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Toward Day 6 (Th, 9/18): The Ethics of Portraiture

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping

* field trip tomorrow, 12-4 (back in time for demonstration
if you want to participate in that): sara and bridget to drive--
meet up @ vans, in lower lot

* your Monday evening posting should reflect on
your experiences @ Camphill:
what did you notice about this field site?
what expectations did you have?
what surprised you? what questions do you still have?
what thoughts do you have now about the possibility of
"ethical representation" of the villagers?

* in Tuesday's class, we'll talk about these--
and also pick up your postings from last week,
about trans identity on campus,
and discuss them in light of Andrew Solomon's chapter about “Transgender" in Far From the Tree
(it's 80 pp. long, so give yourself time to read it...)

on Thursday, we'll read an essay by Judith Halberstam
on “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies.” 

Also! Sunday a week your first
5-pp. web "event" for me is due,
analyzing a form of intersectionality
(in a text? at Bryn Mawr? where else?);
your final project for the whole cluster will also be on intersectionality,
so you can think of this as a warm-up--
but I am expecting a formal paper.

Everything we've looked at so far--Jordan's "Report from the Bahamas," Pratt's "Arts of the Contact Zone," Clare's Exile and Pride,
Riva's material, as well as next week's texts--are about intersectionality. I don't think I've told you about the history of the word, though: "intersectionality" emerged as a term in sociology in the 60s/70s;
it was the coinage of black women who wanted to claim the particularities of their lives, and broaden the mainstream of feminism from the concerns of middle-class white feminists.

Eli Clare says in his preface that he learned his "intersectional" and "multi-issue politics" from the Black lesbians of the Combahee River Collective, who argued that "the synthesis of oppressions creates the conditions of our lives." None of us is singly identified, as this week's flag display in Radnor reminded us: one flag for gay pride, one flag for the Confederacy, two women flying them both.

Although you certainly may (will?) want to write about an intersectional identity that you claim for yourself, and may want to begin with a personal story, this is not a memoir, but an analytical paper.
I don't want a story, but an argument.
(Remember discussion of the difference, when reading June Jordan?)

It was interesting to me, when we first shared our "identity categories,"
that NOT ONE OF YOU IDENTIFIED yourself in the usual way, via your major--so I really don't know where each of you is positioned, disciplinarily.
If you are not in English, it might be good to make this an "English paper" (i.e, close reading of a text, E&P?);
if you ARE in English, it might be a good idea to experiment with what an "English paper" means, do something not so text-based.

I want to discuss all individual possibilities in conference....
which means thatI require each of you to meet with me next week:
when you have a proposal, but before you have written the paper
(i.e. while I can still play a role in shaping your paper).
Pass out sign up sheet...
General questions?

II. I am re-working the next section of the course,
in response to recent events on campus,
to focus more on gender and stay tuned for that.

Many of us involved in meetings and
discussion for the past two weeks
about welcoming trans women campus,
and then about what it means to display the confederate flag:
what is being said in our admissions material?
what is being said by that flag?
So we have been talking outside of class, too, about identity matters,
and acting on our felt sense of the ethics of self-representation--
Rhett's posting about placing a space between
“trans women, cis women"
is a subtle and profound example of this;
the discussions about the flags--
how what *might* have be intended as a sign of pride
was clearly read by so many of us as an insult:
signs can be read in various ways, intentions often don't match uptake:
so what does ethical representation look like?
today’s topic has lots of relevance on campus…

For today, we asked you to readMichael Bérubé, "Epilogue." Life As We Know It: A Father, A Family and an Exceptional Child; and
G. Thomas Couser."Auto/Biographical, Biomedical, and Ethnographic Ethics." Vulnerable Subjects --to spur your thinking
about the "ethics of representation" generally, and the "ethics of portraiture" in particular

turn to a partner, and tell each other what you gleaned from these essays: what made sense to you (what would you claim/advocate for?)
what puzzled you (what needs explaining), what you want to talk about.

report back...
making an image, you are already doing wrong
(the epigraph from Courser's article: "Language can never contain a whole person, so every act of writing a person's life is inevitably a violation.")
waht is important to your subject may not be important to you: who is doing the selecting?
why do they need you, the representer?
how to write a story that is their own, not our own imagining?
there can be much  invovlement beyond the first engagement, with continued input from the subject
who is the audience?
why we may need another: because they are in position to share, to make our story told
cf. making space with taking on an identity
what if the subject cannot give consent? is their story then never told?
cf. the desire to tell a different story, with the pressure to tell the same one
what is the relation between the author and the story, and the story and the reader?
what guarantee that your reader will follow you?

and Riva’s responses:
first, a schematic history of portraiture (the pleasure of seeing oneself; the embodiment of power; the commisioning)
the difference between a portrait (trying to capture "who they are," following the customer's whims) and painting (using a model to act out your own agenda)
our project is about enabling a stoytelling for the beneift of the people @ Camphill;
we can get plenty of story just from looking @ the objects and actions in their lives
since reproduction can happen mechanically ("selfies"), portraiture is about the formation of a relationship
--it's not about replicating the role of caregiver or expert

