Wrapping Up Ev-ent-anglement 1

September 2, 2014

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.”

IMG_1873 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.

The audience as I saw them in the ev-ent-angement
The audience as I saw them in the ev-ent-anglement

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.

From Ingrid Reyberg
From Ingrid Reyberg

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.
Alanna Thain's #cut/paste+bleed
Alanna Thain’s #cut/paste+bleed

#Ev-ent-anglement #1 will occur here on August 26-August 30.

This #ev-ent-anglement is an experiment (in beta; quite Frankenstinian, really) in a digital and embodied collective, feminist, media praxis: a feminist project of making, sharing, using, and learning in embodied digital spaces. You are invited to participate by #Cutting/Pasting+Bleeding from digital fragments of yourself as you deem relevant to the larger entanglement: your feelings, knowledge, commitments, and questions.

Together we will author an intra-active collection of digital objects (comments/writing, tweets, photos, urls) in conversation with Alexandra Juhasz’s talk (To Perform a Theory of Feminist Digital Praxis) and associated Power Point, and also with each others entangled fragments.

A “How To” script for your participation is provided. It is requested that you participate, at a minimum, twice, during the time of the #ev-ent-anglement:

  • Use #eventanglement on Twitter and Instagram
  • Write as you wish in the comment boxes (not just “comments,” please)

The talk and power point will be presented live, to be synchronously and communally entangled with, on August 27, from 9-10:45 (CEST), to a group of approximately 50 graduate students and faculty in Gender and Media Studies at the University of Utrecht who are attending the Noise European Summer School in Women’s Studies from Multicultural and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. The focus for 2014 is “Political Aesthetics and Feminist Theory: Media, Art and Affect.” You can join the synchronous group on the #ev-ent-anglement, of course, or contribute asynchronously over the four days that it is live on the Internet.

The talk and #ev-ent-anglement are in conversation with imperatives raised in three assigned readings for the seminar:

  • About “cutting well,” as directed by Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska in Life After New Media (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012): Chapter 1 “Mediation and the Vitality of Media” and chapter 3 “Cut! The Imperative of Photographic Mediation.” They also ask: “Can we think of a way of ‘doing media studies’ that is not just a form of ‘media analysis’ and that is simultaneously critical and creative?” Life After New Media – Chs. 1+3.0135c.arc
  • About Robyn Weigman’s call to “Do Justice With Objects” particularly in Women’s and other disciplines of “Identity” Studies: Object Lessons (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 1-90 (this is too long to embed here, email me for PDF)
  • About my own practices of montage, or cutting, in histories and theories of feminist, queer and AIDS activist media. Alexandra Juhasz “Video Remains, Nostalgia, Technology and Queer Archive Activism,” GLQ 12.2 (2006): 319-328. Video Remains, GLQ

Certainly, reading these essays would allow you to be better prepared to create or find quality fragments to contribute to the #ev-ent-anglement. My performative précis introduces the ideas of the talk in brief, as well.

images

Last week, I was sitting with a dear old friend on a shady deck. We were enjoying our summer vacation at his family’s beach house. Conversation turned to Israel/Gaza, and we commenced a now-too-familiar dance: judiciously floating tidbits of sentiment to mark each others position. Once we understood that we were comrades (who knew?!) we began ardently discussing the politics of both the Middle East and Facebook: how we were performing this same dance of timid sentiment in the space Facebook (not wanting to offend family and friends, not wanting to cause stupid flame wars, and in my case, as an American academic, not wanting negative ramifications at work). I suggested to him that perhaps, things being as bad as they were becoming, we did not have the moral ground any longer to be silent, or hidden (on Facebook) even if there would be real discomfort caused by revealing our personal positions.

Let me mark my position now, clearly, before I explain my suggestion that we take these conversation to and from Facebook:

  • Today’s Position: I am a leftist, progressive or radical artist and intellectual of Jewish lineage who condemns the violence occurring in the Middle East. I support BDS and am anti-Zionist for reasons of personal history, religious, moral, and political philosophy and belief. I am not anti-semitic and love and respect many people who are Israelis. I also love and respect many Palestinians. My father is a Holocaust survivor, and his family (all survivors, obviously) actively chose to come to the US after WWII for many of the reasons that contribute to my own understandings of this complex issue. Some of my dearest friends, family, and respected colleagues do not share my position. My position is that I respect their positions and hope they do mine.

