Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Shoreline (Saturday Mornin' Version

How excited am I about y'all reading my dissertation? Words cannot express! And true teacher/tract-passer-outer, black feminist evangelist style I want to have interfaces for you in every learning style and every preferred way of knowing. is a "take home message" abridged version of the prologue love letter to you!
Remember to be thinking of me with "yes in mind" from 9am-11am Monday morning!

For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

for those of us who cannot indulge the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going

in the hours between dawns

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed


like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours.

-from Litany for Survival by Audre Lorde

This is spiritual and stolen work. We are the dream-children caressing doorways, looking for what breadcrumbs were left here. Teacher-poet-visionaries Audre Lorde and June Jordan did (not) survive their lifetimes. Writer-publisher-renegades Alexis De Veaux and Barbara Smith sacrificed wealth, health, and stability to (almost) leave a legacy in print. I am a dreamchild, crucial but nevermore alone, searching basements, independent under-funded archives, and e-bay for evidence. Lest our dreams reflect the death of theirs. This is for us, at once before and after, seeking another kind of now.

For those of us who live at the shoreline...

This is for those of us who live at the shoreline, and those of us who live on the deadline, hustling to make a living off ever more glamorous analyses of systematic death. Driven by the intellectual marketability of the paradox: Though life is all we can theorize, some lives remain incomprehensible. Though death is the limit of theory, some deaths are so predictable as to seem understandable. We are the purveyors of the horizon, approaches to sensibility that continue to recede, because life escapes us, and death prevails. For those of us who live on the shifting edge of the world, close or brave or stupid enough to sell the details of the line we walk, to guess the conversation between sea, sand and air...for those of us who know the truth of erosion and bet against it. This is for us. Beloved community. We are neighbors, if not housemates, if not soulmates sharing organs. (See? We were never meant to survive.)

But we want each other.

Drawing on Audre Lorde’s theory of the erotic, this dissertation is located at the point of a desired rendezvous, the desire for our differently named and positioned analytics for each other. The excellence, the fullness of our critical practice comes, I think, from our willingness to live in this meeting space. You are an audience that I want (to exist).

I wrote this dissertation at home, at the shoreline, a place that I define as a queer place, a diasporic site of knowledge production, theft and sale, a place that helps us learn about survival. Survival, here, is the name for the intervention, the shared need that brings a Black feminist use of critical Black diaspora theory and queer theory together in this dissertation.[1] The structure of the dissertation follows the shape of the shoreline. The chapters examine the edges of Black feminist literary historiography and criticism by tracing the implications, the tidal significance, the disappearance and re-emergence of Black feminism as a queer practice dispersed through space and time.

The shoreline is an organizing metaphor in this dissertation, which describes the spatial and temporal position of the subject matter as well as the approach I will use to engage the topic of Black feminist literary historiography. The shoreline is a queer place, more than marginal, the shoreline erodes, it is the contested limit of the nation-state, the place where the refugee stands, where the land erodes, where elements live, where the wind howls the loudest. The shoreline also reveals a queer and repetitive time, lunar and recurring with difference and cycles, but no clear progression. The shoreline, useful as a metaphor that signifies the shifting ground of identification and political practice, is useful to contemporary activists who address multiple issues. I choose to follow Lorde’s invocation of the shoreline, instead of the spatial categories of the margin or the intersection because of the queer diasporic beckoning of the shore, the Caribbeanist motivation of my study of Jordan and Lorde in particular and because using the shoreline as a heuristic allows me to think critically about the legacies and limitations of the categories of intersection and margin that have been so instructive in anti-oppressive theoretical work.

Sebastian Margaret, a genderqueer disability activist who organizes around access and power, critiques the way that intersectionality is usually framed as some collection of “Tupperware boxes” and instead argues for an understanding of multiplicity that resembles the tide, particular issues move to the foreground and others move to the background depending on the particular facet of oppression a multiply oppressed person is experiencing or responding to proactively.[2] In other words, the ground that we stand on shifts, which is also a diasporic concern, highlighting the way that displacement, the violence of dispersal and queer relationships to the hegemony of the nation make the boundaries of political units and identities unstable.

