of visibility (the docs and their digital discussion) sit precariously near the constant specter of a diminishment of perceptibility.”
October 6, 2013
No matter how you count it, a lot of people contributed to this daunting, humbling, and ultimately victorious effort (and are now sharing the above-depicted relief and joy): hundreds of thousands of people helped (149,702 signed the Change.org petition), multitudes marched, protested, made buttons and artwork, hundreds worked tirelessly behind the scenes to locate or create press …
I could go on and on. And there’s good reason to do so: change occurs when people make it, piece by piece, little and big, and it’s not just crucial to name this to thank them (although that is important, and I’m doing a bit of that here), but to understand how successful organizing works. Here’s my friend and comrade, Matias Viegener, on our local TV station. It took many of us many days to get this small, and almost silly end result. (At the time, we wondered if it was worth it; my sister, Antonia, contributed a lot towards what ended up being seen as only this one segment)
It truly was a family, and also a community affair. A core group of Canadians (the Canadian “A team,” led by friend and fellow professor, Justin Podur, sister Cecelia Greyson, other family members and close friends, like Elle Flanders) was joined by scores of Canadian and international friends, colleagues, activists, and comrades. Very few of us had ever worked on a political campaign of this sort—life and death, international intrigue (although one of the behind the scenes projects was to get in contact with people who had; many of us contacted friends, and friends of friends, who worked at the State Department, consulates around the world, Amnesty International; man, you wouldn’t imagine the kinds of conversations film critic, B. Ruby Rich was having off the record). However, most of us who lent a hand, big or small, knew of either John or Tarek through earlier shared projects of activism and cultural politics (John programmed my first AIDS activist video into his seminal collection, Video Against AIDS, made in 1989 for Video Data Bank). With hind sight (given that it worked), it was stunning, and deeply moving, and just plain awe-inspiring, really, each day to see the collective knowledge, skills, and power of this diverse, eclectic, and ragamuffin group go at it, wherever we were, however we could:
But to be honest, there was also something deeply painful, knowing each day, and after every act by which we used all of our highly dispersed and cunningly eccentric cultural capital (and its associated real-world political power) that there were so many others in that very prison, or elsewhere in another prison, who do not and will not ever have such powerful, connected, capable friends and allies; their crimes no more real, their imprisonment no less unjust …
Their less heard stories, and unknown humiliations, will always haunt my memories of these many days and actions.
After much celebration, and its associated sadness, fear, and introspection, I’ll also continue to think about how both my queer/ documentary/activist/scholarly film community and our use of social media played an impotant, complex, and contributing role to this highly successful effort, given that this is something I study, engage in, and often criticize. This is where my subtitle comes in. In the last days of the effort, I was working closely with Jonathan Kahana, Shannon Kelley (from the UCLA Film Archive), and many other film profs, curators, programmers (like Jenni Olson and KP Pepe), to organize a Day of International Screenings for John and Tarek. We decided to organize on Facebook (because it was there, and easy, and so many of us had met on it, even though I have quite recently written about the most progressive act being LEAVING Facebook and other corporate-owned platforms that we get for free but that limit our abilities in their very structures). Within a day of setting up a Group we had over 100 members, and Matt Soar, Communications Prof. at Concordia College (who I met in real-time during this effort online) had designed the poster below for our effort (Chris Durrant, Out Twin Cities Film Festival Director, made the first effort within just a few short hours of the group’s formation):
I felt both really humbled and really frustrated working on this effort via Facebook. Online, via Facebook, we moved this idea so quickly, so many people came on board, the poster got made in what felt like minutes, and yet, this self-same platform has written into its core structures, and accepted uses, that some significant majority of the people who joined did so to “like” the group. Hear me, these friends were doing nothing wrong by joining; they were following Facebook’s logic of seeing, spreading, liking, and knowing. But this made me prickle because I found it harder to use Facebook towards the deeper, harder, more intense and labor-intensive norms of the very social justice organizing that had brought me and others to John, Tarek, and each other, and that were what was most needed for the effort I was working on. To make global screenings occur within about 10 days, what we most needed was for people to DO THINGS IN THE WORLD (find a room, get a copy of a film by John, invite a speaker, get bodies to that room). Just as was true for the Arab Spring, social media connected us, spread the word, and gave us an instantaneous and satisfying feeling of support and community, but good old fashioned community built from deep relationships formed and cemented in real places and over long term efforts was what finally supplied the muscle, the meaning, and the deep, take away truth of this awesome effort: Tarek and John are free because we (like they) can make the change we need by working with each other every day, in the places we live, and work, and love. How we can sustain this work, how we can again make local connections move nations, how we can use dominant/corporate social media forms as well as our own networks and technologies to make the world we want, these will be the questions I will continue to ask after this much-deserved party ends.
