Curiosity, Anxiety, Paranoia: Inspired by the North Shore

In my continued efforts to experiment with my images and text on TUMBLR, I posted the following image; it’s from my recent trip with the family to the North Shore of Minnesota:

One of the goals of these images/text experiments is to inspire or provoke me and/or the viewer to think, question, wonder, reflect, or imagine. This particular set of texts, passages from Cynthia Enloe and Avital Ronell, has certainly inspired and provoked me. I’m:

thinking about anxiety and its role within ethics,
questioning its limits for self-care and moral selfhood,
wondering who should be encouraged to be anxious (Ronell suggests that George W. Bush could stand to be kept up at night a little more, thinking about the implications of his policies–her quote is a few years old) and who is already always too anxious (people prone to panic attacks or others, like me, who seem to worry too much about their impact on others),
reflecting on the relationship between curiosity and anxiety and what happens when your curiosity isn’t rooted in a concern–or anxiousness–about the impact of that curiosity
and imagining new possibilities for practicing a feminist curiosity that involves a willingness to trouble (feel some anxiety about?) one’s own questions and wonderings.

The passage from Avital Ronell comes from the documentary, An Examined Life. Here’s how I wrote about it an post from April 2010 (which, incidentally, is the link for the image on Tumblr):

She continues her discussion of anxiety, suggesting that the truly ethical person (which she contrasts with GW Bush) is one who is always anxious and always concerned with whether or not they are doing the right thing; the ethical person is the one who can’t sleep because they are uncertain about what they are doing or failing to do. The responsible being is not the one who does one good deed and then thinks that that makes them an ethical person. The responsible being is the one who thinks they have never done enough, that “they have never taken enough care of the other.” Wow–an ethics of anxiety seems similar to my idea of staying in trouble. I was particularly struck by how she connects this (only fleetingly) to the idea of care. Anxiety and trouble (being troubled, staying troubled) are central to being ethical responsibly and effectively caring for others. Cool. I like her discussion here. I am not sure I like how she describes it as anxiety (in the interview she indicates that she is not suggesting that we should all get anxiety disorders), however. Is anxiety the best (as in most productive, most rewarding, most hopeful, most sustainable) way in which to discuss this mood?

Originally my image was only going to include Ronell’s quote, but as I thought about the questions that I posted on my original blog entry about an ethics of anxiety, I decided to contrast the promotion of anxiety, as the ethical (troubled) state par excellence, with my preferred troubled state of curiosity. So, I put Ronell’s passage beside a passage from Cynthia Enloe on feminist curiosity, on the two trees.

I really liked how it turned out; in some ways, it visually represents the relationship I imagine between curiosity and anxiety for myself. As the more important state, curiosity is on the bigger tree. But, because my curiosity always need to be troubled (questioned for its limits and effects), anxiety, in the form of concern, care and caution, is also always beside that curiosity, on the smaller tree.

There are so many ways that I want to talk about the tension between curiosity (as wonder, joy, the creative) and anxiety (as worry, concern, the critical). And there are so many ways that I’ve already discussed it on this blog. Pondering states and moods (and feelings), makes me want to put curiosity and anxiety into conversation (BESIDE/S) with a few other sources:

1. Eve Sedgwick’s discussion of paranoid and reparative reading (and maybe E Spelman’s ethics of care/repair too)
2. Megan Boler’s pedagogy of discomfort
3. Michael Snediker’s Queer Optimism

By the way, in the process of thinking through the image + texts and this post, I’ve come up with a name for my image/text posters: Problematizers. It’s inspired by Michel Foucault and his politics of problematization.

Beside: Photographer/Photo/Image

As I mentioned the other day, I’m experimenting on Tumblr with combining pictures that I’m taking with compelling quotations and questions from my research. Yesterday, I posted an image with passages from Paulo Freire and Sara Ahmed on two buildings in downtown Minneapolis. Just now, while scrolling through STA’s blog, I noticed (serendipitously) that he had posted a photo on Instagram of me taking that photo. Pretty cool. I love exploring different ways to insert myself as author/artist/photographer into the photo I take and the image that I craft out of that photo.


Sounds (like Trouble?)

This morning two posts about sound came up on my Tumblr feed. This one from Writing Prompts:

And this one from the On Being Blog: Sounds of Silence. The first post is a writing prompt that a teacher uses to inspire his junior high school students. While I don’t always like the prompts that he tumblrz (anyone using this as a verb?), I did really like this one. My quick answer: wind in the trees/reminds me of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. For as long as I can remember, the sound of wind blowing through trees, especially aspens, like the ones that were on my family’s farm near Amasa, Michigan, makes me feel joyful and calm and content. Does this mean this sound makes me feel untroubled? What does that say about my desire to (almost) always stay in trouble? Hmmm….

