Reading: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak — An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (2nd Attempt)

I started reading this a couple of years ago, which might have already been my second attempt. It’s been giving me disappointed looks from my ‘currently reading’ pile ever since. But, having successfully reminded myself how to read dense theory again, while spending months on Edward Said’s Orientalism earlier this year, I thought it was time to suck it up and get back into Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. The problem is, she’s so fucking brilliant, I’ll read a sentence and spend half an hour just thinking it through.

On that, then, I decided to just quote some of these bangers. Ending the Preface, on page xvi:

Gender is the last word. Figure out the double binds there, simple and forbidding.

Starting the Introduction, page 1:

Globalization takes place only in capital and data. Everything else is damage control.

Next on page 2:

The most pernicious presupposition today is that globalization has happily happened in every aspect of our lives. Globalization can never happen to the sensory equipment of the experiencing being, except insofar as it always was implicit in its vanishing outlines. Only an aesthetic education can continue to prepare us for this […]

Quoting Hanna Arendt on page 3:

“The general future of mankind has nothing to offer individual life, whose only certain future is death.”

Page 4:

We want the public sphere gains and the private sphere constraints of the Enlightenment; yet we must also find something relating to “our own history” to counteract the fact that the Enlightenment came, to colonizer and colonized alike, through colonialism, to support a destructive “free trade,” and that top-down policy breaches of Enlightenment principles are more the rule than exception.

I spent most of breakfast on that page 1 Introduction quote, swearing at its magnificence, meme-ing Where is the lie? tru dat, and that’s the T, and realising it’s gonna take me about 2 years to read this at this pace.

Reading … Book of the Year 2016 (Non-Fiction): Kathryn Babayan, Afsaneh Najmabadi (Eds.) — Islamicate Sexualities: Translations Across Temporal Geographies of Desire

My non-fiction Book of the Year for 2016: Kathryn Babayan’s and Afsaneh Najmabadi’s (Eds.) Islamicate Sexualities: Translations Across Temporal Geographies of Desire.

And my full list of what I read in the last year: Reading … A 9th Anniversary.

Reading: Kathryn Babayan, Afsaneh Najmabadi (Eds.) — Islamicate Sexualities: Translations Across Temporal Geographies of Desire

Afsaneh Najmabadi is one of my favourite writers. My first encounter with her was two years ago with Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity. 2013 Book of the Year for me. That same year, she published Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran, which I read last year. Book of the Year again. Obviously I’d have Islamicate Sexualities: Translations Across Temporal Geographies of Desire, edited by her and Kathryn Babayan, at the top of my reading list. It’s been on my shelf a few weeks now, one of that pile I collected when I sold off the bollocks. I started it a couple of times, got diverted into other books, made a diligent foray into the first part over breakfast and you wanna talk about books you can’t put down? This is it.

I was rewriting my biography last week, amazing how many hours can be spent on 240 words. I realised that it’s been a while since Central Asia, specifically Afghanistan, has been one of the foci of my studies. China’s still there, mediæval northern European / germanic history has sprung from nowhere to rout swathes of interests, as has Islamic history.

A big one right there, “Islamic History”. What does that even mean? Well, my interests in China did and do have a component that’s concerned with the borders, not China proper, occupied China, whatever we might agree in the future is the term for Tibet, Xinjiang, even the provinces like Guangdong and others, which could be regarded as discrete countries, and in that Islam plays a role, either in Xinjiang as the eastern-most region of Central Asia, or in Guangdong as the port on trade routes that saw significant Muslim presence. Then there’s my Central Asian / Afghanistan interest, obviously Islamic (as well as Buddhist and others), which in the past few years has slid more consciously over into an interest in Iran, thanks in no small amount to Najmabadi. And then there’s whatever is in Berlin, which reaches out to Germany, and across Europe. A history of any of these is inextricable from a history of people who also happened to be Muslim, whether immigrants, descendants of immigrants, or locals (not sure how long you have to be a descendant for before you’re a local; that’s the conversation we’re having right now).

So I’m vaguely defining my current interests and studies as Northern European & Germanic mediæval, Islamic, and Chinese history, with an emphasis on women’s roles and representation. Which sounds like a whole tanker of “What the Fuck?” but if there’s one thing I do even if I don’t consciously trust my doing, it’s have seemingly wildly divergent interests that are in actual fact deeply intertwined. (And yes, my love of hoonage is not incommensurable with this.) And it’s people like Najmabadi and books like Islamicate Sexualities that help me understand this.

