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T HE COL L EGE HIL L INDEPEN DEN T NEWS
FROM THE EDITORS
WEEK IN REVIEW
BARRY ELKINTON, ALEX RONAN, CAROLINE SOUSSLOFF
TV ON THE INTERNET ERICA SCHWIEGERSHAUSEN
DOREEN ST. FÉLIX
OPINIONS TYLER BOURGOISE
RAISING ARIZONA EMMA WOHL
If last week wasn’t the end of the Internet as we know it, it certainly marked a significant transition, as two combustible quantities came into contact: the social amplifier Facebook and the anonymous “a-culture” that lives on sites like 4chan, Reddit, and Something Awful. As Reddit poster sweetteaking complained (and the Daily Dot reported) on Wednesday, “Some people started a Facebook page for memes at my university. I don’t think they get it.” The first Facebook university meme page might have been that of the Florida International University, created on October 1. Other pages quickly appeared across the country. (Saif Altmimi, an entrepreneurial student at the University of Guelph in Ontario, claims to have started 80% of the pages; on Thursday, he opened CampusMemes. com. Brown’s College Hill Troll Community— Br.U.Mad? first posted on December 12. RISD Rage showed up on January 31. But it wasn’t until this week that the university meme got memed itself, with sweetteaking’s post (which has earned over 13 thousand up-votes) giving rise on Friday to a Facebook page for University Memes Memes. These weren’t your average memes, which Richard Dawkins famously defined as the “unit of cultural transmission,” and which were in evidence on Facebook last week with Jeremy Lin, Whitney Houston, and the Wes Anderson/Ja Rule mash-up. The university meme pages traffic in so-called “image macros,” where users caption given characters with variations on their trademark catchphrases or archetypes. On the College Hill Troll Community, for example, we see Hipster Kitty brag, “I used to hang out in Faunce/ before it was the Stephen Roberts ’62 Campus Center.” Anonymous forums allow users to abandon their real identities and predicate communities on shared knowledge of Internet esoterica. The practice of trolling is the most common way of differentiating oneself from so-called “newfags:” if they actually buy your outlandish threats or offensive slurs, they don’t belong on your message boards. But the administrators of the College Hill Troll Community are generally benevolent, and will even request explanations of unfamiliar memes. The only actual act of trolling on the page occurred this Saturday, when a freshman named David Lee posted three image macros with generic Brown jokes that didn’t conform to typical macro use. Almost immediately, Lee was targeted by three mocking responses. Whether or not it’s intentional, the troll-trolling performed by meme-manglers like Lee was the inevitable result of anonymous Internet discourse’s collision with Facebook’s insistence on real names and real-life networks. As for possible charges of newfaggotry pertaining to this investigation, well, don’t blame the Independent. We were happy ignoring a-culture and simply using Facebook to stalk crushes (the rest of our Internet comprises old Paris Review interviews and Downton Abbey). But now some assholes have forced us to learn the difference between Scumbag Steve and Good Guy Greg, and we fear we’ll never be the same.
1 0 POSTSCRIPT ELLORA VILKIN
1 3 INSTALLED OUT OSCARS, THE GROUCH, 1 4 AND THE INDYS RACHEL KAY
READING MINDS RAILLAN BROOKS
1 6 NOXIOUS NIPPERS AVERY HOUSER
SO SUMO ME AMY LACOUNT
1 9 SANDWICHES BECCA LEVINSON
ABOUT MANAGING EDITORS Chris Cohen, Belle Cushing, Mimi Dwyer ∙ NEWS Alex Ronan, Erica Schwiegershausen, Caroline Soussloff ∙ METRO Sam Adler-Bell, Grace Dunham, Jonathan Storch ∙ FEATURES David Adler, Emily Gogolak, Ellora Vilkin, Kate Welsh ∙ ARTS Rachel Kay, Kate Van Brocklin, Jonah Wolf ∙ OPINIONS Tyler Bourgoise, Stephen Carmody ∙ INTERVIEWS Rachel Benoit ∙ SCIENCE Raillan Brooks ∙ FOOD Anna Rotman ∙ SPORTS David Scofield ∙ LITERARY Michael Mount, Scout Willis ∙ X PAGE Becca Levinson ∙ LIST Alex Corrigan, Dylan Treleven, Allie Trionfetti ∙ BLOG Max Lubin, Christina McCausland, Dan Stump ∙ DESIGN EDITOR Mary-Evelyn Farrior ∙ DESIGN TEAM Abigail Cain ∙ CREATIVE CONSULTANTS Annika Finne, Robert Sandler ∙ ILLUSTRATIONS EDITOR Diane Zhou ∙ SENIOR EDITORS Gillian Brassil, Malcolm Burnley, Jordan Carter, Adrian Randall, Emma Whitford MVP: David Adler Cover Art: Robert Sandler
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT PO BOX 1930 BROWN UNIVERSITY PROVIDENCE RI 02912 email@example.com twitter: maudelajoie theindy.org Letters to the editor are welcome distractions. The College Hill Independent is published weekly during the fall and spring semesters and is printed by TCI press in Seekonk, MA. The Independent receives support from Campus Progress/Center for American Progress. Campus Progress works to help young people–advocates, activists, journalists, artists– make their voices heard on issues that matter. Learn more at CampusProgress.org
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REVIEW THERE IS A LOT I DON’T UNDERSTAND ABOUT YOU By Christina McCausland
amza Kashgari, a 23-year old columnist for Saudi Arabia’s Al Bilad newspaper, may face trial after posting Twitter messages considered offensive to the Prophet Mohammed. The messages, tweeted last week on the anniversary of the prophet’s birth, were deleted from Twitter but have since been published by Agence France Presse. They read, in part, “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you,” “I shall speak to you as a friend, no more,” “I will not pray for you.” The tweets received over 30,000
overwhelmingly negative responses on Twitter within a day, and have incited many of his fellow Saudis to demand his arrest and execution. A Facebook group titled “The Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari” has over 21,000 members. An influential Saudi cleric, Nasser al-Omar, called for Kashgari to be tried for apostasy, which, in Saudi Arabia’s classical sharia legal system, is punishable by death. Kashgari attempted to flee Saudi Arabia after issuing an apology via Twitter, but was detained by authorities at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport while
boarding a flight to New Zealand, where he hoped to seek asylum. He was deported to Saudi Arabia on Sunday morning, a move that was met with objection from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. An unidentified official from Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the New York Times that Kashgari was sent back “because he is on the watch list of Saudi Arabia.” Malaysia, also a majority-Muslim country, has a strong diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia. In a statement, Amnesty International said they “[consider] Hamza Kashgari a prisoner of conscience ... for peacefully exercising his
right to freedom of expression and [call] for his immediate and unconditional release.” Though it is unclearexactly what charges Kashgari will face, many are concerned that he will be treated harshly in order to set an example. In a country known for its strict censorship laws, and where bloggers are required to obtain an official license from the Ministry of Culture and Information, Kashgari “crossed a line even Saudi liberals won’t dare to touch,” Fouad al-Farhan, an influential liberal blogger in Saudi Arabia told the Daily Beast. Saudi officials have not yet publicly commented on the situation.
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW By Alex Ronan
ut with the old, in with the older. A patch of seagrass known as Posidonia oceanica has just had its DNA sequenced, and some patches are 200,000 years old. With this discovery Posidonia oceanica wrests the title of oldest organism on Earth from the previous world record holder, a Tasmanian plant believed to be approximately 43,000 years old. Native to the Mediterranean, this particular patch is composed of 40 undersea meadows
stretching some 2,000 miles from Spain to Cyprus. Professor Carlos Duarte, of the University of Western Australia, said the patch of asexual seagrass contains “a broad diversity of different ways to resolve the problem of becoming a life” … whatever that means. Speaking of all things timeworn, the world’s oldest works of art have just been discovered in one of the Nerja Caves on Spain’s Costa del Sol. After reviewing new
image testing data results, scientists believe six paintings of seals (or rust colored blobs, depending on how much you squint) are at least 42,000 years old. Professor Jose Luis Sanchidrian, of the University of Cordoba, called the discovery “an academic bombshell” as the works, the only known artistic images created by Neanderthals, push the origin of painting back 10,000 years. All previous artwork has been attributed to Homo sapiens. The Nerja Caves are a series of
enormous caverns that were discovered in 1959 by five boys out exploring. In addition to the seal paintings, they are also home to the world’s largest stalagmite, which stands at 105 feet tall. Researchers believe that the cave where the paintings were discovered was one of the last places in Europe where Neanderthals sought refuge before their extinction, escaping Cro-Magnons in a high-stakes game of hide-and-go-seek.
towards the larger legal challenge of defining personhood. As the decades-old debate over the status of a human fetus and the recent furor over Citizens United demonstrate, courts have often struggled to demarcate exactly where personhood begins and ends. While the SeaWorld orcas will remain, in PETA’s words, “compelled to perform meaningless tricks for a reward of dead fish,” many observers see no reason why animals might not gain full legal consideration in the future. Utilitarian philosophers such as Peter Singer, for example, have persistently argued that, if pleasure and pain are the primary categories of moral significance, highly developed animals should receive equal moral consideration to humans. Many
legal scholars cautiously agree that a day may come when species distinction, much like categories of race or gender, might increasingly be recognized as an arbitrary distinction under the eyes of the law. “Ours is a vibrant Constitution, more than capable of warding off past evils while also speaking to circumstances in which we come to recognize that familiar principles apply in ways previously unforeseen,” said Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe about the PETA case. “So it seems to me no abuse of the Constitution to invoke it on behalf of nonhuman animals cruelly confined for purposes of involuntary servitude.”
