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GENDER, RACE, IDENTITY AND THE PRACTICE OF WRITING: A FEMINIST PROJECT BY JACQUELINE WANG A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Professor Hassold and Professor Wallace Sarasota, Florida May, 2010
ii PREFACE The claim that a person who writes is not truly living can be made only by someone who sees a person and their life as subject and object. He might say the most important thing is to live ones life. I would say: I live, and my life lives as well. Even my writing lives. Thus the question of whether a person is living when he writes is misguided to begin with. One asks this sort of question only to make everything revolve around man. -Yoko Tawada In this quote, Tawada is unfaithful to the view that writing is dead bydefying the notion that writing is a self-contained object or product of individuals. I find Tawadas quote compelling because it integrates the person with their life while promotingthe ideasthat writing itself isalive and that a person is constituted by the actof living or becoming. For me, writing is living in that writing is a process a process that I hope will alwaysremains open-endedthatwill be shared, that will undo itself and be interpreted in multiple ways. The circular and paradoxical nature of my conclusion is an illusive closure in that it is meant to reset the cycle, to remind us that what is alive is always being made anew. This thesis was,above all,born out of a passion for writingand a commitment to language. While the project is driven by my personalinterests andinvestments, itsscope ismuch broader in that it is also concerned with power-sensitive practicesand types of engagement. For me, the challenge has beento acknowledge both the closeness and inseparability of writingto the writer,while acknowledging the ways in which writing always exceeds the writer.Thus,I had to figure out how I coulduse aproject that wasso intimately tied to my personal pursuits as a point of departure forarticulating meaningful ideasabout feminist writing practices. This project would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of my sponsors, Professor Hassold and Professor Wallace. Thank you for your bold support of unconventional and interdisciplinary work.
iii TABLE OF CONTENTS GENDER, RACE, IDENTITY AND THE PRACTICE OF WRITING: A FEMINIST PROJECT Preface.................................................................................................................................ii Abstract..............................................................................................................................iv Introduction.........................................................................................................................1 Chapter One: Silence........................................................................................................22 Chapter Two: Negotiating Writing and Identity through Location..................................46 Chapter Three: Theory and Experimentation...................................................................71 Conclusion........................................................................................................................93 Bibliography.....................................................................................................................96
iv GENDER, RACE AND THE PRACTICE OF WRITING: A FEMINIST PROJECT Jacqueline Wang New College of Florida, 2010 ABSTRACT This thesis is an experimental engagementof the relationship between identity and writing. In it, I use multiple tones, tongues, and voices to challenge the boundaries between critical writing and creative writing, and theory and literature. The thesis is organized into three chaptersthat grapple withthe function of silences, the significance of the location from which one writes, and the strategicpotential of alternative writing styles. I draw on a range of feminist and postcolonial theorists, including Trinh T. Minhha, Gloria Anzaldua, Helene Cixous, Audre Lorde, Luce Irigaray, and bell hooks. The goal of this thesis is to explore a series of complex tensions and debates, rather than reduce these issues to a singular position. While writing is often trivialized as an indulgent and privileged activity that has limited political impact, I look at the practice of writing as a relevant and important liberatory political project for feministsand antiracists. Furthermore, I explore the potential of a transgressive type of personal writing that is not concerned with the excavation of an authentic self; rather, I focus on writing a particular moment from a situated perspective. Overall, the goal of the thesis is to develop a theory of writing that considers writing as a practice ofengagement and articulation that aims to undermine the culture of domination. Professor Hassold and Professor Wallace Humanities
1 Introduction Gender, Race, Identity and the Practice of Writing: a Feminist Project Perhaps it would be most appropriate to start with a discussion of how I came to this project, before discussing the project itself. Perhaps : a peculiar word to chose for the opening of this thesis, for it sets the overall tone of this project in that it is imbued with both transparencyallowing the reader to be privy to my processand uncertainty. It is the uncertainty of how to begin when the seeds of this project cannot be reduced to a singular moment, when I set out to write without necessarily having all the answers, when I dont necessarily know how it will turn out, when I subject these words to continual criticism and re-evaluation. Unquestionably, my preoccupation with language and linguistic practices is rooted in my passion for writing and my commitment to power-sensitive dialogue and communication. But like many writers, artists, and other creative practitioners, I sometimes found it difficult to reconcile my desire to writewhich I sometimes rationalized as an indulgence and frivolous activitywith my desire to bein the words of former Black Panther Angela Davisa young soldier for the revolution: someone continually working toward the improvementof the material conditions of the oppressed. However, upon reflection, these distinctions do not hold up. Language and politics are intimately connected and co-constitutive. Signifying practices are political, and political practices are mediated through language. The practice of writing can be used
2 as both a tool for personal empowerment and decolonizationthrough the development of critical awareness and deconstruction of an objectified view of oneselfand as a tool for resistance to domination throughan interrogation of totalizing representations. Bell hooks reminds us that, The struggle to end domination, the individual struggle to resist colonization, to move from object to subject, is expressed in the effort to establish the liberatory voicethe way of speaking that is no longer determined by ones status as an objectas oppressed being (Yearning 15). To establish a liberatory voice does not necessarily entail the excavation of some inner, authentic self. For me, it is about developing a practice of engagement and articulationthat attempts to undermine the culture of domination. Description of Project For my thesis, I explore the relationship between identity and writing as a feminist practice. Is writing related to identity as expressive or as constitutive?What are the strategic benefits and limitations of using writing to express or bear witness to the experience of oppression? How can this position reify oppression by creating the notion of an authentic identity? Specifically, I explore three topics in relation to writing: the function of silences, the significance of the location from which one writes, and the political potential of alternative writing styles as a feminist strategy. This introduction to my thesis tracks the origins and development of this thesis project while engaging questions regarding what constitutes a feminist project. What does it mean to acknowledge the political dimension of a project? What is political writing? Furthermore, toward the end of the introduction, I set out to situate myself in relation to
3 both writing and identity. I explore my development as a writer and my identity in a racialized and gendered context. Chapter one deals with the issue of silence. For many women of color such as bells hooks and Audre Lorde, silence is the repressive mechanism through which certain people are forcibly denied the ability to speak or write, which renders them absent from history. Other writers, such as Luce Irigaray, celebrate instances of silence as a nontotalizable space or a breach in the signifying chain. How are silences conceived of differently? What are the strategic benefits and limitations of both perspectives? Chapter two explores the relevance of location when one writes. Does an overemphasis on the author through the inclusion of personal narratives risk giving the author representative authority? Conversely, how does de-personalization deny the role of personal experience in the construction of ones perspective? Theorists such as bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldause the notions of the margin and the borderlands to discuss how to write from pluralistic locations that cannot be reduced to a single system of oppression or unified category. Does this strategy address both concerns? Chapter three explores stylistic strategies that have been employed by feminists theorists. However, I explore some of the dangers that can occur when making claims for specific kinds of writing through the linking of types of writing and identity. While examining various approaches, such as using different tongues and combining personal writings with theory, I experiment with different stylistic strategies in my own writing. The goal of this thesis is to explore a series of complex tensions and debates, ratherthanreduce these issues to a singular argument or claim. Writing is often trivialized as an indulgent and privileged activity that has little political significance in
4 relation physical violence and experience of oppression that oppressed groups are faced with daily. However,I will look at the practice of writing as a relevant and important political strategy for feminists. What Defines a Feminist Project? Poet-theorist Rachel DuPlessis explores the contours of writing as a feminist practice in her book The Pink Guitaran experimental, genre-bending theoretical work that transgresses conventions of academic writing. At the crux of her project is an avantgarde approach to writing feminist theory that is committed to a rupture of language, syntax, sequence, order, structuresand genres (DuPlessis 191). However, she notes that a mere preoccupation with rhetorical transgression is not necessarily feminist when the political dimension of how such a project is related to an emancipatory goal goes unaddressed. For DuPlessis, "what then distinguishes a feminist practice of writingis the infusion of these rhetorical practices with urgent and continuous confrontations with the political and representational oppression of wome/an, with an eye to enacting their end" (191). While such intellectuals as HlneCixous and Julia Kristeva tended to focus male writers (such as James Joyce for Cixous, and Louis-Ferdinand Celine for Kristeva) as examples of feminine and semiotic writing, such analyses emphasize the rhetorical rejection of the father-tongue through the rupture of language, and not necessarily how the work succeeds or fails to contribute to an emancipatory feminist project. Not surprisingly, Kristeva has rejected the label of feminism, opting for a more apolitical approach to sexual difference and writing.
5 My project is not a purely avant-gardist rejection of convention, but a commitment to transgression that is accompanied by the feminist goal of ending the social, political, representational and linguistic oppression of women. Inother words, my project is political It is openly invested with feminist intentions and contentions. Furthermore, I cannot separate this multidimensional understanding of the oppression of women from its inscription within broader matrix of oppression. By this I mean that race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability are intimately interconnected axes of oppression. My analysis tends to be intersectional in that it simultaneous considers multiple axes of oppression. For some, to characterize my undertakingas political would delegitimize my project, for distance is what is generally expected in academic writing. However, it would be illusory and misleading to not acknowledge the political dimension of what I hope this work accomplishes. After all, what discourse isnt invested in one way or another? I can choose to name my position, or ignore it in attemptstogive greater authority to my words by presenting myself as impartial. In some sense, the approach taken in this project runs in opposition to VirginiaWoolfs perspective on political writingin A Room of Ones Own She writes: It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex (Woolf 136). Literary critic Sara Mills acknowledges Woolfs delegitimization of politically invested writing when she writes: She suggests that writing about ones sex in anger at inequality leads to poor writing: Shakespeare was great, as he had no desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score (67). According to some, good writing should be sexless. However, sexless writing can easily default to masculine approaches because the norms of writing are generalized from a male perspective. Thus, prescriptions for
6 writing may come to sound like Woolfs claims that, She will writing in a rage where she should write calmly. She will write foolishly where she should write wisely. She will write of herself where she should write of her characters. Here, Woolfs sexless approach to writing can also be read as a valorization of masculine characteristics such as mastery of ones emotions and impersonality. The idea that women should not write themselves into their texts because it produces bad and foolish writing adheres to the masculinist idea that personal writing is soft and less rigorous than the masterful fathertongue of the subject removed from their rage. Yet for me, it has always been the raging, overflowing, and transparent language of excess that I have found the most compelling. While I am arguing for an acknowledgement of the political in writing, part of my project is also a re-definition of what constitutes the political. While I agree with Woolf that the proclamation-style of delivery is problematic, I disagree that one can simply abandon their sex when writing. It is not that Ithink that people should always be writing about politics, but that politics are already there when we participate in signifying acts. Furthermore, our signifying practices also perform and do politics. I do not promote an agitprop or propagandist agenda that seeks to convince people that there is a singular and righteous perspective, path, or approach. I am more interested in undermining the very structure I am critiquingthrough my practice of writing. This practice involves inscribing the personal dimension, leaving questions open, and approaching issues divergently while asserting that it is possible to communicate something significant without necessarily fixing your position. Hopefully, in the end, it
7 will not be the strength of my argument that is the most compelling aspect of this project, but the effectiveness of what this project does in terms of its feminist strivings. Notes on the Use of Rhetorical Strategies Rhetorically, this thesis plays with different modes of address, tones, and conventions for varying purposes. Given the premade language conventions I am working within, to write in a way that isnt problematic on some level would be an impossibility. My decision not to settle on any singular mode of address reflects the diversity of tones and approaches within this thesis. Sometimes I use the first person I when I am situating myself in relation to the reader. Rhetorically, the I perspective can be problematic in that it is often used to establish authority and center the author in relation to the reader. The declarative nature of the I position also has the tendency to fix by exuding the illusion of a stable unity. The I position is also always a position of excess, for it is never constituted solely on its own. In other words, itcannot be contained and derives much of its meaning relationally. Postcolonial feminist theorist Trinh T. Minh addresses many of these issues when she writes: "I" is, therefore, not a unified subject, a fixed identity, or that solid mass covered with layers of superficialities one has gradually to peel off before one can see its true face. "I" is, itself, infinite layers. Its complexity can hardly be conveyed through such typographic conventions as I, i, or I/i.  Whether I accept it or not, the natures of I,i, you, s/he, We, we, they, and wo/man constantly overlap. They all display a necessary ambivalence, for the line dividing I and Not-I, us and them, or him and her is not
8 (cannot) always (be) as clear as we would like it to be. Despite our desperate, eternal attempt to separate, contain, and mend, categories always leak. (94) The critique of the heroic and self-contained I is explored more in depth throughout my third chapter. Furthermore, my thesis also goes in and out of other modes of address, including the use of the pronouns you, we, our, and their. While I may have, on a rare occasion, fallen into the use of them, I try to avoid this dichotomous form of anonymous address. However, I often use them/their as singular genderless pronouns in lieu of he/she.1 Occasionally, I sometimes generalize from the she perspective in order to subtly bring the generalized masculine perspective under scrutiny through an overturning of the invisible norm. I occasionally use you as a direct form ofaddress, but more often use it as a self-critical form of address through a rhetorical splitting of my writing self. The we or inclusive perspective is a tricky one to grapple with. I often feel compelled to use it, but immediately question the speaking for tone that it may imply. On the other hand, the we perspective may succeed in establishing a sense of closeness with the reader and sense of responsibility of the writer-subject to the things being written. In Black Feminist Thought, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins noted that her desire to use we when discussing black feminist epistemology derived from an inability to distance herself from her research when she felt personally implicated in the contents of her discussions. In What Does a Woman Want?: Reading and Sexual Difference, Shoshana Felman also explores her use of inclusive modes of address when she writes, 1 He/she or s/he also adheres to binary thinking because it implies that there are only males and females.
9 I should hasten to explainthat by adopting the generic "we" in what I have just written , I am not proposingto speak in the nameof women: the "we" is a rhetorical structure of address, not a claim for epistemological authority. I am speaking not for women, but to women. My utterance is meant as a speech act, not a constantive representation (14). It should also be noted that thisthesis sometimes deviates from standardized formatting conventions. I use different formatting styles to denote different tones and voices. I weave in personal and creative writing, as well as a reflective or thinking throughvoice. Unless otherwise notedor cited, the text that is marked and separated by different formatting cues, such as left-sided line border, is something that I have written.2 Situating Myself in Relation to Writing As my interests and energies have ignited and waned throughout my life, one thing has remained consistent: my love of writing. In my middle school years, I was encouraged to nurture my natural abilities for math and science. But I quietly resisted, persistently writing everything from diary entries to poetry to letters to my favorite journalists. I told the journalists that I was twelve years old and on a mission to become a writer and asked them what I had to do to get there. I became an editor at my school newspaper my freshman year of high school, and continued to be an editor until my senior year. During my senior year I also won the Pride in Writing award for my creative writing portfolio. At this point in my life I saw my commitment to reliable truth-telling and the imaginative world of fiction and wordplay as an irreconcilable dividethe old rift 2 Although, given the nature of the subject as a being of excess, isnt it ultimately impossible for me to claim ownership of these words in the conventional sense?
