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

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.