WHALE PEOPLE By Barry Elkinton onsidering that corporations are people (my friend), it’s high time to consider what other entities or beings should enjoy the fruits of legal personhood. Great apes and whales, for example, have considerable powers of intelligence and self-awareness. If it can be shown that these creatures compare favorably to humans cognitively, what’s to stop them from achieving a certain modicum of legal consideration? If that sounds like a job for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, well, it is. Last Monday, after months of publicity and anticipation, PETA lawyers went before a District Court Judge in San Diego and presented a lawsuit against SeaWorld for
“enslaving” the five killer whales SeaWorld owns between its San Diego and Orlando theme parks. Citing considerable evidence showing that whales have complex personalities, cultures and social relationships, PETA argued that the whales were, in effect, persons enslaved against their will. On Wednesday, however, Judge Jeffery Miller dismissed the case, writing that ‘slavery’ and ‘involuntary servitude’ are “uniquely human activities.” Although PETA’s case quickly floundered, the mere fact that a federal court agreed to hear their argument is being heralded by the organization as an “historic first case for the orcas’ right to be free under the 13th Amendment.” The issues raised by PETA’s case point
17 FEBRUARY 2012
CHANGING THE CHANNEL Online Media and the Future of the Television Industry By Erica Schwiegershausen Illustration by Alexander Dale
wo weeks ago, the Super Bowl was broadcast live online for the first time ever. With about 2.1 million viewers watching the live stream, NBC said the game was the “most-watched single-game sports event ever online.” While the number of online viewers pales in comparison to the 111.3 million people who watched the game on television, the live-stream reflects a trend that traditional television networks and adbuying agencies are becoming increasingly aware of—people aren’t just watching TV on televisions anymore. Or, at least, young people aren’t. A report released by Nielsen last week confirms what media analysts have been predicting for years: while Americans still watch an average of four hours and 39 minutes of TV a day, traditional television viewing is declining among young people. According to Nielsen data analyzed by the New York Times, television viewership among Americans under 35 has decreased for three straight quarters, even when DVR viewership is taken into account. Adults between 25 and 34 watched four fewer hours of TV in the third quarter of 2011 than they did during the third quarter of 2010, which is the equivalent of nine minutes fewer a day. Younger demographics saw similar decreases. Such data increasingly points to the inevitable peak of TV viewing and resulting plateau or likely decline—a change with serious implications for the future of the media and advertising industries. While traditional television networks struggle to maintain their hold on younger audiences, online news organizations and internet titans are becoming increasingly innovative with online video. Last fall,
YouTube announced the launch of 100 online channels featuring playlists of original content from a variety of partners ranging from celebrities like Madonna, Shaquille O’Neal, and Rainn Wilson to news organizations such as the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and The Onion. Google, which purchased YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion, has invested $100 million in advances to the channel’s producers for the advertising revenue that the videos are expected to bring in. In a blog post, Robert Kyncl, the global head of content partnerships at YouTube, likened the channels’ launch to the historical expansion of television from three networks—each with a mass viewership— to hundreds of cable channels that served niche audiences. “People went from broad to narrow, and we think they will continue to go that way—spend more and more time in the niches—because now the distribution landscape allows for more narrowness,” Kyncl said. Julie Levin Russo, a professor in the department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, described this development as part of a larger trend of the “professionalization of YouTube,” explaining that, over the past few years, an increasing number of the most popular videos on the website are professionally created content as opposed to material generated by amateurs. “It started out as a sort of usergenerated-anybody-can-post kind of portal but YouTube has been increasingly moving towards partnerships with professional, corporate content producers,” Levin Russo explained. One of these YouTube channels is the Slate News Channel, which, produced by the online magazine Slate, launched on January
1. Over the past few years both traditional and exclusively online news media have been relying increasingly on video: the New York Times has a fairly robust video team that produces both short and long-form content for the site, the Associated Press frequently produces short footage clips, and the Wall Street Journal’s site features live streaming videos on the weekdays with news anchors. However, the Slate News Channel is somewhat unique, said Ben Johnson, a Supervising Editor at Slate V, the online magazine’s video division. The intent is to aggregate the news, breaking down the biggest stories of the day into a minute or less of online video. The channel produces five of these short videos each day, and has gotten close to a quarter of a million views and 2,200 subscribers since its launch. Johnson admits that at first he was skeptical about the project. “I’m not a cable baby,” he said. “I’m not a person who watches CNN videos online very often.” However, Johnson says he has been “pleasantly shocked” to discover that there is a strong demographic that is interested in getting news from these short videos. “As someone who was pretty suspicious of this format six months ago. I am now a complete convert,” he said. Slate is not the only online-based news organization that seems to be embracing increased demand for online news video. On February 3, Arianna Huffington announced that The Huffington Post will launch the HuffPost Streaming Network this summer, featuring 12 hours of daily programming, eventually increasing to 24 hours. As an exclusively online publication, The Huffington Post has always relied on
online advertising for its revenue—and has had unprecedented success. This month marks a year since the website was bought by AOL for $315 million, and since the acquisition the site has garnered 36.2 million unique visitors a month—a 47 percent growth. Roy Sekoff, a founding editor of HuffPo who will head the network explained that the stream won’t have timed scheduled programs, but rather will overlap topics to reflect the “controlled chaos” of the Web. Huffington described the network as “more relaxed, more free-flowing, and much more spontaneous and interactive” than traditional TV. According to The Huffington Post’s Andy Plesser, a substantial part of the network will be “integrating live, one-onone and group dialogues and debates from the community.” Viewers will be able to join into the conversations via webcams, smart phones, and tablets using applications such as Skype and Google+ Hangouts, as well as interact with the video screen itself, clicking on links to related content and social sharing tools. According to Huffington, “people aren’t interested in being talked at anymore – they want to be part of the conversation.” Levin Russo says that she’s curious to see whether HuffPo’s plan will be successful. “What HuffPo is very good at doing is aggregation; they’re notorious for not producing their own content but being able to aggregate and represent a lot of disparate material and re-frame it within their particular branding so that they become a portal for this particular segment of news consumers.” What remains to be seen, she says, is whether HuffPo will be able to aggregate independent news-based video in way that’s coherent and compelling to
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viewers. “I think their plan is impressively ambitious,” said Johnson, “but as anyone who has watched CNN for a long period of time in a day can tell you, when you’re trying to provide content 24 hours a day, a lot of that content is going to be crap.” Sekoff described the network to the Wall Street Journal as a “neverending talk show” that will “mirror the Internet experience.” Sekoff declined to say how much AOL is spending on the launch, but called it a “substantial investment;” the company is dedicating 100 employees to the project. The Wall Street Journal has been quick to point out that other digital media outlets have turned to live video to expand on text reporting, calling “hyperbolic” Huffington’s description of the network as “truly groundbreaking” and a “game-changer.” “Most notably, the Wall Street Journal launched its first live online program in 2008 and is currently producing about four hours of live video on weekdays for WSJ.com,” the Journal reports. Sekoff described the Journal project as “fine,” but said that The Huffington Post’s interactive live stream would differ substantially, due in large part to the site’s heavily commenting audience. “No offense to the Wall Street Journal, but I think we got more comments this month than the Wall Street Journal got last year,” said Sekoff. The Journal declined to comment. “There’s no question in my mind that as long as the Internet exists, television is doomed,” said Johnson. Indeed, it seems hard to remember the Internet before YouTube. Jawed Karim, one of the platform’s founders, cites Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction”
during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show as inspiration for the site’s creation, since, although the incident was followed by an FCC fine, a Supreme Court lawsuit, and an explosive amount of commentary, the footage was not available after the live broadcast. But old-fashioned television isn’t dead yet. According to the Economist, the world spent $115 billion on 220 million flat-panel televisions last year. In fact, Levin Russo points out that “people have been proclaiming the death of television at several successive phases over the last few decades.” The advent of the remote control in the late 1970s prompted concerns that increased viewer agency would interfere with the networks’ imperative to show ads. In 1984 the Supreme Court ruled that recording individual copies of complete television shows on VCRs for purposes of time-shifting did not constitute copyright infringement, increasing viewers’ ability to consume television on demand. “The problem for the industry of how to negotiate the viewer’s agency over TV programming is an ongoing issue, and I don’t think that online viewing is suddenly this revolution that’s going to end television as we know it,” said Russo. Rather, she points out that the television industry has actually been rather savvy and forward-thinking in adapting to the realm of online distribution. By 2016, half of all households will have Wi-Fi enabled devices on their televisions, according to Forrester Research, meaning that traditional TV networks and cable channels are likely to expand to buy web-based channels as well. “I think the old media industry is really trying to figure out how to shift television from a particular device where the content is to basically being a free floating set of content that you can
consume on a variety of devices including the Internet,” Levin Russo said. Johnson is idealistic about the expansion of online video. He points to examples like the video footage of Muammar Gaddafi once he was finally captured and killed, asserting that “whether or not you necessarily want to watch that, it is extremely powerful video that probably never would have been captured ten years ago, and even if it was captured probably never would have made it onto the Internet,” where it prompted widespread questioning about the circumstances of Gaddafi’s death. While Johnson points to the potential for increased online video to contribute to the “democratization of the world,” James Der Derian, a Watson Institute research professor of international studies and political science warns that an increasingly video-dominated web experience requires viewers to be especially discerning: “Back in the early days of mass media, Walter Benjamin wrote during the interwar period about the rise of Nazism and how they were able to use it—in particular radio and film —to magnify their political power. He said, ‘history now degenerates into images, not into stories or words’. This puts an incredible pressure on viewers—not just the listeners—to learn to read images like they read texts: critically and skeptically.” ERICA SCHWIEGERSHAUSEN B’13 is spontaneous and interactive.
17 FEBRUARY 2012
WHAT ‘THE POINT IS’ Reconstructing a Cape Verdean Narrative in Providence’s Fox Point
By Doreen St. Félix
e got letters. The interstate was going to cut us in half.” says Johnny Britto, a Cape Verdean resident of Fox Point. “I went to a meeting and they had a chalkboard. They had my house on it, with a red ‘X’ over it.” The house was on Traverse Street, and it was going to be demolished to make way for Interstate 195. TRULY YOURS I-195 has the dipped, oscillating shape of a question mark. Also known as the East Providence Expressway, the 45-mile stretch of road connects Massachusetts and Rhode Island. At the juncture where the highway runs through Providence, it carves into the Jewelry District, South Main Street, by India Point Park, and through the space where 172 homes once stood in the historically Cape Verdean neighborhood of Fox Point. In 1947, though, the interstate, christened the “Crosstown Route,” was no more than a proposal. The Rhode Island Department of Public Works (RIDPW) planned the highway as an effort to alleviate traffic in metropolitan Providence. It was to be one mile long with terminuses at the I-95 and Benefit Street. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 authorized funds for the expansion of the national highway system. With a $70 million boost in construction money,
the city decided to extend the highway into East Providence. This route would sever the Fox Point in two. Compounded by a redevelopment plan that promised to eliminate and replace substandard living areas with “healthful” neighborhoods, residents had unwittingly become sitting ducks for urban displacement. When the 1966 Department of Planning and Urban Development sent notifications to Britto and his neighbors, fellow secondgeneration Fox Point Cape Verdeans, they discovered that the East Side Renewal Project was going to “rehabilitate” their community: “Your property is in the area known as the East Side Renewal Project. The Project has recently been approved by the City of Providence and the Federal Government as a renewal initiative that calls for the total upgrading of the area... You will be notified by the field office and arrangements will be made to survey your property by our trained rehabilitation specialists.” The letters were signed “Very Truly Yours,” by Melvin Susi, then Supervisor of Rehabilitation. A temporary field office opened on George M. Cohan Boulevard that year. Urban rehabilitation specialists surveyed structures for evidence of degradation. Buildings that did not meet the vaguely
defined City code standards were knocked down. Private investors were encouraged to buy homes with potential for restoration; and when the homes were revitalized, the rents for residents sky-rocketed, in some cases more than by 100 percent. Britto was able to convince the office of the historical significance of his home and the house on Traverse Street was spared. But the majority of the community was not; 300 families were displaced. Historic preservation, property restoration, commercial incentive, and the expansion of both Brown University and RISD—all enumerated in the East Side Renewal Project proposal—displaced hundreds more. A COMMUNITY DISPLACED The 1965 Providence Redevelopment Agency, directed by James F. Reynolds, divided the 333-acre East Side Renewal Project area into four zones. Randall Square was the northernmost section, while the adjacent sections of Constitution Hill-North Benefit and South Main-South Water constituted the central parts. Fox Point was the fourth zone. The agency targeted it as a “deteriorated blighted area.” To its residents, the area was known as ‘The Point.’ Fox Point, the southern-most neighborhood in the East Side section of Providence, is historically defined by its