10 between fact and fiction, articles and stories. Although I had privately explored the terrain of Poetic Truth, I didnt understand that there was a place for literary nonfiction until I stumbled upon feminist theorists like Trinh T. Minh-ha, HlneCixous, Audre Lorde, Glorida Anzalda, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis. During my freshman year of college, I took advanced seminars that encouraged students to use different rhetorical approaches in their term papers and experiment with alternatives discourses. Throughout this time, I developed a personal interest in experimental memoir, travel writing, lyrical essay writing, poetic theorizing, and epistolary stories. I have always been interested in sharing my work and have been self-publishing since I was fifteen, creating aesthetic booklets that combine text and images. In addition to being published in my colleges literary magazine Gouie I have appeared in a couple issues of Borderlands which is a compilation of stories by mixed-race writers. My selfpublished writings have circulated through a range of independent distributors and bookstores, including Bluestockings Books in New York, Microcosm Publishing in Portland, and Stranger Danger Distro in Chicago. My essay Memoirs of a Queer Hapa has also been taught in an Asian Studies course. In my nonfiction work I enjoy writing about family, the personal dimensions of racial identity, the body, and travel while using subjective experience as a means of discovering and constructing lifelessons. Writing and text is integrated into nearly everything I do. I regularly write a series of anonymous essays (with only an email address attached) that I photocopy and leave at public placestucked in newspapers, left on caf tabletops. This private project of mine was born out of my love for the relational aspect of writingmy love of starting conversations and making connections rather than merely communicating something to
11 someone. The relational quality of language is what initially drew me to writing and continues to motivate me to share my writings. This thesis project is also concerned with how writing engages beyond itself. Situating Myself in Relation to Identity The very idea of not fitting in the U.S. discourse of positively valued whiteness and negatively debased blackness meant one was subject to exclusion and marginalization by whites and blacks. -Cornel West (103) In his book Race Matters, West prefaces this comment with a discussion of Malcom X and how racial hybridity is often located as a site of weakness and confusion by people that belong to clearly defined racial categories. Although Wests discussion speaks specifically to black/white mixed racial backgrounds, the idea that mixed racial people may experience exclusion from both sides is not an uncommon experience for people of varying mixed-race backgrounds. As a half-Chinese, half-Sicilian queer woman, my race and my sexuality have confused and fascinated strangers, and even close friends, throughout my life. The ambiguity of my race has allowed me to pass for countless South American, South Asian, East Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnicities, and the femininity of my gender presentation has someone led people to assume a heterosexual identity for me. As a child growing up in a predominantly white area of Florida, I was constantly questioned and ridiculed about my race. One of my earliest experiences of racial discrimination was when I was around the age of five. I asked a classmate if I could use his markers, and he said no on the basis that I was black. This confused me deeply as a child: I wasnt black, but what was I?
12 Looking back on it now, I realize that the young kids in my area hadno conceptual understanding of race beyond white and black. According to this logic, if I wasnt white like him, I must have been black because I was different. Later on, when children began to understand race beyond the black/white dichotomy by introducing other racial Others into their worldview, my peers would belittle Asian people by holding their fingers to their eyes to make them slanted and say things like ching chong king kong had a big ding dong and discussing how Chinese people ate cats. Because I was biracial, and specifically part-white living in a predominantly white area, my Chinese background was vulnerable to erasure. The pressure led to a relentless obsession with trying to prove my whiteness. This feeling was intensified because, to some members of my moms Italian-New Yorker family, Chinese people were primitive, abusive, and devoid of emotion. But my father gained some acceptance within our family through his rejection of traits that would mark him as foreign. He only spoke Chinese when he was on the phone with his non-English speaking family. He never talked about his family, about life in China and Taiwan, or anything else relating to his pre-American past. After moving to America he never went back to China or Taiwan until I asked him to take me when I was in high school. Although he could never get rid of his Chinese accent or physical markings, he could learn about American history, watch American movies, learn about American pop culture, and adjust to the American way of life. For some, home is thought of as a space of safety, support, and comfort. Home is often considered separate from society; home protects us from society; home is where we return when we are hurt by the external world and feel alienated by society. Home is
13 where we are supposes to be always welcome. Butfor mixed-race and queer people, this notion of home is inadequate in describing family experiences. Whereas home is usually thought of a space of comfort because it excludes the outside world, home may be considered a place of discomfort for queer people becauseoftenit excludes them. For mixed-race people, the division between public/private, inside/outside or home vs. the external world does not hold up. Racism, which is usually thought of as something that strangers do to people of color (i.e. something that is depersonalized and happens in the external world), makes its way into the mixed-race home through inter-family racism. Racism gets reenacted within the home. Home can be a site of exclusion rather than a refuge or space of safely. As I grew up, I felt less ashamed about being Asian. At the same time, I became angry at my dad for not teaching me Mandarin because I felt that it fundamentally alienated me from my family and other Chinese people. But Im not mad at my dad anymore. I understand that my linguistic deficiencies are partlythe result of forces much larger than our family, such as cultural hegemony and white normativity. I understand that my dad, a Chinese-born and Taiwanese-raised immigrant, felt an intense pressure to assimilate into American society. As I began to enteradolescence, I was not satisfied with the destinies carved out for me on the basis of my race. As a result I was constantly rebelling against the stereotypes projected onto me. I was IQ-tested and tracked into a gifted program at a young age and was encouraged to study math and science so I could, as my mom would say, be a good little Asian kid. My interests in writing, social studies, and literature were discouraged. When I was fourteen, I discovered feminism, radical politics, and other
14 things that wouldchange my life. Like many, studying feminism and critical race theories were frameworks for me to contextualize my experiences. When I went to college, I became more open with people about my sexuality, but I was still reluctant to use any term to describe my sexuality. When people would ask me about it, I would literally tell people that I had no sexuality. I meant this in the sense that there were no boundaries or rules governing whomI was attracted to. I was even reluctant to use the word queer, a term that is often lauded for its inclusiveness and fluidity. I eventually settled on terms such as queer and pansexual to describe myself. Bisexuality as a term seemed unfitting for me, especially at a time when I was growing increasingly wary of genderbinaries. The intersection of race, gender, and sexuality was most apparent to me while evaluating peoples presumptions about my identity as a nonheterosexual Asian woman. Asianness is gendered in that Asian women are constructed as hyper-feminine: they are constructed as dainty, subservient, soft, cute, weak, innocent, quiet, exotic, and inclined to serve men.Tied to this patriarchal construction of femininity and Asianness is an assumed heterosexuality because many assume that feminine gender presentations are taken on in order to pander to the male imagination. When a complex and unclear sexual identity was integrated into an already muddled racial identity, I was wholly confounding to curious onlookers. What was I? Who was I? Could I ever be a positive entity within the narrow discourses of insiders and outsiders if I was incapable of fitting neatly into any category? Could I learn to embrace my fractured identity and see it as a source of strength, not a watered-down weakness?
15 A discussion of identity, and particularly the postmodern critique of identity, is relevant to any discussion of multiracial queers. Although I feel that identity should be, as Judith Butler would say, a site of contest and revision, I do not think its useful to abandon the concept of identity altogether at a time when marginalized groups are striving to fashion their own subjectivities (Butler 180). In her essay Postmodern Blackness, bell hooks reminds us that our white supremacist culture strives to block the formationof subjectivities that represent difference.3 I realize the importance of valuing peoples narratives and subjectivities, but at the same time I do not wish to be confined to a prefabricated identity. My identity is something that I intend to constantly interrogate to create and recreate. This may seem like a sizeable chunk of space to take up for a discussion that is seemingly unrelated to my thesis. However, a significant part of my project is to expose the illusory character of the absentee author by showing how the personal and the theoretical give rise to each other. The impulse to abstract, depersonalize, and objectify what may be rooted in the personal could never be fully disinterested. At best, it can only cover-up and conceal its motivations rather than achieving a pure, uncontaminated position or understanding. When writing about the prejudice of the philosopher, 19th century German Philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche notes this tendency when he writes: They all pose as though their real opinions hadbeen discovered and attained through the self-evolving of a cold, pure, divinely indifferent dialectic (in contrast to all sorts of mystics, who, fairer and foolisher, talk of 'inspiration'), whereas, in fact, a prejudiced proposition, idea, or 3 Hooks also reminds us that the idea that identity should be completely abandoned is based on a misunderstanding of the postmodernist political project(hooks 28).
16 'suggestion,' which is generally their heart's desire abstracted and refined, is defended by them with arguments sought out after the event. (12) For Nietzsche, the justifications used to validate truth claims are directed by ones instincts (or their hearts desire). Similarly, lesbian poet Adrienne Rich challenges the idea of a disinterested author who has removed access to facts when she writes: Of Woman Bornwas both praised and attackedfor what was sometimes seen as its odd-fangled approach: personal testimony mingled with research, and theory which derived from both. But this approach never seemed odd to me in the writing. What still seems odd is the absentee author,the writerwho lays down speculations, theories, facts, and fantasies without any personal grounding. (x) Here, Rich addresses how people respond to personal in theoretic writing. For Rich, writing the personal seems like the most sensible approach, while it comes off as strange or odd to readers, likely because it is a nonnormative approach. Inan attempt to demonstrate the absurdity of the absentee author, Rich reverses the charge of oddness to bring the habits and conventions of theoretical writing under scrutiny and to show how speculations, theories, facts, and fantasies are less grounded without the personal dimension. In regards to my personal experience as a gendered and racialized subject, one way this experience has informed by theorization of writingis my interest in hybridization as an identity configuration and as a strategic approach to writing. Writing can be a way to engage in a practice of identity-making when dominant categories are insufficient. Not surprisingly, many people who feel like cultural, linguistic, racial, and
17 gender exiles (in that they dont have any comfortable home because they dont fit neatly into categories), find a home in writing. Writing can be a process of becoming or a way to make oneself. HlneCixous, in a poignant discussion on her relationship to Algeria (her country of origin), her relationship to France (her country of immigration), and her ethnically mixed family, describes how living between cultural and linguistic worlds prevented her from feeling completely comfortable in any single place. However, Cixous saw her status as an exile and perpetual outsider as a potential source of strength. In The Writing, Always the Writing, she notes: I did not have the need for a country, I had already entered the borderless country of texts (The Writing 123). For Cixous, The impossibility of an identification and any settling down is her historical luck (The Writing 123). In another work, Cixous writes that, I adopted an imaginary nationality which is literary nationality ( Rootprints 204). However, the temporality of the writing I am interestedin is about presence, about formation only in particular moments. If to writeis to engage in a process of becoming, the goal does not have to center around becoming something but can remain a continual process of becoming. When discussing the writing ofCixous, Adele Parker writes, Yet she does not write to know herself  rather she writes to know a particular instant (Parker). For me, writing is a twofold process: on one hand, it allows me to critically contextualize my racialized and gendered experience. On the other hand, it is a way to make myself, to tease apart how I have been made and to make myself anew. It is a way to work through. Why This Project?
18 Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us -Audre Lorde (43) If, however, one continues to believe in the project of human speech, one must move beyond a view of language as simply or inexorablypower over, discourse as domination, or discourse as unavoidably masked, and toward speech as part of an emancipatory effort, a movement toward social clarity and self-comprehension.Jean Bethke Elshtain (605) How is language related to feminist emancipatory goals? For some, language can be viewed as a power structure that is fundamentally alienating and silencing for women. Language can be viewed as innately masculine because the act of symbolization requires a sort of mastery over in order to constitute meaning. However, if I believed in the deterministic idea that language is fundamentally masculine, then my projectwhich consists of the articulation of viable feminist discourses and sights of transgression in linguistic practiceswould be obsolete and meaningless. It is precisely because I do notsee the de/reconstruction of language and signifying practices as a futile endeavor that I am undertaking this project. Furthermore, an emphasis on language in relation to feminist projects is both necessary and politically significant, for language is the medium through which political and social reality is constructed, as well as the mediator and nexus between subject and others. We can choose to ignore language, but it will not ignore us. It is preciselythis
19 ubiquity of language that makes its workings imperceptible. A critical engagement with signifying practices attempts to make the masculinist mechanisms within signifying practices transparent to themselves, while acknowledging that it is not possibleto step outside language in order to gain an untainted perspective. If we consider that linguistic practices are what constitute representations (of people, of the world), then language is also about survival. Poet Audre Lorde conceives of language as a politically necessary tool. In the essay Poetry is Not a Luxury, she writes: For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the namelessso it can be thought.(37) In this essay, Lorde draws our attention to how language is often de-valued as a political tool or strategy because it is considered an indulgence and a tool of the ruling class. However, Lorde rejects this idea, believing in the power of writing to help imagine a liberatory vision of the future. Language allows us name our problems and to think critically about our lives. Lordes word is permeated by this urgency to dismantle silence as the first step toward liberation. I have argued that linguistic practices are politically significant for feminist and other liberatory projects in that it is the medium through which social, historical, political, and representational perspectives are constructed, as well as the vehicle through which we relate to each other. For me, sound feminist politics and discourses cannot be created
20 without first paying close critical attention to the problem of language. Feminists must necessarily be committed to ethical signifying practices so that they dont unconsciously reinforce relations of domination through a discourse of domination. In her autobiography that combines poetry, memoir, and political history,former Black Liberation Army member and political exile Assata Shakur writes, Theory without practice is just as incomplete as practice without theory (180). Shakur grapples here with the tension between thecritical perspectives developed in intellectual pursuits and the necessity of political action.4 Shakur reconciles the two, highlighting the necessity of informed and critical political activity.It is my attempt to simultaneously formulate a theory and practice of feminist writing, where the practice itself gives rise to theory. In a recent talk given by bell hooks, I was reminded of a line from her book Yearning that had resonated with me deeply: Language is also a place of struggle. We are wedded in language, have our being in words (146). Hooks talk remindedmeof the significance of language: it is the medium through which we connect and are constituted (wedded in language),as well as the location from which political struggle happens. 4 Many of Shakurs criticisms of the Black Panther Party, of which she was also a member, were related to the hypocrisy of machismo within the organization, and their approach to political education, which tended to ignore the history of Black resistance.
21 Silence Chapter One Silence. Speech a breach where our absence has been sanctioned, absence from a history that is not ours. Some worry about what is lost when we go unsaid; some about saying too much, of speaking ourselves into cages, naming ourselves into our condition. Oppression made possible by our voicelessness? Or degradation founded on a principle of categorization, solidified with every utterance, constituted with every linguistic undertaking? Some say, you are making your own oppression possible, othersreply, not all of us can afford silence, of existing in shadows. There is the belief that the shadows are where we move without capture. For a shadow evades imprisonment, cannot be held in bars. Or; a shadow never exists, has no presence Who has been given the right to exist? Whose voice has been present? Silences are not simple. On the surface, they appear toreflect absencea coerced absence, an absence from history, from writing. But silences can also be used as a rhetorical strategy that attempts todisrupt, fragment, and elude processes of signification founded on binary oppositions and categorization. Silences may simultaneously function as a denial of subjectivity and a refusal to codify. How do silences function in writing? How do writers such asDale Spender, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and French feminists such as Luce Irigaray conceive of silence? What are the tensions between silences as sites of impossibility, as oppressive "silencing", or as moments of resistance?
