Saturday, March 28, 2009

There Must Be Some Kind Of Way Out Of Here

There is an excellent forum on socialism on The Nation website that starts with a piece called Rising to the Occasion by Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher, Jr. and which includes provocative commentary from Tariq Ali, Mike Davis, Rebecca Solnit and others. There's also additional response from Michael Albert of Znet here. It's good reading. And yet my feeling is one of frustration. For it's the same good thinking that's been around for as long as anyone has cared to look for it. I've never been comfortable calling myself a socialist or an "ist" of any kind for that matter. It is perhaps ironic that my life has been devoted both to social change and an ethic of collective/cooperative struggle and yet i've never been much of a joiner - at least when it comes to being a member of a political party or tendency or whathaveyou. Perhaps it's all that research i did on cults and mass therapies back in the early 80s (or maybe it's just my homage to Groucho Marx who helped me survive my teen years and who once wrote, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.") At any rate, though i've never worn that label, socialism is yet the source of much of my understanding of economics and social change. And it's the regime of knowledge for which i have the greatest affinity.

So there is little if anything new in this Nation exchange and Michael Albert's dandy list. The ideas they share, the anger and passion, is all familiar to me. And it's good stuff. You should read it. But something has always been missing for me. For a long time i thought it was the participatory aspect to it all. And learning about popular education, developing popular economics curriculum (including some pretty cool techniques like jobology) certainly lead me closer to what i felt was missing. But all the popular economics stuff still seemed to reduce (or perhaps overpower?) things to economic determinism - i.e. what is most fundamentally true about our world is the economic logic upon which all else (politics, governance, social life, even art) is organized. It is only in coming across the emerging field of praxis called "diverse economies" that i feel i have finally found the missing piece. Based on the work of J.K. Gibson-Graham, diverse economies both de-centres and denaturalizes capitalism. It is, in a word, anti-capitalo-centric. Which is a good part of their critique of traditional left (i.e. marxist) analysis of capitalism. Diverse economies provides a means by which we can avoid the inevitability of framing other economic choices as "alternatives" which, though we may not say it, always implies "alternatives to capitalism" - a way we always subtly reproduce a centre/periphery metaphor with capitalism, obviously, as the centre and whatever choice we are advocating as the periphery or margin, as it were. Diverse economies theorizes the terrain of economic choices as one that is diverse and in which capitalism becomes one choice, albeit a dominant one, amongst many. Now, instead of talking about "alternatives" we can talk about different choices. I think that's an improvement. Likewise, even while diverse economies is, for the most part, anti-capitalist it yet allows us to imagine a set of diverse economic relations that could include capitalism. And, perhaps, should.

Doug Henwood, in his contribution to the Nation Forum, makes a point for which i have much sympathy:
I also want to dissent from another prescription: Rebecca Solnit's contention that the revolution is already happening, via "gardens and childcare co-ops and bicycle lanes and farmers' markets and countless ways of doing things differently and better." While many of these things are very nice, they're well short of a transformative vision. The package draws heavily on an ancient American fantasy of self-reliance and back-to-the land escapism. It's no model for running a complex industrial society. Such a system couldn't make computers or locomotives, and it probably couldn't feed 6 billion earthlings either.
While he's a little pessimistic and unkind about other approaches, i share his concern that billions of us are bound up in the system as it is. And even minor disruptions mean the loss of many lives and the worsening of many more. Too often i feel that socialist choices (of theory, pedagogy, organizing and economics) is yet overly reliant on the positivist notion that if only we can get the right information, the perfect information, the perfect program, the perfect approach into people's heads, then that truth will set them free and we'll have made it to the gates of paradise. And, for sure, socialism has, since it's beginnings, had utopian aspirations. And that speaks to my science-fiction/fantasy lifelong love-affair. But of utopias i feel similarly as i do about joining clubs. Whatever future we aresuccessful building will not be one that those of us who bulid it will be able to live in comfortably. We are not unlike the hero of V for Vendetta who necessarily, in a literary sense, must die. There is no place for him in the world that he has midwifed. An so i wonder about the worlds we would bring into existence and if we would be people for whom those worlds would feel like home.

Again, it is diverse economies that gives me hope. For it includes in its praxis the necessity for ethical self-transformation - an elegant foucauldian phrase for the type of personal/social change which is the goal of feminism, anti-racism, anti-colonialism and all the other resistant post-structural praxes that are altering the common sense even as we speak. This is what i am looking for in the contemporary discourses of socialism, popular education, popular economics, social justice. Not simply better participatory processes (which are a must), but a profoundly anti-authoritarian and humble commitment to making theory in the midst of life, exercising strategies and tactics which allow for doubt, learning and the personal and collective reinvention of our selves and our world. This is what diverse economies is theorizing. You can check out the Community Economies website for some excellent reading on more of this.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring again, and again and again

I think it's the most magical corner in the neighbourhood. Every spring the crocuses have exploded on this corner in wondrous abundance. My daughter and i were out for a walk this Saturday past (the second day of Spring) and we took a detour to see how the crocuses were doing. Only a few had opened and most were probably waiting for today's glorious sun. Year after year the crocuses return, as do so many other green things. And even while i am mindful of the disastrous species loss that human civilization continues to accelerate (called the Holocene Extinction Event, by some), i am still deeply moved by the annual cycles which persist. I love whichever season i happen to be in - each is attended by unique emotions, unique spiritual states. And now it is the beginning of the flowering of the world. Life leaping from its wintry slumber and i think that humans for hundreds of thousands of years have been witnessing this annual return, this yearly growth and blossoming and we have crafted countless tales of death, dying and return. And here we are once again, in this northern latitude and here are the so so dependable crocuses and snowdrops and the shy green shoots of hyacinths, daffodils and tulips. Happy Spring! May it ever fill our hearts with hope and courage. For the times that lie before us are fraught. And we will need the annually new green and the stories, too.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Eccentric Clown Principles

