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Notes Towards Day 23: "From Gender to more General Topics"

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping

* sign-in sheet

* over Thanksgiving Break, read our final text, Monique Truong's novel, A Book of Salt,
which I offer you as another/our final example of "feminism unbound." Here's one key:

Jessy: This story contains queer characters, but those queer sexualities
are not center stage...there's a type of queer novel...which is all about
coming out and being rejected and finding a community and an identity
and whatnot. A narrative about being lesbian or gay or trans or whatever.
The Book of Salt
is not so one-note.
A complex dish, in which the salty
taste of gender merely offsets the many flavors of races and nationalities
and languages and journeys and class and wealth and clothes and family
and ...


A relief for me. This is the kind of story I want to read more of, in which there
are people like me, generally speaking (I'll settle for anything that isn't very
heteronormative), but who have lives outside their genders, identities beyond
their sexual partners and practices....Someone's got to ...normalize
queerness so it's not all Brokeback Mountain and Boys Don't Cry and
The Well of Loneliness. Stories about queer people, not about queerness.

... And so perhaps The Book of Salt represents an accomplishment which
feminism is right now struggling with: this book achieves a kind of inclusiveness,
in which any and every person is relevant because any and every person is
gendered in addition to and, and, and ... And the gendering informs the rest,
the rest informs the gendering.

So: queer, but not only queer. And as we'll see, not only queer in relation to sexuality...

* heads up about what happens after that, because it's all going to happen pretty fast!

--enjoy Thanksgiving!

--by Sunday night, do a posting
: looking back to Judith Butler, or forward to The Book of Salt,
or even further forward--try out your first thoughts towards your upcoming web event

--come to class on Tuesday ready to talk about the first 1/2 of Truong's novel

--come on Thursday
ready to talk about the second 1/2--
AND ready to talk w/ others about your third 5-pp. web "event"

--this will be due a week from Sunday, @ 5 p.m. Dec. 8;
your topic is feminism "unbound"-->
what does feminism look/act like "after sex and gender,"
after we have problematized the categories,
after we've realized (for example) that "woman" is unstable,
that the "what" and the "we" of feminism are indeterminate.

II. there was quite a thead on this topic amid your Sunday night postings:
A) Fdaniel:
Daddy Day Care is one of my favorite childhood movies…. it may be an example of "feminism unbound."

Taylor11: feminism unbound is the idea of switching up stereotypical gender roles…?

piper: I wonder if this scenario is still well-bound to sex and gender. I'm finding it quite difficult to understand feminism when I strip it of sex and gender. Does such feminism exist? 

Fdaniel: this movie looks past gender and sex and focuses more on parenting, caregiving and a pragmatic life style.

Pialamode: How I have been (sort of) understanding feminism unbound is a movement to give equality to everyone…where society doesn't feel the need to put people in a box…where your personal gender changes absolutely nothing about how you are viewed or treated.

Fdaniel: gender isnt determining our actions or our roles.

[what do others think about this as an example of "gender unbound"?
how about as a definition of "feminism unbound"? not bound to gender categories?]

there were two other strong threads that emerged this weekend
B) several of you were bothered, during our discussion of Wendy Brown,
by the notion of others having a “right” to your thoughts:
I do not believe one has rights over me; my thoughts, my opinions, my ideas…especially my silence….
it is my property….keeping silence can be a way in which one keeps power.

EB: I find the capitalist implications of your comparison of silence as property as power very interesting -
do we find agency in possessing silence? Do we find sisterhood? Is a communal silence empowering?
Is communal speech?

ccassidy: I do not think that anyone has right to my thoughts….
Forced speech could become forced vulnerability

was uncomfortable with the idea that someone else has the right to know what I’m thinking
….At the same time I think that silence can become a crutch… I have an obligation to speak.

