The Author Is In Pain. #AffectWTF

Written for and performed at Affect Theory Conference: Worldings, Tensions, Futures, “The Author is in Pain” is a project I consider my first foray into performance art scholarship, as part of the conference’s “Wreck the Format” stream. It is the first fully realized expression of my experience in the emergency room a little over a year ago, peppered with experiences in and out of medical and academic institutions. Inspired by scholars and artists including Elaine Scarry, Brian Massumi, Mel Y. Chen, Lisa Blackman, Ann Cvetkovich, Margaret Price, Petra Kuppers, and Leslie Jamison (in addition to being saturated with Foucault), this piece is intended alternately and all at once as a confrontation, an interrogation, a confessional, a demand for accountability, a request for aid in finding new ways of seeing and speaking with regards to invisible pain. It is my hope that this destabilization of typical perception can be extended to other forms of “passing disability,” and that it may serve as my own (if not others’) entry point into the dream of a language more common to us all, one only achievable if we recognize and work towards it together.

I am indebted to my close friend Sara Fuller for serving, sometimes simultaneously, as massage therapist, painter, photographer, and video editor for this project; without her, I wouldn’t have been able to realize this series of provocations as well as I have. I am also grateful to fellow Ph.D. student Fredrika Thelandersson for filming the presentation when it was delivered at the conference in October, which is why you’re able to access it now.

Let it speak for itself.

The transcript, with elements that do not translate to oration or visual performance, can be found here.

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“My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.”

Razor Poem

Angela Carter’s words, but I hope my work does the same.

Yesterday I struck my magnet while opening my fridge door and felt it shift like an intruder in my flesh. I’ve only had it for a couple of months, after all. There was no noticeable change in my finger, but my nerves were sounding an alarm so loudly my other arm began sparking too, never mind its dead nerves. It kept me up all night but seems to have resettled, even if it feels a little more magnetically sensitive. I’m not sure I could pick up razor blades before, and paper clips are jumping to my finger across greater distances. All of which has renewed my thinking about the relationships between pain and enhancement/capability. I’m sure it means something that a slight tissue injury on my left arm has reminded the dead tissue in my right arm that it can still speak.

I’ve been playing around with Scrivener, which may be the most beautiful powerhouse of a writing tool I’ve ever come across. Thank you to all the Computers & Writing attendees who recommended it to me! The above image displays some of its organizational functions, along with a poem from the MS I’ve imported into it. Once I get around to Ph.D. work, I imagine it’ll be an incredibly useful tool for writing the proposal and dissertation as well.

In other news, my overly ambitious summer plans include streamlining the MS under submission, drafting my proposal, and teaching two courses, one a hybrid and the other F2F. I’ve also seriously fallen off the self-care boat, as tends to happen when I begin writing creatively, so striking a balance between the two may be a lifelong project starting imminently.

And finally, Computers & Writing, as always, was a fantastic conference. I always attend and present expecting to leave revitalized, and this year my faith was rewarded tenfold. More thoughts about the conference forthcoming, once I’ve digested the experience enough. In the meantime, if you’re curious, you can read all about it via the hashtag #cwcon.

Back to the MS. Hopefully when I’m finished it will ring true to Angela Carter’s words.

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This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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In Which I Become the Body in the Classroom. Literally.

In any city, in any country, in any university in which you have been enrolled, go into any classroom and silently say, I seek the Holder of the A. If when you open your eyes a professor stands at the lectern, then you have failed, class will proceed as normal, and your journey ends here. But if when you enter you are greeted by a prostrate woman, eyes-open and non-responsive, then quickly assemble in groups of five or else prepare for a horrific end. The mind is more fragile than you know, and there are worse things than death.

If you seek the Object clenched in the body’s hand, you must tell the corpse its own story: the myth of the Holder of the A.

Do not forget as you write, this is no myth. Do not touch the Holder or attempt to take the Object by force. If you do either, or if you fail to reinvent her in the allotted time, she will stay dead and you will be forever destined to fail no matter the task you undertake. Succeed, and the corpse will awaken, and offer you a crumpled, bloodstained note promising intellectual supremacy.

The note is Object 537 of 538. If you can attain it, success is yours.

If, like me, you lurked or participated on 4chan’s /b/ or /x/, you may be familiar with the generic conventions in the short prose piece above. It mimics the style of the Holders Series, a collection of creepypasta chronicling the tasks of reckless, curious individuals seeking to collect mystical objects that should never come together. In the vein of open-source fiction, the individual stories in the Holders series lack attribution and the mythos is collaboratively, transparently constructed based on communal negotiations concerning the generic conventions of horror and expectations for the story itself. The mythos is unstable, unfixed, and thus can be continually modified and augmented. As a case in point, while the first Holders story states there are 538 Objects, stories exist after #538, telling the story of Objects 539 of 538, 540 of 538, etc., and a sequel series, Legion’s Objects, was started to chronicle an additional 2000 Objects.

I wrote the piece quoted above as part of an experimental class on open-source fiction, fandom, and amateur production online. I did this exercise in a media studies course, but I think it would work equally well, or better, in a composition or creative writing classroom. More after the jump if you’re interested in replicating the exercise or just want to hear how it went. Continue reading

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#Biohacking Part II: Or, My Life in Magnetic Vision

After writing that last post on biohacking, I’ve been thinking more about the body as a (media) system, or a system of language, with internal mechanisms keyed to its survival. As a friend put it, “food is a medium through which we communicate with the body,” and to add to that, food may be a way for the body to speak back to us as well.

Is everything we do to the body communication?

