- 20 December 2013 at 2:53 pm #2431
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Thank you!30 December 2013 at 12:52 pm #2600
In recent years, an increasing number of sessions at the MLA Convention have been devoted to the digital humanities. As we wrote in the CFP, however, what is sometimes forgotten is that the output of digital analysis is not itself the goal; rather, such analysis is a means to an end, and that end is the interpretation of a text or corpus (understood widely). The goal of the ACH’s session, then, is to re-establish this understanding and conversation, defamiliarizing the conversation about the digital and making it re-familiar to those whose commitments lie firmly with linguistic and/or literary analysis.
The talks at the session will focus on the interpretive results of the panelists’ work. But if you want to know more about the methods that they have used, all seven of them have written posts which you can find at the ACH’s blog3 January 2014 at 1:31 pm #2635
398. Virginia Woolf and Book History is scheduled to take place at 5:15-6:30 p.m. on 1/10/2014 in McHenry, Chicago Marriot
An Experiment in Form and Content:
Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf’s Monday or Tuesday
The Hogarth Press began in 1917 when Leonard and Virginia Woolf decided to buy a small printing press and supplies for £19. Although “neither had any printing experience…with the aid of a manual of instruction and several weeks of practice they produced a short announcement of their intention to print ‘a pamphlet containing two stories’ which they had written” (Spater 99). One of the earliest works printed by the Hogarth Press was a collection of short stories by Virginia Woolf called Monday or Tuesday, published in 1921. This work contains four woodblock prints for the same number of stories each created by V. Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell who also designed the cover for this collection. This book was “so heavily inked on poor-quality paper that they [the woodblocks] ‘bled’ into the opposite page [and] Leonard Woolf regarded this as technically the worst issue from his publishing house, [though] enthusiasts of the Hogarth Press today regard this book as one of the most charming, if idiosyncratic, issues from the Press” (Bradshaw 286). This bleeding is also the case for the particular copy of Monday or Tuesday that I examined housed at the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library. I chose this particular book of V. Woolf’s because it is one of the earliest Hogarth Press books, and as such it reveals their initial efforts. In addition, this book showcases the unique artistic relationship between Vanessa and Virginia, and presents an intriguing example of experimental printing through the mixed media of Vanessa’s abstract woodblocks and Virginia’s developing stream-of-consciousness voice.
While critics such as Laura Marcus and Frederic Spotts argue that the Hogarth Press was founded to provide a distraction for Virginia’s psychological depression, it also served as an outlet for Leonard Woolf’s energy and political ideas; as a hopeful channel for many rejected and radical writers of fiction, psychoanalysis, and poetry; and as a creative playground for Virginia to write freely and without fear of editors’ criticism or changes. The genuine interest and passion shared by Virginia and Leonard Woolf for their printing endeavors is well documented in Virginia’s letters. On April 14, 1917, she wrote to Lady Robert Cecil: “By the way, we’ve bought our printing Press. We are going to start work directly we go back, next Tuesday. Heaven knows how one prints…We want to start on something very short and very sublime” (Nicolson 149). A few weeks later on April 26th, she wrote to Vanessa “Our press arrived on Tuesday. We unpacked it with enormous excitement…Anyhow the arrangement of the type is such a business that we shant be ready to start printing directly. One has great blocks of type, which have to be divided into their separate letters, and founts, and then put into the right partitions…We got so absorbed we can’t stop; I see that real printing will devour one’s entire life” (150). Again, on May 22, 1917, Virginia alludes to their new obsession in a letter to her sister: “We’ve been so absorbed in printing that I am about as much of a farmyard sheep dog as you are. I can hardly tear myself away to go to London, or see anyone. We have just started printing Leonard’s story; I haven’t produced mine yet, but there’s nothing in writing compared with printing. I want your advice about covers” (155-56). The sense of passion and adventure that the Woolfs felt about their new printing endeavors is evident in these letters and contributed to the cultivation of their Press as a place of freedom, creativity, and innovation.
Once they established the press, the Woolfs hired a few employees and exported some of their printing jobs, however, much of the work continued to be done by Leonard and Virginia. In Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf, her chapter about the Hogarth Press gives great detail about the printing process as Virginia and Leonard undertook the practice. She writes:
Through the spring and early summer of 1917 Virginia learnt to become a compositor. Leonard’s shaking hands made type-setting impossible for him, so he did the machining, and she did the type-setting, the distributing, and the binding…Then they had to learn, by trial and error, how to print the woodcut illustrations to the stories; how to fold the pages, bind them together, and glue or sew on the colored bindings. This was her job, and the part of the process she was most familiar with from her bookbinding days. (358-59)
These “bookbinding days” of Virginia refer to an earlier point in her life, around 1901, when she took an interest in learning about bookbinding and took some lessons from family friend Anastasia Power to learn more about this process. Although not a student of art like her sister, Virginia took to learning about the craft of binding with enthusiasm and quickly became more than proficient at the practice. Bradshaw notes that “her attitude to the covering of books [was] essentially practical. To Virginia books were for reading, not just retained as a beautiful adornment or furnishing” (281). This ability to bind and interest in the book arts set the stage for Virginia’s later collaboration with her sister on books like Monday or Tuesday. However, Virginia’s ultimate goal of making practical books eventually supplanted their creative endeavors as only a few illustrated books were undertaken. As the entire printing process was so involved and was mostly being done by Virginia and Leonard, it generally took two and half to three months for them to produce a work. The inking and binding of woodblocks were an especially tricky part of this process to learn, as evidenced in a work like Monday or Tuesday where the ink has bled through to other pages.
Though not Virginia Woolf’s first or only collaboration with her sister Vanessa Bell, Monday or Tuesday represents an early piece of their long-lasting partnership and mutual inspiration. As children, Vanessa became more inclined towards painting, while Virginia began to pursue her writing. Vanessa’s serious study of art began “at Mr. Cope’s School of Art and [continued] later at the Painting School of the Royal Academy” (Bradshaw 281). She later became involved with the avant-garde movement, as many of her pieces took on more representational expressions. Jane Dunn points out that “Both women were not solely painter and writer, each solitary in studio and study. Both were to be involved in businesses which brought their art into the retail trade as designer/decorator and publisher, allowing the sisters their long artistic collaboration in The Hogarth Press” (159). Indeed, Virginia also tried her hand at visual art and attempted to learn the language of the art world in order to discuss and review works. Julia Briggs points out that “Her desire to learn the language of painting and visual aesthetics had a personal as well as an intellectual dimension. The similarities between painting and writing fascinated her: while the plastic arts created a more immediate impact, they also generated a sense of silence, a short-circuiting of language to which her fiction often aspired” (69). These similarities between painting and writing often provided both sisters with a two-way flow of ideas and inspiration, which in turn led to some of their collaborative efforts such as Monday or Tuesday.
