Monday, December 30, 2013

Thoughts after receiving a Ph.D.

       It's close to the end of 2013, and I thought I would try to put up at least one more blog posting before the end of the year.  I've been busy with contract negotiations and finishing my dissertation project, which was accepted at the beginning of December.  So I now have my Ph.D., which technically makes me a doctor.  I'm now beginning the process of looking for academic work, which is an incredibly dreary and depressing activity, if only because of the lack of work on the job market.  I'm going to give it a couple years, but I will probably be moving on if that doesn't work.  But anyways, the blog.  I'm going to hold onto this project through March, which is when I will be done with my stint at the union.  I'll probably have some more thoughts on that as we go into the triennial election.  I'd like to see the person replacing me to remain committed to the reform project, but right now, that doesn't seem like it's guaranteed.  The last two elections have been controlled by the old leadership faction of Coral and Moshe, who certainly have put in a lot of work on the ground.  If their platform moved anywhere beyond stating that they're from the sciences and the mention of Google parties, I'd be a little more impressed.  (I also have some issues with their campaign claim that they oppose caucuses, which would hold weight if they weren't obviously a part of a caucus.)  I have more to say on the subject, but it will have to wait until the next year, hopefully after a couple posts on other subjects.

       Rather than simply abandoning blogging, my thought was that I should start a new blog that had a greater sense of focus, perhaps on science fictional matters, and other cultural engagement.  The truth is that Work Resumed on the Tower was never a terribly successful blog in terms of readership.  It got a few posts that were read broadly, but often my posts received under 40 views.  I'm not terribly upset about this.  The blog was primarily meant to be a place to push myself to write more, and to express thoughts about a variety of topics.  It also became a place to discuss issues within the student movement and my engagement with the union.  Those two issues are coming to an end with my completion of my degree, which seems to also point to a need for another project.  I've always been interested in the idea of putting together a more focused blog, which while not being commercial, might have an audience in mind, something that this project never had.  On the other hand, I'm not terribly thrilled at the prospect of coming up with another name.  I still like the name of the current blog, but I also don't want it to disappear as a historical record of my work over the period of time that it ran.  I'm tempted towards something Futurian related, but am currently feeling a bit lazy as to doing the research.  Maybe, I'll take a day to go to the Eaton archive in Riverside soon, to take a look at their fanzine collection.

      Beyond that, I've been contemplating a number of directions I might want to go in once I'm finished with turning the present dissertation into something larger.  I know it's a bit off in the future, but I like to have more than one thing going on.  I'm interested in trying to put together a project on Brecht's work in the early 1930's, particularly his Learning Pieces, and their relevance to activism and organizing.  I'd like to look at the emphasis that Brecht puts on experimentation and the necessity for error in the process of creating new political forms.  You can see some early thoughts here.  It also ties into my interest in aleatory aesthetics, as discussed here.  I don't see this is primarily existing as an academic project.  Instead, I could see it looking similar to the sorts of projects that zero books has put out.  Additionally, I'd like to look at the work of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke in relationship to the post war period.  This idea is a lot less developed, but I feel that there is something interesting to be said about the pair in relationship to the cold war, decolonization, a particular modernization project of the time.  Also, I've really enjoyed both the novels by Clarke that I have read, and liked the Foundation novels, as well.  Finally, I'd like to make a more theoretical intervention into the return of the concept of patriarchy.  Using Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, I'd like to argue that patriarchy is an increasingly tertiary matrix of domination within contemporary.  Instead, it's been supplanted by other forms of domination, that are no less serious.  I would probably start with a critique of the Federici's reading of Foucault, and move from there.  We'll see what happens in the next couple of years.

(On reflection, the comment on Moshe and Coral was a little one sided and unfair.  I'll make a slightly lengthier comment on their role in the union in the future, but its worth noting that despite the fact that the two did extensively draw upon the three issues I discussed above for campaigning, they have also occasionally contributed to the union.  More on this in the future.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ranciere and Contract Bargaining

        The past few bargaining sessions have provided a fairly good argument for the value of Jacque Ranciere's definition of politics, one that also retroactively links up with the reactions to the defensive of public education movement that began in 2009.  For those who haven't read Ranciere's Disagreement, and I suspect a fair amount of you haven't read the book, Ranciere sets up a distinction between the police and politics in his book.  He argues that the vast amount of activity placed under the category of the police.  Drawing off the work of Michel Foucault, he defines the role of the police as one that creates and enforces complex and hierarchical structures of order, whether in the form of forms of factory discipline, penality, or the forms of domination within the heteronormative and patriarchal family.  Politics only occurs in those moments where excluded and dominated parties, people he refers to as 'the part with no part' reject and try to undermine those orders.  We can see politics in the sense that Ranciere means it when workers fight for democratic control of their factories or when women reject their proscribed domestic roles.  We can see some potential limitations in Ranciere's definition.  After all, most counter-systematic movements contain a mixture of both a rejection of old orders, and the call for a new order, an intermixture of what Ranciere would consider politics and the police.

