Monday, July 13, 2015

Ghassan Hage “On Viability: Urban Jouissance in the streets of Beirut” By Noah Tamarkin

Blog Post: Ghassan Hage “On Viability: Urban Jouissance in the streets of Beirut” By Noah Tamarkin By the time Tuesday morning’s session rolled around, we were increasingly well-versed in thinking through the manufacture of happiness in a range of affective, economic, political, and embodied registers. In his talk “On Viability: Urban Jouissance in the Streets of Beirut,” Ghassan Hage offered a take on happiness that was routed through Western philosophical theories of viability and ethnographic encounters with friends and interlocutors in Beirut, Lebanon. Here happiness emerged in a space of joyful inventiveness fostered by uncertainty and the absence of law, both conditions entwined with four decades of histories of violence in Lebanon including the civil war (1975-1991), the war against Israeli occupation (2000), political assassinations by the Syrian regime (from 2005), Israeli bombing (2006), and ongoing tension and conflict that have characterized the subsequent years. Hage’s Western philosophical viability and non-viability archive included Hegel’s theory of recognition, Althusser’s subjectification via interpellation, Lacan’s fantasizing subject, Spinoza’s joy, Heidegger’s homebuilding, and the communal viability of Durkheim, Mauss and Hobbes alongside Nietzche’s anti-community. This archive suggests that we might locate the viable self explicitly in community, and furthermore that viability is deeply contingent on not only intersubjective recognition but also the possibility of joyful belonging. With these conditions of possibility in mind, Hage guided us through a series of gleeful accounts of urban disorder. ‘Ma fi nazam b’hol balad!’ (There is no law and order in this nation!) one friend exclaimed—and here it is tone and context that makes the point. This and other similar comments were not spoken in resignation or despair but rather in playfulness: this was the language of urban jouissance. Two examples that were especially illustrative involved traffic and sandwiches. First, traffic: driving in Beirut might be characterized by the absence of rules, where drivers navigate their cars however they choose. This same state of affairs can also be framed positively: here driving, Hage explained, is like navigating a galactic ship, dodging cars imagined as meteorites and given nicknames like “the destroyer,” “the ambivalent one,” and “the wayward one.” In this framing, driving in Beirut is an adventure of galactic proportions, and the rest of the world is missing out on the fun of playing the game and having the opportunity to masterfully display one’s skill. Here jouissance is a measure of one’s attentiveness to unpredictable others. This framing pokes fun at traffic laws as absurd—picture the lone car, obediently stopped at a red light in a deserted intersection, waiting for nobody and enacting an entirely imaginary scene of safety. Hage’s mobile interlocuters inspire us to ask: against the sterile stupidity of false senses of safety, what kinds of viability might emerge from acknowledging unpredictability and attending so carefully—and joyfully—to others? Next, sandwiches. Another interlocutor explained how much he hated the European convention of standing in line, waiting for one’s turn to buy a sandwich. He relished rubbing shoulders with other sandwich-seekers, all pushing to get to the counter for the sandwich that subsequently somehow tasted better for the effort. “Queuing is for assholes!” he exclaimed. Like the unpredictable wayward drivers, the sandwich seekers enacted an intimacy that was sorely lacking in spaces of order, predictability, and ultimately social distance. Perhaps only assholes queue, but then again, perhaps queuing produces assholes. In both of these examples, Beirut emerged as an improvisational space that fostered a navigational skill that was contingent on intimate recognition of and engagement with others. This was viability as urban jouissance, against the cold lifelessness of rigidly rule-governed Western urban spaces. For Hage, the fact of comparison was critically important. It marked his interlocutors as particularly classed, mobile subjects: migrants with the privilege to view themselves otherwise, as travelers who choose where and when they circulate. Equally critical, however, is that what Hage calls “the diasporic condition” is not limited to those who travel. Rather, he argued, diaspora is the culture of Lebanese modernity, shaping the subjectivities of all those who are born into it, whether they themselves become migrants or not. Hage further argued that the diasporic condition is becoming more and more the condition of life, and as such we need to theorize an anthropology of diasporic culture that is attentive to lifeworlds. For Hage then, diasporic culture encompasses not only those who migrate but also those who do not, and it is a way of being in and of the world through which movement, transnational pastiche, and frameworks of comparison combine with surprising results. Space matters here, but not only in relation to movement. In the diasporic condition, space becomes inherently comparative and compressed: in one example, Hage emphasized that you can’t look at the mountain in front of you without also seeing, or being haunted by, that other mountain in another place that you hold as part of who you are. Suggesting that the diasporic condition can be characterized by the internalization of the space of viability, Hage left us with the intriguing notion that “the diasporic subject is not someone who asks a question, it is someone who inhabits a question.” How do we then theorize diasporic culture as a space of viability that might open up into the possibility of happiness? Hage suggests that we might do this through attention to an ethics of happiness, characterized by negotiation, intimacy, and forms of sociality. These are characteristics that are demanded of those existing outside of the law, and they point to the possibility of an existence, marked by happiness, outside of the power of the nation-state. While Hage’s vision of viability and urban jouissance were certainly compelling, his account also raises a number of questions, some of which were posed during the question and answer period. First, to what extent is the urban disorder of Beirut consistent with the absence of law, and what do we gain analytically from such binary distinctions (rule of law/absence of law)? Second, how might closer consideration of the lifeworlds of differently situated diasporic subjects, especially in terms of gender and class, shift this account of the joyfulness of urban jouissance? Third, how might we productively put this account of the diasporic condition routed through Beirut in conversation with diaspora theory and ethnography that is routed through and in relation to Africa? Finally, how might various anthropological archives on diasporic culture and theories of viability further clarify and push Hage’s conclusions? Noah Tamarkin Ohio State University

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Vinh-Kim Nguyen on Biomedicine, Unhappiness, and the Epistemology of Crisis by Michelle Pentecost