As early as 1917, Virginia was writing to her sister about creating an entire book of woodblock prints. Indeed, as of 1919, Vanessa had already designed the woodblocks for the covers of The Voyage Out and Night and Day. However, Kew Gardens represents the first unique collaboration in that Vanessa also provided woodblocks to accompany Virginia’s text. The only other collaborative project of this caliber would be Monday or Tuesday. In accordance with my earlier assessment of the sister’s similar aims, Diane Gillespie writes: “Collaboration on Kew Gardens required a frequent exchange of letters in which each sister approved and supported the other’s work; both felt that they were communicating a similar vision in two different but complementary media” (121). For this work, Vanessa designed the cover along with twenty-one page designs. For the most part, the text on each page stops at the natural end of a description or dialogue so that each illustration can work together with the text of the page. As Virginia wrote the stories, she sent them to Vanessa to read and design an illustration. Gillespie points out that:
To look at the designs for [Kew Gardens] is not to seek technical virtuosity and verisimilitude, but to observe the ways in which they are sensitive and vital responses in a visual medium to portions of Woolf’s text or to perceptual experiences similar to those Woolf describes…Most of Vanessa Bell’s designs do relate to the writing by providing simplified visual suggestions of images Woolf introduced on the same page, but in no way is any design a literal translation of the writing in visual terms. (125)
Again, both sisters use their own unique medium in order to convey meaning in new, creative, experimental ways. Both forms contribute to the reading of the other, as readers are able to derive and interpret meaning from both the words and artistic renderings printed in the book.
The illustrations for Monday or Tuesday differ from those in Kew Gardens in that the four woodblocks of the former text each take up an entire page facing the beginning of a story, rather than interspersed throughout the text. Gillespie points out that unlike the illustrations for Kew Gardens, those for Monday or Tuesday “are not so closely related to specific passages; nor do they compete for attention with the text in any way. [However,] like the woodcuts of the earlier edition of the story, these designs, although pleasing in themselves, acquire greater complexity in conjunction with the stories as well as reinforce some ideas Woolf tries to convey” (139). The first illustration for the story “Haunted House” uses mostly black space, with white
outlines to show a plush chair and window from inside of a house. This woodblock’s heavy use of ink is one of the contributing factors that led to Leonard’s criticism of this book as “technically the worst issue from his printing press” (Bradshaw 286). Harold Child, a contemporary critic, noted that “Mrs. Bell’s delightful woodcuts…have left ghosts of themselves on the pages opposite; and also they show through the paper, so that the backs are difficult to read” (Briggs 80). This process of printing the woodblocks and then biding them in with the rest of the book was a point of contention between the sisters, as Vanessa complained of the blocks not being properly inked while Virginia called the book “an odious object, which leaves black stains wherever it touches” (80). The other
woodblock prints, though not as heavy in their use of black ink, still gave cause to bleed and mark their opposite pages. “An Unwritten Novel” features a stationary woman, prominently displayed, with a man halfway off the page smoking a pipe. “A Society” features two women talking, while “The String Quartet” depicts four musical instruments on top of one another, pointing to a third art form of music. The illustrations in the book I examined, while still striking after nearly 100 years due to their heavy use of black ink, also bled through pages and made slight imprints on their opposing pages. I found this to be the case for many of the copies found for sale online, where sellers indicated that their copies were also stained by the woodblocks on opposing pages “as usual.”
Vanessa also designed the cover for Monday or Tuesday which features a large black circle in the center, with title and author in a rectangle at the top, and visual artist in a smaller rectangle at the bottom. Gillespie notes that the smaller shape surrounding Vanessa’s name “appears now the recede, now to project, because Bell joins the lower corners to the bottom of the cover with short diagonal lines. That such visual complexity exists around her name is fitting since her appeal is exclusively to the eyes. The similarities and differences between the portions of the design surrounding the two sisters’ names are also appropriate, given their habits of competitive collaboration” (139). Although Kew Gardens and Monday or Tuesday are unique in their featuring several of Vanessa’s woodblocks within Virginia’s texts, Vanessa continued to contribute to the designs of Virginia’s cover from Jacob’s Room onward. Despite the criticism received by several of the covers for their aloofness or representational depictions, “Virginia Woolf was from this point never to abandon the partnership forged with her sister and, with only four exceptions, Vanessa Bell had a lifelong involvement with the covers for every one of Virginia’s Hogarth Press books, including those published after Virginia’s death” (Bradshaw 290). The collaboration seen in Monday or Tuesday is one of the earliest points of establishment for the partnership of Virginia and Vanessa, with both text and woodcuts contributing to the overall message of the book and its experimental nature.
It is evident from the number of letters written by Virginia to Vanessa that the sisters exchanged many ideas for both Kew Gardens and Monday or Tuesday via post as these works were both a tight joint effort and required communication to decide on their experimental forms. On July 1, 1918, Virginia wrote “I’m sending my story [Kew Gardens]; you will see that’s its a case of atmosphere, and I don’t think I’ve got it quite. Don’t you think you might design a title page? Tell me what you think of the story. I’m going to write an account of my emotions towards one of your pictures, which gives me infinite pleasure, and has changed my view upon aesthetics” (Nicholson 257). This letter shows Virginia’s close reliance on her sister for advice about her writing and book design as well as learning more about the art world. Later, on July 8th, she wrote to Vanessa that the woodblocks for the short stories could be of “anything that you like-I don’t see that it matters whether it’s about the story or not. My only doubt is whether we shall print it at all; I don’t myself think its altogether good” (258). The woodblocks for both books are representational and experimental in nature; both qualities which are also captured in Virginia’s writing. Virginia’s desire for her sister’s collaboration and approval comes through again in this letter and she later praises Vanessa’s by writing that it captures “just the mood I wanted” (259). She again praises her sister’s work and help in a letter from November 7, 1918 when she writes, “I enclose a proof—not nearly black enough, but we only had our hard machine…We should be very glad of another, if you would do one…I think the book will be a great success—owing to you: and my vision comes out much as I had it, so I suppose, in spite of everything, God made our brains upon the same lines, only leaving out 2 or 3 pieces in mine” (289). This letter highlights the sister’s collaborative efforts in their two art forms and Virginia’s recognition of their working on the same vision through different mediums. After the small scale success of Kew Gardens, Virginia continued to correspond with Vanessa about new woodblocks for Monday or Tuesday, letting her know in January 1921 that “The woodcut came safe—I hope to have a proof of the first one soon” as they prepared this new collaborative effort (454). Willis surmises: “Vanessa Bell’s participation was artistically important to the Press, but more personally to Virginia Woolf. Virginia’s direct relationship with Vanessa about her artwork, the letters and consultations with Vanessa over paper, layout, printing, and design provided Virginia with an additional means of binding herself to her sister. It became a way of sharing their creative lives” (31). In addition to this bonding as sisters and artists, I would also argue that both sisters contributed to the growth and development of one another’s creative endeavors. Vanessa’s experimentation with avant-garde art opened the path for Virginia to also begin pushing boundaries and become more creative in her writing. In this way, Vanessa’s collaboration with Monday or Tuesday is an extremely important event in the beginnings of Woolf’s career as writer and printer.
In the weeks leading up to the release of Monday or Tuesday, Virginia grew anxious about how the work would be reviewed. On March 6, 1921 she writes in her diary, “Nessa approves of Monday or Tuesday—mercifully; and thus somewhat redeems it in my eyes. But I now wonder a little what the reviewers will makes of it…Well, the Times will be kindly, a little curious…Then, in the Westminster, Pall Mall, other serious evening papers I shall be treated very shortly, with sarcasm” (Bell 98). She later relates how the book was released prematurely to the Times for review without an indication of release date, causing them to publish “a short notice…put in an obscure place, rather scrappy, complimentary enough, but quite unintelligent…Oh and Lytton’s book is out and takes up three columns” (106). Aside from this review blunder, Monday or Tuesday also represented a departure in style from V. Woolf’s first two novels The Voyage Out and Night and Day in its experimental form and narrative voice. In a letter from 1930 written to Ethel Smyth, Virginia “explains that she wrote the stories of Monday or Tuesday while writing Night and Day, allowing herself these diversions when she ‘had done with [her] exercise in the conventional style’” (Holmes 2). The story “A Society” was most often reviewed as the piece least liked, while “Kew Gardens” and “The Mark on the Wall” were generally considered the best of the stories. The narrative “An Unwritten Novel” best showcases the developments to come for V. Woolf’s narrative voice, as she realized “how [she] could embody all [her] deposit of experience in a shape that fitted it” (2).