     Despite these issues, the value of the notion of the political as that which destroys conventional structures of order is of some value in watching the reactions of the labor relations officials when we bargain.  It has been precisely at the moments when we challenge the monopoly of power of the UC administration that those individuals become most nasty, when we bring up issues of class size, social justice issues such as all gender bathrooms, issues of discrimination, along with economic issues not traditionally within the purview of our contract.  It's precisely at these moments when we can recognize that the process of contract negotiation contains the potential for challenging the structures of order that those administrators have spent so much time policing the borders of, and their response gestures precisely to the sort of fear that can occur when those borders are challenged.  A more notable occasion happened in one of the late UCLA sessions, when we brought up potential discrepancies between the management rights clause of our contract and the stipulations demanded by the rules that regulate the collective bargaining process as set up by HEERA (Higher Education Employee Relations Act.)  The middle managers of labor relations went on a tirade, refusing to even answer our questions about the differences between the act and our contract.  In effect, even the implication of challenging the myopic domination of management must be stamped out, a response we saw in the conversation around classroom size and housing, both of which would create different expectations and relations within the university.

      Ironically enough, Ranciere's framework offers a pretty good explanation of why the conservative forces at Paycheck First have the same response to the new framework of demands as presented by the union.  They have dismissed many of the contract campaign, and have offered virtual no commentary on the activities that have gone on outside of the bargaining table as hundreds, if not thousands of rank and file members have acted to fight for a new contract.  Implicitly, they accept many of the same principles of policing set up by the administration of university, accepting the premise that was initially set up by the labor peace of the 1950's, where labor gave up its more radical aspirations of workers' control of the workplace for higher wages, job security, and some workplace regulations.  However, those demands were only gained by the properly political actions of radical unionists, who created the conditions for the labor peace, and were simultaneously crushed as the precondition of that very peace to go into effect.  (I want to emphasize that this peace destroyed thousands if not tens of thousands of workers' livelihoods, and occasion, lives.)  As we have moved away from the high points of radical activity within the labor movement, the ability of that movement to hold onto the gains it bargained at the cost of those radical activists.  From the impressive gains provided by business unionism in the 1950's at tragic costs, we see a comic repetition in the demands of Paycheck First, who cannot even imagine bargaining our way out of poverty wages, let alone contributing to the fight for a just and genuinely public university, as the majority of the bargaining team has attempted to accomplish.

     I should also note that Ranciere's analysis offers an interesting alternative view into the melodramatic interpretation of the conflicts within the union as offered by both Paycheck First and the former members of the USEJ caucus.  When we look at their descriptions of these conflicts, we find a very consistent narrative, built upon the concept of what Nietzsche calls wounded identity.  The narratives generally erase the political dimension of the conflict, what rules and traditions were being challenged within the conflict, and instead focus on the singular vision of wounded individual who defended these traditions.  Reform forces are generally presented as a malevolent collectivity exemplified by representative figures, who are often interchangeable.  This narrative is properly melodramatic in its Manichean vision of the good and the evil, the good being represented by the old traditions and leadership of the union and the evil by the inevitably incompetent and hypocritical collectivity of AWDU.  It is a narrative that erases the forms of implicit and explicit hierarchical domination that previously defined the union, the intimidation of union activists through yelling, and private one on one meetings (these would often occur in the middle of activities, with individuals being pulled behind closed doors, to be intimidated into voting the 'right way.')  The narrative also erases the lack of activity and participation within the union in those years. 

       The conflicts that have occurred in the past three years have inevitably occurred at moments when forms of policing have been reduced or eliminated from the union structure, from opening up structures of communication, to reducing the ability of single individuals to hold multiple offices.  The conflicts within the bargaining process, additionally, have generally occurred at moments when old assumed activities were not repeated in rote fashion.  (I will have more details on this question, later, when the process of bargaining is over.)  They have also occurred at moments when the new leadership has committed itself to the student movement, and has refused the automatic support of Democratic Party initiatives.  These conflicts have often been ugly, and I'm not going to fully endorse the actions that we have taken individually or as a caucus in all of these situations, but they have pointed towards a revitalized, more democratic, and stronger union structure.  We have moved the union from a massive political backwater to a relevant party in challenging the austerity measures of the state.  I think we have had distinct limitations in this reform process, which I hope change as I leave the union.  I would like us to give much more thought to our structures of organizing.  The reduction in membership is a process common to both the later years of the old leadership and our time in office, but we have not been able to reverse this process.  The ability to do so cannot, however, be accomplished by the simple acts of exhortation used by the old leadership, or their organizing techniques.  Instead, we need to develop new forms of organizing that engage with and challenge the new structures of the university.  They must be, within the framework laid out by Jacques Ranciere, political forms of organizing.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An additional comment on the Paycheck First situation

        I have noticed that I have received a number of visits from individuals from the Paycheck First blog.  I'm normally curious about how folks discovered the blog, and am appreciative of links.  However, I can't say that I feel the same way about these referrals.  I took a glance at the referring document, and found that my blog had been referred with the usual lack of accountability that I have come to expect from that blog, in an anonymous note at the end of a posting.  In addition, in typical fashion, the unnamed individual had offered a fairly inaccurate description of my posting, stating an assertion that I did not make, and ignoring the substantial issues that I had brought up with the blog.