'I study wars and epidemics...happiness isn't really my thing.' Like other speakers over the past 10 days, Vinh-Kim Nguyen addressed the packed WISER seminar room with a wry opening caveat - happiness would have to be approached via its other. The title of his offering had already alerted a return to crisis as an orientating theme for thinking happiness in this workshop. Nguyen proceeded to engage the audience in an experiment: to think through (un)happiness from the perspective of an urban general practitioner. He situated this experiment in 'the clinic', a space that varied from the doctor's office in Montreal to the multi-bedded camp tent of an Ebola unit in Guinea. Nguyen reminded us that not all of these spaces fit into Foucault's clinic, the birth of which is distinctly tied to a biomedical rationale that standardises affliction. Common to all of these spaces, however, are underlying historical and social configurations that determine 'who gets to be a doctor and who gets to be a patient' - a social relation that definitively shapes the conditions of knowledge production. Against these provisos, Nguyen offered us 'doctor stories'. He did not deliver packaged vignettes, but rather a series of recollections that illustrated the practitioner's task of holding and cobbling together not-neat narratives over time. 'I wanted to give a sense of the texture of unhappiness.' As such, Nguyen's anecdotes are not another version of 'the case', that central methodological trope of both medicine and anthropology. Like the patient, the speaker did not arrive and announce his diagnosis, which could only be elicited through careful attention to his story. So what did Nguyen's tales of biomedicine and (un)happiness reveal? Nguyen placed his patients' unfolding stories within what he calls an epistemology of crisis. Here, it is hard not be reminded of Janet Roitman's description of crisis as 'an enabling blind spot for the production of knowledge...not a condition to be observed [but] an observation that produces meaning'. Crises, or turning points, precipitate the patients' visits to the clinic. For the doctor, these crises produce a series of revelations, through which the patient as person slowly emerges. Thinking with (un)happiness, Nguyen observes that for the urban GP, the patient's crisis is often one of loneliness. For Nguyen, the crisis of recognition is given no less importance than the crisis of an Ebola diagnosis - implicit here is that neither crisis nor suffering can be qualified or measured. Nguyen works across multiple registers of crisis, as well as different registers of happiness. He outlines biomedicine's versions of happiness, within the domains of psychiatry, pharmacology, the neurosciences, and 'happiness studies', and the ways in which these deploy old and new pharmaceuticals. He cites Anita Hardon's work on pharmaceutical experimentation in the Global South, where 'chemical youth' are using illicit and legal drug combinations in their everyday lives. And yet not all versions of (un)happiness will respond to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or a round of cognitive behavourial therapy. If the clinic is a site for the management of (un)happiness, 'not being unhappy may be as good as it gets.' However, although Nguyen's 'doctor stories' are overtly concerned with crisis, they also offer moments of happiness. Eileen's Moyer's paper, Happiness After Crisis, argued that happiness is not the opposite of crisis. Happiness can be experienced in the midst of crisis, a sentiment echoed by François Vergès in her offering on happiness amidst revolution. I would add to this the potential of happiness amidst crisis in the clinical space, a possibility borne out by Nguyen's recollection of joking with his patients, his exchanging of smiles with a familiar patient in the waiting room, and his moving description of a family reunited in the midst of the Ebola epidemic. These brief moments of respite - from loneliness or pain - are a different kind of happiness, which support Nguyen's argument that like crisis, happiness cannot be standardised. As such, the general practitioner must always also be engaged in social critique - a disposition that starts to blur the boundaries between physician/anthropologist. As a medical doctor halfway through a doctorate in medical anthropology, I am also navigating this productive margin between medicine and anthropology. In particular, I am interested in how to think and write from this space from the Global South, and Nguyen has certainly inspired further exploration at this intersection. Michelle Pentecost

Friday, July 10, 2015

Ackbar Abbas Wonders, “What Do We Do Now?” by Rachel Greenspan

Riffing on Raymond Carver’s short story collection, Abbas’s synthesizing reflections on this year’s JWTC lectures poses the question, What do we talk about when we talk about happiness? His opening preoccupation is with the slipperiness of happiness as an object of analysis: like a black hole, he argues, it is only perceptible in the effects it produces. More than an affect or feeling, beyond the social or individual values it represents, the “happiness effect” must be investigated in its indirect consequences. If we take seriously the conditions of possibility widely assumed to produce happiness (love, fame, good health, etc.), how can we attend to the ways in which happiness is manufactured—that is, “forged” in both its generative and counterfeit senses? Furthermore, how does the liberal conception of happiness as a human right obscure, undermine, or underestimate what Abbas calls the “politics of disappointment” in its material and libidinal forms? The assertion of happiness as a human right is evident as early as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a document whose language links happiness to freedom and democracy, but also to radical individualism. For Abbas, this logic extends to the pervasive idea that the depressed subject loses her subjectivity and is encouraged to exploit her “democratic right to take drugs to overcome unhappiness.” Turning to Paracelsus, the so-called father of toxicology, Abbas reminds us that medicine is a materialist, not an essentialist science. In other words, “everything can be toxic depending on the amount you take.” No substance is inherently good or bad for the body; happiness, too, can be toxic in its excess. Consider, as Abbas does, the self-defeating pleasure of consumption, which inevitably frustrates the consumer. He doubts that Imelda Marcos’s 3,001 pair of shoes bring her satisfaction beyond a fleeting fetishistic enjoyment. Though Abbas’s point about the circular, self-replicating logic of desire and its capture within capitalist forms of consumption is well taken here, his reference to the singular case of Imelda Marcos gives me pause. Why shoes? And why 3,001? Is it possible to hold together a critique of commodity fetishism (and the grossly asymmetrical, curiously gendered, regimes of power and wealth for which the shoes come to stand in this example) with an analysis of the individual enjoyments at once shaped by, and in excess of, social, political, and economic forces? I’m reminded of Joan Copjec’s brilliant essay, “The Sartorial Superego,” in which she examines the relationship between the colonial gaze as an exploitative technology of knowledge production and the specificity of French psychiatrist G. G. de Clerambault’s fetish for the drapery of North African fabric. Abbas moves in a different direction, advocating for a theory of happiness that will work actively to transform society. Thinking with and against François Vergès about “the promise of happiness” as a tool for revolutionary struggle, Abbas argues for a politics of disappointment, rather than a politics of hope. He claims that struggle grounded in hope disappears when that object of that hope fails to materialize. For him, “a politics of disappointment persists,” insofar as the political subject acts even without the prospect of its goals being realized. It is a politics that endures without hope, without guarantee. This structure is also at work in the erotics of disappointment Abbas articulates through the films of Wong Kar-wai. In Chungking Express, Happy Together, and In the Mood for Love, the romantic couple begins in a state of unhappiness, but turns that disappointment itself into a (re)source of the erotic. Thinking with David Goldberg and Jenna Ng’s lecture on the algorithmic, Abbas argues, “Disappointment isn’t the end of the whole structure,” but rather the means of generating a “counter-algorithm” that produces a kind of happiness through structures of deferral and disappointment, rather than hope. Pursuing the relationship Wong Kar-wai’s films illuminate between disappointment, failure, and art, Abbas takes Adorno’s claim, “Art is a promise of happiness,” as a provocation to assess what kinds of art can transform society and not just collude or retire from it. For Adorno, as for Abbas, failure is the only ethical means of producing art. In other words, Abbas locates the promise of happiness in the ethical principle of failure, which is not the opposite of success, but calls success into question through an ambivalent notion of happiness. Such a project calls for the emergence of a new type of artist, one like Samuel Beckett, who Abbas calls a “de-creative genius,…the great exemplar of art as failure, which is not the same as failed art.” He responds to Gabriele Schwab’s lecture by describing Beckett’s project as an effort to expose language itself as a mode of failure by preventing words from producing meaning. Ultimately, for Abbas, the art of failure requires energy, effort, and courage, generating the conditions of possibility for a transformation of the human outside the logics of humanism, and the production of happiness without hope. Rachel Greenspan Duke University

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Performing & Storytelling Theory: A Future Perfect Possibility by Rachel Ceasar