Virginia was later disheartened by the rejection of Monday or Tuesday by her American publisher George Doran, though it was soon picked up by Harcourt, Brace, & Co. The poor sales figures and generally negative reviews of Monday or Tuesday are possible contributors for this work being absent from “the uniform edition of Virginia’s work published by the Press in 1929” (Briggs 81). While Kew Gardens entered a third edition, probably due to its “complex interplay between verbal and pictorial efforts,” the artwork for Monday or Tuesday proved not to produce the same interest (81). The illustrations for this latter work were fewer in number and were not placed around the words of the text as marginal artwork that directly interacted with the narrative. Instead, the more separated illustrations and text for Monday or Tuesday had critics focused on V. Woolf’s experimental new voice and style in her stories, thus contributing to their less praiseful reviews. However, Virginia’s experiments in Monday or Tuesday contributed to her writing of her next novel Jacob’s Room, which T.S. Eliot praised as having “bridged a certain gap which existed between [V. Woolf’s] other novels and the experimental prose of Monday or Tuesday” (Holmes 3). Critics today also recognize the importance of this early work in the developing of V. Woolf’s voice. Julia Briggs notes that Penguin Modern Classics printed 33,000 copies of this work in 1973 and that Susan Dick’s Complete Shorter Fiction of Woolf allowed many modern readers to understand “the key role that her short stories—and the Press that prompted them—had played in her development as a novelist” (Briggs 83). However, newer editions of Monday or Tuesday including the Dover Thrift Edition, Susan K. Dick’s Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf, and the 2002 Wildside Press edition curiously do not contain woodblock reproductions to go along with the short stories. This is an odd omission as Virginia and Vanessa so obviously produced the text and prints to be paired together and to comment on each other. Without examining this first edition Hogarth Press printing, readers cannot experience the full artistic and textual experience that is Monday or Tuesday.
Although not a well-known book in the Virginia Woolf canon, Monday or Tuesday proves to be an important text to study in the creation of the Hogarth Press, as an interesting early collaboration between sisters, and as the beginnings of V. Woolf’s developing narrative voice. The book’s progress from concept to creation to distribution provided Hogarth Press some of its first experiences with producing a text. Virginia and Vanessa’s letters reveal several of these steps, as they constantly communicated about how the text would look, critiqued how the book was ultimately printed, and gave their final reviews of their creation. While Virginia Woolf is certainly more well-known for her novels, studying her short stories and especially such an early work as Monday or Tuesday has established its value for modern day scholars as they are able to trace the source of her developing voice. This text proves to be an important work today, both in terms of its literary and scholarly value, along with its experimental and artistic capturing of two sister creators developing their voices.
4 January 2014 at 3:38 pm #2647
- This reply was modified 4 years, 5 months ago by Amanda Miller.
542. Debt and Indebtedness
Saturday, 11 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Lincolnshire, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Division on English Literature Other Than British and American
Presiding: Jennifer A. Wenzel, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
1. “Accounting for Debt,” Miranda Joseph, Univ. of Arizona
2. “Debt and Anxiety of Influence in Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music,” Mélanie Heydari-Malayeri, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3
3. “Imagining ‘making amends, atoning’: Pakistan’s 1971 war in Sorayya Khan’s Noor,” Shazia Rahman, Western Illinois University
In this paper, I address Pakistan’s history of colonialism and violence against its Bengali population, which led to the independence of Bangladesh. The causes of this war as well as its aftermath show the indebted relations of East and West Pakistan before 1971 and Pakistan and Bangladesh after 1971. Not only did East Pakistanis (now Bangladeshis) want language rights, they also wanted more political and economic power. According to sociologist Saadia Toor, “there were no Bengalis in the higher echelons of the civil service or the military” (Toor 41). Moreover, according to political scientist Donald Beachler, “while a significant portion of the country’s foreign exchange was derived from jute grown in East Pakistan, it received just 35 per cent of the money spent on development projects. The Bengalis believed that they were an economic colony of West Pakistan” (472). These political and economic inequalities can be traced back to the ways in which West Pakistanis “othered” Bengalis even though in terms of numbers the population of East Pakistan was greater than the population of West Pakistan.
Political scientist Philip Oldenburg argues that the differences between East and West Pakistanis were the result of two different ideas about the promise of Pakistan. He writes that West Pakistan failed “to recognize what the meaning of Pakistan was for the Bengalis” (712) and that East Pakistani demands, “for Bengali as a state language, for representation in proportion to their numbers, for a state in which Hindus and Muslims would be politically equal – were aimed at preserving Pakistan” (emphasis original 731). However, West Pakistanis saw Bengali demands as demands for secession long before they actually became separatist demands. East Pakistani agitation for more power eventually led to the Pakistan army launching Operation Searchlight on 25 March 1971, which most call genocide (Beachler) while some call crimes against humanity (Bose 412). The goal was to stop the Bengali campaign for independence from Pakistan. According to Beachler, “The campaign of murder, rape and pillage that continued until December 1971 caused between one and three million deaths. By some accounts, 200,000 Bengali women were raped” (467). Amazingly, as Toor points out, “There was a virtual silence in West Pakistan over this army action” (116). Part of the reason for this silence was media censorship but it wasn’t completely impossible to find out what really happened and the fact that the silence continued especially in intellectual circles is still hard to believe.
By 2011, literary critic Cara Cilano has found enough Urdu and English-language fictional narratives to discuss 1971 in her book of literary criticism entitled National Identities in Pakistan: The 1971 war in contemporary Pakistani fiction. Cilano argues that, because of the censorship of the media at that time and the fact that the formal Hamoodur Rahman Commission report was not made public until 2000, these literary narratives are even more crucial to understanding the 1971 war because “a narrative vacuum emerged at the national level” (2). Among the narratives Cilano writes about, Sorayya Khan’s novel Noor is the only Pakistani English-language novel to depict 1971 through a “Bengali perspective” (Khan, “An Interview” 223) and, more importantly, force Pakistani readers to face what they owe their Bengali former-compatriots.
While talk of financial compensation is limited, there are still calls for an apology. In 2002, Pervez Musharraf, then military dictator and President of Pakistan, on an official visit to Bangladesh left a hand-written note at a war memorial. While he expressed regret, he didn’t actually apologize when he wrote, “Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pain of the events in 1971 . . . The excesses committed during the unfortunate period are regretted” (Blair). The passive sentence construction doesn’t actually even state that he is the one who is regretting. As for the pain that is shared, it certainly isn’t shared equally given the tremendous losses in East Pakistan compared with West Pakistan. Musharraf’s comments stated verbally at a banquet later in the day are less passively constructed but still not a direct apology. He said, “I wish to express to the Bangladeshi people sincere regrets for the tragic events, which have left deep wounds on both our nations” (“Musharraf”). While here Musharraf is personally expressing regret, he is still not taking ownership of those tragic events. Those events appear to have occurred without any instigation or agency from actual actors such as generals and soldiers in the Pakistan Army.
The Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, which was completed by three Pakistani judges and submitted to the Pakistani government in 1971 but not made public until 2000, recommended “trials of those who indulged in these atrocities . . . and alienated the sympathies of the local population by their acts of wanton cruelty and immorality against our own people. The composition of the Court of Inquiry, if not its proceedings, should be publicly announced so as to satisfy national conscience and international opinion” (Rahman Chapter 5, II, 4). This report recommended justice in the 1970s but in the early 2000s there is still none. No Pakistani citizens have ever been brought to trial and Musharraf’s regret without apology does very little to assume responsibility or even consider punishment. Leaders of the opposition in Bangladesh were quick to point this out even though the “Bangladesh Government was swift to welcome the move” (“Musharraf”) probably because they didn’t expect even an expression of regret from the President of Pakistan. Regardless, demands for an apology from Pakistan continue but remain unsuccessful.
In this context, Sorayya Khan’s novel Noor goes a long way toward a consideration of what is owed by Pakistan to Bangladesh. Khan presents Ali, a Pakistani soldier who tries to atone for what he did by adopting a Bengali girl, Sajida. This act of atonement should be read as an attempt to make reparations since the state of Pakistan has yet to apologize to the state of Bangladesh. I argue that the novel elicits readerly empathy through vivid images of the Bengali vernacular landscape, which is represented in the memories, dreams, and drawings of the characters emphasizing not only attachments to place but also displacements. These eco-strategies drawing our attention to landscape again and again throughout the novel serve to remind us, and specifically West Pakistani readers, of the atrocities committed by the state of Pakistan against its own citizens and what is still owed.
After returning home from the war, Ali engages in multiple acts designed to punish him, especially his body, in some way. For example, on the night of his return, he shaves his head (54) and sits in a scalding hot bath (53), stops praying (129) , gives up eating both meat (25 , 142 ) and sweets (58 ), and he never marries (36 , 129 ). But the only act that is referred to as an act of atonement in the novel is Ali’s adoption of a 5 or 6-year-old Bengali girl named Sajida who lost her parents in the cyclone of November 1970. The irony of this act is that eventually he realizes that he did it more for himself rather than for the orphaned child he adopted. Khan writes, “In the shape of the child crouched over a curb in downtown Dhaka, Ali imagined making amends, atoning. Taking the child home, making her his daughter, Ali worried that in pretending to save her, he remained what he wanted, so badly, no longer to be” (Khan, Noor 172). While Ali gives Sajida a home where she lives happily with his mother, Nanijaan, and later with her husband, Hussein and their three children, he still worries that he remains the same man he was during the war.
For Ali, part of trying to become a new man on the night of his return was shaving his head and taking a scalding bath. As he does this, he tries to put away his memories of the war. Khan describes “fancying his head a wall-sized cabinet of drawers that could be nailed closed. . . . he sat on the edge of the bathtub, slowly forcing his body into the water. . . . He submerged his feet, and just like that, he relegated the screams to one drawer, the pit of dead bodies and their scattered twitching into another” (Khan, Noor 53). The bath serves the function of relegating the horrors of the war to various compartments that Ali believes will remain closed forever. In a way, the bath and the adoption of Sajida function to re-make Ali as a compassionate father who did nothing wrong in the war.
But history and geography return from the past into both Ali and Sajida’s lives when Sajida gives birth to a baby girl, Noor whose name means light, and who has an undisclosed developmental disorder and a gift to be able to draw not only her parents’ memories but also Ali’s as well. Noor mostly draws the landscape of East Pakistan when both Sajida and Ali were there and her drawings open the closed compartments of Ali’s mind. Khan narrates, “His past had arrived. Soon it would be its own gallery, for all to see. However faint, there was a measure of relief in that. Looking at the walls of his house, considering how neatly Noor’s drawings were ordered and hung, he knew he’d been wrong in the scalding bath on his homecoming to think he could pack it all away” (128). Even though Ali tries not to remain the man he was, and works hard to store away painful memories, he feels a faint measure of relief when Noor brings his past back in her drawings. More importantly, he realizes that he was wrong to try to leave his past behind. In creating this situation, the novel proposes that what is owed is exactly this: bringing the past back, seeing it, remembering it.
Noor’s drawings don’t only bring back the past history; they also bring back the geography of East Pakistan. Living in Islamabad, Ali and Sajida are far away from the ocean, but Noor’s first drawings are of water. Khan reveals that Sajida can see more than water in Noor’s drawings: “Sajida could almost see ripples of water running away from the edge of a beach. She could . . . hear the grind of her father’s fishing boat . . . More than anything else, she could make out fishing nets swimming and bending below the blue of Noor’s crayons” (28). Noor’s landscapes are vernacular in that they have little to do with official landscapes associated with a larger world of politics. Cultural geographer John Brinckerhoff Jackson writes that “underneath those symbols of permanent political power there lay a vernacular landscape – or rather thousands of small and impoverished vernacular landscapes, organizing and using spaces in their traditional way and living in communities governed by custom, held together by personal relationships” (150). Jackson differentiates between landscapes that are imposed from above, which are more political and landscapes that cannot be understood without some understanding of the communities that live on them and in relation to them. In her first drawings, Noor takes a blue crayon and draws water but her mother Sajida sees the fishing nets in the water and remembers the life of her fishing community in that vernacular landscape.
In a later orange-coloured drawing, Ali sees sunsets. Khan writes, “When Nanijaan presented Noor with her first box of crayons . . . , Ali chose an orange one (flat and long like sunsets he’d once seen) to hang on his door” (46). Even at this point, the novel hints that these sunsets might be in East Pakistan. Later still, Noor’s landscapes of East Pakistan include the devastation of the cyclone (chapter 5), the road where Ali picked up Sajida (chapter 7), the river, which is pink because of the bodies in it (chapter 9), and most importantly, the mud pit/mass grave where Ali and Sajida see each other for the first time (chapter 12). As the drawings become more complex, the narrator states, “Noor’s drawings were no longer simple words to be alphabetized on a wall. They were windows into another world, far away and distant, which might have ceased to exist without Noor” (106). Again, it is significant that Noor’s name means light because she is literally shedding light as she opens windows revealing the landscape of East Pakistan in 1971 returning not only Sajida and Ali but also the West Pakistani reader today to that place and time forcing us all to remember.
But since the novel is from a Bengali perspective, we as readers spend a lot of time inside Sajida’s head as she remembers and wonders about her past and her adoptive father. The novel builds towards a climax at which both Ali and Sajida realize that they saw each other at a mass grave before he adopted her. This climax is especially painful for Sajida because Ali fires out into the crowd of Bengalis, probably killing many and could have easily killed her. At the end of the novel, Sajida must come to terms with this fact. As Khan writes, “Ali, her father, might once have lifted his rifle and blindly aimed in a torrent of rain and rising waves of heated fog – and shot her dead” (200). Sajida is prepared to deal with this betrayal because before Sajida even learns of Ali’s betrayal, her husband, Hussein, betrays her and she has to deal with Hussein’s return to her. Interestingly, she takes him back but doesn’t forgive him. Khan writes that “Instead, she accepted him for what he had become, for the remorse he had shown that one single night” (99). In the same way that she accepts Hussein without forgiving him, we are told that she might accept Ali without forgiving him as well. Khan writes,
Some years later, when Ali – her father – started speaking to her, really speaking to her, when his story rolled from his tongue, she recalled that night with Hussein and knew that in some vague and insufficient way, she’d been preparing for what was to come. As her father spoke, she appreciated the tenor of what forgiveness might mean and that life’s pain, just like its love, was infinite and uncomprehending. That holes and emptiness were only one manifestation of sadness, and not even a great one at that. And, finally, that love . . . could be more exacting than anything she’d believed. Or dreamed. (99)
Importantly, the novel does not represent forgiveness as a response to genocide because to appreciate “the tenor of what forgiveness might mean” is not to actually forgive. What the novel depicts is an attempt to face, accept, and possibly move on, for Bengalis.