22 Language: Are Women Fundamentally Silenced? In her ground-breaking work, Man-Made Language, Dale Spender discusses how sexism is fundamentally embedded in language, and how language has been constructed from a masculine perspective. Thus, women are forced to participate in the circulation of a language which is not suited to their needs, a language which reinforces their subordination. She writes: When one principle that has been encoded in our language (and thought) is that of sexism, the implications for reality can be readily seen. So too can the implications for objectivity, because scientific method has been frequently accepted as being above fallible human processes and, because its truths have been paraded as incontestable, many individuals have had little confidence in their own experience when it has clashed with prevailing scientific truths. (95) Spender maintains that there is no pure access to an objective reality. Everything is, in a sense, mediated through language,which in turn fundamentally shapes how we perceive the world. She notes, It is language which determines the limits of our world, which constructs our reality (94). For Spender, language is a sort of trap that distorts our vision because a specifically male-biased perspective has been encoded intolanguage, which has been normalized and naturalized to the extent that we cant even see sexist structures at work when we use language. Given the fact that women have historically been relegated to private sphere and remained largely outside public discourse, this
23 structure was legitimized and solidified as males referenced and validated other males (Spender 97). My own development as a feminist illuminates some of these points. When I was a high school student I took a Womens Studies course at a community college. At this time, I was in the beginning stages of developing my feminist consciousness and did not think critically about language in relation to feminism. My professor assigned our class an essay about sexism in language. I was initially resistant to the feminist critique of language because I felt it was unimportant. When the essay criticized generalized masculine pronouns, I thought it was being nit-picky and initially believed that they were merely innocuous terms of convenience, and not ideologically-motivated constructions that influenced and shaped our understanding of the world. The logic of masculinist language had been so thoroughly normalized that even I, a woman and self-professed feminist, initially adopted its justifications. Needlessto say, I have changed my position radically. Furthermore, for Spender, language is a tool of domination that allows the dominant group to exploit and subjugate non-dominant groups. She considers the sexism in language to be so fundamental and deeply-engrained that, it could be said that the trap which we have made is so pervasive that we cannot envisage a world constructed on any other lines (Spender 96). Thus, for Spender, the liberatory potential of language is minimal, if not nonexistent. Language is viewed as alienating women; therefore, it is a barrier to womens emancipation. Furthermore, Spender concluded that the structures embedded in language are nearly immutable. This deterministic outlook is further illuminated when she writes:
24 Names which cannot draw on past meanings are meaningless. New names, then, have their origins in the perspective of those doing the naming rather than the object or event that is being named, and that perspective is the product of the prefigured patterns of language and thought. New names systematically subscribe to old beliefs, they are locked into principles that already exist, and there seems no way out of this even if those principles are inadequate or false.  All naming is of necessity biased and the process ofnaming is one of encoding that bias, of making a selection of what to emphasize. (98) In this passage, Spender uses phrases such as locked into and no way out to emphasize her belief that language structures are nearly impossible to overturn. This position raises many questions. What are women to do when language forms the basis of communication, the circulation of thoughts and ideas, and is the primary medium we use to transmit and document history? Are women doomed to remain outside these processes? In essence, is silence the only option available to women? In the following sections, I attempt to critique this position. This fatalistic and bleak outlook promotes an attitude that just reinforces womens silence and does not account for the mutability and fluidity of language. This is not meant to downplay the enormous difficulty in constructing a non-oppressive feminist discourse. Early Feminists Perspectives on Silence The question of how women are silenced, and what social mechanismscontribute to the silencing of women, has been a question feminists have been grappling with for
25 decades. In this section, I briefly examine some of the ways feminists initially conceived of silence in regards to womens absence from the production of literature and knowledge. I consider Virginia Woolfs A Room of Ones Own, Tillie Olsens Silences and Joanna Russs How to Suppress Womens Writing In A Room of Ones Own, Virginia Woolf ruminates on why women have been largely absent from the literary world. She comesto the conclusion that " a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" (4). The argument here is that women are socio-economically disadvantaged, and that womens absence from the production of literature is not rooted inindividual incompetence, but the social circumstances into whichwomen are born. Is space enough? Is money enough? What goes into the making of these silences? How deeply does it cut? What conditions are ripe for unmaking silence; for unfettering? Much emphasis has been placed on physical conditions financial obligation and spatial limitationand how these conditions weigh on us, make even the possibility of speaking impossible from the onset. But how are we made to be silent, constructed as silent? How is Woman As Silent naturalized, internalized? Does Woolfs vision of creative production rely on a mythical idea of the transcendent, individual artist unjustly stifled by material conditions? Forced to expend their energy and turn their thoughts toward the trivialcaretaking, tedious laboring, survival. Herein lies the idea, man is free to create because he is not constantly preoccupied with survival. Herein lies an obsession with the Masterpiece, with valorized geniuses. Judith ShakespeareWoolfs fictitious character tragically undeveloped, denied personal liberty and so must die. For me, silence is a question relevant to more than the Talented Few.
26 Olsens Silences examines the lives of writers to reveal how external circumstances prevent creative development. In her book, she considers how gender, class, race, and generation deny certain people access to what is needed to produce literature. Olsens argument is comparable to Woolfs in that itplaces emphasis on material circumstance as an impediment to the development of ones creativity. However, she expands the discussion beyond gender to include multiple axes of oppression. Like Woolf, inherent to her argument is the assumption that there are certain individuals with creative proclivities that cannot come to fruition under varying repressive circumstances. Olsen gives us a more nuanced understanding of silence by examining different types of silences and the multiple ways in which women writers are disadvantaged. She distinguishes between hidden silences, censorship silences and miscellaneous other silences (8-9). Hidden silences refer to work aborted, deferred, deniedhidden by the work which does come to fruition. Hidden silences are the struggles of coming to voice, which cannot be seen on the surface. Censorship silences refers to deletions, omissions, abandonment of the medium, paralyzing of capacity as well as publisher censorship, devaluation of subject matter, and treatment of work as unmarketable (Olsen 9). It also includes self-censorship, religious censorship, and political censorship. The other silences described by Olsen include de-prioritizing writing because of the responsibilities that are ascribed to social positions relating to ones class, sex or color as well as the array of conditions not present for establishing the habits of creativity (Olsen 9). In addition to the types of silences described above, Olsen also describes the disadvantages faced by those who do write. The disadvantages that women and other marginalized people face include devaluation (their work is not taught or canonized),
27 unjustified critical attitudes (reactionary responses to works solely because they are produced by women), the climate in literary circles (there are few support networks for women), restriction (limited experiences as a result of being confined to the private sphere and more restricted access to work, education, and travel), and constriction (women are coerced toward one dimension and women writers are seen as unnatural and suspect) (Olsen 40-41). In How to Suppress Womens Writing, Joanna Russ uses irony to reveal what logics and mechanisms are behind the devaluation and denial of womens writing. Written as a satirical guidebook, Russ explores how denial of agency (deny the writer was a woman), pollution of agency (women writers are unnatural, neurotic, suspect, and ridiculous for creating art), the double standard of content (certain experiences are valued over others), false categorizing (women are seen merely as the lovers, wives, or mothers of male artists), and isolation (womens creative work is the result of a one-time success, and not a sustained and prolific output) are all used as arguments against women writers. Russ explores the operations of these mechanisms of devaluation through commonly occurring assumptions about womens literature. These assumptions are exemplified in the phrases: she didn't write it; she wrote it, but she had help; she wrote it but she shouldn't have; she wrote it, but look what shewrote about; she wrote it but she only wrote one of it; she wrote it, but she isn't really an artist; and, she wrote it, but she's an anomaly (Russ 76). Silence as Repressive
28 While there are many similarities between the early perspectives on silence in relation to women and more recent discussions of silence as repressive, this section focuses on the interplay of race, gender, and sexuality and how silence functions to dehumanize and deny subjectivity to those who claim multiple identities (including identities such as woman, person of color, queer, philosopher, southerner, and so forth.) In Woman, Native, Other, post-colonial feminist theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha explores the dual relationship women of color may feel to writing. On one hand, they may be suspicious of how language is primarily used as an instrument of control, while simultaneously feeling compelled to undo the external definitions that havebeenimposed on women of color. She notes: Difference is not difference to some ears, but awkwardness or incompleteness. Aphasia.  You who understand the dehumanization of forced removal-relocation-reduction-redefinition, the humiliation of having to falsify your own reality, your voiceyou know. And often you cannot say it. You try to keep on trying to unsay it. For if you don't, they will not fail to fill in the blanks on your behalf, and you will be said. (Trinh 80) In this quote, Trinh illuminates how silence is imposed onto women, and how this silence is dehumanizing in that women are merely objects, or blanks, that are externally defined in reductive ways (because people often refuse to hear difference). However, there is also an urgency to speak, even though one often cannot say it, so that one is not spoken for. The idea that there is a need for women and other oppressed people to come to speech can be found in the works of Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Patricia Hill Collins.
29 In her essay The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Audre Lorde poetically explores the political necessity of women, people of color, and other marginalized people to overcome silence. She writes: I was going to die, if not sooner than later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect youBecause the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid. (Lorde 41) Here, Lorde maintains that remaining silent will contribute to the maintenance of existing power relations. Like Trinh, there is an urgency to speak in order to undermine being distorted or misrepresented. However, Lorde acknowledges that silence is externally imposed on oppressed people, and that that silence is internalized. Lorde discusses how fear is often the primary barrier for women and people of color coming to speech. She notes, In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fearfear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannottruly live (Lorde 42). This fear is often present in a multiplicity of places where women attempt to speak, whether she is pursuing a professional career, or struggling to fashion a voice as a writer. In the essay, Changing the Ideology and Culture ofPhilosophy, Sally Haslanger
30 discusses the rampant sexism and discrimination within philosophy departments. She writes: In my experience, solo status often results in my feeling tongue-tied and "stupid," even to this day. I watch myself unable to follow an argument or clearly articulate my question on an utterly familiar topic. We all know what it is like to struggle with complex ideas when "struck dumb" with anxiety. What is less evident is how gender and race imbalance creates contexts in which it is more difficult for women and minorities to perform up to their potential. (Haslanger 9) Furthermore, part of the mechanisms that drive women to silence include internalizing the values and perspectives of the dominant group. We may feel stupid in philosophical settings because we come to believe that we are stupid. This may be because we are ridiculed or we are treated as outsiders because we do not adhere to the dominant methods of constructing discourse (such as the adversarial method). This can be a huge barrier to coming to voice. This brings to mind the frequently-heralded phrase, decolonize your mind. So often, we come to view ourselves in the eyes of the colonizer, which leads to a devaluing or dehumanization of ourselves. It is often hard to speak and write when we are made to feel that we have nothing of value to say. The humanity in the way she treats people. The way she was so open, didnt judge, and engaged you and your ideas without making you feel stupid. Something about people who look other people in the eyes and can see past the immediate things that others perceive. Clothing, skin, exteriors. And other signifiers that indicate something, setting us apart. Looking people in the eyes. Eyes tied together by invisible string moving between all these
31 millions of people who are connected maybe only for seconds through their eyes. This acknowledgment of another, so powerful, and we close our eyes and look away because thats frightening and we feel weak, maybe arent even ready to be seen like this; not as an object but as another person, another subject. Maybe we turn ourselves into objects, start to see ourselves that way because thats what were trained to do. And we become a picture they handed us as they said, this is you.My vision wavers. I escape their grip, shed my sunglasses and am overwhelmed by the clarity; the suspicion and fear turning to love, I open my mouth. Im usually so afraid, live in this silence but some days I overcome silence. I say it to myself everyday: I dont want anyone to ever be driven to silence because theyre afraid. This silence is political. I do not trust their monopoly on voice, the way they demarcated who is worthy of speech, of words. And I can no longer internalize this feeling of unworthiness, of self-dehumanization. So much has been lost and they should feel like shit. Colonization, patriarchy, slavery and all other systems of dehumanization. So much has been lost, never even given a chance to live or grow, and they should feel like shit. You truly believe in the liberating potential of writing, of overcoming silence, of sharing our stories. You always thought of that space as a space of freedom. But that space has been poisoned. And there's so much that we have to overcome for that space to be free. But now you know the point of it all. It was always meant to inspire, to be a part of the undoing of silence. And not just your own silence. It's not even worth it to do it alone. For many feminist theorists, overcoming silence is a political imperative because it fosters the movement away from objectification (passive victim, externally defined Other) and the development of a critically conscious subjectivity. Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks are two theorists that emphasize the need to overcome silence while exploring the relationship between language, self-definition, and subjectivity. Collins discusses how Black women are constantly striving to fashion selfdefinitions amidst imposed definitions that are racist and sexist. She notes:
32 Black womens lives are a series of negotiations that aim to reconcile the contradictions separating our own internally defined images of self as African American women with our objectification as the Other. The struggle of living two lives, one for them and one forourselves creates a peculiar tension to construct independent self-definitions within a context where black womanhood remains routinely derogated. (Collins 99-100) Collins notes that Black women are often forced into outsider or marginalized spaces. Shewrites, But paradoxically, being treated as an invisible Other places U.S. Black women in an outsider-within position that has stimulated creativity in many (Collins 100). Collins asserts that this outsider positioning paradoxically allows Black women to create safe spaces where they can affirm one anothers humanity, specialness, and right to exist (Collins 102). In her book, Black Feminist Thought, Collins explores the many places where Black women have constructed self-definitions and subjugated knowledges. Collins asserts that black women have used their marginal spaces as a site of resistance where they resist objectification as the other (Collins 101). These outsider spaces also were conducive to the formation of relationships and friendships between black women because these spaces were often exclusively occupied by black women. Similar to Collins emphasis on self-definition, hooks emphasizes the humanizing potential of language, and how it can be used as a site of resistance. However, hooks goes further by interrogating and challenging the ways in which language employed. Her weariness of re-inscribing relationships of control and domination is clear when she writes:
33 Language is also a place of struggle. We are wedded in language, have our being in words. Language is also a place of struggle. Dare I speak to oppressed and oppressor in the same voice? Dare I speak to you in a language that will move beyond the boundaries of dominationa language that will not bind you, fence you in, or hold you? Language is also a place of struggle. The oppressed struggle in language to recover ourselves, to reconcile, to reunite, to renew. Our words are not without meaning, they are an action, a resistance. Language is also a place of struggle. (hooks 146) For hooks, the content of ones language is not the only important aspect of our speech. Rather, how language is used becomes a central issue. The how What we do with language. How we write. The rhetorical moves, what lies beneath, and how it alters the mechanism, makes them breakdown, shatters the assumptions. That is what interests me. To write and speak in ways that affirm without reducing, without constructing new hierarchies, new insides to be outside of, a box that moves and stays intact. Without promoting the same game in a clever and unsuspecting disguise. To divest myself of the game, to let go of celebrating a romantic oppressed identity because it gives these words more weight. Language as opennesssomething that gives life rather that destroys. That speaksnot to do silence to others, not to overshadow, not solidify or representbut to be a part of the undoing of an imposed silence. Or, to be a part of the hearing of silences without filling in the empty spaces. Because its easier to put what suits our needs in the blank spaces, easier to categorize for convenience, but so much is lost. And the game remains intact.