waterfront. One of the trading centers of colonial America, Providence’s port served as a New England connection in the transatlantic slave trade, which operated from the 1580s up until the early 19th century. During the first leg of the triangular trade route, European sailors travelled to Africa to trade guns for workable bodies. Slaves were then sold to sugar plantation owners in the Caribbean and the Americas. The third and final leg was from the Caribbean to the American North East, where the sugar was made into rum and molasses in New England factories. The Fox Point Cape Verdean identity begins along this hypotenuse. The previously uninhabited island country of the Republic of Cape Verde was first colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century, and its economy hinged on the currents of the slave-trade economy. The abolition of the slave trade in the 19th century was disastrous to the archipelago. Extreme poverty forced Cape Verdeans to leave the island country in droves. The early 19th century Cape Verdeans who immigrated to the United States became the first voluntary black diaspora in the country. Providence and other New England towns attracted the immigrants for pragmatic reasons: they worked and lived along the waterfront, taking the jobs no one
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else wanted. In the 20th century, Fox Point crystallized as the second largest enclave of Cape Verdean Americans in the country. Justino ‘Tiny’ Andrade reflects on his former community in the 2006 documentary Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican? “The whole community was one big family…There was no such thing as a key. Your doors were always open. Anyone could come in at anytime, that’s the way things were down in Fox Point.” “Yeah, Manny’s!” Jamal Carvalho seems to remember the bar as if it was he who spent nights there unwinding with fellow longshoremen in the 1940s, and not his relatives who owned it. “People are always surprised when I tell them how long my family has lived in Providence,” says Jamal, a Brown University alumnus who currently lives on John Street. In the 1960s, the East Side Renewal Project set out to “revitalize” Fox Point. The result is seen in the quaint antique shops, small brunch restaurants, and expansive dormitory space that line the streets of today’s Fox Point. Systematic urban renewal. Originating with a 1956 College Hill study initiated by the Providence Preservation Society, the city embarked on a redevelopment plan to increase the economic potential of the historically lowincome neighborhood. Because most of the Cape Verdeans who lived in the area rented rather than bought properties, they were bought out by real estate speculators who intended to improve and restore buildings. Restoration inevitably led to a rise in property value. The Project’s plan, which cites 19 specific objectives, is over 100 pages long. Only twice does the Agency consider that “additional families, individuals and businesses may be displaced as a result of rehabilitation of structures…in realizing the objectives of this Plan.” Johnny Britto, who wears a black t-shirt that announces in rainbow letters that he is the “Greatest Grandpa in the World,” remembers the ensuing panic. “Houses were condemned. People got scared and moved out. We’re all scattered now.” Many moved to nearby Pawtucket and Cranston,
while others moved farther out into Massachusetts. Geographically, the neighborhood still exists. It still fills the southern tip of the East Side, wrapped up tightly by the Providence River and College Hill. If you ask someone, “Where is Fox Point?” he will point you in the direction of Wickenden Street. You can still find Fox Point on a map. “But Fox Point, the neighborhood in Providence where I was born and grew up in, that community is gone,” says Dr. Claire Andrade-Watkins, a former resident and historian. A COMMUNITY REORIENTED On a warm February afternoon, AndradeWatkins has just come from a service at Sheldon Street Church. “I go because when you do work like this, you need something to keep you grounded,” she calls out over her shoulder. A pot of hot water boils on the stove. As she bustles across the room to tend to it, the bouquet of keys in her hand clinks. Andrade-Watkin’s office is at 150 Power Street, at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA) at Brown University. A Visiting Fellow since 2007, she is the founder and president of SPIA Media Productions Inc., which strives for “the documentation, preservation and dissemination of cultural productions from Africa, the Caribbean and the United States.” She is the first Cape Verdean from Fox Point to earn a PhD. She insists that you call her Claire. Andrade-Watkins is also the Director of the Fox Point Cape Verdean Project. “The elders of my community told me I was the ‘chosen one.’ And I said, ‘What? You’ve got to be kidding!’ But I had it in me. I was born to tell the Cape Verdean American story,” she explains. “My family was one of the first families of Fox Point.” According to Andrade-Watkins, the purpose of the Fox Point Cape Verdean Project is to tell the story not of a community displaced but rather of the legacy of one remembered. “Fox Point can’t exist again physically,” she says. But through the reconstitution of oral histories, archival research, documentary productions and public exhibitions, Andrade-Watkins is
composing what she calls “a narrative of first person history.” “Our project is to preserve the narrative of the Cape Verdean community as told by Cape Verdeans,” she says. She and her volunteers receive little outside funding, which she attributes to the candor of her work. “We are treading a precarious space,” she says. “We aren’t reconstructing a story that is ahistorical, one that fits neatly into the convenient racial binary of the blacks vs. the whites. That’s not the point. The point is to tell their story.” Andrade-Watkins began working on the project nearly thirty years ago. “That’s half my life,” she says. Her work spans various media, the most visible being her documentaries. In her first, Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican?, former residents like Johnny Britto and Justino Andrade tell the story of the Point in celebratory and melancholic tones. Two subsequent documentaries, Atlantic Portal and Working the Boats, will chronicle the 21st century Cape Verdean identity and the history of the International Longshoremen’s Association, the first black union founded by Cape Verdean workers in 1933, respectively. She opens the door to a second room, adjacent to her office at the CSREA. Flyers are tacked on one wall, a rectangular file cabinet propped against the other. Each key on her chain unlocks a compartment of the cabinet; each compartment holds a particular jewel of Fox Point history. Black and white photos have been assembled in stacks in the first drawer. Clearly marked 8mm film reels are in a second. In a third are certificates of admission to the St. Antonio Society. “We’ve got names, addresses,” notes Andrade-Watkins, as she leafs through sepia-tinted sleeves. The St. Antonio Society, founded in 1934, was Rhode Island’s first beneficent organization, acting not only as a social center but also as an insurance company for Fox Point Cape Verdeans. “My parents were founding members,” says Claire, who is looking for something in another cabinet. The building that housed the San Antonio Society was condemned in 1966, a casualty of the East Side Renewal Project.
“It’s here somewhere,” she says. She pulls out a photograph. “There’s my mother, my father. My grandmother. And there’s my Uncle Charlie.” Her index finger hovers over each face; the Andrades, along with other Cape Verdean members of the Society, stand around a table. “They put the seed in me. I have to tell this story before someone else decides they are just a sea of brown faces,” Andrade-Watkins says. “Before some graduate student reduces us to a pretentioussounding thesis.” But the story, Claire recognizes, cannot be completed in her lifetime. “In 2006, there were between 40 and 60 elders left. Since then, about 60 per cent have died,” says Andrade-Watkins. Reverend E. Naomi Craig, an elder and Pastor of Sheldon Street Church, recently passed away on February 1st, 2012. “She was 94,” she notes. An elder’s death is a crucial loss of “first voice” history. Andrade Watkin’s generation was the last to grow up in The Point. Her daughter’s generation only knows The Point through the stories of their parents. While they will never be able to inherit the homes, she hopes her work inspires young Cape Verdeans to inherit the responsibility of preserving their ancestors’ history. Above the file cabinet, in black and white, is a 1945 map of The Point. On the map are several clusters of colored pushpins and a concave red line. The line represents the 1-195. The pushpins are homes. “Each pin represents an address we got from the St. Antonio Records,” says Andrade-Watkins. Before they were displaced by the East Side Renewal Project, families lived at each of the points marked by the pushpins. “I call them memory spots.” DOREEN ST. FÉLIX B’14 was stilled by it.
17 FEBRUARY 2012
SYRIA’S CENTRAL CONCERNS Revolution and its Contingencies By Tyler Bourgoise Illustration By Allison Clark
he last two weeks have been among the most violent in the Syrian Arab Republic’s 50-year history. The international community has tried to stabilize a unified response to is perpetrators: the recalcitrant Syrian government. Meanwhile, the government has carried out military strikes in Homs and in revolutionary hotspots throughout Syria, giving Syrian protestors little choice but to defend themselves. Now, a turning point. Either the rebels revert to non-violent protest, or they mount a violent uprising against the government. A potential move against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not an issue within Syria, but demands international cooperation to reach a resolution. Especially because Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman has recently expressed interest in collapsing Iran through its only ally, Syria, there is potential for a deep problem to confront a larger set of countries than those already mentioned. I’d like to draw attention to the urgent aspects of the situation in Syria that have been mishandled in the international community’s dealings with Syria, and probe the tensions central to its action against Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. The UN Security Council’s direct condemnation of President al-Assad two weeks ago suggests a collective wisdom that, if enacted, could soon mobilize aid or soldiers to assist the Syrian people. It condemned al-Assad’s brand of hostility, which betrays two deeply problematic characteristics: a suppressive and dishonest picture of Syria (to those in and outside the country) and a rhetorical promise of reform that is inconsistent with Syria’s escalating brutalization of its people, which reached its apex in the Syrian military’s recent shelling of Homs, a suburb of Damascus. These two characteristics strongly signal the need for an overthrow of the Syrian government. Since the Syrian people are struggling to arm themselves and are fighting the military, that overthrow may originate from within, but will likely need help from the outside. Living conditions that Americans would consider givens—access to running water, electricity, telecommunications—are
unavaliable to many in Syria. Resources and news coverage are declining there. Except for a recent article in the New York Times on living conditions in Damascus, foreign journalists has been unable to gather much more authentic information than a few YouTube videos and some leaked reports from Damascus refugees. People in violent areas seem to know what’s happening, but there are dwindling means for them to communicate. The intensity of the resistance will likely grow, as the Syrian citizens become increasingly agitated with their living conditions and aware that they are not able to signal for help to the world outside. Now, even Syrian citizens who don’t protest being affected by the collateral damage of al-Assad’s military crackdown, as buildings are bombed out and businesses close. With only patchwork understanding of the issues at hand, some coherent international plan is becoming more urgently needed. In Syria, non-violent protests that once galvanized the Arab Spring will either dissolve as violence becomes the new condition of change, or be subsumed into the violent resistance, the Free Syrian Army. In latter scenario, then more and more people will fight and lose their lives as they join the violent resistance’s ranks. As Amy Davidson and other writers have noted, left to continue, what we are witnessing may be the start of a civil war in Syria. That is, the start of a war with opposing factions committed to defeating each other—not, as was the case before, a revolt to extract an oppressive dictator. Everyone with an interest in Syrian human rights is fighting time to forestall ‘civil war.’ As the Syrians’ problems increase, setbacks in international cooperation may stymie any movement to help them.Along with the growing violence in Homs, Syria, contingent relationships between the Iranian, Syrian, and Russian governments have complicated the UN’s appeal to al-Assad. The three have configured themselves as a jigsaw: Russia vetoed the UN’s peace agreements with Syria, and Iran’s presence in Syria shows a joint resistance by both nations against an invasion or uprising. On top of this, Russia forwarded its support of al-Assad within a
few weeks of its endorsement of the Iranian nuclear program, in a move that has worried the rest of the world. One perspective, adopted by op-ed writers Yagil Beinglass and Daniel Brode, holds that Russia is trying on the outfit of a superpower, to show the rest of the world it can stake its territory. If this is the case, concession from the US or the UN Security Council would be a powerful symbolic victory for Russia. It would show its ability win at power politics and to exert influence over international affairs and the Middle East. But Russia’s actions appear ironic. If it seeks influence over the Middle East, supporting al-Assad will make it responsible for more Syrian deaths than advancements in the region. Any “influence” would be self-defeating, and the Syrian autonomy that Russia honors has much higher stakes than whatever value is in Syria’s right to be left alone and fix matters itself. Besides, it is probably difficult for the Syrian people to appreciate non-interventionist Russia in the midst of al-Assad’s military crackdown. Russia, thus, is using a conflicted idea of non-intervention, where it will support Syria when it can, but not aid it when it’s failing. This approach risks slowing potential change if the UN panders to it too much. Also worth remembering: Russia has given arms and alliance to Syria since the Soviet era. So, from the outside, they appear inert. Either that, or its interests are no longer ethical, let alone strategic. In the International Herald Tribune, a Moscow journalist published a letter of apology to the people of Syria. “I’m writing to say that I’m sorry,” the letter begins, and it goes on to explain the Russian people’s own dissatisfaction with its government. “It holds power in my country because it has rigged elections and used fear to keep tens of millions of people in line for years,” and the government shows little sign of concession. Despite being “inspired…by the Arab Spring” to protest their own government, the Russian people are stuck with their own internal struggle to establish fairness in the election of their next representative. Decade-plus incumbent Vladimir Putin still campaigns to maintain his control over Russia. In this climate, waiting for Russia to
