After seeing pictures on TV—real, fake and hard-to-tell-and-does-it-really-matter (how can I know if the picture I include below is “real”? There are currently very few images of the damage from Trump’s missile strikes available online outside of those produced and shared by Russian journalism. Meanwhile the American military and press are releasing embedded images of the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air. How are our images being produced, controlled, circulated? What are the larger forces that influence virality and visibility? We need time to understand these and all images. We need to think through what to do with what we see. We need time and context and care) …

After he and we saw a picture on TV, Trump, the traditional and social media all moved fast. Too fast. Internet quick. With algorithmic speed. This is the dangerous cycle and logic of virality—one that moves with barely human (what I have called proto-being) momentum from images and tweets to missiles, directives, policing, travel bans all with long-term lived consequences for human beings and nations.

In #100hardtruths #80 I suggested we need strategies to “outlast virality.” “Outlast virility,” I suggest, in relation to a cycle of news, #fakenews, and related actions that have accelerated to a dangerous pitch where rational, legal and ethical care and consideration can no longer be exacted before we act. “Outlast virility” in connection to said speed and the virile weaponized powers of patriarchal aggression it authorizes.

The aftermath of a US air strike on a Syrian military base Instagram/Evegeny Poddubny

In 5 #hardtruths and 2 new pledges @#50 I worried that:

the delightful ambiguities of the fake/real binary are being played by this administration, and the sectors of the media and internet that are built upon and refract them, in ways that are at once confusing, entertaining, distracting and also deadly real for actual people and communities. Understanding and not simply producing contradiction; naming and not evading complexity; breaking through the digital hall of mirrors allow us to breaking through the digital hall of mirrors allow us to focus our attention and action upon the real-world applications of #fakenews, a critical project of this time.

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#62, don’t look

March 25, 2017

In “How Do I (Not) Look? Live Feed Video and Viral Black Death,” July 20, 2016, after the viral visibility of the Diamond Reynold’s live feed video of Philando Castile’s brutal death at the hands of the police, I wrote some #100hardtruths that must still figure:

“We come to this cultural, political and media onslaught as individuals but, it is my contention that each of us must take responsibility for our own acts of looking. When we look (or write) we engage in the regimes of visibility—complex networks of power, ownership, and access that frame our viewing and knowing—that surround and inform violence. Accounting for our place, our needs, our actions in the face of viral videos of murder is one within a constellation of necessary ethical and political acts. This is particularly true because it may feel like our current media conditions of onslaught and abundance allow us no choices at all. When we have the choice to look, we are bound ethically and politically to what we witness and what we do with all we have seen. Below is a brief primer of ways to understand how or why we might (not) look.”

Image adapted from Diamond Reynolds’ video

In that article, I share these principled positions: Don’t Look, Look Askance, Look at Death, and Look at Death’s Platforms and connect these to deeper traditions of thinking about practices of looking.

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I recently received an unexpected but timely invitation (from editor Catherine Halley) to write an article for JSTOR Daily.  Her email request arrived when indeed I had something pressing I wanted to say. I was not sure I could say it, or that the time was right, or what the ramifications of my writing it would be, but I did very much want to think critically (and in public) about why I wasn’t watching the viral live feed videos of black death that began circulating and multiplying last week.

With Halley’s close help, and that of many friends and colleagues, that article was published today: How Do I (Not) Look: Live Feed Video and Viral Black Death. My writing, and thinking, occurred in conversation, actual and in my head, with a great many friends and scholars who I’d like to point to here, in no particular order and most likely forgetting some, less for reasons of intellectual property and more to name that my/our understanding of momentous social, technological, personal mayhem and change occurs in communities of care and practice and thought: Natalie Bookchin, Gabrielle Foreman, Robert Reid-Pharr, Cheryl Dunye, Kemi Ilenanmi, Alisa Lebow, Jenny Terry, Roopali Mukherjee, Marta Zarzycka, Jen Malkowski, Lisa Cartwright, Marita Sturken, Nick Mirzoeff, Patty Zimmermann, Sam Gregory,  Deirdre Boyle, Safiya Noble, LaCharles Ward, Ellen Scott, bell hooks, Paola Bacchetta, Tina Campt,  Inderpal Grewal,  Caren Kaplan, Minoo Moallem, Susan Sontag, Henry Jenkins, Sherri Williams, Jodi Dean, Michael Gillespie, Stephen Winter, Theodore Kerr and Diamond Reynolds.

I write in honor of Reynold’s work and in the name of our shared witnessing of the death of Philando Castile and so many others.

I am sure my friends and colleagues above will not agree with all of my thoughts on this volatile and horrible matter, nor would I want them to, but I do hope they will understand how critical their voices (and long term work on issues of violence, visibility, video and racial injustice) have been for me during this time.

