POTLUCK identity as representation biological memory affect palatability disability innate display yearning narrative transaction death
Potluck: Identity As
A CVSN Anthology Featuring New Work From: Luke Kindle Senja Toivonen Julia Tong Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong Mikaela Williams Jack Thayer Jesse Ly Maria Marotta
Potluck: Identity As is the fifth in a series of publications from the Critical Visions Certificate Program at the University of Cincinnati, PO Box 210380, Cincinnati, OH, 45221-0380.
CVSN is produced in the Critical Visions capstone as the culminating experience of the Critical Visions Certificate Program. Established in 2011 by Stephanie Sadre-Orafai and Jordan Tate, the cross-college undergraduate curriculum is a joint endeavor between faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences and College of Design, Architecture, Art, & Planning at the University of Cincinnati that seeks to teach students how to effectively combine critical theory and social analysis with art, media, and design practice. Sadre-Orafai and Tate co-direct the program from the Department of Anthropology and the School of Art.
Typefaces: Minion 3, Avenir Next Condensed
Contents Negotiating Animal Selves 01 Where I am Today 25 Palatability 39 Sounding, Feeling, Dancing 61 To Be Curated 83 Images of Authenticity 105 Of Memory & Methodology 117 The Persistence of Longing 141
Introduction What is identity, and why do we need to dwell on it? The authors of this anthology have dedicated a semester to exploring a multitude of topics connecting to the ambiguity that is identity. Through collective and individual questioning, they have put together an anthology filled with essays and creative projects. Many chapters are personal to some degree, as a class we found the intersection between our interests and our research to be a profound and worthwhile endeavor about which to write. CVSN encouraged us to probe deeper in the underpinnings of our own identity. What facets of life forms an understanding of the “self ’? We began by asking questions: does geography inform identity? Language? Fashion? Family? Health? Tragedy? It quickly became clear that many answers - was too formidable for a concise conclusion. Identity as a theme can be intimidating to approach. Its vastness and complexity often confuse those who set out to write under the umbrella of identity. In the process of writing and researching for this anthology, each of the authors encountered multiple discourse, methodologies, and systems for understanding our broader theme.
“But, importantly, it demonstrates the mess of identity, the endless unproductive/productivity of searching—making us laugh while doing it, and leaving us with so many freaking questions.” Brianna Figueroa, “Identity is Entirely Bullshit and Undeniably Real” In the end, we understood that identity is shaped by a duality of thought. We come to know ourselves through both personal introspection and how other perceive us. Consequently, while researching for the publication, the authors had to examine themselves as well as how others might perceive them. The CVSN certificate program uniquely prepared these students to use different forms of seeing in order to more critically examine the ideas surrounding identity today, outside of personal experience. Additionally, these topics were shifted and formed by our circumstances, both in collaboration and isolation during a time of crisis (as half of the semester was spent in-person, and half spent online due to COVID-19). The world slowed down during the pandemic. Our research on identity suddenly became imperative to us as the population stood still. Many had nowhere to go but inward; nothing to do but peer into themselves.
With such a personal theme, the eight projects work to blend the intimate with the academic. In doing so, each student was challenged to explain a piece of their own identity from a new lens. The result is a range of topics covering the relationship of identity to animal selves, disability, palatability, music and culture, curation, social media, memory, and longing. The central theme of identity connects the projects found in this volume, but the breaths in between also serve as an important connection tool to link ideas from one chapter to another. The result of brainstorming, relationship-building, laughter, and an abundance of whiteboard lists, they serve as lighthearted breaks in between sometimes vulnerable and complex topics. From animal selves to disability and palatability, we are thinking about the ways in which identity can connect with the idea of agency â&#x20AC;&#x201C; how we might define ourselves and others in new forms, new expressions that emphasize agency and reconsider the power structures of who is doing the defining. From there music and culture, curation bring the anthology to the idea of cultural capital, considering. In the concluding essays, social media, memory, and longing, authors consider the introspective and more vulnerable parts of identity.
There have been four CVSN publications prior to this, the most recent, Surface, invited thought about how broader audiences can access/share/respond to their production. This publication responds to the question posed with a digital format. The ninth year of the Critical Visions program took up the challenge, though necessarily by choice, of publishing online. A pandemic and the world of social distancing demanded we answer the questions of how to support the longevity and sustainability of the program while doing so remotely. Potluck: Identity As is the first CVSN publication to be published online. The platform Issuu offers a native experience on desktop, mobile web, app, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and all other social media. While we wish we could have created a physical edition, we invite you to engage with us in this new, and distanced, normal we are all experiencing. Thank you to the editors, and our professor Samantha Krukowski, for lending your time, thoughts and energy to assist us in the making of this publication during these uncertain times. And thank you, reader, for spending time with this publication. Though our semester did not follow our original plan(s), we persevered and are proud of the work we have produced. We hope you and your loved ones are safe and well.
Negotiating Animal Selves Strategies Toward Knowing the Other
Negotiating Animal Selves Who Are You? A year prior to beginning the research and writing for this piece, I was hammering away at a body of work in my studio, trying to put out a set of images or performances that could provide some kind of resolution to how I was to think about non-human animals. What would it be like to be another animal? How would I communicate with one? How are our separate bodies different and alike—and what bearing do they have on our interior lives? Naturally, these questions swirled into the kind of infinite regress one is presented with when thinking about other minds in the abstract. Serendipity, however, provided a companion and a ground for this effort by way of a stray dog that had been living in the disused industrial lots near my studio building. Since that February, this thirty-pound adoptee has become the site of further curiosities regarding the interior lives of animals and the possibilities of human-nonhuman communication. As a stray, and as with many dogs and their humans, his life before me is entirely and eternally unknown to me. It does seem at times
to be much the same case with regards to his life alongside me as well. Our communication doesn’t happen on a leveled or uniform playing field—it happens across the stretch of negotiated speech, observation, and learned and unlearned behaviors that manifests between two sensitive young men of different species living together in a studio apartment. As much as I can learn from observation about his likes and dislikes, his fears, his habits, and his rationalities, the actual nature of his being and his personal experience remains in many ways inaccessible. Often at night after I pat the bed and he jumps up to lie down in the space next to me, I lay there wanting to know- and I’m sure I’ve asked it aloud in the dark roomWho are you?
Who are non-human animals? Rather, in what ways might we extend to non-humans notions of identity traditionally ascribed to humans? Approaches to such a question can be found in a range of studies across the humanities, though the ascription of internal lives to animals often requires an upending or annexing of well-established scientific or cultural notions of humans and human experience. In addition to identifying these workable parallels between ourselves and
animals, it is also necessary to find ways by which we might change our behavior based on a closer knowing of animal experiences. The goals of this essay are to survey strategies toward understanding animal selfhood as similar to or distinct from human identity and experience and to illustrate ways by which these methods can be put into action. Additionally, I will address the prevailing struggle inherent to attempting to understand other minds and stake claims of purpose in this endeavor as a whole.
How Might We Think about Consciousness and Thinking? Checking Under the Hood with Nagel et al Foundational to this search for the self in the non-human other is philosopher Thomas Nagel’s 1974 What Is It Like to Be a Bat?. In the essay, he writes of the certainties and uncertainties inherent to considering the consciousness of other living things. He uses the experience and physiology of the bat as a foil to humans’, as they are near enough to us as mammals that their experiences are not unthinkable, but remain quite unlike us due to their nocturnality and echolocation.1 Nagel’s claim for animal consciousness, which unravels into a series of problems, resolutions, and resignations, is that if something has the capacity for experience, then there is something it is like to be that thing.2 This claim, simple, remarkably un-
Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” The Philosophical Review 83, no. 4 (1974): 438
academic, and easily digestible, is the foundation of what much of the discussion in the writing I will do here rests upon. The bulk of What Is It Like to Be a Bat? focuses chiefly on our inability to know the answer to the question, and by extension, our inability to understand other minds or experiences. The insoluble problem of knowing anything beyond one’s own mind is not Nagel’s own, but his extension of consciousness to animals within the discussion of it forms the basis for the curiosities addressed throughout this essay. It will be necessary to find ways we might form inklings of understanding and make peace with this problem, but it does bear unpacking what the “capacity for experience” and the “something” of “something it is like to be that thing” above can and do entail. As for one model of how we might consider “what” it is like to be something, semiotics’ umwelt3 is a well-trod concept often referred to when presented with a problem such Ibid., 436: Specifically, Nagel states that “…the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something it is like to be that organism…. fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism- something it is like for the organism.”
Often translated from German as “environment” or “surroundings” 4 Jakob Von Uexküll. “A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men.” in Instinctive Behavior, ed. Claire H. Schiller (Madison, Connecticut: International University Press, 1957) 319-320 5 Ibid., 321-323 3
as Nagel’s; it is a being’s set of environmental factors or objects and the corresponding meanings it makes from and applies to them. Put less semiotically, one’s umwelt is one’s surroundings as they are experienced by them. Jakob von Uexküll, a German biologist, first described the notion in his A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men (1934) as the closed unit formed by a being’s “perceptual” and “effector” tools4 (i.e. its organs which perceive its environment and its organs which allow it to react to its environment). He illustrated this model on a small scale, the conception of the limited umwelt of a female tick—the molting and mating, the climbing,
the lying in wait, the smell of butyric acid (a substance found in sweat and produced by the skin of mammals), the jump, the temperature change of a warm body, and the feeding and laying of eggs.5 It is important to reiterate here that Uexküll was a biologist, rather than a philosopher or psychologist6—his tick is a biological and semiotic machine, which responds to what it can and what it must to lay its eggs and ultimately die. Uexküll’s physiological call-and-response indeed somewhat fulfills Nagel’s question and, by extension, my own, no? Surely, given an indefinite amount of time, I could record and enumerate a complete grand list of environmental factors 6 It would not be my dog faces, along with his unreasonable to think, body’s response to them, however, that, in the and surely this would be early 20th century the lines between these one possible strategy toward practices could have and understanding who he is and did blur often. the nature of his internal experience If we were to imagine it scaled to more and more complex beings, the umwelt’s “self ” is a sturdily semiotic construction- one of self-contained perception, meaning-making, and reaction. Perhaps the question here is one of complexity and order- where are we to begin considering self-hood as distinct from bio-machinery, and what are the measures of complexity in animals? If we already are speaking in terms of the self and have a decent reasoning that conscious experience is somehow concretely linked to an animal’s capacity for thinking and reacting, perhaps an empirical study of cognition provides the proof and measures needed.
Claims of animal consciousness in cognitive studies are the realm of Higher-Order Thought theory, which holds that proof of consciousness, as per definitions of it like Nagel’s, is based on the being in question’s ability to have thoughts regarding other thoughts or mental states. The theory’s position is that such thoughts, referred to in shorthand as I-thoughts, are the ground-zero of the umwelt’s exponential expansion in more and more complex animals In Animals, Consciousness, and I-thoughts, philosopher Rocco Gennaro argues for the presence of these mental states in animals and for the validity of the application of HOT theory as a measurement of consciousness, and against others’ cited assertions that some or all animals are incapable of having or exhibiting I-thoughts.7 While his argument proposes an identification of something resembling bits of human-like thought in nonhuman animals, its inverse is also pertinent here. Such mental states are inherently
a product of the complex physiological machinations discussed above and are therefore more broadly member-ofAnimalia-like than human-like. His writing points towards a host of studies that seek to measure certain, maybe fancifully termed, cognitive phenomena—time traveling and mind reading. Just as we have regarded my stray, Nagel’s hypothetical bat and Uexküll’s hypothetical tick, here we are to regard Gennaro’s quite 8 Gennaro, “I-thoughts,” 189: Here real scrub jays, Gennaro also proposes degrees dolphins, rats, of self-concepts or I-thinking, and apes. While listed as such- “1: I qua this thing (or “body”), as opposed to I will not delve other physical things. 2: I qua as deep into experiencer of mental states. 3: the data and I qua enduring thinking thing. 4: I qua thinker among other outcomes of the thinkers.” studies Gennaro cites as he did, I hope to use his examples in continuity with the strategies of the parsing-out of animal selfhood at hand in this writing. Time traveling in cognition is the ability to have thoughts about one’s self at another point in time. To time travel means that one can, in some capacity, understand its memories episodically and understand itself as something that endures through time.8 Such an understanding signifies a continuity in thinking, one possible component of conscious thought, rather than merely a mind which deals ad hoc with stimulus-and-response. Rocco J Gennaro. “Animals, Consciousness, and I-thoughts.” in The Philosophy of Animal Minds, ed. Robert W. Lurz (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2009) 184-185 7
In one study Gennaro cites, scrub jays, small foraging and foodstoring birds, were not only shown to recall when and where they had stored food on previous days, they were also shown to revisit specific caches based on preference and perishability (e.g. crickets, as opposed to seeds and nuts). Additionally, the study suggests that the birds tended to preferentially catch and store food in places they had learned they would be hungry the next morning. He does make clear that his intention is not to draw too far-off of conclusions about animal cognition from studies such as these, but does state that, based on their findings, there is little arguable reason to deny that some animals have a conscious awareness of themselves through time.9
Ibid., 190 Played-back audio frequencies and frequencyemitting underwater paddles, in the dolphins’ case. 12 Ibid. 10 11
9 Gennaro, “I-thoughts,” 188-189
Animal Selves 8
The second factor Gennaro describes, mind reading, is the capacity to attribute a mental state to one’s self or another.10 He writes of call-and-response exercises done with dolphins and apes, not unlike a game of Simon-says. During the study, an animal was presented with a sample stimulus and a variety of options to choose to respond with, one of which was, based on past training, matching and correct.11 However, in some cases the correct option was made to be difficult to distinguish and the animal was presented with another type of response, which, in the preparation for the exercise, it had been trained to understand as an “I don’t know” or “escape” response. In this study, dolphins, apes, and humans all chose “I don’t know” with similar frequency.12
In another study, rhesus monkeys were presented with food hidden beneath different containers, some of which made noise when upset and some which did not, with human competitors set nearby, but looking away or with their eyes or faces obscured. During the course of the trials, the monkeys showed preference to the quiet containers, aware of when the humans were and were not watching them.13 It is of note here that the capacities studies such as these seek to measure are also cited often as developmental milestones in human cognitive developmentâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;there are common points at which infants become aware of themselves as distinct beings separate from their parents. It is at these milestones that we begin to attribute agency and consciousness to them.
13 Gennaro, â&#x20AC;&#x153;I-thoughts,â&#x20AC;? 192
Gennaro’s overarching argument here is that these abilities—to see one’s self through time, to attribute thoughts or mental states to one’s self or others—are reasonable evidence of at least some degree of higher ordered, I-thought cognition. The caveat with interpreting many of these studies still, however, remains whether we ought to consider these I-thought exhibiting behaviors as evidence of consciousness in the same way we consider human consciousness. Gennaro’s conclusion, which turns the prevailing insolubility of non-human minds on its head, is that we remain wholly underequipped to study the nature of animal cognition and cannot deny other animals thoughtforms similar to ours only because we are unable to interface with the animals sufficiently enough to study them. While based in cognitive studies, Gennaro’s writing forms a real world, evidence-based foundation for more ontological claims about animal selfhood, or at least suggests that there exists a similar scaffolding to what we consider a valid construction of selfhood for humans in some nonhumans.
David Sztybel. “Animals as Persons.” in Animal Subjects: An Ethical Reader in a Posthuman World, ed. Jodey Castricano (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2008) 241 14
Animal Selves 10
Many of the studies cited focus on trainable or otherwise easily understood behaviors, but the question remains of behaviors outside of learned button-pushing and those of animals without human observers. Our understanding of animal selves must be such that it does not trail selfhood away from the qualities of humans to other animals, but rather from animals towards and alongside humans—how might we consider animal selves not in the terms of humans’, but rather consider self-hood as a trait birthed by all animals’ shared physiological or ontological intricacies?
Ethics as Applied to Other Minds One brief tack we could take to follow up on this question, and perhaps codify its rationale, is that of ethical reasoning. This is to say that, if we can claim to have reasonable proof that there is some physiological source of all animals’ shared self-hood, then we ought to make ethical claims against the arbitrary boundaries between human and non-human.
In Animals as Persons, David Sztybel makes such claims, addressing the deeply contested ethics and philosophy-enriched term “person” as the point of debate. Sztybel’s claim is that most definitions of persons, morally considerable beings, are “unacceptably anthropomorphic” and that common identifications of personhood with humanity, many of which center on vague notions of rationality or other capacities, are unjustifiable.14
He describes the case of the chicken, an oft-cited animal ethics figure and his thought-experiment animal of choice, to demonstrate his claim to personhood here, whose experience of “pain” must inarguably be considered a “personal experience”. Sztybel rests his claims regarding personhood on more or less the same grounds as Nagel’s argument of consciousness in animals:
15 Sztybel, “Animals as Persons,” 248
Animal Selves 12
1. If we had an animal’s experience of pleasure or pain, we would immediately call that a “personal experience”. 2. Since our experience would be generically idenatical with that of the animal, the animal’s own experience has sufficient characteristics to be considered a “personal experience’’ as well. 3. Therefore, animals have personal experiences. 4. Personal experiences can only be attributed to persons, not things. 5. Therefore, animals are persons.15
As of now, we may have strategies which provide some semblance of proof for the existence and validity of animal consciousness, or rather, we may have defined words better and made clearer a way by which to think about selves in animals. What it may be like to be, say, a bat, a tick, a scrub jay, a rhesus monkey or my adopted stray, is formed, beyond any reasonable argument, by a highly complex physiological-semiotic structure inherently capable of some degree of thought-form, the essence of which presents itself in connected or adjacent ways across all animal species, the adjacency and definition of which is proved by the capacity for experience. Yet, has Nagel’s question—as to what it is actually like to be, say, a bat—been answered, or merely elaborated upon?