agree about Syria could take too long. But the decision has another liability: before Libya ousted Gaddafi, Russia and the UN found a similar tension. The UN ultimately acted against Russia’s objections, and another steamroll could adversely affect the US relationship with Russia. But there may be a compromise. Efraim Halevy recently published an analysis of Syria’s situation that arrives at this question—through the advocacy of a strategy of weakening through Syria, where it has a major stronghold. This is a good idea: Iran, after all, has sought quite a bit of attention in the last few weeks. Crippling Assadian Syria could be the most effective way to prevent more Iran-born oil sanctions, which would be in both the US and Russia’s favor. Perhaps another clause should be appended to Halevy’s analysis: when improved conditions for Russia come through Syria, there’s substantially less objection that Russia could make in hindsight of the overthrow of al-Assad. Some observers wonder if the Syrian people themselves would not be the most effective source of reform. If that were the case, it would surely alleviate the UN and Arab League’s burdens. But justification for this position is weak: the consensus is that Syria’s problem is Bashar al-Assad. Fruitful reform would at least require that he step down, and his actions suggest he isn’t willing to do that. In Syria, what would reform even look like? It’s hard to imagine with all the bad blood between civil factions: the state has no gift to offer, the people no appeal to accept. Whether it comes from the Syrian people or is effected by the UN or Arab League, a revolution—perhaps a coup— seems most effective strategy at present. But with only a tragic recent history to model itself after, revolution is a costly, controversial option for the Syrian Arab Republic. Remembering Egypt’s recent transition, it is clear: Syrians will have to work hard, even after a coup. TYLER BOURGOISE B’13 has configured himself as a jigsaw.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
CIVILITY AND ITS DISCONTENTS Gabrielle Giffords and the Aftermath of the Tucson Shooting By Emma Wohl
n January 25, 2012—a year and several weeks after she was shot in the head outside of a grocery store in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona—US Representative Gabrielle Giffords announced her resignation. In her letter to the Speaker of the House, she closed with the vow “I will recover and will return.” Tucson had spent the last year grappling not only with the aftermath of the massacre, which left eighteen wounded and six dead, but also with harsh border security and antiimmigration bills that had already created a national controversy. The city became the focal point for examination of the polarizing, even violent tone used by candidates in its most recent Congressional election and of Arizona’s increasing Conservatism. But this narrative, while delving deeply into the past of 21-year-old shooter Jared Lee Loughner, did little to examine what policy decisions had allowed a mentally unstable young man to purchase a firearm and 33 rounds of ammunition. In its media representation, the events of January 8 were transformed: instead of a shooting, they became the culmination of a series of increasingly partisan actions within the state, violence caused by violent rhetoric. And it was ultimately this rhetoric—not the laws that allowed Loughner to slip through the cracks—that got attention from national politicians. THE DAY IN QUESTION On January 8, 2011, Gabrielle Giffords was doing outreach on a street corner in northwest Tucson when a single shooter opened fire. “Before the shooting, the political climate in Tucson was becoming shaky,” said Celia Ampel, Tucson native and student at the Missouri School of Journalism. “There was an ideological gap between Southern Arizonans and people in the Phoenix area, especially those in the statehouse.” The coverage of Jan. 8 exploded those differences and highlighted the deep political schisms within Giffords’s district. As reports flew about conditions at the scene of the shooting, stories were surfacing about previous threats to the Congresswoman’s safety: a distressed constituent had thrown a brick at her office window after her vote in support of health care reform under the Patriot Protection and Affordable Care Act; her challenger in the 2010 Congressional election, Jesse Kelly, held a campaign event where his supporters could shoot a fully loaded M15 rifle—the event was called “Get on Target for Victory.” These stories were immediately linked to the Jan. 8 shooting. But the rapid-fire connections made in the media may have
exaggerated the connection. Soon, not just isolated acts of violence, but several years worth of extremist legislation were being associated with the shooting, in an attempt to make it a coherent, understandable narrative. A HARSH SPOTLIGHT One New York Times headline from January 9 read: “Shooting Casts a Harsh Spotlight on Arizona’s Unique Politics.” In a press conference, Tucson Police Sherriff Clarence Dupnik called Arizona a “Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” The national media connected the shooting to the most notorious pieces of legislation proposed by Arizona’s legislature in the past few years. The Times story mentioned SB1070’s strict regulation of the Arizona-Mexico border; HB2281, which banned ethnic studies classes in public schools; the shooting of a rancher, possibly by border crossers; and state politicians’ attempts to create a different birth certificate for children of illegal immigrants under HB2562 and SB1309. “It was as if Arizona somehow created the setting for the shocking episode,” the Times article stated. The article admitted the connections were tenuous, but links had already been made between the state’s politics and the shooting, a connection that informed the discourse of the event. Congress members praised Giffords at the time of her resignation—House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called her “the brightest star among us.” But the remarks did not address the shooting itself. No formal hearing, on either the state or national level, ever looked into the policy decisions that had made it possible. The coverage of the shooting’s aftermath was looking through laws to condemn the words with which they were discussed. DISCOURSE OF CIVILITY As information about the shooter surfaced a year ago, observers tried—and ultimately failed—to find indications of extreme political leanings that could have influenced his actions. At the same time, an advertisement put out by Sarah Palin’s SuperPAC surfaced, showing the crosshairs of a rifle over Giffords’s district and telling readers, “Don’t retreat; reload.” Observers seized on this ad, claiming the violence it advocated could drive a person to kill. Salon.com reported that 35% of participants in a CNN poll blamed Palin’s ad directly for the shooting. Civility, as an antidote to this kind of violent rhetoric, became a rallying cry for District Director Ron Barber, one of those injured in the shooting and, as of Februrary 9, 2012, a candidate in the special election to
fill Giffords’s seat in Congress. From his bed at Tucson Medical Center, Barber organized the first annual Concert for Civility to commemorate the shooting. His family endowed the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, dedicated to sustaining “the outpouring of goodwill, compassion and kindness” that emerged from the shooting. But this rallying cry for civility seems out of place in the context of the shooting itself. The musings of Jared Lee Loughner did not suggest a die-hard devotee of any political faction. His former classmates described him as a conspiracy theorist. Loughner had posted a series of YouTube videos in the year before the shooting proclaiming a desire to return to the gold standard and denouncing what he deemed a an epidemic of national illiteracy. At a Giffords function in 2007, he asked Giffords, “What is government if words have no meaning?” Her response, to him, was unsatisfactory. After the shooting, police found a letter from Giffords among Loughner’s personal possessions in the same box as a note reading “Die bitch” and another that read, “Assassination plans have been made.” ALTERNATE HISTORY Loughner’s peers and teachers from high school and the community college from which he had been expelled said they had known he was mentally disturbed. “He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon,” one former classmate told a friend in an email the summer before the shooting. Despite his history of drug use and runins with the police, Loughner was able to walk into Walmart the morning of January 8 and buy enough ammunition to shoot 19 people. Gun control activists noted holes in existing legislation, and acknowledged the need for national unity and dialogue. In an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star last March, President Obama called on politicians to “get beyond wedge issues and stale political debates.” However, proponents of tougher gun control eventually grew frustrated that no concrete steps were being taken to prevent gun-related violence. “The fact that we’re now six months out, there’s not a single step from the White House, there’s not been a single congressional hearing on Tucson or the policy problems that made it possible, is not encouraging,” Mark Glaze, director of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told NPR on July 8, 2011. Loughner’s medical and criminal history raised questions of how to implement accurate background checks that would spot drug problems and mental health
issues. White House officials promised in July that the process of “working through these complex issues” was underway. In Arizona, State Representative Steve Gallardo, a gun control advocate, acknowledged that, even in the light of the shooting, legislation limiting gun ownership has little chance of ever passing. But, he said, “we have to start the education.” Meanwhile, State Senator Ron Gould has renewed the fight to allow guns on college campuses. A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer last year, but Gould was optimistic that she would approve it this time around. LOOKING AHEAD On February 11, the US Navy announced a ship, the USS Gabrielle Giffords, to be added to its fleet. “It’s very appropriate that LCS 10 be named for someone who has become synonymous with courage, who has inspired the nation with remarkable resiliency and showed the possibilities of the human spirit,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. But little has been done to address the shooting itself. Even Giffords, in a YouTube clip explaining her resignation, quickly moved past the shooting. She spoke neither of gun control nor of the tenor of the national discourse, but of the same issues that have been on her agenda since the beginning of her term in Congress: “jobs, border security, veterans,” with a promise to “return.” The drive for civility may force politicians and pundits to stop themselves from speaking in the violent terminology that was once acceptable and expected. While the tone of discourse and controversial laws are harshly critiqued, the substance of those laws remains almost entirely unchallenged. EMMA WOHL B’14 doesn’t want to “get beyond wedge issues.”
Dear Mel One Man. 200,000 Letters. by Ellora Vilkin
nce upon a time, on the third floor of the John Hay Library, there was a small, tall room. The room was lined with shelves that stretched fifteen feet up, and the shelves were full of hard blue binders stacked two-deep. The binders had letters inside and white labels that said who the letters were from. Some were from actors, some from presidents, and some from authors and poets. All were written to a curious old man named Mel B. Yoken. And so people came to read the letters that figures like Marcel Marceau and Art Buchwald and Julia Child and Roald Dahl had written to Mel. For years, the letters with their people kept coming until one day the room got so full that the letters could hardly breathe. And so the shelves began to be emptied, and now what is happening is this: one by one, the letters leak into boxes, the boxes retreat deeper into the library, and the little room vanishes. There was a time when people wrote letters. So when Mel Yoken, then studying for a Masters degree in French at Brown University, sent a letter to Jules Romains in 1961, he wasn’t surprised to get one back. He had just read Romains’s play Knock, ou le Triomphe de la médicine in a literature class and, having “laughed [his] you-know-what off,” wrote Romains to tell him so. Yoken recalls the exchange easily: “He wrote me back and I wrote him back and we started a friendship. And over the years, thousands and thousands of friendships have started
that way.” The resultant correspondence forms the peculiar Mel B. Yoken Collection, housed in the Hay since 1999. With new boxes of letters arriving each year, the archive now holds the missives of some 4,000 French, Spanish, American, Canadian, Scottish, Irish, and British luminaries. More recently, Yoken has enriched his personal correspondence with purchased items from some of history’s greats: the archives now contain letters from Zola, Monet, Matisse, and others bought at auction. Most, though, are written in English and French and addressed directly to Yoken; at last count, there were more than 200,000. POST MAN Yoken, 74, stands in the lobby of the Hay wearing a sensible blue suit and square-toed shoes. He gestures towards the Reading Room with a sweep of his arm and an “après-vous.” A Fall River, RI native, he has just driven up from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he is Chancellor Professor Emeritus of French. Besides his archives, Yoken loves baseball, collects postcards and stamps, and dabbles in meteorology. “Every single day of my life for the past 55 years—90% correct,” he boasts. As for the letters, he says they sprang from his natural curiosity. “I always wanted to get to the crux of the poem or the paragraph or the play. If I read a poem and I didn’t understand a line or something, I would write to the author,” he explains. The
practice served him well while at Brown. “I always got good grades because I’d added quotes from the authors,” he chuckles. Encouraged by responses to his early letters, Yoken started writing to other famous thinkers. Their replies varied; some ignored him completely, others had their secretaries reply, and a few refused outright. “I’d like to thank you for your kind and gracious letter,” wrote Norman Mailer in 1970, “But I’m afraid I couldn’t possibly answer the questions. The proper answer to any good question is a small essay and my head isn’t good for that much on every occasion.” If Mailer found Yoken’s questions tiresome, Ray Bradbury was amused. On Halloween of 1974, he wrote: “I’ve been writing poetry since Shakespeare ran over me when I was 14. But it’s taken all these years to percolate and GET GOOD!” The message was typed on the acid-green interior of a Hallmark card bearing a blue gorilla—one imagines Bradbury giggling as the gorilla’s head was rolled through the typewriter. Writing on white airmail paper in 1978, Roald Dahl took Yoken a bit more seriously. “Very many thanks for your nice letter,” wrote Dahl in 1978. “Unlike nearly all the others that come into this house, you were not asking for anything and I liked that. The answer to your wife’s question is, when I was younger I preferred writing stories for adults but the older I get the more I like writing for children.” Dahl also criticized his peers in
adult fiction. “I refuse to write a mood-piece or essay on the pretence that it is a genuine story,” he wrote in 1971. “This seems to be the prevalent practice to-day.” PEN PALS Each individual’s corresponding binder functions as a mini-archive; while some hold just a single sheet, others are stuffed with decades of missives, photographs, and other ephemera. Catherine Deneuve’s is packed with signed glossies; John McCain’s stock letters and emails make an epistolary account of his 2008 campaign. A scrupulous collector, Yoken saves everything he receives—no matter how generic. For context, binders often contain newspaper clippings related to their subjects. Yoken also keeps records of sightings and visits alongside the letters. In October 1979, Yoken invited longtime correspondent Richard Eberhart to give a reading at the Fall River library. The two had been exchanging letters for over ten years and were on friendly terms, though they still arranged payment by mail. “I thought we said 300 but you mention 250. Cheerio, R.E.,” wrote Eberhart a week before the event. “Suit yourself.” Both Yoken and Eberhart enjoyed the visit. Two days later, Eberhart wrote Yoken his thanks: “You did a splendid job organizing the whole thing. And Cindy’s dinner was delicious.” Jacques Cousteau’s archive tells of a chance meeting in Paris in 1998. For Yoken, it was a transcendent experience.
