The Personal, the Political, and the Intellectual


Instead of telling readers and potential contributors what we at Zeteo mean when we talk of “combining the personal, the political, and the intellectual,” this post offers illustrative excerpts from Zeteo articles and essays. We hope in this way to give you a feel for what we have in mind. “Zeteo” means to explore, and we continue to look forward to exploring the personal, the political and the intellectual with all of you.

1         By way of an introduction

From Edward F. Mooney, Thoreau: Mourning Turtle Doves

I come at last to disenchantments not of Nature or of society generally, but of the administrative regimes of academia—cubicles squared up for specialized research programs; thoughts and texts chopped into bits; feelings for the living whole of things, cognitive and affective, sidelined or gently mocked; feelings partitioned off from thinking, and thinking from feeling. We privilege the analytical and critical and rule out sensing a text as a revelation to behold, letting words burrow and transform. Secular higher education has—for the flimsiest of reasons—abandoned to Church, family, the streets, or entertainment what might pass as transformative, regenerative, or redeeming insight, revelation, or knowledge.

2         An Arab American Mother Gets Personal

From Lama Zuhair Khouri, How Does It Feel to Be the Enemy?

Initially, I did not want to write about the Arab experience in America per se. I felt that often the word Arab immediately conjured up images of September 11, Guantanamo Bay, terrorism and so on. But the Boston tragedy was a rude awakening. I realized that I was fooling myself thinking I could separate my experience as an Arab immigrant from the present political reality. However, the more I wrote about the topic the more inauthentic I felt. It seemed to me as if I was going on and on, with rhetorical speeches and banal arguments, and dwelling in the abyss of self-pity and recrimination. I finally realized what was blocking me. . . . How does it feel to be the enemy?

3         Politics in pop culture, post-feminism and the choices facing young women today

From Catherine Vigier, The Meaning of Lana Del Rey

Mainstream feminism’s embrace of the corporate agenda since the 1980s has meant that it has less and less to say to the women who are not going up. Popular culture, to the extent that it expresses the lived experience of women and girls, is showing that the allegedly post-feminist society, in which woman make choices on the same basis as men, does not exist. Yet the images of women’s own experiences as they are reflected in popular culture show that we urgently need an alternative to the present state of affairs. Self-exploitation or self-destruction cannot be the only choices open to young women today. It is important to recognize that as long as the pressures on working women remain at their present intense levels, women and men will be thrown back on traditional forms of relationships which many had hoped were a thing of the past.

4         The Intellectual Backdrop for Gauguin’s Tahitian Paintings

From Richard M. Berrong, Oil Paintings of Word Paintings of Nature’s Paintings: Gauguin’s Early Tahitian Canvases and Pierre Loti’s Le Mariage de Loti (The Marriage of Loti)

By 1891, the year that Gauguin first sailed to the South Pacific, Pierre Loti had become one of the most successful and admired novelists of his day, winning election to the French Academy’s “forty immortals” in April of that year in recognition of works such as Le Roman d’un enfant (1890; The Story of a Child) and his masterpiece, Pêcheur d’Islande (1886; Iceland Fisherman). The latter is perhaps the finest recreation in French literature of Monet’s style of Impressionism, and therefore put its author in the camp of the finally successful new style of painting from which Gauguin, by 1891, was so eager to distinguish himself. Loti was also highly admired outside France. Henry James, for example, a demanding judge, declared Loti to be “a remarkable genius,” “one of the joys of the time,” “the companion, beyond all others, of my own selection.” By 1891 The Marriage of Loti had gone through thirty-nine editions and was playing a significant role in shaping how the French were imagining their Polynesian colony. Vincent van Gogh, an avid reader of contemporary French literature, and Émile Bernard, a younger and himself innovative painter whom Gauguin met in Pont Aven, in Brittany, both evidently suggested that Gauguin read it when he was searching for a new place to paint.

