Happy Friday! Before you start your weekend, here’s one more edition of Daily Links…
Several state and local officials have vowed to keep protecting the rights of transgender students. They will not bar trans students from using bathrooms corresponding with the gender they identify with, despite Trump’s order to rescind protections.
I’ve been a fan of Jazz Jennings, a young trans woman of color, for a long time. It’s incredibly inspiring to see a new Jazz Jennings doll.
Take a gander at this GQ interview with actor Mahershala Ali, star of the Oscar-nominated movie Moonlight. He’s stunning in yellow. ♦
Every Friday, we will publish a short list of a few articles that have caught our attention. This is what we’re reading this week:
A few words on literary history, criticism, injustice, and the questionable priorities of the Academy:
Narrative Historicism uses storytelling as its method of imposing order. It inverts the standard critical structure. Rather than embedding stories in an argument, it embeds arguments in a story. The narrative asserts relevance, identifies influence, and qualifies importance. It draws out nuances of personality, of moments in time, of settings and disputes and gestures.
Reframing depression as a mode of reflection that allows for the inner-workings of self to be revealed and altered:
Laura King, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, has spent a couple decades studying people’s experiences of meaning in life, and she told me in an interview at this year’s Society for Personality and Social Psychology meeting that the meaning people derive from difficult experiences depends not on the amount that they’re suffered, but the extent of reflection — or meaning-making — they’ve done on what prompted a given nadir. Following this logic, if the job of a depressive episode is to figure out what’s gone awry, what emotional knots need to be untangled, what attachment patterns need to be identified and addressed, then antidepressants are an incomplete treatment, just like you wouldn’t prescribe Percocet to a heal a broken ankle without also supplying a cast.
Trump denies empirical evidence and the environment suffers:
Unfortunately, there is reason to suspect that Trump’s disdain for scientific research is not only driven by political ideology and the interests he represents. Trump clearly chafes against anyone or anything that challenges his power, including empirical reality.
The NFL will go forward with plans to discipline Texas Governor Greg Abbott if he enacts the proposed Bathroom Bill that targets transgender people:
The battle over bathroom bills is a silly one. Why are willing to fight so much to keep transgender people from urinating in rooms that correspond to their proper gender? Of all the stands to take, the wars to choose, why this one? Does Texas really want to sacrifice Super Bowls simply to make someone who identifies as gender different from that on birth certificate uncomfortable in the rest room? What’s the point anyway?
Jeff Sessions, Neil Gorsuch, and the Resurgent Threat to Voting Rights:
Here is the key passage of King’s letter opposing Sessions’s nomination as a judge in 1986: “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”
Dexter Fowler, outfielder of the Cardinals, speaks to his personal experience of the travel ban, and receives a deluge of criticism:
The worst admonishing comments came from people who told Fowler to “stick to sports” and to “stick to what you know — baseball,” and to “stay out of politics,” as if he were commenting on someone else’s family, and his own wasn’t directly affected.
That makes teaching a challenge.
My classes in the chaplaincy program are unique in that I can challenge and push the men intellectually and theologically. These men have sat through countless chaplaincy programs over the years and decades, and they go to Bible classes multiple times a week just for something to do. So they have heard just about every take on the Bible. They've heard every Bible story a million times.
So they are rarely surprised. But I'm able to surprise them. I'm able to make the Bible strange and interesting again.
Plus, as a college professor my approach in more open-ended. I'm willing to entertain multiple perspectives and interpretations of a particular text. I'll often say, "Well, you can look at it this way...or this way...or this way." This openness contrasts the fundamentalist, dogmatic, literalistic and evangelistic tone that characterizes much of the teaching out at the prison. And again, for many of the men it's refreshing change of pace. Especially for the guys who are really sharp.
But I have to take care not to leave the other guys behind. If I use a big word I'll take care to define it. I'll say something like, "I'm going to use a big word here. Christological. You hear the word 'Christ' in there, right? It means seeing things through Jesus. So if we read this passage Christologically we're looking for Jesus in this passage. Where do we see Jesus in this text? That's reading the text Christologically." I work hard to bring everyone along with me.
Plus, I'm of the conviction that if you can't express an idea simply then that idea isn't worth all that much. I love deep theology, but I also value clarity and plain speaking. Say what you mean and mean what you say. That helps a lot out at the prison.
Here on Language Log, we have devoted a considerable amount of attention to the terminology related to kungfu:
"Kung-fu (Gongfu) Tea" (7/20/11)
See also Ben Zimmer's masterful article on Visual Thesaurus:
"How 'Kung Fu' Entered the Popular Lexicon" (1/17/14)
Now we have documentation for another type of kungfu that has hitherto eluded us:
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) February 22, 2017
(YouTube video here.)
At first I thought this was some kind of put-on, but since it appears on the Twitter account of Global Times, a national Chinese newspaper that is published under the aegis of the People's Daily and is usually stodgy, stuffy, and somber, I had to take it seriously. All the more so inasmuch as the kungfu master who practices and teaches this technique, Wei Yaobin, claims that it is beneficial to his health.
Lest swarms of Americans begin to take up this method in emulation of the master without understanding the risks attendant upon it, I decided to investigate the phenomenon just a bit beyond the sensational video demonstration tweeted by Global Times.
First task: what's the Chinese for "Iron Crotch Kungfu"?