“I still think about him. I love
Yoken was in Paris to receive an honor from the French Academy, who awarded him the Palmes Académiques for his work with UMass Dartmouth’s Boivin Center. Yoken was leaving the ceremony when he spotted Cousteau. “He was sort of in a rush,” Yoken remembers. “But I started speaking French to him. I told him who I was, that I had corresponded with him. Then he stopped.” Though Cousteau had never replied to Yoken directly, his secretaries had sent several thoughtful replies and, in 1989, a holiday card. “We talked about his discoveries, his peregrinations,” says Yoken, a longtime admirer of Cousteau. “It was one of the apogees of my life.” BELLES-LETTRES To some, Yoken might seem like the ultimate fanboy. Though his letters were unsolicited, he says they have never been gratuitous. “Growing up, I was inculcated with that thought that you say thank-you to people…every gift, every something, I would sit down and write a thank-you note,” he says. He sees his letters to big names like Deneuve and Cousteau as well-deserved missives of gratitude. “Years and years ago,” he explains, “generally not today, but years ago, that individual would write back and so I’d continue the conversation—epistolary conversation.” For Yoken, these exchanges have sometimes led to fast friendships. Yoken’s longest correspondence is with the 93-yearold French novelist Michel Déon, one of the French Academy’s 40 “immortal” life members. Though Yoken first wrote to Déon as a admirer, their correspodence has led to a true friendship. In fact, it was Déon who eventually nominated Yoken for the award with the French Academy. “I still think about him,” Yoken says. “As a matter of fact, we just sent him a Valentine’s Day card. I
love that man. My wife does too.” (E)MAIL Although the room on the third floor is vanishing, Hay Interim Director Dominique Coulombe says there is reason to be hopeful. According to Coulombe, the Hay is currently compiling a comprehensive online guide to Yoken’s archives. Soon, users will be able to browse Yoken’s entire collection by author, nationality, and occupation. Even Yoken has resigned to the rise of digital, though he has mixed feelings about email. “I wrote five emails this morning,” he sighs. Indeed, many of his binders now contain email printouts alongside hand- and type-written letters. Flipping backwards through the binders, the keyboard’s lifeless Arial morphs into the typewriter’s jumpy serifs, finally unfurling with a sigh into ballpoint’s smooth curves or pencil’s spiky scrawls. While some argue that email has revived the letter, Yoken sees it differently. “When I sit down to write a letter it’s sort of a different frame of mind,” he says. “I compose sentences and—it isn’t that I’m using big words, they automatically come to me.” After all, there is a particular intimacy in reading a letter: squinting at someone’s chicken scratch, knowing they’ve held it in their hands, reading their subjective thoughts—the handwritten missive’s tactile qualities make it an especially personal document. Letters offer a window into the past, into the lives of their authors. After their meeting in 1979, Richard Eberhart wrote to Yoken again: “I am glad you are in the midst of life, with children, your house singing with breath and charm, with love.” ELLORA VILKIN B’14 always sends a thank-you note.
that man. My wife does, too.”
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
MECHANICAL MEMORY A Conversation with a Curator of the Bell Gallery By Rachel Benoit Image By Alexander Dale
ostalgia Machines is Maya Allison’s latest and last show as curator of Brown University’s David Winton Bell Gallery, a title she held and shaped with shows like Among the Breakage: New Painting From Providence in 2011, and Alison Owen: divisibility in 2010. Allison has been a fixture in the Providence art community since she started at the RISD Museum in 2005, collecting the New England Art Award for Best Curator of Locally Made Art along the way. When announcing her move to Abu Dhabi, where she will be helping to develop NYU Abu Dhabi’s exhibition program, she told the New England Arts Journal: “This was not an easy decision, and I will always treasure my time here, at the RISD Museum, 5 Traverse Gallery, Pixilerations, and the Bell Gallery.” Although Allison has already been relocated, Abu Dhabi and Providence were able to meet for a conversation—facilitated by skype, two Ipads, and a web of wires, about the curatorial process that crafted Nostalgia Machines and the implications of working with new media in the contemporary art world. Indy: Can you tell us about the beginnings of Nostalgia Machines? MA: I came across the piece by Gregory Witt, a mechanical arm that moves back and forth and makes the sound of packing tape being unrolled, with all the staccato sounds when it sticks and rips. I was struck by how it used the new media world’s “cool tricks” but from about a decade ago. It’s nothing new at all from a robotics or new media standpoint, it’s purely interesting because of what he’s managed to do: convey a human gesture. I was taken with the evocativeness of something so clearly mechanical, but able to capture a human gesture so poignantly. I was thinking about doing a show about kinetic sculpture that deals with human gesture, but the problem with that is the problem with all curatorial projects: where do you draw the line? I started thinking about what else is going on in this work that is so poignant to me. I realized it was generating a sensation of nostalgia that was non-specific. It wasn’t nostalgia for a moment in my life, but this weird, eerie feeling of physical memory of this gesture, and what goes with that, like a hot sweaty day in a room full of boxes to pack. It brought up memories that are stored physically. That’s when things started to come together, looking at the range of sensations that I could call nostalgic. Indy: What’s an example of the relation-
ship between nostalgia and technology in the show? MA: Jasper Rigole has the antique photograph with the camera slowly moving over it that is being projected live. You think you’re seeing a documentary, but it’s only the aesthetic associated with nostalgic narratives in documentary: black and white photograph, slow pan, deep voice narrator; a cheesy cliché of nostalgia. You could say that Rigole buys other people’s memories and uses them as his medium: he buys old photographs and rolls of film from flea markets. When I learned this I thought, “I can’t believe I’m putting this guy in a show about nostalgia and his art is stealing other people’s memories!” He’s taking the nostalgia away, or abstracting nostalgia, for someone else’s memories, which has this wonderful detached quality. You look and get this pang, “I wonder where this person is now?” We’ll never know, right? That’s a weird sensation. Indy: Were any of the artists uncomfortable with your interpretation of their work? MA: There was [a gallery] that didn’t want their artist to be in the show because they thought it would be seen as a robotics show and therefore in the new media category and not be part of the mainstream contemporary art conversation. It made me realize the stigma associated with new media for some. Indy: What is the new media stigma? MA: If people think it’s new media then there’s this assumption that, “Oh that’s going to be computer stuff therefore I’m not interested.” Indy: How were you introduced to new media art? MA: Having a BA in art history and MFA in film, I was able to look at things both as an art historian and a filmmaker. I became interested in what happens when you introduce movement into an artwork, and how that changes our relationship to it. This interest led to my study of new media art. It can mean art that uses technology, but it has become associated with a set of questions that define it as well—not all art that uses technology is new media art. Indy: Can you clarify that distinction? MA: An artist can make a sculpture that has
mechanics in it and not be thought of as a new media artist because the work is in dialogue with the mainstream art world. Other artists are working with questions we associate with new media art, even if it uses the same technology. One stereotypical complaint about new media art is the work has this “cool trick” problem, like, “I made this machine it does this really cool thing let’s show it in a gallery.” The complaint on the new media side is that the mainstream art world is too self-obsessed, ironic, and hermetic; it’s art about art. Indy: The term “new media” has become tired to a certain extent, what’s your take on it? MA: New media in the art world is a definition that has been a battleground, especially in the last ten years. Originally it was associated with video art. When digital technology became more commonly used that became the new definition, things involving computers. There is another ancestry that leads down through artists that most art historians know little about, who were using computer programs, equations, technology. Then it got even more complicated: that thread of the new media family gave rise to experiments using biology and science in ways that you might never think of as art media. Indy: How might new media involve biology? MA: The best example I have heard comes from Domenico Quaranta’s story about an artist [Oron Catts, Victimless Leather] who grew a leather jacket out of living cells, which raises bizarre ethical questions. When you think of vegetarians who don’t wear leather, this work becomes even more interesting: would you wear the leather if it were living? The piece was shown at MOMA. The cells started growing in an odd formation, and they had to cut off its nutrient supply, killing it. It becomes this interesting moral-social question. There are people working in virtual communities and with online labor. They hire people through the Internet to make their art for them and then ship it to them. Are they a new media artist? Or are they just doing Warhol using modern day tech? There’s a lot of gray area, and that’s how the notion of new media as a definition started to become more about the questions than the techniques, because now everybody has access to complex technology.
