Monday, February 05, 2007

Free Looks Like (for Sarah)

Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Sedgewick, 1990
Beloved Sisters and Loving Friends, Farah Jasmine Griffin (above), 1999
Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity, Sharon P. Holland, 2000
If You Can’t Be Free, Be A Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday, Farah Jasmine Griffin, 2001
Degrees of Freedom: Lousiana and Cuba After Slavery, Rebeccas Scott, 2005.
Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender and the New Racism, Patricia Hill Collins, 2005
“Blood and Stories: How Genomics is Rewriting Race, Medicine and Human History”, Priscilla Wald, 2006
“My Father Was and Anonymous Sperm Donor”, Katrina Clark (, 2006

On a snow day I had a meeting with Michealene Crichlow, a member of my exam committee, at her home. At the door I was greeted by a sprite of summer, ringleader of abandon, dj of laughlines named Sarah. Sarah explained that she was a whole hand old, and guessed (correctly) that I must be about three hands (fifteen years) old. Sarah explained to me that she is from Jamaica (“the best place where you don’t have to wear a jacket and people can ride bicycles everwhere”) and also from her mother. She was also excited to tell me that her mother, believe it or not, came from HER mother. This seemed to be an important discovery. She seemed pleased to learn that I was from my mother who was serendipitously also from this jacketless place of bike riding. Like the immigration lines (but not at all) in the Kingston airport she also wondered whether I was a visitor and explained that she was kind of but not really but kindof a visitor, here in this place where there is such a thing as snow day. While my meeting with Michealene was rewarding and enjoyable (and gleefully interrupted by Sarah and her computer game and joke offerings until bedtime), I think that I want to add Sarah as the sixth member of my committee. She seems to be an expert on the things that I am trying to explain, or explore:
*what it means to come from where I come kindof but not really be a visitor in any here
*what it means to come from where I comre from...mothers who come from mothers who come from infinite mothers
*what it looks like (with the assistance of a day off school) to be free
The texts I read this week were also concerned with positionalities and freedoms. Rebecca Scott was interested in the comparative "degrees of freedom" achieved through interracial or white supremacist narratives of public propriety in Cuba or Lousiana. Freedom as she imagined it had not much to do with Sarah virtuosity, sharing or questions. Freedom was the right of men to vote and participate in militaristic activities (accompanied by some exceptional women who sometimes could be almost citizens by participating in these public actions...and either way embodying the threat or farce of what it not said about interacial homosocial proximity.) Empress Farah was interested in the renarration of Billie Holiday's legend in order to make more possible for people who share some of Holiday's positionalities, (surviving sexual abuse, growing up quickly, suffering from drug addiction, expressing creative genuis in a society that can and cannot hear that, being a black woman, being beautiful at all.) With "be a mystery" Griffin and Rita Dove beforehand seem to be suggesting that a certain relationship to access, a strategic unreadability may be called for "if you can't be free". This connects with my question for Madhu Dubey last week as to whether making black women's texts "readable" is a relevant task. Is that what I am doing? Making black women's texts...needable...
It occurs to me, as I avoid rereading the black male caribbeanist exile classics (Minty Alley, In the Castle of My Skin, Growing Up Stupid, Banana Bottom) that though I am interested in the ways that the objects of my inquiry create relationships to a black literary canon, maybe I am not so interested in the specifics of how they do or do not revise or continue the projects of the scholarship set. Maybe it is enough that the objects of my inquiry refuse to be realist(ic), refuse to discuss landscape in a way that seems to be about claiming and owning it. (Jurina picked up the overdue copy of Earl Lovelace's The Dragon Can't Dance on my nightstand and put it back down because the descriptions of landscape were taking forever. What are they wanting her to do, she asked, recreate Trinidad from scratch after we leave this planet? Make a movie of this text from memory?) So while I realize that I may have to go back to these texts to talk about exactly what is so different about the ways that they are relating to (owning/leaving/revealing/loving) the land, I also want to say that Kincaid, Lorde, Brand, Nourbese Philip, Cliff, Jordan etc are also interested in addressing colonialism and capitalism and racism and neoliberalism even directly. Not that they are unaware of the ways in which they are read inside of a tradition of black writing, but that reproducing the coherence of a black literary tradition, a caribbeanist literary tradition through ironic aping or more properly the practice of signification may not be quite what they are interested in, or what I am interested in. That could be what's queer about it. (Though I must say...the ways that they trope off of each other do deserve a lot of attention, and many syllabi). What I mean to say is that maybe if these writers are truly anti-nationalist they are also more outcast than the exiles. They refuse to inhabit the tradition. They as Karla Holloway does, wear it loose (the terms that bind us) while keeping it close (the confrontation that frames them). So...Alissa Braithwate does a great job of comparing the relationship to reading that the exile male Caribbeanists enact to the relationship to reading that the Caribbean Women Writers make in one of the chapters of her dissertation. Belinda Edmonson does a great job comparing this Victorian Gentlemanhood stuff to the different class subjectivity and gendered position of the CWW's who come after. Michelle Stephens explains the ways that the United States figured in the imaginaries of the black internationalists from the Caribbean who were dealing with the global hegemony of the nation as colonial subjects.
So maybe what I have to say backwardsly critiquing and distinguishing between exile and "diaspora" is only a small small part of what there is for me to do. Maybe that is not something that I necessarily need to reproduce. Maybe making free is not so much about making the texts and lives of Brand, Lorde, Kincaid et al readable in relationship to a known tradition (and in the meantime making myself readable to the people trying to hire me) maybe making free is about audience in a different the addressee of a love poem. Like a letter to, song to, poem to somebody that makes the scene of address more visible and the relationship something in the making (not something simply being described or even signified on) a responsibility (as distinguished from a response). Because there is something about writing a poem for somebody...Phillis Wheatley was even almost always doing this...there is something even about writing a conference paper for some somebodies. There is an energy there that is a poetics, another possible means for another possible production. Something not about owning, or knowing but a represencing of the fact that we are making it up now. (Griffin also says something beautiful about loving her students because they continue to believe in her capacity to grow. Teaching in that sense is reproduction not in the sense of indoctrination, but rather in th sense of being remade by the possibility of relating to someone.) Sarah leads an invisible carnival with a breaking breadstick. Sarah (and Seneca too at that age) is constituted by the audience and is constituting the audience (a vistor? a 15-year old? me?). I think the reason that I am interested in the publishing and teaching practices of these writers is because they are trying to create an audience, theirs is exactly a poetics of relation. So now I can change my assignment to myself and go back to reading all of the dedicated pieces and using a 5-year old burst's worth of energy in the pursuit of entertaining a visitor.
Thanks Sarah.