5         Bee Science and Our Personal and Work Relations

From William Eaton, Science B

The author’s central conclusion is that, although bee colonies have no central administration, managers, or leaders, tasks are successfully parceled out, performed, and coordinated simply as a result of the individual bees responding “to stimuli they encounter; [and] when they respond, they change the amount of stimulus at that location and thereby affect the local behavior of their nestmates.” I could not help thinking about large bureaucracies in which I have worked and about the relations among the workers, myself included. In human relations in general it is certainly the case that through our speech, silences, posture, and positioning we regulate what can and cannot be said to us—e.g., whether the person running on the next treadmill over can or cannot say anything to “me,” or even go so far as to ask if I might want to get a coffee sometime. Similarly, during a meeting it is possible to feel viscerally that there is no room to make certain statements or kinds of statements, notwithstanding however true or useful these statements may seem to be. While many of us may at times be frustrated by the repetitiveness or narrowness of our meetings, conversations and relationships, it is rare we even give our own controlling behaviors much thought. They are for the most part as unconscious as are (in our imaginations or our science) the bees’ decisions to perform one task or another for the hive.

6         The Politics of Community-Integrated Housing for People with Disabilities

From Jennifer Polish, Queering Community Housing

Access to publishing in academic journals should be made more widely available to people with developmental disabilities, opening opportunities to transform definitions of what constitutes “expertise.” Living goals and definitions of “community” must similarly be created by self-advocates rather than by well-meaning academics and service-providers. More broadly, a diversity of understandings of belonging and of “disabled” sexualities should be promoted within housing and academia. Future research needs to focus extensively on queer-specific concerns about control of home spaces, such as comprehensive clothing choices, privacy, sexual health education and care, etc. Doing so will make it more likely that people with developmental disabilities will have much easier access to self-determination, so that recognition of developmentally disabled people as both non-normative and as fully human persons can ensue.

7         Perfume as a Subject for Intellectual Reflection

From Jeffrey M. Barnes’s review of Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume by Barbara Herman (Lyons Press 2013)

In 2006, Sissel Tolaas, a Norwegian-born polymath, presented “the FEAR of smell—the smell of FEAR” at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center. In this show, molecules taken from the sweat of men experiencing panic disorder were microencapsulated in paint applied to the gallery walls that were then released by the viewer’s touch. According to Herman, one of the purposes of Tolaas’s project was “to take scent out of context so that we can reorient ourselves toward smell in an open way.” In “Smell Me” Martynka Wawrzyniak, a Polish photographer and video performance artist, created a 2012 installation at Envoy Enterprises on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in collaboration with “a team of undergraduate chemistry students from Hunter College.” The work was a so-called self-portrait in which visitors were invited to enter a scent chamber that dispensed extracted essences based on the smell of the artist’s hair, tears and two kinds of sweat. Herman astutely observes that traditional roles of male and female, viewer and object were reversed in this exhibit where it is the visitor “who becomes the passive object” penetrated by the artist’s odors. She observes: “Although these scents made me appreciate bodily smells more, they also made me appreciate the way in which perfumery has been negotiating with the body in a fascinating dialectic, from the beginning.”

8         By way of a conclusion

From Sue Ellen Christian and Ann Miles, Consent and Money: A dialogue on the ethical dilemmas in the reporting and writing of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

We wonder how Immortal Life will be read a few decades from now. Just as the scientific researchers thought that what they were doing was right, so did Skloot, and in time her writing and reporting, too, may be reassessed. Research, whether academic or journalistic, that involves vulnerable human subjects carries with it considerable responsibility to the people who work with us. Having the ability or claiming the authority to write about the lives and emotions of others ought to be tempered by serious reflection on how power differentials should be negotiated both in our face-to-face interactions and in the production of our texts. While neither one of us would argue that writers and researchers should not attempt to get right as much as there is a right to get, we also believe that it is necessary for writers and researchers to critically examine the processes in which they are engaged.

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