Performing & Storytelling Theory: A Future Perfect Possibility Lamenting his poverty and lack of a sleep pillow, a young boy approaches us. With his head cocked to one side, he begs in words we do not understand nor stop to listen to. We do not stop to listen and in our response, we give him coins and containers of curry. Back on the bus, my riding companion awes at the way the boy put his head, the way he spoke and made a face—what a performance, it is all a performance, he tells me. Performance is a theme that comes to mind when I was running around the city this weekend. From Friday to Sunday, we took to task to perform our way of being in a world that is Joburg. Performance occurred in many ways this weekend: We spoke about how certain people perform (aggression no, humorous yes) but in secret terms and texts exchanged across tables. We spoke about taking part in performances (strip clubs no, Soweto and pap yes), but judged too quickly instead of asking more questions. We spoke about our own performances with the city (dinners on WhatsApp yes, more poses yes! yes!) but filtered it through stacks of photos and Facebook curations. We enacted the performativity of our encounters between us and the city of Joburg through aspirations of happiness: we aspired to take part in the biggest club experience in Sandtown, the most delicious food, the best rooftops and poses. In the pursuit of a "future perfect” happiness that knows no past (to paraphrase Zadie Smith), we strove for the meta with little reflection for the now and present in front of us. At times, we forgot to take care of each other in the hope of a larger, better kind of possible happiness that was perhaps somewhere out there in Joburg. We can see this same kind of performativity in our scholarly presentations and discussions. What would it look like to introduce care into how we share our life’s work and research? To give vitality and context to theory, to speak plainly from a place of intellectual generosity (instead of intellectual vomit)? Theory need not mystify our thoughts, but act as a tool to share our stories with others. It is in spaces like JWTC that I see the potential for care to meet performance in the form of storytelling. To be an academic then comes with the responsibility of being a storyteller, as the good doctor Ike Anya encourages us to do. Storytelling our research can be a kind of performative practice, a methodology, and even a form of entertainment. Who said theory had to be dry and boring? Colleagues this week have encouraged me to storytell my work in various ways, a couple of which I share here: 1) One way we can story tell our work is by writing for blogs like Chimurenga, Africa is a Country, or The Conversation, the latter being an online collaboration between editors and academics to provide research-informed news and analysis. Writing in different registers for a more public audience is one way we can get the good word out there into the world. 2) Another way colleagues encourage me to practice my storytelling skills is to use the reminder of the JWTC workshop to think of possible ways to engage beyond theory in very concrete, practical ways: What if we spoke plainly enough at workshops like JWTC so that actual practitioners and persons of the community would want to come? Where are the Global South biologists, psychologists, journalists, and entrepreneurs with whom we can bounce ideas with, generate back and forth conversations, and possibly come up with solutions? These storytelling modes of exchange may sound idealistic, but I believe that, with a little bit of care and performance, such theoretical conversations are possible and damn right necessary for academia. Rachel Ceasar University of the Witwatersrand

On Behrooz Ghamari's "Foucault, Spirituality, and the Perils of Universal History" by Jorge Daniel Vásquez and Megan Eardley

The beginning of Friday’s session was marked by a radical commitment to putting the analysis of religion within a framework that addresses "happiness" in its political and revolutionary dimensions. Behrooz Ghamari raised questions concerning limits and the moving boundaries between history and memory as he reflected on his experience as part of the organizational process of the Iranian Revolution. Addressing the personal interest that Michael Foucault had in Shiite Islam (its rituals and legal practices) and his theoretical writing on the revolution in Iran (1978-1979), Ghamari argued that Foucault’s readers need to understand the characteristic ambiguity of the political process alongside an analysis of revolutionary religious expression. He reveals a Foucault for whom religion is a space in which the popular imagination is formed— both in the policy of the Iranian Revolution and in the Carter administration in the United States. The ambiguity that is engendered by revolutionary religious claims may open a space through and in which teleological thinking might be transgressed. Foucault arrived in Iran a week after the "Black Friday" massacre, when even the death of more than two hundred protestors, shot down from helicopters, could not stop people from their revolution. Foucault's presence in Iran can serve as an anchor for understanding his thinking about the history and the subject (i.e. the history of the present - its reinvention, the ambiguity that it produces) that is configured through a political spirituality: the subject is 'entirely' wrapped in a History that is not determined, but becomes a particular form of self-production, keeping the subject in a constant search for that is worth defending even beyond one’s own life. Thus, the analysis of the 'politics of spirituality' is located far from the reduction of revolutionary religious expression to an "archaic fascism.” On the contrary, it gives way to an important analytical challenge; to consider the religious-political phenomenon in its completely modern sense (reflecting on the relationship between different spheres in which the subject is produced). This analytical move allows Ghamari to return to questions surrounding the murder of the cartoonists of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the “Arab Spring” beyond the Manichaeism of the freedom of expression as universalized value or Enlightened anti-Islam. To take the analysis further, we might echo some of the questions raised in the debate. In the global geopolitical context, to what extent is the analysis of the Arab Spring articulated in the same terms as Foucault’s analysis of the Iranian Revolution? What is the relationship between the specter (the ghost of the Iranian Revolution) and the ways we engage with revolution as either as a rupturing event or as an inheritance? Another entry would be to think about Foucault and the Iranian Revolution alongside the way Susan Buck-Morss thinks about the abstraction of the Haitian Revolution in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. The talk also opened possibilities of imagining a confluence of political spirituality and a political reading of the eschatological tension of St. Paul’s theology. Is a return to Saint Paul—and the tension between the now and the to-come—an attempt to take us out of the teleological prison of modern thought? What are Foucault's links with theoretical Orientalism and how can an event like the Iranian Revolution be read not as a 'break' in Foucault's thought but as a radicalization of the project which is manifested in his College de France seminars since 1977? Jorge Daniel Vásquez Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Ecuador and Megan Eardley Princeton University School of Architecture

Maut ka Kua – The Death Well
: A Response to Anne Allison's Talk on "Greeting the Dead" by Suraj Yengde

Maut ka Kua – The Death Well
 When a talk finishes and the audience responds not only by clapping but also with cheers and whistles, in this way one can summarise the significance of the presentation they just witnessed. Cultural anthropologist, Anne Allison, was “Greeting the dead” and Managing the Solitary Existence in Japan. In a groundbreaking theory of death that derives from her book Precarious Japan published in 2013, Allison offers insights into the little-discussed socialities of Japan. Isolation, misery, pain, suffering, ‘rental’ love and death are some of the widely apprehended synonyms of shifting global capitals. Allison explains each of these in a succinctly interesting form as she narrates new forms of living as a changing “grammar of existence.”

