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Notes Towards Day 19 (Tues, Nov. 13): Political Silence

Anne Dalke's picture

I.  coursekeeping
HSBurke will structure our silence
Hummingbird is up for Thursday,
when we will begin discussing our only novel: Eva's Man
(Sweeney wrote about this in Reading is My Window)--
try to read it all?! (short: 186 pp.--and gripping....)

as you read it, use as a lens the material we'll be discussing today, about "political" silencing: what silences Eva? are her silences chosen or self-imposed? (does that distinction make sense to you?)

we will also spend some time talking about how we made sense of this text as readers: were we silenced or brought into speech by it? how did we negotiate and interpret what we were reading?

*sign up: invitation to join the Blind Field Shuttle w/ my Eco-class, 1:10 tomorrow

* breakfast w/ Rosemarie Garland-Thomson,
to talk about Staring: How We Look, this Friday @ 9

* also, heads up: a week from tomorrow, your fourth three-page web event for me is due.
By 5 p.m. Wed, Nov. 21: Explore your current understanding of gendered silences, by carefully and closely reading a literary text in which they are present (models for this sort of critical practice include Doris Sommer's reading of I, Rigoberta Menchu; Grandjeat's reading of Brothers and Keepers; Sweeney's reading of Eva's Man; Baleav's interpretation of trauma novels; Erin's reading of Woman Warrior!). My insisting that you do a close reading is part of my emerging agenda to help you have access to codes that might not be/feel immediately available to you, but which you can learn to read.

*also: I haven't forgotten that we agreed to/didn't discuss
Released: 5 Short Videos about Women and Prison....
I have brought back our silent discussion,
but reviewing those sheets, it's feeling a little distant now...
let it go? pick it up? (served a purpose in inspiring some videos
among your most recent projects, and several upcoming....)

II. in our weekend on-line conversation, several of you reflected on the
relation between the "natural" and "unnatural" silences of Woman Warrior:

Owl: Our conversation reminded me of a concept in Reading is my Window…silences in the home. Kingston was constantly being silenced or told to be silent by her mother….however…silence also emerged …between the teacher and the student…in the ghost like space that is the silent and dark space between cultures…How do we reconcile silence in the home and silence in the outside world?

couldntthinkofa….: Do we need to...? When is it okay for there to be silence in the home? And the same for in the world?

Erin: I was not prepared for our Thursday discussion…Would you please view that …as an experiment of experiencing having a Chinese girl who just refuse to talk in class? The silence can be really annoying, right?
If there is anything you particularly found interesting in the article about Chinese culture, I would be more than happy to help you figure out. I am not sure I understand every detail….millions of small pieces of her stories and my own growing up experiences are floating and colliding in my mind:
1. the term “ghost” …was generally used by Chinese people to call foreigners
2.  an ancient Chinese phrase is that “Disasters emanate from a careless mouth”…. “cut the tongue” is like warning…her to be more cautious about her words.
3. What are those traditional values that make Chinese people stay silent …? …You can call them …cultural shackles...Right now on another continent, I…find all the invaluable cultural heritage problematic …hoping for others who might be brave enough to speak up and address the problems, many Chinese stayed silent.…I was
stunned by such a set of rules.
4. The constant struggles of author find her position between two cultures are complicated but touching….I did have those confusion and struggles...similar essentially.
5. I want to defend my culture…I am afraid this kind of literature will affect the image of Chinese and make people ignore many other good characteristics in people. Stereotypes can be really hard to overrule.

III. a number of you also posted about Rich and Brown--
we'll get to those reflections in a little bit....

for today, I asked you to read both Adrienne Rich's essay,
from her collection On Lies, Secrets and Silence 
and Wendy Brown on "Freedom's Silences"

our "shadow text" is Jason Stanley's NYTimes piece
about "Ways of Silencing" in political discourse

silencing = removing the ability to communicate, by manipulating language
linguistic strategies for stealing the voices of others-->
representing them as insincere, undermining public trust;
using propaganda, denying access to vocabulary to express their claims

sound out R/B/R/B/R/B--then stand up and circle/pair up
to "be"/"occupy" Rich and Brown-->
what is each of them saying?
what might they have to say to one another?
how might they "rub up" against one another?
How do you see their analyses explaining earlier texts, like
Rigoberta Menchu's? Robert Wideman's? Christine Sun Kim's?
trauma novels? Tillie Olsen's Silences? Maxine Hong Kingston's stories?

V. return to large group:
* what is "political" silence? how to intervene in it?

* what is intriguing/interesting/useful/
troubling to you about the arguments of Rich and Brown?

* for ex: how do you understand the juxtapostion of Rich's "stop lying!" (= being discreet)
with Brown's caution that "breaking silence" can silence those it means to empower?

* how might these arguments apply to you/your life/your initiatives?

some postings about this:
I was very interested in … Rich's discussion revolving around “the void"…. In Genesis…the void was … a place for the inception of existence and creation…Rich seems to think of…confronting the void…as desirable…the potential to re-evaluate life entirely and begin anew from a place of creation…like our reading last week….Those who experience trauma also seem to be experiencing…an interaction with the void…forced …to experience an almost violent/violating divorce from comfort and complacency…

Sharaai:  Reading the Rich segment…one line … "When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her"…stuck with me because of the current issues with Perry House…I feel like we have been telling nothing but the truth…but it has not worked in the way that Rich says. I don’t think that there has been enough truth stated about the topic from the administration.

couldntthinkofa…last night was the first time that I even considered gender as part of the reason for why it is hard for us, as women, to be heard….as women, when we speak are we seen as just complaining and nagging…Are we seen as needy?… it just might be that we are at a "disadvantage" in fighting for Perry because we are colored and female.