Indy: Is there anything about the show that you would change? MA: I can’t really answer that without potentially insulting somebody, right? I might have wanted to triple the size of the gallery and explore this idea in non-kinetic art, without limiting it to moving sculptures. You could always use more space. If I were to do it again, I would extend to non-technology and look for that same tension in other ways, but it’s dangerous to extend too much. You could do a second part to this show, which would be machines that no longer have a function, like typewriters, and the only reason that we keep them around is that we love them, like pets. One of the hardest things when you’re putting together a show is deciding where to stop. Indy: How did you reconcile the subjectivity of nostalgia with the breadth of who your audience might be? MA: I thought about this question a lot. The packing-tape piece is interesting because from my perspective, packing-tape is universal, but it’s not. I’m limiting the sphere of the exhibition. One of the challenges of curating, and I’m really facing this now being in Abu Dhabi, is you don’t know what you’re audience is bringing to the exhibition and what’s going to mean something to them. We have associations with what nostalgia means. It’s often seen as this trite, silly emotion. People long for the good ol’ days back when women couldn’t vote; nostalgia suddenly doesn’t sound so good. I was interested in the edges of what we think of when we think of the word nostalgia and less interested in cultural associations with that word. I tried to come up with another word for this kind of poignant physical memory, but I kept coming back to nostalgia. Indy: Are there characteristics specific to curating for the Bell Gallery? MA: It functions in that space between art gallery and major museum - with the flexibility of a gallery, and the institutional support of a museum. It is also an intersection space, where the local public, students, faculty, and art communities all overlap—go to the next opening, you will see what I mean. Nostalgia Machines, featuring the work of Meridith Pingree, Jasper Rigole, Jonathan Schipper, Gregory Witt, and Zimoun, is showing at the David Winton Bell Gallery until February 19.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
EXCEPTIONALLY INVASIVE Cow Bladder in the Gallery By Rachel Kay Illustration By Julieta Cárdenas
rom a distance, Atrabiliarios looks flat, a blur of five rectangles on the far gallery wall of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). Upon closer viewing, each shape is revealed to be a compartment, a niche that pushes deep behind the whitewashed plaster. Even closer, it becomes clear that inside each compartment a single or a pair of women’s shoes is inclined. They hide behind a translucent, fibrous cow-bladder violently stitched to the edge of the niche with black surgical thread. Positioned within the largely empty wall, the vague and hopeless shoes sink into memory. Meaning ‘defiant’ in Spanish, Atrabiliarios is Salcedo’s post-autopsy commentary on missing persons from her native Colombia, mainly female victims of domestic violence. The work is arresting for its unconventional installation and introduction of organic components and material objects into the controlled gallery setting. Its odd materialization—the yellowish and rubbery cow bladder—elicits a visceral response, an assertion of the work’s subject in living memoriam. The artist Salcedo chooses to employ less relatable materials than the paintbrush and canvas, the wide aperture lens, or the video camera and projector. Her adventurous medium physically invades the wall space of the ICA. The viewer’s reaction to Salcedo’s art is central to the work, but there is more to the story behind the installation of Atrabiliarios. In the three minutes it takes an ICA visitor to look at the work, roughly one stitch of the surgical thread through the cow matter and into the wall would have taken place. Salcedo and her assistants devised an extensive process to assemble the specific materials of her art. They examined hundreds of dried bladders to find just a few of pristine translucence and minimal imperfections. They wet the selected bladders to fit them firmly over the exacted wall niches, sewed around their edges, and finally spacked, sanded, and painted the
minute holes that resulted in the wall. According to a segment on Atrabiliarios from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, such attention to fine levels of detail is integral to Salcedo’s work. She installs with a great deal of precision and awareness, and then passes that vigilance along to where the art is on view, in this case the ICA. Yet paying proper attention to Atrabiliarios, upholding the integrity of the work and providing for its fragile and unusual ingredients, is a far from simple task—a job that raises many questions surrounding the place for this materially-provocative art within the museum. Anna Stothart, a curatorial assistant at the ICA, spoke with the Independent about the nuances of exhibiting Atrabiliarios. “Since the work contains cow bladder, it is important to ensure the care of it while it is in our galleries,” says Stothart, a duty that includes “maintaining appropriate humidity, temperature, and light levels,” as well as reserving an entire wall for the roughly 5’ by 2’ installation. The “pull and clarity in the material,” says Stothart, “reflects the tension of the art’s subject.” And preserving the artistic effect of the cow bladder depends entirely on the ICA’s ability and willingness to meet the work’s specific environmental constraints. John Smith, director of the RISD museum, considers caring for a work like Atrabiliarios a measure towards “ensuring its physical and intellectual livelihood. You make a commitment to the work when you acquire it, you make certain that its importance and impact will have staying power and that you have the capacity to care for it.” He spoke on how organic materials pose challenges both sophisticated and worrisome for museums, referencing other provocative installations similar to Salcedo’s. In Anya Gallaccio’s Preserve ‘Beauty’ (1991) for example, Smith explains how gerbera daisies are fresh-cut, squeezed between panels of glass, and left to decay for weeks
in front of a half-amazed, half-disgusted audience. As the flowers wither and die, their once bright and fragrant faces fall limp onto the floor, rotting and circulating the smell of decomposing plant material. Preserve ‘Beauty,’ while a beautiful and compelling work, according to Smith, “created all kinds of issues with dying plant material and mold.” The rotting flowers from the art developed fungal spores particularly problematic for viewers with asthma. The ‘side effects’ of the certainly striking work of art, these ‘thumbprints’ in the daily functioning of the gallery space, raise worry as to the responsibility museums should assume when displaying work that defies normalcy of material. While Smith seems up for the challenge of adapting the museum for its artists and the trials they pose—whether Salcedo’s holes in the wall and humidity adjustments, or Gallaccio’s mold, insects, and smells—not all installations are met by art personnel with equal eagerness and enthusiasm. Alia Al-Senussi, Art Basel coordinator and Tank Magazine contributor, questions the material aggravations that artists present for museums. As example of the problems posed by off-the-books mediums, AlSenussi referenced another work by Doris Salcedo that was exhibited in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in 2007. Five stories tall with 3,400 square meters of floor space, the Turbine Hall displays work specifically commissioned for its factory-like setting inside of the Tate Modern. Salcedo’s work, Shibboleth, was the “first to intervene directly in the fabric of the Turbine Hall, ” says AlSenussi. Shibboleth formed a huge chasm in the floor space of the Hall, a crack spanning the length of the Hall at some points even a foot wide. Al-Senussi told the Independent that despite the ambitiousness of Salcedo’s work, there exists today a shadow on the floor of the Tate because of it, a “scar,” as she says, forever defacing the “incredible museum.”
The installation or rather, deconstruction of Shibboleth, “is extremely unfair to the artists that will come after [Salcedo].” Other criticisms of Shibboleth raise more anxiety surrounding the work’s daring and unconventional materialization. The New York Times reported that “fifteen people suffered minor injuries in the first eight weeks that Shibboleth opened,” visitors who had tripped and hurt themselves on the crack in the gallery’s floor. “It is certainly the responsibility of museums to present works to the public that the normal husband and wife team won’t buy,” says Al-Senussi. “It is certainly their responsibility to give artists the opportunity to make epic works.” However, as both Al-Senussi’s concerns over the permanent defacing of the Tate and the unsuspecting museumgoers hurt by the installation’s elements demonstrate, the museum’s responsibility should not stop at appeasing the artist. Museums must be able to anticipate how materially or structurally far artwork in their institutions can go. Cow bladder, rotting flowers, large-scale cement breakages—there seems to be no limit to what museums allow their artists to realize. Curators like Anna Stothart and John Smith greet the challenges that art of different materials present, whether in support of unyielding art, or for the good advertisement and special attractions that these pieces bring to their collections. Whatever the reason, the difficulty of upholding the integrity of these works—and realizing that the integrity extends from the work itself to the gallery environment as a whole and the people who roam around within it—cannot be forgotten. RACHEL KAY B’13 developed particularly problematic fungal spores.
17 february 2012
UNCANNY OSCARS Investigations in Cinema Astrology By Adrian Randall Illustration By Robert Sandler
he Oscars are the anti-Superbowl. Any real pathos over victory and defeat quickly gets lost in the pomp and circumstance. Just like the trailer is usually better than the movie, the red carpet catwalk is usually better than the show. Not like that’s a bad thing—the ritual regalia offers a nice pacemaker for those of us who could care less about confetti-blasted victories and vuvuzela hangovers. Forget inflammatory nipple slips and middle fingers, I spend most of the show pondering what kind of Faustian bargain led to Matt Damon’s teeth. As far as this year’s lineup goes, The Artist, a black and white homage to silent films, looks set to win. Not much of a surprise, given that it has already been nominated for over 200 honors (and won many of them) from other awards shows, festivals, industry groups, and critics. Personally, I folded my hand after finding out that 2011’s best film, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, was off the roster. I’m also curious how Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, currently shouldering a 45% rating on RottenTomatoes, snuck onto the best picture list. The Help is another oddity sure to be lost in the sheen, after receiving a fair share of criticism for its portrayal of racial stereotypes. This might all be attributed to the Oscars’ commerciality, but I think that is missing the bigger picture. Each year there are literally hundreds of awards and accolades available to films, plus all the blogs, critics, aggregators, and the reality that everyone’s an expert when it comes to movies. This is how I remain unoffended when The King’s Speech—a feel-good movie with a questionable allegiance to nationalism and aristocrats—can be nominated for 217 awards and win more than a third of them. Arguing over the better movie has become totally obsolete. What’s much more profound to me are the strange alignments that occur in film, the paranormal phenomena of cinema. Why is it that the top two runners for this year’s Oscars, The Artist and Hugo, both loudly relish the early
days of cinema? Even Midnight in Paris (also up for the big prize) has a rosy-cheeked tango with the beginning of the last century. In that sense, I wonder about the Hollywood machine the same way I wonder about think tanks, investment firms, the Bilderberg Group, and Switzerland—lands of closed doors and secure phone lines. Cinema’s dyad of art and commerce tends to be more pronounced than any other art form, which makes it especially potent for reading the cultural unconscious. Two years ago, The Hurt Locker-Avatar best picture standoff looked like Tom versus Jerry (especially considering Cameron and Bigelow’s status as ex-wife and husband). Not far under the skin, though, were competing narratives over neocolonialism, the nightmare of staying in Iraq against the glossy-eyed fairy tale of leaving. This kind of synchronicity is far from uncommon, and I don’t think it’s the cause of coincidence or conspiracy. Too often have the most mystifying incidents shunned explanation. Consider when in 2006 The Prestige and The Illusionist debuted a month apart. Both were films about magicians in a steampunk Victorian England. Even stylistically the films looked identical. The uncanniness was too much for filmgoers, who couldn’t tell the films apart. Both crumbled at the box office. In 2011, why is it that dumbwaiters feature as prominent motifs in both Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (up for three Oscar nominations) and The Skin I Live In? Besides their European setting, these films could not be more different: historical fiction vs. fantasy, spy games vs. trans-sexuality, sickly faded colors vs. oversaturation, understated vs. melodramatic. But there is a little wormhole that connects these two films; a vial of morphine starts in a mad scientist’s mansion-cum-laboratory and comes out an attaché case in a ‘70s MI6. A dumbwaiter ride through space, time, and cinema. We need to read this like we read astrology: too occult to explain, too parallel to ignore. I also mean this literally. The
last two winners of Cannes both feature cosmological narratives. The Tree of Life exhibits the beginning of the universe, Melancholia its end. Or the 2011 sleeper film Another Earth which, exactly like Melancholia, depicts an Earth-sized planet approaching ours (there are scenes in these two films which match up almost identically, the foil planet raised off the horizon in the distance, ready for a face-off with Mother Gaia). Movie buffs love to argue over evasive symbols—the end of L’Eclisse, Herzog’s animals, almost all of Mulholland Drive. A new film, Room 237, consists entirely of film critics speculating on meanings in The Shining. I’m proposing something different, something to do with the artistindustrial unconscious of filmmaking, the spiral tapestry of films. Humans are the best known machines for recognizing patterns. The question is how to interpret them. Freud would take the scientific route, Jung the mystical one (see them debate this in A Dangerous Method). Do dueling dumbwaiters reveal the world? In a way, yes. They mark the intimacy and separation of modernity. They are indulgent technologies that connect and divide, that always suggest another space, one which is very close to ours and yet somehow unreachable, even destructive. Or maybe they are just dumbwaiters. In such fabricated environments as films, or the Oscars, the outbursts are always less interesting than the silent synchronicities. Difference will always try to stand in front of the dead ringers. ADRIAN RANDALL B’12’s Ouija board told him who wins best picture.
