Sunday, January 28, 2007

Accumulation: A Lot of Writing to Do

"What is Critique", Michel Foucault, 1978
Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, Edouard Glissant, 1989
Black Women Novelists and the Nationalist Aesthetic, Madhu Dubey, 1994
Every Woman I've Ever Loved: Lesbian Writers on their Mothers, Catherine Reid and Holly Iglesias eds , 1997
Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family, Lee M. Silver, 1998
Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity and Victorian Culture, Jennifer Brody, 1998
Black Women Writers and the American Neo-Slave Narrative: Femininity Unfettered, Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu, 1999
Giving and Account of Oneself, Judith Butler, 2005
"What is Critique: An Essay on Foucault's Virtue", Judith Butler, 2006
Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds: The African Diaspora in Indian Country, Sharon Holland and Tiya Miles, 2006
When "Free" Means Losing Your Mother: The Collision of Child Welfare and the Incarceration of Women in New York State, 2006
Justice Now Statement Opposing Prison Expansion and Eugenics, 2007
Center for Genetics and Society (Egg Extraction and Sex Selection), 2007

I have
a lot of writing to do. And when I finish writing this I will be more (behind) than when I started. Glissant makes me feel like I am underwater, crafting chains into words in a language I don't know. Breathing somehow. I have a lot of wrting to do and the only thing I do is make more. I am trying to explain the place where "put your hands on the hood of the car" becomes "throw your hands in the air" becomes "alexis. say something deep. we aint got much time." Deep is actually the right word. My hands are reconnecting with air, afraid of what it means to have fingers heavy enough to type this. At some point I must have raised my hand. My hands are being hailed before my knowledge with similar amounts of urgency, but different qualities of audience derived need. I am hearing the hails of haters, fame and family all at once. I insist the the last one be the loudest. I insist that the last one be the loudest. But I can't stop wanting the crowd to move and the haters (those who would make me stranger, those who would make me enemy) are persistant as hell. They are more likely to respond to this blog than you are.
Yeah. Hell is persistant. And deep and wet. Glissant quotes Walcott "The unity is submarine." Chain links thicker than my fingers ring me round as I sit here typing on this little banged up titanium computer. Daughterhood in the face of death is present for me like a stone necklace. I just sent the "layout" for the words (my fathers rhyming words, my grandparents hollowing names) to someone who will scratch them into stone and lay them on my chest. Will lay them on whatever's left. And this week I've been thinking about genetic futurity, about whether it really matters that I leave some genes case those genetic heirs decide that they won't let my body fuel the ground and grow in the radioactive mess we're making. Lee Silver talks about genetic enhancement as a free market choice inevitable and normalizable for a privileged married set of somebodies (gay or not) who will make a new species in their attempt to escape class difference, a difference which he manages to completely cement and at the same time ignore throughout his interesting book. The Center for Genetics and Society would ask what about the source of these egg donations, what about the sexism that everyone is getting born into (they ask and I come in on the chorus) what about what we make? What about the way are using "reprogentics" already through sex selection and stem cell extraction to reproduce a way of being born that feels much like hate. And Justice Now would ask yes. What about the social conditions? What about the women in prison who are being sterlized..while "gender responsive" prison expansion passes through legislative bodies. What is it we are reproducing? Monsters, not in the sense of the green skinned photosynthesizing but in the sense of people who really refuse to see each other and continue to use each other. People who really think that we can become immune to each other or at least to death.
Judith Butler, who also came to visit this week (see my summary one day soon in the Women's Studies Newsletter) emphasizes in her essay on Foucault's talk on critique emphasizes the impossibility of this immunity. I wonder though if Butler and I think up and coming art historian Ignacio hinted at this during our seminar with her, maybe...I wonder what the power of discourse becomes for her and whether it does the universalizing thing that even Adorno says is violent because it can be (has to be) indifferent to the specific, to the human, to the now. I wonder how one (say this one) could address a need for specificity. Queen Karla this morning admitted wanting to ask Butler (while we were sharing how beautiful and personally salient we found Precarious Life and Giving and Account of Oneself) "how do you know?" Who is it that made you have to learn mourning in the way that resonates so deeply here. Not that she should be forced to write an autobiography...but to what extent am I called to do speak in the first person (something I just advised one of the Women's Studies Honors Thesis Writers to do this week). How much do I have to disclose? In what kind of way do I have to listen to myself? In what kind of way do I have to edit myself?
As you see the Women in Prison Project released a report last year with almost the same title as the Saidiya Hartman book that I spent almost the whole last entry on. Women in Prison Project, a reform organization (and a bright green copy of Rosa Luxembourg's "Reform or Revolution" glares into the corner of my eye. And I wonder if it shares the tactic that I find confusing or disturbing in Hartman...and empahsis on the child that makes the mother literally and the means of production more generally harder to see. I am not satisfied completely with the readability narrative that Dubey gives (why should black women writers be more Readable...why should access be granted yet....but then how can it not be? How I mean is readability something with a value that can be asked for from a reader and actually answered. But I am more dissatisfied with Beaulieu in a book deceptively subtitled "femininity unfettered" when it should be entitled femininity assumed to be a privilege an then not discussed. For next time I insist that I must be able to say what femininity is or can be since I haven't been able to find it. Brody as well talks about the "feminized" as I think some sort of violence and uses it in her title...but I want to ask her (and maybe I will tomorrow) what she means.
Alright. I am late as usual. Holler back that you don't hate me.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Use it or Lose It: Back to Reproduction