        To briefly return to my initial comments, I had suspected that this might be something produced by former leadership supporters.  It contained a lot of the elements that have defined their output, including a lot of inaccuracies, statements made out of context, and a general absence of a political analysis, issues I would love to engage with once the individual involved publicly identified themselves.  However, I noted that there was no way to either confirm or deny this guess, given that the individual involved did not attach their names to their own blog.  It is difficult to take a call for accountability terribly seriously when the individuals involved couldn't even bother to take the time to attach their names to their own statements.  I suspect that they realize that their own credibility as activists and as members would be seriously damaged if they were associated with their own work.

     I'm quite interested in dispelling many of the substantial misunderstandings that the unnamed individuals have presented about the bargaining process, and in dispelling and correcting the many rumors that they have spread about the process, but for me to engage in that process here would involve them actually identifying themselves.  As I have noted in the past, I have never made a statement about the union anonymously.  I was public in my views when I was a rank and file activist, when I was in the minority caucus in the union as an officer, and now that I am a part of the majority coalition in the union.  I take union democracy seriously, and taking responsibility for your own positions is a crucial aspect of that democratic process.  I will be blunt, the Paycheck First blog both sabotages that democratic process, and potentially aids management in the process of bargaining.

      However, it is worth noting that the union's postings on the contract process already substantially undermine the claims of the blog's anonymous contributors.  I'd strongly recommend looking at those releases for a better sense of what is going on.  We are also discussing whether or not we should put out some material about these topics on the Irvine AWDU blog, as a way of dispelling the fear and superstition perpetrated on that blog.  I have mixed feelings about that though.  On one hand, we need more information out about the process of bargaining, and more places to discuss that information.  At the same time, I'm tired of being called out by people who have neither the willingness to put their names to their claims nor to do the basic research required to understand the most basic aspects of the bargaining process. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

oddball notes on a Tuesday

       I find myself with a small amount of time on my hands to put something brief up on the blog.  I've been extraordinarily busy with orientations and bargaining work.  Both tend to translate into a lot of small and often repetitive tasks with no real end in sight.  It's important work that is on occasion interesting, but it tends to seep into all pores of your daily life, producing a seamless flow of union work.  Fortunately, we have some collective support networks in place on our campus to deal with such work, or the entire process would be overwhelming.  

       However, rather than union work, I'd like to turn briefly to science fiction.  The most notable occurrence from my perspective is the death of Frederick Pohl, the former member of the Futurians, who had a long career as an author, editor, and agent within the field of science fiction.  Pohl produced the significant critical works, The Space Merchants and Search the Sky with C.M. Kornbluth.  He also helped get a lot of folks into print through his work as an editor and as an agent.  The latter work produced some controversy as Pohl was not always able to get folks the money that they were expecting within that role, a failing I suspect that arose from his amateur status, rather than any systemic dishonesty.  His divorce from fellow Futurian, Judith Merril was also problematic, involving some fairly emotionally abusive behavior on his part, despite the fact the two eventually reconciled and became friends, again. (Pohl, in fact, provided the text for phonograph recording of two Merril stories that I own on lp).  Despite those issues, Pohl represented one of the last of the early generation of science fiction writers, outliving the rest of the Futurian collective, and more public figures such as Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke.  He was writing a blog that I have linked to up until the time of his death that provided his own recollections of his fellow Futurians and other figures within the genre.  It's really worth the read if you're interested in the history.  I'm in the process of reading his memoir, which I will write about in the next few days.

      As a last note in this conversation, it has struck me over the past few months that the field of science fiction criticism has been deeply harmed by the fact that Darko Suvin's important interventions, Metamorphoses in Science Fiction, and his work on Victorian Science Fiction, are not in print.  The former regularly goes for over fifty dollars online, and I have seen the latter for over six hundred dollars online.  This lack of accessibility translates into a lot of contemporary work only engaging in Suvin's work from a second hand perspective, which often translates into shallow and often tendentious readings of his critical framework.  This became most apparent in the surface reading that Peter Paik provided of the text, From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe, a reading that lacked the focus and thoughtfulness that Paik brought to his other subject material.  I don't think Suvin's work is flawless, but he provides a substantial engagement with the mutating formal quality of the genre, linking it with the rise of the capitalist world system along with the myriad of resistances that respond the creation of that system and deeply shape its trajectory.  It's difficult to think of an equivalent text in another field being similarly inaccessible.  At some point, Yale needs to reprint those volumes, or let someone else reprint them.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Thoughts on the current state of the union (UAW 2865)

        I've been debating whether I should comment on the blog that an anonymous group of individuals put up about the bargaining process, entitled "Paycheck First".  I don't know who's writing, but the writing is largely representative of the sorts of distortions, misrepresentations, and nonsense that is largely representative of the former leadership's writing style, going back to their interventions defending the process of bargaining the 2010.  As far as I can tell, the individuals writing the blog want us to go back to the approach to bargaining the contract that was taken in previous periods, which was to see the role of the rank and file of the union in the bargaining process as fairly minimal and to be sharply controlled by the leadership.  It's important to note that the Irvine campus rejected that position, first with the vote on the contract and second when the membership had an opportunity to vote in the triennial election of that same year.  Additionally, a number of their posts are fairly close to the comments and positions that have been taken by labor relations within the bargaining process.  I've come to expect very little from the former leadership, but I was a little surprised by their open capitulation to the logic of management.  I'm open to a substantial conversation about the process of bargaining, but the writing in this anonymous blog doesn't warrant much in the way of engagement.  At very least, the individuals writing this blog could show the courage of attaching their names to the various accusations they have made.

