Elsewhere in America

Elsewhere in America: The Crisis of Belonging in Contemporary Culture by David Trend (Routledge: 2016)

The book uses the term “elsewhere” in describing conditions that exile so many citizens to “some other place” through prejudice, competition, or discordant belief. Even as “diversity” has become the official norm in American society, the country continues to fragment along new lines that pit citizens against their government, each other, and even themselves.  Yet in another way, “elsewhere” evokes an undefined “not yet” ripe with potential. 

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The book argues that even in the face of daunting challenges, elsewhere can point to optimism, hope, and common purpose. Through 12 detailed chapters, Elsewhere in America applies critical theory in the humanities and social sciences in examining recurring crises of social inclusion (“belonging”) in the U.S.  After two centuries of struggle and incremental “progress” in securing human dignity, today the U.S. finds itself riven apart by new conflicts over reproductive rights, immigration, health care, religious extremism, sexual orientation, mental illness, and fears of terrorists. Why are U.S. ideals of civility and unity so easily hijacked and confused? Is there a way of explaining this recurring tendency of Americans to turn against each other? Elsewhere in America engages these questions in charting the ever-changing faces of difference (manifest in contested landscapes of sex and race to such areas as disability and mental health), their spectral and intersectional character (as seen in the new discourses on performativity, normativity, and queer theory), and the grounds on which categories are manifest in ideation and movement politics (seen in theories of metapolitics, cosmopolitanism, dismodernism).

For more information: https://www.routledge.com/Elsewhere-in-America-The-Crisis-of-Belonging-in-Contemporary-Culture/Trend/p/book/9781138654440

Karin Higa, 1966-2013

“Criticism and scholarship makes a difference grows out of palpable conviction—a belief that the stakes of an art practice go beyond professionalism, expertise, and mastery of a subfield,” a David Joselit writes in the current Artforum,

“Karin Higa’s exhibitions and essays possessed that special quality. In part this is because her path-breaking curatorial projects like “The View from Within: Japanese American Art from the Internment Camps, 1942-1945,” 1992, bore links to her own heritage as a Japanese American. But such biographical connections aren’t sufficient to explain the special intensity Higa had as a leader in the field of contemporary art, especially but not exclusively in building a complex and nuanced understanding of Asian American experience within it. Higa was awake; she engaged seriously with all kinds of visual worlds from fashion to food to architecture and she knew how to bring the richness and contradictions of life into her analysis of art. She was rigorously honest—she meant what she said, and her critical assessments were always based on a deep and constant practice of looking at art, and interacting with artists. Moreover, Higa was devoted not only to her own curatorial projects and scholarship but to institution building. Her efforts in this regard range from her early participation in the Godzilla Asian American Art Network and her dedication to establishing a world-class art program at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, where she worked in various capacities from 1992 to 2006, to her service on numerous panels and committees, including chairing the editorial board of Art Journal from 2010 to 2012. Higa was committed to making the art world more inclusive, more complex, and more humane.

“I remember how excited I was when the Hammer Museum chose Higa to co-curate the 2014 “Made in L.A.” biennial along with the writer and curator Michael Ned Holte. It is one of the many losses resulting from her untimely death from cancer on October 29, 2013 at the age of 47 that she was unable to complete this project. Higa was an inspired choice because of her special capacity to articulate the complexities of “identification”—the assignment of an identity as conditioned through diverse visual media. Continue reading “Karin Higa, 1966-2013”

The 1% crowding out creative talent

imagesRampant inequality is squeezing out the artistic genius that made New York such a vibrant cultural capital. We can’t let that happen, writes David Byrne in an editorial in The Duardian

“I’m writing this in Venice, Italy. This city is a pleasantly confusing maze, once an island of fortresses, and now a city of tourists, culture (biennales galore) and crumbling relics. Venice used to be the most powerful city in Europe – a military, mercantile and cultural leader. Sort of like New York.

“Venice is now a case study in the complete transformation of a city (there’s public transportation, but nocars). Is it a living city? Is it a fossil? The mayor of Venice recently wrote a letter to the New York Review of Books, arguing that his city is, indeed, a place to live, not simply a theme park for tourists (he would like very much if the big cruise ships steered clear). I guess it’s a living place if you count tourism as an industry, which I suppose it is. New York has its share of tourists, too. I wave to the doubledecker buses from my bike, but the passengers never wave back. Why? Am I not an attraction?

