Monday, December 7, 2009

Re: Frontiers

I want to continue to examine Tsing's concept of the frontier, or the 'space that embodies its own impossibility,' first by comparing it to the section in de Certeau's Spactial Practices, "Marking out Boundaries," and then looking at the frontier's implication for Prof. Srinivasan's lecture this weekend.

I was interested to see that both de Certeau and Tsing imagine space, marked boundaries, and frontiers with the vocabulary of performance. Accroding to de Certeau, the process of marking out boundaries, "has a distributive power and performative force. [...] It founds spaces" (dC 123). This process creates 'a theatre of action' in which, according to Tsing, landscape becomes a 'lively actor'. At the same time, it "authorize[s] the establishment, displacement, or transcendence of limits, and as a consequence, set[s] in opposition, within a closed field of discourse, two movements that intersect" (dC 123). With this view of the frontier, de Certeau reiterates Tsing's concept of friction and opposing movement.

I found Prof. Srinivasan's presentation at Animating Archives to be very interesting and provocative. In fact, while I was thinking about the concept of frontier, I started questioning whether spatial demarcations and the subsequent friction produced could serve as a metaphor for the conflicting ontologies he presented. Tsing describes how "roads are a good image for conceptualizing how friction works: Roads create pathways that make motion easier and more efficient, but in doing so, they limit where we go. The ease of travel they facilitate is also a structure of confinement. Friction inflicts historical trajectories, enabling, excluding, and particularizing." (Tsing 6). Like both frontiers and roads, limited ontologies offer to one a structure of power, and to another, a dead end, or structure of confinement.

Like Aaron mentioned earlier on the blog, the collaboration between the Cambridge University's Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology and Prof. Srinivasan challenged the distinct and privileged ontological systems used to achive Zuni cultural products. Aaron said in his post, "The implication was that using rigid definitions separated certain narratives from the objects in display leading to pictures that... skewed things a little." A system that uses rigid definitions not only stifles diversity, but also invents a cultural product separate from its story, in the same fashion that the frontier invents separate spaces.

Embracing incommensurability can be likened to end of a frontier, or the common point of separation. In this scenario, there no longer exists a 'mouthpiece of the limit' (dC) who holds a position of power. Such a revolutionary shift could be likened to another spatial metaphor: that of the bridge, which according to de Certeau, 'distinguishes and threatens insularities' and finally represents the 'betrayal of an order'. The "legitimate space and and its (alien) exteriority" (dC 126) does not become the same, but rather re-imagined, this time in the context of Tsing's 'technofrontier, the endless frontier' (31), that makes revolutionary new forms of dynamic achives possible.

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