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Baby No-eyes, by Patricia Grace

Further, while both produce images with reference to speciic bodies as referents in this case, Te Paania's body , in producing as visible what the eye cannot see bones, fetus , they marginalize or even exclude what the eye can see: She is ex- cluded from the image, and even from the diagnostic scenario, as the eyes of the clinician or technician are more likely to be looking at the image against light or at the screen where the image of the fetus appears.

As Sharon Lehner has recounted, "A sonogram takes a picture of me that I'm not in.

For the fetus to be seen as an independent entity, the woman must drop out of the image" , though she acknowledges that "the danger and pleasure of dropping out of one's own picture should not be underestimated" , a point to which I shall return. Although the X-ray and the fetal scan are produced in referential relation to a particular body, they are now contemporaneous with developments in medical visualization whose methods of producing images as intelligible "are predicated on, and fully characterised by, their virtuality.

In this way the image does not represent in the strict sense of the word, but rather presents a fully positivized image without reference to any prior object or scene. Further, this era of visual simulation, while thematically related to the questions of body politics in the novel, also points to wider shifts in the presuppositions and predica- tions of knowledge and the real, posing challenges to the politics of visibility, representation, and identity.

It might be argued that a technology that enables one to see inside or beyond the markers of race—skin color, for example—holds promise for the critique of visible difference and its construction of the body as the site of oppression. It could point to a way of knowing the embodied subject that would liberate the likes of young Riripeti, "a girl so black that it would make the teacher angry" 31 , or allow Shane to transcend the conlict between his name and his face. Such problems emerge with reference to both visual-techno- logical and onto-epistemological concerns, and are invoked in the novel's own concerns with genetic research.

Just as the era of visual simulation is characterized by the production of images with no nec- essary reference to an antecedent situated real, but to a digitized code that precedes production or replication of any speciic image, DNA is increasingly—if problematically—understood as the code of life itself. Once again the novel's concerns around bodies and land con- verge as Mahaki has been recording testimony from elders of his hapu sub-tribe worried that an ancient ancestral burial site, Anapuke, is being surveyed from helicopters by scientists interested in access- ing the bones to extract DNA for genetic research.

Mahaki, aware of the mapping of the human genome in the Human Genome Diversity Project, recognizes that while modern Maori, being too "impure," are not among the targeted indigenous peoples, the ancestral bones might well be of scientiic and commercial interest Te Paania transcribes the recorded concerns of community elders, relating to everything from reducing Maori to patentable resources, to transgenic research and cloning. They want assurance that the bones of our ancestors will not be thieved for medi- cines, so we know our ancestors will not be used for ex- perimentations, so we know our ancestors' patterns will not be separated from their bones for a Pakeha to go and make money or to make things for them to use.

They register the postcolonial echo of colonial power relations as represented in Mahaki's references to bio-prospecting and bio-piracy, where Maori bodies are—like the land—subject to mapping, mining, theft, and invasion. However, while Mahaki's account of the exploi- tation of poverty for scientiic and commercial gain conventionally invokes the question of who beneits from research,17 the economic question might not mark the most fundamental threat to a cultural understanding of Maori or any identity.

Indeed, positing the stakes in the discourse of political economy serves to divert attention from the question of what is lost in the very focus on a struggle over ac- cess to cultural resources.


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Just as implosion of the erstwhile poles of materiality and vir- tuality produces the clone as an embodied simulation, it is a mistake to insist nostalgically on the politics of an embodied materiality as known through a representational economy of signiication, without confronting the reach of simulation into our very being. His point regarding the logic of cloning resonates with contemporary discourses of cultural identity more generally: If all information can be found in each of its parts, the whole loses its meaning.

It is also the end of the body, of this singularity called body, whose secret is precisely that it cannot be segmented into additional cells, that it is an indivisible coniguration" Simulacra 97— In other words, the problem that corporeal materials could be used to simulate a whole is as pertinent to the novel's cultural discourse as to its "biopiracy" plot The simulated whole—the clone—is no less corporeal, no less an embodied, living entity, but it is a virtual one. It is generated by the manipulation of its own elements, the replication of the Same, with reference to the ideal- ized model, not re produced in encounter with an, or its, other, its negative instance—that which is not it.

The objectiication and fetishization of culture encompasses both its abstraction into cells— such as values or aesthetics—and its extension by way of an ideology of growth and development, taken to signal its vitality. Such reiied cells, amenable to fractal replication—and to appropriation—might include what have become familiar as Maori narrative strategies and cultural aesthetics.

