At FDU Press, we have been fans of Caroline Joan (“Kay”) Picart for some time. We’re proud to have published four of her 18 books, but our debt to her doesn’t end there. She has served as external reader for scholarly manuscripts and advised us on submissions and projects, and now serves as Editor of an outstanding FDU Press book series she founded on Law, Culture, and Humanities. Holder of both a Ph.D. and a JD, she has an eye and a heart for key issues of our day, as reflected in her books on indigenous peoples, law and popular culture, and the socially marginalized. We asked FDU staffer Elizabeth Jaeger to find out more about this stellar individual and what makes her “tick”!
Picart: A Life of Exploration and Discovery
by Elizabeth Jaeger
Dr. Caroline Joan “Kay” Picart has enjoyed a rich varied life both academically and personally. Born in the Philippines, of parents whose ancestry was rooted in France, America, Spain and China, she has not only lived in, but also, attended universities on three continents. Graduating first from Ateneo de Manila University with a B.S. in biology (pre-medical studies) and an M.A. in philosophy she went on to study at Christ’s College, Cambridge where she earned an M.Phil degree from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, all of which were on scholarships. Taking a brief respite from being a student she moved to South Korea where she taught at Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious universities on the peninsula. She then moved to the United States where she received a Ph.D. in Philosophy, with doctoral minors in Aesthetics and Criticism, and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. For several years she taught Philosophy and Critical Theory, most recently as a tenured professor at Florida State University. Five years after receiving tenure, she embarked on a new career path entering the University of Florida Levin College of Law where she earned a J.D in Law and an M.A. in Women’s Studies.
While living in various cities around the world, Picart also traveled extensively. Greatly interested in places rich in culture she visited London, Venice, Florence, Siena, Berlin, Paris, Hong Kong and Taize. While residing in or traveling through countries other than the Philippines, she has inhabited the space of the in-between, in relation to the people she encounters and the customs they maintain. Reflecting on this space and her acquired worldview, Picart felt compelled to write a phenomenological and autoethnographic analysis of her experiences. Inside Notes from the Outside was published by Lexington Press (2004).
Following her graduation from law school, Picart was still interested in the Insider/Outsider relationship. However, she traded in her phenomenological and autoethnographic lens for the lens of a law scholar in Law In and As Culture (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2016). Her objective was to “examine why international and intellectual property laws often prove such blunt instruments, in terms of attempting to strike a balance between protecting the intellectual property and property rights of indigenous peoples and minority groups, and enabling these marginalized cultures to integrate, to some extent, with more mainstream cultures.” A common myth held by many is that there are two camps: one that wishes to protect indigenous cultures and one that pushes for progress. In an attempt to demonstrate that the issues are not reducible to simple polar narratives, Picart perused a multitude of case studies and used tools derived from law, critical and cultural studies, anthropology and communication studies to highlight the successes and obstacles of international and intellectual property law when it came to negotiating the pervasive cultural differences that spark the conflicts between minority and indigenous groups and mainstream and majority populations. That the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 plus islands, also has numerous cultural minorities, also contributed to her interest in this topic. She has uncovered many interesting stories at the crossroads of law and culture. These stories include the controversies surrounding the ownership of a Taiwanese folk song, partly due to its appropriation by a well known German rock band, Enigma, and their performance of the song, “Return to Innocence” (which included a recording of the Taiwanese folk song) at the 1996 Olympics. Her hope is “to encourage dialogue regarding what can be done concretely to understand and appreciate these cultural differences that often help under gird power differentials and subtle stratifications.”
While Picart’s most recently published work looks at law and culture, in earlier research she had delved into popular culture, specifically crime and horror genres. Initially, she turned to pop culture as a teaching tool. She had found the use of pop culture, especially film, to be an engaging way to illustrate certain abstract concepts to her students, allowing them to better grasp the connections between these concepts and daily life. For example, to encourage critical thinking about certain stereotypes – race, gender, class, or sexuality – she called upon Frankenstein, among others. The use of film also enabled her to “teach students to see film as both a commercial and visual art, not immune to market forces and cultural influences; most importantly, as a powerful rhetorical force with its own national ‘language/s’ of images and techniques, film can both reify and deconstruct popular cultural constructs about what is ‘natural’ or ‘normal’.”
One common theme in much of her scholarly pop culture research is exploring what the “monstrous” is in relation to fictional and documentary modes. For this she has looked at subjects as diverse as Frankenstein and serial killers. Lately, her focus has broadened to include a comparative examination of U.S. and Russian Holocaust-related trials and documentary and docu-dramatic film, as well as lone wolf terrorists, as evidenced in her individually authored essays published in Framing Law and Crime (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2016) – an edited collection of essays she co-edited with Cecil Greek and Michael Hviid Jacobsen.
Picart’s scholarly successes have been numerous and diverse, but she has also excelled beyond her academic endeavors. As a Sir Run Run Shaw Scholar at Cambridge University in England, she took up ballroom dancing. Originally, she intended it to be a counterweight, something to balance out her intellectual pursuits. However, she soon found that she enjoyed the discipline, structure, relaxation, and the interactive quality of dance, and so she continued practicing after moving to the States. Then in 2004, a happy accident occurred. One day during a coaching session, a highly decorated world champion turned coach inquired as to whether or not she’d care to specialize in cabaret – a mix of ballroom, ballet, and gymnastics. Saying yes, she was paired with a professional dancer and then embarked on a new journey, this time seeking a title on the competitive stage. In her first competition in 2005, she won second place at both the U.S DanceSport Championship in the World Pro Am Cabaret Championship category and the Millennium National Prom Am Championship. A year later she came back to win first place at the U.S DanceSport Championship in the World Pro Am Cabaret category and two gold medals at the Fred Astaire National DanceSport Championship.
