Saturday, December 30, 2006

Embodying Audience: A Loud and Listening Body

Contending Forces, Pauline Hopkins, 1900
Shadow and Act, Ralph Ellison, 1953
Long Black Song, Houston Baker, 1972
Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich, 1976
Queer, William Burroughs, 1985
"Representation, Reproduction and Women's Place in Language" Margaret Homas, 1986
"Feminist Studies/Critical Studies: Issues, Terms and Contexts" Teresa De Lauretis, 1986
"Inhibiting Midwives, Usurping Creators: The Struggling Emergence of Black Women in American Fiction, Sandra O'Neale, 1986
"Considering Feminism as a Model for Social Change", Sheila Radford-Hill, 1986
"From a Long Line of Vendidas: Chicanas and Feminism", Cherrie Moraga, 1986
"Feminist Politics: What's Home Got to Do with It?", Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Biddy Martin, 1986
"Modernism, Postmodernism and the Problem of the Visual in Afro-American Culture", Michele Wallace, 1990
"How to Tame a Wild Tongue", Gloria Anzaldua (above), 1990
"Black Hair/Style Politics", Kobena Mercer, 1990
The Caribbean Diaspora in Toronto: Learning to Live with Racism, Frances Henry, 1994
Imperial Leather:Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonnial Contest, Anne McClintock, 1995
"Is 'Development' Purely Empirical or Also Teleological?", Sylvia Wynter, 1996 (thanks Dave!)

