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

Anne Dalke's picture

--check in about screen reader, etc.

I. coursekeeping

go 'round w/ names
sign up w/ user names
verify conference schedule
send papers to us on an e-mail, attached as word doc
(not as text in the e-mail, or as pdf, or as a google doc--because we will be writing on them;
& with "Name2" as title--think about what's accumulating on our desktops!);
also post on-line, tagged as "web paper"--> not as attached docs, which aren't searchable;
and not tagged as  "Cohen/Dalke course notes," which is a different animal--
so go back and un-tag, A&S!)

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

--"listening" convos @ 1:30 today, 10 a.m. tomorrow about gender variant applicants

--afterthoughts from thursday? (re: june jordan, our ability to free ourselves from cultural categories, and connect?)

II. for today, we asked you to read Mary Louise Pratt's 1991 essay, Arts of the Contact Zone.
and do the same exercise as last week:
marking first--what the text says;
second--how it "fits" (or fails to...) w/ what you know;
third--what it "argues."

we also asked you to view two videos:
Attenborough: the amazing lyrebird sings like a chainsaw!
Israeli attacks on Palestinean olive trees
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"?
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?
link up argument with some examples: how are they related?
this is about the complexities of speech communities
* in the classroom
* on a larger global scale (Ferguson, Ukraine...?)
* and (per the videos!) across species!

IV. many of you wrote, in your postings, about the ability to communicate,
to connect, with other human beings, animals, even natural objects. For example,

The first encounter that I remember was sitting in a grumpy, irritated mood and
suddenly (or co-incidentally) observing the waves rushing towards the shore, coming right at me,
as if a person were running at the speed of light just to come and tell me something.

smartinez: Her eyes spoke a language I could not yet grasp but really wanted to understand,
so I signed a few forms and out we pranced. Hyperness and all she stopped growling and
instead began to curl up next to me the entire car ride home.

zara: As I tried to avoid their eye contact, I locked eyes with a girl, whose eyes were startlingly like mine.
It was like looking into a mirror, like staring into an alternate universe in which I was the beggar and not the privileged.

Quite a few of you (not just smartinez, but also Leigh Alexander, Green, weilla, changing9, nienna)
focused in particular on the possibility of non-verbal communication with animals, but The Unknown
problematized this exchange:
I question the idea that we have a "companion species" becauseone cannot
ignore the fact that dogs were domesticated by humans. Dogs have been trained for years to be friendly,
obedient, constantly search for human attention, to love, and to care. Did they decide to be our pets?
Do they critically think about why they obey our commands? Probably no….they have been taught to display…
qualities of loyalty. How much free will are pets really acting on…? Many of our notions of how animals interact are artificial…

Let’s talk about this idea for a little bit…how much of what we think of as
authentic “contact” is actually “artificial”: training or socialization?

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.
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 to re-consider the
encounter in the “contact zone” you described in your short posting on Monday,
in light of ONE of the three texts we are discussing this week.  In other words,
how does LeGuin's, Butler's OR Pratt’s text alter your understanding of your
own experience? 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 recogniz
transculturation to describe processes whereby members ofs ubordinated or marginal groups select and invent fi'om 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 patrimon
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—n
ot 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?jJustify 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"