Feminist Computing #2: Eileen Myles’ “Old Computer”

Therapy by Eileen Myles

I like therapy because I don’t need my glasses
I can sit there naked like the animal I am
a beautiful honest animal
a landscape of rolling reasons.
So amazing that an artist would use a cup
for a prayer; and no less amazing
that another animal would choose to be one
I considered being a cup
somewhere in my journey
between stars and thinking changing fonts was a revolution
standing in my green kitchen
Four years I’ve been to sea
so much is left on the old computer
things written in that place
one night getting rimmed
and then she fell asleep
spending hours mopping up the next day
in place of doing work
missing a party after all
I say always go to the party
which doesn’t mean I do
some friends left early
I stayed and the sea spoke next

Writing in Progress, on jokes and feminist archives

This week I’ve learned not to leave writing deadlines for the Christmas holiday because it’s a real nerdy bahumbug. The article I’m working on right now is more generally about artist projects that use humour as a mode of encounter in feminist archives.

Working in archives of any kind is always hard, hunched over boxes, sorting through file after file, never sure whether you’ve found the right thing. When Derrida wrote of “archive fever” he wasn’t describing how your eyes and neck quite literally start to ache, but these haptic memories might be familiar to anyone who does research for a living. Much writing about working in feminist archives emphasizes these states of being and feeling, dwelling on the emotional reactions of artists and researchers: encounters with records of feminist activism can inspire optimism, or leave you depressed, worn-out by the sad forms feminist struggle can take. Feminist histories are often told against the backdrop of all kinds of traumas and injustices, from racism, to sexual assault, to domestic abuse, to the everyday exhaustion of trying to get by when the cards are stacked against you. Working in archives that house, in part, the insidious traumas of feminist burnout (Cvetkovich 2003), it helps to have a sense of humour; when the archive overwhelms, sometimes all you can do is find a way to laugh.

Hot Tub Methodology

Over the last month I’ve been doing a lot of reading on feminist research methods for my dissertation proposal, working in that way where you’re gathering yourself for something but aren’t really sure yet about the practical steps you’re going to take to accomplish that thing. Patti Lather’s Getting Lost (2007) has been especially important. I’m always grateful when a book of theory comes into my life at just the right time to offer not just an intellectual engagement but a kind of self-help. Lather is so good on theorizing how to turn the vulnerabilities and imposter feelings that come along with social research into ethically engaged research design.

Dissertation Proposal Step #1: start writing group that meets in change room at Y.

From “Plateau 8: Naked Methodology”

My interest in nakedness comes from the very material practice of time in hot tubs that has characterized Chris [Lather’s co-researcher] and my methodological wrestling in our study of women living with HIV/AIDS. Grounded in the hours spent in my co-researcher’s hot tub where we discussed the project, my interest in nakedness also comes out of a small research retreat in Wisconsin when this project was at its beginning. There, structured around each of seven women having two hours of “exquisite attention” for her work in any way she wanted, I stripped and sat in a jacuzzi in a bathroom surrounded by six dressed women who fired questions at me about the ethics and politics of what I was undertaking.

As was evident at that session, such work pushed a lot of buttons for those invested in the politics of knowing and being known. This is as it should be. While naked methodology became a situated practice toward an ethical encounter with the women in our study, it is not about presenting myself as transparent, vulnerable, and absolutely frank. Based on Nietzsche’s strong thesis that every word is also a hiding place, an apparent nakedness is but a mask that conceals a will to power. Any illusion of presence unmasked is interrupted by the difficult task Nietzsche invites us to: not to unmask and demystify but, rather, to multiply perspectives toward an affirmation of life as a means to knowledge without guaranteed. This is a rigor of staging and watching oneself subvert and revalue the naked truth in order to learn to live without absolute knowledge, within indeterminacy.



Comprehensive Exam Reading Lists

Always be annotating

I’ve finally posted my comprehensive exam readings lists. I’m putting these up because I’ve found other people’s lists enormously helpful in forming my own and I hope this will provide a resource for other students in the Communication and Culture program, and for other students putting together readings lists on cultural studies, communication studies, feminism, queer theory or online media. Assembling a list is a collaborative process, one with other students in your field, in your program, with your committee, and with the authors of the texts you’re reading who have followed citations of their own. In my program we write our formal questions toward the end of the reading process, so I’ll update with those once I’m finished with them.

