Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Must Let Go of Brighton Now--but Look!

Before I continue saying good-bye to Brighton and all its wonders and challenges, here is a very concrete new moment in lesbian history that has come from the gathering and the amazing work of Clare D, who in the few days since we have been back, tracked down with the help of Polish friends, this 1933 copy of the Well of Loneliness in the National Museum of Poland, the one referred to by the woman whose words I have carried with me for so many years and that I put into the sea- touched Brighton air: 1979: From a conversation around the Lesbian Herstory Archives dinner and work table: The speaker, a Jewish woman in her 60s says, "I had a chance to read the Well of Loneliness" that had been translated into Polish before I was taken into the camps. I was a young girl at the time, around 12 or 13 and one of the ways I survived in the camp was by remembering that book. I wanted to live long enough to kiss a woman."

One of the themes of my text that accompanied the images--and which I will post here--is the need to seek out the counter-narrative of any given time, both in the national setting and sometimes within our own communities of certainties. This is what I tried to do with the excerpts from oral histories and media of the times--and here is one of the strongest examples. Dismissed as too depressive, or trash or irrelevant by many of the lesbian-feminist spokeswomen in the 70s and 80s, I knew from my own Bronx working-class background and my fascinations with many aspect of Hall's novel, that cultural products are complex things, that they take on new lives with almost every generation and every encountered specific moment of class and ethnicity and it would be interesting to explore their resurrections and resonances before we emptied them of value. I knew this only because so often in those so needed time of women's and gay liberation, I sat in darkened rooms with another story buzzing in my head or heart, not ones that denied the critiques of the new times, but that added layers of experiential possibilities, that warned me against new exiles coming into being right before my eyes. For this double vision and the strength to speak about it, I thank my mother, Regina, sometimes a whore, always a worker, always a little lost and always angry at the bosses.

What became clear to me as I attended the sessions at Brighton was that I needed in my 70s new lines of discussion for these times and I found them-- in Sarah Franklin's talk, "Beyond Biology: Queering the Facts of Life," her measured tones bringing into our thinking mix the desentimentalizing facts of the petry dish and how shifting biological terrains should be part of our imaginations and future politics as they will be part of our culture. Whoever this "our" will be. In Sherley Camille Olopherne's "Taken Spaces: Black Lesbians Against White Aesthetics," the old challenge of dislodging white control over almost everything was portrayed in her photographs and videos of liberated spaces for black lesbian lives--the Women of color tarp at the Michigan Women's Music Festival and the Rivers of Honey  nights at the WOW cafe in NYC. As I watched that women of color blue tarp layed on the beaten down grasses of the Michigan site, I kept seeing the tents and make shift sleeping places in Tahrir Square, I kept seeing a line of grassroots liberated spaces so simple in their materials, so huge in their dreaming of different cosmologies. As I listened and watched Sherely, I kept feeling the sounds of place, of my old New York and of all the histories I came to know there, including that of Haiti, a country that has endured all the worst ravages of French and American colonial intervention and dismissals, that is rich in its cultural heritages of literature and art, in social thinking. For many years I taught Masters of the Dew, by Jaques Romain, a novel of the 1930s built on the dream of collectivism and the works of Edwidge Danticat, the not so young now but always beautiful and brave contemporary novelist who kindly spent a day with our students, June Bobb's and mine, in the 1980s, was it?, going over with them their careful reading of her first novel of growing up as a young girl in Haiti. My Haitian students touched me in many ways, the young women and the men. Their having to choose which language will represent their public selves, their battle against economic despair, their sense of beauty. All of this I thought of as Sherely, knowing she was speaking once again in a white governed space, carefully chose her words, her images showing the possibilities of other knowledges born out of claimed spaces.

And the early morning session with Ewa Majewska, speaking of the need for a materialistic critical queer narrative, the story of the poor lesbian, and  Francesca Stella, using the example of "lesbian" identity in urban Russia and the dangers of critical assumptions when there is not enough awareness of the cultural specificities in Western interpretations--I learned a new term of thought, intersectionality, and it makes sense to me. This is how I continue my education, listening to the brave and open thinking of those struggling with ideas of equity and gender and sex and anti nationalisms in a new time. I know I have not mentioned every one whom I met in those three days, and many of the excellent sessions--I appreciated all that was offered that I could get to attend.

Our days ended in Brighton with a wonderful spontaneous dinner with two women from South Africa who waved us in to their restaurant to share dinner with us. Robust, generous women who had been at the conference telling us of their journies in life. I just wanted to stretch out on the wooden table and sleep, work done, in the comfort of new friends and my darling.

1 comment:

  1. yep brilliant! feels like a leg up with a look forward and back. JJ