Sunday, November 09, 2003

Summary/Response of
"Arts of the Contact Zone," By Mary Louis Pratt

In this essay Pratt discusses the mixing of cultures in areas where two different peoples must live together. A person living in a "contact zone" is surrounded by two different cultures, hears two different languages, and in each there is a struggle to maintain themselves. Usually in such zones one culture is dominant and one subordinate, one holding power over the other. The dominating culture assumes the power to dictate what "legitimately" defines the culture. She argues that these factors are only imagined and the factors removal from a conception of the community only nominally removes them from the actual living community. Pratt calls attention to the error of assuming that people in a community all share the same language, motives and beliefs; the factors that are dictated by the culture in power. In reality they are only "marginalized" and people live without their identity being recognized by the whole. Though marginalized communities are "recognized" and lofty, rhetorical multiculturalism wafts through universities and politics, something more is needed to preserve them in the world. Ms Pratt argues that an understanding of the contact zones applied to our concept of community is what is needed.

I imagine a club. It is the only club, the only one here; where ancestors and I were born. The grounds for membership are to accept their way to be as the only way to be. Most people are born members and the concept of the only way to be is a part of them; it IS their way to be and has been for generations. I imagine that I insist on being allowed to join. I know enough about their way to be to speak their language, play their games, laugh at their jokes. But I am not a born member. The only way to be is not ingrained in me. My knowledge of their way to be acts as a veneer over me. I insist on membership. Some try to tell me the only way I should be; after all they know the way to be. They tell me my past, my purpose, my place. But it is not me. I insist and insist and insist though I cannot and will not rewrite my past, or bury my language. I insist that I AM a member and have been always and their wrong about the only way to be. I argue passionately, beautifully, desperately with every expressive outlet I have. Some see their fallibility and idealize truth as the only way to be. They argue about the way to be, truth, and me. Finally they concede, "OK, you're a member." So now I have this card, but it does not address the issue.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Scratch Sides. By Kristin Prevalett.

By the time you reach the back where the processes are explained, you can be a little confused. Then you realize this is an activity book. Cut and paste bits of poetic thought or images from your own stratchings and side notes along with bits of real news articles of relating subjects. It makes for an interesting blend of the incomplete bits of thought with broken down bits of print. I particularly enjoy the ones with coupons. Advertisement is prime pickins for snippets of poignant or satirical comments. The possibilities are limitless. Pick up a random photograph, or better yet, pick up the polaroid chemical back that has some remnant of a photograph, and go from there. Real people fit into fictional stories, fictional biographies or can have real stories applied to their image. Perhaps the main purpose of the book is to use one's "poetic notes" in an organized and meaningful way; to connect the notes to their source or to anything. The source of such notes could be very diverse. As an avid doodler, I think many of my doodlings could be used in this way, there are many images and seemingly random words in them. It took some time, reading, and actually playing to come to like this little book. Playing is a good word, for me anyway, as my first inclinations with Prevalett's techniques is to joke. Serious, or more thoughtful and thought provoking pieces can certainly be composed along the same lines. Scratch Sides is not really a book of poems to be read, it is a book of poems to be played with.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Response to recent posts of poet Stephen Vincent.

The Fence. I would be very surprised if there has not already been many such conferences. I would be surprised to be able to know the information at all, and also surprised if there was not a prioritized list of "preemptive assassinations" with many check marks along the margin. That is the nature of what is going on in Iraq. The manner in which Vincent presents the old news in his post amounts to political whining and meaninglessness. Politics is useless across the entire political spectrum. But there are facts. Fences have been and will be built; slick technological fences with eyes. Israel has learned, by necessity, how to build a fortress wall overnight. Governments kill people that oppose them, so do corporations, and EarthFirst, and religions. Perhaps they are all religions.

"lofty rhetoric is the obligatory accompaniment of virtually any resort to force and therefore carries no information. " -Noam Chomsky 10/31 (see links)---->

Fat girl Tai Chi. Well, ya can't go wrong there.
Framed by circumtance and environment it is a fluid image. Vincent frames and captures the image in two short paragraphs.
Their collection in one place frames Arbus' photos. Each linked by the movement of people, the natural rhythm of their bodies, and place on earth. Diane Arbus photographs, I don't think I have ever seen. Reading Vincent on Arbus, comes fairly close. I am guessing the museum showing the photos is many miles from here. They are negated in the description. Vincent loans the reader eyes with experience and artistic depth beyond expectation. Each photo is part of a bigger picture. Rename the excerpt Description 101.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

"Barbed Wire" by Reviel Netz

Reviel Netz' essay "Barbed Wire" begins with how the expanse of the central plains was divided, tamed and controlled by the simple invention of spikes on wire. Capitalism tends to take an idea and run with it. The simple idea is that animals can be corralled by pain. Netz reviews the historical use of barbed wire to define space and control animals in a myriad of situations that warranted it. The wire has been used in wars and occupations of recent history. It was used to cage people into concentration camps, divide occupied territory into controllable units, and to stifle the movement of advancing troops. Netz makes barbed wire a symbol of oppression. The use of it as a tool of oppression, a "weapon of control," was easily built on the similarities between ourselves and the animals it originally tamed. Netz's barbed wire is an example of a "key element in the modern texture of power" that reduces humans to animals by its effectiveness and cruelty, and progressed by the nature of our society from beginning as a simple need to control space and stock.