For Pakistanis, now living in what used to be West Pakistan, reparations, compensation, apologies, are all in order. I would argue that Sorayya Khan’s novel begins a process of facing the past in time as well as space. The novel draws attention to the space of what is now Bangladesh not only in terms of “holes and emptiness” for Pakistanis but also in more concrete terms where bloody rivers exist alongside mud pits that are actually mass graves. Noor’s paintings and drawings are supplemented with Ali’s memories, which include multiple raped and tortured Bengali women as he remembers them. In the end, the novel forces us to take that first step and simply remember that time and that place.
Beachler, Donald. “The politics of genocide scholarship: the case of Bangladesh.” Patterns of
Prejudice 41.5 (2007): 467-492.
Bhattacharya, France. “Chapter 2 East Bengal: Between Islam and a Regional Identity.”
Trans. Gillian Beaumont. A History of Pakistan and its Origins. Ed. Christophe Jaffrelot. London: Anthem Press, 2004. 39-60.
Blair, David. “Musharraf apology to Bangladesh.” The Telegraph 31 July 2002. 24 May 2013.
Bose, Sarmila. “The question of genocide and the quest for justice in the 1971 war.” Journal of Genocide Research 13.4 (November 2011): 393-419.
Cilano, Cara. National Identities in Pakistan: The 1971 war in contemporary Pakistani fiction. New
York: Routledge, 2011.
Faiz, Faiz Ahmed. The Rebel’s Silhouette: Selected Poems. Trans. Agha Shahid Ali. Rev. Ed.
Amherst: The U of Massachusetts P, 1995.
Jackson, John Brinckerhoff. Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984.
Khan, Sorraya. “An Interview with the Author.” Noor. Intro. and Interview by Cara Cilano.
Wilmington: The Publishing Laboratory, 2006. 211-225.
Khan, Sorraya. Noor. Wilmington: The Publishing Laboratory, 2006.
Memon, Muhammad Umar. “Pakistani Urdu Creative Writing on National Disintegration:
The Case of Bangladesh.” Journal of Asian Studies 43.1 (Novemeber 1983): 105-127.
“Musharraf boosts Bangladesh ties.” BBC News World Edition 30 July 2002. 24 May 2013.
Oldenburg, Philip. “‘A Place Insufficiently Imagined’: Language, Belief, and the Pakistan
Crisis of 1971.” Journal of Asian Studies 44.4 (August 1985): 711-733.
Rahman, Hamoodur. Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report. Pakistan Peoples Party (USA). 24
May 2013. <http://www.pppusa.org/humudurrehman.htm>.
Toor, Saadia. The State of Islam: Culture and Cold War Politics in Pakistan. New York: Pluto
Press, 2011.5 January 2014 at 9:00 pm #2679
On behalf of Georgina Kleege
766 The (Dis)Embodied Scholar: Access in Theory and Practice
Sunday 12 January 12-1:15 Los Angeles-Miami, Chicago Marriott
Georgina Kleege, University of California, Berkeley
I come to this topic as a writer of personal essays rather than as a disability studies scholar. It is in the very nature of the personal essay to disclose autobiographical information about oneself. In other words, self-disclosure is part of the whole enterprise. When I first started writing about my experience of blindness in the early 1990sI felt that the lived experience of people with disabilities was under-represented and misrepresented in the culture. I also believed, contrary to a prevailing view at the time, that autobiographical writing could deviate from dominant cultural scripts about disability, such as the overcoming narrative. In fact, I believed that in the very deviation from those cultural narratives, autobiographical writing could do the work of scholarship, by using personal experience as a tool to launch theoretical analysis of cultural norms and practices. At the time, I believed that this was a politically and intellectually necessary stance to take in the immediate wake of the many years of activism that had culminated in the passage of the ADA. Now, more than twenty years later, I still feel a need to ground my writing in my own disability identity, even though when I look back on my writing career, I can perceive how this identification may have limited my audience. The cultural scripts that I have always written against are still dominant enough that readers assume they already know any story I might tell about blindness.
I do not believe that only scholars with disabilities can do disability studies, nor do I believe that a scholar with or without a disability needs to acknowledge this fact as a part of scholarly discourse. To be perfectly honest when I am in a group of disability studies scholars, or at a disability studies event, I tend to assume that everyone in the room is disabled, and/or that they have some close family member or friend with disability, which in my reckoning, gives them membership in the community. My inclination is to be very generous about inclusion; I think there’s damage in being too strict in policing these boundaries. Also, though I can hear wheelchairs, canes, crutches, as well as speech anomalies, and other characteristics that might be related to a disability embodiment, there are many characteristics about the disability studies scholars I know that may be visible to others but are not apparent to me. And of course, there are many types of disabled embodiment, cognition or neurology that are not visibly apparent to anyone.
I fully recognize that the stigma associated with my blindness is different from the stigma associated with other types of impairment. While stereotypical responses to my blindness might include pity for my tragic incompleteness, or fatuous admiration for my plucky perseverance in the face of adversity, responses to cognitive, neurological, psycho-social or mental disabilities may include extreme mistrust and fear. Also since nonapparent disabilities need to be named by the individual, the very act of disclosure in academic settings raises a whole other set of possibly injurious responses. I know that I am speaking from a position of privilege in that my impairment is visible, and always already made apparent in my work. And even while I have spent my career challenging what people think they know about blindness, my task is made easier because my white cane has already done some of the talking for me.
I also oppose any effort to out disabled individuals who do not choose to disclose. I am wary of anything that would inscribe a different kind of disability hierarchy, implying that the quality of the scholarship must always be judged against the author’s disability identification. But there is still important cultural work that can be done by this kind of disclosure. When I think of the many conversations I have with disabled students who weigh the options of self disclosure in graduate school applications and job letters, I cannot say that we have moved past the time when this kind of identity politics no longer matters. So I feel that it’s up to us collectively to figure out how best to do this cultural work, through discussions such as this one.6 January 2014 at 10:13 am #2689
Praxis Network: Rethinking Humanities Education, Together and in Public
Session 599 (#s599)
Saturday, 11 January, 3:30-4:45 p.m., Arkansas, Sheraton Chicago
Details about the session, including presenter bios and draft remarks, are available at http://praxisnetwork.mla.hcommons.org/.
How can humanities programs better equip students for a wider range of careers, without sacrificing the core values or approaches of the disciplines? While not new, the question becomes more urgent as public funding for the humanities shrinks and the proportion of contingent faculty grows. Rather than see these pressures as threats, however, many programs see in them an opportunity to develop vibrant programs that take a broader view of possible methodological approaches, research products, and desirable career outcomes.
The participants in this proposed roundtable are all members of the Praxis Network, a new international partnership of graduate and undergraduate programs that are making effective interventions in the traditional models of humanities pedagogy and research. They represent programs that are embarking upon collaborative, interdisciplinary, project-based approaches to humanities education.8 January 2014 at 4:12 pm #2761
809. Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory beyond Green is scheduled to take place at 1:45+3:00 p.m. on 1/12/2014 in Sheraton I, Sheraton Chicago.
