Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Third Wave Joy / Owen and Mzee / hostility

Oh no. There's a book about the orphaned hippo (Owen) and the old tortoise (Mzee) in Kenya. Obviously I want it.

~

I saw a new brand of mascara advertised something like Mabelline "Lash Architect." I try it. Now that I work at home and sit about all day in jeans and my Lucifer Poetics t shirt (not every day), it's important to have many kinds of mascara that make my eyelashes unnaturally long.

Conversations about gender, public space, small press publishing, and MFAland continue. I was thinking this morning about environments conducive to or supportive of certain kinds of traditionally "feminine" behavior. Remember, I'm going to think/type sweepingly, not specifically, and that "feminine" and "masculine" are socio-cultural constructs which refer to qualities that our culture traditionally has assigned to women and men, respectively, m'kay?

So, sweepingly, I'm going to say bureaucracy (and academia as a definite kind of bureaucracy) functions, in part, by covert aggression. I'm thinking about how "feminine" aggression is covert, passive, and, like traditionally "masculine" direct aggression, in support of existing power structures, not opposed to them. There are a lot of passive-aggressive folks working in middle management, as administrators, and on hiring committees (for example). They're not the ones directly in charge, but they're really invested in 1) being angry about it but saying they're not 2) not changing the status quo 3) punishing or not ever hiring someone who will not be subservient and also, like them, secretly angry.

What I mean is that in order to function, a bureaucracy needs it's middle managers to act this way. It's structure both reinforces such behavior and also depends on it.

Sweepingly, remember. We all know really fabulous folks who work/exist in bureaucracies and academia, many of them artists--I'm trying to talk about structures, not individuals.

Understanding the qualities of aggression and how it operates, I think, is useful. Hierarchies are supported and maintained through aggression. Aggression has, like, major gender/class/race overtones, and it's psychological of course, so no one in avant-garde/experimental poetry ever thinks about it--I mean that historically we've been mostly interested in Marxist critique, and that this doesn't always help us access the reasons why we, personally, are often real jerks to each other.

That's all for now. I'm supposed to try and connect all these points to a discussion of parties and publishing. I might not ever. Maybe I'll draw a picture about it.

I have to go buy milk etc before it RAINS HERE AGAIN.

9 comments:

Ray said...

that book has been on my amazon.com wishlist for EVER. there are TWO books! one with pretty artwork and one with pretty real photos!

tmorange said...

i definitely think it's important to recognize the many forms of coercion that power exerts, especially those that disguise themselves as being non-coercive.

i mean the so-called "free market" of capitalism is the most pervasive form of coercion disguised as non-coercion i can think of. (french anthopologist pierre clastres has a book called "society and the state" that looks to "primitive" cultures for models of non-coercive power. one example is the guyaki, a now-extinct south american peoples who had a taboo on eating what you killed. this means that one is dependent on others in the group for survival just as they are upon you.)

at the same time tho, i'm a little wary of blanket applications of this model. it's too easy to play the victim that way. not saying one shouldn't claim that status when it's appropriate. but i feel that bureaucrats, middle managers, hiring committees can be too easily made into targets of my anger, when in fact they too might be the victims of the same larger and more pernicious coercions as me. they may be hiding their anger and passively misdirecting it at me, but at the same time they might be the unwarranted recipients of the anger i am directing at them. which can make me feel better but can also give me the illusion that i've found a solution or fixed the problem.

i am a firm believer in owning one's anger. acknowledging it, owning up to it fully, being responsible for and to it, and directing it at the most appropriate targets possible.

t.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

"at the same time tho, i'm a little wary of blanket applications of this model. it's too easy to play the victim that way. not saying one shouldn't claim that status when it's appropriate. but i feel that bureaucrats, middle managers, hiring committees can be too easily made into targets of my anger, when in fact they too might be the victims of the same larger and more pernicious coercions as me. they may be hiding their anger and passively misdirecting it at me, but at the same time they might be the unwarranted recipients of the anger i am directing at them. which can make me feel better but can also give me the illusion that i've found a solution or fixed the problem."

Totally--and having worked and studied in many bureaucracies (and having many friends who do), I'm sympathetic. I think what I'm trying to work through is a dynamic that helps me/us understand the ways in which we structurally reinforce the dynamic I'm trying to get at. Making middle managers, or whatever, the target of our own indirect hostility is exactly the kind of behavior I think the structure of bureaucracies need and reinforce.

So then the thing to do is, as you suggest. Be aware. Be friendly to your coworkers, or at least, don't be passive-agressive.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Although, again, the problem is that passive agression is, I think, how bureaucracies function. So being honest and friendly about your own alienation or lack there of isn't going to get you get you in with a bureaucractic structure. Quite the opposite.

tmorange said...

being friendly is certainly one way, but so is being open and honest about one's anger.

i guess i don't find pointing the finger at "bureaucrats" very
satisfying, even in concrete situations but especially in the abstract.

if "what [your] trying to work through is a dynamic that helps me/us understand the ways in which we structurally reinforce the dynamic" i think that dynamic is precisely a negative dialectic (in adorno's sense: unresolvable, no aufhebung) of victim and victimizer.

investing one's psychic energies in the machinations of negative dialectics can be vey unhealthy.

t.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Hey man, I've been a bureaucrat before and probably will be one again. More than half of my friends are bureaucrats, so it's, like, not so abstract an example.


"being friendly is certainly one way, but so is being open and honest about one's anger."

Right. Shooting someone in the face is as violent as stabbing them in the back.

The point is to not be secretly angry. But being quietly angry is often what employment demands of us.

Or, to bring it back to the context of gender, passive-agression and covert hostility are traditinally "feminine" forms of behavior that reinforce and support blatantly violent patriarchal hierarchies.

A "negative dialectic (in adorno's sense: unresolvable, no aufhebung) of victim and victimizer" is, I think, what we have, yup. So what if we stopped imagining and talking about the world this way? Being a victim, especially if you're a good middle class white bougy woman like me, is a way of tacitly acknowledging that I think the victimizer is better off.

tmorange said...

so on some level then, we're all bureaucrats: and it's this generalized or generalizable level that i don't find useful personally. i'm not denying that actively and willfully taking on the position of victim could be useful, empowering (however fleetingly or not), etc for some. but my inclination is to assume that regardless of any acknowledged vicitimization (however tacit or not), in the face of the dialectic the vicitmizer will inevitably, even instantaneously, be worse off as well.

t.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

I feel like we're talking across each other, and I'm not sure why.

"but my inclination is to assume that regardless of any acknowledged vicitimization (however tacit or not), in the face of the dialectic the vicitmizer will inevitably, even instantaneously, be worse off as well."

Right--That's my _point_.
This is something that Feminists, especially, need to consider, write about, talk about. So far we're still focused on either being victims or victimizers--this also allows us to talk about guilt. A lot.

I'm certainly not advocating actively taking on the position of victim. But I am trying to consiter circumstances behavior traditionally performed by victims (covert agression, passive agression)is valued because _actively contributes maintaining structures of opression_.

Whew!

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Yikes, let me fill in my typos from that last paragraph.

I'm certainly not advocating actively taking on the position of victim. But I am trying to consider circumstances in which behavior traditionally performed by victims (covert agression, passive agression)is valued precisely because it _actively contributes maintaining structures of opression_.