Postcard is an edited and continuously up-dated section of brief comment received on work in recent issues of HOW2, as well as excerpts from letters circulating privately among writers/readers and with HOW2 editors/writers. Your postcards and excerpted letter exchanges on literary questions appropriate to this journal's focus are welcomed. Please send to Kathleen Fraser <[email protected]>
the editors/Kelsey St. Press
Submissions Announced for younger/less-established writers
Kelsey Street Press announces a two-month period of open submissions--from
November 1 to December 31, 2001. We are looking for unpublished book-length
collections of poems or poetically-informed prose. We are especially
interested in receiving submissions from younger or less established
writers. Manuscripts will be selected in early 2002 and published in
are interested in books with some cohesion in their overall composition
and style whether it is a sense of narrative or consists of a set of
interrelated series or parts. We appreciate writing that tells a story
but not in the usual way, which subverts a particular kind of genre,
has a sense of wit or irony, is honest but not naïve, but is also
direct, surprising, vital and graceful. The press is especially interested
in work in which the writing, the page and the form of the book are
in dynamic relation.
Street Press was founded in 1974 to publish experimental writing by
women and has a history of publishing poets' collaborations with visual
artists. Recent publications include Juice by Renee Gladman, Symbiosis
by Barbara Guest and Laurie Reid, and Tales of Horror by Laura Mullen.
Collaborations will not be accepted in this call for manuscripts.
more information on the press, please view our website at:
CONTINUING RESPONSE TO "FOR THE RESURRECTION OF WORDS"
from Toni Maraini/Rome
Sites for Afghan poetry and art
you look at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7261/
In 1999, the Afghan Students Association at George Mason University,
Fairfax, Va., presented an art show of works by thirty Afghanistan artists.
From this show, an on-line exhibit was assembled with a selection of
works by 14 of these artists--one woman, Asma Zaka--called Cross
Roads of Asia/ The Afghan Art Exhibition. See Lemar-Aftaab / April-Sept.
1999 /Vol 1- Issues 8 & 9 . To find this work, go to www.asaweb.org
Be careful in making a distinction between independent sites and propaganda
I have seen that the ones that are honorable and serious all start by stating clearly that they condemn terrorism and participate to the sorrow of American people; you can go ahead in that case.
from Anne Dewey/ Madrid
Empathic Angles vary from Students Abroad
Dear How2 editors,
for talking about Sept. 11 and the postcard response. I will
by Robin Andersen/Fordham, NYC
Finding Empathy in the TV Coverage of the World Trade Center Attack
The TV images of the World Trade Center burning were horribly familiar yet they stood without parallel. Black smoke billowed from both buildings and I thought I saw a free-falling body twist its way past the gaping hole in Tower One. Yet the studio voices that accompanied the images did not mention it. Had they not seen him or her? TV anchors, some calm, some excited, repeated that a plane had crashed into the North Tower, then hit the second one. It was live footage of real buildings burning in real time, but they stood silent, with no natural sound, at the surreal distance evoked by long camera shots. As I watched, another explosion tore through the second tower and flames silently consumed a lower portion of the building. The only frame or reference for such images is the fictional narratives of computer-generated action films in which cities are mutilated and destroyed. Independence Day, one such cartoon-like adventure, demolished New York and Washington, the very cities I now watched burning.
Our perceptions have been permanently framed by the sensibilities of those commanding fictions, and TV practitioners are certainly under the sway of the techno-hyper-real. It seemed as if we were living through Life the Movie. These events had already happened and this was some sort of spectacular sequel. Openly awed by the visual spectacle, “it was quite a sight,” one intoned. Some awareness, just below the level of waking, continued to nag at my reception of the pictures, aren’t there people in the buildings? The TV voices were not helping even as they recounted, over and over, the actual events. A pilot on a remote phone connection with Channel 4 had seen, “the plane screaming by at full power.” By the time he looked out his apartment window, about 4 or 5 seconds later, it had hit Tower One. As he spoke the buildings burned benignly against the sky of the clear September day. Though there was emotion in his voice, it was hard to bring actual human beings into this zone that was essentially fictional, uniquely visual, and usually without real consequences. After all, we didn’t mourn for the thousands who died in Independence Day. But didn’t I just see someone, an actual person’s body falling to the ground?
The people we did hear from were the ones already out of harm's way Eyewitnesses told how they had fled the building. A misguided sense of responsibility might have prevented reporters from attending to those still inside. Was it some desire to prevent mass hysteria? Later that night, when I finally got through to my friends in SoHo, I heard their sorrow at seeing dozens of people crowded at the windows on the floors with no exit routes. A man very near the top had waved a white cloth through a broken window for at least 45 minutes. He never got out. After 7 hours of watching television, I had not heard any such stories. Whatever the reasons, television did not see fit to allow us to grieve for the people left trapped in the building at the time it went down. We will never be able to have that collectively summoned moment of silence they all deserved.
