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.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Specters of the Caribbean (See?): The Ghost of Annie Christmas

Roots, Kamau Brathwaite, 1957-1973
Soulscript, June Jordan, 1969
Beyond Master Conception, Sylvia Wynter, 1992
Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures, M. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, 1993
Free Enterprise, Michelle Cliff, 1993
Black Girl Talk, The Black Girls (SisterVision Press), 1994
Bread Out of Stone, Dionne Brand, 1994
Culture as Actuality (The Pope Must Be Drunk), Sylvia Wynter, 1995
Immigrant Acts, Lisa Lowe, 1997
Ghostly Matters, Avery Gordon, 1997
Scenes of Subjection, Saidiya Hartman, 1997
Q&A: Queer in Asian America, David Eng and Alice Y. Hom, 1998
Time Square Red, Times Square Blue, Samuel R. Delaney, 1998
The Prisoner's Wife, Asha Bandele, 1999
Refasioning Futures, David Scott, 1999
Thinking Space, Mike Crang and Nigel Thrift, 2000
Queer Diasporas, Cindy Patton and Benigno Sanchez-Eppler, 2000
Wayward Reproductions, Alys Weinbaum, 2004
Specters of the Atlantic, Ian Baucom, 2005
Black Empire, Michelle Stephens, 2005

Writing in a letter, in the wet air framed by her bottle tree, with her other hand holding her piece of a tapestry to the battle lost, Caribbean born conspirator for an armed revolution by enslaved people in the US, Annie Christmas (in Michelle Cliff's imagining/relating of her story) writes "This is the story I do not tell." And indeed all was lost. The plot was discovered and Annie cross-dressing and blacked up was attached to a chain gang of about to be enslaved fugitives and marched through the woods I type this from. And when she was discovered to be who she was, a light skinned black woman, her captors forced her fellow captors to gang rape her. Her vagina her mouth. All was lost. The enslaved masses never recieved the weapons. All was lost. The "war to free the slaves" happened...on some very different terms, and as one of the unnamed characters in Free Enterprise explains, "there is 'free' and then there's free". The one that this some wild animal in an alley got is clearly the lesser of the two. And Annie Christmas never went back to the Caribbean, and Annie Christmas never joined her mentor Mary Ellen Pleasant who continued to work for the other freedom. And nobody told Malcolm X that when he talked about "by any means necessary" when he talked about "self-defense" he was citing these women...(and Ida B. Wells too) and so Black Power came to mean some masculinist militarist raping thing. So all was lost.
Or was it? David Scott says that our freedom is not a sham...but that the liberal project..the moving back and forth between economic individualistic "expression" and political restraint is what have come to know as freedom. That we may as well either admit it or fight the normalization of such a definition of freedom that needs scare quotes and needs waking up. Lisa Lowe and Ian Baucom both invoke Benjaminian reveal the normal as deadly and to make something new emerge. And I say..something is lost. What is lost is present in what Avery Gordon would call a haunting. What cannot fit into coherence is my presence here speaking Annie Christmas's name, nativity in her desecrated mouth. Because I too have a story that I do not tell.
If the drowning of slaves, jumping overboard or being dumped for insurance money is the thing that haunts the Glissantian project and the thing that indeed haunts the characters of Free Enterprise and Beloved and on and on and down and down. Floating up is another set of questions for me. First what about this haunted water and how specific can I be about it. Because here is the thing. I am fine with these transatlantic hauntings. Or at least I admit them and rage against them. I have stood in Ghana and shuddered at the cruel persistance of the gray waves at the walls of Elmina. I have even rejected the Atlantic side of Anguilla (not the side where I learned to swim) as the place where people drown. Of the coarse sand and crude waves, of the time where I remember once sinking unnoticed and sputtering betrayal while my parents turned away secure in my ability to get over (if not to vanquish) my fears. But the only reason that I have afforded this rage articulation, the only moments that I can afford to reject that dominant ocean are while loving to a fault the Caribbean sea. I have made the Caribbean sea into the place where I am held, floating watching while Grandma paints faith into the sky above Rendevous Bay. I have made the waves that embrace and release my legs during thousands of long walks talking to myself into the refrain of a song about something that lasts forever. If the Atlantic brought slavery, the Caribbean embraced survival. If the Atlantic threatens to break me and then forget about it, the Caribbean is a ritual, is a sacrement to my breathing. A simply binary non dialectical that I stay sane by not problematizing.
But I know the story of the Zong. I know that slaves, named with a certain value (Wynter calls it the pieza Baucom traces as the impetus of the finance capital that the novel trains us to believe in) were dumped off of the coast of Jamaica. And I know (momma says 'you better know', exactly where Jamaica is. Jamaica is surrounded on all sides by the Caribbean Sea. Which means if they emptied the Zong of the coast of Jamaica those bones, those chains, those screams, those exploding lungs are there, are here are in the Caribbean Sea. So I see that I have tried to deny the fluidity of water, to make walls, to do violence to the Caribbean Sea by making it a nation-state, by making it a thing that will always affirm me, always make me feel at home, provide continuity and somehow not leak out into the the world that I have been trying to defend it from.
This desire for a myth has made me very specific. It has made me ask Michele Stephens if when she talks about conversation between the Caribbean and North America if that is neccessarily "trans-atlantic". Because though C.L.R. James and Marcus Garvey and Claude McKay may have taken boats up the the American Eagle stops in Puerto Rico for immigration and flies up over the Caribbean Sea (maybe over the Gulf) to the US. And insane protectionism over the Caribbean Sea aside...i still think this makes a difference. I am completely convinced by the story that Stephens tells about masculinity and black internationalism at the time of the hegemony of the nation...when the US was a place from which Caribbean Intellectuals could think about a ship of state as a response to Europe when there were no Caribbean nations. Which is different from flying away (besides the class differences that Belinda Edomdson and Carole Boyce Davies point out) FROM these actual nations, after the failure of federation...haunted by the joke of CARICOM...knowing the violence that nationalism means and knowing the US's policies to make nation mean that rape will keep turning into a metaphor about land that gets re-enacted on the bodies of women. There is a difference...if stil haunted. Flight from the nation means we can make something new...means we don't have to keep making the same thing...because when water can't even be water, the world is a prison. And as Asha Bandele makes clear love in the face of prison means "everything has to change. everything." So that means that I have to take on the challenge that Mohanty and Alexander make in the name of transnational feminist solidarities. The nation is not the name of my limits, my birth is not seperate from my embattlement. And baptism, for me and for the world I'm questioning. Is still a dangerous thing.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