Sarah:  a lot of [Wendy Brown's claims] seemed paradoxical:
    1.    that using your freedom to choose negates what freedom is because it cancels out the original freedom you had
    2.    the modern day desire to make private matters public
    3.    silence as “shelter for power” vs “shelter from power”
    4.    how labeling and putting a name to a negative experience may reinforce the experience
    5.    when you try to tell personal stories and create a community, this ends up excluding people
…I don’t know where these paradoxes leave me. 

Uninhibited: I really enjoyed reading Wendy Brown's essay …particularly by the way in which she breaks down the traditional ways in which we think of silence and oppression as standing in contradiction with freedom and voice….she articulates very clearly the power that can be found in silence and how it can work to protect us….freedom is not necessarily speaking your way to justice…silence as a one of the mediums to exercise this choice.

Michaela: I wonder would the women of the Cannery…like more "me" time, where they could be silent and alone?

Rich, "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying"
we need a new ethics; problem of speech is primary

power of "deafness," frustration of speech by
those who do not want to hear what we have to say

How to "hear each other into speech"?

Lying is done with words, and also with silence.

The liar lives in fear of losing control.

Amnesia is the silence of the unconscious.

An honorable human relationship...a process..of refining the truths they can tell each other.

We have been expected to lie with our bodies...

It is know the lies of our complicity from the lies we believed.

Women have been forced to lie...How to unlearn this among other women?

danger run by all powerless people....lying becomes a weapon we carry
over into relationships with people who do not have power over us.

phrases which help us not to admit we are lying: "my privacy," "nobody's business but my own"

lying (described as discretion) becomes an easy way to avoid conflict or complication

The liar is afraid...lying is what cowards do.

I didn't want to cause pain. What she really did not want is to have to deal with the other's pain.

"politics" seems to rest on a longing for certainty even at the cost of honesty.

The possibilities that exist between two people...are the most interesting thing in life.
The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities...

...we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us.
The possibility of life between us.

Wendy Brown, "Freedom's Silences":
Hegel: freedom is realized and negated in the act of choosing, is self-canceling
so too silence convened, broken, organized by speech
it is possible to make a fetish of breaking silence:
this ostensible tool of emancipation carries techniques of subjugation

interrogate presumed authenticity of "voice"
silence has a political value, is a means of preserving existence from the regulatory power of public exposure
privitization of public life via compulsive, compulsory cataloguing of details of marginalized lives
intended as a practice of freedom, productions of truth may chain us
to injurious history and the stations of our small lives

compulsory discursivity
pre-Focauldian quality of belief in expression as setting us free
speech seen as expressive and repressive: freedom equaled with voice, visibility,
recognition seen as unproblematic, powerful and pleasurable
but speaking has regulatory potential, capacity to bind

Foucault: 'silence and secrecy are a shelter for power, but they also loosen its hold
his example: putative freedom of homosexual practice prior to discourse about it
silence broken by new public discourse may lead to abjection, censure, regulation
liminality of invisibility may be mild compared to denunciation, criminalization

critical difference between unitary discourses (which regulate and colonize) and those that do not
silence signifies a particular relation to regulatory discourses,
as well as a possible niche for practice of freedom within them
silences are discursively produced as part of discourse--
and scene of practices that escape regulation, source of protection and power
practicing freedom in interstices of discourse and in resistance to it

Foucault's anecdote: appreciation of sielnce in petit bourgeois, provincial mileau--
obligation of speaking, of making conversation very strange and boring: why people have to speak?

Toni Morrison on kinds of language that are silencing (official language, a suit of armor)
progressive/liberatory political discourses that became institutional;
political identity experienced as policing language

subjugated knowledges accredited, put into circulation run risk of re-codificaiton, recolonisation
potentially subversive discourse can be colonized (like countercultural fashion,
discourse of multiculturalism, premenstrual syndrome, women's experience universalized in law
as keyed to sexual violation--particularly unemancipatory for sexual outlaws)

regulatory fiction of particular identity deployed to displace hegemonic fiction of universal personhood
breaking silence can metamorphose into new techniques of domination:
confessions become norms by which we are regulated
confessing injury can attach us to it, paralyze us within it, prevent us from seeking status other than injured

confessional discourse can constitute a regulatory truth about an identity group
confession reinstates a unified discourse, in which the story of greatest suffering becomes the true one
norm-making process in "breaking silence" can silence those it means to empower,
condemn to permanent identification: living in present dominated by past

to speak incessantly of suffering is to silence possibilities of overcoming it,
to overwhelm alternative zones of experience; silence might articulate other possibilities...
ARich: silence as a pond where drowned things LIVE (rather than being surfaced into discourse)

to speak repeatedly of trauma: encoding it as identity, fixed in stereotype rather than working through it
discourses of survivorship = stories in which one refuses to live in the present, preserving trauma
putting into discourse can sacrifice autonomy, imperil creativity, privacy, integrity

are we so accustomed to being watched that we cannot feel real unless we are reporting?
compulsory discursivity: confessional subject runs amok,
populist valorization of common experience, disdain for reflection

confessing is not working through experience
capacity to be silent might be a measure of freedom, resistance to discourse of anxiety
(along with capacity for public speaking)

refusing to speak as a mode of resistance, deployed from below as a method of refusing complicity,
but still a strategy for negotiating domination, not sign of emancipation
Pat Wms "manumitted into silence": emancipated yet not heard, seen, recognized
place of reprieve, yet only "freedom from," not freedom to make the world

"Everyday class discussion is public speaking, too" (?)