Thursday, March 27, 2014

on The Transformation

Spahr begins The Transformation with an analogy between the natural environment and human society in order to think about naming, categorization, and the ways language is used to construct explanations of natural and social phenomena. She writes: “Flora and fauna grow next to and around each other without names. Humans add the annotation. They catalogue the flora and fauna, divide them up, chart their connections and variations, eventually name them, and as they do this they read into them their own stories” (13). The relationships between colonizer and colonized, native and other, fill a complicated Hawaiian history, and this is evident in language drawn from natural surroundings. She uses the real and metaphorical example of the “huehue haole,” a term used for white outsiders, and explains the origins of the term: “What was called the maracuja, the passiflora, the passionflower, they called the huehue haole. Huehue is the name of a climber native to the islands. Haole is the word that is used to describe some of them in this story, people who arrive from somewhere else. In the world of plants it is also used to describe a particularly noxious and invasive species” (13-14). If so much of Hawaiian culture is articulated through the natural vegetation, environment, and landscapes, Spahr’s narrator understands that in order to tell her story she must also interpret it through the material and metaphorical natural phenomena in which she is now contextualized. She explains: “This is a story of the passiflora and the tree canopy. This is a story of three who moved to an island in the middle of the Pacific together” (14). The story must be told as a Hawaiian story, even while she is trying to come to terms with the complexity of that story—or more accurately the multiple stories that construct “Hawaii” and how her own stories now mingle with those.

The three who move to the island together are individually and collectively referred to as “they” as a way to get around gender identification, though it is made clear that the triad conforms to traditional heterosexual practices of sexual relations. Nonetheless, the gender-neutral pronoun “they” troubles the construct of the heterosexual domestic partnership, even if the narrator refuses to adopt queer terminology to signify “their” situation. The spatial and political inquiry moves between domestic and public space, and is enacted in the form of repeated phrasing and sentence constructions that write “around” meaning, pointing to the inadequacy of language to provide articulate explanations for the layered understandings of self in relation to other. The story that unfolds weaves natural phenomena with the struggle for personal understanding within a context of complex historical and cultural politics, as in the following example:

The minute they got off the plane they realized that the beauty of the island was its own radiant thing full of boths and that they had to begin with these boths. It was an island of both great environmental beauty and of great environmental destruction. And these boths fed each other in a complicated feedback loop . . . . When they looked around most of what they saw among the many things growing, flying, and crawling had been brought onto the island after the whaling ships arrived. It told a story of beauty and a story of mismanagement. It told a story of invasion and of acceptance as if it could tell both of these stories using the same vocabulary. (Spahr 27)

Central to telling the stories and making sense of them is the difficulty of language. How does one make sense of binary oppositions simultaneously? How can a place be beautiful and suffer such consequences of destruction? How can such beauty be so historically mismanaged? The narrator sees the paradox, and the sadness, of a place with such a complicated and layered identity, a place that has been exploited for so long by so many different groups, and its residents, both resistant and resigned, holding on to language, tradition, and stories that often point toward various, different origins. Although Spahr uses the word “both” an important part of her project is to undo the simplicity of binaries; there are never only two sides, but a history of complex issues that cannot be neatly separated. This is apparent in the history and evolution of language and the ways language is used in Hawaii, and Spahr’s attempts to find language to articulate her own questions and analysis. She writes:

despite the expansionist language and all its tools, all the laws and all the imperialism, all the economic dominance, all the military might, all the technologies, and all the entertainments, the language politics of the island remained endlessly complicated. The expansion did not happen overnight and one could point to how the local languages and the languages that were often created by the arrival of the expansionist language to someplace new, the pidgins and creoles, the burrowing languages, the negotiated languages, refused to go away as evidence of how the expansionist language might not be as good at expansion as one might think. (Spahr 95)

Language controls and refuses to give in to control. The history of the uses and mingling of languages in Hawaii reflect the complex cultural history of domination and resistance, of different groups moving in and out, assimilating and fighting back, at various turns. Spahr enacts this on the level of her own language through the use of repetition and listing; in the quote above, the types of languages listed represent the layers of complex history and culture that one must negotiate in order to make sense of the history of language in Hawaii. This list then repeats throughout the chapter, with occasional slight variation. The text does not simply narrate and explain a complex history of relations, but it instead tries to use the density of language in order to present experiences themselves dense in construction. In fact, she seems to ask, what kinds of vocabularies can account for the layers of stories and politics, for beauty and destruction? This anxiety runs through the text; Spahr is asking how language can be used to account for the histories of our relations to one another: colonizer and colonized, self and other. It asks how we can possibly recognize and identify ourselves when we are constantly moving through contexts and languages that are always already constructing and identifying us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tweet Tweet

I find Twitter kind of overwhelming. I am wondering if that’s how I felt when I started using Facebook. I know I didn’t really like FB, often don’t like FB, but use it anyhow. Sometimes the benefits seem to outweigh. Twitter has some advantages that might outweigh, or I think it needs to be put in more complicated terms. If possible, a conversation. But Twitter is not about conversation. It is about bites of text all appearing simultaneously. There is so much information on my Twitter feed. I have links to AFT and other union feeds, some other news sources, a bunch of public radio programs like Tell Me More and others, a couple of links related to academia and contingent labor, and some other stuff including individual people who I know. There must be some links to celebrities, because I am so curious... what can they be tweeting all of the time and who has the time to read what they have to say? Or not say, but tweet. There are short things that people post full of abbreviations and hash tags, most of which I cannot make sense of. There are links to articles, some or many of which are interesting, useful, and relevant to my varied interests. But there are new posts constantly. And so if I read Twitter for more than ten minutes at time, and read the articles and additional linked information, that seems like it could take up my whole day. It is like FB but more dense and packed more full in some way, there is less space for pictures (posts have a short visible part and then you have to click to see more, see the links and images and the whatnot, but of course you know this because  who isn’t on Twitter now?). I use FB to see what people I know are doing (or actually, to see what they are posting) but also to read and share articles about higher education, education issues in general, contingent labor issues, food and local events and the miscellaneous etcetera. It is helpful because a number of other people I am FB Friends with post articles that are thoughtful and relevant. And being in southeast Michigan, there are a lot of articles and info on the state of Detroit…there are statistics and opinions and interviews and studies and local and national reports on every aspect of the city that is at once stuck in some kinds of tradition and history, and also changing so fast it has become impossible to keep up. I suppose lots of people are posting articles on Twitter too but I have only just started Twittering and the topic of Detroit in general is a little quieter right now than it was just a few months ago. 