Tiědāng gōng 铁裆功
Google Translate renders that as "iron crotch power".
Curiously, Baidu Fanyi translates it as "Treamtent [sic] of impotence and prospermia", but also lists the following alternatives: "iron crotch; iron crotch work; iron crotch power; iron cross function". If you don't know what "prospermia" is, it is entertainingly described on this TCM website.
There really is such a thing as Iron Crotch Kongfu in China. (It's far more real than Kung Fu Panda.) Here's an article about Iron Crotch Kongfu that includes another video (with microscopic English subtitles) and several stomach-turning gifs. The demonstrations took place on the streets of Luoyang, the important city in Henan Province near which the Shaolin monastery with its world-famous fighting monksis located. The master of Iron Crotch Kungfu, Wei Yaobin, honed his gonad-numbing skills in that atmosphere of miraculous martial arts practitioners. The whole thrust of the article is that Laowai ("foreigners") who witnessed this miraculous display of Chinese masculinity were stunned; the message being imparted is that they shouldn't mess with China in the Southeast Asian Sea.
The article also features a goofy looking foreigner dressed in kungfu garb saying:
nǐ zuì hǎo méiyǒu dàndàn 你最好沒有蛋蛋 ("You'd better not have any eggs")
At this site, there is a video featuring Western martial arts experts demonstrating "100 Ways to Attack the Groin". Master Wei is putting those Western martial arts experts on notice: even if you have a thousand ways to attack the groin, this Chinese man will not fear you.
Master Wei Yaobin's prowess is also featured in the Western press:
- "Meet the man with the Iron Crotch: Incredible video shows Kung Fu master barely wincing as he lets bricks and poles slam into his manhood" (Daily Mail, 2/20/17)
- "Fearless Kung Fu master lets huge wooden pole slam into his manhood to show off 'Iron Crotch'" (Mirror, 2/19/17)
Perhaps the most blunt comment on the Global Times video came from a colleague who is one of the world's leading specialists on Taoist cultivation: "yuk! What are they? – eunuchs?"
[h.t. John Rohsenow; thanks to Fangyi Cheng and John Lagerwey]
Commonly referred to as "Devil's language" (èmó zhī yǔ 恶魔之语), because it is considered by outsiders to be extraordinarily difficult, Wenzhounese (Wēnzhōu huà 温州话), the language of the city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province 230 air miles south of the Yangtze estuary, has been a topic of discussion on Language Log before:
"Devilishly difficult 'dialect" (8/20/15)
"Mutual unintelligibility among Sinitic lects" (10/5/14)
"The enigmatic language of the new Windows 8 ads" (5/14/13)
"Mutual intelligibility" (5/28/14)
Wenzhounese truly is quite exceptional, even from the other varieties of Wu, the branch of Sinitic to which it belongs:
Wenzhounese is the most divergent variety of Wu and is considered a separate language by some. It is not mutually intelligible with other varities of Wu. It preserves words from Classical Chinese that are no longer used in other varieties of Chinese, and its grammar differs significantly. It also has the most eccent[r]ic phonology, and as a result is considered the "least comprehensible dialect" for an average Mandarin speaker. These feature are a result of the geographic isolation of the Wenzhou area.
What makes Wenzhounese all the more challenging is that the language itself is divided into many topolects, some of which are very hard for speakers from other Wenzhounese topolects to comprehend. When people talk about Wenzhounese outside of Wenzhou and especially abroad, they are usually referring to the variety as spoken in the city proper, not the surrounding counties which are governed from Wenzhou as the prefectural seat.
When China began its explosive economic growth about 30-35 years ago, Wenzhou — because of its relative geographic isolation — was considered a backwater, so the central government did not promote development there, instead concentrating on other cities in Zhejiang that were thought to be more favorable for growth, such as Ningbo, Jinhua, and Taizhou. Consequently, Wenzhou did not receive many resources, and the people there were relatively poor. That led to large-scale emigration, with many Wenzhounese ending up in the Chinatowns of Flushing and Brooklyn, but also in Europe, particularly France, Spain, and Italy. For the remainder of this post, I would like to describe the situation of the Wenzhounese living in Italy.
First of all, how did they get there? The ones that I know about went surreptitiously in the holds of ships. It would take them months to reach Italy, and they had very little to eat on the way. They knew that they were illegals, so that they would exist by selling things on the streets or doing jobs that would not call attention to themselves (such as working in restaurants). Gradually they might start to open little shops selling miscellaneous goods (záhuò diàn 杂货店) and eventually become more successful, including obtaining legal residency.
What prompted me to write this post were the answers I received when I asked my informants whether their Wenzhounese relatives in Italy, of whom there are many, learned Italian, and they said, no, they don't have to. They said that the Wenzhounese in Italy are so numerous and dispersed throughout the country that there isn't a need to learn Italian. The networks and support services available to them are so extensive that they can easily get by just knowing Wenzhounese.
Is this voluntary self ghettoization?
Another aspect of Wenzhounese society that perpetuates this separateness within Italy is that the Wenzhounese are said to marry only other Wenzhounese. Of course, there must be exceptions to the rule, but to the extent that marriage within the Wenzhounese population holds true, it would be a powerful factor in maintaining linguistic and social cohesiveness among the Wenzhounese in Italy. The importance of this endogamy among the Wenzhounese is underscored by the fact that when a marriage between a Wenzhounese couple takes place in Italy, their relatives will travel from near and far to join in celebrating it.
