Taggin up Blackboard with codemesh

this is what I’ve been doing in my class this quarter–destroying Dominant discourse one day at at time. Enjoy! (also, it may be obvious that I have no warm feelings for Blackboard; are the days upon me where I can just post my weekly blah here? sigh.) Let it be known that this is the first post I’ve received a 100% on for this prof–ever. Proud moment, and it is in codemesh no less! :D

 

Hola amigas! Today we’re going to talk codemesh. During our last class discussion, I was hoping that at least one of us would mention having trouble reading Young’s piece, and I am wondering if any of you did. My “culture” is very similar to Young’s in a lot of ways, mostly because of where I grew up and where I went to school. So I didn’t have any problems reading it or understanding what he says. However, I wanted to know if anyone in our class had trouble with it because, maybe, some of you had never heard or seen his use of language before. Did any of you?

 

 Though I am of Mexican descent and fluent in theoretical discourse, I struggled the most with Villanueva. That didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy every word in his piece, but I found it more difficult than Young’s. And this kinda stumped me for a minute. Then it got me thinking. Here we are talking discourses and (D)iscourse, looking at two pieces that blend them all together, yet have completely different styles, as well as readability. Not only do they have these differences between each other as writers, but I started wonderin if they project these differences differently for every reader.

 

 Need me to explain myself?

 

 Check this: can you all help me out? I like me a good codemesh; I think it’s the most beautiful type of writing I’ve ever read. As a rhetor and a sometimes pretend linguist, I dig uses of language no matter the discourses—for the function of them. That’s what I do, and why I’m here. So this makes me curious of the way language is functioning to those of us interacting with it—rhetoric. Here is an example of some good codemesh from Sublime’s song “Caress Me Down”:

 

Sus padres sus padres me trataron matar

 

But they did not get [too] far

 

Un poco después tuve que regresar

 

Con un chingo de dinero ‘cause you know I’m a star

 

Yo fui a Costa Rica para comer y sufriar

 

Practicaba con la raza ‘cause they know who we are

 

Si no le diό cuenta and I bet you never will

 

You must be a muǹeca if you’re still standing still. (“http://www.lyricsfreak.com/s/sublime/caress+me+down_20133080.html”)

 

 

 

This is the most inoffensive part of the song (if you see it translated, go with caution, haha). But it shows what Vershawn, Victor, and I are talking about: how multi-lingual uses of discourse can still be understood (sometimes with work) and be true to one’s own culture and heritage. And I know those of you that don’t know Spanish are askin me why I think this song is understandable because you don’t know what Sublime is saying. You’re going to Google translate, aren’t you?

 

 Hold up a minute. It is okay that you might not know what it says. It is okay that Victor and/or Young are hard to read. That’s kinda part of the point here with discourse. They’re making it a point—but in different, awesome ways. What’s the point, you wanna know!

 

 The point is that, for most of us (you’re one of us, admit it), reading all this stuff for our classes is usually hard. Sure, we read stuff that is easy and enjoyable; but, a lot of the time, it is difficult. Think back to reading Shakespeare or them Victorian poets. Dude, even Ezra Pound and Eliot are hard. We can talk theory and know Derrida, Foucault, even Plato—all those guys are hard to read. Do we give up? Eh, sometimes. Usually (and if we want to pass our classes), we wade through them, hoping our teachers help us out with them in lectures. Calling our friends to say, “Yo, I have no idea what dude said in this. Do you?” Yup, we get help, we reread, and we take whatever out of it we can, moving on to yet another difficult reading.

 

 Oh, and that’s where tutoring comes in. I had a lightbulb moment just now and it is pretty cool. I’m wonderin if we all embrace our languages—live and breathe them in our work and lives—how that relates to meaningful tutoring. Say there is this ideal writing center where tutors of all backgrounds, heritages, languages and good stuff hang out and work. Say this writing center is in an institution that respects these things about their students and employees (ah, utopic visions). Say a student is powerfully literate in a few discourses, but needs to up their mesh with academic (d)iscourse. Say they get to spend a tutoring session with a tutor that knows a thing or two about that whole meshing thing. Maybe, just maybe, they can talk what codemeshing in the institution means, and what kinds of language that student can create for whatever assignment is on the agenda at that moment. Don’t that sound a little nice? I think so, but I’m meshed already.

 

 To rewind the waxed utopic and get in the mindset of here and still-racist-now, I think we, as tutors, may still need to show the power of the codemesh to our students when they come not knowing what academic discourse is and what it wants to do to their writing and thinking. We may need to turn in pieces like this one here that makes a point, is grammatically incorrect in places, but pushes at the boundaries of what can be said versus what it will say. I am down to make sacrifices; I do with every paper at some point. And I still be passing my classes! Go figure. They ain’t kick me out yet (yet). But I need to know what y’all think about all this. Does it make sense to you? Are you offended by different types of difficult discourse? Because I know I get mad at Derrida all the time. I may live in that man’s collar (another class, another BB post), but he still don’t talk like me. Though, I’m learning how to talk like him so I can tell other people, “Dude is hard, yep. But here he says _______. And that’s kinda cool once you figure it out. Took me six times to read that piece.” I’ll take as many as it needs if that’s what it takes. 

The beginning-makings of a thesis…

Below is a Blackboard post I made for my Marxist theory course last fall where I began thinking critically about a way we project our identities in the Internet. I use a quote from Bertolt Brecht to think this up. As a moment of reflection for where I’ve come to where I am now in my scholarship on composed cyborg identities, this is a fun look back.

45

This technique allows the theatre to make use of its representations of the new social-scientific method known as dialectical materialism. In order to unearth society’s laws of motion this method treats social situations as processes, and traces out all their inconsistencies. It regards nothing as existing except in so far as it changes, in other words is in disharmony with itself. This also goes for those human feelings, opinions and attitudes through which at any time the form men’s life together finds expression. (Brecht 122)

Here Brecht does something we’ve found lacking from the Marxist theorists we’ve read so far: praxis. Not only does he detail this term in light of the conditions of theatre, but he establishes a way to look at our social situations in the current—in the now. To question the processes of our thinking and our feelings, we employ dialectical materialism to see ourselves under the masks of time/space. These masks have evolved and re-plastered them upon others; that is why a study of ‘ historical conditions’ is necessary. To unearth the exergue is to study the process, thus the meaning of them as they pertain to our situation now. Am I lost in thinking this? I’m wondering if this is why Brecht encourages the alienation of the audience, enabling them to see their intellect in new ways. Some of you have commented on 40, and I think this is an especially evocative move in his “ Organum” because he details the move theatre should make, and the effects of such moves. We are certainly emphatically invited to question our standing amongst the masks. This gets me thinking about ourselves as masks of individuality.

