March 21, 2015

'House of Cards': In Power With



Real power couples give each other what they need and want.

Each makes it their business to know what the other person wants and needs. If it comes to it, straight-up asking what that is. Of course, each has to be in-tune enough with themselves to know what they want. Each has to be honest and able to articulate this to the other. Power couples are able to have the tough conversations and leave with a better understanding rather than contempt for each other. 


This is why viewers (men, women, and me included) are enamored with Claire and Francis Underwood of the pop culture sensation. These characters exist without swallowing each other. They are totally separate individuals whose business is each other. Their relationship is a third entity that is a combination of them incarnate. This entity is more powerful than the high offices they hold, than the money they have, than the power they wield, it is more powerful than they are individually.



As ruthless, murderous, and lacking in moral decency as they are, we are drawn to the Underwoods. Not because they will do anything to succeed at getting what they want. We are drawn to them because, existentially, we wish we were fearless enough to share the honesty and trust they have between them—we want a relationship that close.

The Underwoods possess all that they have because their third entity harnesses what is most powerful from each of them, and yet, permits them to be individuals.

They are in power with, not over the other. Most individuals strive for the latter, and those couples lose.

Art not imitating life, perhaps.

February 18, 2015

Le Tete is Alive!

‘Alive!’ (Z. Hall, 2015) contributes to a conversational space where Skip Hill’s ‘Le Tete’ (2005) and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” (1952) engage in a concrete dialogue with the reader-viewer-listener about the invisible and those who will not see.

'Le Tete is Alive!' is a collaboration that will be exhibited as part of the first annual Ralph Ellison Festival in Oklahoma City, OK, Film Row District on Friday, February 20, 2015 from 6:30 p.m.-11 p.m. The event features music, art, poetry and more. A reading of 'Alive!' will be featured.

 'Le Tete', Skip Hill (2005)

'Alive!,' Z. Hall (2015) 

Alive!
 
I see u watching me
looking at u
seeing me
in constellations
of    cari    catures
spread across
the expanse

existing
in marginalized lanes
on the right side of
guardrails criminalizing
movingbreathing&thinking
of ghosts

gulping air
when available
for purchase at
the convenience & liquor store
on    ev    ver   ry    corner
under streetlights
of 1,369 watts
splitting darkness
in half

taking form

reflections in
the shape and peculiar
disposition of your eyes
confirm I am real

that shit don’t scale

I am yet to come
to my reality as
apart from the Other
tangled in machinations
of multicolored broken glass
on absorbent asphalt

no protections

lives in the balance
measured on scales
rusting & hanging
from high rise dwellings

desolate & cold

I am    ev    ver    ry    where
in the world
w   h   e   r   e
redemption is
demanded

rehab-ing wrongs
of the interminably
innocent
by reason of
exclusion
from possible
e    vil

terrifying calm

blackness of Blackness is
the nickel in the quarter slot
that mark outside the line
raisins in the peanut tin
hated for their honesty
despised for being present

banned inhabitant

danger lies in
awakening sleepwalkers
in dank alleys of transgression
where phantom guided hands
commit atrocities
phantoms whose only sin
is in their skin

unceremonious suicide

dying lifetimes
that the hands might
live, and live
more abundantly
in    con    scious
uptake of the
good life

poor vision

blame shifting
onto shapes
carved by doers
of the unthinkable
while phantoms
jazz dance to
silent music

mea culpa

their travesty
of complicity in
sickening unto death
implicated by
sustained reflections of
mis-shapened forms
existing in
the mind’s eye of
those who cannot see
the real-life
canvas with no
name.

Do you want to know
what I call myself?

Alive!

 



February 13, 2015

Muslim Women and Feminism—or Not?

                   Originally published on Daily Sabah, author H. Sule Albayrak

Muslim Women: Feminist or Defender of Patriarchal Order

In recent years, we have witnessed an increasing visibility of Islam both in Turkey and around the world. With greater social mobility, Muslims are seeking to increase not only their economic, but also their social and cultural capital, thus acquiring an ability to penetrate into the social sphere. At the same time, they are faced with the opportunity and necessity of reassessing their values, beliefs and practices. The educated, urban Muslim woman, whose influence in social life has increased, is at the center of this process. She is criticized by some for adapting to the secular world, and by others for not being modern enough. But in any case, she is regularly subjected to definition and labeling. What about the Muslim woman's own identity and self-definition? The way the Muslim woman constructs herself as a subject from the perspective of her value system is not an object of much interest neither in our country nor in the world. Hence, this piece is for those who are open to an alternative approach.

