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Feb 26
Zach and Alison Reed:
    Human Rights Group

    Feel free to post on any issue related to human rights.




    Feb 26
    Zach:
      Film: Sleep Dealer (2008)

      This film by Alex Rivera is a rare example of a cyberpunk film that deals explicitly with social and labor relationships in the global world. It tells the story of Memo, a peasant in a tiny village in Oaxaca, Mexico, sometime in the near future. His farmer father is killed by a U.S. Military drone when he is mistakenly targeted as a terrorist. Memo, in an attempt to escape his backwater village, travels to Tijuana and gets “nodes” implanted into his nervous system, which allow him to interface directly with machines. He is employed by the new global economy as the operator—through virtual reality—of a remote construction robot. The film depicts a world in which the U.S. dream of “work without the workers,” has become a literal reality and transformed global labor. No longer able to cross the border, “migrant” Mexican workers can sell their labor to the global rich at a distance. This low-budget film manages to combine a brand of techno-enthusiasm with deconstruction. This functions at the level of the narrative and the technologies of cinema itself: Narratively, Memo is an electrical tinkerer who dreams of transcending his spatial and economic situtation through first satellite communication and then technologically-mediated labor. The film's performed technology, however (including the computer-generated virtual first-world workspaces, military drones, etc.), make visible the labor differentials exploited by global capital.

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      Feb 27
      Alison Reed:
        What I find potentially problematic about this film's critique of neoliberalism's exploitative project under the guise of globalization is its successful evasion of the politics of space; surely, the materialist turn to a consideration of space rather than time as the primary stage of labor exploitation in the postmodernist era is an important one. Just as Fredric Jameson problematically celebrates postmodernism's supposed embrace of alterity in its resistance to meta-narratives, I wonder if the film evades the disturbing material ramifications of global capital in and on space; two examples that readily come to mind are the maquiladora factories in Ciudad Juarez and the outsourcing of labor to India. I am thinking more specifically of the ways in which telemarketers in India are literally trained to Americanize in order to "sell" (themselves? their company's product?) to the masses in America. Here, we find two examples of neoliberalism exploiting space to meet its own ends and ultimately subsuming foreign spaces into its own hegemonic power. Globalization, then, is a neoliberal discourse that exploits and subsumes space rather than displaces it. How is the film a reaction to this move in its performance of technologies that erase the spatial differential between the global North and South?
      Feb 28
      Zach:
        I would say that the film's performance of technologies emphasizes rather than erases the spatial differential between global North and South. Aesthetically, spaces inhabited by flesh-and-blood characters have a solidity, a photo-realism to them, while "other" spaces are artificial, digital. San Diego, for instance, appears as either digitally rendered (the skyscraper construction scenes in which Memo controls a robot surrogate) or on an entertainment/news television channel (the military drone program). Once Memo leaves Oaxaca for Tijuana, Oaxaca appears only as a pixelated background when he videophones his brother to send him money--most of which is extracted as taxes and fees for the transfer. My argument, then, is that the analog-digital aesthetic differential is used in the film to visualize the North/South divide. Both differentials are accompanied by labor exploitation. To quote the film, this is how the US gets "work without the workers."
      Mar 3
      Alison Reed:
        Ah, interesting. So in the film, then, there is a digitization of spaces that seeks to render workers invisible? More specifically, I'm thinking of the discussion today in the materialist theory seminar about David Harvey's concept of the "spatial fix" and the ways in which capitalism seeks to render space a non-place, as the riddle of territorial expansion is increasingly solved not by traditional imperialist projects but instead by the creation of new, virtual spaces that exploit transnational capital and labor. In other words, in the postmodernist moment are we moving toward a capitalist hyper-nationalism that is paradoxically no longer attached to the concept of a nation-state? As I meant to suggest above with my example of the Indian telemarketer, here we see a laborer forced to perform the American national subject from abroad to turn a profit for American companies. So, are nationalism and patriotism no longer attached to national boundaries? Does the future of neoliberalism find its spatial fix in an American hegemony no longer attached to its own territory but instead to transnational flows of capital? These questions certainly problematize my initial critique of the film, as its representation of "work without the workers" seems to point precisely to the disturbing cross-fertilization of capitalism and territorialism in the wake of the flight to virtual space. To trace this out further, we would certainly need to cite Arrighi, Jameson, Harvey, Lefebvre and Marc Augé (specifically his theory of the non-place).
      Mar 11
      Alison Reed:
        Also, after reading Empire for Enda's seminar I can't help but think that another theory of space central to this film would be that of Hardt & Negri; in fact, we probably should have gone here before. I don't have much time to write other than to jot down a few notes:

      • New global order, empire, founded on decentralized power (the story of the nation-state giving over to deterritorialized power)
      • Empire is characterized by a lack of boundaries, increased global flows of capital, and biopower
      • Shift from factory labor to (affective) immaterial labor, from proletariat to the multitude
      • Disciplinary society to control society
      • What is the role of state intervention in empire?
      • How can we theorize local resistance not as a romanticized space of agency but instead as a regime capable of creating a common language?
      • In other words, how can the local intervene in capitalist flows, or re-territorialize globalization's deterritorialization?


    Feb 15
    Alison Reed:
      Grievable Bodies in Butler’s Precarious Life

      I am interested in tracing out some provocative arguments from Judith Butler’s Precarious Life, as explored in Carl Gutiérrez-Jones’ Human Rights seminar:

      Butler’s group of five essays has as its backdrop the conditions of heightened vulnerability, aggression, and “amorphous racism” in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks (39). Butler argues that while the United States could have radically altered its global relationship, it chose instead to reinstate the impermeability of its national boundaries and police itself from within—extending surveillance and censorship mechanisms in the name of self-defense. In this moment of heightened fear of the other, some lives are allocated as grievable, while others are denied life altogether. Thus Butler examines the politics of visibility and representation in the public sphere, and the limits of the sayable. Some voices are silenced, while other lives are denied at the moment in which their deaths are not counted as such. Butler asks, “What makes for a grievable life?” in order to explore the politics of invisibility, and the ways in which certain populations are exposed to violence, or its imminent threat—while importantly, that violence goes unaccounted for in the social realm (20).

      The second essay, “Violence, Mourning, Politics,” explores the vulnerability of bodies through a psychoanalytic lens, and suggests that national melancholia requires the disavowal of mourning, and consequent erasure of narratives of violence inflicted on and by the United States. She then discusses the transformative effect of loss, and the fact that “this experience of transformation deconstitutes choice at some level” (21). The lack of our own agency in the act of transformation is explained by our own boundedness with others. Even when one loses, the loss exceeds our bounds of recognition—we cannot ever fully know all that was tied to and associated with our loss, and to what effect.

      Grief displays the unknowable, precarious nature of our own constitution in and through the other, or “the thrall in which our relations with others hold us, in ways that we cannot always recount or explain, in ways that often interrupt the self-conscious account of ourselves we might try to provide, in ways that challenge the very notion of ourselves as autonomous and in control” (23). Grief, like desire, binds us to the other. Our bodies are marked with passion, grief and rage—all of which we must manage within a political community. From the onset of the “I” and even before, the body is physically and psychologically vulnerable to others. Ultimately, for Butler, “Mindfulness of this vulnerability can become the basis of claims for non-military political solutions” (29).

      I’d like to linger for a moment on Butler’s notion of “First World Safety” to highlight the First World illusion of impermeability, in contrast to the vulnerability of the Third World body. This myth of First World invincibility facilitates a pro-war stance in which impermeable national boundaries will safely keep war at a safe distance from the American subject. For Butler, this kind of exploitation leads to a “hierarchy of grief” in which certain bodies are deemed ungrievable. Butler sees this power dynamic play out such that the hetero-patriarchal Anglo-American subject is sanctified while the first or third world other is excluded from public mourning altogether. What was so shocking about 9/11, then, was not only the breach to national boundaries and the undoubtedly devastating losses of American lives, but the disruption of the myth of American invincibility.

