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November 9, 2006

Polycentricity (DUO)

I'm not satisfied with the presentation; it was too shallow. The one question I received basically asked, What’s the point? Specifically (paraphrased), “what is the connection between the media artifacts analyzed by your multinational, multilingual team and the reflexive summary of group process?” I had thought (albeit vaguely) that I was enacting “polycentricity” by folding two presentations (two "centers") into one, tacking back and forth between both. The question confirmed my ‘read’ of the energy in the room. The 'depth' of meaningfulness I perceived while brainstorming with my colleagues and constructing the powerpoint slides was not translated into full potential by my delivery.


This situation is an example of me doing my best to ‘fly by the seat of my pants’, with less than optimal results. However the experience itself is doublesided (at least). On the one hand, I’m embarrassed to have let down my colleagues by not appearing at my best on our behalf. :-( On the other hand, I’ve stretched myself into an extended zone of being, reaching for something I cannot quite yet grasp. In this act of seeking, I understood better what it was I attempted to do. I actively resisted the monocentric desire of theoretical academic discourse by refusing to provide only a definitive description of an abstract ‘external’ object (the interaction that we constructed among four accounts of the Israeli military’s forcible removal of settlers from Neve Dekalim, a town in the Gaza Strip surrendered in August 2005 to Palestine). To the extent that I did provide selected details of our media analysis, I enacted polycentricity by ‘bouncing’ among the layered and diverse “centers” evident in the intersection of
a) a sociopolitical event,
b) media texts (four) about this event,
c) subjectivities (four) engaging in mutual knowledge construction about the event and its associated media,
d) within a particular epistemology (critical discourse analysis),
e) comparing and contrasting written text in four languages,
f) combining online textual interaction (online versions of the four newspaper articles, a socialtext webspace, email, skype)
g) with face-to-face verbal interaction using a lingua franca (English).

In other words, (and this came clear to me while listening/watching Simon Faulkner present “Re-viewing Occupation: Art, Photojournalism and Israel”), I attempted to perform a work of discursive art within (under) the occupation of the form of academic discourse - “conference paper presentation” - whose “proper” focus is theory, not practice; abstract analysis not application.

Ironically, I had intuited the (potential) performance quality of this presentation last week. I had not, however, clarified its purpose. Or, even more precisely, even as I articulated certain purposes – negotiating parameters with my colleagues, confirming understandings, and coordinating intentions – I still did not comprehend the meaning of what we set out to do.

Taking the best possible interpretation of outcome, I wonder if a learning might be that the enactment of polycentricity is a state-of-being of just this kind of uncertainty? What I found myself doing throughout this presentation (and the entire process with my colleagues) is continually turning Bakhtin’s notions of centrifugality against centripetality and centripetality against centrifugality in counter-movements to those expected from sheer momentum (tradition, expectation, dialectics). If I can become more conscious and deliberate regarding when to flag this for audiences and interlocutors, and when to let such turnings be what they are, perhaps I can enhance the performance of this art in everyday dialogue. Ultimately (!), such practices may lead to more theoretical clarity, bringing “the point” of Decentering Conflictual Discourse into focus.

Posted by Steph at November 9, 2006 11:32 AM


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