And this is actually a lesson with much wider implications for anyone involved in the teaching or learning of history. In the thousands of years of human history that predated our current moment of instantaneous communication, the very fabric of human understanding was woven to some extent out of delay, belatedness, waiting. All objects were made of slow time in the way that Copley’s painting concretizes its own situation of delay. I think that if we want to teach history responsibly, we need to give students an opportunity to understand the formative values of time and delay. The teaching of history has long been understood as teaching students to imagine other times; now, it also requires that they understand different temporalities. So time is not just a negative space, a passive intermission to be overcome. It is a productive or formative force in itself.
I particularly appreciate Robert’s argument for patience: “Where patience once indicated a lack of control, now it is a form of control over the tempo of contemporary life that otherwise controls us. Patience no longer connotes disempowerment—perhaps now patience is power.” Her suggestion is so crucial in light of the pervasive push for more output, more results, more measurements. It flies in the face of the argument that humanities are only useful for their contribution to economics, and instead posits that humanities are useful precisely because they make you stop and think about that use, because of teachers like her who interrogate the meaning of time in their very practice. Her focus on delays and temporalities seems particularly relevant in performance studies and so central to the teaching of it. But that’s for further musing in a different post…
Brown University’s production of Water by the Spoonful directed by Patricia Ybarra and written by Quiara Hudes opened this past Thursday night and it was awesome! The playwright, who is actually a 2004 alumnae of the playwriting program at Brown, did a talk back after the show. The play is the second installment of a 3 play trilogy– Elliot a Soldier’s Fugue, Water by the Spoonful, and The Happiest Song Plays Last (which opens in NY at the end of this year, I think!). Spoonful follows Elliot’s return to Philadelphia after his time in Iraq. His cousin, Yaz, is a recently divorced adjunct music professor at Swarthmore, and the two cousins support each other throughout the play as they deal with death and the urgency to live fully. The play is set between these two spaces: North Philadelphia, the Puerto Rican community and neighborhood that Elliot and Yaz hail from, and the Main Line where Swarthmore is– one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. Elliot’s birth mother, Odessa, is a recovering crack addict who runs an online forum for recovering users. Hudes brings us into this whole other world inside of the online forum, where people from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds meet to talk about their lives; a place where they find meaningful connection with seemingly other living, breathing bodies. Under Ybarra’s direction, the staged online forum situated the users on the perimeter of the stage, forcing them to talk across the theater– the online world was clearly the symbolic “gap” between the characters. As a dramaturg for the show, its been a really amazing process to see the show develop from auditions last May to the rehearsals to the full staging this past weekend. The show is still running until next weekend (Oct. 4-7, 2013) and is well worth seeing!
Anyway, Hudes’ talk back was pretty fabulous. She is such a generous artist, and really thoughtful about her work. She explained how a lot of the play was inspired by her life, and by her own research in drug user chat forums. She mentioned that she had one of her family members, who Odessa was loosely based on, come to see the production in Hartford, and I am curious what their response was.
Here is my dramaturgical note from the show!
The common stereotypes of crack addicts, or addicts generally, are often imbued with moral judgment. Cast as insatiable fiends and/or societal failures, drug abusers are scarcely depicted as parents, children, recovery facilitators or corporate executives. Water by the Spoonful unravels these stereotypes by depicting the characters as members of a community, neighborhood and family, as well as recovering addicts. By staging their valuable human interactions, Hudes asks the audience to discard their moral judgments and shift their frame for understanding addiction and the lives it affects.
The play’s timely debut in 2011 at Hartford Stage marked the same year in which the U.S. military officially withdrew from Iraq. 2013 strangely ghosts 2011, as the U.S. government teeters on the edge of another military action precipitated by its own economic investments. Spoonful questions why large number of Latino youth are on the front lines of off-shore warfare defending American capital, while most of them hail from the poorest corners of the country and receive no direct benefit from US interests abroad. Additionally, the 2001 DREAM Act, a bill that provides the possibility of citizenship for undocumented youth who enroll in the military and display “good moral character” highlights the paradoxical relationship between military service as patriotism and potential death as a path to citizenship. Elliott represents just one of the 157,000 (twelve percent) of Latinos who serve in the military. Of that 12 %, unlike Elliott, the majority of Latinos serve in the army, the sector responsible for land-based military operations. Water by the Spoonful shares with us these affective residues of both military and drug withdrawal: physical pain, isolation and the memory of feeling limitless.
In San Cristobal taking a course called Art and Resistance. Graffiti paints the city at every turn.
