Tag Archives: materiality

“Cc…: CCC,” part 13

Hi  all,

John, your invocation of Stuart Marshall’s effort to historicize the epidemic in his 1987 videotape brought to mind your own indelible contributions in this regard, notably Zero Patience, which dates from 1993.  As Paula Treichler writes of your film in How to Have Theory in an Epidemic, “Early in Greyson’s musical…the character of Sir Richard Burton performs an ode to empirical science:  ‘A culture of certainty,’ he sings, ‘will wipe out every doubt.’  But by the end of the film, virtually every apparent certainty has been called into question, including some of the most treasured certainties of AIDS treatment activism.  The character of George, losing his sight from CMV, is also losing patience with treatment orthodoxies, no matter whose they are.  But even as his poignant refrain asserts this condition of radical uncertainty – ‘I know I know I know I know that I don’t know’ – Greyson’s story of the stories of the epidemic never lets us forget what we do know:  That a narrative can be powerfully persuasive, that a democratic technoculture must find ways to acknowledge the power of competing narratives, and that, for all the power of narrative, this epidemic leaves hundreds of thousands of people dead.”  She goes on to remark that, as the film unfolds, the various codes and conventions that have characterized the historiography of the epidemic “are self-consciously framed, contrasted, and denaturalized:  repeatedly called ‘tales,’ ‘stories,’ and ‘histories,’ they are used and manipulated to furnish data for grant proposals, fed to the media, distorted by the media, juxtaposed to other stories, told differently by different people, espoused and repudiated, hammed up, camped up, acted out, politicized, ridiculed, idealized, and discredited.  In this sense, they represent competing regimes of credibility…placed in visible collision.”

In the aftermath of writing The Brevity of Life, this recalls for me the threat to historiography formulated by Walter Benjamin in his fifth thesis On the Concept of History:  “The true image of the past flits by.  The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again…. For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own threatens to disappear irretrievably.”  Like the dancing shadows John invoked in his last message to us, flitting around the hearth of the virus, whose company presumably includes a number of more and less helpful, useful, risky analogies.  As William Haver notes in his admirable essay “Interminable AIDS,” “The ghost is the figure of what we can never quite forget altogether, but also of that which memory can never satisfactorily recover:  the figure of the impossibility of forgetting what we have forgotten.  The ghost is the figure of what disrupts every attempt at historiographical pacification.”  Witness Zackie’s video phantom addressing the conference delegates and the world from the screens temporarily erected in Barcelona for the occasion.

And John’s question – “Do we learn from history, or do we do history a disservice by recasting its specificity into a generalized metaphor for today’s agendas, today’s needs?” – resonates with Gertrude Stein’s singular history lesson, the final line of her poem “If I told him”:  “Let me recite what history teaches.  History teaches.”  If, as Gregg contends (with Benjamin), “A radical break with history can only follow from a radical break with an understanding of history,” we urgently need to attend to what HIV/AIDS has to tell us, to teach us, about our understanding of history.  For example, as Gregg also points out, “When we are forced to contemplate the AIDS crisis in the U.S. [in 2002], all illusions of progress disintegrate.”  Hence our received understanding of what Benjamin calls “the historical progress of mankind” is radically undercut by the material events that constitute the history of the pandemic to date, and in particular is shown to rely on a notion of our progression through a homogeneous, empty time.

More later, I hope.

Deborah

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“Cc…: CCC,” part 7

Dear all:

Perhaps Jack and Zackie could outline more of the circumstances of their tea party with Nelson this last Sunday – which sounds like it just might shake the world, or at the very least rattle the President’s china.  Photos of the tea service, please!  Menu tidbits:  you said he drank mint tea with honey, but the biscuits?

Because Jack’s right – what could be more about right now, more about acting right now, more in the present tense, more about hope, than Zackie having tea with Nelson, while Jack shoots every sip and crumb?  Now there’s some activism as performance art that would make Derek & Co. purr!

John

@@@@@

While we await details of the historic tea party….  I just had my first opportunity to see Gregg’s powerful video, Habit, which borrows footage from Jack’s work to great effect, and features Zackie, speaking on behalf of the Treatment Action Campaign in July 2000, making the point that well-meaning volunteers who might want to contribute to current efforts on the ground in South Africa “should have the humility not to arrive in the morning and try to rule the country by lunchtime.”  For me, this resonates powerfully not only with the images of Gregg’s calendar pillbox, helpfully dividing the days for those who have access to the most effective therapies at this stage, but also with the red thread of our conversation to this point.