Anyone who says that it is a small world has never stood in the middle of what once was the great plains and exhausted their vision on the horizon all around. It was quite a feat control such an expanse. The emergence of an oppressive tool marked the end of modes of existence. It marked extinctions that have never been counted. I can remember riding down a dirt road in navarro county with my granddaddy Bill, and at thirty-five or forty miles an hour something would catch his eye. He'd rein in his old pick-up and walk up along a fenceline, or to the fenced corner of some pasture and find some strand of native grass. He was an expert on grasses and a soil and water conservationist. He would say, " This is such and such grass... you can't hardly find it nowadays. It's the first thing a cow would eat if it could get to it, so if it's around, it's just over a fence"

I think this essay is an example of how our drive toward defining and controlling the surface of the earth has bound us up in our own fences. We become the objects of our own oppression. The simple idea of containing herds of half wild cows, or of defining the boundaries of owned acreage, was used to define borders around people that had none. The Nazis used the borders they put around the Jews first to confine them to a space, then to reduce their space on earth to nothing. The same achievement that introduced borders to the bison, and constricted them out of existence is just as useful applied to people. In both cases, the bison and the Jews, the fences did eliminate the way they existed. Now, the only bison around do not live as they once did on the unbounded plains. They are a different sort of animal, one that must have a fenced section of rangeland to live on. Because the plains have been divided up by barbed wire they have to have place within such borders to exist. The state of Israel came into existence for a similar purpose for the Jews. The Nazis had to make borders around the Jews because they had none. World War II divided Europe and brought more defined borders. So the Jews created Israel and defined their official space needed for existence in a world divided by borders and barbed wire. Just a couple hundred years ago North America had no borders, or very few poorly defined borders. Today the borders and fences are an integral part of our lives as Americans, Mexicans, Texans, etc. They define property and spacial limits. Barbed wire was a part of this solidification of boundaries and the entrenchment of borders in actual space and in the mind.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Summary Response
"Panopticism" by Michel Foucault

In the essay "Panopticism," Foucault describes the discipinary function in society from its roots in finite systems like "quarantine" to the infinitely applicable "panopticism." His first example is one of the systems imposed on towns threatened by the plague in the late middle ages. Here the basic tenants of panopticism are seen working on a group of people.

Panopticism is a power structure that can be applied by one group (in power) on another in order to control, change, influence. The purpose of the concept is to change a certain group.

The principles of Panopticism:
Separate the group (to change or influenced) from the whole. Separate physically (incarcerate,quarantine) or by states, towns, neighborhoods , normalcy, tendencies, wealth, coolness, whatever.
Separate the individual from the group by observation, make them individually aware of themselves. Individualize. Make each individual visible to himself and others, most of all the observer. Obscure the concept and possibility of cohesion with others. Prevent organization, conspiracy.
Observe each individual (of any group.) Observe every minute detail. Be critical of every detail.
Record all information.
Make individuals aware that they are observed. Make awareness of being seen a consistent, constant, unrelenting fact of life.
Create rules, laws, schedules, routines, stereotypes, standards, define deviance.
Create consequences for any unwanted behavior, breaking the rules. Make them known; Create constant awareness of consequences, constant awareness of constant observation. Punishment for deviance ranging from lethal injection and prison, to being called a dork.
Enforce the rules, standards etc. By actual institutions (the police,) or social institutions.
Analyze the collected data for changes, problem areas, greater effectiveness.

