Memory, trauma, and morality

Cover from Jeffrey Blustein\'s The Moral Demands of Memory.

Cover from Jeffrey Blustein's The Moral Demands of Memory.

Supersonic Sue Campbell has just posted a detailed review of Jeff Blustein’s recent book The Moral Demands of Memory over at NDPR. Blustein’s book is focused on collective memory, trauma, responsibility, and identity, and has a sweep that few books in the field have. Sue draws on her knowledge of collective memory in the context of the residential schools commission in Canada in writing the review, as well as other concrete contexts (e.g., post-Holocaust studies). Check out the whole shebang if you’re interested; here’s a tease. Campbell says, in summary, that Blustein’s book:

is deeply indebted to a range of diverse literatures, carefully and extensively footnoted, and though the book is fairly long, it sustains an impressive momentum. Indeed the last two chapters — on remembrance and rituals of memorializing as love, care, and respect for the dead, and on the nature and importance of bearing witness — Continue reading

Fatal Misconception: Family Planning and Population Control

Last week I read Matthew Connelly’s Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (Harvard UP, 2008). It’s a critical look at the population control movement focussed largely on the second half of the 20th-century, and discusses some of the early heroines of that movement, such as Margaret Sanger, as well as the role of major Western-led organizations, such as the UN. It’s well worth a read, even though it gets more bogged down in conferences, meetings, and deals than many will have time for. You can read Nicholas Kristof‘s review of it from the New York Times Sunday Book Review right here, which I’ll turn to in a minute.

To many, the term “family planning” will call to mind individual choice and rational decision-making about when to have children, as well as how many to have. To perhaps others, “population control” will send a shudder down their spines as they recall forced sterilization and even extermination, and the control of their lives by others. The “many” referred to above are, by and large, the affluent, the white, the Western (or all three), while the “others” are the poor, the not-so-white, and the non-Western (and often all three). In the course of the 20th-century, family planning and population control became two-sides of a perceived crisis in the growth of population, a putative crisis especially for The West as they saw themselves usurped by The Rest. Continue reading

Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience

Tactical Biopolitics

Tactical Biopolitics

In this period where biological facts, research, and worldviews carry enormous weight, what role does the lay-person, artist, activist, and academic play in engaging with these biological debates? This is, perhaps, the central question that guides the series of chapters in a book, just hot off the press, Tactical Biopolitics. The collection includes interviews with biologists, a piece by the Critical Arts Ensemble, among many others. There are too many interesting topic to list of here but they include the ethics of experimenting with living tissue, the biopolitics of the human genome project, and a piece I wrote on psychiatric survivors among many others. You can see the full table of contents and access some of the sample chapters here

Sitting quietly in Kings County Hospital…

According to Esmin Green’s nursing notes, she was sitting quietly in a chair at 6.20 AM in Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital. Publicly released security video, however, shows her dead or dying face-down on the floor at that time. The same video footage shows the woman convulsing, falling from her chair, and laying there for 45 minutes being ignored before a nurse or attendant finally comes over and kicks her to see if she responds. Ms. Esmin was not dead for the whole 45 minutes she lay on he floor; the videotape shows her writhing several times with convulsive “aftershocks.” Her difficulties were not entirely unnoticed…. a security guard rolls his desk chair his chair around the corner to get a closer look at the dying woman at one point without expending the energy to actually get out of the chair. After 45 minutes, hospital staff actually come to give her some assistance, but by then, it is too late.

If it were not for the release of the video, the circumstances of her death would have gone unnoticed. The video, however, provides a small glimpse into neglect in a psychiatric hospital. From a personal perspective, Continue reading

Advertising Autism

Since I’ll be reading Roy Richard Grinker’s Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism over the next week or so, here’s a kinda pre-post on some related things on my mind.

The first is a series of 30-second tv ads that have sprung up over the past year or so focused ostensibly on raising awareness about autism (but implicitly on donations for research on it). Below is one of them, featuring some pretty tired-looking rock legends that forms a part of VH1’s “Rock Autism” campaign; I also saw my first one on Canadian tv the other day –probably a function of the fact that I don’t watch enough tv to have caught it earlier. This one just rolled a bunch of 1 in x stats sequentially, starting with the chance that a child (your child) will be abducted by a stranger, and ending with the 1 in 150 stat that has become the current mantra about autism. Some of these cross the line from awareness-raising to paranoia-inducing, and they leave me with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach; in this respect, they contrast with most of the longer (2-5 minute) autism awareness videos you can find on YouTube by searching under that title. Don’t know if I’m alone on that one.

The second is a series of posts over at Autism Vox by Kristina Chew, the latest of which you can link to right here. These raise questions about talk of an “autism epidemic” and sub-topics under that general heading, such as the putative link between autism and vaccines. Chews posts on this go back 18 months to one called “What if there is no autism epidemic?“, which offered a commentary on a Huffington Post article by journalist David Kirby. Chew is worth reading on this and other autism-related issues.

The Biocultures Manifesto

On Friday I read a new manifesto by Lennard Davis and David Morris: Biocultures Manifesto published in the New Literary History. While the assertions and insights may not be entirely novel to readers of this blog, their declarations, nonetheless, are spot on and because of the finesse and clarity with which they write, this manifesto will be part of the arsenal many of us will use for our teaching.

The manifesto covers the co-constitution of science and society, of fact and value, and of the great difficulties of making and grappling new knowledge. Probably one of my favorite sections is the following:

In the end, all branches of knowledge interpret. Interpretation isn’t all that they do, but it constitutes a massive common ground. Scientists set up experiments to generate data that they interpret. Literary critics interpret texts. Judges interpret the law. Sign language and interpreters ad translators transform one lanague into another … Wouldn’t we all benefit by learning the rules or norms by which various discourse produce and interpret their findings? Wouldn’t such knowledge help us improve our own perhaps distinctive interpretive norms and skills…. This learning, while not discord-free, offers a model for dialogue and holds out a promise that interpretative disagreements need no become occasions for violent conflict.

My only beef with the article is that, well, it is lives within walled garden. And I have to say, a manifesto behind gates is a little less of a manifesto. To say this, is not to blame the authors as we are often at the mercy of the journals. However, I think we do have a responsibility to put this issue out in the open and eventually start breaking down the walls.