Owing to a relentless succession of Life Events and despite her best efforts, your correspondent was unable to finish Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking this week. But she wants to; it’s really good. Grab your own copy and let’s reconvene next Thursday, May 16.
You came, you voted and we have a clear winner! I’m delighted to announce that the next Book Club pick will be Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, by the awesome Gabriella Coleman. The book is available for free download.
Go! Read! Let’s meet back here on Thursday, May 9th! I’m pretty sure this one’s going to rock our socks off.
Attention constant readers! It is time to choose our next
Here are the three candidates left over from our original vote, plus one wild card:
What are the conditions needed for our nation to bridge cultural and racial divides? By “writing beyond race,” noted cultural critic bell hooks models the constructive ways scholars, activists, and readers can challenge and change systems of domination.
Who are computer hackers? What is free software? And what does the emergence of a community dedicated to the production of free and open source software–and to hacking as a technical, aesthetic, and moral project–reveal about the values of contemporary liberalism? Exploring the rise and political significance of the free and open source software (F/OSS) movement in the United States and Europe, Coding Freedom details the ethics behind hackers’ devotion to F/OSS, the social codes that guide its production, and the political struggles through which hackers question the scope and direction of copyright and patent law. In telling the story of the F/OSS movement, the book unfolds a broader narrative involving computing, the politics of access, and intellectual property.
E. Gabriella Coleman tracks the ways in which hackers collaborate and examines passionate manifestos, hacker humor, free software project governance, and festive hacker conferences. Looking at the ways that hackers sustain their productive freedom, Coleman shows that these activists, driven by a commitment to their work, reformulate key ideals including free speech, transparency, and meritocracy, and refuse restrictive intellectual protections. Coleman demonstrates how hacking, so often marginalized or misunderstood, sheds light on the continuing relevance of liberalism in online collaboration.
In this gripping memoir of the AIDS years (1981-1996), Sarah Schulman recalls how much of the rebellious queer culture, cheap rents, and a vibrant downtown arts movement vanished almost overnight to be replaced by gay conservative spokespeople and mainstream consumerism. Schulman takes us back to her Lower East Side and brings it to life, filling these pages with vivid memories of her avant-garde queer friends and dramatically recreating the early years of the AIDS crisis as experienced by a political insider. Interweaving personal reminiscence with cogent analysis, Schulman details her experience as a witness to the loss of a generation’s imagination and the consequences of that loss.
Something else altogether
You tell me!
I’ll be the first to admit that my taste in superheroism runs to the ultra-problematized, not to say outright subversive: I prefer Faith to Buffy, Grant Morrison’s Crazy Jane to Alan Moore’s Silk Spectre, Tony Stark to Bruce Wayne. As I see it, superpowers, like sex, are invariably more or less heavy-handed metaphors for something else. In Buffy and X-Men it’s puberty and burgeoning sexuality. In Doom Patrol, which meant the world to me in my twenties, it’s the marked body, simultaneously mortal and strong.
Superpowers repel me when they are used to single some folks out for special merit at the expense of everyone else. In The Incredibles Dash complains that if everyone is special, no one is. That’s exactly right, kiddo. My deepest political conviction is that everyone is extraordinary and superpowered and jewelled in their most secret inner recesses; everyone; no one is uniquely deserving of special treatment. Business Class is swankier, yes, but you must pay.
Hence my issues. In the Batman canon, superpowers are equated with effectively unlimited money and status. Bruce Wayne’s super secrets are his butler, his vast inheritance and his dungeon full of high-tech toys. As a person who has had to sit through a working lunch listening to a CEO brag about his collection of light aircraft, I find it hard to convey the extent to which this fills me with bored loathing. There’s nothing admirable about being a person like that. At least Tony Stark has shrapnel in his heart, and drinks.
At least it costs him. I’m very fond of that line of Tony’s from The Avengers: “This little circle of light. It’s part of me now, not just armor. It’s a… terrible privilege.” I like that he owns his privilege and its horrors. I like that it’s his way of reaching out to Bruce Banner, whose privileges are equally appalling. I have a lot of privilege that I want to use as a ploughshare, not a sword; the rocket that launched Curiosity to Mars, not an ICBM. Tony’s evolution from arms dealer to clean tech mogul is a useful myth in this way. Bruce Wayne’s Gothic manpain… isn’t.