Closed Safes and Insolubility It is necessary to address the prevailing insolubility of this question when approached by philosophical or empirical means. As I hope has become evident thus far, any and all discussion of this kind is both capped at the ends with the insistence that there is no justifiable reason not to extend the trappings of experience and consciousness to animals, and is supported by a refusal of preexisting notions of hierarchy and human exceptionalism. These discussions are unconcerned with what it may be like, in an experiential sense, to hang upside-down in a cave among a colony of other bats or glide through the cool night air, or how the bat itself feels about these things—and for a good reason. Besides the obvious fact that such considerations are more the purview of other types of inquiry, they are also contained behind the closed doors of differing physiologies. Nagel’s bat can, for example, echolocate objects in the dark, an ability for which there is no suitable human analogue.
Nagel spends the latter half of What is it Like to be a Bat? exploring the space of this unknowability, his principal point being that there can still be truth found in things we cannot understand. He adds yet another entry to our rapidly growing zoo of thought-experiment animals: consider a safe, completely empty, into which a caterpillar is placed, and say this safe was to be closed and locked for an amount of time and then reopened, containing a butterfly. Naming semantics and our real understanding of insect metamorphosis aside, his claim is that the only truth we have is that the caterpillar went in and the butterfly came outâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;what occurred in the safe is in the realm of speculation. Perhaps the butterfly is the adult form of a small parasite that ate the body of the caterpillar?16
Likewiseâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;perhaps gorillas and dolphins do indeed not have I-thoughts and are just very apt at being trained for certain exercises in studies. Futility is an earmark of any endeavor to understand the interior experiences and identities of other animals, but there is a case to be made for the value of carrying out such an effort over the efficacy of the effort itself.
Animal Selves 14
Nagel, Bat, 448
Making Peace with Walls, Looking Through Windows I’d like to depart now from the restrictions of Nagel and his closed safe and speak on intentionality and the virtues of speculating about the invisible space inside the safe. It is apparent that the issue Nagel speaks of is our own, the lack of an all-knowing human viewpoint. The paradigm he works under builds on an application of the philosophical and esoteric to real beings with beating hearts, impulses, and emotions—so what of the practical? Would it not be sufficient to approach animals with the same consideration of interests that we extend to humans, assuming we have modes by which to ascertain those interests? Allow me to revisit my dog for a moment, here. While I cannot communicate with him through my own spoken language, I can surely make workable assumptions based on our closeness and attention toward each other. I think of the impulsivity and separation anxiety that comes from being a young dog and having been a stray for some amount of time and I think back to my childhood and how I felt then—this must be similar, no?—anxious, relying on other figures for structure and safety, often uncertain or confused. I can only assume that so much of his life now is also consumed with blankness and a significant amount of waiting—sitting until I return home
or come back out to the car, waiting and waiting to be fed or to be let out to pee, being held in rapt attention by a flattened palm and a “stay”. He must have some concept of home and routine as I do, and surely feels some way about the food he is given and the games we play.
The distinction I would like to make here between my line of inquiry and those of Nagel, Gennaro, Sztybel, and others, is that of the self and that of holism and actionability. While a personal understanding of other non-humans is built upon such philosophical and scientific understanding, the strategies I propose in the remainder of this writing are practical, tangible onesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;those which work to assign some kind of visuality to animalshaving-selfhood. With this in mind, my suggestion is that there are ways the previously discussed claims of unknowability can be sidestepped, and that there are truths, things of value, about non-human lives to be understood if one engages with them practically and visually (and perhaps accepts a certain degree of futility).
Animal Selves 16
On Making the Effort: Visuality and Practice A few years ago, I visited the University of Lexington’s Art Museum and was struck, for such reasons as those above, by a piece there—Alix Pearlstein’s GRASS.17 Projected in a darkened room was a long-form video of a group of mare and foal racehorses in a field. The horses moved from place to place, grazed, bothered their mothers and nudged their children, and sometimes looked straight on at the camera, 17 but there was http://www. alixpearlstein. never a human com/work/ observer in grass.html sight. In the prolonged vision, the horses were de-humanized (perhaps de-horse-ified?), becoming more and more unlike domesticated things and more like individual animal figures, tethered to us only by the bridles they still wore. Such a transformation forms as much of an understanding of animal experience and animal visuality as the previously discussed texts had to offer. The work
brought to mind the writings of the early ecologist-conservationists from the turn of the 20th century, like Aldo Leopold, whose A Sand County Almanac made a case for the preservation of the American landscape by simply describing the day-to-day happenings of the local flora and fauna near his rural Wisconsin home through the changing of the seasons. This making-visible is an invaluable strategy towards considering and knowing the lives of non-humans. In a sort of domestic pastiche of Pearlstein’s piece, I choose to let my dog run collarless at home. In some small way, I am pushed to see him as less domestic, less like the glassy-eyed retriever on his food bag and less like something clear-cut and welldefined. Several months ago, he and I had a recurring conflict. He liked to sleep on my bed when I was out of the apartment, which was lovely, but he also liked to, on occasion and with increasing frequency, dig holes in the mattress. Whether this was play behavior or separation anxiety, I couldn’t have been sure. In an attempt to quash the conflict, I would leave him
Joshua Rothman, The Metamorphosis: What is it like to be an animal?, The New Yorker 18
In his Being a Beast, he simply acts as an animal would. In one section, he and his 8 year-old son go to live as badgers in the woods. They dug underground homes, withstood rainy weather, sampled the wide variety of earthworms available to badgers in the area, and lived low with their noses to the ground as badgers do, attempting to live in the experience of the animal’s earthy, musky umwelt.18
in another room and place a high gate in the doorway. After about a week of coming home to him on the other side of the gate and yet more mattress holes, I set up a camera to record what he was doing in my absence. I was presented with one video a day of him trying, failing, failing, and succeeding to clamber over my gate. Obviously, these did nothing to curb the behavior, but what a revelation! “Look at you!” In these videos, much in like those of Pearlstein’s horses, he was transformed to me somehow. He was an actor, an agent of his own intentions, not performing for sustenance or reward, but perhaps out of adherence to habit. To see a non-human animal, especially a domesticated one, act as it does sanshumans is revelatory and a privilege. If the first step in witnessing animal selves is visualizing the animal-asthey-are, then perhaps the next step in progression would be doing-asthey-do—witnessing their material
world as they do. Endeavors such as these, seeking to mimic animal behaviors or sensory experience, have long been the purview of popular science and shocking performance art, with a range of validity and accuracy. However, I would like to cite here a more empathetic and literal strategy in the work of veterinarian, medical ethicist, and writer Charles Foster.
While providing unique insight into the poetics of life as a non-human, Foster’s practice is also marked by its being incredibly accessible, requiring only a willingness to be sensitive to the world in a novel way. The approaches toward nonhumans in these more visual works are those of accessibility of means and of intimacy with their subjects. They point to an understanding based on observation and less human-centric ways of thinking. We are readily equipped to form personal understandings of the lives of non-humans around us— their experiences, their selves, are extent and measurable side-byside with our own. The notion that they are not is pessimistic at best. It is valuable and worthwhile for humans to make the effort to understand other animals more truly and to, perhaps, speculate on how it might be to experience life as another animal. To explore how a non-human might see and feel is as revelatory towards our understanding of them is as it is for our understanding of ourselves.
Animal Selves 20
This assemblage of works from Nagel to Foster provide some semblance of a thesis on how we might come to nonhuman animals with the intent of knowing them better. This thesis’ interest is functionally posthumanist, focused on the shared and hierarchal taxonomies between humans and other animals, seeking to remake such structures in service of a more animal or nature-centric truth. However, this thesis’ more fundamental function is that of proposing a more practical approach towards the epistemological struggle of knowing the “other”, through everyday sensitivity and closeness. This is to say that we are surrounded at all times, every day, by an infinite array of personal, interior worlds (umwelts, if you will), and we need only to open to and observe them to begin knowing them.
Where I am Today
(Psychiatric) Disability Identity in an Ableist World Senja Toivonen
Where I am Today The aesthetic of cuteness, although often overlooked, is surprisingly complex. Complex, in such a way, that we can relate the nature of cuteness to disability culture in an ableist society.
First of All To the normally-abled and, specifically, the differently-abled reader: how does your health and normativity, or otherwise, illness and difference, shape your identity? How much of your concept of self revolves around your abilities, or the things that hinder you? For the normally-abled reader, you might think your health and ability has nothing to do with your identity. After all, you’re “normal.” You won’t face discrimination when searching for jobs, or trying to enter a building. These things aren’t usually a challenge for you. But for some, like me, these can be great obstacles in day-to-day activity. These differences might inform our identity completely.
What does it mean to identify with a disability? Should we? Shouldn’t we?
My intent with this essay is to be as honest with you, reader, as possible and present you with research I have compiled and personal reflection. I can’t say I have a definitive answer. I can, however, present you with arguments for building disability into your identity, by sharing my own experience with you.
Over the years, I have accumulated diagnoses for a handful of different psychiatric disabilities. Some are considered to be what the medical community often refers to as “severe” mental illness. For the purpose of this essay, have chosen to not fully disclose my diagnoses in this essay. Not because I’m ashamed (I have been fortunate that my mental illness has not greatly negatively impacted my academic career and subsequent working life, perhaps enforcing feelings of “normativity” and not bringing upon shame, which I will discuss later.) Not because I want to be elusive and mysterious; but because it shouldn’t matter. I want you, specifically the differentlyabled, to understand whether or not you (and you alone) chose to build what I call a positive disability identity or not.
Throughout this essay, which chiefly focuses on psychiatric disability, I write about a lot of touchy subjects. I will debate person-first language (describing disability as something someone “has” rather than something someone “is”). To make myself clear: I will never advocate for offensive language or advise going against the language a person with a disability tells you, the normally-abled or differentlyabled reader, they prefer. I also recognize my own privilege here. My psychiatric disabilities, though they have upended my life in many ways, have been manageable. I caught some of the most severe ones in their early stages, grappling with them before they took over me. I recognize that my disabilities are invisible, which has its pros and cons. I don’t get stares from strangers on the street, but I do often get veiled judgement or treated differently when I disclose my diagnoses. I’ve even felt judgement from medical professionals.
Authority I’m writing this essay because almost a year and a half prior to the time this will be published, I was partially-hospitalized in a mental health and addiction treatment facility. I went because the therapy I was doing and the medication I was taking was helping, but it wasn’t helping enough. I had just gone through the most difficult years of my life, and my physical and mental health were rapidly deteriorating. I had dropped nearly 20 pounds, was extremely irritable and quick to start arguments, and so depressed I begun having suicidal ideations. The treatment center was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I was put on new medication, had group therapy (focusing on dialectical behavior therapy, otherwise known as DBT) all day long, got to go home to my mother’s house at night, and for the first time, felt not so alone, as I was surrounded by people going through hardships the same, if not worse, than my own.
Although I carry these memories with me, one thing stuck out to me. A woman, who worked at the center, spoke with my group one day and told us not to identify with our diagnosis. At the time, this made sense to me. She didn’t explain in-depth her reasoning behind this, or at the very least I can’t remember it well, but I do remember getting the sense that people, particularly those diagnosed with “severe” mental illnesses, such as myself, whom identified with their diagnosis were on a self-destructive path. Letting this 1 thing “define” them Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: meant limiting DSM-5. Arlington, VA: themselves; thinking American Psychiactric they were nothing Association, 2013. https:// doi-org.ccmain.ohionet. more than bipolar, org/10.1176/appi. or borderline books.9780890425596, The personality disorder, Cleveland Clinic. or schizophrenia. But who was this woman to tell me not to identify with my diagnosis (my disability)? Yes, she probably has a degree, if not several, in psychology or a related field. True, she works with patients with disabilities similar to mine every day. I can assume, given that my most major diagnosis affects only a slim percentage of the world’s population, 1 that she does not share my disability. And even if she did, am I to accept her proposition without questioning her authority over my identity?
Some cute objects or beings appear both unsophisticated/in need and simultaneously artful/aware, 2 as their simplicity/ vulnerability is apparent in their cuteness, but when twinged with an edge of power, the relationship between cute object or being and viewer complicate. Our first instinct is to nurture the cute object or being, 3 but in some cases, the cute object or being will reject this care in favor of independence and strength. Similarly, an ableist society often pities the differently-abled. However, the differentlyabled are capable of rejecting this pity through stigma
Simon May, The Power of Cute (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), 40. 3 May, The Power of Cute, 20. 2
For a long time, I didn’t question it. At least not until I heard the episode “Policing Language in Mental Health Communities” on Not Crazy, a podcast that focuses on mental illness. Jackie Zimmerman, Not Crazy co-host, was elaborating on phrases such as “I have a disability, my disability doesn’t have me,” to which she responded along the lines of, “No, my disability HAS me.” 4 I couldn’t help but think to myself, so true. Who would I be without the brainaltering medications I take every morning and every night? My diagnosis is severe, chronic, and something I deal with on a daily basis. True, it doesn’t necessarily define me, there are many things that define me. But this is a huge part of my life, and
consequently, perhaps, a huge part of my identity. Ultimately, the speakers on the podcast came to the conclusion that there are bigger things to worry about than person-first language and being “politically correct” (such as access to treatment for the poor and homeless). But we’re here to talk about language and disability identity.
Gabe Howard and Jackie Zimmerman, “Policing Language in Mental Health Communities,” Not Crazy, podcast audio, September 23, 2019, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/ podcast/were-back-the-not-crazy-episode/ d1360410451?i=1000450835583.
Autonomy and Language A recent article on language preferred within a small sector of the autistic community outlines that person-first language, particularly used by the medical community in research and clinical environments, “is preferable because it focuses on the identity and humanity of the individual rather than their disability.” The article also notes that person-first language has been recommended by the American Psychological Association. However, the authors go on to explain that person-first language has come under critique as it is argued that it “[accentuates] 5 Simon M. Bury et al. “‘It Defines disability and Who I Am’ or ‘It’s Something [perpetuates] I Have’: What Language do [Autistic] Australian Adults stigma,” [on the Autism Spectrum] inadvertently Prefer?” Journal of Autism implying and Developmental Disorders, (2020): https://doi.org/10.1007/ that having a s10803-020-04425-3. disability is a negative and should be separated from the individual. It also has been “noted that person-first language is used inconsistently, primarily to describe individuals with a disability and not thosewithout (e.g., ‘person with autism’ but not ‘person with typical development’)”. 5 Conversely, the article outlines an alternative to person-first language: identity-first language. Identityfirst language, essentially the opposite of person-first language, calls for integrating disability
Simon M. Bury et al. “‘It Defines Who I Am’ or ‘It’s Something I Have,’” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 7 Eric Toivonen (father) in discussion with the author, March 2020. 6
into the identification of a person (e.g. “autistic”). This language involves “deliberately ‘reclaiming’ the disability or diagnostic label as integral to [the person’s] identity.” 6 I asked my father, a person who nearly died of chronic, late-stage alcoholism in his mid-20s, whether he preferred the person-first approach (“person with substance abuse disorder”), or the identityfirst approach (“alcoholic”). He responded by saying he goes by “alcoholic.” When I asked him why he preferred the term, he responded “It’s not an easy, simple answer. Substance abuse disorder - chemical dependency, substance abuse - all of these are buzzwords that are made up by the medical and academic community. The term alcoholic doesn’t change for me. There’s a very specific language in how we [in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)] identify ourselves and a specific purpose behind that. And it is because we don’t ever want to forget where we came from because that is dangerous, nor do we live in the past either.” 7 He then handed me what in AA is called “the Big Book.” I read from Chapter 3: “Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think
Theorist Sianne Ngai underscores that “an aesthetic of smallness, helplessness, vulnerability, and deformity might find its prominence muted or checked in the cultural industries of a nation so invested in images of its own bigness, virility, health, and strength.” 9 We can relate this notion of being muted to disability culture in an inherently ableist society, as the differently-abled are often silenced and dismissed as “crazy,” specifically for those with psychiatric disability.
Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), 77-78.
recovery (the 12 Steps of AA). This is not the case in many disabilities, and many scholars, medical experts, and people with disabilities see disability as something to be celebrated, a natural development of human nature and a form of diversity, rather than something needing to be cured or pitied. 11 The first step in substance abuse recovery is identifying as an addict and/or alcoholic. Identifying, including introducing one’s self as an alcoholic/addict/etc. at the beginning of every meeting, assists on the mission to sobriety. “I need to never forget who I am and where I came from.” 12
Bill W., Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1976), 30
he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. … The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. ... We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.” 8
“Chapter 4: Substance Abuse under the ADA,” U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, accessed April 30, 2020, https://www.usccr. gov/pubs/ada/ch4.htm. 11 Elizabeth Barnes. “Valuing Disability, Causing Disability.” Ethics 125, no. 1 (2014): 88, doi3:10.1086/677021. 12 Eric Toivonen (father) in discussion with the author. 10
My father also noted the differences between substance abuse, which is classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 10 and other disabilities, mainly pointing out there is a known path to
Deconstructing Normativity In “Disability Identity Formation and Affirmation: The Experiences of Persons with Severe Mental Illness,” authors Steven J. Onken and Ellen Slaten define ableism as “the resulting set of assumptions and practices that systematically promote negative differential and unequal treatment of people because of apparent or assumed physical, mental, or behavioral differences which are labeled as disabilities.” Additionally, “These actions take the form of venting public discomfort and disapproval of people with disabilities: diagnosis, labeling, isolating, patronizing, taunting, harassing, and abusing.” 13 Public discomfort. What is it about disabilities that make us uncomfortable? Perhaps we can make sense of our collective “public discomfort” by understanding “The difference of having the disability does not have to be significant for it to be perceived as devaluing, particularly in a society that prizes perfection,” according to Onken and Slaten. 15 At first, I was all on board with this quote. But then I thought, what does it mean to be “perfect”? Are we, the differentlyabled, not perfect as is? The obvious answer would appear to be no. Of course not. We are not “normal.” It would be easy to argue that normalcy doesn’t exist. We all know that no one is 100% “normal.”
Ngai also highlights the implicit nature of violence in relation to cuteness (citing our often unchecked urges to squeeze, even to the point of damage, a cute object or being).14 Similarly, acts of violence, subliminal or outright, are enacted on the differently-abled every day in an ableist world.
However, this is not the reality. Every culture everywhere has a set of standards, of modes of operating, that has been decided to be normal. Generally, psychiatric disabilities, such as bipolar, borderline personality disorder, or schizophrenia, fall outside of the realm of normal. If we are to believe there is one definite, ubiquitous way of being, operating and existing, otherwise known as being “normal,” we are promoting stigma, prejudice, and the so-called “public discomfort” that pulses through the veins of our society. In other words, we shame those with disabilities. “To be seen as sick, to be viewed as defective,
Theorist Simon May explains that because of cuteness’s ability to play with power (between the cute object or being and the viewer), cuteness moreover makes us question who has power, how much power matters, and what the point of being in a dominant position is. 16 When the differently-abled deconstruct normativity, they pose similar questions.
Steven J. Onken and Ellen Slaten. “Disability Identity Formation and Affirmation: The Experiences of Persons with Severe Mental Illness.” Sociological Practice 2?, no. 2 (2000): 4, www.jstor.org/stable/43735711.
Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories, 66. 15 Onken and Slaten. “Disability Identity Formation and Affirmation,” 101. 14
May, The Power of Cute, 45. Onken and Slaten. “Disability Identity Formation and Affirmation,” 5.
to be judged as helpless-these are experienced as shameful. … Shame is an emotion that is incredibly powerful and little understood. … It deeply impacts identity and intimacy, which are vitally important.” 17 Considering shame can so greatly impact the differently-ableds’ states of well-being, I purpose the only way to refute discrimination is through disability identity building. Formation and Selfhood In fact, there are many arguments for identity-first mentality in disability communities. Onken and Slaten outline seven stages of developing positive disability identity as part of one’s whole self-identity. Though they make clear that disability identity formation is frequently not an uncomplicated, linear path, they roughly break it down into the following steps: 1. Unchallenged acceptance of medical/ professional/expert paradigms and ableism in society 2. Challenging medical/professional/ expert paradigms and ableism 3. Identity confusion and conflict 4. Experimenting with disability membership and identity 5. Immersion of disability identity and full retreat from ableist society 6. Disability acceptance and pride, often accompanied by a growing respect for people with similar disabilities 7. Merging of past and current memberships/identities, “them versus us” mentality often softens. 18
I realized, while writing this essay, I went through these same stages. I did not challenge being told not to identify with my disability, until prompted to do so by Not Crazy. From first-hand experience, I can tell you that indeed, these steps are not clearcut or guaranteed to happen in any one order. However, if disability is integrated into identity, disability pride, stigma resistance, and community building results. As persons with disabilities share, validate, and integrate disability-related experiences within their selfhood, they dislodge the shame associated with stigma. To openly own disability, and, most importantly, to be proud of one’s disability is to come out of shame. 21
Therefore, cuteness, “for all it pathos of powerlessness, is thus capable of making surprisingly powerful demands” 19 and cuteness is not simply innocent or escapist, but instead a robust expression of the zeitgeist. 20 If this can be said for the aesthetic of cuteness, we can say the same for the culture of disability; a culture often viewed as lesser, but with remarkable power found innately in difference
Onken and Slaten. “Disability Identity Formation and Affirmation, 105-108.
Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories, 64. 20 May, The Power of Cute, 9. 19
Onken and Slaten. “Disability Identity Formation and Affirmation, 103-105.
Some Thoughts Writing this essay is hard. Academically, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I can’t say for sure the reason this has been so difficult. Perhaps I’m getting depressed again, ringing in a new age of un-motivation. Perhaps I’ve been avoiding writing this essay for so many weeks now because it will force me to reflect upon my own psychiatric disability identity formation.
Having to move away from school and no longer being able to attend face-to-face classes because of COVID-19 certainly hasn’t helped. You’ve probably noticed that I ran out of steam as this essay progressed. I posed some questions that I never really answered. I wish this essay was longer, more ~critical~, more flushed-out, but here we are. This is the best I could do given the unprecedented, scary, crazy times we are living in around publishing. Honestly, though, I’m not too mad about the results. Lastly Though substance abuse is not the disorder I struggle with, I would agree with my father’s remarks. It’s critically important for me not to forget my diagnoses. Not only because I need to remember who I was before treatment, a person I never wish to return to being, to prevent a relapse, but because it’s an important part of me. My mental illness equates to my mental health. Therefore, I, for one, prefer identityfirst language, as I see it to be the most linear path to building a (positive) disability identity.
Moreover, specifically with psychiatric disability, it is important to remember that your diagnosis is not inherently bad. An ableist society wants you to believe it is, but it’s not. An ableist society wants you to believe that falling out of the realm of “normal” is wrong, but it’s not. It is my hope that as a society, specifically through people who choose to build their diagnosis into their identity, we can find power in difference, and celebrate positive disability identities.
In the end, my diagnoses didn’t take anything away from me. If anything, they added to my life. They made me understand why I felt the way I did, and validated me in my experiences. I know that I’m
not alone in this, as many people I’ve encountered felt empowered by their diagnosis.
and other opressive bullshit Julia Tong
and other opressive bullshit
learning to be palatable You were young when you learned to be palatable – maybe too young to even know that you had learned. Maybe you were taught not to speak like the people you have grown up with with anywhere outside of your home in order to make strangers feel more at ease when they heard your voice. Maybe you were taught not to wear dresses when you were four years old, singing and dancing to (your lyrically incomprehensible but very sincere version of ) Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” because it did not match your grandma’s idea of your gender. Maybe you were taught to fight with your hair, body, and face until they most closely resembled what the films you watched showed you was beautiful – ultimately, to please the hovering eyes of the people around you. There’s no way around learning
Kendall, Mikki. Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot. Penguin Publishing Group, 2020. 1
palatability. Society will always choose its own comfort over you. Maybe you were in preschool, and decided to go down a slide on the playground. When you reached the bottom, your thumb was stuck in a weird position that your Asian family had passed down through generations. Your mother took you to the hospital to try to get it looked at, and you were paraded around from doctor to doctor to show off your weird, non-white genetics. Maybe it made you angry, but you didn’t know why at that time. Maybe it was uncomfortable because it was teaching you that you were a prop for their entertainment.
2 Potter, Andrew. The Authenticity Hoax: How We Got Lost Finding Ourselves. New York: Harper/ HarperCollins, 2010.
Maybe you and your friend were walking back from the bathroom with pride at your newly recognized ability to be a mentor to the fourth-graders in your class. A boy stopped you and your friend in your path – pulling his eyes to the sides and calling you “Chinese twins.” You didn’t say anything back because you felt like you shouldn’t. Maybe you stayed silent because you had been taught to be a prop. Maybe it was your first Chinese New Year in a new class. You knew your white-looking sister had already stopped wearing traditional clothing to celebrate, but you decided to continue. You were already feeling uncomfortable on the way to school – knowing that no one else in the school would be wearing anything remotely similar. You didn’t get up from your desk all morning so no one would
stare at you. You thought everything would get better at lunch when you got to hang out with your friends. As you sat down at the table, you made eye contact with an older student, whose judgmental stare made you look away. Out of the corner of your eye, you saw them point you out to all their friends and laugh. Maybe you stopped wearing special clothing for Chinese New Year after that. Maybe one of your closest friends would always ask what your scores were on tests in high school. She asked about a math test that she had struggled with. You told her your score was nearly perfect, and she replied that you were so lucky to be Asian and that she could never be expected to do as well. You started crying and told her off for simplifying your experience to a math grade, but she and the other white people around her rolled their eyes and told you to stop being overly dramatic. Maybe you never felt you could consider her a friend again, while she went on feeling as if nothing had happened. Maybe you did all these things, or maybe it was me â&#x20AC;&#x201C; seems like it was you, though.
Zeisler, Andi. FEMINISM AND POP CULTURE: Seal Studies. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2008. 3
theft Theft can take many forms, but there are two that cover almost all cases: (1) marginalized people take something from people with means to counteract their marginalization and (2) privileged people take something from marginalized people to widen the gap between themselves and the marginalized people they steal from. One of these things is much more illegal than the other, and unfortunately, it is probably not the one that feels like it should be. When a teenager steals tampons from a Target in order to be able to go to school while on their period, they are committing a crime that could get them prosecuted. On the other hand, when a developer buys a building that was relatively affordable housing and kicks out its residents in order to develop luxury apartments, they are completely within the lines of legality. Even laws promote palatability. Palatability often becomes a game for marginalized people – just like battleship, except your fleet is always visible. You can aim for palatability, but you might miss since you were not born into it – and society could
“Vaqueros”. Bullock Museum. Bullock Texas State History Museum. https://www. thestoryoftexas.com/discover/ campfire-stories/vaqueros. 4
choose to take a swing at you at any time it chooses because you are not what it desires or who it was made for. Society loves to love things from palatable people and loves to hate things from outsiders. Palatability is never neutral, although that is often how people perceive it. White, straight, cis, ablebodied, thin – these attributes are invisible to the dominant culture. Anything that subverts them is innately wrong about its manner of existence and is subject to investigation.
This militant conformity simultaneously oppresses and erases its past oppression and theft. One of the whitest and most “manly” examples of this theft (at least to common knowledge) is cowboy culture and the aesthetics of the socalled “country” hyper-masculine man. Based on the media presented to the general population, it would be incredibly easy to think that “country” means simply white men
culture. Just like with cowboys and country culture, the theft that perpetuates palatability creates a pattern of the white and wealthy profiting from stolen pieces of people of color’s and queer people’s lives. Almost every aspect of today’s visible culture has some part of this pattern – music, fashion, food, art, urban development, etcetera. This recently has been labeled “cultural appropriation” – a euphemism that itself indicates more of an attentiongrabbing controversy than the true societal dynamics that it entails. The word “appropriation” often has a
walking around with chaps, curved boots, and u-shaped hats slapping women in jean shorts on the ass, with no other implications. In reality, cowboys originated as Mexican laborers that made their way into the Southwest of what is now “the United States” while it was still “Spanish territory” (with some coercion from Spanish colonizers).4 Later, after overt slavery was outlawed and other legal systems of racism were enacted, cowboy was one of the only occupations that Black people were allowed to have in the west.5 (There is also a huge history of queerness in cowboy culture.) The need for palatability and for aesthetics to comply with cultural norms has almost completely erased Black and Brown workers from the beginning of American western and cowboy
neutral meaning, and when combined with “cultural,” seems like something a white woman just back from her trip to “find herself ” in South Asia would say to describe the way she uses the “knowledge” she gained from her tourism. (“I’m appropriating the, like, culture of Indonesia to different aspects of my life so I can, like, reach my ultimate zen – you know, Karen?”)
ransacked in the first place. Recently, even the pain of being a casualty of colonization has been stretched and perverted. The revelation that white people will not always be the largest demographic in the United States has caused the view of racialization to shift from unfortunate to unavoidable – making brownness into a cool characteristic that those who are not born with desire to take on. They secretly fear their own whiteness – its connotation of being uncool, its lack of uniqueness, and (most importantly) its implications of being a beneficiary of racism, colonialism, and white supremacy. Their own palatability terrifies them. What a horrible force of oppression!
Cultural appropriation is theft. Addressing it with a specially coined word that softens its perceived impact is giving the palatable, who are able to steal, a way to feel less like the extension of colonizers that they are. These thieves usually get away with their crime without any repercussions anyway, so why euphemize? Why make a word that is supposed to confront palatability head-on palatable? There are many of these cultural thefts that history and communal memory likes to forget – overt and hidden. Examples are plentiful: Dutch “Delfts” Blauw, French Japonisme (the OG weeaboos), the Swastika, Art Nouveau, non-Black people with cornrows and other hairstyles specifically made for Black hair, paisleys all over everything, etcetera. The damage of theft is only exacerbated when it flies under the cultural radar. It is incredibly difficult to cope with someone looting your culture for profits when no one will even acknowledge that it has been
Nodjimbadem, Katie. “The Lesser-Known History of AfricanAmerican Cowboys.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, February 13, 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag. com/history/lesser-knownhistory-african-americancowboys-180962144/.
fear of light Yesterday, I saw a paparazzi photo of Ariana Grande, and you know what I thought? Oh, what a poor wealthy white woman. She has no choice in this society that values people of color over white people but to pretend to not be white. It is unavoidable that she darkens her skin. She has to have this specific career path and image or else she will be left destitute. That’s exactly what I thought – because racism against white people is the worst evil of all. Today, the Instagram algorithm gave me a picture of Kim Kardashian West wearing Bo Derek braids. How do you think it made me feel? This poor wealthy white woman, whose only option to keep her lifesustaining fame is to use
such an outdated hairstyle that a white woman invented in the 70’s. She has to darken her skin to keep up with the dominance of darkskinned people. I feel so sad for her. That is honestly how I felt – because white celebrities are the most marginalized group of people in the world. Last week, a middle-aged hypebeast passed me on the street. Do you know what I saw? Such a poor wealthy white man, with no alternative but to take part in the expensive endeavor of hyped streetwear. He now has to force himself into an appearance that white people have renounced for generations as “ghetto.” He cannot possibly do anything but have two entirely separate personas for work and weekend. This is precisely what I saw – because there is nothing worse than having to follow an aesthetic that does not reflect your origins. Just kidding – Did you really think? I don’t give a shit about white people’s anxiety over their lack of uniqueness. (To be honest, there’s nothing more boring or common than being a wealthy, white cultural thief. Where do you think that wealth came from?) I don’t give a shit about them being uncomfortable from being called white. Why should I? “Oh, poor Sarah, she was meant to be Asian. She was just born in the wrong race. She’s transracial – you know, like transgender?” Her weeaboo ass can fuck the hell off. She is
just using her white body to create a more palatable, fetishized version of an Asian person. “Cody was raised with a lot of Black people that’s why he talks and dresses like that.” Oh, sure, Cody the fucking suburban frat boy who has had one Black friend is definitely immune from being a cultural thief. Poor Cody, he has nothing going for him – not his white bread skin, not his family’s generations of wealth, not the structures of power teeming with people like him. I don’t fucking care – and if you think I should, you’re part of the problem. These people have racism on their side. Everything that they take from people of color will be praised as innovation, while the people they took it from will be forgotten or shamed for their inability to conform. They aren’t innocent, and neither are you if you write them off as harmless. Maybe it doesn’t harm you, but why does that mean it’s harmless?
exclusion Imagine your precious, pure-white self in the relatively new city of San Francisco. The city was built on gold mining and speculation about it. You and your family have hardly ever had to interact with anyone who is not white, but upon moving to San Francisco that changes. Your whitewashed sense of the world is being challenged by the numerous Asian miners and Asian-owned businesses. The smell of their strange food disgusts you; they wear such barbaric clothing and hairstyles. What could possibly protect you from the horrors of racialized people existing in your vicinity? Luckily, this government was made for and by people like you. The Chinese Exclusion Act was crafted specifically to protect people like you from these foreign invaders. It extends for the next 10 years until 1892.6 The savages who threaten your sanctity will be unable to become citizens so that they cannot affect your country. But what will happen when this act comes to an end? Fortunately, your country still has you at heart. Your congressman, Thomas Geary, gets the Geary Act passed â&#x20AC;&#x201C; keeping the hooligans from your precious citizenship until 1902.6 It also makes it easier for the authorities to make sure no more of them are sneaking into your country. They will all be carrying special IRS residence documents
whenever they roam your city. Somehow, the orientals still think they have some ability to be part of your country. One of them sues to nullify your congressman’s hard work. Of course, the supreme court upholds it, but can you believe they have the nerve to claim they should be citizens? Alas, it is still only 10 years. Naturally, the government still cares for you, so it makes Chinese immigration permanently illegal when the Geary Act has expired.6 You can finally be somewhat at ease. Although, there are many Chinese still in your city, no more can come. Imagine living your whole life in San Francisco. Your family came here to mine for gold, but mining did not work out. You help run a restaurant that your parents started after their first few rough years of being here. Recently, there has been a rush of white people moving to San Francisco from the East. You notice that they do not seem to want to associate with you. Every time one sees you, they wince. You go on with your business as you always have.