34 Silence as Strategic, Language as Constitutive There are two primary ways that silence, or the absence of signifying practices, can be viewed at strategic or valuable to a feminist project. One is the appropriation of silences as rhetorical strategies that disrupt the masculinist system of meaning. This strategy is often promoted by feminist thinkers such as Luce Irigaray, who sees silence itself as a rupture, as resistance to a system of signs that values presence and occupation as opposed to gaps and absences. There is a tendency to almost valorize silence because it is viewed as a space not colonized by signifiers in a phallic system. The second way that silence can be viewed as advantageous is that it also an absence of codification or inscription into discourse. This invisibility and namelessness is seen by some as allowing for a greater range of fluidity and freedom. In this section, I will draw on Michel Foucaults History of Sexuality: Volume I to explore how signifying acts produce identities, even oppressed identities, and how writing on behalf of those identities can be a play a part of the production of oppression through the reification of identity. Silence: Evading Capture in a Masculinized System of Meaning-Making You were in the room next to me and looked so frail and drained. Your room was a hospital room. You just had a breakdown. I remember walking past your room and peering through the door and seeing just your legs under the white sheets. I walked in and you weren't happy to see me because you thought I was stalking you and you didn't like me. I was straining to explain that it was by total coincidence that I found you, a coincidence that I was secretly glad happened. It was time for you to go for a walk and you left your hospital room. I followed you and a man outside. We walked around a dirt track lined with
35 domesticated animals, enormous pigs on big moundsof hay that were feasting and I was the only one who seemed to notice the animals. You were walking ahead of me with the man. I hated that man. I would later find out he was your doctor. I was on a journey through foggy rivers that cut through mountains and I followed the man to the airport-hospital (maybe married in my mind by their mutual sterility). And that's where I found you. I didn't trust him. You can't trust doctors. As I am falling asleep I think about Chris Marker, and how he said that memoriesmust make do with their delirium. And I think that dreams, too, must make do with their delirium. Because you can spend every waking minute trying to recover that delirium, the dizzying temporality which disrupts the linear organization of a cogent progression And every time you try to explain a dream, the events are always misplaced, illogically ordered and so the journey that led you to the hospital-airport and the man you followed to get there turn up at the end, after your arrival, after stumbling upon her in her sickness. We will have to make do with our silence, too. Gaps in our memories, dreams that will never be recovered as long as you live but maybe released upon dying. Make do with the dissolution of the beauty and serenity of moments outside. Walking up to something shaded red against rain-ready skies. The total and physical deepness of that feeling. And while I mourn at the headstone of The Forgotten,of Herstory's unwritten memoirI know that silence is a gift. For it is good to leave some space unfilled. And I know that I am motivated by illusions, a compulsion to rectify the incompleteness one feels with forgetting, the pursuit of a false recovery when there is no recovery, no centralized server of our dreams and memories to catalog all the data and input of our lived experiences. No discovery. Everything just continually made anew. Everything that we remember was built. The softness of the hands which I re-live now in glorious and vivid clarity might as well be a dream, for all it is now isa shifting image, never the same each time it is conjured, impenetrable in that it no longer exists, and never actually ever existed outside our already-distorted initial perception and clouded mediation, distanced in our linguistic processing. The momentof initial contact, when I note,
36 how very soft, thrusts me outside of the jarring immediacy of this simple touch, which has no place here, in language, mastering and taming the overwhelming feeling that might otherwise kill me. The water changes our depthperception. It is okay not to know, to not say. Let every hand die out after the initial contact, to sneak away from coding. A fence lined with dead hands, and a woman blazing freely through a field of possibility. And then, blank pages, gaps, borders, spaces and silence, holes in discourse: these women emphasize the aspect of feminine writing which is the most difficult to verbalize because it becomes compromised, rationalized, masculinized as it explains itself.If the reader feels a bit disoriented in this new space, one which is obscure and silent, it proves, perhaps, that it is a woman's space. (Gauthier 162) French feminist theorist HlneCixous, when confronted with the problem of patriarchal discourse, developed a form of communicating called feminine writing that attempts to inscribe women into language. Feminine writing is a radical rejection of masculinist languageit embraces open-endedness, ambiguity, plurality, non-linear chronology, and illogic while rejecting absolutist claims, singularity, and logic. The privileging of logic and truth over open-endedness and multiplicity is, according to Cixous(as well as Luce Irigaray), phallocentric. This phallocentric way of communicating has been created by men and functions solely for men. Thus, women are entirely excluded from language and have no means of representing themselves when confined to masculine structures. According to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, linguistic structures are derived from men and womens relationship to the Symbolic (founded onthe phallic signifier). The
37 phallus, not to be confused with penis (the penis is a biological organ while the phallus is symbolic), is specific to men and can never be acquired by women. Women are forced into a position of non-being; they are merelya lacka negative sign. Lacan also asserts that a woman can never be a subject. They are denied subjectivity because they are a lack. They cannot write themselves because there is no form of language that adequately functions for women. Lacan also claims that, not only is there no specifically feminine form of language, there could never be a feminine language because the process of signification is, in itself, phallocentric. Women can never be represented by language, but rather, their only representation lies in silence, ambiguity and madness (Selous 33). Feminine writing is derived from the female genitalia rather than the phallus. The phallus is singular (simple) represents a unified self, as opposed to the indefinite plurality of female genitalia (Gallop 63). Feminine writing is fluid rather than rigid, interrogative rather than conclusive. Furthermore, silence itself is feminized by French feminists who view gaps and empty space as a failure of the sign to signify, a breach in the chain, and place that women can occupy trangressively because it challenges the phallocentric logic of presence and coding. However, feminists such as Irigaray cannot be reduced to merely valorizing a feminized silence. Irigaray, specifically, recognizes the problematic silencing that women are subjected to,5 the rhetorically transgressive qualities of silence, and the necessity of silence in making space to hear the other. 5 Through the articulation of feminine writing, Cixous sought to inscribed women into language because creating new signifying practices. This challenged the determinism of Lacan.
38 For Irigaray, silence and words are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they depend on each other to constitute meaning. She writes, This silent constituting pause is not without connection to the speaking that has to allow it to be, including through its withdrawal, its partial, thus non-universal character: appealing for or awakening energy without capturing it with wordsnaming, appropriating, immobilizing meaning (Irigaray 21). Silence, or the impossibility of one to say, can move one toward an unappropriable signification (Irigaray 23). The Language House Are we starting to build a house? Is that a useful metaphor? I dont know. But I am thinking of us as architecture. We are building a wonderful space together. It is both us the relationand a space that weindividuated people occupy; and I want it to act on us in such a way that we become better than ourselves; because we are careful with our construction and together we can exceed ourselves in so many ways. I want to explore us the relationbecause what we could be is so endless. Its easy to become a stranger in your own home; the objects can begin to look foreign and misplaced. I dont want our little dwelling to ever be alienating or poisonous. Do I want too much? Before reading Irigarays On the Way to Love,I wrote this selection about the house as a metaphor for the place where the I encounters the Other.6 The house is the meeting placea space that is attentively constructed to allow for the opening-up of the relation between the subject and other. But it is also the relation itself, for the encounter between self and other creates a new term, a new space that exceeds both subjects (Irigaray calls this the between-us ). The creation of a closed text that does not concern itself with its relation to other subjects is the creation of a narrow and unchanging space, 6 If I capitalizeI, should I not capitalize Other here? It makes sense to give due to both terms, equally.
39 for the solipsistic universe of the writer-speaker remains unexpanded, and the practice of signification becomes a mere monologue, a conversation one has with oneself. In the section Wandering to the Source of the Intimate, Irigaray uses the same metaphor to discuss a similar idea. She discusses the language-house as provisional space or shelter that strives to be open to oneself and the other. For her, language is a shelter where one can indeed withdraw and even invite the other but not a definitive house for the subject. It is a refuge while waiting to build a more human dwelling, and a common dwelling (Irigaray 50). Irigaray recognizes the imperfection of language as it exists now, specifically the limitations when subjects try to foster a dialogical relation. The more human dwelling requires the construction of a new language. She notes, This dwelling cannot be built from words already know by the twilit norn 7 (Irigaray 50). When thinking of language as space, Irigarary sees silence as a necessary prerequisite for the creation of an open space. She notes that language must always open up in order to clear them [regions of space] of the obstruction produced by speech itself, and its silences not yet attentive to such dimensions (Irigaray 44). The obstruction caused by speech is the over-coding of space, for such a space does not allow for the other to speak. The space where one subject encounters the other must not be rigid; it must be a region scarcely marked out (Irigarary 44). It must be a region intermittently patterned with both speech and silences; with moments of quiet listening and engaged exchanges. In the opening paragraph of the book, On the Way to Love, Irigaray concisely captures one of her main positions on silence: The word then has to be sought in order to say, but also the silence. In the gathering of the world thanks to speech alone, the other 7 Here, Irigarary is referencing Heideggers commentary on Stefan Georges poem Words.
40 cannot say their own self, and talking to the other has become impossible. In fact, their exists different worlds that require silence in order to say themselves, to hear one another, to communicate between them (Irigaray 15). Language and Power One of Michel Foucault major scholarly contributions has been his reformulation of notions of power. The model of power that we took for granted when discussing notions of silence based of the repressive hypothesis (silence as something that one is subjected to) relies on a notion of power located at the structural level. Foucault calls this notion of power into question when he writes: Do the workings of power, and in particular the mechanisms that are brought into play in societies such as ours, really belong primarily to the category of repression? Are prohibition, censorship, and denial truly the forms through which power is exercised in a general way [...]? Did the critical discourse that addresses itself to repression come to act as a roadblock to a power mechanism that had operated unchallenged up to that point, or is it not in fact part of the same historical network as the thing it denounces (and doubtlessmisrepresents) by calling it "repression"?(Foucault 10) Here, we see that both the critical discourse about repression operates according to the same historical network as power itself, for the act of denouncing is a reproduction of a relation of power. Foucault asserts that power is not something that is located solely in
41 institutions such as the State or economy, nor is it a top-down arrangement that operates exclusively through repression. For Foucault, power is embedded in all social relations and interactions, and is continually produced and re-produced at all levels of the social sphere. Thus, oppositional politics and identity politics adhere to a logic of power play, which is located in the act of articulation. In light of Foucaults notion ofpower, the notion of silence as repressive is problematic in that it conforms to a dichotomizing logic. Foucault warns that the very act of resisting power can affirm power. The multidirectional compulsion to articulate a deviant or minority identity iscalled an incitement to discourse by Foucault (Foucault 17). This incitement to discourse produces and reifies identities. When speaking about sexuality, Foucault illustrates this point when he writes: But more important was the multiplication of discourses concerning sex in the field of exercise of power itself: an institutional incitement to speak about it, and to do so more and more; a determination on the part of the agencies of power to hear it spoken about, and to cause it to speak through explicitarticulation and endlessly accumulated detail. (Foucault 18) The act of articulation does not merely express a predetermined identity or condition. Rather, it is productive in that the identity or condition is produced and reified through the production of discourse. This allows us to conceive of language and the act of articulation as constitutivesomething that produces the subject, rather than the subject expressing some inner truth. In The History of Sexuality, Foucault discusses how sexuality does not precede its emergence as a discourse. Thus, one cannot look back in
42 history and claim that the homosexual existed prior to the emergence of the homosexual as a linguistically coded identity. How, exactly, does this relate to the notion of silence inrelation to womens writing? For one, we can consider the idea of silence as a repressive mechanism, and the discourse surrounding such a notion, to exist within a matrix of binary oppositions: silencer/silenced, oppressor/oppressed, minority/majority, and so forth. According to Foucaults critique, the repetitious articulation of woman as silenced reproduces that very association. Concluding Thoughts Although I have intermittently included personal commentary and tangentiallyrelated musings throughout this chapter, I have still not fully situated myself in the debate about silence in relation to womens writing. However, I feel that the question is not about which notion of silence is correct or better. Rather, the critical thing that should be taken away from this discussion is how we can use these divergent perspectives on silence to approach our signifying practices in power-sensitive ways. In lieu of a singular conclusion, I have come up with a list of points or questions to consider when thinking about signifying practices in relation to silence. These points are informed by the variety of perspectives offered by the writers and thinkers we have just discussed. When using language we must consider the following: 1.What do our symbolic practices do? 2.Whomare we speaking for? How might our discourse be silencing? 3.When is language necessary, and when is silence necessary to hear the other?
43 4.How do we create a culture and a safe space that fosters the overcoming of both learned and internalized silence? 5.How does the valuation of specific types of speech and writing contribute to the silencing of people who use language differently? 6.How do systems of power such as racism, sexism, homophobia, queerphobia, ableism, and classism contribute to the silencing of people through dehumanization? 7.How can silence help open up and clear space? 8.How can the demand for articulation itself be oppressive? Overall, these questions regarding the specific issue of silence are derivative of larger questions such as, what do we need from language? What do we need it to do or accomplish for us? Signifying practices such as writing cannot be alienated from its relational responsibility. Writing, perhaps even more so than other signifying practices such as speech, gives off appearance of being a solitary activity, distanced in its relation to people. However, all writings that circulate are engaged with subjects beyond the author. The relational quality of language must always be considered when engaging in signifying practices. When considering the needs of both myselfsometimes a writer, sometimes a reader, sometimes a person being representedand those I am engaging with, I find that both words and silence, intermittently exchanged, are necessary for me. Words are important, butwe must be careful not to create reductive representations by universalizing or extending our words. To do so would be to impose a silence on the people we claim to represent. At the same time, silence is often necessary to carve out a
44 space whether the other may speak. If we think of the classroom as a space where language circulates, we can see how the overly-present speaker may become a dominating force. The tragedy is that we may never be privy to the potential richness in perspective that is lost whena space is too full of the voices of a few. But at the same time, it is important not to demand articulation in a coercive way. For instance, we may think we are doing people a favor when we ask someone their ethnicity, their gender, their sexuality, or other questions relating to someones identity, for to do so could be seen as a an undoing of silence and an encouragement for the other to speak. However, these questions, which require the articulation of a self-definition, may promote a reductive answer.This may make some, particularly those occupying the borderlands (people living between different cultures, genders, sexualities, and so forth), uncomfortable. There is no unified solution to the problem of silence. The important thing is to make space,through both words and silences, for a multiplicity of perspectives and an open exchange between subjects.
45 Negotiating Writing and Identity through Location Chapter Two The question of how identity relates to writing, and how writing to identity, has plagued literary debates for decades. With the development of feminist criticism, women and people of color in particular have called for a reexamination of the significance of identity as it relates to writing. Some writers argue that the way people understand, interpret the world, and write depends on how that person is situated historically, politically, culturally, socioeconomically, and so forth. However, not all feminists agree with this position. Other feminists warn that an over-emphasis on subjective experience is problematic when that experience is presented as the exemplary experience of all people occupying a similar identity category. For example, if a white middle-class U.S. woman expresses her experiences and claims that those experiences are universal and can be extended to all women, then notions of what women experience are homogenized and fixed. This move also obscures differences relating to ones age/generation, race/ethnicity, class, ability, and so forth. It is even possible to become invested in maintaining status as an oppressed person if one clings to the voice of authenticity as a source of validation.