lex said...

this also has something to do with the letters to editor and hatemails going around now
this also has something to do with refusing the category of the stranger that Hartman talks about
this also has to do with the listening project and 100 emails a day

jef said...

Hello Alexis,

Do you remember me? I borrowed you the book on "Aberrations in Black" at the last CarWom writers conference in Miami. My wanderings on the net led me to your blog and it was nice to see that you are still creating, loving and changing. I've recently printed your EMERGENCY BROADCAST workbook and it is of a great , let's say infinite sort of inspiration. Looks like I'll be heading for Toronto next semester, so perhaps we will be in touch again. All best , Jef.

jef said...

Hi again.

I am happy that the book was useful. May I, in this respect also recommend "Disidentifications: Queers of color and the Performance of Politics" by J.E. Munoz 1999.

And yes, thanks for the kind comment on my blog. One more thing. Please feel free to check one of my latest and ongoing projects... "Queering Caribbean Identities" , as I would very much appreciate any comments you may have on or off-line. It is the most recent post I did today. That is, if you find any time any time :-)

All best, Jef.

TID said...

I was also wandering the net and came across the blog. I am Caribbean and am always trying to find what else exists on the web. It is fascinating to stumble upon such thoughtful writing and dedicated scholarship. I am in the midst of a project right now, but will try to visit often. I am at