You many think about Japan as being the country with advanced technological developments – robots, SONY, automobiles, bullet trains, etc. Apart from its highly advanced, bullet train-like growing economy, you must have also heard about “weird Japanese fetishisms,” such as relating to sex or sexual objects or widely watched pornography that interestingly hides male’s sexual parts and advertises females’. There is also another disturbing scenario that is little know and discussed in the western world: Allison brings our attention to some of the existentialities of modern day Japan. Life in this country appears as an archetype of blind spiritualists who do not believe in the notion of god and want to dissociate with religious institutions. Oxymoronically, there is also a growing tendency towards spiritualising one’s death. Death is a seductive phenomenon that has a profitable market in the growing economy of middle class, materialised Japan. While people in Japan want to immortalise the afterlife, in the present life they want to be assured of a promised dignity. The situation of Japan is such that wedding planners and the wedding industry in general are now turning towards the death business. As a simple principle of capitalism goes - business is favoured in terms of profitability. In this way we can see the more profitable business is becoming death business. Plots for the cremated ashes are sold expensively and the richer the dead ash is the better prospects the fossil gets. This is the ideal principle behind Buddhist capitalists who want to assure the Japanese a better death. Death becomes important because it assumes an important position of a certain sociality. Death is so rooted in the Japanese society that isolated people, who are abandoned from the familial as a belief system, want to be assured that they will be rest in dignity. Their fear of death is not as much an issue of temporality of life than the social life after death. Death is sold; this very phenomenon that Buddha announced as the ultimate truth, forms an assemblage with neo-materialism, producing non-confirmed fears. This results in a society becoming totally ridiculed, a masquerade of fake life undefined in its purpose of existence. All the chaos happens when religion as an institution sleeps with capital. 

It appears in Allison’s presentation that there is a limited role played by the Buddhist temples of a certain order that guarantee a ‘grave friend’ and also a service of ‘post death divorce’ in teaching the solitary society to be a part of the larger commune. Due to inappropriate advantages gained through the death business, Japanese individuals,’ especially young males, turn to find the comforts of life in immaterial things. They make virtual partners, toy friends, robot dogs and even organise a cremation ceremony for robotic pets who have lost their lives. This description of Japanese society urges those who are less fortunate (wealth-wise), to rethink and remodel the arrears of developments that they would want to undertake. The solitary society of Japan is a good example for the developing world to model: a society based on social consciousness and cultural involvements.

Allison’s presentation tries to summarise multiple issues discussed in her earlier book. That is why one is introduced to a sliding show of vignettes of experiences and narratives. While not addressed in Allison’s talk, the issues of people with different sexual orientations, woman as a fetish object, the conditions of ethnically marginalised societies and their role in the death economy, all become questions one has to start thinking about. Buddhism, on the other hand promises egalitarian rationalism and belief in community as a principle of ideal society also asking one to focus on individuality in order to attain the nirvana. In spite of the active Buddhist school of thought in Japan, the increasingly ‘social solitary’ life of the Japanese raises several questions of the capacities of such schools.

The vocabularies of security, social status, and recognition are the artificial effects reproduced by the orgasmic nature of capitalism impregnated with materialism. These identities are the result of inequality and unfavourable distribution of wealth where one grapples with detouring the phantasm of the petty economics of material life. If incidents of solitude are the result of job status and finances then it becomes an aspiring greedy middle class and upwards story. The materialist graphic nature of the Japanese abnormal society might also be the protest of the marginalised who cannot afford the richness of deaths. One might also ask, do the poor have such problems or is it the rich man’s hopeful disease?

 Suraj Milind Yengde is an Ambedkarite Africanist finishing his last bits of PhD thesis University of the Witwatersrand

Consoling Objects/Disconsoling Worlds: A Response to Gabrielle Schwab's Talk on "Apocalyptic Endgames" by Timothy Wright

For a workshop themed around the 'manufacture of happiness', there has been a surprising (but in hindsight unsurprising) tarrying with the experience of unhappiness. Unhappiness is after all the ground against which happiness becomes both legible and desirable. On days three and four of the workshop, several speakers addressed the relationship between happiness and the confrontation with death: with severe illness (Tina Sideris), with the potential of extinction in political revolution (Francoise Verges), with the prospect of dying alone and un-mourned (Anne Allison on contemporary Japan). In these situations, forms of happiness are produced from the most unpromising of contexts. In her brilliant, thought-provoking, and intricate talk 'Apocalyptic Endgames of the Mind: Ecology, Body and Affect in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days', Gabriele Schwab used Samuel Beckett's minimalist 1961 play as a 'laboratory' for exploring these themes. It is a play in which happiness and unhappiness are almost indistinguishable; in which unhappiness is seamlessly transformed into happiness. The mise-en-scene is stark: Act One opens onto a plain stage in which a woman, Winnie, is buried up to her waist in a mound of sand under a hellish sun. Her husband lives in a hole on the side of the mound and speaks little and monosyllabically. No other signs of human life are given. In Act Two, we are in the same place, but Winnie is now buried up to her neck. Despite this, Winnie somehow remains relentless upbeat. How does this happen? I want to condense Gabriele's very rich discussion on ecology -- psychic ecology as well as 'natural' -- by looking at the way she thought through the issue of adaptation, in particular the question of how one adapts to crisis. I am reminded of Shaw's famous dictum: the reasonable man changes himself to fit the world; the unreasonable man changes the world to fit himself; therefore all progress is made by unreasonable men. But Winnie's adaptation is made in the face of a world that appears utterly impervious to change, and is thus fundamentally a mode of survival. How does one adapt to a world that one cannot change? One answer is that Winnie is engaged, as Gabriele put it, in a 'self-manufactured pursuit of happiness'. The key to this manufacture of happiness is the object, which plays a peculiar role in this closed and inhospitable universe. These objects are both the physical, everyday objects Winnie removes from her handbag (a parasol, a comb, a toothbrush, a gun) and verbal or mental objects (Winnie's monologue, with its endless wry quotations from literary classics). Both words and things function as what Gabriele vividly termed 'consoling objects': consoling because they facilitate what Gabriele called -- borrowing a term from Ackbar Abbas -- Winnie's 'negative hallucination', her wish to not see things she doesn't want to see. Against the backdrop of trauma, objects allow her to protect her optimism. This works at a meta-theatrical level: the same objects reappear again and again on each night of performance as Winnie finds herself in the same space again and again, creating a sense of security and even comfort. Interesting is the way the play physically transforms affectively uncomfortable experiences into their obverse: Gabriele spoke of how, when she played the role of Winnie, she eventually grew to find the physically uncomfortable strictures of rehearsal and performance while buried to the neck consoling. One might even wonder if the play itself might function as a consoling object for the audience, a small closed world in which despair is cordoned off and managed. (Things are of course more complicated: Gabriele spoke of the way the play disrupts the audience's 'linking' with it). The consoling objects are thus more than merely outmoded consumer objects: they are objects that take on a life of their own and transform Winnie. Gabriele used this discussion of the consoling object to look at the ways in which happiness functions as an instrument of wilful blindness: a form of cruel optimism in which one survives by holding onto illusory attachments and refusing to see what is in front of one's eyes. Is happiness merely a form of blindness, an illness for which the clarity of unhappiness might constitute the antidote? In an uncanny way, the theme of objects becoming a consolation for a broken world seemed to seep into subsequent sessions. Anne Allison's talk, immediately following Gabriele's, dealt with an emergent Japanese funeral culture in which the isolated elderly Japanese purchase their own space in a funeral temple, where they can view their anticipated afterlife as an urn alongside a host of other urns - a space of sociality in death. In a similar vein she described the popularity of robot dogs for whom funerals and memorials are often conducted upon their expiration. In both cases, spaces we would expect to be occupied by a living thing were occupied by objects. It is perhaps too easy then to merely say these objects participate in the creation of negative hallucinations. A more productive way to think of the meaning of the consoling object was suggested by Kaushik, who asked whether we might think of Winnie not as a pathological subject but rather as a new form of species-being. Similarly, many responses to Anne Allison's account of new Japanese funeral practices wondered whether this was not a symptom of social atomisation but the emergence of new forms of social relation. In both cases, one might see a radical mutation in the forms of human relationships to objects, which are not merely consumed but enter into a profound relationship with human subjects. In the above examples, it is no longer clear whether the object is purely an object, or whether it has not become so bound up in our own constructions of ourselves that its objecthood is placed in doubt. Could it be the case that these 'subject-objects' are not technologies mediating, anticipating, or warding off relationships, but stand-ins for relationships themselves, something closer to a ‘bios’ than a ‘techné’, or something hovering ambiguously between the two? The question these consoling objects raise -- and it is one to which I have no answer -- is that of what a critical stance towards these consolatory forms of happiness should be. As academics we tend to take pride in exposing the rotten underbellies of the happy, in unveiling the broken world upon which happiness is erected. It is one thing to kill the joy of the self-satisfied. But who would think it moral to extinguish the fleeting joys scratched out of desperate situations, joys that ward off despair and loneliness? I was deeply moved by Anne Allison's photograph of a funeral temple where the living could see the wall of urns where their ashes would rest and find consolation in this posthumous community. I was moved both by the sadness of a world where people can only imagine community in death, and also by the joy of a genuinely beautiful space that had been created within it. What does one do with both these feelings? Timothy Wright WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Response To Françoise Vergès’ Lecture on Happiness and the Revolutionary by Mohamed Wajdi Ben Hammed

