at the water’s edge…

Lots of stuff happening behind the scenes as our collaborative book moves ever closer to publication. We’re in the middle of copyedits now, a process that has us responding to author queries and looking at every single word through a microscope.

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When your index includes 20 separate entries for fish, you know you’re writing about islands, and this island in particular.

 

We’re also developing the book’s accompanying blog. Designed to support classroom use, it includes prompts and activities, as well as images, links to web-based resources, and references.

 

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Shhh! It’s not live, yet! But isn’t it gorgeous?

Autoethnography and Feminist Theory and the Water’s Edge: Unsettled Islands will be released in July 2018 (can’t wait!) and we’ll host a book launch here on Memorial University’s campus sometime in September.

If you’re really, really keen, you can pre-order the book (e-book or hardcover) on the Palgrave website. Click here for more information.

It can also be found at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca and can be ordered by your favourite bookseller.

 

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quiet

quiet

23131725_10155311939854272_1138406773638582757_nIt’s been quiet in blogland, but as all of us behind the scenes know, it’s been super busy…

We’re not blogging at the moment because … (drum roll) … we’re book writing! That’s right: the three of us – Lesley, Daze and I – are collaborating on a peer-reviewed book that’s under contract with Palgrave!

If you love all things autoethnography, theory, and islands – as we do! – we promise you’ll love this book.

The book will be a series of twenty micro-essays – none more than 1800 words long – each one a rich, velvety, scrumptious tangly bite of theory-making.

We’re also working on an accompanying website that will add pedagogical dimensions – discussion prompts, activities, photos – to each of the essays.

We’re currently working on our second complete draft with the whole manuscript due to be delivered by March 30.

It should be out later this year – stay tuned!

 

 

on holiday

saltwaterstories is on hiatus for a couple of months as we – Lesley, Daze, and I – work on a larger collaborative project. We’ll be back in September.

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North Head Trail, Signal Hill, St. John’s. July 2017. Photo credit: Sonja Boon

sensuous seas, or wading through deep histories

In a dream, I ride out of a cove with my family in an aging, fiberglass speedboat. The sky is dark and cloudy, and there are cold, black lops on lops all around us. The boat and waves crash against each other, spraying me with salty ocean water. We hit a large wave that ruptures over our heads, leaving all of us drenched. The salty fluid stings my eyes and blurs my vision.

As I woke up, I remembered the first time I got saltwater in my eyes. I was eleven years old, and my friends and I were playing on a wharf in a part of my hometown called Deep Tickle. In Newfoundland, ‘tickle’ is a vernacular term for a short, narrow strait. That day was extremely hot, and my pals Jamie and Brandon decided to swim out in the water just off the wharf. I loved swimming, but had never been immersed in saltwater before. I was hesitant and decided I wasn’t going to join them, until an older kid picked me up and threw me over the wharf.

In my hometown, this is the way many children learn how to swim. In fact, when my sister was five, she was thrown over our family wharf by an older cousin. As I revisit both of our experiences being submerged in our familiar yet unknown salty, smelly and slimy oceanic other, I form a new illustration of the way we both expressed corporeal instincts and reflexes to ‘stay afloat’ in an unknown environment. Unbeknownst to me as a child, being tossed into saltwater for the first time would help me understand more clearly historical forms of struggle and stamina needed to survive in rural Newfoundland.

Using the embodied fluid knowledge I discovered in the water beyond the wharf, this post grapples with the tickling “wet ontologies” (Steinberg and Peters 2015) of saltwater swimming. Thinking of the ‘tickle’ as a significant spatio-temporal environment in my life and familial history on an island, as well as a sensuous stimulation of the body, I ask after modes of skin and saltwater encounters to form tingly and murky intimate notions of ‘staying afloat’ in rural Newfoundland.

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Leaving Night Island. August 2015. Photo: Daze Jefferies.

As I was deciding whether I would join my friends in the water or stay on the wharf, I carefully examined the wet substance from which Jamie and Brandon were shouting at me to ‘stop being such a wimp’. The refracting sunlight made me see a bright green pool with seaweed, kelp and other forms of aquatic plantlife with strange textures and colours. We used to hang out on this wharf all the time, but had never thought of swimming in the water. All of us had seen minks crawling and swimming around the wharf. I was afraid one of them might attack or bite me if I were in the water. And before I knew it, I was touching the surface.