Riva's own work offers a wonderful range such "selections"--not bound by realism:
she had us reimagining/representing the "ghosts" of our childhood selves on Tuesday morning,
and our invisible fantastical bodies--all our powers!--on Thursday afternoon.
If you explored her website, you'll have seen that her own work involves using Totems and Familiars--
images (an animal, a magical object, a hero) that help stabilize our inner world when it is knocked off its axis;
Mirror Shards--in which animal costumes allow the subject to merge with another;
her astonishing series of self portraits uses all of these techniques

Anne's Reading Notes:
Berube, Epilogue:
p. 252: When a word become an epithet and is eventualy supplaanted by a "polite replacment"...
it may make us self-conscious about what the epithet might mean....there
debate, reflection and general self-consciousness about what "stigma" is and how it operates.
p. 254: How do we represent ourselves to ourselves, and
what is the material and political force of our representations?
p. 255: representation matters...
linguistic differences...can help to make all the difference in the world.
Visual representations are a language, too...
we seem incapable of empathizing with other humans in the abstract, and we need
to have them represented to us before we can imgine..,their feelings and their dreams.
p. 256: How we represent each other to each other...
is both an aesthetic question and a deeply ethical one.
we [can not] judge 'intrinsic" aesthetic value without any reference at all to representational content...
p. 258: until the nineteenth century, discerning the beautiful was indistinguishable from....discerning the good
p. 260: Our that which our eyes and ears half create and half perceive...
and we need to deliberate the question of how we will represent the range of human variation to ourselves.
p. 264: My task, ethically and aesthetically, is to represent James to you with all the fidelity that mere language can afford,
the better to enable you to imagine him--and to imagine what he might think of your ability to imagine him...
setting a place for him at our prepare for the day he sets his own place...
someday his own advocate, his own author, his own best representative.

Couser, "Auto/Biographical, Biomedical, and Ethnographic Ethics"
p. 14: "Language can never contain a whole person, so every act of writing a person's life is inevitalby a violation."
life writing...engages subjects who may be especialy vulnerable to misrepresentation and exploitation
p. 15: Ethical scrutiny is most urgent with regard to subjects who are disadvantaged, disempowered, or marginalized
with respect to their partners or collaborators.
p. 16: persons in states of dependency...often depend on agents more powerful or
privileged than themselves to hear, articualte, and act on their stories.
life writers are often chosen...on the basis of emotional intimacy...
p. 17: their intimate relationship...places those subjects at high risk of betrayal...
relationships roughly analogous to those between patients and physicians.
the major principles of biomedicine...respect for autonomy, nonmaleficence,
beneficence, and justice--seem pertinent to life writing
partners in dependent positions are at higher-than-usual risk for the exposure inherent in all life writing
p. 18: autonomy...characterizes the subject as "disembedded"...[but] can be salvaged from its historical interpretations
by retaining the ideals of agency, responsibiilty ,accountability, and intentionality
ignoring the relational and contextual dimensions
p. 19: ideally, the subjects of life writing should have the opportunity
to exercise some degree of control over what happens to their stories
p. 20: Although...research shields subjects from being recognized by others,
it does not protect them from the shock of self-recognition
p. 21: the process of representation [can] become recurisve and reflexive
the life writer negotiates between a primary relationship with a subject...
and a secondary relationship with readers....ethical problems may spring
from the divergence between the axes of these relationships...
p. 22: acknowledgemetn of the face and the autonomy of the other...
is a characterisitc of hte most ethically responsible life writing. It is
a matter not just just of responsibility but of responsiveness.
Autonomy is best respected when subjects are granted some control over their stories...
an exercise of their right to privacy...
p. 23: the assumption of their invulnerability to harm may make them all the more prone to abuse.
respectful action, not merely a respectful attitude...
obligations to build up...others' capacities for autonomous choice...
p. 28: preexisiting intimacy...create special liabiliy to exposure and harm
the desirable moral response is attached attentiveness to needs,
not detached respect for rights
a distinction crucial to life witing ethics, that between justified and unjustified harm.....
p. 26: "ghostly autonomy": "ghostwriting" of the life script by a surrogate author
p. 24: "informed consent": subjects must be informed of the risks and benefits of the project,
and of their right to withdraw from it...we do not have the right to commodify others
without their knowledge and permission
p. 25: in addition to being consensual, relations with subjects
should be characterized by...transactional visibltiy or accessibility)
I favor and strongly encourage..."the story of the story."
p. 30: harming means adversely affecting someone's interests,
while "wronging involves violating someone's rights"
p. 31: anthropology is oriented to communities...
a favoring of social units rather than mere individual subjects
p. 32: members of minority groups are talking back to thesocial sciences
"others" have begun to challenge the cultrual, political, and ethical authority of objectification....
p. 33: the representation of the self and of the always at once a mimetic and a political act