In my ongoing search for and development of trickster pedagogy, i have just come across Avner the Eccentric's "Eccentric Clown Principles" which i found through Mady Schutzman's site: Jokers Run Wild and which includes some of her writing on Guru Clown (the site is a bit tricky to navigate and i recommend using the site index). However, these principles are relevant to more than clowning. One aspect of trickster pedagogy that i am working on articulating more fully has to do with the ways in which we perform knowledge. And as a performing storyteller and an active facilitator of workshops and classes and sundry meetings, i have come to believe that the performative moment in learning/teaching (as well as any sharing of knowledge we have that we wish to convey) is key. What occupies my passions most, however, is how we can teach/learn this. Teaching the "tricks of the trade" is easy compared to teaching people how to be in the work. And i feel strongly that we can do more than simply advise (sagely? when really we are simply unsure?) that it will come with experience. I guess my hypothesis is that within the traditions of trickster pedagogy is to be found the means by which we can teach/learn the necessary dispositions of performing knowledge that are emancipatory, that resist oppression, that celebrate love and compassion, that acknowledge sorrow and loss, that communicate joy. These Eccentric Clown Principles are profound challenges to how we comport ourselves in the work:
  1. Clown’s job is to make the audience feel things, and to get the audience to breathe.
  2. Everyone inhales, but many of us need to be reminded to exhale.
  3. The imagination and the brain are connected to and affect the body. Any change in the mind has a corresponding change in the body. Any change in the body (i.e. in the breath first) has a corresponding change in the mind.
  4. Don’t tell or show the audience what to think, do, or feel.
  5. Don’t tell or show your partners what to think, do, or feel. Don’t point.
  6. Weight belongs on the underside. Keep a single point in you lower abdomen. Keep your energy flowing.
  7. Tension is your enemy. It produces emotional, mental and physical numbness.
  8. How you feel about your performance is what counts, not whether it is in reality good or bad.
  9. The clown discovers an audience who are sitting in rows and looking at an empty space and waiting for a show. This must be dealt with first, by establishing complicity with the audience.
  10. The clown creates a world in the empty space, rather than entering into a world that already exists (sketch).
  11. Use mime to create fantasy, not to re-create reality.
  12. The clown searches to create a game and to define the rules, which then must be obeyed.
  13. Don’t ask or tell the audience how they feel or think. Have an emotional experience and invite the audience to join in your reaction.
  14. Be interested, not interesting.
  15. Everyone must to breathe all one’s life, even when on stage.
  16. The clown enters the stage to do a job, not to get laughs. If there are laughs, it is an interruption that must be dealt with.
(One note of caution on The Jokers Run Wild site: some of the links don't work because they insist on inserting "" before the actual website you want. Simply delete this string from the url.)

    Friday, March 13, 2009

    This makes me happy

    Watching this video filled my heart with such delight that it spilled out in tears. I am very grateful for this piece of sublime art. The emotions that sweep over me as i watch this are legion. I think of the grief and loss, the brutality and inhumanity of the recent attacks on Gaza and the hate and anger that continues to reverberate around the world in defense of Israel's actions and in compassion for the astonishing number of Palestinians killed. I think of Rwanda and the loss that will be borne for so many years and generations to come. I think of El Salvador and the refugees i visited in Honduras in the 80s and the wee girls who clapped and clapped for me when i did nothing more than walk into the slapped-together shack in which they sat crammed together shoulder-to-shoulder, each of them crocheting with an intensity that seems a gift of childhood. I think of the two men, one young and one old, the younger pushing the older in a wheel chair and both of them singing a Georgian folk song, those wonderful polyphonic dissonances bouncing off the walls of the oldest part of Tblisi. I think of the teenagers who were sent to me from around the world so i could tour them through Canadian schools and communities to tell their stories of loss and survival and resistance (and wonder where they are now). I think of the faces of the 500 undergrad students to whom i lecture weekly about environmentalism and i marvel at the extraordinary diversity of beauty of each of those faces, each of them so entirely perfect and each holding such promise - so many lives of joy and sorrow to be lived in this century. I have witnessed war and its terrible consequences. I have placed my body between the innocent and the bullet and i am lucky still to live to tell the stories that i have been privileged and tasked to bear. My heart breaks daily for all the pain of which we are capable of inflicting on each other. And then my eye is caught by a child's smile (of which i am seeing so many these days - may his life be long and filled with wonder); or i gaze upon one of Van Gogh's haystacks from Arles (thank you Carey for that unforgettable gift); or i listen to the last compositions of the recently departed fiddler Oliver Schroer (treat yourself to Hymns and Hers); or i feel the touch of my beloved, friend for 20 years and now partner and wife; or i remember picking blackberries with a friend on a west coast island on a hot late summer afternoon (the pie that night was sublime). And then one of the students in my popular education class sends me this video link and all the wonder of the world bursts from my heart (thank-you, Dave). We humans are capable of such horror and such beauty and, of course, love (about which Anne Carson so playfully meditates in Eros the Bittersweet). We are such sad clowns, Grimaldi and Emmet Kelly and Carol Burnett's frumpy washerwoman (whom my mother loved). And we are also this clown, Matt, who danced badly in so many places around the world. It is sublime nonsense. And it fills my heart with joy. Though the bittersweet is never far behind.