And then I was submerged and my fear became more fluid. I opened my eyes underwater: the environment below was a brighter green than the one I had observed from above. The water was thick and made my body tingle. When I lifted my head above the surface, my eyes were irritated and my vision blurry, as if I were peering through a viscous film back into the familiar world from which I was just dislodged. This fluid encounter, the saltwater on my skin and in my eyes, illustrated what Eva Hayward might call “a visual-hapticity that relies on proximity rather than distance” (2011: 265).

There was no denying that my body and the water had created a sensuous splash. My submersion was not graceful or playful, it was quite literally a slap in the face, with my head slipping under the waves and my vision becoming altered. This visual-haptic encounter was one of seeing and touching forces creating their own splash, drawing connections between the boy who had picked me up and thrown me into the water, the burning in my eyes, the salt in my mouth, the goosebumps on my skin from the cold water, and the rippling and distribution of waves I had influenced with my body. Hayward says that “sensations are produced through relationships…sensing is a distributed process” (274). Indeed, sensating the sea because of its closeness, its encircling of my body, can be read as an acknowledgement between bodies and rural environments.

The sea salt tickling my body in the Tickle might constitute both an irritating itch and a titillating and vibrant example of confronting and facing the abject – in this case the dirty, murky water of the cove that was no doubt filled with human disposals. The dream of traveling by boat triggered these reflections, once again allowing me to reconsider my own relations to water and the “churnings, driftings, and reborderings” (Steinberg and Peters 2015: 257) that living and existing in close proximity to the ocean can re/teach me about sensuous seas and rural subjectivities.

Remembering how rural Newfoundlanders have developed relationships with the sea over time – resettlement travels where houses were floated across the water to a new destination, or my grandfather walking across miles of thin ice in February 1962 to bring my grandmother and newborn mother home by sled, as well as sealing and fishing and exploring wet worlds – has taught me, above all, that when the life of a community revolves around water, there’s no point in being afraid of it. Looking back, there were no minks in the water that day, and there was no reason to be scared. I learned how to stay afloat, and how to be just a little more tough.

References

Hayward, Eva. 2011. “Ciliated Sense,” In Theorizing Animals: Re-thinking Humanimal Relations, eds. Nik Taylor and Tania Signal, 255-80. Netherlands: Brill.

Steinberg, Philip & Kimberley Peters. 2015. “Wet ontologies, fluid spaces: giving depth to volume through oceanic thinking,” In Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 33: 247-64. DOI: 10.1068/d14148p

Rebels With a Cause

Since beginning my research on Julie Dash’s films this past winter, I have become fascinated by a particular movement in US black independent cinema dubbed, the “L.A. Rebellion.”

Following the civil unrest of the late 1960s, marked by the Watts Uprising of 1965, as well as the ongoing Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War, a group of young African and African American students entered the UCLA School of Film, Television, and Theatre as part of an “Ethno-Communications initiative” launched to address the concerns of communities of colour (“The Story of the L.A. Rebellion,” n.p.). Some notable students associated with this initiative include: Charles Burnett, Larry Clark, Haile Gerima, Alile Sharon Larkin, Billy Woodberry, and of course, Julie Dash.

According to Ntongela Masilela, the cultural aims and artistic practices of this group were “inseparable from the political and social struggles and convulsions of the 1960s” (qtd. in Martin, 2). Unlike Hollywood, these filmmakers drew inspiration from Third world theorists, philosophies of black consciousness, the practices of the Black Arts Movement, and the politics of the New Latin American Cinema movement (Martin 2; Reid 10).

Essentially, this new generation of West Coast-based filmmakers rejected the imposed standards of Hollywood, viewing it as limiting to “their artistic and political vision of black life and experience” (Reid 10). By choosing to work within “the shadows of mainstream film,” the L.A. Rebellion created a “paradigm shift in the history of black independent filmmaking” (Reid 10).

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Still from Killer of Sheep. Directed by Charles Burnett. Milestone Films, 1978. Image source: UCLA Film & Television Archive (https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/la-rebellion/story-la-rebellion).