ramble turned haiku

My sista Ebony suggested this great way of clarifying my thoughts about the process of naming my audience and my subject for my doctoral project. Try it! This haiku is a way of saying the paragraph that follows (which was part of last week's post).

i'm talking to you
girl reason for love change now
because, Audre says

(okay I'm cheating...i had to make two.)

hey girl you the one
making the the world move into
still clear held goodbyes

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., 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.

So...what do you work on?: A Self Interview Towards Answerability

Used to be whenever people asked me what i "worked on" or worse what I "did" I would make up something new everytime. "Southern Hip Hop Lyrics as a Narrative Reflection of the Ilegal Import of Anti-Retroviral Medication in South Africa", "Girl Soldiers and the Deconstructive Traces of Fred Wilson's Mammy Salt-Shakers", "Incarceration and Island: OutKast and the Refugee All-Stars present..."...not that these haven't all been "interests" of mine, and not that anything lasts forever...but I have decided AHEM
that it's time to be true to the fact that certain voices have been pushing me here and lifting me up since when and that whether or not I know how to say it..there is something that I am committed to that drives me (crazy). That is to say the hit it and quit it days are over (at least for now. ha!). As an about to be advanced/post-prelims grad student it is time to express some sort of committment. So the following is an interview conversation with myself about what the hell it is I'm doing here anyway. Listen in!

1. What disciplinary discourses are you in conversation with? What do you have to say to them?
Great question. Firstly all of them. I am in stubborn resistance to the claims of any discourse or institution (outside of my momma) to be able to effectively discipline me. As Daddy reminds me, it's no good trusting a word that comes right before "and punish" in Foucault. Nah mean? (And yes, my daddy loves me enough to go to bandn and by foucault because I'm reading it). (So the first answer is that I am in conversation with Momma and Daddy always.)

That said, there are a number of DISCOURSES that I am speaking to and that speak to me powerfully and I will continue to pretend that they can't control me (even though the fact that I am even asking myself these questions means that they probably least to the extent that I want to be legible to the people speaking these languages.)
So African American Literary and Cultural Theory: I want to say what if African-American means the whole black new world, not just US blacks and not even just blacks speaking English? What then? I also want to say that gender has been deeply informing the ways that we have been saying that black people can be free (and usually meaning that black men can be part of a violent colonialist capitalist project without suicide...which is actually not true). I also want to say that African American literary production (an impossible thing if you think about it) has not just been on the page, it has critically also been strategic pedagogies, movement buildings and fashionings or else none of this would ever work. I also want to say that there is something that black can mean that doesn't depend on America...maybe even its hemispheric sense. So..

