Welcome to Conversation 4
Good morning, Telepoetics delegates. My name is Anna Ball and I'm an Associate Professor in Postcolonial Feminist Studies at Nottingham Trent University. I have the great pleasure of acting as Chair to this panel.
Firstly - thank you to Vahni, Amy, Ricardo, Cesaire and Asiya for three extraordinary presentations. Each of them reminds us of what a life-line the telephone - or other online conversational methods - can be in these disconnected times.
This discussion area is where we can post questions and/or comments to the panelists. The discussion is open until 5th June. I'll be moderating the discussion.
I look forward to hearing what connections we can make in our conversation.
I'd like to begin by taking Chair's prerogative in order to ask the first question...!
Q: I'm struck by the ambivalent position of the natural world in relation to conversational technologies. In all of these presentations, we hear the vibrations of the natural environment resonating around the call - whether birdsong, the New York cityscape or the sea - but the call also serves as a protective bubble around the person receiving the message - never enabling them to break free from their own experiential environment. I wonder if each of you might like to reflect a little more on the place of the natural environment in your work, and how it mediates, interferes in, or calls out to you in your work as an inevitable part of the conversation?
Good morning, Vahni, Asiya, Anna, and all the Telepoetics participants,
We feel honored to be in conversation with Vahni and Asiya.
Vanhni, I love your close reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Spring," the connections you make between it and long-distance conversation. I love your observation, "The phone call has no etiquette for how to deal with the heart; yet it is the heart which it engages." Yes, we -- or at least Ricardo and I -- remember the 1980s. Your description of spit and sniffles made us laugh, and to the video call example, Ricardo said, "Snot I." I wonder if you could link all this to a particular line in "Spring" -- my favorite -- "What is all this juice and all this joy?"
Asiya, your presentation is beautiful, harrowing, haunting, heartbreaking. What are the differences and/or similarities between the sea of Zong! and the sea of Syncope? And, could you talk more about your method, about your relationship to documentary and (post)conceptual poetics, about the conversation you are staging not only with current event/s but also with collective research practices like the investigations of Forensic Architecture (which you cite)?
Anna, many thanks for your questions. Perhaps we are more interested in talking about un/natural worlds as they pertain to the un/natural disasters of various -isms and -phobias. Put differently, protective bubbles for many are inaccessible. Hence, our acknowledgment from the outset of our own pandemic privilege.
With best wishes to all,
Amy, Ricardo, and Césaire
Vahni, Asiya, Amy, Ricardo and Césaire - thank you all for these exciting pieces. I was especially moved by the ways that the 'call for help' seemed to echo across all three recordings, and the ethics of answerability bound up with this. What does it mean to call for help, and how might we answer (and answer to) such a call? This is something I'm currently writing about in relation to Wilson's discussion of the call as not only the 'search for emergency help, connection' but also that which 'comes to speak more widely, and ethically, of response, responsibility, the urgency of hearing and responding to the calls of the living and the dying.' Returning to Anna's opening question, I wondered if this could also be extended the idea of environmental calls? I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this, and on the notion of answerability more generally.
On a different note, I think that there are so many different ways that your papers address the possibilities and limitations of calling across borders - not only national, institutional, racial and cultural borders - but the borders between creative and critical writing too. I've always been interested in the ways that the telephone might allow us to explore the intersection between genders/genres of writing - operating as a kind of switchboard for writing, it seems to allow us to scramble the informed and the informal, the personal and the political, the literary and the critical. Any thoughts?
Hi Anna, Vahni, Amy, Ricardo, Cesaire and Asiya,
Thank you so much for sharing your work with us. Very much appreciated.
Amy, Ricardo, Cesaire, let me start by saying I very much enjoyed your work and also incorporated/dumped London Calling/Forster's 'Only Connect' into my work here. Great/all minds think alike. (Although, to be fair, my sense of LC speaking to un/natural disasters is almost entirely literal, as are the protective bubbles (state/class enclaves) which insulate people and create 'pandemic privilege'. I mean, obviously it's also metaphorical/linguistic privilege with material consequences but, you know, both.)
