Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Comics reviewed and new episodes of podcasts

I wrote a review of six comics for rabble.ca here.

A new episode of Occasionally Disturbs Others is on-line: U.S. & Canadian Blogging Compared.

And a new episode of Comeuppance is on-line as well: The Old Woman and the Pot.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Some thoughts about writing

[excerpt from a commonplace book I produced in 2004]

Many years ago I decided, in response to feminism, anti-racism and anti-colonialism, that it was my duty to live in the world as consciously as I could about the privileges I had lucked out on and which I learned were so unevenly distributed around the world. After a dozen years of non-stop activism (including anti-apartheid work, youth leadership training, popular education, international solidarity work with Nicaragua) I stepped back for a brief moment and, thanks to the support of dian marino, a wonderful friend, artist and trickster, I worked on a Master’s degree. This gave me a chance to examine what I had done, why some things worked and others didn’t. Mostly it was a chance to examine my own understandings of my self. In my major paper for that degree I wrote:

In a wonderfully eloquent article, Maria Lugones describes "playful, 'world'-travelling" as a means of working across differences. By 'world' she means "tiny portions of a particular society"; travelling is the act of "shift[ing] from being one person to being a different person"; and playfulness "involves openness to surprise, openness to being a fool, openness to self-construction and reconstruction and to construction or reconstruction of the 'worlds' we inhabit playfully."

"Through travelling to other people's "worlds" we discover that there are "worlds" in which those who are the victims of arrogant perception are really subjects, lively beings, resistors, constructors of visions even though in the mainstream construction they are animated only by the arrogant perceiver and are pliable, foldable, file-awayable, classifiable." (Playfulness, 'World'-Travelling, and Loving Perception, in Making Face, Making Soul = Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Colour. (Gloria Anzaldua, ed.). SF: Aunt Lute Books. 1990. p. 402)

Learning to listen to each others' stories without reducing them to "the moral is...", or "what you're really saying is..." is one way to travel in Lugones' sense. To listen with an open mind, an open heart, ready to be surprised, opens possibilities for new relationships that are not characterized by domination. Sharing our experience of the world through stories and the re-storying of our experience as we engage others is a means of negotiating a new sociality, one in which social power is treated with critical mindedness and solidarity, one which can lead to new constructions of power relations, and newly-negotiated meanings of power.

Re-reading my words of 10 years ago I am amazed to see how influential the writings of women of colour have been on the formation of my sense of self. I continue to reflect on the remarkable thinking of Maria Lugones. And just in case I risk becoming complacent I read the following in her introduction to her collected essays:

"There is also a sense of integrity, moral integrity included, that is lived as violated by the duplicitous interpretation, if one's understanding of the moral presupposes the unification of the self, as much of mainstream, institutionalized morality does. And there are other difficulties related to questions of character. It is difficult to look at one's oppressed behavior in the flesh and the face. Even if the oppressed readings confront one as constructing a reality that one struggles to undermine, or dismantle, the power of the reading in constructing us is often inescapable. It inhabits us from within, it is us, in a ser­vile, subordinate, perverse, criminal, subhuman, or "lost" con­struction. We can inhabit that construction in enormous tension, but that we can do so is an apparent conundrum that I will return to often in this book. The reading of the act as incompetent has significant consequences since it conforms to the justification of subordination. So the oppressor has a lot to gain from not seeing sabotage and resistance. But then the oppressor cannot erase resistance, because to be erased, resis­tance needs to be seen.

"Perceiving oneself as an oppressor is harder to sustain mor­ally than deception. There is often a lapse, a forgetting, a not recognizing oneself in a description, that reveals to those who perceive multiply that the oppressor is in self-deception, split, fragmented. Self-deception appears to require the unification of the self to be conceivable, that is, it is one self that deceives him- or herself. But one can understand self-deception with­out this presupposition. The oppressor can be seen to inhabit multiple realities all in the first person. As a self-deceiving multiple self, the oppressor does not remember across reali­ties. Self-deception lies in this disconnection of memory. Thus, I understand that when someone is self-deceiving, there is one incarnate being who animates two co-temporaneous behav­iors in the first person without any cross-referencing, without first person memories of him- or herself in more than one reality. It is of great interest for emancipatory work that we can cross-reference different realities. We may indeed have good reason to fear doing that because we may be revealed as vile or as servile. The one in self-deception could, but does not, cross-reference." (Maria Lugones – Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD. 2003. p.14-15.)

The hard roads that we walk are always a little less lonely (though no less difficult) when we are accompanied by friends and loved ones and also, occasionally, when we read of others’ journeys. Shari Stone-Mediatore writes of Gloria Anzaldua:

"Anzaldúa highlights both the empowering effects and the struggle of experience-driven writing. In so doing, she affirms an agency that is neither inborn nor mere rhetorical illusion. Instead, her agency is one that she struggles for and develops as she writes about her life. Through her writing, for instance, she resists succumbing to other people's representations of her as naturally passive and naturally ill­-suited to intellectual work. As she puts it, "the writing saves me from this complacency I fear.... I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive.... I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you.... To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self­-autonomy.... I write because I'm scared of writing but I'm more scared of not writing". Against an academic and a popular culture that construes her as ignorant and passive and whose constructs become true insofar as she believes them, Anzaldúa uses her writing to demonstrate, to both herself and her community, her epistemic agency.