As we don avatars in the space of social networks and in our dress (note my comment to Bryan’s post “ Film” from last week for a bit on this), we create forms of ourselves that alternate our current reality. Are these lies? Are these simply theatrical masks? Who are we really underneath the things we say online? I rarely have a hard time realizing that there is a person behind the image and the text they put forth, though there is a distance to speaking one’s “mind” online from what they would say IRL. I’m moved to question the relationship between the two, and how this either undercuts or emphasizes Brecht’ s theory. I’m thinking I see a disharmony about.

 

For context, here is the comment I had made on Bryan’s post from the week before (hey Bryan :D). I miss this class. Anyway, here it is: Take a look on any social site, and you can see it at play—or even around our campus. Everywhere we glance, a person is a walking advertisement of a brand, label, or “aesthetic.” Down to the bump-it coif and the Ed Hardy pattern, so many of the people in our culture assign themselves the role of canvas; I am endemic to this myself. This is the transformation of the superstructure upon every living act we make. And it has completely infiltrated our society. These markers of brands classify us. They project our identity for us. The days are gone when clothes are tailored for us; rather they tailor an aesthetic representation upon us. Reproduction has taken over. And, if we are to adopt Benjamin’s optimism, we need to revolt through the representation of ourselves. But how? Certainly my Doc Martins, ripped blue jeans, and band t-shirt says “revolt” as any ol’ punk rocker will tell you. Not really. That, too, has been branded as an aesthetic. Nothing we do is original or special, which explains why the original art has become so fetishized. If we keep yearning for the source of something—anything—we forget what representation—simulation—looks like. There are positives and negatives to this. Yet, I wonder how much is at stake in the optimism, or, for goodness sake, the pessimism.

Placing Space in an Idea: […]

Disclaimer (or whatever): Apparently this falls under some sort of graduate-level publishing dealie. Feel free to use, copy/paste, or retain; I love a good share. However, those academic forces are aware of this being where it professionally was first. yada yada ;-)

 

A “move,” in Swales’s system, can be understood as a “direction” in which the text proceeds to make its point, and when you look at the moves in the texts you read, you will be able to construct a map that will help you navigate…Reading rhetorically means that you read a text not only to understand what it says, but also to discern how it works—that is, how the writer structures the text and uses language to communicate ideas and influence readers. ~Irene L. Clark

           

What is a move but the weaving through narrative—story arcs, Freytag triangles, passive and confrontational audience construction. Moves are the spaces between places. We begin to interplay—connect—with a text the moment we look at it, and read how it is dressed. Every text dresses itself in exergue[1]: the layers of meaning we see, but also proscribe. Etching its way through the text, the exergue gathers itself in petticoats, inscriptions, and perfunctory, material properties; all of these carry individual meanings upon not just the text, but each word and phrase. To see the moves—to read rhetorically—is to disrobe the exergue. To read is to see a text not for what it is, but also what it could be. We can get underneath the layers of dress to glean meaning, see what is not being said. It is only after reading a text fully, rhetorically, do we see the ways it is working to bring us definition, modes of thought we may otherwise had not seen. To read is to see. To read rhetorically is to move. And move we must, for how else are we to go forth on our own, asking: where are we going?

            We are moving for the sake of movement—for the meaning of it. And what does that mean exactly? It means that we can never really know where we are going until we see where we are. Returning to the exergue, and to moves, we begin again and again at the text; the text contextualizes where we are. The text is our map.

            The map is a step—a step I ask you to take with me. Here we are, on this path in a garden. Is it well-manicured or completely disheveled? Let’s decide it has moments of both. Trees tower above us, their leaves dancing in the spotlights of sun. We see a bench up ahead, and that seems like a nice place to stop once we take a small walk. The grass is damp; it must have rained last night, so the dew condenses on everything, making the flowers glisten, the lamb’s ear mottled. We each put a foot down on the flat stones checkering the pathway to the chaise. Our map has been laid; we have a direction, but only so far. From there, we will not know where else to go. Each stone is a move toward—forward…

 

In his family, talk was used for connecting; in mine, talk was often examined and critiqued for ethnic and class markers in order to assimilate, to get ahead. ~Nancy M. Grimm

           

We had both started, but couldn’t agree on our purpose. You wanted desperately to get to the chaise, and I just saw it as a bench wet with rain. Dominant as only rain can be. It would soak my clothes, leaving its mark on me for hours, possibly. I liked the way I looked. I wanted to go past the rest, push myself into the dense woods. Were you going to stay behind, or would you go with me? I guess we’ll have to see; it’ll take movement to move.

            Another step in, and our breaths are even, matched, harmonious. The stones did not shudder, nor did they give way. Birds are chirping. The breeze brings sweet grass to our inhalations.

 

There is a code or a program—a rhetoric, if you will—for every discourse on metaphor: following custom, in the first place… ~Derrida

 

Was that Derrida in the cloud overhead? Shadows downed upon our heads; we looked at each other, bright-eyed wonder.

            “This must mean rain!” you gasped. I grasped your hand, held it tight, smiled.

            “No, it is just me, seeing something right here, in the place we both see, and have named different things.”

 

Each time a rhetoric defines metaphor, not only is a philosophy implied, but also a conceptual network in which philosophy itself has been constituted. ~Derrida

 

            So you see, my friend, for all our language, our discourses may very well be doing different things—seeing life in different ways. Those leaves are green to me, as they are to you. But is our green the same? Can we ever know? Your brow ever-perplexed, doubting yet daring, upturned into a smile to match mine, and we walked on holding hands. A few moves more, steps are what we are moving for. We each saw a ~~crack~~ in every stone, upturning them, and laying them on their upsides down. Echoes of voice seeped through earthen gaps; they resonated in mineral shades, flecks of fool’s gold prettier than everyday pebbles even in this shade. We looked up as the cloud floated past, taking his questions with him, letting the sun shine for us a few more. Somewhere, afar, Hendrix called out like never before.

 

We will guide the light / This time with a woman in our arms / We as men / Can’t explain the reason why / the woman’s always mentioned / At the moment that we die / All we know / Is God is by our side, / And he says the word / So easy yet so hard / I wish not to be alone / So I must respect my other heart…

 

            It had been so easy, getting ourselves this far. We made this quest fun, hopping on rock after rock—each question a spot on which to jump. You laughed; I giggled; we enjoyed every turn. But here we were: you fitting to sit down, and take a rest; me with a yearn to go on, perhaps a few paces more. Our turns through these moves turned now upon us. Your face screamed hurt! Why wouldn’t I stop here with you?

            “Oh, but I need to press on,” I pleaded.

            “But there’s room here for you. We’ve made it, you see, for people like you.”

            “Take care, friend. Benches, where I come from, aren’t built quite like those. Where yours are wrought in iron, ours woven with wood.” But I didn’t really know where I was from. I let go of your hand, but not before pressing lightly into your pulse. An “I love you” impressed in memory, for my sight looked out.