“New York was recently voted the world’s favorite city – but when you break down the survey’s results, the city comes in at No 1 for business and only No 5 for living. Fifth place isn’t completely embarrassing, but what are the criteria? What is it that attracts people to this or any city? Forget the business part. I’ve been in Hong Kong, and unless one already has the means to live luxuriously, business hubs aren’t necessarily good places for living. Cities may have mercantile exchange as one of their reasons for being, but once people are lured to a place for work, they need more than offices, gyms and strip clubs to really live.

“Work aside, we come to New York for the possibility of interaction and inspiration. Sometimes, that possibility of serendipitous encounters – and I don’t mean in the meat market – is the principal lure. If one were to vote based on criteria like comfort or economic security, then one wonders why anyone would ever vote for New York at all over Copenhagen, Stockholm or some other less antagonistic city that offers practical amenities like affordable healthcare, free universities, free museums, common spaces and, yes, bike lanes. But why can’t one have both – the invigorating energy and the civic, intelligent humanism? Continue reading “The 1% crowding out creative talent”

Men’s underpants create art controversy

In a world where shorts are getting shorter, advertisements are getting racier, and pornography is just a few clicks away, the mere sight of a pair of men’s briefs isn’t usually controversial, reports the Tornoto Star

“A Queen’s University fine arts student found out that men’s underthings are apparently still too titillating to be put on display. At the end of April, David Woodward agreed to show his art at a university donor appreciation event. He said the event’s organizers gave him guidelines on the size of the work and how it was to be presented, but not on what the actual art could or could not consist of.images

“Woodward chose to display his project titled “All I Am is What I’ve Felt,” which consists of 10 pairs of men’s underwear embroidered with images, text or both, that are tacked onto a wall or a white board. The work is an examination of gender, sexuality and intimacy, he says.

“The 22-year-old student, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts this month, said he chose to show that project because it was his final thesis work for the program, he believed it would inspire discussion, and because he is proud of it. Continue reading “Men’s underpants create art controversy”

College students worry … and think

Today’s college age generation has been disillusioned by a decade of recession, the decline of the U.S. in the world, and a general loss of confidence in democratic capitalism as a promise for their futures.images

Hence they are less likely to buy into the idealism and work ethic of 90s kids. But who knows, maybe they have better critical instincts. David Brooks is worried about all of this, as he writes in today’s New York Times:

“Twelve years ago, I wrote a piece for The Atlantic, called “The Organization Kid,” about the smart, hard-working, pleasant-but-cautious achievatrons who thrive in elite universities. Occasionally, somebody asks me how students have changed since then. I haven’t been perceptive enough to give a good answer.

“But, this year, I’m teaching at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale, and one terrifically observant senior, Victoria Buhler, wrote a paper trying to capture how it feels to be in at least a segment of her age cohort. She’s given me permission to quote from it. Buhler points out that the college students of 12 years ago grew up with 1990s prosperity at home, and the democratic triumph in the cold war abroad. They naturally had a tendency to believe deeply “in the American model of democratic capitalism, which created all men equal but allowed some to rise above others through competition.” Continue reading “College students worry … and think”

David Bowie’s androgynous legacy

The new David Bowie exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum was already a hot ticket even before the show opens to the public this weekend. “David Bowie is” shows how, in the 1970s, David Bowie’s passport to fame was his daringly ambiguous gender presentation. But in a piece on today’s BBC asks, did appearances deceive?imgres-2

“These days Dylan Jones is editor of British GQ magazine and very accustomed to living the high-life. But in July 1972 he was an ordinary 12-year-old living with his parents in an ordinary part of Kent. Then one evening, his life changed.”I can picture the exact moment: my father was away and my mother was out in the garden,” he says. “So I was alone in a terrace house in Deal watching Top of the Pops.”Normally it would have been a forgettable Thursday but I was about to be astounded. It was the first time we were exposed to Ziggy Stardust in all his androgynous glory. Continue reading “David Bowie’s androgynous legacy”

Misunderstanding Media Violence

imgres-4As we enter the most recent round in the media violence debate, a story from the past is illustrative of the difficulties in drawing conclusions too quickly from what seem like common sense observations.