There was much concern for the NewYork skyline. At Newark airport one journalist pointed a camera over the tails of a fleet of United jets to find empty sky, where this morning he told us, we would have seen the World Trade Center. Throughout the day TV openly lamented the loss of the buildings, yet the fact that people lay buried under the rubble was almost never mentioned. One police officer requesting anonymity estimated losses in the thousands. Whether the media decided for themselves, or simply followed official admonitions, the effect was the same. One journalist actually used the term “collateral damage” for those killed, diminishing the humanity of those lost.
A New Yorker covered in soot ran down the street. He came in and out of the frame, and as he did I could see his lips move but the sound was off. The studio voices were always laid over the images, they interpreted, explained, but never let me hear the people on the street. Some considered media worthy were brought into the studio or moved out of the direct action and interviewed, but only short snippets of what they said were aired. We were told that a storeowner was giving out water, but I did not see such meaningful moments. I wanted to be with my fellow New Yorkers, sharing their struggles for survival, and grieving for the ones lost. Instead, there was the endless repetition of the most dramatic images. In addition to The Towers Burning were images reminiscent of other movies including, Armageddon; clouds of dust and rubble billowing from between the buildings, pursuing people running away in the street. Repeating the picture over and over with no sound removed it from real experience and turned it into a fascination. By days end one of the newsmagazines had produced a slick sequence molded into familiar entertainments, “doctors and interns lined up like on a set of a disaster movie.
I didn’t want to be a detached observer, awed by the spectacle, entertained by cleaver references, calmed by the stories deemed appropriate by gatekeepers. I wanted to be a thinking, feeling citizen, part of a human community pulling together in a crisis. I wanted local reporters in the streets getting the story on the ground. By the next day, local news was doing just that, giving out help-line numbers, reporting on family members searching for loved-ones, and in general being good citizens.
This disaster has no frame of reference adequate for its expression and able to grasp its meanings. The fictional frames are just that, entertainments. We grasp for a way to express human dignity in the face of terrible loss. We do have storylines and image conventions for death, ones applied to people outside of our own communities. When the media air grizzly pictures of famine, disasters, death and war elsewhere, they are usually presented with little context, from a detached perspective: people crowded together, under attack, starving, suffering horrible indignities. These people are presented as the Other, through narratives of exclusion, as little more than sights for our fascination. Ethical battles have been fought, some won, some lost, about airing graphic depictions of human horror. Many have been deemed too ratings worthy to be shelved. We have no words, no media frames that can recognize the sadness of death as it happens, while preserving the dignity of those it is happening to. Media sensationalism often overcomes our feelings of empathy and compassion. Are these the reasons we could not acknowledge that the buildings were full of people?
The city is beginning to come to terms with the loss of life, as family members search for those still missing and unaccounted for. No doubt there are pictures and footage that we have not yet seen, of the horrible events that occurred on Tuesday. More footage of the people who jumped out of the buildings is starting to be aired. The audio track of screams and chaos are beginning to accompany the repeated disaster footage. Let us hope that these horrible sights don’t become the source of revenue, or ratings boosters when commercials make their way back on to our television screens. Hopefully we will now be more aware of the need for empathy and compassion when we tell stories of death, loss and destruction, not only for ourselves, but also for those who find themselves in front of our cameras in other parts of the world.
[Note: Robin Andersen teaches media studies at Fordham University and is the Director of the Peace and Justice Studies Program]
sent from camille roy
A speaker from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan will be speaking at Mills College on Nov. 1 and also at Theatre Artaud in San Francisco on Nov. 4 (details to come for the Nov. 4 event).
This is a group which runs schools and clinics in refugee camps in Pakistan and also documents the conditions for women in Afghanistan.
Sent in by Megan Adams, from <salon.com>
The Taliban's bravest opponents
resistance of Afghan women risks torture and execution
in turbans force a woman from the truck, and make her kneel at the penalty
line on the field. Confused and unable to see, the woman tries to look
behind just as a rifle is pointed against the back of her
execution is some of the most shocking film ever seen on
life under the Taliban, Shah went into the homes of the
of the most heartstopping footage in "Beneath the Veil,"
originally founded in 1977 as an Afghan feminist group
most prominent Afghan-run organization to oppose the
with RAWA, Shah got a first-hand view of what it's like
is your life story, and what do you do for RAWA?
A. I'm from
Kabul. I started to work with RAWA when I was 19 years old.
When I was
young I decided to do something about this. A lot of young
Q. Why do
you use the pseudonym "Fatima"?
use different names all the time, because we have a lot of
you ever been personally attacked by the Taliban?
A. I was
flogged three times in the streets, for stupid reasons. They
in1999, I was injured at a RAWA demonstration. Pakistan
has been RAWA's most crucial activity in Afghanistan?
A. We teach
hundreds of women and children in the underground schools in Afghanistan.
For children, we teach mathematics, physics, chemistry,
bring in video cameras to expose the crimes of the Taliban.
a hole in the burqa and film through it. That's why the
are you doing in the refugee camps in Pakistan?
A. We have
schools for girls in the fugitive camps; but in some we have
are your feelings about the attack on America?
