5 Intriguing Things: Friday, 2/14

A noise revolution, DNA tests for Native Americans, news as replacement for literature, Maschineangst, and a solar milestone.

1. Making noise as a political act.

"The Symposium on Obfuscation will bring together experts from a variety of backgrounds who study, script and design technologies that either simulate, detect, or are susceptible to obfuscation. By obfuscation we mean the production of misleading, ambiguous and plausible but confusing information as an act of concealment or evasion. In the course of the day, we will critically explore and assess the use of obfuscation as a strategy for individuals, groups or communities to hide; to protect themselves; to protest or enact civil disobedience, especially in the context of monitoring, aggregated analysis, and profiling in (digital) space."

 

2. The availability of DNA tests is forcing Native Americans to ask hard questions about lineage, culture, and political autonomy.

"Which members of tribal communities are most affected by the use of DNA tests?
We have a lot of adopted children in our communities. That's a result of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which gives enrolled tribal members the first right to adopt Native American children. The forcible out-adoption of native children used to be part of US policy, so the Act was a way of keeping children in our communities and close to their culture. I think we should enrol adopted children as well biological children. I would also like to see us go back to enrolling spouses. We should look at it as citizenship. Countries allow for immigration and have laws that deal with naturalisation of new citizens. I think tribes should do that too.

So tribal identity is about culture as well as biology?
I want to be careful with the argument that it's culture versus biology; it's also political authority versus biology. We have debates amongst ourselves about whether being Native American is about being a citizen of your tribe – a political designation – or about culture and traditional practice. I tend to come down on the side of political citizenship. It's true that it's about much more than blood – culture matters. But our political autonomy matters too, and that helps produce a space in which our cultural traditions can thrive.

Do genetic tests that claim to prove Native American ancestry worry you?
I worry about the way Native American identity gets represented as this purely racial category by some of the companies marketing these tests. The story is so much more complicated than that."

 

3. A provocation: news is replacing literature as the key terrain for ethical discourse

"In the postwar period, a generation of critics, inspired by Lionel Trilling, encapsulated the difference between high art and popular art in a single word: 'complexity.' 'Literature,' Trilling wrote, 'is the human activity that takes the fullest and most precise account of variousness, possibility, complexity and difficulty.' Henry James, Austen, Coleridge, and Shakespeare ('King Lear' was the pinnacle of Trilling’s qualities), not to mention modernists from Proust to Kafka, from Woolf to Celine: their books are sanctuaries of anti-closure and infinite perspective, of right and wrong mashed together and dissolved. Following the endless turbulent commentary on Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen, and the commentary on the commentary, you could be forgiven for feeling that literary art, as Trilling defined it, has been largely displaced by life—or, at least, by the pictures of life ceaselessly produced by the all-powerful media—as the realm in which we lose ourselves in a moral problem."

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