After our discussion on the porch, I took my own advise and began to judiciously like posts on Facebook that marked the ideas and images that supported my position. I also carefully read the posts and links of Facebook friends who held different positions. I did not interact in conversation on Facebook with these friends and family whose contrary links I followed and read because I think comment culture is almost always degenerate and is usually not productive, and also because I didn’t want to become involved in a flame war with a friend of my friend in my friend’s comment stream. At this stage, I felt like Facebook fragments of my position and those of my friends were consolidating while maintaining carefully drawn lines of respect for difference of opinion.

However, as things worsened, I grew ever more bold. I felt it was my moral position to do so as an American Jew. After much internal deliberation (as much as I’ve put into authoring this blog post), I posted a photo of myself on Facebook taken at a protest (led by Jewish Voices for Peace and American Muslims for Palestine) where I marked my position by lying down, playing the role of one dead Palestinian child. I added a caption for further clarity.

One Jew for Peace: Me.

One Jew for Peace: Me. (Photo by Sheila Pinkel)

I got a lot of likes and even some re-posts. This felt good: in a small way like the solidarity I felt at the protest the day before. But I still worried about hurting my friends and family who hold other positions, and even more so about being properly heard and understood.

While the commonly held understanding of the Internet, and particularly social media, as echo chamber helps to define the situation I describe (because in these spaces we exert real energy to understand, refine, share, and amplify our own position), my current experiences nuance this understanding because of the real shades of difference, and actually care, that are occurring within such echoes. On Facebook, Jews within one family or friendship or intellectual cohort (and our friends and allies) sit in unfathomably close quarters as we hold, and represent, different views on this catastrophe. If we are American Jews—on Facebook, online, and in our communities—our thoughtful conversation and thinking and action about the current war can play a critical part in its outcome. I think we are all aware of this responsibility and power, which has produced our care but which must now inspire other actions.

So, here’s where my charge to leave and return to Facebook comes in. My work on Internet culture consistently returns to a set of criticisms that I want to share here:

  • YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the like, work in the vernacular of the slogan. Things move best, and are therefore seen and considered, when they are easy to digest, “spread,” and understand. While this may well mark a position, it is only that–a mark. For things as complex, important, and deadly as a war, or a friendship, or one’s workplace and professional safety, we need harder, deeper, lengthier conversation or analysis that provides context and interaction. This can happen via many technologies and in other places besides (and also including) the Internet: on the phone, in person, and in lengthier formats like essays, lectures, and art.
  • Activism that happens only on the Internet–like posting, reading, liking, and linking on Facebook–is not without use or value (for movements or individuals) but is proto-political, and needs to be followed up (for things of real consequence, like a war) with engagements in the world (of media): like protests, conversations, and even media secession. In an essay on Feminist Online Activism I wrote:
“Activist digital activities need to create linked projects of secession. It is in the leaving that our feminist digital activism truly begins. Activist digital research/teaching/organizing/writing must dare to fall outside of representation. This is not to say that the Internet is not a site for our feminist digital activism, but only when linked, not to another kitty, but to a place, a person, a demand, and an ethical practice of being together.”
So where do we go, you might ask. In an earlier blog post here about the successful effort to free Tarek Loubani and John Greyson, I end by reflecting upon how to build and sustain linked digital and earthly movements for social change:
“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.”
I continue to ask and challenge myself and others to try to be together in the face of this horrible crisis by daring to engage beyond (if also through) media: to have hard but respectful conversations online and off (face-to-face interactions, teach-ins, protests); to speak and also listen; to be willing to be enraged, saddened and also moved (to change one’s mind or actions or commitments). Dare to take time and space in the world, with each other. Ask a friend to forward you an essay or video they think is of value, read it, and then make the time to talk together, or teach it, or make art or protest in response. Organize at work, or within community settings, or at school to make a plan of action that is responsive to your location. I promise you, from experience, engaging and acting in the world, together, feels productive, generative and empowering on a human level, but it is also what generates the possibility of social change.
One Jew for Peace, me, moving in and past representation

Dare to move in and past representation

If you are reading this on my blog, Facebook, or Twitter, I ask you not (only) to comment, but rather to dare to take the time and make the space to engage in the world with others.

My Visual Research Methods course has ended, and as ever, my grad students in a range of programs at CGU have done inspiring and inventive work to wrap up this class which pushes traditional Humanities grad students to roll up their sleeves, work with their hands, imagine new audiences and formats, and think about academic labor and standards using new rubrics.