Trumpeters: "Yes! Let us strike down this evil among us. Let us destroy this threat to all that is good and right, so that America will be great again!"
(Efforts to enact the plan ensue, until the resistance interrupts.)
The Resistance: "This is intolerable! It is an effort to oversimplify our nation's problems by identifying those problems with some scapegoat, with people who are different or 'other.' This will lead only to greater hatred and escalating cycles of violence. It must be stopped!"
(Struggle commences as Trumpeters and the Resistance face off. As the Resistance grows in numbers, some leaders emerge, who speak out a unifying message.)
Leaders of the Resistance: "We present to you, the American people, the dangerous other, the source of all our troubles. It is Donald Trump! Let us together drive him out!"
I'll stop there, since you know how it ends--or, more properly, doesn't end. I guess this isn't a (very) short drama after all. But the telling is short, unless we decide to throw away the script.
In Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra refers to her youth as “My salad days, when I was green in judgment, cold in blood.” Unlike Cleopatra, in the midst of my youth, I was not green in judgement; but rather, in the lack thereof. I was filled with an admiration for all that could not be explained. I felt a gravitational pull toward astrology and the magic of dreams. To say that I, at 13 years old, had an infatuation with dream interpretation and astrology would be an understatement.
If it was true that dreams were the windows to the soul, then I wanted to not only crack the window, but open it entirely. There was nothing more comforting to me than to wake up each morning and gain insight about myself. To have what seemed like a piece of “proof” that validated my experiences; to know that my mind was connected at all levels, in all forms. Dream decoding reminded me, in a time full of uncertainty, that there was an inherently magical quality about being alive.
Astrology echoed this. There was a time before astrology memes on Tumblr when I earnestly devoted myself to understanding the relationship between the stars and my personality. I would read my horoscope every day, not as insurance but for guidance. Studying the traits of my zodiac sign when my self-image was constantly changing anchored me to a version of myself that I could understand. Delving deeper into the world of astrology, I learned about cusps (though their existence is debated in the astrology community!) and, at the time, thought my entire personality could be expressed by saying that I was a Cancer on the cusp of Leo. I felt for the two years that I practiced these things—going to bed reading about my birth chart, and then waking up to decode my dreams—that magical interactions were, and always would be, a daily part of life.
When thinking about my current morning routine in comparison to the routine I had when I was younger, I am convinced that there are unintentional side-effects to losing youth. Old Morning Routine: Wake up, jot down last night’s dream, look up said dream in a dream guide, read my horoscope, reflect on my findings, feel ~magical~. Current Morning Routine: Wake up, shrug off last night’s dream, try my best to not immediately check my phone, after contemplating this, immediately check my phone, begin endlessly scrolling through Instagram. Bleh.
In the past few years, neither purposefully, nor all at once, I have plunged into rationality. Deleting my dream guide app off my phone, unsubscribing from my daily horoscope, and adopting a new admiration for logic and reasoning. I’ve become more aware that there aren’t as many television shows, books, and movies dedicated to the in-between stage; that the art-forms I grew up loving were either telling the stories of the teenagers who were allowed to believe in magic, or the adults who had already thrown it away.
When I reflect on how I came to lose hobbies that once meant so much to me, I wonder if this disregard for “irrational” activities was subconsciously learned. Whether I had, without knowing it, set a time limit for myself; demanding that as soon as I turned 18, there be an immediate discard of “juvenile” interests. My newly adult-ing brain: “OK, time to throw ~magic~ out the window! It doesn’t make sense to believe in things you can’t experience with your senses! It’s only cold hard facts from here on out, buddy!!!”
Maybe a tad melodramatic, but the important point is that I really did think that there had to be an expiration date for believing in what could not be explained by science. I was envious of my friends who were able to do both; who were able to mature without forgetting about creativity, imagination, and, above all, intuition. I was talking to one of these friends the other day on the phone. After I had explained my dilemma to her all she said was, “So? Who cares whether or not astrology or whatever is legitimate! If it’s making YOU happy, then it’s automatically the most legitimate thing in the WORLD.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about that ever since. Young people often see someone else’s opinions as being more valid, but only because the opinion is coming from another person. There’s a tendency to believe others more than we would ourselves. I am still trying to unlearn that impulse. To return to a state when magic was a daily part of my routine, when understanding myself and my place in this world wasn’t limited to what I could experience with my senses. Magic— whether it’s astrology, dream interpretation, tarot reading, learning about auras, or WHATEVER—holds legitimacy the second it makes you happy. Post-stumbling-upon-my-birth-chart, I had the divine realization that I could grant myself, like a parent signing a permission slip, the allowance to indulge in the very hobbies that had molded me in my most malleable years. Astrology and dream reading provided more than a fun pastime; they imparted a sense of comfort—one that I concluded I was better with than without.
Last week, I visited my trusty dream guide for the first time in years. I felt excited, giddy, and enchanted, not because I was looking for answers to questions, but because I was in awe, once more, of the elusive world we live in. I have made an effort to reconnect with the rituals and beliefs that made me so happy. I’ve done my best to write in my dream journal and to learn more about astrology. Even if it may not be provable, dream decoding and astrology have offered me—and will continue to offer me—a very real sense of clarity. Besides, there are benefits to believing in different types of magic. Here’s a short list:
- Magic offers a sense of order and organization to this very hectic universe.