The second Tumblr post is from On Being, the NPR “project delving into the human side of news stories + issues.” This post is about silence and how it has become increasingly difficult, with noise pollution and “human noise intrusion,” to listen to some of the quieter sounds emanating from nature.

It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take whatever meanings we may. Long before the noises of mankind, there were only the sounds of the natural world. Our ears evolved perfectly tuned to hear these sounds-sounds that far exceed the range of human speech or even our most ambitious musical performances: a passing breeze that indicates a weather change, the first birdsongs of spring heralding a regreening of the land and a return to growth and prosperity, an approaching storm promising relief from a drought, and the shifting tide reminding us of the celestial ballet. All of these experiences connect us back to the land and to our evolutionary past.

While I don’t like the language that the author of this post, Gordon Hempton, uses to describe these quieter sounds of nature (It seems a bit too essentializing to me; it reinforces a rigid division/binary between humans and nature; and it envisions the “natural environment” as primarily a resource for us to use and from which to “take whatever meanings we may.”), I appreciate his emphasis on the value of being quiet(er) and our need to listen beyond ourselves.

I also like the idea of being quiet. As someone with two kids, one of which is (like me as a kid) exceptionally LOUD, I find that my tolerance for loud noise is rapidly depleting. A cacophony of sounds may excite and stimulate some, maybe even inspiring or provoking them into staying in trouble, but it usually only produces unhelpful anxiety in me.

In the second half of the post, Hempton discusses the one square inch project, a “sanctuary for silence at Olympic National Park.” To “protect and manage the natural soundscape in Olympic Park,” one square inch of land, about a two hour hike into the backcountry, is marked off and managed as the quietest place in the United States. Cool. I’d like to go there…someday.

I love really quiet places. One of the quietest places that I’ve found in Minneapolis is the parking garage at the downtown library. It’s awesomely quiet. What’s so “natural” about that space, you may ask? I’m not sure, but what is nature/natural anyway? Should we imagine such a strict division between natural and constructed. I don’t think so. In pondering these questions, I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a recent book that explores the biodiversity of urban environments (and the resiliency of non-human life forms?) but I can’t remember the title and my google searches are coming up empty.

I want to put all of this discussion of the value of being quiet(er) and my appreciation of calm, peaceful sounds like the wind in the trees, BESIDE some other sounds that I’ve been valuing lately: Room 34’s music. His music is great as a soundtrack to my various troubling digital videos. In my three recent videos, posted on Vimeo–Student Progress Report: Undisciplined Account; Stories from the UP; and TROUBLE, an introduction–I’ve used Room 34’s music, from several different albums, to help set a troubling mood. Here are screen shots of my credits from each video:

You couldn’t call any of the songs that I’ve used from Room 34 as nature-filled/natural (he uses synth sounds and smartphone music apps) or peaceful and calming (most of them are quite unsettling). Yet, his music is usually quiet/fairly subdued and often joyful. Well, to me, at least. Every time I hear “Wood, Metal and Transistors” at the end of TROUBLE, an introduction, it makes me laugh (maybe giggle is a better word?). 

His music helps me to convey a contemplative and uneasy mood for many of my stories. I think I’m using his music partly to unsettle my own impulses to create stories that are easy and that just (that is, uncritically) “feel good.” And I’m using his music to (hopefully) encourage others to not easily consume my stories, but to think about and react to them.

In reflecting on it more, I think I’m also using his music because it has a haunting quality; the electronic layers of sounds always seem to be hinting at something deeper and darker that necessarily exists beside the joy we may be experiencing. I like that idea; Room 34’s music enables me to realize aurally (is there a sound equivalent for “visualize”?) contradictory emotions beside each other, emotions like joy and grief/happiness and sorrow.

Thanks Mom! Banksy Beside JennyHolzerMom

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Thanks to Susannah for this image and her question about the link between troublemaking and care. I really like the idea of envisioning encouraging kids to make trouble (well, maybe not always or often in the forms represented in this image) as part of a parent’s caregiving practices. I’d like to read/reflect on this beside JennyHolzerMom’s tweets about the tension between rebelling and following rules:

Word Count: 71 words

Giving an Account and Telling a Story

As I think through how I use my blog to give an account and/or tell stories, I want to put the following books and ideas about storytelling and giving an account beside each other:

Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure
Judith Butler’s Giving an Account of Oneself
Paul John Eakin How Our Lives Become Stories 

In thinking about how and why to put these beside each other, I’m partly interested in exploring the different (and sometimes similar) ways in which they explain the purposes for our stories. Why do we tell stories? Who are they for? What compels us to give an account? What sort of self is created/revealed/performed through these accounts/stories?

Word Count: 116 words