This year, our assigned readings—in Nick Mirzoeff’s Visual Culture Reader, the Debates in the Digital Humanities Reader, and two books about the ongoing and ever-widening Center for Digital Storytelling’s project—linked as they were to an ever more frightening and quickly shifting job market for graduate students, seemed to have helped push this batch of students to do some remarkably innovative digital scholarship, for their final work, thinking about the role of digital storytelling as both a subject and method for scholarly output.

I hope you’ll take a peek at these compelling projects:

  • A “nod to Lambert, but in a very deliberate style that was anti-Lambert (no voice-over, no clean or clearly announced thesis) … also an attempt to have this video be a moment of reflection, a meditation of sorts on friendship,” AIDS, place, and memory (from a PhD student in religion)
  • a digital story, made collaboratively with the maker’s high school students to create an “affective space” much like that previously “carved out through the epistle allowing women, a group previously written out of agency to write/right wrongs through new narratives in much the same way that digital storytelling empowers its creator. Telling my story, working delicately against and with the grain of rhetorical confines and the explosively complex element of my students’ personhoods demanded the kind of suturing of disparate intentions so pleasurable to read in the 18thC epistolary novels” (from a PhD student in English, also a High School English teacher)
  • A video focused upon building “community  around and for people dealing with mental illness, who are working to cope with their symptoms in the midst of the exceptional stress of grad school life. My hope is to create a digital story telling circle that will do just that.” (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • An argument for the storytelling power of Instagram (so against the Lambert idea that the Internet produces fragments) (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #ANA on YouTube and Instragram as digital stories (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #Carol Corps in light of Digital Storytelling (by a Master’s Student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of social media and digital storytelling through three voices of a vegan and animal lover (by a Masters student in Cultural Studies)
  • A work on and as digital storytelling about an artist and a friendship (by a PhD student in English)
  • A digital story that draws the story of YouTube drawing stories (by a PhD student in History)
  • An analysis of how the academy is embracing digital storytelling as research method (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A digital story using “a personal narrative of my memories of my aunt’s illness and how I experienced the confusion of coming to terms with her diagnosis as HIV positive. I believe personal narratives such as this are missing from outreach efforts that have aimed to target the Black community in order to bring awareness of the high rates within the community.” (by a Master’s student in Applied Women’s Studies)

As part of the larger DOCC 2013 effort, I hosted a dialogue between Professors Radhika Gajjala and Sharon Irish—two devoted members of FemTechNet—about their feminist thinking on technology and place. We livestreamed the event from my “Dialogues in Feminism and Technology” classroom at Pitzer College on November 14, 2013. A video of that live event is now available on the FemTechNet Commons.

I hope you will watch this inspiring, interesting, and invaluable conversations between two amazing feminist thinkers (as well as their lively interactions with my amazing students). Here, I hope to provide a more personal frame for your viewing, a few ideas that were raised for me in the doing of this event, in its liveness, and lived-ness; things you can’t know, unless you were there, or I write them here for you online.

  • Our digital engagements take us to places and people we might never meet in person in material space and this is grand (most of the participants in the DOCC 2013, for instance). But when we do have the opportunities of funds, time, and bodily energy to meet face-to-face, new, complimentary, and deeply sustaining opportunities of the flesh arise! It is well worth the effort.
  • My students have loved “meeting” all the professors and artists we have read this semester on video, through the video dialogues. They discuss how this transforms the authors of the complex and empowering texts we read into people. My students say that they come to understand, by seeing diverse feminists’ interactions online, that real people write what students learn from, and they further realize, as real people themselves, they too are authorized to author.
  • And then again, to meet the thinkers in person brings ever more delights and possibilities. A different kind of sense of these scholars’ complex selves passes in a look, a smile, a nod, or even a touch. Given that the personal or affective or bodily is so deeply connected to feminist politics, theory, and practice, it is no wonder that engaging with otherwise distant “experts” has particular resonances that are of use to feminist students. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware of the possibilities for intimacy and enlightenment in purely digital encounters! I only want to add to that the particular affordances of the embodied.
PostPanelDiscussionNov15_2013

Several DOCC 2013 students in conversation with Liz Losh, Radhika Gajjala, and President Maria Klawe, of Harvey Mudd College

  • When the official Dialogue concluded, my students ended up sitting in a circle quite close to our guests (something we had never done in class before). We seemed to want to signal that we were close, collaborative, and engaged together in something we all cared about. We signalled with our bodies because we could.

