Hello! Thank you so much for stopping by today to listen. To start off this brief presentation, I wanted to provide a little background on the experiment I went through with the group. This experiment involved conducting an individual recorded interview with ourselves, and of course keeping track of our thoughts at various points during the process, including after we had exchanged recordings for each other to watch. To me it was an incredibly interesting task – a way, if you will, to turn my gaze as an ethnographer back toward myself. Through the pandemic, I have been organizing, hosting, and sitting through a range of fieldwork interactions online, many that were quite significantly different from what I had planned to do in-person. This constant, paradoxical mental motion – even amidst the sudden halt to most kinds of physical movement – felt blurry, punctuated only by a reminder from my calendar to show up to the next thing.
So, I begin this presentation with a still self-image from the initial video interview, deliberately pixelated as a reminder of the mental and physical attention that it took from me, to and for myself, to slow down and ease into the exercise at the beginning of this process. In the original image, I sit down, staring into the camera. I am wearing a black t-shirt and my hair is pulled back. Behind me is a wooden panel, against which there is a curtain in shades of orange, green and brown. At the time of doing the experiment - and indeed, for much of my fieldwork over the course of the last year - although my image may have appeared clearly to others during the meetings we shared, each hour felt blurry. In asking what it means to be present - and offer presence - often, I would encounter a blur of thoughts and feelings, not unlike the way my image appears now on the screen.
Over the course of the last two years, my fieldwork has been in Delhi, where we have seen enormous state repression and political resistance through this time, in addition to the many emergencies generated by an unrelenting COVID wave currently. Personally, I have frequently thought of whether and how it is appropriate to be continuing research amidst this boundless grief, upheaval, and fragmentation, this prolonged season of loss. In particular, I have struggled with being able to engage with a range of ethnographic objects in ways that are generative, my mind and body often coming to them as a series of convoluted thoughts. I present some brief reflections here in the form of poetry, pieced together and mashed up from my individual and our collective reflections, a simultaneous attempt to approach the embodied physical-digital somewhat differently.
In thinking of poetry that emerged from this experiment, I was keenly aware of the ways in which the physical and the digital often came to constitute each other in deeply intertwined ways. For this first poem, I went to the Language is A Virus website and played around, inserting some of my initial autoethnographic nervousness about interviewing myself (!) into a visual poetry generator. I am no doubt not the greatest artist (this second attempt is quite a way off from the first slide), but I think of this image as arising from our exercise, reminding me of what disability studies scholars like Robert McRuer, Sami Schalk and Margaret Price have written about as the intertwined bodymind. The anxieties on my mind are clearly visible in the ways my mouth is formed, for instance, outlined by the words, “this might sound strange, but.” The image on the screen forms, roughly, the shape of a face, eyes spiraling out as circles, the mouth a jumble of words, and some more half-formed words escaping from the sides of my head. The whole face is drawn from text, a representation of a feeling that I have sat with often over the course of the last year -- when everything is online, from work to social gatherings, who am I apart from the work I do?
In this slide, from my fifteen-minute product, I took an answer to one of the questions after our experiment (asking what it meant to be present and respond in real time), which emphasized engagement as performance, asking who we anticipate for. I ran this through a text weaver tool, mixing fragmented phrases into each other, generating output that offered more questions than I had initially anticipated and reminding me of the jumbled thoughts that came to be words amidst all other kinds of blurriness during the pandemic. I will leave it here for a minute, as a reflection of the many ways in which we come to be present, a reminder to myself too that being fully physically present can mean many different things.
There are two blocks of text on the slide. The first consists of the answer to the question, and reads, “I am not sure about difficulties, but one thing that the real-time response supposes is that your interviewer voice is different than the interviewee responses. This made me uncomfortable in a sense because I had the feeling, more than ever, that I was performing -- so by question 4, the interviewer and the interviewee collapsed and in that way I could/did get more comfortable only when I was talking to myself. The real-time response was presumably done with the idea that it would perhaps be more nerve-wracking, but I wonder too about all the instructions not to anticipate. Who do we anticipate for, is the big question -- ourselves and perhaps a mix of someone else?”
The second block of text is what emerged after running the initial response through the text weaver. Here, the text reads, “To anticipate. Who do we anticipate too about all the instructions not real-time response was presumably done with for, is the big question -- be more nerve-wracking, but I wonder voice is different than the interviewee but one thing that the real-time responses. The real-time responses. This made me uncomfortable in feeling, more than ever, that I I was talking to myself. Talking to myself. The was performing - so by question 4, the interviewer and the interviewee collapsed and in that way I response supposes is that your interviewer ourselves and perhaps a mix of the idea that it would perhaps I am not sure about difficulties, could/did get more comfortable only when a sense because I had the. I had the.”
In this last slide, I drew upon a reflection from a group member, Kimberly, picking out quotes that described her response in real time to having a conversation with herself. I then manually generated blackout poetry, as a nod to the many conversations from elsewhere that we bring to each existing conversation, the inseparability of our physical and digital selves all too evident.
The set of quotes from Kimberly’s initial reflection reads,
“Do you feel uncomfortable?” --
“No, I don’t, I wish I could do this more often”
“Wow, this is what others see when they have a conversation with me” --
“I feel warm, honestly.”
“Conversation with a friend who I have been waiting to catch up with for so long.
Curious and grounded.”
When several words are blacked out, the text then reads,
And with this blackout poem I conclude the series of three poems that were generated from our experiment. Many thanks for being such a generous listener.