Reading: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak — An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization

Around the time I started dancing, living in Auckland, shortly before moving to Australia, I fell in with a rough crowd of philosophers and academics. Or rather, I skirted the edges of their world in Auckland and then in Melbourne as they en masse crossed the ditch; and then they were students, working their way through Masters and Phds. As with almost everyone, I lost contact, lives diverging, names hazily remembered.

Perhaps I’m inventing a fictional history, perhaps also the bright memories I have are of the enthusiasm of first discoveries rather than any significant shift in paradigms, nonetheless there was a raw thrill for new philosophy and theory. There were names that have stuck with me: Deleuze, Butler. I tried on Serres, Derrida, Kristeva, Iragaray; newer names still, like offspring of those first names, Rosi Braidotti, Keith Ansell-Pearson, Slavoj Žižek; felt like a fifth columnist going to lectures on Habermas and Lyotard. Perhaps it was because Deleuze and Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus had only recently been translated into English — by recently I mean this mob were the first generation of university students to be exposed to it, and it was certainly far outside the mainstream of university curricula; and Butler’s Gender Trouble was similarly new and far out.

Anyway, I found myself in Sydney one summer, in Gleebooks, and there on the shelves were both 1000 Plateaus and Gender Trouble. I bought both without a second thought. I read them over and over. (There was another book there, I forget the name, but it was about trans identities, I remember the rush of finding that, reading possibilities for living. I mention that so as not to compartmentalise these interwoven moments, one side joy, the other, shame.)

As with seeing Frankfurt Ballet and knowing my life belonged in dance (I still trust that decision however precarious my life has been because of it), Bridget telling me to read Deleuze and Butler is one of those monumental instances in my life. I’d call it an epiphany, but like the word ‘genius’ she’d probably hate it. Sitting in Black Cat Café in Fitzroy one day she also said, “You’re lucky. You get to live what we only theorise about.” So now I’m doubly lucky ’cos I live and theorise this shit.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to other words and names from then: Subaltern, Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak. Perhaps it was only these couple of people from this small group who were really into all this, and a proper history of ’90s New Zealand and Australian academic life would barely rate them a footnote. For me though, I got booted onto a course I’m still riding the momentum of. Curiously, I never read Spivak then, or never the way I did Butler and Deleuze. Spivak seemed and seems to be everywhere, when I see her name it’s like an old friend, or a friend of a friend I’ve heard so much about.

I wonder how common this is, to be able to trace vast paths and directions through a life back to single moments. Seeing Frankfurt Ballet, Bridget telling me to read Butler and Deleuze; more recently maybe, Erik telling me to read Caroline Walker Bynum. I’m sure there are others, though those moments on the cusp of teens and twenties have determined much of my life.

So I’ve returned to that name: Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak. I’ve been reading around migration, human rights, Islam, colonialism, these subjects in Europe, Seyla Benhabib, Kathryn Babayan, Afsaneh Najmabadi, Ruth Mandel, Katherine Pratt Ewing, and more recently with the current precarious state of democracy and human rights in Europe having a need to focus on this. I’m not sure why Spivak’s name occurred to me, maybe I read about her somewhere, or just decided she was the right choice for now.

I went through all her published works before deciding on An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. There’s other works that are probably more essential Spivak, ones that I remember from student days, but this was published in 2012 and I thought reading her newer stuff would be a pertinent choice.

What’s it like then? It’s a well proper slab of a book. Almost 600 pages (about 100 of which are notes) with wide spaces for marginalia, and a small typeface that’s making my eyes apprehensive. I started reading it a week ago, then went off to read some fiction, so I might have to start it again. I’ve read the preface, where she describes each essay in the collection as “looking for a distracted theory of the double bind.” She finishes with, “Gender is the last word. Figure out the double binds there, simple and forbidding.”

I think it’s common when reading philosophy or critical theory to read people without having actually read them. Quotes, lengthy discussions, analyses, criticisms, notes, all these over time can result in a feeling for an author, a familiarity, at the very least enough to know if I actually want to read them or not. I can’t think of another writer who’s been as large in my consciousness as Spivak without me actually reading them. I’m also desperate for direction at the moment. Spivak, writing on post-colonialism, globalisation, and most importantly aesthetics (I’m reminded of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory here), somehow it feels right to be reading Spivak now. As an artist making political work (like there’s any art possible without being political?) maybe to quote the back cover: “aesthetic education is the last available instrument for implementing global justice.”

