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Towards Day 3 (Tues, 9/8): Making Contact?

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping

go 'round w/ names--help us remember yours?
(Anne is one of SEVEN "A" names, only one with a single syllable!)
sign up w/ e-mail addresses, user names
also pass around/verify conference schedule

some technical bits about your paper-submissions:
send papers to me on an e-mail, attached as word doc  (Grace?),
not as text in the e-mail (Angela, Creighton, Madi),
not as "pages" (Aayzah, Akane--do you not have Word?)
need a single platform, for ease ofwriting on/returning them;
submit them "Name2" as title--think about what's accumulating on my desktop!);
also post on-line, tagged as "web paper"--> not as attached docs, which aren't searchable.

--talk about writing/submitting/posting these first papers: technically, emotionally, intellectually?
(did you read one another's? any first impressions? any hands-up for next time??)

On Thursday, a GREAT conversation about  June Jordan--got very quickly to the heart of her essay,
and the possibilities she raises about our ability to free ourselves from cultural categories, and connect:
we foregrounded "the difference between a common identity that has been imposed,
and the individual identity any one of us will choose" [common vs. ind'l, imposed vs. chosen],
Jordan argues that the former--"the usual race and class concepts of connection,
or gender assumptions of unity, do not apply very well"; that ""partnership in misery
does not necessarily provide for partnership for change"; she claims instead that it is
"what we can do for each other that will determine the connection."
we stopped right @ the end, with her saying that "I must make the
connection real between me and these strangers everywhere,
before those other clouds unify this ragged bunch of us, too late"
what are the 'other clouds' that might unify us?
II. for today, we asked you to read Mary Louise Pratt's
1991 essay, Arts of the Contact Zone,
which works on answering the question of how we can connect.

we also asked you to view two videos:
Attenborough: the amazing lyrebird sings like a chainsaw!
Israeli attacks on Palestinean olive trees
I want to start with those today, so
partner up now (count off to 6, in order to mix yourselves up...)
groups 1, 2, 3 figure out together what the "argument" for the first video is,
and groups 4, 5, 6 do this for the second one.
report back; compare reports, and then:
is there agreement or an argument across these two?

III. what does all this have to do w/ what Pratt calls "arts of the contact zone"?
we'd asked you to mark both a passage that had some "heat" or "energy" for you,
and a passage that summarizes her argument.
let's do a "text rendering": go around and read aloud the
passages that had heat some for you...
consider the range...
how do these passages link?
what is going on with the essay's shape and structure?
how are these passages related (to each other/to the argument?)

what is the contact zone, and what does she say
constitutes the "art" of negotiating in such a space?
what did you write down as the argument was?

how was it to read this, searching for the argument?

this is about the complexities of speech communities
* in the classroom
* on a larger global scale
* and (per the videos!) across species!

IV. how much did your postings testify to these complexities?
[from Jody's class:]

Ai97: I had a best friend when I was six. She and I would play games together, visit each others' homes, invite each other to birthday parties, and read the same books in class. But when I moved again to a new state and a new home, we were heartbroken. …Our mothers suggested becoming pen pals.…Soon, we entered middle school. Around this time, technology began playing a stronger and more prominent role in our lives. She was caught up before I was. I'd write her long, flowery letters – only to receive a hastily-written, short response many months later.…in one of the last letters she wrote me, she asked, “This gets so old sometimes. Do you have Facebook?”  I didn't then. I soon made an account. I'm on Facebook now. As of 2015, we are friends on Facebook and haven't spoken in five long years. 

ZhaoyrCecilia: Last week our custom group went to Ardmore to have chipotle… I rarely eat Mexican food as a Chinese so I don’t know what it is. …I started to get nervous. I asked my roommate what she usually eat when having a chipotle, she told me “rice, burrito, beef, chicken, sasha, blablabla…” I got really confused. When it turns to me, I just don’t know how to order. The server looked at me for a while and I looked at the food line. It was a really embarrassing silence. I just found I lost my voice and lost the ability of speaking English.…This is a really bad example of contacting with others. Some contacting mistakes often take place when people get into a new environment and new culture.

