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Where You At?

I forgot that I had pulled Miwon Kwon’s article/essay out of the “Books” category, and was looking for it under “Essays” to make my post. Of course then to my amusement, here it is, “The Wrong Place” located in “the wrong place” in the Applications Readings! Very witty.

Kwon’s article ends in a kind of surprising way, and I really hope someone else reads and responds to this so we can chat about that. She starts by saying that there’s a sense in academia and the arts (she is an art professor at UCLA) that the more you travel, the more important you are. Or at least, that the more you travel, the more you get a sense of your own self-worth. “Whether we enjoy it or not, we are culturally and economically regarded for enduring the ‘wrong’ place. It seems we’re out of place all too often.”

This idea really intrigued me because I think it’s so true of what many young people today view as a symbol of success. If you travel widely and especially for work, that means you are “wanted, needed, validated, and relevant”. After paragraph one, I thought the essay was going to discuss how this perception of travel=validation should be dismissed.

But then through the rest of her essay, she explores the definition of what is a ‘wrong’ place, what is a ‘right’ place; how are these the symptoms of disassociation and loss of identity caused by the modern era; what are some cultural examples of artwork that is about a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ place (Frederic James’ essay on the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and Don DeLillo’s play Valparaiso).

At first it sounds like Kwon is trying to say that the disorienting affects of modern life are what is wrong. But then she turns a corner to say “it is we who are wrong for this kind of ‘new’ space”. In so many words, I understand her to be saying that the disorientation is a challenge for us to conquer, to be forced to define our identities and our sense of self.

And so, to bring the point back to art, this means that the avant-garde is not dead and should not be considered dead: “Once heroic improprieties are now seen as pathetic improprieties. But critical artistic practice is neither heroic nor pathetic.” She extolls the virtue of being an artist in ‘the wrong place’. Which, in this case to point to paragraph one, means being an artist who travels widely and lives in foreign places.

I definitely think there is much to be learned and gained from cross-cultural exchanges, feeling out of place, etc, but I think it also creates a kind of monotonism across a certain cultural class. People of a certain nomadic type kind of all tend to have the same sensibilities, the same exposures. Kwon doesn’t talk about what it means to represent a place that is your ‘right’ place, your feeling of home. Why isn’t that as legitimate for an artist? What about the actual variety that comes from singularly deep cultural roots? The notion of an artist who travels in order to consume other cultures, who travels for the purpose of feeling ‘out of place’, seems really exploitative and ethically shallow. This is very different from an avant-garde ethos of being in a wrong place culturally, not actually geographically in the wrong place.

Anyway I think her metaphor about travel, if that’s what it was, is kind of jumbled up.

5 comments to Where You At?

  • mam1286

    Definitely thinking about reading this now. Please excuse any misinterpretations I’ve made, considering I haven’t yet. From your analysis I got a sense that Khoo got bogged down in specifics in a few places, which kept her from fully developing her metaphor about travel and identity. Instead of making a statement about how the travel-centrism of academia reflects the disorienting nature of finding ones self in modern society, she seems to have focused on promoting the avant-garde movement. To my fairly uneducated eye, avant-garde has always seemed to have the effect of making people feel disconnected. Like you said, what about “what it means to represent a place that is your ‘right’ “? What about feeling connected? I think this is probably the focus of most of our class. It’s interesting to see arguments that seem to support the contrary in the context of ITP.

    The question of “how are these the symptoms of disassociation and loss of identity caused by the modern era,” could easily be spoken about in terms of the Digital Native and Digital Immigrant. We currently live in a world where there are still more people who grew up in a world without the internet (Digital Immigrants) than grew up with it (Digital Natives), and most of those people control the economy and government. How many of our peers feel alienated from politics and social issues? Maybe people feel they are in the “wrong place” because they live in a time of a technological advancement that’s moving faster than our ability to make sense of it in socio-economic terms.

  • mam1286

    Woops. Mis-read the author and can’t figure out how to edit my comment. Sorry.

  • kmb445

    Liz, I agree with a lot of the things you are saying. It sounds like this book does not do justice to the themes it brings up!

    I think you make a good point about what makes one feel out of place that the author does not address – to be out of place is much more often related to one’s economic status than to their place of origin. For example, I am from the suburbs of New York and grew up middle class with 3 other siblings and two hard working parents that have worked very hard to support us. I was recently invited to a black tie event in the city for an arts nonprofit that required a formal dress code and while in theory this place and effort is very much related to what I do and what I care about, I felt incredibly out of place. My friend who invited me spent the night schmoozing with investors and I was wearing clothes that I had borrowed from a friend, making casual conversation that was more superficial than sincere with others at the event. The culture of that scene, which was reflected heavily in the attitudes of those who attended that party, is something I have never really experienced before and because I did not understand and could not relate to almost all aspects of that night, I felt incredibly out of place there.

