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Margaret Rhee, HASTAC Scholar Short: The Raised Fist: A Cyborgian Tale? Recap

Margaret Rhee's presentation exemplified what I enjoy most about HASTAC and the HASTAC conference.  Margaret's short documentary asked an important question about the role of technology in society and did so in an artful and poignant way.  Using the recent example of the student strikes at the University of California in 2009, Margaret Rhee uses the concept of the cyborg to ask questions about this new age of activism.  What is the connection between the embodied act of protest and its representation in digital media? What does it mean to be cyborg activists, whose hands raise in fists and demonstrations, but also hold cellular phones and cameras?  Each act has its own rhetorical impact; the physical space and the embodied message are remediated online.

Our discussion on Google Wave discussed the image of the cyborg and how Margaret's presentation revised that image.  Cathy Davidson asked,

Does the cyborg hand raise itself in protest? I wonder, literally, if the current generation of neuron-powered cyborg hands can even make the fist gesture--to fight, to protest. If it does, is it a weapon?

Maureen Engel connected the hand to the importance of voice:

One of the things that struck me as I was watching is the relationship of the hand to the voice -- the way the hand has often traditionally reinforced the voice in protest. What happens when that voice gets distributed from the chant to the tweet, and does that same change mean something similar for hands?  

The voice connection is one that I latched onto to consider the questions Margaret raised. Voice is a common metaphor used to discuss writing.  Social media users often self-consciously cultivate a specific voice when they write online, and that voice is often different on different social media sites.  What interests me, though, is to think of the remediation of the protest chant Maureen mentions, because it must be multimodal. Is its equivalent the YouTube link? A Twitpic of a sign? Thinking back to the use of Twitter in Iran last year, the content that circulated captured actual voices, but also something else.

Cathy's question made me think back to Donna Haraway's image of the cyborg, which places human hands on a keyboard. Margaret provides us with other images to revise this one, of hands raised in the air, holding cell phones and cameras.  Here we see the importance is not the human tethered to the keyboard, but the embodied acts of the cyborg in a specific time and place. We used to think of cyberspace as a place we went that left our bodies behind, but now we see the act of being online as that of being in the world.  Our hands carry signs, but they also carry a message into online spaces. The line floating around Twitter after Margarets talk was, "I wanted to give you a poem, but I offer my body instead."  The words and images in her presentation today demonstrate the importance of both.

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1 comment

Dear Amanda, 

Much appreciation for such an intellectually provoking and beautifully written response to my presentation on HASTAC Conference 2010. I am so honored that you were able to see my presentation and provide such a thoughtful post, which helps me so much in working through the many questions I have in regards to the cyborg fist and student activism. Apologies for my delay, although I was able to post a google wave note, as I had fallen ill during the conference and juggling some academic demands in 'real time,' I was not able to respond to your post, here, until now, It was quite an interesting net conference experience, esp since I was still "presenting" via online, but because of my health and some other issues, was unable to engage in the fruitful and encouraging conversations that was happening. I am disappointed I was not able to participate in that, but wanted to write you again, to thank you so much.  In large part, I am more than honored  by your amazing response, and want to thank you so much for taking the time and your intellectual/political labor to engage with these issues.

As an emerging artist/scholar/human, its always so hard to put work out there, and I appreciate so much, your generous and thoughtful response, that will help the process of finishing the piece.  I hope to complete the film/hybrid essay this summer, and it is certain, your feedback and questions will more than help the process. I actually also wanted to ask, as I begin some collaboration with my friend amazing graphic artist, in the summer, if it can be possible to utilize some of your beautiful writing as apart of the video project? I would love to cite you as an author, and if its okay with you, would love to include your thoughts, as the whole process of feedback and interactivity is very encouraging to me, and I think resonates with the spirit of the video as a whole--since we dont think, or act alone...Please let me know your thoughts, when you can Amanda. While I am not completely sure of the process, yet, if its okay with you to quote you, I will be sure to check in with you on what this might mean, and make sure you are apart of the editing process too, if that would be of interest. Would be a great honor and pleasure to have your words in the video project! Thanks so much again, Amanda. 

In particular, the questions you raise, really resonate with me, as you suggest the performative of a protest, ie thinking about voice etc. I think focusing on writing is crucial for several reasons. For me, in experimenting with form, in the process of creating this work, I am trying to figure out how to interweave "text" and the "visual" both within the medium of video.

But as you raise: "Social media users often self-consciously cultivate a specific voice when they write online, and that voice is often different on different social media sites.  What interests me, though, is to think of the remediation of the protest chant Maureen mentions, because it must be multimodal. Is its equivalent the YouTube link? A Twitpic of a sign? Thinking back to the use of Twitter in Iran last year, the content that circulated captured actual voices, but also something else." 

Your point and others on our google wave chat such as Cathy and Maureen's bring up crucial questions around the ways, the representations can travel and in thinking of paraells to the protest chant. I am not that familiar with how Twitter was utilized in Iran, and appreciate your bringing this up, as its certain social networking/media is being utilized not only on a Berkeley or college campus in the U.S. but is located transnationally, which in many senses is exciting. Your perspective also brings up the issue of cultivation when writing online, and the voice that emerges that may be different than, one "face to face" etc. I wonder how this voice that differs from various media sites include the specific forms? or the limitations of forms, as you provide, a YouTube link, a Twitpic, etc. 

Moreover, I am struck and completely flattered beyond belief to note the connection of Donna Haraway's image of the cyborg, in which the hands type on the keyboard to the 'cyborgian fist.' Haraway's work is def central to this project and most likely all projects working with the relationship of the cyborg/human... I appreciate your generous point, in how there can be various images of the cyborg, that in this digital age, includes those that fit in our hands. All these devices, as you note, like the camera, and the keyboard are writing devices, and this seems to be an important point in thinking about cyberspace, digital media, and relationality to our world. 

I appreciate so much what you wrote at the end of your response, it really complicates, questions, and provides a crucial bridge between apparently dicotomous mediums, worlds, and ourselves: "We used to think of cyberspace as a place we went that left our bodies behind, but now we see the act of being online as that of being in the world.  Our hands carry signs, but they also carry a message into online spaces. The line floating around Twitter after Margarets talk was, "I wanted to give you a poem, but I offer my body instead."  The words and images in her presentation today demonstrate the importance of both." 

Amanda, you've provided so much insight for me to work through, and again, appreciate so much your feedback on these issues. I would love to engage further and especially also learn more about your work, esp your grad studies in Writing Studies and emphasis in new media, which sounds super fascinating! I hope very much to meet again online, and also meet in person sometime soon! 

my best, always 

Margaret 

 

 

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