[from Anne's:]
We sat together on the bus. Quickly filing onto the bus, and sliding into a seat, each so focused on our conversation with someone else that we must not have realized we were sitting together until the bus had begun to move. At that point we must have exchanged pleasantaries, and engaged in casual conversation in between talking and laughing with others sitting nearby. It was a long bus ride, and I presume there must have been periods of silence, and staring out of the window. I thought about it some weeks later, a few months later, and now a couple of years later, yet I have never been able to recall a single word we said to each other that day. That day was the first memory I have of us, two strangers. The next thing I remember is that we were inseperable. No matter how hard I try to remember that day, and the days after it, I still cannot remember anything between us being complete strangers and being best friends.

haabibi: When [my roommate and I] first encountered, we thought we would be best friends. Yes we were for first few weeks. When all the exams were over, we had an overnight pajama party with all the snacks and ramens. We woke up together and headed over to cafeteria for breakfast. Since we were in the same class, we had lunch and dinner together too. But living with a girl whom I had never known before was getting difficult as semester went by. We had different life patterns, studying style, personality and perceptions about friend relationship. Conflicts followed. I kept all the complaints inside; she explicitly expressed her feelings. The conflicts got deeper as our ways of expressions differed. The relationship seemed so irreversible that the night we had pajama party felt like an imaginary day that I had while sleeping. Before the school break started, I decided to express my feeling and apologize for all the miscommunication through letter. It was embarrassing. It was humiliating to explicitly tell all the trivial feelings and thoughts that I did not want to show anyone. She, on the other hand, was waiting for the time to talk. After all, it turned out very fine. We apologized to each other and understood all the conflicts we had as part of the process of growing up....I learned how it is difficult to live with a person who has totally different background and life style....

V. (by 12:40): for Thursday, read two short stories about being in the contact zone,
both by famous feminist science fiction writers:
Ursula LeGuin's 1975 The Ones Who Walk Away from Ormelas
Octavia Butler's 2005 Bloodchild
[just got an e-mail from a student who took this class last year, sharing a musical version of this story;
I put up a link if you want to listen to that also: !]
do your own text rendering again—where's the heat? what's the argument?
and how well does it accord with what you know from experience (or other texts)?

By 5 p.m. on Fri, your second 3-pp. essay is due. We would like you to go back and
and analyze the  encounter in the “contact zone” you described in yesterday's short posting,
in light of ONE of the three texts we are discussing this week.  How does LeGuin's, Butler's OR
Pratt’s text alter your understanding of your own experience? How would they read your story?
OR: in what ways might your experience expand or revise our understanding of one of these texts?

Anne's Reading Notes from Pratt, "Arts of the Contact Zone":

the contact zone…I use this term to refer to social spaces where cultures meet, cloth, and grapple with each other,
often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power…Eventually I will use the term to reconsider the
models of community that many of us rely on in teaching and theorizing and that are under challenge today.
Guzman Poma's New Chronicle…an autoethnographic text…in which people undertake to describe themselves
in ways that engage with representations others have made of them…in response to or in dialogue….
they involve a selective collaboration with and appropriation of idioms of the metropolis or the conqueror…
merged or infiltrated to varying degrees with indigenous idioms to create self-representations
intended to intervene in metropolitan modes of understanding
Guzman Poma mirrors back to the Spanish (in their language, which is alien to him)
an image of themselves that they often suppress and will therefore recognize
transculturation to describe processes whereby members of subordinated or marginal groups
select and invent from materials transmitted by a dominant or metropolitan culture.

The idea of the contact zone is intended in part to contrast with ideas of community that underlie
much of the thinking about language, communication, and culture that gets done in the academy.
Languages were seen as living in "speech communities"…theorized as discrete, self-defined, coherent entities,
held together by a homogeneous competence or grammar shared identically and equally among all the members.
Modern views of language as code and competence assume a
unified and homogeneous social word in which language exists as a shared patrimony
Descriptions of interactions between people in…classrooms…readily take it for granted that
the situation is governed by a single set of rules or norms shared by all participants.
it is assumed that all participants are engaged in the same game
and that the game is the same for all players.
Often it is. But of course as often it is not.
“know why they’re nicer?...So you'll obey all the rules they don't have"
pupiling (the word doesn’t even exist, though the thing certainly does)
What is the place of unsolicited oppositional discourse, parody,
resistance, critique in the imagined classroom community?
The classroom functioned not like a homogeneous community
or a horizontal alliance but like a contact zone.
Every single text we read stood in specific historical relationships to the students in the class,
but the range and variety of historical relationships in play were enormous.
Everybody had a stake in nearly everything
The lecturer's traditional (imagined) task--
unifying the world in the class's eyes by means of a monologue
that rings equally coherent, revealing, and true for all,
forging an ad hoc community, homogeneous with respect to one's own words--
this task became not only impossible but anomalous and unimaginable.
whatever one said was going to be systematically received
in radically heterogeneous ways

that we were neither able nor entitled to prescribe.
No one was excluded, and no one was safe.
Where there are legacies of subordination, groups need places for healing and mutual recognition, safe houses.
Meanwhile, our job…remains to figure out how to make that crossroads the best site for learning that it can be.
We are looking for the pedagogical arts of the contact zone….
a systematic approach to the all important concept of cultural mediation.


