[-empyre-] Vor dem Gesetz/Before the Law, hoveringly

Christina Spiesel christina.spiesel at yale.edu
Fri Nov 21 03:00:47 EST 2014

Dear All,

Taking up Johannes' extensions of the questions (below), let me do a wee 
bit of back and fill.

Antonio Damasio in /Descartes' Error/ (1994) tells the story of a judge 
who gave up judging after suffering neurological impairment because he 
could no longer access emotion which is a guide in the complex equation 
of factors that go into judging. There are people in the legal system 
now who just think of it as the fair application of rules, [punishments 
being just desserts, and there are people devoting themselves to 
creating judging machines and software to predict how one or another 
judge will decide a case. There is a lot of thinking about justice at 
stake in our legal system right now.  All the time humans make judgments 
but our options are being foreclosed by the mentality of the systems in 
which we now live.  This is, of course, a "first" world issue except 
that our inability to come to terms with the third world as being real 
and complex in its own right means that we do not have good matches 
between our efforts and our results. Democracy cannot be exported as 
we've fantasized and neither can our health care system -- look at all 
the cultural factors that have made medical interventions so difficult 
in the Ebola epidemic begun in Liberia for instance.

We are in the grips of a historical moment when emotions are being 
excluded for many reasons. So the education of our subjectivities 
through history, humanities, the arts is being cut out in favor of 
instrumental and concrete thinking. People don't stop feeling, cannot 
turn off their emotions, but with these big holes in their education, 
they have fewer tools to understand what to do with them, to understand 
their own humanity.  Yesterday the New York Times ran an op ed by two 
doctors talking about how medicine is being done in by large 
intermediaries -- insurers and drug companies and medical organizations 
focused on  externals  -- and how doctors are under pressure to treat by 
the book. As they wrote, patients are NOT populations (the stuff of 
statistics) but individuals and the "cookbooks" might advocate 
treatments that are inappropriate for that individual. Doctors are now 
caught in between because their institutional self-interest is now at 
odds with their role as healers.

This is a long introduction to a simple thought: we need the arts to 
come to the rescue. I keep thinking of the art teacher in (Teresin?) who 
taught the  interned young very advanced modernist aesthetic tools to 
express themselves even as they waited for transfer to extermination 
camps. Their wonderful works are on now display in Prague. Was it 
foolish to keep them spiritually alive in the face of atrocity or the 
best protest possible under the circumstances?  What comfort did the 
teaching give the teacher when all other sources of power were 
eliminated? And for the children? Didn't it give them an experience of 
freedom and possibilty?

We need arts both in the universities and out there in public spaces. 
And we need artists to keep themselves alive, somehow, both as beings 
and as creators. I believe that this is the counter story to the 
awfulness of our perceptions of the world these days. And there is 
always an inter-generational conversation between arts makers and their 
forebears, and hopefully, inventively, we'll find ways to play it forward.


On 11/19/2014 10:04 AM, Johannes Birringer wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> ps (to last night)
> I just wanted to acknowledge, in addition, some of the contributions to our discussions over the past days, from John Hopkins, Erik Ehn, and Christina Spiesel; and I found it interesting,
> in the contexts of human rights, the law and legal philosophy raised yesterday, that Christina chose to focus on the educational system and various aspects of teaching, cognition (machine)
> learning, assessment, etc., presumably in the evolving corporatized and privatized neoliberal higher education sectors.  Christina also very persuasively points out that
> teaching that produces critical thinking is labor intensive -- it actually requires teachers who have real knowledge/preparation before they get to students
> and then students who can be responsive to inter-generational conversations.
> This notion of the inter-generational conversation, and the various modes and possibilities of cultural performance and knowledge transmission  is an important one that deserves
> further attention, I believe, also especially because it seems to me that 'justice,' but also existing laws (and any form of dialogue and exchange based on situated codes and conventions and
> discourses of specific historical and cultural contexts) and rules of propriety, debt, compensation, or distribution, are intimately connected to teaching and learning.
> And of course, Christina, I agree with what you argue, namely that feeling and the emotions are also guides to value; what one would probably have to address, also when I listened to Fereshteh's brief
> report on her new play, featuring a female protagonist (educated) who
>>> has experienced a trauma in her islamic homeland and doubts the effectivness of psychotherapy in a world full of violence, war and joblessness, tries to heal herself by writing a play.
> is the different availabilities of processing a world of violence, through a writing or talking cure, through role models, through action models,  and incitement from preachers, elders, brothers and father and mothers and sisters and peers.
> Your comments, Christina, probably refer to the US (you teach at one of the top Ivy League universities?), but I wondered about the schools that Pia visited in the occupied territories, or schools in Afghanistan and Iraq.
> I tried to contact Iraqui writer Sherko Fatah after reading about his last stay in the land of his father, near Suleimanija, but he has not replied yet; I also contacted artist./ethnographer Abdel Hernández in La Habana; he teaches at ISA (Instituto Superior de Arte) and I asked him whether he would join our roundtable as I hoped to hear more voices from regions outside euro-american northern hemisphere;due to lack of stable internet connection, Abdel and his students were not able to follow this discussion. Whereupon I saved all the posts into a consecutive text file and sent to Cuba, and Abdel promised he would get back to us.
> Then, thinking of Rustom's crypt and a recent interview with Snowden in Russia, where he urges professionals to encrypt all "client communications" - I suggest to Abdel he better encrypt his letter to us.
> warm regards
> Johannes Birringer
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

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