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Neo-Grotesk Crypto-Brutalist emilezile.com

End of March, right when I’m throwing finally together my design portfolio (I swear I resisted, and now love having one), Emile asked if I might want to hurl together something for him. Something Web1.0, something like we’d handcode in HTML in the late-’90s, not quite something MySpace in the days of its browser-crashing gif-frenzy inferno, but definitely something that would be in its lineage; something tuner Nissan Skyline, unassuming on the surface, but all Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift when you pop the hood. Something Helvetica, Neo-Grotesk, what’s getting called Brutalist right now, though not traipsing behind a fashion; this is Emile and when I was looking through years of his work putting his new website together, he has a deep love and understanding of the aesthetic, and the art and philosophy underpinning it.

First things first:

Emile: I have two websites. Can we make them one?
Frances: Yes!
Emile: Can we do all these other things?
Frances: OMG Yes!

Lucky I’d just done my portfolio, cos that gave me the framework to build on without having to bodge together fifty different functions and stuff. Saves a few hours there, which we made good use of in timezone-spanning conversations on typography, aesthetics, and usability.

First off, getting all those years of blog posts and work projects into a single database / website / organism. I used the hell out of interconnect/it’s Search & Replace DB script, merging, shuffling, shifting, getting rid of old code, jobs that would take a week or more to do by hand, done in seconds. We’d pretty much sorted out structure and functionality in a couple of afternoons; for a website that looks so simple, it was most of two weeks diligent work, back-and-forth conversations, picking away at details, (stripping and rebuilding, stancing, slamming, tuning … we are very good at turning all this into hoonage, especially with 24h Le Mans in the middle).

Obviously it had to be ‘Responsive’, look hella flush hectic antiseptic no matter what device, and for me (recently taking this stuff proper serious) it had to also be ‘Accessible’. I put those words in scare-quotes cos they’re kinda bullshit.

It occurred to me as I was finishing, that for a website to be neither responsive nor accessible — for example it looks crap if the screen size is too small or not ‘right’, or you can’t navigate with keyboard or screenreader — you have to actively remove this functionality. You have to break the website and override browser default behaviour. It’s a very active process to systematically remove basic functionality that’s been in web browsers since the beginning. You also have to actively not think, not empathise, intentionally not do or not know your job. Me for probably all of my earlier websites.

The funny thing is, it’s not really any additional work to make sure basic responsive and accessible design / functionality is present; the process of testing it always, always, always brings up usability issues, things I haven’t thought of, little points that become involved discussions about expectations, interactivity, culture, philosophy. Like ‘left and down’ is back in time, and ‘right and up’ forward; 下个礼拜 / 上个礼拜. Next week / last week. Yet the character for ‘next’ is xià, down, less than, lower; and ‘last’ (in the sense of ‘previous’) is shàng, up, more than, higher. So how to navigate between previous and next posts or projects turns into an open-ended contextual exchange on meaning.

And ‘responsive’, ‘accessible’? Basic, fundamental web design. Not something tacked on at the end.

Back to the design. System fonts! Something I’ve not done in years, being all web-font focussed these days. Another trip through the wombat warren of devices, operating systems, CSS declarations. It’s crazy impressive how deep people go in exploring this stuff. Emile Blue! A bit like International Klein Blue, and a bit like Web / HTM 4.01 Blue. But not! We worked this in with a very dark grey and very slightly off-white, bringing in and throwing out additional colours, and managing in the end to sort out all the interaction visual feedback though combinations of these three — like the white text on blue background for blockquotes. Super nice.

As usual, mad props to DreamHost for I dunno how many years of hosting (it was Emile who said to me, “Frances. Use DreamHost.”), WordPress for running Emile’s old and new sites (and all of mine), and Let’s Encrypt for awesome and free HTTPS. And to Emile for giving me the pleasure of making the website of one of my favourite artist.

Emile’s new website is here: https://emilezile.com

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Museo della Storia di Bologna

The day after opening Parsifal, and I couldn’t even persuade myself to sleep in, so … To the Museums!