MS 134 pic

  • This is part of the DOCC challenge to the MOOC. The places we live in and learn in, the places where we come together as situated communities are different, with their own cultures of engagement and interaction and their own styles of and needs for learning.

PitzerClassDiscussionNov14_2013

  • This placed difference is as vital to our learning possibilities and needs as are the ways that technology expands this reach, opening us up to new places, as particular as our own. (interestingly these same students also LOVED their class with Professor Sharon Collingwood who generously taught my students last week on Second Life: they sat in a circle there, too.)
  • And that brings me to care, with which Radhika also ends the Place video dialogue. She expresses how hard care is to commodify, or off-shore (try as neoliberalism will to do so). The felt care that these travellers shared with myself and my students is part of our larger DOCC 2013 effort where we model together the many ways of feminist knowing and teaching, that always attempt to acknowledge the needs of humans in their many places, online and off.
Jade Ulrich, Scripps FemTechNet student, and Liz Losh, UCSD FemTechNet Prof who drove to Claremont for the event

Jade Ulrich, Scripps FemTechNet student, and Liz Losh, UCSD FemTechNet Prof who drove to Claremont for the event

 

I am honored to have taken on the leadership of Pitzer College’s Munroe Center for Social Inquiry for the next four years. Each year, I choose a theme, and then get to engage in public programming, as well as a related advanced seminar each Spring (led by distinguished guests). This year, the theme is Technology, and there is an amazing slate of speakers for 2014.

For the Fall, I planned two events. One will occur in November, more on that later, but the first, and my inaugural event was a visit and lecture by Lisa Nakamura, professor in the departments of American Cultures and Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

My friend, and fellow FemTechNetter, gave a provocative set of addresses at the college where she performed media archeologies on both ubiquitous and extraordinary sites of the everyday or “normal racism” that has been “written into the Internet.” She argues that this racism is not exceptional but rather is structural, inevitable, and environmental showing us the constant if varied places online where “socio-technical racism” (and sexism and homophobia) are written into the norms, architecture, and ethics of the Internet: its shameful “racist technicity.” She argues that all that we shutter off as “noise” when we search for information, or add our comments to important conversations, or try to play games is itself the signal of the Internet. In her Atherton Lecture, recorded below, she looks to long and repeating histories of racist iconography—rooted in excess, confusion, arousal, fear, and control—to think about how “the culture of racism is itself memetic.” I hope you’ll take a long look.

CFP: Ada, Issue 4, Queer, Feminist Digital Media Praxis

Editors: Aristea Fotopoulou (University of Sussex), Alex Juhasz (Pitzer College), Kate O’Riordan (University of Sussex/ University of California, Santa Cruz)

We invite contributions to a peer-reviewed special issue that brings together artistic, theoretical, critical and empirical responses to a range of questions around mediation, technology and gender equality. In particular we are interested in exploring what the concept of praxis could offer in our thinking about the intersections of gender, digital media, and technology.

Praxis in both Marxist and in Arendtian political thought brings together theory, philosophy and political action into the realm of the everyday. Inspired from this premise, and continuing the conversations that started during the workshop Queer, feminist social media praxis at the University of Sussex in May 2013 (queerfemdigiact.wordpress.com), we focus here on the conditions for a feminist digital media praxis. Media praxis, in other words the “making and theorising of media towards stated projects of world and self-changing” (mediapraxis.org), could be a vital component of feminist and/or queer political action. We are interested in the different modes of political action for social justice, enabled by digital technologies and social media, including theory, art, activism or pedagogy. What kinds of possibilities or impossibilities do these technologies and platforms offer for interpreting and intervening in the world?

The fourth issue of Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology seeks submissions that explore the concept of feminist, queer, digital media praxis. We welcome unpublished work from scholars of any discipline and background, including collaborative, non-traditional, or multimodal approaches that can especially benefit from the journal’s open access online status.

Topics and approaches might include, but are not limited to:

–       Affect, desire and disgust

–       Diffractive readings

–       Digital storytelling

–       Herstories, archiving and remembering

–       Feminist pedagogy

–       LGBTQ Youth

–       New media bodies

–       Imaginaries, futures and technological utopias

–       Radical art practices

–       Science, technology and social justice

We invite submissions for individual papers on any of the above themes or related themes. Contributions in formats other than the traditional essay are encouraged; please contact the editor to discuss specifications and/or multimodal contributions.

Find submission info on Ada

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