6 “Chinese Exclusion Act.” AAPF. The African American Policy Forum. Accessed March 8, 2020. https://aapf.org/chineseexclusion-act.
Out of what seems like nowhere, the government passes a bill that cuts off your ability to become a citizen. Your cousins, who planned to come help at your family’s restaurant, are blocked from entering the country. As the waves of restrictions sweep over San Francisco, some people protest and are completely ignored by the government.7 The attacks on members of your community by white people that seemed sporadic and random become more frequent.6 Everyone waits anxiously for the law to expire. You have waited 10 years to become a citizen and to feel safe in your hometown. Unfortunately, just when the first bill is about to expire, another one is enacted. This one is even more difficult to navigate. You now have been told that you have to carry a paper that proves your residence with you at all times. You are as careful as you can be, but still forgetful sometimes. Your parents scold you harshly when you go out without it. At first, it seems to be just a formality, but soon stories begin to circulate. Your neighbor two doors down, a childhood friend, has been missing for two weeks. His
History.com Staff. “Chinese Exclusion Act.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, August 24, 2018. https:// www.history.com/topics/ immigration/chineseexclusion-act-1882. 7
family discovers that he forgot his document when he went to work the day he disappeared. Eventually, you hear that he is being held by the government in forced labor, and will be deported if he cannot find a white person to attest to his residence. His family begs any white person they come across to help, but they ignore or curse them. He has never been to China, but he is deported anyway.
You wait another 10 years. As you age and watch your community be picked apart, you grow less optimistic. Just as you suspected, once the ten years is up, things get worse again. Chinese immigration is permanently outlawed. You wonder if you will ever see your friend again. You wonder whether you will ever meet the cousins who had promised to help run your restaurant. You wonder if you will ever be a citizen,
and have an impact on this country. For the next 39 years, you work to maintain your restaurant and pass it on to the next generation of your community. You hear news of the attacks on Chinese people â&#x20AC;&#x201C; the hatred of what you were born into.
And then, Hawaii is attacked, and you are no longer the most hated Asian ethnicity. As your Japanese friendsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; businesses are stolen from them and they are taken to camps, things start to change. China becomes an important ally to the United States to fight Japan.6 Your sanctions are lightened. You still cannot live outside of Chinatown or see the same opportunities as white people, but your family in China (that you have fallen out of contact with) can finally come.
conclusion What is the difference between palatability and oppression? Between cultural appropriation and colonization? Maybe you get it now. Maybe you understand. Maybe now you can finally see that when you walk into work with sneakers on and your HR department berates you that the reason behind it is a fear of lack of conformity and of non-white aesthetics, not an innate inferiority or informality in your decisions. Maybe you know now the reason why history class and the books you read in English class were not interesting to you – they were whitewashed versions of reality. Maybe you get it now. Maybe you know why popular movies felt so distant from your life – you were not represented in their whiteness, straightness, or cisness. Maybe you understand that systems and profits take precedence over individuals, and that this creates a need for conformity. Maybe you understand that people prioritize their own comfort over other people’s sanctity.
You still live under palatable rules, but maybe you understand that palatability is bullshit. Maybe.
Sounding, Feeling, Dancing
On emergence, musical memory, and the search for sounds of home Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong
Sounding, Feeling, Dancing
It’s the summer of 2008, ... and I’m riding in the backseat of my mom’s blue Kia Rio. The cool breeze of July nights sweeps across my face as I stare out into the calm and quiet darkness of midwestern roads rolling by. There is a peculiar calm to midwestern summer nights, where streetlamps spill orange light, a fake kind of sunshine into the navy oscuridad of the night. Fireflies might have been out n’ about in the hours prior, but most everything stands still at three a.m., except for the cumbia blasting from the console of my mom’s blue Kia Rio.
On my daily commute, March 2020
Amor prohibido murmuran por las calles / Porque somos de distintas sociedades / Amor prohibido nos dice todo el mundo / El dinero no importa en ti y en mí, ni en el corazón — “Amor Prohibido” Selena, 1994
Ask any first or early gen hispanic 90’s/2000’s kid, they’d likely recognize this set of lyrics. While the sterility of the text on the page does not do justice to the energy of the music it evokes, if familiar, one can imagine the rhythm, the beat, and the way their body was wont to move. Music, particularly popular music has a strong rhythmic dimension, one which is both technically measured but also felt, in the body, mind, and soul.1 Philosophy professor Alison Stone expands on the evocative potential of popular music, saying “it solicits us to dance and move in many ways, and it affects us corporeally in other ways too: songs can energise, elate, enrage, depress our spirits, or wind us down.”2 If popular music solicits us to dance, it can also be said that the memories that embody these songs embody their movements as well, making the collective memory tangible in a way. This suggests that within the intersection of sound and memory, movement is additionally recorded on a level of memory deeply embedded in our subconscious; that within the intersection of song and memory, dance is the factor that brings back to life the emotions embodied within music.
Alison Stone, The Value of Popular Music, (Lancaster, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 141.
What does that mean for us? If popular music is capable of both energising and depressing the human spirit, could it be considered a measurable facet of memory? Can we measure the emotive and expressive potential of popular music within the context of identity theory or other expanded fields? Stone additionally ascertains that popular music can be evocative of everything from place to atmosphere and
social idenity. Futhermore, that the “various kinds of meanings in popular music typically interrelate.”3
that examines the relationship between playlist, politics, and nostalgia. Furthermore, this essay proposes a new model through which to understand collective cultural development, and renegotiates American mainstream culture through the discourse of music, memory, and vernacular.
Therefore we can consider popular music an important tool in the study of socio-cultural identity development, adding a layer of understanding to the artistic and cultural developments of a given community. As a firstgeneration American I am particularly interested in the ways popular music, especially popular music 3 Stone, The Value as defined of Popular Music, by Latinx181. American communities can help express larger ideas concerning or transforming culture and identity. More specifically, how does music reflect the developmental agency of Latin American youth, who are currently renegotiating American mainstream culture through popular music discourse, memory, and cultural vernacular?
On Emergence: trying to understand the 2000’s first-gen all-american road trip soundtrack Musicologist Nolan Gasser likens the development of cultural products such as music and social ritual to the phenomenon of “emergence.” This phenomenon is often cited across many disciplines including the sciences, humanities, and arts, and describes any behavior where simple, independent actions add up to complex systems without coordinated, causal intention.4 Gasser says “similarly, then, the codification of cultural and social histories, religious rituals... and the like may well have begun as individual music-based expressions that unconsciously ‘emerge’ as collective cultural products.”5
I argue for an emerging, first-generation critical lens in this essay
Meaning, what started as a few seemingly independent choices in what to play in the car, or what we listened to at the block
Nolan Gasser, Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste, (New York, Flatiron Books, 2019), 410. 4
party developed into a larger, culturally cemented soundscape of songs and shared memories. When considering an experience as broad as that of the Latin-American diaspora in the United States, the points of connection and collectively shared memory intrigue me the most. If a playlist existed to summarize my sonic childhood, it could easily be compared to those of my peers and we’d find great 6 Jhoni Jackson, “The commonality, Unstoppable Rise of Reggaeton,” Crack and a set of Magazine, www. songs would crackmagazine.net, emerge that 2019. defined our collective experience.
It could well be possible that chance has been a large factor in the development of cultural identity, but I am not convinced the theory of emergence alone explains the rich complexity of cultural discourse embedded in young genres like reggaeton. As an artistic movement, reggaeton and urbano music are relatively young art forms.7 Their youth however does not detract from their complexity, lending a rich history to younger artists from which to sample, reference, and world-build.
7 Elias Leight, “Latin Music Is Reaching More Listeners Than Ever - But Who Is Represented?” Rolling Stone, www.rollingstone.com, November 2018
The phenomenon of emergence both explains and complicates how our musical collective memory came to be. While yes, the generational cultivation of particular sounds quickly established a sonic identity for Latin Americans living in the United States; it also raises the question of how these songs came to be so foundational to our shared lived experience.6 Could it be true that such a network of collective memory came
to be solely through chance?
Y yo estoy aquí, borracho y loco / Y mi corazón idiota, siempre brillará (siempre brillará) / Y yo te amaré, te amaré por siempre / Nena no te peines en la cama / Que los viajantes se van a atrasar — “Lamento Boliviano” Los Enanitos Verdes, 1994 A particular phenomenon occuring newly to the genre is the sampling of “classic records” in music released today. This strategy acknowledges a lineage of artists from within the genre, at the same time circumventing the traditional structures like academic research, which might impose colonial and unwanted perspectives in their analysis and establishment of a historical lineage for the musical genre.
To put it simply, reggaeton and urbano artists have already decided which pieces of cultural capital are necessary to preserve and center, leaving little room for outsiders to establish a hierarchy of cultural influence.
Re-Mix: Emergent-Reactionary, and analyzing way too much reggaeton In recent years music producers and artists have circled back to the accepted roots of reggaeton as we know it - the El Guru: Do you feel tha early 2000’s era the genre of Latin urban is fondly being revived in our Bad Bunny: I believe it h mainstream believe it helped reggae pop diet, a helpful in terms of prov phenomenon so that people could sta that awakened a again. I’m not sure if you real zeitgeist for started to kind of miss it reggaeton unlike any seen before.8 — Comp
This widespread excitement and passionate nostalgia for reggaeton of old can be seen in the commercial success of new records that sonically and lyrically reference a canonized “golden era” of reggaeton.
Y con razón tan poquito te dolió / De cora’ que no fui yo el que la nave despegó / Y tu corazón idiota, siempre me extrañará, baby / ¿Pa’ qué me vas a amar? / Si ya te dije adiós / — “UN PESO” Si ya me despedí de ti / Bad Bunny, J Balvin No quiero saber más de tus besos ft. Marciano Cantero, 2019
So again, I question if the theory of emergence alone is enough to explain the evolution of Latin-American musical identity in recent years. There must be more circumstantial influence at the local and day-today levels of cultural development to explain the unique levels of excitement surrounding at trap is the rebirth for reggaeton today. n music? Projects such as Bad Bunny’s helped way beyond… I 2020 release eton itself...It was also YHLQMDLG viding a different sound exemplify this, art loving reggaeton filled with u understood me. They references to the t. It felt like a need. classics of the genre, it serves plex Interview, 2018 as a barometer for our collective cultural nostalgic longing. Therefore I propose a revised model through which to describe the current state of popular LatinAmerican music, specifically looking
at reggaeton and urbano as perhaps the most mainstream of LatinAmerican sounds to re-emerge in the last few years. This model combines the theory of emergence with observed reactionary musical products. Reactionary musical products would seek to return to or recover an idealized past, to borrow ideas from political theory.9 If I were to describe current day reggaeton as an emergentreactionary phenomenon, it would refer to the way in which the presentday genre posits itself within a canon of its predecessors and influences, while at the same time responding organically to the individual musical expressions that ‘emerge’ with collective energy. For example, consider the relationship between 2018 hit UN PESO, off of the J Balvin and Bad Bunny collaborative album, Oasis,
¿Y quién me va a entregar sus emociones? / ¿Quién me va a pedir que nunca le abandone? / ¿Quién me tapará esta noche si hace frío? / ¿Quién me va a curar el corazón partió? — “Corazon Partio” Alejandro Sanz, 1997 and the 1994 classic ballad Lamento Boliviano by Argentinian rock band Los Enanitos Verdes. UN PESO directly references Lamento Boliviano through the use of the lyric / Y tu corazón idiota/ in addition to the use of featured vocals from Los Enanitos frontman Marciano Cantero. This musical relationship signifies a larger emergent-reactionary product of cultural development, where today’s mainstream music is aware and repsonsive to its immediate history, yet is still subject to the unpredictable nature of emergence. These referential nods occur again and again, seemingly strengthening the cultural bonds between “old school” and newer reggaeton. The emergent-reactionary phenomenon model explains this new form of cultural development, one that is increasingly self-aware of how it is being percieved, and how it will be percieved for future generations to come.
Complex, “Bad Bunny and J Balvin Talk Upcoming Joint Album,” www. youtube.com, Video File. September 2018
Mark Lilla, “Our Reactionary Age,” The New York Times, www. nytimes.com, November 2016
Negotiating musical memory: what sounds like home, and what doesn’t but I listen to anyway Generational markers can be traced through the strata of Latin American music history; cumbia and bachata was for your parents, huaynos and salsas viejas were for your grandparents, and both generations claim reggaeton is of the youth. To codify Latin American music history according to generational memory is not a new idea10, but it raises questions about how we collectively decide which sounds are linked to certain places in our memories. For example, I might say that the
music of my generation is latin trap and urbano, but I found these genres outside of my family unit and sounds of home. By comparison, cumbia is the music I listened to growing up, mixed in with old school Shakira and 2005-era reggaeton. In my developing years, I learned to codify cumbia as the sound of home, of family, of familiarity. The classics became a soundtrack to the daily drive to school, road trips, weekend morning cleaning, and parties alike. Cumbia was the great comforting factor in my developing memory, the sound I associate with home, both in space and emotion. In the investigation of music, memory, and identity, Gasser explains that one’s dominant culture heavily influences an individual’s musical taste11, which explains why as adults, we often refer back to music our parents listened to as of a more dominant culture. We seek to understand music in relation to personal memory, and in doing so we sort our musical memories by their relation to time and relative youth. There is an unspoken link between any song and how we emotionally remember it, which becomes a musical memory - a memory more complicated by its proximity to emotion, dance, and our personal identities. In a way, our memory also serves as an internal emotional-codification system for the kinds of music we have ingested at various times in our lives. As persons,
we seem to be pre-programmed with an analytical tool that blends memory and history together in a more subjective way. It is because of this internal codification system that we can piece together a collective musical memory. When our individual memory patterns overlap and coincide a larger picture emerges to 10 Jasmine Garsd, describe the “Cumbia: The Musical Backbone Of Latin collective America,” NPR alt.Latino, generational www.npr.org 11 identity. To put Gasser 2019, 485. it simply, when many of us (in this case first-generation LatinAmericans, often children of spanish-speaking immigrants who have given up familiarity for opportunity) identify the same musical memories, we form a collective generational bond. This emotional bond is both internal and external. It is seen in discourse, in the ways we collectively remember our childhood(s), but it is also felt internally by many of us, who attach sincere and meaningful emotions to these collective musical memories. What might these collective musical memories sound like? Look (or listen) no further than the playlist for the most recent
Pensaba que te había olvida’o, eh / Pero pusieron la canción, eh, eh, eh / Que cantamo’ bien borracho’ / Que bailamo’ bien borracho’ / Nos besamo’ bien borracho’ los dos — “LA CANCION” Bad Bunny, J Balvin 2019
family reunion, quince, or auxiliary party environment. Classics such as Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina, Celia Cruz’s La Vida Es Una Carnaval, Elvis Crespo’s Suavemente, and even Aventura’s Obsesion capture with particular zeal the collective memory of our cultural identity. Since the classics span generations of memory, I wonder how they might be interpreted to reveal the evolution of generational values. I am additionally interested in how the percieved generational divides provide comfort through nostalgic memory. In a way, codifying certain musics as of older generations allows us to cement them in collective memory with reverence. One could even call this nostalgic construction. It allows us to feel sweet nostalgia in the same memory that provides emotional comfort. Thus creating a subconcious link between music, nostalgia, and soothing emotions for each and every one of us. I would call this generational comfort,
the simple link between nostalgic feelings and positive memory that soothes the soul, regardless of the previous connotations or emotive implications of a given song. For me, this comfort element, the sounds of home, are the old-school reggaeton tracks from a bootleg CD filled with pirated music burned sometime in 2004 and bought by one of my parents for less than 30 cents. Reggaeton, for all its presentday global fans, was traditionally considered a more abrasive sound, and definitely tied to party culture. It was the sound of late nights in the Lima, the city my parents left in their youth. So what does it mean that the most emotionally comforting sound environments for me are actually meant for perreando? I don’t really know, but I’ll keep writing until I figure it out.
