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"Pleasure (but not) Politics": Notes Towards Day 2 (Thurs, Sept. 1)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. welcome back to all, and welcoming a new member--
you've introduced yourselves already?

Amaka, Beatrice, Creighton, Hannah and Hannah--
this time last year we were all in an ESem called “Changing Our Story,”
reading a wonderful little memoir by June Jordan called “Report from the Bahamas, 1982”
(which Jody and I read again w/ our E’Sem’ers this morning).
Jordan tells a series of stories to support her claim that the usual assumptions of
connecting via the common identity categories--race and class and gender--
do not apply very well, and argues that what determines the real connections
among us are “what we can do for each other.”

In her application, Nkechi quoted a writer who "described herself
"as an American, rather than as an Asian-American... Rejecting
hyphenation is my refusal to categorize the cultural landscape
into a center and its peripheries."

One reason I wanted to start our semester together by talking about our favorite drinks
was to see if we might make connections not based on the conventional identity markers.
(I was surprised that the one almost of us chose when introducing ourselves,
in this class on race, on Tuesday, was that of gender.)

I enjoyed reading about your favorite drinks, and am
now enjoying imagining your hooking up around these:
Creighton comparing her jasmine green tea with Rosa’s green tea matcha,
and with Kamara's preference for guava juice over tea;
Abby's milke, with Franny's lattes,
with Beatrice’s coffee milk and Olivia’s black coffee
Nkechi's lemonade with Alliyah’s ½& ½ (lemonade and iced tea)
Amaka's and Hannah's water (same drink, very different interpretation);
Swati's ginger ale, HannahGraces' spiced cider...
Joni, Nyasa….? need a hand up w/ Serendip??
Swati, Alliyah, Creighton: DO tag as "English"
Sula: DON'T tag as "Dalke Course Notes"
Nkechi: DON'T use "webby posts"

II. coursekeeping
for Tuesday, I'd like you to look through
#Lemonade Syllabus, compiled by Candice Benbow:
[one in a sequence of contributions to a new genre; for example:
#charleston syllabus:
curriculum for White Americans: ]
pretty basic idea: that any text, work of art, music video, arises from a culture, a history of earlier work: everything has a geneology.
organized this syllabus around the gambit of what do you need to know to watch/appreciate Lemonade? what history does it arise from? what is its canon?

to get you thinking about canon formation, I want you to read also three other very short essays:
Rebecca Solnit, “80 Books No Woman Should Read: RS Tries to Kill a Zombie,” Literary Hub (November 18, 2015):
a little essay on Serendip called "Who Gives a Fuck About Tocqueville?" October 27, 2015 (1:34 p.m.): /oneworld/arts-resistance/who-gives-fuck-about-tocqueville
by Joel Schlosser, who co-taught a 360 w/ Jody and me (and Abby, Rosa, Sula) last fall;
and I'd like you to read my response to Joel: "WTF; or, a legacy of failure," November 16, 2015 ( 10:07 a.m.): /oneworld/comment/26631#comment-26631

the reading has been light this week, and will be for Tuesday--so I'd encourage you to get a-holt of Beloved and start reading it over the weekend...
by next Thursday, I'd like you to have read the first 1/3 of it; the Tuesday after the second 1/3, Thursday a week the third third...

questions about any of this course keeping stuff??

III. before we get into questions of canon formation, or look up
the geneology of
Lemonade, let's look some more @ the music video itself!
I asked you to read four short analyses for today, and Creighton added a fifth:
hooks' "Moving Beyond Pain,"
Monk's "Facebook Page,"
Kornhaber's "The Sacredness of Sex,"
crawley's "pleasure (but not) politics,"
Ghogomu's "Please Stop Giving Beyonce A Pass"
Gabby and Sula both wrote about the video,
so I thought we might begin w/ some of their ideas (read aloud from handout):

Lemon Drops: I will continue the discussion of Lemonade, and what it means to me. Really I want everyone to see Lemonade as I do, becuase even though it's not perfect (and what peice of art is ever perfect?) it meant a lot to me. I will bring up one point that was kinda mentioned in one of the articles we read, but I want to provide my interpretation of it. Jay Z's appearance in Lemonade. I see Jay Z appearing in two ways. One is emotionally, which I identify as the parts where Beyoncé sings about him but he is not there, and the other is physically, which is self explanatory. In the article when they mention Jay Z's presence, they mention it in a negative way. That Beyoncé is too soft on him. That he gets to look like a hero. But to me, his presence is powerful, yet I don't see him as holding the power. Because I view Jay Z as being present during the whole film, I see  him as being put down and put in his place by Beyoncé in the beginning. This is Beyoncé tearing down toxic masculintiy, with Jay Z as her muse, without making Jay Z the face of it. So we never actually see Jay Z in a negative light. I see Beyoncé as choosing to only show Jay Z positively because she wants to rebuild masculinity in a positive way. Especially in an age where black men are demonized and criminalized, I see it as powerful to be able to critique of black men without contributing to negative visual representations of them. Let me know if that makes sense. 