All of which might explain, at least in part, why the Gail Simone Batgirl left me cold. Canonical Barbara Gordon is problematic in what for me are all the wrong ways. She’s the Police Commissioner’s daughter and the rich dude’s protege. She’s literally the tool of the patriarchy. She uses a wheelchair, yes, and then she’s miraculously healed. I appreciate that Simone lampshades this, most explicitly with her villain Mirror, who embodies the rage of the unlucky towards the lucky.
But Mirror is a villain, and Bruce Wayne, property developer, is a hero, whose acknowledgement of Barbara as Batgirl is the affirmation she needs. All her power is channeled into support for the police, and for capitalism. The arc of the narrative reverts towards the status quo. I am with Doctor Horrible in thinking that the status is not quo.
I’m sorry, but if Donald Trump praised me in any way, I would have to take a long hard look at my life and make some radical changes.
To be clear, I blame Simone for none of this. I think these are structural flaws in the Bat-canon, which tends Ayn Rand-wards and is therefore Not For Me.
I liked Barbara’s roommate, Alysia Yeoh. Alysia tapes Barbara’s cracked ribs and tells her:
If someone’s hurting you, I’m not going to sit by and watch it go on. I am not that person, are we clear?
…and then she makes laksa. I’d rather have read a whole book about her.
What am I missing? Help a Geek Feminist out.
Hi, book geeks! Just a reminder that this Thursday we’ll be discussing the first volume of Gail Simone’s Batgirl run. Looking forward to it!
1. The most straightforward case
I tried out for a teaching gig at a riding school near where I grew up. The place was rundown and their safety standards were not up to mine: I had to insist on the students wearing helmets, and I had to double-check that everyones’ girths were correctly buckled, and there were complaints when I didn’t let the rank beginners gallop their horses around. Despite my best efforts, the horses flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another. It’s what horses do.
All through our lesson, helicopters hovered over the bush nearby; and the trail ride that had gone out failed and failed and failed to come back.
It transpired that they had taken out a woman who had no English and no helmet, and her horse had bolted with her and she had fallen on her head, and the helicopter was her airlift out.
I thanked them and told them that I was no longer interested in the job. I heard, later, that she had lived, albeit with traumatic brain injury.
Straightforward cases are rhinoceroses. They’re not quite unicorns, in that they do exist. They are just very rare.
The Sydney Anglican Church has a generous helping of Omelas. At its summer camps, bright-towered by the sea, the sunlight sparkles in the rigging of boats. Sandstone churches nestle in moss-grown gardens. At least when I was growing up, there was altogether too much shimmering tambourine. Glebe – an inner-city suburb that belongs to the church, an old word meaning the clergyman’s benefice and income – is nothing if not great parks and houses with red roofs and painted walls.
The parish to which I belonged had more Omelas in it than most. There was a room with a locked door, and in that room was a child. It was not defective and it was not dirty, but it was abused.
It would be satisfying to say that I walked away from the church because of the child. Satisfying, but untrue. I walked away – stumbled away, rather – because I was lied to, and it broke me. It wasn’t until a few years later that I found out about the child, and understood what had happened to it as of a piece with the rest of the lies.
What is true is that I can no longer remember my childhood’s sparkling boats or the old people in their robes or the music without thinking, with fury and anguish, of that child in the locked room.
Intermission: A song for Le Guin
You were the tattered paperback on my sister’s bookshelf; you were my endlessly overdue library books; you did a reading at a bookstore in the Haight the week of the September 11 attacks. Do you remember? I was the young woman in the back quietly weeping. Well, I was one of them. You taught me the true name of the shadow, and what dragons are. You taught me how to revisit my old stories and rewrite them. You showed me what I wanted to be: a mind always reaching out, reaching out to be whole. You are my Great Bear and my Master Doorkeeper. I love you.
3. A disorderly retreat
Not surprisingly, then, one of my abortive PhD proposals was on feminist scifi, and perhaps in one of my alternate-universe lives I hold the Ursula K. Le Guin Chair in Postcolonialist Speculative Fiction (is this a real thing? Because it bloody well ought to be.) In this life I have a master’s degree and am a professor of nothing, because even in 1994 when I graduated, no matter how many times I ran the numbers, I could not find a way to stay in the academy and indulge an expensive passion for equestrian sport.