- Magic stimulates creativity and imagination.
- Being in awe of the world leads to a sense of gratitude.
- Magic can help you take a break from technology.
- Magic is a way to better understand yourself and the people around you.
As we get older, there inevitably will be beliefs and habits that are sacrificed and disposed—intentionally or not. But cynicism and disenchantment do not have to be traits that are inherited the second you turn 18. There is no expiration date to enchantment. Magic can, and will, transcend periods of changes that will eventually come. Go forth, and live life with as much magic as you can! ♦
I don’t often get to say that I agree with the Pope, but he nailed it this week when he urged teenagers to engage in face -face dialogue. “Dialogue which brings hearts closer together” is “a medicine against violence,” he told an audience at St. Peter’s Square. I can say this because I was there in the room last week when 25 of my students put down their phones and engaged in face-to-face dialogue with Roxane Gay.
Most of these were first years. They had never heard of Roxane Gay until one of us, the two professors traveling with them to Mount Holyoke College, had assigned Bad Feminist–the quintessential exploration of modern feminism according to the Mount Holyoke website. Very few, if any, had ever been to an author reading or a talk on feminism or social justice. They’d never pondered how external experiences–like being in the presence of Roxane Gay, 42, bestselling author, New York Times opinion writer, and associate professor of English at Purdue University–can catalyze deeply personal (and political) internal experiences and provoke feminist wakefulness.
We two professors, wildly dedicated “fan girls,” knew that meeting Roxane Gay in person would change their lives in ways that reading her essays had only begun.
“I like Roxane Gay because she is black, a woman, and not straight,” Tori Vargas, a first-year student, told me. “I’m interested particularly because she’s black, and I learned a lot about privilege from reading her.”
“Roxane Gay gives us permission to be imperfect about feminism,” adds my colleague Jess Landis. “She acknowledges we always need to be learning.”
I’ve read everything she’s written, yet seeing her walk onto that stage and take a seat on a sofa, ready to talk to us, was intimate, real, invigorating. Not just text on a page, but a living human hero.
Gay reads from her Difficult Women collection and an essay about American disgrace and the recent election. She is funny and cool. Around me, my students laugh and clap.
About the new U.S. president and his patriarchal posse, Gay offers nuggets of wisdom. “We need to do better,” she declared. “We need to get uncomfortable. We are devastated, but your eyes are open. We need to raise our voices and keep them raised. We cannot afford protest fatigue. Change comes with a willingness to think differently.”
Then we dialogue. Face to face. She is generous, frank, irreverent. The first question is about her decision to pull her book from Simon and Schuster because of their contract with misogynist Milo Yiannopoulas. She declares that he is out to provoke, to be “salacious, cruel.” In January, one of her newest books was due, but she called her agent to tell her to “pull the book” when she heard an imprint of Simon and Schuster had offered a $250,ooo advance to Yiannopoulas for his new book. “I was not going to give them a bestseller,” Gay chided. The audience roared.
“Someone had to stand up,” she says. “I could not believe I was the first author to do this.” Others, she admonished, could have afforded to do the same. Meanwhile, she has gotten many other offers. (S&S dropped Milo like a hot potato days after our visit with Gay.)
What do you do, one student asks Gay, when your guy “friends” shush your feminist opinions, ask if you are “on your period” when you get angry at the mistreatment of women. Gay nods. “I get this question a lot,” she says. “It’s not your job to be the world’s teacher, to do that emotional labor. Some people cannot be reached.” Let them go, she advises.
I quietly remind myself that I have given this very advice a multitude of times, but I am not as hip as Gay, who sports tattoos, drops f-bombs freely, and has a presence that makes you want to pitch a tent at Mt. Holyoke just to be near this “bad feminist.” I can live with this because my students are hanging on her every word.
A pop culture whiz, Gay applauds Oscar nominees Moonlight as “breathtaking,” La La Land as “cheesy as hell,” and the entire 2017 as a “particularly good year for black film.” As for the Bachelorette’s newest pick, Rachel Lindsay, 31, a black attorney, Gay says it is important to see “black women as love interests,” as opposed to the other stereotypical roles they too often inhabit.
What to do about “fake news?” someone asks. “We persist,” Gay exhorts. “We say the truth enough so it stays true. We confront with the truth. Truth is our greatest ally now.
When it was over, we cheered, stood in line to have Roxane Gay sign our books and shake our hands. We Facebooked our photos. Enroute home, the students talked over each other, wired.
“She is so REAL,” says Tori Vargas, who loved her from the start.
“I admire her honesty. She is comfortable with her intellect and talking about women’s rights, especially about African American women’s rights,” says first-year student Sydania Grady.
“She talks about the difficult issues; she doesn’t censor herself,” says junior Milana Tinaeva.
“I like that she says she cannot be optimistic, that she is still figuring it out,” says senior Danica Thoroughgood.
“And she’s looking for the ‘grace in disgrace,’” shouts senior Erin Baronas, “that is so cool.”
It was all so cool. In our country, where truth is a squishy thing without feathers, Roxane Gay soars. She woke up an auditorium. Feminist click moments abounded. The students heading home with us were not the same students we’d traversed hill and dale with several hours before. They could not unhear the truths spoken in that auditorium, where they were face to face with that badass feminist writer.