 

Out here there are no stars; out here, we is stoned immaculate. ~Jim Morrison

           

            I sought to align with the margins, but that meant forgetting all-too-certain lines. Our fingers slipped from each other’s. Released grasp. It was here that I noted—annotated—that in each raindrop covering the ground shines an in-between. Spaces between places. And when the light shines just right, the prisms collect in the ‘empty’, and refract off each other. There is color in the nothing. And maybe, just maybe, the nothing isn’t nothing at all. That was when I finally saw me: every one that never had a say before. Here they were speaking to the no one that was listening as they engraved benches in the sand.

            Standing at the edge of the perimeter—tall and unwavering—their gaze was warm, fixed. Everything about it said ‘just’ defiance. Not one thing about it said weakness. I trembled, but never blinked. My stare knew this look well; it was the one that frightened you at times. Speaking of you, my eyes broke away to steal another glance your way. Your eyes were closed; your rest complete. I grinned at your peaceful grace, then I made a choice. Darting off into companioned horizon, finding solace in the Martian castles Bradbury so desperately and horrifically saw destroyed, I clasped hands with a pen, and rewrote our end: beginning. 

 

Writing, thus conceived, is both a way of knowing and acting, a way of understanding the world and also changing it. ~ Bruce McComiskey

             

            This act of reading hyper-moves within itself; it whittles the exergue down, but that is not simply enough. It takes a courage, and a question to move away from moving—to meaning-making. New language needs horizontalism, and one striving, striking question: “What does it mean to be a human being?” (Boggs). The last (and the first) move quests toward one act: response. Because we all have a voice that speaks to be heard. That is always where we were going. The exergue unearths itself right when we need it most.

 

Works Cited

Boggs, Grace Lee, Daniel Levine, and Kevin Schunenberg    . “Occupy Wall Street Radio.” WBAI Archives for Occupy Wall Street Radio. WBAI.org. WBAI-FM and the Pacifica Foundation. 16 Apr. 2012. Radio.

Clark, Irene L. Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: Entering the Conversation. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. “The Ellipsis of the Sun.” Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984. Print. 230-245.

Doors, The. “When the Music’s Over.” Strange Days. Elektra, 1985. CD.

Hendrix. Jimi. “The Story of Life.” LyricsFreak.com. LyricsFreak, 2012. Web. 16 Apr. 2012.

McComiskey, Bruce. Teaching Composition as a Social Process. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2000. Print.


[1]  Derrida defines the exergue as everything “outside the work,” but also as “referring to the space on a coin or medal reserved for an inscription” (209). 

Insinuation

unintended, but odd correlation to my poem. Short, direct, and of purpose. Stated.

Anarchist Without Content

Neither the politics of persuasion nor a presentation of facts. (The forms of rhetoric used by republikans and demokrats, respectively.) Rather, we propose insinuation as our form of political communication. Insinuation does not build the party, it spreads like a virus that mutates as it interacts with every new host. It brings about revolutions, yet not a revolution patterned after the swift seizure of the state, but a path that follows the strange drift of aesthetic revolutions — sometimes sudden, and at other times, a slow drift.

By persuasion we mean the art of bringing someone to your side. In our world, the lines in the sand disappeared long ago. There are friends, enemies, allies, and foes inside every one of us. Some paranoiacs try to draw lines for the rest of us to follow, but the result is always the same: infighting descends and people start striking too close to…

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signals

Been searching for the place between things,

spaces amongst boundaries,

holes within limits,

all my life.

Now I am here–

the silence middling speech and thought;

what was said, 

and what has not.

Hoveled in this language

they murder with use every day.

Choice used sparingly

tired

of lies, implies, and smiles.

If we aren’t what we say,

then who are we today?

Resigned to tomorrows,

tomorrow’s futures

denied.

The voices your pitch

catches

and wanes like the mirror

splashes with hope,

and promises,

but I know they ain’t meant for me.

Growing listless–

listless growth–

apologies accepted

in the ashen of smoke.

Turn this inhalation

outward,

for all the dear poets

know

speech is what we hear

when there’s no place else to go. 

 

I always leave my mentor’s office recharged, made painfully–luckily–aware of the purpose of my journey in composition. Over the last few years, I’ve been so grateful to have the people come into my life that have. These people are mostly women, a decade or so older than me, and much more wise than I ever think I’ll be.

Growing up for me meant teaching myself all I know. Sometimes without a home, always without coherent parents, I grasped at straws. I saw things for what they had to be. I dared dreams in my sleep and the countless pages of the journals that kept me sane.

One day my dad showed up after years of a cocaine haze, wanting to know why I never followed any rules. (there were rules?) He wanted to make me normal. Throwing the beer can I was guzzling from my hand, he thought consternation was going to be a weapon. I mocked his face, for that was all the value that man possessed.

“You don’t even know what cereal I used to like. You know nothing.”

He took me to some therapist’s office. She was nice and everything, but I wasn’t talking. My dad thought he was smart; he gave her my first journal. A black and white composition book full of my scratchy poetry and thirteen-year-old angst.  I saw it leave his hands and go to hers. My pieces of me were going somewhere I hadn’t permitted them to go.

You may take my words, but not my guile.

I smiled at them. Then I turned around and sat down in the falsely comfortable chair. A page or two in, the therapist told my dad to leave. He looked like pure indignant fury. Was my smirk apparent?

She drifted into her chair slowly, eyes never leaving the pages. I was bare, barely bare. I was in those pages in ways I wasn’t even sure of. She kept reading and reading. I don’t know how long it took. I kept thinking that I wished I could write down what was happening so I knew what I was thinking later. Feeling. Whatever I do, did.

“You’re a poet.” she whispered looking straight into my eyes. They were soft, calm, and sincere. I didn’t say anything, just kept my eyes on hers. “How long have you been hurting? Always, huh?” That wasn’t really a question. It was one of those affirmation things. I nodded anyway.  This lady was probably alright. “Let’s get your dad back in here.” –fuck, maybe not.

He came in, haughtiness recovered. “She’s crazy, right? Suicidal. I knew it.”

“Actually, sir, she’s perfectly fine. Her poetry says it all. But you might want to think about how to be parent. Your girl here, she has been doing it far too long.”

Temporal Trees, oh, and me.

I kept looking down at my fingertips, drumming them on the edge of my dress. Beating the mint green lace to the tune I have never actually heard. In a room full of people, gazing through pleated glass–wishing there was more outside inside.

But my reality was that time was no longer the same; it didn’t speak the same way to me as it used to. Everyone sat there eating, enjoying each other. They were genuine and happy. I was not absent; I was there. But in so many ways, time kept telling me something else:

“come forth, move.” And many more indistinguishable things.

