Monday, November 12, 2007

Nobody: Mean more

Some Changes, June Jordan, 1967
"Nobody Mean More to Me Than You: The Future Life of Willie Jordan", June Jordan, 1984
"The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America or Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis Wheatley" June Jordan, 1984
"A Litany for Survival", Audre Lorde, 1978
"A Black Author Speaks Out" James Baldwin (on CBS radio), 1979
Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist, Hazel Carby, 1987
"Policing the Black Woman's Body in an Urban Context", Hazel Carby, 1992
"Of Our Normative Strivings: African American Studies and the Histories of Sexuality", Roderick Ferguson, 2005
Talks at Reconstructing Womanhood: A Future Beyond Empire (aka the Hazel Carby Symposium) November 2007:
“Paranoid Empire and Imperial Déjà Vu: Specters from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib”
Anne McClintock, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"The Stranger’s Work: Desire, Intimacy, Violence, and (Black) Cultural Restoration”
Robert Reid-Pharr, CUNY- Graduate Center
"Reading and Reckoning Histories of Loss" Lisa Lowe, UC-San Diego/Yale University
"Reconstructing Manhood; or the Drag of Black Masculinity" Rinaldo Walcott, University of Toronto
Introduction of Keynote Speaker: Farah Griffin, Columbia University
Keynote Address: "Lost (and Found?) in Translation" Hazel V. Carby, Yale University

You may have noticed that I've been a little bit sparse in my posts over here. It's because the majority of my work has shifted from reading to writing my dissertation. Don't believe the hype by the way...writing a dissertation can be a beautiful thing. I steal every free moment into the freedom of expressing this big collaborative work...and I am grateful to have an interesting community of readers, reviser, co-conspirators to love this with.
The Hazel Carby symposium at Barnard College last weekend was like an intellectual family reunion in the least heteropatriarchal sense. It reminded me that maybe we really are creating a world together. It made me remember the consequences of our words.
Hazel Carby did more than just teach and inspire my favorite teachers, she did more than write an opening into black feminist criticism as a problem and not a solution, she did more than create an African American Studies Department at a school that one of those who would know best has described as a tyrannasaurus rex ("It will eat you and kill your babies.") That would have been enough, I think. But Hazel Carby has done more than that. I didn't know before this event that when Hazel Carby co-edited the critical and crucial anthology The Empire Strikes Back that she was (in every sense) blacklisted from the British academy. Like Claudia Jones in reverse Hazel Carby turned exile into institution building and African American studies is blessed for it. Hazel Carby has been teaching me for a while, directly and indirectly. But now she is teaching me what it means to put everything on the line. Everything on the written line of our marked bodies.
And I am not the only one learning this. And I am learning this not only from my elders. For the past too many days undergraduate students at Columbia University are on a hunger strike a brave move in a struggle to transform a dinosaur that I have been more intimate with into a liveable space of learning and critique. These students are boldly revealing and refusing the belly of a particular beast. This is what it means to put it on the line. This is an intergenerational process (what we make between the times we live is more than what we face, each other).
Hungrily writing a dissertation chapter about queer intergenerationality and black maternity it a different sort of putting it on the line. This essay will never be an equation. It will never be a formula. But it is a problem, because everything is at stake.
In Reconstructing Womanhood, Carby reminds us that rape is not a transhistorical process. While using late 18th and early 19th century black women writers and activists to develop a critique and transformation of late 20th century black feminism, Carby warns against the reproductive essentializing of abjection and oppression. This is even more complicated than it looks. And the social picture is more complicated than it looks too. The social forces of capital, inequity, racist legal discourse etc. act as invisible frames to pictures of what look like black bodies, feminine shapes. Twenty years ago Carby was saying what June Jordan said four years before that in her poetic essay for Phillis Wheately. "It was not natural." Simply put (ha!), the oppression that those of us called black women experience today IS related to the oppression that enslaved black women, segregated black women, experience. But not because we "are relatives". Not because it passes through our blood. Not because of how we keep being miraculous anyway. The relationship between our experiences is a reproduced unnatural relationship. Reproduced through the law, through narrative, through capitalist dehumanization.
And our bodies are open for a whole different thing.
But Pauline Hopkins (co-operative magazine founder, performer, writer, activist, speaker) wrote under he mother's name and her own. And when I write I use my mother's name ("Pauline"!) and my own as well. Non-essentialism doesn't mean not being related.
I love Roderick Ferguson's insistence on the precedent of women of color feminist theorists. I love him for that. And it is rare that I offer love to sociologist that I don't know personally, but I have mad love for Roderick Ferguson (and for Britt for letting me know about his recent article in social text). And like Carby, Ferguson insists on connecting to earlier moments of theory in a brilliantly non-reproductive way.

There is something to learn here about the infinitely dispersed field of relation called love. There is some way to face and share a struggle without branding our skin. There is something to put on the line here...
so back to writing.