Monday, February 19, 2007
My Subscription: On Recurrent Issues...
The Black Woman, Toni Cade Bambara (pictured above), 1970
We Walk the Way of the New World, Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti), 1970
Conditions: Five The Black Women’s Issue Barbara Smith and Lorraine Bethel, 1979
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga, 1981.
“Your Silence Will Not Protect You: A Tribute to Audre Lorde” Barbara Christian, 1993
Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality, Evelyn Hammonds, 1994
Reproductions of Reproduction, Judith Roof, 1996
"Making History: An Interview with Barbara Smith by Terrence Heath", 1998
“Here’s the Movement, Let’s Start Building: An Interview with Barbara Smith” Color Lines, 2000
"Building Black Women’s Studies", Barbara Smith, 2000
"Charting a Personal Journey: A Road to Black Women's Studies", Nellie McKay, 2000
"Other Mothers of Women's Studies", Beverly Guy-Sheftall, 2000
No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Lee Edelman, 2004
Big Momma's House 2, Don Whitesell (sic!), 2006
My grandfather taught me the difference between the words "continious" and "continual". My grandfather had a mind for memorizing poems, dictionary entries and duppy stories. For "continuous" he recited "without cessation", but continual slips into vernacular in my memory of how he must have spoken it, again and again and again and again. Periodical, like breathing, like waves, like the naturalized return of the same issues. But you see...this is the place where subscription becomes conscriptions. We are drafted into the reproduction of the status quo through narrative, through faith, through the machines performance of itself as moon, but mostly through our own belief. Another one of Pop-pop's quotables came with the unforgettable sensory aid of Rendezvous Bay ("God's Swimming Pool" they say...and it's true...my grandparents did swim there more than anywhere else in their lifetimes...direct action desegregation of the Perth Amboy pool notwithstading). Pop-pop explained the changing shape and depth of the beach in the way that I needed during the last years of his life. "Each day is the world made new." New. Each day. The contradiction is in the process. What is so new about something that happens each day? Is it made new in the same way? Basically my question remains, does the WAY of making change or is it only the products that change, or is it only what we think the products (our very own lives) mean that changes. Are we the ones that make it new?
I bring these questions to thoughts of publication this week. After Don L. Lee published We Walk the Way of the New World, definining New World as a new black subjectivity produced by African liberation movements and Afro-American consciousness and black historians and singers and psychiatrists and poets and (though he doesn't say this with more than his life's work) the apparatus of black publishing for an ostensibly black audience. Is the creation of a new world the act of making an audience? The act of making something audible (Barbara Smith says that making the invisible visible is a plitical act)? Is making a new world the making of a sound? (I used to imagine, while blowing bubbles that the bubble itself might be a whole planet with its whole system of wet continents complete in the second before popping. I used to imagine that people lived there. For a while I became obsessed with actually eating the bubbles as they popped. I must have wanted to be a place to live.) For Don L. Lee in 1970 (and maybe even as Haki Madhubuti now...but I doubt in the same way), of course, black women are indeed a place to live. In fact the three sections of his book are (by this logic) geographic. He begins with a section of Blackwoman Poems which opens with an epigraph of Negritude poet Leopold Senghor's poem to Africa as black woman as mother lover something or other, moves on to a section entitled Africa and then to a section entitled New World. We (he makes clear in the introduction) are black men with cameras and cars and a hip way of walking. Black modernity here includes community accountability defined as a something which is directly juxtaposed with supposedly white-taught homosexuality. This issue recurs in Toni Cade Bambara's The Black Woman, which while responding to the objectification of black women in nationalist ideologies (through Don's black nationalist compadres and Moynihanian sociology, retains the black man as the most immediate and directly addressed audience of the text and (with the exception of an interesting suggestion by Bambara herself that we (men and women) should not be afraid of becoming androgynous because gender role are something that can only be created IN the revolutionary process..not assumed and enforcedfrom the outset) is soldily heterosexist and sometimes outright homophobic in its insistence that the women's empowerment it is demanding is the solution to (not the advancing of) Amazonianism and Faggotry (to refer to terms).
