We welcome you to Con-text-ure, a series on experimental media and writing. The word Con-text-ure is borrowed from the book Culture/Contexture: Explorations in Anthropology and Literary Studies (Daniel and Peck 1996). Con, from the Latin “with,” a milieu. Text and texture, like a haptic inscription or entangled epistemology. Etymologically, context means weaving together (see Helmreich 2016). As a weaving, Con-text-ure aims for attunement to the ordinary to notice what is at stake: to capture scenes of emergence, to reckon with contours and limits (of the human, experience, the possible, the knowable, the sensible, and the otherwise). It is an attempt to take serious literary, poetic, and multimedia constellations; their potential to crystalize in images what is often enfolded, concealed from attention. We take cues from Michael D. Jackson’s invitations towards “thinking poetically” in anthropology: how such harnessed attentions reveal in images new angles from where to grasp at the world; and how in such slowing down of attention one keeps alive “a sense of what it means to live in the world one struggles to understand” (Jackson 2007, xii).
We must add that such slowing down of the world through literary and poetic attunements are far from attempts to “sentimentalize” the ordinary; rather, we argue, its images defy the moralist and humanist traditions where the human, the possible horizons of experience, and social relations are already pre-defined. Instead, slowness expands what it means to sense, to know, to express, to archive, to be with others, and to apprehend the world—in sensing we think other-wise; as the otherwise, we write process over object.
Con-text-ure aims to become a sensuous archive of multimedia apprehensions and collaborative contagion (or its refusals). In so doing, we’ll pose a challenge to the ways in which knowledge and expression promise to arrive via academic package. Or maybe it’s more like a fungarium or a seed bank (or an allergen?) than an archive. Much like Walter Benjamin’s mimetic archive where unintended resonances between disparate materials are brought to the fore by way of curatorial assemblage, we want the works of Con-text-ure to pose the danger of proliferating its contents indiscriminately (in the right light) (see Benjamin 2015). Our bibliography gets into the air. Some things prove uncitable, or more things prove citable.
Our brief introduction hopes to perform its content. It is one facet review of works that influence us; more facets that invite thinking with images, then, other facets that welcome us to reconsider the time of composition and how to expand citational practices—where we’re attentive to how (and from where) thoughts come knocking, how affects, images, and percepts travel back and forth between us; and in turn, how these generative reverberations leave impressions and traces. Like the jagged line of a poem that punctures, an arresting image that punctuates, or an ethnographic scene that brings us close to some immanent force we somehow knew existed all along. These are limit-experiences that tap into the consciousness of the world and carry the potential to break open new horizons, to drag us along into turbulent elsewheres. Thus, to recognize that the images and language we work with is no different than the other materialities of the world is somehow necessary to “writing” (see Pandian and McLean 2017, 17–18). In the jaws of media experimentation, then, is a challenge to the laws of genre, attending to translation (broadly defined) or, in the vein of 60s relational aestheticians, its “happenings”.
Further contemplating the emergence of anthropological and artistic practice, we ask: what might montage, juxtaposition, or other unexpected sensuous configurations offer to anthropological thought and other kindred pursuits? What can a sensuous engagement with anthropological theory of the image offer to poetry, the visual arts, performances or otherwise? As an experiment with the curatorial as method (Elhaik 2016), Con-text-ure will bring together various modes of anthropological and artistic dissemination that often never get circulated in academia. In essence, the works that lead to the work we call “works.” With this in mind, we hope to include a broad range of imagistic offerings, making examples of a sketch as an ethnographic scene; “accidental” photographs or notes from dreams; short stories and poems; philosophical interludes; mimetic writing alongside images or other art objects; fluxus-esque, surreal, dada and assemblage-like writing; soundscapes or other field recordings; long-form ekphrasis, performative, and processual works; collaborative creative writing, conceptualisms of any or all of the above . . . thus placing various approaches and forms into the zone of generative contact.
Recognizing the importance of citation within academic practice—as a process of texturizing thought, producing an accurate archive of a “field,” and building a community of thinkers within a genealogy that acknowledges both material and immaterial labors of intellectual workers—while also recognizing the aporias such practice creates, we are curious how we might do citation differently. What and who is it that we cite in “authoring” works, and how is it integral to co-constituting knowledge and rethinking labor, terms of agency, and the possibilities of democratizing, provincializing, or decolonizing research? We take cues from decolonial, Indigenous, and Black feminist thinkers (see Bolles 2013; Ahmed 2014; Todd 2015) on the practice of citation, as well as creative citational practices (see also Rankine 2004; Wright 2010; Stewart and Berlant 2019) that expand what becomes citable, and in turn, interrogate the notion of the citable itself.
How might we think of open access, database building, and the encyclopedic as a collective undertaking, or rather, how might academia take note of the labors of “sources” generally not considered as such: Wikipedia, earworms, zines, the neighbor, or the sounds of the street. At what point is someone an “interlocutor” and not an intellectual in their own right (see Biehl 2013)? When does an image become a work or an idea property? Can we organize thought around collective modes of attention, refusing, bending, or breaking the algorithmic assemblies that promise to guide our attention otherwise? We hope this series can curate multiple kinds of experiments that reckon with these questions by way of doing and disseminating anthropology alternatively.
Ahmed, Sara. 2014. “White Men.” feministkilljoys, November 4.
Benjamin, Walter. 2015. Walter Benjamin's Archive: Images, Texts, Signs. Edited by Ursula Marx, Gudrun Schwarz, Michael Schwarz, and Erdmut Wizisla. New York: Verso.
Berlant, Lauren, and Kathleen Stewart. 2019. The Hundreds. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Biehl, João. 2013. “Ethnography in the Way of Theory.” Cultural Anthropology 28, no. 4: 573–97.
Bolles, Lynn. 2013. “Telling the Story Straight: Black Feminist Intellectual Thought in Anthropology.” Transforming Anthropology 21, no. 1: 57–71.
Daniel, E. Valentine, and Jeffrey M. Peck, eds. 1996. Culture/Contexture: Explorations in Anthropology and Literary Studies. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Elhaik, Tarek. 2016. Incurable-Image: Curating Post-Mexican Film and Media Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Helmreich, Stefan. 2016. Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Pandian, Anand, and Stuart McLean, eds. 2017. Crumpled Paper Boat: Experiments in Ethnographic Writing. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Rankine, Claudia. 2004. Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric. Minneapolis, Minn.: Graywolf Press.
Todd, Zoe. 2015. “Decolonial Dreams: Unsettling the Academy through Namewak.” In The New [New] Corpse. Edited by Caroline Picard, 104–17. Chicago, Ill.: The Green Lantern Press.
Wright, C. D. 2010. One with Others. Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press.
Posts in This Series
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July 15, 2018. Shores of the Canal Saint-Martin, Paris. It was the evening when France won the soccer world cup. The recording captures the hours before the eve... More