Caribbean Studies: I want to say that the theoretical space of the Caribbean (not only relevant as it's classic plantation or epitomal creole clash between native-afro-euro people, but also as the space of imagined, feared and possible popular revolutions) constructs what people mean when they say America (especially US Imperialists). I think that looking at the way that the re-imagined space of the caribbean for those who would call themselves diasporic (after and in response to those who would call themselves exiles) allows for a different way to respond to empire and imperialist relationships to what is possible when there is more water than land...what happens when the ideological wars have to be fought on the literal margins because the center is completely politically duped....when when the mass is scattered...

(Black) Diaspora Studies: I want to point out how important the idea of reproduction (of race) is to even being able to say "diaspora". I want us to be able to think about the way "diasporic movement" has been gendered male while diasporic trauma has been gendered female (and the way that progress has been heterosexualized) through thinking "stillness in diaspora", which allows us to look at what this way of saying really complies with and reproduces. I want to say that diaspora is a queer thing that changes what family can mean and do. I think that really thinking the relationship between reproduction, queerness and diaspora allows for sustainability that isn't the reproduction of the same. (Following McKittrick, I also think that thinking diaspora my be (one of) our last best hope(s) for theorizing a relationship to land and space that is not ownership. Following Tina Campt I also think that to do this we need a real attention to discourses of indigeneity.

Postcolonial Studies: I want to disavow this term post-colonial right away...but I also have to acknowledge that it has become cliche to disavow it. Lorna Goodison asks "when does the post-colonial end?" which I think is a good and unanswerable question. I need a post-colonial studies (an "other-than-colonial" studies?) that does not assume the nation. I want to say things that I cannot say in anything but post-colonial appropriations of colonizing languages that it is dangerous to always refer back to the metropole although it is impossible really not to. I want to say that emphasizing the roles of Canadian and American white supremacy in shaping the critique of diasporic caribbean feminist anti-imperialists allows at least a small detour to that inevitable reference.

Black Feminist Literary Criticism: I just want to say that Barbara Smith was right was right is right the first time. About all of it. About lesbian meaning its critique and not its identity about publishing and activism as literary and inseperable. About all of it.
Gender and Sexuality Theory: I want to say... what about approaching the explosion of gender binaries and the reconceptualization of connectivities through the redefinition of what "girl" for example means, not just in an anatomical sense, but in a racialized and geographical sense? What if we thought about the relationship to the body without forgetting to think through the gendered relationshipt to land at the same time. What if we could make an environmental shift that would make it not true that all black (lesbian) feminists writers die of breast cancer for example?

Public Intellectualisms: Yes of course. We need the basic questions about how the University steals from the kids it allows us to call ourselves public intellectuals by serving. Yes of course. We also need to think through why and when we use the nation as a frame (or as an automatic public). We need to think through what we mean by "the community" and wonder where community is (not) and think about who we are really healing, helping, teaching (if not ourselves.)

English/Lit: Language is a conversation about how we say we are. I want Caribbean reappropriations and transformations of both English language structures and literary texts to change and reveal what these structures already mean and do. I want it to be clear that English is something that DOES...and that so are we if we admit it.
2. What is the relevance of death to your project?
So the relevance of death to my project is absolutely the above. The writers that I need to talk about this have mostly died of breast cancer. That means something. It means that I(we) need to create a relationship to this work and to this place that is not carcinogenic, that does not kill us dead. It means that healing is always the purpose and mode of my work.
3. What is the overall intended effect of your work?
"Overall" you say. Yes. My intention is that my work rain like a refreshing cloack of new paths over all. My intention is that the discourses that I am speaking to realize the stakes of our statement. My intention is that everyone knows that stories are everywhere and mean everything and the most important thing which is that we can make one up. My intention is that I can apply the process of loving my mother to everything and that everyone can too..without necessarily calling it "loving my mother".
4. Can you say what you are doing in one sentence? No. (That's the sentence...Okay.) I am exploring the poetics of woman centered anti-imperialist relationships to word, land and body? Hmm. Not so satifying.
5. What is the relationship between your different reading lists?
They are bastard cousins. Okay so a "black new world" that my primary list suggests is in production is the particular form of Pocomania or postcolonial ethical project that I am interested in the most, and reproduction in terms of gender, sexuality and deviance is the mode through which this world is or is not new.
6. What books should your dissertation be next to on the ideal shelf?
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the rainbow is Enuf and The Prophet.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