      I also want to briefly clarify Butler’s distinction between mourning and melancholia. For Butler, national melancholia is essentially a disavowed mourning, which follows upon the public erasure of representing those whom the US has killed. Butler takes up Freud’s theory of mourning from Mourning and Melancholia, as well as later in The Ego and the Id, to critique its reliance on the substitutability of a lost love-object. Melancholia establishes an ambivalent relationship between the subject and her or his love-object, the latter of which casts a shadow on the ego. Rather than mourning loss, the melancholic takes a detour around the loss, which is accompanied by a disintegrating sense of self-esteem, and aggressive feelings against the love-object. But since the melancholic has incorporated that lost love-object into her or his own self, these aggressive feelings are turned against the self. Mourning facilitates a conscious acknowledgement of loss, whereas melancholia establishes an ambivalent and even violent relationship to the love-object. In this view, violence “renews itself in the face of the apparent inexhaustibility of its object” (33). She suggests, instead, that unlike melancholia “mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation” (21). Thus, mourning may open up a space for ethical responsibility.

      Butler then discusses national mourning as a social and ritual process of working-through within community. For Butler, mourning, unlike melancholia, potentiates an open-ended process of healing through engagement with the other. She refuses the melancholic’s fantasy of mastery as well as Freud’s presumption of the interchangeability of bodies. Butler links the endless production of violence, as with the “war on terrorism,” to this notion of substitutability.

      Both Lynn Hunt and Joseph Slaughter theorize the various effects of the role of empathy in motivating political change. Slaughter, of course, complicates the notion of empathy as being mediated in part by affect, or by societal forces that moderate that very affect. Of course, the problem is that there are always those excluded from the immediate body of people to whom we feel connected, or to whom the law extends its jurisdiction. This leads me to the tautology of human rights law, as articulated by Arendt—as the rights of those who already have rights. Butler conceptualizes a possible escape from this inherently exclusionary circular logic—grief. Grief, rage, and desire are all powerful ways of relating to the other beyond the limitations of empathy, although this new relationality is more limited in scope. Butler poses the question of how might we extend this understanding of our own vulnerability outward from beyond our immediate surroundings to comprehending our interdependence in a larger social framework.

      Butler asks the following: “… if I build a notion of ‘autonomy’ on the basis of the denial of this sphere of a primary and unwilled physical proximity with others, then am I denying the social conditions of my embodiment in the name of autonomy?” (26). Or, in other words: “If I am struggling for autonomy, do I not need to be struggling for something else as well, a conception of myself as invariably in community, impressed upon by others, impinging upon them as well, and in ways that are not fully in my control or clearly predictable?” (27).

      Works Cited

      Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London, New York: Verso, 2004.


    Mar 8
    Zach:
      Precarious Life and Ecstatic Community in Catch-22

      I'm working up a paper exploring Catch-22 as pointing toward an instantiation of the alternative community Judith Butler calls for and sees as potentially arising out of shared mourning in "Precarious Life," as well as problematizing that vision.

      For Butler, as elaborated by Alison here, violence both exposes precariousness (radical reliance on others) and can be figured as a strengthening of unity, of the self, of nationhood, in the erasure of vulnerability. That is, violence can lead to mourning or more violence. In the case of the former, the individual Self and the national Self are partially dissolved, rendering the Other visible. The latter, a continuation of the cycle of violence--war--does the opposite, or seeks to do the opposite: reinforce the rigid, independent self.

      Butler believes that mourning can be generative of community because it is ecstatic. It is one of three ecstasies she lists: passion, grief, and rage. What these have in common, what makes them ecstatic, is that they all place us outside of ourselves. As affect they effect this displacement of the Self, radically opening us up and entangling us with the Other. Butler focuses on mourning (grief in process) seemingly because she believes it to be the most community-building of the ecstasies.

      I wish to explore Heller's vision of alternative community through ecstasy in Catch-22, while tracing out the respective roles that affect and knowledge play in Butler's account. I also want to look closer at the articulation between the individual and national Selves for both writers. I will argue that while Butler sees these as inextricably linked, it is in fact quite possible to exploit one at the other's expense, a danger I link explicitely to Neoliberalism. I wish to consider the proto-Neoliberal nightmare vision of Catch-22 (as instantiated by Milo Minderbender's global network of goods and bodies in constant flow) in relation to several airlines advertisements produced after 9/11 (specifically by American Airlines and United Airlines, the two corporations who's jets were used by the 9/11 hijackers), in which U.S. national identity is explicitly linked with Neoliberal flow. The critical move here is one from self-sufficient individual to network node. Thus a third possible reaction to violence is revealed: the displacement of the individual into the network. The connection between precariousness, alternative community, violence, and the figure of the network is explored in Paul Greengrass's 2006 film "United 93." I will consider whether the network poses a danger or a possibility for Butler's notion of alternative community.

