Thursday, April 12, 2007

Translating "Black": From English to England

Finding a Voice: Asian Women in Britian, Amrit Wilson, 1978
Black Women:Bringing it All Back Home, Margaret Prescod-Roberts and Norma Steele, 1980
The Fat Black Woman Poems, Grace Nichols(pictured above), 1984
The Final Passage, Caryl Phillips, 1985
Strangers and Sisters: Women, Race and Immigration, ed Selma James, 1985
Watchers and Seekers, eds Rhonda Cobham and Merle Collins, 1988
Let it Be Told: Black Women Writers in Britian, ed Lauretta Ngcobo, 1988
"The Future of Reproductive Choice for Poor Women and Women of Color", Dorothy E. Roberts, 1990
Passion: Discourses on Blackwomen's Creativity, ed Maud Sulter, 1990
Don't Ask Me Why: An Anthology of Short Stories by Black Women eds. Blackwomantalk Collective, 1991
Kindness to Children, Joan Riley, 1992 (first book published by a women's press in the UK)
Young, Female and Black, Heidi Safia Mizra, 1992
Black Women's Writing, ed Gina Wisker, 1993
From Homebreakers to Jailbreakers: Southall Black Sisters, ed Rahila Gupta, 2003
The Aesthetics of Superfluity, Achille Mbembe, 2004
Katrina, Black Women and the Deadly Discourse on Black Poverty in America, Barbara Ransby, 2006
"Say it Loud: Perspectives on the Black Left", Left Turn Magazine, 2007

Isn't it wonderful when you finally actually see the area of inquiry that your work has been implying all along. Rather like being struck on the forehead by the heel of your own hand. Maybe my first clue should have been my choice to get a PhD in English. Maybe it should have been the "anglophone Caribbean" elements of my work. Maybe it should have been the way I kept buying novels by black british women writers and gifting them to the women in my family. Maybe it should have been the fact that as we all know by now this project is about my mother and grandmother (alongside the wider possibility of women coming before in a way that produces this me) and my mother was born and raised IN bloody England. You get the point. I should have known that my work had something to do with black women in England. But I didn't notice. In fact I had already booked a ticket to London before I realized that the development of "black feminisms" in Britian was a crucial site of my research. So there, to those of you who think quick and smart mean the same.
So my slow dance with destiny had led me to this set of weeks. At the end of the semester, ostensibly done with my qualifyng exams, deep in the production of a national event to end sexual violence, enjoying a visit from my mother...and reading frantically twenty books about black feminist activism and literary production in Britain from the New Cross Massacre to the new and violent terrifying anti-terrorist now. And despite this prelude and the radical inbetweeness of it, this reading turned out to be right on time. Not only does the interesting work of English Collective of Prostitutes, Housewives in Dialogue, Wages Due Lesbians and the other members of the Wages for Housework campaign push and cushion my thoughts about the domestic as an analytic through which to critique diaspora and nation-formation (and cultural nationalism), not only does almost every anthologized black woman writer have a critique of the publishing industry..and indeed what it means to be anthologized at all, and not only does Maud Sulter have the ill afro and small build that makes me think I could impersonate her blissfully, BUT this set of readings has ALSO helped my clarify why exactly it is that with a theoretical archive that does not come close to staying within the English language and an obsession with reading in every language I can find, my literary--primary archive which I thought was just about blackness, or black people or so persistantly Anglophone.
As usual, Brent Edwards is helpful here. While at first I worried that a project like mine, so influenced by Edwards work in the Practice of Diaspora of developing a print archive and a concept of translation or articulation in which diaspora and relationship more generally has to be something in translation that my mono-linguistic sources...just weren't diasporic enough. But this week of reading makes it clear that although articulations of black feminism and solidarity IN ENGLISH are circualating between the United States, Canada, the UK, the Anglophone Caribbean, and South Africa the term "Black" does not describe the same thing at all when one moves from one of these places to the other. So alongside, (African-American, West Indian, East Indian, Afro-Caribbean, Coloured, Indian, Asian) in all of these locations is an investment in the term BLACK. Not just by women who were speaking across different regional definitions of blackness...but who were also MOVING between these different regions and taking on Black as a mode of relationship strategically...and in black ink over and over again. If I am interested in what it means to be black then one place to look is the untranslatability, incommensurability of this term in what would want to be a black diaspora, but is not long as black and african are not quite synonymous.
So here I go into the world with this. First to Black Lily a film and music festival in Philadelphia for "unsung" musicians and filmakers (black?) and then across the pawned to visit my sister and to track down these publications, periodicals, pamphlets. To (w)it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Spelling Lesson

for this and every survivor

is a four-letter word
an instruction after catching fire
a movement behind stop
a command we must memorize
and tell ourselves
if we would be safe

is what we do to the kids
at school, at practice, at auntie's
training for a next that will keep them (running)
warning that they will not be at home anywhere
treason required by our other jobs

is what the dj plays
what the hypeman says
the entrance of the beat(ing)
stretching our skin like a place to call
drowning our knees like a new heartbeat

and today
is what my stomach does
is a frame for the rain
is the shape of the blood
that would seek to be the last word
as if we weren't students as well

but we know how to spell

so when i see D-R-O-P
dropped open in front of me
like it was new(s)
all i do is add you
all of bright breaking you
all of impossibly speaking
light leaking

and the next word is yours


love always,

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Producing the Comparative: Imagining Community Where there is None

