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Notes Towards Day 20: (Can There Be) Death Without Weeping?

Notes Towards Day 20 of
Critical Feminist Studies

(How Can There Be)
Death Without Weeping?


Urban Outcries--Death Without Weeping, VII

I. coursekeeping
celebrate our naming="knowing" one another
papers due @ 5 p.m. tomorrow, both on-line &
in hard copy (along with last marked paper)

on Tuesday, turning to last portion of the course:
transdisciplinarity/interdisciplinarity; or:
How most effectively to talk/write about/
represent issues we've been discussing?

first set of questions are curricular:
how best design a curriculum to represent
the world as it is/as we would like it to be?
1983 essay by Peggy McIntosh,
"Interactive Phases of Curricular Re-vision: A Feminist Perspective"
great way to frame our discussion of what else to read/see in this class;
come ready to figure that out (post/read/think/repost...
am detecting a current movement is toward film,
for various very good reasons....)

N.B.! Dr. Peggy McIntosh will be visiting campus next Tuesday (November 18th) to lead a variety of workshops throughout the day on a variety of issues surrounding privilege, as well as give a talk Tuesday night at 7:30 pm in Thomas Great Hall entitled, "Coming to See Privilege Systems: The Surprising Journey".

Dr. McIntosh is associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and founder and co-director of the United States S.E.E.D. Project on Inclusive Curriculum (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity). She consults widely in the United States and throughout the world on injecting the dimension of privilege into discussions of gender, race, class, and sexuality. She is the recipient of the Klingenstein Award for Distinguished Educational Leadership from Columbia Teachers College.

II. Stephanie and Hilary to "kick us off" today....
shall I forget my review of Spivak, finish it first, or....?

III. Pulling out of Spivak on "A Literary
Representation of the Subaltern," continued....
(having already worked our way through the claims that
1. historical and literary representations are both discursive
2. author's own reading: parable
3. subject-position of teacher and reader: gendered subaltern
4. elite Marxist-Feminist approaches:
failed exchange value of "professional mother"'s surplus milk
5. elite liberal feminist approaches:
knowledge inadequate to its object

we arrive next @

6. elite approaches: theory of women's body
women's orgasmic pleasure
a way out of reductive identifications
"in the speaking being something knows more than he does" (Lacan):
limit to claim to power of knowledge: subject more map/graph than self

knowing-place of writing "others" the self:
map of speaking being beyond its own grasp:
jouissance (excess) of being: place that cannot be known
unexchangeable excess tamed into exchange:
"what is this"="what is this worth"=
"what does this mean"=signification

Jashoda's body the place of knowledge
literary language allows us to
take a persistent distance from the rationalist project
"If you suckle you're a mother, all lies...The sores on her breast kept mocking her with a hundred mouths, a hundred eyes."
Sontag re: de-metaphorization of disease
(possible? politically necessary? only doc judges by absolute standard)
"Hindu" phantasmatic order: narrative of sanctioned suicide
(262-3): Jashoda as "God manifest" inconsistent
w/ logic of rest of narrative

philosophical monotheism introduced in
satiric indexing of ideological use of goddesses: willed death?

final sentence deeply ambivalent/value undecidable:
paradox of knowledge of the limits of knowledge
strongest assertion of agency is
to negate the possibility of agency

logical irrelevance of opening narrative sequence
cook the real marginal in terms of narrative value
combating liberal-nationalist-universalist humanism
(autonomy of art, authority of author)
in voice of the marginal who disappears:
irreducible inscrutability of pleasure of woman's body
"What is there to tell?"
Kristeva theorizes abject mother, imaginary father...
exploitation/domination in materiality of myth of foster-mother

7. considerations specifically of gendering
basic techique of representing subaltern as object of
gaze "from above," vs. Hindo god seen "from below"
Jashoda constituted by patriarchal ideology;
self-confident from ideological conviction: dominant sexual ideology
(266:) careful ironic distancing of author
undone in 3 propositions @ end:

God manifest/God's death/forsaken and alone
arrogance of monotheism complicitous w/ polytheistic victimage
solemn judgement of end: makes us unsure of truth frame
notice other frames: foster-mother is motherless
violent neologism of breast-giving
cancer signifies oppression of gendered subaltern:
parasite flourishes @ expense of the host
not caught in realism: fabulistic cast-->
what is "truth in gendering" here?
text upstages writer, reader:
susceptible to history larger than either

IV. very deconstructive/Derridean
(upcoming: his "Women in the Beehive"!)
Spivak made her reputation by translating/
prefacing his "Of Grammatology"

short course:
Every phenomenon has a history/
cannot be understood without understanding its genesis.
That origin is never some pure unity or simplicity,
but an "originary complexity" out of which history emerged.
This thought of originary complexity, which destabilises both genesis and structure, sets Derrida's deconstructive work in motion....