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    Feb 14
    Alison Reed:
      The Dangerous Underbelly of Globalism
      The yoking of joy and products, or ecstatic and capitalist flows, is particularly disturbing in this ad campaign. In fact, I think you are absolutely right to suggest that this conflation is at the heart of the neoliberal project. Take, for instance, the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement’s undeniable link to the feminicides in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
      In meXicanaEncounters, Rosa LindaFregoso explores the politics of gender extermination in the various forms of feminicide in Ciudad Juarez, and of the discursive violence done to women in writing a narrative on their dead bodies. She calls for a need to focus on the perpetrators rather than victims of the crime, and to look to the survivors and activists for piecing together narrative fragments—rather than the pseudo-scientific rhetoric of the government. She talks about the difficulty of constructing meaningful narratives from the nameless faces offered by popular media, and the politically motivated construction of that very namelessness. Fregoso’s argument about the social construction of this indistinguishable “mass of bodies” is in dialogue with Butler’s discussion of the politics of mourning in Precarious Life.
      Fregoso critiques the limiting rhetoric of globalism, insofar as the subject of globalist discourse is an “abject one” (9), in need of regulation as a passive victim or “fetish of the masculinist gaze” (9). She discusses the need to “disrupt the premise of the discourse of globalism, especially the notion that the extermination of women’s bodies proceeds from the same logic as their exploitation” (13). This limiting narrative dangerously conflates exploitation (via global capitalism) and extermination rather than exploring the nuances of their interaction.
      Lázaro Lima’sThe Latino Body (particularly the chapter entitled “Democracy’s Graveyard: Dead Citizenship and the Latino Body”) also explores NAFTA’s development of free trade contact zones along the U.S.-Mexico border, and of an expendable labor force on the Mexican side of the border. The emergence of assembly plants and factories gave rise to rapid growth in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico—so much so that it made Juarez the largest industrial zone in Mexico and also the “killing field of the new world order” (163). Juarez is here conceived of as a “dystopian space where industrial growth generates poverty at a much faster pace than it distributes wealth” (164). In discussing the deferral of action to represent the interests of the dead in this dystopian landscape, Lima explores Toni Morrison’s notion of narrative rememory as “a counterhistorical re-presentation of past events in need of national re-evaluation” (166).
      Works Cited

      Lima, Lázaro. The Latino Body: Crisis Identities in American Literary and Cultural Memory. New York: NYU Press, 2007.
      Fregoso, Rosa Linda. meXicana Encounters: The Making of Social Identities on the Borderlands. Berkeley: UC Press, 2003.




Apr 19
Alison Reed:
    Critical Questions: Sara Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion

    In Sara Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion (see in particular Chapter 6 entitled “In The Name of Love”), she asks what it means to “stand for love by standing alongside some others and against other others?” (122). Racist hate group propaganda, such as on the Aryan Nations’ Website, often calls itself by another name, advocating love rather than hate, ironically smothering over its violent hate crimes with hate speech that presents itself as love for the unity of its people: “Love is narrated as the emotion that energises the work of such groups; it is out of love that the group seeks to defend the nation against others, whose presence then becomes defined as the origin of hate” (122-123). According to this backwards schema, critics of hate groups become those who hate; take, for instance, pro-choice supporters being defined as “baby killers,” as those who hate rather than those who protect the reproductive rights of women. A recent hate group performance my sister experienced on her college campus (to our shock and horror) takes the discursive violence of hate speech (which as Judith Butler argues in Excitable Speech too easily slides into material violence) to an entirely new level.
    So, I begin with the question:
    What are the politics at stake when graphic images of traumatic histories, and the profound emotions attached to them, are co-opted and exploited by disturbing ideological agendas?
    “The Genocide Awareness Project” and the Politics of Hate Masquerading as Love
    To reference the project here discussed, you may visit this site but please be aware that it contains highly graphic, disturbing images of holocaust and genocide, and moreover, these images are appropriated for the “pro-life” cause (and ironically but all too fittingly, woman’s body is entirely absent from the scene). I am warning you because this project disturbed me to the point of an emotional turned physical response (I was nauseous, sleepless), so I am not even sure I should be sharing it with others. Ultimately, though, I cannot remain silent on the issue:
    According to its mission statement, “The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) is a traveling photo-mural exhibit which compares the contemporary genocide of abortion to historically recognized forms of genocide.” As I mentioned, this exhibit recently visited my sister’s campus of Ohio State University, and we consequently discussed the shock she felt upon seeing these images, the shock others felt, as well as necessary action taken against this group (Planned Parenthood Action Network, for instance, took a powerful stand against the grotesque injustice of this so-called awareness project). The images she saw that day are profoundly disturbing:
    One image, for example, juxtaposes starving children in Nazi death camps, the lynching of an African-American in the South, and an aborted fetus. And yet, GAP’s mission statement continues: “It is our policy to treat everyone who approaches the GAP display with respect [. . .] We know that the images we display are not pleasant. They represent an injustice of such magnitude that words alone fail us. Until injustice is recognized, however, it cannot be eradicated.” Ironically, the “injustice” to which they refer is not pertaining to the displayed atrocious acts of historical genocide, racism, and Nazism but rather—abortion. Their violent shock tactics, in attempting to draw historical parallels between abortion and genocide by arguing that unborn embryos and fetuses are being targeted for “systematic destruction,” are such an obscene Human Rights violation on so many levels it seems nearly impossible, or futile, to even begin to unpack the layers of destruction and trauma to individuals subjected against their own will to GAP’s brutal imagery. The discourse of Human Rights thus takes an affective turn: how can we understand such violations to be not just physical and political, but also emotional?
    As a feminist, I feel deeply angered by these “pro-life” performances, but I cannot even begin to imagine how this would feel to a woman who has had to make an undoubtedly emotional and painful (to say the least) decision to have an abortion when that was ultimately the right (or necessary) choice for her. Further, what if this woman is Jewish? Or African-American? Not only is she visually assaulted with violent images from her own personal and cultural past, but the juxtaposition actually suggests she is the perpetrator, not victim, of historical atrocities? I am outraged at the endless layers of this violent imagery, how wholly disturbing not only for women, for pro-choice advocates, but particularly for those who have suffered actual genocides... summoning the specter of the Holocaust and America’s racist history of internal genocide through graphic spectacular violence. GAP conjures up all of this, in the name of the woman-bashing Right’s efforts to abstract the body of the child (the fetus) from the body of the invisible woman (in effect privileging paternity, as Peggy Phelan argues in Unmarked).
    Both Sara Ahmed (in her article “Affective Economies”) and Judith Butler (in Precarious Life) discuss the ways in which former President Bush summoned the “feminist cause” in order to push his not so cleverly concealed belligerent war agenda in the guise of bringing so-called democracy, with its attendant liberation of all women, to the Global South. I emphasize “all” to point out the dangers of this universalizing gesture, which erases the other in order to project a mirror-image of the Western Subject. Denouncing the hijab worn by Muslim women, for example, merely veils the violence underlying the American “war on terror.” This manipulative wielding of feminist rhetoric abroad while ignoring a decidedly misogynist stance at home (with the threat to Roe v. Wade, for example) resonates with GAP’s recent “performance of waste,” or the spectacular display of violence, to use Joseph Roach’s term.
    Butler asks, “What makes for a grievable life?” in order to explore the politics of invisibility, and the ways in which certain populations are exposed to violence, or its imminent threat—while importantly, that violence goes unaccounted for in the social realm (Precarious Life, emphasis original, 20). The myth of First World invincibility facilitates a pro-war stance in which impermeable national boundaries will safely keep war at a safe distance from the American subject. For Butler and for Ahmed, this kind of exploitation leads to a “hierarchy of grief” in which certain bodies are deemed ungrievable. Butler sees this power dynamic play out such that the hetero-patriarchal Anglo-American subject is sanctified while the first or third world other is excluded from public mourning altogether. In Chapter 7 of The Cultural Politics of Emotion, “Queer Feelings,” Ahmed also traces out the violence of excluding queer communities from the right to publically mourn, and consequently the political urgency for queer communities to declare their presence in social space rather than “pass” for heteronormative (although I speak from experience when I say that in a heteronormative society queers are often passed off as straight to our own dismay). For Ahmed, ultimately (summoning Rancière’s notion of politics as dissensus), “It is the non-transcendence of queer that allows queer to do its work” (Ahmed, emphasis original, 165). Ahmed makes a call for radical visibility in social space.
    In Ahmed’s discussion of the exclusion of queer communities from mourning post-9/11, she traces out the ways in which the so-called war on terror evokes the family as “the origin of love, community, community and support” (The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 144). Precisely because this discourse yokes the family and global politics, the cultural script of heterosexual reproductive couplings easily slides into “racist narratives between the fear of strangers and immigrants (xenophobia), the fear of queers (homophobia), and the fear of miscegenation (as well as other illegitimate couplings)” (144-45). GAP attempts to erase this linkage through feigned identification (empathy) with those very groups its political bedmates have systematically oppressed, while at the same time violently assaulting another marginalized group: women.
Feb 18
Lindsay Thomas:
    Untitled Blip About My Paper Topic