THE SECOND ANNUAL INDYS Best Anagrammatic Film Reviews: @WPoundstone Best YouTube: Skrillex in Ibiza Best Comeback: D’angelo Future of Literature: @dog_ebooks Best Creepy Alien Eyes: Ryan Gosling Best Marriage Plot: Kim Kardashian and Chris Humphries Best Concert: Thee Oh Sees at Building 16 Best Acting Range: Antonio Banderas (The Skin I Live In v. Puss in Boots) Best Newspaper Correction: (From the December 29 New York Times) An article on Monday about Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students with Asperger syndrome who are navigating the perils of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the animated children’s TV show “My Little Pony” that Ms. Lindsmith said she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover. Best Pixar Short: Young Adult Best New Drink: Beer on Ice Most Pet-Friendly Airline: Pet Airways Best Doo-Dad: Local/Sustainable Whale Candle Best Food: Ibid. Up-and-Coming Country: China On the Way Out: Private School Best New Style: Long Hair Don’t Care Biggest Energy Source: “Sun” Wish It Had a Videogame: Rick Santorum’s Family Dinners Wish It Would Go Away: Mildew Guiltiest Pleasure: Mildew -Indy Staff
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
MOTIFS OF MANIA One Researcher’s Close Reading of Schizophrenia By Raillan Brooks Illustration By Charis Loke
nother manila folder has landed on his desk. A new donation has just arrived, and Anton* has work to do. He braces himself. The symptoms of schizophrenia usually leap off the page with such force that he must mentally prepare each time a new file crosses his desk. Each brain, each donated by a recently deceased schizophrenic patient, has a story to tell. It is Anton’s entry-level research job at one of the nation’s largest brain banks, with upwards of 2,000 individual brains, to find the threads that connect them. Anton has his work cut out for him. Schizophrenia is by many measures the most radical malfunctioning of the human brain one can imagine. Patients suffer from more than 30 symptoms, ranging from hallucinations of all five senses, to paranoid delusions, to lack of functional working memory. Each folder contains a fresh combination of disorders for Anton to categorize and characterize as best he can. Though schizophrenia is one of the most studied mental illnesses in the United States, it is still the least understood. According to a study done by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 1993, the most recent study on this topic, it was estimated that approximately 1.1% of the American population—roughly three million people—suffer from schizophrenia. According to the same article, only 15% of the disease’s occurrence is directly related to genetics. At least two neurotransmitter pathways are implicated, and evidence is mounting that epigenetics, the ways in which genome expression is modulated by environmental effects like exposure to pollutants and brain traumas sustained during childhood, has an important role to play. Given the complexity of the disease, it is hard to know what all three million cases have in common. There are drastic differences in how each of these symptoms present themselves, but the key might actually be in the stories that schizophrenic patients and their doctors tell. A few years ago, Anton was a college student studying biology and psychology. Back then he liked to indulge the illusion that he was too artsy to be a scientist, and so balanced his course load with creative
writing and poetry classes. There was something about the thrill of dissecting a poem, only to glimpse briefly the ideas and feelings that motivate it, that shook him. Of the many writers he encountered as an undergraduate, Anton found himself returning to the works of Sylvia Plath and William Blake, both notorious for their struggles with mental illness. Blake’s symbolism had an especially strong grasp on Anton. The imagery is evocative, mysterious, verging on the prophetic. Blake’s poems are brimming with mad visions of demons and trees with angel wings instead of branches. Over time, analysis of his poems has yielded the hypothesis that Blake was in fact schizophrenic, basing his writing off of his frequent delusions. Anton recalls Blake’s aphorism “art is the tree of life, “In the retelling of his experience with Blake, Anton is keen to point out the oft-forgot second half of the saying: “science is the tree of death.” It is Blake’s appeal against thinking in absolutes. He wonders what is lost when scientific inquiry is deployed, his art putting in full view what is totally inscrutable to science. Nevertheless, it makes Anton nervous to talk about the link between schizophrenia and creativity, saying that mental illness doesn’t explain art away. Rather, mental illness becomes a text, and researchers’ understanding becomes a thorough literary analysis. Scientists, including Anton, are frustrated by the disease’s diffuseness in the brain, so they’ve starting looking in new places. One of the many dimensions of the illness that might yield insight is the way in which schizophrenic patients communicate. A cottage industry has formed around language performance with schizophrenia. A study in 2004 found that a key marker of the condition is a poor grasp of linguistic pragmatics. Schizophrenic patients tend to communicate in symbols, images, and sentence fragments disconnected from their present context. A slew of similar studies followed, and now language-use analysis is increasingly used to investigate the many dimensions of the illness. For example, patients will often string together similar-sounding words as if distracted by them, a process known
as ‘clanging.’ This lack of self-monitoring suggests a defect in the region of the brain that regulates phonetic processing. Anton might analyze a clang like a poem with its own meter and phonetic makeup, examining its structure to pinpoint the precise location of the defect based on the particular sounds and rhythm the patient fixates upon. Such a detailed analysis of a patient’s arrangement of words lies between the literary and the scientific. Although he speaks in vague terms about what he finds in those manila folders—out of respect for both the patient and the law—the idea is clear enough. Anton never knew these patients when they were alive, so he counts on doctors to do their damnedest to cobble together a complete image of a patient’s disease, scrawling out their ideas on the nature of truth, their relationships to other people, and representations of self. Patients’ motivations and intentions are just as valuable to Anton as those of an author to a literary scholar, so he reads quietly, patiently, waiting for patterns to emerge within and between files. What are the recurring themes in the patients’ delusions? How does each patient frame his or her relationships to others? What are their allegories for good and evil, God, and the Devil? Taking his point of view, it becomes hard to resist the comparisons between the patient files and the work of Anton’s favorite poets. Each patient stands on the knife’s edge between real and unreal, reminiscent of the Gothicized anxieties in Plath’s poetry. Some of their hallucinations bear an uncanny resemblance to Blake’s apocalyptic visions. Their symptoms orbit an unseen prime mover that might actually be part of the brain’s hard wiring, as is suspected to be the case for other mental illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder. What that mover is precisely, no one knows. So for now, Anton is limited to thinking about the symbols and motifs that bind the many experiences of schizophrenia, with the hopes of getting a clearer picture of the disease as a whole. Anton is still low in the research world’s hierarchy, but his unconventional approach is getting some attention. Recently he and a
team of linguistic specialists were asked to pioneer a new protocol for schizophrenia, in which he’ll use his readings of patient files in conjunction with their genetic profiles. His close reading of the files of schizophrenic patients will try to connect their representational theories—as demonstrated in their metaphors and thought structure— to genetic markers and anatomical abnormalities. He hopes his work might put talk therapy and speech analysis at the center of the suite of treatment options currently available. “As a man is, so he sees. As the eye is formed, such are its powers.” Blake made no distinction between perception and reality in his writing. For his part, Anton doesn’t find the distinction all that productive. To another researcher, schizophrenia’s stories might seem decoupled from the ‘real’ disease behind it. To Anton they are the disease. Each piece of loose leaf hastily stuffed into the manila folder is important. “There might be a ‘book’ of schizophrenia out there, he wonders, but someone has to bind it first.” Once he is done sifting through the folder, Anton hops into his car. He is going to the main storage facility where the brain has been delivered. In order to make something of what he has gleaned from the file, he has to see the specimen attached to it. The brain bank is sterile, quiet. The room is blank, save for the massive chest freezers storing the donations. Anton goes into one of the freezers and gently removes the newly arrived brain. It looks like someone has taken a melon baller to it. Specimen sampling from other labs. Because schizophrenia is delocalized in the brain— neuroscience-speak for “we don’t know where the hell it is”—multiple research teams are hunting in different regions. He collects his sample. Whomever this once belonged to, he thinks, is now sitting on his desk, scribbled on acid-free paper and slotted into a dossier. He replaces it gently and heads back to the lab to read. RAILAN BROOKS B’13 indulges one illusion in particular.
17 FEBRUARY 2012
ONE BODUM By Avery Houser Illustration by Allison Clark
n The Mule Named Skip. The ancient mule incapable of smelling blood and thus without fear, the mule he found half dead in the swamp, leeches crawling underneath the patchy grey fur into the veins into the joints and the bones and the disparate pieces that together house the soul, and then into the soul behind the old house the day mommy took a long nap in the swamp and he sucked the leeches off and fed Skip apples and bananas and the labia of a feral cat. Across the Red Desert. That vast expanse of sand and wind and little rain and much despair tainted by the blood of once seemingly endless generations of Wabes and Knewlits and now populated by locusts and the vermin of the earth unfamiliar with the adage you are what you eat, the bottom feeders that deign it appropriate and decent and find it enjoyable to feast on the carcasses of the weak, of those incapable of moving from point A to point B without choking on their own mortality. Into Calumet. The two-pub town built by whores on mortal engines, diviners with their heads turned backwards and flatterers immersed in excrement shipped here first on wagons then puffing Billys then by the great zeppelins that make mockery of Helios creeping over the sky and casting black parokhet on the earth casting ink upon the sands cutting the eye’s differential threshold in half1 cutting eyes in half and leaving behind them a fluttering of black flowers. Alcibiades saunters. He will have a drink and feel better. Maybe some water for 1 For this reason some believe the great zeppelin company to have received its national subsidies as a result of the carrot lobby.
The Mule Named Skip (The Mule Named Skip’s name hardly matters, he hasn’t the mental capacity to understanding it, though he gives an occasional nod of recognition). The two pubs sit next to each other on Main Street. From one, the shouts and the sloppy song of afternoon drunks (out of work or finishing their night shifts) reverberates to the street. Quiet piano music from the other. Judging from the mechanized quality, a player piano. He chooses louder pub, massive boots, soggy with sweat, colonized with pubic lice pound the terrace, cracking the wood where they land. Inside the people are all so beautiful. He likes to think about having sex with all of them. His sexual imagination serves as a great equalizer. They are all eligible. The less likely candidates are all the more exciting for being so. The pregnant woman. Her belly bulges, the water breaking forth, cascading on her culottes. She sits at the bar, facing out, slumping back, legs open, blood dripping to the floor. A highball glass of rye in one fist, a mason jar in the other, collecting the phagocytes and milk flowing steadily from her left nipple. “Don’t drink that!” the fetus yells. “Why in the hell not? You aint known but a thing yet, you aint felt the touch of someone else’s skin (other’n from my uterine wall) or known what it feel like to hear you baby daddy of forty and seven years say ‘your smile makes my eyes blow up your vagina makes my penis hole close up your voice makes my neurosis show up you make me throw up.’ When you done n’ made first contact wit mama earth you can go n’ make a request, but for now Imma go n’ drink what I want. Anyhow anyway, it good fo’ ya. You
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
gon’ grow to be strong and the way it’ll fuck witchya will garner you the sympathy of the woodland creatures.” The baby kicks and kicks, through her dress the great tummy bumps and thumps. She downs both glasses and hurls them at the bartender to punch back, playing whack-a-mole with her stomach. An older black woman. In all grey flannels, pure silver sandals. Spectacles of birch. Flowing orange hair. Alligator belt separates her torso into two voluptuous halves. Earrings of ivory hoops upon hoops. Reading the Bible, she just started. She raises her head from the book, gazes sullenly forward. She mumbles to herself, “Every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.” And from her pockets she begins to draw her collection of asexually produced anemones and rodents and unicellular organisms. “She’s at it again, can you take care of it?” the barman asks the barmaid, who stops wiping his wounds and brings the woman a large bowl of water. Two by two she drowns her creations. Until she arrives at Dolly, the petit sheep. “Thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.” She tells her and puts her back in her pocket. The girl who appears hardly twelve. At a table reciting a poem to a group of men. Her belly sticking out from her tight blouse as far as her newly budding breasts. Sucking a lollypop, the kind with the worm in it, drinking a mescal, the kind with a worm in it. Eating a bowl of worms.