Obligatory feminism

Pious women (most of them wearing the headscarf), taking part in the public realm, leading a professional life and engaging in activism for a more equitable society are subjected to various definitions. While usually viewed as feminist or Islamic/Islamist, these women are also sometimes described only as Islamist or fundamentalist. Although we see the term fundamentalist used less frequently in recent years, the designations "feminist" or "Islamic feminist" in particular, subject these women to a coarse categorization against their will. Actually, this attitude reflects the view that the Muslim woman cannot be a subject, and that her ideas about herself cannot be reliable. As such, it ceases to be a situation seen in everyday life alone, but gains currency in intellectual and academic arenas as well. Thus, a social-scientific approach that claims to give priority to understanding slips into self-denial from the very beginning.

At an international conference last year, an American sociologist who presented a study on Kuwaiti women, referred to them as "Islamic feminists." In fact, she forcibly attached a label to these women that they themselves deemed unsuitable. Indeed, during the presentation, she said "Actually, these women objected to being called feminists. Nevertheless, I define them as Islamic feminists anyway." With this statement, she not only adopted an Orientalist stance that claims authority to define the East at will, but also illustrated the fact that when the Muslim woman is in question, even the methodology of uncovering the meanings people ascribe to their behavior - one of the fundamental principles of the social sciences - could be laid aside.

Again, a dialogue between a women's rights activist and Nazife Şişman, one of Turkey's leading female intellectuals, represented an attempt to rebuke Muslim women who have a false consciousness. As is understood from Şişman's account, her interlocutor did not find her explanation that she is not a feminist very convincing, and went so far as to insistently try to persuade her that she is a feminist. In another instance, Miriam Cooke, known for her studies on Arab women, said she did not understand why Şişman refuses to call herself a feminist.

Muslim woman's demand for rights

Interestingly enough, being a defender of her civil, social and political rights as a public subject, the Muslim woman is exposed to an attribution of "feminism" against her will. On the other hand, it is deemed legitimate to deprive her of these rights, contrary to that attribution, on the grounds that she has internalized the patriarchal religious order. In this way, the Muslim woman who has had difficulty for decades even with receiving public service, let alone giving it, is construed as the "other" to the modern woman. But when the same woman demands a fairer role distribution, she deserves to be defined as feminist. We need to call attention to several issues to understand the contradiction here. First of all, the designation feminist has been turned into a term, which covers every kind of pursuit for rights, by women. And every demand for improving women's social status and solving her problems is regarded as feminism. In this manner, the Muslim woman's demand for rights is described in women's studies in the West as "Islamic feminism." In Turkey, on the other hand, secular feminists try to disengage themselves from pious women, whom they see as socio-culturally inferior, through the designation "Islamic feminist." However, even those women with a distinctive religious identity, who actually do define themselves as feminist, say that the term Islamic feminism should be essentially used for only those people who apply feminist critique to religious texts. So, this reductionism restricts not only those women who feel lukewarm toward feminism, but also Muslim women who are interested in feminism or consider it as a part of their identity.

On the other hand, the Muslim woman who has no thought of losing sight of her religious anchoring cannot be analyzed by a secularist, civilian, political and intellectual elite who has not yet broken free from a monolithic approach to modernization. This is because this new profile does not fit existing mental templates. That intellectual conformism within such circles, together with an unwillingness to share the public realm, leads to a sort of reaction that contains hatred, too. Indeed, despite efforts toward a fairer sharing, which have been occurring now for more than 10 years, it is noticed that the public realm in Turkey is still dominated largely by secularist civilian-economic elites. In spite of all the exaggerated discourses, the relative freedom in public space obtained by the religious section of society in general, and pious women in particular, is not enough to break the decades-long secularist hegemony. Considering that the balance of economic power in Turkey is still heavily skewed toward the secularists, the situation becomes clearer.

Feminists can't make jam?