I laughed at the idea of the daily. Tomorrow is surely Monday. But what’s in a date? What is in a year? The days don’t make it. Not the months.

The memories.

Why do the number of days matter? Do they bind us to each other?

Maybe that’s it. Maybe it is me that finally feels released. Time is another something else. The sun doth turn; turns us; turns itself. But these minutes to click, they aren’t counting to watch. We are. Those things make us take note and check our habits:

“I wasted an hour doing…”

Snooze another few moments away.

Away from what? Put things off. Do too much too soon. And why?

So I drum my thoughts onto myself, imprint them on lace. Time telling me that me and time got this thing going on. We aren’t dancing in years–machinations of to-dos. Time knows I count on other things. Not my fingers, they’re still drumming at my dress. Time knows the timing of my keys. The placemat inscribed on jeans.

Their seconds counted and counted. My checkbook misses the stroke of my pen; it reminds me of day and date. I didn’t have the time; I missed it. I “missed” it by being sometime else.

My gaze was up, marking the waves in the sky for every shade of eyelash. They weren’t much alone, just strands. Then again, a lot can be said in a glance.

They see me lost in the sky: airheaded:

“She’s changed.” “She’s not the same.”

And I am. I started seeing time as just another language my dialect needed to tune. A bright moment in the night; how starlights are really suns stuck in the far away.

The trees never ask for anything. They stand around me, growing proof time speaks all things strange to those that live off rain.

 

Acknowledging Expectations: Derrida, Alexander Blok, the Trickster, and…Anonymous?

Now is the time; the time to change my discourse is now. I’ve been holding back on things for months. I do this a lot. Sometimes it is because I’m not sure exactly how I feel about something, and I never want to do a topic an injustice by speaking of it before I’m ready. Other times, I know the rhetorical situation is not clear, and the dust needs to settle before the people left standing might listen to what I say.

This moment is the first. I’m pretty sure most of the people I know are not quite ready for the leap I’m going to make, but I’m making it anyway.

I left you all with a post on identity politics and how our social construct frames our selves into pre-ordained boxes. Then I posted “The Twelve” by Alexander Blok, the Russian poet. I did this because of Evgeny Morozov’s (@evgenymorozov) comment on Twitter this morning: “Anyway, why compare Anonymous to The Weatherman rather than the Red Brigade.” This was a direct reference to Yochai Benkler’s article, “Hacks of Valor” from yesterday. I was immediately intrigued, and made all sorts of revolutionary connections based simply on the color red. Morozov clearly meant the movement in Italy, but I went north. I tend to do that.

So I flung myself into my gradschool readings file bin, and dug up the Blok poem, knowing it had no reference to the Red Brigade, but there were 12 “revolutionaries” in it; and, hey, the academic world needs more revolt talk, I think. We’re gonna start with Blok.

Leon Trotsky (you are all forewarned: my two favorite men of all time, Trotsky and Derrida, are in this post. Fetish must prevail.) discusses Blok’s work:

Blok’s symbolism was a reflection of this immediate and disgusting environment. A symbol is a generalized image of a reality. Blok’s lyrics are romantic, symbolic, mystic, formless, and unreal. But they presuppose a very real life with definite form and relationships. Romantic symbolism is only a going away from life, in the sense of an abstraction from its concreteness, from individual traits, and from its proper names; at bottom, symbolism is a means of transforming and sublimating life. Blok’s starry, stormy, and formless lyrics reflect a definite environment and period, with its manner of living, its customs, its rhythms, but outside of this period, they hang like a cloud-patch.

Trotsky effortlessly pulls off his Marxist chops in this moment. Not only does he understand the inherent problem with all theory—reification—, but he turns it on its head. Trotsky deconstructs the Marxist problematic of taking something abstract, and making it concrete. But hold on to that. To reify any abstraction is a risky venture, one you’ll see play out here in a moment.

The thing[ness] with “The Twelve” is that red became their symbolic identity. Blok’s poem only slightly echoes this throughout, mostly at the end. Though the color red is always implied, in the blood and the terror that sits in the back of the mind as one reads the poem, knowing not much good will happen. Red, of course, has been associated with communism for decades upon decades. Trotsky dissects “The Twelve” and Blok’s style; he focuses on Blok’s chaos and difficulty in dealing with religion. And while this is all critical and quality theoretical analysis, Trotsky’s one comment here in light of what is my own turn makes something infinitely more beautiful, more everlasting that this one poem does alone. Shall we go on?

The climate and environment of today is not one of a red Russia. We are embroiled in a much more inanimate state where things are not as clean-cut and forward as they have been in the past. Fascism and inequality were part of many political structures in what a friend  @sargoth calls ‘The Old World.’ Lines were easy to see; revolution was ripe and prime. People were starving and ready to fight for bread. (Have you all read Mother Courage? I suggest it.)

And times are different, naturally. Err. Or not. Maybe it is just all pleasant on the Western front. Err…or something. I’m going out onto my ledge here, and declaring a stance. It is not all pleasant now. Times are not so different. But the major difference between now and then is the loss of borders.

With the Internet, we do not have boundaries between people. For instance, I am going to rush through this post so that I can translate a new friend’s blog from Swedish to readable English because it’s there, and she’s amazing (hi!). This is our new world—a world where I can make genuine connections with people anywhere simply by having a common interest or language.

All fun and nerding aside, this world has a pain: itself. The Western front has been seeking to control our interconnected world by appropriating the Internet. Think of SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, and CISPA as just some controlling mechanisms of many. And in these times, we the people have so little ground to stand on in which to say something back to these controlling mechanisms.

Ah, but I was just kinda wrong right then. We do have ground.

Yochai Benkler’s “Hacks of Valor” defines Anonymous as something/someone(s) extraordinary in the ways of abstraction and concrete reality. Yup, I’m going to hang out with Benkler, and we’re going to reify Anonymous in some interesting ways. Are you ready? Buckle up, buttercups.

I haven’t been completely aware of what Anonymous is. I had ideas, heard stuff, but had never really had a conversation with anyone about it/them. It’s taken scattered bits to know whatever little I do know. But now I’ve read Benkler’s article, and found it explained Anonymous in relatively accessible fashion. Benkler says,

Anonymous is not an organization. It is an idea, a zeitgeist, coupled with a set of social and technical practices. Diffuse and leaderless, its driving force is “lulz”—irreverence, playfulness, and spectacle. It is also a protest movement, inspiring action both on and off the Internet, that seeks to contest the abuse of power by governments and corporations and promote transparency in politics and business. Just as the antiwar movement had its bomb-throwing radicals, online hacktivists organizing under the banner of Anonymous sometimes cross the boundaries of legitimate protest. But a fearful overreaction to Anonymous poses a greater threat to freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation than any threat posed by the disruptions themselves. (“Valor”)

I see some Marxist discourse in this statement too. Debord anyone? Further than that, Benkler defines Anonymous for those of us that do not understand what the ‘idea’ is. Admittedly, I had no idea what a DDoS attack consists of; my literacy of such discourse now has a general idea based on Benkler’s description. But I notice that he explains Anonymous as an identity I, myself, have a good deal of knowledge of: the Trickster.

