Friday, October 21, 2011

Our Material Lives: A New Feminism by Caroline Crumpacker

On September 13th, 2011, at the first event of Belladonna*'s 2011 reading series - Our Material Lives: Feminism and Poetry at Various Ages - Caroline Crumpacker read the following statement concerning the revolutionary and poetic nature of women voices. She underlines the connectivity of female work and community to a radical re-understanding of ourselves as viable subjects in our culture, ripe for effecting political and social change.


I’d like to begin by thanking Rachel, Krystal, Emily and Belladonna* for putting together this panel and asking me to be part of it. I do believe that opening and creating meaningful conversation and asking women to speak is a juicy, feminist, generative act and these conversations carry a great hope and great potential.

I am reminded that when CR groups were inaugurated in the 1970s, they sought to subvert the marginalization of women’s voices from a dominating discourse by insuring that each woman present had an inviolable place in an ongoing conversation. My mother was part of a CR group when I was a girl. Clearly a source of libidinal pleasure, intellectual stimulation, social standing and political necessity, this group played a significant role in the rhythms of our household. Later on in my life, memories of this group informed my bedazzled first encounters with writers including Helen Cixous and Laura Mulvey.

The mechanics of taking part in (inherently masculinist) cultural conversation.
The mechanics of taking apart (inherently masculinist) cultural conversation.

Alison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For famously inaugurated the 3 rules for cinema worth watching
1. Does it have at least two women in it?
2. Who (at some point) talk to each other?
3. About something besides a man?

Think about it. It could apply to literature, TV, radio, our living room. It never goes out of style. There has always been something radical about respectfully listening to women.

Nina Powers cites Kant, from Anthropology, on the dangers of ‘loquacity’ in women: “In lunatic asylums [women’s] lively power of imagination inserts so much into what they are relating that no one grasps what they actually wanted to say.”

Yes, one ponders what situation of intellectual curiosity Kant assigned to that chilly ‘no one’. But it’s the ‘What they actually wanted to say’ that sticks with me. We don’t know what so many women really wanted or want to say. An unbearable loss. Revolutions forfeit. Reforms abandoned. Lives of quiet or loquacious desperation. And no one can grasp them.

If I can assign a coherent reason to the specifically feminist register within which I write poetry at the age of forty-seven, with a full-time job a seven year-old daughter a dependent parent and a life that generally tends to overwhelm, it’s toward what they actually wanted to say, what we actually want to say, what I actually want to say. Which has very little representation.

From another epic another history. From the missing narrative. From the multitude of narratives. Missing. From the chronicles. For another telling for other recitations.
-- Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

There is unfathomable promise in the unlistened to, in the readership Harryette Mullen strives for, the daughters of illiterate women, in the words of the hysterical and the tongue-tied (both of which I am with frequency).

Last year, Eileen Myles wrote about ‘an exercise’ she has before presenting or writing her work – she tries to imagine herself “deeply loved”. As even radical male artists like Pier Paolo Passolini were loved (and hated):

“How did he do it—make such amazing work and stand up so boldly as a queer and a Marxist in a Catholic country in the face of so much hate. I have one clear answer. He was loved. Pasolini’s mother was wild about him.…A mother loves her son. And so does a country. And that is much to count on. So I try to conjure that for myself particularly when I’m writing or saying something that seems both vulnerable and important so I don’t have to be defending myself so hard. I try and act like its mine. The culture. That I’m its beloved son. It’s not an impossible conceit. But it’s hard. Because a woman, reflexively, often feels unloved.”

Or IS unloved. It is a timeless radical act to perform Eileen Myles’ ‘exercise’ of imagining that this culture is ours –all of ours. This exercise incorporates gender, sexuality, class, race, culture, ability and disability. Speaking/writing/thinking from a platform in which we are all a beloved son, if you will, offers a kaleidoscopicly shattering analytical lens through which to understand what is happening to us and within us.

This lens necessarily opposes war and brutality, seeks to distribute wealth and power through acts large and small and ‘speaks truth to power’ while listening to that truth in all the languages and from all the nooks and crannies and under-sides of rocks from which it comes. This lens then reveals as solipsistic the tokenism decoyism narcissism or full-access consumerism that can be confused with feminist power. The feminisms of Elisabeth Badinter of the ‘burkha ban’ of Sarah Palin of ‘Feminists for Life’ of Carrie Bradshaw of Lady Gaga of Maureen Dowd of Condoleeza Rice.

It seems that my generation has a particular vantage point from which to see that the tides are rising. And while I don’t think that all ships will sink equally hard or equally fast, there are enough of us in it together that the feminism Eileen so beautifully describes offers what I see as a best way to think write and speak ourselves to something better. Sometimes the only way to hear is poetically. Whatever that means.

-Caroline Crumpacker

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