And then, I think, my life is a Twitter feed. I get up and spend one to three hours working on projects like writing or submissions or job applications. I scroll through FB or Twitter and read and repost articles. I think about the huge number of possible essay topics that I want to write about and then I think, where could I possible publish those. And I research and make lists of publications for various kinds of writing. And then I read articles about academia and the impossibility of either getting a tenure-line job or the extreme challenges of being treated like a professional as a contingent laborer and I think about more essays in more kinds of publications. And then I have to get ready and go teach. I cram lesson planning and writing and assignments, clarifying the schedule and keeping students on track so they don’t feel as unfocused and lost from one moment to the next as I feel. And then I finish teaching and have to decide what to do next. Usually I have ten ideas or things that need to be done (planning or follow up from teaching to prepare for next time, dog walking, dishes, dinner, yoga, union meetings, shoveling the snow as is the case in this most wintery of winters) and then I only get to one or none of the things that need to be done after the teaching ends before the day is ending and I am good for little else than sitting on the couch or in the bed. Click scroll click scroll. Is this what we have come to? 

I want to interview students, ask them about their Twitter activities, give me some examples of their tweets and what other feeds they follow, and what people write on those. They tell me Twitter is the new Facebook. Everyone’s on Twitter. To many it is necessary (good) and discouraging (bad). What happens on Twitter if you are 20? Do you read the articles that are linked in the tweets? What kinds of articles, information, news, relevance to critical and thoughtful living show up on your Twitter feed? Do your friends write posts about their changing feelings from moment to moment? Do they post thoughtful and relevant links and information? Do you?

What’s on Twitter today?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

on failure or whatnot

In art/aesthetic practice and production we talk about necessary or productive failure. In the business world or the world of inventions (Thomas Edison) we see how many tries they made, how many times they “failed” before they became resounding successes. Is this different for a scientist who does experiments? Is there a disconnect between what many know to be necessary or productive failure and this American eliding of the word itself?  We use the word success more often and in combination with more dynamic or positive adjectives (study: resounding vs government or military failure) and we don’t talk about failure. It seems a personal failure to admit failure. People talk about success and leave out the many failures before the success (or necessary to the success) and the rest of us feel inadequate or stupid because we are not similarly successful. Or we think when we do something we will be successful because that’s how it works, having missed the necessary parts of the narrative about the relevance of failure. And then we are not prepared for the inevitable failure. And then we take this failure personally and we judge ourselves and maybe we judge each other as if failing makes us less, instead of making us stronger and better equipped for the next round in which we will know more, have more experience, and better negotiate whatever terms are before us. In some way it would be useful to eliminate the terminology altogether, or change the use of the words failure and success. Our attachment to the ways these words ascribe personal value and judgment, and vulnerability and feelings of inadequacy are not useful or productive. Certainly it is true that many people “fail” and are thereby motivated to strive for more or better or get up and do it again knowing more in order to eventually “succeed.” But why not call this process something else. Like process, or working toward or working through, or production… or something that is language that shows more than tells. Failure is a noun and a judgment. I experienced failure. I am a failure. I could instead say I am working toward, working through; I am producing, I am productive, I am in production; I am interested in process, process is important to production, process is as or more important than the product.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Why do we write Poetry?

from :

Laura (Riding) Jackson: Against the Commodity of the Poem (part 1)

"Why do we write poetry? According to Laura (Riding) Jackson, when she still believed in and wrote poetry, it is not to create “art” but to discover “an advanced degree of self” (Anarchism, 119). To further explain her notion of this “self” as a system of poetics, she writes, “when this self has been isolated from all that is impression and impurity of contact in an individual, then a ‘thing,’ a work, occurs, it is discharged from the individual, it is self; not his self, but Self” (Anarchism, 6). Poetry then is transcendent of the individual who is writing the poem; art perhaps is not. Poetry is a process that reveals or recognizes a beginning, an origin that causes all humans to become defined by the commonality of awareness, of being, of selfhood. The border, the “degree in the consciousness beyond which the consciousness itself cannot go” is for Laura (Riding) Jackson the edge of our capacity to know ourselves. The goal of poetry is to reach this edge, to lean as far outside of the body as is possible without collapsing in on the self. Poetry is a telescope, or a microscope that focuses awareness of the body, and through the body focuses an awareness on self, not an individual self, but the selfness of being.  Given this view of poetry, it is of little surprise that Laura (Riding) Jackson was greatly and continuously offended by notions of poetry as commodity, as game, or as “public flattery.” Her integrity as a writer lies in her extreme seriousness about the act of writing. It is for her alchemical, and timeless. It answers not to public opinion or to poetic movement or to one’s contemporaries. Poetry may not even answer to the poet herself.  Thus, “Riding concluded that poetry is ‘perhaps the only human pursuit left still capable of developing anti-socially,’ that is, to serve only poetry’s intrinsic needs” (Adams, 38).