Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Rainbow Passage

"When sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act like a prism and form a rainbow. The rainbow is a division of white light into many beautiful colors. These take the shape of a long round arch, with its path high above, and its two ends apparently beyond the horizon. There is, according to legend, a boiling pot of gold at one end. People look, but no one ever finds it. When a man looks for something beyond his reach, his friends say he is looking for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Throughout the centuries men have explained the rainbow in various ways. Some have accepted it as a miracle without physical explanation. To the Hebrews it was a token that there would be no more universal floods. The Greeks used to imagine that it was a sign from the gods to foretell war or heavy rain. The Norse men consider the rainbow as a bridge over which the gods passed from earth to their home in the sky.  Other men have tried to explain the phenomenon physically. Aristotle thought that the rainbow was caused by reflection of the sun’s rays by the rain. Since then physicists have found that it is not reflection, but refraction by the raindrops, which causes the rainbow.  Many complicated ideas about the rainbow have been formed. The difference in the rainbow depends considerably on the size of the water drops, and the width of the colored band increases as the size of the drops increases the actual primary rainbow observed is said to be the effect of superposition of a number of bows. If the red of the second bow falls upon the green of the first, the result is to give a bow with an abnormally wide yellow band, since red and green lights when mixed form yellow. This is a very common type of bow, one showing mainly red and yellow, with little or no green or blue."

My close reading of the text “the Rainbow Passage.”
 By Joy Brook Fairfield go back Brooke Burke Brooke Brooke Brooke Brooke Brooke Fairfield Fairfield enter the lack

What is the unconscious of the text? This is always the question for the interpreter of literature. While we like at times to believe that the possibility of text without the shadow of intent exists, we will find ourselves hard-pressed to find evidence for it. The words chosen from the narrow script of the waiter seem, perhaps, to have the kind of uniformity that one could imagine devoid of poetic or psychological content: “Can I get you something to drink with that?” But language is never in control of its own intent, the speaker never fully in charge of his language. Language exists in a constantly shifting flowing field of signification surrounding us full points we have no comprehension of and affects we don’t understand. This is its magic and its curse.

I have been given a computer program, a tool on loan from an institution invested in my process of learning and participating in a greater exchange of ideas. They have an entire fresh clean contemporarily furnished spacious and even hip building in which their office for accessible education exists. In this building I meet with a sweet educated white man who supplies me with codes to make my Dragon Voice Activated Software program legal and little telemarketer headset to make it more accurate. With an awareness of my time constraints, he gives me the information I need to begin experimenting on my own with the system. I am given a  single sheet of text entitled "The Rainbow Passage"and told that I should read it thrice into this program: “Apparently this passage has almost all of the sounds in the English language.”

I have heard this claim before, in regards to “the quick red fox jumped over the lazy brown dog.” I have never personally taken a stab at tabulating the ratio of sounds in the English language represented in this phrase. Perhaps a linguistics major would know the answer. I imagine a table of linguists huddled over their IPA dictionaries crafting poetry within the strict confines of speech’s strange architecture.  “Should we make the text scientific? Or more cultural, so that it can appeal to those in the Humanities?” “If we invoke cultural references, which should we include?” The author references the Hebrews the Greeks and the Norse, indicative of knowledge systems formed within contemporary Western academia or its colonial spaces. There is no reference to what the ancient Egyptians, for example thought about the  phenomenon of the rainbow.  Well, I just looked it up on Wikipedia, and in ancient Egypt the rainbow was associated with the goddess Nut.  As the goddess of the sky, Nut was sometimes described as wearing a rainbow gown.  Her laugh was thunder and her tears were rain.  Every night she swallowed up her grandfather and every morning she gave birth to him again.

This passage forgot about Egypt. Or, perhaps more accurately, was never taught.  Suddenly the title of this document reminds me of “The Middle Passage,” the journey of enslaved Africans to the Western Hemisphere under inhumane conditions.   I look up the origin of this phrase on Wikipedia and learn that it was the terminology used by the European traders at the time for the second segment of the triangle trade.  Perhaps everyone could switch over to using the term “Maafa,” the Kiswahili  term for disaster.

I sure hope Wikipedia is accurate. I understand why the politics of the Internet are so significant given the way it becomes a funnel to what is known as “common knowledge.”  I fear as the Internet grows in power within profit-focused, war–dependent economies, its revolutionary potential will be increasingly evacuated. Every tool is a hammer if you use it right. Or as Performance Studies scholar Angela Farr Schiller points out, “ The system that pounds the dough is the same fist that pounds the face.” (That was an example of the unconscious of this machine, the Dragon voice program I’m using.  I said in fact, “the fist that pounds the dough is the same fist that pounds the face.”  The replacement of the word “fist” with the term “system” is quite elegant).