Illuminations, Walter Benjamin, 1966
Reflections, Walter Benjamin, 1976
Turning the Beat Around: Lesbian Parenting 1986, Audre Lorde, 1988
Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities, Rhoda Reddock, 2004
Dexterity, Julie Dexter, 2002
Real Women Have Curves, Patricia Cordoso, 2002
Born into Brothels Zana Briski and Rob Kauffman, 2003
Conscious, Julie Dexter, 2004
Memoirs of a Geisha, Rob Marshall, 2005
Tsosti, Gavin Hood, 2005
Game Theory, The Roots, 2006
Lovers, Dreamers and Me, Alice Smith, 2006
Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman, 2007

Saidiya Hartman's book Lose Your Mother, came in the mail and held me captive. Including breaks for a planning meeting about a curriculum for a mother/daughter program (seriously) and reluctant sleep, I was in Saidiya's hold for two days. It would be unfair and innappropriate to say, based on the critique that Hartman offers of love, of kinship, of brith of everything to simply say that my interpretation of these of other items was born out of Hartman's analysis. But as Hartmant herself is the first to point out: everything is unfair.
I have been listening to Hartman read excerpts from this book for four years now. Thus my concession to pre-ordering the book on Amazon months in advance. It's the first book that I have bought new in quite some time. This book, titled in the form of an impossible command, Lose Your Mother, commands more than my attention. It demands a certain rigor from me in every articulation I make from now on about race, about Africa, about the differences between the ways in which I am needed by my family (an institution) and needed by my university (an institution). It calls into question every voice I myself heard screaming while I was in the slave dungeons at Elmina. It makes me ask exactly what it was that knocked my voice out of me afterwards...and what exactly brought it back.
Alongside her memoiristic and rhythmic account of her time in Ghana as a "stranger", alongside her rehistoricization of a past that has become mythic: an economic system of violent and a logic in which certain humans were expendable that preceded and constituted race instead of the tragic story through which a race split apart from itself...alongside this challenge to what diaspora could be (she explains that when her African colleagues mentioned "the diaspora" they might as well have been saying "stranger" which meant "slave", she explains that for them the African in African American (the Afro in Afro-Caribbean?) was not the same African they meant when they said themselves, she explains that for them Africa ended at the boundaries of the continent. Period.) Alongside this problematization of a dreamt of black solidarity based on race that she must replace with a logic of fugivity (flight, failure and huntedness with an oppositional dream of connection as the basis for a politics) she places a narrative about her mother. About losing her mother. About rejecting the (slave?) name that her mother gave her, rejecting the job (slave) that her mother wanted (her) to have, rejecting every rule that her Mississippi raised mother tried to use to save her from the ravenous Brooklyn police. (Her father was not loss...he is loss itself. She describes Caribbean migration as something with no time for dreams of Africa, explaining that their own loss of landedness or belonging was too recent on that side, inadvertently (or intentionally?) cementing the diachronic break between those transatlantic points on the Triangle trade). And at the same time, Hartman haunts us with a new mother, a means of intellectual and economic production through which "a slave is born". The historical narrative is mother inasmuch as it produces subjectivity and longing. Capitalism is mother, as it produces slaves as a thing to possibly be. Most challenging, most disturbing, slavemaster is mother creating a bond of bonds and bondage impelling the slave which he has "made" to stay within the network that sustains him.
Because the metaphor of birth, that painful pushing out of something that was not there before from a womb and shitting, the pushing out of something that was not there before through the colon is never quite distinguished in this text. Like a racist joke about black maternity and bowel movement, this radical demythification of the affect of motherhood makes this text a fulfillment of its command and a challenge to she (to me) who would theorize motherhood, who would theorize love, who would look there for some miracle of being related. For Hartman the possibility of the fungible slave (called odonkor--"love" "don't go") changes forever what love can mean. Calls into question whether love can mean. At all. Because the mother wants the child to stay in the mortal world...not to be possessed by the spirits...not to return into death and the slavemaster wants the slave to stay too. Because need (like the colon pushed up against the uterus) is right up under, right there next to love. Right there.
