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 poems...an 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 product...like 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).