Juliah: I was going to make an impassioned post about how no one has a right to my thoughts, that the right to choose silence is feminist....When I sat down to write it, however, I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of deceit…simply remaining silent does not keep one out of the conversation…since silences are as open to inferences as speech is, ownership of words is the only way to avoid such misrepresentation. Silence stifles, speech elucidates.

Polly: I agree with Julia….when I ask people to "tell me what you are thinking"…I am proving that I believe I should have the right to know. I liked what Sommers said about different types of silences--forced and chosen. Although there is a kind of paradox there….how can we protect chosen silences but help to break forced ones if we can't tell the two types apart?

[further thoughts on this....?]

C) the third thread--and the one that will carry us into today's topic--was about the nature of mourning:
We mourn because we have lost something that can no longer provide for us….
People mourn for the sake of themselves.

Celeste:  Change is inevitable.  A constant.  Everything moves.  Everything falters?  Or does it melt? 

Iskierka: Butler is right: Americans have been desensitized to death…it is normal and unavoidable
and can only be put off so often…

nia.pike: I agree… that we have become desensitized to death…. death is not a big deal…it is a common occurance….we will all die one day…But we should…be trying to prevent pre-mature death, not sweep it
under the rug and ignore it because it will not go away. 

Shaina: There comes a certain amount of privilege with being able to take the time mourn… many felt that Brown’s reflections were not taking advantage of the precious time she has to move forward. However…mourning is a process that we...tend to put a time limit on….there comes a time when you are expected to be done with those feelings and integrate yourself back into everyday society….I lean towards accepting Brown's mourning as a sign of progress…

Juliah: I feel like we can’t discuss mourning without recognizing the underlying privilege…the ability to step back and process… to have control of your time, responsibilities, and expectations….Stigmas encircle mourning, with people trying to dictate the “proper” way to process… any actions taken will be dissected and deduced by one’s observers.

MargaretRachelRose: I agree…Mourning is an introspective, healing – and socially stigmatizing – process. I feel as though mourning collides with feminism, however, because it lacks forward motion. Mourning, according to Brown, is a “scene of rediscovery.” It is a time where someone breaks down what they are and believe, what impedes their process….It is a standstill motion…mourning deviates from normative time to allow for solitary, proactive reflection.

III. this is of course our continued topic for today.
I asked you to read Judith Butler's essay, “Violence, Mourning, Politics”
-- a title remarkably similar to Wendy Brown's "Revolution, Mourning, Politics,"
but with a tonality and argument that is remarkably different...

Who heard Butler speak two years ago?
(series of three lectures in November 2011;
see my notes from the first, the second, and the last one).

Butler's work is a GREAT example of feminism "unbound"/
not bound to conventional gender categories.
Butler was infamous as
a gender theorist; she taught us that gender is not "natural," but performative,
and so continually renewed. So one of the first thing she explained, in her first lecture,
two years ago, was how she "got from gender to more general topics--> the ungrieveable."

She explained that "identity politics fails to provide a coalitional framework"--
because we become concerned w/ asserting the specificity of our own identity,
fearful that it will be effaced," we find it hard to ally w/ others/different identities:
and although "precarity is differentially distributed" [some of us have much more
precarious lives that others], she is arguing that the very fact that all life is
precarious can become "a site of alliance among antagonists."
It is our shared precarity that makes us human--and we can ally around that.

[unlike what Fdaniel was exploring: this isn't getting rid of gender--it's
the definition of the human, to include and go beyond gender]

Butler is now "expanding the 'we,'"
by seeking "an ethics that
heeds the fragility of life," one in which "we accompany one another."
"If I seem to have wandered from gender," she said, "I assure you that gender is still here."
But she now realizes that "the politics of alliance require an ethics of cohabitation."

Butler was asked, in the last lecture, what "the ethics of cohabitation" are @ a women's college,
and she replied, "sex is not its own self-identical thing;
there are strong differences among those who are assigned as women.
Women's colleges are important: they offer an opportunity to work through
the problems of cohabitation, in the unanticipated dimensions of people here.
Any community you are in has to be porous, and
cohabitation is about porosity: who enters and who leaves."