A. We are
so sorry for the victims of this terrorist attack. We want to
On the other
hand, unfortunately, we warned the United States
can see this with our own eyes. We warned them but they never listened
to our cry, to our voice.
Q. How is
the crisis in America affecting your work at RAWA?
of families are escaping from Afghanistan, leaving everything behind because
they are afraid of war. Thousands of others that are living in Afghanistan
don't have the possibility to immigrate here; and now, even the borders
are closed. That means that our people have to burn in the flame of war
and all the doors are closed.
camps it's really hard to work, especially hard because
escape from Afghanistan because of the fear of killing and
are so worried about our members inside Afghanistan, about
Q. Are you
concerned about a war with the United States?
A. We are
condemning an attack of the U.S. on Afghanistan, because it
want to convey a message to the American people that there's a
Q. Do you
support the Northern Alliance?
A. We condemn
the cooperation of the United States with the Northern
Alliance are hypocrites: They say they are for democracy
government do you support, then?
A. We are
ready to support the former king. It doesn't mean that the king
does RAWA need right now?
A. We are
in a very bad financial condition. We need anything we can get
to RAWA, visit the RAWA's Web site, <www:Rawa.com> The Afghan Women's
Mission, or The Feminist Majority.)
Do you want
to go back to Afghanistan?
I miss Afghanistan
very much, it's my country. I love my city and my
9/19/01 (Gjakova, Kosova)
[ Sent in by Susan Gevirtz 10/25/01, via <[email protected]> ]
A statement of Medica Mondiale Kosova Women's Center:
Call for a non-violent response in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, USA.
We wish to express our shock and extend our deep sympathy to the relatives and friends of the victims of the brutal attacks in the United States. It is hard for us to see the suffering, even from across the seas, even as trauma counselors ourselves. And we cry for the people of many nations, ethnicities, and religions who died. The people of Kosova have put up posters of sympathy with the people of the United States, and we have held vigils of solidarity with the victims from around the world.
We have lived through war. We have been greatly helped in our recovery, by the United States representatives, who talked against revenge and promoted reconciliation as essential to achieve a future with true peace and democracy.
We know what it is like to be attacked, to grieve and to feel anger. Every day we attend to the physical and emotional pains of the women in our communities who continue to suffer from the violence of war. We listen to the stories and work together with women to find ways to productively channel negative emotions. Women in Kosova, still suffering from the symptoms of severe trauma, know what military responses do to innocent people and how long-lasting the consequences are.
Therefore we understand the urge for revenge is strong. And we know that it must not be given in to. We know that a violent response can only bring more violence. It does not bring justice. Instead it kills more innocent victims and gives birth to new holy avengers. It begins a new cycle and perpetuates more hate, more insecurity, more fear and ultimately more death amongst civilians.
We urge in the strongest possible terms for the United States and its allies, to temper their anger and to refrain from the folly of a sweeping military solution‚. Terrorists are not nations. And nations must not act like terrorists.
We do not wish to have you see your young men go to war and lose their lives, like thousands of our sons, fathers, and husbands did. We are horrified that there is talk of attacking and putting at risk millions of people’s lives because of the acts of a few. We do not wish to have war on a country or countries full of innocent adults and children, who already suffer at the hands of their leaders and whom themselves have committed no crimes. We know that bombs are not smart, we know they kill women, children, and old people and we know only too well, that it is mainly the women who bear the task of rebuilding societies torn apart by war. This is our work at present and it is very hard work. We do not wish to see countries' economies devastated, and its people made poorer for generations to come. We do not wish to see Americans attacked, killed or made afraid in the United States because of their religious or ethnic identities. We wish for all nations to be proud and to build a society and a politics that respects individuals and groups, and promotes diversity.
American politicians and decision makers, grieve for your dead, and find ways to protect the living! But we ask you not to put us and your citizens at more risk. What you are threatening to unleash is making us afraid for the world. Do not endanger the people of Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa. War will surely imperil us all and future generations also. Please remember your past and learn from ours, and work to leave a legacy of justice and peaceful construction, not of revenge, destruction and war.
Kristina Milhalec <[email protected]>
RESPONSES TO "FOR
THE RESURRECTION OF WORDS"
from Cynthia Hogue
In a Battle of Wills There Are No Winners
It is four weeks since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Like most of us since these attacks, I have been more aware of being alive as a gift. I have reached out to loved ones to tell them I love them. And like most of us, I am scared and wish I didnt feel so helpless. Because as I write, the U.S. has started bombing Afghanistan. The bombing does not make me feel safe. It makes me feel unsafe.
One of the radio commentators remarked on the day the bombing started, apropos of the origins of war, that the Vikings didnt have a word for the meaningless escalation of violence that comprises the plot of the greatest Icelandic saga, Brennu Njalsaga. Njals Saga is the story of a wise man with an unwise family. What starts out as a small retaliatory exchange between two households escalates, despite Njals best peacekeeping efforts, until two whole clans are involved in the rivalry. At last Njal and all his household are burned alive by their enemies. When the plot is reduced to its broad outlines, the horror of the violence of killing so many people is writ large (one of the themes of this saga). When we reduce the September 11th attacks to the nineteen young Muslim fundamentalists--the sect is so sexist we need not denote their sex--who highjacked four passenger airline jets and killed over 6000 people in one hour, these terrorist acts seem to us clearly mad. Crazy mad. The actions of lunatics. From our perspective.