        To turn to the more substantial issue of actual bargaining, rather than the shadow theater of anonymous comments, we're moving out of the summer period of bargaining into the fall.  We've put a number of different proposals on the table, but our ability to put pressure on the administration substantially increases with school back in session.  We take our jobs at the bargaining table fairly seriously, but our ability to bargain a good contract is dependent on the active support and participation that we receive from the rank and file membership.  Along with the work that we have put at the bargaining table, we have been starting the process of getting folks involved at the campus level, including tabling, fliering, and talking to folks at their offices when we can find them.  We're looking forwards to getting in touch with a lot of folks during orientations.  We've also been working to make stronger alliances with the other student groups on campus, and with a number of unions as well, returning to the informal union coalition that tentatively got formed last year.  Those alliances were quite evident at the bargaining that occurred in Irvine, with union and student allies speaking up in support of our various demands.  The contract that we're fighting for, one that would contribute to the defense of a genuinely public education, and in defense of social justice is going to take a lot of membership support.  We want a strong paycheck to make up for the years of sub-inflation raises we have received over the years, but we also want to use our contract to fight for underrepresented groups, to put caps in the amount of students are in our classrooms so that undergraduates receive a better education, and for cheaper housing and other issues.  We're hoping to see your participation in the variety of fights that are going to occur over fall quarter.

         We've been involved in this fight for a long time now.  Through our work in the public education movement, we've seen the University of California system move from double digit fee and tuition increases to a cap on tuition for the last couple of years.  This fight is never acknowledged by the former leadership of the union, because they played no role in it, refusing to ally themselves with the students and unions involved in it.  Instead, it was folks from AWDU who did that work, and contributed to those victories. With this new contract, we have the opportunity to move away from staunching the wounds of privatization and beginning to make gains for ourselves and for the public university.  AWDU has moved the union from the provincial backwaters that it used to occupy, and has placed it in the center of the struggles around the university, and the fight for a more just and democratic society represented by campaigns such as "Make Banks Pay".  Those fights have earned the union respect, and have led to alliances that can make that happen.  We're looking forwards to the fight.  The rank and file of our various campuses have the opportunity to get a strong contract through that process.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Another short essay on The Female Man

The novel opens with the introduction of three different women from three substantially different versions of the Earth, two substantially different versions of the present and a utopian vision of the future. In the final section of the text, we are introduced to a fourth woman from a distinctively different future, one far more dystopian in nature, who has brought the other three women together to help her defeat the patriarchal community of men who have declared an almost genocidal war on the women of their world. She also reveals that each of the four women of the text, the ‘four J’s’, Jeannine, Janet, Jael, and Joanna, are genetically the same world, revealing the deeply constructed nature of what Gayle Rubin called the ‘sex/gender system’, or what Teresa de Lauretis wants to understand as a gender system, removing the naturalistic remnants of the category of ‘sex.’[1] Each of these women is in fact the same woman shaped by radically different social environments. The intersection of these worlds allows for a comparative analysis of the political, social, and economic systems of those worlds, along with their modes of sexuality, kinship, and child-raising. Jeannine comes from an Earth that has never left the depression ear because World War II was never fought. Joanna is a stand in for the author and comes from that world, while Janet comes from an alternate future earth in which the men of the society died in a plague. The last character, Jael, comes from an alternate earth where the men and women of the society are in a long-term war against each other, a war produced by a similar catastrophe to the one that occurred in Whileaway, albeit with radically different results. Each of these characters represents an alternative vision of a single subject and at the same time, an alternative vision of the world at large.

We enter into Joanna Russ’ novel, The Female Man through the conjuncture that is through the disruptive process of the intersection of four different temporalities, and four different world systems. In effect, the narrative cannot be simply reduced to the ethnographic exploration of four worlds through their representatives. The narrative opens with Janet’s introduction into the world of Joanna, the world that most represents the present of the text. From there, the text introduces three of four of the characters is introduced, and the novel begins to introduce each of the worlds. The next sections of the text oscillate between Janet’s exploration of the world of Joanna, and descriptions of the utopian space of Whileaway. Through those engagements the text begins a satiric critique of the present world through Janet’s continual refusal to live up to the norms of that world, and the failures of that world to enforce those norms. From there, the narrative shifts to focus on the world of Jeannine, a repressed world in which the depression continues unabated, and the possibilities for women are even more limited. In each case, the world of Whileaway creates a deliberate contrast with the limited possibilities of the worlds of Joanna and Jeannine, allowing for the reader to recognize the contingent nature of each of the worlds. The final section moves into the dystopian world of Jael or Alice Reasoner, which is defined by warfare between men and women, with each side searching to annihilate the other. At the same time, the limitations of Janet are revealed. After exploring the world, Jael reveals why she has brought the women together, to support her attempt to destroy the Manlanders. Janet refuses this proposal, Jeannine accepts it, and the narrative never reveals the choice of Joanna. With these decisions, the narrative ends with each of the characters returning to their original worlds.

