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"The Politics of Pain and of Pain's Disavowal": Notes Towards Day 24 (Tues, Dec.1)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. 2:25-2:45: silence by Rhett
Thurs by Tong

II. coursekeeping: tomorrow @ 5 your third/last paper is due for me:
reading literary (maybe gendered?) silence

on Thursday, we'll move out of "gendered" and "literary" silences
into the last section of the course, on "Practicing Silence"
(really/largely about religious experiences...)

we will be joined by Michelle Francl

(BMC Chemistry professor and blogger @ Quantum Theology)
please read her essay, Silence Speaks Volumes,
another by my colleague, Sister Linda Susan Beard, Silence is the Winter Name of God.
Caroline Stephen's Selections from Quaker Strongholds, &
George Kalamaras' "Reclaiming the Tacit Dimension."

Michelle wrote, "If they might bring for me a line or two that somehow
encapsulates their sense of silence or solitude, that will give me a way
to listen my way into the conversation you have been having all semester
(though I’ve been browsing the forum!).  It can be an image, a snip of
poetry or prose (their own or others).  It can be nothing at all, if that’s
what speaks to them."

* check-in about final event?

II. When we left off talking, we were reflecting together about Eva's silences--
her internal ones (per Sylvia) as well as her refusal to speak with others,
trying to untangle questions of agency, of choice, of power

For today, I asked you to come with two quotes: one from Wendy Brown's essay
and one from Sweeney's--write those out now (if you haven't already),
and pass them to me...
we'll use these for a fishbowl,
so don't make them too long (a sentence or less...)

Anne's reading notes from 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

Reading notes from Sweeney:

“mis list”: growing # of memoirs that recount authors’ abuse, trauma:
“public exposure of psychic suffering”/“cult of victimization”/a

”mass infantilization of women”
discussion of survivor’s inner self and feelings eclipses discussion of how to transform the sociohistorical, political, economic, and institutional forces that undergird practices of gendered violence
primary political tactic for survivors should not be a simple incitement to speak out; this formula leaves unanalyzed the conditions of speaking; makes us too vulnerable to recuperative discursive arrangements
risk of reifying women as victims,
reifying suffering as foundation of one’s subjectivity
Brown: confessing injury can become that which attaches us to the injury:
discourses of survivorship become stories by which one lives/refuses to live in the present; narrativizing trauma to preserve it

particularly high stakes of debate in penal context: majority of women sustained victimization, some also perpetrated it, are both objects/subjects of violence
available frameworks for narrativizing victimization fail to account for complexity
Eva’s Man highly symbolic, temporally disorienting account of woman who defies familiar categories of victim, agent
“adversity stories” read as realist, with 5 issues emerging:
1) silences surround victimization
2) potential relationship between victimization and committing a crime
3) politics of ‘fighting back’
4) importance of feeling/emotion as pathways to healing
5) social, intersubjective dimensions of grappling with victimization
atomizing world of prison shapes women’s engagements with these narratives
p. 88: “no experience is pretheoretical”
central aims of chapter: underscoring sense of messiness, granting prisoners “complex personhood”: people are beset by contradiction, “recognize and misrecognize” themselves and others; stories people tell about themselves weave between what is immediately available as a story and what their imaginations are reaching toward”
Renee Heberle: political effects of speaking out about sexual violence: performative, interventionist; discussing sexual violence “as the signifier of the impotence
of masculinist social power”
distinction between political and therapeutic effects of speaking out are not tenable
crucial to learn that experiences reflect wider structural patterns<

astonishingly high correlation between victimization and incarceration
narratives of victimization always encompass elements of agency, resistance
cf. Wendy Brown, who champions a politics of silence, as means to prevent subjectsfrom becoming wedded to their pain
Rich’s poem re silence as “a pond where drowned things live”
p. 90: Brown sees silence as a mode of resistance,
a method of ‘refusing complicity in injurious interpellations,’
a place of potentially pleasurable reprieve
in newly acquired zones of freedom and privacy’
Eva’s profound sense of imprisonment in others’ misreadingsa nd misprisions
91: women prisoners related Eva’s silence to broader cultural refusal to hear accounts of molestation: with ‘unhearing audience,’ “why talk?”
but privileging silence precludes possibilities for addressing pain
p. 92: Brown sees only two options: speak incessantly or bury it
pp. 92-93: without a zone of privacy, a domain free from surveillance, experiences not real unless watching and reporting them?
p. 93: Brown leaves little room for developing solidarity or collective understanding
p. 94: self-silencing, cultural silencing, social disenfranchisement
p. 95: women’s experiences of victimization inaudible in legal system
p. 96: for women in US prisons engaging with narratives of victimization produces important political and  therapeutic effects, give ‘shape and name’ to their own stories, step toward future ‘not fully given by the trauma’
p. 97: how account for victimaizaiton and agency/responsibility, simultaneously objects and subjects of violence?
“the abuse excuse” thwarts meaningful discussion of potential links between victimization and criminal acts
p. 98: June Jordan re novel as font of ‘sinister misinformation’ about ‘young black girls forced to deal with sexual molestation’
Eva both object and agent of sacrifice
p. 99: Jones links the struggle against sexual violence with struggle to expand sexual possibilities for women
Eva resists easy categorization as both victim and criminal
p. 100: moving back and forth shows how past and present connect
p. 101: some women resist stories, as eclipsing uniqueness of their own
p. 105: US justice system leaves little room for accommodating complex, partial notions of agency, responsibility, guilt
p. 106: calls for more narratives of resistance—but this can lead to prison
p. 109: desire to maintain a sense of empowerment leads women of color to disavow the extent, seriousness of their violent treatment (less likely to report)
p. 110: some describe prison as a peaceful refuge, but studies report highly sexualized, excessively hostile environments
women prisoners provide important counternarratives to ‘fighting back’ (need to preserve housing, financial support, employment)
p. 113: sentimentality, empathetic identification allows women to counter their sense of isolation
p. 115: difficulty of relinquishing pain
p. 119: the Glass Castle neither therapeutic nor didactic
p. 122: learning how to feel constitutes another important form of resistance to victimization
confession always implicated in unequal, nonreciprocal relation of power, sets up binary between raw experience nad theory, reinstate story of suffereing as the true one
p. 125: public narration allows for symbolic reparation
p. 126: see selves s part of history
from prisoners’ readings of diverse array of “adversity stories,” can’t preordain effects
p. 127: some refuse to make abuse the central meaning-making incident in their lives; others desire company of others’ stories, claiming uniqueness of their own; important discovery that their experiences form part of a larger pattern
silence plays a strategic and protective role in some women’s lives
need for theorizations of resistant agency that accommodate complexity of women’s lives
p. 128: difficulty of resisting violence without contributing to its vicious cycle
(Toni Morrison: oppressive language is violence, limits knowledge”)