In a now-famous study conducted in the 1970s, a group of American researchers were convinced they’d come up with a perfect way to measure the effects of violent media.[i] They had decided to study teenage boys who lived in residential facilities and boarding schools where television viewing could be completely controlled. For a period of six weeks, half of the boys were permitted to watch only violent programs and the other half non-violent shows. Everyone expected the boys exposed to violence to become more aggressive and unruly, as similar studies of younger children had demonstrated. Continue reading “Misunderstanding Media Violence”

War and Infidelity

“Spectators will try to make this scandal about many things: the arrogance of powerful men; conniving mistresses; the silent epidemic of sexual assault in the armed services. But these explanations obscure an underlying problem: the devastating influence of an open-ended war — now in its 11th year — on the families of U.S. service members.” This, from military spouse Rebecca Sinclair in today’s Washington Post. The story entitled “When the Strains of War Lead to Infidelity” continues:

“Rebecca Sinclair is married to Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, a former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, who is being tried at Fort Bragg, N.C., on charges including adultery and sexual misconduct.

“Like most Americans, I’ve been unable to escape the current news cycle regarding several high-ranking military generals entangled in sex scandals. Unlike most Americans, however, for me the topic is personal. My husband, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, is one of the officers.

“Let me first address the elephant in the room. My husband had an affair. He violated our marriage vows and hurt me tremendously. Jeff and I are working on our marriage, but that’s our business.

“Jeff also needs to answer to the Army. That is his business, not mine, and he accepts that. I believe in and support him as much as ever.

“I wish I could say that my husband was the only officer or soldier who has been unfaithful. Since 2001, the stress of war has led many service members to engage in tremendously self-destructive behavior. The officer corps is plagued by leaders abandoning their families and forging new beginnings with other men and women. And many wives know about their husbands’ infidelity but stay silent.”

The measure of a man

In a new essay, David Brooks explores the role early childhood nurturance in forging masculine personalities, as well as the abilities of some men to evolve and change later in life.

In seeking explanations for why so many men have trouble with intimacy, empathy, and sometimes even friendship itself, Brooks draws in part on what is termed “attachment” theory. Reproduced below are the opening paragraphs of “The Heart Grows Smarter,” which can be found in full at the New York Times.

“First, many more families suffered the loss of a child, which had a devastating and historically underappreciated impact on their overall worldviews. Second, and maybe related, many more children grew up in cold and emotionally distant homes, where fathers, in particular, barely knew their children and found it impossible to express their love for them. It wasn’t only parents who were emotionally diffident; it was the people who studied them. In 1938, a group of researchers began an intensive study of 268 students at Harvard University. The plan was to track them through their entire lives, measuring, testing and interviewing them every few years to see how lives develop.

“In the 1930s and 1940s, the researchers didn’t pay much attention to the men’s relationships. Instead, following the intellectual fashions of the day, they paid a lot of attention to the men’s physiognomy. Did they have a “masculine” body type? Did they show signs of vigorous genetic endowments? But as this study — the Grant Study — progressed, the power of relationships became clear. The men who grew up in homes with warm parents were much more likely to become first lieutenants and majors in World War II. The men who grew up in cold, barren homes were much more likely to finish the war as privates.

“Body type was useless as a predictor of how the men would fare in life. So was birth order or political affiliation. Even social class had a limited effect. But having a warm childhood was powerful. As George Vaillant, the study director, sums it up in ‘Triumphs of Experience,’ his most recent summary of the research, ‘It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.’ Of the 31 men in the study incapable of establishing intimate bonds, only four are still alive. Of those who were better at forming relationships, more than a third are living. It’s not that the men who flourished had perfect childhoods. Rather, as Vaillant puts it, “What goes right is more important than what goes wrong.” The positive effect of one loving relative, mentor or friend can overwhelm the negative effects of the bad things that happen.

“In case after case, the magic formula is capacity for intimacy combined with persistence, discipline, order and dependability. The men who could be affectionate about people and organized about things had very enjoyable lives.”