And what a book. If the quality of a book can be measured by the number of works mentioned which go onto my Must Buy! Ned Cash 4 Bookz list, this one will bankrupt me.

I was watching the première of Pitch on the weekend. It’s a Fox TV series about a young black woman who becomes the first woman to play for a Major League baseball team; a serious drama marketing campaign equivalent of the “You Never Lamb Alone” ad (“What’s the best thing about diversity? Everything!”). I have zero interest in baseball, but there I was watching it when for a split second the camera cuts to close-up pan the grandstands and it’s totally “What’s the best thing about diversity? Everything!” cos there’s a woman standing wearing a long white hijab in a crowd that’s multicultural as fuck. I don’t know if this is representative of an average baseball crowd, my feeling (informed only by unintentional slopping around the edges of US sports culture) is that American baseball has one of the whiter sports audiences, not NASCAR, but over that end of the spectrum. What that image is about is desire — even if it’s primarily driven by marketing and money. In combination with casting a black woman as a rookie Major League player, it says, “We see you and we want you here.” And again, even if this is cravenly driven by money, we see ourselves in this and once we are visible, we can decide how to interpret our image. And if we don’t see ourselves, we’re nothing.

And how, Frances, does this relate to Islamicate Sexualities? Same weekend, watching the second episode of High Maintenance where the first story is about a young South Asian student living in Brooklyn with her religious aunt and uncle, negotiating that while wanting to get blazed on the roof. The first essay, also the introduction goes between Orientalism, homo-nationalism, queer colonialism, mediæval history, post-colonial theory, to sketch out a broad proposal for how we might talk about sexualities, and by extension identities, for people living in and coming from Islamicate regions, cultures, and/or backgrounds. And talking about ourselves, not being talked about.

Somewhere recently I said I was only interested in reading works coming from this perspective, that the issues and questions around desire, identity, self and community would only find partial, incomplete answers in feminism/queer/whatever we’re currently calling it that was located within an Anglo-Euro-American (throw in Australasian) historical frame of reference, a reference that’s inherently white. Or to put it another way, we’re not going to find an answer to colonialism from colonialists. This is something I think has become unambiguous from living in Europe and Germany, where not only is there an unwillingness to regard immigrants of how ever many generations distant as ‘German’, we’re not even at the point of admitting this a fundamental problem. My reading of works like Katherine Pratt Ewing’s Stolen Honor: Stigmatizing Muslim Men in Berlin, and Ruth Mandel’s Cosmopolitan Anxieties: Turkish Challenges to Citizenship and Belonging in Germany played a big part in beginning to understand this and formulate my thinking, as did more recently Seyla Benhabib’s The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens. I’m reading writers like these substantially because they’re the only ones prepared to address these issues.

Islamicate Sexualities was published in 2008, emerging from a seminar held in 2003. That’s a generation, a lifetime ago, the seminar a few months older than 4Chan; the book barely younger than tumblr. Yeah, I’m talking about 4Chan and tumblr. If you want to understand how transgender/transsexual/trans people (I mean trans women here) and identities came over the last few years (call it a decade) to where they are now, places like these (along with LiveJournal, and probably MySpace, but that’s all been lost) are critical. And how fast this is moving means a book like this is going to miss a huge part of the conversation as much as it retroactively informs and predicts. (And as for why our part of the conversation is only recently tipped the queer/cool meter, that’s the history of Anglo-Euro-American feminism/queer right there.) I’ve barely read the first part, so I’m not pre-emptively criticising it here, just pointing out its age, how things have changed in eight years, and what that might mean for a prospective reader.

Reading: Michel Serres — Variations on the Body (trans. Randolph Burks)

Michel Serres is probably my favourite philosopher. Of the crop of post-68ers, Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida, all the names that are almost compulsory to be able to at least nod knowingly about if one wants to seem relevant in the contemporary dance milieu (to speak nothing of elsewhere) he goes strangely unmentioned. Possibly it’s changed in the last few years, but it was for me only by hanging out with some philosophers in Auckland and Melbourne who were dead keen on Serres that I know of him at all, as I am pretty certain I’ve not come across him otherwise, or not in a way that I can pin down as notable.

