Notes: Garlough, Christine L., Desi Divas: Political Activism in South Asian American Cultural Performances

Garlough, Christine L. (2013). Desi Divas: Political Activism in South Asian American Cultural Performances. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

Summary:

Garlough discusses, through case studies of cultural performances, South Asian American grassroots activism, highlighting the ways in which calls for acknowledgement operate in their diasporic rhetorical practices.

Keywords: diasporic rhetorics, social histories

Quotations:

“In performing a desire for acknowledgment and by making claims of vulnerability, a petition for future relations and a stake in one’s own being is made. These diasporic performances by South Asian American women—what I will call diasporic performances—keep trauma visible and testify to the suffering of others” (p. 15).

“Of course, not everyone wants to hear this story or feel her pain. She is performing as a parrhesiastes—speaking at great risk, in front of an audience where power relations are unbalanced, freely confessing the truth of her experience, although the threat of retribution is quite real” (p. 128).

Reflection:

One of the things I’m thinking quite a bit about, probably because I’m steeping in this project is the ways that her conception of “passionate acknowledgement” (p. 174) and her discussion of recognition/acknowledgement throughout the text is activism in the ‘AIDS Crisis’ and particularly the activism of ACT UP.

When she discusses Roopa’s performance and the rhetorical moves being made that center around call and response and that ask for and give welcome, I’m thinking of the relationship that this establishes between a ‘rhetor’ and an ‘audience.’ For one, the construction of recognition and acknowledgment itself troubles such a boundary: here we have two possible rhetorical actions the audience can make—which is to say that the audience is agentive here. This troubles boundaries of rhetorical subjects and questions or performs in many ways who has agency within a rhetorical situation—by constructing the audience as having agency that influences the trajectory of the performance, not only is the audience moved (perhaps in both senses of the word moved) into the subject role that experiences the suffering of the performer, but the audience is also questioned as to who actually has agency in this situation. The performer’s agency is acknowledged here as conferred to her by her audience. We can see this running through each of her case studies.

What we don’t necessarily have an answer to is what the boundaries or effects of acknowledgement are. Acknowledgement and recognition both are modes of response that position the audience as having different power, privileged locations, but to what extent does this have to be confronted in order to constitute one response or the other?

This is what brings me to late 80’s AIDS activism. When ACT UP occupied streets in New York to call attention to the crisis, they were giving a call for acknowledgement. They needed governments, institutions, and people to acknowledge the crisis, to acknowledge AIDS, to acknowledge gay people as people, to acknowledge that people were dying. However, their zaps, or their protests—though a performance—was not made to make others experience suffering. The appeals were not made to have the general public feel them but to hear them: their work was an active refusal of systems designed to silence queer people and AIDS. In this way, agency was something held hostage in the same way that the queer community was held hostage. This is not to say that pathos didn’t operate at all—the act of disruption is a felt experience—but that something in the power, reciprocity, and purpose behind how Garlough discusses acknowledgment seems different than these performances.

Notes: Josue D. Cisneros, The Border Crossed Us: Rhetorics of Borders, Citizenship, and Latina/o Identity.

Cisneros, Josue D. (2014). The border crossed us: Rhetorics of borders, citizenship, and Latina/o identity. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press.

Summary:

Cisneros argues that both registers of borders, the geographic and the civic, have historically defined citizenship in racialized terms, crossing and (re)crossing Latina/o communities. Cineros traces the use of vernacular performances of citizenship and border rhetorics throughout Latina/o rights struggles.

Keywords: rhetoric, social histories, history, borders, Latina/o

Quotations:

“[B]ecause they faced not only institutional barriers but also cultural and historical antagonism and outright persecution, the aliancistas deployed a tactical subjectivity as both citizen-subjects and noncitizen radicals. This border rhetoric oscillated between enacting citizenship through civil rights discourse and reformist appeals and performing a separate identity through ethno-nationalist discourse and radical activism” (p. 78).

