This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
King Intro for LGBT Series UMD: Contact: Spring 2012 ELIZABETH A. POVINELLI On Social, and Other, Forms of Suicide 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 5, 2012 Ulrich Recital Hall, Tawes Hall Elizabeth A. Povinelli is professor of anthropology at Columbia University. Povinelli is author of four books, including, most recently, Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism. From 2000–2004, she edited the journal Public Culture. === As a big fan of Elizabeth Povinelli‟s work I am very pleased to have been asked to introduce her this afternoon. In preparation I‟ve been practicing what nowadays is often called “transmedia storytelling.” This means I‟ve been hunting and gathering stories and bits for stories across media platforms and venues to see a tapestry of possible Povinelli entanglements that matter together. For myself, I think LGBT and Queer Studies need us all to do the kind of extending work this practice requires and rewards. “Contact,” the theme of this year‟s LGBT Series, asks us all to move among disciplines and transdisciplinary connections, among infrastructures that alter worlds and circumscribe them, and to value the intellectual labors of those confronting their own abandonments or exhaustions in ways that ethically require our attentive companionship and creative interest. Elizabeth Povinelli is quite a guide for such travels, a curator of experiences and yes we can wince a bit at that way of putting it even, yet, such coinages of practices with uncomfortable kinships are at the heart of various sorts of contact. So, I‟ve done my own weaving through transmedia in preparation for today because Povinelli‟s work is alive across so many worlds, so many forms of display, presentation, collaboration, technological experimentation, and artful care. Nor have I been able to feel confident I have got it all somehow: Povinelli‟s energies are phenomenal, her tasks and obligations to worlds prolific, her subtleties of insight painstaking, and her cares for friending the social extraordinary. “Exhaustive” knowledge of her work is exactly not what is possible. But “exhaustion” is a key experience she opens up for us. And in this context, social means more than just what humans do, as she says in the introduction to her new book, Economies of Abandonment. (7) The social, and social projects, are “dependent on interlocking concepts, materials, and forces that include human and nonhuman agencies and organisms” – and she uses the term “radical worlds” to include these. What sort of academic and cultural critic can make such things happen, or befriend landscapes, cell phones, boat engines in bits, and their people in enfleshment and affective augmentation? Someone who asks “What worlds do you consider yourself obligated to?” Someone who is motivated by a three generation long 28 year friendship entangled with a land claim in Anson Bay, Northern Territory, Australia. Indeed, one story says that while an undergrad at St. Johns College in Santa Fe in philosophy and mathematics, she met these friends while on fellowship in Australia in the 80s, and was persuaded to take up Anthropology at Yale, finishing in 1991, in order to be of use to them, as their land claim required the authoritative assistance of either a lawyer or an anthropologist and she preferred to become the latter. Currently she is Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at Columbia University. What on her Vita are called her “consultancies” – and what in other contexts she calls “friendship” – trace the edges of only SOME of the worlds she demonstrates her obligations to: but they include work for land claims, sea titles and assessments for sacred sites in various spots in Northern Territory. “Karrabing, Low Tide Turning” is the 2012 prize-winning film she and her friends of the Karrabing Indigenous Corporation made about an extended family‟s searches for a missing member among places and lands they work to inhabit in urban communities and outstations in Australia. The title, she says in one interview, refers to the fabulous moment in which all kinds of paths open up in the wake of the lowest possible tide, allowing one actually to walk to islands across reefs. The film itself is an
experiment in how to tell everyday stories about seriously painful issues with a sort of narrative ordinariness as well as complexity of humor and emotion. It‟s an activation of the pleasure of each other‟s company while moving along trying to do something, however exhausting; one way of feeling across the emotional range of what it means to live in these spaces. She‟s published four books. Before Economies of Abandonment was The Empire of Love. Before that, she wrote The Cunning of Recognition about “Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism,” and Labor's Lot on “The Power, History and Culture of Aboriginal Action.” The last two books, together with various transmedia projects, especially intend to demonstrate across worlds how it is that “late liberalism is a belated response to the challenge of social difference and the alternative social worlds and projects potentially sheltered there.” (25) Progressives of all sorts, as well as scholars concerned with social justice issues need the kinds of contextualizations she creates for us to understand the very resources and impulses with which we attempt to do our work today. Late liberalism keeps trying to make sense of and out of recent reorganizations of neoliberal governmentality, that currency of intensified suffering despite and because of state mutliculturalisms, what she calls “these late liberal ways of making live, making die, and letting die.” (29) These are revealed themselves to need some of the augmented reality projects she works with, to alter as “alternative projects of embodied sociality” (6) which are “mutual, if distributed, forms of enfleshment” (4) and they reject “the ethics of liberal empathy” to narrate and demonstrate instead the quasi-events of “forms of suffering and dying, enduring and expiring, that are ordinary, chronic, and cruddy rather than catastrophic, crisis-laden, and sublime.” (13) The web has been the platform for some of these projects to shift reality, to add affect and obligation. In a 2007 essay for the SSRC Povinelli asked how we might shift hierarchies of corporal being such that these cruddy forms of suffering are what count as the mortal sins and sexuality, for example, coordinated, say, as “minor form of spitting, perhaps?” In 2008 in metamute, she discussed in “Doing it for the Kids,” how the Howard Government used the pretext of a child abuse crisis to pass emergency legislation and justify a land invasion by police and doctors in Australia‟s Northern Territory. And since 2009, for the intermedia journal Vectors, she began a collective curation project that interactivates with the so-called cell phone project, to “reanimate – rather than reproduce – a local understanding of the relationship among place, people, and knowledge that is oriented to the production of mutual obligation rather than detached truth, even while it might provide the basis for a new media tourist enterprise.” By 2011, as “Routes/Worlds” in E-flux, she described the “augmented reality” project as creating “a land-based „living library‟ by geotagging media files in such a way that they would be playable only within a certain proximity of a physical site…. imagine…floating off the shore of a pristine beach in Anson Bay. [a person] activates her GPS and video camera and holds up her smartphone. As she moves the phone around she sees various hypertexts and video options available to her.” Such augmented realities emerge from networks across worlds, software, and infrastructures of memory, and these web projects “are always secondary and subordinate to the infrastructure of the Web itself. Finally, the ability to hinge information to place is mediated by a specific set of demanding environments and the institutions that support them, ” she says. [In “Routes/Worlds”] I spend a lot of time nowadays “learning to be affected” and Povinelli is one of those folks who adds to realities, radical worlds, and friendings of many sorts. Beginning her new book was for me a roller coaster – uncomfortable, emotional, intense and wishful. Economies in the book scope and scale among everything we might find “sensible” – as well as shift among critical scholarships, ethnographic obligations, and ethics. What worlds do we consider ourselves obligated to? What acts of friendship carry us across lives? What forms of making live, making die, and letting die do we care about together? This afternoon Elizabeth Povinelli presents “On Social, and Other, Forms of Suicide.” Please welcome her.