Donna Decker is an English professor at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, where she teaches a seminar on school shootings.
Christina Poku is a 23-year-old “visual chaos creator” based in southeast London. Poku works in many media—including photography, video, text, and set and prop styling—and creates contemporary work that is powerful, confessional, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. We spoke recently about the impending irrelevance of labels, the stigmatization of mental health, and the difficulties of making work in the current political climate.
MINNA GILLIGAN: Hi, Christina! Where in London are you based? Is there anything about your location that you like or dislike?
CHRISTINA POKU: I’m in southeast London at the moment. I have a weird relationship with London. I’ve been here all my life but lived in more houses than years I’ve been alive…so I’ve lived in a lot of different areas of London. I love aspects of the city, but I also find it quite unsavory. It’s a weird melting pot of things I care deeply about, am inspired by and cherish, but also a capital of servitude and inequality. I specifically like my current area, though, because I can travel to other parts of London with ease. My actual neighborhood is really peaceful, green and quiet compared to every other place I’ve lived before. I live next to a beautiful woods and green space that also has a lake. It’s a nice escape from the business and stress of the rest of London. But my long-term goal is to move to the States.
When I first found your work, I was amazed at how all-encompassing it was—how you seemed to be in control of so many aspects of production. How would you define your art practice? Or maybe you don’t need or want a label at all?
In terms of a singular label, that’s definitely something I’ve struggled with in the past! I’ve always had a multidisciplinary practice. Even when I was in high school, I tried to pick up as many techniques, and work with as many different mediums, as I could. I just wanted to get stuck into everything to work out the most fitting way to express what was in my head. We’re living through a digital and technological revolution. The rate at which information is available to, and demanded from, us feels like it’s constantly increasing. I’m part of a generation of artists whose labor has to be diversified whilst the power of technology has enabled new capabilities. There’s a sense of pressure and looming awareness of the speed of this progression, which leads to people having to take on a multitude of roles, especially within a creative field. Learning and working with numerous mediums and processes allows me to feel able to communicate my ideas knowing that I have adaptable skills, regardless of the platform it is shown through.
Your Instagram bio has a line where you describe yourself as a “visual chaos creator” which, come to think of it, is maybe a perfect definition? Could you expand on what you mean by visual chaos creator?
That’s what I landed on the last time I was stuck trying to work out how the hell to explain what I do in one simple term for my bio. I guess it acts as a summary. We like to think we live in a structured civilization, but chaos still remains everywhere—there is a minimum level of cooperation to this organized chaos. My practice as a whole, as well as myself, is influenced by the chaos of civilization. With my work, once the basic components in terms of context are there, I often get an image of exactly how I want the final product to be. But that image I get at the start is never really secure. Even if it is what I’m aiming for, I’ll never make the exact replica. There’s a cycle of sorting, scavenging, planning, and testing that goes into anything I make. The “visual chaos creator” isn’t necessarily just about the result being chaos but about the process that occurs to get to that. The result is the controlled element brought about through chaos.
Did you study at art school? Did you find the environment to be supportive in regards to your contemporary way of producing work?
Yes, I went to art school. It wasn’t what I expected at all, but it definitely added to the way I produce my work. The school environment isn’t really for me, even though I’ve always done well academically. There are a lot of problematic aspects to institutional education systems. Especially when it comes to “support.” But in terms of how I produce my work: My rejection of aspects of the educational environment I found difficult conceived the process I now have.
Your works using text and LED lights are at once autobiographical, intimate, confessional, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. “Frantic efforts to avoid abandonment” and “I play no games” are particularly powerful. Could you talk more about how these works are conceived, and if it is an intrinsically personal process?
I’ve used the text LED lights over the last few years. I find them interesting to work with because they’re a simple piece of tech that also creates challenges. Using them means I’m limited by a word count in terms of a numerical figure, which means that I have to be very selective with the phrase I use. I use them with projects that are intended for open-ended interpretation or have multiple influences.
The most recent series I used them for, “No Heart Just a Hard Drive,” was developed initially in response to my own mental health at the time. Grace Miceli asked me to be part of a group show she was curating, and the title was “I Play No Games.” When I was starting out I thought I’d respond to the title of the show directly and take a frank and honest approach to whatever I produced. I was collecting little phrases and thoughts on my phone over the space of a week about my own life. I then added notions that came up about my thoughts on the digital art world, social media, and what was happening in reality, too. A lot of people were suffering but battling through it in their own ways. Sometimes with humor, sometimes in destructive ways. I believe that mental health is an important point of discussion. It’s common but highly stigmatized. Especially in recent times, socioeconomic and other environmental aspects that are out of everyday people’s control are leading to an increase of suffering, especially within my generation. The figures and reality of it is undeniable and something I strongly believe needs to be discussed and worked on. It’s relevant to my experience, but also millions of others. The “frantic efforts” quote is actually from a diagnostic criterion I was researching. The phrases I chose to use for the final pieces ended up being an amalgamation of my own thoughts and observations on what was happening around me—irl meets url.
In an interview, you said that, at the time, you were “fighting to work in an industry that more often than not said that everything I am, everything I represent isn’t ‘beautiful’ or ‘worthy.’ My height, my skin color, my features, my shape.” Are you still fighting these violent ideologies, or being burdened with the intrinsic responsibility to educate people in your industry on issues you deal with on a day-to-day basis?