Popular music and affect: investigating why I’m obsessed with Bad Bunny Oh, to be llorando pero gozando. Roughly translating to crying but dancing/enjoying, llorando pero gozando describes an interesting paradigm where sorrow and joy meld together into a unique storm of emotions. The dichotomy of joy and sorrow illustrate a larger point about popular music and its affect, which is to embody the most difficult of emotions in the most simple and visceral of expressions. Why do we love to cry to music? What is it about the cathartic release of dance and song that allows us to channel the complications of being joyful in sad times or being sad in joyful times? There is a special allowance, a special space between the contradictory emotions that when felt at once, are equivalent to feeling everything. Professor Alison Stone writes on the connection between popular music and emotion, or affect: that the prized quality of authenticity is also an emotional quality, and that furthermore melismatic singing (the kind where several notes are sung in a single syllable) in particular has this connotation of sincere emotion. In Stone’s words, it “suggests an outpouring of feeling so uninhibited that it flows across metric divisions
and strectches syllabic one freely, thus connotating authenticity in the sense of sincerity.”12 If authenticity, sincerity, and emotion can be intrinsically linked through music, popular music then serves as a vehicle in which sincerity and expressive emotions are brought to the masses. When a song makes you feel something, it becomes special. When a pop song makes many of us feel something, it becomes an extension of dialogue, it resonates. If llorando pero gozando resonates with you then perhaps you’ll enjoy the sonic works of the artist Bad Bunny. The special juxtaposition of sorrow and joy perhaps also expresses the newly found expressive potential of artists like him, the reggaetonero and urbano star redefining latin-american musicality. Bad Bunny, more lovingly known as Benito to his fans, expresses through his music and appearances a general rejection of traditional machismo in latin american culture, and support for alternative representations of latinx identity. His musical oeuvre brings to light conversations of social justice, and new forms of representation formerly excluded from the genre’s discourse. There is something special about
Que levante la mano quien no lloro un adiós / Que levante la mano quien no sufrió por amor / Que levante la mano quien no lloro un a dios / Que levante la mano quien no sufrió por amorrrrr
the way Bad Bunny approaches reggaeton, and the idea of being mainstreamed. As an artist quick to rise to fame, he has been unique in sharing elements of vulnerability, moments of sadness through much of his musical oeuvre. This openness is refreshing for the genres of reggaeton and urbano at large, firstly subverting the idea of the untouchable, perfect popstar. I’ll be the first to admit that I love Bad Bunny for many reasons, but my strongest conviction is indeed the way his music makes me feel. There is a special quality embedded under the surface of his music, under the percieved simplicity of party music and dembow beats. My visceral emotions emerge in the spaces between the contrast of joy and sorrow. His vulnerability and his bold, unapologetic joy, make him truly special. Thank you, Bad Bunny, I owe you many a night of llorando pero gozando.
— “Que Levante La Mano” Grupo 5 timeless
Redefining Americanness: negotiating cultural capital for a more authentic national identity What might it mean if we centered reggaeton as an American sound, not foreign, not novelty, not codified as spicy, saucy, or second-class to english language pop? The politics of popular music are the same politics that determine what 12 Stone, The Value is acceptable in the of Popular Music, 179. mainstream of a cultural identity. In the construction of an “American” sound, history has shown us that popular music is an effective vehicle through which to communicate social and cultural ideas to the masses. Furthermore, the emotive potential of music combined with the widespread reach and “mainstreaming” effect of the popular music genre possesses great
power in the context of defining cultural norms. Stuart Hall,
The Work of Understanding the Representation, power of popular Sage Publications, 1999 music is fundamental to understanding the larger concept of cultural capital. Within the field of sociology, cultural capital describes any symbolic elements such as skills, tastes, material belongings, mannerisms, credentials, etc that one might acquire as a result of being of a particular social class.13 Beyond the materiality of any cultural capital however, is the symbolic power it possesses.
Here we must reasses the real and percieved divides between anglicized mainstream popular music and LatinxAmerican mainsream popular music. For decades, pop music critics have made claims of Latinx superstars “crossing over” into the Anglo-American mainstream scene, repeating themselves each time with less credibility.14 Latin-Americans in the US need new forms of representation, in music and beyond, that revolutionize our perceptions of self. We must build a new identity, locally and collectively, that centers our communities as fundamentally American, no longer outsiders to the mainstream narrative. To be revolutionary, one must be seen outside of the margins. Therefore, to demand to be seen from outside the
margins is to demand a kind of change, a radical shift in what we understand to be true or acceptable. In order to promote cultural shifts on a larger scale, we first must tackle the issue of visibility. To be visible is to be acknowledged 14 and Maria Elena Cepeda, Columbus Effect(s)”: understood to Chronology and Crossover some degree in the Latin(o) Music by those who “Boom,” Discourse 23, no. 1 (2001): 63-81 do not already see you. In making oneself visible, we invite the eyes of the outside in order to be seen. Enter the need for a revolutionary sound, something full of agency and possibility, full of potential in an ever-expanding world of cultural identity. Enter reggaeton. Hell, enter all of the musical memories that were buried at the expense of cultural assimilation. I believe in the power of reggaeton, in the zeitgeist powered by Latinx Americans and outsiders alike. Along with the ever-growing commercial acclaim of the genre, these emerging musical memories carry great
significance for a portion of the American population that is also ever-expanding. Under the wide-spanning umbrella of latinidad, reggaeton (and musica urbano by extension) is most capable of expressing the multiplicity of latinx identities within the next generation. It makes visibleaspects of identity, both individual and collective, what previously had been sidelined for narratives favoring outsider (anglo) audiences. To listen to these songs, to play them at the potluck, to dance to them in public is also to make yourself visible on a cultural level, enabled by the power dynamics embedded in the exchange of seeing and being seen. (Of course, there are poetic liberties being taken here. I am using the phrase “to be seen” in conjunction with the phrase “to be heard.” )
To dance to reggaeton in public, perreando or not, is a revolutionary act. The politics of reggaeton, its history as an underground, almost illicit activity inherently informs newage party dynamics. While reggaeton and the urbano scene might be more
mainstreamed today, they carry the historical weight of discrimination even after “emerging” from the margins. So I ask could reggaeton save us? Rather, is reggaeton the key to mainstream visibility on our own terms? If we are not afforded visibility on our terms, how can we renegotiate the terms of visibility? By coding our own cultural vernacular, that’s how. Reggaeton has already proven itself to be able to create and sustain an interactive musical and cultural world, built on years of party-making, collective dancing, and audacious joy. Thus I argue that the institution of reggaeton is well-equipped to take on the responsibility of making visible what is not already. It is capable of representing with new energy, with bold joy and youthful agency. If reggaeton is not your vehicle of choice, I encourage you to draw from our wells of musical memory. Find the songs that make you nostalgic, find the songs that resonate in emotion, and finally find the songs that make you feel seen (heard).
To Be Curated Mikaela Williams
To Be Curated
in an exhibit, There is a reason why the concept of a museum is so flexible. They are –and always have been– a product of their time; they function as receptacles that are filled with people’s objects, and museums must adapt as people change. The term “museum” is used to describe a varying range of institutions and what it means to be a museum has been under question in modern society. A variety of definitions exist explaining how a museum functions; it all depends on the agenda of the person you ask. Ask the institution itself and it might say the task of museums “is to provide [a] reaffirmation of our cultural mythos,” as seen in museums in the United States where Americans are powerfully reminded of their heritage.1 Chances are you’ve been to a museum before. At the very least, you’ve passed by one walking down the sidewalk or driving in the city. Maybe it was a stoic building, with a set of cascading steps leading to the monumental pillars on
an exterior facade. Possibly it looked like a castle, or perhaps it looked like it was still under construction with pipes covering the outside. You may not have even recognized it as a museum –it looked so modern and conflicted with your preconceived idea of what a museum should look like. What was inside? What did you see? It is inevitable for objects to come to mind when thinking of a museum. After all, the concept of a museum has traditionally come about through the collection of objects by ordinary people. Colonizers, explorers, missionaries would take tools, clothes, pottery, and even people from the cultures they discovered and bring them to their home countries to show off. There is no shortage of political discourse surrounding these types of buildings Woods, Thomas A. “Getting beyond the Criticism of History Museums: A Model for Interpretation.” The Public Historian 12, no. 3 (1990): 78. 1
and how they acquired their collections. From the beginning, objects in these collections were educational tools no matter the legacy or inheritance. Even with laws put in place surrounding artifact acquisition, it is the objects that give contemporary museums their power as educational authorities. What is overlooked when walking through a museum is the identity work that is being done through each presentation. As educational forces, museums present visitors with a certain narrative about each piece they exhibit within their walls. Quite possibly, this is the visitors only exposure to a culture far removed from their own; the identity and history of an entire people is packed into a few objects and maybe a museum label giving a brief summary. In her 2014 exhibition Mi’kwite’tmn (Do You Remember?), Ursula Johnson challenges the traditional display of Indigenous basket weaving in museums. She combines images of her grandmother’s classic basket work etched in plexiglass with a performance of turning an ash log into unusable shavings, a comment on Mi’kmaq youth losing knowledge of their culture.2 Her visual performances along with the displays explore the impact of colonialism on Indigenous livelihood. In appropriating the language of museums, she challenges museological and ethnographic frame imposed upon the acquisition and display of Indigenous material and linguistic culture. Johnson’s exhibition also highlights the lack of Indigenous voices in a traditional museum experience. I want you to think
about your own museum experience. Recall the way you walked through the exhibits, whether you read the placards or grazed past them. Try to remember how the objects were presented. Maybe you could touch them. Maybe they sat behind glass on their own pedestals. Was there some type of visual aid depicting the way the original owners might have used these objects? I’m asking you to recall these memories because the education the museum gives continues long from when you exit the building. If you asked me to picture a museum I would think of the museum from my childhood, Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio. Standing in front of the entrance, I feel like I’m in a fishbowl with the way the open ceiling curves into the walls, echoing even the slightest of noises. It’s bright, but not in a florescent way. A warm light illuminates the mosaics up above. Throughout my lifetime I’ve visited many other museums, from the Louvre and Smithsonian to the Wright Brother’s museum, yet the Cincinnati Museum Center has left an indelible impression on my concept of what constitutes a museum. There are two exhibits in particular that resonate with me to “A Living Weave of Art & Place.” Chronicle – Herald, 2017. 2
this day. In 2012, I visited the “A Day in Pompeii” exhibit with some of my friends. I could not tell you anything about the exhibit other than one of the final rooms. In the room directly before this final room, I think there was a video that simulated Mt. Vesuvius’ explosion. When I walked into the final room, it struck me that it was empty of all color aside from the shirts of other visitors. Against the black back drop, body casts of the victims
preformed their final moments. I remember experiencing an intense wave of malaise and I rushed through the room. These were bodies underneath the plastered volcano ash. My friends weren’t as quick to follow me out, seemingly unfazed by the eeriness of it all. This encounter underscored my understanding of a museum as a place for ancient things, not people. Here were the last moments of a civilization captured and put on display for me to see.
My other memory comes from 2014, when “Diana: A Celebration” made its final stop on a world tour. I remember the dresses, the way they lived in their own glass homes paving the way to the
main attraction, Princess Diana’s wedding gown and crown. Walking through the exhibit, a certain narrative of Princess Diana was given. We saw the ways she changed the public’s view of the royal family, but there was little about the drama between her and Queen Elizabeth, or any of the scandals involving herself and Prince Charles. At the end of the exhibit, before the gift shop, there was a room that seemed to be lit only by fake candles. I was too focused on how drastically the mood had dropped and the way my mom teared up as we silently took in our surroundings to remember much else from the room. In the middle of one of the walls, a video from Princess Diana’s funeral played, with Elton John’s rendition of Candle in the Wind playing in the background. The drastic shift from life to death was sobering –to go from those beautiful artifacts referencing her life to the real finality of her funeral. I remember standing next to my mom in a tense silence as we watched the grainy video from what felt like another world. Again, a museum to me had always been a place where ancient things lived and that was that. Yet there I was, experiencing an event that my mother had watched live just 17 years earlier. As time progressed, I was disturbed to learn that the narrative presented in “Diana: A Celebration” was at odds
with the more controversial aspects of her daily life. The examples mentioned represent two very different exhibits from vastly different times and cultures which inhabited the same physical space within the museum and now share a spot in my own personal memory bank of information. It’s clear that each exhibit took its own path in honoring the people who had been put on display through a common theme of life and then death of real individuals. The Diana exhibit would have been much more chilling if her physical remains had been put on display instead of the digitized presentation of her funeral. In this instance, the curiosity or wonder of her life belong to her fashion, her charity, and her children. However, in contrast, the spectacle of an entire city in the Pompeii exhibit is boiled down to how they died and how their bodies were kept intact, and not how the other objects also survived. Curators and museum staff struggle with a balance between honoring the cultures they are presenting and appealing to the general public. Unpacking and representing identity in any context is a daunting task. There is so much that is involved in the formation, presentation, continuation, and projection of an individual’s identity, let alone an entire culture’s. The abstractness of the concept makes it difficult to pinpoint where and why identity work is taking place. For museums, steps are taken in an official context to consider all sides of an identity, as for most museums a multitude of voices are heard through the decision process of a what stories to tell. Despite
From a conversation with Whitney Owens, Chief Learning Officer for the Cincinnati Museum Center: Williams: Can you tell me about how you manage your own identity when working with the identities of others. Owens: I check my assumptions and ask “Which viewpoints are we centering? How do we interpret objects?” We want to make sure they are able to represent many different viewpoints. these measures though, the entertainment identity of a museums cannot be ignored. Education is dressed up in ways you might see at Disney World: decked out historical attraction with animatronics and fun music. In an attempt to draw people in, a museum might have an interactive exhibit with talking Native 3 Woods. “Getting Americans or a 4-D movie of beyond the Criticism of Christopher Columbus sailing History Museums.” 79 4 the ocean blue. These kinds of Rounds, Jay. “Doing Identity Work in Musurface-level representations of seums.” Curator: The historical narrative typically do Museum Journal 49, not acknowledge the troubled no. 2 (2006): 137. and complex dynamics of first contact between Europeans and Indigenous peoples, and thus promotes “consumerism and an uncritical acceptance of technology.”3 Many museums in the United States have foundations in collection from the capital elitite, but must now depend on the support of their immediate communities, as well as the tourists for financial support. Refusing to listen to the wants of these outside voices could be detrimental to the business of a museum and how it functions in society.
In order to achieve its goal of education, museums must also receive funding for these educational programs, creating a space of tension. Museums must wrestle with combating forces of “the self-conscious mind that seeks the meaning of one’s life, and the necessity of acting in the external world in order to be able to live at all.”4 From there, we find the dynamics of identity work. Navigating a world of globalization, museums find themselves more and more involved in the mixture of identities trafficking within both the conceptual and the mortar and brick iterations of their institutions. on display, With the intention to conserve cultural heritage and to educate the public, museums have “a national identity that often fulfills national ambitions.”5 In curating a set of objects, a narrative of their origin is created. From the lighting surrounding an object, to where it is placed in relation to other items, and the text summary placed near it, the visitor is being told what to think. There is a demand, “not only to come to an understanding of the other, but also to come to a new understanding of one-
seen, since Greek sculpture from about 150 BCE was actually painted. Up until recently, “archeologists and museum curators had been scrubbing away these traces of color before presenting statues and architectural reliefs to the public” in an attempt to present an unblemished narrative of ancient art.8 The eradication of color in classical sculpture is only a small example of the misinterpretation and projection of an identity. The implications of such misinterpretation might seem trivial if the culture being represented has long passed, but as I have argued, museums do not only present object belonging to ancient civilizations. self.” Much of museum curation and design is catered more to the visitors than the actual cultures represented. These historical sites create a distinctive public culture.7 6
Kaplan, Flora S. Museums and the Making of “Ourselves”: the Role of Objects in National Identity. London: Leicester University Press, 1997: 2-4. 5
Robbins, Bruce, Paulo Lemos Horta, and Anthony Appiah. Cosmopolitanisms. New York, NY: New York University Press, (2017). 6
Zhang, Carol X., Honggen Xiao, Nigel Morgan, and Tuan Phong Ly. “Politics of Memories: Identity Construction in Museums.” Annals of Tourism Research 73 (2018): 117. 7
Talbot, Margaret. “The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture.” The New Yorker, October 29, 2018. 8
Picture the Venus de Milo in the Louvre perched high above a crowd of museums visitors, literally larger than life, an example of the pristine white marble sculpture that dominates classical Greek sculpture. Now, imagine this sculpture in color –hair brown, a pinkish skin tone, maybe her skirt is a sapphire shade of blue. This imagining would be closer to the way the Venus de Milo would have originally be
How many museums have you passed through where the creations of Indigenous people have been put on display, or where benign scenes of Native Americans greeting Europeans on the coast plastered the walls? Museums existed in North America long before the government recognized Native Americans as equal human beings; and the cultural objects sitting in museums today are considered to be stolen artifacts by contemporary
tribes. Unfettered by practical use, objects become a blank slate to present a narrative that can be far removed from how the original creators had intended.9 Collecting from Indigenous people can be devastating as the “lack of respect in handling or removing sacred objects may result in spiritual crises.”10 Not only do we have to look at the objects that are being put on display, but also the narratives that are accompanying them. The American Museum of Natural History has taken one approach in correcting the narrative of one diorama. This diorama, created in 1939, was intended to present an imagined diplomatic negotiation between Dutch settlers and the Lenape, an Indigenous tribe inhabiting what is now New York City. However, the narrative displayed is filled with historical inaccuracies and clichés of Native representation. Such stereotypes are problematic and continue to shape the American public’s understanding of Indigenous people.11In recognizing the implications of such a narrative, the museum has chosen not to take down the diorama, but rather to point out how
Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terrance Ranger. The Invention of Traditions. New York City: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge (1984): 4-5. 10 Stevens, and Jonathan. “Museums and Indigenous Peoples: Through the Display Glass.” Cultural Survival, December 1, 1982. 9
Fota, Ana. “What’s Wrong With This Diorama? You Can Read All About It.” The New York Times. The New York Times, March 20, 2019. 11
wrong the representation really is. A large “Reconsidering the scene” asks onlookers to question the stereotypes depicted and in effect draws attention to other dioramas that may also be inaccurate. Presenting this version of a corrected narrative gives museum visitors the mindset to question other museum displays and expectations of how a narrative should be presented.