In my field of study, composition, we know of the Trickster from Native American literature and how this identity is an inherent creative force in our field. Scholars in Everyday Writing Center  say this of the Trickster:

Trickster crosses both physical and social boundaries; Trickster is often a traveler, and he frequently breaks societal rules, blurring connections and distinctions between “right and wrong, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, male and female, young and old, living and dead” (Hyde 7), changing shape (turning into an animal, for example) to move between worlds. (15)

To recognize Anonymous as an idea, then to see the identities of Anonymous on the Internet, throws us into the realization that the Trickster isn’t a far leap of definition. Oddly, and like I’ve promised, this is a form of reification of Anonymous’ identity. I don’t suggest that we concretize what I refer to as “my favorite unidentified gentlemen” (by simply referring to them as all gentlemen even limits the idea of Anonymous.) The idea of Anonymous is what counts. No matter what shape the liminal identities within Anonymous take—as chaotic and disorderly as that need be—the idea remains the same. EWC goes on, “Trickster figures are impossible to package, manage, school, or concretize. In some ways, then, they personify chaos, the disorderly order inherent in all systems” (16).  So we see that like Tricksters, Anonymous is a native, inherent identity in the Internet. When one resorts to attempting to pin them down, either by singling out a person, a SEC, or a single DDoS attack, they are missing the idea. Something more significant—more symbolic—is at play.

Benkler points this out: “This is power—a species of power that allows millions of people, often in different countries, each of whom is individually weak, to surge in opposition to a given program or project enough to shape the outcome. In this sense, Anonymous has become a potent symbol of popular dissatisfaction with the concentration of political and corporate power in fewer and fewer hands” (“Valor”). The idea is the symbol. We can note the Guy Fawkes masks (as much as that intones); we can fear the idea of hacking (nevermind how prevalent this is in the very institutions that decry outrage over hacking); we can laugh them off for their lulz (often missing how satirical and breathtakingly smart some of their tricks actually are); or we can take a deeper look at what the idea symbolizes. I think Benkler gets at this, teaches us what Anonymous means. Right on this blog I’ve expressed some of my own dissatisfaction with certain governments, laws, and cultures that restrict human identities. Have I erred for doing so? You may or may not think so. Thankfully, I still have the right to say such things without suffering repercussion—for now. And that is it right there…

Why are we in a world where we cannot say the things we think? I am writing this with a tinge of fear: who is reading this (heyyyyyy ya’ll), and in what ways is this being positioned in some file to be possibly used against me for whatever reason the institution sees fit. Because disseminating information is problematic these days. I am liable to be associated with my thoughts, no matter how lasting they may be. (Be sure to give my file a nice, pretty little sticker on it to cheer me up when you smack me in the face with it, will ya?)

Benkler addresses how Anonymous is not the ever-feared boogeyman of our nightmares. The idea is what he calls “retaliation for [the] perceived abuse of power” (“Valor”). When drafts of legislation like CISPA come out, proliferating that there is a cyber threat of such huge magnitude that we need to sign over what is left of our Constitutional Rights to the Intelligence Community in order to protect ourselves, I begin to wonder about what is actually scary in this world. Benkler gives us more ground on the idea:

The political nature of these targets demonstrates why it is patently wrong to see Anonymous purely as a cyberthreat. Opinions about the justifiability of any given attack may differ, either because of the target or because of its form. The main challenge becomes one of deciding who gets to set the boundaries of legitimate protest…But surely there must be a place for civil disobedience and protest that is sufficiently disruptive to rouse people from complacence. (“Valor”)

I’ve ellipsed some good stuff out. Heck, I’d quote the whole piece if I could. But you all can read it for yourselves; I’ll post the link below in my mock-cited. So this is the deal with the idea. All fear of Anonymous comes from the target. If you’re messing with the idea, the idea will expose your ideology. The idea will make you transparent. Of course this is frightening—if you have something to hide. And this is why they blur the “[boundary] of legitimate protest”: to expose what is not ready-made there. Oddly, in a democratic society, this should not be an issue. Democracy is an invisible process. But we’re talking neither here, nor there, for that is not what our society is…

And Benkler gives us more: “Perhaps that is the greatest challenge that Anonymous poses: It both embodies and expresses a growing doubt that actors with formal authority will make decisions of greater legitimacy than individuals acting collectively in newly powerful networks and guided by their own consciences” (“Valor”). Oh my. This is what it is. Once people have begun to question the legitimacy of certain authorities, they become enacted individuals within a network of questioning, all fueled by their own ethics. I may draw a broad association of syntax here, but does to have doubt of the legitimacy of such “formal authority” mean that one has embodied within the “newly powerful network”? What a turn of identity made via quest.

I’m taking us on a turn now into another ellipsis. Derrida knows a thing or two about hiding, the hidden and abstraction. The man did sort of identify what is not there in philosophy. Anyway, enough running my fingers through his hair. I’ll just quote his “Ellipsis of the Sun” at length:

One knows or one does not know, one can or one cannot. The ungraspable is certainly a genius for perceiving the hidden resemblance, but it is also, consequently, the capacity to substitute one term for another. The genius of mimesis, thus, can give rise to a language, a code of regulated substitutions, the talent and procedures of rhetoric, the imitation of genius, the mastery of the ungraspable. Henceforth, am I certain that everything can be taken from me except the power to replace? For example, that which is taken from me by something else? Under what conditions would one always have one more trick, one more turn, up one’s sleeve, in one’s sack? One more seed? And would the sun always be able to sow? (Derrida 244-45)

You see what I’ve done here. I am going to resist explicating Derrida, and I’ll leave him to sit with you and your thoughts. What I will say is that I am implying –symbolising—a correlation between two forces in our current state of state. We are at work to appropriate something that will never be controlled by legislation for its nature is ungraspable: the Internet. We are at play in the Internet always. Every time we log on to say hello to someone, to check our email, to post where we are eating lunch, we are connecting with each other. This is the idea. This is rhetorical interaction with discourse. The idea needn’t, nay it cannot, be confined to one definition. The mimesis is in what we each, individually expect the Internet to do. In turn, the Internet can and will decide what to do with us. It’s kinda like sunshine that way—it shines whether we go outside or not.

Benkler, Yochai. “Hacks of Valor: Why Anonymous is Not a Threat to National Security.” ForeignAffairs. The Council of Foreign Relations, Inc. 4 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 Apr. 2012 <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137382/yochai-benkler/hacks-of-valor >

Derrida, Jacques. “The Ellipsis of the Sun.” Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984. Print. 230-245.