“Vernacular enactments of citizenship are always momentary and confluent; vernaculars are neither wholly liberatory nor constraining but enact complex relationships of agency and identity” (p. 106).

“That border rhetorics and particular civic imaginaries are naturalized through rhetoric masks the fact that the border moves and materializes differently across space and time, that the borders of citizenship as they are conceived in any one space and time are unnatural” (p. 147).

“A backlash against identity and identity politics (on the right and the left) contributes to the difficulty of speaking of identity in concrete political terms and occludes the fact that identity is a reality of social location and part of a potential program for liberation and social change” (p. 152).

Reflection:

Cisneros, in many ways, does the kind of social history work that I would like to do. The work that he does highlights the rhetorical performances of Latina/o activists in key moments of Latina/o struggles for basic rights. He writes about how the Latina/o identity is constructed by coloniality  and deployed strategically in these moments he examines. Borders are material/social space of contestability and citizenship is performing belonging within bordered spaces: performing a racialized Latina/o identity in particular ways is performing as well as challenging that bordered space.

So I’m thinking a little about what citizenship means as an archive, as an archive of belonging and an archive of belongings. I’m finding this to be a productive metaphor for me to think through. I’m thinking about Enoch’s (2013) “Releasing Hold: Feminist Historiography Without the Tradition” that suggested inquiry into how the archive does the rhetorical work of remembering, but also the work of forgetting. I’m wondering how this might be useful in thinking about citizenship as being constructed toward particular identity performances even as Cisneros (2014) notes Latina/o identity has been prevented from developing concrete identity terms. This could explain that inability to discuss “identity in concrete political terms” (p. 152).

But I’m also thinking about this in terms of Archive Fever and the anxiety that surrounds this archive. The dust. The dust as these contestations, right? So how is the archive constructed in such a way to mask the rhetorical work of that archive? Of sustaining citizenship. Of collecting dust of the same in the fear of ‘death.’ Borders as the materialization of these anxieties. How might Steedman’s treatment of Michelet’s fever of the dust that kills complicate that? I think she, in seeing everything in the archives as having no beginnings, but seeing them ‘in medias res’, could highlight some of the ways that borders are contested and how citizenship, far from essentialist, is shifting.

But this is just a metaphor to help me process some of this.

There are easy connections to some of the work that I’m doing myself, looking at queer activists between 1987-1990, where I can see similar rhetorical moves being made, where what does it mean to be an American citizen is contested, where there’s a move to develop concrete terms to discuss identity—to perform identity in particular ways to address needs of basic human rights. There are similar differences in performances by activists within ACT UP as performing radical activisms and other LGBTQ activist organizations who wish to perform activist activity framed heavily in ‘civil disobedience’ discourses that heavily appeal to the dominant culture’s sensibilities of what it means to be a citizen.

My Long View is Broken. No Hope, No Answers, No Answerability.

I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse, where hope goes to die—maybe not die, maybe where I realize that hope is so thin that fluorescent lighting can pierce it. I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse, where hope mixes between students and faculty and staff and the air vents that never turn off and the shivers that run down your spine because it’s hot outside in September and the sweat meets the bone in the cold. I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse where I’m surrounded by white walls and neutral blues, staring at some rainbow pins and a pin with Judith Butler’s face on it that ask me to believe—to hope in the work that I’m doing, in survival, that the world won’t be flooded (but global warming and it’s hot outside in September). I’m in the basement of H.B. Crouse—

I spend a lot of time in the basement.

And I’m talking with a new friend, and we’re talking about how our minds are elsewhere, about how we’re checked out of this PhD work project that we’re both involved in and he says to me “My long-term view operating system is busted” and I can hear it in my own heart that same beat that I didn’t download that patch either.

And I say yes, yes there’s a certain amount of irrelevance to the work that we do. When I can’t see the future, when I can’t see the long view that this academic project is, when hope isn’t, what is teaching, what is research, what is the doing of being here when here is always out of reach in this academic enterprise?