if you will: a premature proposition

Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases, Ida B. Wells, 1892
A Red Record: Lynchings in the United States, Ida B Wells, 1895
American Imperialism and the British West Indies, Claudia Jones, 1958
Poems from Prison, Etheridge Knight, 1968
Novel and History, Plot and Plantation, Sylvia Wynter, 1971
Sula, Toni Morrison, 1973
"The Politics of Intimacy: A Discussion", Hortense Spillers, 1979
I am Becoming My Mother, Lorna Goodison, 1986
Rotten Pomerack, Merle Collins, 1992
Moorings and Metaphors, Karla Holloway 1992
Mother Love, Rita Dove, 1995
Black Feminist Criticism, Barbara Christian, 1997
The Truth That Never Hurts: Writing on Race Gender and Freedom, Barbara Smith, 1998
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill, 1998
Constructing the Black Masculine, Maurice Wallace, 2002
Passed On: African American Mourning Stories, Karla Holloway, 2002
Comfort Woman, Me'shell Ndgeocello, 2003
Love, Toni Morrison, 2003
Becoming Black: Creating Identity in the African Diaspora, Michelle Wright, 2004
Poon Tang Clan (aint nuthin to f*ck with), Ursula Rucker, (on Etherbeat Radio 12/10/06 5:40pm)
Children's Poem, Ursula Rucker, from ma'at mama, download the lyrics here

