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With Boobies

I originally thought I would title this post: “Does Anyone at the New Yorker Actually Know How to Read?” but decided that was slightly too inflammatory. But I’m still baffled at this 2009 post, which I recently stumbled on over there:

 

It’s not the article itself that’s the problem—that at least is a readable and informed look back at the British physician Alex Comfort and his landmark 1972 book The Joy of Sex. The pretext for this article is the release of a new edition of The Joy of Sex, and there’s a good deal of ‘then and now’ stuff in it, leading up to the predictable conclusion that The Joy of Sex has been largely supplanted both by its own success as an educational manual (“What was revolutionary in 1972 seems obvious now”) and by the internet, our collective library of erotica and porn past and present.

Along the way, author Ariel Levy rightly criticizes The Joy of Sex for its—how do I put this without using words like heteronormative or phallocentric?—well, for what she flags as “the feel of a penis propaganda pamphlet.” She goes on to mention the “feminist alternative” to Joy of Sex, the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective’s Our Bodies, Ourselves, which was published a year before The Joy of Sex. Together and separately, these two books changed the terms of debate about sexuality in America by directly attacking the culture of misinformation surrounding it.

And this is why I’m still scratching my head. Here is an article written at a moment when women in America are having to refight many of the very same issues of the 1970s that prompted these two books—control over one’s own body, right to abortion, freedom from reflexive victim-blaming in rape cases, normalization of plastic surgery, to name just a few. And even as the author clearly respects The Joy of Sex as a mass education project, she also calls out Comfort for his various blind spots (homosexuality, for one). So what is the thumbnail image that accompanies this essay? In case you skipped right over it as one so often does with this kind of graphical window dressing:

Yep. In close-up. You might almost say, objectified.

I recognize the style: it’s either a Tom Wesselmann painting or a pastiche of one. I’d guess it’s the latter since reverse-image look-up doesn’t lead to any other versions of this image on the web other than those leading back to the New Yorker. And even more because the image itself is both uncredited and unlinked.

Wesselmann made his name as a Pop artist in the 1960s with a series called “The Great American Nude.” Here is a Wesselmann painting from that era that give a sense of his signature style:

Tom Wesselmann, “Bedroom Painting 2″, 1968

Feminists have long had a problem with Wesselmann’s work—the eyeless, supine naked women, the fixation on erogenous zones and detached body parts. At the very least this thumbnail is a puzzling choice to accompany an article about two books whose goals included, among other things, helping women to stop seeing themselves as a bunch of body parts intended solely for male pleasure. Way to undercut your own essay, guys. (Unless I’m missing some kind of twee irony here, which I certainly hope is not the case.)

So this is how I found myself wondering about the reading comprehension of the website’s art designer—or perhaps, this being the New Yorker, there is actually an entire Department of Thumbnail Iconography that makes these decisions at weekly closed-door meetings. Whoever it was, I suspect they may have leapt on this one sentence as the key to picking an accompanying image:

The Joy of Sex redux becomes generic—Cook’s Illustrated with boobies.”

With boobies, indeed.

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Collaboration and Authorship

Do you collaborate? What have your experiences been like? Are you struck by the ways in which humanists cite Foucault’s “What is an Author?” and enjoy demolishing (in theory) the myth of the heroic-male-solo-author, and then proceed (in practice) to make sure that the infrastructure of academic productivity rewards only the solo author performance?
Here’s one of the many articles that have appeared on this topic in academic publication outlets:

Friends With Benefits

Written by two philosophers, this essay has a title that’s a bit annoying (for its adolescent humor – really, is collaboration like an experiment in alternative sexual practices? Does that make scientists promiscuous, and humanists traditional monogamists?), and fails to mention that Helen Keller was a socialist from the deep South (complicated political economic considerations would be required to wrap that around the “wise blind girl” image). But it’s a useful think-piece and might be a spur to generating discussion. For example, their concluding point applies nicely to both the labor of teaching and of writing:
“We have to actually care when others don’t grasp our point … We cannot do this by ourselves.”
It’s a pretty simple point. But the infrastructures of humanist academia tend to work against recognizing it. So collaboration remains in the space of invisibilized labor. The work of rendering opaque that which should be transparent might also be called the work of mystification.

