August 31, 2011 § 3 Comments
Penguins, because why not. Actually I’ll get to exactly why in just a second.
I don’t always know how to respond to old theory. I realize that Date of Publication is something I frequently discuss, often derisively, especially in terms of digital culture stuff. Oh poo poo, I cluck like some 24k asshole. 2006? How quaint. This isn’t fair; time passes, it’s no one’s fault, especially when one considers that –and this is a very painful “that”– theorists are by definition behind the curve. Because christ once something has successfully traversed Death Valley, i.e. made it through the publishing process, the subject of whatever study is often halfway out the door. Ahem Second Life, MOOs and MUDS, probably trolling, etc. So let the record show that I am fully aware of this particular tic of mine, and try to keep it in check. At the same time, it can be so odd reading groundbreaking things 15 years after the fact — a particular specialization of UO’s English department (OH I WENT THERE, see how many fucks I give on 3 hours of sleep).
Interestingly, this morning’s (second) selection provides a roundabout take on academic evolution. Course good old Stuart Hall isn’t explicitly engaged with the march of the theoretical penguins (get it???? it’s a metaphor) but the shoe still fits — I roll my eyes at what was said then because of all the other things that have been said since. As Hall argues, the past is only ever viewed through the present; we cannot step outside history, or whatever it is we happen to regard as historical, in itself an ideologically-loaded endeavor. Consequently we must approach our various origin stories (in terms of race/ethnicity, in terms of culture, in terms of THEORY WARZ, in terms of whatever else we assume has a discrete beginning) as both critical to our understanding(s) of our current selves and also entirely mythological.
Hall’s specific account centers on an emerging identity politics, one which acknowledges-slash-celebrates and simultaneously contextualizes the geographical, historical, and therefore epistemic origins of presumedly static racial categories. These new ethnicities, which can best be described as difference with a touch of Derridian differance, are needed to combat the essentialized and essentializing nature of so-called “black” experience, which was often cited in post-war Britain but wasn’t and still isn’t actually a thing. “Blackness” as a political concept may have arisen for very good reasons –as Hall explains, both to access and contest the right to representation– but it reduces individual people, all subject to divergent histories and origins and struggles and successes, to one certain kind of person, indivisible and indistinguishable in some apparently homogenous blackness. Simply inverting the racial dialectic and equating everything black with everything good doesn’t combat the truly pernicious nature of racism — namely the implication that “you people are all the same.” Identity is much messier than that; blanket concepts must give way to more localized identities.
In conclusion, this happened in 1995. Since 1995 many other things have happened. Also.
July 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
For the last like eleventy days my reading selections have been entire books. And the funny thing about books is, they take a while to read. So then today I decided to mix things up a bit, take on a couple of individual articles, and was like wow! This [insert article name] only took me a half hour to get through, why in the hell didn’t I think about that when writing my lists. It’s like being from California –13 hours’ drive from bottom to top– and taking a trip back east. You hop in a car and 15 minutes later you’ve driven through 6 states, it’s weird. Anyway! Articles.
bell hooks, “Postmodern Blackness”
This article covers similar ground as audre lorde’s “Master’s Tools,” but does so with considerably less trollishness. In a nutshell, postmodernism is just a fancy term for white people –usually white men– weeping over white people’s (usually white men’s) problems. See chin-whiskered crybaby Fredric Jameson, especially his solipsistic bawwfest about the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. hooks points out that, although self-professed postmodernists give lip service to “the Other” and “difference,” the theoretical country club is as white-bread as ever. Black female voices –of which hooks is one– aren’t given much credence, if they’re even acknowledged. So why bother trying? Well, hooks argues, because postmodernism has some useful tools, most notably its ability to unpack essentialist and essentializing discourse — but not if it continues to reinscribe a white supremacist agenda, that is, functions to silence all those voices it professes to champion. (harkening to the mega-balls awesome move by lorde demanding that her white middle class feminist audience confront their own politically problematic behaviors, for example being all like “brown women are people too!” and promptly hiring several of them to watch their babies and clean their houses) In order to remain relevant to actual “Others” (as opposed to the hypothetical Other of postmodern lore), postmodernism must: recognize and explore the importance of identity, engage the lived experience of “difference” and court an “empowering nihilism” amongst displaced or politically alienated populations. Additionally, postmodernists must –if they hope to have any relevance irl and/or if they hope to do good as opposed to what they’ve always done– be willing to practice what they preach. This is a hard thing, for white people! But hooks has faith, and believes that with some conscientious effort, the striking discordance between (white) postmodernism and the actual world as inhabited by humans could at least be challenged.
Jaqueline Bobo, “The Color Purple: Black Women as Cultural Readers”
Bobo’s article is one of those articles that’s hard to read without groaning — not because it’s boring or not smart, but because it’s so dated. Written in 1988, the article considers how and why media audiences have varying experiences with the texts they “consume.” Bobo argues that audiences are far from passive vessels for media content; despite pervasive Frankfurt-type dick arguments to the contrary, audience members create meaning for themselves, based on their own personal experiences and histories. In order to further this claim –and more broadly to help ground her ethnographic account of black women’s relationship towards the film The Color Purple– she provides a detailed account of dominant v. negotiated v. oppositional readings, the culturally constructed “subject,” as well as textual interpolation and Hall’s related conception of “articulation.” At the time, this was groundbreaking stuff. 25 years later, Bobo’s arguments (and the arguments of those whom she cites, including and probably especially Stuart Hall) have been widely, if not universally, adopted by new/media scholars. These days it’s sort of a given that people are interpolated by the texts they engage, and that textual engagement(s) is/are based in part on the experiences the person brings to whatever text, and that people’s readings often challenge or reinterpret or outright hijack the “intended” meaning of whatever media artifact. In other words, in many circles (certainly those with a foot inside digital/fan culture), arguments which simply argue that audiences have a complicated relationship with media are often met with golf claps. Because what else can you say? Other than cool story. Back to Bobo: what she did was awesome, and either forwards or nicely summarizes a series of seriously foundational claims, on whose shoulders I squarely stand. So as history, thumbs way up. As anything else, well. Thumbs still way up.