Geller, Anne Ellen, Michele Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, and Elizabeth H. Boquet. The Everyday Writing Center: A Community of Practice. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2007. Print.

Trotsky, Leon. “Alexander Blok.” Literature and Revolution. (yep, that’s all I got. This book is accessible though—how are ya MLA police?)

“The Twelve”

by Alexander Blok

1

Darkness—and white

Snow hurled

By the wind. The wind!

You cannot stand upright

For the wind: the wind

Scouring God’s world.

The wind ruffles

The white snow, pulls

That treacherous

Wool over the wicked ice.

Everyone out walking

Slips. Look—poor thing!

From building to building over

The street a rope skips nimble,

A banner on the rope:

ALL POWER TO THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY.

This old weeping woman is worried to death,

She doesn’t know what it’s all about:

That banner—for God’s sake—

So many yards of cloth!

How many children’s leggings it would make—

And they without shirts—without boots…

The old girl like a puffed hen picks

Her way between drifts of snow.

“Mother of God, these Bolsheviks

Will be the death of us, I know!”

Will the frost never lose its grip

Or the wind lay its whips aside?

The bourgeois where the roads divide

Stands chin on chest, his collar up.

But who’s this with the mane

Of hair, saying in a whisper:

“They’ve sold us down the river.

“Russia’s down and out!”

A pen-pusher, no doubt,

A word-spinner…

There’s someone in a long coat, sidling

Over there where the snow’s less thick.

“What’s happened to your joyful tidings,

Comrade cleric?”

Do you remember the old days:

Waddling belly-first to prayer,

When the cross on your belly would blaze

On the faithful there?…

A lady in a fur

Is turning to a friend:

“We cried our eyes out, dear…”

She slips up—

Smack!—on her beam end.

Heave ho

And up she rises—so!

The wind rejoices,

Mischievous and spry,

Ballooning dresses

And skittling passersby.

It buffets with a shower

Of snow the banner cloth:

ALL POWER TO THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY,

And carries voices.

…”Us girls had a session…

…In there on the right…

…Had a discussion—

Carried a motion:

Ten for a time, twenty-five for the night…

…And not a ruble less from anybody…

…Coming to bed…?”

Evening ebbs out.

The crowds decamp.

Only a tramp

Potters about.

And the wind screams…

Hey you! Hey

Chum,

Give us a kiss…?

A crust!

What will become

Of us? Get lost!

Black sky grows blacker.

Anger, sorrowful anger

Seethes in the breast…

Black anger, holy anger…

Friend! Keep

Your eyes skinned!

2

The wind plays up: snow flutters down.

Twelve men are marching through the town.

Their rifle butts on black slings sway.

Lights left, right, left, wink all the way…

Cap tilted, fag drooping, every one

Looks like a jailbird on the run!

Freedom, freedom,

Down with the cross!

Rat-a-tat-tat!

It’s cold, boys, and I’m numb!

“Johnny and Kate are living it up…”

“She’s bank notes in her stocking top!”

“John’s in the money, too, and how!”

“He was one of us; he’s gone over now!”

“Well, Mister John, you son of a whore,

Just you kiss my girl once more!”

Freedom, freedom,

Down with the cross!

Rat-a-tat-tat!

It’s cold, boys, and I’m numb

“Johnny and Kate are living it up…”

“She’s bank notes in her stocking top!”

“John’s in the money, too, and how!”

“He was one of us; he’s gone over now!”

“Well, Mister John, you son of a whore,

Just you kiss my girl once more!”

Freedom, freedom

Down with the cross!

Johnny right now is busy with Kate.

What do you think they’re busy at?

Rat-a-tat-tat!

Lights left, right, left, lights all the way…

Rifles on their shoulders sway…

Keep a Revolutionary Step!

The Relentless Enemy Will Not Stop!

Grip your gun like a man, brother!

Let’s have a crack at Holy Russia—

Mother

Russia

With her big, fat arse!

Down with the cross!

3

The lads have all gone to the wars

To serve in the Red Guard—

To serve in the Red Guard—

And risk their hot heads for the cause!

Hell and damnation,

Life is such fun

With a ragged greatcoat

And a Jerry gun!

To smoke the nobs out of their holes

We’ll light a fire through all the world,

A bloody fire through all the world—

Lord, bless our souls!

4

The blizzard whirls; a cabby shouts;

Away fly Johnny and Kate with a ‘lectric lamp

Between the shafts…

Hey there, look out!

He’s in an army overcoat,

A silly grin upon his snout.

He’s twirling a mustachio,

Twirling it about,

Joking as they go…

Young Johnny’s a mighty lover

With a gift of gab that charms!

He takes silly Kate in his arms,

He’s talking her over…

She throws her head back as they hug

And her teeth are white as pearl…

Ah, Kate, my Katey girl,

With your little round mug…

5

Across your collarbone, my Kate,

A knife has scarred the flesh;

And there below your bosom, Kate,

That little scratch is fresh!

Hey there, honey, honey, what

A lovely pair of legs you’ve got!

You carried on in lace and furs—

Carry on, dear, while you can!

You frisked about with officers—

Frisk about, dear, while you can!

Honey, honey, swing your skirt!

My heart is knocking at my shirt!

Do you remember that officer—

The knife put an end to him…

Do you remember that, you whore,

Or does your memory dim?

Honey, honey, let him be!

You’ve got room in bed for me!

Once upon a time you wore gray spats,

Scoffed chocolates in gold foil,

Went out with officer-cadets—

Now it’s the rank and file!

Honey, honey, don’t be cruel!

Roll with me to ease your soul!

6

…Carriage again and cabby’s shout

Come storming past: “Look out! Look out…”

Stop, you, stop! Help, Andy—here!

Cut them off, Peter, from the rear!…

Crack—crack—reload—crack—crack!

The snow whirls skyward off the road!…

Young Johnny and the cabman run

Like the wind. Take aim. Give them one!…

For the road. Crack—crack! Now learn

To leave another man’s girl alone!…

Running away, you bastard? Do.

Tomorrow I’ll settle accounts with you!

But where is Kate? She’s dead! She’s dead!

A bullet hold clean through her head!

Kate, are you satisfied? Lost your tongue?

Lie in the snowdrift then, like dung!

Keep a Revolutionary Step!

The Relentless Enemy Will Not Stop!

7

Onward the twelve advance,

Their butts swinging together,

But the poor killer looks

At the end of his tether…

Fast, faster, he steps out.

Knotting a handkerchief

Clumsily round his throat

His hand shakes like a leaf…

“What’s eating you, my friend?”

“Why so downhearted, mate?”