46 Bell hooks is a southern, black feminist who writes about race, gender, class, environmentalism, culture, literature and a range of other topics. In the essay Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness, hooks examines how race, gender and class relates to cultural practices, language, and artistic production. Specifically, this essay is concerned with the 'politics of location,' or, the place from which we speak and know. Hooks explores the 'margin' as a potential liberatory space where transgression and critical standpoints can exist. Central to hooks discussion is the idea that language is a place of struggle. Vietnamesewriter/filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha rejects the idea of speaking as and speaking for (an Other), opting for dialogical approach to writing that is more along the lines of speaking with. Trinh emphasizes intersubjective relations that destabilize notions of Self/Other and reader/writer. For Trinh, the reader is also simultaneously a writer (for she actively construct the meaning of a text), just as the writer is also a reader (for she is usually the first reader of her text). At every turn, Trinh is uprooting and unfixing binaries that attempt to solidify identities so that meaning may remain open, identities may remain fluid, and subjects may interact through dialogue, rather than argument or opposition. Trinh rejects the notion that identity must be pure, whole or ontologically fixed, for there is no authentic or essential Self. For Trinh, Fragmentation is therefore a way of living at the borders (Parmar and Trinh 72). Similarly, the writings of Chicana poet Gloria Anzaldafavor multiplicity over singularity when it comes to identity. Like Trinh, Anzaldaviewed identity as hybridized
47 and fragmented.8 Anzaldaused the metaphor of the borderlands to discuss what it is like to live between different cultures, to speak multiple languages, to be mixed-race, to claim multiple identities, and to be both a lesbian and a Chicana feminist. For Anzalda, the borderlands was both a physical spacethe area where Texas borders Mexicoand a symbolic, psychological, spiritual, and sexual space that referred to the experience of living between multiple worlds. Anzaldacelebrated the multiplicity of identity, and refused to subsume any part of her identity in order to take on a coherent, singular identity. Like Trinh, Anzaldacreatively blends the poetic with the theoretical and the personal with the political. Both writers playfully resisted normativity in all its varied manifestations, whether in regard to writing style, sexual identity, or culture. The goal of this chapter is not to argue that these writers are the same, or to argue that their writing styles are the same. It is possible that the hooks, Trinh and Anzalda influenced each otherseveral of Trinhs essays appeared in a women of color anthology that Anzaldaedited called Making Face, Making Soul. Trinh has also quoted Anzalda in her work, and hooks has also quoted Anzalda. However, that is not what I intend to claim in this chapter. Rather, I explore the space where their differences intersect, to show how identity and culture can be creatively constructed (rather than passively 8 Here, fragmented does not mean not-whole or incomplete. Rather, it refers the nontotalizable multiplicity of identity.
48 inherited), I examine how the pluralistic9 notion of identity in hooks, Trinh and Analduas work relates to the way they write. The Margin: Writing for Openness Hooks, like most feminists, is radically committed to openness. Her commitment to openness is not only reflected in her perspectives on writing, but also in her perspectives on relationships, identity, sexuality, and style. Hooks warns against the creation of rigid aesthetic standards that attempt to measure the 'authenticity' of the art/literature produced by black folk while simultaneously calling for an acceptance of a multiplicity of styles and critical standards. When discussing how people are continually moving between spaces (such as home, the academy, and the church), hooks notes: Moving, we confront the realities of choice and location. Within complex and ever shifting realms of power relations, do we position ourselves on the side of colonizing mentality? Or do we continue to stand in political resistance with the oppressed, ready to offer our ways of seeing and theorizing, of making culture, towards that revolutionary effort which seeks to create space where there is unlimited access to the pleasure and power of knowing, where transformation is possible? This choice is crucial. It shapes and determines our response to existing cultural practice 9 In this paper I use the word pluralism to refer to thinking about the multiple aspects of identity without reducing it to a single quality or valuing one aspect of ones identity over another.
49 and our capacity to envision new, alternative, oppositional aesthetic acts. ( Yearning 145) For hooks, the refusal to locate oneself in the center is also a refusal to make alliances with mechanisms of power. It is also a refusal to compromise ones' values at the expense of alienating other oppressed people. Hooks explores the pain of being driven to silence, and of struggling to find words in a culture that refuses tolisten or hear difference. Furthermore, hooks emphasizes her desire to avoid reinscribing existing relationships of domination with her language and strives to write in a way that does not bind others. Acknowledging language as a battleground for oppressed people, her mantra becomes: Language is also a place of struggle (hooks Yearning 146). She notes that: We are wedded in language, have our being in words. Language is also a place of struggle. Dare I speak to oppressed and oppressor in the same voice? Dare I speak to you in a language that will move beyond the boundaries of dominationa language that will not bind you, fence you in, or hold you? Language is also a place of struggle. The oppressed struggle in language to recover ourselves, to reconcile, to to reunite, to renew. Our words are not without meaning, they are an action, a resistance. ( Yearning 146) For hooks, writing is political. She emphasizes the significance of how memory becomes inscribed in writing (and how memory itself is politicized) arguing there is a need to create spaces where one is able to redeem and reclaim the past, legacies of pain, suffering, and triumph in ways that transform present reality (hooks Yearning 147).
50 Hooks also speaks of the need to be able to move between voices and to resist the impulse to simplify and suppress our multiple locationswhether it is academic, black, woman, lesbian, southerner, and so forthunder the pressure to conform to a single immutable identity (to be authentically black is to be____. Or to be a woman one must write like___ ). Here is where the space of the margin comes into play. The margin is the space where one can occupy multiple locations without reducing them to a fixed and authentic self. Hooks speaks of the need to be able to move between different tongues. Her own movement is apparent in the way she combines academic language, southern black vernacular, and references everything from music lyrics to capital T theory. Hookss margin is similar to Gloria Anzalda's notion of the 'borderlands.' Like the borderlands, the margin is a space of creative identity and subjectivity construction; it is a place one chooses as a site of resistance and not the place one is forced to occupy because of oppressive structures. Hooks warns against pandering to ideas about the romanticized and essentialized 'other,' such as the essentialized woman of color who is defined solely by her woundedness, lack, or otherness. The essentialized woman of color is expected only to speak from the locationof victimization. We know that the forces that silence us, because they never want us to speak, differ from the forces that say speak, tell me your story. Only do not speak in a voice of resistance. Only speak from that place in the margin that is a signof deprivation, a wound, and unfulfilled longing. Only speak your pain.
51 This is an intervention. A message from that space in the margin that is a site of creativity and power, that inclusive space where we recover ourselves, where we move in solidarity to erase the category colonized/colonizer. Marginality as a site of resistance. (hooks Yearning 152) Hookss conceptual space of the margin is a space of both agency and fragmented subjectivity. Identity and Cultural Hybridization When am I Vietnamese? When am I American? When am I Asian and when am I Asian-American or Asian-European? Which language should I speak, which is closest to myself, and when is that language more adequate than another? -Trinh T. Minh-ha (Parmar and Trinh 72) What does it mean to be an ethnic writer? How does the experience of displacement and hybridization affect ones ethnic identity? As women of color, it is no surprise that hooks, Anzaldaand Trinhs ethnicity is highlighted when their writings and creative works are discussed. With the development ethnic criticism, there is a growing emphasis on where the writer-subject is located historically and ethnically. However, an over-emphasis on ethnicity risks obscuring the complexity of identity, and promoting the idea that one should strive for cultural purity and ethnic authenticity. Trinh was raised in Saigon in the 1950s and 1960s, a place where Vietnamese culture edged up against French culture. She was educated in Vietnam, France, and the
52 United States and has taught in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States. Her experience of transnational migration and her fluency in multiple languages contributes to her feeling that she has never fit squarely as belonging in one group, one category, one discipline, or even one language (Cockrell). For Trinh, identity is necessarily decentered. Rather than valorizing a romantic return to an imagined pure identity, she favors radical impurity and hybrid or transcultural identities" (Cockrell). However, this movement towards hybrid identities does not promote the erasure of difference, nor does it promote the domination of ones culture and language in favor of a universal and homogeneous human subject. Rather, it is a radical acceptance of difference and the multiplicity of identity, and a refusal to settle on one part of ones identity at the expense of devaluing another part of ones identity. In an interview, she notes, Here the notion of displacement is also a place of identity: there is no real me to return to, no whole self that synthesizes the woman, the woman of color and the writer; there are instead, diverse recognitions of self through difference, and unfinished, contingent, arbitrary closures that make possible both politics and identity (Parmar and Trinh 73). Towards the end of this statement, Trinh acknowledges that arbitrary closures may be necessary to make politics possible. This suggests that strategic essentialism may be a necessary resistance strategy for survival in response to the historical degradation of people based on their gender and race. It is at this juncture that empty categories such as Asian American become useful. However, this strategic use of categories should not be an end in itself and identity should always be open to revision.
53 As a Mestiza I have no country, my homeland cast me out; yet all countries are mine because I am every womans sister or potential lover. (As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer ofme in all races.) I am cultureless because, as a feminist, I challenge the collective cultural/religious malederived beliefs of Indo-Hispanics and Anglos; yet I am cultured because I am participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet. -Gloria Anzalda, ( Making Face 380) Anzaldawas a sixth-generation Tejana10 of Mexican descent who spent most of her life living in southern Texas. More specifically, she considered herself a mestiza someone who is a mix of indigenous Mexican/South American and European-Spaniard ancestry. In addition to her mixed racial identity, Anzaldaclaimed multiple identities including lesbian, poet, and feminist. Anzaldaviewed hybridization and plurality of identity to be a positive, creative force because it allowed her think divergentlyfrom multiple centers and perspectivesand to acknowledge the complexities of the world, rather than reducing things to singulars and opposites. In her writings, Anzaldadeveloped the idea of mestiza consciousness, and the borderlands. Mestiza consciousness is a resistance to reductive dualisms; it is a tolerance for ambiguity and a way of approaching the world from multiple standpoints 10 A person of Hispanic descent living in Texas.
54 (Anzalda, Making 378). It is also a mode of resistance and psychological state of mind that can, at times, be jarring because it forces one to accept conflicting information and points of view (Anzalda, Making 378). The mestiza occupies the space of the borderlandsthe space where multiple cultures collide and contradictions coexist in close proximity without being turned into opposites. In her writings, Anzaldaalludes to the pain of living in the borderlandsof feeling pulled in multiple directions. As someone who claimed multiple identities, she risked being an alien on all lands (Anzalda, Borderlands 1021). In Borderlands, La Frontera ; Anzaldawrites about the pain of returning home. As a lesbian and feminist, she fears she will be ostracized for challenging some of the values that surrounded her Chicana upbringing, particularly relating to her sexuality (Anzalda, Borderlands 1020). However, she simultaneous rejects cultural domination, especially linguistic domination. She opts to write in both English and Chicano Spanish, and rejects the homogenization of identity based on a Euro-American universal found in some feminist discourse. As a mestiza-lesbian-feminist, Anzaldafears she will have no country. She writes that the denial of her to return home has led her lay claim to a new spacethe borderlandsso that she can participate in the making of a new culture, one that will allow her to chisel her own face and carve out her own existence without having to falsify herself for the sake of conforming to a singular identity (Anzalda, Borderlands 1022). Literary theorist Lisa Lowe calls for a shift from ethnic essence to cultural hybridity. Lowe does not conceive of culture as sometime that is merely inherited. When referring to Asian American culture, she writes that culture is a much messier process
55 than unmediated vertical transmission from one generation to another (Lowe 1034). Culture, according to Lowe, is also actively constructed and modified by subjects that participate in the receiving, refiguring, and rewriting of cultural traditions (Lowe 1034). Thus, claims about ethnic authenticity and cultural purity tend to misrepresent the fluctuating nature of culture. Similarly, Anzaldaand Trinh reject the notion of purity as it relates to identity and culture. Rather, they opt to participate in the creative production of a new culture that acknowledges multiplicity and hybridity. Hybrid Identities, Hybrid Writings In other words, the issue is not one of elaborating a new theory of which women would be the subject or the object but of jamming the theoretical machinery itself, of suspending its pretension to the production of a truth and of a meaning that are excessively univocal. Which presupposes that women do not aspire simply to be mens equals in knowledge. -Luce Irigaray, The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine (796) In the first chapter of her book Woman, Native, Other; Trinh begins with a meditation on what it means to be a woman of color who writes. Is writing merely a privileged activity, or is it a potential site of resistance that can destabilize and subvert hegemonic representations of women of color? What is her relationship to language and writing? Trinh explores the ambivalent relationship women of color have to language by examining how writing is connected to power. In attempts to destabilize existing power
56 relations, Trinh opts to write politically rather that merely writingabout politics. In doing this, she seek to prevent meaning from becoming dogma. Thus, Trinh does not want to merely elaborate a new theory of which women would be the subject or the object. Instead, she attempts to jam the machinery itself by radically restructuring the way language is used and meaning is produced. In doing so, she refuses to conform to the norms of well-behaved writing: principles of compositions, style, genre, correction, and improvement (Trinh 17). Like culture and identity, Trinhs writing expresses a commitment to the unsettling of meaning itself. For difference to circulate freely, writing must divest itself of its power to control, master, possess, or define subjects. In the opening of Woman, Native, Other Trinh writes: Thestory never stops beginning or ending. It appears headless and bottomless for it is built on differences. Its (in)finitude subverts every notion of completeness and its frame remains a non-totalizable one. The differences it brings about are differencesnot only in structure, in the play of structures and of surfaces, but also in timbre and in silence. Weyou and me, she and he, we and theywe differ in the choice and mixing of utterances, the ethos, the tones, the paces, the cuts, the pauses. The story circulates like a gift; an empty gift which anybody can lay claim to by filling it to taste, yet can never truly possess. A gift built on multiplicity. One that stays inexhaustible within its own limits. Its departures and arrivals. Its quietness. (Trinh 2)
57 Trinh divests herself of authorial control by offering her writings as an empty gift that can be filled by anyone. In doing so, she rejects her mastery over the reader, as well as the readers mastery over the gift, which can never fully be possessed. Ultimately, her views about writing also relate to how subjects should relate to others. If the goal of interaction is mastery over the other by defining them in opposition to ones self, then the other never gets the chance to become a fully realized subject. Trinhs writing is structured so that the reader is also a writer who is actively constructing the meaning of the text. That is not to say that the author is absent. Rather, she is decentered so that the Author (capital A) can becomean author (lowercase a). To do this, Trinh blends the poetic with the analytic, weaves metaphors and paradox so that ambiguity and multiplicity may replace argument and clarity. Clarity, Trinh asserts, has been conflated with the idea of correct expression, which is used as and instrument of persuasion (Trinh 17). The decentering of the subject in Trinhs writing is a divesting of the power to name, define, master, and represent othersin other words, it is rejection of speaking for and speaking to (an Other) in favor of speaking with (an Other) and existing with the text. Like identity, meaning cannot be pinned down, nor does it entail passivity on behalf of the reader-subject. Like identity, meaning is in flux and is constantly being negotiated through intersubjective interaction. So, if you really want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identityI am my language.  I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian,
58 Spanish, white. I will have my serpents tonguemy womans voice, my sexual voice, my poets voice. -Gloria Anzalda, Borderlands/La Frontera (1027) For Anzalda, language cannot be separated from identity because they are intimately tied together. Thus, Anzaldas refuses to write in a single language or in style that conforms to the norms of theoretical writing. Instead, she constructs an alternative writing style that blends Chicano Spanish/English, theory/poetry, creativity/criticism, and the personal mingled with the political in order to create a new style from the space of the borderlands. In doing so, she seeks to create a space where multiple voices can speak. For Anzalda, her hybridized writing style is a refusal to suppress any part ofher identity, or to tame any of her many tongues (Anzalda, Borderlands 1023). She writes partly in Chicano Spanish because she rejects that idea that Chicano Spanish is merely poor Spanish or an illegitimate, bastard language (Anzalda, Borderlands 1026). Rather, she considers it to be a rich border tongue that developed out of the mingling of cultures and languages (Anzalda, Borderlands 1026). Anzaldareclaims this tongue to counter the degradation of her language. She does not want to feel ashamed for who she is, so seeks to create as writing style where she can be her full self. In her creative approach to writing, Anzaldarejects the hegemonic norms of standard theoretical writing. Like her notion of identity, her writings are radically impure. The impurity of her writing is a reflection of her notion of pluralist identities. Anzalda also demonstrates how that way one writes can be an act of resistance in itself: form can be used to support the content.