We went to this amazing Mayan cooperative and printing press called Taller Lenateroes where they make their own paper, posters, books and other paper items. Their work is beautiful, and they make their paper out of cardboard by hand. Such an awesome organization to support. Here are some photos:
The fabulous Professor Marcela Fuentes presented her research on digital constellations today at Northwestern’s Performance, Technology and Biopolitics Institute. She discussed the viral Thriller dances that have swept through both Youtube, and the real world in students protests in Chile (and elsewhere) and a prison in the Philippines– though in each space there are vastly different contexts.
and prisoners in the Philippines dancing because they were told to do so, and after the dance, the prison claimed the prisoners were more “motivated” to work:
What makes Thriller the dance for mass protest, par excellence? Or perhaps mass synchronized movement, considering that the Philippines version was not protest. On one hand, I think MJ’s jams have had incredible traction within a global audience and his songs somehow transcend time and space. I know my father talks about how popular MJ was and is in Ethiopia. But like many examples of black music, we can see how Thriller gets co-opted and re-purposed again and again in multiple communities. It has zombies and werewolves, the perfect abject creatures of our time. Why wouldn’t you want to impersonate them? Plus, the dance is easy. Sometimes I wake up in the morning wanting to do a squatting shimmy to the left– who wouldn’t?During the institute, Dr. C. Riley Snorton mentioned an important aspect of Thriller’s rise. When the video came out, MJ was at the cusp of moving out of his Jackson 5 years and into MJ as a solo artist, he had a new nose, he was on the edge of becoming synonymous with the one white glove, but of course, no one knew that then. In the video, he plays a bad, bad dancing werewolf and at the end of the video, his eyes glow with yellow, indicating that he still is this monster out to get you (or just Ola Ray). As a music video, Thriller changed the game of what music videos could be. And it also made clear that zombie and werewolves are everywhere. The zombie character, which actually became an important topic in the institute, makes sense in sites where capitalism rears its ugly head to unleash mass amounts of debt on poor young people. Debt becomes embodied with the zombie, where it does not exist between the live and dead (see Mbembe’s “living dead”), but rather in the limbo between life and really living.
Professor Fuentes presented alongside Josh Honn who works on Digital Humanities at Northwestern and he shared these off-the-chain digital disturbances:
This awesome tool helps you avoid national surveillance to the best of your ability by letting you know which search engines and other popular platforms are non-proprietary services. Rock on, Prism Break! You can also duckduckgo the word “prism break” (or follow the hyperlink, I just didn’t want to use that darned colloquial neologism ‘google it’)
James Bridle takes pictures of coordinates where drones attack and adds captions of how many people are killed and what the area was like. I admire how this project humanizes an overly technological and callous military apparatus and uses aerial images to put the viewer in the same position of what these people who push buttons in Arizona might see. It asks you to change the way you think about place and people.
Well, this is inspiring. Sometimes doing exactly what you want to do means doing what you’re already doing, just differently.
Young Jean Lee, you are awesome.
North Dakota’s Congressman, Kevin Cramer (R), met with Native Victim’s Assistance Program Director, Melissa Merrick, to discuss the new provisions of the Violence Against Women’s Act. You can read her detailed description and response here. Cramer claimed that he thought a non-Native man being tried in a Tribal Court (in this case, Spirit Lake Reservation) was “unconstitutional” and would most likely be an unfair trial. Praise her mother because Merrick responds: “So, you’re telling me, with my brown face, that I can go anywhere small town USA and get a fair trial? Is that what you’re saying?”
Preach! I admire her courage to call out white cis-male privilege at the state level, the people who we “elect” to make decisions over our bodies, and not back down after his consistent, and actually empty, claim that he just doesn’t want an unfair trial. Not to mention the kind of violence that he performs with his words– wringing the neck of the tribal leaders, non-consentual-ly hugging this Native woman who is watching from the audience and then saying “I love you.” If anyone else, ANYONE, were to do that in a state meeting, they would be called emotional, over-reactive, irrational… the list of words to de-legitimize arguments made by brown folks, queers, and women goes on. But even more so than just switching bodies and places, he performs the very violence that Merrick is talking about. She doesn’t need to be smothered by your half-hearted claustrophobic Republican embrace; she needs your political support and your undivided attention.
In my Introduction to American Indian Studies course, we watched this video about mixed Wampanoag folks and I thought the video brought up a lot of important questions about pigmentocracy, constructions of racial, ethnic and cultural identity, and authenticity. Do watch!
For Black History Every Month. Some LEGENDARY work, Adrian Piper, 1988