A violet-black ecology hovers in the bathypelagic, abyssopelagic, and hadal zones, the three regions of the deep seas, 1000 meters down and much deeper, where sunlight cannot descend. The violet-black depths–cold, dark regions under the crushing weight of the water column–were long thought to be “azoic,” or devoid of life. It is not surprising that Edward Forbes’ azoic theory of the 1840s (preceded by that of Henry de la Beche a decade earlier) stood as the accepted doctrine for a quarter of a century, since it is difficult for terrestrial creatures to imagine what could possibly survive in the unfathomable seas. William J. Broad argues that generations of scientists “dismissed the abyss (a dismissive word in some respects) as inert and irrelevant, as geologically dead and having only a thin population of bizarre fish”[i] Even as deep sea creatures have been brought to the surface, it remains convenient to assume that the deep seas are empty, void, null–an abyss of concern. The deep seas epitomize how most ocean waters exist beyond state borders, legal protection, and cultural imaginaries. As Philip Steinberg argues, the social construction of the ocean in industrial capitalism has been that of a “vast void,” an “empty transportation surface, beyond the space of social relations.”[ii] The emphasis on the transportation surface here neglects vertical zones in favor of horizontal trajectories, making the deep seas the void of the void. Such a colossal, global, oceanic void is of an entirely different scale than Derrida’s domestic encounter with the gaze of his cat, certainly. And yet Derrida’s ruminations are already drenched in the language of the depths, as he describes the question of human and nonhuman subjectivity as “immense and abyssal” requiring that he wrestle with the “several tentacles” of philosophies which become, together, “a single living body at bottom.”[iii] If we shift Derrida’s ruminations on the “animal abyss” from an encounter with the gaze of a specific animal to the collective “composition” (in Bruno Latour’s terms) of the vast abyssal zone and its surrounding territories,[iv] we discover the same sort of vertiginous recognition that there is, indeed, “being rather than nothing.”
When historic expeditions dredged up creatures from the depths, the profusion of animals astonishes. The British <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>H.M.S. Challenger</span>, sailing from 1872 to 1876, hauled up “tens of thousands of animals, some writhing and squirming on deck,” and identified 4,717 new species, giant worms and slugs, spindly crabs and prawns, delicate sponges and sea lilies.”[v] Rather than scrutinize deep sea creatures as they writhe and squirm in suffocating air and glaring light, a violet-black ecology, would descend, in highly mediated ways, to zones of darkness to witness diverse animals in their own watery worlds, but it would also grapple with the watery “environment” itself. As the contemplation of the deep seas is always already a politically charged, scientifically-mediated process—partly because of the staggering costs of even the most basic investigations conducted at these depths—it exemplifies Bruno Latour’s call to “compose the common world from disjointed pieces.”[vi] As a new materialist endeavor, a violet-black ecology would attempt to understand the water of the abyssal zone as something rather than nothing, as substance rather than background, as a significant part of the composition.
At the turn of the 21<sup>st</sup> century scientists and environmentalists warn of the devastating ecological effects of ocean acidification, massive overfishing, bottom trawling, deep sea mining, shark finning, and decades of dumping toxic and radioactive waste into the oceans. Marine science, which is still in its infancy, struggles to keep up with the devastating effects of capitalist waste and plunder as countless species may be rendered extinct before they are even discovered. William Beebe’s worry, however, that biology would become “colorless” and “aridly scientific,” would be assuaged by the early 21<sup>st</sup> century representations of sea creatures in which science, aesthetics, and politics swirl together. The massive, international, decade-long Census of Marine Life, for example, produced not only a treasure trove of scientific disclosures but a vibrant profusion of still and moving images for wide audiences. These images feature newly discovered life forms, but leave the violet-black background out of focus. Yet this entrancing hue may inspire new materialist ecologies of the depths. And how do the prismatic bioluminescent displays of creatures in the abyss provoke recognitions of the multitude of aquatic modes of being, communicating, and knowing? Violet-black ecologies of the abyssal zones entice us to descend, rather than transcend, to unmoor ourselves from terrestrial and humanist presumptions, as sunlight, air, and horizons disappear, replaced by dark liquid expanses and the flashing spectrum of light produced by abyssal creatures. The violet-black seas themselves underscore the significant differences between the life worlds of human beings and abyssal beings, as well as the potential for prismatic ecologies to lure us into less anthropocentric, less “grounded” modes of knowledge, politics, and ethics. Can violet-black compositions somehow, catalyze concern for creatures and habits we can barely begin to imagine?
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<hr align=”left” size=”1″ width=”33%” />
[i] William J. Broad, <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>The Universe Below: Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea</span> (New York: Touchstone, 1997), 331.
[ii] Philip E. Steinberg, <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>The Social Construction of the Ocean</span> (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 113.
[iii] Jacques Derrida, <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>The Animal That Therefore I am</span> (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008) 95, 91.
[iv] For convenience, I will use the term “abyssal” throughout to signify the bathyl, abyssal, and hadal zones, which together, comprise the deep seas. Technically, the abyssal zone is between 3000 and 6000 meters deep; the bathypelagic zone is between 1000 and 3000 meters and the hadal zone is below 6000 meters. The benthic zones, which lie at the bottom of the oceans, vary in depth according to the depth of the ocean floor. The epipelagic zone comprises the top 200 meters of water and the mesopelagic ranges from 200 to 1000 meters. For this particular essay, it makes sense to focus on the bathypelagic zones and the zones below it, since, sunlight cannot descend below 1000 or 1200 meters.
[v] Broad, <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>The Universe Below</span>, 37.
[vi] Bruno Latour, “An Attempt at a Compositionist Manifesto,” <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>New Literary History</span> 41 (2010): 485.
</div>8 January 2014 at 4:26 pm #2762
Stacy Alaimo “Activist Science as Posthuman Prosthesis”
70. Toxic Bodies is scheduled to take place at 1:45+3:00 p.m. on 1/9/2014 in Los Angeles-Miami, Chicago Marriott.
[THIS IS A ROUGH DRAFT—PLEASE DO NOT CITE]
In <i>Bodily Natures: Science, Environment and the Material Self</i>, I develop a material feminist and new materialist theory of trans-corporeality which begins with the human body’s immersion within the agential substances of the material world. As the material self cannot be disentangled from networks that are simultaneously economic, political, cultural, scientific, biological, and substantial, what was once the ostensibly bounded human subject finds herself in a swirling landscape of uncertainty where practices and actions that were once not even remotely ethical or political matters suddenly become so. Trans-corporeality positions the subject as interconnected with the substances of the material world, which entails new models of ethics and politics that cross conventional domains and interest groups as they traverse vast expanses. Thinking the subject as a material being, not as a transcendent, utterly rational subject but as a being subject to the agencies of the compromised, entangled world, places us within a posthumanist and environmentalist domain. Trans-corporeality is a mode of posthumanism that begins from the unacknowledged site of human corporeality, insisting that what we are as bodies and minds is inextricably interlinked with the circulating substances, materialities, and forces of the wider world.
