This week, we approached culture in diaspora in its dimension of hybridity. In order to master its unruly landscape, we tackled it in two related fashions.
Frist, we discussed the topic of theme and variations. Our core case studies were: Exercises in Style (1947) by Raymond Queneau (1903-1976), a collection of 99 variations on a basic narrative; and “the mother” of all musical themes and variations, aka Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations (published in 1741). Here, we pointed to two (well, perhaps three) elements of interest.
Moving away from the idea of building musical variations on a melodic theme, Bach used the bass line, rather than the melody, of the introductive Aria as the generative structure upon which each of the following 30 variations were composed. This approach tends to make the elements of continuity in the structure of the variations somewhat imperceptible to the listener. By connecting the variations via an underlying inaudible structure, Bach was thus able to use the variation as a template to build upon the stylistic canons of music past and present, crafting each individual variation as a summa of diverse musical ideas. The GV stand before us as both an anthology (or “collection,” a museum of sorts) of musical thought, and an archive of the invisible. We will investigate the related notions of collections, archives, and invisibility, in the coming weeks. For now, we focus on how to recognize patterns that tie together seemingly unrelated narrative units, and therefore how to “map” a unified atlas of cultural diversity.
In continuing to explore musical connections, we also examined how Uri Caine designed an innovative, yet faithful, approach to Bach’s Goldberg Variations under the sign of cultural hybridity (2000).
Through Josh Kun’s “Introduction” to Audiotopia, we connected hybridity and American popular culture. Kun pointed us to Pete Seeger’s cultural manifesto, All Mixed Up (1955), which is always worthwhile listening to:
We also noticed how Kun exposued the agenda of cultural (musical) hybridity in a contested political space. This allowed us to bring our opening theme — the relationship between culture in movement and the status of stateless refugees, displaced persons, and “undocumented” immigrants — back into our conversation. The “two countries” celebrated, and deeply questioned, by Los Tigres del Norte, pointed us to notions of cultural (when not existential) hybridity, of poly-identity, and multiplicity, which are inherent to diasporas.
Can the structure of diasporas be explained in terms of invisible themes and hybrid variations? Can diasporas (and cultures in motion) ever be “mapped,” or is their natural fluidity resisting such attempts?
In order to answer these questions, we worked on the etymological hybridity of the constellation of concepts that surround the notions of diaspora. Thus, the overlapping and conflicting notions of diaspora, as dispersion and as exile, as loss of political referents and of divine protection, and the meanings acquired by the word, diaspora (including its etymology), provided us with a series of theoretical questions. Among other things, we noted how the word diaspora, a Greek noun initially used to described the dispersion of the Jews, appears in most language in its Greek form, while in Hebrew it corresponds to a series of terms that share very little with their universally used Greek correspondent.
The challenges in “mapping out” (or explaining) the cultural hybridity of diaspora also provided us with a series of practical issues. Here’s an attempt to map Jewish diaspora through time and space. It is presented in the form of a “mind map,” and is the work of the artist Ward Shelley (b. 1950).
Thus, we proceeded in examining, and testing out, a variety of mind mapping tools. We started from a very useful Wikipedia chart:
We then evaluated available options, their pros and cons, discussed technical needs and software adoption issues, and installed software on our laptops/mobile devices. This way, we were able to test if, and how, mind-mapping tools can be used to recognize patterns (and thus, “map”), with the goal of applying them to our initial examples of theme and variations (from Queneau to Bach)…
In class, we directly tested two mind mapping platforms:
- Freemind: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page (as a stand-alone, multi-platform, open source application)
- Connected Mind: http://connected-mind.appspot.com/ (a web-based app that can also be added to Google Chrome)
We will continue to refer back to these tools in the coming weeks, as we proceed to explore and evaluate new ones.
Meanwhile, here’s a “mindmap” describing the first weeks of our course:
As we get our feet wet with course materials, I want to make sure that everyone is aware of the resources I have set up for this course thus far:
- bCourses: all course materials were added to the Modules of the bCourses site (you will find them organized according to the weekly plan outlined in the Syllabus); I am also experimenting with new features of bCourses, recently developed here at UCB (hence the “Asset Library,” “Whiteboards” etc. areas of the bCourses site). These resources are only available to the students enrolled in the class.
- Mapping Diasporas blog: mappingdiasporas.wordpress.com (this has been my blog since this project started: students are welcome to contribute at any time, although it is not mandatory to do so–if anyone is interested, just let me know!)
- Mapping Diasporas Twitter handle: twitter.com/mapdiasporas (Links to an external site.) (I typically post there links and ideas that relate to the project)
- A set of images on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spagnoloacht/albums/72157667150298835 (Links to an external site.)
- A Zotero group (and related library): https://www.zotero.org/groups/mapping_diasporas (Links to an external site.) (if you are not familiar withZotero, make sure to check it out, especially if you need to manage resources for papers or other research projects)
As the semester progresses, more resources will be added to the various online venues listed above, and perhaps more will emerge. While using the additional resources, beyond bCourses, is not required, I believe that students may find some use in what is published there as well, especially in thinking about class projects and how to plan them.
As usual, do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions.
