Tuesday, May 23, 2006

framing murder: paradise, tituba and narratives of HIV

Paradise, Toni Morrison 1998
I, Tituba Black Witch of Salem, Maryse Conde 1986
Flexible Bodies, Emily Martin 1994
Infections and Inequalities, Paul Farmer 1999
How to Have Theory in an Epidemic, Paula A. Treichler 1999
Last Served?: Gendering the HIV Pandemic, Cindy Patton, 1994
The Birth of Social Medicine, Michel Foucault (year?)

Okay. So this is what happens when I go to Chicago for the weekend and traipse around speaking about "stillness in diaspora" and galavanting in the city with the one that I love with no access to (or desire to) blog. I drop a journal entry on you that combines way too many texts. However, all of these texts seem to me to be speaking to each other. Though it is a coincidence that I was reviewing the AIDS theory stuff at the same time that I was re-reading Paradise and reading I, Tituba for the first time, death through HIV seems to be a major contemporary way in which the world becomes unlivable for black women and girls.
Why is the world unlivable for black women and girls? Or how. Paradise and I Tituba seem to be explaining this phenomenon in devastating specifcity. I am completely convinced. I have to question whether I am alive. Morrison and Conde both suggest that the experiences of black women in this (new) world require a fundamental shift in the meaning of life. While Morrison creates a spirit space between life and death next to river for her houseful of heroines (I have to mention that a space for the redemption of black women is rare in Morisson. It seems only to exist here, and then later in Love, and arguably in beloved...black men are transcendant much more often in Morrison's work), Conde creates a worldview that invokes the Yoruba invisible world and creates a cycle, the rebel is burned but the spirit remains, this burning is the new function of life in a world that cannot compete with the pleasures of death. The way in which black women become abjected in each of these cases (and indeed in the AIDS work) is through the violent social inscription made out of their queered sexual expression. The women in Paradise have desires for men that cannot be incorporated into marriage or nation and they desire themselves and each other, which is somehow more dangerous (interestingly here racial solidarity, or ambiguity is built into the text in the figure of the anonymous whitegril). The people of Ruby, see this non-familial love as a threat to the strict reproductive functionality of women in their town. It is the possibility of the rape of black women by white men, the denying of food to pregnant women, the specter of mixed breeding and reproductive diversity (they want duplicates) that keeps the town in order. Women are the silenced symbols (including the dead Ruby, whose body the town is mapped upon) that generate history in the town. Their desire expressed and unrestrained has a diasporic potential, the potential to scatter everything. This, in the minds of the scary racially pure black fathers (really sons) is reason enough to hunt them like animals.
Tituba on the other hand, loves sexual pleasure in a way that even she pathologizes. It is her attachment to the penis (literally) that enslaves her over and over again, but the possibility of connection with another woman (an appropriated Hester Prynne with a rival life-ending) remains throughout the book. While Tituba's relationships with men are traumatic repetitions of a story that always ends with disaster and death, her sensual relationship with Hester is one narrative, uninterrupted by death, that runs throughout the book. Tituba's body somehow becomes the site for an impossible connection; a racial solidarity that is corrupted by oppressive gender dynamics and a feminist solidarity that is corrupted by the pervasiveness of racism. I wonder what the relationship is between this impossible desire fo connection and death. It seems that Tituba's ability to connect with the world of the dead (which is and is not the spatial native land she craves) is the justification for her persecution. In the sick (yes I am choosing this word of all words) imaginary of colonial Salem (which is the sick imaginary od the all-black Ruby as well) Tituba/the Convent is both necessary and intolerable. People need Tituba's connection to nature and death in order to heal them, but they cannot reconcile her connection with their alienation. Somehow despite individual love (see the cases of Betsey and her mother) Tituba falls to easily into the category of the black witch (who is the black bitch) in the imaginary of the dominant class (and even in the mind of John Indian). Tituba's sexual agency is pathological because it is the site and which she connects worlds, the site of the absolute terror of being the constructions of community (colonial and rebellious) refuse.
In the case of the discourse around AIDS as well, the recurring site of disease is the sexualized racialized female body. This works on a number of levels. For Treichler the "difference" of the bodies of third world women, women of color, sex worker etc. enabled a society that saw itself as nomal and clean to narrate the disease as deviant and therefore to maintain the coherence of their imagined normality. This is also in operation in the globalizing of AIDS the Patton describes which tries to fortify the first world nation by reinforcing borders and a logic of space that pretends the disease can be contained. Farmer points out the ways that behavior, race and place are used to construct narratives of infection that cover over the poverty and inequality produced by neo-liberal economic violence that first world nations enact on the globe. Foucault traces this construction of containment to the very birth of social medicine, arguing that the leper colony is the constitutive model of western public health. It seems to me that this containment is always economic. Could a disaporic politics, a politics of falling apart that cannot be contained, the acknowledgement of the context of queer desire be a part of this redefinition of life/death that the experiences of black women call for?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

map to living/doorstone

Reading Journal Entry One-
Looking for Livingstone, Marlene Nourbese Philip 1991
Map to the Door of No Return, Dionne Brand 2001

If you were looking for Livingstone
could you use a map to the door return
drawn in words by a woman speaking in neuter for
those of us "flung out and dispersed" in the "Black Diaspora"?

What does space mean in these two texts?
Why does discovering charting marking Africa provoke the project
for these two women writing in Canada from Trinidad and Tobago?

