Tuesday, May 23, 2006

framing murder: paradise, tituba and narratives of HIV

Paradise, Toni Morrison 1998
I, Tituba Black Witch of Salem, Maryse Conde 1986
Flexible Bodies, Emily Martin 1994
Infections and Inequalities, Paul Farmer 1999
How to Have Theory in an Epidemic, Paula A. Treichler 1999
Last Served?: Gendering the HIV Pandemic, Cindy Patton, 1994
The Birth of Social Medicine, Michel Foucault (year?)

Okay. So this is what happens when I go to Chicago for the weekend and traipse around speaking about "stillness in diaspora" and galavanting in the city with the one that I love with no access to (or desire to) blog. I drop a journal entry on you that combines way too many texts. However, all of these texts seem to me to be speaking to each other. Though it is a coincidence that I was reviewing the AIDS theory stuff at the same time that I was re-reading Paradise and reading I, Tituba for the first time, death through HIV seems to be a major contemporary way in which the world becomes unlivable for black women and girls.
Why is the world unlivable for black women and girls? Or how. Paradise and I Tituba seem to be explaining this phenomenon in devastating specifcity. I am completely convinced. I have to question whether I am alive. Morrison and Conde both suggest that the experiences of black women in this (new) world require a fundamental shift in the meaning of life. While Morrison creates a spirit space between life and death next to river for her houseful of heroines (I have to mention that a space for the redemption of black women is rare in Morisson. It seems only to exist here, and then later in Love, and arguably in beloved...black men are transcendant much more often in Morrison's work), Conde creates a worldview that invokes the Yoruba invisible world and creates a cycle, the rebel is burned but the spirit remains, this burning is the new function of life in a world that cannot compete with the pleasures of death. The way in which black women become abjected in each of these cases (and indeed in the AIDS work) is through the violent social inscription made out of their queered sexual expression. The women in Paradise have desires for men that cannot be incorporated into marriage or nation and they desire themselves and each other, which is somehow more dangerous (interestingly here racial solidarity, or ambiguity is built into the text in the figure of the anonymous whitegril). The people of Ruby, see this non-familial love as a threat to the strict reproductive functionality of women in their town. It is the possibility of the rape of black women by white men, the denying of food to pregnant women, the specter of mixed breeding and reproductive diversity (they want duplicates) that keeps the town in order. Women are the silenced symbols (including the dead Ruby, whose body the town is mapped upon) that generate history in the town. Their desire expressed and unrestrained has a diasporic potential, the potential to scatter everything. This, in the minds of the scary racially pure black fathers (really sons) is reason enough to hunt them like animals.
Tituba on the other hand, loves sexual pleasure in a way that even she pathologizes. It is her attachment to the penis (literally) that enslaves her over and over again, but the possibility of connection with another woman (an appropriated Hester Prynne with a rival life-ending) remains throughout the book. While Tituba's relationships with men are traumatic repetitions of a story that always ends with disaster and death, her sensual relationship with Hester is one narrative, uninterrupted by death, that runs throughout the book. Tituba's body somehow becomes the site for an impossible connection; a racial solidarity that is corrupted by oppressive gender dynamics and a feminist solidarity that is corrupted by the pervasiveness of racism. I wonder what the relationship is between this impossible desire fo connection and death. It seems that Tituba's ability to connect with the world of the dead (which is and is not the spatial native land she craves) is the justification for her persecution. In the sick (yes I am choosing this word of all words) imaginary of colonial Salem (which is the sick imaginary od the all-black Ruby as well) Tituba/the Convent is both necessary and intolerable. People need Tituba's connection to nature and death in order to heal them, but they cannot reconcile her connection with their alienation. Somehow despite individual love (see the cases of Betsey and her mother) Tituba falls to easily into the category of the black witch (who is the black bitch) in the imaginary of the dominant class (and even in the mind of John Indian). Tituba's sexual agency is pathological because it is the site and which she connects worlds, the site of the absolute terror of being the constructions of community (colonial and rebellious) refuse.
In the case of the discourse around AIDS as well, the recurring site of disease is the sexualized racialized female body. This works on a number of levels. For Treichler the "difference" of the bodies of third world women, women of color, sex worker etc. enabled a society that saw itself as nomal and clean to narrate the disease as deviant and therefore to maintain the coherence of their imagined normality. This is also in operation in the globalizing of AIDS the Patton describes which tries to fortify the first world nation by reinforcing borders and a logic of space that pretends the disease can be contained. Farmer points out the ways that behavior, race and place are used to construct narratives of infection that cover over the poverty and inequality produced by neo-liberal economic violence that first world nations enact on the globe. Foucault traces this construction of containment to the very birth of social medicine, arguing that the leper colony is the constitutive model of western public health. It seems to me that this containment is always economic. Could a disaporic politics, a politics of falling apart that cannot be contained, the acknowledgement of the context of queer desire be a part of this redefinition of life/death that the experiences of black women call for?


britt said...
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britt said...

yes, yes ms alexis, these are great texts to put together. don't you love paul farmer? he is incredible. i haven't read his newest, power and pathologies yet, but it is supposed to be even better than infections and inequalities.

I might also suggest some Latour (amg hates him, so don't listen to her on this one): The Pasteurization of France is not exactly a quick read, but I have been thinking lately about how his actor-network theory (also in Science in Action) might be really important for you diasporically-minded folks.

i have also been thinking about how often racialized subjects become stand-ins for the "microbe" or the vector of disease transmission in the popular (AIDS/HIV/bird flu/etc..) racist imaginary; that "unrepresentable" micro-organism that must be represented (it cannot represent itself!) through the macroscopic black/yellow/brown pathologized and pathologizing body.
the cellular and the subcellular and the black female subject share similar "problems of representation" for the hegemonic germa/homo/phobic national imaginary.

know what? I've never read Paradise! isn't that ridiculous...but you've got me motivated to pick up some morrison again (_Love_ kind of burned me out for awhile)

we need to link up our blogs, yes? dispersal's great, but the rhizomatic potentials of cyberspace might prove even better.


(p.s. i think pw's book is gonna help you out with these connections between diaspora, disease and HIV...stay tuned...)

ok, i'm going to post this on my blog too.