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?
Thanks to everyone for their engagement with the presentations in this conversation. I have much I'd like to say (and will in the paper that emerges). For now, though, I wanted to share this passage from Christina Sharpe's book In the Wake, which references calls and missed signals and how unless you're primed to recognize a call, then it is easy to conflate it with anything else. Here she is speaking about a 2013 shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa:
"Hearing high-pitched cries, they looked out to sea to find that the source of the noise wasn't birds (as they'd first assumed) but Eritrean migrants shouting for help, their bodies thrashing. A large portion were women and children fleeing conflict and poverty by way of Libya, only to be hastily drowning, within eyesight of the Italian shoreline, in the waters they'd hoped would rescript their lives (Stillman 2013)"
What strikes me here is the conflation of birds' calls and women and children's calls of distress. If you were following the Christian Cooper case from a few weeks back, maybe there is also resonance again. In that incident, a white woman called the police on Cooper when he asked her to leash her dog in a leash-only area of Central Park. The woman repeatedly stated that Cooper was African American and was threatening her life. There is obviously a lot that we can say about this, but one of the noteworthy things here again is the environment: Black life, birds, emergency calls and signals. Blackness becomes a shorthand for a presumption of threat— no matter how fabricated— because it's codified in our understanding and perception of Blackness in the US. Cooper is an avid birder and was at Central Park bird watching. But his presence signals whatever you are primed for it to signal— however far from the truth. These thoughts are all nascent, but there are the variables of Blackness, calls, perception, and how signals prime us for action, inaction, brutality, or rescue.
My work is in conversation with Saidiya Hartman's, Forensic Architecture (FA), Christina Sharpe, Dionne Brand's Dawn Lundy Martin, and others. For the sake of this conversation, I recommend reading In the Wake if you haven't: https://www.dukeupress.edu/in-the-wake. The Forensic Architecture report I relied on to write Syncope is here: https://content.forensic-architecture.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/FO-report.pdf . Also, 'Liquid Traces' is a short film FA produced that might be interesting: https://vimeo.com/89790770
Alice, I want to keep thinking about the call of duty and the distress call as well. Thanks for those thoughts, and thanks to everyone for their thoughts. More on all of this soon.
Thank you for this reference, @asiya-wadud. Your mention of birds and bird calls really resonates with my reading of your Syncope, so I look forward to further discussions!