On August 27, 2014 I gave a live “talk” at the Noise Summer Seminar in Utrecht. If you weren’t in the room, you might not understand why I call it a “talk.” I have been experimenting with academic talks for quite awhile and in a variety of places, transforming them to performances that manifest many of my recent feminist scholarly and political interests in embodied/digital spaces and pedagogy, participation/consumption and media praxis, affect/cognition/distraction and feminist goals, and a dispersal of power/control/ feelings both online and off. The “talk” was a multi-media show where competing tracks of information and action produced a barrage—my speaking voice, my moving body, the engaged bodies of my audience, media playing, and instructions to interact digitally in real-time at the same-time—where at least some of the intended take-away was different from a usual “talk”: feelings about/during the “talk” over a list of points, concepts, or completed ideas enumerated therein. The “talk” itself was also an experiment; but typically, talks report the results of completed (and successful) experiments. Given these upendings of many of the set scripts and conventions of the academic “talk,” it should come as no surprise that vulnerability, disorientation, and even anger were affective states that defined the event, even more so than might be usual, and certainly, atypically, as its primary “take home.”
Of course, every talk is an “event,” and every event is an “entanglement” of technology, humanity, representation, and affect. But this talk was the first “ev-ent-anglement” because I attempted to use a simple web-based technology (another WordPress site with plug-ins developed by my technologist Risa Goodman) to both activate and record action, interaction, feelings, and ideas from all players (speaker and audience, online and off) both in synchronous and asynchronous encounters.
Everything found there—my six blog posts, a PDF and power point of my talk, approximately 50 tweets made during and after the event from in the room and the world at large, about 20 instagram images produced similarly, and 19 “comments” which are actually word-based contributions that often also contain videos and links, these penned primarily by people off-site—is the ev-ent-anglement #1, an experiment in digital embodied collective feminist media praxis.
The now completed “talk,” the larger on/offline “event,” and their “ev-en-tanglement” are an experiment that is both a success and a failure. And here, where we are not embodied together, where there are only cold screens and words between us, I can at last begin to report, in lists, the “take home” strengths and weaknesses of this first iteration:
- “Talks” begin and end in a room over a set period of time. But there is rarely the need or desire for them to continue as some sort of producing-community. Their stickiness derives in real-time from the speaker’s charisma, the quality and/or clarity of her ideas, and connections that live between people in any room. Bu this “talk” hoped people would stay connected to it, and continue to participate even once the “event” was over. It is hard to produce this level of commitment and participation to events that are both the “property” of the speaker and which are understood to have a fixed duration and structuring power relations (this is why Anne Balsamo and I decided to create our feminist technology community, FemTechNet, using the framework of a “class”: it binds people together in an ongoing, committed set of relations over a rather lengthy time period). But this question of producing a framework that helps to continue commitment and interaction is of course also a man problematic of activism (what to do after the march…)
- Because this was a “talk” and I was the “speaker” and a “teacher,” I gave the attendees a “script” in which I requested them to post twice. But because I am a professor and they are students, traditional power dynamics maintained even as I was attempting to upend them (in parts). This “requirement” had one effect of getting participants to engage but it also made them feel over-controlled; like their participation wasn’t voluntary. This balance between prescribed and free interaction is hard to nuance in a public “talk” where who I am, what I want, what I am owed, and who we are together is weak, temporary, and not commonly noted in the first place
- I traded affect for content—disorientation, distraction, confusion, uncertainty, creativity, play—but my content is not expendable and matters to me (it’s found in the paper, part of the ev-ent-anglement). This trade was part of a larger set of trade-offs that were the content of my talk (thus I was attempting to “teach” through affect or praxis over cognition and theory
- It is not clear to me whether tweets, instragrams or words can effectively capture “affect,” a critical component of any “entanglement,” that is unless participants are willing to get creative, personal, private, and experimental themselves, all of these being modes that are rarely shared in an academic context because they make human students vulnerable
- However, something (like affect and ideas and images and the very technologies that produce, record and link these) is captured here, and it’s a lot more than what is typically recorded in a “talk” (if anything is recorded at all; most “events” are ephemeral, although that is probably not true at all today): the intentional contributions of all participants willing to engage
- the ev-ent-anglement—as a technological cut/paste and bleed— itself produces collages, montages, quilts, through the algorithms of the several sites it is built from. There are beautiful, complex, weird, surprising and unintended affects and effects which are much closer to an entanglement than a “talk” as this website pulls together a great variety of fragments from a diverse collective or participants
- the ev-ent-anglement is affect as praxis and I prefer praxis to “theory”
- the ev-ent-anglement is collectivity in practice and I prefer this to private engagements
- the ev-en-tangement is distraction in practice, allowing us to attend to the positive and negative affordances of this all-to -common state
- the ev-ent-anglement is action and production in practice, allowing us to consider making as a form of learning
- the ev-ent-anglement succeeded in promoting vulnerability, and some undoing of typical power relations, without anyone getting hurt (although there was some expressed concern, primarily through tweets, that my power point slide of images of self-cutting made some people in the room “feel uncomfortable“)
- the ev-ent-anglement rather successfully linked off and online spaces, producing a momentary “community” that had lot of intellectual and creative firepower
- how to do more (and better) with this is an open question with which I conclude this wrap up.