Monday, September 25, 2006

Baby You Know...: The Limits of Desire

"The Case for West Indian Self-Government", C.L.R. James, 1933
"Never Loved A Man", Aretha Franklin, 1967
"Bongo-Man: A Journal of African Youth", Issues 1 and 2, Rupert Lewis, 1968-1969
"Reflections on West Indian Writing and Criticism", Sylvia Wynter, 1969
"One Love, Rhetoric or Reality: Aspects of Afro-Jamaicanism, 1976
Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde, 1984
Alternative Literary Publishing: Five Modern Histories, Sally Dennison, 1984.
"The Ceremony Must be Found: After Humanism", Sylvia Wynter, 1984
"On Disenchanting Discourse: 'Minority' Literary Criticism and Beyond, Sylvia Wynter, 1987
"Beyond the Word of Man: Glissant and the New Antillean Discourse", Sylvia Wynter, 1989
Liliane, Ntozake Shange, 1994.
Traces of a Stream: African American Women Literacy and Social Justice, Jacqueline Jones Royster, 2000
"You're the First One I've Told": New Faces of HIV in the South, Kathyn Whetton-Goldstein, Trang Quyen Nguyen, 2002
Inventory, Dionne Brand, 2006

Last night someone asked (or actually repeated as question that they had been asked) if there was any way to argue for global health that wasn't at bottom either theological or pragmatic. I looked at myself (ms. queen of the third world-making third way) and I had nothing to say. But (as with witty comebacks, and convincing lies) I've had the frustrating luxuy of a night to sleep on it, and now I say...what about an argument for global health that is erotic? What if I want you to live and be healthy not because we are all children of god, not because it is my ethical duty, not because I'm scared you'll eventually pass on your disease to me, but because at the end of the day...I just want you?

This seems a fitting answer for someone who falls in love more often than she pays bills, and I grant that there may be a hidden theology here (maybe i want you because you are we are togther we are god inside), but let's just imagine for now a very possible truth which is that I don't know why I want to be close to you, why I love your smile, why I crave your laguter and hate your suffering, but I know everytime that I do. I just do. Given that we have over-populated the place my lust for you, for the possibility of connecting to you, for your just being free, could be an evolutionary thrust, but really there isn't any more room on the it's not pragmatic to want you, to love you, to demand against likelihood that you deserve to be here, but I do. I want to. I want you.

Sylvia Wynter says this lust of mine is very unlikely. A lust for me and my own kind is even more embattled because I live under a narrative of the universal that says in order for me to have a self I have to define my universal experience of being against the non-being, the lack, the mad, the woman, the black that I actually be.

Wynter also says that by trying to create a humanity (a poetic act in her mind) out of my specificity, out of your specificity, out of our subsumed and unrecognized regional specificity from within a dark place that the enlightened have used to make themselves mean life (to kill us) we create a new science of the human...where the connection between the bioneurological and the rhetorical narrative is intentional, not a trick of enchantment that always has to be masked. The thing is, that Wynter justifies this by claiming that this strategy works for all human beings, not just the specific few (white, landed, sane, men) that have called their self-hood universal...but isn't she making a universal right there. I am suspicous of the way she seems to propose a realler universality to replace a fake universality, a new paradigm shift for the genetic information age (and she's saying this right in the 80's) that re-enacts earlier paradigm shifts such as the shift into secular humanism (still theological...through a worship of race, and natural selection?)...when this secular humanism enabled colonialsim in many of the ways that she says. Her act, in its rigourous and somewhat deconstructive genealogy still seems to valorize to reproduce something of what we cannot afford.