Those who believe they are competent to comment on the identity of pious women are not limited to secularist elites or social scientists. Along with them, some conservative segments of society also feel qualified to comment on who is feminist and who is not, by taking certain cultural criteria as a basis. As a result, those departing from the traditional role of women can be faced with the pejorative epithet "feminist." Some of them are described as feminist because of their intellectual concerns, some for having an area of interest different from her husband's, and some for not knowing how to make jam. A different type of confusion emerges here. Pious women's ties with Muslim women in history - those who had engaged in science or had formed their own opinions and been highly respected - in general and intellectual Ottoman women in particular, have been severed. Pious women have managed to access higher education despite all restrictions and have subsequently entered into public space after having been kept out of the social arena. But they may be met with surprise at times, not only by secularists, but also those segments of society that are unaware of women's past heritage.

How does the pious woman define herself amid all these debates raging around her? It must be noted, that she can define herself by avoiding a monolithic approach, that there are a few pious women who identify themselves as feminist. But the newly-emerging public woman profile also includes those women who try to create opportunities of living out their faith in the modern world and who describe themselves as Islamist. There is a larger group of women, however, who avoid ideological orientation, and are content with describing themselves with the epithet "Muslim," a word chosen by God. Seeing feminism as a distinctive stage in the story of the Western woman, while not denying the contributions of the feminist experience, this new woman's profile depicts society not as an arena where women and men compete, but as a space where they live in harmony and cooperation. Although realizing this vision of harmony and cooperation brings many problems along with it, the search for an alternative to feminist discourse continues, accompanied by concepts such as rights, justice and trust. But this entirely respectable effort meets with contempt, objections and even attacks from secularist and feminist circles.

