NDUS Outrage Summit: Live-ish Blog

Updated  3:45 pm

The North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Outrage Summit convened this morning with remarks from myself, UND President Mark Kennedy.

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Vice Chancellor, Richard Rothaus (with “Nobody Speak” running on loop in the background (muted, unfortunately)) welcomed us as well.

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Kennedy’s comments were predictable conciliatory suggesting that outrage alone is not enough for change. There has to be outrage “and” (a willingness to collaborate, compromise, and accommodate). Vice Chancellor’s comments emphasized that the somewhat confrontational and unorthodox topic represents the freedom that faculty have to take on controversial topics.

I’m now listening to a series of papers on historical outrage starting with the influence of public outrage on pioneer monuments from Cindy Prescott. 


Next door, 100+ people have gathered to discuss the cancelling of the music therapy program this past spring at UND. 

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Dan Cooley is now talking about race and the Black Campus movement at Concordia College in Minnesota in the 1970s and the intersection of Black Power and Civil Rights. Cool stuff and saturated with outrage. The history of racism on the regions campuses including the dousing of a black students car with gasoline and lighting it on fire at UND in the 1970s. Powerful stuff with contemporary implications.

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 At 9 am Patrick Luber discusses his installation, “Light and Darkness: Tragedy and the Use of Light in Public Art” at the Hopper-Daly Spiritual Center in the Art of Outrage Panel.  

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Now Eric Burin offers longterm historical perspectives on outrage starting in the 18th century and into the economic and racially charged outrage of the 1820s and 1830s with shocking parallels to our own time. This led to intense partisanship in this period as well fueled by the steam powered printing press (as well as more movement through steam engine, steamships, and the like). Abolitionism emerged from this period and gained significant political and popular prestige through grass-roots activism. He notes that the old historiography argued that outrage among abolitionists was counterproductive and divisive; recent scholarship sees the outrage of abolitionists as being vital for “blazing the path” for more traditional statesmen to take up abolitionist causes. 

Cindy Prescott crossed the streams between historical outrage and music therapy panel in arguing that the concrete incident of cutting music therapy serves as a rallying point for a range of grievances. Outrage often needs an event to serve as a lightening rod for anger.

Brian Schill talks about numbness, detachment, and punk rock as a form of outrage in the Literary Outrage panel. Fragmentation, Delilo, Bear versus Shark. Is rage today as dead as punk? Has the distinction between real and staged outraged totally obscured? Fatigue, desensitization, indifference!

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At the same time, we have the music of outrage thanks to two ensembles from Minot State University to a packed house:

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… While Shawn Boyd from UND talks about narratives of outrage with Freud, Baumann, and others joining the outrage party. 3.5 million references to OUTRAGE on the interwebs and Homeric rage in our internet age. How do we control outrage and who imposes its limits historically? And zorn. 

John Cox from NDSU talked about rage in Tito’s Yugoslavia and as a foundation for thematic experimentation works of Billjana Jovanovic and reads from his unpublished translation of her novel Dogs and Others which is laced with outrage.

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Andrew Harnish a graduate student from UND English Department talks about the outrage of the disabled body, disability theory, and disability theory in non-western countries. He starts with an autobiographic account of his disability in larger social and political context.

Professor Jendrysik (and longtime friend) offers the keynote with a bumper sticker, “If you not outraged, you’re not paying attention!” 

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We’re mad as hell, we’re not going take it any more! Communities of outrage grounded in feeling that they’re right and their anger is righteous! And anger is liberating with venues of outrage being political churches.

An experiment: can outrage lead to enduring political movements?

Outrage is exciting, but change is hard work. The end of civility is not the same as outrage (and there is not golden age where political civility was common). Outrage is deeper and we need to interrogate it.

Outrage is performance and constant interpretation and reinterpretation and blaming people for not being what they were. Outrage is signaling and showing that we hate the same thing and same people, and we have shared virtues. Outrage is ritual. For example, the War on Christmas is a signaling discourse that shows people that they’re on the same side. As such, it’s a demand for recognition. 