With this entry I end 6 months of rigorous (somewhat frantic) reading and begin 6 months of equally rigorous listening. Here I am writing to figure out how not to be so frantic about it... From now on...expect to see far fewer texts on these weekly posts...and the additions of the names of people that I have sat down and spoken with during the week. In fact, I may start a whole 'nother blog chronicle the purposes of, needs for and response to that listening. So look for a link.
Anyway, this week's reading appropriately highlights many of the reasons that I feel spiritually mandated to listen for six months. My body, raced, gendered, eraced, destroyed, opening, reborn, vulnerable, invisible and technicolorized is the false justification for the ways that I am silenced. But this body, for itself, is also loud. It speaks loud and clear instructions to me all day long, and stage whispers confusions most nights. She (gendering here) responds to everything, feels an opening shaking responsibility at the sight, smell, surround-sound of everything. We (racing here) house in our bodies unassimilable histories, undigestable terrors. This body represses echoed explosions, drowned crushed lungs replay here. This body is a site for the refusal of property, colonization, ownership rape. This body is all at once insisting on and refusing its own borders this brown skin. This body is a library where underlining is encouraged and amens and ashes burst out of reverence. This is all to say, there is a lot going on here. I could listen to myself type all day (and often I do), but the thing is that this body (besides being its own podcast of outloud thinkings) is also a shelter for unnacceptable desires, is also a home for the elderly and priceless, is also greedy for newness. This body, as a body infused every pore with spirit, wants you. All of you.
Thus the listening.
So while reasons and opportunities to talk to wise old black women, wise young black women, rape crisis workers, fellow educators, writers, inciters artists and publishers have been falling into my lap, neccessity is the only really obvious thing about this. The act of listening, the act of recording, the space for telling, the framing of relation attracts and confuses me. Is a thing I have to stop thinking I know how to do. Is the reason I just covered a wall with bright questions on braille paper. I am struggling to create a structure of invitation, of request, of holding, of response. I don't want to consume stories, I don't really want to catalogue stories. But I do want to listen in a way that allows speaking, telling, relating to be relationship, to be a community context and a nourishing everything. And this is not only complicated because of the impossibility of my desire. And this is not only complicated because of the convulted shape of my overfull brain.
This is complicated because we as cultures in society with each Other (intentional capitalization) have made listening a rare art and the body as hostile place for it. We have made the body a reason to replace listening with judgement. We have made the bodies a reason to build soundproof walls. As Pauline Hopkins points out in Contending Forces the bodies of racially mixed, racistly assaulted women and men have been ignored. Have not made it possible to listen to the reality of the long-term, state-sanctioned relationship between racism and violence that (as Mama Nayo says in one of her beautiful, haunting poems) screams everywhere out of our undeniably (but the denial still happens) RELATEDNESS of our bodies. Somehow our skin gets reinscribed as a boundary...when everywhere written over it is the fact that boundaries have been violently broken and need to be intimately crossed into healing.
Ralph Ellison seems to want this...though i don't think he was thinking about gender carefully at all...not just when he talks about "Negro culture" being a democratic reflection of American culture, but also when he talks about and practices..but also calls out the processes of masking that have constituted American politics and performances since (before) the Boston Tea Party. In the seventies...and maybe this has changed (but then again maybe not) Baker seems to completely disagree..and I'm pretty sure he had Shadow and Act Towards the front of his mind back when he was writing Long Black Song. And I share the wish...that for black people America was "a thing apart" sometimes. Especially when GWBush is trying to speak english in public. But at the end of the day I think that (while cultural distinction plays its purpose) the exclusion has not been complete. The seperation has been performance that creates the political. And I have to believe that production works in that direction...because we narrate our reality and experience it thus. As Wynter says we are "Flesh become words, muscle and bone animated by hope and desire to action...which crystallizes our actualities." And where does the hope and desire come from...the narrative (written published or silent or otherwise). And then the poetics is the relationship we make to each other making more and more narratives (into a Derridean forever). And the connection that has been ellided, the dangerous connections that the state seeks to limit...requires listening...and telling. Relating.
I was going to go through all of the texts, but why should I fabricate a patience that I don't feel. The basic point is the the (pre)occupation with feminists of color (and allies like Rich) with motherhood has to do with this challenge of relation. Women are told into motherhood in a way that makes their bodies land, a means of production that enslaves them forever, and tries to ellide the thing going on the whole time...creation. Something irreducible that requires a poetics. And it is "mothers" and "daughters" that have to do it. The quotes are to say that gender itself is a narrative that requires all of us to seek poetic justice beyond it. So the place that the narrative about feminity as weakness, rapability, ownablility (though knowablility remains out of grasp and anxiously violently sought) the place that the narrative about femininity screams in our bodies, the place from which we witness and resist the abuse of our spiritual everythingness is the place I look for the place that I look for relation. Because the state as we know it has been modeled around brotherhood (as Spivak and Derrida point out) the state...the democratic has been imagined as a fraternity...a brotherhood...a team bound for codes of silence after extreme violence (to cite a local example of rape around the corner). This is a concept of democracy that even after being co-opted by the replications of global capital into normalcy (or maybe this is simultaneous) has to exist between people who have to behave as if they are men. As if they are inpenetrable. As if they are complete. As if they don't need anything (but the need to live somewhere..but they need to get born) so that they have to claim and steal and slice boundaries that ignore the already permeability of skin. And this is not to simply reinscribe the thing where land is a body and a body is land and both are feminized...but is to say that look, look at that happening. Look at the need this silenced happening makes. Listen to the story that this makes me have to tell. Because the way to make a livable world is a poetics that tells that relation in a way that makes another one possible. And one place to look for that is in the place (this body) that has been narrated into a corner the commodity...the owned means of production that nonetheless speaks. As Wynter would say we need to stop narrating our relationships to each other through the thingification of othering...the lie about scarce resources and means of production the mean more than the meaning of us. The poetic thing tell need. Relates need to desire to the play made possible through the unknowable moment between the infinite you and me. So when we listen and when we publish and teach and narrate newly we make a relation we make a poem, a possible each other...we reject the faked and hurting separation of owning and make a way of living that is embrace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate not only these reading lists, but your words too. Dunno if you remember me, but I was at Barnard with you. Would love to talk more about brokenbeautifulpress and other things, sometime.