People who suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity are the quintessential trans-corporeal subjects, as they experience the strange agencies that lurk in seemingly innocuous objects, such as couches or fabric softeners. When they experience nausea, headache, or panic from these encounters, they understand that their physical, mental, and emotional well being is not separate from the “environment,” but instead, that places, substances, and consumer objects affect them in penetrating ways. What is distinctive about trans-corporeality, is that the subject does not trace these networks from a safe, outside position but always from within. When we imagine that the world is a resource that we must preserve or sustain in a utilitarian fashion, holding “it” at arm’s length, we deny our own permeability, vulnerability, and bodily nature. Multiple chemical sensitivity serves as both the quintessential example of my theory of trans-corporeality and the site where environmentalism and disability politics are inextricably intertwined. While medical “cures” for MCS make little sense, the concept of accessibility does, as most public places, work spaces, and even domestic spaces are so riddled with toxins that they are utterly inaccessible for those with MCS. [As someone with MCS and RA I can say that hotels are particularly challenging, as the air freshener in the rooms and the new trend toward piping fragrance –“the signature scent” of the hotel chai–into the lobbies and hallways causes harm.]
Rosemary Garland-Thomson’s conception of “misfits,” which poses disability as a matter of “the dynamic encounter between flesh and world” (592), is a useful concept for considering people with MCS as disabled, as industrial consumerism makes nearly every place an ill fit for those with chemical sensitivities. The material feminism of Garland-Thomson’s concept of “misfitting,” suggests the importance of disability studies for new materialist theory. The concept could become more posthumanist, however, by extending it to for nonhuman species, habitats, and ecosystems. More broadly, focusing on toxic bodies, especially those with MCS, but also the entire world of nonhuman bodies invaded by xenobiotic chemicals may foster alliances between environmental and disability movements. Tracing the travels of toxins through posthuman and nonhuman bodies may become even more essential as we dwell within the anthropocene, where human activities have extended themselves to become a geological force at the same time that the material world, comprised of substances and forces that cannot be contained within the categories of natural or artificial, dissolves the boundaries of the human. We are, rather paradoxically, dwelling as posthumans in the anthropocene, as our own material constitution and permeability contradicts Humanist models of subjectivity, yet at the same time, our species has sapiens has “achieved” an astonishing feat, that of the epoch-making planetary alteration, if not domination. Ironically, the posthuman emerges at the pinnacle of the “triumph” of the human.
Sarah Jaquette Ray, in <i>The Ecological Other</i>, argues that my conception of trans-corporeality, while it draws upon disability studies, does not go far enough. Jacquette Ray contends that “the disabled body is the <i>defining</i> antithesis of the whole bodies” that I scrutinize (8). She boldly proposes that “the concepts of wilderness and disability are constitutively constructed,” as wilderness fostered “values of independence, self-reliance, genetic superiority and will power” (60). She puts forth a cogent and valuable critique of the extreme ableism of environmentalism, wilderness movements, and outdoor adventure culture. For example, she states,“Disability studies exposes the extent to which adventure culture’s ivestents are not just racial, gendered, elitist or imperialist, but rather fundamentally hinge on the fit body” (40). She also forwards a universalizing argument about human bodies and the natural world: “Abled bodies do not experience nature any more purely than disabled bodies if we view all technologies as mediating and all bodies as becoming” (72). Although I was not writing about the experience of nature or wilderness, at all, her argument does make me think that the disability studies conception of the prosthetic as a mediating technology is something I failed to adequately address within <i>Bodily Natures,</i> especially as it pertains to those with MCS. I argued, drawing on Andrew Pickering’s notion of the mangle of scientific practice that a person with MCS may be understood as a sort of scientist, actively seeking information about material agencies, and, simultaneously, as the instrument that registers those agencies. The person with MCS asks, “what happens when I go there, breathe this, touch that?” While the body of someone with MCS registers the harm of toxic substances through its immediate negative reactions, this would seem to render it oddly sufficient in terms of procuring adequate knowledge. But one of the essential aspects of Ulrich Beck’s “risk society” is that the human production and dissemination of radiation and xenobiotic chemicals means that now, all humans lack the sensory organs necessary to adequately assess risk. The notion of the prosthetic, as a mediating instrument or activity that extends the ability of the posthuman subject to navigate the world, would be I think, a potent supplement for Beck’s theory. To rewrite Beck a bit for the 21<sup>st</sup> century, we are all already disabled in the anthropocene. Our bodies are not bounded, natural or whole, nor can they survive without the prosthesis of scientific instruments and data that help us navigate risks we are unable to detect with our own sensory apparati. Disability studies’ notions of the prosthetic enable a more embodied sense of how the posthuman being encounters the material world. It offers the possibility to recast the notion of risk society so as to eliminate the subject/object dualisms and the sense of separation between self and world, as the prosthetic extends the knowing self outward.
[So, when I entitled this talk, “Activist Science as Posthumanist Prosthetic,” I think what I intended to argue is something along the lines that environmental justice activists and fracking activists employ citizen science as a kind of posthuman prosthetic device. Because the science that they conduct is so local, even intimate, it fosters the sense of immersion of the human, in the case of fracking, within the flows of contaminated water and highly polluted air. Kim Triolo Fell, an anti-fracking activist in Arlington Texas, notes on her blog that she has become “ultra sensitive to pollution since urban drilling has come to Arlington TX”. She assembles on her blog, “citizen reports on dead cows. . . dead deer. . . dead birds. . .and dead people,” noting “the common theme is that they occur near fracking sites.” The 2010 film <i>Gasland </i>by Josh Fox, features ordinary people acting as popular epidemiologists, collecting and making sense of the physical and mental reactions of themselves and their neighbors, collecting samples of water and even dead animals, lighting tap water on fire, and in a darkly playful experimental manner, taking a blow torch to a tub of polluted water in order to create strands of a plastic-like substance. Thinking of citizen science as a prosthetic here, a politically oriented device that extends, assists, mediates, and translates between the embodied subject and the world, may contest the way that disabled people, as such, are rendered invisible in environmental and environmental justice movments. The predominantly rural and Anglo peoples shown in <i>Gasland</i>, especially the ranchers in the West, embody the quintessential American notion of self sufficiency and fierce independence. The underlying political argument here is that fracking destroys this sort of American—not that these people, these heretofore “normal” folk are now part of a disability community. The relations between environmentalist and disability politics are vexed here, to say the least. In her book <i>Encarnación: Illness and Body Politics in Chicana Feminist Literature</i>, Suzanne Bost argues that “If we understand all corporeal agency as in need of outside assistance—medications, prostheses, vehicles, or even ladders and tools—we can debunk the mythic autonomous subject and shift the political focus to access, not bodies or identities” (187). For activist science to be understood as a prosthesis we would need to make a parallel argument that it is not only all corporeal agency that is in need of outside assistance but that all knowledge practices require technical mediations and that from a trans-corporeal perspective, knowledge must arise as an extension of the very toxic bodies—not some sanitized rational mind—that it seeks to understand. While I agree with Bost that “debunking the mythic autonomous subject” is crucial for all manner of social justice and environmental movements, I think the question of access cannot proceed apart from a palapable sense of material bodies that are always already bound up with identities.
