Monday, February 17, 2020

Conventions in Print, and Power

Khairani Barokka cautions us against the use of italics for foreign words, including foods. It's all about power, you see. My first thought was that the intersectional continual overuse of quotation marks to draw attention to the problematic nature of "exotic," "othered," "norm," or "happy endings," and the like is an equal or greater problem.  Also, the love of slashes to combine categories such as poet/author/creator, or D/deaf/disabled writer, or fantasy/fabulist novelist also seems overdone.  I don't object to any of these.  They each have a place. I use italics in a more modern fashion, to give an emphasis as if the text were being spoken, and my high school English teachers would have objected to this usage, perhaps correctly. Voice and print have their own conventions, or used to.  I overuse parentheses, dashes, and asterisks because I am constantly interrupting myself to make another point, the same as I do in speech.  I may be getting worse at this verbal interruption of my own stories, as others are commenting on it more frequently. Or maybe, it's just my oldest son commenting on it more often.

I also use capitalisation for humorous effect to show that something is Not As Important As It Thinks, a form of mockery I learned from A A Milne.

There is a point of overuse for all of these where they become annoying. One can get away with them in light or humorous writing more easily.  In serious discussions they rapidly become mini-sermons, repeated in every paragraph to hammer home how expertly the author notices every example of insult and oppression, while you, you insensitive clod, pass by without notice, like the "priest" in the "parable" of the "good" Samaritan.

We are oppressed and you are oppressing becomes the single message.

I will come back to that.

One would think I therefore have objection to all intersectional/queer/"othered" art/literature/poetry, yet that is not so. First, I don't object to all these categories of oppression being lumped together to view themselves as a group that pits itself against a dominant mainstream culture.  To be rejected as a deaf black filmmaker feels much the same as being rejected as an Indonesian touring performer with chronic pain.  Rejection is rejection, and rejection for reasons that should be irrelevant arouses the same outrage in all of us. There may not be many deaf black filmmakers in the world, but if you are one, I'll bet it's a tough sell to people who might have money to back you, even if you are phenomenally good. (I can imagine immediately a silent film in an urban setting, using only what is seen, with those speaking on camera unheard, understood only by their gesture or by those who read lips. The people with speech are silenced. Could be interesting. There might be a hundred such films out there that are terrible, but I can at least imagine one that would be interesting. "You can see a lot just by looking," Yogi Berra said, which is both humorous and profound. What will make it interesting would be that it is not just a story about "Look at those speaking people who are now silenced.  Hahaha.  See how it feels?"  What would make it interesting is another story being told, with the silence of the noisy being an aspect of telling the story, not the story itself. It's better art.)

Art should be layered.  Intersectionality seems to be the cheap imitation of that.

Similarly, a person with chronic pain does perceive the world differently, and a woman from Indonesia does bring an outsider's perspective that  could easily be illuminating.

I have a brother with mild cerebral palsy.  He has long done jobs where he succeeds simply because he is good at what he does.  One of his cooler jobs was designing the shows at top-level planetariums. The Disability Experience isn't part of that. I have two sons from a Romanian orphanage.  Neither has a job that depends on describing the Immigrant Experience to others. Nor does my fifth son, essentially abandoned by his parents, have a job that bears any relation to that experience.  He works at the Post Office. However, if one were hampered enough that getting regular jobs was much harder than average - and I can see that being deaf and black, or being any kind of different-looking person with chronic pain is a multiplying of difficulties that makes the typical job hunt tricky - I can see why the arts might attract. It is a precarious living, but you can make many kinds of adjustments without having to ask anyone's permission.

Yet the arts community attracts people who just want to "start a conversation" or talk about themselves, and they are going to push you into those slots yourself.  If you made a film that wasn't obviously about deafness and blackness, just a good documentary about a town in decline or a story about a girl who gets lost on a train, some wouldn't like it. That's going to make things more difficult for an actual artist, I think. Just one more place where you don't get the credibility you deserve. As those people sometimes control the gates to grants and publications, they have to be taken into account, even if they themselves are a problem.

It's rather like black journalists who are asked mainly about racial issues.  What if they know a fair bit about transportation policy but only know cliches about race? I know, I know, news shows mostly want a repetition of cliches anyway. But you take my point.  Having an obstacle or a trauma is fine if it's a layer in the artistic process.  But it doesn't work as art, or even talking about the experience of the artist.

It's been done used to be the kiss of death in art. It still should be.

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