Archive for » December, 2012 «

When someone says his or her argument isn’t political

Via the tumblr phdstress, via el–ee

When someone says his or her argument isn’t political.

This exact thing happened at 4S 2012 during a talk claiming that synthetic biology experimenters recombining the materials of human life can be understood as practicing queer kinship. True the two hold in common the reconstruction of relations, especially geneological ones, between living things. But, some audience members feeling like Britney here commented, queer kinship is also about conviviality and care between often vulnerable people, not the hacker oriented celebration of catalyzed evolution that the synthetic biologists were practicing. When the audience membered queried the stakes of making queer kinship and synthetic biohacking commensurable, the speaker answered that her project was not a politically engaged one.

If you’re going to build your project on queer kinship theories in anthropology and feminist philosophies of knowledge, then you need to take on board the assumption that your project — just like your synthetic biologists’ projects — are political.

Kurt Vonnegut, “burn this letter”

I was shocked by the casual sexism and racism in Vonnegut’s personal letter:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2012/11/20/kurt_vonnegut_the_author_s_advice_for_a_friend_about_to_teach_at_the_iowa.html

He uses a derogatory racial term for East Asians, refers to the Taiwanese woman as a “mistress” of a famous white male writer (a person who I believe was actually a famous writer herself, and married to the Director of the Writer’s Workshop, a less well-known writer internationally than she was). And he refers to the (apparently common practice) of famous (male) visiting writers casually sleeping with (presumably young female)¬†undergraduates , warning his friend that their parents were still watching.

I guess it shouldn’t be shocking to remember that so many DWMs were prejudiced, and that most people thought nothing of using racial slurs and sexist objectification. But the casual & sexist use of the racist term used by American military in Vietnam was especially jarring.

Zelda has done some really great work on sexism in art (like her piece Galileo in America, where Galileo’s daughter challenges some of Brecht’s famous reliance on the invisible labour of women).

It also made me think about Vonnegut’s instruction to burn the letter — clearly he knew he was talking trash; finding this is sort of like seeing those thousands of personal emails exchanged (on gmail!) by Petraeus and other high-placed security officials. It isn’t just electronic media that has shown up the imaginations of the private-public divide to be a figment of our Victorian imaginations.