Since the publication in the s of works such as Keri Hulme's the bone people and Grace's own second novel, Potiki , Maori cultural patterning and aesthetics have become a conventional focus of critical attention. Emerging into literary visibility during the Maori cultural renaissance, these and other aes- thetic strategies constituted an exciting intervention into the national literary landscape, and were consistent with the objective of many Maori writers to "instil in non-Maori readers a greater understanding of Maori cultural concepts" P.

In "Parade," one of Grace's earliest and best known short stories, a character admonishes a young woman, reluctant to take part in a performance of Maori song and dance as part of a town parade: To show others who we are" The stories that make up the narrative of Baby No-Eyes seem to support the continued need to promote understanding through enhanced visibility and familiarity. However, I would argue that the novel also implies the dangers of cultural objectiication and simulation precisely by virtue of the nar- rative concerns with these processes at the corporeal genetic level.

It is here that the complex cultural moment in which the novel is set comes fully into view. The ability of a literary work to igure experi- ences of space and time that challenge the decultured and deculturing character of modern western consumer society is both vital and yet also threatened by the attachment of such spatio-temporal igures to speciic cultural values and identities. In turn, the cultures thus named in terms of values and identities are threatened rather than sustained, as cultures, by the discourses of property, or properties, that attach to such notions.

Baby No-Eyes recounts a history of violence against Maori cul- ture and presents that culture as facing critical discursive and political decisions as to how to confront its persistence and effects. There is an implicit cultural response in the familiar Maori narrative strategies I have mentioned. The interconnected themes are presented through an intergenerational narrative of multiple spatio-temporalities: The story is told in the voices of four narrators: Their stories thread through each other in an evocation of raranga weaving , as a traditional practice associated with storytelling, as the content of respective narrators' stories wind back, reach forward, and overlap.

Beginnings and end- ings, speciically those of life and death, are thrown into question as Tawera's story begins before his birth, and his sister's continues after her death, while Tawera evokes the womb-space again at the end to express the basis of his artistic practice. These thematic and narrative processes combine to acknowledge Maori land and bodies as inseparable aspects of Maori cosmology and cul- ture, the spiritual and material foundations of culture as such, which together comprise the identiication of tangata whenua, or people of the land.

The speciically maternal body, invoking the traditional Earth Mother Papatuanuku, envelops the narrative, and in pointing to a belief in the cycle that entwines past, present and future, myth and history, youth and age, ancestors and those still to be born, it challenges ideologies predicated on the linearity of time, including accumulation, development, and progress. While the afirmation of reiied Maori cultural values may pro- duce a site of difference that maintains and sustains a sense of Maori group cohesion in a medium suited to the dispersed conditions of urbanization, at the same time it produces as visible a set of alienable cultural features that enter the economy of literary representation as values detachable from the relations within which they are meaningful for Maori, evolving into a codiied set of cultural models.

Baby no eyes

Culture, in this instance, is recast as the simulacrum produced from the various combinations of such modular features. The thematic concern with extraction and proiting from indigenous DNA provides an uncannily material instance of this very problematic of abstraction. On one level, there is a tension between the focus on the visual technologies that capture and consign human lives to the sphere of the image and the articulation of narrative strategies that igure the visibility of Maori cultural values in self-representation.

The technologies objectify what they produce as visible or visual, whereas the narrative strategies articulate subjects of cultural identity. However, the subject-object or active-passive distinction is dificult to sustain in a context where such narrative strategies inevitably become objects of aesthetic attention and where developments in visual technology—and their bio-medical uses—have rendered the corporeal scene the object redundant to the processes of image production; not to become subjects, but to be eclipsed by the virtual model and the manipulation of the digital code that generates and proliferates its objects.

Nevertheless, if the textual enactment of reiied Maori cultural values functions ambivalently in relation to the very opposition to objectiication and appropriation that motivates the novel, I would argue that their integrity to this novel relates to the centrality of family and community as contexts for storytelling; the interconnectedness of the stories and that of the characters mean that a cultural or symbolic reciprocal, reversible exchange among them, and with the reader, may be adumbrated.

Have the politics of visibility succeeded, as it were, to the ex- tent that visibility has been raised to the higher power of visuality? A politics predicated on cultural visibility becomes a simulated cultural politics to the extent that it succeeds in being absorbed into a range of techno-bureaucratic and managerial systems for producing and protecting and promoting that culture in relation to concepts of tradi- tion and authenticity.