I'm not ashamed. Call it attention deficit, call it audio-visual-linguistico gluttony, call it what you will. I require simultaneous simulation to stay present. So while I spent bright noon til midnight typing up notes for the readings I;ve been doing this week I also listened to Etherbeat internet radio all day long. The reason that you all should listen to Etherbeat as well is that they played (granted over the course of about six hours)...two differently brilliant tracks from the same brave Philly inspired embraced Ursula Rucker spoken-word hiphop revision CD ma'at mama (a reference to something kemetic about balance). So in the break between the laugh out loud sistas fighting back militant (but not seperatist) feminist re-take of Wu-Tang clan's anthem "Poon Tang Clan (ain't nuthin to f*ck with) where Rucker ventriloquistically names herself "street mother to my sista girls" and her featured co-warrior (who suggest that she may have recorded her section over the phone from prison says "represent the earths on lockdown sis" between that set up...where mother and sister are proper meanings for each other because of the landscape we scream out of and the later "Children's Poem" framed as "not just another poem about children and this is not just another poem, this is a prayer, a lament, a dirge if you will". In the break (hours and hours long) between protest and prayer, between raw revision and rawist reality I propose that this spilling thing that I leave here
is both prayer and problem and pause and process. So read it if you want. Out loud.
Why should mother and sister mean the same thing? In the context of Love, Toni Morrison's not-so-beautifully but necessary reprise of Sula, when an 11-year old girl (defenseless) can be sold by her father as a bride to a grandfatherly old playboy and become the technical grandmother to her playmate sistergirl lifepartner true love and when the only respectable father figure in the text says to his only redeemable character grandson that when you find a good woman you just stay there...whether she's your wife, mother, sister, co-worker interchangeably it seems a problem that a woman can be anything and is only good if she is interchangably defined based on her usefulness to men. So why should mother and sister mean anything?
Except that women use these words too. Except that girls like Sula and Nel and Heed and Christine make up their own languages to say their love because they know that it is technically irrelevant and will be violently ignored. Except that when other women say that Sula and Nel or Heed and Christine are interchangable...have the same dream and somehow have no difference between them they mean yes. that they will be used as needed in the interests of heteropatriarchy, but also that they embody a subjectivity that doesn't need exclusion and inpenetrability to be, they are the possibility of embrace as they face each other and become "two throats and one eye and we had no price" in the words of Sula.
Michelle Wright (in truly the most convincing and theoretically clear book that I've read in all these nine months) would call this a dialogic subjectivity. Instead of the racist dialectics that negate the black negation to create a white subject that hides its intersubjectivity with a black subject, and instead of a black masculinist response to this dialectic that reveals the process of negation and reverses creating an impenetrable black subject Wright says that Carolyn Rodgers, but mostly Audre Lorde enacts a dialogic mode of subjectivity that says that difference is not is in dialogue. So the mother and the daughter ventriloquize each other and the differently positioned women articulate each other as needs and the subject is always intersubjective (always so no one is thetical and so no one is antithetical and subjectivity is not really produced dialectically...subjectivity is produced by dialogue which rejects the nation form (which requires a bounded subject) and enables a diaspora defined not by a uniformly shared history or authenticity but by a dialogue.
What would Wynter...committed as she is (see last weeks rant) to the maintainance of a radical alterity through which to provoke a true dialectical synthesis say to this? Wynter's insistence on radical alterity is in part a response to the Creolist celebration of what they would call a synthesis but which is premature because situation of the black, the colonized the impoverished is still a space of social death and imprisonment which constitutes (or is acceptable because of) a view of some would-be humans as others who define the normal, capital accumulating, non-criminal global middle class as human. But Wynter also calls the new relation that she wants to create (as much in the tradition of the humanists as Wright is in the tradition of Bakhtin) a poetics. A way of relating to the which she means the natural environment that we are ignoring and destroying as much as anything else. Could it be that Wright agrees with Wynters 1971 statement that the Caribbean is a "plantation" space because it was "planted with people" to reproduce a market system and not a social relationship and that what Wright requires is what Wynter requires which is the rejection of the marketing of whole finished selves to be and others to deny and the engagement with a true social conversation that allows us (street mother to my sister girls...represent the earths on lockdown sis) to change our environment through what we learn we need (each other)?
If so Karla Holloway (always, always doing the right thing it seems)'s Moorings and Metaphors takes on this task in the form of intertextual anaylsis, bringing African American fiction into conversation with African women's writing setting up a lineage and a "legitimtate ancestry" (which i still question) which nonetheless allows for a context in which blackw women's "ways of saying" are theorized based on their secret language, articulated relationships with each other instead of their insertion into a patriarchal theoretical lineage of words owned by men (which by they way...Wynter and Wright may still technically be doing). Barbara Christian tackles this same problematic, being careful to mention the ancient mariner and engles and whoever else in the introduction which is really a conversation with her young daughter...but being at least equally careful to historicize the figurations of motherhood within African and Afro-American literature so that her final conclusion is that motherhood is an "angle of seeing" a particular perspective and not an ontological epistemology then...which may make her two statements in different context 1. lesbianism as sexual autonomy from men is the most radical critique of patriarchy (revelation of patriarchy as a narrative) and 2. motherhood as a way of looking that means affirming life and demanding living to be free...echoes of each other. Like Sula and Nel. Girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.
So why should mother and sister mean anything? Why take so much time figuring out a secret language that says we love each other when so many people, so many structures are determined to ignore what we are saying (love. i really. hey celestial. girlgirlgirl) as jibberish. Simply because it is a matter of life and death. Just as Ursula Rucker refuses not to talk about the sexual predation on black girls from all sides, killing happens in a number of ways. Someone said that violence can be gentle (i think it was merle collins) and certainly violence is gendered. So when a year or two ago after a first reading of Holloway's beautiful beautiful memorial Passed On our Af Am literary and cultural theory class was prompted to ask...on behalf of daughters and sisters and girls but how do girls die? I had to (and i usually have to) think about rape. Much like foresista/motherlady Ida B. Wells had to say at the end of the 1800's that refusing to think of the law of the land in a way that recognizes black people as human means not only that black people can be lynched at anytime, not only that black women can be raped without reprisal (invisible outrage), not only that democracy is not here at all, but also that every black person needs to have gun. Period. Ellison says its not likely that American will stop being racist...that black folks had to act accordingly. Which tells me that settlement is an impossible violent and delusional project. About rape Or more specifically about how the relationship to land...the process of plant...ation if you will, the woman as earth on lockdown that reproduce the absurd sense that the earth should be lockdown like we're doing is a murder. That as Christian says the "death-producing ideology of motherhood" demands that someone steal the meaning of motherhood back into the problematic intersubjectivity that motherhood means that our audacity in call each other mother and sister (that's you mamasistas zachnancyebonynayo) calling each other into our names is a problem that say everytime we say is (i see you sista) that it is impossible to own land. Or Poon Tang Clan ain't nuthin to f*ck with. So f-what you heard. Even if I have to imagine an outerspace (me'shell says "i come from a world made of love", holloway says the complexity of black women's writing is "extra-territorial") even if i have to make myth black unicorn languages to say it...sister and mother require the same thing of me. I love my girls.

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 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 was a repeat by the 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., 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 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 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 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 can you be more radically other than to be the pathologized female and love the pathologized female? black mother has served this purpose i 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?