But then again, love is something that we cannot afford (due to the full globe that I mentioned, due to the depressing Thursday night ABC line-up this past week were to love meant to lose be bereft suddenly of the loved one forever...despite any desire for health...for continuation) and love (an enchantment) is sometimes used to trick chaos into cohesion, to present masculinist nationalism as freedom and on and on. Wynter's review of the anthology "One Love" in which the author frames much of his critique of post-independence Jamaican politics in a letter to a love object asking her to stop using her hotcomb points some of this out, but not everything. And I am more than disappointed when in "Reflections" Wynter affirms Lammings absurd statement that Caliban (being the black man) in attempting to rape Miranda (a white creole) is "revolutionary" is "positive" is somehow justified in his procreative right to "people the island with Calibans", I can't afford that. I cannot afford a reversal in which rape remains the dominant way to make people live, to fill a world. So maybe...there has to be a theology to the way in which I want you.

There is certainly an Aretha Franklin heavy soundtrack to the way I need you, the way I don't interchange us, the way I never loved a man the way that I love me. In Liliane: Resurrection of the Daughter, Ntozake Shange reminds us of the hypertext of music narrating diaspora, narrating reproductive coherence, narrative looove. She also presents a sharp critique of the burden placed on women for genaological coherence (an impossible narrative already in diaspora) by presenting a protagonista who is dealing with a paradigmaticly diasporic problem. She has (Saidiya Hartman) lost her mother. Everyone says this mother is dead, but really this mother is impossible as mother because she is (in the words of the father(s)) a slut, incapable of motherhood because she betrayed the story about race by running off with a white man. Distance equals death equals the impossibility of diaspora. They say her mother died in the ocean which is why there is no body, but there is the body, the body Wynter insists upon, the abused body, the murdered black female body, the institutionalized somebody trapped in a madhouse making that challenge the persistance of deconstructive differance, and Liliane's body of work, ceremonies (Mama Sylvia look, I found them) to the lost ancestors who are present, messages on the wings of birds from the first free africans in the new world of Haiti, staged burials, earthen vulvas. There is a body. The body that I want. The body that I want to make with you.

Thus it seems my addiction to interactive art, is it theological is it ceremony, is it true? Which for me cannot be in Dennison's words (taken from where I still do not know) "the handmaiden of literature". Can the procreative theft stop. Cannot be in Royster's terms the work of a respectable woman of good reputation and well-reputed marriage (because as Charis says well behaved bookstores rarely make history...and their anniversary as oldest, longest running feminist bookstore in the South is coming up in November). So what is this thing that I do compulsively? Not theological, not pragmatic, merely the persistant will of a spoiled child. I want it, I want it, I want it. Now. NOW!

The Lorde sayeth (i knew it, i knew it would get theological) that we can mother ourselves, meaningt the self that is our own and each other. She says black woman have a romance for mothers because we think this is the one way that we can have intimacy, have love, and get killed in a way that we can survive, that we can be embraced in, but she says that this is bigger. We can mother ourselves. So is it a coincidence that she said to Barbara Smith "we need a press" making colored pamphlets to disperse like flowering seeds of lesbian feminist of color desire for love, for a way to want you, to create you, to make a world with you without a procreative lie that hides the body under the ocean when it is here, I am here. I want you here?
If they would have sat there long enough (vegetable lasagna growing cold, garlic bread going hard, baked chicken and potatoes drowning in broth) that's it. That's what I would have said.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Do not pass. Go.: Prosthesis, Procreation, Precarious, Publication

The First Take, Roberta Flack, 1969
The Cancer Journals, Audre Lorde, 1980
Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes, 1981
Inside Babylon: The Caribbean Diaspora in Britain, Winston James and Clive Harris, 1993
The Phantom Public Sphere, The Social Text Collective, 1993
Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Peformance of Politics, Jose Esteban Munoz, 1999
No Trespassing: Authorship, Intellectual Property Rights and the Boudnaries of Globalization, 2004
Paper Machine, Jacques Derrida, 2005
"Bodies of Evidence" Karla Holloway, September 2006

So, if you know, you know. One of the clearest things I learned last academic year was this: "Don't be fake." Having some loud, genius, criminalized, teenagers tell you something over and over again is (by the way) a great way to learn. But with me clarity is brief, sweet, short-lived, like flavo-ice in July, like summer altogether. Damn. I didn't want to think about that. Anyway periodically (note the word choice) I gotta lose my hard earned clear mind, and get a new one. Reading this week made me lose my mind, and it possible to be in public and not be fake?

