Monday, November 26, 2007

friction as anti-Babel, friction as form?

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s idea of “friction” is something that I think connects well to the various arenas we have looked at over the semester. Perhaps because it connected for me on a similar engaging to read level, I keep being drawn to comparisons between Friction and Snow Crash. The two seem almost diametrically opposed in some ways (I am thinking of the representation of the people on the raft as undifferentiated masses vs. Tsing’s attention to difference in many different areas within Indonesian social, political, and environmental landscape, and the way those areas intersect), yet Tsing’s focus on the importance of not neglecting difference but incorporating it into strategies for mobilization reminds me of Snow Crash’s insistence on the necessity of different languages and mangled communications in order to protect people from authoritarian control. For some reason, this comparison was elicited for me in reading a section on page 214, which reads, “Both agree that when liberalism spreads, it is completely successful in creating the subjects it conjures…Liberalism’s dreams are no different than liberalism’s practice in these accounts.” This seems to be very similar to the nam-shubs in Snow Crash, but what prevents this from being actualized in Indonesia are the forces of difference, which need to be paid attention, similar to the differences that keep people from speaking the language of Babel. Yet Tsing also seems to go far beyond Snow Crash in seeking a way to continue communication with difference, without erasing it.

Part of her strategy, it seems to me, is the way in which she intertwines the narrative of her ethnography, stories of the people she knows, scientific and social academic accounts, and poetic language and images of people and their environments. All these different categories must come together, with their friction, in order to produce the kind of work she is advocating. I wonder what this says about the forms other works we have read/looked at take, and what path it sets out more generally for scholarly work that seeks to be “a hair in the flour.” Is this kind of heterogeneous text something that is accessible to everyone in different ways? I think Tsing would say so – she goes out of her way to emphasize the hybridity of the narratives her Meratus friends and nature lover acquaintances give. Or not hybrdity, exactly – that seems too smooth. Maybe it would be more accurate to align this kind of text with the cyborgs we discussed a couple weeks ago? Ultimately, where does her concept of friction fit in to the ideas we have discussed, and where does it push them in new directions?

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