Yet, not all museums challenge their visitor’s expectations in this way. Often objects in museums are being placed out of their original context which puts them in a place of recontextualization. For instance, the British Museum highlight the collection of the object over the origin or story behind them. Even their website simply takes you through a tour of just objects with vague mention of their place in time and space. Museums have an influence on how these objects are recontextualized, and the viewers also have a
Williams: How do you go about creating a community identity when it poses the risk of generalizing an individual’s own identity? Owens: The community partners offer different perspectives from our own. They are brought into the exhibition process and help evaluate how the museum tells stories and who’s stories to tell. The community partners help see a fuller picture of the content.
say in their interpretations based on their own competence and experience. Interpretation is “an open process on each side, leaving the possibility for unexpected and idiosyncratic interpretations” between the viewer and the spectacle.12 Museums force a whole new purpose onto the 12 Żychlińska, Monika and objects they “own,” whether it Erica Fontana. “Museal Games and Emotional is intentional or not. The fact Truths: Creating Polish that we, as viewers and conNational Identity at the sumers seek out these distant Warsaw Rising Museum.” East European Politics & artifacts and their presentaSocieties and Cultures 30, tions as spectacles only intenno. 2 (2016): 235-269. 13 13 sifies their significance. The Rounds, Jay. “Doing hierarchy of narratives created Identity Work in Musewithin the walls of a museum is where these complications arise and are negotiated. In doing so, “many museums have oversimplified and distorted history.”14 Curators must ask themselves which narrative currently is, or should be, prominent in current society.15 Crucial as these decisions and distinction are to the livelihood of a museum, they marginalize the narratives of minorities.
ums.” 141. 14 Woods. “Getting beyond the Criticism of History Museums.” 79 15 Uhl, Heidemarie. “Museums as Engines of Identity: ‘Vienna around 1900’ and Exhibitionary Cultures in Vienna—A Comment.” Austrian History Yearbook 46 (2015): 98.
as “other,” It is just as impossible to cater to the identity of every museum visitor as it is to represent each individual voice within a culture. Thus, generalizations must be made, often leaving controversial gaps in what is presented. The Warsaw Rising Museum in Poland brought about a lot of controversy because of the version of the past it popularized. In 1944, the Polish underground resistance attempted to drive out Germany from Warsaw during World War 2. However, the resistance lacked outside support and was eventually crushed. The Soviet Union’s inaction in the face of Warsaw’s destruction called into question images of Polish–Soviet friendship. Thus, official histories
during the Soviet Union’s rule over Poland characterized the Rising as a crime on the part of the “bourgeois” government-in-exile.16 Some accounts even described the Home army as a “fascist enterprise” that collaborated with the Germans. There is dissonance between governmental accounts and the privately preserved memories of those who lived through the events, presenting museum creators with a unique challenge. Eventually, the museum was built with the intention of connection emotionally with the visitor, yet it ignores the outcome of an unreflective worshiping of events like the Rising, whose symbolic significance is timeless, but
whose historical, political, and military dimensions have not been discussed at all. Assuming the entire nation felt the Rising was the nation’s decision and the outcome was their fault as a whole overlooks the complexity in individual accounts and “delimits a range of ‘correct’ interpretations.”18 Failing to acknowledge the diversity of a history as complex as that of the Warsaw Rising has the same effect on the narrative as the Soviet’s propaganda had. This is a problem because it erases the individual experiences that make Żychlińska, Monika and Erica Fontana. “Museal Games and Emotional Truths.” (2016) 245. 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid. 16
up the culture’s identity as a whole. The censorship of the communist regime created the discrepancies in individual retellings and thus just as important of a part in their collective identity as the actual uprising. From a controversial history, museums have taken measures to redeem themselves and to move beyond occupying sites of cultural appropriation and theft. Many museums work with their own communities and the people from which their objects originated. However, despite the many museums who have taken positive steps in the returning of cultural artifacts and working with their original artifacts, there are still ongoing cases of injustice and othering of the people to whom the objects belong. In the 1970’s, Ghanaians petitioned for the British government to return items looted a hundred years prior, to which the British government offered a long-term loan of small batches of items while the British still retained ownership.19 Artifacts are
Kaplan, Flora S. Museums and the Making of “Ourselves.” 1997. 334-35. 19
Brodie, Neil. “The Role of Conservators in Facilitating the Theft and Trafficking of Cultural Objects: The Case of a Seized Libyan Statue.” Libyan Studies 48, (2017): 117-123 20
still stolen and find themselves journeying through the black market and even official institutions. As recent as 2016, cases of trafficked objects emerged out of Libya and the guideline put in place to protect these objects failed.20 Arguments are made that if the homeland of these cultural artifacts cannot protect them then this source should not be in possession of them in the first place. This argument over the hierarchy of who gets to control cultural objects will seemingly never go away. This is not to say all museums are evil and purposefully limit views of certain communities and peoples. Along with working with all sides of a community, Thomas Woods, former executive director of Old-World Wisconsin and Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives,
Williams: How is the CMC breaking away from the stigma of a museum as an institution founded by an old, white man with stolen artifacts?
Owens: We are asking communities what’s something you are working on? And how can we help? They’ve taught us a lot about how we listen. How we see. How we can be of value. Do people from these communities even visit? Is that the end goal? We are realizing we provide more value than just the building. We want to be known for the what we do and not the what we are.
proposes a set of guidelines for looking at such artifacts.21These guidelines listed on page 97 are to make the interpretation process more inclusive to differing viewpoints. It is an attempt to expose any hidden detail that would easily be overlooked in generalized situation. Essentially, Woods is trying to bring out the side of a story that has the potential to slip beneath the surface of what is popular in the surrounding culture. Originally, these were proposed for those setting up ex21 Woods. “Getting hibits, though beyond the I believe the Criticism of History interpretation Museums.” 86-87. process happens among visitors too. Everyone could benefit in using these questions to check their assumptions and possibly learn more from the exhibit than if they had gone in blind. It is critical the staff of museums ask themselves questions about the artifacts they are displaying in order to interpret their original contexts correctly. However, the staff is not they only
group of people who are interpreting. The effects of curation go beyond the institution it takes place in. They are carried out into the world, used as a base for people’s knowledge and opinions. Entire worlds are lost due to the lack of consideration put towards how one object might change the viewpoint of future generation, future educators. Ideally, to be curated means to engage in an action of mutual trust that does not privilege one history over another. Inevitably, curators’ background, world view, and curatorial training influence their interpretations. An exhibit is created in their mind about who you were and who you are, hopefully with the aim to create new understanding between cultures, histories and perspectives. Though they are not in total control of what a visitor takes away from the display. Museums are only a physical symbol of the ways an identities can be curated; many other institutions and individuals do the very same work but in a more abstract sense. Universities curate students into groups and from there decide who should be admitted and who should be denied. Jobs do the same, they break apart your identity to see if you are the right fit for a company. We may do the same thing with the people we chose to associate ourselves with. Our friends are often made based on how well their identity aligns with our own. Museums are not just buildings full of dusty objects and old, white men. They are storytellers and forces of education, and they are teaching their visitors how to do the same contextualizing out in the real world.
1. Tactile exploration. How does it feel? How was the object made? What materials were used? What process was used? 2. Utility. How was the object used? What was the practical function of the artifact its society? Are things like the Artifact still used? If not why not? Why this artifact and this use at this time and in this place? The artifact may be deomnstrated here. 3. Environment. What was the object’s environment? Place the object in an environment of related onjects. This is a sythetic approach -- creating a context of related items within a particular space. Analyze the object in relation to the space in which it is or was contained. All onjects are part of cultural habitats. Create such habitats with related objects; help visitors to speculate on what objects shoul or should not be in the object’s habitat. What objects are or were in the same room or area, and how are they related functionally or cognitively to the object under analysis. Discover the function of the object in its cultural environment. Ask yourself or the visitor, “What was the total environment in which this object existed?”
4. Technological change. Relate the object to other objects in its developmental history. How have objects changed over time to perform a particular function? What motivated the changes? Have the objects designed to do a particular function totally changed or do they still retain the same principle? For example, a flail and a threshing machine still retain the same principle of beating grain to remove kernals. This retention of the same principles over time and space to perform a particular function is visible in many agricultural objects. This step adds a time dimension to the reading and puts the artifact into a technological chronology by comparing it with others of similar function. 5. Cross-Cultural Context. Place the artifact in a cross-cultural context. Was it used in other cultures? Why or why not? Generalize about the class the artifact belongs to if other cultures do no have an identical object. 6. Aesthetic influences. Note the influences which contributed to the construction of the artifact as discerned in design and decoration. Can you see any elements of a contemporary aesthetic style like Greek Revival, Gothic, Second Empire, etc.? 7. Symbolism and cultural myths. What are the cultural meanings and values inherent in the object? In other words, what are the cultural myths and symbols associated with the object? How did people feel about the object? What image were owners projecting with the object, and how did viewers judge oweners?
at home. I keep hearing things about how we should be writing and creating during this time; to document history, to preserve these moments in order to share them with the next generation to experience such a crisis. But why is it my responsibility to be so conscious of history when I can barely keep up with the responsibilities I had before COVID-19 put the world into a stand still? I’ve lost all motivation for school or any passion of mine that does not include sleeping. It doesn’t feel important or relevant or worth the time. I only continue to do it for the sake of having something to do. It’s been over 4 weeks since I’ve driven my car; I should probably take it out and get gas since it is so cheap. However, even that, the simplest of tasks, is daunting. Since my dad works at a nursing home, I have this debilitating fear of
bringing home the virus for him to take to work and wipe out the elderly population who depend on him for food. My mom doesn’t help my fears, every afternoon she gives me the latest news from the hospital she works at. After my daily briefing, she tells me how badly she wants to go to Macy’s. She’s been in patient care for over 30 years but is working from home and complaining about how uncomfortable her desk chair is. The sighs and huffs emitting from the loft are distracting, and the complaints don’t end with her. Madison, my younger sister, is mourning all the monumental senior things she will now never have. Things are tense in the house as we all navigate our new lives in isolation together. Possibly my dog is the only one enjoying this. We’re always home, so he always has someone to snuggle with. Unfortunately, his persistence in having someone in the bed with him does not help my productivity levels. It’s hard to think about museums and the lives of others when you can only interact with humanity through a screen.
I spent weeks tackling how I could make my piece matter in the state the world is in. My original plan before spring break was to go to the Maya exhibit that was about to open at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Instead, I was clicking through websites, going on virtual tours of different institutions desperate to find something critical to say. If you’ve read the sections before this, you see that it did not happen. Rather than making content for this class, I dedicated hours to creating tik tok videos with the hope I would go viral, I didn’t. I taught myself Adobe Illustrator and put my work on Redbubble to raise money for charity. I Facetimed my boyfriend
and my friends and continued to push everything off. There’s a folder in my Google Drive titled “Stories out of Quarantine” for the documents that are conscious of the historic moment I am living through, some of which have been stitched together in this section. Reluctantly, I’ve been piecing together entries that maybe historians will analyze to discover what life was like in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio during the first wave of COVID-19 in 2020. Funny enough, I actually want my mom to do the same. For selfish reasons, I want to have access to her thoughts and her words of wisdom when the day comes that she will no longer be able to give them to me. One morning, we sat at the kitchen table discussing what my late grandmother might have felt and thought if she was here now, when my mom started to cry. Mid-sentence she stopped, shook her head, and tried so hard not to let me see her so vulnerable. But it didn’t work, she began to blubber. “I just want my mom here,” a gasp of air between each word. “I want to tell her I’m scared.” I moved over to hug my arms around her shaking body. “I want to tell her I’m scared. No matter how old you are, you always want your mom. And I’m your mom and I’m scared and I’m supposed to be helping you but I’m scared and that doesn’t help you.” Moments after she calmed down, I flipped open my laptop in order to describe the events that had just happened. I know inevitably I will be without her, searching for the advice only a mother can give, just like she was in that moment. I might never know how it is to be a mother of 3 adults during a pandemic, how it is to
be a nurse working at home, how it is to be a wife of a smoker who works in a nursing home when an invisible killer attacks the immune compromised and elderly. So, I continue to pour out my thoughts into a Google Doc in case one day someone is wondering what itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s like to be a college student during a pandemic, to have a strained relationship with an older sister who lives in a different house, and to have started a new relationship two weeks before the United States entered a state of emergency.
I want to thank Sara Jackson for giving me a starting point for this project. Without her class last year, I would not know where to begin for this publication. Also, thank you for taking the time to meet with me to discuss your own work and insights into material culture and identity. Also, thank you to Whitney Owens for not only responding to my email, but taking the time to talk with me about the work the Cincinnati Museum Center does. You provided wonderful examples of the good museums can still do. Finally, thank you to Sarah Fuller for taking the time to edit my writing, not once but twice, during a pandemic and all the craziness surrounding it.
Is this what the next generation will read, looking for any sort of comfort from those who went through a pandemic, similar to what we ask from those who went through a world war? Maybe someone will find inspiration in my words for their current situation. Though, if Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m being quite honest, I do not think I would find comfort in the words of a woman who admits to not showering and to wearing the same underwear as yesterday. There are many routes my writing could have taken. I could tell you where I should be in this moment or maybe what I should be doing or thinking, and how the world should be spinning, but that does not change the way things are and it does not help me feel any better about the way things are. This is what I truly wanted to contribute to this journal. I wanted my voice to reach more than those living in my house.
Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d like to apologize to my classmate for the times I was not fully present at our Webex meetings. To be perfectly honest, I wrote this during one of those meetings.
“My friends will all be jealous of my awesome photo of the Mona Lisa”
Images of Authenticity Finding the Truth Jack Thayer
Images of Authenticity I am 4th year marketing student about to graduate with no idea what I want to do for a living. I work at an art studio and teach painting classes. I try and sell my own commissioned paintings. I play video games. I work out once or twice a week to stay in shape. I get drunk and go out to bars with my friends. I listen to electrotonic dance music. I go to music festivals in the summer. I like to create and build things. I call my mom on the weekends. I watch HGTV. I am a Michigan fan. I was born in Columbus, Ohio. I keep my house organized and clean. I sleep in past noon on the weekends. I like pizza. Authenticity 106
I watch sports and drink beer. I am not that religious. I like math and science but hate English and writing.
A list of interests and feelings that make up my identity... Some of them are more straight forward than others. While others I have never even told to another person before. There is a lot about me that sharing just a picture or posting a caption cannot express. As I curate my identity and decide who I want to be on a platform such as Instagram, I make sure to hide of these traits that make me look weak. That make me look like I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have my life together. That show how I am depressed at times. And most of all, that donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t show my true identity.
Formal Curation “I am a 4th year marketing major student who currently is studying at the University of Cincinnati.” I’ve had to say that same line over the past few years repeatedly as I have had to do countless interviews and speeches. As a business student, I am told to be ready to give an elevator pitch and to always be ready to sell yourself to anyone at any part of the day. How am I supposed to get all my attributes, skill sets, quality traits and my personality all into a short thirty second elevator pitch? I can’t. I am not able to fully describe myself to the point where I feel comfortable leaving it at that. I need more time to truly give them an interpretation of myself and the product that they would be receiving if they were to hire me. Selling myself has become a major part in how I look at myself and how I live my life. Trying to get experiences and networking with others to build up my credibility. All while
attending school and trying to enjoy myself at the same time. I’m split between satisfying my happiness living out my younger years and my happiness I assume that will come when I achieve the goals set before me. This leads me to ask myself: who am I trying to be? Is this person what I always wanted to become, or is it an image I think might make me happy? As a college student, I am forced to face many challenges over the course of a few years. Some much harder than others, and some that just take a small amount of effort. But for me what has been the hardest is finding out who I am. What is my identity and what I want to do with it? What kind of career do I want to have? Do I want to make a lot
of money doing something I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have that much of a passion for, or do I want to live off little and enjoy the small things? I ask myself these questions a lot, and they seem to never really have a clear-cut answer that leads me in one direction. At the same time while figuring out who I am and who I want to be, I have always made it my goal to stay true to myself and true to who I once was. With that said, I am getting the impression that I am more concerned about curating my own identity at this point in my life.