Foucault explains that panopticism funtions through disciplines, or various techniques, belief systems, trends. The disciplines branch out to include focuses, fields of influence, all with the common goal of social discipline. Panopticism has become part of economic, educational, social, political, and other controlling facets of life.
J. Benthams "Panopticon" is a representation of both one discipline, a targeted group for correction, and the purified, isolated, generalizable principles of panopticism. The Panopticon is a design for a prison. The cells were to be built in a ring, with the only open side of each cell facing inward toward a central observation tower. Everything to be well lit and visible. From the tower, each cell could be seen completely, and the tower could always be seen. Any body occupying a cell would be constantly observed, and would know he was constantly observed. The tower is obvious but the eyes in the tower are kept unverified. The cell occupants can never be sure of eyes in the tower, but they can be sure of the probability or surety of their presence. The concept of being seen, at all times and unsure of The principles the Panopticon is based on and represents are so effective and universally applicable that "the panopticon could be used as a laboratory of power." It was "a generalized model of functioning" of power over every man.
The seat of power that controls panoptic disciplines has also changed over time, along with the kind of change or control desired. Disciplines are and have been controlled by many different seats of power. Once they sought to control and separate dangerous or useless groups in society like lepers, madmen, and lawbreakers. An additions focus of control, and additional set of disciplines, are seen with a different seat of power. With capitalism, the dollars power focuses on creating, or optimizing groups of mild, productive people. Religion focuses on influencing groups on morality issues. The judicial and political disciplines focus on creating order and compliance to the political state. Education serves several functions of discipline, from social order to transferring proper knowledge i.e. political and scientific biases. Technology aids observation, data collection and analysis. The incredible array of disciplines are also intertwined and work as a whole disciplinary society. The validation of power once came from the danger, the plague or the crazies. For a "seat of power" to arise, there only needs to be some conceivable validation for authority. Panopticism operates above any law because the disciplines can be infinitely generalized, controlled by any group that finds any way to verify some power over another group.

The Panopticon can be an example of a discipline with well defined aspects and functional concepts. The range of possibilities of a functional discipline with panoptic principles can be seen in a "coolness" social function, where the principles are fuzzy and fluid in definition. A group of people are defined as uncool. The other group called cool has a power over them in the sense that they apply pressure to change the uncool by observing their uncoolness, and letting them know. Those in the uncool group have the idea that they are always seen and judged by the cool. They are set apart from the whole by a set of rules, ill-defined and contradictory though they are. And the rules are enforced by ill-defined punishments. Though uncoolness and the authority of cool are very hard to pin. I think this example is good to illustrate relationship humans have with their disciplinary structures. How do the uncool get the idea that they are seen and judged? They realize it when they are teased, of course, but it doesn't stop there. The concept of being observed by a judgmental authority raises the volume of anyone's internal monologue, and anyone's internal monologue has an amazing capacity for exaggeration, understatement, misinterpretation, and outright denial or invention. It is a natural human condition that makes Panopticism as effective as it is.
I have been picking my way through Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. I find his argument makes sense; that the sounds we make become language because the patterns for word memorizing and grammar are built in to the mind. I get the feeling that humans might have a disciplinary instinct. Observation weighs very heavy on us. It creates very predictable behavior. But then observation changes everything. If a squirrel knows it is observed it nibbles or forages differently. It is a problem that theoretical physicists have to deal with, that their photons behave differently when under observation. We do live in a remarkably ordered world, with system elements that perform with amazing discipline. Perhaps discipline is a universal tendency.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Summary Response
"Hunger as Ideology" by Susan Bordo

Advertisers know us better than we know ourselves. We have in our society expectations of ourselves and each other. Exploiting these expectations is what makes advertisers so effective, it is how they can target specific groups. Susan Bordo shows many examples of advertisements that target women, and reflect society's expectations of women, and their expectations of themselves. Women are expected to eat little and keep appetites hidden. Bordo's examples from advertising show women who eat little, with the different relationships to food that the expectation creates, desire for control over their relationship to food, obsession to the point of eating disorders, and never wolfing down the product with abandon. Bordo makes a connection between food and sex, or sensuality, and argues that the ads represent societies ideas about sexuality and supports lopsided nature of them. The sensual nature of food is reflected in the sexual suggestion of the ads. Because the prevailing idea in society is that women should not have insatiable appetites, the ads are effective in offering food, in small amounts, as solace, or acceptable escape from sexual confinement. The female appetite is represented in some movies as something to fear and despise, or something that results in forms of punishment for the woman. Bordo presents both as examples of "cultural backlash" that stems from fear of equality and is an effort to suppress the idea of female sexuality freely expressed. Gender roles are also expressed and supported by ads. Women are to work in the kitchen, where in the work they find peace, love, and all the above. According to the ads, women fulfill their purpose when they feed others and food is a source of love for women, and a way to express it to others.

It bothers me sometimes that advertisers know people so well. Enough that I wonder if the people that study them and make them and put them out for the purpose of duping their fellow man have a conscience at all. Susan Bordo used the term "authoritative images" to describe the form the ads take. I wonder if she knows she hit the nail on the head; it is a biological fact in humans that sight is the authoritative sense. It is the main sense we use to navigate the world. Our brains are designed to be able to ingest images at amazing rates. And a part of this streamlining of function has removed some of the processing elements that are used in the other senses. So basically images enter your mind, and stay there, without any filtering, you can not stop them if your eyes are open. Advertisers know this, and opt for quick flashing ads. The information about images from Jerry Mander, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. Mander spent 25 years or so in advertising, and his experience provided most of his Arguments.
Summary Response
"Of the Meaning of Progress."
"Of the Wings of Atalanta."
"Of the Training of Black Men." by W.E.B. Dubois