According to Toni Cade Bambara, members of the L.A. Rebellion, who she calls “Black insurgents,” lived by an alternative set of filmmaking philosophies, including their belief that: “accountability to the community takes precedence over training for an industry that maligns and exploits, trivializes, and invisibilizes Black people” (qtd. in Rocchio, 173). Ultimately, their goals were to interrogate the conventions of mainstream cinema, to screen socially conscious content, and to consider alternatives that challenge past (mis)representations of Black individuals and communities (Rocchio 173).

In the words of one UCLA rebel, Haile Gerima:

 … I couldn’t imagine how a white supremacist structure such as Hollywood, an industry of culture that has created havoc to all human beings, could be a base for me to peacefully tell my story and experiment. Hollywood didn’t have any obligation to tolerate my search in form. The only term that Hollywood accepts is the commercial mould. And once you cease to operate within that paradigm, the industry will reject all the reasons you have to tell a story (qtd. in Reid, 11).

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Still from Child of Resistance. Directed by Haile Gerima, 1972. Image Source: UCLA Film & Television Archive (https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/blogs/archival-spaces/2015/12/18/la-rebellion-book).

In a previous blog post, I wrote about Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” (1984), and contemplated how her argument might apply to filmmaking.

Lorde argues: “… the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change ” (Lorde 112). Even years later, Lorde’s words seem to reverberate through the philosophies and practices of the L.A. Rebellion. Recognizing the limitations of Hollywood standards – narratively, aesthetically, and politically – the Black insurgents refused to conform to the rules of the ‘master’s house’.

 What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy?” It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable (Lorde 110-111).

Understanding that real change could not take place by using the very tools of a historically racist industry, the UCLA rebels opted films styles and narrative forms that were in line more with African, Latin American, Asian, and European filmmakers who similarly worked against the Hollywood grain (Reid 11). For example, using handheld cameras created a characteristic trembling movement, shooting in familiar, urban locations, favoring discontinuous editing and nonlinear narratives, and ‘bad’ lighting, are some of the distinctive characteristics of the black independent film movement (Reid 11). Like the Italian neorealists and the French New Wave auteurs, many of these style choices were brought about by financial restraints, but it was this gritty and experimental frugality that actually helped set the rebel’s films apart.

At the same time, it wasn’t just economics that influenced L.A. Rebellion filmmaking practices. Ultimately, every aesthetic and narrative choice had a political purpose. Even the traditional use of frame rates was contested. For example, as director of cinematography for Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, Arthur Jafa not only questioned “most generic film conventions,” but he also questioned “whether the standard of twenty-four-frames-per-second rate is kinesthetically the best for rendering the black experience” (Bambara xv).

Toni Cade Bambara offers a wonderfully astute analysis of a specific scene in Daughters that captures Jafa’s unconventional use of frame rates:

 A particularly breathtaking moment begins with a deep focus shot of the beach. In the foreground are men in swallowtail coats and homburgs. Some are standing, others sitting. Two or three move across the picture plane, coattails buffeted by the breeze. They speak of the necessity of making right decisions for the sake of the children. Across a stretch of sand glinting in midground, the children play on the shore in the farground. Several men turn to look at the children. In turning, their shoulders, hips, arms, form an open ‘door’ through which the camera moves; maintaining a crisp focus as we approach the children. The frame rate changes just enough to underscore the children as the future. For a split second we seem to travel through time to a realm where children are eternally valid and are eternally the reason for right action. Then the camera pulls back, still maintaining crisp focus as we cross the sands again and reenter the present, the grownups’ conversation reclaiming our attention (Bambara xv).

With this, we see what kinds of stories can emerge if we actively challenge the conventions of filmmaking. By rejecting the ‘master’s tools,’ the filmmakers of the L.A. Rebellion helped conceive and create a cinematic landscape that worked to represent individuals and communities that existed beyond the borders of Hollywood.

 When we call ourselves film-makers it’s because we wrote, produced, knew how to do the sound, operate the camera, to light, and when we took it into post [production] we’d edit our films physically, as well as mix the sound. We were totally immersed in it. We weren’t making films to be paid, or to satisfy someone else’s needs. We were making films because they were an expression of ourselves: what we were challenged by, what we wanted to change or redefine, or just dive into and explore (Julie Dash qtd. in Clark, n.p.)