Roberta Flack, at age 19 posed a lasting question (beside her critique of meaningless wars imposed by stupid presidents, next to her analysis of the melancholic wasting away of young black to her reinvocation of one of the best black self love poems ever written in Spanish (Angelitos Negros)) she asked "tryna make it real? But compared to what?" Good question. (the lovely Amel Larrieux asked the same the moment that Coca-Cola co-opted neo-soul).
This week's writers are helping me to think through the problem of a crazy, racist, heteropatriachal, violent raping dominant culture masquerading as "the public" and the danger, impossibility, ill-advisedness of being that.

The Social Text Crew (or collective...but I know they wish they were graf artistis) points out that "the public sphere" itself is fake...a made up pretend-ethical social relation that haunts our every attempt to actually have democracy around here. When white europeans, and settlers with money and the ability to make newspapers defined the public...they meant it as a way from them to assert their patriarchal landowning slave hunting routine raping selves...without identifying themselves as people with the people they walked on. Think of it like paper sheets and the pointy cover of knight, all brazen midday long. Some nerve. My last one in fact. Again.

So if the "public sphere" is phantom because it's white guys dressed up like ghosts what of the visible bodies of us spooks? Lauren Berlant does some readings of Nella Larsen's Passing and every version of Imitation of Life that smartly talks about the public as a prosthetic body to hide behind...but the invisible white pubdweller doesn't use his own body to hide behind...he steals mine, or your mama's. Wait. Berlant brilliantly outlines the function of Aunt Jemima as trademark representing the surplus unacceptable bodies that and woman and working have to live behind so our work to make this whole place run is hidden and the made-upness of the nation can seem seamless. One issue: why is it that Berlant describes the black woman as doubly-biologized and therefore possessed of two bodies. Is this not a reassertion of the slapworthy question "so are you being black or being a woman while you do that?"? When Irene Redfield, narrator of passing, passes she is evidently getting rid of one of her surplus bodies. (and me I've been waiting for cloning all this time!) But, as the editors of Inside Babylon admit "racism is gendered/sexism is racialized" so how does Irene or anyone watching, seperate her impossible ladyhood, from her lady of the races-ness?

A strange, strange striptease indeed. And as Karla Holloway boldy point out in the current issue of The Scholar and the Feminist (Barnard Center for Research on Women---the link is up it) one that puts our complicated all at once intersectional bodies on the line again and if the fact that these priveleged folks keep trying to hire us to let them destroy us is a valid excuse to make US do the equally taxing work of producing a cultural fix that can hold a broken institution together and make it seem okay. By being ourselves, by telling our stories over and over again we allow the institution to pass as whatever the hell it says it is. (paper sheets, paper cuts all day all day long). Because "our labor has become more important than our silence." I mean really, Duke. What can I say that you won't use to lie to yourself about how good you are to me?

Jose Munoz suggests that thing to do is to be queer in public. To publically perform a sick world that we dis/identify with to "open" a space for a new one. I find this disidentification thing type brilliant, especially as a way to complicate binary relationships to the dominant and to embrace the complexity of queer performance BUT open a space...full of what, for what. Make me make me real...compared to...What? Munoz says that African diasporic people gotta carry their dying with them, like anscestor energy that refuses to let go, like melancholia that says like Lorde, death is the ally that propels me this day. And I say yes. (Which Derrida says is the deconstructive statement...some originary 'yes', affirming but not positive). Yes. But really I wonder what the link is between the opening up, the to-come that Munoz sets up as after disidentification and the camera public impenatrable superman story that Barthes create by looking at photos.

