Friday, June 30, 2006

producing the crisis: reproduction, the underclass, self-publishing and unlikely pleasure

Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order, Stuart Hall et al, 1978
Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women, Cheryl Clarke (Kitchen Table Press), 1982
Un Marquer de Paroles (preface to Chamoiseau's Chroniqu de Sept Miseries), Edouard Glissant, 1986
Order, Disorder, Freedom and the West Indian Writer, Maryse Conde (Yale French Studies), 1993
Time Binds or Erotohistoriography, Elizabeth Freeman (Social Text), 2005

What pleasure have I been hiding, even as I seek to articulate an "ethics of queer desire"? It seems that my relationship to the word "ethics", works well in terms of "accountability" and "justice" and "so on and so forth":), but when it comes to desire I believe that I may be creating an unacknowledged binary between "ethics" and "desire". In other my recent writing, our ethics is not something we adopt because it turns us on. Our ethics is something that our oppression makes necessary, that our trauma forces us into, or at the very least something that my poetic and convincing arguments make obvious, not as choice, but as an imperative. No good. Disclaiming myself to the predicament of forced poetics, I lament the fact that I have been reincorporating the energy of desire into the duty of ethics (and doing so because i need your agreement so badly) and not admitting to the pleasures that I already get, and am motivated by in this (still maligned) practice of being free. man as in Elizabeth Freeman in her convincing contribution to the "What's so Queer About Queer Studies now?" issue of Social Text points out that oppressed folks generally, and queer people specifically connect to each other across time, not merely through traumatic renewal of violence, but also through pleasure desire...and in my case booklust. I mean what is it that I am doing anyway but creating a breathless links to past and future black girls through reading back/writing back/writing towards/writing because of the fact that it turns me on? This is pleasure that I need, an ethical pleasure that requires me to face my multiple partners and fall apart YES, because of the trauma that has not stopped, but also because i want you.
How else can I explain why i keep on reading these little books by these crazy third world women who were writing circa 1982. I want to think of it as a queer desire for the maternal (the ephemeral material): black women disperse into paper and I am born. So Cheryl Clarke for example self-published, community published and republished (goshdarnit) her book of poems in 1982 with the collaboration of women as illustrators (GAIA) and typesetters, and blurb writers and printers. And she wrote about madness and trauma and pleasure. She wrote about creepy families and solid lesbian love. She wrote about embattled pleasures secreted in kitchens and women who broke her heart. She wrote about violence and silence and made them stop rhyming for a bit. She was (for me) articulating "tradition" in a way that was not biological, patriarchally reproductive, but that felt real anyway. Printing...even printing two editions...should not be called reproduction because it is unlikely, not natural clearly embattled and nonetheless as strategy that black queer women are a queer way. I still want to call that co-production. We'll see. What is clear though is that Clarke (and shortly following of course Shange, Walker, Morrison will do this too) needs to make visible the violence experienced by girls and women under the cover of race coherence such that that violence is not reproduced again.
In an brilliant and long-relevant collaboratively written monograph that thinks in careful Marxist/revisionist Marxist terms (Policing the Crisis) Hall et al seem to unwittingly reproduce the invisibility of black women or at least seem to lose the opportunity to analyze the feminization of the black labor class that is perpetually reproduced and disenfranchised. This collective does what Irigaray does (and what the third world women's movement at least from the moment of the combahee river collective statement cannot afford) and forecloses intersectionality by presentingthe struggle of unemployed blacks in the streets and women in the home as parellel struggles. What about the black women who are out in the street..what about the other,non-sensationalized violence committed against black girls and women at home? Why mention the black hustler pimp specifically and the prostitute only through Marx? Why is it so salient to quote the racist sentencing judge pointing out that "notably no west indian women have been mugged", but then not relevant to look at the gender dynamics in a masculinized unemployed/criminal underclass that they are analyzing specifically through economics of reproduction and the reproduction of an economic relationship. I guess because that is my work to do...but damn.
Glissant would seem to fall into somewhat of the same trap in his analysis of language (in his analysis of the forced and the natural as i am writing about elsewhere) but also in the preface to Chronique...where he centralizes the djobuer, marginally informally employed cart pushers in Martinique, as the site oflanguage production, code making, and logic changing resistance. This kind of masculine, tentative, magical work of course also becomes the marvelously real work of writers in the West Indies...and the male writers specifically...unsurprisingly.
Conde draws this out in her article, but I think the reproduction is still playing an invisible role in her argument, or at least some sor tof naturalized gender binary which seems only to be a slight reappropriation of the momentum of stereotype. In this text "order" is what male writers do in order to reproduce themselves and achieve their ambitions for political power. In "order" to do this they must suppress the desires and the violent experiences of women which would awaken a femininized "disorder" in the region. "Freedom" on the other hand is yet to come, and is evidently in the province of the youth. Forced poetics again? Is it that coherence requires this formulation to emerge in the configuration of a bad, but productive heterosexual dialectical coupling of order and disorder?
The concept of forced poetics (the reason that i will critique but never abandon glissant) seems to have with in it the presence of force and the structure of rape that is always being denied, repressed and suppressed. Freeman might want to insert some SandM logic to the other possibilities of a forced pleasure (like filling other things up besides she puts it). Could it be that my positionality (informed by a global order of rape that will never be necessary evil..or otherwise justified in my view at all) that puts me next to you is not to be seperated by my all consuming love for you, want for you, want for us to be free?