I argue that here, at the shoreline, where space and time are stolen, we are in need of a robust and transformative redefinition of survival. This dissertation inhabits the dead, live and haunting remains of Black lesbian and bisexual feminists Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Alexis DeVeaux and Barbara Smith for all of us, this instant, and this triumph.

For those of us who are practicing a different kind of mothering, in childcare collectives and non-patriarchal families, as radical doulas and midwives, the period of experimentation between 1968-1996 by anti-capitalist anti-imperialist Black feminists offers alternative theories of home through the anthology Home Girls, and June Jordan’s anti-imperialist collections of poetry Living Room; alternative theories of domesticated labor through June Jordan and Alexis DeVeaux’s elaboration of “poetry as housework,” in Essence; alternative ideas of family through Audre Lorde’s articles on “lesbian parenting” and “mothering ourselves” and each other, especially relevant in a time period of economic shift when, similar to the Reagan era, funding for community services like housing, welfare, healthcare and education are declared bankrupt while massive amounts of state money goes towards military invasions and private sector bailouts.

For those of us who are organizing to end violence against women of color in the face of mass media vilification of survivors, the forgotten strategies of these Black feminists, who organized against police brutality, rape, domestic violence and womanslaughter are important to remember as we too stand on the constant edges of decision built by legal practices designed to criminalize self-defense by oppressed people while downplaying the severity of crimes that draw on the logics of racial violence like noose-hangings, gang rapes, truck draggings and the kidnapping and torture of women of color.[3]

For those of us determined to teach the world open, to instigate the unlearning of oppression and nurture the growth of livable, loving logics, the pedagogical experimentation and faith of these Black feminist professors, and community workshop facilitators can impact what, how and if we teach in university classrooms and in our communities in the age of what radical feminists of color are now calling the Academic Industrial Complex.[4]

For those of us who write, read and live the poetic as a radical practice of collaborative creation[5], these Black feminist poets offer an intergenerational archive with which to engage as readers and practitioners of poetry, generating a definition of poetry that turns the (re)production of language into life itself and an intervention into the practice of form that offers alternative forms of sociality and possibility for all of us.

For those of us who hold out foolish hope that our borrowed time in universities need neither kill our spirits nor tame our vision, I offer this critical literary work itself as a model of intergenerational practice, a method of engagement and survival full of faith, love and poetic falling apart as an intervention into what we mean by scholarship and where that ship should take us. This is spiritual work, an offering made of love. For all of us.

[1] The word “Black” though often repeated is never quite redundant in this essay. The feminist practice of this dissertation is always modified by the word “Black” in honor of the self-identified Black feminist theorists who are featured in this dissertation and who make this work possible. Because of the political tension which remains within and around the discourse of feminism, feminism does not stand alone.

[2] Sebastian Margarget at “Intertwined” a workshop sponsored by Southerners on New Ground, April 22, 2009, Durham, North Carolina.

[3] On the Jena Six case when Black children were charged with attempted murder in a schoolyard fight instigated by the hanging of nooses from a tree on public school property: accessed January 25, 2010. On the New Jersey 4 case when young Black lesbians were charged with attempted murder after defending themselves from a racist and homophobic attacker: accessed January 25, 2010. On the Megan Williams case where a young Black woman was held captive and tortured for weeks by 6 white assailants: accessed January, 25th 2010. On the 1998 Texas truck dragging lynching: accessed January 25, 2010 and a similar more recent lynching in Paris, Texas in 2008: accessed January, 25th, 2010.

[4] For example see the language of the Campus Lockdown: Women of Color and the Academic Industrial Complex Conference at University of Michigan. (—site expired, referenced at viewed January 25th 2010)

[5] Here I depend on Sylvia Wynter’s definition of the poetic as that which creates new relationships between human beings, each other and their environment by seeking (and failing) to describe what those relationships could be, beyond objectification, in a manner that is disruptive of the product to product relationship of capitalism in “Ethno or Socio Peetic” in Alcheringa....

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