The Rainbow Hostage, ahem Passage (hello again machinic unconscious!) invokes both physics and art, legends and logic. It performs a kind of scholarly inquisitiveness, a curiosity about the natural world. It appeals to me as a document that purports to report, transforming a miracle to a series of almost comprehensible particulate interactions.

Someone found this text appropriate for this context. This person was likely not a feminist, as the repeated male pronouns resound in my ears as unconscious exclusivity: “ Throughout the centuries men have explained the rainbow in various ways.” The uninterrogated prejudice of the Enlightenment era hangs over this passage like a rain cloud.

And yet I feel like this text was intended as a kind of gift. Rainbows, the clearest of natural phenomenon,  I’m mean the theorist,   queer rest,  queries, queerest of natural  phenomenon. Usually bode well. From the light cue of hope after the Old Testament’s flood to Lisa Frank stickers on your 8th grade notebook, rainbows are a pleasure to our eyes.

“Rainbow rainbow red and blue
Rainbow rainbow I love you
Yellow orange green and white
You give off such perfect light”

This is a song my mother sang me when I was a child. I remember thinking it funny that she included “white” in the colors of the rainbow. I didn’t use a white pen when I drew rainbows on the brown paper in my kindergarten class. I think she mentioned something about physics, maybe something like what the Rainbow Passage says: “the rainbow is a division of white light into many beautiful colors.”

I just searched these lyrics on Google and found nothing. It’s so nice to know there are some things that only one person has said. Of course, I have no idea if someone taught it to her.

The first hit I get provides me with this text:

I    a m    t h e    R a i n b o w

On the days when it doesn't seem worth it. When you think that maybe they were right. That "queer" and "freak" and "abomination" seem to have your name on the list. When "outsider" and "other" or "faggot" or "dyke" want to claim your autograph, remember. We are the rainbow.

When never seems bigger than always, and always seems like a terrible place to be, remember. We are the rainbow.

It is a tacky site and the font is hard to read.  A few clicks and I find that this site is maintained by a transgender activist named Deborah Davis. She worked as a high school Media specialist in Minnesota  and has maintained this site for over a decade.  I am grateful for her labor.    She references of course the rainbow flag, adopted by the gay community in the 1970s.  Wikipedia tells me it was designed by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker.  It initially included pink and turquoise too, but apparently fabric dyed in those colors was harder to find. Makes me sad, they seem like particularly queer colors.

The second hit is the Wikipedia page for rainbows, which reads a lot like “The Rainbow Passage.” I am grateful for my mother and her nursery song.  Like Deborah Davis, her message was that the world was full of a kind of beauty called difference.

I remember now that the last line doesn’t say “You give off such perfect light,” but “you give off such pretty light.”  I should try to remember that perfect and pretty are not the same thing.  

I am in this hip and spacious office because I can no longer type, a problem when one is attempting to write a dissertation. I can’t type because I’ve broken my right wrist in a skateboarding accident only a month after my first day as a skateboarder.   I was not very good but it was the pleasure of every day. My increasingly–impossible schedule has made every second precious, so cutting my cross-campus commute in half was practical at the same time as pleasurable.   Dropped into the moment in a combination of glee and terror, it was keeping me sane.  Now I have a cast, a disability counselor, and the friendly adaptive technology guy who handed me “The Rainbow Passage” and opened the door for me on the way out. 

My exposure to and thus understanding of the knowledges formed by people with significantly different abilities has been limited. Only recently, thanks to the work of scholars like Petra Kuppers and dance companies like AXIS Dance, have I been introduced to the exciting aesthetic and philosophical possibilities engendered through the differences often known as disabilities.  I’m particularly grateful for generosity of artist Isaak Tait, a performer with  “A Different Light” of Christchurch, New Zealand.  Our intimate correspondence has been meaningful, heartfelt and mind-blowingly creative.  Our differences have aligned in a beautiful way, perhaps similarly to the ways that “[t]he actual primary rainbow observed is said to be the effect of superposition of a number of bows.”  A scholar, I forgot who right now, described all of human culture as adaptive technology (or a prosthetic) for the mathematical mean of society.  Left-handed people hurt themselves on devices created for right-handed people. Chairs in public spaces are uncomfortable for the significantly shorter or taller than average. When did “average” become so ideologically linked with “good”?

In his book Security, Territory, Population, Michel Foucault suggests that the current dominant mechanism of social control is no longer threat of punishment or simple brain-washing. Instead, order is maintained through the construction and measurement of norms.  Those outside of norms are afforded less socially–legible power by those highly implicated in the maintenance of those norms.  We can understand this in terms of representation in government, representation in media, and participation in economic markets. A population is an imaginary entity vulnerable to non-consentual marketing and management through its compliance with norms.