For the record, I also want to impart two further points that John raised in his response to reading the manuscript of The Brevity of Life.  The first has to do with an argument made by Andrew Sullivan, writing in the New York Times Magazine to the effect that (I’m quoting John) “the AIDS cultural debate is ‘dated,’ ‘old-fashioned,’ ‘nineties’… the art world has moved on, and artists have followed suit, almost no one is making AIDS work any more – these are all oft-repeated commonplaces that seem to need some unpacking…partly because these assumptions go right to the ugly heart of who actually decrees suitable subject matter, and trends, and practices.”

John’s other observation also has to do with material practices:  “I kept thinking about the time it takes to make work, when you’re running out of time.  Felix chose to expedite – his pieces took almost NO time – go to the department store and buy two clocks.

With Blue, Derek had no shoot – he called the lab and said give me ninety minutes of blue.  Manufactured solutions replacing the labour of the artist’s hand….

And then there’s Stephen – faced with the ticking clock, he dreams up excruciating, labour-intensive projects which replicate industrial processes which could be accomplished in minutes by a phone call:  scan this, blow this up.

Faced with a deadline (what’s the origin of that word, anyway?), these five made radically different choices about how to spend their time.”

Again, my thanks,

Deborah

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“Cc…: CCC,” part 3

Hi all:

There’s certainly nothing to argue about with Piot’s imperative:  “Now act!”  Deb, if your book among other things is tracing the myriad ways in which “time” as both metaphor and material fact has indelibly marked the work of Derek, Felix, Stephen, et.al., then few phrases could be more on the nose, echoing down the years.  (Among other reverberations, ACT UP’s national network acronym was of course ACT NOW!:  AIDS Coalition to Network, Organize and Win.)  Think how many times we’ve heard those words, said them, shouted them, bellowed them, repeated them to the point of platitude.  Indeed, AIDS over two decades and six continents has been marked like a music score by this same recurring lament:  Now act.  Act.  Now.

Though the “now” part has almost never been “acted” upon – big and small power brokers seem equally incapable of doing anything “now” – there has nevertheless been some acting:  often begrudging, often too little, often too late, but nevertheless.  Over time, through time, people have acted, continued to act.  Except of course, like Felix’s clocks, when their batteries, when their time runs out.

John G.

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‘what history teaches,’ part 2

Unbound‘s project, however, is not strictly bound by the laws and limits that the designation “reflexive poetics” would appear to institute.  For one thing, as “a book of AIDS,” with all the force of the partative, it does not simply thematize; it also refers.  Its language lays claim to factual and undeniable referents in countless human bodies (it is of course in and on these bodies that HIV/AIDS first offers itself for reading, and first demands to be read), and to a host of others in the material events that constitute the history of the epidemic-turned-pandemic.

But it is not only the all too obvious referential function of Shurin’s language that opens his “reflexive poetics” onto a historiographical dimension.  It is also the rhetorical function of a text that, again in its own terms, is “weighted toward witness” – structured, that is, as testimony addressed out of and as of a certain date.  And it derives what authority it may claim from prior testimony:  “Authority? – not mine, but an urge toward the integration of fear and immutable fact, and a heart for consequence.  Who could have moved me to this end but the men whose names are mentioned here, who were my informants and guides, and whose natural affectional alliances made an epidemic based on love and desire possible?  It soon became clear that for me writing about AIDS was weighted toward witness.  Such participation’s cursed rare privilege is offered to you” (8).  Here as elsewhere, Unbound apostrophizes the reader, willing or unwilling recipient of its uncompromising address (an address on the order of the paradigmatic apostrophe in the chilling final line of Keats’ “This living hand, now warm and capable”:  “See, here it is, I hold it towards you”).  More fundamentally, the grammar here signals that this testimony is offered, delivered, or at any rate promised to one who remains indeterminate, unnamed in the text:  it is perhaps the lover, perhaps the stranger, for with the other, as with AIDS, it comes to the same.  [Cf. Jacques Derrida, “Shibboleth” in Midrash and Literature, ed. Hartman and Budick, 344].

