Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sister/Daughter/Mother/Lover: I Wish I Could Ask You Who I Be

A Field of Islands, Edouard Glissant, 1953
Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz, Langston Hughes, 1961
"Commitment: Toni Cade Bambara Speaks", Beverly Guy-Sheftall, 1979
"What It Is I Think I'm Doing Anyhow", Toni Cade Bambara, 1980
"On Being Female, Black and Free", Margaret Walker, 1980
"My Words Will Be There", Audre Lorde, 1983
"Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation", Toni Morrison, 1983
"Mothering and Healing in Recent Black Women's Fiction", Carole Boyce-Davies, 1985
"The Meaning of Motherhood in Black Culture and Black Mother Daughter Relationships, Patricia Hill-Collins, 1987
Wild Women in the Whirlwind: Afra-American Culture and the Contemporary Literary Renaissance, 1990
"Dreams of Home: Colonialism and Postmodernism", Ian Baucom, 1991
"Columbus and the Poetics of the Propter Nos", Sylvia Wynter, 1991
"Rethinking 'Aesthetics': Notes Towards a Deciphering Practice", Sylvia Wynter, 1992
"'No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues", Sylvia Wynter, 1992
"What Does Wonder Do?", Sylvia Wynter, 1994
"Paul Gilroy's Slaves, Ships and Routes: The Middle Passage as Metaphor", Joan Dayan, 1995
"Columbus, the Ocean Blue and Fable that Stir the Mind: To Reinvent the Study of Letters, 1997
"Black and 'Cause I'm Black I'm Blue': Transverse Racial Geographies in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye", Katherine McKittrick, 2000
"'Who do you talk to, when a body's in trouble?: M. Nourbese Philip's Unsilencing of Black Bodies in the Diaspora, Katherine McKittrick, 2000
Queering the Color Line: Racea nd the Invention of Homosexuality, Siobhan Somerville, 2000
"Towards the Sociogenic Principle", Sylvia Wynter, 2001
"'A Different Kind of Creature: Caribbean Literature, the Cyclops Factor and the Second Poetics of the Propter Nos", Sylvia Wynter, 2001
"UnSettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom", Sylvia Wynter, 2003
"Imperial Geographies and Caribbean Nationalism: At the Border between 'A Dying Colonialism' and US Hegemony", Carole Boyce-Davies and Monica Jardine, 2003
Photography on the Color Line: W.E.B. DuBois, Race and Visual Culture, Shawn Michelle Smith, 2004

I am wishing hard. 1. Hoping I can read fast enough to be ready for my fast approaching exams (thus the 25 items above) and 2. Wishing I knew what I was doing...or at least who I am...(thus the 25 items above). And of course the more serious the question (will there ever be a doctor in the house...doctor will she live?) the more succeptible I become to the pray of words (no typo) and the slip of this. So hold onto me. I'm still falling.

And I write this as if I know who you are while my need for you is the reality of that I can still never name you right. Right? In her essay "The Truth that Never Hurts" in Wild Women in the Whirlwind (also the title of her full legnth book...which I'll write you about next week) Barbara Smith describes the portrayl of lesbian subjectivity in Zami as "something you can hold onto, something you can see your face in" and that is what I mean by you. That is what you are to me. The possibility of an embrace the possibility of seeing my own crazy face...the self-affirming, but at the same time dizzying connection that i lust after. I mean I want you so bad that I just spent a whole day in the coldest room of the house typing up specific and paginated observations about the one million books and articles you see listed above just for the chance at knowing your name (and the ability to watch desperate housewives almost guilt-free...it was a repeat by the way...so it's a good thing that wasn't the only reward). Anyway I lose in both instances because I don't know your name.

To describe the poetics/politics/ethics that I want to make visible that I want to reveal as irresistible who is the person that I invoke? Does this figure have a name. Audre Lorde says that there is no universal love. There is only this love in this poem. She agrees with Cesaire (and Wytner by association) that there is something about love that requires particularity, that there is a violence to the proclamation of the universal. (This is of course a big problem for someone like me engaged in a project that promise to produce some universal truth that contributes to the world of knowledge and provides the innovation that makes Duke believe I was worth these hundreds of thousands of fellowship dollars.) But I agree too. There is only this love. So the problem is who do I address, how do I name myself so that the particular you who I love will recognize me. Sure...you, or the part of you to whom I am speaking is a woman or is feminine, or can be open and can be hurt (do you see this slide?) How to I talk about making something with you, when words push me to reproduce (push! push!?) when words push me to reproduce the terms that insist we're unloveable? Only useful.