In addition to my own lists, here are a couple of links to other lists that I’ve found helpful. If you have others, please add links in the comments.

Pamela Ingleton, PhD candidate at McMaster:
Cultural studies, social media, public sphere, the everyday, authorship

Fenwick McKelvey, PhD candidate at Ryerson:
Communication studies, code politics, digital research methods, political economy of information

Simon Fraser University Graduate Program in Women’s Studies:
Very comprehensive on feminist theory and cultural studies.

Piles and piles of digital stuff

In the latest issue of No More Potlucks, Tara-Michelle Ziniuk interviews Laura Yaros, host of Matrix, the longest running feminist radio show in Canada. Laura touches on two issues that come up again and again in my own conversations with activists and archivists working with lesbian material: 1 ) digitization is crucial for preservation, though by no means a magic bullet solution and 2) digitization has no necessary relation to the provision of access. In other words, if you digitize it, the digital documents will probably still sit in a metaphorical drawer; other ways of promoting access are needed. The interview is great for anyone interested in digital and queer archives, or the history of community radio in Canada.

As I’ve started working more earnestly on my dissertation proposal, talking to a lot of queer and lesbian “archivists” – I use the term loosely to describe a range of practices from the informal or accidental collector to the community archive coordinator – about the scope of their projects, I’ve noticed that there’s often a similar refrain at the beginning of their stories: an attempt to communicate, in no uncertain terms, the daunting scope of their archives. Language like “piles,” “drawers-full,” “mountains,” “boxes and boxes,” “stacks” gets invoked against digital “stuff” (why are digital documents always called stuff, Dylan?). This digital stuff is also described as overwhelming but with metaphors that are less spatial, and more about keeping track of hardware and software over time: I’m going to have do something with those files, or those USB keys, eventually.

Brought together, a process emerges: I have piles and piles of stuff in my apartment that I need to digitize, then I have all this stuff on my computer or on the Internet that I need to do something with. Access provision is a third step that complicates the assumptions folks often make about digitization as the neat end-game for our messy feminist archives. As Laura points out in the interview, gesturing, I think, toward this access issue: “But that’s not all we should be doing – not everyone is going to know that material exists and to look for it. Maybe we need to have workshops or conferences or informal gatherings where some of this material is shared. Even just our stories, we all have our stories. In addition to written and electronic preservation, we need to preserve an oral tradition as well. It doesn’t have to be formal or academic.” The question then becomes, how do digital access provisions get imagined in ways that are unique to queer-feminist methods and circles?


The rolling obituary for queer humanities

I came across a CFP this morning that begins with the statement, “Queer & Humanism are two categories that have shown their limits in recent critical discussions.” It goes on, “It [the symposium] provides a forum to debate the connection between posthumanism and growing dissatisfaction with “queer” as a critical concept.” Two different people in the last year have told me, apologetically, that they just aren’t that interesting in queer or feminism because they’re “posthuman.” I wanted to warn them about the inevitable anxieties they’ll face when posthumanism dies, if it hasn’t already (has it?), but they’ll come to that in their own time.

As Annamarie Jagose has pointed out (PDF, subscription required), Teresa de Lauretis killed queer theory in 1994, just three years after she “invented” it. Jagose writes, “Yet while there is no shortage of people claiming that queer theory is finished, washed-up and over, it is less commonly noted that a sense of queer theory’s finitude has animated from the start attempts to specify quite what queer theory is or does.”

I find that queer death proclamations often come along with one of the following things:

  • a naive association between queer studies and identity politics: Writes Judith Halberstam, “Too often in academia ‘identity politics;’ will be used as an accusation of ‘interestedness,’ and the accuser will seek to return discussion to a more detached project with supposedly greater validity and broader applications.”
  • a commitment to the the Brennan/Massumi/Deleuze strand of affect theory and a preoccupation with sealing oneself off from the queer, cultural studies, “structure of feeling” kind of affect: “No, I’m not doing that thing.”
  • an uneasy relationship to feminism (feminism gets killed even more than queer theory does).

