Friday, 26 November 2010

7 Quick Takes (66)

1. After writing my 7 Quick Takes last week, I heard a knock on my door. I opened it to my housemate who wanted to go slack-lining. So out we went to the park, where he taught us (a friend of his and I) how to sword-fight and where we did some slack-lining. It was a deal of fun, and his friend apparently comes from near Fort McMurray. She grew up in Edmonton, but had family in Lac La Biche. It was a good night, but my feet ended up being pretty cold after the slack-lining. I am also better at sword-fighting after even one session. To the right is a photograph of me falling from the line that night. I did land on my feet, which tend to get pretty filthy when slack-lining.
It started snowing that night.

2. Snow and photography. An unseasonable amount for British Columbia. There is good news: winter photography is as excellent as spring, summer, and autumn photography. It can be especially interesting in British Columbia, with snow on lush ferns and palm trees. I am glad that I got some decent shots of totem poles with snow on them. As a result, I started worrying (again) of cultural appropriation and my own commission of it. This to an extent made it impossible for me to uncritically enjoy putting up photos of the totem poles. But I am still going to put some on here, I think. You can decide whether there is anything problematic with the practice of taking and distributing images of cultural artifacts in museum spaces. (It's also easy to read this as some sort of attempt at using these artifacts as Canadian national symbols, especially when snow-clad. I won't pretend that I don't think of snow in patriotic terms.)

3. On Saturday, after spending some time working, I went to a dance recital/ competition in which a friend was participating. Some other friends were going to accompany me, but one backed out for reasons I can't recall and the other, at the last minute, messaged that she was too sick. I went alone, therefore, to cheer for three. Given my general lack of physical coordination and my general ignorance of dance, it was a bit awkward. Most of the audience was composed of dancers. Nonetheless I enjoyed watching; skill is always fascinating to see.

3. On Wednesday I attended the last seminar of my Asian Canadian Studies course. In it we were to read a chapter of Judith Butler, this one on mourning and politics. Butler asks who we are able/allowed to mourn, and what it means to theorize mourning. It's really a good article. She problematizes the word "we" in her own ways (as well as problematizing "I"), but that got me thinking (and talking in class) about the inherent ambiguity of that pronoun. In speech, "we" can mean [I + you], [I + they], or [I + you + they]; regardless, a person who uses "we" in speech necessarily claims to be speaking on behalf (or at least to be speaking about the condition of) not just themselves but also another person. In writing there are other possiblities, including [I + I]. You'll see the [I + I] formulation when two or more co-author a text without indicating who wrote which portion. Then one imagines the voice of the text being their shared voice or something even more ambiguous. (If you watch the documentary on them, you'll learn that the Hensel twins use pronouns and third-person nouns in interesting ways when Instant Messaging.)
It seemed appropriate that in the last seminar of this course, in which we are often compelled to destabalize things we had previously been taking for granted, we ended the day with the destabalization of basic pronouns. We've broken so much down that we can't even describe "our" own action.

4. For the class for which I am a TA, we read Coetzee's The Life & Times of Michael K. I rather enjoyed that book, but I find it hard to access. Like lots of good books, it seems easy at first, perhaps because of the clean, clear prose. One of the most fascinating things about this book is that it is set in South Africa, and yet Coetzee never makes clear a) when it takes place (Apartheid? post-Apartheid? near future?) or b) what the protagonist's race is.