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fledgling’s archive, september 2009

09/30/2009 Red-letter day 

  

Perhaps this will go down as a red-letter day of some sort: I just noted my fledgling blog’s first batch of visitors arriving via Google. And it showed up on my own search. Now I really must make these posts presentable.  

For the moment, though, I just want to (red) flag a matter for future consideration: the ascendancy of the term ‘friend’ in the context of social media. It is an easy thing to overlook, or simply take for granted, but given the richness and variability of the writing on friendship in the history of philosophy, this certainly warrants further scrutiny.  

Posted at 05:00 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (4)    

 

09/29/2009  Hectic presumptions 

In the belief – a wager, certainly – that thinking can proceed in part via stepping-stones of thought made accessible by those who have gone before (even just before), let me cite (as I have more than once) an account provided by my friend and mentor Werner Hamacher in an incisive essay entitled “Journals, Politics”:  

Many years ago – it might already be twenty – Max Horkheimer recommended a little experiment during a television interview. He suggested reading newspapers a few weeks or months after their publication. With this he bent over to pick up a stack of rather gray papers that lay next to his chair. I cannot recall his comments on this piece of advice. But one can imagine that the effect he had in mind was supposed to be both philosophical and political. Indeed, the effect of this small postponement on the reader, on his perception of time and on his attitude to news and published opinion, should be considerable. The reader of these old papers will notice that the imperatives, attractions and threats heralded in them reveal themselves as such only to the degree that they no longer directly affect him. The judgments that the newspapers imposed on him at another time can now be dismissed as hectic presumptions. In the future he will no longer so easily obey the regulations of the newspapers and their time…. Horkheimer’s is a piece of political advice that looks forward to the suspension of coercion and to its transformation for another way of life.  

Users, students and teachers of social media stand to gain, philosophically and politically, by conducting for themselves an analogous experiment that would introduce a small postponement in the hectic reverse chronology and “real-time” updates that govern these media, and exercises their own forms of coercion.  

Posted at 12:01 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

 

09/28/2009  ‘The pulse of the planet.’ Perhaps.

  

 Twitter’s coveted prize is its real-time search engine and its global collection of users. What Twitter has done is add a new and important variable into the dissemination of information equation [Man this is badly written – Ed.]. When the user experience is centred around receiving information, they want that information to be relevant, and that’s what search engines are good for. But Twitter’s contribution is to introduce the variable of Time into the equation. With the integration of Twitter’s engine and its users, who provide a stream of real-time data, consumers will get answers to their queries that are relevant – Now. That’s why, as Twitter positioned it, they’re going to have the “pulse of the planet.”  

http://www.searchfuel.com/2009/07/twitter-will-be-the-pulse-of-the-planet/comment    

Posted at 12:13 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

09/25/2009  Pray for – make that on – the newspapers

  

In my last post I touched in a preliminary way on the materiality (and hence biodegradability) of newspapers over against the virtuality (and reverse chronology) of Twitter.  From the first, this blog has been dedicated to thinking through the temporal and material aspects of these media as instruments of historiography in our time.  

As it happens, the materiality of newspapers made them serviceable on at least one recent occasion, duly reported by Robin Wright for Time.com on July 27, 2009 under the title “Iran’s Protesters: Phase 2 of their Feisty Campaign”:  

‘The new cameraderie of resistance was visible at the July 17 [2009] prayer sermon given by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani at TehranUniversity. Non-religious Iranians turned up for political reasons. The devout showed them how to carry out the rituals, with strangers handing out newspapers as substitute prayer mats for overflow crowds.’  

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1912941,00.html

Posted at 05:13 PM in Current Affairs, Religion, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

 

09/25/2009  #IranElection

  

I released my first innocuous tweets in April and May. But in June the stakes changed for me (and so many others) with the advent of the Iranian election and its harsh aftermath. To be part of a virtual social network during the unfolding of these events – and their extraordinary chronicling by other participants – could not but galvanize. One of my several “favorite” tweets from this period was authored by @somegirl604 and posted at 12:02 PM on June 20th:  

show a newspaper from the day in films & pictures to verify date VERY IMPORTANT 4 CNN BBC etc #GR88 #IranElection RT  

At the time, after first saving it to favorites – rescuing it from the obscurity all but guaranteed by the hectic reverse-chronological feed –  I replied directly in succinct tweetspeak: “Great practical advice that also speaks volumes about this historical moment.”  I will likely revert to her formulation more than once in the work to come. (By the way, @somegirl604, have you found a job yet?  Thanks again and best wishes.)  

