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Making Contact?: Notes Towards Day 3 (Tues, Sept. 6)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. welcome into week 2!

* our first job is to learn one another's names:
make sure you know those of those sitting on either side of you--
then: introductions

* pass around/verify conference schedule
(Maia, Irene, Cathy--I already need to re-schedule
next Wed; check in after class, please!)

expect the same from you: let me know
ahead of time if you develop a conflict,
we'll reschedule...


* talk about the field trip on Tues, Oct. 25;
we'd asked you to miss another class
and/or re-schedule work and practice, for this,
if possible, but Han Bin, Maia, Rachel, Cathy
listed other classes
(& Francesca had mentioned a game?)
as conflicts--how to negotiate this?
please ask, see what push-back you get, then decide??

* so you handed in your first college paper!
talk about writing/submitting/posting these:
technically, emotionally, intellectually?
(did you read one another's? any first impressions?
any heads-up for next time??)

* before class ends, I'll talk about the next paper, due this Friday.

* On Thursday, a good searching conversation about the complexities of June Jordan's essay--
both how she wrote it and what she was arguing....for me, the punch line was that a story
can be more complicated/less coherent than an essay w/ an argument!

II. for today, we asked you to read another very complicated
story/argument, Mary Louise Pratt's 1991 essay, "Arts of the Contact Zone,"
which works on answering the question Jordan raises, about 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
Let's start with those today:
partner up now (count off to 4, in order to mix yourselves up...)
groups 1 & 2,  figure out together
what the "argument" is for the first video;
groups 3 & 4 do this for the second one.
they're both very short; if you didn't watch them,
do so together now....

report back; compare reports, and then:
is there agreement or an argument across these two?

III. so: what does all this have to do w/
what Pratt calls "arts of the contact zone"?

i'd asked you to mark both a passage that
had some "heat" or "energy" for you,
and a passage that summarizes her argument.
get these out...

let's do a "text rendering": go around and read aloud 
the passages that had heat some for you...
what are we hearing?

what is the contact zone, and what does Pratt say
constitutes the "art" of negotiating in such a space?
what did you write down as the argument?
how was it to read this, searching for the argument?
what is going on with the essay's shape and structure?
how are the passages you read aloud related to each
other/to the argument??

this essay is about the complexities of negotiating speech communities
* in the classroom
* on a larger global scale
* and (per the videos!) across species!
--because of and around issues of power….

let's look @ ourselves, would you describe the way
we talk--how transparent are we? how much do we translate?
consider hand-raising/computer using/leaving class/what else...?
helps you fell invited in/called in, not called out??
do we experience these things differently?
how to negotiate those differences?

V. (by 12:35): 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
[a student who took this class two years ago shared a
musical version of this story, & I put up a link: !]
again: do your own text rendering—where's the heat? what's the argument?
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 analyze the story you told in your first paper this weekend, in light of ONE of the three texts we are discussing this week.  Use LeGuin's, Butler's OR  Pratt’s text to re-read your account of your own experience: how would one of these essayists read your story (for example, in light of power relations)? Alternatively, you could consider  how your experience might expand or revise our understanding of one of these texts.

[many of you "laid" Jordan's essay alongside your experience--something similar happened to me...
I want you to work the gap this time: how does Pratt (for ex) push what you thought you knew about what happened to you....?]
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
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"