On January 14, 2011 Tunisian protestors flooded the avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main street in the Tunisian capital, and gathered in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs chanting in one voice, “Al-shaʻb yurīd isqāṭ al-niẓām” (“The people want the fall of the regime”), a slogan inspired from a monumental poem by the Tunisian poet Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi (1909-1934) entitled The Will to Life. The original line/prophecy articulated by the Tunisian poet in the midst of French colonialism states, “If one day people will to live / then destiny must obey.” A verse that aimed to mobilize people against the oppressive machine of the colonial system, and has been co-opted and emptied of meaning as the opening line of the anthem of a totalitarian postcolonial state, is rescued from the graveyard of history and summoned to accompany the drumbeats of the revolution. The way the protesters appropriated the poetic line and infused it with the affective and political power of the revolutionary moment reminds us of Frantz Fanon’s enduring prophecy, “Each generation must discover its historical mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.” The happiness of fullfilling this sacred misson is captured in the surge of revolutionary euphoria that not only shakes political structures but also imaginaries of the self, the nation and the future to come. Revoultions are moments in which collective action shifts happiness from the realm of individual affect to emboddied collective practices that are located in a liminal space between life and death. The uniqueness of the happiness they offer stems specifically from this very liminality. Françoise Vergès’ lecture entitled, “Happiness and the Revolutionary: Singing, Dancing and Marching,” engages the political imaginaries and embodied practices of happiness within revolutionary moments in post-colonial states. Vergès explores revoltionary happiness as primarily the “happiness of doing and not being,” highlighting the interlockedness of bodies within the flow of the revolutionary act and the fusion of individual voices within a unified shout for social justice. The flow of the bodies projects revolutionary happiness as the very moment in which the social and political production of normativity is suspended not just because of the freedom procured within collective action but precisely because of the precurious and ambivalent nature of the revolutionary moment as bodies are located in the midst of conflicting potentialities: between the risk of total annihilation and the euphoria of self-determinsim. Another aspect of revolutionary happiness, Vergès, argues, is its ability to inhabit the present in a perpetual state of differal that resists the ephemeral nature of the now. Revolutionary happiness is then also a promise of a new future to come, and an alternative politcal community to be born. This futurity can only be achieved through a radical reinterpretation of the politics of loss and the acceptance of the risk of defeat. The state deploys the defeated body as a prohibitive signifyer of coercion and a counter-political promise while popular affective reinterpreation through the practices of mourning (mourning the martyrs/ funerals turned into new spaces for protest) redifines the defeated body and challenges the meaning of defeat. Similaly, Vergès emphasizes that decolonization is a historical process built on the acceptance and reinterpretation of phases of failure and defeat. The recognition of the role of failure and loss allows for a project of decolonization conscious of the perils of idealization and feteshization that end up reproducing oppressive politics. Vergès’ lecture presents a formidable analysis of the manufacture of happiness in revolutionary times and the historical missions it summons. Mohamed Wajdi Ben Hammed University of Notre Dame

The Embodiment of Hope: Françoise Vergès' “Happiness & the Revolutionary,” by Rachel Rothendler

Vergès began with a discussion of the word bonheur (“happiness”) in French. She tied its etymological relation to luck and good fortune into her discussion of happiness of the revolutionary as inextricably related to hope; emancipation and freedom, she argued, are a promise of a different future. Happiness here, Vergès explained, is “deferred.” She gave a broad range of historical moments of the revolutionary, which she described as a process of disturbing a certain border amidst the struggle for social change. Vergès stated that the goal of her discussion was an attempt to revive the revolutionary as a moment in which there exists both the possibility of defeat and sorrow but also of happiness. She firmly grounded her discussion in current events as well as in historical moments, illustrating her claim that the revolutionary is an ongoing history of global, or collective defeat: despite attempts by various groups to appropriate revolutions, “it is really owned by everyone… it is a common.” The examples she presented ranged from Léo Ferré’s 1961 song “L’affiche rouge” to a mural in Cairo after the 2011 uprisings had been crushed (on the mural was painted, “We’re locked in a counter revolution. Fuck you and your passion.”) to a clip from Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film, “The Battle of Algiers,” to speeches from the Civil Rights Movement era in the United States. Vergès also discussed the body’s critical role within the revolutionary moment. The space of cities (including transportation) has transformed as a consequence of the physical protests and marches. The revolutionary becomes a moment both of moral, as well as physical courage, and the bodies of individuals represent the popular body. Vergès highlighted the role of women, in particular, and their bodies in these manifestations, as they represent a dual interruption of both the political and, in many contexts, the social norms against the presence of female bodies in public space. They are also often the bodies against which the greatest violences have been committed. One question that arose for me here was whether bodies are agentive actors within the revolutionary or whether they are more the objects/subjects upon which traces of the revolutionary are permanently inscribed. Can they be both? My mind kept returning to what is widely considered the starting point of the Arab Spring: Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation in front of a government building in Ben Arous, Tunisia on January 4, 2011. I wondered whether such a violent act of, on the one hand, defiance, but on the other, desperation and perhaps hopelessness, could still be considered an embodiment of hope and a promise for a new future, despite self-immolation being a moment of death, a violent and precocious termination of (some)body's life. What does it mean that this act was then repeated across the region during the uprisings? As a counterpoint to a notion of happiness within the revolutionary and leading into her argument for a new politics of decolonization, Vergès, citing Derrida, explained the difference between mourning and melancholia with regards to the revolutionary moment. In mourning, one is aware of what one has lost, the lost object becomes a new object, and the process of mourning will eventually end. In melancholia, on the other hand, one is not necessarily aware of what one has lost, the lost object becomes a part of one, forever a foreign presence within oneself. Citing Paul Gilroy, she asserts that postcolonial melancholia is a global thought (reaffirming the global nature of the revolutionary); it is a result of the inability to mourn the initial moment of the postcolonial. I wondered at the place of the writing of the revolutionary and I was greatly reminded of Assia Djebar's 1985 book, L'amour, la fantasia (translated into English as Fantasia, an Algerian Cavalcade). The text, switching between different periods of Algeria's history, includes accounts of French soldiers from the beginning of Algeria's colonization in 1830 as well as the voices of Algerian women during the War of Independence and in its aftermath. But one of the most poignant aspects of this book is the language, both in the words given on the page and in the ones purposely left out because unable to be inscribed. In the interweaving narratives, Djebar leaves words in both Arabic and Berber untranslated. The language of the woman's body is also a significant, indescribable (and un-inscribable) presence within the stories. Does writing itself represent a bodily act of revolutionary defiance? Does writing/translation offer some sort of closure, enabling people to mourn or does it serve to prolong the revolutionary moment, perpetuating postcolonial melancholia? Personally, I feel that Djebar deploys language as a geographic space in which to construct it as her own. Concerning the possibility for a new politics of decolonization, Vergès said that this may involve an abandonment of our idealization of that first moment of the postcolonial. This rethinking of decolonization in a global way is a “fabrication of a new territory within the sovereign space.” Circling back to the dual possibility of the revolutionary, Vergès concluded that mourning is actually “the basis of hope and the promise of a future happiness.” Her continuous emphasis on the possibility of a future reminded me a lot of Derrida's extensive writings on theories and rhetorics of democracy and its use as a referent for the futur à venir ("future to come"). It made me wonder whether there is a valid link between democracy and happiness. Perhaps the use of a rhetoric of democracy as a future to come is tied into the promise of happiness within the revolutionary. Rachel Rothendler Duke University,

