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 wonder...is 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 men...next 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 question...at 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 real...in 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 bodies...like 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 we...black 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 top...read it) one that puts our complicated all at once intersectional bodies on the line again and again...as 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.