Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Resiliency (Neoliberal Happiness), Mourning, and Restoration" by Jigna Desai and Rani Neutill

Resiliency (Neoliberal Happiness), Mourning, and Restoration The physical, cognitive, psychic and affective dimensions of resiliency are used to identify and measure those factors that enable individualities and collectives to withstand and adjust to adversity. Resiliency points to how people manage harm and its impacts despite the suffering and death caused by various forms of violence and neglect, e.g. micro-aggressions, overcrowded trains, lack of necessities – health care, food, water, shelter and medicine, environmental degradation and destruction. While resiliency can be used to identify and recognize agency, strategies, and knowledge, it also can work as a demand… Here, resiliency does not imply that security is possible or life guaranteed; instead, it recognizes that exposure to harm is a constitutive process of existence for the individual and living systems and that resiliency also entails living with injury and the possibility of continuing loss… We want to borrow from ecological and justice models to imagine a different response – what we might call postcolonial restoration. Postcolonial restoration addresses harm and the distribution of vulnerabilities, but it also recognizes that loss and trauma are constitutive and continuing processes of postcolonial existence. Postcolonial restoration demands three ethical modes of response: 1) sitting with trauma, 2) implication, and 3) reparation. Neutill theorizes what it means to sit with trauma as an affective and ethical mode of being. Sitting with trauma reorients us towards an understanding of mourning as an ethical mode of relationship to loss through what I term sitting with. Neither static nor terminal, sitting with is not melancholic, but rather an ongoing dynamic process that undoes conventional notions of mourning. We may walk away from the loss and trauma, but we also come back – an interminable mourning. In this case, there is no restoration to an original or pure form prior to the wound, but a continual process of recognition; the constitutive and continuing aspects of trauma. Moreover, in recognizing the distribution of vulnerabilities, one needs to focus on the harm that is inflicted as much as the harm that is suffered –Thomas suffers, but also must account for his own complicity in inflicting harm. In understanding the distribution of vulnerabilities across the living ecosystem, one must note how one is entangled and interdependent with modes of violence without claiming impunity.... Implication in this case means the necessity of acknowledging interdependency and recognizing distributions of vulnerability that mark certain forms of violence, harm and death while abandoning others as disposable to slow deaths. The third ethical response is reparation. Increased security from the state is not demanded as a salve to heal wounds, as security cannot be achieved. But there must be an on-going attempt to salve the wound that cannot be healed. In this case, borrowing not from the more legalistic reparations (to pay), but from the ecological to repair (to rejuvenate and heal). The role of reparations is to restore not to an original unwounded state of being, but to engage in continual healing and recognition of loss and trauma in an ecological and systemic way. Reparation may never end as recognition of vulnerability and trauma continue within postcolonial restoration. As the loss continues and vulnerabilities are addressed but continue to proliferate, postcolonial restoration is an on-going process. Jigna Desai and Rani Neutill

On the Rhythms of Longing and Connectedness Neo Muyanga's "Tebello: A Tentative Operetta on Longing" by Jessica S. Ruthven