Posted at 12:11 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

 

09/23/2009  ‘I tweet, therefore I am.’

It was a journalist’s post-Cartesian musing about Twitter and mortality that propelled me from the relative safety of theoretical interest and observation into the riskier business of practice. In late March, 2009, The Globe and Mail ran a feature by Ian Brown under the title ‘Give Me Twitter or Give me Death’ (March 28, 2009, F1, F4). Zeroing in on what he termed the Twitter dictum – ‘What are you doing?’ – Brown sought to align questions of temporality, language, technology and mortality:  

‘…the discipline of compression is part of Twitter’s charm. Brevity and the management of candour are essential. One must, as Mark Twain advised, “eschew surplusage.”‘  

Or again,  

‘The lure of Twitter is the lure of Right Now. There is no death in the moment of Right Now: There is only where/what/why/who I am. If you are tweeting or tweeted, you are not dead, yet.’ 

While such conceptual claims resonated with my own thinking to date, I was struck by Brown’s readiness to take a further, very practical step: to seek in these terms to initiate a discussion about Twitter on Twitter. And so he did, generating a lively response:  

‘People had a lot to say, it was more like tossing firecrackers than writing…. It was exhausting, like climbing into a dryer for a ride.’  

He also reproduced, among others, a response from participant ‘gordonr’: ‘Twitter is phatic communication: I exist, you exist, the channel is open, the network if flowing.’  

Then and there, I signed up.  

Posted at 11:31 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

09/21/2009  George Clooney and I have something in common  

This post’s sole mission is to reproduce a remark by George Clooney that a) made me laugh and b) is tangentially related to this blog project.  In town last week for TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, Clooney was asked by a reporter why he wasn’t active on Facebook.  According to multiple sources including The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s, he responded that he “would rather have a prostate exam on live television by a guy with very cold hands than have a Facebook page.”  

 As far as I can tell, he had nothing to say about Twitter, to which I will return shortly.  

George_Clooney_9  

Posted at 02:54 PM in Current Affairs, Film, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  log   

 

09/20/2009  Prelude to Twitter 

With zero readership at this stage, I can probably risk an autobiographical start without fear of losing anyone.  Suffice it to say that I have a longstanding investment in matters of language, literature, aesthetics, media, technology and history, in their various permutations.  So I was of course aware of the advent of new social media, even while I kept a certain critical distance in terms of my own practices (I’m still wary of Facebook, truth be told, and monitor it vicariously through my daughters’ accounts).My initial interest in Twitter stemmed from two decades of reading, teaching and writing about literature, and was more formal than material:  What sort of writing could and would emerge within the constraints of 140 characters? This was a version of questions I had considered in the past, for example with regard to the sonnet as form.  I was intrigued, but not yet hooked.  Then, in March 2009, I came across a feature article in my local newspaper, The Globe and Mail, that altered my thinking and impelled me to register and begin tentatively to tweet.  More about that article and its transformative effects in my next post.  

 Posted at 01:40 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)  

 

09/19/2009  Fledgling foray  

Let me begin, as I often do and will, by citing someone else:  in this case my old friend and colleague David Bromwich, who offers succinct advice to fellow bloggers, novice or expert:  “A good post is a single thought or observation or anecdote, clearly expressed and directly conveyed.  An essay may cover several topics; a post easily grows tiresome if it aims for more than one” (The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, 91).   I cleave to this counsel as I ask myself whether cyberspace (to say nothing of any number of situations on the ground) needs another mind brooding in public about the impact of so-called “social media” – and Twitter in particular – on the history and historiography of our time.  My wager is that while my two cents will likely drop unnoticed, they won’t do any damage as they fall.  So I will undertake at least to chronicle my own involvement, practical and theoretical, with Twitter as an example whose value remains to be determined.   

BluebirdFledgling_052308   

Posted at 11:10 AM in Books, Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)     

 

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