In the following post, I address Harass Map and Harass Tracker as a point of departure to begin thinking about the final project. As I listened to Abir Ghattas speak eloquently about the role of Harass Tracker in Lebanon, I noted that the projects included on the syllabus this week are particularly generative for considering the kinds of digital or analog strategies our project might use. I listened to Abir’s talk and came to one of the main threads woven through the Harass Map and Tracker projects. This through line is a model that might enable us to brainstorm a list of feminist activist strategies and technologies. (Please bear with me here, as I move through a few related questions in the post as a way of writing as thinking—this is a cake that is still in the oven). The main point of concern in the projects, one which is equally pressing for us in the United States today, can be distilled into the following question: When the rule of law does not protect a segment of the population, denies the existence of a systemic problem, and / or punishes the very same subjects it should protect, what strategies can we use to collectively remedy the problem?
First, we must decide what it is we aim to change. This is an especially important step because identifying exactly what the first goal is forms the basis of the entire plan. For Harass Tracker and Harass Map, the goal is visibility for victims (the project called out, “we are here, we exist, we will indexically mark our positions on the cartography of our city”) as well as the ability to generate a rhetorical shift in society’s perception of sexual harassment through solidarity networks and awareness. These may well be the same goals that we come to in our own project, but how we implement activist strategies will be different because the court system in the United States is structurally different. This is another way of indicating that in order to achieve similar goals, we need a plan that accounts for contextual differences in the way we are hailed as citizens of the state.
In practice, this structural accounting means something that at first sounds strange, but is in fact a strategy we already use to fight the current administration’s policies. It might mean that we reverse engineer the court system so that it works in our favor (cf: the court ruling on the unconstitutional nature of Trump’s travel ban, or the ruling on the Dakota Access Pipeline, for two examples of reverse engineering—another check on power). What might it look like if we apply the same kind of logic in our project even if we do not directly address a court (or maybe we will)? Can we change the way subjects are constituted by the law if we use the law as a medium that speaks to and for subjects? The matter of how subjects are constituted by the law is the very fabric of “the personal is political,” for the law seeps into and through everyday life in ways we often fail to notice. If the goal is changing how subjects, or their rights at any given moment, are constituted by the law (and in turn, by the state), then we need to decide what the dominant, resistant, and alternative readings of the law rhetorically proclaim in order to change how it resonates. As long as we are reading critically, we might also pay attention to what cultural readings symptomatically reveal about our contemporary moment because we are running a very high fever.
Another way of framing the question for our own project may be: How do we address power in a way that enacts change? This is a broader question than the former, but it emphasizes the way we aim to act on a goal. It is yet another facet of a project that desires to work in many media forms because the action of address is always one related to mediation. When we mediate differently, we address the public differently. Mediation can be used as a technique, for mediation positions an object at a distance (however close it may or may not viscerally register) even when that mediation announces its liveness or state of emergency. Liveness and a state of emergency are but two effects especially endemic to mediation right now—think of news reporting live on location from the latest catastrophe, or Facebook Live videos posted online by users who are both under duress and simultaneously report duress (cf: Pooja Rangan’s book, Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary for more on emergency thinking in contemporary documentary as well as Jen Malkowski’s Dying In Full Detail, which concerns the recording of death in documentary). If countering the twin tag team of liveness and emergency are important in re-mediating an idea, object, or action for the very fact that we need to slow down to think properly and critically, then what techniques can we channel as we mediate or remediate? Remediation itself requires some slowing down, but not nearly enough because we have so many platforms and devices at our fingertips. What does it mean to remediate critically? How do affect and mediation or remediation work together and are we interested not just in mediation, but also in remediation?
Remediation is interesting in this context because it deals with both the process of ongoing mediation and its effects as well as the distribution and circulation of media forms. The digital is not just a new media form—it requires new networks and processes of circulation and exhibition. Also noteworthy is that remediation takes both analog and digital forms. It, too, can be reverse engineered and this called reverse remediation (cf: reverse remediation), which is a kind of critical, deconstruction practice. For fascinating takes on the effects of remediation and digital culture, see artists Rebecca Baron and Douglas Goodwin’s Lossless Series, Hito Steyerl’s essay on the poor image, and Natalie Bookchin’s “Now He’s Out in Public and Everyone Can See” (2017).
Finally, as a last idea, what might feminist, reparative (re)mediations look like? How do we mediate an ethics of care in a precarious world? Are there “best practices” for transforming a feminist life into an online space? Would Sara Ahmed tell us that the figure of the feminist killjoy is a necessity at this moment and that finding her in online spaces is equally as important as the killjoy we enact as a feminist practice? What other feminist figures can we play with? If part of the project is play as performance, how do we conceive of our feminist acts in real life? Can they join our party? To my mind, the stakes of the issue we consider can be high and pressing, but personal, playful interventions rather than overly serious ones might be our best way to proceed. The more audience interaction we have, the better.
I also like the idea (which is contrary to other ideas about the digital and mediation that I’ve just discussed) of using the project as a way to reconnect with our own community in a way that enacts the personal dimensions of the political more than the digital ones—we often communicate with each other digitally more often than we communicate with each other in person. Playing together and caring together, even if that means removing other forms of traditional media from our space, might be revitalizing. Reconfiguring the definition of feminist technologies seems like a meaningful intervention. We could also play with power in the sense that having a conversation with people without digital mediation present allows something to happen between us that we don’t often allow time for. In essence, taking us off the clock, out from behind the screen, and placing us in front of other people can be transformative. See Marina Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present.