The text also tracks the various transformations of each of the characters through their engagement with each other, the ability of women to profoundly change each other’s worlds through the act of collective engagement and exchange, through the substantial act of consciousness-raising. Jeannine probably transforms the most, moving from a deep investment in the restricted horizons for women in her world to contribute to the war on Jael’s planet. Joanna’s transformations, while not drastic, are similarly significant, moving from an ambivalent embrace of the women’s movement to a full commitment to the radical feminist perspective, along with a sense of health and well being gained through the rejection of the conventions and expectations of femininity, of the rejection of the restricted role of supportive reproductive labor for men. Furthermore, the narrative of each character’s process of consciousness raising produces an incredible surplus of text, as she figuratively regurgitates those very restrictive discursive structures of femininity, from the institutional structures of psychoanalysis to the informal expectations of everyday common sense. These moments of seeming free association constitute the surplus to the narrative of the text, the excess that escapes the conventions of the narrative. The transformations of the two women from the future are harder to measure, less linked to the linear project of feminist transformation, but they, nonetheless, exist. Through her involvement in the world of Joanna, Janet breaks one of the most significant taboos of the world of Whileaway, the taboo of involving oneself in a sexual relationship with one that is significantly older or younger than oneself, with her relationship with Laura Rose. She also has to confront the possibility that the foundational narratives of Whileaway might be a myth, a cover up for the profound act of genocide that Jael is planning for her world. Jael is the exception, the catalyst who brings the other three together, who change each of the rest, while remaining unchanged herself.

[1] See Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1987), Chapter One.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

a short thought on an incident in bargaining

     I have been a bit busy for the past few months with the process of preparing for bargaining, which has affected my ability to communicate here.  We have been in countless meetings together, both in person and online and on the phone.  Additionally, we are now in the actual process of bargaining for the past month, beginning July 8th and 9th in Berkeley.  However,  I thought I would discuss a particular incident from bargaining since it is relevant to some of the conversations on the blog over the past couple of years.  Typically, the first topic of conversation in bargaining is the question of ground rules, or the rules that each side accepts when they go to the bargaining table.  The union and management will fight over topics ranging from times of bargaining to media access and other issues.  My counterpart from Irvine, Jessica Conte, wanted to make the issue of police presence an issue at bargaining, calling for an agreement that neither side would bring in the police.

   We wanted this agreement because of an incident that occurred earlier this year around health care caps.  A few months ago, the union had kicked off a fairly substantial campaign to get the caps on health care removed, and to get the university to live up to the fairly minimal standards of the Health Care reform act.  We got a lot of folks out to make this issue a concern, and formed useful alliances with other student organizations in the process.  Within that context, the university agreed to meet officially with the union on the topic in Irvine.  In response, we organized a number of rank and file folks to be in the room so they could hear about what was going on, and to let the administration know that this was an important issue to our membership.  In response, we got about thirty folks out to make the meeting.  In response, the university brought out a pair of police officers who followed us into the negotiation room and began to take photographs.  In response, our head steward, Jamie Rogers, asked that our conversation occur without the presence of the police.  The police officer stated that he did not work for her.  However, when labor relations official Nadine Fischel went over to ask them to leave, they did so, quickly.

     It's hard to argue that this difference of responses doesn't indicate a radically different power relation in regards to the police.  If the police don't explicitly work for the workers and students of the university, they seem to implicitly work for the administration of the university, for the management and the bosses.  In effect, the university has a group of primarily men with guns, who they can put between themselves and the people who they ostensibly work with.  Within our conversation, we tried to make this a central point for arguing for this provision of the ground rules.  In response, the labor relations folks tried to draw a stark line between bargaining and protests, implying that events such as the one that caused us to call for the rule functionally didn't happen (as if having a labor relations person establishing an implicit role of supervision to the cops was helpful).  In response, I noted that the administration called the cops in many cases when students and workers simply went to petition the administration.  Fischel's response was to refer to this sort of behavior as 'storming the chancellor's office.  Fischel went on to argue that the only legitimate way to enter in to the office was with an appointment.

