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Can narrative do the work of theory? A look at Toni Morrison's Beloved

Here's a response paper I wrote for my Women's Studies class. We read Beloved by Toni Morrison and "The Epistemic Status of Cultural Identity: On Beloved and the Postcolonial Condition" by Satya Mohanty. We were asked to read Beloved as theory and also to connect Morrison's and Mohanty's work to the other material we read on experience in feminist theory. Mohanty, rejecting both the "ahistorical essentialism" of an uncritical acceptance of experience as a foundation for theory and the skeptical postmodern turn toward "experience" as completely discursive and the product of an individual interpretive framework, argues for a "realist" approach to cultural and political identity, in which you take as given that experience is mediated by discourse and by theory, but that you see experience as both cognitive and affective. Mohanty insists that experience can yield knowledge. That being said, when I finished Beloved and the Mohanty article, my head was swimming. I had read Beloved several times before, and I appreciate it more each time. I think I use this word pretty sparingly to describe things, but Beloved warrants it: it is monumental. There's just so much there. I read it once when I was writing a paper about folklore and alternative knowledge systems, and there's so much of that (for example, Amy uses the folk remedy of putting spiderwebs on wounds to stop the bleeding on Sethe's back, where she has been whipped). Anyway, here is the response I wrote, which I think I'll rewrite later, because I'm not satisfied with it right now.

Pro-Trans Inclusion Chants from Michfest

I've been singing these chants in my mind all day from when I participated in the pro-trans inclusion march at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival last summer, so thought I'd share:

I don't know, but I've been told

I don't know, but I've been told

That being queer is mighty bold!

That being queer is mighty bold!

Straight, gay, tranny, butch and femme

Straight, gay, tranny, butch and femme

We belong in Michigan!

We belong in Michigan!

Grin. Here's another:

Genderqueers from here to Mars!
Gender is a universe
and we're--all--stars!

I'll put more in as I think of them, but these two were my favorites.

Finally, 100 Things About Me

I know I'm kind of late to this party, but what the heck:

  1. Every time I see a bottle of calamine lotion, the song "Poison Ivy" gets stuck in my mind.
  2. Every time I fly, during takeoff the song "Keep Their Heads Ringin'" gets stuck in my mind. (In the video, they steal a plane.)
  3. I love the show Everybody Loves Raymond.
  4. I am the biggest misocapnist you know. I guarantee it.
  5. Sometimes, when my feet feel really good and I feel good all over (my feet have to feel good in order for this to happen), I think that if other people could experience how good it feels to be me, they'd never want to be themselves again.
  6. I drive a 1998 Honda Civic with the following stickers: Keep Abortion Legal, a Lucinda Williams World Without Tears sticker, and a Kasey Chambers The Captain sticker.
  7. I lived with my parents until I was 24 years old.
  8. The biggest regret of my life is caving in to family pressure and going to college in my hometown rather than going away.

Notes on Feminisms & Rhetorics 2003

I got back from Feminisms & Rhetorics yesterday morning, and I want to transcribe my notes while they're fresh. Pardon the length of this post!

On Thursday, the first session I attended was "Performing or Reforming Gender in Classroom Spaces," and I heard the following papers:

  • Donna LeCourt, University of Massachusetts "Performing or Reforming Gender: Agency and Structure in a Feminist Cultural Studies Course"
  • Sara Jane Sloane, Colorado State University "From Cyborg to Oncogen to How Like a Leaf: Teaching Donna Haraway’s Theories of Knowledge and Being to Graduate Students in Digital Rhetorics and Composition"
  • Sarah Rilling, Kent State University "Challenging Notions of Gender and Power in Second Language Teacher Education"

Unfortunately, I lost the notes I took during that panel, and I wasn't fully present anyway as my panel was next and I was nervous, but here are a couple of highlights: First, I found LeCourt's choice of theory to be excellent (specifically, she talked about Butler). Hearing her talk, I got the impression that she really knows her stuff in Women's Studies as well as in Rhetoric. Sloane, obviously, discussed Haraway's uses of optical metaphors, AND her students in the class she was discussing in her talk kept blogs.

