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Towards Day 8 (Th, 9/25): Transporting

Anne Dalke's picture

turn on the projector...

I. coursekeeping

As conversations go on, around campus, about racial and gendered divisions among us...
you will be here four years, with the capacity to participate/be in charge of these directions...

I would like us to spend some time thinking together about how--rather than
seeking retribution--we might go about repairing breaches in community trust....

By 5 p.m. Fri, 9/26: fourth "web-event," a keyword analysis of a single word that is central to
Exile and Pride.

The focus here is on working closely with the text, quoting from it, analyzing it...

during the next two weeks, we will be exploring a particular mode of
being in the world/encountering ourselves and others: that of play

By 5 p.m. Mon, 9/29: fifth short "webby" posting, describing a childhood experience of play;
for Tuesday's class:
read Robin Henig, Taking Play Seriously, New York Times (Feb. 17, 2008)
and watch  Stuart Brown, "Play, Spirit, and Character"

also to note: @ 4:30 next Tues, in Carpenter 21, a '91 BMC alum will be speaking

about "child-subjects who resisted inherited traditions of play":
Robin Bernstein, Professor of African and African American Studies and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality
In the mid-twentieth century, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted their famous "doll test" in which
they asked African American children whether they preferred black or white dolls. Most children identified white dolls
as "nice" and black dolls as "bad"--proof, the Clarks argued, that segregation damaged black children psychologically.
These findings figured pivotally in Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation
in public schools. Robin Bernstein defamiliarizes the "doll test" by locating it not in the history of Civil Rights but
instead in the history of dolls. Bernstein argues that a black child's rejection of a black doll might indeed reveal
internalized racism; but it could also constitute a rejection of violently racist practices of play that had, for a century,
been coordinated through black dolls. Thus Bernstein offers a new understanding of the Clarks' child-subjects not
as passive internalizers of racism instead as agents who resisted inherited traditions of play.

II. we asked you to finish Exile and Pride for today;
let's start up our discussion with your postings from the weekend-->

JODY's selections:
Considering the title of the book- "Exile and Pride- disability, queerness and liberation" I think I expected a story about a disabled, queer individual overcoming obstacles and finding success. This is probably why I was confused by the extensive discussion of logging, fishing and environmentalism and the very slight mention of disability. However, while reading on I came across a passage which made me think, again, about generalizations and intersectionality. Clare discusses the image that environmentalists portrayed of the "dumb brute" loggers, and goes on to write about Jim, a logger who seems quite the opposite of the image portrayed by these institutions for their benefit.

Bgenaro: When I first started reading, I was confused as to why Clare was talking about the environment of his hometown, the mountain as a metaphor, and his experience climbing the real mountain. Then, as I read further, I realized that he connects all aspects of his life to his definition of home and then exile. He eloquenty connects his sexuality, class, physical ability, education, and location to his home and exile from home. I didn't think it was possible to combine all of these different characteristics into one idenity, but he does. 

Sherry: Clare had taken a clear-cut stand at the beginning of chapter one: “I am not asking for pity. I am telling you about disability.” And then, I was pulled into a world that as I read more, it is harder to tell what really “norm” is....Clare clarified that for him, homesick did not means nostalgia since the loneliness was come from the deep skin, blood and muscles but not soul. For him, “the loss of home is about being queer”.  Until the part I have read, he tried to make a balance between “queer” and “no queer”. He acted as a “normal” person in the “normal” society but live a way that “queers” live. Maybe just because every argument in the book was from Clare’s own personal experience, I cannot tell which side is really a “norm”…

Wwu2: At first, I thought Clare is advocating the idea of protecting the environment. However, as further I read, I was amazed by the amount of information that Eli Clare compact in these chapters. She connects and criticizes from various aspects— class, race, gender, the environment— which is really compelling and powerful. Other than letting the surroundings to shape who she is, she disrupts our normal thinking patterns and reflects on how she has changed the world.

