Flexner Book Club Blog

2011 Mary Flexner Lecturer: Judith Butler

Bodies Traveling through Space and Time

Butler’s lecture this week Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street coupled with the news of Occupy evictions lead me back to a panel discussion I recently attended on website usability and designing for social change (much of which I, admittedly, barely understood).  I, who becomes wary at the mention of the Internet coupled with the words social change due to the removed nature of certain Internet-level relationships, found myself becoming more open-minded as I realized that my cut-and-paste-DIY-mail-art-riot-grrrl days of photocopiers and mixed-tapes intersected with the virtual anarchy of networks and representation on the Internet.  The day of the discussion, I sat in a room of people invested in connecting people of various interests in more meaningful and effective ways.  In my days of toiling away with rubber cement and typewriters when zines were used as a form of communication among those with a certain socio-political agenda, careful time was taken to clearly convey oneself and one’s ideas to others who may not know you.  Zines and letters were sent through the mail, sometimes taking a week to arrive at its destination, that spoke not only of the writer’s beliefs and personal lives, but also of events that had taken place days, weeks, or months prior to its being read.  With this in mind, how do we think about time and space with respect to the Internet and “politics of the street”?

I awoke the morning after Monday’s lecture to find posts on Facebook mentioning the police mobilization early Tuesday morning to evict protestors at the Occupy encampment in New York City.  Attached to a friend’s announcement of the eviction was a petition as well as a link to a live stream news feed that ran 24-hours a day (http://www.livestream.com/occupynyc) which, as some may know, also includes a live stream of commentary.  My mind swirled with themes from the lecture of the night before as I looked at these posts and listened to NPR’s reporting of the event.

Butler’s lecture addressed issues of public space, political action, rights, and visibility, among others.  I began to think about Butler’s use of Hannah Arendt’s theory that the space in between bodies is where “the action happens” or the politics.  However, through use of the Internet, this space becomes foreshortened or doubled exponentially due to both its instantaneous nature and its vastness.  So, how do we begin to think about bodies in alliance with respect to representation on the Internet as these spaces in between bodies collapse and fold in on each other while simultaneously expanding and changing as they are in Butler’s words both “here” and “there”?  I found myself on the Internet with multiple windows open on my browser and the radio playing in the background—receiving a variety of media portrayals of the event coming from numerous sources in concert.

My attention was drawn to how the public square was invoked in the use of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street in New York City or City Hall, here, in Philadelphia.  As I watched images of these bodies being abused during their eviction, I kept thinking “I’m here but they are there” as I sit here and somewhat voyeuristically observe their action and their placement of their bodies in precarity as political actors in public space.   I thought about this experience in relationship to what Butler referred to as the “lived perspective of the body and the perspective placed on the body that the body is not aware of”.  I felt a connection to these bodies located in a different space and a different time experienced through their projection.  Along the lines of Butler’s argument, it is not only the bodies that are being projected but also the public square that becomes reinterpreted and reused both physically and metaphorically while reconfigured in its projection.  It is difficult to be aware of how one is experiencing what one is seeing when it is so immediate and plural in its representation.  How does the Internet become, in effect, another “street” on which political action takes place?

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