Most fundamental, she says, is the question "Who are you?
Keep that question permanently open;
if there is no possibility of "capturing" that other,
then questioning becomes a mode of relationship:
stepping back, asking, reorienting your conversation."
[This sounds like Doris Sommer, talking about our
respecting the differences of Rigoberta Menchu.]
We are in relationship not because we know-or-understand one another,
but! because! we! do! not!!

With me so far? Questions so far....?
See how feminism is getting "unbound"?
Going beyond itself? Expanding to larger categories of the human?

Take some time to write out (on sheets of paper you can pass):
1) one insight you've learned from Judith Butler's essay (a quotation would be good here)
2) one question that her book chapter has provoked for you
Write these out in full sentences (in preparation for reading them out).

III. Barometer: stand take your position in response to these sentences.

Butler's question, posted on the Canaday steps:
"Why should those who struggle for gender equality and sexual freedom
care about racism, militarization, and issues of global justice?")

Butler said then that each body has its own perspective on the world;
but when it appears in a public space, it is both here and there:
displaced, perceived by others in ways we cannot control.

Anne's Reading Notes from Judith Butler, Precarious Life, Chapter 2 (WOW!)
finding a basis in community in our vulnerability to loss and mourning
mourn = accept one will be changed by loss, w/ result of transformation not known in advance
experience of transformation reconstitutes choice; we are not the masters of ourselves
ties constitute what we are: the attachment to 'you' is part of what composes who "I' am
I have lost 'you"…'I' have gone missing as well
the thrall in which our relations with others hold ways that
challenge the notion of ourselves as autonomous and in control:
We're undone by each other…One does not always stay intact.
gender and sexuality …is a mode of being dispossessed, a way of being for another
we are constituted by our relations but also dispossessed by them
bodies…are not quite ever only our own.
The body has its invariably public dimension
we are compelled to take stock of our interdependence
fundamental sociality of embodied virtue of being a bodily being...
implicated lives that are not our own
my unknowingness, the unconscious imprint of my primary sociality.
Can this insight lead to a normative reorientation for politics?
Is there something to be gained from grieving…are we returned to a sense
of human vulnerability, to our collective responsibility for…one another?
to make grief itself into a resource for politics…from an apprehension of a common human vulnerability
we are given over to the other…even prior to individuation…
this vulnerability…precedes the formation of 'I'
an insurrection @ the level of ontology:
What is real? Whose lives are real? How might reality be remade?
how the obituary functions as the instrument by which grieveability
is publicly distributed…who has access to the public obituary?
ask about the conditions under which a grieveable life is established and maintained….
at what cost do I establish the familiar as the criterion by which a human life is grieveable?
the loss of First Worldism…the prerogative…
never to be in the position of having one's own boundaries transgressed…
the loss of a certain horizon of experience, a certain sense of the world as a national entitlement
from loss and fragility..the possibility of making different kinds of ties emerges
insisting on a common corporeal vulnerability
we are not separate identities…but are already involved
in a reciprocal exchange...that dislocates us from our subject-positions
To ask for recognition…is to solicit a becoming…to stake one's…
own persistence in one's own being…in the struggle for recognition
At the most intimate levels, we are social…outside ourselves,
constituted by cultural norms that precede and exceed us
The 'I' cannot come into being without a 'you'
I am not fully known to myself, because part of what I am is the enigmatic traces of others
an international coalition…will have to accept the array of sometimes
incommensurable epistemological and political beliefs and modes and means of agency
fundamental modes of dependency bind us…the basis of our vulnerability, affiliation, and collective resistance
I am nowhere without you…my own language must break up and yield if I am to know you.
You are what I gain through this disorientation and loss.
This is how the human comes into being…as that which we have yet to know.