Thursday, June 29, 2006


alexis is a third world
like the holy ghost
like desire
like the possibility of poison
like numerical magic
like tri
like try
like trying
to be free

Monday, June 26, 2006

desire: spirit and flash

photography, the haitian diaspora, dance and white west indian sex for sale
The Spirit of Haiti, Myriam Chancy, 2004.
Desire in Seven Voices, (Dionne Brand 2003.
Voyage in the Dark, Jean Rhys, 1934.
Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography, Deborah Willis ed., 1994.
American Smooth, Rita Dove, 2004.
The Collector of Treasures and Other Botswana Village Tales, Bessie Head, 1977

So here I go again, trying to smash together the six books that I happen to have read most recently as if they are thematically linked. Just be happy that I didn't add Stuart Hall et al's Policing the Crisis...which I technically finished in the middle of writing this blog. So. Let's play. To be honest these books look like the reason slightly unfocused black instructors name their courses "diasporic"...but of course (well not "of course") Jean Rhys is not necessarily black. Maybe together these books mark out at multi-sited geneaology of desire. Maybe together these books actually do help with the inconvenient definition of "diaspora" that I am more interested in: that falling apart on the level of the body, the space, the call for an ethics of queer desire.
According to Dionne Brand in her submission for this Canadian collection on Desire "maybe to desire is to complicate", and definitley in her piece, desire is what provokes the act of reading. Since the rest of the collection seems to focus on rather creepy complexes and sexual appetites/secrets of some Canadian women writers...mostly, usually heterosexually desiring the same(homo)old(ancien)thing-with the notable and delightful exception of Shani Mooto-tho even Mooto has daddy issues...dissappointingly...all of these women want the love of a father figure...Mooto simply moves thru wanting to be her father in order to have access to women...and then finally wanting to be her damn self-but I digress. Since Brand's chapter in this collection is (predictably) most useful to me, I want to invoke Desire as a complication, as an act of reading...provoked by the representation of the body falling apart.
So (which) things fall apart? Haiti falls apart, and as the trend which is leading to my redefinition of diaspora goes, Chancy represents this falling apart on the linked levels of the body and the geographically political space. Starting before the Haitian revolution...and the violent aftermath...which still had not ended..and so therefore moving through to the repeated US/Europe invasions (official, economic and criminal) Chancy focuses on the body and spirit of a visionary wracked by AIDS and trapped in sex tourism, military violence before and after Aristide, street violence against Haitian immigrants in the US, and domestic violence "at home" in Canada. The political, physical and emotional narratives of this text are experienced in the temporality of trauma. Interestingly, so is the spiritual. Spiritual voices of the "long-dead but not departed" witness of the full history of Haiti haunt the narrative, but also allow for transcendence and facilitate connection. As usual this text is somewhat queer, but strangely it ends in a very Masters of the Dew type of way. In this case it is the "other woman" who dies(Leah the blind water goddess advisor...who has a sensual relationship with Carmen...she who gives birth) and somehow the beautifully named central male artist character "Alexis" steps in to father the child of a traitorous white man. SO what does it mean for these trauma borne voices of resistance and connection to facilitate connection in the specific form of a new water goddess with an racially mixed nuclear family with recuperated haitian parentage? (in this sense the text might be refusing its own falling apart).
(Transition from Chancy paragraph version A)White girls fall apart too (as maybe the birth of a racially impure...quarter haitian water goddess insists)...Jean Rhys's scandalous novel detailing the life of a creole (white west indian) chorus girl-turned kept woman-turned whore in England. Yes. Suprisingly (to me) this story seems to have the power to make at least two islands or an empire fall apart. Told in a mode of trauma that disrupts narrative and dealing with a source of rape and unviability on bodily and colonial economic levels this text rails against British concepts of purity, economic coherence and sexual propriety/property seeming to insist that the colonial relation reveals the impossibility of all of these things.
(Transition from Chancy paragraph version B) Speaking of the persistance of reproduction, Deborah Willis's project "Picturing Us" makes me wonder about the funciton of photography. Or really, is it possible to be non-reproductive in a book about photographic reproduction? Interestingly almost without exception these essay, which are supposedly about African-American Identity, end up being about African-American family. (Granted one author does try to queerly halt his mother from taking the reproduction action that will produce him...and then tries to step in to her photographic place...and also granted that somehow family and photograph do equal death for this and one other writer..but still.) Still indeed this is some sort of collective photo album...which worries me and (i think) limits the collection's ability to challenge the status quo.
While Rita Dove's American Smooth is somewhat dependent on the trope of men and women dancing with each other in pairs, and on military and juridical citizenship, it does seem that Dove opens up a space for critique. Dove make sa concerted effort to rewrite or unravel the bible and maybe even the constitution to a lesser degree. i think the long poem on hunting, "Meditation at 50 Yards: Moving Target", especially the section written in the voice of the bullet exemplifies the "homecoming" that is the body falling apart (when the bullet "comes home" into the target) and this falling apart is related to the ways that bodies do and do not connect while dancing.
Have I overdetermined my reading of Bessie Head with my irresponsbile and repeated invocation of Achebe? Perhaps. What is important to me about this, Head's first ever collection of short stories, is that I think it is a good example of diasporic literature written on and about the "original" continent. Head's are stories in each case about gendered violence that changes the bodies and physical locations of the characters. Colonial frameworks and neocolonial economics often play a role in this dispersing violence, but in the geneology Head creates this dispersing is older than them and can just as easily be instigated by masculinst new nationalist governments. In each case the queer an invconvenient prioritization of love between and for women is what causes the creation of new modes of community...especially in the title story in which women who have killed their husbands create some sort of utopia in prison.
I'll stop next post will talk about crime and theories of black underclass...treating Policing the Crisis and Glissant's essay on "djobeurs" *which i'll be reading in french!!!* peace