A Place of One’s Own

I think that I missed the blog post from the very first week of class, so I’ll make up for that now, if I may. 

There is an interesting connection between Giovanni’s ‘Poem for Aretha’ and the piece on ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’. In the former, Aretha is pushed to the edge, and not given any elbow room, with fans always expecting more . . . ‘pulling at you cause they love you but you having no love to give back.” (CR 3) The author suggests putting some of the “giants away for a while and [dealing] with them like they have a life to lead.” (CR 4) 

The situation described in ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, while seemingly the opposite of that portrayed in Giovanni’s poem, does yet assume an eerie resemblance. A ‘room’ that a woman might have to herself is also out of the question here, a condition dictated again by expectations. Woolf seems to relate this to the question of anonymity, with anonymity stepping in as the “relic of the sense of chastity . . . The desire to be veiled still possesses them.” (CR 8)  

I was going to try to connect this in some way to Hemingway’s ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’, but the inspiration is eluding me at the moment. Women deserve the same cleanliness and order as do men, along with the shadows of the leaves. Whether the freedom is from public pressure or the demands of family life, women deserve a room of their own. In the end, “woeman’s only hueman.” (CR 5)

Advertisements

Network Activism

Women played a vital role in the conflict in Kosovo, establishing networks that would otherwise have failed to exist. Peace networks centered on women were not, however, the only technology that played a role. “The conflict over Kosovo has been characterized as the first war on the Internet.” (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, ‘Networks and Netwars’, RAND, pg. 239)

The conflict in Kosovo was supposedly the first to “[turn] cyberspace into an ethereal war zone where the battle for the hearts and minds is being waged through the use of electronic images, online discussion group postings, and hacking attacks.” (Arquilla 240) Throughout the NATO bombings, four large service providers were maintained, with the belief that, in the words of James P. Rubin of the US State Department, “full and open access to the Internet can only help the Serbian people know the ugly truth about the atrocities and crimes against humanity being perpetrated in Kosovo by the Milosevic regime.” (Arquilla 240)

Though this new war for hearts and minds was akin to a new highly sophisticated form of wartime propaganda, the communication was deemed a success insofar as it was perceived as being anti-propaganda. Those maintaining the service providers worried over the potential of attacks from Serbians, directed at the economic infrastructure of society, a softer target than the more well-prepared military command and control network. While the Internet may have provided an unprecedented level of interactivity, such interactivity (as mentioned in a previous post) is not without its downsides,

“In the past we have been protected from hostile attacks on the infrastructures by broad oceans and friendly neighbors. Today, the evolution of cyberthreats has changed the situation dramatically. In cyberspace, national borders are no longer relevant.” (Arquilla 285)

The resonance with Haraway’s conception of the cyborg world is strong here. Technology, especially through the medium of the distributed network, provides the single most powerful means of boundary crossing, a phenomenon necessary for the establishment of a “monstrous world without gender”. For all the benefits of network technologies, there are yet darker sides which we would do well to keep in mind. The first is that networks are “often symbols for, or actual embodiments of, real world power and control.” (Galloway 283) Networked relations are also subject to an overwhelming paradox, wherein the “networked other is always obscured, but experiencing the essence of the other, even in its obscurity, is assumed to be the ultimate goal of a networked relation.” (Galloway 292)

Part of this paradox is introduced via a confusion between networks and communication. Within the Saussurian conception of language, “the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of the others.” (Bruce Clarke, ‘Information’, in C ritical Terms for Media Studies, pg. 159) Such a definition of language and communication is uniquely amenable to the context of a networked structure. And the question here is more than one of meaning: “Our positions as subjects of language, and more broadly, as subjects of information systems, bind our communicative behaviors to ratios of freedom and necessity.” (Clarke 159)

The structure of our social networks is something that we need be sensitive to. Not only do such structures determine meaning, but also the form of a substantial portion of our lived experience. In this way we can keep an eye on the horizon, in a truly intuitive fashion.

“It may (perhaps) be true in physic that the explanation of the macroscopic is to be sought in the microscopic. The opposite is usually true in cybernetics: without context, there is no communication.” (Clarke 167)

I have attempted to show in my last several blog posts that women play a fundamental, and often under-appreciated, role in shaping a localized network structure. Rather than being the mere ‘Other’ mentioned by de Beauvoir, women function as a “difference which makes a difference.” (Clarke 165)

ImageJackson Pollock’s ‘Out of the Web’

Balkan Ballroom Surgeons

The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s have provided some incredible examples of women using networking skills for both conflict resolution and peace-building. It is now widely accepted that establishing stability in a post-conflict region of the world requires the full participation of women in the stages of the peace process. Women have been able to bridge cultural divides that men could not or would not. The concept of ‘inclusive security’ acknowledges such participation as integral. The concept of ‘security’ has been growing broader since the days when Woodrow Wilson substituted ‘collective security’ for ‘collective defense’, thus introducing a robust vein of idealism into transnational politics. 