Unlike Berlin, where I live and know a reasonable amount about the city, Bologna is entirely new to me (ok, besides spaghetti bolognese). Indeed, this is my first time in Italy. I suppose this means I experience a museum in this city more as it is intended: an educational summary of a specific topic. Dasniya and I decided to go to the Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna, but it seemed it would close not long after we got there. Across from Piazza del Francia we passed the Palazzo Pepoli, containing the Museo della Storia di Bologna, one of several museums that are part of Genus Bologniae. Open until 7pm and barely 2pm, we decided it would be a perfect choice for an hour or two. It was nearly closing by the time we left. I think the sheer number of photos I took and the number that ended up here illustrate what a fine time both Dasniya and I had.

This is the museum of the history of Bologna, and it goes back to the Etruscans, around 700BCE, when it was known as Felsina. It was also the city of Cassini, the Cassini, a satellite bearing his name orbiting now around Mars, who was a remarkable astronomer at a time of revolution in the field. This, and the art of building time-pieces (along with mercantile families and their ventures, and the famous university) is what the museum is built around. The Palazzo Pepoli of the family Pepoli dates back around 800 years, and while the museum doesn’t cover them as much as I’d have liked, it did devote the last exhibit in the formal dining hall to a series of 11 busts made in the 17th century of generations of women from the family, each of them spectacular in their own right.

I took an audio guide again, after my very good experience with one at the Musikinstrumenten-Museum a couple of weeks ago. It was a good decision, as all the exhibits are in Italian, though they also have information sheets in several languages in every room; the audio guide really adds a fantastic amount. It’s tempting to go through each room as a recollection here, but I think the photos capture something of that, and it’s sufficient to say I understand the city I’m working in far better than I did a few hours ago and have fallen into something of a love affair with the place, and Italy.

So, some flat notes amidst what is one of the most splendid museums set in one of the most beautiful city palaces I’ve ever been in. Despite the Pepoli women mentioned above, it’s unavoidable the museum gives a wide berth to the role of women in the history of the city. Even in the contemporary section, where 48 Bolognese are interviewed, only 5 of them are women; barely clearing 10%. Otherwise, it’s a sausage-fest, which is a pity, as the Pepoli women prove, the city has a history at least as long their family in which women play a central role.

The other, which coming from Berlin could never have been gotten away with in that city, was the exhibit (about a fifth of one of the 35 rooms) covering the Second World War. Or rather, “Liberata. Risorgere! Ai vittoriosi” “Liberation. Rise again! For the victorious”. No mention of Italian collaboration, fascism, Jews sent to concentration camps, just, “April 1945! Yay! … Oh, and the city was heavily bombed … Sad city is sad …” In Germany a museum would probably end up in prison for historical revisionism.

Besides that, this is a brilliant museum, varied and stimulating, beautifully laid out, so much attention to detail and the creative display of exhibits (a red Ducati next to a Roman chariot in the exhibit on the Roman Via Emilia trunk road!). I feel delightfully spoilt, and a little worried; if all museums here are so good going back to Berlin is going to be a torment.

Quote

To emphasise that engagement with feminist struggl…

To emphasise that engagement with feminist struggle as political commitment, we could avoid using the phrase ”I am a feminist” (a linguistic structure designed to refer to some personal aspect of identity and self-definition) and could state, “I advocate feminism.” Because there has been undue emphasis placed on feminism as an identity or lifestyle, people usually resort to stereotyped perspectives on feminism. Deflecting attention away from stereotypes is necessary if we are to revise our strategy and direction. I have found that saying “I am a feminist” usually means I am plugged into preconceived notions of identity, role, or behaviour. When I say, ”I advocate feminism,” the response is usually, “What is feminism?” A phrase like ”I advocate” does not imply the kind of absolutism that is suggested by “I am.” It does not engage us in the either/or dualistic thinking that is the central ideological component of all systems of domination in Western society. It implies that a choice has been made, that commitment to feminism is an act of will. It does not suggest that by committing oneself to feminism, the possibility of supporting other political movements is negated.

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, bell hooks

The last free people on the planet

I started reading Neuroanthropology a couple of years ago at least, and it has been one of the first blogs I suggest when I find myself in discussions around certain topics, particularly the cultured body and this specifically in dance, theatre and other physical situations.