I really don't want to talk about Barthes comments about photos of black people "masks", "no will to power" really, in 1980? As Daddy says only French guys have the consistent nerve to say that shit in public..and then to publish it...for translation. (But that's what I get for making daddy read Foucault in the first place). I want to put my Berlantian surplus raced subjectivity aside for a fake second and talk about the way Barthes engenders photography as this creepy incestous celebration of rape. Yeah. It's that gross. So prospoetically to the Barthes of time passed (but I mean not that long passed, shame). Really dog? If the thing about photography is that it is "to take", "to surprise", to flash insemination, to impose lineage outside the law, and then to refuse to inherit except through your own eyes...who am already when you look at me? And call your camera man off. I'm serious. Really Barthes, you and your mother never spoke to each other? How convenient. She "never made one observation", how odd..I would have thought she'd have said at least this (prosopoetically i disidentify her voice) "my son is smart. very smart. he'll do anything for power though. he'll even kill me into rapeability after my death. he thinks he's a man." Be insulted Barthes. I was. Oh and your moms says hi.

Whew. Deep breath. Let me let that go, because my real fear isn't Barthes. Its that taking that in will send me the way of June, Barbara, Audre, Nellie, warriors lost to the carcinogen called the university and I have more more more to say. Audre Lorde is alive because I am saying this now. Did you know she wen't to Anguilla to heal, to reconnect with herself to make a balance between growth and death as parts of each other, to develop a lasting third world critique in testament to our wholeness. Did you know that she went to the place where I'm from to do that? Did you know? I swear she sent her spirit over to me. I'll care for this voice like that's true. So yes, given all the speaking mama audre says i gotta do I can only say abuse xerox machines and printers and ignore copyright. Pretend like you said this just now. Gotta go.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Black Girl Born in June or To Be (Well): Mortality, Healing and Diaspora

The Salt Eaters, Toni Cade Bambara, 1980
Apartheid USA, Audre Lorde, 1985
Our Common Enemy Our Common Cause: Freedom Organizing in the Eighties, Merle Woo, 1985
Violence Against Women and the Ongoing Challenge to Racism, Angela Y. Davis, 1985
LionHeart Gal, Sistren Theater Collective, 1986
At the Bottom of the River, Jamaica Kincaid, 1992
Drown, Junot Diaz, 1996
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri, 1999
Juneteenth, Ralph Ellison, 1999
Some of Us Did Not Die, June Jordan, 2002
Revisiting Richard Wright in Ghana: Black Radicalism and the Dialectics of Diaspora, Kevin Gaines, 2001
The Subtle Art of Breathing: New Poems, Asha Bandele, 2004
"Out of Control: AIDS in Black America, ABC News, 2006

“This society is not likely to become free of racism, thus it is necessary for Negroes to free themselves by becoming their idea of what a free people should be.” -Ralph Ellison