More frighteningly, very few of the scenarios I ran included the ability to keep much of a roof over my own head. When I looked around at my peers and the cohort ahead of me in graduate school, their lives and prospects could best be described with words like “monastic” and “austere.” Twenty years later, when I look at the academic careers of young people with qualifications like mine, I come up with words like “predicament,” “soul-destroying” and “ongoing scandal.”
Once again, I wish I had left the academy because I was taking a principled stand against the exploitation of grad student labour. In fact, I grabbed whatever I could carry and fled.
Epilogue: Living and working in Omelas
Whether you walk, stumble or flee from Omelas, it turns out the worlds beyond the city have something in common: locked rooms in which children are being held prisoner. I live in San Francisco now, and on our good days my friends and I might qualify as mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives are not wretched. (On our bad days all bets are off.) With one voice, the authorities in our lives insist that the price of our happiness includes torture, drones, and the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. I don’t know whether this is true, but I know that I am complicit in these atrocities.
And then there’s White feminism and its history of racism (and its histories of ableism and classism and transphobia and and and.) I’m a feminist to my bone marrow, but I’ll be damned if I’ll obtain my own liberation at the expense of anyone else.
I used to think the answer to the challenge of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” would be for the walkers to join forces, fly back to the city with helicopter gunships and free the child by any means necessary. Now I think the best we can do is practise vigilance. To watch out for people who might be locking children in rooms. And to refrain from locking children in rooms ourselves.
Have you walked away? What’s it like where you are?
It’s less than three weeks ’till our inaugural Geek Feminism Book Club! The results are in, and Ursula Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas has tied with Gail Simone’s Batgirl, Vol. 1 for first place.
So we’ll read them both! Omelas on Thursday February 28th, and Batgirl on Thursday March 25th.
Our other book choices also scored well – people are keen to read Biella Coleman’s Coding Freedom, bell hooks’ Writing Beyond Race and Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind. If there’s enough enthusiasm, we can go ahead and read those; otherwise, we can hold another poll and read something else.
If you can’t get hold of a copy of Omelas, drop me a line at yatima at gmail dot com and I’ll share mine! See you back here on the 28th. I’m looking forward to it!
Update by Mary: if you want to find it in print, look for it in this collection: Ursula K. Le Guin, (1975). The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Harper & Row.
There’s a 1993 edition of just the short story, but it’s much harder to find, at least where I am: Ursula K Le Guin, (1993). The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, Creative Education.
Folks, we’re delighted to announce the launch of the Geek Feminism Book Club, dedicated to:
- geek discussions of feminist books,
- feminist discussion of geek books, and
- geek feminist discussions of books!
Our immediate models are (for this author, who is lowbrow) the Hairpin’s Classic Trash feature, and (for Mary, who is not) Crooked Timber’s much weightier Susanna Clarke seminar. Other inspirations include the late, lamented Racialicious Octavia Butler book club and the literary discussions hosted by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I expect we will meet somewhere in the middle…
In any case, it’ll work like this. Each month, starting this month, we’ll pick a title together. A month later – to give participants time to get and read the book – we’ll open a thread for discussion. We’ll try to include books available under CC licenses and/or available in electronic formats. If the community picks a book that can’t be had except for cash, we’ll set up a scholarship fund to try to ensure open access.
Here are some of the books we’ve thought about for the kickoff on Thursday February 28th. Vote for your favorite below! Suggestions always welcome!
- Biella Coleman, Coding Freedom
- bell hooks, Writing Beyond Race
- Ursula Le Guin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
- Sarah Schulman, The Gentrification of the Mind
- Gail Simone, Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection
ETA: The voting period is over, and we have a tie! Full results are here, but to summarize: Le Guin and Simone both got 14 votes, hooks 9, Coleman 8 and Schulman 7. I suggest we start with (drumroll):
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas on Thursday February 28th
and then read
Batgirl, Vol. 1 on Thursday March 25th.
In fact, since there was so much enthusiasm for all five titles, what about reading the hooks in April, and so on? We can have another vote when we work our way through these five.
(Oskar, you’re right, we should definitely try that polling thing. Making spreadsheets by hand feels very second-wave…)