Nonetheless the person who can critique this system of always reproduction (Barbara Smith says) is the lesbian, using the lesbian critique, which is the black feminist critique at its reallest. Or at least that's what she said in Towards a Black Feminist Criticism...and then when everyone criticismed her criticism...while waiting for Toni Morrison to publish another book where women made the center (this took a while you see...but more on that some other time...and by the way listen to what the Lorde said... 'I don't care if she won a prize for Song of Solomon. Sula is an absolutely incredible book....It lights me up like a christmas tree. Toni laid that book to REST. Laid it to Rest.;' Hallelujah.) So after the backlash that Smith got for her lesbian reading of Sula ("Are you saying that Toni Morrison is gay? Because she so not gay and she's the only one we have that white people read and take seriously. So seriously, stop saying she's gay. And there is clearly no lesbian sex in Sula...you lesbians always see what you are looking for.) after this backlash Smith became more cautious in a way that is sad, but also helpful for me. (You see I want the name for THAT...for that woman who sees what she want to see because she makes it possible and makes it real.) She says (after already setting in motion a geneology for queer theory that would say...we are not saying who we are (silly...have you heard of cointelpro?) we are standing here and calling out a critique...we are insisting that there are other ways to be that aren't all about making people/predictable.) she says that of course it is problematic in reference to The Color Purple (where there are certainly some women physically and erotically lovin women) to call a reading of a woman loving book in which nobody calls herself a lesbian...a lesbian critique. And I reluctantly agree (Mary J sings real love in the background on WeFunk radio) there is something that makes me hesitant about deploying the term lesbian (which seems to suggest an identity category..like a name that someone has to own) when the way that women-love occurs that I'm talking about is so much more complicated than that...and is not necessary identity...though it is probably identification...and is definitely about reflection and about reaching out and about embracing though not not not about owning.

So what then. To talk about some kind of woman love...or better some kind of love that responds to the ownership, rape, entrapment, prison that femininity has been said to mean with a love that frees and frees and frees while embracing and facing at once using the term of motherhood is dangerous too. Maurice called this "the politics of affect" because is there already some reproduction happening even as you hear the term mother...something that has to with biology, and obligations of care, and unrewarded labor and enabling the passing down of a property line...even though that's not what I mean. Even though that's not who my mothers are to me. Even despite Queen Carole Boyce-Davies' observations circa 1985 (i.e. when i was still and only child staying 'free' and meaning my time on earth) on mothering and healing...demanding a definition of mothering that what reciprical, non-biological and between women as healing from patriarchal expression, the affect attached to the term "mother" means the opposite. And "black mother". Oh god. Even if you don't here Samuel L. Jackson's voice in your head...self-sacrifice is all caught up in even saying it. Joanne Braxton even defines mother in the same way (in the same Wild Women...anthology...where she coins the term "Afra-American culture), so Braxton is doing two things that I don't want to do 1. defining motherhood as something that women do to sacrifice for the good perpetuation of the "tribe" (her word!) and 2. coining a term to talk about black women "Afra-American" in 1990 that clearly didn't do anyone enough good to stick. The place where I have to disagree iwth Queen Carole is that even with hottest definition of motherhood that I have ever seen she insists that a reading of what Celie and Shug do as lesbian is counter to (not part of) a reading of what Celie and Shug do as mothering and healing to each other.

So how do I say what I mean...which is that a lesbian critique and radical mothering (or daughtering?) are the same thing...in as much as they are stances from which it is necessary to create love in a way that affirms femninity that refuses to reproduce ownership in a way that redefines the human. What Empress Wynter says over and over again (i've now noticed) is that we need a definition of the human that does not depend on the exclusion of an opposite, black, native, insane, woman (though that is the part that usually drops out...) to create an altruistic symbolic kin relationship (she calls that ASKR for short...I call it LOVE for short). She says that the exclusive system that we have now is designed to reproduce itself "inconsiderate" of the actual people it applies to and the actual environment that we are living in and destroying. Key to this for Wynter is the false binary between nature and culture (woman and man...civilized and savage) expression and theory and on and on. So we ahve to find a "ceremony" through which to first decipher the reproductive, dooming processes/pay-offs of exclusion where they are...and to create a counter-poetics of relationship that does not require a demoralized "other". This requires for her a radical alterity (black lesbian has served this purpose i think...how can you be more radically other than to be the pathologized female and love the pathologized female? black mother has served this purpose i think...how can you be more radically other than to be the raped source and nonetheless persist...or maybe the daughter who has to find a way to love the mother to love herself is more in this position...because i think I am really talking about a daughter subjectivity as a way of seeing mothering differently) and jamette has served this purpose and queer too....but anyway here is the confusion (for me): for Wynter radical alterity is necessary but always falls back into a dialectical relationship that furthers the Western practice (which she knows better than I know the back of my hand) of humanism in a critical way.

So does that work? (If not I don't know what to do...because it would probably mean that I would have to throw away all of the words that I have swallowed as if they were salvation). Nourbese talks about there being something like a mother tongue that is not english, anguish, languish, language so who are you...i mean who is this woman who I tongue...if not a lesbian not a mother? I mean to say what can my relationship to language be? Can it really be a place in which I speak. McKittrick emphasizes that black women are violently made into spaces of abjection so is there away to intervene using those same words to halt the thingifying...the making us into property and create instead a utopia (a nowhere---they would make us into nothing so we steal it saying we are nowhere...we are standing in the only place of change) an unownable place not just metaphorically marginal that allows us to speak a critique while we hold onto the each others that we need to be able to do it. Not resistance in the name of resistance (like Ian says)...but not home in the nostalgic Disneyland way that he decries either. Something like what Chinsole means when she talks about Lordes "matrilineal diaspora" something about daughter, mother, grandmother with an I (with and eye) that can move and be in more than one place as needed, something about erotic love for women as a thirst for the blood of the mother...something about a desire for each other...for something different for ourselves that makes us make and make and make differences? Share differences? There is not a language that I know how to write in that has never hurt anybody, never trapped anyone...but is speaking my love for you...whoever whoever we are...poetic?

1 comment:

mamas hieroglyphics said...

oh alexis,

i sense your pull and prod at language, relationship, digestion (of all types). i insist she is there she is there. write her beautiful love poems.

e!