Final Passage, Caryl Phillips, 1985
Native Speaker, Chang-Rae Lee, 1995
Beyond Miranda's Meanings, Sylvia Wynter, 1995
TUFF, Paul Beatty, 2000
High Tech and High Heels in the Global Economy: Women, Work and Pink Collar Identities in the Caribbbean, Carla Freeman, 2000
"Contested Histories: Las Hijas de Cuauhtemoc, Chicana Feminisms and Print Culture in the Chicano Movement", Maylei Blackwell, 2003
"Chicana Print Culture and Chicana Studies: A Testimony to the Development of Chicana Feminist Culture", Anna NeitoGomez, 2003
"Reproduction and Misegenation on the Borderlands: Mapping the Maternal Body of Tejanas", Rosa Linda Fergoso, 2003
The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution and the Untimely, Elizabeth Grosz, 2004
"Black Panthers,Red Guardsand Chinamen: Constructing Asian American Identity Through Performing Blackness, 1969-1972", Daryl J. Maeda, 2005

Since I do believe that what Maylei Blackwell call "print culture modes of community" create relationship where there was simply trauma and desire, lack and need, and since I act like this also applies to the internet, this collection of readings is about how community can be produced and what the limitations of my imagination must be.

I read TUFF because someone mentioned it in the Afro/Asian Encounters anthology that I read last week and it seems to me (in the spirit of Paul Beatty's first novel) to use humour to subvert widely held expectations of what community can be. Through what seems like a pretty broad but detailed mastery of cultural markers (first in LA and now in East Harlem) Beatty exposes the place where culinary, street artistic, criminal, literary and politica creativities meet. (A headphone junkie spitting shakespearean oratory before creating his own graffitti written overweight african-american who can order any food or drink in spanish and who finds a strange home within the edgy formalism of sumo wrestling...A hood-rich, money market investing, disabled d-boy...a black rabbi who loves simon and garfunkle etc). What I love about Beatty is that as long as there is something to expressed (especially against the backdrop of death and violence that his main characters) subcultural positions are in a constant process of meeting and transforming each other. However in our conversation about the anthology Afro/Asian Encounters in the Race/Place/Space working group, it became clear that imagining the meeting places of different racialized subcultural groups is much easier than accounting honestly for the places where members of different subcultures capitalizes on each others differential oppressions which is itself still easier than creating lasting coalitions that transcend single-issue moments. I have faith, however, that Beatty is onto and part of something. Subcultural processes, because of the embattled energy that it takes to even imagine that type of community (the risky act of passionately directing oneself towards no known reward) is an energy of production...or i should say is a dynamic that has no choice but to be in the making. At the feminist theory workshop in response to Hortense Spillers' talk on citizenship Wahneema Lubiano suggested that we focus on the dynamics of relation in struggle as opposed to focusing on some kinda citizenship...or maybe even the imagined community in which there can be a secure citizen. So then my reading of Tuff, and Native Speaker and Maeda's article look less for either a solid constituency of multi-culturally literate East Harlem Residents, or an immigrant community/subjectivity that could result in a mayor or a vanguard position that all communities of color could apply in concert and instead dwell in what the authors actually give...which is a mode of production in which figuring out how to speak in the public face of difference produces and changes our relationships to each and every other which is every one.

Reading my own project about the way in which Black Feminist publishing initiatives may have sought to produce an audience through this attention means that I have to be careful about not simply reproducing Anderson, or more importantly not necessarily producing what Anderson says print culture produces which is the nation. I want to distinguish that mode of production and relation and communication engaged by those who i am sometimes calling black feminists didn't couldn't and didn't want to produce a nation. Not just because they were reacting to cultural nationalisms that subjected them to violence, but also because they were writing about what it meant to be in public (with so much at stake..not least their bodies), and also because they were being about what it meant to make something (with so much at stake, not least moynihan). So pivot and squirm on Maylei Blackwell's to use the term "republication" to accurately describe the way that chicana feminists printed conference proceedings and used each others articles to create leverage, contrast and inspiration in different community contexts because with its resonance that word seems to suggest that what we produce when we do that is the a republic. Which maybe I think has already been hijacked too many times as a term, but which I also think could be demanding a different non-national designation through the consequences of her use.

So basically I am saying that Elizabeth Grosz is onto something when she says that we are making our bodies and concepts out of the unpredictable but continual approach of difference through time. The radical women of color bloggers that I align with (who all write about sexual violence, who all guarantee my eternal love through their brave badass committment to being in public with that which seeks to shame us) are not simply applying the strategies of the earlier feminist publishers I always cite....but are also drawing on engagements with punk culture, with a diy ethic, with a techie solipsism and a wiki reach for co-creation. Which is to say that a special journal issue is not the same as a blog carnival and an international women's day march is not the same a the day that we all blog about sexual violence. Even the significances of conferences in the juxtaposed moments changes. The concepts emerging in our modes of production change (us). Change what and how and if we make (sense to each other?love out of each one?). And maybe this is what I need to say to get myself out of the misanthropic dissappointed place that Caryl Phillips' The Final Passage left me, not because the book wasn't beautiful...but because it was so effectively about the disappointments that make sustainable relationships so unlikely so necessary and urgent. This is where I started. Which is to say you may never read this. But I need you (too).