All _Perspectives

12/15/2021 _Perspective

The Divine as Non-Binary

The Ambiguous Transpoetics of Three Trans, Genderfluid and Genderqueer Figures from Hindu Mythology

s/he around shiva’s neck is a ring of moonflowers. ardhanarishwara, part-man, part-woman, shiva & parvati are fused in the same body. a divine union. their third eye of liquid fire opens like a crimson mouth, from which      songs of wrath & serenity emerge. snakes   garland their one-breasted torso            just as the flowers do but brighter, more luminous, scales a pearly silver under the moon. the moon itself is mounted    on shiva-parvati’s head, the ganga crashing down to earth from their long, black hair  in a shining rush of cacophonic water                    that thunders like        the sky does before lightning. the river of life, the river that gives life. relentless. but shiva-parvati sit undisturbed, lost in the ecstasy  of meditation, of dhyan, the mirror-clear contemplation   of the universe. a constellation of thoughts as   distant & irrelevant to us as the galaxies spinning outwards from their joint mind. their loins are half-phallus & half-vulva, half-shisna & half-yoni, simultaneously conceiving & birthing      the world as we know it:           matter & energy                        particle & wave.   when I was a child, I felt    small in comparison, dwarfed by the enormity of this unified being, the masculine & the feminine rendered pointless by a beauty so immense that under its weight, cracks of want appeared in my psyche — I wanted this. I wanted to be neither, to be both. I wanted to be garlanded by snakes, tied to this mortal realm only by a bond as insubstantial as that necklace of flowers,                held here only by love & not by      any duty beyond that, any duty to shape or form, logic or illogic. I wanted to contemplate   & become the universe as they did. I wanted to sing & for my songs to become fire, for my dancing      to become destruction, for my flesh to glow   like a blood-red kiln & for sparks to glance off my skin        as it melted away, leaving only the bronze gleam of my spirit within:                         becoming nataraja       as I danced away the limitations of body & mind. let the humans keep me now. let them                                      try.   translations ardhanarishwara: half-woman and half-man dhyan: concentration, particularly in the context of meditation shisna: penis yoni: vagina nataraja: another name for Shiva, generally used to refer to his dancing form  …

12/15/2021 _Perspective

(Re-)Negotiating Ambiguity’s (Added) Value(lessness)

1_Capacity and Openness are not the Same as Ambiguity. Refuse Ambiguity. [22]  (David J. Getsy) Abstract art is often considered ‘ambiguous’ due to its openness and capaciousness. Even though this sometimes sounds like a compliment, it is not. More often, it is used to avoid confronting the particularities and complexities proposed by an abstract form and others’ investments in it. The same intransigent form can and does mean differently for different viewers. To call this situation ‘ambiguous’ is to fall back into hopeless subjectivism and avoidance. Instead, let’s call this situation ‘competing’ to show how much it is in the viewer’s incomplete attempt to classify that differences emerge and that supposedly stable taxonomies unravel amidst contestations and divergences of reception. Nominations of ambiguity are nothing more than declarations of resignation. We call something ambiguous when we give up on it and when we avoid committing to learning about all that does not fit into our categories. Objects, people, texts, events, and acts are not themselves ambiguous. They are particular, inassimilable, unorthodox, unprecedented, or recalcitrant. To invoke ‘ambiguity’ is to flee from the confrontation with something that does not easily fall into one’s patterns of knowing. This act of exhausted reading disrespects the particularity of that which is before us and instead writes it off as being at fault — as being unknowable, indiscernible, and incompletely categorizable. ‘Ambiguity’ is safe to invoke, because it places blame for our own limitations elsewhere. It is a method of deflection and scapegoating. It enables us to throw up our hands and beat a hasty retreat from confronting how limited our categories and systems are. After all, what do we really mean when we say something or someone is ambiguous? We mean that we cannot read, cannot identify, and cannot classify. Instead, I want to uphold the particularity and inscrutability that the backhanded slur ‘ambiguous’ attempts to manage. I want to see that particularity as a challenge to systems of knowing. ‘Ambiguous’ as an invocation or description merely signals the limitations of the one who would deploy that term. This does not mean I want everything clear and in its place. Quite the opposite: I want to embrace the radical particularity that always exceeds and undermines taxonomies. This is a queer stance, for it denies the applicability or the neutrality of those taxonomies as adequate representations of the world’s complexity. Rather, they are artificial impositions…