On the Rhythms of Longing and Connectedness: “Tebello: A tentative Operetta on Longing” commenced 6:00 pm Wednesday when a group of 18 choral students from Wits University entered the Wits Theatre softly, slowly, and with intention. A hush descended on the gathered audience as we watched the black-clad students in a rainbow of richly colored scarves file toward their chairs onstage. Our host and composer for the evening, Neo Muyanga, followed closely behind the students and walked to the microphone downstage house-left. As the choir concluded its song on a decrescendo, Neo explained the meaning of “tebello” and told us what the show held for us: an evening of exploration, through song and embodied movement, of the human capacity for expectation laced with longing. A soft yellow glow illuminated the stage as Neo gazed directly toward us and spoke of the history of migrant labor in the region, as well as its continued presence in the lives of many today. He told us of the distance families must learn to grow into as a result of the mass structural separation of men and their families necessitated by mining and other systems of labor. He asked us all, gathered together, to be open to feeling that expectation, longing, the spirit of resistance, and other evoked emotions as the performers weaved through their program: instrumentation and choral work, audience interaction, protest songs, and finally blues music, funk, and a nod to Augusto Boal through Roberta Estrela D’Alva’s husky and vibrant voice. There were many bright moments during the night that caught my attention—too many and varied to cover in this forum. I could speak of resistance and social change; connections between South Africa and Brazil; audience and performer group dynamics/interaction; the role of sound in embodying practice; or even my thoughts as a native Mississippian (and DEEP lover of blues and funk music) on the relationship between blues and protest songs. Instead, I’ll limit focus on one moment that connected strongly with conversations held earlier in the day at the Adler Museum lectures. At one point when the choirmaster was working with the students on a section of minor-chord music, the sopranos struggled to harmonize with the group as the aurality suffered some dissonance. The soprano farthest stage house-left scrunched up her face, shook her head, and furrowed her brows as the group hit a particularly discordant note. At another point during the night, the students dissolved into laughter—embodied in staccato breaths, long chuckles, and ripples through the group when their bodies moved from more rigid performance positions to a brief looseness of form—as an error in timing resulted in some members bursting into song while the majority remained silent. This immediately invoked for me Dilip Menon’s comments earlier in the day on “idiorrhythmy,” a concept used by Roland Barthes in “How to Live Together.” For Barthes, idiorrhythmy is a kind of productive living-together in which each person in a group recognizes and respects that others have their own individual rhythms. Through this recognition/respect, sociospatial discord in a society is reconciled. Menon invoked this idea in his introduction to Ike Anya’s lecture urging scholars to consider the everyday perspectives of the people with whom they work when theorizing happiness and other social constructs. Later, Anne Allison noted that we might think of happiness as the rhythms of living together while also recognizing the fragility of happiness and the irregularity of rhythms in daily life. In the afternoon’s panel, Tina Sideris asked us to think about temporal dissonance, while other participants in discussion questioned the role of laughter in happiness. Hearing the dissonance, errors in timing, and resulting laughter that occurred during the evening’s performance, certain questions came to mind. In addition to thinking through the relationship of individuals to collectives and integrating others’ perspectives with our own, I wonder: what is the role of discord in what we envision as “happiness”? When we speak of “happiness,” what constitutes it, for whom, and how is it deployed conceptually and materially in particular places and times? How do longings for “perfection” or ideals shape people’s experiences of joy, elation, satisfaction, and a range of other terms that are at times associated with “happiness”? Would this group of choral students be “happy” in their performance for the evening, or did the discord/errors mar their experience in any way? At the end of the evening, Neo and Roberta smiled, thanked us for joining them, and said they hoped they made us happy. As an audience member, I know the kind of unexpected glitches in the performance directly contributed to my overall “happiness” with the production as an experience. Those blips in timing and tonality, as well as Roberta’s, Neo’s, and the choral group’s embodied reaction to them, enabled a sense of closeness and connection to the performers that would have been less accessible (for me) if the performance had been seamless. Even Roberta’s later exaggerated facial expressions and asides to the audience or shout of “Surprise!” as she did something unexpected and the choir rushed to get back on track with her added, rather than detracted, to the experience. Their laughter at various points in the show enabled my own, and I felt part of something more expansive than a singular self as my laughter joined the deeper rumble of the crowd’s. So I ask again—what is the relationship of discord, dissonance, the uncertain, expectation, failed expectation, and the unexpected in our understandings of “happiness”? As a final thought, I will leave you with the following: “It reminded me of when I was a kid listening to protest songs from South Africa, and they were so powerful. Listening now, it brought back a longing, a nostalgia, and also a sadness. But the power! And the kids were so caught up in it, like when they [Roberta and Neo] were singing and the choir just jumped up so spontaneously and joined! It looked like they were moved.” This is a comment I overheard one of our JWTC participants telling another in their post-performance chat as they ambled to the bus for dinner. What he notes above is something I hear artists in Johannesburg and abroad consistently refer to as “resonance.” It indexes a profound and meaningful connection to something that moves a person in thought, action, or feeling. What, then, is the role of activism and resonance (along with its cousin empathy) to notions of happiness in contemporary South Africa? Jessica S. Ruthven University of the Witwatersrand

On Roberta Estrela D’Alva’s Performance at the Wits Medical School by Ananya Kabir

She [Roberta] wove in and out of us assembled there, in the shadow of the Health Sciences building of the Wits University Campus, and the deeper shadow of the Adler Medical Museum with its cabinets of quaint yet instantly recognisable bottles, philtres, jars, ancient stethoscopes, and other bric-a-brac of colonial medicine. Here, in the square outside, there were trees, sunlight, and the scent of smouldering salvia leaves that she bore in a small vessel. The fumes permeated us, an olfactory medium in which we became suspended. She chanted, punctuating the air with a seed-filled rattle. In white and black, heavy braids, and beads of element red, black and brown proclaiming affiliations Amazonian, transatlantic, and planetary. She was the shaman, the master of ceremonies. The microphone picking up her every word and gesture was the sacred fire. The ceremony was our defumigação. I can best translate this word as ‘purification by smoking out unwanted stuff.’ We were asked to embrace the salvia fumes to cleanse ourselves of whatever we needed to get out of our systems. Defuma, Defumador esta casa de nosso Senhor Leva pras ondas do mar O mal que aqui possa estar Smoke out, O smoker-out, this house of our Lord Carry out towards the waves of the sea The evil that may rest here Ceremony satisfactorily begun, we were drawn into a meditation/ oration/ confession/ proclamation which invoked Chango, Eshu, and the consciousness-expanding herbs of Amazonia to repudiate the very might of colonial knowledge that towered over us all. She made herself vulnerable for us by returning to the moment of losing her sister when both were but teenagers, and opened up the channels of empathy that the salvia had prepared the ground for. Inviting us to embrace intuitive wisdom and reject the need for control, Roberta performed a mestizaje of knowledge, a caboclisation of the world. Against the White Father represented by Heinemann (father of homeopathy) emerged the Preto Velho, the Old Black Man, Obatala of the orishas maybe, as the instigator of the simple question: ‘why does the European thinker have to validate my experience?’ Roberta’s evening performance with Neo Muyanga and the Wits Choir in their offering to us, Tabello: A Longing Expectaion, provided the perfect resolution of some of the processes we were invited into during the afternoon. Opening with a playful rehearsal of the choir, which deliberately blurred the edges between process and product, journey and end, Neo, Roberta, and the Choir continued with a stunning transoceanic repertoire of spoken word, blues, funk, hymns, and protest songs in English, Xhosa, and Portuguese. Ending on the memory of Zumbi of Palmares, the iconic maroon king of Brazil, the cry of ‘freedom’ resounding from the voices and bodies of the young people of the choir carried forward the rhyme of liberdade/ felicidade (freedom/ happiness) with which Roberta had closed the afternoon’s ceremony. The soaring notes of the choir’s voices and the young dancing bodies fused with the lament that the lyrics voiced, confirming their assertion of the co-existence of alegria and pena (joy and sorrow). The best kind of learning is that which compels on us a gnosis of the body! Ananya Jahanara Kabir King's College London