Viewing women as essential participants in any peace process involves overcoming a host of stereotypes. Women must be viewed as agents of change, rather than merely helpless victims. Such a transformation should not be difficult, as women connected with local communities will naturally feel ownership of the rebuilding process. 

In 1994, Vjosa Dobruna traveled from Kosovo to the American embassy in Vienna, telling Ambassador Swanee Hunt that she sensed violence was about to erupt because of the way in which Serbian President Milosevic was using ethnic Albanians as scapegoats. Had Hunt listened more closely to Dobruna, it is possible that thousands of lives could have been saved in the coming years. Dobruna had functioned as an unusually sensitive weathervane of the political mood in her home country. 

Five years later, she was part of the massive exodus that flowed from the borders of Kosovo. She established a field clinic in Macedonia for women who had been raped or otherwise traumatized, and later accepted the position of Kosovar minister in charge of democratization, good governance, and media. “She set up her office in a café, using her cell phone and car, so she would be accessible to the people and have, as she said, her ‘hand on the pulse'”. (Swanee Hunt, ‘Building a Peace Network’, in ‘Women Waging War and Peace’, eds. Cheldelin and Eliatamby, pg. 102)

Had Ambassador Hunt taken her seriously in 1994, Dobruna could have brought a vital slice of life on the ground to policymaking tables in Vienna and Washington. When a new parliament was established in her country, she stepped forward to create a multiethnic women’s caucus, bringing people together, serving as a model and providing hope that people could successfully live together in a deeply scarred postwar region. 

There seems to be two key intellectual threads running behind the promotion of women functioning as mediators. The first is the recognition that ground-up processes are highly effective,

“A bottom-up process for planning and decision making would need to be used and women would be the key to the altered framework, with new institutions and foreign policy ideals.” (Hunt 106)

The second is the sometimes erroneous assumption that women exist outside of the reality of conflict,

“Because women are not wielding the weapons and are not in positions of formal leadership, those in power consider them less threatening, allowing them to work unimpeded. They hold up families, not rifles. They can reach across conflict lines.” (Hunt 106)

Haris Silajdzic, president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, went so far as to say that “If we’d had women around the table, there would have been no war, because women think long and hard before they send their children out to kill other people’s children.” (Hunt 112)

Including women in post-conflict resolution is undoubtedly beneficial. I believe it would be even more beneficial if women could be incorporated whilst acknowledging the multi-faceted nature of femininity. One way or another, Minister Dobruna produced remarkable results in Kosova, in spite of the circumstances. Harold Nicholson’s team of negotiators at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 once stated that they felt as though they were “surgeons operating in the ballroom with the aunts of the patient gathered all around” (Nicholson, ‘Peacemaking 1919’, pg. 77). Minister Dobruna probably felt much the same.

A Hunting-Net

The key technology of our day seems to be that of the network, a tool of both assault and control. While it was once assumed that networks adopt an antagonistic relationship to centralized powers, with the “potential to dehierarchize, disrupt, and dissolve rigid structures of all varieties”, such a relationship is no longer taken for granted,

“The distributed network is the new citadel, the new army, the new power . . . Today, organisms must communicate whether they want to or not. This is essentially why ‘communication’ and ‘control’ are inextricably linked . . .” (Alexander Galloway, ‘Networks’, in Critical Terms for Media Studies)

Image

Like Ladj Ly’s photographic representation of postmodernism, interactivity today means “total participation, universal capture” (Galloway 291). Networks are as dangerous as they are salubrious and supportive.

Bottom-Up Diplomacy

In a talk given on April 19th, 2011, Dr. Franz Cede, the former Austrian ambassador to Russia, discussed the diplomatic dynamics between the EU, Russia, and the United States. The talk was held at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. The end of all his experience culminated in his stating,

“I am an adherent of people-to-people contact. I believe that all these diplomatic instruments, partnership agreements, and all these documents, summit communiqués, they’re fine. But they are, after the summits, disappearing into the drawer of a foreign ministry or of an archive. I think it is much more valuable to promote direct contact with people, universities, partnership programs, the media, etc., to do everything you can, at any level, to promote the relationship among peoples” (Cede, FSI).