So Hartman's text reminds me of why I need Lorde's theorization of difference. Because though difference (already existing) was used to justifiy raiding and selling Other humans into slavery for no real return, for no possible return, Lorde insists that difference is a creative energy, challenging us to create relationships to each other, across it. Challenging us to be impossible parents against the extermination that AIDS, racism, apartheid etc threaten.Hartman's revelation of the links between kinship and enslavement is also a challenge to create relationship in a different way (for those of us who love in doorways)...because I cannot believe it is refusal of relationship as such. I do not believe that Hartman's text gives up. Hartman is not, in this text, teaching me to give up.
Benjamin says that the author who does not teach writers teaches no one, and so these writers become teachers as they inform my action. And I heed Benjamin's call (not) to (be a) hack author. To make art that in itself is a different relationship to production. I wrote the proposal for my part of the forthcoming Love Production project of the International Black Youth Summit while listening to Julie Dexter and foreshadowing my own renewed reading of what is for me the essential and classic Benjamin, "The Author as Producer". So in fact the only thing that I should write about is that. Is the way that writers, the writers that teach and (re)produce me do that, make that relation. In the age of cybernetic reproduction. And at the same time I have to ask what reproductions make the same.
Does Born in Brothels...countering the unaccepted (always pathologized in this film) non-reproductive sex work of mothers with the reproductive training of photography really produce something new. Is a crusade to get eight kids "out of the brothels" reproducing the abjection that their mothers are already facing? As if the still images that the kids make and that win the directors an Academy Award can actually stop the cycles of impoverishment on a global scale that make life unsafe or miserable or whatever it is besides colorful in a brothel. In fact the project of the film itself repeats Hartman's command, "Lose Your Mother", this children MUST be admitted to boarding schools. Must not live with their contaminated mothers. Must be given up towards the dream of a "holistic" environment on land bought for a school funded by the photos that these children have taken away from the grief of their mothers.
Does Tsotsi, with its compelling story of an infantalized grown up street child in South Africa who is attracted by fate and failed maturity to baby from the black upper classes do more than reinvoke the family as the only thing, as the site of failure and the reason for criminality. What do these fetishizations of children and demonizations of poor families do to condone a structure that can fund more and more film so long as the status quo gets reproduced? Tsotsi runs away from home as his mother lies of her death bed as his father quardrapeligiazes a dog because he can. Tsotsi raises his hands into a back the baby, gives himself up to the cops.
And Memoirs of a Geisha are you kidding me? What bankruptcy to relationships between women become when the institutionalized version of a predominant production of women as commodities becomes a cinderella story where the deserving bluest eyed girl can become the top commodity and be saved by the CEO and only the CEO of a power plant. Another story of dubious salvation that has to begin with the death of a mother.
And how do we put it back together the Roots put this historicization of violent relationships in context when they say "Pilgrim, Slave, Indian, looks real fucked up for your next of kin." Indeed the dominant kinships, disavowed and denied again and again are those of violent use, where women and children and the affect they can bring become commodities, make surplus...are expendable. It looks real fucked up. This is the imperative we have to change relationships to refuse reproduction or to listen to the teachings that the writers have been making and make something different out of the difference we relate across. Julie Dexter does this by insisting on some kind of diasporic home ('home' she says 'is who you know') and the Roots do it again on the way out. With their voicemail, piecemeal mixtape of tributes to J Dilla taken, like Flannery O Conner and so many other genuises by lupus, with their beautifully orchestrated gut bass, crashmixed tribute to he greatest composer contemporary, heartbeat to hiphop stopped, the Roots are trying to put it back together Benjamin and Hartman repeat it. Even the dead are not safe if we ignore them. If we lose.