It’s because he wrote on dance, specifically ballet, that think so highly of him. Or perhaps it’s because when I first encountered him he wrote so beautifully, so poetically, so unlike every other philosopher, sometimes incomprehensibly (though never in the way that say, Derrida or Lacan did). I photocopied all the books of his I could find in the University library: The Parasite, Rome: The Book of Foundations, Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, of course Genesis … his brilliant essay Gnomon: The Beginnings of Geometry in Greece in A History of Scientific Thought: Elements of a HIstory of Science (along with every other essay in there, especially Catherine Goldstein’s Stories of the Circle), photocopied because otherwise impossibly expensive. Even by the affordable prices of Germany, I can seldom afford what translations exist of his work: Variations on the Body caused me to wince and look the other way when I handed over the cash, and it’s tiny, a mere 162 pages. Beautifully bound and presented though, which honestly makes up for a lot for me when it comes to buying academic-ish texts; it’s really a book to hold and enjoy the tactile pleasure of the embossed cover and heavy paper.

This translation then, by Randolph Burks (member of the Unemployed Philosophers’ Guild: The Lens Grinders) I have in two versions: latterly this printed one, an actual book; formerly a pdf which I think I snagged on the most excellent blog devoted to Serres. Same translation, different work. The French version is lavishly illustrated, something of a habit for Serres (Angels: A Modern Myth, for example). The English translation in book form is entirely bereft of illustrations, a compromise to getting it printed at all, which likely indicates the relative popularity of Serres compared to other French philosophers. The illustrations and photographs are not careless decoration, so the printed translation actually is substantially a lesser work, despite the work of Burks, who I think – based on the other translations I’ve read – makes me feel like I’m reading Serres without a go-between.

Serres does have his problems: there’s a distinct heterosexual male perspective in both his choice of words and choice of metaphors, similes, examples, which if nothing else shows his age (83, born in 1930), and Variations on the Body, with long sections devoted to romanticising mountaineering as an understanding of the philosophy of the body seems prone to this more than others. Ah, but it’s beautiful, it’s really not frequent for philosophy to make me smile with joy, but Serres, he does it all too often. He sometimes writes in a way which reminds me quite a bit of Chuang Tzu’s The Inner Chapters. So I’m enjoying this book immensely and think I will take seriously my desire to go on a Serres bender.

pestilence days 15-17

I’ve been editing DVDs this week, first all the people i can remember sleeping with…, then monadologie, and in the background, this, pestilence. Mostly because the source material will take some time to prepare, images, audio, remembering to de-interlace the video when I export to m2v… And I was looking through my folder of choreography, the works I’ve made since 2002, and thinking, ‘ooooo!!! would be rather nice to start another piece!!!’, except I have three now in varying stages of completeness that may never see anything further eventuate.

I wanted to not choreograph, and this was something that came from monadologie, how to evolve rules that could operate from initial conditions to generate something the same, something different every time. There my realisation was that it’s formidably difficult to do this to the entirety of a choreographed body in a single instant. This time I think, rather than focus on the minute details, it was the gross, most easily seen dancing and dancing together that somehow seemed to be made.

I was interested in the Tarantella both as a formal dance of the era blanketed by pestilence, and as some ecstatic, frenzied, mad collective convulsion brought on by a spider bite, or the plague, or typhus, or an expurging of the horror of war, famine, disease, suffering. So it was initially a retinue of corporeal, digestive and pulmonary spasms, we’d do and video and watch and criticise and repeat, eventually to make something consistent between us.

Lately I keep returning to Kristeva and abjection, and perhaps as is similar with my favourite Baudrillard quote, her musing on this horror represents an over-arching concern in my work. Perhaps a good name for a piece sometime. These same days rehearsing I made a remark about calling a piece, ‘ugly stuff for beautiful people because i hate you’, a continuation of the idea in ‘i like hate and hate everything else’. And around this time I was talking with Daniel about how precarious my existence is because I am held at the whim and pleasure of a medical establishment that is acutely conservative and perhaps without the cultural and political pressure exerted by queers of all stripes, collectively we would find ourselves pathologised in ways and degrees we hope have been consigned to a shameful history.

So the tarantella was both a possessed malady and transcendentally ecstatic, and furthermore communal. So Daniel and I learnt to do this together, to convulse and shiver and trip, stagger, fall, lose balance and control, neither follow nor lead, both anticipate each other and keep going for as long as we could. Over time with this… mmm it becomes unverbalised, all the rules or parameters or suggestions, and maybe this is so much of this work. We got quite good at moving together and fast without preexisting steps…

Unverbalised. Possibly explaining the paucity of writing in my notebook, the cursory research, and unpredictable blogging. So much of this work was made from talking around it, one or two lines maybe and then frequent scatological digressions and bodily humour. So different from my long-standing over-compensating, evenings spent planning the next day, justifying every decision. But of everything in this piece, the Tarantella, set to Wagner’s Tannhauser overture is possibly the one unfolding of a new thought in all the previous several weeks.

pestilence last days

If I’m looking for acceptable, believable excuses, then lack of internet at home, necessary for late-night bed blogging, and an on-going crappiness with internet at Cibo are amenable to this patheticness. Other more feasible excuses include lack of interest compounded by the above two, and a sense of pause or finishing in my life.