Building a Platform: In my small group on Tuesday, we talked about the criticism Beyonce faced following the release of "Formation" from people who claimed she only brought race into her music when it had become a "hot topic" and thus "fashionable" and marketable to include. Kamara also joked about people who listened to Beyonce's music before Lemonade came out, and who were suddenly struck by the realization, "Oh...she's black??" In reality, of course, Beyonce was not not black until she talked about it--instead, she was a black woman working within the confines of a racist, patriarchal, and capitalist system which demanded that she make herself less political and more palatable to succeed. While those who criticized her for only recently addressing issues of race might say that this "success" meant her wealth and fame, I would say that Lemonade itself is this success. Beyonce brilliantly created her own platform within a racist system, and within a country built upon the destruction of black bodies, in order to speak her mind, drop an album, and blow people's minds (and not a niche audience, by any means). For the same reasons, I would argue that her claiming of sexuality as a tool through which to achieve this success is just as brilliant. We just can't draw a line between people with agency and those who are objectified--Beyonce challenges us to look beyond any expectation we may have that selling sexuality=objectification, and insists that she's been using it all along as a form of empowerment, and a means to make her Lemonade (and given this, maybe sexual objectification of black women is one of the "lemons"). 

both very positive readings, "making lemonade of lemons";
how would the other authors we've read respond?
(count off to 6, break into groups of 3;
count off again, w/ one in each to speak for each author:
hooks, Kornhaber and Ghogomu)

the business of capitalist money-making,
visual extravaganza commodifying the black female body,
confronting us with its powerful, utterly aestheticized, beauty
--but failing to change conventional sexist constructions of victimhood
fantasy fictional narrative of emotional violence, celebrating rage--
not liberatory, no just culture of optimal well being
her interpretation cannot stand as truth,
her construction of feminism--equal rights/
women gaining freedom to be like men--cannot be trusted
black male cruelty and vilence direct outcome of patriarchal exploitation
gives voice to emotional pain but doesn't end domination
change not mutual, glamorizes gendered cultural paradox,
doesn't move beyond pain

[Monk's response:
hooks' dismissal of black femme feminists;
judgment of glamour, femininity, femme presentation
hierarchies of respectability re: using our bodies/femmephobia]

sex is serious, can harm, is unreliable in its effects
every premise of her career undermined: her fierce body/brain
didn't secure her husband's loyalty--she was betrayed
turn: takes long view of her marriage as part of long tradition of damaged families
pop usic not documentary but distorting, playing up extremes,
makes us feel like superheros; this one shows vulnerability
--but holds back on the dancing/sex, and so pays tribute to its sacredness...

deserving displaces desire in the service of the rational;
desire need not be justified
conduct ourselves in the service of justice, via an ethics of pleasure??
all writings re: Beyonce gounded in a desire to justify why one does/not dig her
no room for excess/glory in audiovisuality of sensual experience
disciplinary projects are all about containment
[my Critical Feminist Studies class: is this feminist????]
perpetuating instittions = containing thought,
not objects that have the capacity to move/queer us
disciplinary knowledges renounce pleasure,cohere around trauma
(cf. ZNHurston letting objects speak for selves/move her]
dispossessive force of an object grounded in its
fundamental, irreducible incoherence, originary excess
if you enjoy the album: interrogate your political commitments!
seeing her album as Bildundsroman, serving large teleological principle
displaces analyst's pleasure in service of a political claim,
instrumentalizes Beyonce:
are we (not) enjoying the object or our arguments about it?
some experiences (this audiovisuality) refuse words
lack of language to account for joy, exuberance, happiness
think about the stakes o ht disagreement:
important what art makes possible to think/imagine/conceive
allow for slipperiness, incoherence, inventing as one goes

"Beyonce waited until black politics was so undeniably
commercial that she could make a market of it"
glosses over colorism baked into Creole identity
highly problematic use of post-Katrina New Orleans as backdrop:
appropriation of trauma, as accessory, for profit
her videos odes to wealth, luxury, grandeur:
about profit, not politics
calling her being rich & powerful black empowerment

IV. return to large group--with what question??
* what good work can rage do?
* what's the image of the revolutionary celebrity?
* how radical can you be within the system?
* why is Beyonce held accountable for bell hooks' revolution?

V. we made a list, on Tuesday, of other topics we'd like to discuss; these included, from
Gabby: the poetry (see Warsan Shire, "The Woman Who Gave Poetry to Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’":
Sula: the character Beyoncé "has to play"
Alliyah: the artistic nature of the video (references/clothing/scenery)
'Liv: its historical background
Nkechi: its complex authorship (roles of songwriter, director, etc.)
Joni: audience reception: effect especially on black women/sense of self
--didn't get to all of this; these are all rich possible topics for your first paper for me...

VI. see you, 1-4 p.m. tomorrow in Special Collections, Canaday 205
(no prep except thinking about how you'd like us to be together...
what helps you to be present? how can we help one another to be present?