Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Intentionally Misunderstandings

A question that arose while reading Tsing's Friction is the role of intentionality in processes of engagement with universals, productive misreadings, and the making mysterious, and through which networks of political action are formed. If we take the example of the AIDS activist, Amy Kapczynsk, who organized a diverse group of people to protest Yale's enforcement of its patents in South Africa, it becomes obvious that the wide range of groups, motivations, and effects only gain their power through the spontaneity and non-intentionality of their coalition. The variety and contradictory nature of the arguments Amy would have had to make to intentionally engage with each group would have undermined the coalition itself because it would have foregrounded its composition from fragments. Conversely, attempting to engage each group through a single appeal would require that appeal to take the form of the lowest common denominator, the least defined, the least likely to persist and lead to action. Instead, what gives an appeal power is a combination of intensity and openness to translation, allowing for others to invest in it and invest it their own meanings. It is this kind of engagement and investiture that Tsing speaks when she says that

Universals are effective within particular historical conjunctures that give them content and force. We might specify this conjunctural feature of universals in practice by speaking of engagement. Engaged universals travel across difference and are charged and changed by their travels.

From the opposite perspective, it is difficult to speak of intentionality in the productive misreadings and engagement with universals on the part of the various groups that lead to their coalescing around Amy. How does one even go about intentionally misreading in any sort of serious sense unless one considers all readings to be necessarily misreadings? The issue then is one of translation that is productive of meaning through its interjection of the unfamiliar within the familiar and forcing us into prolonged occupation of the space between. We as readers become the medium for the dialog to take place in.

 But this raises a second question, one addressed by Terranova. How do we ensure the accuracy of intention as it is translated across this medium? Is there some ur universal that others such as freedom, truth, etc. all engage with that allows for them to coalesce so effectively around a single piece of activism?

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