As unnerving as it is to hear that two of the only things I’m good at have reached their limits, especially given the job market, I find these death-claims fascinating for what they say about our affective investments in critical theory more generally; we axe theoretical strands like obsolete employees or technologies using a business model of productive innovation. A planned obsolescence.

Tom Rachman - The Imperfectionists

I’m reading The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, which is mostly about a newspaper but partly about said paper’s obituaries editor, who spends most of his time on “preparedness,” or writing obituaries for people who are old but haven’t died yet. Everyone is really creeped out by this aspect of the obit guy’s job, except for this well-known, almost dead Australian feminist he’s sent to interview, who’s thrilled to get the chance to influence her own obit. If queer theory is always-already dead, as Jagose argues, what pleasures do we take in preparedness, in always writing and re-writing its obituary?

Mo Problems

I’ve been trying not to write something about Movember because everything that I might write seems obvious and has already been said better by someone else. To rehearse a few of these critiques in brief: the project holds up working class white masculinity as a object of ridicule and brackets it to the past; it’s a reactionary men’s movement (a response to the “exclusions” created by the success of “women’s” health movements) and should be contextualized in a larger, anti-feminist genealogy; the way it’s practiced in workplaces perpetuates gendered exclusions that have lasting implications for women’s and people of colour’s labour chances.

These gendered, racialized and classed dynamics of Movember are what make this kind of men’s movement seem harmless: “We’re educated, white, creative or managerial types who share the child rearing and domestic responsibilities with our wives: WE LOVE WOMEN!”

It’s hard to be critical about any well-intentioned project that raises money for charity, especially one that gives men a language with which to talk about their bodies, albeit in opaque ways. But it’s important to talk about how and why these projects are gendered, a conversation that has taken place quite brilliantly around breast cancer fundraising (see Samantha King or Barbara Ehrenreich). Growing a moustache with your bros is way more fun than wearing a pink ribbon; asking questions about Movember’s racialized, gendered and classed tactics becomes an exercise in ruining someone else’s bromance. I feel fine writing about my problems with Movember on this blog, but I freeze up when the otherwise lovely, pro-feminist men in my graduate program want to talk to me about their moustache-growing clubs. In these moments I see myself as Sara Ahmed’s, shaving–cream wielding feminist killjoy, and I don’t say anything at all. As Ahmed writes, there’s an economy of affective labour, and a real courage that comes with a feminist act of killing someone else’s joy.

For folks who haven’t seen the Movember ad campaign wheat-pasted around their city, I’ve included some images below. When I first saw these posters in the street they straight up blew my mind: “Working class professions and styles of dress are beneath me, but not this month!”

Why we make jokes about lesbian feminism

I’ve been revising a paper I wrote a few months ago for the CACS conference at McGill next weekend. The paper is about the political challenge that digital and online technologies pose for grassroots, lesbian-feminist archives. A lot of my reading this past summer focused on queer theories of history and time and since then I’ve been noticing how lesbian feminism is described in more general queer and feminist work, a project helped along by Clare Hemmings’s great new book Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory, recommended to me by Dylan.  The best of this work captures the complexity of lesbian feminism as a politics that seems outdated at first blush, but continues to matter and get invoked in curious ways that concepts like “parody” or “nostalgia” can’t account for. Elizabeth Freeman’s idea of “temporal drag” is especially good on this:

[Temporal drag] suggests a bind for lesbians committed to feminism: the gravitational pull that “lesbian,” and even more so “lesbian feminist,” sometimes seems to exert on “queer.” This deadweight effect may be felt even more strongly twenty years after the inauguration of queer theory and politics, in the wake of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, legalized same-sex unions, and The L Word.

Gloria Steinem knew how to work a macrame belt.

Humour seems to be crucial in how a lot of post-2000 queer studies work talks about lesbian feminism. One of the funniest I’ve read is Heather Love’s essay “A Gentle Angry People: The lesbian culture wars” (subscription required). As if the too-perfect “gentle angry people” weren’t enough on it’s own, the essay is full of witty in-jokes like these:

Continue reading “Why we make jokes about lesbian feminism”