Our work has no answers. It shouldn’t. But what are we doing if we aren’t answering to? Or what is it that we are answering to? What answerability does our work have? What hope can we have—and for what can we have hope–when we do not answer to?

At least 21 trans lives have been taken in 2017. Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, JoJo Striker, Tiara Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree, Ciara McElveen, Jaquarius Holland, Alphonza Watson, Chay Reed, Kenneth Bostick, Sharrell Faulkner, Kenne McFadden, Kendra Marie Adams, Ava Le’Ray Barrin, Ebony Morgan, TeeTee Dangerfield, Gwynevere River Song, Kiwi Herring, Kashmire Nazier Redd, Derricka Banner, Ally Steinfeld. But I’ve wrote smart things.

What haunts our work? Are the ghosts of lives that we lose what sustains the answers we look at?

How does our work answer to our presence? Our absence?

Notes: Shirley Wilson Logan, Liberating Language: Sites of Rhetorical Education in Nineteenth-Century Black America

Logan, Shirley W. (2008). Liberating language: Sites of rhetorical education in nineteenth-century black America. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Summary:

Logan locates means through which nineteenth century black Americans engaged rhetorical education to advance community literacies, political work, and to “negotiate a hostile environment” (p. 3).

Keywords: histories of rhetoric, history, rhetorical education, social history

Quotations:

“I rely primarily upon records left by the learners themselves or, where silent, by those who worked among them, to develop a sense of these internal activities, and upon the histories of plantation missions, for information on externally sponsored activities” (p. 11).

“Yet these facts do not diminish the contribution of literary societies to black rhetorical education, especially when we consider that much good abolitionist work came out of them” (p. 69).

“Rhetorical performances such as these that took place in parlor rooms rather than in more open spaces gave participants the opportunity to hone their rhetorical skills in alternative publics” (p. 89).

“I do not intend to fast-forward into the twenty-first century in search of claims about the implications this study might have for current teaching practices. The times are quite different” (p. 134).

Reflection:

What I see as perhaps most interesting about this text is how history and rhetoric function as epistemological frames for knowing. In most of the texts I’ve encountered so far, I’ve noticed an orientation that asks “what can history do for rhetoric?” In this, we interrogate historical narratives or recover figures in order to impact our understanding of rhetoric—whether through the alteration of canons or challenging assumptions of practices in rhetorical education or rhetorical practice. In Logan’s text, this seems inverted. She seems to be asking through this study what a deep understanding rhetoric, rhetorical education, and rhetorical study can offer history. It seems a powerful move, for one, as it implies a different relationship between the discipline and authority with regard to its methods and subject matter. In addition, this turn allows Logan to interrogate and situate the context and subjects she studies differently. It’s not that such a turn does not benefit our understanding of rhetoric—it does, certainly—but it changes power as I’ve mentioned and allows her to study the rhetorical practices of her subjects as history.

She distances herself from, what I’ve observed as typical practice to make appeals in rhetorical histories to the current practices of rhetorical study and education. She writes, “I do not intend to fast-forward into the twenty-first century in search of claims about the implications this study might have for current teaching practices. The times are quite different” (p. 134). It’s a very different relationship to history than recovering a figure for the purposes adding them to a rhetorical canon that demands that we engage in the work of history for history’s sake—that history is valuable to rhetoric by its own right and that rhetoric is valuable to history by its own right.

I suppose part of what I’m thinking of is repeated phrases from conferences I’ve attended and conversations I’ve heard where rhetoric scholars distance themselves from their methods and carefully position themselves as not a particular methodologist (e.g. “While I would never consider myself an archival specialist…”). Some of this might have to do with hiring practices that surround specialization—identifying oneself as a type of researcher may limit one’s prospects—but also seems to suggest a not wanting to stake claim in methodologies that rhetoric has inherited from history, cultural anthropology, linguistics, or sociology. That the methods are not ours to have, which to some extent they are not. But this seems to call for us to understand our methods as conversation, as a situated practice across disciplinary landscapes, or held in tension with these disciplining forces.