And this is a fun game of telephone. Flatten the curve by being ahead of the curve. And Derridada LOL.
Also, your work reminds me of the genius of World Of Noise, which I highly recommend:
Vahni and Asiya, I enjoyed (also very much) the strength and creativity of both your works here. Vahni, I must add I found your work to be the most compelling to me, of the conference so far.
It's 3:00am here (and it's always 3:00am somewhere; or never really 3:00am anywhere), so I'll leave it there. Goodnight again.
Asiya - Many thanks for this powerful reflection on your work. Building on Sarah's question, I'm interested in the question of the emergency call. As David Trotter notes, the telephone was initially marketed as an instrument capable of addressing domestic emergencies, but this was later replaced by an emphasis on 'connective sociability', or sociability for sociability's sake. Your paper has made me think about the role of human agency in addressing emergency calls; having access to a phone is useless if a call isn't placed or the receiver refuses to answer the call. In particular, the 'Left-to-die boat' case reminded me of Eichmann's trial and the use of bureaucracy as subtitute for ethical responsibility towards others; I'm thinking of phrases such as 'international waters' which seem to serve the purpose of negating national humanitarian responses and displacing the emergency onto others. Do you have any thoughts on the relationship between bureaucracy and ethical responsibility, as well as the potential role of language is masking the latter?
Sarah - I'm interested in finding out more about the ethics of answerability. Would you please be able to recommend any introductory reading on this? Many thanks in advance!
Hi @beatrizlopez, and thanks for this comment. I'm writing a chapter on this at the moment, drawing largely on Avital Ronell's The Telephone Book. I'd be happy to share the chapter when it's finished - feel free to email me!
Vahni's talk reminded me just how intimate phone calls are. I'd say they're more intimate than face to face conversations - in a face to face chat, you don't necessarily hear the same mouth sounds, or the shuffling to find a better position. It's always lost in background noise, or it becomes something that you just don't pick up on.
Asiya's talk was one of the most powerful things I've listened to. The indifference towards human life that she discusses is particularly important now, with what's going on in Minneapolis. Phones have become increasingly important at filming acts of police brutality against minority groups - again, another 'unintended' use for the telephone.
All three papers are so timely: merging - as Amy puts it nicely - the conceptual-poetic and the documentary.
Vahni's paper makes a compelling argument about art and technology: that the phone, much like the Hopkinsian poem, has qualities that are uniquely transformative, possibly telepathic. I'm struck by the situating of this talk in the context of the 'now' of Higher Education, in which the attentive lecturer tells the student: "Remember you signed up to have the freedom of classrooms, lecture halls, and libraries, not for staff to take the liberty of following you into your home or exposing you to theirs...'
Amy, Ricardo, and Césaire's piece describes those 'tonally deaf beyond his/her/their bandwidths', a consequence of pandemic privilege. And yet, it says, we're more in need of other voices now more than ever.
All three contributions introduce an essential ethical question to the productive paradox of distance and intimacy engendered by the phone.
When we talk about telephony as telepathic or transformative, are we talking in the realm of art, or of documentary, or of both? Could the 'ethics of answerability' be usefully explored at that intersection of the conceptual and the documentary?
@amysara, if you could reflect at all on the composition of the richly textured soundscape of your poem I would be grateful, and particularly the experience of writing at the intersection of ethics and form? And similarly Asiya, were the devices of documentary and poetry made consciously distinct in the composition of Syncope?
Thanks to all for three remarkable and poetic assemblages and enquiries.
I was struck by the question Vahni raises, about the kindred media of poetry and the telephone: 'what do we empty out of ourselves, or from the context in which we are physically present, in order to be filled with another's communication?' - a question which may bear on all of the papers. After all, one thing that distinguishes phones on the one hand from both letters and e-mails on the other is that there is no object (the paper letter, the text of the e-mail) that one can point to as being transferred in the process of 'communication'. Looking for it in frustration, we may be tempted to think of the voice in flight as such an object; or, better, we may revisit 'communication' and ask if it really is the transfer of an object - thought, information, being etc. - or rather something that happens, miraculously, when other hard-to-specify conditions are met. As such it may require the kinds of sacrifices and capacities for overlooking that Vahni speaks of - emptying oneself out, not noticing the static of one's environment.