Angry mad, from their perspective. Why do they hate us? Americans asked after the attack. How do people reach this level of anger, hatred and frustration? asks Professor of Conflict Studies John Paul Lederach. To call them lunatics misses a crucial point: By my experience, explanations that they are brainwashed by a perverted leader who holds some kind of magical power over them is an escapist simplification and will inevitably lead us to very wrong-headed responses. Anger of this sort, what we could call generational, identity-based anger, is constructed over time through a combination of historical events, a deep sense of threat to identity, and direct experience of sustained exclusion.
From the terrorists perspective, they are a David heroically fighting the bully-giant Goliath, who is spreading Western imperialism. If we do as they expect, which is to use our power against a weak people or nation, we can expect without a doubt that they will engage in the future in ever-escalating cycles of revenge and violence.
The Vikings in fact did have a word for the senseless feuding that drives the plot of Njals Saga, which is the word used to rationalize the violence by the characters. It is the same word as motivated the terrorists on September 11th, the same word as is motivating U.S. and British retaliation. It is a word for an heroic concept, a warriors code. That word is honor, along with the component parts of the ancient heroic code: pride and shame, loyalty and betrayal. One of the men interviewed on the radio the day we started the bombing was a veteran of the Gulf War. When asked if hed go back to war if drafted, he said, Of course. Its the warriors code, to rip the living heart out of the enemys chest. Im a warrior.
Honor requires us to retaliate, or the enemy will think he can get away with murder. But honor, too, will require the other side to avenge such retaliation because we deserved the punishing justicethey dealt us. At the dawning of the twenty-first century, we discover that we understand the sagas world of the blood feud and violent retaliation because, to our shock and horror, we are suddenly living it. However much we refuse to hear them, from the Muslim extremist perspective, the U.S. has been made to pay for past grievances to the Muslim world, for which we had never shown remorse. Now, we are making Afghanistan pay for harboring terrorists. But Afghanistan did not attack the U.S. So, the U.S. will eventually be made to pay for its harming Afghanistan. How far and how long will this exchange of violence go?
We desperately need another model for what is deemed an honorable response. That model also lies in Njals Saga as well, in Njal himself. The saga was written after Iceland had converted in 1000 A.D. to Christianity. Thus, although its action takes place before the conversion, its theme is influenced by gentler Christian tenets. Njal is a pagan precursor of what I will call radical Christianity (to distinguish it from the bigotry of most versions of fundamentalist Christianity, much like the terrorists Islamic fundamentalism must be distinguished from the gentler Muslim faith). Njal counsels tolerance and negotiates nonviolent alternative responses to violence. He wheels and deals for peace. Although the violence of his pagan family eventually takes him down with them, he represents an alternative that redefines the heroic code of honor. We need that alternative now. What are the possibilities?
For a start, we could redefine honor as being able to hear both sides, both perspectives, not just our own. We could view violence itself as dishonorable, and every holy war--both sides have bandied this phrase about--as sacrilege. Certainly when we are the target, we call violence barbaricand heinous. Why is it justified when we perpetrate it ourselves? We could consider our own possible responses in terms other than violence. And to those who say we will look weak to the world if we negotiate, we could answer: We need another definition of strength. Strength is the courage to wait and to make a considered response. Strength is not throwing our military weight around. Strength is seeking insistently--and, why not? aggressively--negotiated, diplomatic solutions.
We need to honor the memories of our own victims by listening to their families. Many of the families of the September 11th dead are not calling for retaliation, but for peacemaking. Touched so deeply and irrevocably by this tragedy, these families understood more immediately than any of us that no violence will return their loved ones to life, no retaliatory strike could suffice to comfort them in their grief. They say again and again that their dead would not wish other innocent people to die for their deaths. In escalating the violence, we risk making the deaths of over 6000 civilians truly meaningless, for we will have failed to understand the lesson in their deaths: that how we feel now is how civilians in Baghdad felt when we bombed them, how civilians in Serbia felt, how civilians in Japan felt.
Is it not dishonorable
that we were indifferent to the pain we caused? We need to redefine honor
as caring about the consequences of our actions in the world, and as not
hypocritically mouthing the rhetoric of democracy when we take geopolitical
action. Not only should we care, because we can identify with grief felt
around the world. We must care--not as a rule of law, but as Barbara Kingsolver
puts it, as one of a hundred ways to be a good citizen, . . . to
look finally at the things we dont want to see.
We might yet throw ourselves into supporting sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine, and stop now the bombing of Afghanistan, thereby being as good as our word and proving to the Afghan people in our actions that we are not making war against them. In this way, we might begin to defuse the reason that young Arab men give their own lives to kill American civilians. Lederach writes I believe that monumental times like these create conditions for monumental change. . . . Let us choose democracy and reconciliation over revenge and destruction. If we have not ruined already this monumental chance for change by meeting violence with violence, that old model of honorable blood vengeance, the terrible deaths we have suffered will not have been in vain.
