The terms of (re)productivity


Published: Monday, April 28, 2008
Rethinking Shvarts’ corporal interrogation

There is no doubt about it: Aliza Shvarts has had a very (re)productive year. She conceived (of) a senior art project that has sparked a national debate (albeit not on or in the terms she expected) and brought national attention to the usually uncontroversial senior art show.

Perhaps because of failures in the public introduction of her work or because of the culture into which it was introduced, the discussion surrounding it has been focused on issues of (re)productivity, not art. On a personal level, pro-choice advocates have taken a stance similar to that of their anti-choice counterparts, arguing that while she should be allowed choice in matters pertaining to her body, she has erred in her choice(s).

The administration has condemned the artist and her collaborators for their endangerment of the artist’s body and the University’s image. The arguments have been in line with the views of a culture conscious of the ambiguity surrounding cultural and scientific definitions of life and of the human, political and economic costs of AIDS: that (physically and/or politically) unprotected sex is something to be reserved for (re)productive uses. “Choice,” in this framework, is to be exercised, but only in a (politically and/or physically) calculated manner, only following strict guidelines for the (physical and/or political) use and utility of the body.

The discourse initiated by Shvarts’ project has been written off by pro-choice proponents as harmful and unproductive because it exposes the unspoken limits and hypocrisy of the language of choice in our culture. Members of the Yale community have decried the implications of the project to the University. And their assessments are correct. Shvarts’ artistic (re)production will most likely prove politically harmful to the pro-choice movement, and it will probably be economically detrimental to University fundraising. But does that mean that the work is not productive?

The underlying premise of arguments against Shvarts’ actions seems to be that unless the (re)productive value of an act is immediately evident, it should not be undertaken — that the political and physical risks of any interrogation of the body (or any other political subject) and its (political and/or physical) uses and limits can only be vindicated by a clear an socially accepted politically or physically (re)productive outcome. In short, only the (physical and political) (re)productivity of the body has been discussed — the productivity of interrogation itself is notably absent from the debate.

Despite the fact that Shvarts, like many in the early stages of their careers, has dismissed concerns about her health, the issue has been consistently raised in discussions of her work, and her physical well-being has been cited repeatedly as a reason she should not have been allowed to undertake the project. The rhetoric used to attack her has drawn from an interesting blend of personal and social responsibility. These interests converge on and in her body with sexually transmitted disease, again, in a culture at least superficially concerned with the costs of AIDS.

Her “choice” to expose her body and its uses to public scrutiny has endangered with infectious disease, it seems, the (re)productive value of her body and even, possibly, that of her community. But to argue that Shvarts should not have undertaken her project because of the risk of sexually transmitted infection rings ironic, given that the crisis caused by the most discussed and feared infection, HIV/AIDS, occurred precisely because of an unwillingness to acknowledge and thereby sanction unscripted uses of the body. Further, efforts to eradicate the virus have been hampered by a fear of political and economic “risks” in a society where drug patents are more valuable than human lives. While sights have been set on Shvarts in the localized fight against AIDS, broader action against AIDS has been devalued, much like Shvarts’ art, by political and economic processes of risk assessment.

The more logical of Shvarts’ detractors are correct in their analyses: Her product is a failure as a means to any political or economic ends. What has not been examined nearly satisfactorily, however, is its merit as an end in and of itself. I am not sure how I feel about Shvarts’ work because of the discourse that has enveloped it: I will not be able to see the work, and I will not be able to supplement or confront her interrogation with my own questions on (re)productivity. The situation into which her work was borne will ultimately prevent me from coming to any conclusion as to the productivity of her (re)production.

Instead, I am left with one question of my own: Should the legitimacy of interrogations of (re)production (be they sexual, intellectual, artistic, economic or some combination thereof) be dictated by their possible politico-economic productivity?


The Associated Press: Sheriff: Woman Sat on Toilet for 2 Years

The Associated Press: Sheriff: Woman Sat on Toilet for 2 Years

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are considering charges in the bizarre case of a woman who sat on her boyfriend's toilet for two years — so long that her body was stuck to the seat by the time the boyfriend finally called police.

Ness County Sheriff Bryan Whipple said it appeared the 35-year-old Ness City woman's skin had grown around the seat. She initially refused emergency medical services but was finally convinced by responders and her boyfriend that she needed to be checked out at a hospital.

"We pried the toilet seat off with a pry bar and the seat went with her to the hospital," Whipple said. "The hospital removed it."

There's something comforting about the thought of spending two years in the safety of the toilet.


There's something unnerving about being lonely in a familiar place. I have elected to remain in New Haven for my final (undergraduate) spring break in order to complete my senior thesis. I am among a fairly small minority of undergraduates who have chosen to forgo the pull of warmer or more interesting locales and the push of closed dining halls and a deserted campus. Right now I sit in a coffee shop with which I am very familiar, surrounded by... strangers. A friend and I discussed a few weeks ago how nice it will be next year to be able to explore the streets of our new cities in relative anonymity. I hadn't expected a pre-graduation trial run.