Michael Phillipson invokes this sort of problem in discussing "The plight of aesthetic practices and their analysis in a technoscientiic culture"; in his critique of culture in the systematized and simulated sense I have discussed, he calls for the work of art to become "a-cultural, ungatherable in terms of existing rules for aesthetic response, good sense, irm knowledge, and so on" , critiquing "The global buy-out of aesthetics by the institutional ma- chinery of culture" in favor of "the challenge that [art] throws down to culture," its "transforming potential" A critical reading of the politics of visibility, and indeed of the complicity between a consumerist logic of cultural diversity and the "precession of the code"20 that comes increasingly into view with respect to dominant discourses of DNA as well as the functioning of new visual technologies and cultural forms , does not result in the nihilistic end of all politics.

On the contrary, the failure to pursue such critiques is more complicit with that dead end. Bhabha refers to "the problematic of representation which, Fanon suggests, is speciic to the colonial situation. Positing that at either extreme of visibility lies visuality, I invoke two senses of visuality: Baudrillard refers to "the intelligence of trompe l'oeil. There is a kind of inner absence of everything to itself. It is where we can never get hold of things as they are, where we can never know the truth about objects, or the other'" Baudrillard, qtd.

This is an ironic strategy that "registers the impossibility that the object conform to the logic of simulation" , can never be grasped as value for exploitation or truth for simulation. Perhaps this is one of the pleasures of dropping out of one's own picture to which Lehner alluded.

There are narrative moments in which Baby No-Eyes invokes the reversible play of appearance and disappearance, truth and illu- sion. The occupation of Te Ra Park offers the appearance of political action, perhaps all the more effective because it nostalgically calls up an earlier era of occupations and demonstrations.


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It is readily consumed by media publicity, while the truly cultural stakes are in protecting Anapuke precisely from the destruction that its publicity and media capture would engender. The role of Baby in the novel, particularly as this is inseparable from her relationship to Tawera, is another obvious play of visibility and invisibility. Finally, though, the epilogue, which focuses on the development of Tawera as an artist, tantalizingly suggests the parameters of a different politics. His artistic pursuits have been traced throughout the novel from his childhood drawings and paintings to the struggles he faces on the threshold of adulthood.

Again, Grace's treatment of this moment is ambivalent. Tawera explains that "This year I attend university where I study between the lines of history, seeking out its missing pages, believing this may be one of the journeys that will help me be an artist" Between the lines of history, he implies, is suppressed history, more history to be brought to light; this will be the source of his development as an artist. Yet his trajectory is away from history and towards art itself. In this sense, between the lines of history is something other than history. Against the violence of images depicted throughout the novel, there is the "violence done to the image" in "its exploitation as a pure vector of documentation, of testimony, of mes- sage including the message of misery and violence , its allegiance to morale, to pedagogy, to politics, to publicity" Baudrillard, "The Violence" Art and indeed iction represents the possibility of challenging such violence, and one aspect of this is its eclipse of, the subject or the cycles of allusion to and ellipsis of, the subject.

As a young man, Tawera struggles against the egg-shaped spaces of emptiness that keep inding their way into his paintings: One night out walking, he sees for the irst time two words written in red marker pen on a hatch door down an alley: Instead of ending with that little unbreachable gap I begin with it, embrace it, let it be there, make it be there, pushing my drawing further and further to the outskirts. I persist with this, night after night, until one night everything's gone, fallen from the edges of the paper" Only after this complete emptying of the canvas can he begin to make his art, and the account of his irst painting is as tactile as it is visual, as his sister reappears in his new "incantation" "to make visible who was invisible," entailing that he will "become the invisible one, opposite, with a hand reaching forward.

Baby No-eyes, by Patricia Grace | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

I'll be unseen—except that now and again I'll step in to meet her. We'll go rollerblading together in a place where she will be my eyes" This image is not devoid of representation, as it depicts what was done to his sister, but it envisions her as she never was in the inite material world. At the same time, rather than a simple reversal of positions, it invokes the cycles of being and non-being, visibility and invisibility. This once again recalls Lehner's reference to the pleasures of dropping out of one's own picture.

There is a strongly ethical charge in the image of his hand reaching towards his sister, whose arms "reach out to something as untouchable as a receding dream" , but this ethi- cal moment has its greatest force in the context of a critique of the political ramiications of the passage of the politics of visibility into the visual simulations of hyperreality. Conclusion Identity is a precondition of visibility; to be visible, something has to be, in the sense of having ontological status, and to be itself, as distinct from an other. Ambivalence cannot be encompassed within such a logic.