    I am interested in exploring the ethical demands critics (or the act of criticism?) make on a work of literature ("demands" is not the right word here; what I mean is more like a calling forth). J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians has been read by many as a particularly "ethical" novel. This critical insight usually operates on one of two registers (or sometimes both): the novel is presented as a kind of bildungsroman where the Magistrate learns something about an ethical response to the other, whatever or whoever that other might be, or the novel itself is presented as enacting some kind of ethics or ethical event (this is where Samolsky's chapter fits in). As I discussed in my presentation in class, while the terms on which these ethics are produced can be debated - for instance, if it is the novel's work as a material event to "shine through" or make visible ideological inscription, then how do we account for the ways in which visibility is aligned with discipline, complicity, and violence in the novel? - it seems many are in agreement about the type of work this novel is doing. Indeed, critics have found it hard not to write about issues of ethics when considering Waiting for the Barbarians.

    I wish to use the critical responses to this novel as a starting point for my own thinking about it means to call ethics forth in a work of literature. I will argue (I think) that such a calling forth depends on a very traditional and oft-repeated claim about literary criticism: that its work is tied up in revealing something in or about the text that makes the text unique, singular, different. Thus, literary criticism is tied up with revealing, with making visible, the singuarlity of the text. This understanding of the text as an event manifests itself in responses to Waiting for the Barbarians as particularly ethical, but what I want to point out, following Ranciere and Derrida, is that such ethical implications have been there all along in the project of literary criticism. The comparatively "recent" turn toward ethics in literary criticism, then, is a project particularly invested in calling forth this facet of literary criticism. From here, it's not much of a leap to draw some parallels between de Man's ideas on literary criticism in "The Resistance to Theory" and Blindness and Insight as a way to call forth his project as ethical in some way (ie, much attention has been paid to the ethical dimensions of Derrida's thoughts, but what about de Man?). I don't, however, know that I can do all of this in only ten to twelve pages without it becoming really cursory.

    So, that's the rough idea; it needs much more work. I welcome any comments, suggestions, critiques, guffaws, etc.


Feb 22
Zach:
    Lindsay, the most fruitful-sounding aspect of your proposal is, to me, the paradox inherent in visibility being "aligned with discipline, complicity, and violence" in the novel itself. This would seem to greatly complicate the task of the literary critic, if indeed her task involves making visible the singularity of the text. This may be an entry point into discussing de Man's and Derrida's claims about ethics. But I would start with the above aporia and then work up to the meta level, taking care not to get lost up there... after all, are there not ethical dimensions to all criticism, in all times? This seems like muddy theoretical territory. As you intimate, this is a pandora's box that, once opened, probably cannot be contained in 10 to 12 pages. But the question of how literary scholars have approached Barbarians and the paradox they have faced in doing so seems like a great topic that can potentially remain focused. Just my two cents, of course...
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