59 Situating Anzaldas Theories In order to get a feel for how Anzaldas theory of the borderlands is inextricably tied to her creative work, we can situate her theories in her creative work itself. Anzalda herself did not separate the two, which comes across in her book Borderlands, La Frontera The book includes both poetry and essays and combines both English and Spanish. Poetry often appears in her overtly political essays, and her poetry is highly politicized. This reveals the diversity of possible ways in which one can door write politics, and how political, academic, literary, and creative tendencies cannot be merely reduced to a single style, format, genre, or voice. Anzaldas poem To live in the Borderlands means you is an example of this strategy, both in its styleand content. Anzaldastarts the poem: To live in the Borderlands means you are neither hispana india negra Espanola ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed caught in the crossfire between camps while carry all five races on your back not knowing which side to turn to, run from; (Anzalda Borderlands 216) Anzaldacapitalizes the B in Borderlands to denote the significance of this nothing place, which is a space typically conceived of as either empty or an impossibility. Anzaldaseeks to turn this space into a place of positive potential, a world of its own situated between worlds. She begins by emphasizing the racial dimensionsof the Borderlands by contrasting whole ethnic identities (second line) with debased, mixed, and
60 half-identities (third line). In the first two lines, Anzaldastrategically reverses grammatical convention when the ethnic identities that she identifies begin with lowercase letters, which is contrasted with the capitalized B in Borderlands. She notes that those who are a mix of races are caught in the crossfire between camps while carryingall the races that one consists of. The effect of these lines are a physical spatialization of the Borderlands, and a simultaneous localization of the Borderlands in the body. The bodys carrying of multiple races suggests that the Borderland is always present in the racially and ethnically marked body. The body as a site of contestation is also apparent mid-way through the poem when she writes, In the Borderlands / you are the battleground (AnzaldaBorderlands 216). Thus, Anzaldas views of the Borderlands as geographically spatialized and embodied are conceptually unified in their mutual inseparability. Furthermore, the crossfire between camps is an allusion to the physical violence that takes place at the borders between nations, and is a powerful representation of the force exerted on culturally hybrid people to choose allegiances The speaker does not know who to turn to or run from, which also raises the question of allegiances for mixed people who are often pressured to identify solely with the minority aspects of their identity while rejecting their inner oppressor. In the second stanza, Anzaldaexplicates this tension when she writes that, denying the Anglo inside you / is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black; (AnzaldaBorderlands 216). The idea of adhering to a false racial purity, which often results from pandering to the pressure to be ethnically authentic, does not appeal to Anzalda. However, she recognizes the risk of being subsumed by a white racial hegemony. Earlier in the stanza, Anzaldadraws our
61 attention to how people are alienated from their indigenous roots when she writes that living in the Borderlands means, that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years, / is not longer speaking to you (AnzaldaBorderlands 216). In the seventh stanza, Anzalda emphasizes the violence of the assimilation process when she writes that to live in the Borderlands means: the mill with razor white teeth wants to shred off your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart pound you pinch you roll you out smelling like white bread but dead; ( Borderlands 216) For Anzalda, this concept is not limited to racial, ethnic, or cultural identity, for she is also concerned with how it cuts across gender and sexuality as well. The gender dimension of the Borderlands comes to light when she writes, half and halfboth woman and man, neither/ a new gender; (AnzaldaBorderlands 216). Overall, Anzaldas notion of the Borderlands is conceptually rooted in the idea of unification through disunity, of seeing disparate and irreconcilable pieces as constituting a whole. This allows for subjective agency while attempting to resist essentialist traps. Ethnicity and Authenticity:The Racialization of Style An exploration of how one writes is central to my project. Both Trinh T. Minh-ha and bell hooks have had their work rejected by academic and literary establishments for. Trinh, for example, has spoke of her difficulty finding a publisher for Woman, Native, Other and hooks has also spoken of her difficulty in finding a publisher for her more experimental personal writings. In the introduction to her memoir on the development of
62 her life as a writer, Wounds of Passion, hooks discusses the interplay of race, gender, and class and explains how a monolithic black woman writer is constructed and then used to limit expression by black women writers Additionally, she describes reviewers negative reactions to Bone Black because it did not adhere to the conventions of autobiography. She writes: Even though I had begun the writing of Bone Black: Memoirs of Girlhood when I was in my late twenties, choosing an experimental form, I continued to write critical essays which included autobiographical material that was presented in the usual straightforward manner. For years I tried to find a publisher for my experimental work. I was told constantly that it would be easier for me to publish this work if I would turn it into conventional prose, telling a linear story, one that would move from point A to point B. (hooks Wounds xx) Discussing Audre Lorde, hooks writes, Experimental memoirs have become the cultural sites for more imaginative accountings of an individuals life (hooks Woundsxix). She argues that Lordes Zami challenges notions of absolute truth by insisting that there is no absolute truth when it comes to how we remember the past (hooks Woundsxix). Through the experimental work Zami, Lorde explored the genre she termed biomythography which is a weaving of personal memoir and myths or invented stories. Lorde and hooks challenge our notion of autobiography as a fixed account of an objective past, proving that even autobiography can be left open The experimental genre explored by Lorde decenters the subject by revealing the constructedness of narratives, even life narratives. This strategy simultaneously accounts for the expression of
63 subjective experience while encouraging creative agency over the construction of ones life. In the literary world, there is also the problematic racialization of style. different races are expected to write a certain way, or are only seen as capable of writing certain ways. According to hooks, black women are expected to write straightforward autobiographies rather than ones that are layered, complex and nonlinear. Implicit in this assumption is the assumption that black women are not sophisticated enough to experiment. There is also the colonial assumption that having a deep emotional interior or being capable of reflection is a specifically white trait. However, there are many counterexamples of complex and experimental works by women of color that have gained mainstream success, including the autobiographical works of Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, Hookss commentary may be more appropriately directed toward notions of ethnic authenticity, and how they are sometimes tied to certain styles. There is often an expectation of ethnic writers to draw upon a narrow repertoire of experiences relating to their difference, to use specific tropes and metaphors, to use a more realist style, and to write in a specific dialect or vernacular. Hooks acknowledges that some black women writers who write against the grain have made it in the world of mainstream literally success; however, she is suspicious of this inclusion. She suggests that faddism, tokenism, and the acceptance of a few black women writers is not a meaningful restructuring of the literary world. For her, it is merely inclusion rather than a total reimagining of the way the literary world is structured, how writing is validated or invalidated (or canonized ), and how it perpetuates specific gendered and racialized
64 norms. Furthermore, for hooks, the success of a few also allows people to ignore the more insidious, underlying manifestations of sexism, racism, and white supremacy are the core of the literary establishment because it allows people to imagine that the literary world has been sufficiently changed. Hooks recalls being told that she is lucky she is a black woman because writing by black women is the popular thing these days. Hooks uses Toni Morrison in her discussion of black women who write against the grain. She notes, Even though Toni Morrisons Nobel Prize should have forever altered the terrain of writing for black females, ensuring that serious work with an emphasis on craft and style could gain a hearing, it is still common for everyone, publishers and readers, to expect black women to write very basic and conventional narratives (hooks Wounds xxi). She goes on to say, Within the context of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy the proliferation of one style of writing sustains the stereotypical cultural assumption that black females by and large are not artistically able to create serious work and Morrison remains the great exception (hooks Wounds xxi). Hooks describes how writing Wounds of Passionin a way that explored the full range of her emotional universe was both daring and difficult. Similarly, Trinh drawsour attention to some of the problems minority writers face. She writes: S/he who writes, writes. In uncertainty, in necessity. And does not ask whether s/he is given the permission to do so or not. Yet, in the context of todays market-dependent societies, to be a writer can no longer mean purely to perform the act of writing. For a laywo/man to enter the
65 priesthoodthe sacred world of writerss/he must fulfill a number of unwritten conditions. S/he must undergo a series of rituals, be baptized and ordained. S/he must submit her writings to the law laid down by the corporation of literary/literacy victims and be prepared to accept their verdict. (Trinh Other 9) Here, Trinh discusses how conformity is often the most secure and the easiest, allowing one admittance into the world of published writing. However, this security achieved through conformity is not actually stable. Power relations remain intact and, as bell hooks has also acknowledged, the writings of women of color are often reduced to merely a disposable fad. Furthermore, women of color who write are often situated between multiple dubious positions. As women of color, they are made to feel guilty for indulging in the privileged act of literary and cultural production. They are also tokenized and pressured into playing the role of representative to a marginal group. Trinh notes: Commitment as an ideal is particularly dear to Third World writers. It helps to alleviate the Guilt: that of being privileged (Inequality), of going over the hill to join the clan of literates (Assimilation), and of indulging in a useless activity while most community members stoop over the tomato fields, bending under the hot sun. Bound to one another by an awareness of their guilt, writer and reader may thus assess their positions, engaging themselves wholly in their situations and carrying their weight into the weight of their communities, the weight of the world. Such a definition naturally places
66 the committed writers on the side of Power. For every discourse that breeds fault and guilt is a discourse of authority and arrogance. (Trinh Other 10-11) Here, Trinh is implying that the guilt that is placed on underprivileged writers is what puts them in a position of hyper-responsibility, which in turn forces them into the role of representative of their community. Trinh is weary of this position because it involves speaking on behalf of a community (and sustains a problematic structure power structure). Authenticity Revisited However, pressure to alter ones writing to conform to normalized standards comes from a myriad of sources, even from within oppressed groups, who sometimes uphold notions of ethnic authenticity. In the essay, An Aesthetic of Blackness, hooks warns against the creation of rigid aesthetic standards that attempt to measure the 'authenticity' of art and literature produced by black people, calling for an acceptance of a multiplicity of styles and critical standards. Hooks goes on to contest the normalizing impulse of the Black Arts Movement, arguing against a prescriptive black aesthetics. Not only does the movement demarcate was is valuable art for the development of a political consciousness, it also limits freedom and restricts artistic development (hooks Yearning 108). She writes: Ironically, in many of its aesthetic practices the Black Arts Movement was based on the notion that a people's art, cultural production for the masses, could not be either complex, abstract, or diverse in style, form, content,
67 etc.  The assumption that naturalism or realism was more accessible to a mass audience than abstraction was certainly not a revolutionary position. Indeed the paradigms for artistic creation offered by the Black Arts Movement were most often restrictive and disempowering. (hooks Yearning 108). Hooks also notes that the impulse to 'simplify' ones art for the masses is also an impulse to make it most digestible. Thus, the function of art becomes persuasion and not the promotion of critical thought. Similarly, Barbara Christian offers a similar critique of the Black Arts Movement when she writes, Many today may not be aware of this, but the Black Arts Movement tried to create Black Literary Theory and in doing so became prescriptive. My fear is that when Theory is not rooted in practice, it becomes prescriptive, exclusive, elitist (Christian 340). In her famous essay, The Race for Theory, Christian explores the normalizing and homogenizing affects of theory. She notes that there is a tendency to want to make the world less complexby organizing it according to one principle, to fix it through an idea which quickly becomes an ideal (Christian 341). Instead, Christian favors variety, multiplicity, and eroticism because they are difficult to control. Through the example of the Black Arts Movement, we can see how both insiders, in addition to outsiders, can be complicit in producing and maintaining notions of ethnic authenticity which hinder the mobility of voices and produce an investment in maintaining ones own oppression. Notions of authenticity can quickly become the basis for producing knowledge and making epistemological claims.
68 Post-humanist theorist Donna Haraway offers a notion of knowledge that privileges what she calls the partial perspective. For Haraway, there is no birds eye view of the world; no perspective that isnt located and embodied. Knowledge is always multiple; there are infinite possible sites of knowledge. Haraways vision of situated knowledges also offers us a profoundly non-hierarchical vision of epistemological possibility. For Haraway, we are all potential producers of knowledge because we all have access to our partial perspective. If there is a particular value to that perspective, it comes from another source. Haraways ideas about situated knowledges also challenge identity politics. For Haraway, no one is in more privileged position of understanding, and you can never fully know an-other, even if they share certain characteristics as you (for example, are also a woman and of the same race). Haraway warns against elevating, romanticizing and essentializing the perspective of some (such as the Third World Woman), even the oppressed, by asserting that Subjugation is not grounds for an ontology (Haraway 586). Here, Haraway challenges the idea that those who are oppressed have the clearest or most valid perspective. While many Marxist and feminist critics do claim that the oppressed have greater access to truth, Haraway would probably assert that this is dangerous because privileging a personsperspective solely because they occupy a certain identity category allows people to extend their situated and partial understanding of reality to others. In other words, it allows people to speak on behalf of and for others. She asserts, The positioningsof the subjugated are not exempt from critical examination, decoding, deconstruction, and interpretation (Haraway 584). Thus, identity is not grounds for an
69 epistemology beyond the limits of ones own partial perspective. Obviously, someones identity will influence their perspective, but one cannot make claims about others based on that partial knowledge, nor can they generalize from their experience. Overall, it is important to keep in mind that the production of discourses of authenticity is multi-directional. Those who are invested in the maintenance of ethnic and gender authenticity may include those whose voices are validated by ethnic and gender ideals, as well as those who destructively stereotype oppressed people in order to maintain racist, classist, and sexist systems. Conclusing Thoughts Hooks, Trinh and Anzaldaall play with the structure of language in a way that challenges norms about writing. Similarly, all the writers discussed challenge norms about identitynamely the claim to a fixed ethnic identityin favor of cultural hybridity. Hooks develops a theory of the margin to explore the site where multiple locations intersect and are not reduced to singulars. Trinh notion of fluid identities is reflected in her desire to unfix meaning and de-center the reader and the writer, while Anzaldauses a hybridized writing style so that all of her many voices may be heard without being suppressed. Furthermore, the most obvious connection of writing to identity is the use of writing as a means of resistance and survival by hooks, Trinh and Anzalda. But as we close I would also like to draw our attention to transgressive quality in all these writers. Not only do they write about politics, but they are also doing politics in ways that they write, whether it is experimenting with style or writing against normalized
70 notions of racial and gender identity. These writers create political possibilities with their commitment to openness and critique of hegemonic notions of writing and representation.