Friday night was the last rehearsal of pestilence. Daniel and I worked in the afternoon for some hours on the six sections and returned in the darkness with Alison to video it all till past midnight. We dance well at night, something fragile in the world, a timelessness, not awake, nor tired, not hungry nor sated, and minutes, hours speed past.

I was walking home this afternoon along Gouger St, past the entire block of former car dealers and other nondescript warehouse industry, white painted film-set uprights, all now fenced off for some, I imagine, gentrification-of-the-West-End project, or perhaps multi-story carparks. In the weak sun I thought it was necessary to blog in hindsight these last couple of weeks, something otherwise missing from this long and unusual project.

It was a project unlike any other, not the least for not having a end-of-project showing of some type (and Friday night while feeling in our bodies like a performance, was… something other), and further for the lack of methods I’ve used in other projects, or more precisely maybe, a lack of my usual obsessive analysing and daily preparation.

I just couldn’t bring myself to do that again this time. I couldn’t find any satisfaction in any of the texts I’d read in preparation, I couldn’t drag anything from this, I desperately didn’t want to repeat myself, and yet had no idea how to make something I’d not done before.

The day before, we revisited the Holbein stuff, grab-bite-drop, which came from all the people…, and has been sitting there doing nothing for about a month. With unusual application, we managed to relearn them and add in extra bits for some 1 1/2 minutes of madness. Choreography of a type. It was fun to do and injected some life into us, and terror, and bruises, swellings, numb funny bones, abrasions and other expected menaces of falling over.

And then the Tarantella. Tannhauser. Ecstatic, desperate wild and transcendental dancing, how to choreograph without steps, how to remain together, how to endure this for what feels like an eternity.

I’ve started editing the dvd of Friday night, and… it’s not usual for me to spend too much time watching my stuff after I’ve finished, I need to remember it in a way from inside, unlike perhaps when I’m not performing in it. But I’ll have to watch it somewhat in the next week, and make some statements, vague, blind gropings for what this piece could be if it was to be finished in some manner. So perhaps to write them here also.


pestilence day 14

Obviously today I am completely distracted and nervous and managed to do little except lie on the floor spontaneously falling asleep, inbetween working on the abjection stuff and going through most of the scenes we have already. I won’t be rehearsing till later this week for reasons to do with aforementioned nervousness.

Anyway, until I return from a small holiday, here are some photos of flowers, Lilies.

pestilence day 13

Friday, rehearsal 13, night and darkness. Daniel and I seem to work rather well when the building creaks and groans, possums scurry in through rotten guttering, dust and the rot of building disease fall from the rafters in a gentle drizzle. The darkness is eerie, and we turn off man lights, warm ourselves with the bar heater, cluster around laptop, chocolate and notebooks and entertain ourselves past the witching hour.

Abjection. Yes, we finally got it, all nine or so minutes after a couple of walk-talk-throughs and then it became … fun. There is a skeleton of motion which is largely the same, cycles of repetition that unintentionally came from both the improvisations and the editing of video. But that’s not the scene. Retching, gagging, mouths running with saliva, eyes watering, involuntary bodily noises and shudders, mess and the smell of spit, fingers probing noses, ears, mouths, asses, the taste of other orifices, tongues licking and biting feet and anything that can be reached, this is the choreography, the fun in the scene.

I spent the previous night and Friday morning reading Baurdillard and Foucault, and watching some of epidemic again, preparation for the night. In the end only one scene was played with, a description of the Black Plague as it ravaged a town in 14th Century Italy. We reduced his description down to the bones, bodies dragged to mass graves, thrown in piles, dogs digging up and devouring the barely inhumed corpses, the contagiousness of breath, crosses marking the stricken.

It’s fun to do this as improvisation and then tailor it, talk and watch the video – the camera in my MacBook Pro is exceptional, it seems to have a noticeably wide lens and is so receptive in low light mmm… perfect for recording rehearsal stuff and not wanting to lug a video camera around.

So we have much of the second section of the work in some state of existence, and a couple of bits of the first half. Monday we’re going to spend most of the time going over this and hopefully it’ll all come together and be something.