11:30-11:45: ANNE's selections
Wwu2: she disrupts our normal thinking patterns…

Quite a few of you picked up on the theme of “empathy”
(remember our comparative discussion of LeGuin and Butler's stories--
one refusing empathy, one insisting on it? and our asking, as a follow-up, for a “webby post” from each of you
reflecting on the possibility/usefulness/costs of empathy?):

Many of you were struck/surprised by Eli’s (empathetic description of the men who worked in the logging industry:

Ally: As a person who grown up in forest and now lives in urban areas, she has a more comprehensive understanding of the ‘clearcut’ issue.

Call Me Blah: I really appreciated the side of the loggers in terms of environmentalism.

Changing9: Clare discusses the image that environmentalists portrayed of the "dumb brute" loggers,
and goes on to write about Jim, a logger who seems quite the opposite of the image portrayed by these institutions for their benefit.

Rokoyo: The logging industry seems like such an inherently bad thing, but Eli Clare gave me new insight into its complexities….
Clare pointed out how our consumption habits are the same ones that make clearcutting necessary and profitable.
It reminded me of the 10 week project I’m currently working on, how I’m implicit in destructive and oppressive systems.

In other words, Eli invited us to feel some empathy for people, the complexity of whose lives-and-decisions
we’d never considered before (and whose lives-and-decisions relate to our own). Some of you wrote more
generally about the quality of empathy that this memoir engenders:

smartinez: Eli’s story so far does an excellent job at knocking down walls of common misconceptions…
Eli desires for others to be empathetic… understanding how to separate pity from sympathy and sympathy from empathy.

Changing9: this text was not written to gather sympathy for a disabled queer individual…

Hgraves:, I never felt like the author was trying to gain pity from me….

WhoAmI: I feel the same way Hgraves felt…I didn’t feel pity or sorrow because I connected with him about some of things.

Leigh Alexander: His comfort in his past and identity makes me…
feel comfortable in my own identity and my explorations of what exactly that might be.   

So: how do we understand the difference between pity, sympathy and empathy…?
Does Eli make empathy seem possible/doable?

In inviting empathy,  Eli also seemed, to some of us, to break down our sense of what is “normal”:

weilla: People would normally think the ones who suffered are vulnerable, but it might be the complete opposite.
People who suffer more would gain more experience, and through the time, they will be stronger and more imperturbable.

Sherry: I was pulled into a world that as I read more, it is harder to tell what really “norm” is…. I cannot tell which side is really a “norm”.

Aclark1: Everyone wants to be perfect. Therefore, they never try to do anything out of their norm.

Any further thoughts about this: how does this text unsettle your sense of what is the "norm"?

In inviting empathy, and so breaking down our sense of what is “normal,”

Clare also refused distinctions among us, and between ourselves and our environment:

Aquato: it would make sense that he'd talk about the environment—a place where everything is dependent on each other.
One can't focus on one aspect of social justice without first considering its impact on others, just as removing one aspect
of an ecosystem creates a cascade of effects on many other things.

Zara: I think it’s interesting that the author wants all things to be interconnected. I don’t know how I feel about that…
It is easier to break things apart and then deal with them than it is to deal with the entire system on its own.

What do you think? Where's your impulse--to bring together ideas,
or to break them apart? Are you a "lumper" or a "splitter"?...
(terms first used by Charles Darwin, frequently since, to distinguish those
in any discipline who seek similarites, from those who look for differences...)

III. 11:45-12:15: back to Eli's text...via an image...
three weeks ago, we asked you to introduce yourselves to
one another by selecting a username and avatar to "represent" yourself.

Eli did something similar when, as part of his transition, he re-named himself
(the name his mother first chose for him is in one of his poems,
"The Stories Mama Tells," p. 56 in The Marrow's Telling:
"Elizabeth, my preemie baby.../From her I learned the words...birth accident").

He also selected an "avatar" for his own webpage. It is part of a painting of him by Riva Lehrer:

Write/talk to a partner/for a coupla' minutes about what you see here.
Focus especially on the two categories Eli uses to organize this book: I. Place and II. Body:
what do you see of each? how can you describe the relationship between them?