His way of achieving this -->conducting thorough readings of texts, with an ear to what runs counter to their apparent unity and intended sense. By demonstrating these ellipses, Derrida hoped to show the infinitely subtle ways that this originary complexity, which by definition cannot ever be completely known, works its structuring and destructuring effects.

(sound familiar?)

Stephanie, Hilary?

V. Nancy Scheper-Hughes on
The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil
effect of scarcity/hostile environment/high expectancy of
child death on maternal thinking/feeling
alternative woman-morality experience-distant to many
different mother-love: an emotion shaped by overwhelming
economic, cultural constraints

cf. rchauhan: "so intimate a thing as personal and human identity might be determined by the politics of imperialism" (Spivak, re: Rhys)

ebock: I think we assumed in class today that motherhood is universal. I think we assumed a mother's love for her children, the ways in which she loves her children, and the unconditionality of her love is something that transcends culture. I really don't think that this is the case...

hpolak: "the anthropologist...must begin, although cautiously, from a respectful assumption of difference" (355). I tried to act as an anthropologist in reading this material, and I definitely had a hard time. I always assumed motherhood and that unique bond between a mother and child as being universal and surpassing cultural barriers. This piece showed me that environmental factors can have an effect on even this love which I thought to be unshakeable.

"is this child worth keeping?"

ethnoeugenic selective/mortal/benign neglect
storytelling: personal yet respectful distance?

cf. Sara Ruddick re: myths of
powerful/powerless mothers: primary agents/victims
two interpretive risks: attribute own ways of being to others,
or cast them as powerless, without agency
not grief, but indifference
not universalizing, not essentializing AND/BUT not overdistancing
"overproduction of difference": mother love a modern invention

reality of maternal thinking/practice is
grounded in specific historical/cultural realities
selective neglect and intense maternal attachment coexist
cf. Winnicott's benevolent theory of nurturing,
innate trust of mothers:
overly optimistic view of infant's adaptiveness:
in physically threatening context of shantytown life,
women's perception of infants as strange, transient, undependable seemed warranted: "here it's easy for anyone to die"

cf. Ruddick's stance of protectiveness/ "holding" w/
Alto humility, passivity, metaphysical stance of "letting go"
reasonable resignation to events that cannot be overcome
cherished religious value of blessed calm/"peasant fatalism"
adult lives like burning candles; infants like little birds
pragmatics of letting go of an infant "unprepared for life,"
transitional/liminal infants "difficult to raise": underdemanding,
seen as wanting to die: cause of death is deficiency in the child
"putting an infant aside to die": species of rejected child:
"like some object htat is broken and useless"
practices as reasonable responses to unreasonable constraints
come up against modern Western bourgeois values:
very specific cultural "norm"
invention of mother love corresponds with demographic transition: decline in infant morality and female fertility

material argument: mother love represents ideological symbolic representation grounded in basic material conditions that define reproductive life

demographic changes alter perceptions re: relative value
of the individual as measured against the collectivity

new reproductive strategy: bear few infants, invest heavily in them
(vs. old one: birth many, invest selectively in the "best bets")
our cultural idiom of infants as valuable "commodities"

question contemporary "essentialist" psychology re:
men fearing engulfment, female isolation

survival of one child subordinated
to well-being of entire group
in world of uncertainty, makes no sense to
put any one person @ center

cf. Gilligan
: relativist, concrete, context-specific
moral thinking of women, BUT
guided by "lifeboat ethics": who to save among the shipwrecked? morality of triage supersedes more egalitarian principles

unfair to ask these women to defend their moral thinking or
display "appropriate "maternal sentiments
unfair for them to be responsible for governing moral economy/distributive justice within Alto households

Women Gain in Education but Not in Power, Study Finds:
“The world’s women are nearly as educated and as healthy as men,
but are nowhere to be found in terms of decision-making,”