Notes from “This Brief Multitude: The Anthropocene and Our Age of Disparity” --
by Rob Nixon, Rachel Carson Professor @ UWisconsin, ASLE Plenary, June 2013,
transdisciplinary socially-engaged work in the humanities:
imaginative politics of the anthropocene,
as ascendant planetary story—impact on global en’vl and
global distributional crisis (widening inequality re: access to resources)

To register epocal changes: Holocene is history;
we have entered an unprecedent geological era--
species’ geomorphic impact on planet’s physical systems,
beginning w/ 18th c. steam engine/industrialization—new era in historiography
“cheese paring” of geological time: infitesimal on time chart
indicators: great acceleration from 1950s onward of global inequality
idea of the anthropocene will play a role in shaping env’l publics
how best narrate/curate it?
impact of this charismatic story on the way we represent the global env’l and distribution crisis?

2 stories/video clips sharing a motif: the chain saw
David Hattenborough, sotto voce re superb lyrebird: clears a space in the forest
to serve as his concert platform, copying songs of 20 other species;
also a very convincing impersonation--
of a camera click, car alarm, chain saw!
12 million you-tube hits! mimic versatility, yet power/pathos of scene:
power of the chainsaw deriving from the bird’s beak:
crack in the voice, fracture of the mating song
tension between two env’l timeframes:
seasonal renewal of courtship, and intimations of mortality in saw--
tension between continuity and closure
scene from South Australia, very sparsely populated;
only one transient witness; chain saw is audible but abstract--
who wields it? functions as planetary allegory:
showdown between non-human and encroaching humanity

cf. second video: cutting down the olives trees in Palestine:
crowded scene: desperate residents fighting for the sustenance of their community
not a planetary allegory: sociospecific resource war--
drama between communities, destruction of deep-rooted communities:
hands that hold the chain saw: Israeli Defense Force--
capture by the powerful/depletion of the dispossessed

contrast between videos exposes
central tension in story of the anthropocene:
homo species receive upgrade into ultimate planetary superpower;
cf. fractures w/in human agency as econ poles grow further apart
accelerating planet change is a definitive feature of our age,
so too is deepening inequality: “the great divergence”...

even conservative commentators don’t dispute this disparity
cf. “the death of distance”: combination of arrival of digital universe
and accelerating globalization—we all will become closer
that has happened in contradictory ways:
death of distance in great divergence—>
how to tell both stories: convergent species story and divergent story?
need to compliment centripital story w/ centrifugal one
homo sapiens signaled out as primary planetary shaper:
“earth modified by human action”
env’l “hiccup”?
extraordinary planetary event of CO2 levels—>
terrify and terrifyingly predictable apocalyptic exhaustion
way of defamiliarizing catastrophe’s banality
future cannot be reduced to climate change
anthropocene meme could reanimate ideas of human responsibility
how take ecological responsibility for/respond to changed world?
divisive/schism re: what that responsibility entails
risk that new geological story could revive the kind of human hubris
that brought about crisis in the first place, justify self-involvement?
seize control of planet’s fate, lead to more species’ narcissism?
not always humility along w/ sense of agency: seen in technological fixes
history of humanity: transgressing natural limits:
“ripe w/ human-directed opportunity”
“engineered every other climate we’ve lived in: why not the planet?”
“it’s our choice what happens here”

need for more geopolitical intelligence
anthropocene has capacity to become most politicized unit of the geological time scale—
most remarkable episode in history of the planet
(Zalasiewicz re: fights among geologists: is it the end of the Holocene?)
Rob’s politics are different: centers on question of what it means
to promulgate the big H-human as a global actor,
as small h-human is fracturing, amid incrementally deepened inequality
one of most critical issues is mass urbanization:
by 2050, 80% of human population living in mega-cities,
w/ “enormous sacrifice zones”:
profound economic distance in physical proximity
(Mumbai, Rio, Johanneseburg, etc.)
atrociously distributed access to life’s resources
70 billionaires in NYC, w/ 30% of children there living in poverty
South Africa least equal society today
(“if unequal metros were countries”: equates LA w/ Dominican Republic, NYC w/ Swaziland,
Florida w/ Hong Kong, Chicago w/ El Salvador..)
completely squews the idea of the average

selective enlightenment, w/ corporations now included in the category “man”
while the poor are excluded from healthy environments
how to think about stratification, read not as layers of rock but social strata
different social strata have exerted unequal impact on the earth’s physical systems;
no discussion of human impact is complete w/out disaggrevating different communities,
re: impact on and how impacted, by unequal resources;
consider geopolitics of geology’s layered assumptions
need to engage w/ grand eco-political gesture
stratigrophy commission will decide to ratify anthropocene (or not) in 2016;
but humanists can’t let scientists alone shape this;
oil makers will try to buy story/bend to their interests
rising CO2 levels, rising oceans, and rising human disparity
“beware of plutocrats speaking of spaceship earth”
anthropocene meme is here to stay;
"but as we cross the threshold, let us mind the gap"