My wealth of experiences in the last two years since saying that, as a subject of white patriarchal capitalism, [leads to] a lengthy answer to this…but in short: Yes, I still deal with those pressures, and yes I do, to an extent, have a responsibility to educate others, but also myself. It’s definitely difficult having to educate others, especially within an industry that at times is almost proud of being ignorant. I’ve definitely seen an increase in the visibility of marginalized groups, but that’s not done without tokenism. A lot of the time I’m seeing people I know get asked to be part of “cool” projects that are “great exposure” for them but offer no money for their contribution and participation. It’s especially disheartening when it’s brands and companies who are paying their non-marginalized counterparts for similar projects. But there’s definitely been a rise of people making their own safe spaces and platforms that represent themselves and others like them. I think that’s great.
You use yourself in your photographs and videos a lot. Do you see them as self-portraits that communicate your own narrative, or do you feel more like you’re dressing up or playing a character?
Where’s the distinction? There’s a performative aspect to existing, to being, to doing. I’m performing my life regardless of it being witnessed or captured. Everything we experiences is a narrative. It’s difficult to draw a real distinction. It’s a provocative subject; I could literally write an essay to really answer it. But in short, it’s both.
Your signature color palette is unapologetic and uncompromising. As a self-professed subscriber to the philosophy “more is more,” this is endlessly appealing! What is it about sickly sweet colors and fearless, retro patterns that makes sense to you in your own visual language?
Contrast has always been an important part of my work, even when I only used to take black and white photos. The use of color, which I’m most associated with now, was really borne out of one of my first films. I was working on a project that was exploring the boundaries between the abject and seductive, clarity and the obscured, repulsion and attraction. I was looking at the idea of consumption—in all forms, and how in the western world we’ve become desensitized to lines of these poles. It was about information overload and a contrast between the gross and the luxurious, consuming and rejecting, push and pull. It was accentuated through a further contrast of visuals that were on the surface bright and gleaming but the actual movements and context at times was disturbing and difficult to witness. That film was part of a project that spanned over two years. Principles of that have stuck with me and are resolute within my practice and beliefs. I think it’s important to always remember that there is contrast and balance; it can and does exist in the world, and using color is part of accentuating that. Sometimes it’s to illustrate a superficial veneer, sometimes it’s there to oppose a tragedy.
Color theory was really important to me at this time, not only in terms of color as a palette within art, but also the examination of color as a whole within the western world and the notion of color being purged throughout history. “Color is dangerous, or it is trivial, or it is both,” [as David Batchelor writes in his book Chromophobia].
Do you have a studio where you make your art? Could you describe it for me?
I work predominantly from my apartment. I have a studio set up there. I’m very lucky to have a beautiful, big space to work in that’s all mine. I’ve recently redecorated and now it’s pretty much my dream place, minus the confines of being in London. It’s a mix of stained glass windows, graphic monochrome print rugs, cushions and throws, and delicate natural patterns, depending on what room you’re in. It’s full of plants, light, and artwork by peers I admire.
What are your aims for your art practice and yourself in the future?
I’m focusing on a few long-term projects this year that I’m quite excited by. Without going into too much detail: One’s a simpler portrait-based project which is a study of a select group of people in relation to spaces I’ll make for them. The other is part of my ongoing “Multi-Sensory Menace” work, which is work that is tactile, immersive, interactive, and much more critical than my portraits. In the general future, there are a few collaborations with friends in other parts of the world I’m rooting for. But really, as long as I feel like I’m pushing myself and my work to be more adaptive and open, then I’ll be happy.
What are three words that describe your artwork?
Sensitizing, heterogeneous, polychromatic. ♦
I recently saw a list of revisions suggested by the editor of a scientific journal, which combined technical issues with a number of points of English usage, including these two:
Please try to avoid the word ‘impact,’ unless it is part of a proper name. It is now over-used (its ‘impact’ is diminished), and doesn’t communicate anything specific. If used as a verb, it is better to describe exactly what happens. As a noun, ‘effect’ (or similar) would suffice. For example, “The impact on quality of life…” could be rendered as “The reduction in quality of life…” […]
Be clear and direct; avoid the passive voice.
This is an interesting mixture of different types of usage peeving.
The "avoid passive" business is a old stylistic concern that we've often discussed, for example in "Passive aggression", 7/18/2006. Interestingly, those who are strongest in condemning the passive voice are often its most vigorous users. Thus Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage quotes Margaret Bryant, Current American Usage, 1962 (p. 720):
Bryant 1962 reports three statistical studies of passive versus active sentences in various periodicals; the highest incidence of passive constructions was 13 percent. Orwell runs to a little over 20 percent in "Politics and the English Language."
The incidence of passive versus active verbs in the editorial note under discussion is 50%. (See also "Those who take the adjectives from the table", 2/18/2004.)
But anti-passive campaigning doesn't seem be a response to changes in usage — if anything, the opposite is true, as suggested in "When men were men, and verbs were passive", 8/4/2006. And most people, including some of the anti-passive authorities, are not very clear about what passive voice actually is, as discussed in "The passive in English", 1/24/2011. So what is the psychodynamics of anti-passivity? Apparently it's just a vague sense that active is good and passive is bad — metaphorical generalization of an accident of historical word-sense development. (See "The direct and vigorous hyptic voice", 8/5/2006, for a sketch of alternative history.)