Today I have read a number of articles and blog posts that are high exemplars of thoughtful analysis and to me underscore the brilliance of new media as it has grown in the past several years; individuals who are unabashedly passionate about their fields on interest and recognise the importance of their voices in providing not just a bulwark against the endless mediocrity and often willful disingenuousness of commercial media, but often altruistically providing considered, articulate, educated writing that could exist nowhere else.

Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology today wrote a piece that at its absolute minimum is all this: ‘The last free people on the planet’. It’s over 11000 words (and that’s before even clicking any of the extensive links or further reading), so find a spot in the sun if you’re in Brussels, along with something to drink, take an hour and read this.

(Some) Stuff I Read This Week

For some reason I decided to start using Twitter again — I suspect iPhone — and without any clear purpose thought to keep track of (some of) what I trawl through every day from the various news feeds I subscribe to. Certainly not a complete list… I wouldn’t even bore myself with that. (For those of you who like Twitter, I am here: francesdath)

Hannah Arendt And The Challenge Of Modernity: A Phenomenology Of Human Rights http://bit.ly/al0fTY

Publishing Bigotry: What Obligations Do We Have? http://bit.ly/ap8JfM

The Banksoniain #16 http://www.banksoniain.netfirms.com/banksoniain_16.pdf

From the Feuilletons (10/09/2010) http://www.signandsight.com/intodaysfeuilletons/2067.html

Insights From The Afghan Field http://www.currentintelligence.net/reviews/2010/9/6/insights-from-the-afghan-field.html

What Books on Afghanistan? http://easterncampaign.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/what-books-on-afghanistan/

Can we really say Wen is insincere? http://cmp.hku.hk/2010/09/10/7524/

You have failed us, Mr. Wen http://cmp.hku.hk/2010/09/09/7483/

William S. Burroughs’ Lost Graphic Novel Ah Pook Is Here Gets Exhumed http://bit.ly/99IVYd

Corruption in Afghanistan, Part DLXXII: Kabul Bank in Crisis http://bit.ly/bzJYzu

On Clean Energy, China Skirts Rules http://nyti.ms/crIV9P

If We Only Had Twelve Fingers http://cabinet-of-wonders.blogspot.com/2010/09/if-we-only-had-twelve-fingers.html

Obama: I mean it — tax the rich http://bit.ly/d8mJZR

China’s Other Billion: Mud Houses in China’s Powerhouse http://bit.ly/aghJ9U

Being Jewish in Shanghai http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/09/being-jewish-in-shanghai-photos/62574/

Racist patriarchy in Israel, updated http://leninology.blogspot.com/2010/09/racist-patriarchy-in-israel-updated.html

‘Livelihood Issues’ http://www.literaryreview.co.uk/mirsky_09_10.html

Shenzhen Special Economic Zone celebrates 30 years
http://www.danwei.org/front_page_of_the_day/shenzhen_special_economic_zone.php

Hungary: Heterosexual Pride March http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/09/06/hungary-heterosexual-pride-march/

Thesis: That’s why they go to war http://www.antropologi.info/blog/anthropology/2010/war

Book review: Goodbye to London – Radical Art and Politics in the Seventies http://bit.ly/9fBkhH

Awesome death spiral of a bizarre star http://bit.ly/crFrQH

Readin: GYP. http://www.languagehat.com/archives/003982.php

Thoughts on Inner Mongolia (內蒙古回顧) http://www.portraitofanlbx.com/2010/09/thoughts-on-inner-mongolia-內蒙古回顧/

Hu’s Shenzhen speech: the numbers http://cmp.hku.hk/2010/09/06/7383/

Israel: “Rape by deception” turns out to be brutal rape of a vulnerable and abused woman http://bit.ly/9tYI9q

Assigning a gender to be appealed
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/09/06/3004047.htm

Restrepo http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/09/05/restrepo/

ich habe deutsche gelernt… ein bisschen

Oh it’s finished. A month of learning German five hours a day, grammar grammar grammar… my brain hurt from all the new pathways being made… mmm so now I feel I know it less well than French still. But improving.

Wanted to write more but feeling lazy…