At the international Women and Justice Summit held by the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM) in Istanbul on Nov. 24-25, 2014, there was an attempt to bring forward a gender justice discourse that offers an alternative to the hegemonic feminist discourse of equality. In fact, this initiative also reveals the courage of the subject of this article: the newly-emerging public pious woman's profile. Offering a discourse of justice, that also envisages equality at points where the equality discourse is deficient, is interpreted by some as a backward step for women. However, it accompanies searches in the intellectual world, which has realized that existing discourses are not sufficient to improve women's status in society, passing beyond mere equality. I think it is within the bounds of possibility for pious women to attain a discourse and a stance that does not conflict with their world of values, on the condition that a rigorous study is conducted into the possibility, and new areas of debate are opened.

 
~~~~~
H. Sule Albayrak is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Theology at Marmara University in Istanbul, Turkey.

February 11, 2015

25th Anniversary of Walk to Freedom



Today marks the 25th anniversary of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela's release from Victor Verster Prison, now Drakenstein Correctional Centre, in 1990. Madiba spent the better part of his 27 years of incarceration on Robben Island as a political prisoner before his life sentence was vacated.

Image: Close-up of statue of former President Mandela outside of Drakenstein Correctional Centre. Image Credit: The Hindu online.


February 9, 2015

(Un)productivity in the Digital Age

Originally published on bluestockings magazine 
by Sophia Seawell (SS), Ann Kremen (AK), and Chanelle Adams (CA).

 Mimi Thi Nguyen   Image Credit: Bluestockings Magazine

SS: How do you inhabit both the spaces of the academy and activism, and in particular, an activism grounded in the politics of punk, given that these are often constructed as dichotomous and antagonistic?

Mimi Thi Nguyen (MN): The work that I do in the academy on war and empire first developed out of my politicization in punk. My exposure to the idea of the United States as a liberal empire – though not then described in those words – happened when I encountered the longest running punk magazine Maximum Rockandroll in the 1990s and learned about the Ronald Reagan administration’s covert military operations in Central America, waged in the name of freedom.  I hadn’t put that together with being a refugee from the US war in Viet Nam until I encountered punk and radical politics, which then informed my academic work. At the same time, my academic work has also shaped my zines, my punk writing. I was a Gender and Women’s Studies major as an undergraduate, and what I learned in the classroom definitely informed my zines. So I’ve always understood my intellectual work in punk and the academy as not necessarily distinct.

The disjuncture then comes when I consider how we are encouraged to carry ourselves in the academy. I feel a lot of pressure to professionalize, and the prescriptions for professionalization often run counter to my way of being in the world. I also struggle with the directive that I am supposed to professionalize my students. I don’t hold with the idea that I should train students to be better workers, because the content of “better” — more obedient, more efficient, whatever — runs counter to what I want to teach. In my feminist theories courses, I say, “Yeah, I  just gave you assignments with deadlines! But I also want to say to you, what’s so great about work? Why do we believe work is supposed to be edifying? Should we always have to be productive? Why do we imagine work as something that gives us dignity? What if it’s just wearing us down?” My history in punk totally informs these attempts to practice other ways of being in a classroom, and other ways of being a professor.

SS: Are there frameworks or approaches you got from punk that you’ve brought with you to other spaces?

MN: What I got out of punk is an unwillingness to accept what I am told is “good” as true or obvious. Punk gave me words and gestures for once inchoate feelings about the cluster of promises that comprise what Lauren Berlant calls a cruel optimism — the state and capital are on your side! The ring on your finger is a sign of love and protection! So if I am told, “this is what you should be doing, it’s for your own good,” my first impulse is usually — on the inside these days — “Fuck you!” And then “Why?”

When I was thinking about the so-called gift of freedom – this notion that the United States is invested in granting to others who don’t have it the gift of freedom — I want to know: How is this thing, that so often arrives in the form of waging war, a gift? Why is this the shape that freedom should necessarily take? This skepticism definitely informs my feminist and queer politics as well. Why should anti-violence campaigns rely on the police or the prison to protect us? Why is the present ceiling of LGBT politics marriage rights? Why are these things given to us as necessary social goods? And, what are they doing beyond what they claim to do?

CA: Your zine Race Riot came at a time when there were not race discussions happening in the punk scene. How did you go about organizing support and a network for that? Did that network already exist? Did you meet resistance initially?

MN: In the late 1980s and 1990s, there was a semi-silence about race and racisms in punk and punk-adjacent scenes. What anti-racist discourses or practices circulated within punk tended to boil down to “Fuck Nazis,” which was a real problem in punk scenes at the time. I know plenty of older punks who rumbled with Nazi skinheads, and much respect to them — but I wanted more. While neo-Nazi skins were absolutely present as threats, what other conversations could we have about say, swastikas as ironic racism or racist cool? Or, about people of color or non-Western peoples in histories of punk sounds, aesthetics, politics?

The impetus for Race Riot came when a columnist at Maximum Rockandroll wrote about his Asian fetish, suggesting that Asian women’s eyelids look like vulva, and that their vulva might be also horizontal. It is an old imperial joke — there are all kinds of imperial jokes about how racial, colonial women’s bodies are so inhuman that their genitalia might reflect this alien state. I wrote a letter to Maximum, cussing and citing postcolonial feminist theory. He then wrote a lengthy column in response about how though I’m Asian, because I’m an ugly feminist, he wouldn’t want to fuck me anyway. There was a discussion at the magazine about whether or not to publish this column because the magazine had a policy — no racism, no sexism, no homophobia. But the coordinator and founder of the magazine decided that this column qualified as satire, and so it was acceptable.

