Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cyclling through them in Queerish Landscapes

Katie King
Women's Studies, University of Maryland, College Park

a talk presented for the plenary panel on "Crossing (Queer) Disciplines,"
at the Global Queeries: Sexualities, Globalities, Postcolonialities Conference,
University of Western Ontario, Canada, 13 May 2006.

ABSTRACT: How do the upheavals and connectivities of globalization processes train and access particular ways of thinking, knowing, making knowledge? How do Queerish practices model, mirror, incite, alter, inflame, articulate such knowledges? Trans Knowledges refuse what Bruno Latour calls "the Enlightenment Contract," that never stated agreement under which we allow ourselves to practice both "purification" and "hybridization" at the cost of keeping them apart, even misremembering that we always do both. Trans Knowledges practiced by such such novel scholars as Bailey Kier, Joy Sapinoso, Benjamin Alberti, and Eva Hayward allow us to cycle through Queerish practices generated within such refusals. Doing so we consider how globalization affects the kinds of questions we ask, the resources we put together to look into them, and infrastructural shifts among academic capitalisms. 

This talk is an argument for how feminist versions of technoscience studies, queer theory and transnational cultural studies come together under the rubric Trans Knowledges.

Trans Knowledges is a term for which I am indebted to Bailey Kier, an American Studies scholar on the Gay Rodeo circuit in transition across genders, hormones, animal companions, classes, and academies. Trans Knowledges produce riffs cycling among transnational traffic, transition, biomedical transformation, gene transfer, transdisciplining diversity, and transing-queer. Many edges on these and other similar terms have been sharpened for me by History of Consciousness researcher and activist Eva Hayward.
Eva's media scholarship transes digital media, science studies, video, curatorial analysis and art history. These scholars, and a few others I will name, in varying forms, embody and study Trans Knowledges themselves; --at times working to set them moving through many Queer practices and landscapes, --those beings and doings of Queer spacetimes.
Trans Knowledges are not simply "interdisciplinary" as if at the intersection of disciplines. They are not even (inter)interdisciplinary, that is at the intersection of newly constituting interdisciplines, such as Cultural Studies; those locations which form through work to claim unique methods and objects. Rather, they bear an affinity to what I have begun to call "flexible knowledges," a term with deliberately already "dated" associations.
Flexible knowledges do not just threaten disciplinary expertise and territory within the academy, but also draw attention to new regimes of knowledge making which threaten the expertise and territory of the academy. In the national academy to which I belong, the so-called research university of the U.S., its relatively short life as the very engine of knowledge production has lasted only since World War II, child of our military-industrial complex. Today a range of national academies are restructuring under globalization pressures, each taking somewhat different forms in particular spacetimes. Some scholars have worked to describe this process, calling it "academic capitalism." The work of academic capitalism is to relocate what counts as knowledge, where knowledge is made, by whom, for what purposes and most especially with what resources. Those of us who always wanted to rework these boundaries and questions are only too horrified by some of the directions in which they are reformed under academic capitalism. Indeed at times the "interdisciplinary" can seem nostalgically wonderful by comparison.
Reenactments and Flexible Knowledges
I have just finished up a book on what I call "reenactments." My book focuses on reenactments as one way to name an inclusive genre of knowledge creation and communication under globalization that mixes simulation and experimental historiography. These reenactments are "networked" because television is properly both their metaphor and their vehicle. Knowledge work today, like television, is created by highly distributed agents, objects, skills and resources and aspires to "broadcast" its products, sometimes in new commercial and televisual forms. Today, whether we like it or not, we are required to engage the crossing and moving of boundaries between both authoritative and alternate forms of knowledge in changing patterns of interaction.
Reenactments are both fantasy practices and realities under these transformations of knowledge that we might call "academic capitalism." Reenactments seemingly authorize academic capitalism's fantasy that knowledge can be simultaneously newly produced, transmitted and its use taught in a single commodified form: simple, accessible, and democratized. A very few arresting reenactments can actually do this. And this fantasy of education and knowledge production, shared by politically progressive people as well as by conservatives in the culture wars, by promoters of national competitiveness, by various kinds of intellectual entrepreneurs, is not just an error to easily dismiss.
The longings it represents and sometimes can even realize, are the opposite side of the coin of the increasingly complex divisions of labor involved in knowledge production under globalization, distributed production processes telescoping in what I call "layers of locals and globals." These processes and their products require and develop new skills, pleasures and communities, recreating our very subjectivities, including us and being us in their only too metastasizing transformations. What my reenactments book describes is how an inclusive reenactment-aesthetic-of-transmission now inhabits many forms of knowledge production, authoritative and alternative.
I care about estranged "flexible knowledges" on the edge of validity, authority, membership, as they border communities of practice. I think about what is at stake in the only too strangely variant invocations of "authenticity" modeling "reality" that flexible knowledges aspire to and only too obviously can never encompass.
Reenactments are one species of Trans Knowledges.
Trans Knowledges work among companion species. Reenactments and the visual, the broadcast, the spectacle, performances, are companions to other knowledge species,  symbiogenesis and biomedical transformation, for one set of examples; or to new media in Queer Asia, for another. Simulation and experiment become companion species; histories of zero, queer spacetimes and multiple historic globalizations trans together as "gender in real time."