We’re all (hello, Sussex), now, everywhere here (on the Internet), aren’t we? Undoubtedly, scholars made lots of words before now, but they couldn’t show it all to you like a purge; they couldn’t cart it around, showing it again and again; it didn’t return, quite like this, to either bite you in the ass, or say it better than one ever could, even though of course, oddly, it was oneself who has said it once before.
By moving these words to video and text, never to be on paper, not to be linear, and also always available on the Internet, I establish, in form, one answer to how the affordances of both the digital and the room, the staying and the going, affect our feminist and queer possibilities. For, of course, I’ve flown to England; there’s something we want, or prefer, or need from the body, even as she also sits, and writes, and speaks, and shares so abundantly at home in the digital. Thus, I return and loop back to the leaving and the staying, the making, taking, foresaking and staking. Situated and floating, flying even, I will answer your three questions in long form (but only in person), but here first in short:
- How does imagining queer & feminist lives and futures link with social media and other digital media practices? … Badly
- How can we understand the interconnections between radical art practices and cyberfeminisms? We must leave and ever more deeply embed.
- What is the role of science and technology more widely in the ways social practices and cultural identities are shaping today?
We must engage in Techno feminism, a collaborative, goal-oriented, placed, critical self-expression online, and also in Presumptive feminism, one that always assumes that feminism counts and that feminists speak. (these are from a longer list of online feminisms from my article on the Online Feminist Cyber-closet).
I suggest that we must strive to make a concerted effort to remember something quickly becoming lost: that is, to dare to think just past the digital, to engage ever so slightly beyond representation, and to struggle to look to and reoccupy our bodies and lived spaces. So: hello Sussex! Not to fear, I will be asking you to move online soon enough …
April 21, 2013
I learned today on Facebook that Ava DuVernay won the Tribeca Film Institute’s Inaugural Heineken Affinity Award. Kudos! Her wonderful films and ambitious African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, are much-deserving of this support. Understand: her work, her films, her prize-winning is not what I am against. Prizes like this help independent cinema. So, as a producer myself of two African-American indie features, I say: the more prizes the merrier!
I write, instead, against the social-media based gamification of this award whereby the many, equally deserving African-American filmmakers also up for this prize (Andrew Dosunmu, Cheryl Dunye, Nelson George, Kahlil Joseph, Victoria Mahoney, Terence Nance, Akosua Adoma Owuso, Yvonne Welbon, and Ross Williams) were asked to mobilize their (my) cultural community, daily, by having us vote for them, for what seemed like an eternity. But, the makers, supporters, scholars, and perhaps even fans of independent black cinema are a small, and devoted subculture; one in which I am proud to play an active part. We know each other, help each other out, and are in political and personal support of the project, writ-large, of African American visibility, voice, and complex and sophisticated expressive culture. All the influential artists on this list get their work made, watched, financed, written about, taught, and distributed largely within a committed cultural milieu founded within a politics and practice of the sharing of resources, support, community, and artistic vision. This is a community of care, mostly working outside of dominant institutional support; and (I know), to get indie black films made, people support each other!
It pained me more than I wish to express that I had to vote for my “favorite” between friends, respected colleagues, family, and artists I admire and support in other ways. This popularity mentality, this gamification of an intimate cultural sphere, has nothing to do with my commitments to this project, nor that of the people who were lucky enough to be its potential beneficiaries. My friends and colleagues were forced to compete against each other, rather than engage in the supportive, communal, politically-motivated practices that define black independent cinema. Of course, for a measly $20K, Heineken got more information about the buying habits, and other likes, of this influential community then can be easily quantified. I knew I gave this for free every time I voted. Which, I will also admit, I did on many occasions (although I was and am against it), in the name of my friends, their amazing work, and the possibility of supporting a project from this unstoppable community, albeit one always strapped for cash.