Outrage is TRUTH in a post-factual world. Anger is real whereas dispassionate conversation and contemplation is boring and lacks commitment. 

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Outrage is industry! There are ritual patterns in the production of outrage. It is commodified and its predictability has become comforting, hence it’s value in today’s society. There is a hierarchical outrage market where local outrage markets get their cues from national outrage mongers who position themselves as heroic truth-speakers. Check out Rod Dreher’s blog which provides daily outrage which leverages the short lifespan of outrage (or the Drudge Report or Breitbart). And we need ever larger doses of outrage to get our fix.

Anger by marginalized groups is denigrated in many way. Political effects of outrage then is growing polarization. The ever increasing amounts of outrage that we need to get our fix ensures that political divisions are more fierce (especially in our post-factual universe). Outrage can produce apathy (a kind of fashionable despair). 

Trump’s campaign is a natural experiment on whether outrage is enough to propel a candidate to victory. And Prof. Jendrysik concludes his talk with a cliffhanger: “We shall see?” 

We’re starting the afternoon session with videos of support for the Standing Rock Reservation and the DAPL.

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The panel is chaired by Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, UND and featuring Cody Hall, James Grijalva, Jaynie Parrish, Mark Trahant. Rather than a critical engagement with outrage, they are expressing outrage as a motivating force behind their need to protect water from the risks associated with the Dakota Access Pipeline. Cody Hall speaks of the native role as protectors of water, and water is a form of prayer which exists everywhere. He is willing to die to protect the water

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Now, Jim Grijalva is an environmental lawyer on the panel and considers the policy goals of the conversation on domestic energy production. He is interested in the concept of environmental justice and “disproportional impacts” on more vulnerable communities. The differing impact and environmental consequences on indigenous peoples is a recognized problem both in federal law and by the United Nations. It is necessary to maintain the environment in such a way that allows for indigenous people to live how they want.  

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Jaynie Parrish introduces social media and community organizing, and the larger change of narrative toward growing respect for the balance between extractive industries and environmental and Native American rights. Telling the story – and using various media – is a vital part of community organizing and balancing the imbalance of power.

Mark Trahant, among many other things, is a blogger. Starts with the Paris Climate Accords to frame the DAPL protest. We can’t produce more oil and bring more oil to market and meet the targets of the Paris Accords and this pipeline is about producing more oil. Also the impact on villages of Alaska that have to move because of rising sea levels. It can’t be either/or, but it we have to “turn the dial” back in the consumption of fossil fuels. The DAPL protest is a social media story (that went to the global media and then the domestic media). Arguments for the science of the pipeline will go all the way up to climate science and then stop. So, science can says that that pipeline is “safe,” but not climate change?

There is a need to talk about what’s going on around the DAPL at UND.

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Final panel of the day: what about a third space? We start with Shelia Liming on dissolution and flux. Third spaces are not home and not work; they’re the other places where people can gather (following Ray Oldenburg’s definition). Informal public life and public spaces mitigates against privatized spaces. Adorno, Benjamin, Oldenburg, and Zombies, oh my!

New Sherry O’Donnell starts with the last bakery closing in Aleppo and then leads into Pierre’s Bakery in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, run by her partner Virgil Benoit from 1996-2003. PR matters and controlling the narrative matters to small businesses, but they can not hold off the big box stores. Their bakery stood for was an alternative to the church, school, and the bars. It was a third space.

David Haeselin wants to make Grand Forks weird OR Grand Forks is already weird, but weirdness can only happen in public. Starts with Fargo: A Town for Misfits. Rhombus Guys Brewing (is a weird square). So North Dakota is weird and downtown businesses are weird. Take Grand Forks seriously as a place; and ties it to his project to publish a reader on the 20th anniversary of the Grand Forks Flood.

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