While so much environmental and environmental justice activism, including fracktivism turns precisely on the bodies becoming ill/disabled, environmental movements proceed, by and large, with no alliances with or concern for disability politics. Clearly, and disturbingly, environmentalism depends, to some extent, on the ideal of “normal,” healthy bodies. [See Giovanna Di Chiro, in Queer Ecologies]. Moreover it would be difficult to imagine how anti-toxin movements could affirm disability as such. After distinguishing the different categories of disability, Tobin Siebers in <i>Disability Theory</i>, states “In almost every case, however, people with disabilities have a better chance of future happiness and health if they accept their disability as a positive identity and benefit from the knowledge embodied in it” (27). Is there a way to imagine the film Gasland as being an effective statement against fracking and an affirmation of disability or illness? One of the worst and most prevalent narratives, in my view, that is rather similar would be the breast cancer narratives in which cancer, most likely caused by toxins, has given people the great gift of a new spirituality or appreciation for life—and I’m not mocking these things or saying they are not true although I think the fact that this has become a dominant, disciplining , highly gendered, and convenient for business as usual sort of narrative renders it suspect. But for antitoxin movements, and groups such as Breast Cancer Action, the bad girls of breast cancer activism, what is beneficial personally and what is beneficial politically may be at odds. And yet Siebers complicates his affirmation of a positive identity, “embodiment seen complexly understands disability as an epistemology that . . .embraces what the body has become and will become relative to the demands on it, whether environmental, representational, or corporeal” (27). This seems quite useful for thinking through the intersection of environmental and disability politics, especially at the site of toxic bodies.
Far afield from fracking activism is the micropolitical activism that Beatriz Preciado proposes in the daring theoretical memoir/manifesto, <i>Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era. </i>Preciado, who describes her own “gender hacking” practice of experimenting with testosterone, explains “I’m not taking testosterone to change myself into a man or as a physical strategy of transsexualism; I take it to foil what society wanted to make of me, so that I can write, fuck, feel a form of pleasure that is postpornographic, add a molecular prostheses to my low-tech transgender identity composed of dildos, texts, and moving images” (16). Preciado introduces the text by noting that “Some will read this text as a manual for a kind of gender bioterrorism on a molecular scale.” And near the end, states that “Vaccinating yourself with testosterone can be a technique of resistance for bodies that have been assigned the status of cis-females. To acquire a certain political immunity of gender, to get roaring drunk on masculinity, to know that it is possible to look like the hegemonic gender. . . . Hormones are chemical prostheses. Political drugs. . . . Six months of testosterone, and any cis-female at all, not a should-have-been-boy or a lesbian, but any girl, any neighborhood kid, a Jennifer Lopez or a Rihanna, can become a member of the male species who cannot be told apart from an other member of the hegemonic class” (396). While I love the sort of DIY, guerilla gender experimentation here, as Precidado states, “Gender must be torn from the macrodiscourse and diluted with a good dose of micropolitical hedonist psychadelics” (397)—who wouldn’t love this?—the solitary trajectory of transforming the feminine into the masculine, demonstrating how “any girl” “cannot be told apart from an other member of the hegemonic class,” does nothing, I think, to weaken the grip of normative, hegemonic notions of masculinity—they are reaffirmed even as the microprosthetic allows access to the dominant gender. Is being feminine a disability in our culture? Yes, of course, but as feminine-looking queer who is physically strong and adventurous and who also sometimes experiences physical pain, mental fog, and joints that do not function, it is hard not to take offense here, even as I know, from my own experience taking prednisone (my drug of choice!), how utterly exhilarating and magnificent the intensified sense of physical strength and concomitant audacity can be. But Preciado raises larger political questions about the notion of gender itself. Preciado asserts that “My gender does not belong to my family or to the state or to the pharmaceutical industry. My gender does not belong to feminism or to the lesbian community or queer theory” (397). Gender seems to implode here into the individual’s bounded body, becoming a possession, a characteristic, a hedonistic or psychedelic experience. Testosterone as an activist prosthesis enables knowledge, as it “modifies the filter through which we decode and recodify the world,” even as it “radically modifies the body and, as a result, the mode under which we are decoded by others.” And yet the claiming of one’s own gender as an utterly individual terrain seems to collapse the possibilities for this activism to be political. Despite the dildos and the explicit sex scenes, this seems to me a strangely conservative sort of manifesto. And while Preciado seems to open up the possibilities for DIY gender hacking, and rejects standard categories, “I who am not woman, man, or transsexual” (245) the possibilities for taking pleasure in spectrums of differences, in multiplying deviations, is overshadowed by the idea that making neighborhood girls into men is in itself a political action. And while feminists may object to the celebration of masculinity, queers may object to the unitary trajectory that trumps a multitude of gender and sexual diversities, and disability activists may object to the celebration of an unfettered sense of power as indistinguishable from that of physical bodily strength, environmentalists may also have something to object to, and that is the rather romantic notion that the practice of say, smoking “can be seen as one way of vaccinating yourself against environmental poisoning by means of homeopathic inoculation” (360). I agree with Preciado that we must “earn how to live in a somatic and semiotic environment that is becoming ever more toxic” (361) but the individualist practice of ingesting chemical substances reaffirms the humanist delusions of bounded bodies over which we have a large degree of control and does not begin to address the enormity of toxins dispersed throughout the vast biophysical world.
The toxic bodies of the anthropocene—and they are all toxic—require posthuman prosthetics, mediations that enable mobility, access, and knowledge through and about the biophysical landscapes of risk, fluctuation, uncertainty, pleasure, and harm. This is a world where creatures, including human creatures, struggle, experiment, and negotiate the strange agencies at the crossroads of bodies and places, making sense, making do, where the conception of bounded, normal or natural bodies belongs to some other geological epoch.9 January 2014 at 11:35 am #2769
Hope to see you at the Dickens & Environment panel!
Sophie Christman Lavin, SUNY Stony Brook Department of English
<i>Dickens and the Environment</i> panel
Session # 538, Saturday, January 11,th 12:00 noon—1:15 p.m., O’Hare, Chicago Marriott
<b>“Ecologically Hard Times”</b>
My essay offers an ecocritical reading of Charles Dickens’ 1854 novel <i>Hard Times</i>. The nineteenth-century saw shifts in discourses from the wild, natural environment to the built environment of industry. New, formalized scientific institutions, such as the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and The Astronomical Society, privileged research and direct field observations of nature to position man’s anthropocentric status in Victorian England. While literary critics have historically positioned the novel as a “city” text, probing the industrialization and soot of Coketown, my essay argues that the first pages of<i>Hard Times</i> ground the Dickensian education metaphor as residing in a natural environment—Plato’s Cave. I contend that Hard Times embodies a biopolitical discourse of slow ecological violence, manifest in the numerous instances of nature topography intersecting with built environments, such as Coketown’s “wilderness of smoke and brick.” Specifically, I use the contemporary ecocritical analyses of Agamben, Wolfe, Haraway, Soper and Ferry to explore how <i>Hard Times</i> positions the evolution of environmental ecosystems within the literary ecology of an industrial empire. From an ecofeminist perspective, I analyze how Dickens complicates the anthropocentric view of gender by merging and inverting human with non-human characters such as Sissy, Tom-the-whelp, and Merry Legs.
Sophie Lavin is a Ph.D. student and instructor in English Literature at SUNY Stony Brook University. Her research areas include ecocritical analyses of Victorian literature and culture, Modernism, and film. She has recently published a book review in <i>The Journal of Ecocriticism</i>, and her dissertation project will use ecocritical methodologies to analyze eco-empathy in novels, poetry and film adaptations. Sophie has presented at NAVSA, MLA, the Victorian Poetry conference, the James Joyce Symposium, and the Modernist Studies Association. She is a member of the multicontinent <i>Humanities for the Environment</i> initiative, and in 2014 she will present a session on Environmental Humanities pedagogy entitled: Responding to the Anthropocene: Lessons Learned from ‘Habitat Humanities’ Studies at the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes Conference in Hong Kong.
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