The objection to impact is different. People who object to the alleged over-use or wrong use of a particular word do really avoid such usage themselves, in general — though this particular editor slipped up, a bit later in the same message, by recommending that in the Discussion section, "The focus should be on the impact of the findings on the field". And most such word-oriented reactions reflect resistance to a historical usage shift on the scale of 50 years or so. Certainly this is the case for impact, as measured crudely by frequency in the Medline corpus of biomedical abstracts:
A table of the numbers behind those graphs is here.
The table of numbers is here.
MWDEU says about impact:
This word comes in for adverse criticism both as a noun and as a verb in figurative use. The criticism is relatively recent, beginning evidently in the 1960s with Bernstein 1965, Fowler 1965, and Follett 1966. These three (and also Bremner 1980) are concerned with the noun; later writers take up the cudgels against the verb. The gist of most of the criticism is fairly well summed up in this portion of the discussion in Cook 1985:
impact A word fit to describe the crash of a wrecker's ball against its target, impact has become a substitute for bearing, influence, significance, and effect. It's so overworked in officalese and journalese that the more appropriate terms are falling into disuse. Both Follett and Bernstein have harsh words for this "faddish" abasement of the noun. How much more horrified they might have been had they lived to see the current vogue of the verb impact in the sense of "to have an impact" or "to have an impact on" (Loose usage adversely impacts the language).
The graphs above suggest that the mid-60s usage mavens were bidding the impact tide retreat when it was merely swirling around their ankles. The disapproving editor in 2017 is …
Well, a journal is free to insist on any arbitrary style guide. Every paragraph must have a prime number of commas? Sure, if you say so. But the instruction to "try to avoid the word 'impact'" would be more persuasive if the same editorial message did not contain, 347 words later, the recommendation that in the Discussion section, "The focus should be on the impact of the findings on the field".
Update — I'm also puzzled about the concessive clause "unless it [the word 'impact'] is part of a proper name", since I can't think of any relevant proper names containing "impact". A personal name? Unlikely. A place name? Probably not. A business name? The USPTO lists 4079 trademarks involving some form of the word "impact", but a quick scan doesn't turn up any that seem likely to be mentioned in a scientific article. What am I missing?
Update #2 — a quick scan of Medline results turns up things like the "Arthritis Impact Measurement Scale" and the "Center for High-Impact Philanthropy", for which relevant mentions would presumably get a proper-name (noun?) pass.
Good morning! The newest Daily Links are headed your way…
Water protectors at Standing Rock were told that they must leave their camp or face arrest. I can’t believe that it has come to this.
Although it may seem like Roxane Gay became a famous literary sensation overnight, her career has been decades in the making. This profile highlights what a powerhouse Gay is, and I was glad to read it—especially during Black History Month. —Camryn Garrett
For the Ringer, Hannah Giorgis interviewed Brown Girls creator Fatimah Asghar about the new web series and the importance of representation in media.
The Trump administration has moved to rescind the federal protections that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity. —Diamond Sharp ♦
In After Virtue Alasdair MacIntyre makes the argument that because modernity lost its story, to use the words of Robert Jenson, we lack a coherent moral vision of our common life together. What we have, instead, are bits and pieces of a variety of incomplete and rival ethical systems. We have lots of different ways of defining "the good" but no clear way to adjudicate between these goods when they come into conflict.
Here's the outcome of this situation.
First, modern political discourse repeatedly brings rival goods into conflict. For example, in the abortion debates protecting life (a good thing) is pitted against the right to make decisions about your own body (a good thing). Two goods pitted against each other.
Regarding the debates about refugees and immigration, a concern over caring for the vulnerable (a good thing) is pitted against a concern for safety (a good thing). Two goods pitted against each other.
The examples abound. Pick any political controversy and you'll eventually find two goods pitted against each other.
Since we lack the ability to adjudicate between these goods we're forced to making one good triumph over the other good. This is difficult to do because these are obvious goods. Evidence for the goodness of the goods is clear and unimpeachable, so it's impossible to convince people that a good isn't a good.
It might be argued that a democratic process could help us find compromises between these rival goods.
That democracy is increasingly unable to bring about these compromises is because when two rival goods repeatedly compete in the public sphere the desire to have one good triumph over the other good causes the parties advocating a good to trivialize, demean, and diminish the rival good.
Democracy, thus, leads to the demonization of the good, making compromise and civic discourse increasingly impossible. Instead of a compromise between two rival goods, the political fight is transformed into Good versus Evil.
At this point, when good is called evil, democracy is doomed.
Calling the good evil, to use biblical imagery, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin. It signals that our moral compass has been damaged beyond all recognition, and now nothing stands between us and the abyss.
“…for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
– Gerard Manley Hopkins
The Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated August 6, yet the gospel passage itself is closely associated with the beginning of Lent. The Revised Common Lectionary proclaims it on the Sunday before Lent while the Catholic Lectionary does so on the Second Sunday of Lent. Both lectionaries give the First Sunday of Lent over to the temptation of Jesus in the desert.
Why should the Transfiguration story – which each of the synoptic gospels places about midway in the course of things – mark our yearly return to the Lenten journey? Standard answers include that the association is already implicit in the synoptic accounts, which place the story near Jesus’ final turn towards Jerusalem; that the Taboric vision is a preview of Christ’s crucified, resurrected, and glorified body; or that the passage links the Old and New Covenants, with Moses and Elijah serving as metonyms for the Law and prophets.
