activism, anger as motivation, arguing on social media, AWP, Facebook hiatus, giving a shit, Mongrel Coalition Against GringPo, petition, racism, slacktivism, Twitter, Vanessa Place
The title of this post has to be long because I haven’t been on Facebook and am trying to cram in all that I missed.
Actually, I sort of gave up Facebook and I don’t “miss” it at all.
By “gave up,” I mean, I deleted the app from my phone so I have to check FB from an actual computer, which happens approximately once a day. I do not comment on posts, though I will still like things, give people their bday love (my bday was a few weeks ago and I got hundreds of bday loves and well wishes. Your bday is perhaps the one day a year when FB is worth it.)
I also share my own stuff, my own blog posts. In fact, things I would’ve used as status updates before? They’re blog posts now. I can blog more often–but not about every little thing!–write and engage more thoughtfully, and maybe get some of my existing friends to talk to me here, in a space I’ve created. Last week, three posts got me eight comments. It’s a nice, modest little start.
Friday afternoon, I noticed Mongrel Coalition Against GringPo was tweeting (I’m still on Twitter. Always.) at AWP about Vanessa Place, a “conceptual poet” who is tweeting every word of Gone with the Wind, who changed her avatar to a picture of Hattie-McDaniel-as-Mammy, and who thinks that in so doing, she’s somehow making art.
Further, she and her ConPo defenders think the rest of the world–many of whom are objecting loudly to this appropriation (not to mention, a gratuitous peppering of the N-word all over the place, by a non-black person, and I don’t care if she IS quoting a book or, you know, has black friends, or not)–are too stupid to interpret or appreciate that “art.”
We’ve seen this before. Bros aestheticize violence against women in art all the time (nope, not linking!), then they and their editors tell us we just don’t understand nuance. OK. Yeah, aaaaaaalllll the people objecting to your work have nothing in common except that they’re all stupid and one-dimensional, right? Right.
And ConPo have been in the news, anyway. They like being in the news. Kenneth Goldsmith read Michael Brown’s autopsy report to a crowd and called it a poem. This group seems to revel in controversy, and that’s fine, I guess–but then words like “censorship” start getting thrown around. (Can someone please tell me who is being censored when we object to a writer’s tweeting lines from someone else’s book and calling it art?)
Anyway. MCAG was all over it. Apparently, Place was supposed to be on an AWP subcommittee for next year’s conference. = A writer who is offending people of color is in a position of relative power and influence over people of color. Further, have you seen the stats on how straight and white the panels at this past year’s AWP conference were? How is appointing Place to an AWP subcommittee sending a message that POC are safe and welcome on AWP panels?
So. MCAG began tweeting at AWP, demanding that they remove Place from the committee. They insisted that anyone associated with Place must either denounce her publicly or be considered complicit in her racism. Here, here. Audre Lorde said, “Your silence will not protect you.”
And guess what. AWP removed Vanessa Place from the committee.
I’m not going to link to any of these happenings because it flies in the face of my very reason for disengaging from FB: the onslaught of litroversies is sucking time and energy that I want to spend on writing, reading, teaching, and being a good mom. It’s a selfish decision, and I need to be selfish right now. Follow @AgainstGringpo on Twitter. Look for the official statement from AWP later in the day. My reason for writing this post is because, lo and behold, some people bitching on the Internet actually made a difference, resulted in the creation of a petition against Place’s AWP involvement, and inevitably got people’s ire up. My ire was stoked Friday afternoon as I retweeted a few of MCAG’s calls for denouncement.
Then, I walked away. I could feel myself sliding into the fight. I’m sorry. I try. Mad props to all my Facebook friends who gave of their time and energy to raise awareness all the livelong weekend about this. I believe their efforts are worthwhile, and they are no less tired or busy than I am.
Maybe armchair activism is more effective and necessary than we give it credit for?
I realize, as the uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson continue, how privileged a statement that is. I am protesting racism from the comfort of my own home–and even if I were to leave my home, my safety as a white person is a better bet than if I weren’t a white person.
And now I don’t like the way the term “litroversy,” which I glibly used above, diminishes what we’re really talking about here: persistent systemic racism that is “art” in one corner of society and very real, non-conceptual, dead black children’s bodies in another corner. ENOUGH. And I’ll say that out loud, online and in real life.
I’ve given up Facebook, not empathy. Not human decency.
There is so much more I/we can do, and should do, and some of it, I will do. But no matter how much glee ConPo gets from interpreting outrage over their aesthetic as successful buzz, some tireless people did a good thing in getting that petition together quickly. I’m grateful to them; when I logged in to FB this morning for a quick skim, that petition was the first thing I saw. I remembered Friday afternoon, and how I slinked away, and I felt terribly guilty. I did the least I could do and signed the petition–and that, I will link to.
