Monthly Archives: February 2011

What’s the best place to hide?

Logic suggests that there are two possible answers to this question. The first is simple, the best place to hide is where you will not be found. 

While this is a simple answer its simplicity is betrayed by dissecting what makes something the ‘best place.’

The second answer is ‘in plain sight.’ I think this is a better answer of the two because it suggests that sight is not absolute. It is often more difficult to see that which is right in front of the nose on your face than it is to see anything else.

Today I’m teaching about ‘blindspots’ in my critical analysis of news class. Rather than suggesting, as is probably important to suggest, that the news misses things and people, I’m going to also suggest a degree of obfuscation wherein that which is presented ‘right before our eyes’ contains blindspots. These spots act as masks or blinkers to other possibilities and act as ‘enough’ when they are, instead, beginnings rather than punctuated ends.

In this way invisibility is not just seeing/not seeing, but is also a combination of power/voice/affect informed by seeing and that inform how we see. 

Take for instance the idea of ‘revolution’ in the Arab middle east that we see today. There are many more nuances to the various countries than can be accounted for in one general statement. Each country has its own historical reasons for upset and upheaval. Yet painting the whole region with one brush provides a series of enormous and profound blindspots that mush the whole thing into one. Seen but not heard, powerful but without agency, evocative without feeling.

Science policy

I was speaking with a good friend today and she reminded me about the need to consider invisibility not just a multimodal process and state but as having degrees. She’s described these as ‘opacity’ but I’d also like to think of them as the exercise of one or more of the variable of seeing, hearing, power, and affect being demonstrated more than the others. 

Opacity is an interesting concept because so much of what we think about the world revolves around questions of opacity – or invisibility – insofar as we consider the realm of ‘transparency’ as preferred. In reality, there are things we simply don’t want to know and are happy to defer to others. In her example, policy makers. The machinery of policy can and to a degree must be unseen. It is so often the upset that arises that bespeaks the gap between policy makers and those to whom policy is met out. A person I once met argues that contemporary failures of public policy are failures of public relations – the invisible massaging of power into affective salience.

Harry Potter’s Invisibility … and not just the cloak

I’ve been reading the Harry Potter saga for a few months with my children. We’re finally on the last book (so, to stop you now, DON’T give it away!@)

My son asked me an interesting question. What is this book about, he says. It’s not really about Harry or Voldermort since Voldermort doesn’t really make many live appearances in the book. But I say, yes it’s about them, but both not one or the other. Actually, it’s about the invisible space in between them. Actually, it’s about….Well, it’s about invisibility.

J.K. Rowling, if nothing else, is deeply at play in the realm of invisibility throughout all 7 books. She plays not only on the authors ability to conjure up images in your imagination (sadly disabused by the codification of film), but also in terms of not saying as much as she can. She paints a fantastic picture but one that is full of gaps, gaps of invisibility in which the story takes place in our minds.

Beyond the invisibility cloak that science (fiction) has been trying to replicate for years, J.K. Rowling is among the first of the world’s billionaires whose fortunes were amassed almost solely, in my opinion, by playing in the field of invisibility.

Believing & Seeing

I hold it to be true that we see what we believe more so than we believe what we see.

But what is the basis of belief? Belief, to my mind, is grounded not in ‘knowledge’ but in disposition. The tools we use to believe are founded in the space of invisibility insofar as what we are want to believe does not have to have basis in evidence but in repetition. Belief is the constant cultivation of disposition to the extent that we massage our circumstances to fit or to contrast with our expectations.

Seeing is often thought to be believing but I say that it is not. What we see is always filtered through a machinery of vision that transforms rather than accepts objects/subjects at face value. The context and not the product of sight is belief. Mixing up the two is ordinary and necessary but limiting.

If invisibility is part of a binary, it’s opposite would not be visibility but disbelief. As I wrote yesterday about magic, we are asked to surrender our disbelief in order to enjoy the show. What this means is that magic works when we suspend our disbelief (that what we see couldn’t be ‘real’) and delve into that other-worldly (invisible) realm of belief.

Unseeable people

A while ago after I asked for assistance in locating research on the concept of invisibility I was forwarded a forthcoming book chapter by Marisol Clark-Ibáñez, who is an Associate Professor in Sociology at Cal State San Marcos that addressed a very tangible example of the impact of multidimensional invisibility on people.

She discussed how ‘seeable people’ become ‘invisible people’ by virtue of the machinery of citizenship. This idea fascinates me and is related to my ideas on exile, ‘passing’, and ‘authenticity.’ Her research team demonstrated (as have others) that ‘illegal’ (im)migrants often get lost in a mire of structural invisibility by being allowed to do some things like go to school while having no rights or sense of legitimacy to say anything about the nature of how the institutions address them.

Recently there have been renewed (in my mind idiocy) in Arizona calling for a ban on so-called ‘anchor babies.’ The larger question, as related to invisibility, demonstrates how corporeal presence does not negate a more dynamic invisibility – control in and through the squashing of power, voice, and a sense of belonging. 

It is incredibly ironic that on the one hand there are so many forces at play pushing a free and global world (read economy) while maintaining protectionist practices around the authenticity of people.

To my mind, citizenship ends up being an act of imposing and negating invisibility, not corporeally but otherwise. Not just of those who can be seen and those who must hide, but also in terms of who can be heard or exercise power, and how affect or feelings are used as an arena in which to engage in this struggle.

So much of the discussion coming out of Arizona uses a rhetoric of resource strain when, in reality, they use a strategy of manipulating the multidimensionality of invisibility – attaching to the sight of ‘brown skinned people’ a way to speak for and act on their behalf as played out in fear, loathing, and anger. 

Unseen is the DJ or Webmaster

The work that goes on behind the scenes is important insofar as without it what we do see couldn’t be seen, or else would be seen quite differently. There’s ALWAYS something going on in the background, whether visually, infrastructurally, or otherwise. 

What is the power of this work and what of the people who do it? There is much labour that occurs in the space of invisibility, some of which is valued and powerful, some of which is sweat and tears.

There is a fundamental difference between the labour carried on in the shadows of sweatshop factory workers than the same unseen labour of a PR company or artist. 

On the web consider if you’d ever want or need to ‘see’ the webmaster in his/her domain of physical practice. Would that change how you viewed their pages?

In the case of a radio/audio practitioner it often does for me. Once exposed visually, I can’t unsee the DJ that I normally just hear. But once I see him/her it’s never the same again. Betrayed by vision, my minds eye enfolds their voices and subsumes them to the definite rather than abstract and poetic level of my imagination founded on their voice and their choice of what songs to play.

Inner struggle

Inner struggle is an interesting thing because, though it can be seen in small behavioural clues, one can easily mask them. 

Take, for instance, the ability for you to conduct yourself through your regular day with a ‘secret’ in your mind. It impacts you deeply, changes the way you float through the world, yet it is often ‘unseen’ by others. This makes working through secrets very evocative if unseeable.

Thinking about inner struggle must take into account the intersection of outward façades and inner turmoil. Keeping up appearances is a recognition of the multidimensionality of invisibility. We all do it; put on a brave face, act normal, feign interest.

Since we understand invisibility so deeply and intimately, it seems necessary to consider how we do it and not just that we do it. Hopefully this theory of invisibility upon which I have been working can help in this regard.