I Feel Uncomfortable

August 29, 2014

I am sitting in my charming garret room in a beautiful European city. Meanwhile, colleagues and students begin to wrap up the proceedings at the Noise Summer school in which I have been an active participant for the past three packed days. They are just a short walk away over ancient cobbled streets, and yet I wrap things up here to my real discomfort (how much I lose by not seeing the faces of my friends and getting to feel the always changing energy in the room!) And yet, my surroundings here are ever more physically embracing than those of the rigid lecture hall where we sat together for so many hours). So, I forfeit the comfort of the group as one act of self care anticipating the forthcoming discomforts of my own body as I will shortly hurl across thousands of miles for hours and hours, confined and crammed into airplanes and departure lounges.

I begin with these self-evident tradeoffs because the production, affect and theory of discomfort—produced, discussed analytically by some and uncomfortably between others, felt by many—proved to define many of the events of the seminar, most obviously my own “talk” which I continue to try to engage in digital and embodied spaces, in collective while sometimes personal voices, in the writing and sharing of this blog post (students at the seminar found the experiment confusing, distracting, and perhaps distasteful, at least in the lived encounter of it; I suggested that I was trading affect for content, the primacy of building this complex digital #eventanglement over the coherence of the lived moment, and my own authority and control over potential creativity and collectivity. I also shared that the trade-off might prove to be ineffective. It was an experiment…)

From the photo archive of Ingrid Ryberg
From the photo archive of Ingrid Ryberg

In her talk at the seminar, “Affective Noise in Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, Tarja Laine delineated two kinds of chaos: ordered or pure, i.e. that with ever increasing disorder. She argued that the pain of a migraine, more than a discomfort surely, opens for Aronofsky (and the viewer) aesthetic and intellectual access to the creative and disorienting potentials of paranoia, anxiety, suffering, and clarity. The #ev-ent-anglement certainly conforms to the first iteration of chaos (if it can even be said to be chaotic at all, ordered as it is by the truly rigid architecture of its site), and reiterates one of Patricia MacCormack’s central contributions to the seminar in her talk “Affective Aesthetics: Ethics, Ecstasy and Ecosophy.” There she argued “as soon as art makes you recognizable to yourself, art has lost its ecstatic capacity” by which she means, I think, a marvelous, rare, and radical state of freedom and creativity where the I is lost in a state of becoming “undifferentiated from the world and our own unknowability.” She explained that pain, like art, can sometimes provide one such escape route to that place of radical openness.

Meanwhile, Marta Zarzycka used her talk, “It’s all in the Face: Portraits, Children, Affects, Conflicts” to share, discuss, and contemplate the gruesome history of representing suffering through the images of faces of children, again asking us to consider the trade offs of the potential responses to such images: shock, monetary donations, paralysis, affective attachment, paternalism or maternalism, disavowal. She explained later in a plenary how scholars of images of atrocity have varying calculi for these images’ visibility and viability: refusing to show them even as they analyze them, giving audiences quick exposure, letting them sit with their discomfort. Each an ethical choice made from a range of possible positions regarding the political affect of images/experiences of pain.

HP_EMER_SYRIA_12112013Minou Norouzi showed us her own film, “Everything,” as well as an evening of media programming around masculinity, discipline, brutality, and the visualization of suffering. To all, audience members responded, again perhaps self-evidently yet nevertheless honestly and frequently, “I felt uncomfortable.”

"All Shades of Grey," Minou Norouzi
“All Shades of Grey,” Minou Norouzi

But I conclude where I began, with the ethical and lived tradeoffs and potentialities of discomfort. For some in the room this affect— like the many other forms, ideas, and feelings of pain discussed/experienced across the seminar—was potentially productive, creative, inspiring or moving; ordered chaos, perhaps. For others, I think, discomfort was at times a disenabling place of pure chaos from which they couldn’t think, move, act, contribute. Some students were making this clear (on this #eve-ent-anglement), in seminar, informally, and in conversation.

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

What the Noise and larger feminist community makes of these varying theories, experiences, and politics of affect is one of our community’s current battlegrounds. We’ve had them before. Feminism isn’t pure, simple, or self-evident. What’s more critical is how we handle such debates as a community: with what norms, methods, and practices of care, conversation, and consideration.

I look forward to some of your thoughts (here on the #ev-ent-anglement!) on the political and personal efficacy of affect, and how we might engage it, in ways that are at once productive and sensitive. I also remind you to look deeper into this #ev-ent-anglement where you will find words, poems, videos, photos, essays and more that exhibit a range of eloquent feelings and thoughts about these central issues.