Activism or slacktivism via social media? Whatever you call it, it worked.
Did you or will you sign the petition, even though AWP has already removed Vanessa Place from one of its subcommittees.
Update: The official AWP response sucks. Screw it, here’s your link.
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Kudos on (mostly) giving up on FB. I’ve thought about saving myself the emotional stress, but I realize sometimes the stress is actually just part of being in this f’d up world, so I stick around, listen, nearly comment on threads, but then delete and meditate instead. Wish more people would realize that empathy and art are not mutually exclusive. Keep up the blog writing and fighting the good fight!
Thanks, Matt. I have the stress whether I’m on FB or not, but once I engage there, and the notifications blow up the rest of the day, I am no longer in control, it seems, of when and how I engage. I keep getting pulled back in. Now, I log in to see what’s going on, then reflect, then maybe blog about it if I feel I have something new or valuable to say. It’s been 10 days. I’ve written two poems and an essay in the meantime, plus four blog posts. How is my time better spent? For now…not arguing on FB. Appreciate your read and comment!
I ought to elaborate, but, really, you just said it. I guess where I can go, though: I’m thinking a lot about the relationship of art to activism — your last post sent me down that rabbit hole. Something about the showing-the-work aesthetic as a kind of activism. I resist it myself but believe in its necessity. Is my aesthetic a kind of privilege? Is that possible?
I posted this quote from Hugo’s Triggering Town on FB a few weeks ago: “The triggering subject should not carry with it moral or social obligations to feel or claim you feel certain ways. If you feel pressure to say what you know others want to hear and don’t have enough devil in you to surprise them, shut up.” A friend — straight, white, male — said, yeah, but isn’t that a privileged position? He defined the privilege as, basically, the privilege of “not feeling compelled” to use art for activism. Is compulsion privilege? Is feeling itself privilege?
I didn’t sign the petition. I didn’t have any idea who VP was or what she was up to. I have a slightly better idea now. I would really love to sit down and talk to her about what she’s doing; everything I’ve seen has been some dude saying what she’s doing. Why?
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Vanessa, just for you, m’dear, here is a link to Vanessa Place’s artist statement at Drunken Boat, on the GWTW “project”: http://www.drunkenboat.com/db10/06fic/place/statement.html
I say, she’s using racism to point out that racism exists, and it’s at best lazy, but most certainly not art, not above reproach, and not compelling or original or even outrageous in any way. What’s outrageous is how she’s being defended. Even AWP name-dropped some white guy lit crit to halfway absolve her, but still sidestepped the “controversy.” Corporate spinelessness.
Ugh, I typed this endless comment & lost it. Short version: thanks for the link, and for your summation — I’ve ended up in pretty much the same place as you: I do think it’s lazy, I don’t think it’s compelling, it’s not original. Howard Stern was so much more outrageous. I don’t get the poetic at all, though I’m sure I can critical-theory my way in the door — like, I went to grad school, too — but I don’t have the slightest desire to do so. I do not want to go to that party.
Ultimately, though, I don’t think it matters for a second what clever interpretations I can come up with, as that’s pretty obviously an aspect of my white privilege and worthless in the matter at hand: POC are hurt by the work. They are hurt by the decision to give VP power over what we all ought to be protecting as a safe & inclusive space. For all the reasons everyone’s already pointed out, that AWP statement is disgusting.
But I’m also not quite ready to vilify VP. That’s what’s caused, for me, a kind of amorphous ambivalence. The whole thing reminds me of the dude with the Sexton poem: there’s something going wrong, and those who see it are right to point it out. But I can’t just end there. That’s like all the people looking at the riots in Baltimore & saying WRONG BAD I WOULD NEVER. We need to start talking. Right now I feel like we’re just shouting at each other. I’d be really interested to read a public statement from her about the public reception of her work and AWP’s decision / statement.
Also: “Is compulsion privilege? Is feeling itself privilege?” Sweet merciful crap, with the huge questions. 🙂 I have no earthly idea, but now I’m spiraling a rabbit hole myself.
I had already been digging that hole because I structured an American lit survey around Emerson & Thoreau as an American binary: idealism / pragmatism, Thoreau’s activism & Emerson’s, funnily enough, slacktivism. Your conflict has historical roots 🙂
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Emerson and Thoreau! One sat alone by a pond and one said hippie love shit like, “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself,” so if that doesn’t outline my dilemma in the most beautiful way, I don’t even know.
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And for the record, I do NOT think feeling is privilege (I am at least 90% Emersonian) but am fascinated that others might.
I am feeling ALL of this. All of it. All.
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