Blog Review, Fall 2015
This year comes to an end. In a few weeks the national calendar gives us Xmas, and then another year. Ends are beginnings. We can celebrate the good that is done and the good that is new.
Since this past September, Watershed has connected Theory to the “real” world in inspiring ways. Bloggers took theories home, to the movies, and to the streets. We wrote about gender and sexuality. We wrote about economy and work. We wrote about studying and teaching literature. Covering Humanities on the Edge, bloggers explained Debra Hawhee’s and Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s philosophies of (post)humanism.
Reviewing Hawhee’s analysis of rhetoric in everyday life, Christina Ivey describes the “non-rational, messy, affective” means of communication people use to motivate other people. The rhetorical triangle here exceeds the typical view of “speaker, subject, and audience” by including “sensuous considerations” like the five senses, proprioception, and even electricity. Katie McWain explains how Hawhee’s work helps “conceptualize rhetoric as a kind of energy that engages our senses, our bodies, and our minds.” Interpreting Aristotle’s political philosophy, Hawhee gave a HotE lecture about diverse species of political animals. Matthew Guzman reports that according to this biocentric worldview, “the nonhuman does have some degree of political presence.” Although human beings seem to be more political, nonhuman beings perceive the world and talk somewhat like us.
In her review of Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s essay, “Outer Worlds: The Persistence of Race in Movement ‘Beyond the Human,’” Jaime Brunton explicates the author's critique of whitely forms of posthumanism. These approaches to Western metaphysics tend to suppress racial histories of slavery and colonialism. In order to move beyond humanism, scholars need to understand “the historical dehumanization of non-Euro, non-male subjects.” Alternative movements away from Eurocentric, transcendentalist “humanity” have a long yet under-represented history. Jackson’s genealogy of these movements finds that black thinkers questioned the social construction of “Man” before Michel Foucault. Aubrey Streit Krug explains how Aimé Césaire, Sylvia Winter, and “other theorists like Frantz Fanon . . . place ‘Western humanism in a broader field of gendered, racial, and colonial relations.’” After taking notes about Hegel, Africa, “DuBois & the double consciousness,” and “bifurcating potentiality,” Nick White reports that he saw the auditorium spin during Jackson's HotE lecture. She spoke about the “nature of vertigo in Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, tracing her critical approach back to DuBois’s intervention of Hegel’s racist philosophical theories on ‘the African.’” She challenged “our notions of human, reality, queerness, and blackness.”
Men and women move with and against each other. Men become women, and women become men. Gender happens in all kinds of ways. Desire takes a million shapes. Watershed bloggers theorized sexual realities at home, in films, and at yoga studios. In “Toward a Theory of the Man Cave,” Dan Froid uses Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of taste and Gaston Bachelard’s spatial poetics to understand the “irritating and puzzling” phenomenon of men’s home sanctuaries. “People whose patterns of choice and media consumption we would identify as ‘masculine’ find no shortage of ways to satisfy themselves,” and yet, paradoxically, “the man cave exists precisely to preserve this taste from danger.” Thankfully, environmental dangers are not like Mad Max’s. However, there are places that are close and global warming could lead us all toward a lawless wasteland. Jaime Brunton and Robert Lipscomb interpret the feminism of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and explain the preceding trilogy’s representation of reproductive futurity in two of a three part series. If we tend to believe that history moves toward rapturous ends, Mad Max suggests otherwise: “You gotta understand that this is home and there’s no Tomorrowland.” Investigating cinematic representations of female desire, Katie McWain and Anne Nagel conclude that it is an exciting “time to be alive!” If Laura Mulvey’s "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” showed how masculine the camera’s gaze is, recent films are constructing a “female gaze” in order “to make women desiring subjects rather sexual objects.” While the Magic Mike films seem “merely to attempt a role reversal” and the adaptation of the controversial novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, links “the female character’s sexuality with powerlessness, uncertainty, anxiety, and acquiescence,” director Abdellatif Kechiche’s adaptation of the graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Color is inspiring. Nagel argues that, “there seems to be an exchange of gazing and being gazed at, pursuing and being pursued.” Cameras enact a powerful kind of looking. They “shoot” their subjects. Skillful directors like Kechiche may be getting better at being more balanced. In general, Western constructions of gender are anything but balanced. Yet looking to the East will not necessarily help. Cameron Steele describes how traditional yoga can rely on essentialist notions of gender symbolized by the Hindu deities Shakti and Shiva. Yoga, of course, is a practice to align these different energies and to understand the power of breath. However, “traditional and contemporary yoga spaces have barred queer and trans people” through the use of language and practices reinforcing gender binaries. Steele encourages yoga teachers “to begin to change our language . . . as a way to promote not only the full conscious realization of the body but of sex itself.”
Economically, Western life today seems like an Honoré de Balzac novel. The rich are very rich, and stories about social mobility are tragic. Marxist inquiries about ideology, labor, and ownership attempt to understand how knowledge and power rely upon machines and the ways people use them to produce social goods. Daniel Clausen defends “artisanal economies” like farmer’s markets and DIY cultures from critics, who believe that these arts and crafts cultures effectively perform a “nostalgia-based consumption that has been the privilege of the elite.” He argues that artisanal craftsmanship is “not about consumption at all. It is about production” and a dignified kind of “self-sufficiency.” Personally, I like how Clausen suggests ways to resist the abstract, postmodern quality of Western life through “real” work in the world. In my essay about the seeming intractability of capitalist ideology and the rare possibilities for subverting it, I argue that critical theorists “can raise consciousness to a point at which it no longer takes comfort in ideology. They can help people from being blind and comfortable about it.” I also find that Roland Barthes and Chela Sandoval have written crucial theories of resistance against “the oppression of the proletariat and the colonized.” One local way in which these power struggles are playing out is the proposed development of Lincoln’s Near South neighborhood. In Watershed’s first podcast, I interview Paul Clark and Amanda Huckins about their work at neighborhood meetings, and facilitate a conversation about the power of language in contexts of urban development. In “Textual Possession: Some Thoughts on Materiality, Ownership, and the Power of Books,” Gabi Kirilloff questions the “distinction between ‘real’ books and digital texts,” and further investigates how e-books challenge the acquisitive nature of reading cultures. Not only do people read texts to define themselves and the world in which they live, they also buy book objects in order to make these definitions. Kirilloff explains, “possessing objects becomes a way to forge hierarchies and identities. . . we both possess and are possessed by objects.” What we own can end up owning us.
In ways similar to the changes electronic media have effected in reading cultures, new media are changing how people teach writing. Nick White and Raul Palma explain their pedagogy for multimedia writing workshops. This spring, they will give talks on this topic at the upcoming Association of Writers and Writing Program Conference in Los Angeles. In the panel, “The Multimodal Workshop: Digital Pedagogy in the Creative Writing Classroom,” they will elaborate how instructors can use “visual, audio, and tactile texts in their teaching as well as share practical methodologies for cultivating interdisciplinary projects.” Aubrey Streit Krug discusses another kind of technology for the literary classroom. She writes about the role of theory in literary scholarship. She recounts how a professor she studied with in college challenged her to interpret wordplay in Susan Glaspbell’s one-act play, Trifles, according to Jacques Derrida’s famous essay about a letter, “Différance.” She concludes that theory is a performative act of citing other theorists and asking “questions about how things work and how they might work differently.” In classrooms about stories, students and teachers benefit knowing and developing good meta-stories.