The financial system is ‘ill’, capitalism is on the verge of ‘collapsing’, a drastic ‘cure’ has to be found quickly, ‘toxic’ funds need to be ‘eradicated’, and so on. Terms from the vocabulary of medicine and biology have been largely used to describe the systemic crisis of the latest capital, often comparing it to the body in pain. Probably, in an attempt to localize and make more understandable the phantasmagoria of the trillions to Mr. and Mrs. Smiths, the taxpayers, the backbone of the economy.
On the other hand, people protesting their dissent at the 20 ‘surgeons’, who gathered in London for the world summit, were confined, squeezed, made literally prisoners in public space by a well established police tactic, in Wednesday’s protest in the City of London. For seven hours, they have been left without basic services, water, food, or a chance to move away, compressed in a tight space by the police, armed in full anti-riot gear. A colleague of mine, a PhD research student, so described to me in a private email the scene: “…most people around us were totally calm and peaceful till the police penned in thousands upon thousands of people without giving reasons for their actions, without access to food or water or toilets. Disgusting!”. A journalist from the Times (Murdoch’s paper) so comments: ” The police wilfully criminalised and alienated 4,000 innocent people. If I were to design a system to provoke and alienate, I could not do better”.
What would have Foucault thought of this, I wonder?
An Intro to Biopolitics (K. Schlosser)
For a theory of urban warfare tactics (E. Weizman)
In the past week considerable debate has emerged over the birth of a set of octuplets to a California woman. Controversy has surrounded both the doctors who facilitated the births as well as the mother herself, who is single, unemployed, and has six other children. The attention that is being paid to this family by both the media and ordinary people who are eager to share their opinions on fertility treatments and parental responsibility has created nothing short of spectacle. In his work on media, culture, and spectacles, Douglas Kellner suggests that popular media spectacles often tell us a great deal about the values, experiences, and conflicts of our times. From this perspective, the octuplet birth may cast a light on such issues as the role of biotechnology in pregnancy and childbirth, medical ethics, and the role of the state in regulating the clinics and doctors who facilitate multiple births. The hostility that has been directed toward the mother of fourteen also suggests contemporary notions about what constitutes “appropriate” parenting. At the same time, however, the woman has been praised by some for her decision not to terminate her pregnancy. We may compare the octuplet birth spectacle, then, to a microscope through which we can take a closer look at the issues, conflicts, and problems that are present in contemporary society, but not always visible to the naked eye
R. Bennett and J. Harris on reproductive choice
Transsexual people are willing to become invisible, international acclaimed photographer and researcher Sara Davidmann maintains, in order to be accepted in the social norm, which wants a strict binary distinction between genders. The issue of safety in public space here, I guess, is crucial – hence, the urge to comply to the visual stereotype of the male or of the female. As it is the issue of ‘medicalization’, that is, the tendency of western culture to push ‘deviance’ to the safe border of psy-disciplines as well as towards surgery: the idea being of fixing the ‘wrong’ bodies.
On the other hand, the insistence on the inadequacy of our language categories (most notably written texts) to describe and hence make acceptable situations at the border, or in-between binary constructions, seems to me quite inadequate. I borrow an expression from Thrift (2008), according to whom: ‘Practices are property of the practises themselves, not of the actors’.
Let’s look at the problem of the public toilets, for instance: two signs on the door of the cinema or the pub, no other chance. This action, which most of us takes for granted, might become a big issue for some people. Pace Judith Butler, the social construction of gender seems a lived practical experience, which involves all sort of conflicts, misunderstanding, resistance, defences, and so on. Davidmann’s critical photography seems to me to do more and better.
Border Trouble: photography, strategies, and transsexual identities by Sara Davidmann [CONTAINS NUDITY]
To what extent, I have been thinking recently, can we feel, understand, and represent the suffering of other people? Is it reasonable to argue that the continuous exposure to images of the atrocity of the war – most notably children – has rendered those atrocities a media spectacle and “Us” a privileged passive audience? Would this prevalent opinion make any difference to the crude ‘reality’ of the conflicts? Or, on the other hand, if we maintain that “We” cannot ever understand those who experience(d) the drama of the war (as the latest Susan Sontag suggested), then, what kind of pacifism is possible?
To try to address some of these issues, I started being interested less in the grand ‘political questions’ and more in the everyday practice of the war, focusing on the daily bodily reactions or adaptations to it.
Raising Yousuf and Noor: Diary of a Palestinian Mother
Tales to Tell: from Gaza 2008
Jeff Wall is famous for grand tableaux, which he shoots in sections over several months before stitching together the final image using computer montage. He has been known to spend almost two years on a single picture, with actors and crew to shoot scenes of the everyday. He teases out the myth of reality outside perception to the point that he is able to re-create in studio the ‘decisive moment’ of Cartier-Besson, in which the elements of an external world join together at a decontextualized point, outside time. “There’s a fine line between fact and fiction, between a moment and a perfect representation of that moment” – he said. Jeff Wall’s best work comes from never having to choose.
I want to use his work here to criticize the idea of performative aspects of identity as expression of never ending exercise of will, disconnected from the web of social practices, context and history, in which they are embedded. In other words, I maintain, practices are not propriety of actors but of the practices themselves. On the other hand, though, there is a sense in which the studio or the laboratory provides a very poor metaphor to be able to capture the complexity of the world: so to say, the body cannot contain all. There is always an emergent element of free-play, a ‘personal authorship’ (Thrift, TwoThousandEight) that comes out from the ongoing creation of affects, through encounters: ‘A non-representational outlook depends upon understanding and working with the everyday as a set of skills, which are highly performative’ (ibidem). In this sense the metaphor of the mime is a pertinent one: the actors are going out in a specific place, they cannot use any words, just facial expression, their bodies and of course objects. We don’t know what and how they are going to perform. And especially what kind of audience they are going to meet: we can only guess.
Adkins on reflexivity
Watch Jeff Wall on BBC4 documentary
My barber doesn’t bother at all: “Hair -he told me last week – will always grow on people’s head!”. The phantasmagorical numbers of the capitalist crisis do not mean anything at all to him (do they mean anything to most of us, by the way?). He carries on as he can, as he has almost always done, a coffee and a cigarette here and there, a joke quite often.
He made me think that everyday’s life is a challenging terrain for social scientists, more complex and fluid that we – social scientists – are usually inclined to think: it engages simultaneously with the real, the symbolic and the imaginary, and ‘how and what it is experienced as experience is itself variable’ (N. Thrift, Non Representational Theory, 2008).
Thrift on malice and misanthropy