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Response to Kaushik Sunder Rajan's talk on "Pharmocracy" by Kirk Fiereck

It is an intimidating task to blog about Kaushik Sunder Rajan’s meditations on an emergent form of what he calls pharmocracy. These forms of pharmocratic sociality are taking shape in the context of the global emergence of biocapital as it elaborates itself in contemporary India. I worry that the brevity of this textual form cannot adequately or responsibly relate to the expanse of time—decades and counting—that the female Bhopal disaster victims are made to endure in Rajan’s narrative in order to have their claims of harm (not yet, ever?) recognized by the Indian judicial system. If time is ultimately the locus of value production and the source of the contradictions of capital, as Moishe Postone has argued, then the time these women have collectively spent navigating the bureaucratic expanse of Indian courts corresponds to a surfeit of untranslatable meaning, and thus designates more value (in its various forms) than the jottings contained in any blog post. It seems to me that the time these women spent cannot be represented adequately by—or translated through—such anemic textual devices like the conference lecture, the question and answer session, etcetera. In other words, the disjointed ruminations that follow are exercises in the inevitable failures and violence of representation as they generate more questions than provide insight. One aspect of the talk that struck me was that the women in this account had not only been harmed by toxic exposure to gas from the Union Carbide pesticide plant, they are now entangled with new harms produced within the context of the offshoring of clinical trials. In a cynical and ironic turn, Rajan informs us that these trials are run in the exact same hospitals that were built to ameliorate the injuries suffered as a result of the Bhopal disaster. This historical layering of injury forms seems to map onto the lateralized, entwined cultural logics of industrial and financial capital. Whereas industrial capitalism produced the conditions for the Bhopal disaster, in turn, the disaster is a condition of possibility for the exploitation of financial and monopoly biocapital to produce new forms of injury sustained in the context of “pharmocratic judicialization.” And what of Rajan’s term pharmocracy? Simply, it is a concatenation of pharmaceutical and democracy. Embedded in this perhaps innocuous elision is a curious and intriguing idea: the pharmaceuticalization of democracy. Such an idea effaces that which is taken as foundational not only for much work in the humanities and social sciences but of democracy itself: the notion of “the people”, or the demos in Greek, which is the etymological root of democracy. Through this effacement a paradox is produced: might pharmocratic societies signal a displacement of democracy by pharmocracy and is this a symptom or a cause of the effacement of the demos? How does this displacement relate to what many are calling the posthuman condition as it evolves in the Anthropocene? Whatever pharmocracy might turn out to be, it seems to be produced by the predations of capital in its distinctly neoliberal forms of bio- and human capital. It is precisely the latter form of capital that Wendy Brown argues is the undoing of the demos, and perhaps Rajan’s neologism is an indication that bio- and human capital have always been, are, and will be inextricably intertwined. We are also given an account of how (post)human subjects inhabit this pharmocracy. The female Bhopal victims express their pharmocratic undoing as one in which “Our bodies have died - we are just living on our courage.” Upon hearing this, it struck me as indicative of a new method for understanding the relation between sensibility and structure. What does an utterance like this mean? If these women feel that their bodies have died and they locate their remaining life, or bios, in something they call courage (will?), how might this problematize the relation between sensibilities and social structures? What structural changes are occurring when human action becomes conceived as affectively dematerialized. In this woman’s theorization of bios as life no longer located in a body (which has already died), she locates her bios in a will (which one?), which is the basis on which she lives. What new forms of sociality are these women experiencing and teaching us about if they do, in fact, inhabit emergent pharmocracies as we have been asked to consider? The pharmaceuticalization of democracy also signals an ongoing displacement of the notion of the people by a form of techné perhaps best indexed by Andrew Lakoff’s notion of pharmaceutical reason. This strain (species?) of reason seems ambivalent to, abstracted from, and perhaps best described as lateral to forms of human reason. Rajan epitomizes the ambivalent relation between human and pharmaceutical reason when describing the seemingly infinite deferral of justice experienced by the Bhopal victims in the face of relentless (and literal) back-and-forth “judgments” handed down by Indian courts. Of the many “-tions” that circulate in contemporary academic and political discourse (e.g., decolonization, judicialization, capitalization, democratization), perhaps the closest kin of the “-tion” elided in the neologism pharmocracy is the pharmaceuticalization of public health described by Jõao Biehl. Come to think of it, much work by medical anthropologists—Vinh-Kim Nguyen (The Republic of Therapy) and DelVecchio Good (The Biotechnical Embrace) to name two—bespeaks the displacement of individual and collective subjectivities (e.g., the self, corporations, the people, the nation, counter/publics, the market, etc.) by biotechnologized subjects. The self-valorizing movement and circulations of biocapital seem to produce such techné-human hybrids. For instance, in the titles of all three of these ethnographic examples human subjective figures such as the public, national populations, and individual are displaced by, or come into relation with, an anthropomorphizing biocapital-as-Subject. Importantly, we learn that these locally embedded individual and collective biocapitalist subjects navigate lateralized symbolic and material economies. We can begin to discern the complexity of these intercalated capitalisms when we hear how subjects are both constrained and enabled by international patent regimes, such as TRIPS (monopoly capitalism); national legal infrastructures (state-based free-market capitalism); and customary gender relations and norms (local symbolic economies). This local form of law and custom is signaled when the spoiled honor of the female victims is referenced in order to draw attention to the injustices and harms that are related to the extraction of value in the context of clinical trials. The trials themselves are managed by corporate research organizations and the Indian state vis-à-vis local bioethical paradigms and symbolic economies that are a critical switchpoint for the mediation of cultural conflict and the conversion of symbolic to material value. These capitalisms and economies are all intricately related in a dynamic, mutual unfolding. Questions regarding how these processes are interrelated remains, and their exploration will be critical to understanding the nature of our emergent pharmocracies as they are actively reshaping sociality and political subjectivities. Kirk Fiereck University of Pennsylvania