Apart from this ground-level human contact, there is clearly person-to-person contact at the diplomatic level every day, and yet precious little of it reaches the point of becoming genuinely personal, personal to the point where a human relationship could be said to have developed. When such a situation does arise, it tests the limits on what can be achieved in conflict by the sheer exercise of a human connection. This post is meant to connect with the one immediately preceding it, and not necessarily with any of the others. It seems that Cede’s thoughts resonate in the implicit mission statements of Mayors Schneider and Catovic.

‘Sister’ Cities

Image

As something of an interlude to my planned stream of blog posts, I thought I would share something relevant that I saw in today’s ‘Santa Barbara News-Press’.

Pictured above is Kotor, Montenegro, a supposed ‘sister city’ of Santa Barbara, CA. Mayor Helene Schneider shared her reflections, from a trip to the city in June, in today’s paper. The concept of ‘sister cities’ has been established as a way of developing collaboration between city officials on their similar issues of economic development. President Dwight D. Eisenhower established similar programs starting in 1956, in order to promote relationships between individuals and groups in the US, and communities abroad. The argument here is that the existence of similar topographies, along with parallel economies heavily reliant on tourism, leads to a situation wherein collaboration becomes increasingly beneficial. Schneider’s goal for the trip was to share ideas with government officials and business leaders on the potential for public-private partnerships. Her counterpart in the Montenegrin government is Kotor Mayor Marija Catovic, though she also works closely with US ambassador to Montenegro Sue Brown.

The interesting thing is that all of the ambassadors who joined Schneider on her trip to Montenegro were also women, including Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau and Film Commission, and Linda Mathews, a member of the Santa Barbara Sister City board. Ms. Schneider possesses a strong belief in the fundamental nobility of her mission, saying that,

“To extend that kind of friendship and awareness of different cultures, I think it’s really quite important and I’m happy to play a small role in that.” (Santa Barbara News-Press, Ben Smithwick, ‘Mayor reflects on visit to Santa Barbara’s sister city’, July 29, 2012)

One Mr. Lilly, head of Santa Barbara’s Kotor Sister City Committee, writes that “we are blessed with two mayors, both women, who really have a passion for this kind of relationship.”

The friendship and understanding that is engendered by this program seems to me to be uniquely feminine, and highly diplomatic. The reliance upon economic structural equivalence, combined with a sensitivity for cultural context, grants this approach a high degree of both plausibility and finesse.  

Communication, the Tennyson Garden

“Whatever is silenced will clamor to be heard, though silently. A Tennyson garden, heavy with scent, languid; the return of the word swoon” (Margaret Atwood, ‘Handmaid’s Tale’, pg. 175).

Repression, political or otherwise, will never erase or completely harmonize an otherwise cacophonous and disjointed assembly of voices. The desire for communication will remain, in spite of repression. What emerges is insuppressibly real, though it may be as distorted as van Gogh’s ‘derangement’ of sunflowers. 

Image

The ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ seems to me an appropriate place to start in a discussion of women and networks. In Atwood’s novel, the desire for communication is represented through the creation of a network of ‘civil disobedience’ amongst the women of Gilead. Offred is repulsed by the idea of telling her story, yet at the same time wishes to enhance its fecundity by framing it in a very general, and easily communicable format,

“A story is like a letter. Dear You, I’ll say. Just you, without a name. Attaching a name attaches you to the world of fact, which is riskier, more hazardous: who knows what the chances are out there, of survival, yours? I will say you, you, like an old love song. You can mean more than one. You can mean thousands.” (Atwood 50)

Offred’s story-telling is a powerful form of affinity politics, created via the network of the ‘Underground Femaleroad’. Her message is designed to be potent within the constructs of an anonymous network of dissidents, at once resisting and replicating itself. As Offred states later in the novel, she is telling her story because she wants “you to hear it, as I will hear yours too if I ever get the chance . . . Because I’m telling you this story I will your existence. I tell, therefore you are.” (Atwood 302)  

Offred’s ‘amputated speech’ is designed for transmission through a network devoid of structural equivalence other than that of affinity. The message is created with the knowledge that it will course throughout a polysemous network lacking a comprehensible genealogy. Calling forth Eurydice from the world of the dead, Offred constructs a potent and highly networked political reality of glimpses.