March 9, 2013
In his blog here, “Generations,” for SCMS, Chuck Kleinhans said that at his first SCS meeting in the mid-70s “the meeting had two concurrent sessions: the Film Historians on one floor and everything else below.” History still has a big place at SCMS, albeit more dispersed, but I, too, heard and thought about it a great deal since my arrival on Wednesday. At the panel “Queer Asian Affairs,” Bliss Cua Lim used images of Filipino ghostly Aswangs to focus our attention on the cohabiting queer modernities of the past and present, while Fiona Lee attended to spectral communists made visible in the present nation/time of Malaysia: “The nation is a mistranslation of time as space.” In the panel “The Remediation of Race,” Patty Ahn, too, felt the tug of ghosts, albeit it in the more ephemeral way that YouTube must repurpose the Kim Sisters, and everything else, without any content other than the “community” that posts and watches.
Meanwhile, Alexander Cho tried to catch a glimmer of the past in Tumblr’s waterfall of gifs of mixed-raced individuals by thinking through loops and refrains.: “the currency is image and time and repetition.” During the Q and A, I asked us to think about loops and shifts as well: a repeat and a slight change or maybe a Glitch (and here a shout out to the great Glitch panel and Laura Mark’s illuminating use of the rug to help us see, in the “Arab Glitch,” the mess and beauty of slight variation and change).
The “community” that can be found, or made (but not usually mobilized), by attending to images of and from our past was a concern at the thoughtful and loving panel, “Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied at 25.” Racquel Gates and Rhea Combs helped us see some possible hauntings of Riggs’ influence in the contemporary media forms of artists as diverse as Byron Hurt, Rodney Evans, or Frank Ocean. E. Patrick Johnson spoke about making past films present to our students; andCornelius Moore and Vivian Kleiman reminded us of the contexts in which Riggs’ powerful films were made. Kleiman explained that Riggs had made Tongues Untied to show “in three bars”: places where black gay men met at the time, one in San Francisco, one in Oakland, and one in DC. Meanwhile, Moore, who is Riggs’ distributor at Third World Newsreel, told us that a complete edition of Riggs’ works was newly available online. During, and after the panel, he a I considered what gets done when people watch activist films alone on their computers, and not in the bars and rooms and other co-inhabited places where they were intended to be seen and used (as Combs informed us was Riggs’ primary motivation for his videomaking: to be used by organizations, businessmen, students, teachers).
The gif(t) of past images on the internet is a loop and a shift that may lead to a flicker of remembrance, or a charge or recognition, but as I’ve often worried, it’s hard to make a hard stop: to listen, to talk, to love, and act if things are lost in Tumblrs’ endless present.
In the torrent, we look to the past because it feels like it might better stick. This certainly seems to be the thrust of the “New Video Studies” that was the subject of the panel, “Video Studies.” Most of the young scholars on the panel, and in the room, are studying the material and other traces of a tawdry object lost to their childhood—the tacky VHS tape, and its many cultural manifestations—that Charles Acland so generously shook and rattled for us.
And yet it was just this nostalgic, affective, and inspiring freeing of the past that was what David Oscar Harvey so boldly tried to unmake in our Unauthorized Conversation about HIV/AIDS held yesterday on a platform near the Registration area. Attending to the past of AIDS leaves us with hard-won words and images that are not quite descriptive of our experience today. This is never to say that we can’t and don’t learn from the past—this is our job as scholars and teachers (please see all the work I’ve cited above)—but Harvey insists (at least for us activist academics) that there is another, harder job still: to also keep us attentive to the present, ever more lost as it seems to be in a wash of glitchy gifs of the just-not-now and just-not-exactly-again-or-then. Marty Fink reminded us that academic conferences are one of the few places where the then and now (the older and younger; past and present ideas and images) can cohabit lived space, explaining her particular sadness at an opportunity lost (and then more powerful regained, in part) when our inter-generational workshop on the Silence of AIDS was not selected by the programming committee and therefore she (and we) were not gifted the opportunity, this time, to have dialogue with Tom Waugh, Gregg Bordowitz and Bishnu Gosh.
March 7, 2013
I’ve been asked to blog during the SCMS conference on their website. I think it may be closed to non-members, so here’s what I wrote there.
The memorial event last night for Alex Doty was unlike anything I’ve ever attended at SCMS (or any other conference for that matter). Lovingly arranged and choreographed by this year’s Queer Caucus officers (Jen Malkowski, Patty Ahn and Julia Himberg) and as equally lovingly attended by a great many friends, colleagues, and fans of Doty, the affair was at once a vibrant, communal celebration of a particular man and scholar as well as serving as a reminder of the role of intellectual community, in this case the SCMS Queer Caucus (of which Doty was a founding member). Let me start with the man, and end with the caucus, a provocation (or two), and an invitation.
