Voices of Women – Against Silence in “Alias Grace”


For people who study media, a production like Alias Grace has much of interest. I look forward to reading and hearing about what it discussed about how the act of speaking is constructed in amazingly complex webs of power, and the possibilities for self-representation for women who are so completely caught in these webs.

In some ways AG is the anti-Downton text, removing the justification of proper social location from the manor house to the Warden’s house. The escort from prison cell to domestic space, conducted by men enforcing the will of the state, becomes an opportunity for routine micro-assaults from the guards.  Director Mary Harron brilliantly brings us so close to Grace, but at the same time respects the character’s self-possession. As a viewer I felt apart from her, but that distance felt respectful, necessary, even admirable. Quite an accomplishment for a character imprisoned for two murders. What, after all, really is a confession?  What does it mean for a woman to take the chance of telling the truth of what happened? Would she be believed?

Among Grace’s domestic responsibilities, she has lengthy conversations with a doctor, who acts as if he is interested in her story. And much of this story is told, all while Grace works on her quilt.

But it is not just one story. We hear and see what Grace says–choosing her words carefully and tailoring them for her audience. Then there is what Grace tells us in direct address as she narrates her situation to the audience. Finally (no spoilers), there is the voice that never gets to speak, that is inside Grace but can only get out when she is shrouded–like she is speaking though a veil that is both marital and funereal. It is amazing and terrifying and liberating when this voice is freed.

It is quite special to experience a story so thoroughly deep in the woods of patriarchy. And it should not be that unusual. The disruption of traditional legacy production models has produced opportunities for storytelling in visual media since the measure of success is so different.

This program remains an exception, but we can hope that it is becoming more likely that stories demonstrating such a clear understanding of patriarchy through displaying its failures can and will be produced.

Marvin Bell – The Book of the Dead Man – a start

Martha bought me this collection. She said I needed more poetry in my life. She said she doubted that I would get to it.

I am getting to it now.

The Dead Man of the title reminds me of a thought from Kenneth Burke: “What are we to make of the Dead Man’s reference to Keats? That poetry should come, as Keats wrote, “as naturally as the Leaves to a tree”? To this the Dead man has added the dimension of the minus.”

Burke’s definition of (hu)man states “Man is the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal, inventor of the negative (or moralized by the negative), separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making, goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order), and rotten with perfection.”

It is the “inventor of the negative” that makes us all the Dead (hu)Man, moralized by the negative. And Bell write that through ‘perfected fallibility” the fragment is more than the whole…

The whole is an answer; the fragment a question. And…

Know Your Rights 1: Photographing in a Public Space

from the ACLU posting on rights to shoot photos in a public space:

When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.

When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner’s rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).

Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video without a warrant. The Supreme Court has ruled that police may not search your cell phone when they arrest you, unless they get a warrant. Although the court did not specifically rule on whether law enforcement may search other electronic devices such as a standalone camera, the ACLU believes that the constitution broadly prevents warrantless searches of your digital data. It is possible that courts may approve the temporary warrantless seizure of a camera in certain extreme “exigent” circumstances such as where necessary to save a life, or where police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that doing so is necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence of a crime while they seek a warrant.

Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances. Officers have faced felony charges of evidence tampering as well as obstruction and theft for taking a photographer’s memory card.

Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.

Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.

If you are stopped or detained for taking photographs:

  • Always remain polite and never physically resist a police officer.
  • If stopped for photography, the right question to ask is, “am I free to go?” If the officer says no, then you are being detained, something that under the law an officer cannot do without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so. Until you ask to leave, your being stopped is considered voluntary under the law and is legal.
  • If you are detained, politely ask what crime you are suspected of committing, and remind the officer that taking photographs is your right under the First Amendment and does not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Special considerations when videotaping:

With regards to videotaping, there is an important legal distinction between a visual photographic record (fully protected) and the audio portion of a videotape, which some states have tried to regulate under state wiretapping laws.

  • Such laws are generally intended to accomplish the important privacy-protecting goal of prohibiting audio “bugging” of private conversations. However, in nearly all cases audio recording the police is legal.
  • In states that allow recording with the consent of just one party to the conversation, you can tape your own interactions with officers without violating wiretap statutes (since you are one of the parties).
  • In situations where you are an observer but not a part of the conversation, or in states where all parties to a conversation must consent to taping, the legality of taping will depend on whether the state’s prohibition on taping applies only when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. But no state court has held that police officers performing their job in public have a reasonable expectation.
  • The ACLU believes that laws that ban the taping of public officials’ public statements without their consent violate the First Amendment. A summary of state wiretapping laws can be found here.