12/15/2021 _Perspective

Covering Surveillance

The Visualization of Contemporary Surveillance on Scholarly Book Covers

Fig. 1: The cover of Aziz Choudry’s (ed.) Activists and the Surveillance State combines imagery of vision and sound. 1_Introduction In their editorial to this issue of On_Culture, guest editors Wolfgang Hallet and Wibke Schniedermann foreground an essential question concerning the historical specificity of contemporary surveillance cultures: “How do films and other media visualize the invisible processes of surveillance?” [127] Our _Perspective deals with this question in a self-reflexive fashion in that we suggest examining the book covers of scholarly publications from the field of surveillance studies. We are interested in how these book covers illustrate the dilemma of visualizing the increasingly less visible phenomenon of surveillance. Our ideas are grounded in the emerging interdisciplinary field of invisibility studies, which is especially interested in the shifting contemporary configurations of what is regarded as visible and what is not. [128] Within surveillance studies, it follows up in particular on Jonathan Finn’s 2012 study of the representation of surveillance in stock imagery. If surveillance is “the dominant organizing practice of late modernity,” [129] surveillance is also “a fundamentally narrative act,” as Betiel Wasihun has argued. [130] Its deep structure is defined not only by the transformation of one state of affairs to another but by metaphors of vision, visibility, and invisibility. At first glance, this does not seem to apply to the current importance of “dataveillance,” [131] the forms of which increasingly subsume more traditional modes of audiovisual surveillance. Yet attempts to grasp the specificity of contemporary regimes of surveillance such as the “global eye” cannot escape the visual dimension. [132] This thesis is strikingly illustrated by Jeff Coons’s video contribution to this issue of On_Culture, “GlobalEyes,” which assembles publicly available CCTV camera footage. [133] It is further supported by the contribution by Martin Hennig and Miriam Piegsa, who argue that contemporary media representations of dataveillance in films, documentaries, and video games employ certain recurring visual metaphors based on the “[p]ersonalization and spatialization” of dataveillance. [134] The general cultural relevance of concepts of visibility and invisibility has been highlighted in this issue of On_Culture by Wasihun, who links these abstract ideas to the social dimension of shame. Emphasizing that contemporary dataveillance makes “the question of how to define interiority […] even more urgent,” she convincingly argues that the “concepts of visibility and invisibility […] are not outdated in the context of dataveillance.” [135] The advent of post-panoptic surveillance thus certainly marks a…

07/30/2021 _Perspective

Watch Your Back, Girl!

The Story Behind The Dress for the Hunchbacked Girl by Poetic Designer Kamila Iżykowicz

While I was designing and cutting a classic dress, my tutor asked, “Why aren’t you cutting this straight? You don’t have a hunchback.” Rather than inform her of the multiple operations to correct my scoliosis, I thought, “Well, what if I did?” The Dress is a dialogue with my own disability, an exploration of an alternate present without the corrective procedures that rendered my disability invisible. It was made by draping material on a specially created model using cut-outs from the classic dress. It’s a design that asks inherently political questions of society’s relationship with disability and beauty standards. Fig. 1: The Dress for the Hunchbacked Girl. | Image: Irina Grishina & Kamila Iżykowicz, model: Viktoriia Zybina, set: Kamila Iżykowicz. “A very special date for all your calendars – save the date!” I just found out that we’re in the middle of International Scoliosis Awareness Month and that there’s a specially dedicated day on 27th June. [165]. As instructed, I saved the date. It was surprising to find that I’d never heard of this awareness campaign for my lifelong, agonizing health condition, and even more of a surprise to find its online literature accompanied by an image of a woman holding the face of a young girl, forcing it into a fake smile. “International Scoliosis Awareness Day (ISAD) falls on the last Saturday of each June. It’s a very special day for all of your calendars – save the date 27th June 2020” | Image: Scoliosis Association UK. [166]I spent a long time thinking about what I might have in common with this image, what it represents, and – as an art historian once upon a time – how best to read the message behind this visual representation. Having suffered from severe scoliosis my entire life, a condition which put me through a very special kind of physical and mental hell, why couldn’t I understand what this picture was meant to be saying? Convinced it was some kind of mistake, I began to draft a message to the association promoting the awareness campaign, in a bid to find out what was going on, but finally I couldn’t bring myself to send it. I guess it was because I secretly knew what the image meant. I just didn’t really want to say it out loud. When you are ‘disabled,’ there is always someone that you have to lean on, someone who…

07/30/2021 _Perspective

Quarantined Voices

On the Transformative Impact of COVID Narratives at a Time of Crisis

1_The Story of a Year As I sit at my desk in the winter of 2021 in my home in New Jersey, USA, thinking of the story of COVID, and, also of my story of COVID, that has emerged over the past year, I struggle to find a starting point. There are many places I might begin. But this story has never been told before and its ending has not yet occurred. The uncertainty of the unfolding story throws the entire story into flux. Every day we hear new information, as well as heart-wrenching stories of illness and loss in the United States set into fatal motion in the final year of the presidency of Donald Trump. But that is not my only obstacle. I am writing with long-haul COVID, and this intellectual project is mentally taxing in a way I did not anticipate so far into my illness. As we embark on an exploration of COVID narratives, of the shapes they are taking, and of the impacts they have already had, my struggle to begin is both relevant and ironic. Indeed, we are deep in uncharted waters that have called for innovative collaborative narrative forms emerging within the uniquely limiting contexts of the global pandemic. Let’s begin here, a year after the first documented cases of COVID-19 hit the United States. Media outlets have recently reported on the experience long haulers have lived for months — that COVID patients in the grips of relentless illness have found one another online, sharing their despair and their stories with each other. In her piece for The Washington Post, Kelsey Ables delves into the isolation of COVID patients: “They face doctors who don’t believe them; media that often ignore them; friends and family who don’t understand why they aren’t better; and a virus that, with each passing month, pushes them deeper into the unknown.” As Melanie Montano, administrator for the well-known COVID-19 group on Slack, puts it, “We’re not dead but we’re not living.” [167] Dozens of social media groups for COVID patients have formed; many offer general support while others are for more specialized groups, such as parents of children with long COVID or those suffering from brain fog. Such forums offer places where patients are seen and heard. Many people write posts that begin with statements such as, I am new here. This is my story. Others write in desperation,…