There were six beautiful, careful presentations from the stage and a cocktail party after. In the first version of this post that just got eaten by my computer, I carefully detailed each one’s loving remarks and how they built the presence of a respected, treasured, seminal member of the SCMS community. From SCMS President, Chris Holmlund’s detailed tracing of the history of the Queer Caucus itself, exactingly drawn through a treasure trove of documents from the Society’s past (located by Michael Metzger), to Corey Creekmur’s evocation of Doty as “not a person but an event,” to Kara Keeling’s anecdote about reading Making Things Perfectly Queer as a grad student and learning there the “things I already knew but did not know why I knew these things,” or Taylor Cole Miller explaining how his teaching always accounts for a queering of popular culture, for all students and across creative exercises because of an approach he learned from Doty’s writing, or Sarah Sinwell’s reminder that so many in the room had used Doty’s quote about a “queer reading” not being “alternative, or wishful thinking, or reading into things too much.” The take away was both a brave, fun, dedicated intellectual, teacher and friend who had the courage to work with others to found a sub-field based upon how he lived in the world, and in the world of media, and also a tender community of people who know each other in a variety of ways: from conferences, caucuses, and lectures, to the many words we write and share over a career.
And listening to the care by which these colleagues drew this man and his work, and seeing the care by which the organizers had produced the event, I saw that part of what the Queer Caucus (and Alex Doty, and so many more of us) have produced is the place for love, or respect, and the personal, within professional contexts: and this has always been at the heart of our theoretical and political project as feminists (and I’d warrant many of the other Caucuses share this project). The Alexander Doty Queer Mentoring Program of the Caucus is one example of this practice, as is Doty’s writing and teaching. And yet, as scholars, we so rarely publicly express the fondness, and other feelings, we have for our colleagues: how their work moves us. I thought to myself, I bet Alex didn’t know this—that we all knew him in one way or another, and respected him, and understood (or wanted to understand) his part in our own history as intellectuals and activists—because we so rarely tell each other: I used you in a paper, or I taught you in a class, or your words saved me.
And then, I wondered, too, about those who didn’t know Alex, who weren’t at the memorial, and weren’t members of our Caucus, and didn’t read his books or attend his lectures … even once. Man did you miss something and someone! Sean Griffin said of Alex how he always managed to fashion both camaraderie and a diva moment, producing an “I’m fabulous and you are all going to come with me” sort of presence wherever he was at work. But if you didn’t track through SCMS seeing the faces I have come to know, again and again, given, as you might not be—queer—maybe you didn’t know this … So, I thought of the others Caucuses, and wondered if love and anger and pride was in their hearts and history, and if they might have an event like this someday, as sad as that may be.
And that leads me to my provocation, and my title, which points to the centers of centers and the margins of margins in the making of fields and communities, and sub-fields and their communities. Are we queers central to this field? Do you know us and our work? Do I know your work and caucus? Let’s try to go to another sub-field’s meeting or panel at this conference, and meet the Alex Doty we wouldn’t necessarily circulate around by way of affinity. And what’s more, let’s tell a colleague or friend that their ideas move us, so that we can mark our love for what Griffin called “the concept” (our work) as well as the person, and so that the person can know we cherish their concepts while we are together still.
And finally, an invitation in kind: tomorrow, Friday, March 8, I will be participating in an “Unauthorized Conversation” about HIV/AIDS and Media Studies, in the Book Exhibit from 11-1. With my friends, colleagues, and AIDS comrades in arms, Marty Fink and David Oscar Harvey, we will engage in a conversation about many queer things, including some of the questions I asked above: about the history and politics of sub-field production and maintenance given the growth of the larger field. You don’t have to be queer to know about AIDS, or to care about its place in Media Studies. We’d love to have you as part of the conversation.
“How can we understand this moment of ‘AIDS Crisis Revisitation’, exemplified by the success of films like United in Anger and How to Survive a Plague. Video artist, activist, and academic Alexandra Juhasz provides some insight.
Making and thinking about AIDS activist video since the mid 80’s, Juhasz coined the term “Queer Archive Activism”. In this first of two blog post Visual AIDS interviews her about her term and in the next post we flesh how Queer Archive Activism works in the world. Visit Alexandra Juhasz’s website.
Visual AIDS: Can you tell me about your phrase Queer Archive Activism? What does it mean? Where did it come from?
see my answers on Visual AIDS’ website!
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).”