As Ghandi said, We must be the change we wish to see in the world. Mary Olivers question in her poem The Summer Daynever seemed so urgently timely: Tell me, what do you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?
[as sent in from
Elizabeth Treadwell Jackson, via Susan Landers, from original posting
on the EPC list]
Language has been
on the feminist political agenda for years. It can't
One observes the
endless parade of Presidents, Mullahs, generals, prime
SISTERS - SPEAK OUT YOURSELVES & DEMAND MORE DISCUSSION OF THE CURRENT STATE OF THE WORLD AND THE WAR ON TERRORISM NOW. INSIST THAT YOUR FEMALE ELECTED LEADERS GET MORE VOICE & INK!
A feminist critique
of language calls into question our assumptions about
RECLAIM NAMING. CHECK OUT WHAT LEADERS ARE SAYING AS WE ENTER INTO ANOTHER WARRING PATRIARCHAL GOD MENTALITY. DECONSTRUCT OLD GRAMMARS, METAPHORS, IMPERIALIST IMPERATIVES! POETS: STAY ON THE CASE!
We know that the
privileged and powerful have had a vested interest in
on a political discourse that marginalizes alternative thinking and people
who can be exploited without "voice". Our modern state emerged
from the ashes of the feudal state and was built on a class and patriarchal
model, Political representation began as the right of property-owning
MEN. Now the capitalist state addresses itself to a generalized citizen/consumer--presumably
classless, sexless, a hip citizen of the increasingly troubling world.
It's not working! Look at the mess we are in. Also to protect this "version"
of reality the
IS ANYONE UNDER THAT CHADOR?
This is very important
to understand, because, as I will say again and again, our response to
the immediate events have everything to do with whether we reinforce and
provide the soil, seeds, and nutrients for future cycles of revenge and
violence. Or whether it changes. We should be careful to pursue one and
One of the most
intriguing metaphors I have heard used in the
We need a new metaphor,
and though I generally do not like
And then listen to
words they use. The way to break such a
One aspect of current
U.S. leadership that coherently matches
This is the reality
we face: Recruitment happens on a sustained
In keeping with the
last point, let me try to be simple. I
Sound like an odd
diversion to our current situation of terror?
FOR THE RESURRECTION
Note: The email exchange, below, came out of an immediate and urgent need to respond to recent terrorist events in the U.S. As members of the How2 Editorial Advisory Board began, spontaneously, to share their thoughts with each other, it seemed clear that this sudden blow to our human psyche had swiftly become the CENTRAL condition around which all thought/feeling was flowing in us--privately and communally--and that in order to make the How2 "postcard" email exchange relevant to our readers--to even imagine anyone wishing to use it, at this moment--we would need to keep it deeply connected to issues we are all worried about & thinking over within "the continuous present" of writing. This may include the location of suppressed questions that are not necessarily coming up in pre-defined and socially-pressured public discourses (classrooms, bars, dinner tables, TV or radio shows--to/in which we are witness &/or participant).
Excerpts from these initial communiques have been put together, below, as both witness and invitation to our readers to participate in this exchange of questions and perspectives. One can imagine, for example, postcards from readers who are teaching, describing useful written projects (with sharing of selected results)-- ways of finding & making of written language acts for overwhelming states of fear, grief, confusion or political scepticism.
excerpt from Elizabeth Frost / NYC
.... I am terrified, numb, & aghast at my lack of language at this time. I want to explore that feeling of lack. I feel deep rage about the discourse that is bombarding us -- the military machine of cowboy rhetoric, the "dead or alive" bravado, the ubiquitous image of the flag -- despair that I have no discourse to oppose to it. No symbol to wear or hang from the windows, one that would express grief & solidarity w/o yoking those to a jingoistic & hysterical patriotism. I am enraged that an Islamic friend has stopped wearing her head scarf for fear of her safety. That a colleague tells me that all his dark-skinned, dark-haired students have shaved their beards & cut their hair -- for safety. That the Morrocan family that runs 2 restaurants in our neighborhood has the biggest & most plenteous flags at their establishments -- for safety. I am enraged at the absence of a counter-symbol.
I am grief-stricken to hear the stories of a student who was trampled by the fleeing crowds, who walked in bare feet all the way home to Queens, volunteered to take blood donations for several days with no sleep or respite, & was then yelled at in the subway for being "middle-eastern looking." Of another who works fielding phone calls from the families of those missing & could not control her sobbing. In a classroom. In that place. In that place of words. I am appalled by their tears, I am exhausted, I am appalled by my presence before them, I am speechless.
I am stricken anew this morning with the news that one of my students died in the attack. She worked at a financial firm. I am appalled that she was at work while I was at home. That for the last four years she was slowly earning her BA in one evening course at a time. That this evening I must tell her classmates
I have no language for this.
excerpt from Jo Ann Wasserman / NYC
I am in NYC too. The city where I was born. I was on 7th Ave. and Greenwich Street when one of the buildings collapsed and there was only the sound of thousands of us in the street gasping as it tumbled. Our own human sound louder than the structure's rumble.