One of things I appreciated about study abroad was the anonymity, but, more so, the expected and welcome strangeness. I traveled to Paris with a full understanding that I would be a stranger, not in the sense put forward by Camus (I killed no one, and, had I, I would have felt immediate remorse). Rather, I took comfort in the fact that I was not French, I would not (and should not) be taken as French and I wasn't.

There's a reason Du Bois' notion of double consciousness remains in wide circulation 100+ years after The Souls of Black Folk was published. Because it's still relevant. There are few things more frustrating and unsettling than being told one does not belong when one feels one does or should, whether explicitly or implicitly. As a queer person of color from a Christian background, I'm quite familiar with both.

Paris, then, was a welcome respite from unexpected and off-putting rejections and exasperating questions of identity and belonging. My belonging was never questioned by myself or others: I simply didn't belong. I was a visitor. I would soon leave.

In L'Intrus (The Intruder), French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy reflects upon his recent heart transplant. His new heart is, in many ways, an intruder, and one his body is likely to reject. I was, in that sense, the new heart of Paris. My acceptance in the city was contingent: it was understood that my term would end, my visa would expire and I would leave as quietly as I arrived. Had I tried to stay, more drastic action might have been undertaken.

This contingency is not, however, restricted to foreign places. As I've noticed here today, my comfort in any body depends upon its makeup and their reaction to my presence. Today, I might be an intruder, in two weeks, probably not. In six months...?

I've begun to worry about graduation, not because of any desire to remain in New Haven (although I just might), but because, even if I stay, the body of which I've become part will be leaving. My four years here has been the first time in my life I've been able to carve out a niche in which I've felt somewhat comfortable, and that will soon be disrupted.

But perhaps the strangeness of next year will be as welcome/ing as that of Paris. And I'll continue to adjust to being a perpetual outsider.


Queer and white and "Fuck!"

In the short years since the Western world began to recognize the humanity and basic human rights of its queerer citizens, the homophobia of the "developing" world has become a focal point, reifying notions of difference constantly challenged in an increasingly linked world. One area particularly scrutinized is the Caribbean. While these assessments are flawed in their ahistorical analysis of contemporary trends (e.g. What is the role of religious traditions imposed as a means of social control?), there is a level of homophobia that permeates many areas of the Caribbean that is not radically unlike rampant homophobia of more conservative cultures of the United States and which manifests in physical violence that goes unpunished far more often than it does here in the US.

Surprising then, that my visual introduction to gay culture (unless you count pornography) would be through public television in Antigua, an island in the Lesser Antilles, "home" to most of my family. Antigua has two public television channels which carry public broadcasts as well as the news and other cultural programming. In off hours, they transmit programming from American channels, often Showtime, HBO and Cinemax.

Programming was predetermined and advertised at fairly regular intervals on both channels, so I was nothing less than shocked one night to find myself before the image of two men fucking passionately--something I would not have imagined finding on cable television in the states, much less on public television in Antigua. Over the course of the next weeks I was in Antigua, the show, Queer as Folk, appeared regularly on channel two.

Whether or not the broadcast was planned, an oversight or a deliberate and politically minded act carried out by an activist employee, I have no idea. I do know that, for the first time, I had access to images of queer lifestyles that were not pornographic or negative. Queer as Folk is, of course, no queer utopia: the show made no effort, in its five years on television, to challenge dominant notions of exclusively white queerness or gendered notions of family, to mention a few oversights.

The fact that I accessed these images in a space positioned very firmly in the western imagination as universally homophobic is interesting. As Staceyann Chin remarked during her performance here at Yale a few days ago, she left the Caribbean to escape homophobia, got to the US, and "Fuck!" there was homophobia and more blatant racism.

Perhaps I'm taking a singular incident too far in my analysis of complex relationships between the Caribbean (and the rest of the "developing" world) and the US, but it has been--if nothing else--an interesting launching point in my thoughts about one specific and extremely pertinent aspect of these relationships: capitalism.

The Caribbean, as we know it today, knew it a hundred years ago, will know it until significant changes take place, exists only because of capitalism. Bodies were moved, landscapes were altered, markets were built solely to produce profit and capital. Now we've moved from sugar to tourism, but the principal remains the same.

Homophobia in the Caribbean is not a "natural" phenomenon. It's completely and undeniably tied to Christianity, which was imported into the region and spread among slave and, later, free populations once it had been identified as an effective means of deploying social controls--ensuring a relatively passive source of labor.

Capitalism has also been instrumental in the erasure of people of color from popular imaginations of queer culture. Queer as Folk is not alone in its whitewashing of a diverse queer constituency.

I can't help but draw links between the fact that brown people have come to represent the (in)human face of homophobia and violence against a (seemingly white) queer population. The one I saw I saw on Antiguan TV.

Attacks Show Easygoing Jamaica Is Dire Place for Gays
Published: February 24, 2008
Being gay in Jamaica is not easy. For years, human rights groups have denounced the harassment, beating and even killing of gays in the country, to little avail.