There is nothing wrong with the fantasy of average. Average is convenient. Average means you can always find the right bra or pair of shoes.   Average can be quite beautiful. The only danger is in creating a hierarchy in which averages become tyrannical, in which the only thing better than average is above average, in which one’s performance is constantly being measured in comparison  to radically different entities.  The fantasy of the average creates failure, creates shame, and forgets, in its attempt to quantify, the unquantifiable thrills of the unknown unknowns.

The text of “The Rainbow Passage,” like my mother’s song, reassures me.   As I repeat its exhaustive set of English syllables I remember that there are always more interpretations than I can imagine.  Queerness and disability seem to me linked in the way that they gesture towards the beauty and potential intimacy possible in the vastness of difference.

My wrist will heal, and this headset is only mine on loan until the end of June.  It’s so easy to feel sorry for yourself even when you have so much.  Yesterday in the orthopedic trauma center, a septuagenarian sitting next to me said offhandedly that she’d broken both wrists: “When I broke the left one they just put in a titanium plate and sent me home, no cast or anything.”  I am in awe of her toughness and her genuine concern for a stranger. How can I become stronger and more sensitive all at once?   How can I stop thinking of these two as opposites?

After reading through the exhaustive syllables of The Rainbow Passage, I am to practice speaking into the headset so that it can learn my voice. I am to teach it the words it doesn’t know yet that I frequently use:  performativity, queerness, radicality (not “rat ecology”), hierarchicalization (not “hierarchical as Asian”),   intersectionality (not “intersection island”). “Maybe try writing some e-mails,” he says. I  remember my long–dormant blog.

Later that day, I am told by one of my advisors that philosopher Henri Lefebvre dictated all of his critical theory texts: “You can really tell where he starts to wander.” I feel the pull of the wander.  I must think of my breath as a valuable resource.  I must think before I speak and seek out more precise and genuine ways to share my small but reverberating personal truths because we are all contributing to the knowledge that is known as "common." 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Truth Fairy

The following is an excerpt from a short solo performance piece I did in my dramaturgy class. Sharing it here for fun.

...When I was a kid my parents and I had an agreement that we would never lie to each other. We could joke around and tease, but if someone asked “Is that true?” you had to fess up.

So at age five, when I asked my mom about the tooth fairy she had to confess there was no such thing. In fact, parents were the ones slipping dimes or dollars under pillows.

However, instead of clearing things up, this just made it more magical. I suddenly had an image of my mom dressed as a fairy slipping into my room and doing some magical alchemy that transformed teeth to dollar bills

Now this idea wasn’t completely crazy. My mother was also the school nurse, and I have a vivid memory of her in front of my kindergarten class with a giant toothbrush and an oversized set of teeth teaching us how to brush. My mom saying there was no such thing as the tooth fairy was like Clark Kent denying the existence of Superman.

The truth contract was established to make me an honest, trusting kid, but it had almost the opposite effect. I had the growing sense that truth itself was unstable and multivalent. Perhaps even malleable.

I experimented a lot with truth as a kid. One time I thought the hard candy I was sucking on looked a lot like a tooth. I cradled it in my hand and brought it into the kitchen where my mom was cooking dinner: “Look mom, I lost a tooth.”

She looked down at it skeptically and uttered the magic truth fairy spell: “Is that the truth?”

My face grew hot and tingly. I was immune to the spell of her power. “Yes.” I said, hoping the force of my words would make it true. “I’m going to go put it under my pillow.” Needless to say, the tooth fairy didn’t visit that night.

I continue to struggle with the truth fairy. While I no longer attempt random subterfuge like the hard candy incident, little lies still slip out of my mouth before I can catch them. The edges seem blurry sometimes between believing, wanting to believe, wanting someone else to believe, wanting someone else to believe that you believe, and wanting to call something new into being through the force of shared belief.

Most artists know that sometimes the truth is truer told slant than it is told straight-up. And as I learned hearing my mother disavow the existence of her magical alter ego, sometimes the reductive act of telling only the mundane truth (when in fact multiple levels of increasingly ecstatic truths always abound) seems falser than a lie...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fuck Yeah, Awkwardness!

So I’m trying to start a movement. I think I’ll call it the awkwardness appreciation movement. In short, I believe that the emotional/affective/psychic experience that we often call awkwardness is beneficial, necessary for personal growth as well as social change, and should be courted rather than avoided.

In critical theory, much attention has been paid to the experience of shame. Shame, theorists say, is a moment of intense awareness of how you are different from other people, often accompanied by the fear that your difference is unacceptable. In this way, shame simultaneously creates the sense of differentiated individuality and the desire to re-aggregate with the whole. In shame’s hot intensity, you see yourself from a new angle. Your perspective on yourself expands to include the shared context of others.