....On Thursday night, I went to the opening of a friend's art show. It was the opening of her first major solo show and had been in the works for over a year. Many of us attended just to see each other. I arrived at the space in far west Chelsea (which can look like a war zone on the best of days) to see my friends wearing surgical masks in the absolutely toxic smoke.
But it was important to see my friend's paintings. To see the attempt. Something good and full of intention. Later in the week I was talking to this same painter friend and she expressed disappointment that her show had gone ahead as very few people have attended since that night and it is her first big show. Then she began crying, saying, "why should I worry about something so stupid?"
That is what it has been like for me here. Feeling the fear (evacuated twice from locations which were threatened after Tuesday), feeling shocked, ashamed, exhausted, heartsick (walking past thousands of flyers with pictures of the "lost" lining 11th Street all the way to St. Vincent's hospital) and then ricocheting to concerns about the trivial and banal. Why can't I get below 14th Street to the apartment where I am staying and get clean underwear? Why is this bank line taking so long? Why did the woman put so much milk in my coffee when I asked for "just a little?"
....My friend David just phoned to see if I was going to a peace march tomorrow in Union Square. I said, "Yes." He asked if I was bringing a sign but I have no sign to bring. Nothing clever to say. Not one thing. I am so sad. People in the street are sad and quiet here. No music blaring out of bodegas, no excited conversation, not even many children yelling and playing.
....I feel really sad. And to offer my deepest condolences to any of you who have been touched personally in this tragedy.
excerpts from Renata Morresi / Univ. of Marcerata, Italy
.... I was struck by the fact that both Elizabeth Frost and Jo Ann Wasserman wrote about their difficulty to define, to express, to find adequate words and symbols, which now lie broken and useless.
I think we should try to find those words and symbols again (where? in the past? in ourselves? in other cultures? should we create brand new ones?). Not logos, trademarks, labels, slogans, badges, banners, allegories of death...
...but, rather, metaphors, words to cope with reality, attempts to understand and resist interpretations--EVEN theories ("theory" being the 'bad' word few want to hear in times of crises). But lack of theory is bad theory, and we--the world--can't afford such a lack now.
...I’m trying to express how these recent disasters have changed our relation to language. Think of definitions given in the past few days: terrorist attack, permanent global war, Holy War... (none of them seems proper)... and how everyone is trying to cope with this void of language, working out responses that generate from internal (psychological, but also physiological), external, socio-cultural variations. Now those responses are floating and opaque; sometime later they'll harden into definitions (the making of History). I think that's a good reason for us to be watchful and keep on writing.
And 'as life goes on' I can't avoid thinking about the dozens of petitions I have signed for years in defense of Afghan women, to expose their inhuman condition: I wonder where those petitions landed, what we are to do for the forgotten words.
....Let's keep on writing about what is going on (inside, outside: is there a difference?)...striving to find words to express it, to give a shape to these fragmentations.
second excerpt from Jo Ann Wasserman / NYC In response to Renata Morresi
In response to Renata Morresi, I agree that theory must move forward and is critical to our sorting out process as we receive so much incorrect and non critical information from the agents of mass media in the States. We certainly need sensitive and revolutionary thinking right now. One thing that I was struck with while attending the peace march last night was the insistent use (on the part of the demonstrators) of dualistic language—"Bush wants war, New York wants peace!" or "justice: yes, war: no!"
My friend and I tried to start a round of "we feel scared" and "dignity for humanity" (doesn't scan well, I know) to no avail. If theory and critical discourse could help us to move outside of binary thinking (or defining) as that which we are against, rather than for, it would be transformative. What I want is to be defined as FOR something, not always against. Even in listening to the chant, "Peace not war," I wondered, "what does peace mean right now?" The way things were on September 10th in New York City as thousands of people woke up living on the street? The way things were in Macedonia last year? On the Gaza Strip today? In the Sudan? In Pakistan?
Last Tuesday night I felt like there was no place to go and feel "safe" for the night. It is a strange feeling for me but I know many around the world and in the States experience that all the time. A thought flashed through my mind—I wished it was New Year's Day so that I could attend the big, 24 hour marathon poetry reading which takes place at The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in New York City every year. I wanted to be there partly to be around friends but also to be in a space of hearing poems, nonstop. I have been thinking about the place poetry has in a situation like this one. How the mysterious nature of that language might also be part of a response.