"At the same time that Anzaldúa stresses the empowering effect of her writing, she does not gloss over the difficulties of grappling with painful experiences nor hide her fears about failing in a writing process that is bound up with her own ego. As a result, her work also highlights the emotional work that burdens experience-oriented writing. "To write," she admits, "is to confront one's demons, look them in the face and live to write about them". To write about her borderlands existence requires that she "stretch the psyche" in order to hold seemingly conflicting points of view and that she come to terms with a mestiza consciousness that is both a "source of intense pain" and creative energy. Such emotionally risky and taxing work demands a supportive community in whose company "the loneli­ness of writing and the sense of powerlessness can be dispelled". Agency is thus gained through her storytelling, but only with arduous and community-situated work." (Shari Stone-Mediatore—Reading Across Borders: Storytelling and Knowledges of Resistance. NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003. pp. 150-151.)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Excellent Interviews on Democracy Now

With my ailing computer all fixed up i've been able to catch up on listening to my favourite podcasts. If you ahven't checked out Democracy Now, you should. It's one of the best news shows on the internet. I've been moved by a number of interviews that i highly recommend:
Eduardo Galeano Interview: Galeano has published a new book: Voices in Time: A Life in Stories (Metropolitain Books, Mark Fried tr.). I buy his books site unseen. His writing has changed my life.

Arundhati Roy Interview: on India, Iraq, U.S. Empire and Dissent. I was amazed by her description of Bush's visit to India and the spectacular hypocrisy that US Empire is capable of, not to mention the collusion of the Indian government.

James Yee talk: this former Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo prison tells a story worthy of Kafka.

Daniel Berrigan Interview: The Berrigan brothers' acts of resistance to war have inspired me since i first learned of them as a teenager.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Comeuppance Podcast is up and running

Well, i've finally gotten a new microphone, got my computer fixed and i got a new sound card. All of which means i'm all set to do more regular podcasting. Comeuppance the podcast is a member of the Rabble Podcasting Network (check out all the other great podcasts there). You can even subscribe to it through iTunes. My most recent podcast story is the one i call "Fill It" and which i published a version here.

NEW BOOK: Wild Fire: Art as Activism

Wild Fire: Art as Activism is a wonderful collection that i'm proud to be part of. 17 essays (with lotsa pictures) about various aspects of art and politics and social change. I wrote an essay called "The Strawberry Tased So Good: The Trickster Practices of Activist Art" in which i try and share some of my thoughts about art and popular education. This is a cover-to-cover read for all you artists who work with communties and community groups in issues of social justice as well as all you activists who use art in your work. Many of the articles contain ideas that are easily adaptable to different circumstances and you have the benefit of the critical reflection of the writers/artists/activists who did all this!

I'm getting old

Last night, on my weekly visit to my sister's to tell stories to my neices, i was sitting at the dinner table and chatting with my sister when i mentioned that i had started writing on my blog once again. My nine-old neice came up to the table at that point and said with a surprised tone, "You have a blog?" - clearly implying that she had one, that it was the newest thing, that she had discovered them and that it was very amusing to find that her aging uncle also knew about blogs. My-oh-my... what world is this nine-year-old girl is growing into? I am, of course, as with all of us, getting older all the time - though i still do what i can to let my inner child run things whenever possible. I remember 30 years ago in 1976 i had just entered CEGEP in Quebec (kinda like college, except it's public schooling) and there was a computer programming course. Science fiction fan that i was i couldn't resist. I enrolled in FORTRAN, an early programming language. I learned about flow charts and codes and loops and god-knows-what-else. We had to write code by hand and then type it onto punch cards - one line of code per punch card - can you imagine? Once your coding was done, you collected all your punch cards together in a big stack and you then fed them into the card reader. The person who designed that early computer lab must have had a wicked sense of humour because the punch card machine and the card reader were on opposite sides of the room. Carrying a stack of a hundred or more punch cards can be a precarious thing. Splayed cards raining across the room was a few-times-hourly occurence. An analog version of what, ten years later, we meant when we yelled "the computer nuked my file." How times change, eh? And now my neice looks at me with the amused wry eye that only a nine-year-old who thinks that she owns the world can perform and says, "You have a blog?" And, you know what? I do hope that she 'owns' the world - much better than we have.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Resting, Relaxing and a couple of videos

Well, i've been doing everything i can to take advantage of this wonderful sabbatical grant that i've got. Resting and renewing can be hard work. Well, at least it takes devotion. The long cool (mostly dry) spring that we've had in Toronto was made to order by my reckoning. I've never seen so many blossoms on trees. The wisteria lasted weeks - like yellow suns rising from the earth. The lilacs and laburnum have come and mostly gone. And now the columbines and lupins and irises are delighting the world. Poenies are about to burst open. Such wonder all about.

I've even had time to read - i'll sahre some of my reading list in another post - and watch some movies and even some videos on the internet. Here's three to :

Hope: this link was just sent me by some friends in Arizona (thanks Jacob). Sit back and relax and enjoy this lovely piece - i love the animation, the blending of images and the thoughtful juxtapositions. Here's what the producers at Luna Media say:
Based on the ideas of Native American storyteller, Willy Whitefeather, 'Hope' illustrates the cause and effect of life out of balance, and suggests a new path to harmony. Appealing to a universal audience, 'Hope' is a collage of music, sound and images in a 7 minute story, rich and layered with meaning. 'Hope' combines animation inspired by Pueblo, Sioux and Hopi art, with archival and original HD footage to bring the viewer on a powerful journey through human existence and toward a positive future.
Matt just told me about this whimsical video of an experiment with diet coke and mentos mints. Treat yourself to this wonderful nonsense: The Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments.

Finally, some of you might have heard about the Sony-Bravia ad with the bouncing balls in San Francisco. Well, I have a special file just for this type of commercial. It's called "I hate that i love this commercial so much". Alas. The sublime does pop up in the most unexpected places. This is a beautiful creation and José González's score is balm for a weary soul. Enjoy.