Beware the noxious Nippers He hungers for humanity Cuts kids cocks with clippers And sucks the soul to insanity Born on the 4th of July Of a maniacal mother Out the womb he did not cry He killed her and his twin brother With tobacco tainted tusk Pus pouring from every pore Eau de diarrhea, a foul musk On his lips, crusty cold sores
They men slap their knees and give her toffees and their tin teeth and medallions of mucus. One of them tries to cop a feel. Before his hand reaches her chest her bodkin meets his palm. She pours the mescal on him. In one motion she lights and flicks a match upon him, setting him ablaze, he runs from the bar howling. “You all remember them rules: hands off ‘till the first egg drops. Smiley’s orders.” At the sound of his name, the mayor, Sir Smiley turns from the bar and lumbers towards her table. “Let’s go upstairs, Milly” he says. She looks down at her feet dangling off the chair, not halfway to the floor. Her cheeks burn. She raises her eyes to meet his and
holds the pause for a second, making sure he is not going to change his mind. When she realizes he will not, she pipes up, creating another small commotion around her, “Always trying to fuck, Smiley!” She yells making the men hoot and howl again, this time at the blushing Smiley. “Well’n, away we go.” And she hops onto his shoulder. He walks embarrassedly up the stairs, her head poking out over his shoulder “Mmm, mmm, mmm, another exciting afternoon with Smiley, can’t wait to see how this one turns out. Anyone of ya heard of a duffle bag?” “Shhhhh” Smiley whispers in her ear in an attempt to curb the shouting. The guitar man. Chiseled chest hairless, chin with some young man stubble. Watery brown eyes contain his past and his future. Born of oil money he came to Calumet to perform renouncement. When he comes of age to inherit his fortune he will leave this place. White cowboy hat cocked back with his head. He sings a ballad: We used to walk to the hoo-doo On the zozo And ravick treape sometimes We would crill in vill And cepe all dum We could eat beeve together One bodum2 The barmaid has four lower lip rings (one alive, a slug), a piggy nose, a little paunch, squashed eyes. He could mush her vagina and her belly. She leaned forward, elbows on the bar, mushing her breasts together. He could mush those too, “Whattaya drinkin,’ toots?” “Can you make a Railroad Sling?” “I dunno, what’s in it? We usually just sell whisky and beer around here. Occasionally Milly gets to the Mescal.” “Not to worry, any decently stocked bar has the fixins. And I have full faith in your abilities as barmistress. You pour the drinks with poise and resolve, you show a dedication to the craft, an understanding of the care required to produce quality. It’s made of two parts bourbon, one part Chinaman blood, two pennies worth of toffee, and dram of pickled pork tongue brine. Up, garnished with a spring of wheat. What’s the word? “I kin try to do it. Will Jewblood do?” “Would Benedictine do for Chartreuse? No. But yes, do what you will. Necessity is the mother of invention.” Alcibiades quaffs the cocktail. The blood threw it out of balance, it’s the hazard of a serious order at a place like this. He slaps a gold piece on the bar and heaves his body outside. His muddy brown eyes catch her bright blue eyes. They enraptured his, tickle his 2 It is believed that the ballad, One Bodum, was originally sung by Acheron the Anemic to his wife Hilda who suffered from a pituitary parasite. He reminisced longingly for times bygone as the colony of ravenous worms supped on her hormones.
dick, burn his tummy. She extends her smile beyond the recommended length,3 holds his gaze for a moment longer than she intends to before turning her head down. An older man ducks out from Kotter’s general store across the street, “Coffee, are you coming in? You promised help me pick out the paint for your brother’s shed.” “Just a moment, papa.” She walked over to Alcibiades. The cicadas in his scalp chirp, the yeast in his elbow pulse, multiply at an enormous rate. He towers over her pristine figure. She glistens in his shadow. “You a stranger here? I don’t believe I seen you in town before” she says. “I can’t say I’ve passed through Calumet before. That’s not to say I’m a stranger. I have a feeling we’ve encountered each other before. On the tip of a needle. At the edge of an abyss. Maybe it feels that way because that’s where we stand now. “That’s all well and good, but how’d you end up here?” “How does any person arrive at any place? What divine forces bring us to the ground on which we stand? I ended up here because my mother would weep when my father left the house and weep harder when he came home. Because The Mule Named Skip was the only honest being I knew until I laid eyes on you. Because I believe only in beauty. And because I care not for the life of human beings whose insipid faces remind me always of their inability to act in accordance with their words, whose words remind me always of their inability to communicate. I am here because when I kill people it seems to make people upset and so I have to go to other places.” “I don’t believe you.” “Now, listen here, Coffee, right?” “Correct.” “Now, Coffee, I’ve robbed stores and saloons, burned churches and ravaged orphanages. I killed a man for a vest I didn’t want. So he’d know I could have it if I wanted. I only realized the paradox subsequently. I raped a nun in front of the whole convent. Because I thought it ironic. But one thing I have never done and will never do is tell a lie. Robbery, murder, they’re the trade of an honest man. When I steal, when I murder, I conceal nothing. The project is straightforward and the strongest survive.” “Well, well” she blushes, looks to the floor, crosses one leg in front of the other. “I don’t believe a word you say” with a burst of confidence, lifting her eyes to his. “Well, I couldn’t just leave here with you doubting me, could I?” He draws a massive revolver from his poncho and hands it to her. “Just cock it and pull the trigger, follow me.” He marches into the store. Papa stands at the checkout, sod and booze and paint and shit on the counter. Alcibiades draws a knife from his boot and 3 As outlined in Mrs. Pocket’s Guide to Behaviour for Budding Young Ladies: Tuna Salad, Perfect Fellatio, Noiseless Flatulence, and More!
plunges it into Papa’s eye and the turds dance out. Before he falls, Alcibiades gashes his stomach, the orange tree finally emerges with a flood of chyme after years of growing in his duodenum. It had been growing since he ate an orange seed at one of the first ever Chinaman restaurants when he was six years old. Kotter fumbles for his gun behind the counter. Though this is Coffee’s first encounter with a firearm, the ancient spirit of the hunter deep in her lineage coming from her great great great great grandmother Chulula moves into her finger and feeds itself off of the energy of the prospect of the life of the clerk and she travels with the bullet into that man’s heart, that man she has known since birth who sells the chattel to the people and will now be dust and shit and the products he once sold to people because she is entering his chest and making a cavity so wide his pluster will lish and she is putting a hole in his heart so large she can reach in and opy his dleems Alcibiades grabs the money from the till. They unhitch a mare and ride off. Goodbye, The Mule Named Skip. They plunge into the desert, in the opposite direction from which Alcibiades entered Calument not an hour prior. She giggles and weeps in his arms. He looks forward, determined to reach the next town before she has a chance to consider the consequences. So she can again taste blood and know the divine truth attainable only by taking the life of another. AVERY HOUSER B’12.5 is incapable of smelling fear.
17 FEBRUARY 2012
EXPORTED Inside America’s Biggest Sport By Amy LaCount Illustration by Diane Zhou
omewhere within the stereotypical tropes that make up Western conceptions of Japan—the skyline of Tokyo, the bullet train, the cherry blossom in spring—two enormous, barely clothed men in colorful tassels are wrestling in a circular ring. Sumo wrestling is an age-old, honorable tradition that still permeates Japanese culture and remains its national sport. In America, however, sumo is often interpreted as humorous. The noble sport is reduced to a spectacle of large wrestlers in minimalist uniform with amusing hair. Yet, as bizarre as it looks to Westerners, sumo is a crucial artery that runs through the body of Japan, and one that is attempting to branch off internationally—even into the United States. For many centuries, sumo wrestling was exclusive to Japanese society, maintaining a rigid national tradition and even a cap on the number of foreigners who could compete at the professional level. Although some of these conservative structures still exist, things are changing. Since the late 1980s, Japan has worked to globalize sumo, with enthusiasts lobbying to get it into the Olympics. This effort caught the ear of Andrew Freund, who “saw a sumo demo in 1997 in LA and was immediately hooked.” Freund has now been coaching, competing, and practicing sumo for 15 years, and has been involved in a whopping 800 sumorelated events. He heads the US Sumo Federation, which has sponsored the US Sumo Open ever since 2001. So how do American wrestlers weigh in on the matter? Heavily. Americanborn wrestlers are making headway in the international world of sumo. One such virtuoso is Dan Kalbfleisch, six-time US sumo champion from California. Kalbfleisch told the Independent that he first started American wrestling in high school, and although he performed well, he didn’t love it. He had never considered sumo wrestling as a possibility until 2005: “I saw the documentary Sumo: East and West on PBS, which showed American amateurs doing sumo,” he says. “That was when I realized that I could do it.” Leading American sumo wrestler and world champion Trent Sabo tells a similar story—after seeing an ad for “Sumo Shimpo,” he “had to give it a try.” Sabo recognized that it was difficult to get good training in America, so he traveled overseas to Europe and Japan. He has since gone on to win more US Championship titles than anyone in history. He is one of four Americans ever to win a medal at the World Sumo Championship, sumo’s premier international competition. “In my opinion, the true beauty of sumo is its cultural tradition,” explains Trent. According to legend, sumo began with a match between the god of the Japanese island and the leader of a rival tribe, leading to a victory for Japan and the birth of a nation. The recorded history dates back 1500 years. It started in the imperial courts as a ritual dedicated to the gods, complete with prayers for a bountiful harvest. It was also used as a training technique for soldiers locked in combat. Beginning in the 1600s, professional sumo became entertainment for the middle class. Since the early 1900s, all professional sumo tournaments have been held in Tokyo’s Ryōgoku Kokugikan, also known as Sumo Hall; 13,000 seat area was built specifically to accommodate the growing popularity of sumo. The rules for winning mirror the simplicity and imperative of the Japanese flag, a single red orb surrounded in vast white: stay in the circle. The wrestlers, called rikishi, try to force the opponent out of the ring—the dohyō, which takes its name from the straw rice bags marking the different parts of the circle. Competitors can also achieve a win by forcing the other rikishi to put any part of his body besides his feet on the ground. The biggest differences between American and Japanese wrestling are sumo’s extra prohibitions: no fists, pulling, choking, kicking, and absolutely no displacement of the band that covers the vital organs.
STRONG ARM Japan holds true to its roots even as it remains one of the most technologically advanced. “Tradition is part of the ancient sport of sumo,” says Kalbfleisch. “There is much tradition that is lost in translation, and in time, to a non-Japanese. In international sumo, we keep an abbreviated ritual before each match to honor tradition.” Presiding over all this weighty historical formality is the Japan Sumo Association, the only professional sumo institution in the world. The members are all retired wrestlers (oyakata), who are the only people qualified enough to train new rikishi. All wrestlers join a training stable called a heya, which is run by a single oyakata. Currently, there are about 54 different stables in which the 800 or so wrestlers can train. Wrestlers are also divided into six classes—only the top two tiers even receive pay; those in lower divisions earn a small allowance. Within each class are complex subdivisions. In the uppermost level, for example, there are seventeen partitions, all leading up to the very best in the game: the yokozuna. Yokozunas, of which there have only been 68 in sumo’s 1,500-year old history, are the grand champions of the sport. XXXL Nowadays, the cultural differences are subtler: traditional Japanese sumo wrestlers eat the same meal at the heya each day— chanko-nabe, a type of stew with massive quantities of protein like chicken, fish, and tofu, as well as various vegetables. For maximal fat storage, they are advised to skip breakfast and to consume the soup at specific times. In line with the strict hierarchy of the rikishi at their training stables, superior wrestlers are allowed the first pick of food while the lower-ranked must eat left-overs. Kalbfleisch’s diet, however, is more diverse: “When I was gaining weight for sumo, my calorie intake was in excess of 7,000 calories a day. Now, to maintain my weight, I eat around 4,000 calories from whole and healthy foods. I don’t need to be strict with my diet, and I can eat what I want.” Kalbfleisch admits he faced many obstacles in learning the sport, as professionals in Japan “live together and train together every day,” but he could not find any traditional training programs in the US. “I had to find people to train with. I was lucky to train with various US champions who were willing to teach me. Now that I am the best in the US, I train with others who wish to learn sumo.” Freund sees sumo as “accessible to everyone. It’s fun for people of all ages to watch, and at the same time, we have people from all walks of life who practice and compete.” While sumo has found a place in American sports culture, Sabo offers words of caution: “Sumo is so much more than just sport. It is a lifestyle. It is the essence of what it means to be Japanese; a corruption of that is truly a tragedy.” He adds that the “great secret that outsiders don’t get is that there are no out of bounds, no second periods, nothing. It is do or die. This type of motivation causes people to achieve levels of performance not normally attainable.” Finally, Kalbfleisch answered with a magnificent trifecta: “Women love the uniform. I get to eat what I want. I feel like a god among men.” AMY LACOUNT B’13 loves the uniform.
At a certain diner, three guys are eating Sandwiches.This is strange, as sandwiches are forbidden in this particular town.
Stranger still, everyone knows there is a deli where sandwiches are served. Now everyone is sweating and smelling of sandwiches.
Mike just finished his break. Mark just started his break. Malcolm orders diet soda Maurice likes turkey with grey poupon
It brings to mind the adage What pulse of life is sweeter or more true than ham in the early day