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Still from Daughters of the Dust. Directed by Julie Dash, Kino International, 1991. Image Source: UCLA Film & Television Archive (https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/la-rebellion/films/daughters-dust).

Sources:

Bambara, Toni Cade. Preface. Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman’s Film, by Julie Dash, The New Press, 1992, pp. xi-xvi.

Clark, Ashley. “The LA Rebellion: when black filmmakers took on the world – and won.” The Guardian, 9 April 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/apr/09/the-la-rebellion-when-black-film-makers-took-on-the-world-and-won.

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, 1984.

Martin, Michael T. “‘I Do Exist’: From ‘Black Insurgent’ to Negotiating the Hollywood Divide – A Conversation with Julie Dash. ” Cinema Journal, vol. 40, no. 2, 2010, https://search-proquest-com.qe2a-proxy.mun.ca/docview/222358084?accountid=12378.

Reid, Mark A. Black Lenses, Black Voices: African American Film Now. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.

Rocchio, Vincent F. Reel Racism: Confronting Hollywood’s Construction of Afro-American Culture. Westview, 2000.

“The Story of the L.A. Rebellion.” UCLA Film & Television Archive, n.d., http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/la-rebellion/story-la-rebellion.

 

© Lesley Butler, 2017 (lvb717 @ mun.ca)

From absences to senses

A few weeks ago I had a visit with my eighty-nine year old grandmother. An outing that has a 90% chance of biscuits and a 100% chance of tea. In recent years, she has taken a liking to looking at pictures on my iPhone – whenever I go to her apartment she will say excitedly, “Any new pictures on your iPad?” (iPad referring to any kind of smart phone – she often takes this as an opportunity to crack jokes about ‘eye-pads’). Most of the time I just have fairly generic pictures of landscapes, screenshots of funny images, or pictures of cats wandering around my backyard – nothing particularly interesting. But what my grandmother likes best are pictures of people – and unfortunately, a series of 5 or more minimally different pictures of the same cat outside my window leave much to be desired for my ‘audience’ (I guess the phrase “quality not quantity” would apply to me here).

On this particular day, my grandmother added a twist to our usual picture sharing regime. She hobbled across the room with her walker and handed me a rather small, faded, orange and yellow photo album, saying: “Today I have pictures for you to look at!”

I opened the cover and scanned the pictures inside – most of them black and white, some of them yellowed and wrinkled with age. Faces from long ago look out from the frame – I search for familiar features, gestures, anything to help me name my ancestors.

I look back towards my grandmother, who is now having a cup of tea with my father across the living room. I bring one of the pictures over to her and ask, “Is this you when you were a little girl?”

Before even looking at the picture, she says, “My dear, it can’t be me!”

My dad chimes in as well, “There aren’t any pictures of your grandmother as a kid – they just didn’t take any.”

Somewhat perplexed, I carried on perusing the photo album. But I could not help but think about our family’s ‘archives’: What happens when there are pieces missing? And in turn, what counts as ‘missing’?

This would be difficult to answer – and I can only speculate at this point. But this blog series has taken up similar questions of photographic representation and absence in archives. What role does privilege play in the photographic? What about power in the archives? How do we navigate our contemporary understandings of gender, race, and class when we approach historical documents?

In Woman, Native, Other (1989), Trinh T. Minh-ha opens up and challenges our standard notion of archives. She claims: “The world’s earliest archives or libraries were the memories of women” (121).

We tend to privilege the tangible, the material, as our source for History and ‘truth.’ But if we look further, there is so much more we can learn. What histories can we tell if we look beyond the written word, beyond the preserved photograph?

The world’s earliest archives or libraries were the memories of women. Patiently transmitted from mouth to ear, body to body, hand to hand. In the process of storytelling, speaking and listening refer to realities that do not involve just the imagination. The speech is seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched. It destroyed, brings into life, nurtures (Trinh 121).