Compare the series of Transportraits by Lorenzo Triburgo,
focusing again on the same two categories, Place and Body:
what do you see of each?
how can you describe the relationship between them?

What have you seen?

Come back to the large group, to discuss the relation of "body" to "place" and "environment."
What does this portrait tell us about Eli's "self"? How might it summarize an argument about "self"?

On his website, Eli describes the image as "me embracing, wrestling with a tree, taking it into me
and at the same time giving something of myself back"--i.e. very contextual and ecological.
So, too, is Riva's description of her project of Circle Stories:
"a collaborative process seeking truthful representation of their experience...
and the creation of a community of disabled innovators."
[Her great stories last week re: the two years of doing this painting, as he was going through transition,
his "verbal" ideas--banners w/ words from his poems, twinned through the trees,
him hugging a redwood--translated into her "visual" ones.]

Cf. Triburgo's description of what he was doing:
I have created a series of unlikely heroic portraits that examine representations of American masculinity, using transgender men set against a created environment. Following the path of 19th century portrait and landscape artists such as John Singer Sargent and Alfred Jacob Miller, I simultaneously reference classic and contemporary photographic portraiture and consider the origination of American male identity....I created oil-painted landscapes....The backdrop sets the stage for a series of portraits focusing on a population that is rarely celebrated in a laudable manner. The photographs...draw a parallel between the (mis)perception of the 'photographic record' devoid of social construct and gender as an unchanging truth. In Transportraits I invite the viewer to question the construct of portraiture (and masculinity) while simultaneously depicting a sincere heroism.

Talking Notes
a  key idea in this text is what happens when we recognize the intersectionality of our identities:
we also recognize their interaction, how they might affect one another. For Eli, being disabled in one domain
was enabling in another. This is the single passage, I think, that makes the whole
book worth the price of reading it (from "stones in my pockets, stones in my heart," pp.. 151-153):

"The same lies that cast me as genderless, asexual, and undesirable also framed a space in which I was
left alone to be my quiet, bookish, tomboy self, neither girl nor boy....How would I have reacted to the
gendered pressures my younger, nondisabled sister faced? For her the path of least resistance pointed
in the direction of femininity; for me it led toward not-girl-not-boy....when I look around me in disability
community, I see an amazing range of gender expression...mixed and swirled in many patterns. Clearly we
respond in a myriad of ways to the ableist construction of gender....I think of disabled people challenging
the conception of a 'perfect' body/mind."

Interrogating the valorization of home-->

In a 1986 essay called “Feminist Politics: What’s Home Got to Do with It?” Biddy Martin and
Chandra Talpade Mohanty reflect on Minnie Brue Pratt's memoir [which  (as you know) charts her exile
from a place of security and privilege--an exile that was the beginning of her activism] to argue that "There is an
irreconcilable tension between the search for a secure place from which to speak, within which to act,
and the awareness of the price at which secure places are bought, the awareness of the exclusions,
the denials, the blindnesses on which they are predicated
....The tension between the desire for home,
for synchrony, for sameness, and the realization of the repressions and violence that make home,
harmony, sameness imaginable..."

They ask, "what distinguishes [our justification of the homogeneity of the women's community]
from the justifications advanced by...the Klan for 'family, community, and protection'?"

Let's think together about the relationship of home to politics, and to the process of learning, of education...
how essential is claiming our location to the process of understanding--
and acting? And/but also: how limiting?

What is Eli Clare teaching us about home, and (the necessity of) dis/placement?
...particularly in relation to gender identity?

V. (by 12:15): close it out-->

Hgraves: Clare does a good job on the breakdown in names and explaining how each one
played a factor into her life. Knowing that words do play a big factor in the way people
perceive themselves and how people live their lives… she grasps the full meaning of
every word being used against her

so: call out/ pair up around the words you chose:
why is this word important in the text?
share some passages with each other that use/work with the concept

(by 12:30): do some writing--
where are you with this keyword, in relation to this text?
what are you thinking about?
what question is motivating you?
can you begin writing the paper, a first sentence or few..?

(by 12:40): go 'round and read your opening (or opening -up) sentence...