My slide show begins with "Trans Knowledges, the default is Transformation." What sort of default is Transformation?
A backdrop here is work by feminist technoscience theorists.
For one version of why Transformation names a regime of knowledge today we might look to Clarke, Shim, Mamo, Fosket, and Fishman as they describe a new knowledge paradigm they name biomedicalization, and which they contrast with its earlier incarnation, medicalization.
Medicalization is succeeded by biomedicalization, as the keyword "control" is replaced by this new default: transformation. In the earlier paradigm the state provided funding and to some extent medical care safety nets. But beginning around 1985 in the U.S. a range of medical knowledges and health care practices either were or were on the brink of becoming newly proprietary and privatized. Some proprietary knowledges were created across transnational resourcing; meanwhile funding devolved, becoming less and less collective and increasingly bourn more and more locally as government coverage of health care was cutback.
"Previous emphasis on germs, enzymes and biochemical compounds" and appeals to universal bodies, biological processes and science, are transformed by molecular biologies. Processes are increasingly understood "at the (sub)molecular levels of proteins, individual genes, and genomes," including "proteomics, genetics and genomics." Digital capitalism enhances access to medical knowledge and devolves the "allocation of responsibility for grasping such information." Assemblage at various levels and sublevels characterizes explanations and practices.
"Where medicalization practices seemed driven by desires for normalization and rationalization through homogeneity" "new technoscientific practices offer 'niche marketing' of 'boutique medicine"…." "Human bodies are no longer expected to adhere to a single universal norm. Rather, a multiplicity of norms is deemed medically expected and acceptable."
Clarke and her colleagues coin the term "technoscientific identities" "for the new genres of risk-based, genomics-based, epidemiology-based, and other technoscience-based identities." They "are produced through the application of sciences and technologies to our bodies directly and/or to our histories or bodily products including images." They also insist "we refuse interpretations that cast biomedicalization as a technoscientific tsunami that will obliterate prior practices and cultures. Instead we see new forms of agency, empowerment, confusion, resistance, responsibility, docility, subjugation, citizenship, subjectivity, and morality. There are infinite new sites of negotiation, percolations of power, alleviations as well as instigations of suffering, and the emergence of heretofore subjugated knowledges and new social and cultural forms. Such instabilities always cut in multiple and unpredictable directions."
It is in this spirit, in which we admit we don't know what political futures we can and cannot create together within and altering these shifting paradigms, that I offer the abstract for this talk:
ABSTRACT: How do the upheavals and connectivities of globalization processes train and access particular ways of thinking, knowing, making knowledge? How do Queerish practices model, mirror, incite, alter, inflame, articulate such knowledges? Trans Knowledges refuse what Bruno Latour calls "the Enlightenment Contract," that never stated agreement under which we allow ourselves to practice both "purification" and "hybridization" at the cost of keeping them apart, even misremembering that we always do both. Trans Knowledges practiced by such novel scholars as Bailey Kier, Joy Sapinoso, Benjamin Alberti, and Eva Hayward allow us to cycle through Queerish practices generated within such refusals. Doing so we consider how globalization affects the kinds of questions we ask, the resources we put together to look into them, and infrastructural shifts among academic capitalisms.
Cycling through and with scholars of Trans Knowledges in Queerish Landscapes
Bailey Kier
Bailey Kier is a graduate student in American Studies at the University of Maryland simultaneously on the gay rodeo circuit in transition across genders, hormones, animal companions, classes, and academies. Kier's work nowadays takes its most public form in several blogs yet unconnected, requiring but open to searching. Kier's thoughtful gatherings telescope a range of academic and other flexible knowledges, coining the term Trans Knowledges.
With the default set at Transformation Bailey asks:
How do trans technologies--and narratives about them--interact through global, technological, web based ways? How are trans communities creating, disseminating, and sustaining new ways of knowing and knowledge production? How are trans ways of knowing becoming digitized, chemically 'altered,' and embodied?* "I'm really interested in the idea that the body doesn't stop at the skin and that humans are in a dynamic, co-constitutive relationship with everything else around them. I want to think about that in relation to gender."
Kier notices as range of knowledges as "companion species":
"You learn to control your anxiety about riding that bronc the same way you learn to control your anxiety about being something that a lot of people are against. I learn to be calm about something that I'm very, very scared about."
Joy Sapinoso
Joy Sapinoso is a Ph.D. candidate in Women's Studies at the University of Maryland in reflective participation among a range of regional sites of kinging culture, each with its own characteristic intersectional profile. Sapinoso's current work is engaged in closely examining the sites of U.S. immigration and kinging culture.
Sapinoso's dissertation is intended to develop a queer Asian American critique, one Joy sees as a contribution to a range of projects to rethink racialization practices in the U.S.:
Inhabiting such a variable racial position uniquely situates queer Asian American subjectivities within discourses of queer of color critique. Yet, by no means are Asian Americans the only ones to find themselves disregarded by the black/white binary of race predominant in the U.S.; the experiences of American Indians, Latin Americans, as well as the growing population of mixed race people in the U.S. are also elided by the black/white binary. A queer Asian American Critique strives to disrupt the black/white binary on behalf of all those it marginalizes.*
Sapinoso's performances among flexible and Trans Knowledges model, mirror, incite, alter, inflame, and articulate as Joy lists some:
Performing racialized masculinities that are not your own, or conversely, performing your own, largely unrepresented, racialized masculinity; structuring performances in alternative ways, neither in parody or celebration of music artists; and questioning the links between the possibilities of performing various gender identities, as well as various racial identities.
Sapinoso ponders political meanings and labors to envision them:
The largest task is to assert the liberatory possibilities offered, in terms of both alternative visions and practices, that arise from considering the distinct racializations of queer Asian Americans.
Benjamin Alberti
Benjamin Alberti is an archeologist and an assistant professor in Sociology at Framingham State College who works to re-interprete bodily forms -- pots and people -- through an interest in various theories of genders, bodies, materialities, science studies. Meeting recently at an Andean archeology conference, we first got talking about his work on gender salience in Minoan Crete, where the sexed body is brought into being when a particular type of garment is combined with a body within a specific context of representation.
As such, the breasts are an integral part of the costume of the figurines. The costumes, adornments, acts, body position and medium of representation combine. Note Knossos Palace as a large 'trap' for particular sensory experience together with other potent artefacts. The images may well have served as vehicles for divinities, or have been considered as divine themselves.*
Alberti's dissertation from the University of Southhampton argued that the bodies of Minoan figurines "wear" the appropriate gender for a specific ritual practice, while the figurines as such don't bear "gender" as their essential feature. Thus gender salience is always in question, not a proper presupposition.
Alberti advances reasons to question sex and gender presuppositions in Andean archeology as well.
When sex is shown this is not simply a more 'anatomically correct' representation of a global human form. Rather, sex has emerged as a salient attribute of the pot's character as a pot. At this point, it is important to ask 'WHY is sex now emerging through this pot?' It's not simply a case of 'sex' or 'no sex.' The characteristics that appear, the body they appear with, the form and shape and manner of inscription are also significant.
Trans Knowledges and transformation require attention to a range of axis of difference -- among humans and among companion species, those very beings and objects with which we inhabit worlds – as well as the possibilities of transformation among them all:
Perhaps 'sex' was not a part of that 'appropriate form' in the specific context of those pots. The primary axis of difference is seen as being between humans and nonhumans, not between humans and other humans. The players need not be what we consider 'humans.' The possibility or dangers of metamorphosis may be in play when zoomorphic figures are present....
and when the body vessels are presented in grotesque forms -- Their purpose not necessarily being to encode their belief system onto objects that others may read -- like story boards -- but rather to make interventions into the world of human - nonhuman relations. To either assist or resist such transformations.
Alberti brings together archeology, gender and science studies to retheorize things, objects, bodies, persons, knowledges, beings.
Objects can be considered co-participants in social life. They can act as persons. Objects and bodies can be 'known' in quite different and startling ways. This work comes from ethnographic interpretations of indigenous models of ontologies of the body and things. Bodies and things can be thought of as relational rather than fixed or innate. They emerge through relations; they are not in some sense pre-given or prior to them.
Eva Hayward
Eva Hayward has just been finishing up a dissertation for the History of Consciousness at UC-Santa Cruz while simultaneously completing a first year as a faculty member in Media Arts at the University of New Mexico. Hayward's dissertation focuses on:
Ciliated Bodies --
a ‘theory made’ and
an immersion into thick apparatuses:
a diffracted encounter, an alternate economy of visceral enmeshings of jellies, aquarium goers, human marine scientists and aquarists, a motley of assorted display and reproductive equipment, Hewlett-Packard technologies, Monterey Bay ecology/economy, public education, and serious scientific inquiry.*
Hayward engages
primary designer David Powell’s The Drifter’s Gallery at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, [which] is shown to install a promise of immediate and luminous experience of ‘jellyfish otherness,’ but delivers an account of jellyfish as historically situated ‘actors’ within biocapitalism.
Hayward's work spans new media, feminist technoscience studies, biology, cinema and museum studies as well as video production and trans and queer studies. Eva takes up instrumental, subjective and cognitive technologies enabled and required by microscopy and camera in an essay
Enfolded Vision --
Refracting [the film] the Love Life of the Octopus:
Extreme close-ups as well as macro- and microscopic magnifications produce a discourse on space and experience: defamiliarization and then re-meeting on other terms.... Through their use of alternative imaging technologies, Painlevé and Hamon produced films where animals act upon spectators...accounts of human, animal, and apparatus encounters--not just as mediums and instruments, but as active presences.
Hayward's uses of tropes, metaphor, lyrical language, technoscientific analysis are put to the service of trans and queer knowledges:
With its prefix all weighted with a frighteningly beautiful sense of movement and convergence: transitions, translations, transformations, transgenic, transportations, transactions, transferences -- what does transfeminism do that queer feminism could not?
The liberatory and the subjected are not essentialized as mutually exclusive, but as immersed in each other, co-constituting species, whether companion or not:
Freedom --
initiative in shaping a narrative, a visible body, where one is able to engage and resist --
contradicts itself because one is really not free from the policing of the physical body--
coming into a transgender body -- can create a reality and disillusion in public spaces --
Narrative, flesh, is filled with memory, emotions, and complexity. Crafting a space for existence may involve unfolding history, mapping normative processes, and immersing a 'body' in vulnerability.
Hayward's analysis of current international independent film takes up transformations in
transnational traffic in transgender...
too many turbulent currents and riptides that are involved in the transformation...
about tongue twisters, about tricky transnational translations. It suggests that the materiality of economies and experiences, naming across national/cultural/historical boundaries produce layered identities...
tease out the relevant questions of transcultural exchange--to provide a tentative and vulnerable mapping of how all these categories cannot avoid interpellating each other....*
Languages, planetary companions, performances, some everyday life of trans beauties and pleasures enter poesis:


naked          lunge,

rippled splendor. What intimate work

and design went into this undulant thing:

a blouse of

yellow warts and
a thousand hot white needles.

What I love about pleasure is
what I love about this damp sissy—lace

made alive and gorgeous:

flux, shift, alter, transpose, redefine.

Mutable verbs that cause stunning trouble

beneath the slashing

surface of

tide pools.

Refusing Enlightenment, meeting with companion species
It is difficult to describe the breeding lines of these knowledges. And indeed, they extend beyond my own knowledge so what I can say is but a piece of a piece.
What I want to point out here are the layered elements and enlivening metaphors in these projects, descriptions, interventions, immersions, settings in spacetimes. They translate among cognitions and political projects. I will only too simple-mindedly tease out some of their informational bits, in this sound-bite type method you have now experienced for this talking form and visual presentation, a version clearly implicated in rather than innocent of, the layers of purification and hybridization I alluded to earlier.
My and others' assemblage here takes a momentarily purifying form: politics to the left, cognitions to the right. We will come back to my little map here in the course of a short stroll.

There are more than one set of walks along this beach. I have sometimes taken them with one person or another. While you cannot do more than one walk at a time, you can connect them end to end, or transform one to another, and then you cannot even tell which walk was which.  And of course you can very definitely bring along more than one person, some companion animals to run with, or search out, or pick up the pieces or traces of.
The sly tricky wit enacted by technoscience analyst Bruno Latour begins with some seeming definitions -- of translation, purification; in order to set some conditions for ontologies, networks and criticism:
"the word 'modern' designates two sets of entirely different practices which must remain distinct if they are to remain effective, but have recently begun to be confused. The first set of practices, by 'translation', creates mixtures between entirely new types of being, hybrids of nature and culture. The second, by 'purification', creates two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on the one hand; that of nonhumans on the other. Without the first set [creating hybrids], the practices of purification would be fruitless or pointless. Without the second [dividing ontological zones], the work of translation would be slowed down, limited, or even ruled out. The first set [of translations creating hybrids] corresponds to what I have called networks; the second [set of purifications and distinguishing ontologies] to what I shall call the modern critical stance...."
But quickly Latour begins his reenaction, redresses the scene and alters spacetime:
"So long as we consider these two practices of translation and purification separately, we are truly modern -- that is, we willingly subscribe to the critical project, even though that project is developed only through the proliferations of hybrids down below. As soon as we direct our attention simultaneously to the work of purification and the work of hybridization, we immediately stop being wholly modern, and our future begins to change. At the same time we stop having been modern, because we become retrospectively aware that the two sets of practices have always already been at work in the historical period that is ending. Our past begins to change."
"Finally, if we have never been modern – at least in the way criticism tells the story – the tortuous relations that we have maintained with the other nature-cultures would also be transformed….
"No one has ever been modern. Modernity has never begun.... This retrospective attitude, which deploys instead of unveiling, adds instead of subtracting, fraternizes instead of denouncing, sorts out instead of debunking, I characterize as nonmodern or amodern."
Hybrids down below, upsetting critical projects, fraternizing in Trans Knowledges

The transformations of pasts and futures that attending to those hybrids down below, to performing our workings of purification and hybridization simultaneously instead of misremembering each in favor of the other, is neither modern nor post-modern.
Hybrids down below, upsetting critical projects, fraternizing in Trans Knowledges, working the Gay rodeo for Queer scholarship, kinging for Asian American and Women's studies, glocalizing Minoan figures, Andean pots and gender theories, assembling apparatuses for enfolding visions of instrumental, subjective and cognitive technologies among ciliated bodies – these Trans Knowledges refuse Enlightenment, instead meeting with companion species.

What happens when species meet?
I have strolled along that dog beach with Donna Haraway, fog and sun shifting, causing us to squint and be dazzled. Donna's father died recently and she reflected in an essay on "Able Bodies," upon his longlife companionship with crutches, wheelchairs, scooters, noticing that
"Companion species are assemblages of living and non-living 'species,' as well as human and nonhuman organisms."
What kinds of politics do Trans Knowledges model, mirror, incite, alter, inflame, and articulate? What does it mean to live among transformations whose outcomes, fantasies and realities are, taken in amodern simultaneity, only too indigestible?
Haraway claims that indigestion has promises:
"Etching the adherent surfaces of contact sites with the tracks necessary to holding together, acid indigestion – not utopian critique – are the conditions of responsive co-constitutive multi-species encounterings in the mortal, finite worlds called domestic, wild, and feral. A robust appetite for life and a taste for excess are required to fulfill the ethics and erotics of curiosity. Flourishing depends perhaps less on eating well (pace Derrida) than on taking mutual partial digestion and a great deal of regurgitation seriously: companion species, cum panis, mess mates at table."

So, when the default is transformation, the hardest tasks require a lot of humor about modesties that cannot also be quietisms: instead they have to be commitments to engage even while yet refusing to pit what is in flux against what is stable or attempting to stablize, within, say, the queer and the trans.
We begin, very tentatively, to learn how mapping transformations as vulnerable immersions might work, might work out, might be only too scary, or too dangerous, or too necessary. It is hard to not notice that we usually cannot really help predicting political futures as if we could by such understanding control what to struggle against. Or for.
But we share our stage, settings, performances, sensoria, reenactments among actants, agencies, species, creating varying stabilities, some fragile, some robust. Those customized assemblages, that co-constitution in shifting units of analysis, layered in locals in globals,
These are Trans Knowledges, the default is Transformation.

* Note (April 2013): with the permission of each scholar what is in italics in reference to their work is something in between a paraphrase and a quotation. I have put their direct words within quotation marks. But these bits italicized are intended to condense a series of quotable materials into something more than a paraphrase, closer to the spirit and languages each uses, but in a much shorter form than a quotation would be. In a spoken presentation this is possibly less problematic than in a written form. I asked permission to do this before the presentation itself and again before I put anything up on the web. 


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