Whatever the explanation, the Transfiguration, with its cryptic signs, wonders, and occasions for awe, has long proved a source for profound theological reflection, fascinating Christological speculation, or incisive literary analysis. It can also stand out from the rest of the gospel narrative as a baffling anomaly.
I recall attending a Transfiguration Day liturgy where the homilist said, “I don’t know what to do with today’s gospel. It’s just too showy.” At the time, I thought he was shirking his duty, but now I’m not so sure. There are mysteries in scripture – as in life – that mere words can’t hope to penetrate. Perhaps that’s why the gospels don’t narrate the actual moment of Jesus’ resurrection, revealing it instead as an event already occurred, offstage as it were, or – as in Matthew’s account – behind the stone.
All this should be enough to scare off amateur theologians like me. Forgive me then for a reading that is hardly new, though perhaps overlooked.
In Book IV of Adversus Haereses, the Second Century church father, Irenaeus of Lyon, writes, “Gloria enim Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei.” Many of us have seen this in truncated form: just the first half, often freely translated as “The Glory of God is the human fully alive.” I would render the complete sentence as “The Glory of God is the (hu)man alive, while the life of (the hu)man is the vision of God.” There’s no “fully” in Ireneaus’ Latin original. The point, however, is clear: God manifests God’s glory in our life and in our bodies, and our life’s focus and end is in seeing God.
In the Seventh Century, Maximus the Confessor, drawing on texts such as 2 Corinthians 3:18
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
and 1 John 3:2
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
suggested that the Transfiguration was not so much a change in Jesus or his appearance, but a radical transformation in the disciples themselves, who suddenly saw things as they truly are.
Maximus in no way denies the miraculous nature of the Transfiguration. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter, James, and John find the sinful distortions of their vision stripped away. They glimpse the God revealed in Christ not because Jesus removed his veil, but because he has removed theirs. As Maximus puts it,
They passed over from flesh to spirit before they had put aside this fleshly life, by the change in their powers of sense that the Spirit worked in them, lifting the veils of the passions… (Ambiguum, X)
I think there’s substance to these centuries-old insights, something too important to forget. By God’s grace, we may see God. In seeing God, “we are being transformed into the same image.” What damage sinfulness dealt our having been made in God’s image and likeness is being healed literally as we watch.*
I rarely feel that work being done to me. I sometimes feel my vision and desires noticeably worsen “as I watch.” Yet I long to be healed. I long to see rightly. I long to sense God’s transforming work in me. What a grace, then, to read in Second Peter: “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
I find this a helpful image for Lent. Our poor Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving do nothing to change God. They are our feeble but cherished attempts to cooperate with the work God is already doing in us – stripping away the distortions of our senses and desires that keep us from seeing rightly.
Our practices are cherished as a parent cherishes a small child’s efforts to set the table for dinner. Mom can do much better, but her heart knows not to interrupt. Instead, she guides, advises, and encourages her child. She knows this is another step in her child’s growth. She can’t help but be well pleased.
There’s yet another mystery implicit in the Transfiguration story. If, when rightly seen, Jesus’ human body is radiant with the glory of God, to what degree do our own bodies and the bodies of our neighbors shine with the image and likeness of God, however shattered and tarnished by sin?
Irenaeus tells us the living human is God’s glory, and if you’re unwilling to take his word for it, how about Jesus’? Eight chapters later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus identifies himself with “the least of these.” Matthew 25 has no time for subtleties: see Christ in everyone and act accordingly, or you can go to hell.
And that returns us to the Transfiguration as a transformation of vision. What corrective lenses or spiritual LASIK might I need to see God shining in everyone I meet – not just those I love or agree with or who may prove useful, but the detestable, disagreeable, and destitute? What array of mirrors might turn my attention from the mote in my neighbor’s eye to the enormous plank in mine? What salves might finally open my sin-blurred eyes to God’s glory in the many whose words, actions, and passions so offend me? I trust that God knows. I’m sure I don’t. But I know where to look while it happens.
It’s a timely grace, then, to turn toward Lent in this savagely polarized political moment. I’m not suggesting we turn our backs on the troubling events of late or the efforts of those we find misguided. Speak, by all means, when truth must be spoken. Act, as you must, for righteousness’ sake. Do all these and more, but do them with your eyes on Christ, whose crucified glory is no less apparent in your enemy than in you.
This doesn’t come easily for me. Like the child setting the table, my intentions outstrip my skills. I’m easily distracted. I’ll likely make a mess of things. I usually do. I’ll need lots of help and the good example of my siblings. (That would be you.) It helps me to know we’re in this together, that I share this struggle with so many others.
I have little doubt I’ll fail again in my Lenten observance. With you help and example, thought, I hope to fail better than in previous Lents. And if, come Easter, my sight, senses, and desires seem anything but transformed, I maintain a child’s trust that my efforts, like yours, are pleasing to God, who patiently wipes our eyes and heals our heart as we watch.
* The Eastern Christian traditions (Oriental, Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic) draw a distinction between the image and likeness of God. The likeness of God – the perfection as God’s children who love God and one another – was lost to humanity through sin, while the image of God, though deformed, obscured, and veiled – remains.