“Come, Pete, what’s on your mind?

Still sorry for Kate?”

“Oh, brother, brother, brother,

I loved that girl…

Such nights we had together,

Me and that girl…”

“For the wicked come-hither

Her eyes would shoot at me,

And for the crimson mole

In the crook of her arm,

I shot her in my fury—

Like the fool I am…”

“Hey, Percy, shut your trap!

Are you a woman?”

“Are you a man, to pour

Your heart out like a tap?”

“Hold your head up!”

“And take a grip!”

“This isn’t the time now

For me to be your nurse!

Brother, tomorrow

Will be ten times worse!”

And shortening his stride,

Percy slows his step…

Lifts his head

And brightens up…

What the hell!

It’s not a sin to have some fun!

Put your shutters up, I say—

There’ll be broken locks today!

Open your cellars: quick, run down…!

The scum of the earth are hitting the town!

8

God, what a life!

I’ve had enough!

I’m bored!

I’ll scratch my head

And dream a dream…

I’ll chew my cud

To pass the time…

I’ll swig enough

To kill my drought…

I’ll get my knife

And slit your throat!

Fly away, mister, like a sparrow,

Before I drink your blue veins dry

For the sake of my poor darling

With her dark and roving eye…

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord…

I’m bored!

9

Out of the city spills no noise,

The prison tower reigns in peace.

“We’ve got no booze but cheer up, boys,

We’ve seen the last of the police!”

The bourgeois where the roads divide,

Stands chin on chest, his collar up:

Mangy and flea-bitten at his side

Shivers a coarse-haired mongrel pup.

The bourgeois with a hangdog air

Stands speechless, like a question mark,

And the old world behind him there

Stands with its tail down in the dark.

10

Still the storm rages gust upon gust.

What weather! What a storm!

At arm’s length you can only just

Make out your neighbor’s form.

Snow twists into a funnel,

A towering tunnel…

“Oh, what a blizzard!…Jesus Christ!”

“Watch it, Pete, cut out the rot!

You fool, what did Christ and his cross

Ever do to the likes of us?

Look at your hands. Aren’t they hot

With the blood of the girl you shot?

Keep a Revolutionary Step?

The Enemy is Near and Won’t Let Up!”

Forward, and forward again

The working men!

11

…Abusing God’s name as they go,

All twelve march onward into the snow,

Prepared for anything,

Regretting nothing…

Their rifles at the ready

For the unseen enemy…

In back streets, side roads

Where only snow explodes

Its shrapnel, and through quag—

Mire drifts where the boots drag…

Before their eyes

Throbs a red flag.

Left, right,

The echo replies.

Keep your eyes skinned

Lest the enemy strike!

Into their faces day and night

Bellows the wind

Without a break…

Forward, and forward again

The working men!

12

…They march far on with sovereign tread…

“Who else goes there? Come out! I said

Come out!” It is the wind and the red

Flag plunging gaily at their head.

The frozen snowdrift looms in front.

“Who’s in the drift? Come out! Come here!”

There’s only the homeless mongrel runt

Limping wretchedly in the rear…

“You mangy beast, out of the way

Before you taste my bayonet.

Old mongrel world, clear off I say!

I’ll have your hide to sole my boot!”

…The shivering cur, the mongrel cur

bares his teeth like a hungry wolf,

droops his tail, but does not stir…

“Hey, answer, you there, show yourself.”

“Who’s that waving the red flag?”

“Try and see! It’s as dark as the tomb!”

“Who’s that moving at a jog

Trot, keeping to the back-street gloom?”

“Don’t you worry—I’ll catch you yet,

Better surrender to me alive!”

“Come out, comrade, or you’ll regret

It—we’ll fire when I’ve counted five!”

Crack—crack—crack! But only the echo

Answers from among the eaves…

The blizzard splits his seams, the snow

Laughs wildly up the whirlwind’s sleeve…

Crack—crack—crack!

Crack—crack—crack!

…So on they go with sovereign tread—

Behind them limps the hungry mongrel,

And wrapped in wild snow at their head

Carrying the flag blood-red—

Soft-footed in the blizzard’s swirl,

Invulnerable where bullets sliced—

Crowned with a crown of snowflake pearl,

In a wreath of white rose,

Ahead of them Christ Jesus goes.

[I typed this by hand from a copied version given to me by a professor from Trotsky’s book ‘Literature and Revolution’. I by no means own this text, nor reproduce it in any means that provide means to stipulate ownership.”]

“I shall stop with this anonymous text” ~ Foucault

Hello friends and readers! We set out here, starting with an agenda-based discussion on what it means to be a person, and how our society determines who we are. I shall begin this talk with a reference to a very emotional and beautifully tragic story of a man, Abdellah Taḯa, which will give us spark for a trajectory to purport a desperate need for real human rights. I will intentionally position this trajectory inside Foucault’s discussion of the caceral system. The point of this will encourage us to re-think why the world we live in collectively dictates—coerces—us into normalized identities. We are being imprisoned into our selves, and I shall argue this is so, but I want us to think of how to get out of our cages. For that, I will need your help.

 ∞

The story of Abdellah Taḯa is universal. He is someone who was informed by society how to be; he realized this after he was admonished for who he was. Growing up in Morocco as a gay child was a form of discrimination most of us cannot fathom—at least not in the same sense. (Though, I will soon argue that we all feel it). I ask that you read his story, and come back to me here. There are two reasons to ask this. One: it is best that you form your own judgments of what he says, noting how he frames his description and quest of self. Two: This will be a long post, and I feel it best to save time on presenting my own biased interpretation of his life. Here is Abdellah Taḯa speaking on his own behalf,

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/opinion/sunday/a-boy-to-be-sacrificed.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Abdellah%20Taia&st=cse

Thank you for taking the time to read that. I do appreciate the effort, care and participation you give me here with my words and my hopes. I may not know some of you; I may never even know if anyone even reads this. But I feel like saying this in this space is good—that it says something to say it. Moving on with you, my friends.

Foucault generated the notion of the carceral system to establish a critical stance on how we can approach our social construct. This social construct is based on Foucault’s notions of “Discipline” and “Punish[ment].” For him, it was the Mettray juvenile prison that imposed a new structure upon our society, one that deems us all normalized within it. This prison ideology has infiltrated every corresponding institution in our collective realities: schools, employment, the home, and even our social interactions (yep, Facebook is an institution). Within the walls of each confine, we are told how to act and how not to act. The notion of right and wrong define what we can and cannot do (what we can and cannot say). If not, we are punished. Foucault says,

The least act of disobedience is punished and the best way of avoiding serious offences is to punish the most minor offences very severely: at Mettray a useless word is punishable’; the principal punishment inflicted was confinement to one’s cell; for ‘isolation is the best means of acting on the moral nature of children. (1491)

The Mettray prison knew the vulnerable impressionability of children, and they exploited it. To create a social system based on punishing the most “minor” of “offences” meant that the larger ones just did not happen. In Abdellah’s case, this meant being himself. Walking his way, his “inflections” made him suspect. This is what led to that fateful event he details. But Abdellah never did anything absolutely wrong. He just was. For a child in this country, that was unacceptable; it meant punishment and isolation. He turned inward, which forced him to find a way to be someone else and deny who he really was.