Monday, January 08, 2007

What a Free People Would Look Like

Is Freedom We Making: Revolutionary Grenada, Merle Hodge(above), 1982
"The Site of Memory", Toni Morrison, 1990
"Cotton and Iron" Trinh T. Min-ha, 1990
"Talking Back" bell hooks, 1990
"marginality as site of resistance" bell hooks, 1990
"Castration or Decapitation?", Helene Cixous, 1990
"Reflections on Exile", Edward Said, 1990
"Explantation and Culture: Marginalia", Gayatri Spivak, 1990
"Thoughts on Nomadic Aesthetics and the Black independent Cinema: Traces of a Journey", Teshome H. Gabriel, 1990
For the Life of Laetitia, Merle Hodge, 1993
Female Masculinity, Judith Halberstam, 1998

I've been quoting Ralph Ellison to an excess. "This society is not likely to become free of racism." And there is proof everywhere. My school is more committed to the supposed 'innocence' of rich young white men with histories of violence than it is to my basic well-being. "So it is up to Negroes to become their idea of what a free people would look like." And Hallelujah of my mentor has left the obviously inconsequential Campus Culture Commission to spend her time (i'm sure) on something more beautiful, valuable and real for all of us. I mean what is the point of a campus commission against racism when the bottom line is that wealth and the myth of racial innocence are more important than whether I continue to survive. Worst case scenario: some crazy black woman (me) who shouldn't be here anyway...throws off all pretenses of well-adjusted tokenism when she is forced to teach some flagrantly murderous student and bites hishead off (literally). Worst case scenario the next day the chronicle runs a headline "See? See how they are?" Not likely to become free of racism...
So what does a free people look like. What is the visual poetic act that Ellison is calling for? (plug: www.listeningproject.blogspot) What would a free people look like? That question goes beyond the terrain of most of the essays that I read from the Out There anthology, and I mean terrain literally. That question goes beyond dsicussions of the margin and the center...the power of inhabiting the margin, having a priveleged view of "both" spaces (hooks),or nomad sensibility (Gabriel), or the ethics of (possibly inherited) exile (Said), or privatized public silencing (Spivak), or the school of hard knocks (Morrison). But freedom is still a spatial relation and a gendered one. And space requires specificity. And it is key that our bodies not become the reservations, the ghettoes, the camps, the prisons that make the "normal" world profitable. Collective childcare does not look the same in NYC as it does in Durham NC (as I noticed this weekend). The creation of kinship through cell phone top-5 is not the same as a village drum circle. The flight from home (and nationalist false hopes) over the Caribbean Sea to Miami, New York, Toronto is not the same as a reverse transatlantic boat trip from Trinidad to England. That difference matters. As Audre Lorde says again and again...difference is what pushes us to consciously create our relations, our tellings. And some things remain at stake across technological eras, bodies of water, residential housing set-ups. And that matters too the same (but different?) with our voices.
So what I am trying to say is directed to you and to me and also to all of the activists that I'm working with their shared desires to share in the glamour of "creating a model". I want to say that yes...somethings like our well-being, our self-determination, our ability to create nurturing relationships, our self-expression, the sacred and lewd love that we can have for our own bodies, the millions of ways that we are and can be connected to each other...are at stake...across and across and across. But difference that which prompts us to speak...that which makes relation (telling) relevant to begin with is also a warning not to turn our visioning, our activism, our best things, our "us" into products. Into the new slaves of the information age where our silence (or co-optation) our affect is more important than our labor (wild paraphrase of Lorde again).
Right. I promise to be more engaged with the specifics of the texts nexts time. And did I say...check out the listening project. My archive (back to this thing about margins)is not bound by the strategy. My archive is alive (and I'm making a beautiful book about it.)