In contemporary discourse, identity has become the term around which culture is articulated, but it also freezes what is cultural about culture.

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In response to theft or suppression of Maori cultural objects and practices has emerged a counter-discourse of property and rights. This is a response in the terms of the original colonial threat or aggression, and it inserts its subjects into the logic and social order that produced it. Expressions of difference are reduced to differences within, or modulations of, that order. In Baby No-Eyes, the characters intuit cultural threat to their own identities as Maori as they confront the implications of genetic research.

Nevertheless, they can only articulate the threat with reference to the economic predicates of identity, worrying about the theft of DNA a resource question and its use in transgenic re- search an identity question. They invoke the question of stakes: It would testify to the profound effects of colonization if these could not be seen as radically different approaches to the problem of decoloniza- tion.

Baudrillard insists that "Culture does not translate the identity of a society, the immanence of a system of values. On the contrary, culture is their transcendence, disavowal, challenge, distance" "The Global" He continues that "[o]nce it materialises as heritage, as power, as appropriation, as identity, once it becomes signature, that is, a materialised image of this power," it is "an after-effect of the colonisation of mental space and the failure of its decolonisation.

Art is sometimes seen as the least political or politicized sense of culture. This is not to deny politicized art, but art's political eficacy is much less determinable or tangible. Perhaps, though, this is the point, especially in a context of overwhelmingly instrumental invocations of culture. I suggest that art—in the most general sense of cultural practice that takes its distance from and challenges the orthodoxies of identity, truth, and the social—institutes or enacts a radical ambiva- lence of the visual or verbal image, puts it into cycles of appearance and dissolution.

In its irreducibility to the sphere of political economy, art is uncontainable, unconstrainable, and noncompliant. Its power is that of seduction, the term Baudrillard uses to denote the radical other of production with its attendant implications of identity, accu- mulation, and economic exchange. Keri and Gran were clipping and snipping, then Gran took me and wrapped me in a towel, while Mum moved onto the settee where Keri cleaned her and made her comfortable.

He had to go and sit down. And because things are complicated, there is no quick and easy way to explain. It could take years. Mahaki knows that the rights of a minority group are subject as much to public opinion as they are to the courts. Oh, that was last month, I see from the date of the last signature…. Some readers may find the narrative disjointed, but if you enjoy piecing a story together from a variety of engaging voices, Baby No-eyes is a fascinating novel that raises confronting issues. I read the book on its own terms, and found it unputdownable. Hi Stu, was that Potiki? I liked that too, I have to source more of her books, she has such an interesting style….

Lisa Hill on June 28, at It was only once I discovered Fishpond that I found a reliable supplier, and fortunately they also sell second-hand so I can sometimes get hold of titles that are out-of-print as well. Lisa Hill on June 29, at 2: I want to read all of her books. Lisa Hill on June 30, at Lisa Hill on July 1, at 2: But, as one narrator reminds us, there are different ways of telling stories: It starts from a centre and moves away from there in such widening circles that you don't know how you will finally arrive at the point of understanding, which becomes itself another core, a new centre" On a second reading however, the reader, at least this reader, becomes a member of the whanau, extended family; the characters are familiar, their relationships, problems, secrets, idiosyncrasies, part of everyday life.

It is like being welcomed onto a marae; we arrive as manuhiri, visitors, but after the powhiri, official welcome, and hongi, the mingling of breath, strangers become tangatawhenua, people of the land. The prologue introduces the major characters through Tawera, talking from inside the womb. We experience Te Paania his mother, described as "the frog"; we hear of Glen, Tawera's absent and inconsequential father; meet Dave and Mahaki, the gay couple who protect and nurture the family; and welcome Kura the kuia, woman elder, who arrives to assist an impatient Tawera into the world.

There are also hints of a presence, unnamed and unknown, the one character not so easily pinned down. Baby No-Eyes is deceased but highly animated and, as her name suggests, she has no eyes. How she comes to be eyeless is a chilling account of an actual event. The relationship between Tawera and his sister Baby No-Eyes, known as Baby, is the core of the novel and the most perverse in a story brimming with seven generations of relationships.

Of the thirty-seven chapters, nine are given to Kura, the kuia who recounts the terrible and wondrous past.