I’m intrigued too by how Logan represents her research subjects. Instead of hyper-synthesizing her research subjects, Logan allows each to stand on their own, woven together by methodological stitching and historical context. Her claims are consequently made looking across assembled individual narratives in situ. This allows for some interesting moves, such as her ability to highlight individual meaning or how individual subjects “recognized their right to themselves” (p. 3).

It’s been helpful to read this alongside thinking through my own project and being attentive to how she represents her work. The text is not meant to be a perfect how-to, and distributes its methodological thought throughout the text, but helpfully, at the start of each section, she discusses what kinds of materials she engages and how she valued or counted those materials. While we don’t get the full method and each detail, this helps her construct how history is framed for her text. Indeed, she also remains explicit about the silences in her research and how she worked around these potential gaps in her work.

Notes: Nicole H. Gray, “Recording the Sounds of ‘Word Burns’: Reproductions of Public Discourse in Abolitionist Journalism”

Gray, Nicole H. (2011). Recording the sounds of ‘word burns’: Reproductions of public discourse in abolitionist journalism. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 41(4): 363-386.

Summary:

Gray highlights the use of phonography, a speech recording technology in which a writer uses a phonetic alphabet, constructs reports of abolitionist speech events, that the construction of the phonographer as accurate operated as a rhetorical tactic.

Keywords: history, historiography, social histories

Quotations:

“Ultimately, the reader was presented with a text that incorporated a self-verifying apparatus, in that it could represent itself as transparent, objective, a ‘deguerrotype’ of an event, removing the necessity for interpretation, and thereby facilitating informed identification” (p. 384).

Reflection:

Gray’s work with the phonographic reporting to interrogate the role of the phonographer as creator that expands representation to the audience interaction is smart work. Gray traces the phonographic report through its uses with the abolitionist presses and how the phonographer was utilized rhetorically to undermine arguments of pro-slavery presses. Gray notes the way the aurality of the speeches plays a part in constructing the presence of the event itself and creates moments of interpretation for the phonographer representing the noise of the audience members.

It’s helpful to read this, and other examples, before setting out to do social histories work. Getting a sense for what the scope of a social histories project and how others are incorporating the source material into the text. It makes sense, in this case, just how a close of a reading is being performed on the source material, given that Gray is discussing how the phonographers represent the speech event, in which case seeing the source material as best we can helps follow along with her claims.

Notes: Byron Hawk, “Stitching Together Events: Of Joints, Folds, and Assemblages”

Hawk, Byron. (2013). Stitching together events: Of joints, folds, and assemblages. In Theorizing histories of rhetoric. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, p. 106-127.

Summary:

Hawk models an approach to historiography that tends to the emergent to answer to some of the theoretical issues that arise from traditional conceptions of revisionist historiographies by turning to jazz improvisation as a way to discuss the role of networks.

Keywords: networks, historiography, histories of rhetoric, archives, methodology

Quotations:

“[H]istoriography requires not mourning, memory, or nostalgia but continual production, which is the only thing that can outpace dominant claims to truth by names and narratives” (p. 112).

“A networked historiography based on complexity and improvisation involves a break with the simple or casual chains of narration and story” (p. 124).

Reflection:

It appears I drew on a connection too early! In my previous post (see Enoch), I worked through connections I saw to Enoch’s work and Clary-Lemon‘s, who is asking for networked-material approaches.

I am admittedly still trying to think through a complexity-theory, post-human, OOO, actor-network historiography. A distributed history answers to many of the issues Hawk outlines at the top of 110, but I’m still thinking about the central premise of generating “as many persuasive models as can possibly be fashioned” (p. 110). There is room to allow for the emergent, but I’m not sure I can put my finger on my reticence.

Alexander and Rhodes (2015) explore networks and ANT in their Techne: Queer Meditations on Writing the Self. They write

[A]ctor-network theory seems to presume a sort of intentional innocence among its nodes and has been “forcibly reminded of its non-innocence by Donna Haraway in her own much more explicitly political material semiotics. . . . We make realities, she said. They only question is: what kind of difference do we want to make?” (Law 154). We might add to that question another: How do we recognize in these webs possibilities for making difference, for making a difference? And how do we do so purposefully? (intro3b1).