"Of the Meaning of Progress" is an account of what Dubois learned from his first students, their families, and their community. This was how people lived, that had been trained over centuries to see themselves as animals, beasts of burden. They lived hard, but that was no surprise to them, it is what they expected, what they believed they deserved. With his first students, Dubois learned that the progress that he and the exceptional men like him sought for the former slaves with such ambition, vigor, and hope was going to be an exponentially larger task than they initially thought. In this account we see Dubois' set out with the excitement one can only feel at the beginning of work, made doubly exciting because of the nature of the crusade; the righting of wrong; the real emancipation. The folk, Dubois talks of with living detail, were his reality check. Progress was going to be hard as a country boys head. The barriers were more than the Veil, and poverty. Changing lives meant changing people, which meant changing their minds, a lot of minds. Changing minds meant training them, plus overcoming the subconscious limitations, all in the midst of social and economic separation. In his last question, he has realized that the progress sought for the black folk is going to be built on lives, real people. And they are going to spend the whole of their lives in a struggle. People vivid as Josie in Dubois' mind will reach the end of their lives without success. Is their twilight actually the dawn of the new day he dreams of.

"Of the Wings of Atalanta" is a warning. Dubois warns that the economic success that some promise and some seemed to achieve in the industrial boom the south expierienced is a mirage. Most of all he wanted the whole south to realize that the economic success is not the end, it is not he goal. He warns all people, but especially the southern blacks, since they have the longest economic road, that their are loftier ideals than the cash one can earn. And without such ideals that are the only way a rich culture can develop among people, one cannot even enjoy the cash anyway. Dubois is rich with just plain common sense, and he recognizes the economic deficit that has to be made up for the blacks in the south, and the immediate good that making a living and becoming economically viable could do for the black population. This essay was his cry not to stop the race just for the gold. I think he might have seen the veil thin, progress made, and then thicken again, losing ground. The blacks flocking to work were in danger of creating that life, that was better than what any of them had before, as their destination, and establishing it as a destination for "black people," leaving it as a destination for their children and adding to segregation. Dubois would have them insist on using the industry opportunities as a stepping stone, perhaps to scoop up the golden apple in stride, though a stride might cross generations.

"Of the Training of Black Men" seems to be the maturity of Dubois' previous reality check. Teachers are trained in droves, only to have their students forgo classes for the industrial training. Though a complete and liberal education for blacks is a goal felt in all the exceptional men that have achieved culture and knowledge, the training to work was the most useful for people in immediate results and potential for future growth. He echoes the initial "enthusiasm and sacrifice", and the training of many teachers who boldly set to work and did accomplish things against all odds. They gave the basics, literacy, to a great many people. And then the most prevalent type of school available to blacks trained them to work. Dubois admits work training is kind of an anomaly in the progression of the education he wishes to provide. But that this apparent diversion is nothing compared to the segregation in the south. The Veil that was so completely ingrained in the south and the prejudice in peoples minds prevented them from even considering the next step up to universities. So many in the south would have assumed without evidence that their were few blacks educated well enough to make use of higher learning or appreciate it. Dubois holds that the Veil does more to inhibit education of black men (and white men) than the tendency to turn to industry ever could. At least work can provide sustenance. The segregation and prejudice cuts off the most fertile minds from knowledge without consideration. He insists that the dissolution of the Veil is absolutely necessary if blacks are to be "emancipated by training and culture." The real emancipation that he knew and wished he could easily hand down.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Summary Response
"Writers Afoot," by Edward Hoagland

"Writers Afoot" is an essay about essays. Hoagland sums up what makes the essay what it is, and the fundamental aspects of author, intentions and subjects. The first paragraph gives example about how diverse the subject of an essay can be; from the extremely broad and abstract to very specific and pointed. This versatility is a defining characteristic of an essay. Another defining characteristic is how the personal nature of the genre. The essay itself does not include fully developed character or world, but the author as a real person in a real world is imprinted in it, no matter the subject. Hoaglands next characteristic of essays is their context and purpose. The essay has practical purpose, to explain a viewpoint or some element of our world in any of many ways. And always with a connection to the real world and the present time because the author's viewpoint is the primary tool when writing an essay. Hoagland's title refers to the author being free to explore anywhere and anything always being an individual and with feet connected to this earth.

I have always liked the essay because it is personal and so relates easily on a personal level. Perhaps I am enough of a practical person that I like essay best because it always has some purpose and artistic enough to believe that this does not limit the artistic possibilities. The title strikes a chord with me as well, as I have developed the firm belief that you cannot see anything along the way if you are not walking. I read somewhere about a custom in native american culture that goes a little further. The people insisted that whenever two people were to communicate they had to face each other with a firm connection between their butts and the earth.

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