What would the labor of de-mystification look like?

The Future of Difference Engines?

We here in the Difference Engine room are talking a bit about the future of this space. We’ll be meeting over dinner May 21 in Orange County to discuss. The purpose of this blog has been to provide a forum for developing feminist, critical, and transnationally oriented understandings of technology, science, and technoculture — and for doing it safely (anonymously when necessary) and in public. We never wanted to be the most famous blog in the world. We imagined perhaps that more people might step out of the woodwork to write, comment and discuss. These and other issues will be discussed.

If you have thoughts and energy to share, email blogladies@differenceengines.com or comment here.

CFP for 4th Handbook of Science and Technology Studies

Our friend deuxlits tipped us off that the editors of the upcoming Handbook of Science and Technology Studies seek chapter proposals, and in particular are interested in global technoscientific phenomona.

These handbooks get referenced a lot so this seems like a good chance to interject examinations of engines of difference from a Difference Engines point of view. See the full CFP

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Notes from The Future of the Capitalist City

Here are some comments I made at the recent meeting of the American Association of Geographers in downtown LA. The Westin Bonaventura (search Jameson, postmodernism if you don’t remember his rant about architectural anti-democratic design and downtown LA) was the site of more lefty urban theorists than you could dream of.

This panel was called “The Future of the Capitalist City,” organized by NYU PhD candidate Daniel Cohen, who invited me to do the introduction. I’m so glad he did, as it was a blast seeing so many marxists at the art-deco Biltmore.    

So we started with:  “How might we think about the future of the city, and think it in conjunction with the future of capitalism?”

more »

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UCFemTechNet conference being livestreamed now

A group of organizers across the UC are discussing new directions in feminist technology studies. Speakers include Anne Balsamo, Lisa Parks, Kelly Gates, Adele Clarke, and more!

Livestreaming here today and tomorrow

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Remote work: Creativity, innovation, unmanned bulldozers, and faculty governance

Fascinating article about Cornell-Technion partnership to build NYC tech campus. It’s going to be organized as a hub for interdisciplinary work, like the WW2 RAD labs Peter Galison and Fred Turner have written about.

Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York, told The Jewish Week that Technion’s partnership with Cornell “is of strategic importance in terms of positioning Israel not only in America, but all over the world, as a bastion of creativity and innovation.” He added that “When Americans think of Israel, overwhelmingly the first thing that comes to mind is the association with conflict, the fact that Israel is in dispute with its neighbors.”

Technion is a top international university particularly strong in developing military technologies. Israel is a top exporter of drones. And Technion developed unmanned bulldozers.

Why would someone need an unmanned bulldozer? <pause> Hrm? Search Rachel Corrie just for a start.

Cornell faculty and students are angry that this partnership has gone through without even a debate among faculty who, by school bylaws, are to approve cross-school educational policy.

For those of us studying creativity and innovation cultures, the consul general is explicitly binding togetherinnovation economy diplomacy to Israel’s military actions and racialized exclusion of Palestinians. It’s not even entirely surprising, since a lot of the cultures of creativity we celebrate today, Fred Turner teaches us, came right out of military technology research into networks and ballistics systems.

The unmanned bulldozer also seems like another important data point in governmental policies that use science and technology to reduce citizen involvement in warmaking, taking it out of our political domain into relatively closed-door security decisions. I wonder what else moving the human out of the bulldozer and into a control center somewhere was meant to accomplish?
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When someone tells you to put innovation in a funding application

phdstress:

image

Given the association between innovation and masculine Silicon Valley cultures, I totally feel for humanistic scholars who feel like they need to invoke that language to get support for their work. We need critical inquiry into cultures of “innovation.”

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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.

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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.