        Within this context, it makes sense that university officials would call the police on small groups of students trying to deliver petitions, parents with children attempting to meet with housing administration to discuss dangers from construction on their housing, and, in one case, a student simply knocking on the door of the office of public information to find out about a public informational request.  It also goes along with the harassment of activists for legal activities by university administration and police.  However, it doesn't make a lot of sense if you accept the principle that the university is a public institution that is responsible to those individuals.  It's within this context that we need to understand the position taken by labor relations, a minion and lackey of the regents who have made it their mission to privatize the university.  The discomfort they claim is the discomfort of a class of individuals who refuse to recognize that they are a part of a public and democratic institution, which is probably due to the fact that the majority of them are used to the dictatorial powers they held and hold in their corporate positions.  It's approach to the daily life of the university that is created by the regents and the university of california office of the president (UCOP) and is filtered down through the ranks of the UC administration.  Within this context, this discomfort seems to indicate that the UCI administration is simply not competent to fulfill the basic roles of their employment, an issue likely not unique to them.  It's a sign that we need to get rid of them. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

“Daughters of Earth” and the Contingency of Futurity, a sort of conclusion

Merril’s later work gestured towards this possibility, although it never embodied it, fully.  Perhaps, the most notable example of this exploration occurs in the more expansive novella, “Daughters of Earth.”  Merril wrote the novella about two years after Shadow on the Hearth.  The novella shows a similar concern with the everyday life of domesticity, and women’s experiences within that sphere, but the narrative spans several generations, and moves from the confines of the household to the outer reaches of the solar system and beyond.  The domestic narrative leaves the confines of the household and becomes mobile, transforming through the progressive dialectic logic of space travel.  The narrative shifts out of the confined critique of Shadow on the Hearth, and its refusal to imagine an alternative to the conventional post war nuclear family, to the possibility of the breakup of that formation.  The narrative shifts from the conventional structures of the melodrama to a far more experimental form.  As Lisa Yaszek notes,
“”Daughters of the Earth” takes the form of a family history compiled and related primarily by Emma for Carla, as the latter prepares to lead humanity’s first subspace voyage.  Although Merril grants Emma a certain narrative authority, she balances her protagonist’s account of events with journal excerpts, newspaper clippings, and oral stories from Martha, Joan, Ariadne, and Leah.  Like other feminist authors ranging from Virginia Woolf in the 1920s and 1930s to Joanna Russ in the 1970s and 1980s, Merril refuses to subsume the experiences of women into a single voice but rather insists on the multiplicity of women’s subjective experiences.” (Yaszek 37)

As Yaszek notes, the narrative holds onto the former commitment to exploring the space of the private, rather than the public, but it does this without fully engaging with the conventions of the domestic melodrama.  Instead, the narrative is constructed through a fictionalized account of ‘journal excerpts, newspaper clippings, and oral stories,’ producing a narrative that is far more discontinuous, fragmented, and scattered than the more conventional domestic melodrama, although Yaszek’s comparison to the work of Woolf misses out on the work’s remaining commitment to aspects of domestic conventionality.  However, Yaszek is correct to emphasize the formal shift in Merril’s work, which is used to mark the shifts in the structures of domesticity and reproduction in the society.  More notably, the narrative deliberately marks this shift in narrative style early on with Ariadne’s early self-reflexive assessment of the narrative.
“Frankly, I hesitated for some time before I decided it was proper to include such bits in what is primarily intended to be an informational account. But information is not to be confused with statistics, and when I found myself uncertain, later, whether it was all right to include these explanatory asides, done my own way, with whatever idiosyncratic eccentricities or godlike presumptions of comprehension might be involved.” (Merril 58)

We are quickly told that we are not going to read a conventional story.  Instead, the narrator asserts her right to tell the story, “my own way, with whatever idiosyncratic eccentricities or godlike presumptions of comprehension might be involved.”  The narrative is marked as one that refuses conventionality, which is compared to statistics.  At the same time, it holds onto a claim of operating primarily as ‘an information account,’ keeping to a traditional science fictional claim to critical cognition.  The ‘hesitation’ of the narrative deliberately brings attention to itself as a non-normative structure, one that transgresses the norms of the genre.  As previously noted, the passage places the categories of ‘statistics’ and science fictional narrative conventions on one side, while placing both of them in opposition to ‘an informational account.’ 
At a more basic level, it also follows the structure offered by Shklovsky in his analysis of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.  Shklovsky focuses on the role Watson plays in the narrative, both as narrator and na├»ve witness, providing a series of incorrect analyses of the clues along the way.  Shklovsky notes, “In this way, Watson serves to retard the action while at the same time directing the flow of events into separate channels.”  (Shklovsky 104)  Watson becomes a device to create tension and structure in the narrative, constructing an opposition between the common sense of Watson and the bohemian temperament of Holmes.  Merril’s narrative similarly attempts to produce rhythmic tension between domestic conventionalities, and the desire to settle, and the desire to explore, discover, and colonize.   The collage of fictionalized source documents attempts to reproduce this logic, through the generational tensions of the mothers and daughters in the story.  We might think of the narrative in the terms laid about by Georg Lukacs in The Historical Novel, except in a condensed form.  The shifting conventions of domestic life and the negotiations of the various protagonists become the way to measure the societal shifts described in the narrative.  The story makes the explicit through the comments of the primary narrator.
“But however we learn to juggle our bodies through space or time; we live our lives on a subjective time scale.  Thus, though I was born in 2026, and the Newhope landed on Uller in 2091, I was then, roughly, 27 years old—including two subjective years, overall, for the trip.
And although the sixty-one years I have lived here would be counted as closer to sixty-seven on Earth, or on Pluto, I think that the body—and I know that the mind—pays more attention to the rhythm of planetary seasons, the alterations of heat and cold and radiation intensities, than to the ticking of some cosmic metronome counting off whatever Absolute Time might be.” (Merril 59)