Word? After word, after word after word image after death denying image. What hope can we find for represention here? What hope when ABC news manages to solicit the help of the Black AIDS Institute in the creation of a program that mocks our death and kills us live into commercial breaks. Breaking news indeed. ABC, I refuse to reproduce you here. Everyone else...suffice it to say that Ralph Ellison was right to be cynical. Black freedom in the United States is a celebration of the illusion that we are alive. But even survival is stolen.
June Jordan insists that black poetry in the United States is a difficult miracle framed by the impossible existence, impossible and corrupted self-expression of the first, Phillis Wheatley. June Jordan insists beyond the grave that those of us who did not die (yet) have a moral responsibility to act like we know. That we are alive. That life is not, cannot be, any more the practice of complete and incomplete murder on the bodies of women, on the bodies of the feminized non-white, on ourselves through the repetitive denial of love. June Jordan, rightly named because I was born into her...June Jordan, whose every essay, every poem, every recorded word outloud makes me forget that I'm going to cry again until I do. June jordan did not die because she spoke to me today, saying the body is honest, saying the body is hated, saying the body is the place where we have to live, even though lately my "death is always, always blurring (my) vision with tears." So yes. This week my Uncle asked me again to design headstones for my grandparents, because this is what it means to be an artist in my family. Yes. This week my mother named me beneficiary on her IRA laughing, saying "So, if I die, you get the money...though it's not much," because this is what it means to be loved in capitalism. And damn you doublespeaking ABC News for using my unlikelihood to sell car parts, for disrupting my mourning with a lie that we are "out of control" when anyone looking can see (if we cannot admit) that it is your particular brand of control that insists we are dead already.
Ralph Ellison tried to write a novel set in memory framed by a death bed and died without finishing it. So what hope do I have of saying this? Ralph Ellison (I am repeating the names of my ancestors because I need them, because I don't have enough words, because as Ellison wrote "we need a whole new dictionary to describe the truth...") it seems, gave up, or stopped waiting. For us. To be. Able to understand. And he was right. Nobody reads Juneteenth. Those who do disparage it for the same things they celebrate in Invisible Man. Ralph Ellison is laughing. "I died, you got the manuscript. It isn't much. You rootless bastards." Seriously. This book can only be a lost inheritance. It is dedicated to the fact that we haven't gotten it together. Ellison names us "The American Negroes" the "Vanished Tribe into which I was born" and dedicates this satire sermon on the nonsense of nationalism to us. Saying give up. My speech on accepting the National Book Award was a joke. This nation, nation as such will only kill you every time. Saying get out. Turn invisible to vanished build yourselves a bricolage surreal hotrod, violate property laws and patents, and ride the space/time contradiction that you are for even being alive. Can't you see how crazy this is? You are all drowning on dry land. Build a vehicle that takes you someway else. That's really his advice. And Fanny Ellison owns the copyright.
If white people can turn boats into coffins then who knows that I'm not underwater right now. Which of us died? How long does it take to drown? Something of water is retained in this idea of diaspora. Junot Diaz's stories tell me that water stains, oppression leaks in and rises into air through nappy hair. Jamaica Kincaid says that this language we live in will haunt us forever unless we scare white people to death with our brilliance...and even then the tide doesn't stop. Jhumpa Lahirii says that being here is being alone, is enough reason to cry towards swimming. Ellison told us "it hurts here and especially here" this place once named is a site of pain. And something of water remains in this thing that we call diaspora, meaning despite Wright as represented by Gaines, this thing diaspora is feminine and feminized. Meaning the action of making people fall apart over and over again depends on the assertion that these people are pussies. It is really that vulgar. I've said this before...this violence is rape again and again (and Angela says it and June say it so there). Despite Gaines, who would distinguish between the girly trauma of being enslaved and the masculine modernity of being a soldier, a modern subject, a radical in exile, a scholarship boy, I assert that there is something feminist (unacknowledged by Ellison even) in the transformation of drowning into baptism.
Yes Asha. Breathing is a subtle art. And an unnatrual choice in the wor(l)d that would kill us. Toni Cade agrees. Our healing (us women of color embattled since when) occurs in every world, in every word, on every plane, at every time, at once, when we choose it. And June Jordan told me when we choose to breathe like dancers, like singers, like wind, it is because we choose each other. It is not who we are (because that is lie we were told upon landing). It is not our common enemy. It is the need we find in each other and what we make. Knowing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

NO! by Aishah Simmons on Sale NOW!

Tell everyone!!!

NO! a profoundly brilliant film by Aishah Simmons on rape in the Black community
officially goes on sale at California Newsreel today!
Click here for info on buying the film!

Please forward this to educators, activists and everyone you know for
two obvious reasons that i'll restate here

1. this film makes a revolutionary impact and is NEEDED in every community
2. Aishah deserves to be fully supported in continuing to do the brave
healing warrior work that she/we be doing

Every institution that you are affiliated with should own a copy of this film!!!!