71 Theory and Experimentation Chapter Three Spaced uncompromisedit could be filled with anything and you are wide with possibility. Language as open field, a garden not yet planted and you are left to contemplate the combinations. The letters of the alphabet are your seeds. Any mark can be left here and yetyou dont believe that any mark can be left here. There are certain constraints; there has got to be a reason you struggle to symbolize. And every minute you are at war with yourself, the self-disciplinary voice that is the accumulation of all these internalized codes. Held up in fearhow to say? How to say when you have absorbed proper ways of saying, of leaving marks? Marking pages in so many ways; there is the academic voice, the feminist voice, the personal voice, the poetic voice, the queer voice, the racially mixed voice. How can they be reconciled without reduction? Undoing Deconstruct the assumptions. In my head I see an image of destruction, of destroying the old world and its definitions, replacing it with new definitions. But definitions that refuse to capture, to totalize, to extend, to impose. How can we write without imposing?
72 To invent a language that is not oppressive, a language that does not leave speechless but that loosens the tongue -Annie Leclerc, Parole de femme Openness My understanding is situated. I see within a web of constraints; I cannot understand beyond certain imperceptible horizons. I am humbled by my partiality, for there is much to learn. I must continually strive to resist extending myself beyond my vision; to enter engagements dialogically. Who am I? And does it matter? How do we have conversations when were masked, when there is no eye to make contact with, when the eye/I masquerades as disembodied? But I also get the sense that to write from the I would be a move to solidify, to declare, to pin down and make-known what we have only suspected in half-thoughts. There is the sense that to write is to make yourself, to always be partly engaged with myth-making; not a record of some past or memory, but a creation, a construction, a movement forward. Language as opennesssomething that gives life rather that destroys For the vision of a story that has no endno end, no middle, no beginning, no start, no stop, no progression; neither backward nor forward, only a stream that flows into another stream, an open seais the vision of a madwoman.  We fear heights, we fear the headless, the bottomless, the boundless.  This is why we keep on doing violence to words: to tameand cook the wild-raw, to adopt the vertiginously infinite. (Trinh Woman 123)
73 To write from the I Some say, write to find yourself. To unearth who you are. To shed your layers; dig up some deeper core. I say, write to make yourself, and re-make yourself, and un-make yourself. It was so hard to start this chapter because I was unsure of what to say, how to say although I knew there was much to be said. We could all just wait around, never beginning. I know for certain that my salvation as a creator is dueto the fact that I was dumb enough, blind and deaf enough, not to understand that I was a female.  Since reality was a lie, I had a reality of my own: a secret life in dreams. There, a double of mine with no defined sex would do such great things as riding horses, sailing boats, rescuing animals from hunters and people from fire, plague, Indians from white people, inventing stories, drawing, dancing, making music, sculpting stone. (Rochefort 184) Or we could begin. Open your mouth. Your tongue needs flexing. Uncertainty lends itself to discovery, to the working-through, the process. Leave it open. I nearly cried when I left, sat on my bucket at a bus stop thinking about how at the beginning of the summer I never could have imagined what was to happen, who I was to meet, or even where I would go. Nothing went even close to plan, and in many ways I'm glad it didn't, glad it was always open, glad to leave and go back see it a different way every time I went back. She is: a subject-in-the-making, a subjecton trial (Kristeva 167).
74 Coming to Voice/Losing our Voices: The Personal Voice and the Unsettled I All I have is story. -Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other When we speak to each other we bring our bodies. We can see each other; we are localized subjects; there is accountability that accompanies our words because we bring our flesh, are standing behind our words and the correlation is immediate. We are privy to the human frailty of the speaker and are aware of their body, emotions, and the momentof intercourse (Tompkins 2136). But when we write, we can easily lapse into the habit of displacing the situated perspective in favor of a disembodied perspective. I have sometimes wondered, what is the use of severing the personal when we write? Why do we abandon a situated approach to signifying practice? Why do we leave out our passions, our stories, the process, the ways have struggled to develop our ideas, the way the subjects matters are related to ourselves and others, the ways the practice of writing have change ourselves? The potential and limitation of writing the personal is varied and complex. On one hand, both disembodied claims of objectivity and autobiographical claims of authenticity have a tendency to produce the authority effect. If we are not careful, these two divergent approaches can be mapped along the same axis of power. HlneCixous, in Book of Promethea, attempts to work through the complexities of writing from a first person perspective. She has used the I with caution, fearing its congealing effect while knowing its power: For the time being I cannot do without H. I do not yet have the mental courage to be only I I dread nothing as much as autobiography. Autobiography does not exist. Yet so many people believe it exists. So
75 here I solemnly state: autobiography is only a literary genre. It is not living. It is a jealous, deceitful sort of thingI detest it. When I say I, this is never the subject of autobiography, my I is free. Is the subject of my madness, my alarms, my vertigo. I is the heroine of my fits of rage, my doubts, my passions. I lets itself go. I let myself go. I surrenders, gets lost, does not comprehend itself. Says nothing about me. I does not lie. I do not lie to anyone. I does not lie to anyone, I promise: that is what I has almost nothing to say about me (Cixous Promethea 19). The I is grounded in life. It does not know the past as an objective thing. It partakes in the making of stories, is always partial, is always running ahead of itself. The question is: how to speak the personal without lapsing into writing ones self ina way that is closed-off, that engages only its self and concerns itself solely with reconstructing an accurate account of the past? Autobiography can be dangerous in that is may create a fixed representation. The implications of such as representation extends beyond merely fixing the individual who is the subject-author of the text, for autobiographical narratives are often codified to form the basis of generalized and universalized representations. The autobiography is intimately tied to a notion of authenticity, whereby the weight of what I have to say is measured by the truthfulness of my account. Paradoxically, the pressure to be authentic can produce the opposite effect: only certain narratives that adhere to a pre-established representation may be considered to be authentic, flattening the range of possible representations into a narrow set of familiar tropes and representations. This pressure is particularly heightened for autobiographies that have an ethnic or gender
76 dimension because marginalized people are expected to speak their otherness, their exoticness, their victimization. Elshtain notes: the woman, by willfully defining herself as the exploited, as victim, by seeingherself as she was reflected in the males perception of her, may seek thereby to attain some power over man, some measure of control . The presumption is that the victim speaks in a pure voice: I suffer therefore I have moral purity and none can question what I say. But the belief in such purity may itself be one of the effects of powerlessness, and that belief, congealed in language, is endlessly self-confirming. It loses any edge of self-criticism, and a feminism that cannot criticize itself cannot,in the last analysis, serve as the bearer of emancipatory possibilities that can never be fixed and defined, once and for all. (612) By associating itself with truth and authenticity, autobiographies can evade criticism and produce the authority effect by perpetuating the idea that subjective experience is the locus of truth. However, to write from the I does not necessarily entail the writing of history, nor does it have to seek out validation by pandering to an idea of narrative authenticity. Situatedknowledge is epistemologically legitimate, but the I should be used cautiously in order to avoid the inscription of a new axis authority in our signifying practices. It is possible to write the personal in a way that is open. TheoristsEve KosofskySedgwickand Rachael Blau DuPlessis are two theorist that attempt to write the personal in such a way.
77 In The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice, DuPlessis notes, I am not writing the personal. The odd and somewhat debased notion of having a voice, or finding a voice, of establishing a consumable personality complete with pix, of engaging in selfrevelation, even of engaging in autobiography is precisely the opposite of my deepest feelings about this work. I am not finding a voice, I am losing one (172). While DuPlessiss work is often characterized as partly autobiographical, this description conflates personal writing and autobiographical writing. DuPlessiss work is personal in that it is self-conscious and process-oriented. She writes from a situated perspective, but mainly concerns herself with the process of working through, of writing in way that is transparent to itself in order to reveal the trajectory of the development of her theories of writing. The distinction between DuPlessiss form of personal writing and autobiographical writing is also temporal in that DuPlessiss I, like Cixouss, exists in the present: it wanders and gets lost and is constituted by the practice of writing. Trinh sums it up nicely when she writes, To write is to become (Trinh 18). Constitution replaces self-revelation when one moves away from standard autobiography by taking up the unsettled I It can meander, sometimes in mistaken directions, without having to hide its tracks for the sake of creating a false image of seamless congruency. Unlike autobiography, which attempts to trace a path, personal writing can be used to open up new paths that splinter off in multiple directions. Writers like Trinh T. Minh-ha, Hlne Cixous, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis invite us to wander with then, to enter conversations through the subjective, to partake in the co-creation of meaning by establishing open (ended) spaces that allows for interplay between reader-writer. In doing so, we reject writing as a unidirectional activity where meaning is transmitted to a passive reader.
78 The temporality of the I in DuPlessis is similar to the I in Sedgewick. In the introduction to Tendencies Sedgwick situates her work and her style, which attempts to deploy the I in a way that makes critical writing less numb to itself (11). In describing her use of the personal, she writes: Theres a lot of first person singular in this book (and some people hate that), and its there for different reasons in different essays; to begin with, though, itd findit mutilating and disingenuous to disallow a grammatical form that marks the site of such dense, accessible effects of knowledge, history, revulsion, authority, and pleasure. Perhaps it would be useful to say that the first person throughout represents neither the sense of a simple, settled congratulatory I, on the one hand, nor on the other a fragmented postmodernist postindividualnevermind the unreliable narrator. No, I is heuristic; maybe a powerful one. (Sedgwick xiv) The I in Sedgwicks work is also employed in a way that is process-oriented and procedural (read heuristic): it is a way to work-through and arrive at new discoveries. Sedgwick acknowledges the complexities of writing from the I : there is a tendency to cling to it as a source of authority. However, she also acknowledges that it is strategically powerful, which points me in the next direction. When there are some many reasons to be cautious of the I why use it at all? Why do I use the I when I write? Like Sedgwick, my answer is that it is powerful, compelling, and energized with life. For me, the I forms the basis of connections and relationships by resisting a discourse of alienation. The relational quality of language is a primary concern of mine, for language does not have to function solely as a means of communicating something to someone It can be used to
79 topple barriers and overcome distance by humanizing discourses, invoking a presence that is at once fragile and vivacious. Personal writing can be powerful and exciting, for we are reminded that behind the symbols is a life. Reading can be the intertwining of multiple lives. Jane Tompkins reminds us that: The essential gesture of the father tongue is not reasoning, but distancingmaking a gap, a space, between the subject or self and the object or other.Everywhere now everybody speaks [this] language in laboratories and government buildings and headquarters and offices of businessthe father tongue is spoken from above. It goes one way. No answer is expected, or heard. The mother tongue, spoken or written, expects an answer. It is conversation . The mother tongue is language not as mere communication, but as relation, relationship. It connectsIts power is not in dividing but in binding. (Tompkins 2134) The Politics of Alienation We are writing. Writing as, as, as, the Disembodied Eye That Fucks the World. We are writing behind We are far far from you, far from our selves and distance is the measure of Man, his preferred temporality. His preferred way is to say to you andme in his tone from nowhere in a voice of knowingness so that we can go along with his game. There are those who write feminist politics in the voice of dominator culture. We play for the same reason but I dont like the way they play. We both want to getfree. I once fell between these worldsto play a game of death or life, to play in rays or
80 negationa closure or a new opening, to pull in closer or to push away.I am saying in this way so that meaning does not become dogma (is this a quote? Maybe Trinh T. Minh-ha said it?). Because, although, Iwell, I put this out, and these words are plunged into the world, and this is a practice of signification, and there is an intended message that can be extractedI, well, I say in this way because I am not making your mind up for you and to do that, well, maybe I have to un-write as I go along. I find that when I try to write in my other voice, I am immediately critical of it. It wobbles, vacillates back and forth, is neither this nor that (Tompkins 2133). Depression is distance. It is an alienation so profound that you grow a steel box that encumbers you and nothing penetrates it. It is total. You dont see out of the box. You walk around and cannot feel the weather. People speak, but their vibrations cannot penetrate the sheath of metal. And maybe, maybe our post-industrial tech-no existence is a form social depression. Un-seeable in that it offers us the illusion of many connections, more connections than ever before, yet we fall asleep with a vague dissatisfaction, a vague disconnected feeling. How many breakthroughs have been had today? For you. How many? Have you felt the crumbling away of your private vacation home cage box? Have you felthave you really touched it today? To really touch it. If depression is distance, well, I think the world is formed along a logic of distance, and social depression is almost ubiquitous. The Language of Distance is aggressive. It pushes away so that you and I, subject and other, are alone in our private worlds. We are depressed because we dont know how to relate to each other in ways that dont crush and destroy the Other. Were missing everything. Killing everything, we
81 dont see. We refuse to acknowledge the ways in which all is acting on us, the web of connections, the plant and mosquito changing the trajectory of HISTORYwhich we always assumed moved solely on our (human) terms, and the possibilities that explode open when we let ourselves commune with everything around us. How nice it is to let the skin melt away so that others may enter. Our boundaries are illusions. There is nothing holding us in except the Ideology of Distance, of self-alienation through internalized social depression. Our lives are a dance with the universe, the hugest dance ever staged, and we sometimes dont know, but other timeswe see it in the leaves, their jerky movements, their waltz with the wind. Intimacy, lovethey have few homes; they knock on doors and are turned away for being inappropriate. Placing them outside the narrow range of sanctioned spaces (such as the Romantic Relationship) is insanity. Theyll ask you where your boundaries are, call you crazy for trying to construct a life of closeness over distance. Knowingness, too. It is part of the Ideology of Distance, for to know isfundamentallyto shut everything else out, close down all other possibilities and try to convince others of the rightness of your One Way. I want to learn ways of saying and becoming outside of the logic of distance, which structures even our most radical musing. Strategically, I know distance doesnt work. I have seen it fail over and over. Disruptive Speech Women are, in fact, caught in a very real contradiction. Throughout the course of history, they have been mute, and it is doubtless by virtue of this
82 mutism that men have been able to speak and write. As long as women remain silent, they will be outside the historical process. But if they begin to speak and write as men do, they will enter history subdued and alienated; it is a history that,logicallyspeaking, their speechshould disrupt (Plantier 162-163) Entering language; one does not remember the first words, probably a thoughtless imitation of a sound spoken to usunweighted, empty, and devoid of its content; it rings. And has its presence in sound. There was a time when I was a child and did not understand the difference between reading and merely looking at the words. I have kept a journal since I was 9 or so. It was a way of working-through, of solidifying the nebulous. I would scribble pettyproblemschildish frustrationsas a way to purge it, take control of it in my own passive way. Writing was about mastery. There was nothing I controlled. It was my only power. Throughout adolescence it was this way. Nights spent awake, writing, no way to even sleep without capturing every fleeting thought. We are mad with longing. Its the Age of Longing. She speaks the Language of Desires. She wants a new language. The Language of Lack secures our depression, infinite wants, a word that holds nothing on its own and is always seeking out another to constitute itself. She wants a new language, a new way to desire, a way out of desiring as elusive wants. Lets not be held in this Want. We compensate for what we cannot hold, what slips away, by grasping tighter. We cannot control and so we hold so tight that we strangle everyone with our false mastery. Fear driving this mastery. A haughty exterior that pretends to Know, that overstates what it knows with unwavering confidence, veiling
83 the uncertainty of these proclamations. We lose everything this way. We cover everything with this poisonous air; we invent for specific ends, for the sake of argument, for the sake of clarity, for our sake, the easiness of simplicity. Dear ____. You could be anyone. I would like to interview you. I have already prepared your answers. Please speak to me the answers I have prepared. I am trying to work through an equation with no solution. I am trying to open up space. There is so much possibility in the field. People play in the field. They come to the open space because theres not much room to play elsewhere. I want to create a field of possibility. A place where secrets can be exchanged liked the whispers between best friends, exchanged without fearing disclosure, while refusing to being held-in by that disclosure. To play is to move about in a spontaneous way; it is a process and not an end, an improvised dance between people. To open a space where we are free to play. To play in words. To allow the movement of words without stumbling on scripts. To make as you go along. Contradictions will arise because theres always more than one way. To let ambiguity sing. To start without your answers laid outwe could learn so much more this way. We close ourselves off to discovery when wewear our singular vision, narrow in its scope.
