A couple weeks ago, in my last week of classes, I went to a bunch of lectures and events. I find extra-curriculars like these to be a nice addendum to my modules. They not only connect to ideas we discuss in class, but they explore some more thoroughly and educate me on other ideas emerging in gender and sexuality studies.
First I went to a lecture by Jack Halberstam called “The Wild: Humans, Animals, Anarchy.” Halberstam discussed how the ideas of anarchy, childhood, and the wild intersect through a critical reading of The Life of Pi. I haven’t really studied anarchy before, but this lecture along with the next day’s workshop made me really want to. I think it would be very useful for thinking about alternative ways of existing and organizing- because that’s what it’s about, really- that are more inclusive and just.
The following day I went to a workshop called “Travels in and Around: Feminism-Anarchy-Queer.” The workshop was scheduled to go from 11am-5pm, and I was a little bummed that I would have to miss the second half due to work training. Funnily enough, the University of London was holding a(nother) protest that day to protest the Universty’s ban on protests, scheduled at 2pm. The workshop organizers didn’t want to stop people from participating in the protest or have them get blocked in, so they condensed the workshop to end at 2pm. Yes! A few points I took away from it were: 1) There are many examples of anarchic communities if you look for them 2) Anarchy is about different ways of organizing economy, community, and intimacy (relationships) 3) Anarchy and libertarianism have similarities but important differences and 4) Thinking about concepts like freedom and accountability gets really interesting and the concepts beg redefinition when you try to think of them without the framework of the state.
The next day I went to a film showing of United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, an inspiring documentary about the AIDs activist organization ACT UP (AIDS Coaltion to Unleash Power) produced by Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman, the latter who was present on the night of the film showing for a Q & A. I highly recommend everyone watch it, and US-ians, you can watch it here. It was moving, incredible, and I can’t even do it justice. Watching it you get a real sense of how significant their work was, that for many it was about life or death, and that so many people died because of government neglect. It’s tragic, and so inspiring. I can’t believe I never knew this history before coming to college. Why not, dammit?
The following Monday, I attended a seminar entitled “Temporal Vertigo: The Paradoxes of Aging.” It was essentially a panel of critical reflections on Lynne Segal‘s book Out of Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing – which, for the record, she wanted to call “The Paradoxes of Ageing” rather than “The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing.” I have not read it, but I intend to, and it sounds like a great companion for anyone approaching “old age” or currently toiling with what it means to be old. The seminar’s entitled “vertigo” refers to the odd experience of people- friends, family- you knew to be much older than you dying, and then you becoming older than they ever were. They were old, now they are gone, and you’re even older. It teases logic and expectations. One speaker (a professor at Birkbeck whose name I cannot recall) made the point that old age queers time, as conceived in a capitalistic structure. Within capitalism, the only valued time is time spent working, and there’s a strict idea of wasted time, being any time that isn’t productive. In old age, people often work less or not at all and have a lot of what capitalism would code as “wasted time.” This late time of life often asks the individual to schedule their day to their own accord, rather than according to the work day. Lynne Segal was the final speaker, emphasizing why she wrote the book and the main points she wanted to get across. She said she wrote it to come to terms with aging, as a woman who will soon turn 70, and to create richer narratives of aging. Segal pointed out the gendered ways we think about aging- that for a man, aging is often seen as a feminization, a process of losing his manhood; for women, even more so than for men, to “age well” is to not age at all.
She declared herself an “Ageist Resistor”- one who resists cultural inferiority applied to the elderly. She emphasized that we connect to the past through memory as well as fantasy, and that the perspectives and experiences elderly people have can still be significant.
ACT UP’s rallying chant was “ACT UP. FIGHT BACK. FIGHT AIDS.” A theme that threads through all these educational events, in my books of theory, and in my daily thoughts echoes this cry: Act up. Fight back.