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Resiliency (Neoliberal Happiness), Mourning, and Restoration" by Jigna Desai and Rani Neutill

Resiliency (Neoliberal Happiness), Mourning, and Restoration The physical, cognitive, psychic and affective dimensions of resiliency are used to identify and measure those factors that enable individualities and collectives to withstand and adjust to adversity. Resiliency points to how people manage harm and its impacts despite the suffering and death caused by various forms of violence and neglect, e.g. micro-aggressions, overcrowded trains, lack of necessities – health care, food, water, shelter and medicine, environmental degradation and destruction. While resiliency can be used to identify and recognize agency, strategies, and knowledge, it also can work as a demand… Here, resiliency does not imply that security is possible or life guaranteed; instead, it recognizes that exposure to harm is a constitutive process of existence for the individual and living systems and that resiliency also entails living with injury and the possibility of continuing loss… We want to borrow from ecological and justice models to imagine a different response – what we might call postcolonial restoration. Postcolonial restoration addresses harm and the distribution of vulnerabilities, but it also recognizes that loss and trauma are constitutive and continuing processes of postcolonial existence. Postcolonial restoration demands three ethical modes of response: 1) sitting with trauma, 2) implication, and 3) reparation. Neutill theorizes what it means to sit with trauma as an affective and ethical mode of being. Sitting with trauma reorients us towards an understanding of mourning as an ethical mode of relationship to loss through what I term sitting with. Neither static nor terminal, sitting with is not melancholic, but rather an ongoing dynamic process that undoes conventional notions of mourning. We may walk away from the loss and trauma, but we also come back – an interminable mourning. In this case, there is no restoration to an original or pure form prior to the wound, but a continual process of recognition; the constitutive and continuing aspects of trauma. Moreover, in recognizing the distribution of vulnerabilities, one needs to focus on the harm that is inflicted as much as the harm that is suffered –Thomas suffers, but also must account for his own complicity in inflicting harm. In understanding the distribution of vulnerabilities across the living ecosystem, one must note how one is entangled and interdependent with modes of violence without claiming impunity.... Implication in this case means the necessity of acknowledging interdependency and recognizing distributions of vulnerability that mark certain forms of violence, harm and death while abandoning others as disposable to slow deaths. The third ethical response is reparation. Increased security from the state is not demanded as a salve to heal wounds, as security cannot be achieved. But there must be an on-going attempt to salve the wound that cannot be healed. In this case, borrowing not from the more legalistic reparations (to pay), but from the ecological to repair (to rejuvenate and heal). The role of reparations is to restore not to an original unwounded state of being, but to engage in continual healing and recognition of loss and trauma in an ecological and systemic way. Reparation may never end as recognition of vulnerability and trauma continue within postcolonial restoration. As the loss continues and vulnerabilities are addressed but continue to proliferate, postcolonial restoration is an on-going process. Jigna Desai and Rani Neutill

On the Rhythms of Longing and Connectedness Neo Muyanga's "Tebello: A Tentative Operetta on Longing" by Jessica S. Ruthven

On the Rhythms of Longing and Connectedness: “Tebello: A tentative Operetta on Longing” commenced 6:00 pm Wednesday when a group of 18 choral students from Wits University entered the Wits Theatre softly, slowly, and with intention. A hush descended on the gathered audience as we watched the black-clad students in a rainbow of richly colored scarves file toward their chairs onstage. Our host and composer for the evening, Neo Muyanga, followed closely behind the students and walked to the microphone downstage house-left. As the choir concluded its song on a decrescendo, Neo explained the meaning of “tebello” and told us what the show held for us: an evening of exploration, through song and embodied movement, of the human capacity for expectation laced with longing. A soft yellow glow illuminated the stage as Neo gazed directly toward us and spoke of the history of migrant labor in the region, as well as its continued presence in the lives of many today. He told us of the distance families must learn to grow into as a result of the mass structural separation of men and their families necessitated by mining and other systems of labor. He asked us all, gathered together, to be open to feeling that expectation, longing, the spirit of resistance, and other evoked emotions as the performers weaved through their program: instrumentation and choral work, audience interaction, protest songs, and finally blues music, funk, and a nod to Augusto Boal through Roberta Estrela D’Alva’s husky and vibrant voice. There were many bright moments during the night that caught my attention—too many and varied to cover in this forum. I could speak of resistance and social change; connections between South Africa and Brazil; audience and performer group dynamics/interaction; the role of sound in embodying practice; or even my thoughts as a native Mississippian (and DEEP lover of blues and funk music) on the relationship between blues and protest songs. Instead, I’ll limit focus on one moment that connected strongly with conversations held earlier in the day at the Adler Museum lectures. At one point when the choirmaster was working with the students on a section of minor-chord music, the sopranos struggled to harmonize with the group as the aurality suffered some dissonance. The soprano farthest stage house-left scrunched up her face, shook her head, and furrowed her brows as the group hit a particularly discordant note. At another point during the night, the students dissolved into laughter—embodied in staccato breaths, long chuckles, and ripples through the group when their bodies moved from more rigid performance positions to a brief looseness of form—as an error in timing resulted in some members bursting into song while the majority remained silent. This immediately invoked for me Dilip Menon’s comments earlier in the day on “idiorrhythmy,” a concept used by Roland Barthes in “How to Live Together.” For Barthes, idiorrhythmy is a kind of productive living-together in which each person in a group recognizes and respects that others have their own individual rhythms. Through this recognition/respect, sociospatial discord in a society is reconciled. Menon invoked this idea in his introduction to Ike Anya’s lecture urging scholars to consider the everyday perspectives of the people with whom they work when theorizing happiness and other social constructs. Later, Anne Allison noted that we might think of happiness as the rhythms of living together while also recognizing the fragility of happiness and the irregularity of rhythms in daily life. In the afternoon’s panel, Tina Sideris asked us to think about temporal dissonance, while other participants in discussion questioned the role of laughter in happiness. Hearing the dissonance, errors in timing, and resulting laughter that occurred during the evening’s performance, certain questions came to mind. In addition to thinking through the relationship of individuals to collectives and integrating others’ perspectives with our own, I wonder: what is the role of discord in what we envision as “happiness”? When we speak of “happiness,” what constitutes it, for whom, and how is it deployed conceptually and materially in particular places and times? How do longings for “perfection” or ideals shape people’s experiences of joy, elation, satisfaction, and a range of other terms that are at times associated with “happiness”? Would this group of choral students be “happy” in their performance for the evening, or did the discord/errors mar their experience in any way? At the end of the evening, Neo and Roberta smiled, thanked us for joining them, and said they hoped they made us happy. As an audience member, I know the kind of unexpected glitches in the performance directly contributed to my overall “happiness” with the production as an experience. Those blips in timing and tonality, as well as Roberta’s, Neo’s, and the choral group’s embodied reaction to them, enabled a sense of closeness and connection to the performers that would have been less accessible (for me) if the performance had been seamless. Even Roberta’s later exaggerated facial expressions and asides to the audience or shout of “Surprise!” as she did something unexpected and the choir rushed to get back on track with her added, rather than detracted, to the experience. Their laughter at various points in the show enabled my own, and I felt part of something more expansive than a singular self as my laughter joined the deeper rumble of the crowd’s. So I ask again—what is the relationship of discord, dissonance, the uncertain, expectation, failed expectation, and the unexpected in our understandings of “happiness”? As a final thought, I will leave you with the following: “It reminded me of when I was a kid listening to protest songs from South Africa, and they were so powerful. Listening now, it brought back a longing, a nostalgia, and also a sadness. But the power! And the kids were so caught up in it, like when they [Roberta and Neo] were singing and the choir just jumped up so spontaneously and joined! It looked like they were moved.” This is a comment I overheard one of our JWTC participants telling another in their post-performance chat as they ambled to the bus for dinner. What he notes above is something I hear artists in Johannesburg and abroad consistently refer to as “resonance.” It indexes a profound and meaningful connection to something that moves a person in thought, action, or feeling. What, then, is the role of activism and resonance (along with its cousin empathy) to notions of happiness in contemporary South Africa? Jessica S. Ruthven University of the Witwatersrand