I’ve lurked sites like BME for decades, long before I got my first tattoo, while I was figuring out what parts of my ears to pierce, when I was working up to scarification. It was on BME that I first read about magnetic implants, when I was still in college and afraid to relinquish control long enough to allow an artist to exact permanence on my skin. The procedure involved inserting a magnet deep into a finger (or other body part), after which the magnet would move in response to electromagnetic fields and transfer that sensation to the surrounding nerves. The result: an anatomically internal sense of the electromagnetic spectrum as an extension of touch.

I had zero diagnoses at the time but I felt disabled enough that I wanted this, badly.

The procedure wasn’t perfect when I first read about it. Dip-coated silicone coatings could easily degrade, exposing the body to dangerous rare-earth metals and compromising the magnet. Shatter the magnet and you risk the same toxicity, migration, rupture, nerve death. I remember reading about Shannon Larratt compromising his magnets and having them removed. I’d seen more gruesome images than those photos, and his removal went without a hitch, but I could imagine a foreign body corroding under my skin, killing my fingertip sensation utterly, because I’ve never been so lucky.

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia a few years after I read about magnetic vision. I started modifying myself that same year. Everything on my body doubles as a commemoration and a teaching tool, and certain modifications—piercings and scarifications in particular—offer new ways of interacting with and experiencing the world. After all that, plus living with a condition that already complicates my sensory experience of myself, others, and the world, implanting a tiny magnet into my finger didn’t seem so terrifying.

Exactly three weeks after I had the procedure done, the magnet is no longer a foreign body vibrating alongside my finger pad. It is my finger itself. It is my nerves, jangling, when I run my microwave, shouting an interruption when I walk through security gates, humming in C major to accompany my electric toothbrush, reminding me that there is so much more to the world than can be seen or felt by the body as we are born.

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#Biohacking Part I: Thoughts on Dietary Practice

When I find myself drowning my instinct is not to surface, but to swim deeper. I tend to operate at full capacity: three different undergraduate courses in two different states; drop-in tutoring on what would have been my off day; that god-forsaken memoir that accuses me every day of having given up what makes me truly happy. In theory, my dissertation proposal. In practice, an aggressive self-care regimen that, over a month in, appears to be working, and has gotten me thinking quite a bit about biohacking.

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For Every Student Who Ever Has to Complete an Analytical Writing Assignment

Only not really because that would just be a blanket generalization, now wouldn’t it?

Tongue-in-cheek remarks aside, I finally decided to try to shortcut an answer to the questions that come pouring in right before the first analytical paper assignment, regardless of the course subject: What’s a theoretical concept again? How am I supposed to use it? What do you mean, “apply”?

My use of “the lens” dates back to my teacher training in Columbia University’s Undergraduate Writing Program, and it was a confusing concept for students then and it’s still confusing now. Since today was a snow day and I like procrastinating, I decided to take a stab at a video explanation of what a lens is and how to use it.

The materials I used were a notepad, a pencil, a strip cut out of a transparency sheet, and a Batman plushie. Hopefully that was enough. I think one slide may have been out of order but still, you get the idea.

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In Media Res: War Without Witness (Original Formatting)

My piece on mobile phone testimony and Sri Lanka’s civil war, “War without witness: Mobile phone testimony in preserving memory and truths,” is now live at In Media Res, a space for experimental, multimodal scholarship alongside video curating. Given that I’m more used to writing about the conflict with a creative stylistic eye, I wrote in the vein of the memoir I’ve been shopping around. I was hoping the site would preserve my original formatting and spacing, but it wasn’t to be.

If you want to see it in its original glory, I’ve posted the original version as a PDF. The curated video is posted below.

Please be advised that the video contains violent imagery of extrajudicial executions, torture, and evidence of systematic rape. All of the clips in it are excerpted from Channel 4’s documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.

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This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

In which I reflect on Fall 2014 and ASP 2014.

The effects of airplane turbulence aside, I’m feeling more like myself and realizing how much I’ve been meaning to write about. The surreal nature of being classified in the ER. The progressively decreased emphasis on quality of work in favor of quantity of interpersonal drama on Inkmaster. Something about Crossed‘s Cindy or Crossed: Family Values‘ Adaline and/or her Mom for a CFP. And, for months now, my recent experience teaching first-year writing in Columbia’s summer bridge program for the second time, as it has kept me afloat through a rocky semester of teaching in which I had to power through the pain and fog of recovery in order to make money to survive, and simultaneously ignore the nagging feeling that, maybe, I shouldn’t have had to.

Mark Strand once wrote: “We all have reasons for moving./I move to keep things whole.”

As I faced the pale shadow of myself, floundering in my work load and trying to find my way back to the teacher I knew I used to be, the memory of ASP 2014 sustained me. As professors we talk warmly about students “getting it,” and I knew, whatever my pedagogical lapses as I recovered, I had helped those students “get it” and, as dark as my map had become, that was a place my teaching could return to.

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We are always asking the world if we do in fact exist.

A while back a friend of mine proposed the following theory: I’m actually a Saiyan, but because my body isn’t taking enough damage in battle to level up as it ordinarily would, it has to take the initiative to fight itself so I can achieve my next power level. I wouldn’t say I’m over 9000 by any stretch of the imagination, but.

But like always I’m using humor to minimize how far this situation spiraled out of control.

One month and one emergency surgery later, I’m healing well and readjusting to basic movement and day-to-day living, and my mood is so improved that I can only think my exacerbated depression lasted so long not because of Lyrica withdrawal, but because for three weeks my body was struggling to inform me that it was dying.

To summarize:

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“Depression drives me to gaze into abysses.”

I’m quoting Jake Jackson, from this article at phdisabled, which I skimmed when it was published but read more closely yesterday, on the subway, legless and crawling before the realities of health care. Again it brought me to the edge of tears, as words do when they tell my experiences back to me in a form I was previously unable to grasp.

This is my current abyss.

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