Yesterday I heard that On October 3rd there will be a group reading by about 50 poets (many of whom are also critical writers) at St. Mark's. The idea is to respond to recent events here. I don't know what people will read or say but I am eager to find out. If anyone will be in NYC and wants specific info., I would be happy to e-mail it out.
from Ann Vickery / Sydney, AU & Pennsylvania
....I have been thinking about the strength of words and the strength of a symbol like the flag--there may be little or no appropriate words at this time but there have been plenty of flags. Flags have long been a potent symbol of solidarity and mourning. I think back to how Cathy Freeman carried the Aboriginal flag in both Olympic games, symbolically reminding all in Australia and the rest of the world of her history and Aboriginal Australians' continuing presence. Her gesture was far more effective than any sentence she might have spoken. And it seems to me, that for many Americans, the American flag has had a similar function at this point of time. I'm not suggesting here that a minority Australian proudly showing her 'colour/s' to the world (while her country's government still fails to acknowledge or say 'sorry' for past injustices) is the same as an average American showing the flag in his/her own yard. But that the flag is an outward sign or gesture of solidary, gesturing in the American case a sympathy towards those most affected by the events of 9/11.
At the same time, I also find it dissettling. I am now constantly reminded that I am an "alien" in the United States, that as a sign of solidarity, it excludes me. I've noticed too that many have begun wearing ribbons in the colours of the flag in the same way as there were AIDS ribbons, and apparently, Gulf war ribbons. As a symbol, I think the ribbon, like the flag, focuses on it being an "American" tragedy, that it elides the many non-Americans who died in the World Trade Center collapses and the suffering of their families. I realize that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were targets precisely because they were American icons, but in reinforcing it as simply an American tragedy, the use of the flag or its colours as a symbol merely encourages the objectives of such terrorism--to heighten national and cultural divisions.
I think new approaches to combatting terrorism must go beyond, as Jo Ann suggests, a simple dialectic of peace vs. war, to some global coalition of the "civilized" against an unknown other. More importantly, to actually rethink what the very basis of being civilized might mean or perhaps even more, what it might mean to be human today.
How to relate this to writing, I'm less sure.
Lastly, I just wanted to say how much I appreciated Renata's timely email about modernist writers working through issues of politics and aesthetics in the face of fascism. A different, though related set of issues, certainly arises in relation to terrorism. Both, I think, are different again than the questions arising in the face of a slow, sanctioned genocide such as occurred with the Holocaust, arguably also happening in other parts of the world today.
from Kornelia Frietag / Potsdam, Germany
I am still confused, and yet feel that I should finally somehow contribute to our exchange about the terrible events of 2 weeks ago, even if I am relatively far away in Germany, and have no one close in New York. Although my original speechlessness has given way (had to give way) to efforts to talk with my kids, my family, my friends, and colleagues, I am feeling a complete inability to balance and to connect emotional and rational responses in an acceptable way. I cannot manage this balancing act between (the expression of) complete devastation, sadness, compassion, and helplessness on the one hand, and an analysis of the political, historical, social, and religious context on the other. But I am sure that it is this balancing act that is most urgently needed.
It is needed because the one without the other does not hold, or rather is extremely one-sided if not dangerous. In Germany, at present, next to the hands on anti-terrorist, measure-taking approach (be assured of U.S.anti-terrorist military support + more police: cameras, security checks, screening etc.), the emotional discourse (in words, gestures, actions, and symbols--all very material), is the officially sanctioned one...as long as it is "for the U.S. not against them." Hence my daughter and her classmates talked for hours in class about the events per se, without any background information on Afghanistan, Bin Laden, and/or the Middle East, but when a fellow student raised one question about U.S. policy in the region, he was reprimanded and, for the rest of the lesson, overlooked by the teacher who threatened to bring him before the headmaster.
That two-thirds of the former East German citizens--who have experienced their share of offical binary interpretations of history and current events--are strongly opposed to a war (on Afghanistan or any other "villain state") is mostly interpreted as the expression of an insufficiantly developed sense of democracy and/or latent anti-Americanism.
Yesterday the culture section of my local newspaper opened with a one page article on "The Cowardly Thinking," claiming that German "artists and intellectuals flee into anti-American prejudices." What the diverse intellectuals quoted there (in bits and pieces, completely out of context) have done is: to put the events--in Washington, New York and the Pittsburgh area--into a wider context of US policy plus voicing the same fears of race hatred, vicious patriotism, and militant jingoism that have been expressed in our e-mail discussion.
The erronous logics of a terrorism which takes the symbols of US global power (the World Trade Center, the Pentagon) as material representation of the "evil" ("US imperialism") and hence aggressively destroys them, is cynically repeated in a counter-attack scenario (prescribed by the Bush government and followed by its allies, Germany among them) which takes the very same symbols as material representation of the "good" ("democracy", "civilization") as those to be aggressively defended. It seems to me that the arbitrariness of symbols, the contextual differences of meaning, the contingency of positions--historical, political, social, gendered, ethnic, class-related--and the ambivalence of emotions needs urgently to be thought about, talked about, written about before and while re/acting to what undoubtedly was an onslaught on humanity, a terrible, inhuman act.
It is especially hard to make (perceive and create an awareness of) a difference, or rather to make differences in writing (the use of words and symbols) that subvert the simplifying dominant discourse, when this very discourse is so emotionally charged. And yet these differences need to be made, thought, spoken, and written--risking the judgement of "cowardly thinking," rather than not thinking at all.