The problem is that shame has a stopping force. It can freeze you like a wild animal sensing the rifle sights. It’s hard to let your perspective on your own significance shift when you’re afraid you’re going to be annihilated. In the face of shame, childhood defense mechanisms (however useless) rush in to protect you: fight, flight, freeze, play dead.

Awkwardness, however, is shame lite. If shame is the terrifying fall into the cavernous gap between self and other, awkwardness is the giggly, heart-racing fear you feel when peering over the edge. There is space to move and breathe inside awkwardness, but it is still a meditation on the sometimes-precarious experience of being a self surrounded by other selves that are constantly affecting you and being affected by you.

In awkward experiences, we sense the precariousness of our ego boundaries as well as the sheer randomness of the social conventions that regulate our interactions with each other. In that heightened sphere of awareness, you wonder how else you could be, other than the way you are right now, and how else we could be together within the grip of this strangely funny, embarrassing, uncomfortable moment.

Awkwardness is vulnerability with its fly unzipped.

Awkwardness is a prologue to transformation and invitation to grace.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Performance Notion: Malinowski’s Diary

I used to keep my ideas for future devised pieces hidden safe in a little black notebook, scrawled in big excited letters, waiting for the day when I had the time and resources to manifest them. Not sure where that book is today, and given that we live in an age of over-sharing, I’ll record them here. Feel free to steal them if they appeal to you.

An ensemble show using as source material the writings of Bronislaw Malinowski, the influential Polish anthropologist from the early 20th century who was well-respected for his thorough research on indigenous Melanesian culture. Malinowski was a major supporter of enduring, in-depth participant observation, and as such got very involved in the lives of the people he studied. While a contemporary reader may be suspicious of the colonialist tone and the firm belief in the possibility of objectivity, his work is still taught in anthropology courses today.

His personal record of his time doing fieldwork was recently published. Titled A Diary in the Strictest Sense of the Term, the text reveals the disturbing thoughts, feelings, and desires previously hidden under ostensibly-objective descriptions of the world around him. He lusted after indigenous women, insulted his closest native informants, and mocked the very cultures he was there to study. Overall, the diaries paint a picture of a narcissistic, judgmental westerner with a fetishistic fascination for people that he sees as different.

This piece would be about how hard it is to understand difference and how thrilling it is to try. It would be about the potentially annihilating gaze of the so-called-objective observer, and about how any time you attempt to describe something else, you always end up describing yourself. I have a hunch that taking the time to reflect, 100 years later, on the blind spots of early anthropological discourse would result in a timely, urgent and engaging piece of theatre for contemporary audiences.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Performance Notion: Beckett & Bion

I used to keep my ideas for future devised pieces hidden safe in a little black notebook, scrawled in big excited letters, waiting for the day when I had the time and resources to manifest them. Not sure where that book is today, and given that we live in an age of over-sharing, I’ll record them here. Feel free to steal them if they appeal to you.

A two-person piece about Samuel Beckett’s relationship with his psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. At age 27, Beckett was in a deep depression after the death of his father and had an uncomfortable relationship with his strict mother. As psychoanalysis was illegal in Ireland, he traveled to London where he became Bion’s second patient ever. There’s ample source material (Beckett wrote about Bion and Bion wrote several essays that some speculate were about Beckett), and as long as I could keep the Beckett estate out of it, it could be a really beautiful, strange piece – genius, melancholy, friendship, healing, and the murky workings of the unconscious mind.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thin as Foil

“Perhaps that’s what I feel, an outside and an inside and me in the middle, perhaps that’s what I am, the thing that divides the world in two, on the one side the outside, on the other the inside, that can be as thin as foil, I’m neither one side nor the other, I’m in the middle, I’m the partition, I’ve two surfaces and no thickness, perhaps that’s what I feel, myself vibrating, I’m the tympanum, on the one hand the mind, on the other the world, I don’t belong to either.” (Beckett, The Unnamables)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Like Shakespeare, I like to invent words. However, unlike his, I don’t think mine will catch on. Like this one:


Go ahead. Try to say it. Rolls right off the tongue.

The word “philosophy” as you probably know, comes from the roots philia and sophia and is usually translated as “love of wisdom.”

But those clever Greeks had other words for love and wisdom.

Eros, as you also probably know, is the kind of love that lies in the body. Unlike philia, which is an abstract, transcendental form of affection, eros is sexually-charged desire with the potential to incite change, growth, or chaos.

Related to the word for light, sophia is the kind of wisdom that you gain through looking; it’s the result of outside observation paired with thoughtful consideration. Phronesis, however, was used by ancient Greeks to describe knowledge that develops through first-hand experience. While sophia helps you contemplate the nature of the world, phronesis must be used to determine a course of action that will generate change. Phronesis is something that comes with age and practice and that can’t be explained through words or pictures.

Erotophronesis. Erotic love of embodied knowledge.

The term isn’t very catchy. But the concept is a virus that I’d like to spread.