While attending college as a young eighteen-year-old going in his twenties, I use social media apps and their platforms to stay connected with the world around me. Using these apps to communicate with my friends and to make new ones. However, there is one that I use more than others. Not only to connect but to help create an Identity. I use Instagram to follow my friends, family and some not so close friends that I had met once or twice. Posting pictures that I feel the need to share with others that make me who I am. Pictures including family portraits, vacations that I have gone on, art works that I have created, relationships that I have been in, and, of course, pictures of myself. All to inform those that follow me on the platform who I am and what I have been up to in my life.
As much as I want to make my account authentic and true to myself, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t feel like the things that I am adding to it are really who I am. They are pictures of me and of what I do, yes. But is it really how I want to be seen? For others who do not really get a chance to see me in person or get to have a face to face conversation with me about how my life. Most importantly, is this how I want to look at my life and to judge my experiences and life choices by? All the pictures that include me on the app are all of me having a great time enjoying myself with friends and family. The largest smile on my face, with no thought of fear, failure, or depression. I do understand that no one really wants to post or see things about fear and failure, but to me that does take up a large portion of my life, and when I look at my account, I see a person who has his life together and living it to the fullest. I see a kid who has his mind made up on what he wants to do with his life and the goals set before him to achieve great things.
I am torn between these two identities that I have created and have become over the past few years. I know that there are pieces from both that I wish I had and wish I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t. There are some that I believe with the fictional creation have started to become a part of me and others that have disappeared over the time. As constantly am curating myself on this app, I consistently am taking a look back at all things that have happened to me in my life and those that I have decided to post and share with the world. I look back and see posts that I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t feel best fit me anymore and decide whether I should delete them. I have had past relationships end leading me to remove them from my profile. I also have had so-called unprofessional pictures that I have taken down to not make myself look like a degenerate who is irresponsible and childish. All these pictures and experiences that I have deleted have been so I can move on and to become someone else, someone new. To forget old friends and to move on from others. Reasons to edit my life and to try and make it seem like I have it put together when deep down I know I have no clue where I am when it comes to my identity.
Curation Limitations I am curating a version of myself that I want to be and want others to see me as. Almost like creating an avatar in a video game. Choosing my strengths and leaving out my biggest flaws to make the perfect me. Making sure I look my best and that I show all the right features. Leaving behind a large part of me that plays an equal part in who I am and what my identity is.
I have two identities that I live through. One that seems to enjoy every moment and that lives life to the fullest and another that lives in the same body except doubts himself and is constantly, sitting in his head all the time wondering about his life decisions.
Curating your self-image comes with a lot of challenges and difficulties when choosing what best reflects your personal traits and what you want to be recognized by. However, these are not just the things we choose to post or the things we choose to wear on a night out. In fact, most of the identity we believe we are curating comes from many steps prior. Think about the last time you took a family photo. Did you get the perfect picture the first time? Did you have to get dressed up or put makeup on? What about the smile that you made right before the camera flashed? Did you have to have to express your happiness for one short period only to stop as soon as the photo shoot was over. A lot of things go into making photos such as family portraits or your favorite vacation spots that are behind the scenes, often forgotten about and never really taken into consideration when looking back. Gathering a handful of these images and throwing them together to create an identity of a person seems ironic considering the history behind them. Ironic in the sense of how truthful they really are and stacking them against one another on a profile page to suggest authenticity is hysterical.
I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t say they this does not apply to me. In fact, I am probably one of the worst when it comes to sharing things that are truthful and help curate my identity. I understand that showing parts of you image to others is hard and most donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t anyways, especially on social platforms. These are just a few that stand out to me when I choose not to share a specific image Potluck 111
I edit photos to make the colors stand out better I delete photos that I am ugly in. I have fears of dying alone and not living my life to the fullest. I am very sensitive. I have my phone on me constantly. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t get mad at people. I keep my feelings to myself. I am in love with someone who doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t feel the same. I constantly check social media for updates on peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lives. And lastly, I post pictures on social media to feel better about myself.
I post and share with others because I feel the urge and desire to get their approval. Seeing what they comment or what they like has changed the way I shape my identity on these media platforms. So much to the point where it has shaped how I am living off them. Taking away from how my life was supposed to be lived and how my identity was to be truly displayed. I have spent so much time trying to curate the perfect image that I left the most important piece out.
Of Memory & Methodology Jesse Ly
Of Memory & Methodology Dear, Sincerely,
December 2nd of 2019, 2:20 PM. I found out that my father had passed away
I was in the middle of a lecture class when my phone began to vibrate in my pocket with a call from my mother. At first, I ignored the call. Immediately calls continued, from my brother, my mother again, and then my aunt who lives hours away. Subconsciously, I knew that all of these attempts to reach me must have had something to do with my father. When I left the room, I called my brother back and I will never forget the sound of hearing him mutter through his tears, â&#x20AC;&#x153;dad is dead.â&#x20AC;? In this moment a sinking feeling of aphasia fell over me. This memory is burned within my mind from the mental weight. Every single time I have had to return to this space since, my brain is flooded with a resurgence of these memories. This sinking feeling returns to my psyche not only reminding me of what occurred there, but also the grief I now carry everyday with his passing. There is now an inherent connection between this hallway where I found out that my father had passed, and the space in my familyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s living room where he died. It is, and always will be impossible to remove the connotations from these memories from these spaces.
Memory formulates the construction of how identity is understood. Whether confronted or circumnavigated, memories like this can construct the basis of experiential understanding, and how the archiving of these memories’ structures identity. This notation of interaction comes directly from what has already been, or “the fulfillment of something always already begun.”1 The way memories are created, how they hold prevalent space, and how they are reacted to make variance in identity recognizable. The differing ¹ Nora, Pierre. perspectives to “Between Memory and History: these interactions Les Lieux De of the material Mémoire.” world allow for a Representations, no. 26 (Berkley, CA: creation of University of California comprehension of Press, 1989) 7. what is linked, experienced, understood, and what intensity these are expressed in.2 To then utilize and understand this operation denotes and discerns contrast versus likeness amongst individuals, groups, cultures, nations and beyond. How do these understandings of the past result into a reflection that projects into the future? ² Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. (New York: Zone Books, 1991). 31.
Though emotionally non-present or removed, he showed care and bond through our shared drive and physicality. He was never a person that would express his emotions outright. Only once in my life did he ever tell me directly that he was proud of me. Now that he is no longer with us and reminiscing on how he has reacted throughout time, I know that from how much he has pushed me to push myself that he truly did care. Despite his limitations in directly communicating this, I now know now that he always wanted the best for me and my brother. For only brief periods of time in his life was he able to pursue opportunities of his own drives and passions, but through us, two new renditions of these possibilities came to life for him. To experience these moments with him and realize that his efforts to shape and develop us to strive for the best in life was because he did not have as many chances of his own to do so. No matter how harsh or anger driven it may have manifested was this was how he showed that he cared. Then to have the possibility of pursuit of enjoyment for him in the later years of his life taken from his capabilities has to be one of the most disheartening feelings to witness. He gave most of his life to give my brother and I skills and a chance to live a good, happy life, that he did not have the direct possibility of. He developed this architecture for my life and how I understand my identity, and now I will never be able to thank him for this.
My father was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis only few years prior to his passing. When I learned of his diagnosis I was not capable of knowing how to feel, what to do, or what I would be able to do to help. Evidence of his diagnosis became hyper-present in different capacities every time I visited. His body began to degenerate. His lasting injuries from his past began to affect the muscles in his legs. Quickly he had to rely on a cane or a walker, and soon after required a wheelchair for mobility. It was heart wrenching to watch this process unfold. With every visit seeing the physical ability and quality of life of my father worsen struck fear and sorrow into me. Most of my life with him had existed in the sphere of physical action; running, racing, playing soccer, riding motorcycles. The way I will always remember my father recalls these actions and activities. To see his legs, and then his arms and torso lessen in size and mass, then the necessary implementation of breathing apparatuses and care giving for transportation and mobility; all of these basic operations of autonomy stripped away from him. To see the man that taught, shaped, and pushed my abled body to be utilized to better myself and my life have everything that he gave to me ripped from his life; I hate that he had to go through this more than anything.
It is strange to me how distant the memories of these last moments I was able to be with him are. The efforts to form an accommodating environment. Constructing a dynamic to support the autonomy of his life. Acquiring various wheelchairs to ease transition and movement. Building a ramp so he could more easily enter and exit the house. Installing a chair lift. Placing a plethora of new equipment to help his movement and comfort. Until recently these efforts seemed to dominate my life. Now I feel as if maybe I did not do enough. I tried my best to help him and to simultaneously be the best I could be to make him proud. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all in my memory now. I reflect on these events with my father, my relationship with him, who I am, who he was, and who we all are in the context of others.
Because of my father, I embody racial and ethnic identities of being Asian and more specifically Chinese. All of these stakes in my cultural involvement have created familiarities and awareness to who I am, who I am not, and who I can be. Without being raised knowing that I was different from the majority of people around me, I would not have the empathy I do now for others who experienced similar ridicule from difference. I find myself going through the archive of photographic images my family has amassed and saved over the years. A separation into four parts has occurred in my head, between my perceptual viewpoint and how I have experienced the life and existence of my father, how it has been documented, and how I now distinguish and identify with the contiguous sections of our lives. The only way I am able to have a better grasp of him and our lives together is by understanding what is left; now only these images and the memories adjoined to him that live on through myself and those who he has also impacted. The further I move past the moment of his passing, the more I wish I could have been with him, but also the more I appreciate the time I was able to.
Yates, Francis. The Art of Memory. (London: The Bodley Head, 2014). 25.
Âł Bergson, Henri. Matter and
Discursive & Liminal, Liminal & Discursive Subjectivities of understanding define the consumption and comprehension of content. The central point is the site of the individual and their body. Bodies enact the structure and objects of space from which experiences manifest relationally.3 Individuals and bodies creating and experiencing specific moments in time tailor the varying levels of involvement, familiarity, capability, and agency that affect individuals and their bodies. These interactions of matter drive the growth and development of a person. The retaining of the physical interactions can create and immortalize these memories that individuate from person to person. To then differentiate what is considered petty, ordinary, and banal versus exceptionally base, dishonorable, unusual, great, unbelievable, or ridiculous gives basis to what people forget and what they will retain.4
Memory. (New York: Zone Books, 1991). 17-20.
Reflect back on a moment in your life that holds great significance. Think of a moment that you hold dearly, and why you keep it close. Now think about the surrounding factors. When did this occur, why and who were you with? Is there documentation of the event, and what does that show? What does your perspective show that others may have not been able to see or experience? The individuals with whom you were experiencing a similar moment with may or may not retain a similar memory or set of memories. Looking back at the plethora of moments with my father, both endearing and trying, I find myself dissecting every exchange. Now knowing that any new interaction is impossible, all of the memories I have are the only things still connecting us.
Interaction exists in the contact and dealings of individuals, space, and objects. From subject to subject, these differing perspectives manifest into a limitless system of comprehensions based on recollection. This dissemination of information directly correlates with the formative construction of individuality. The psychological space between present interactions and the reflection of the memories after is the gap that creates the abstraction of memory, experiential differentiation. To consider the discursive deviation from person to person of who is creating memories in a specific context, but also how these contexts shift in their liminal transitions from occurrence to review brings the largest question of understanding information through memories. Memory is inherently tied in tandem to forgetting. “To remember everything would amount to being overwhelmed by memory. Forgetting is a necessary component in the construction of memory.”5 How does the retelling of an occurrence formulate and then disseminate, and how does that create the broadest understanding of occurrences?
In the transitory spaces that almost every person exists in, whether only a momentary instant or closer to permanent, an archive of memories is created. The question then remains as to what holds space and prevalence in this mental retention. These personal observations that are dominant directly show preferential identification. The nooks and crannies that you have a direct connection with, the ties to places, spaces, objects, people and moments; the recollection of these specifications are the memories that formulate aspects of individuality and identity.
Sturken, Marita. “Photography and Collective Memory.” Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, The Aids Epidemic, and The Politics of Remembering (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). 7.
Representation v. Actuality The photographic image is the modern repository of memory. It is the most direct form of tangible connection to the action or occurrence it represents. Within the contemporary landscape, the ease of their creation has become increasingly accessible. This has allowed those who have the ability to make photographs regularly, with no precautions of price or hyper concern of the best quality, to snap away. This extends to the most inherent purpose of the everyday photograph, to tie a visual representation to a moment of time. To see what one may have a memory of, so that they may not lose it. A photograph is a signifier of something else; a landmark event, a transformation, a glimpse into the ephemeral or non-usual. Thereafter this creation of the identity of a moment then immediately transitions to signifying the death of the exact moment that is retained. Beyond the created image, the exactness of what is represented will never occur precisely as it has ever again.
The photographs I have of and with my father now are the only way I am able to physically see him. These moments are gone, and the understanding of how he is portrayed in these images is all that is left. What was once just a format of documentation has now transformed to be the only tangible connection to seeing my father left.
Death is consistently referenced in Roland Barthes book on photography, Camera Lucida. This text exemplifies the irony and conflict of retaining memory through imagery, due to the immediate transformation that occurs after its exposure and creation. On one hand, imagery does enact the simulation of what once was, ratifying a supposed truth of the mental image an individual holds of an interaction. On the other, the objects direct referent signifies the post-condition of the moment. This liminal transition sanctions the end of the moment in reference forever.6 Almost identically similar moments and memories may be created from here, but exact replication is futile. This distinct nature of every single instant is directly individualized to the individual experiencing and interacting within it, moderating the plethora of understandings of memory from subject to subject.
In unison with this text, Susan Sontagâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s writing in On Photography explores the cultural understanding and significance in relation to image-based content. In this dialog, Sontag directly references Ludwig Feuerbach in his critique of preferential treatment towards representational imagery, and societyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s partiality to appearance compared to real experience.7 This notion, though originally conceived and published in 1973, still remains drastically relevant almost half a century later. The small grasp of a standpoint of reality holds mental and emotional weight in eternalizing the importance of a moment into a memory. The acquisition of this knowledge has become fetishized to some degree; to romanticize the representation and affix greater reasoning shifts context again to what an image does and means. Why is the object that is inherently referencing the memory now held to higher esteem that an actual physical visual than a mental one?
Understanding these layers upon layers of interpretation and division of how the creation and archiving of photographs serves to support the structural integrity of memory. This complicated understanding of reality and how individuals reflect upon it can truly only be comprehended through its representations. The possibility of being all knowing and containing a mental notation of all in time and space is truly futile. Even in the slightest individual sense retaining all of this information becomes muddled the larger that the archive of memory fills. To be able to even attempt to bridge this gap with imagery and objects should be reveled in. Without notating these experiences and echoing in an attempted reproduction, how would we be able to pull from this archive to curate a better present reality? Representation may directly be futile in encapsulating all of reality, but it is necessary for the contemplation and structuring of a growing identity.
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. 1st American ed.â&#x20AC;Ż (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981).
Sontag, Susan. On Photography. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977). Suzuki, Sarah. Print People. 119.
Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. (New York: Zone Books, 1991). 33.
De Botton, Alain, and John Armstrong. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Seven Functions of Art: Remembering.â&#x20AC;? Art As Therapy. (New York: Phaidon Press, 2013.) 10.
Cyoro, Uros. "The present body, the absent body, and the formless." Art Journal 61, no. 4 (2002): 57. 9
Lyndon, Donlyn & Moore, Charles W. Chambers for a Memory Palace. (Cambridge, MA. London, UK. The MIT Press. 1999). 299.
Something that has occurred frequently in my life has been the consideration to discuss my father with those who have also been affected by his interactions with him. I have continually looked back on all of my direct experiences with him, to formulate my identification of who he is and was. To then grasp the varying range of how he was understood as an individual, the experiential differentiation from person to person, comes into play. How does the alternating experience of a person, place, or thing, collectively formulate a comprehensive awareness?
â&#x20AC;&#x153;There is no perception which is not full of memories.â&#x20AC;?8 This formless void of mental imagery holds so much weight and space inside every individual. Objects that re-form the physical presence of what is lost interjects physical space to ground these memories. The photographic prints that I cherish and hold dear of my father, the articles of clothing I now regularly wear that once belonged to him, the jade Guan Yin I wear around my neck every day that he and my grandfather once wore, all give space for reflection of him. These traces of him bridge this new gap everyone who knew him directly between absence and presence.9 Though they do not express the qualities of him that one may have experienced, he is inherently now lodged in these intensively distinct objects. These attached memories both familiar and mysterious and enlivened by ornament and association intertwine my contemporary identity to my identity that once was directly connected with him.10 However, though my memories of and with him shape my understanding, these ties and renditions will never retain the elusive nature of his personality and essence, and no one will be able to emulate this.11 I have come to hold a greater grasp of our relationship, and who he was from the re-telling of stories and occurrences that he was involved with from others he has affected. However, this collection of my memories and everyone elseâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s memories of him shall never fulfill as a substitute to the actual experience of being with him and interacting.