On Roberta Estrela D’Alva’s Performance at the Wits Medical School by Ananya Kabir

She [Roberta] wove in and out of us assembled there, in the shadow of the Health Sciences building of the Wits University Campus, and the deeper shadow of the Adler Medical Museum with its cabinets of quaint yet instantly recognisable bottles, philtres, jars, ancient stethoscopes, and other bric-a-brac of colonial medicine. Here, in the square outside, there were trees, sunlight, and the scent of smouldering salvia leaves that she bore in a small vessel. The fumes permeated us, an olfactory medium in which we became suspended. She chanted, punctuating the air with a seed-filled rattle. In white and black, heavy braids, and beads of element red, black and brown proclaiming affiliations Amazonian, transatlantic, and planetary. She was the shaman, the master of ceremonies. The microphone picking up her every word and gesture was the sacred fire. The ceremony was our defumigação. I can best translate this word as ‘purification by smoking out unwanted stuff.’ We were asked to embrace the salvia fumes to cleanse ourselves of whatever we needed to get out of our systems. Defuma, Defumador esta casa de nosso Senhor Leva pras ondas do mar O mal que aqui possa estar Smoke out, O smoker-out, this house of our Lord Carry out towards the waves of the sea The evil that may rest here Ceremony satisfactorily begun, we were drawn into a meditation/ oration/ confession/ proclamation which invoked Chango, Eshu, and the consciousness-expanding herbs of Amazonia to repudiate the very might of colonial knowledge that towered over us all. She made herself vulnerable for us by returning to the moment of losing her sister when both were but teenagers, and opened up the channels of empathy that the salvia had prepared the ground for. Inviting us to embrace intuitive wisdom and reject the need for control, Roberta performed a mestizaje of knowledge, a caboclisation of the world. Against the White Father represented by Heinemann (father of homeopathy) emerged the Preto Velho, the Old Black Man, Obatala of the orishas maybe, as the instigator of the simple question: ‘why does the European thinker have to validate my experience?’ Roberta’s evening performance with Neo Muyanga and the Wits Choir in their offering to us, Tabello: A Longing Expectaion, provided the perfect resolution of some of the processes we were invited into during the afternoon. Opening with a playful rehearsal of the choir, which deliberately blurred the edges between process and product, journey and end, Neo, Roberta, and the Choir continued with a stunning transoceanic repertoire of spoken word, blues, funk, hymns, and protest songs in English, Xhosa, and Portuguese. Ending on the memory of Zumbi of Palmares, the iconic maroon king of Brazil, the cry of ‘freedom’ resounding from the voices and bodies of the young people of the choir carried forward the rhyme of liberdade/ felicidade (freedom/ happiness) with which Roberta had closed the afternoon’s ceremony. The soaring notes of the choir’s voices and the young dancing bodies fused with the lament that the lyrics voiced, confirming their assertion of the co-existence of alegria and pena (joy and sorrow). The best kind of learning is that which compels on us a gnosis of the body! Ananya Jahanara Kabir King's College London

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On “Emoji-Con: Coding the Economy of Affect” by Jenna Ng and David Theo Goldberg by Amber Reed

The logic of desire may be parsed as the ideology of power/knowledge. Top of Form Bottom of Form
            I created this sentence using an algorithm from the University of Chicago’s “Write Your Own Academic Sentence” (http://writing-program.uchicago.edu/toys/randomsentence/write-sentence.htm). While this exercise is obviously humorous, it raises what I see as an important issue in academia itself: the highly structured confines of our disciplines. One of the benefits of this workshop is that it forces us outside of our seemingly formulaic vocabularies, methodologies, and theoretical frameworks. For instance, the focus on happiness diverts our attention from explanations of human suffering to thinking about its alternatives: satisfaction, pleasure, desire, and joy. Here, we see the dangerous confines of the algorithm.
            But, as Ng and Goldberg suggest, algorithms are also increasingly used to actually produce happiness in the contemporary world. While limiting choice might stifle possibility and creativity, do algorithms have the potential to decrease unhappiness? My own work looks at intergenerational conversations and narratives of democracy and Apartheid. One of the things that is most striking about these discourses is the negative connotations attached to certain types of “freedom” and the longing for a perceived past of structure and limitations. Many rural, black South Africans express nostalgia for a time when life was, at least in hindsight, “secure,” “stable,” “known.” I kept thinking about this during the presentation today, wondering if perhaps the ubiquity of algorithms in the world today reflects some kind of common human desire to have limited agency? This is most certainly not to say that such nostalgia actually reflects a preference for oppressive regimes or any kind of factual accounting of history; rather, it critiques the present dissatisfactions with democracy. Apartheid only becomes desirable when viewed through the lens of the present unhappiness with a system of widespread corruption and poverty. But beyond these structural inequalities, many people frame liberal democracy as “too free.” That which offers equality to all, at least in rhetoric, appears to have no moral compass and no guiding sense of right and wrong. In other words, when all beliefs and practices are given equal weight, the “algorithm” of leading a moral, good life dissolves. How might we use the metaphor of algorithms to further interrogate notions of freedom, structure, and agency in the world?
            On a last note, I’m not entirely convinced that the ideology of power/knowledge might NOT actually be at the root of the logic of desire.

Amber R. Reed, University of Pennsylvania