Change is mapped on to the body in its experiences ‘on a subjective time scale.’  One has to understand that basic fact to engage with the shifts of historical time, which cannot be understood as ‘the ticking of some cosmic metronome counting off whatever Absolute Time might be.’ Absolute time then stands in for empty homogenous time, which is supplanted by the time of revolution in its most literal sense.  The subjective time of the body is produced through the revolution of planets around the sun, ‘the rhythm of planetary seasons, and the alteration of heat and cold and radiation intensities.’  Rather than gesturing towards some form of geographical anthropology, the subjective experience of the body is defined by the dialectic of environment and the social structures designed to survive it.  The naturalized structures of days and years become contingent within the context of space travel.  At the same time, the narrative continually emphasizes the third part of the dialectic in rhythms of planetary seasons and planetary travel, which is most directly captured in the way that social reproduction is made analogous to the experiences defined by the revolution of planets.
“We still progress through adolescence and education (which once ended at 14, then 18, 21, 25…) to youth, marriage, procreation, maturity, middle age, senescence and death.  And in a similar way, I think, there are certain rhythms of human history which recur in (widening, perhaps enriched, but increasingly discernible) moderately predictable patterns of motion and emotion both.
A recognition of this sort of rhythm is implicit, I think, in the joke that would not go away, which finally made the official name of the—ship?—in which you will depart The Ark (for Archaic?).  In any case, this story is, on its most basic levels, an exposition of such rhythms.  Among them is the curious business of the generation, and their alterations: at least it was that thought (or rationale) that finally permitted me to indulge myself with my dramatic opening. (Merril 59-60) 

The conventions of social reproduction and the revolution of the planets are linked through the common concept of ‘rhythm.’  The ‘rhythms’ of human history are linked to the cyclical rhythms of the developmental phases of human life, ‘to youth, marriage, procreation, maturity, middle age, senescence and death,’ and therefore implicitly linked to the seasons.  The cyclicality of the rhythm is put in tension with the progressive narrative of expansion.  These contradictory concepts are held together by the dialectical form of ‘the curious business of the generation, and their alterations.’  The story claims to explicate the slow and evolutionary expansion of this structure, which evidently allows for its own explication.  It not only makes the claim that the narrative will provide a description of profound transformations in everyday life due to space travel, but the meaning contained in the continuing patterns that are revealed by those transformations.  Within this context, the passage both recognizes and disavows the religious dimension of revelation through its reference to the Ark, while refusing to acknowledge the biblical reference, dismissing it as a shorthand term for the archaic.  If we take the disavowed metaphor of the Ark seriously, spaceflight becomes a secularized version of that narrative, gesturing towards a new social compact.  The flood is replaced by the vacuum of space and each new planet points to the creation of a new social symbolic.  In effect, God’s promise not to flood the Earth is replaced by a rewriting of the norms of the family.  This process is limited to a kind of non-patriarchal serial monogamy, but it has moved resolutely outside of the stalled dialectic of Shadow on the Hearth.
  To understand this process, it is crucial to examine the change in family norms produced in the story briefly.  The novella opens within the same temporal framework of Shadow on the Hearth, slightly in the future of the book’s publication.  It opens from the perspective of a mother who is involved in the first space colonization plan.  The novel opens moments before the launching of that flight.  The essay works within the same basic narrative of complaint contained in Merril’s earlier work, dependent on the normative complaints of the nuclear family. The mother of the family, Martha, is essentially forced into the colonization to the Moon by her husband, George, within the context of his sense of mild patriarchal authority.  Martha’s interior monologue develops this sense of complaint, through her sense of disconnection from the conventions of the journey, both from the official nationalist narrative and the conventional expectations put on her as a mother.  The interiority of Martha became the small voice of protest against these narratives, a disruption to the hegemonic force of cold war space race.
However, this stalled dialectic of complaint radically shifts with each succeeding space journey.  Although the narrative oscillates between domestic conventionality and exploration, each succeeding generation of women lives a profoundly different type of life that the one before, destabilizing the naturalization of any particular form of domestic arrangement.  Those shifts are captured in the description of the colonization of the planet Uller, generations after the initial story of Martha. 
“By the time, too, there were some unattached men.  A good many of those early marriages broke up in the first year.  In spite of the growing emphasis on typically frontier-puritan monogamous family patterns, divorce was, of necessity, kept easy: simply a matter of mutual decision, and registration.  For that matter, the morality in the early years was more than of the huddled commune than of the pioneer farmland.
Emma saw a lot of men that winter.  Lee was a convenient age—old enough not to need hovering attention, young enough still to be asleep a large part of the time.  Emma was a romantic figure, too, by virtue of her widowhood; her long grief established her as a better marriage risk than those who had made an error the first time, and had had to admit it.  The dawning recognition of these facts provided her at first with amusement, and later with a certain degree of satisfaction.  She had been an intellectual adolescent, after all.  Now, for the first time, she found out what it was like to be a popular girl.  She discovered a new kind of pleasure in human relationships: the casual contact.
She found out that friends could be loved without being the beloved; that men could be friends without intensity; that affection came in varying degrees, and that she could have many different kinds of affection from many different people….” (Merril 97-98)