It was really infuriating for me to be 19 years old, totally invested in punk and politics, to be attacked under the guise of racist cool in the punk magazine. I was like, “Fuck it, I’m quitting punk.” But I figured I should do something, to leave something behind as a practice and as a document, to reach other punks of color who might feel as isolated as I did in the aftermath.  There wasn’t yet a broader discussion about race or about people of color in punk, and we didn’t have the Internet at the time in the way that we do now! I sent postcards out to other punks, to the few people of color I knew in punk, to hand out at shows. It was all word of mouth, plus a massive physical flyer campaign. The relative ease with which punks — and especially queer punks, punks of color, feminist punks — can find each other online, and share histories, photographs, music, and more, was just not possible when I made the first Race  Riot.

CA: Since you’ve been active in the POC zine community for years, how do you think about the transformation from material forms like zines to digital ones like blogs and Twitter? How do you respond to pressure to immediately respond through social media platforms? Do you find it hard to take the time to have a contemplative feminism?

MN: While these concerns are not part of my scholarship, I have thought about these questions a lot. New technologies have produced expectations that we now have more democratic access to more knowledge, and that we must accommodate ourselves to an accelerated sense of time. But I am wary of this internalization of capital’s rhythms for continuous consumption and open-ended production. I hate feeling obliged to produce a post or tweet on a timetable. It makes me anxious. There is value in being about to respond quickly to an object or event, of course, but I also want to hold out for other forms of temporal consciousness, including untimeliness and contemplation of deep structures, sitting with an object over time to consider how it changes you, how the encounter with it changes the nature of your inquiry.

SS: The digital is such a generative space for building connections and communities, yet, at the same time, it is characterized by its speed and ephemerality, and it can often be unsafe. In what ways do you see the logics of digital media and the Internet affecting the way that communities organized around social justice form online?

MN: We live in a moment during which we have internalized surveillance and security cultures to such a degree that perhaps we also assume others can be rendered into their avatars, their tweets or their posts. But I would want to push against the premise that a stranger is knowable from their observable data. How do we recognize evidence of being a person under neoliberal capital? Do you exist in the absence of a selfie, or a tweet? What about all the commitments and histories you can’t account for solely through the digitized self? I am not at all saying selfies and tweets are bad, but I am saying that these are the conditions under which we fund ourselves complicit — and even locate pleasure — in our surveillance, and in surveying others, and upon which access to capital, love and other forms of sociality increasingly depend.

Our surveillance apparatus and the security state also depend on our becoming trackable entities. This runs deep, so that even on social justice Tumblr or Twitter — which are often platforms through which marginalized persons might articulate a desire for freedom — recognition and validation comes in the quantifiable, trackable form of likes, favorites, reblogs, and retweets. The more we produce, the more we circulate, the more recognition we receive, the more that recognition becomes translated as approximating justice. It is impact, absolutely. But what does it mean to measure impact and influence through these viral measures, which collapse quantifiable recognition with evidence of political movement? Is community the consequence of success on the market?

AK: You mentioned forms of recognition coming as retweets, reblogs, or likes. How do these ways of measuring impact change the way that organizing is conceptualized? What changes do you see in the language being used, even within social justice movements, to describe processes and successes?

MN: Corporate and creative-speak now converge through a language about originality and intellectual property: each individual’s capacity for creativity can and should be encouraged in order to create intellectual properties for a corporation or institutional entity.  Our claims to originality and intellectual property are commodified as forms of labor that we voluntarily donate and circulate as “user-generated” content for multibillion-dollar corporate platforms such as Twitter, which are meanwhile accumulating and privatizing massive political and financial capital. Consider Twitter or Google in San Francisco, and the acceleration of evictions displacing the racialized poor and the evisceration of social services in the city as a direct consequence of its powers.

Can we or should we separate Twitter’s emergence through these structures of global capital and racial violence from the platform’s claims to facilitate a true public sphere, to embed democratic principles of inclusion, participation, and identification into its code — which frankly is a decades-old claim for digital media! — and then again from our usages of that platform? What happens to the even more marginal, the obscure, the slow, the incommunicable, and the unproductive under such metrics of relevance?

CA: What are ways that we can continue to exist within the system but also subvert it in a way that is useful to ourselves, sustaining ourselves and providing self-care?

MN: In considering self-care, I would challenge the ideas that work is good for us, that we be productive or measure other persons and things by their usefulness to us, and that we engage in constant calculation about value. What might constitute radical self-care under conditions of neoliberal capital? — which is a very predatory capital that, as Lauren Berlant puts it so well, aims to wear our bodies out and commit us (differentially, of course) to slow death. Maybe it means refusing to be productive, useful, transparent, accountable in computational or compensatory forms, or even valuable according to prevailing measures. Such refusals could inform self-care — like maybe I just want to sit by this beach, and it doesn’t have to be made meaningful as a revolutionary act! — but also a more unpredictable, imperfect politics under contemporary conditions of power and knowledge that aim to render each of us as knowable bits of data.

That’s why I am making zines again, because these shape a different relationship for me to creative and intellectual labor. I am not compensated for my labor-time, I don’t receive quantifiable forms of recognition in terms of numbers in circulation or for professional promotion. That’s why the Race Riot zines are still the best things I’ve ever made. No matter how numerous the copies or readers are, its impact is unquantifiable, discontinuous, and untrackable.

Mimi Thi Nguyen is an Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign as a Conrad Humanities Scholar. She is the author of The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages. Nguyen has also been involved in punk and zine communities since the early 1990s. She is responsible for organizing and distributing the compilation zine Race Riot in the late 90s, and is a collaborator in the POC Zine Project.

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