My session went okay; the people who presented with me did a fantastic job:

  • Michele Polak, Miami University "We Hear you, Ophelia: Mary Pipher and her Rhetorical Mark in the Girl Culture Movement"

  • Lanette Cadle, Bowling Green State University "Commonplaces and the Camp Fire Girls: A Feminist and Rhetorical Analysis of What It Is (and Was) to Be Useful"
  • Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau, Rutgers University "Bubbles, Girl Power, and Commodity Culture: Contested Literate Activities at One Community Organizations"

Michele and Mary went before I did, so my attention was again divided. When it came my turn, we could not get the laptop and the projector to talk to each other, so the projector was showing "no signal," and I had to do my talk without all the images I had to show. I should have brought overheads, but oh well, whatareyagonnado. Lanette's presentation was after mine, and I got to appreciate fully how great it was. She was talking about the Campfire Girls and all the things they did in their groups, including reading books about women who made a difference in their history, government, or culture. They read, for example, Helen Keller's biography and Louisa May Alcott's biography. They also learned useful skills that they could use to support themselves (as well as survival skills). Unfortunately, we don't have groups like that anymore. These girls, in the 1920 and 1930s, learned so much from their experience in Campfire Girls, and one of the overarching themes of Campfire Girls is to teach other girls what you learned. Wow.

Next, I attended a panel titled "Contesting Intimacy: Hegemony and Legitimization in Discourses of Female Sexuality."

  • Lili Hsieh, Duke University "A Queer Sex, or How to Have Sex Without Phallus"


It seems I'm a janie-come-lately to Misbehaving.net:

misbehaving.net is a weblog about women and technology. It's a celebration of women's contributions to computing; a place to spotlight women's contributions as well point out new opportunities and challenges for women in the computing field.

Tracy has already done a link roundup on many who have weighed in so far. Cindy has a smart post about Shelley's not being asked to join (although she is on the blogroll). I'm not a regular reader of most of the parties involved in Misbehaving, nor do I read Shelley's blog regularly, but I'm going to start paying attention to what's being said here.

(Un)Knowable Violences: Non-Innocent Conversations

Conference call for papers: (un)knowable violences: non-innocent

March 13-14, 2004, at the University of British Columbia

Deadline for proposals: December 15, 2003

The Problem of Experience in Feminist Theory

The notion of experience in feminist theory has been a powerful and empowering one for many feminist women. For example, radical cultural feminist Sonia Johnson, in the introduction to her 1987 book Going Out of Our Minds: The Metaphysics of Liberation, argues that often, women do not see themselves as theorists, because “philosophy has been so mystified by the men” (p. ii). For Johnson, it is crucial that women see themselves as always already feminist theorists who “spin theory out of the strands of our lives” (p. ii). Johnson claims that

Feminist analysis, more than any other analysis of the human situation, has its origins in direct experience. All feminist theorists first observe and draw conclusions from their own lives; all feminist theory results from the transformation of that experience and observation into principle. But not all feminist theory reveals its underlying process, the specific experience and the analysis of it that led to the generalization. (p. ii)

Johnson calls for a “show your work” approach to feminist theory, and Going Out of Our Minds is an account of five years of lived experience that led to her conclusions.

Experience has been an important epistemological stance in opposition to the dominant practices of aligning oneself with and building upon the work of Plato, Kant, Heidegger, and other white, male, European philosophers. However, the impact of poststructuralist and postmodernist theoretical interventions led feminist theorists to problematize the authority of experience as evidence and epistemology. How can experience have any verisimilitude when two people, even two women, who are at the same place at the same time can give completely different accounts of it? Joan W. Scott (in her 1991 article "The Evidence of Experience") and Chandra Talpade Mohanty (in her 1992 article "Feminist Encounters: Locating the Politics of Experience") both address this problematic, Scott with the goal of producing historical knowledge, and Mohanty with the goal of building a feminist politics.

Thierry Robin on women's rights in Iraq

Today I got an email from Thierry Robin, who told me about his upcoming trip to Iraq. He says (this is from his blog, not the email):

:: I'm a freelance journalist and reporter and a member of the ABIR association. I feel concerned by the fate of Iraqi women and men since 1991, year of the first war conducted against the government of Saddam Hussein. Twelve years of embargo have followed and finally a much debated occupation. In October 2003, I will go on a trip to Iraq within the framework of a humanitarian action organized by ABIR, in company of three female members.

This experience is essential from a human point of view. It's also crucial for the various feelings and realities that I will try to "print" and reveal through my articles and photos. My favorite subject is the condition of women and girls in Iraq. I'm going to listen to their words, silences, claims and hopes. I will try to seize their glances, to catch a moment in the life of these women, of these girls in the turmoil of this war which does'nt finish. I'm going to meet them as if I were visiting the members of my own humane family. That's the main thing. It does not matter what these women will dare or be able to tell me, what they will reveal about their life or inner feelings. Try to decipher the language of the human heart in such a situation will give all the depth to this work, like a unique testimony of our time.

Should be interesting.

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