And that feeds into Amy, Ricardo and Cesaire's, and Asiya's presentations. What are the politics of those sacrifices, that capacity to ignore one's immediate environment? it's not clear ...
Amy, I wonder if you would feel you were betraying your poem too much if you spoke about the tacit debate about the value of a coherent communicative structure that you seemed to be exploring, in your references to Derrida and Habermas, to the imposed masks of social distancing? do you feel that the ideal of easy synchronous communication is oppressive?
Thanks for all these incredible papers. I'm really interested in the discussion that's emerging here about Asiya's paper and about the idea of the ethical appeal of the call and the message that's ignored or disregarded. I was thinking about the role of repetition in the distress signal or emergency call. It's important for the left-to-die boat that those signals were repeated in different and ever more desperate forms, I think, but part of the network of responsibility and disregard into which the passengers' signals emerged is a highly codified system of internationally recognised, repeated maritime distress signals (SOS, mayday messages, inverted flags, flares etc.) which speaks to a history of emergency 'calls' being misinterpreted or unanswered. The context into which those unanswered calls emerged, then, was one in which the 'vocabulary' of the distress call was already calcified. Perhaps this comes back to the association of these calls with animal distress, outside an existing language that was meant to otherwise transcend borders? But it seems as though this adds another layer to the positioning of the people on the boat outside the borders of responsibility.
I'm interested in alarms (including alarms that are ignored or which go unattended), so this paper spoke to a lot the things I'm thinking about right now. I really liked the image of a 'call of duty' which helped me tease out the difference, I think, between a distress signal (a call of/to duty) and an alarm (a call to arms).
Thank you @alicebennett for this great comment about the distress call and the network of responsibility. I hadn't thought about the difference between the distress signal and the alarm; can you recommend any reading on this?
@sarahj No, I wish I could! But I haven't been able to find much either from history of technology or from a more theoretical perspective on alarms. The conversations that refer to David Trotter upthread about the telephone initially being marketed as an emergency device are really interesting in that regard, though. It also made me think about the catalogue of beepers in hip hop tracks from Stefana Fratila's terrific paper (sorry I can't work out how to tag Stefana in) and the way the device still has a sort of interruptive and disruptive urgency attached to it from its fresher association with emergencies (in comparison with the telephone). It seems similar to the use of the police siren in hip hop as well.
@dr-don Hola, Thanks for sharing the podcast. While I am not a poet. I have think that question of sonification, signals and glitchs are part of how poetry works to re-frame the constant back-and -forth between language as atomic facts, as transparency and what Amy Sara Carroll names the translucent that navigates levels of opacity and clarity. At least that is the way I echoed my way through writing and sounding out together. Best, Ricardo
Dear panellists and contributors,
Our conversation is nearly over; please do post any final thoughts, comments or questions by the end of today. A huge thank you to Vahni, Amy, Ricardo, Cesaire and Asiya for contributing such extraordinary and urgent papers. Each distinctly located, there are undoubtedly lines that connect them: calls to help, calls to listen, calls to self-scrutiny. I have been reflecting a lot recently on the distinction between hearing and listening - and I'd like to think that ironically, being able to hear these pieces not within a sterile conference room but within our own secure boundaries has perhaps facilitated an act of listening rather than simply hearing for us. A bubble of privilege, perhaps, but also of necessary contemplation.
I'd also like to take a moment to thank Sarah and Sam for organising and delivering such a wonderful event; 'vision' seems the wrong word given the sonic quality of Crossed Lines, but it may be the most appropriate...
This is also a quick reminder that there will be the opportunity to raise a glass to the project, reflect briefly on connections made and hear some feedback from others at 6pm GMT today. The meeting will take place via Teams. Please email Sam at email@example.com to let him know you will be joining us.
All best wishes,