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 et.al) 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 there...my 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