Photography at the airport

Photography has also served as an important check on government power in the airline security context.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) acknowledges that photography is permitted in and around airline security checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process. The TSA does ask that its security monitors not be photographed, though it is not clear whether they have any legal basis for such a restriction when the monitors are plainly viewable by the traveling public.

The TSA also warns that local or airport regulations may impose restrictions that the TSA does not. It is difficult to determine if any localities or airport authorities actually have such rules. If you are told you cannot take photographs in an airport you should ask what the legal authority for that rule is.

The ACLU does not believe that restrictions on photography in the public areas of publicly operated airports are constitutional.

Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties. Unfortunately, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply. Learn more

When I Go Away

This Levon Helm performance of When I Go Away is a telling example of what to make of the idea of “swing”. Swing can be the tension around on or off the beat.

There is a Dixie Hummingbirds version of this song as well (go to about 3:00 on the video), but this Helm version is the one that got me. It’s a great notion of what Helm could do.

The highlight is the bridge section, which goes into a four-part vocal that plays with the beat, creating tension over where the rhythm swings. And it works because this song is upbeat but morbid…in other words, perfect as a memorial of the tensions of being both good and bad, deserving and undeserving, sad and joyful. Home to leave my troubles in the graveyard…

The O/\ and the Intersectional

The Hollywood Reporter had an interview  (spoiler warning) with the co-creators of Netflix’s The O/\, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij.  In the interview Batmanglij says this:

“What is the finale other than hypermasculinity meets hyperfemininity?”

I’m interested in how intersectionality figures in this story. It is a story about storytelling, about the authority of a woman to tell her own story, how we judge the truth of the story…most importantly, her control over who she tells the story to and for what reason.

I see a striking contrasts between what we do alone and what we strive to do together. Family is positioned as an organization of relationships that should be interrogated.

Over and over, in this story I see the struggle to gain one’s life and identity in an ecology constantly challenged because of masculine struggles for power. We see the struggle among power as a Faustian bargain for knowledge, as a Frankenstein desire to control life and death, as bullying of several different kinds, and also as a Feminist notion of intersectional transcendence.

I’m very interested in how other people from different subject positions read this text. I’m suspicious that most of what I read online is coming from the same kinds of people (too many like me). I hope there is a wider diversity of reaction to this story than what I’m seeing initially.

It’s also another example of what is made possible by the slightly (but still inadequately) increased diversity of our current media environment.

Conspiracy Knowledge and Desire

Image result for robert anton wilson

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between information and desire. There are at least three positions that are immediately relevant: 1) I want to be a reasonably informed person; 2) I want to be reassured that I am not alone and have a good supply of support for what I believe, but I want this support to be factual; 3) I want to believe a story about the world that confirms my suspicions. The third position seems to stress some combination of confirmation bias, plausible “believability” (what counts as truthiness), and closed-loop insulation from correction.

The last part is the most brilliant of the conspiracy strategies; whatever info might burst the bubble of the desired becomes part of the attempt to disguise the conspiratorial truth. So if a story contains early unconfirmed details aired as speculation as a story develops, then the later denial of these details becomes part of the conspiracy. “No evidence for it? That’s what they want you to think!” And who is they?

In this case I want to suggest that, for those of us who know we need to be the first with just a touch of the second and none of the third, “they” is really a way of thinking. To dig further, there are two things you can consider. One is this piece by Simon van Zuylen-Wood from

Photo published for This Is What It’s Like to Read Fake News For Two Weeks
This Is What It’s Like to Read Fake News For Two Weeks

The other thing would be to read some work by the late Robert Anton Wilson, who got that the conspiracies we believe in are not about the world but about us. He turned fear into a hilarious game of Schrodinger’s Cat and Maus.

Be warned, though, that Wilson offers a kind of performative skepticism that challenges not just your beliefs, but the idea of belief itself. For me, though, it perfects the balance between how we know, how we believe, and how we desire.

“We at Gaylord College strongly condemn the recent racist aggressions at the University of Oklahoma. We stand firm against bigotry of all kinds. Our commitment here at Gaylord to welcome, educate and include across all boundaries remains unshaken. We remain devoted to the ideal that our strength lies in our diversity.”

“We at Gaylord College strongly condemn the recent racist aggressions at the University of Oklahoma. We stand firm against bigotry of all kinds. Our commitment here at Gaylord to welcome, educate and include across all boundaries remains unshaken. We remain devoted to the ideal that our strength lies in our diversity.

If you need help, please reach out to Assistant Dean Yvette Walker at (405) 325-5684.”