5. In the context of my research for my Asian-Canadian paper, I encountered the interesting idea of the American civil religion. Wikipedia has a brief and insufficeint description of it. The Wikipedia article (and perhaps the original coiner of the term) seems to imply that American civil religion is somehow an outgrowth of or intrisically related to Christianity, especially Protestantism. This is not always true. The article in which I discovered this idea (Jane Naomi Iwamura, "Critical Faith: Japanese Americans and the Birth of a New Civil Religion." Immigration and Religion in America. Ed. Richard Alba, Albert J. Raboteau, and Josh Dewind. New York: New York UP, 2009. Print.) has a good description:

"Civil religion," according to Bellah (1975: 3) is "that religious dimension found . . . in the life of every people, through which it interprets its historical experience in the light of transcendet reality." For many in United States, this "transcedent reality" is shaped by both the Christian tradition and Roman republicanism, which, in turn, lends meaning and justification to the principles of "democracy," "freedom," and "equality" before the law. Americans affirm their faith in these principles and to the nation through a shared set of "beliefs, symbols, and rituals" (e.g., the Bill of
Rights, the Lincoln Memorial, the inauguration of the president). Civil religious institutions are historical creations, yet they need no justification. For instance, the Constitution "does not call upon any source of sacredness higher than itself and its makers." Ultimately, civil religion has an integrative function and binds the individual citizen psychically and spiritually to her fellow Americans and to the nation-state (Albanese, 1992; Wuthnow, 1998b).

For some time I have struggled to understand the peculiar sort of patriotism and nationalism that certain American citizens hold; the idea of civil religion helped me come to some sort of terms with it. I have no problem with patriotism, but I do have a problem with American exceptionalism. The unquestioning appeal by many Americans to Constitutional documents, the founding fathers' intentions, and whether something is "American" or "unAmerican" (as if either is a remotely useful or definable adjective) has also baffled me for some time. Now I think I have a better grasp on the sort of sociological forces that undergird these phenomenon, but I still don't feel like I have a real grasp on the way this tendency is left unquestioned. Are there any American readers willing to explain the invocation of these ideas (Constitution, founding fathers, "American" v. "unAmerican") to me?
(Please note that I am aware that some Canadians are equally guilty of using strange adjectives, like "unCanadian," without a decent explanation of what they mean. It just seems more prevalent, and it seems to hold more rhetorical weight, in the United States than it does here.)

6. Among other wastes of my time, I have been laughing a lot this week over at Reasoning With Vampires. (Anyone else think blog titles should be italicized?) I don't always agree with her comma vendetta, as in fictional prose the use of commas is justified if you are creating rhythm. One needn't always be as minimalist as a newspaper in fiction. In general, though, I think what this woman is doing is fascinating. She takes fierce grammatical, stylistic, and content editing and turns it into visual art. Paradoxically, I now want to read at least one of the Twilight books. It's sort of a detective-work thing. If the books are as bad as people say they are, and if they are as bad as Reasoing With Vampires repeatedly demonstrates that they are, then what I wonder is why they have the popularity that they do. They must supply some need or desire that their readers are not getting elsewhere (as distinguished from "cannot get elsewhere"). What is that need or desire?
And how can I harness it?

7. Below is the Grooveshark playlist I listened to while writing this post and trawling Facebook. It is akin to what I've been listening to all week and is not akin to what I would normally listen to (with the exception of Bear McCreary).

"Jacob's Ladder," Rush
"The Trees," Rush
"The Spirit of Radio," Rush
"You Really Got Me," Van Halen
"Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," Van Halen
"The Call," Regina Spektor
"Love Affair," same
"On the Radio," same
"Lady," same
"Oedipus," same (really like this one)
"Us," same
"Eet," same (stuck in my head)
"Samson," same
"Fidelity," same
"Evelyn Evelyn," Evelyn Evelyn (stuck in my head)
"You Only Want Me 'Cause You Want My Sister," Evelyn Evelyn
"Love Will Tear Us Apart," Evelyn Evelyn
"Hurt," Johnny Cash
"I Hung My Head," Johnny Cash
"O Verona," Craig Armstrong
"Gaeta's Lament," Bear McCreary
"The Shape of Things to Come," Bear McCreary
"All Along the Watchtower," Bear McCreary
"Kara Remembers," same
"A Good Lighter," same
"Kara's Coordinates," same
"Admiral and Commander," same
"Baltar Panics" same

1 comment:

Leah said...

I'm delighted to see some Bear McCreary on that list!

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