The advance something more phenomenological than the flat ontological. On the Deluezean rhizome that underscores many of the texts Hawk draws from, they write:

The rhizome works flatly through lines rather than static point, but rootstock might dare ask Deleuze’s “useless questions,” for that reaching is part of an identity. Longing. This longing, too, is a tangled line. Indeed, we might say that a feminist rhizomatic or rootstock most resembles Rosi Braidotti’s nomadic subject, a vision of subjectivity that embraces simultaneity and multiple, sometimes contradictory layers of identity (rhizome4).

I’m wondering what a feminist rootstock, or a queer phenomenological turn in the network, would ask of “as many persuasive models as can possibly be fashioned“. Surely, they wouldn’t lose the complexity of systems that seems to be the central idea, but perhaps ask an extra step toward towardness, maybe? Not the telos that we’re avoiding here, but eros. 

Desire and becoming: history as a network of erotics. Certainly Hawks use of Cohen to discuss the finding of other nodes and creating new openings feeds into the continual generation he discusses (p. 121) is extremely productive and useful to think about.

 

Notes: Jessica Enoch, “Releasing Hold: Feminist Historiography Without the Tradition”

Enoch, Jessica. (2013). Releasing hold: Feminist historiography without the tradition. In Theorizing histories of rhetoric. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, p. 58-73.

Summary:

Enoch questions the dominant work in feminist rhetorical historiography to reclaim women rhetorical figures or reread canonical texts and instead poses rhetorical approaches that call attention to the rhetorical work of gendering and creating public memories about and for women.

Keywords: feminist rhetorics, historiography, histories of rhetoric, archives, methodology

Quotations:

“Rather than use the archive to recover women, a feminist memory studies approach to the archive prompts scholars to see it as a site that creates and shapes public memory for and about women” (p. 66).

“[T]heir work is predicated on the idea that the process of gendering is deeply rhetorical in that it relies on discursive, material, and embodied articulations and performances that create and disturb gendered distinctions, social categories, and asymmetrical power relationships” (p. 68).

Reflection:

I’m deeply interested in Enoch’s work in articulating the rhetorical work of the archive and of archival scholarship. I can see connections readily available to some of my concerns in approaching an archival project that sits somewhere between queer theoretical work and LGBTQ histories. Particularly in how Enoch discusses how a feminist memory studies approach calls attention to the rhetorical work of remembering women—but also the rhetorical work of forgetting. She discusses the archive itself as something of scholarly inquiry and its sustained (in)attention (p. 66). These seem like promising premises. Enoch poses questions of how historiographic work is done, but also offers theoretical inroads into performing historiographic work (in part by doing a historiography of feminist rhetorical histories).

I’m reminded a bit of Jen Clary-Lemon’s “Museums as Material: Experiential Landscapes and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights“, which perhaps is an extension of some of this conversation, arguing that the museum is itself a textual site performing rhetorical for interrogation. She discusses rhetorical accretion as a means to examine

museum interiors and landscapes as both housing and being different “core texts” that can be seen through a lens of material rhetoric can encourage complex understandings of the layers that are formed from objects, spaces, architecture, and affect from a range of different subject positions, and disturb the bifurcation of inside/outside that emerges from considering museums as object repositories—instead opening these landscapes to see inside and outside as connected in a network of place (para. 6).

Clary-Lemon argues that the networks of accretion in museum spaces are a material part of the rhetorical work that sustains remembering and forgetting. It would pose an interesting question to bring in an approach such as hers to each archive, to ask how “material existence constructs networked meaning out of materials, durability, reproduction, and effects on text and peoples” (para. 30).

Though different approaches, I can see how each is asking for methods that call explicit attention to the rhetorical work of creating, shaping, and sustaining rhetorical memory and forgetting.