Until (very) soon,
Blue = Library
(Search in English)
(Search in Italian)
(Search in Spanish) https://books.google.com/ngrams/interactive_chart?content=biblioteca%2Claberinto&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=21&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cbiblioteca%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Claberinto%3B%2Cc0
To be continued…
Below is a selection of cards excerpted from the texts created by Francesco Spagnolo for the exhibition, mima’amaqim | from the depths of collections, by David Wilson and Francesco Spagnolo, presented at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco (July 30, 2015-January 3, 2016), in the context of the series In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art, curated by Renny Pritkin.
The cards explore varied and conflicting notions of diaspora, in relationship to words, texts, people, and objects.
diaspora | di·as·po·ra | dīˈaspərə/
diaspora is a greek word. it means scattering, of seed. usually, “seed” is understood as “sperm,” thus the genetic implication of the scattering of a people. but a botanical explanation may work equally well. if one has in mind how farmers used to spread seeds on a field, by scattering them with a fanning gesture of their arm. it’s a theatrical gesture. it’s a display of seed.
diaspora | golah | galut
in hebrew, diaspora is usually rendered as golah or galut. here, the traditional understandings of the word — ranging from “expulsion” to “captivity” to, of course, “exile” (which is both, in a way) — are not enough, and the conversation must go further. an implication of this word may instead have a lot to do with “nudity” and “exposure.” even ezekiel (ch. 12), who obsesses with the word golah, seems to suggest that exile involves being exposed to the sight, and specifically to the eyes, of others.
diaspora is to be seen.
biographies in diaspora
life in diaspora is life in motion.
is writing the biography of a diasporic artist all that different from writing that of a diasporic object? in describing the magnes collection, i’ve left behind most conventions. artists no longer have “nationalities,” even when they do carry a passport (some carry more than one, others none at all). their biographies are told, sparsely, by the dates that frame their lifespan and, even more importantly, by the territories, countries, and sometimes cities, in which they lived and worked.
take abram krol, the artist who donated the original etching plate of his portrait of isaac bashevis singer to the magnes in 1997 [Acc. no. 97.14]. according to MoMA.org, he is Abram Krol (French, born 1919). and if one follows artnet.com, he was instead Abraham (Abram) Krol (Polish, 1919-2001). in his full diasporic biography, in his life within the jewish world, this visionary artist who crossed from hassidism to cubism is better described as Abraham (Abram) Krol (Poland, France & Nazi-occupied France, 1919-2001).
nationalities do not necessarily matter here. quite paradoxically, in diaspora, it is instead the sense of place that truly matters.
the same is true of objects. material culture in diaspora always belongs to many a place. the very materials that make a ritual object often come from different parts of the world — among my favorites @magnes are torah ark curtains, one of which combines an inscription from ukraine with a textile from india, where it was used by jews from iraq… the biography of diasporic objects does not stop at their materials, though. it includes that of the (often unnamed) makers, of those to which the objects were dedicated (this is the case of many ritual objects), and of those who used them. and each of these biographies may very well bring together an array of places, of individual paths, of narratives.
the biography of objects and of people in diaspora is not a trajectory — from here, to there. it’s a network — a network of places.
The working group on mapping diasporas is concluding its series of monthly meetings for the Spring Semester.
Meetings continued to involve the exploration of theoretical issues, collaborative collection research (based on the holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life), and the critical examination of digital tools and platforms.
The third and last meeting of the semester will focus on a presentation by Francesco Spagnolo, who will illustrate the plan for a new course on Mapping Diasporas, which will be offered in the Fall of 2016 by the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. The course will combine the critical examination (and application) of digital tools to the study of diasporas through material culture.
The focus on objects emerged in the analysis of the quotations that open the chapter, “Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm,” of Carlo Ginzburg’s, Clues, Myths and the Historical Method, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1989, p. 96.
God is in the detail. A. Warburg
Attributed to Aby Warburg
An object which speaks of the loss, of the destruction, of the
disappearance of objects. It does not speak of itself. It speaks of others. Will it also include them? J. Johns
Attributed to Jasper Johns via John Cage’s Jasper Johns: Stories and Ideas, included in A Year from Monday: New Lectures and Writings, 1969.
One can also listen to John Cage’s reading of Jasper Johns: Stories and Ideas on the Internet Archive:
The working group on mapping diasporas is continuing its monthly meetings for the Spring Semester.
Meetings involve the exploration of theoretical issues, collaborative collection research (based on the holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life), and the critical examination of digital tools and platforms.
The second meeting of the semester will include:
- Mapping Languages in Diaspora:Robyn Perry, a graduate of UC Berkeley’s iSchool, an inaugural Fellow of the Center for Technology, Society & Policy and a collaborator in the Aikuma app project (a platform aiming a preserving unwritten languages) will discuss information-based approaches to migration and language in diaspora
- Research on hanukkah lamps in The Magnes Collection: the question about how did lamps specifically designed to accommodate nine lights came into existence, and how their use spread and changed across Jewish history, is rather thorny. We will discuss the topic of mapping history through objects by looking as some examples being selected for an upcoming exhibition
- More questions about Virtual Reality: VR is increasingly gaining traction as an emerging platform, and we will continue to explore this topic
More engaging discussions to come!