    On the other hand, I have relatives that live in Canada that I went to visit recently, who are of a similar economic background to me and my family. While they speak French and eat different cuisine than my Irish American parents, they are not very different than myself. This I believe is what you are speaking of when talking about the “cultural monotony” that exists in the world, though perhaps while more relatable they are where we can better learn since we can better understand. Exotic is just another word for unfamiliar. I feel like going to places and communicating with people who I can relate to and experience culture through their lens is much more of an inspiring experience than going to a fancy event or spending a crazy amount of money on unnecessary luxuries.

    I wonder what the author meant by right and wrong and if/how that ties into economic class translated across cultures…

  • ytf208

    I had a really interesting trip with my friend in Mexico. I went there because I was an assistant of the exhibition there. After during the exhibition, we are freely to walk around to see the Mexico City. I met a friend from Mexico in the Italy Folker Festival, and we had a great talk. I call him directly as soon as I arrived. He is really generous. He brought us to his house and met his family. We enjoy really traditional Mexico food and got a super long road trip. This is a really rare chance to have a long trip. As you know, Taiwan is an island, a small island. It’s really hard to find a place empty, not to mention a long road without people. Than I start to talk to myself, and feel how small I am. We go to a bar that night. People there sing and dancing like no one care. Suddenly, a man catch my hand and start to dance with me. He said “ I drink I dance, and I don’t know the rest of my life. This (he point the wine cooler) is my library.

    “ How hard life could be? “ I ask myself. I grow up in Taiwan a typical Asia country. Working hard is the basic request. People sometime sacrifice their family time in order to get promotion. Business success means everything success in the past. Now days, people start to think more about life education because of the increasing rate of the young teenager. They only know study, and they don’t know the rest of their life. When they met something they don’t know, they can’t figure out than they go suicide. This is really ironic stuff happen all the time.
    I really like a word from John Lennon” When I was five years old, my mother always tell me that happiness was the key to life. When I go to school, they asked me what I want to be when I grew up, I wrote down “happy”! They told me I don’t understand assignment, I told them they don’t understand life. “
    Life is what you want it. I think that’s what I learn in that trip.

  • Sanniti

    I agree with Liz, the metaphor of the wrong place seems quite jumbled up. It seems, Kwon interpreted the term in more ways than she initially intended to. But that gives us different topics to comment on as well. First of all, I got a sense of “Who moved my cheese?” kind of belonging being talked about in most part of the article. Of course new places, new surroundings are disorienting but that is something we need to experience and come out of, to become better persons. The case that was introduced, of Majeski- travelling to a wrong destination following what seemed right to him, seemed a little vague though.

    It’s interesting to note that in the book “Out of our heads”, the author gives a neurological view on the way we behave in new surroundings. He says that our brains are wired and formed the way they are now depending on the surroundings we grew up in or are most familiar with. For example, we do not distinguish between faces of people belonging to a different race/ethnicity as easily as we do with our own. He mentions “..if you find yourself in a strange land where a strange language is spoken, you can’t tell a good story- that is, you can’t be who you are. You yourself are changed.” It’s quite natural to see how, as Kwon suggested, people calculate their self worth based on how and how often they overcome these hardships of traversing through unfamiliar places.

    “What about the actual variety that comes from singularly deep cultural roots?” I believe it is absolutely true that no matter how much you travel, how many different cultures you try to adapt to or maybe fit into, you are unique as you belong to a particular place. That’s a quality a person is, sadly, to lose if they try too hard or too many times, to fit into a foreign surrounding. No one likes a wannabe.

    But I’d say, your notion that travelling to feel out of place being shallow is not something I can agree with. To feel out of place is a lot of times a process to analyse ourselves and realize where we belong. Just as it seems in the case of Majeski; he travels to an unfamiliar place and finds his true self. There are a number of such cases. Take ITP for example..almost everyone here has come out of their ‘comfort zone’ feel a little out of place to experience new things. That is why ITP is so hard to define. Everyone starts out feeling out of place (although there’s a homogeneity which brings the ITPers together), but throughout the two years, we discover ourselves and take with us an experience we carved out for ourselves..