Despite the hardships of the early years of settlement, the colony is distinguished from its Midwestern antecedents.  Rather than producing ‘typically frontier-puritan monogamous family patterns, divorce was, of necessity, kept easy: simply a matter of mutual decision, and registration.’  The colony, while still implicitly operating within a hetero-normative logic, shifted towards a far more informal social contract of marriage.  This shift in the practices of marriage is presented in moral terms, as a part of the ‘enriching’ of the rhythms of history.  The shift from the general history of the colony to the particular history of Emma reinforces this shift in the normative expectations of marriage.  Emma is presented as taking on multiple lovers, and remains the moral center of the narrative.  Her actions allow her to feel empowered as an individual, but they also let her recognize the multiplicity of emotional and romantic relationships that are possible.  The passage is not entirely outside what might be considered a set of conventional narrative structure, as Emma becomes ‘a popular girl.’  At the same time, it refuses the sentimental logic of complaint that Berlant sees at the heart of melodramatic convention.  Through the multiplicity of possible relationships, the narrative moves towards an abandonment of the idealization of any particular relationship along with the need compensate for the inevitable failure that is tied to that idealization.  The passage gestures towards a pluralistic approach to family structure, while never fully explicating that multiplicity.  That gap points to a recognition of the contingency of any family structure, but it also cannot concretely imagine what that might look like.
At the same time, the inventiveness of the narrative, its attempt to create a fictionalized memory of the experience of women, as well as the imagined history of social reproduction continues to reproduce the private/public binary that defined the far more claustrophobic narrative of Shadow on the Hearth.  The exclusionary nature is most directly evident in the description of the conflict between the native Ullerns and the colonists.  The narrative refuses an easy narrative of either presenting the indigenous population as monstrous or radically innocent.  Instead, the understanding of the conflict and resolution is presented through the loss of Emma’s husband, and her attempts to understand that death.  She eventually realizes that the death was an accident due to a lack of knowledge on both sides of the conflict.  At the same time, this somewhat sentimental journey excludes a thorough political examination of the social and political arrangements that defined the situation.  We are offered very little detail on how the colonists divided into two opposing camps, or how the sympathetic camp of colonists was able to negotiate a peace.  Finally, we don’t know what that peace meant to those camps.  Instead, we are offered a brief comment, putting those questions to the side.
“Thad Levine wrote the story of the bitter three years’ quarrel in the colony, and wrote it far better than I could.  You have heard from me, and probably from a dozen others, too, the woe-filled history of the establishment of Josetown.  Jo himself wrote a painstaking account of the tortuous methodology by which the Ullern code was worked out, and I know you have read that, too.
(I am sternly repressing the inclination to excuse my many omissions pointing to the date above, and referring to the page number.  Time is short now, and the story too long.  But neither of these is an honest reason for my failure to do what I planned—no more than are my excuses in the paragraph immediately above.) (Merril 107-108)

Through this clever passage, any attempt to link the economy of social reproduction of the household and the larger questions of political economy are effectively elided.  It ducks this question by claiming a lack of competency, placing the political narrative into the hands of Thad Levine.  While the novella form perhaps made the inclusion of long didactic passages on economics, sociology, and political conflict impossible, the occlusion of this material draws on a set of patriarchal conventional assumptions.  Despite the text’s attempt to re-imagine social reproduction outside the regulatory norms of domesticity, those norms continue to have a profound hold on the imagination of the text.  Just as significantly, the refusal to place the political questions of the impact of colonization within the text neutralizes the potential anti-colonial critique of the text, leaving the ethical question of the engagement with the other intact, but erasing the questions of power and racialization central to that question.  In effect, the occlusions of the text are perhaps as significant to the construction of the genre as its engagements.  The end of the narrative seems to gesture towards this possibility, as the process of human expansion into the unknown continues with another couple leaving to found another colony.
Merril’s work begins to challenge the conventions of the domestic melodrama, by showing the limitations of the isolated nuclear family in Shadow on the Hearth, and by connecting transformations of the domesticity and marriage in “Daughters of Earth.”  However, neither narrative entirely escapes the regulatory structures of the generic structures that the narrative attempt to subvert.  Rather than acting within the role of prophet, the role Merril prescribes to the science fiction author, Merril offers critical and symptomatic engagement of her present, a present that is powerfully defined by the mutually implicated ideological formations of the cold war, McCarthyism, and the Feminine Mystique.  That engagement allows for an initial critical engagement with those intertwined formations, exposing the structures of domination and coercion contained with them, and gesturing towards the possibility of an alternative form of domesticity in the future.  However, it will take the later work of Joanna Russ, Ursula Le Guin, and Samuel Delany to move questions of social reproduction from the space of the privacy of the household into the political space of the public sphere through a renewed engagement with the utopian form.