Grief Given and Grappling There are few things I desire more than another moment with my father. The value now attached to the few objects and images that are remnant of his life is immeasurable in comparison to most things. At the time, the moments do not seem as significant once they are lost. The precarity of the ephemeral moment brings forward everything that could and should have been valued while it was still in existing in real time. The passing of time becomes more and more heavy the more I find myself situated this newfound corporeality.
The troublesome attachment to memory exists in the nature and tendency to fall into a hole of reflection. Much like the grieving process, one must take steps in order to move on from the memories that hold one in a moment in order to prosper as an individual. To know and accept a situation is one key facet, but then to “name it, exalt it, dissect it into its smallest components – that is doubtless a way to curb mourning.” It has become necessary to mourn what is lost and accept the contradictory existence of love and hate that coincides with remembrance. To become aware of these enactments that the reflection of memory may surface ratifies the evolution of progress of an individual’s identity. To embrace this ephemeral existence is to accept the fragile interworking of life. Without this temporality, one would be incoherent to growth and development. With it, tragedy may occur, but so can something that is thrilling. Living with both is a necessity, and to reflect backwards is what gives agency to moving forward.
The Persistence of Longing Maria Marotta
The Persistence of Longing Hunger What I remember about growing up was that I was always hungry. I was starving, ravenous, insatiable. Maybe my vegetarian upbringing is to blame, but all I know is that there was a void in my gut that screamed to be filled. My hunger manifested in binges at sleepovers, secret snacking at night, and led to an eventual shame surrounding food. This was my first experience with desire; wanting what is forbidden or just out of reach. It seemed to me there was never enough, I was always lacking something. This desire crept into other parts of my life as adolescence gave way to puberty. Soon my hunger wasn’t just reserved for food, but now friends, beauty, status, acceptance. Early life was riddled with “what-ifs” and aspirational thinking. What if I was taller, skinnier, blonder, richer, less desperate: wanted. I desired to be desired. Anthropologist Janne Flora poses the question, “Is it possible to long too much? Or to be too homesick? – or too little?” In this case, I believe my answer would be yes, it is possible to
long too much; to have too strong of an ache for belonging. I felt especially lonely growing up as a pseudo only child (my sister is 15 years older than me). Plus, I had a very small aging extended family, most of them already over 50 by the time I was 13. This made me more confident making small talk with the school nun rather than my peers. As a result, I felt there was a rift between myself and my schoolmates. I just couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t predict what they would like, think was funny, was fashionable; and I had no siblings at home to act as a cultural liaison. Thus, I always felt out of step. Longing for belonging swallowed me whole, I felt insufficient and empty. How could I fill myself back up? I stuffed myself with food, music, books, eyeliner. I was ready to curate myself to fulfillment. If I could make myself desirable by being beautiful, cool, well-read, interesting, I could satiate the gaping longing I had for connection as well. I would tear down the path of self-improvement and build a new self: worthy of belonging. Would I feel fulfilled after my heard-earned acceptance?
Education “Loneliness generally belongs to the realm of philosophy where it is thought of as the human condition: an inescapable fact of the human existence” (Janne). Our shared loneliness results in a shared desire for connection: a longing to feel wanted, a part of something greater than ourselves, and understood. Remedies for this longing have manifested in religion, consumerism, dating apps, or other forms of escapism. Years in Catholic school familiarized me early on with the power of longing. Classes devoted to devotion, promising an eventual paradise if we could only just wait long enough. Bide your time. Do good deeds. Suffer a bit first, then be delivered into divine salvation. I was never taught that true fulfillment could realistically exist on earth. Behind every scripture line there was always the lingering message that there was something more than the life we were living. Religion did not fill me up. Somehow in a church full
of bodies, I still felt alone. Anthropologist Janne also comes to this conclusion: “One might feel lonely while being surrounded by people, friends, and family, without any of the surrounding people having a clue about it. We might likewise expect someone to be lonely who has no immediate or extended family and who spends most of his or her time alone, while that person might never actually feel lonely at all.” Loneliness is equally insidious as it is abstract. One can’t pin it down or trace it back to a source: a specific childhood trauma, a breakup, a distracted parent. Even those with seemingly contented lives experience the ache of isolation.
Besides religion, there are other ways people satisfy the wrench of desire. I could see it in my father, who was definitely not religious. His childhood was not happy, and to remedy that brokenness, he turned to food. My father’s struggle with food is an extremely taboo subject in my family, but I can see how he uses it as a way to replace the love he never received. I would watch the desire in him, to eat more, but not let us know he wanted more. Wanting more was always a signifier of weakness in my family. Secret binge eating at night was the only way to relieve the desire away from the judgement of others. Could food ever possibly fix all the
trauma in my father’s life? No, but the need was there, he had to use something as a crutch even if it may damage him more in the long run. I believe in addition to inheriting genetic information from our parents, we also inherit their trauma and longing. In the inner circle of my family there is a tradition of passing on unfinished goals to the next generation. It’s possible that this is a purely an American immigrant predicament, but I feel the heavy responsibility of achieving what my parents couldn’t, or at least what they already have. I see my grandmother living through the eyes of my mother, and my mother living through mine. It is a slow generational release: like the unfurling of a flower.
Relationships My families’ generational longing doesn’t end with education, but it also desires remedying unfulfilling relationships. Do I need to mend all the broken relationships in my parent’s past with mine? Each marriage in my family devolved into separation. Not always divorce, but dissatisfaction, estrangement, and resentment.
My grandmother did not have any choice in her life. A daughter of poor Italian immigrants, one of ten children, her only option was to marry a man who could support her. She married into more pain: the son of an alcoholic and a Jewish Ukrainian refugee. This pain was passed to my mom and her three sisters. They had to do better, but my grandparents’ insecurities quickly imprinted on my mother and aunts, making it difficult to imagine life beyond working class. My mother did want for more though; she wanted a college education. She made straight C’s in high
school managed to get into OSU, but had to drop out after 2 years. After coming back home, longing struck her again, and she finished her degree at Cleveland State. My mother’s degree was hard earned, and made her the first in my family to ever complete college, and the first woman to flex her autonomy.
the fear is me eat sp Longing 146
s making paghetti Potluck 147
I have seen my parents kiss maybe once or twice. They operated more as business partners than spouses. Growing up this didn’t stand out as particularly odd until I visited friend’s houses. Their parents seemed relaxed around one another, casually slinging an arm around the other’s shoulder. The casual touch made me recoil in embarrassment, I wasn’t used to open affection. This new discovery made me realize there was something missing in my parent’s marriage. I was suddenly without a roadmap for a healthy relationship. I didn’t know what a successful marriage was, but since that moment I wanted one. The pressure of tying up the loose ends and unfinished aspirations of my family culminates in a layered longing: one that entwines my own yearning with theirs. Their hunger unconsciously shaped my identity: what I desired, needed, strived for. Longing made my decisions for me. Where I went to high school and college, who I made friends with, who I fell in love with. The hunger to repair the wounds of my family lingered behind every action. I could hear the old whispers of advice and regret as I moved through the world. It was like looking backward and forward at the same time. How could I reconcile every familial sacrifice and mistake
through my singular life? Any of my personal failures felt catastrophic. When I feel the weight of my entire family bearing down, I often think of my eccentric great aunt Vera. She was one of my grandmother Massaro’s nine siblings—and possibly the most hated. Vera vanished from the Massaro family for 50 years, only to make a theatrical re-entrance at my grandfather’s funeral. After that, Vera burst onto the stage of my grandmother, mother, and my life. Suddenly I had a new relative overnight, like unlocking a character in a video game. She was almost surreal; the strange petite woman suddenly began appearing with my grandma every day to pick me up from high school. Vera’s large features were set in bizarrely smooth skin for an old lady, she looked like a witch or ancient spirit. Her presence was ghostly and uneasy. Although Vera put me on edge, she fulfilled a longing in my grandmother. After being alone for so long, my grandma finally had someone to reminisce with, speak broken Italian to, gripe with. As my grandma opened up to Vera, her world opened up to us. We could peer into what transpired over all those years cloistered away. In fact—Vera turned out to be a hoarder and shut in. After she died, we could witness her entire life that was archived in that aching, slouching house.
Vera longed in silence, her yearning was evident in the layers of belongings that were packed into the house like sediments. The reality she wanted was the one she created in that house. She could control the narrative there. But did she long for more outside her fantasy? Perhaps it was the act of longing itself that sustained her: “Longing is itself a pleasure. Sometimes it’s the greater pleasure. I once yearned for a stuffed rabbit, embraced and adored it… Then one day at camp I got a package. My parents had bought me the rabbit... I didn’t play with it. I’d never wanted to play with it, I understood as soon as I lifted it out of its tissue-paper bed. I’d wanted only to want it.” (Manguso) Resolution Like hunger, longing never ceases. It can be satiated, but the growl of desire will return. It pounds and pounds and drives us forward in life:” the void longing creates, leaves space for possibility. Desire propels
us forward: â&#x20AC;Śdisappointment is an integral and unavoidable aspect of utopianism. It is what keeps us yearning, searching, hoping.â&#x20AC;? (Munoz). The loss doubles as an opportunity. Longing allows us to visualize a future that is greater than our reality. The void our desire creates is a potent space of possibility. My starving teenage self, my father, my mother, my grandmother, we all need to yearn, all need to feel the world moving forward, not back. Our hunger reminds us that we are alive, our bodies push us to continue searching for fulfillment. The world yearns unrelenting: pulsing with possibility, hope, renewal, potential. In the end, longing will not cease, it is persistent.
“I didn’t want to erase the distance between me and the great mysteries. I wanted to maintain them, and to wear and possess the things that reminded me that I was surrounded by powerful forces I couldn’t change. I wanted the great mysteries to swirl around me more than I wanted success, or possessions, or boys to kiss. I wanted to write a love letter and never send it; I wanted to keep my feelings to myself and never tell anyone, never relieve any of their thrilling pressure.” (Manguso)
Castillo, Debra, A. “Georg Lukács: Forms of Longing.” Criticism 28, no. 1 (1986): 89-104. Accessed February 19, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23110360. Corby, Vanessa and Eva Hesse. Eva Hesse: Longing, Belonging and Displacement. London: I. B. Tauris, 2010. Flora, Janne and Ohio Library and Information Network. Wandering Spirits: Loneliness and Longing in Greenland. London;Chicago;: The University of Chicago Press, 2019. Manguso, S. (2019), Loss: When yearning is pleasure. The Yale Review, 107: 19-23. doi:10.1111/yrev.13551
Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The then and there of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press, 2009.
Contributors Luke Kindle is an artist and a 2020 BFA graduate from UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning with minor in Art History and a certificate in Critical Visions. He is primarily a photographic artist, though his work is supported by performance, sculpture, and bookmaking practices. His work focuses on human-animal epistemologies and visualizing strategies for knowing, living alongside, and becoming more like non-human “others”. He lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Julia Tong is the human embodiment of an upside-down smiley face. She is in her last-ish semester of Electronic Media at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. Her work consists of footwear and garment design, video production and editing, and graphic design–all with a focus on trying to combat oppressive forces in the amazingly perfect, not-fucked-at-all society that we live in. She is currently living in Cincinnati as she finishes up her studies. firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong is an artist and educator interested in the ideas of cultural vernacular, ethno-musical studies, and art as a vehicle for agency. As an artist, writer, and musician she is fascinated by language and its most abstracted forms. Her current interests reside in reggaeton discourse, utopia, and snack locality. You can probably find her wandering the aisles of a grocery store in search of a new snack or soda. Cuyubamba Kong currently studies at the University of Cincinnati and will graduate with a BFA and certificate in Critical Visions in May of 2021. She maintains a studio practice photographing still-life representations of utopia and often teaches workshops at art institutions across Cincinnati.
Senja Toivonen is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and fourth-year BFA student at the University of Cincinnati. In addition to her studio art studies, she is minoring in Art History and pursuing certificates in Critical Visions as well as Journalism. Toivonen is passionate about writing and all things contemporary art. Currently in her own practice she is exploring concepts revolving around mental health/mental illness, trauma, cute theory and craft culture.
Mikeala Williams is a fourth-year Anthropology major with a minor in French and certificates in Critical Visions and Business French. She recently won first place in the Volkswagen Creative Writing Competition. Mikaelaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s main experience in anthropology is within the fields of cultural and applied anth, and she is passionate about organizational culture and representation in film and media. After graduation, she hopes to pursue these topics at an undetermined graduate school. Her other interests include writing, traveling, and sticker making. email@example.com
Jesse Ly is an artist from Dayton, OH. He received his BFA in 2020 with minors in Art History and Critical Visions from UCâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s college of Design, Architecture, Art, & Planning. Ly is a visual artist who primarily uses a photographic approach that incorporates processes of sculpture, installation, bookmaking, and writing to inform imagery. His work explores identity through representation in photographs and its liminal qualities of existence. This examines how photographic depictions may incite differentiation in presence and portrayal through representation versus actuality. He currently maintains his studio practice and professionally works as a photographer in Cincinnati, OH. www.jessemly.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Thayer is a Marketing design student who attended the University of Cincinnati where he completed his undergraduate degree. Originally from Columbus Ohio, Jack moved to Cincinnati to finish school and it was here where he discovered his passion for art and painting. Jack focuses on deep emotions and vibrant colors in his work to bring it to life. Jack is continuing his practice and career in Cincinnati exploring painting, murals, and videography. www.jackthayerart.com email@example.com
Maria Marotta is an artist and fourth year Fine Art student at the University of Cincinnati. She creates futile bodies in combination with video installation. Her soft sculptures bend under pressure of gravity: their submission to the environment conveys exhaustion, futility, and weight. Marotta treats sculpture as artifact of installation. Her pieces attempt to control their projected environment, but ultimately fail. The bound-to-fail situations she stages point to underpinnings about longing, isolation, trauma, and hope. www.mariamarotta.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Editorial Board William Culpepper School of Graphic Design, Academy of Art University Sudhir Desai Session Director, Strategic Design Program, RISD Sarah Fuller Independent Artist Bradford Hansen-Smith Author, Speaker Michael Keidel Photographer and Videographer, Advertising Lucian Krukowski Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Washington University Former Dean, School of Art, Washington University and Pratt Institute Meg Walker Writer, Educator, Artist Yukon College, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada Jason Knarr Graphic Artist, Art Teacher The Seven Hills School Deborah Porter Glenn Independent Artist Daniel Vance Sculptor and Painter, Art Teacher The Seven Hills School
Critical Visions Faculty Stephanie Sadre-Orafai is an Associate Professor of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UC, and co-director of the Critical Visions Certificate Program. She studied Anthropology with a minor in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkley, and received her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from New York University. Her research focus on transformations in contemporary US racial thinking and visual culture by examining emerging forms of expertise, cultural, and institutional practices of type production, and the intersection of race, language, and visual practices in aesthetic industries like fashion and design. email@example.com Jordan Tate is an Associate Professor of Art in the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning at the University of Cincinnati, and co-director of the Critical Visions Certificate Program. A Fulbright Fellow (2008 - 2009), he has a BPhil in Interdisciplinary Studies from Miami University and an MFA in Photography from Indiana University. His work is held in collections nationwide, including Rhizome at the New Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Bidwell Projects, the Cincinnati Art Museum, The Columbus Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Recent exhibitions of his works include: The National Gallery of Kosovo, Ditch Projects, Denny Gallery (NYC), Transformer Station Art Museum, New Shelter Plan (DK), PH Gallery (UK), Higher Pictures (NYC), The Photographers Gallery (London, UK), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland. firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest Faculty Samantha Krukowski is an artist, author and educator who has long been interested in the roles of impermanence, ephemerality and (in)visibility in creative production. She is curious about how images, objects, people and places function in the context of a society where information is aggressive, multilocated and slippery. Her writing has focused on the modes and problems of historicizing time-based artworks; presence and absence in the pictorial field; the nature of creativity and the identity of the maker. Her studio work often involves examining bits of the world at micro and macro scales in order to discover shared pattern languages. Her videos, paintings and drawings have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Originally from New York and St. Louis, she currently lives in Cincinnati where she teaches design at the University of Cincinnati. She has taught studios, seminars and lecture courses in architecture, art, design, art and architectural history/theory since 2000 and was on the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin and Iowa State University before moving to Ohio. She holds a PhD in Art History and an MArch from the University of Texas at Austin, an MA from Washington University in St. Louis, and a BA from Barnard College/Columbia University. Her edited volume Playa Dust: Collected Stories from Burning Man was published by Black Dog Publishing, London, in 2014. email@example.com