The scholarly aspect of Picart’s personality is so ingrained that the pleasure she attained while dancing eventually impelled her to write about it. She revisits and analyzes her dancing experiences, and the attempt to recreate ballroom dance as an Olympic sport, in From Ballroom to DanceSport: Aesthetics, Athletics and Body Culture (State University of New York Press, 2006). Although she no longer competes, she has been a judge at the Annual World Culture Folk Dance Competition and for many years she taught various levels of ballroom dancing, inclusive of beginner, intermediate and master classes.
Picart sees her future as being as busy and fulfilling as her past has been. There are three specific areas in which she envisions herself continuing to pursue growth: in the practice of law, the scholarship of law, and being the Series Editor of the Fairleigh Dickinson University Press Series on Law, Culture, and Humanities.
As an appellate lawyer specializing principally in criminal law, Picart sifts through the tomes that constitute the record, and reconstructs what occurred prior to, during, and after the trial, in order to detect any material and/or fundamental errors that have denied her clients their constitutional rights and/or a fair trial, and finally to argue for either a dismissal of the charges or a new trial. Thus, the task requires critical skills of reading, writing, analysis and argumentation; of listening to and advising clients; and of framing a narrative effectively and mounting a persuasive rhetorical and logical appeal, using legal tools. It is challenging and absorbing work and Picart says she learns, one case at a time.
As a law scholar, much of Picart’s work has “focused on the failed attempt to forge a civil rights remedy for rape or battery in the Violence Against Women’s Act, and on depictions of race and gender in relation to serial killing.” She has also “critically tracked the Tokyo IMT’s specific history to a broader analysis of the functions of crimes of violence against women during wartime conditions in the twentieth century and why such crimes, for the most part have invisible.” In keeping with being an invited speaker at a recent NATO-sponsored advance research workshop on Lone Wolf Terrorism in Jerusalem, Israel, she has begun looking at how the “internet and a rhetoric of ‘jihadi cool’ facilitate imagined relations of community with terrorist groups or causes.” Living in a world where we see self-radicalization and ‘lone wolf’ terrorists more frequently, these relations are increasingly important to understand. Her immediate interest in this area arises from a combination of current events and her “continuing effort to forge a nuanced and scholarly understanding of how law characterizes or defines what is ‘crime’.” At the base of her research is a “conviction that there is a necessary, but dynamic and contextual, balance between security and civil liberties.”
Also as a scholar, Picart wishes to “continue scholarly work on the war on terrorism and factors influencing self radicalization in the U.S. in relation to the evolution of counter-terrorism legislation in the U.S.” As an example, she would like to track “what historical and socio-political factors have shaped the U.S.A Patriot Act’s definition of ‘domestic terrorism’ and its expansion of governmental powers, well beyond its ‘sunset provisions’.” She wonders whether sections that dilute Fourteenth Amendment rights or make humanitarian, charitable, or journalistic engagement susceptible to prosecution do strike a reasonable balance between national security and personal privacy. Finally she asks, “Have U.S. legislation and jurisprudence helped generate effective counter narratives to the ‘jihadi cool’ narratives propagated as recruitment tools by groups like ISIS?”
A second area Picart plans to expand her research in is Intellectual Property and Property Law. Formally and historically, she scrutinized the jurisprudence that eventually held that choreography is a form of private property that can be not only be owned and inherited, but also is deserving of federal copyright protection. In addition to looking at the evolution of copyright in regard to choreography, she is engaged in an ongoing study that “analyzes the cultural and legal conflicts that result from contests of ownership over traditional knowledge or expressions of culture between indigenous populations or minorities and majority groups or multinational corporations.” Going forward in this area, Picart’s research “still hinges on the question of the conditions of possibility within which it is probable to achieve a healthy balance between what is copyrightable as private property and what can or should be maintained as part of a dynamic public domain.”
Lastly, Picart looks forward to further developing the Law, Culture and Humanities Series here at Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. Once upon a time, it had been the Law and Literature series, but she has broadened and diversified it, allowing it to focus on interdisciplinary fields of humanistically-oriented legal scholarship. This series includes: Picart’s monograph, Law In and As Culture (February 2016) and Framing Law and Crime (April 2016) which is a collection she edited with Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Cecil Greek.
As you can see, Picart’s accomplishments – touching upon many diversified fields – are many. When I asked her what motivates her and how she finds energy to do it all, her response was: “What motivates the range of activity is a thirst for exploration, the necessity of seeking balance, and a desire to become better. These, I owe to my parents, who have always been encouraging and supportive; my mother, Anarose, passed away in 2012, but I remember her in all I am and do. How I find energy for a range of activities requires a nurturing environment, and I am especially thankful for my beloved husband, Jerry Rivera; my father, Robert, and my siblings Blanche, Yvette and Dick; Jim and Carolyn Terrell, who have been ‘second’ parents to me; Berta Hernandez-Truyol and Danaya Wright, who are my principal mentors in law scholarship; and of course Harry Keyishian, the staff of the Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, and Rowman and Littlefield, who have been a joy with whom to work, and from whom I always learn a lot.”
Elizabeth Jaeger is currently finishing up an MFA degree in creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She is an assistant editor at The Literary Review and her work has been published in The Drowning Gull, Icarus Down Review, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Atticus Review, and The Literary Explorer. An essay of hers has been featured on the podcast No You Tell It. She has recently finished writing a memoir about her time in Nepal traveling with a young Nepalese boy and she hopes to find a home for it soon.