Looking for Livingstone is a self described "odssey of silence" that
refigures the colonial project as one of language, religion and strategically deployed time.
Gender seems to be everything here and the relationship between colonizer and the postcolonial colonized subject is (as in "She Tries her Tongue") an explicitly sexual one. Philip creates an alternate logic in which silence (already gendered and racialized) can disrupt time, chartability, this is an anti-epistemological project, that mocks and defies logics of time and power and space (sometimeswritingthewordsalltogetherlikethis). This is a rival mythology that foregrounds the use of language to silence and colonize. Don't forget that alongside this heterosexual struggle between the word and silence there is the explicitly lesbian relationship between "whore words" that weave together the colors of silence. The relationship to space here seems to be one of leaving, what is the diasporic significance of this so called journey to "the interior". What does it have to do with Fanon's project to insist on a black interiority? What does this project teach me about desire? What does it tell me about the ability to know? To speak?

A Map to the Door of No Return calls itself "notes to belonging", though Brand does not seem to make this move in the text, I am interested in what the ontology of longing is. What is it to "be longing"? This is a question that Brand asks more explicityl in her most recent novel "What we All Long For". To BE longing. This seems to resonate with Brand's claims that the black body (i am slightly disturbed by the neutral gendering that she seems to take on in order to create an inclusive and representative narrative about the "Black Diaspora" not always black, but always capitalized) is domesticated and inhabited. This book also creates absolute rupture and unaswerability, it defies the historical, cartogaphical and periodical documents that it refererrences because it insists on unknowability, as desire as an alternative to epistemology. After all Brand never actually goes to the central site of her book, instead the haunting of this place causes an unfulfillable (queer) desire that replaces witness as we usually know it, highlighting seperation, speculation and acts of imagination. She includes a piece specifically about desire, relating desire to the act of reading and trying desperately to parse consumerism and desire. I think the needed move is to make desire queer, that thing that she says she cannot make sense of, that desire that the nation/family/movement as we know it has no room for, cannot incorporate. That non-reproductive and impossible desire that provokes reimagination, that represences the encounter. This book is a set of encounters that stand in for a desire. (Somehow I am remembering a dream in which I am writing this line.)

Dreams function in both texts in different way, but in each case they seem to be entryways for a temporality of trauma. Band discusses dreams as a state of captivity, the dominant cognitive schema for those in the diaspora. Dreams are persistant recurrent modes through which the mind joins the body in a state of captivity, of destinationless/agency less movement, of falling apart. Brand on the other hand, seems to avoid dreams, we often see her staying awake on airplanes, trying to remember when she is passing the door of no return, reading Coetzee and Morrison, waking at 4:45 am to write back to Cesaire. Brand seems to resist the captivity of dreams in exchange for the desire in the act of reading. What does this say about the word? What would Philip say about this use of books. In the Philip the recurring dream (and the vision and so on) is the place where the already allegorcial gets even more metaphorical, where the narrator is actually inseminated with Livingstone's word, where the marketplace of ideas is a real place where people try to use a Caribbean demotic to sell words (where is the space of the Caribbean here? Is there a Caribbean interior? Is the actual Caribbean too edgy for this exercise?)

What is the possibility of revolution in these texts. Brand recounts (for the first time really since Chronicles of the Hostile Sun, or In Another Place Not Here) the failed revolution in Grenada and the traumatic experience that that moment was (again). She describes herself has forever dropping a glass of water in the moment that her friends and comrades are murdered (is the the glass of water in Thirsty?) water more water more water. Philip discusses the still apartheid South Africa with Livingstone, 1987 the year of a certain violence in a place called Livingstone in South Africa. She (or her narrator, excuse me) talks about contemporary white south africans in their relational similarity to slaveholders. This is the temporality of trauma my love. Both of these books completely recontextualize progress by taking on the trope of the journey/ of discovery and perverting it (them). They reveal that this desire to discover is queer and violent and impossible and fictional, but these are not novels.

Intercut with poems, Philip's text seems to be what it is, a fake journal or an real allegorical journal of foreclosed journey. It is somewhat speculative in its use of time and space. It is making fun of research. It is in someways the performative version of Ranji's book on "dark continents", a demonstration of the psychotics (yes the psychotics) of colonialism and the persuit of enlightenment humanism. Brand's book titles section after section "map" but it does not equip us to go anywhere, is not chronological is not not not an "autobiography" as the publisher suggests as a marketing category next to the price. It is what it says it is: "notes". I saw many of these notes in notebooks, on napkins, in blue pen on the back of email printouts in the Canadian national archives. I see these notes as a conversation that Brand's life is having with her poetry and her fiction. I honestly can't think of a reason for someone who does not already love Brand to read this book at all. That said, this book looks like the only book that I could write right now. The book that would come out of these random musings about the out of order reading I am doing in order to tease expertise. Can you even wait for tomorrow? I'll be reading Paradise (because Brand mentions it, and Erica wrote about it) and Paul Farmer (because I have to write this article about public health). See you.

anti/indi/genocide hologram

san fernando trinidad, carnival 2006


quoth the
east indian
west indian
mas parade chief
faceing the tradewind
through the heat of synthetic suede
spilling a half-full carib (tm) beer

"min de truck"

offering: (in chorus)

tek dis neon feathered bumsie-dress
mek we leave us stay
tek ds rhinestne plaited mohawk
mek we leave us stay
tek dis mix-breed red brown glitter skin
mek we leave us stay
tek dis half-made bleacher pyramid
mek we leave us stay
tek dis plastic pepsi precussion line
mek we leave us stay
tek dis free form green bottle glass street mosiac
mek we leave us stay
tek this procession mocking funeral
mek we leave
us stay

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


airmail letter deconstructed

"dear mama, hope you are well and enjoying the best of health"












Wednesday, May 03, 2006


to dionne brand
on my baptism in her papers at the national archives of canada

sky blue pen turned waves
unlined paper map to what
i need to know now

you were making this
round revolution
on paper, in the streets, in

the classroom, in bed
and i was being born and
learning to walk and

making first words out
of a fist and a cry, so
thank you for knowing