84 A letter from China: in china i feel so strongly that i am a product of language and history and culture and all of these things outside me. in a cafe a guy mistakes me for straight up shanghaiese. i tell him i'm not shanghaiese, but my dad's jia xiang (native or home land) is hangzhou, only a couple hours from shanghai. then while talking to some old british guy who refers to me as an "ABC" (american-born chinese), he interrupts and says i'm not a REAL abc, hmm. yesterday, while driving through the yunnan countryside, i saw all these tombs tucked away in mountains and in fields. generations and generations of families that have lived and farmed on these lands. they must feel so connectedto these people, their family, to this place...but maybe that's stifling? the villages look like the village i visited when i was 17 and didn't know how to speak hardly any chinese or know much at all about my
85 family or this place but that's when i became ready to learn, maybe. i remembered a photograph next to the tomb with all the names of my dad's family members inscribed on it. in the picture, on one side of the tomb was my dad's extended family, farmers that still live on the same lands, and on the other side was my dad, me, and my dad's cousin, who left the village and became head surgeon at a big hospital in hangzhou. the placement seemed to represent some fundamental divide, between the rooted and uprooted, those who left and got educated and learned a new way of living and those who stayed and remained rooted. we are blood but what does that mean? it was hard to feel a connection to the place or the people because i have no memory of ever belonging to it. my hungarian friend believes in the history of places, in the memory of language and families and he feels such a strong connection to it all. can it be erasedthis memory that runs so deep? can it be forgotten or does it leave something on you somewhere? my dad has never known his jia xiang, home lands. he was born during the civil war to a military father and they moved to guilin and that's where he was born. after the KMT lost the war they retreated to taiwan with the other nationalist supporters. what if the communists lost? what if my dad never got a scholarship to go to grad school in americawyoming of all places!? at home my mom showed me a picture of her grandfather at a fruit stand in new york city, after immigrating from italy. the sign next to him read "5 cents" and she tells me they made enough money to support family members back in sicily. it's strange to think about, all this history and displacement. I don't know what it means but I know that people are malleable. and i don't feel bad or confused about "what i am suppose to be" or whatever identity issues anymore but when my hungarian friend asks me if i feel a connection to the english language i can't help but think 'no,' and that every time i sit
86 down to write i feel as if i am using someone else's language. but maybe it's just a failure of language ingeneral, because i didn't make it, i was just born into it. and i can't put any of it into words. Strategies: Which Tongue? To speak about madness is to speak about the difference between languages: to import into one language the strangeness of another; to unsettle the decisions language has prescribed to us so that, somewhere between languages, will emerge the freedom to speak(Felman 19). Every time I write I am unwriting for I choose what not to say. There is so much in the absence. There has been so much that has been left out. There is infinite splintering and impossible navigation through unwieldy demands. Secrets; closets that circle like sharks; piecemeal patchwork and faces that must be subsumed, drowned like a disobedient daughter. It is not coherence I long for; not the whole and singular I but the creation of spaces that allow for the coexistence of many I s. The energy required just to start is enormous, but there is the question of how to go about it once we sit down with our pens. Sentiments may sit at the tips of our tongues, but there are so many tongues that we may trip, may get tied up and tired. It may sound evasive to say that there is no single way, no signifying practice apart from its context, but to extend a claim beyond that seems problematic, for trying to account for too much risks being a reductive move.
87 When I sit down to write I ask myself, what am I trying to accomplish? Who am I writing for? What am I trying to say? Not surprisingly, such questions shape the way in which I go about saying There is a certain candidness that accompanies writing to myself in my journal, a certain colloquial air about my letters, a certain grandeur and ambiguity to my poetic writing. There is the restraint and depersonalization of my academic papers, the nonsensical babble of speaking to babies, the simplicity and awkwardness of trying to engage someone in a foreign tongue, the comfort of speaking to my younger brother, and so forth. What does it mean that there are so many ways to say, so many ways to engage, so many tongues? In some sense, it reflects my personal ethic regarding how I want to engage people. I want to speak in a way that does not alienate others, that attempts to avoid forcing people to engage with me solely on my terms.In China, for the first time, I experienced what it was like to live in a place where English was not the default. I fumbled clumsily through conversations with people while I took up that beautiful tongueChinese, a tongue that is so different than the one that had previously mediated all of my reality. It was a jarring experience, and I was hyper aware of the occasions when English was often the default. When discussing the auto-familiarity of our native tongue, literary critic and theorist Shoshana Felman notes: Taken by itself, each language is auto-familiar: it has its own concepts, its own system of thought which, within it, condition the thinkable. The way we think and speak arises out of decisions our language has already made for us: language discretely dictates to its usersin an invisible manner self-evident assumptions and prescriptions that are inscribed in its
88 grammar (which is, by definition, imperceptible from inside the language). In order for grammar to appear as such, one must dislodge ones language from its self-presence, from its assumptions and proscription, by subjecting them to the otherness of a different grammar, by putting them in question through the medium of a foreign language (19). It was the experience of being thrust into a different context that made dominance of English apparent to me. I felt guilty when people would switch to English upon realizing my nationality because I realized that, in many situations, the hegemony of English forced people to communicate on my terms. Although I belong to a dominant linguistic group, the hegemony of English often achieved through the globalization of American popular culturewas not something that I was previously aware of on a daily basis. In America, although I was largely unaware of the political significance of my use of English, I often considered the way language was deployed. I felt like I was alienated from language in the sense that I had to use a tongue that was implicitly white, heterosexual, masculine, and depersonalized. This adoption was apparent in both the content of my words, and the ways I used words. Having to continuously communicate on someone elses terms often resulted in a falsification of myself under the pressure to adhere to unwritten as well as explicit norms. This project was largely born out of a resistance to the normalized modes of writing, for a project that did not interrogate the implicit norms through the practice of undercutting those norms would not have been a meaningful endeavor for me. On the surface, the experiences and examples I have just cited appear to be contradictory and irreconcilable. Taking up the babbling tongue of a baby or a foreign
89 tongue while living abroad is an instance of communicating on someone elses terms. Using a disembodied and universalizing voice when writing academic papers is also an example of communicating on someone elses terms. However, the two typesof engagement are distinct in several significant ways. The formerexemplified in the visitor who uses the language of their hostis a choice one makes out of respect for the other It expresses a willing to engage the other in a way that is not domineering, coercive, or alienating by acknowledging difference This type of communication does not require that we falsify or compromise ourselves completely even though it does require us to leave our comfort zones. However, the latterthe adherence to a normalized or dominant discourseis a permanent displacement from our comfort zones for the sake of maintaining a language that often functions as in instrument of control. It is not a form of engagement because the implicit power dynamics tied to normalize linguistic practices leave many alienated without so much as engaging the question of why certain types of linguistic practices are the standard (or, to bring in a postcolonial argument, why certain languages themselves are globally normalized). Similar to other manifestations of norms and defaults, dominant modes of writing are not transparent to themselves, and are frequently processed as invisible givens. For many, the question many seem silly: objective writing is obviously more intellectually rigorous, right? But why is this perspective the only valid perspective? Implicit in this elevation of objectivity is a devaluing of subjective experience and a delegitimization of the personal as a source of epistemological insight. This valorization of objectivity is also implicitly racist, sexist, and classist because it excludes the personal dimension, which is often as source of
90 validation, politicization, understanding, and knowledge production for many marginalized people, especially those whom are not trained in the vocabulary of institutionalized discourses (such as the discourses of the academy). This value-judgment is clear in the widespread sentiment that women and gender studies is less valid as an academic discipline because it is merely touchy-feely fluff. To return to the initial question: what tongue? To answer: many tongues. There is nothing implicitly wrong with taking up different tongues to accommodate the difference of the other. This does not have to be done in a way that is condescending, like the person who speaks down to someone perceived to be uneducated. It can be approached with respect, care, anddignity; like when we attempt to use the language of the country we are visiting, or drop the jargon when trying to explain queer theory to our mothers. However, for me, these many tongues must always be a tongue of resistance and of respect for the other Each context shapes each tongue, but every tongue must strive for the undoing of relations of domination. Concluding Thoughts In an article about French feminism and philosophy of language, philosopher Andrea Nye asks the question, Can there be a feminist linguistics? (323). For Nye, the answer must be yes. In the article, she outlines four major concerns for the development of a feminist linguistics. She writes: First, such a linguistics would have to focus on the language we all speak to each other.  Second, a feminist linguistics must at the same time accommodate the fact that we are sometimes imprisoned in ways of
91 thinking and speaking that are alien and not of our making.  Third, a feminist linguistics must not remove itself from the political power of language. Whether language is seen as structure or as the expression of private sensations, in both cases political action becomes problematic and revolutionary language impossible to theorize.  Alternately, if language is seen as expressing private sensation with the power to disrupt structures of meaning, this disruption can be constructive. It may break apart old truths, old hierarchies, but it cannot substitute any new values or forms of life.  Fourth, a feminist linguistics would have to focus on changing usage and not timeless structures. Language cannot be studied outside its social, economic, familial context. It cannot be separated from the historically situated desires and motivations that give it meaning. (332334) Here, Nye problematizes the dichotomy between public and private modes of expression when it comes to using language. When examining the political implications of linguistic practices, the gulf between structural and individual signifying acts break down in thatthey are mutually dependent. Like Michel Foucault conception of power, language and its power cannot be purely localized at the structural or individual level, for meaning is constituted in relations between subjects situated within a fecund web of power relations. But Nye sees potential in this reconfiguration of powerbecause it allows feminists to use private expression to disrupt structures of meaningfrom a position within power relations.Nye warns that an over-emphasis on timeless structures leads to a fatalism that encourages a sense of futility when it comes to the
92 project of developing a feminist linguistics. In some sense, the belief in possibility creates the possibility itself. The need to develop a theory and practice of feminist writingrepresents a necessary impossibility
93 Conclusion It is impossible to definea feminine practice of writing, for this practice can never be theorized, enclosed, encodedwhichdoesnt mean that it doesnt exist. But it will always surpass the discoursethat regulates the phallocentric system. Hlne Cixous, Laugh of the Medusa HlneCixous, who has grappled with question of writing the feminine, writes about the impossibility of defining such a project.Similarly, it is impossible to speak, definitively about what exactly characterizes feministwriting, for such an undertaking would undermine the dynamic character of a discourse committed to revision, selfcriticism, and openness.Regardless, it exists.Its meaning is made in the process, has its existence in the act, in the practice. What we are left with is a paradox. The project is saturatedwith a series of impossibilities and contradictions. It is impossibletowrite without the initial masculine constraints imposed on the languages we are thrown into; impossible to have an uncontaminated view of structures or ones condition; impossible to create a discourse out of nowhere, without building on what has previously been laid. The burden of these impossibilities can easily render us voiceless: why attempt such a project, a project whose vision will never be wholly complete? Its easy to give into futility. When poet Audre
94 Lorde had cancer, the inevitability of death led her to contemplate her silences. On one hand, we can remain speechless, given the dangerous and uncertain nature of overcoming silence coupled with the sense of futility that stems from an awareness of ones mortality. On the other hand, we can choose life, choose words, choose to undertake the impossible project despite ones mortality. Lorde knew that, even if she survived her battle with breast cancer, she would only ward off death temporarily: I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you (Lorde Sister 41).It is unsafe to undertake a project wrought with uncertainty and inevitabilities that cannot be overcome. But not attempting the project is not a form of protection. It is better to try to say the unsayable, rather than allow our muteness to be filled in by a masculine discourse. Death or Limitless Life As for me, I keep forever reminding her each time, on my side, that we die in the end, too quickly. And I always have to begin again. For shebecause she loves to livedoes not believe me. She, on her side, knows well that one dies in the end, too quickly; she knows it and writes about it better than anyone, she has the knowledge of it but she believes none of it. She does not believe, she knows; she is the one who knows and who tries, but she believes none of it. -Jacques Derrida on HlneCixous, H.C. for Life, that is to Say
95 She knows that ripeness is just the last stage before rot, sweetness being an indication of imminent death. Some can revel in that sweetness. Devouring as a means to put an end to the process, to bring time to his knees, begging for his life as he apologizes for every hour of torment, for the forgotten memories of her grandparents rotting brains. It goes like this: puttingan end to deathwas just a deception. Sudden death can look like life, for the suddenness of it leaves no space for processing, singing the songs in the car before crashing; do they know that they're dead? And eaten fruit is just rotting in our bellies, assimilated into our bodies as it would into the earth. It goes like this: there are only variations in paces toward a unified end. She was suspicious of sweetness, fearing the decline of everything to come. And the other She; she is sure that no end exists; and in believing so she is the singer in the crashing car. Mounting life she never dies, for the awareness is what really kills, kills prematurely, kills when alive, when there is still time to live. It goes like this: some believe in an end, and at every moment they are sinking. Life as a fall, a downward slope. And others refuse: their climb is summitless, and when death hitswell, there is no downward slope; the line reaching toward the heavens just ends, and she never knows.Death is nothing. It is not something. It is a hole. I can fill it with phantasms and give it a name, if I want. I can also think castration, but nothing human or real obliges me to do so. Nothing can prevent me from thinking otherwise, without taking death into account. It will be a question of limitless life. -HlneCixous, Writing the Feminine and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive. -Aude Lorde, Litany for Survival
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