I feel this happens to all of us at some point. I mean: haven’t we all experienced humiliation, and then shrunk inside to combat the pain? I have. Plenty. Have you? Please tell me. Or tell someone else if you’d like. Our stories of confinement are significant; they are who we are. And we are significant.

The (more) frightening part of the carceral society is that it makes itself justifiable. Once implemented, it is fully functioning as perfectly normal to admonish, punish, and violate in the name of rightness. Normal is what appropriates itself as a technological device:

But the supervision of normality was firmly encased in a medicine or a psychiatry that provided it with a sort of ‘scientificity’; it was supported by a judicial apparatus which, directly or indirectly, gave it legal justification. Thus, in the shelter of these two considerable protectors, and, indeed, acting as a link between them, or a place of exchange, a carefully worked out technique for the supervision of norms has continued to develop right up to the present day. (Foucault 1492)

I approach this in several ways. Mettray originated at a time when the Eugenics Movement ran rampant. This “science” deemed normal patterns of race and behavior into the legitimacy of the law because, well, we “needed” society to be better. This justified many an atrocity: sterilization, murder, discrimination, lack of funding for education. You name it; eugenics defined it. Well, eugenics decried a standard of normalcy. However, we must always beg the question: what is truly “normal”?

We often think of normal through what I call texts; the Bible, scientific literature, our family’s discourse, our friends’ discourses—all through what Foucault sees as institutional configurations. These are boxes we must check and be checked into to fit. Abdellah realized how ill he fit into one box, sexuality, though he fit into others. He says,

I no longer remember the child, the teenager, I was. I know I was effeminate and aware that being so obviously “like that” was wrong. God did not love me. I had strayed from the path. Or so I was made to understand. Not only by my family, but also by the entire neighborhood. And I learned my lesson perfectly. So deep down, I tell myself they won. This is what happened. (“Sacrificed”)

Though, as he states earlier, he loved his religion, his family, and his culture, these things no longer loved him back because he embodied one difference. One! Just one. And not checking into this box meant he would lose all the others—every single part of his existence that mattered to him. I ask this, now: can we blame him for ignoring this one thing about himself in order to keep all the others?

I cannot. The fact that he did, for me, shows his strength, his ethics, his commitment to his values in the face of adversity. Abdellah sacrificed a piece of who he was to be the rest of who he was. Abdellah gave up a piece of self. And what was the cost? How much does a part of the self weigh?. It seems Abdellah’s piece here is an attempt to recognize this value; what it matters to him is all that matters.

Foucault refers this value to a submission to power. He argues, “In the normalization of the power of normalization, in the arrangement of a power-knowledge over individuals, Mettray and its school marked a new era…But what is still more important is that it was homogenized, through the mediation of the prison, on the one hand with legal punishments and, on the other, with disciplinary mechanisms” (1493). Here I argue. The fact that institutions are the ones doing the normalizing means that normal is a concept determined by a select few. They impose this as “power-knowledge over individuals”. This is what appropriates all of us. In Abdellah’s case, normalization meant he needed to submit his sexual preference to denial, in order to exist with the other normals of his life. He admitted that this piece of his self was wrong, imprisoned it, and disciplined the rest of his self to homogenization.

I am beginning to wonder how effective this really is. Sure, I can say that we all must cage parts of our selves that are a detriment to society. But I ask this in deep earnestness: is Abdellah’s sexuality really harmful? In what ways? To whom is he hurting? If you take me up on these questions, I want your truth. Give it to me raw, brash and unabated. However, I ask you to consider how your truth reflects the carceral system, and where the ideas of what you think is normal to you comes from. Which institution tells you what is normal? And, lastly, are you yourself always normal?

I ask these questions of you for one specific reason. Foucault recognized a crucial, and “normal” (ha!) criteria for the prison/caceral system to work: binaries. In order for normal to perpetuate itself, it needs abnormal. Normal is as normal is not:

The carceral network does not cast the unassimilable into a confused hell: there is no outside. It takes back with one hand what it seems to exclude with the other. It saves everything, including what it punishes. It is unwilling to waste even what it has decided to disqualify. In this panoptic society of which incarceration is the omnipresent armature, the delinquent is not outside the law; he is, from the very outset, in the law, at the very heart of the law, or at least in the midst of those mechanisms that transfer the individual imperceptibly from discipline to the law, from deviation to offence. Although it is true that prison punishes delinquency, delinquency is for the most part produced in and by an incarceration which, ultimately, prison perpetuates in its turn…The delinquent is an institutional product. (Foucault 1496)

I get goosebumps every time I read this passage. We are asked to consider in what ways the caceral needs the delinquent and those that don’t fit—and how it actually needs law-breakers. They perpetuate the system of incarceration; they legitimize delinquency. But what does this mean for identity politics like those that create suffering for someone like Abdellah? It means that this system of normalcy demands that we either fit into what is right, or legitimize what is right by being wrong. We will only ever have two choices. I speak for myself here in saying I normally do not fit into a choice between two boxes; I often need the “other” option. My other option is because I occupy many liminal spaces of identity: Mexican-American, student-teacher, friend-lover, mom-woman, cyborg-“human”, et al. None of my own identities are separate, but they are usually at odds. Abdellah couldn’t be both gay and practice his Islamic religion. He could only be one or the other. Now I ask you all: are we ever/always one or the other of anything? Please tell me…

Again, I have motive for asking this. My last bit of this post now pushes you all to think about how we encourage and perpetuate norms upon each other. Foucault speaks of the carceral system as so prevalent and healthy that it is inherent to our every way of life. He says we are all judges of normal on behalf of the institutions:

The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social worker’-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements. The carceral network, in its compact  or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observation, has been the greatest support, in modern society, of the normalizing power. (1499)

Here we are, at the end. We may reject this definitive (in many ways) argument of Foucault’s. You are at liberty to do so. However, I think it is helpful for us to become conscious of when we are judging others based on what is “normal”. It is also helpful to become conscious of what form or institution has told us what this normal is. I promise that I will try. I fail often. But I am writing this with a hope that I will stay conscious of when I am working for the carceral network, or when I’m acting on behalf of something more inclusive, yet more liberating. I want to see people like Abdellah for all the selves he is, not pieces of him. Because, I have to brashly admit, I think he’s an amazing human. And that human is no deviant of mine.