Perhaps this is why I did not completely feel my grandmother’s absence from the photo album. While I do wonder why she was so blatantly left out of these family pictures (was it gender related? A class issue? Or something completely innocent? A broken camera maybe?), I can’t help but think that she is not entirely ‘missing’ from these ‘archives’. When I see pictures of other family members, I think about the stories my grandmother has told about them over the years. I hear her thick accent reverberating in my ears. When I see pictures of the rugged landscape of her childhood home, I smell the salt fish laid out to dry in the summertime and I feel the dewy ocean breeze on my skin. I imagine what life was like for my grandmother as in that small, Newfoundland fishing community in the 1920s, the 1930s, and beyond.

Perhaps, searching for history takes more than looking to the past. Sometimes it takes listening, feeling, smelling, tasting … opening up our senses to a world of archives, or better yet, opening up our archives to a world of senses.

Sources:

Trinh T. Minh-ha. Woman, Native, Other. Indiana University, 1989.

 

© Lesley Butler (lvb717 @ mun.ca), 2017.

pondering photographs

A yummy day with a book delivery from Duke University Press. Seriously, by this point, I should have shares in the company; that’s how many books I buy from them. Today’s haul includes Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, Elspeth Probyn’s Eating the Ocean, and Eli Clare’s Brilliant Imperfection, all of which are destined for this fall’s iteration of the graduate feminist theory seminar. But it also included Tina Campt’s Listening to Images, an extended meditation on the counterstories that images of black diasporic subjects, ostensibly meant for surveillance purposes – identification cards, passports, etc – might tell. As she observes in the introduction, “identification photos are not produced at the desire of their sitters. They are images required of or imposed upon them by empire, science, or the state” (5). And because of the rigid rules that have often governed their production, such photos have rarely been studied in great detail. But by listening closely to them, different stories might emerge, stories that challenge the logics by which they were originally created.

In her book, Campt gets at the heart of my own archival discomforts in this project: how do I work with material designed expressly to dehumanize? And how can I read that material differently? But it also gets at another element of this project: the visual archives that remain of colonial lives and experiences. The online archives in the Rijksmuseum’s Rijksstudio, for example, include many photos of the so-called Coolie Depot where all incoming indentured labourers were brought to be processed. The Flickr stream of the Surinaams Museum, meanwhile, offers photographs of plantation life. But most of these photos were taken not to support those who toiled on the plantations, or those who were brought – often under extreme duress – to Suriname, but rather, to document the activities of a colonial system. How, then, to read them differently?

I’ve written previously about ethnographic refusal, and Campt, too, draws on the notion of refusal. For Tuck and Wang, refusal is about an approach to research; it’s about methodology. For Campt, however, refusal lies in the photographed subjects themselves: what are they doing – in the way they sit for the camera, in the way they dress, in the very fact that they’ve had their photos taken – to resist the narratives that have been carved out for them.

It was just over ten years ago that I found a stack of old black and white photos in a used bookstore in London, Ontario. All neatly packaged in clear cellophane wrapping,, they were gathered together under a single heading: “Instant ancestors.” I was with my mom at the time. We poked through them, holding up particularly intriguing photos, and had a good laugh. But as I think back to this collection, it strikes me that the ‘family photo’ itself as a particular series of conventions attached to it, and it is these conventions that allow us to find the humour in the photos. These conventions made it possible for us to laugh.

But these photos were out of context. Completely divorced from their ‘real’ families, their stories are much more opaque. How can we read them? And what stories might they tell?

Photographs appear in the most random of places. As a first year university student in Victoria a few decades ago, I found a photograph of a toddler with round cheeks in the middle of a book that hadn’t been taken out in twenty years. More recently, I found another, in an interlibrary loan from the University of Toronto. They’d functioned as bookmarks, I imagine, and then the borrower had come up against a due date, stuffed the books into a bag, and completely forgotten about the photos.

Like the London photos and the discarded passport photos Campt analyzed, these photos were accidents, bits of stories that somehow got away, that ended up in completely different contexts.

Instant ancestors, indeed.

[and yes: p.s., I purposely chose not to include photos.]

References

Campt, Tina M. Listening to Images. Duke UP, 2017.

Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. “R-Words: Refusing Research,” in D. Paris and M. T. Winn, Eds. Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with youth and Communities. Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage Publications, 2014.

Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. “Unbecoming claims: Pedagogies of refusal in qualitative research.” Qualitative Inquiry 20.6 (2014): 811-818.