*Aside here. Under strange circumstances I saw one of the many black male actor as mammy-esque elder black obese woman films on television last weekend. The ideology was clear. This black man, becomes a black woman (easily, but hilariously) in order to nurture the white family and protect the state (us quo), revealing that this (the buildling up of the white middle class nuclear family--which Pat Parker by the way wants explicitly to destroy---IS the protection of the state. So a black FBI agent dressed as a fat black mammy who actually is willing to take a bullet while his pregnant wife and growing son wait a home for him in order to save the white patriarch actually makes sense. Judith Roof says that the move from analog to digital (from metaphor to metonymy) causes an anxiety about the reproduction of the patriarchy. In response the sperm gets a heroic narrative and Arnold Swarzenegger gets pregnant and the mario brothers save the world. How..though does race play out here. Does it matter which black person reproduces the patriarchy? If, as Spillers points out the actual physical reproduction of slaves is not sufficient to reproduce enslavement as a state, and therefore an ideological narrative of black women as legally productive of enslaved status is necessary, then in the genetic age (with the use of Henrietta Lacks's racialized overproductive cells in labs worldwide) how do black women get narrated? How important does it become that DNA evidence proves that black women cannot be raped around the corner of my house...for example....
And Conditions 5 (which I described to Nia this week as "the most important periodical publication ever"...mostly because it created and imagined me within a possible audience) addresses THESE of heterosexism and audience production issues becoming the bridge between the full inhabitation of the space of the periodical Conditions of white mainstream middle class feminism and the creation of different apparatus for the (re?)production of that audience in Kitchen Table Press. So between the "special issue" and the anthology there is a dialogic process going on. There is a rejection of the coherence of the so called whole...the so-called united front presented in anthologies during the black arts movement, a mode of production that depends on the marginalization of certain queeries..shall we call them. But at the same time there is definitely a desire for something that will last, a relationship in the making that can still be monumentalized. Thus This Bridge Called my Back , for example is made up largely of journal entries (you know...old school blogs) and letters to moms, to sisters in struggles, conversations with biological and chosen sisters, but at the same time as the "movement", the literary world and academic institutions all remain relevant and necessary spaces for these "radical women of color", something that transcends this moment of relations and remains as a legacy is in mind. Barbara Smith when she sees the "movement" says it outright "let's start building!" and in her essay on her role in founding what could be called Black Women's Studies she calls black women's studies her "legacy" and is pleased that it will be something that will last. Now this all comes on top (in my temporality as reader/listener) of Wahneema Lubiano's statement that black studies is always unfinished and that is a good thing. Each. Day. Is. The World. Made New. Though unborn at the time I situate myself in the audience that these women were creating with their poetics of the moment. So does that make their acts of publication reproductive? Or just productive? Or is it me, making them relevant everytime and asking you to make them relevant as a I shape my relationship to you now.
Lee Edelman of course is suspicious of this futurity and for him it is so not queer. But isn't it a queer thing (see Audre Lorde's Turning the Beat Around: Lesbian Parenting 1986) for black lesbians to think that they have some stake in creating a future, that they have some long-lasting audibility given that the status quo was a structure for their extermination? When Barbara Christian says that it is THIS (a long this) generation that needs and uses Audre Lorde's words (and Nia and Aishah and Alexis say yes. yes. THIS is US.) isn't that a queer thing? A better thing, than the abandonment of the social that hurts, the concession to the drive FOR our deaths that would tell the story in a way that denies that we are here screaming even now? Is it not a queer thing to make a promise, make love, knowing that each is impossible, not only because of the gap between the sign and the signified, but also because of the ways in which certain racialized "non-reproductive" bodies are made to BE that gap (see Hammonds). Isn't it a queer thing then...to build a bridge?