Thursday, February 08, 2007
Re: Making each Other
"Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe": An American Grammar Book, Hortense Spillers, 1987
"Cultural Identity and Diaspora", Stuart Hall, 1990
"Diaspora Culture and the Dialogic Imagination", Kobena Mercer, 1990
The Black Atlantic: Double Consciousness and Modernity, Paul Gilroy, 1993
"Whiteness as Property", Cheryl Harris, 1993
"Diasporas", James Clifford, 1994
"The Diasporic Mo(ve)ment: Indentureship and Indo-Caribbean Identity, Sean Lokaisingh-Meighoo, 1994
"Out Here and Over There: Queerness and Diaspora in Asian American Studies", David Eng, 1997
"The Uses of Diaspora", Brent Hayes Edwards, 2001
"The Time of Slavery", Saidiya Hartman, 2002
"The Crowded Space of Diaspora: Intercultural Address andthe Tensions of Diasporic Relation", Tina Campt, 2002
The Practice of Diaspora, Brent Hayes Edwards, 2003
"Diaspora Circulation", R. Cheran, 2003
"Call Centers, India and a New Politics of Hybridity", Reka Shome, 2006
What is (not) diaspora today? To be honest, despite my intense attraction to the term, I hesitate to use it in public. I fear we may have reached a moment where it is impossible for me to mean what I say when I say it. ButI hesitate to throw it away because it remains the most generative category for my thought process. This impossible relation "diaspora". It could be that the impossibility of what diaspora is supposed to narrate across has led to its being appropriated, used, imported (you see the ironies) for the purposes of the nation-state, for the purpose of a knowability that it forecloses. This is the problem that Katherine McKittrick points out when she spoke at the Diasporic Hegemonies II (back and more hegemonic than ever) Conference in Toronto last fall about the difficulty of writing an geographic encyclopedia entry for the term diaspora without reproducing the relationship to space and knowability that term would allow us to escape from (maybe). Maybe it is simply that a diasporic relationship is impossible. But if so, it is also irresistible. I want to steal it.
I am supposed to write about this somewhere else, but this week Fred Moten came to school and talked, poeisized, about stealing away. About the importance of fugitivity, the need for a certain homelessness in order to acknowledge the fact that though we "the black subjects" are before that (the processes of our subjectification/abjection) we can never trace this back to an origin. This, in fact is where Saidiya Hartman, in Lose Your Mother ends up in that final chapter "Fugitive Dream", where for her the members of this community built by escapees of the internal slave trade in West Africa are the ones who can sing to and for the diaspora. Moten mentioned those who stole away AS modern art, bringing up this impulse towards freedom in the context of limited representation. My question seems to be then, does a diasporic framework help me to keep imagining (being present to) and distinguishing between the types of relations that will reproduce the violent system of rape that we are living in and those that offer another mode of production, that allow us another way of making that lets us make something else (or that doesn't require us to make anything at all? that lets us predict and notice and embrace what is present?)? I think so.
Hall especially seems to be concerned with this process of production (predictably). He is committed to an idea of diaspora that acknowledges the PRESENCES of what he calls the African, European and the American...and I would argue that these presences do not necessarily need to be continentalized or spatialized at all each time...and which also, in a Derridean way, is always in the play of producing subjectivity and positionality newly. Diaspora he says is a process of making and remaking. It is the "re" that I am concerned with here and in the rest of these reading. I wonder if the "re" functions as an again that assumes a system of production (a machine)or reproduction as we know it that this remaking happens through (which it seems to me will continue to produce the same...therefore the continuing presence of slavery that Hartman convincingly depicts) or if this "re" can actually function in the way that I think Hall means it: to make differently. In a certain way to unmake or to notify about to respond to (like the "re:" in an email subject heading) what is being produced and how, in order to give us the opportunity to re?late to each other in the too?late now.
Gilroy seems to follow in this tradition, but I am suspicious that the "re"functions like perpetual reproduction to a further extent in Gilroy's TheBlack Atlantic because instead of this "making and remaking" Gilroy will talk about identity "always being remade" (passive and automatic) or the "infinite contruction of identity" (timeless and monumental). Brent Edwards asks a parenthetical question as to whether "adaptation", the term that Gilroy uses to describe black atlantic "exchange" (another term that troubles me...I have a parenthetical question as to whether Tina Campt can mean the same thing by Intercultural Address (which makes the scene of address present) and diasporic "exchange" (the term which she uses to talk about Audre Lordes encounterswith Afro-Germans)) but Edwards asks whether adaptation can be the same as "remaking". I think no. I think adaptation has something to do with both appropriation and that process that turned beloved the book into beloved the movie. That is a move between ways of producing that assumes something basic about production nonetheless (maybe that assumption is that there are things that can be exchanged..that the opacity doesn't stand, that the "other" can be escaped, that we can be made the same without suffering this same shit.)
That said I demand (and must provide) a greater attention to this "reproduction" because I think that it gets played out, even by these Marxist influenced cultural studies people, in a same old way..and I think that gender has something to do with that. The Spillers piece is especially helpful with this because sheis very specific about the distinction between the genetic reproduction of people who will be enslaved and the epistemological, narrative, legislative project that it takes to reproduce the state of enslavement (Harris too), to (re)subjectify the human who exceeds and preceeds this narrative into slave status, which requires a narration of mother that is not mother. The "remotest posterity" of the enslaved woman is narrated to share her "condition" (a powerful claim through which to read "Conditions Five: The Black Women's Issue...which in fact I am doing this weekend). Spillers also does this in a way that is present (the remotest posterity) by invoking the power of that narrative "even now".
So if, as Spillers says, and I believe our project (whoever we are now) is to break apart the logic that make this syntax of enslavement possible (normal even as a global neoliberal logic of use) and to create another narrative, how can "diaspora" or even "critical black diaspora studies" help with this? I think that the questions that Lokaising-Meighoo and Shome raise are helpful with this. What does doubled-diaspora mean for the Afro-Caribbean person in Canada or the US? Are call centers some type of internal diaspora? Is prison a diasporic space? I think that the impossibility of diasporic relation calls us to be present and to be creative and to be listening for the way of creating that will allow us to keep attempting to make this impossible ethical responsible relation to each OTHER.