Greetings and thanks to all of you who are struggling to find (the) words,
excerpt from Linda V. Russo / Buffalo
.... What makes sense is to continue to assemble a life in the aftermath. The writing is such an assembly, though it is never "after" but current, and a current we ride to--where? Directions don't make sense now. Every direction is suspect.
I'm in Buffalo, on the US/Canadian border. The day after 9/11 I tried to take a walk along the Niagara River (our border) to find the otherwise well-trafficked area all but empty except for scattered Vet-types with binoculars trained north.... My co-ambulator and I were advised against walking on the pier, which had been my desire, because of a bomb threat to the Peace Bridge that runs above it on over to Canada. It was eerie, we felt unsafe, and we left.
We felt unsafe for the next three days and never parted company, except to go to classes, to teach, which was almost fruitless--on Thursday I cried, looking out onto the tiny sea of my students to take attendance, just glad that they were there. They were sobered, and we went on--I teach composition--and learn we did.
.... Basically, I've been thinking, how would How2, if she could talk, want the Forum to function? This is where we interpret her "constitution." While on the one hand I value hearing intelligent women-poetry-thinkers critically address all manner of issues--I love especially the way this forum, email, lets those issues evolve, accelerate--I wonder how can this be brought forward in a way that's true to How2's urgencies--to poetry and women? And yet, oddly, Ann's suggestion that we need to "actually rethink what the very basis of being civilized might mean or perhaps even more, what it might mean to be human today" really urges me.
Perhaps that's not so odd, though, when one considers how poetry is being cast about amidst all the rhetoric of memorial and war in the U.S.. According to National Public Radio, to be human and male is to write Poetry; to be female is to talk and to grieve. Our only nationwide forum for news and culture, NPR has brought poetry to the foreground, in the voices of Billy Collins, Robert Pinsky, and, today, W.S. Merwin, offering profound reflection and dour sentiments.
Women, when they form audible words, sound in untrained yet eloquent prose. These are the wives left behind. What NPR forms is an apparently unbridgeable sexually-differentiated cultural divide. At what point do contemporary women enter to define a national/poetic response? We stand, like Greek women outside the gates of the polis, mourning. Olson said to Carolee Schneeman when she went out to Gloucester with her then partner in the late 60s, that it was when the cunts began to speak that Greek tragedy began its decline.
Anne Carson's fascinating essay "The Gender of Sound" illuminates: "Greek women of the archaic and classical periods were not encouraged to pour forth unregulated cries of any kind within the civic space of the polis or within earshot of men. Indeed, masculinity in such a culture defines itself by its different use of sound." I've often wondered what stake male poets have/had in "masculinizing" their practice, keeping it pure of certain (read "feminizing") emotions. I'm not essentializing here (women write "emotional" poetry), but just noticing how the burden of emotion is often pushed onto women while at the same time this burden is used as an excuse to prohibit women's cultural production, where culture is seen to proceed in a rational, or in some sense formalized, manner.
excerpt from Arielle Greenberg / Boston
Two issues I face here and now:
1) Spinning off of Linda Kinnahan's remarks about what it means to be an innovative writer who is also political: How to be a non-narrative poet in the face of such REAL, linear surreality, you know? I don't even WANT to write about it all, but it's the only thing I AM writing about, in one way or another, and I feel slightly irresponsible for going sideways/non-linear rather than being directly story-telling about it all. To this end, I am planning to read Celan, whom I think of as a brilliant avant-garde reporter of very direct and personal tragedy. Can anyone suggest other poets who have done this, especially women poets?
2) I am also thinking a lot about what it means to be a global citizen. I am not so naive as to think that America can or should pull out of all foreign policy...at this point that's simply not realistic, nor is it generous. So how can a country like the USA use its power for good instead of evil? How can I be a part of urging it to do so?
I want to also note, in regard to Linda K's comment about Pinsky (whom I almost always find self-righteous), that I did hear a pretty good alternative to the voice of HIStory when Boston's NPR call-in show, "The Connection," had a day dedicated to the uses of poetry at times like these, and guests were Marie Howe and Naomi Shahib Nye.... One of my favorite moments on that show was when the (male) host brought Nye on the line, and instead of either Howe or Nye addressing the questions at hand-- or the host--Nye said, "Hello, Marie, I have been thinking of you in New York" and Howe said, "Hello, Naomi darling, I have been thinking of you." Such a human--and, dare I say, female--moment.
from Hilda Bronstein
I was in China on the 11th, in an area where we unable to receive CNN News, or indeed any other English-speaking channel. Rumours abounded, and to see the TV images with no commentary or explanation was terrifying. I rang my daughter in London, and she told me what she knew of events. As we spoke, news reports were coming in on her TV from the USA. She told me that a White House spokesman was about to appear, and asked--did I want to hear what he was saying? Hungry for any information, I replied in the affirmative and she held the telephone receiver close to the TV. It was not what he said that made me weep, but just that I suddenly became aware--in that moment--of the distance that separated me from those I loved, of the enormity of the atrocities that had been committed in New York and Washington, and that what I was hearing formed just one small part of a historic unfolding which could lead to more violence and unimaginable suffering throughout the world. That feeling has not abated.
my best to everyone
and thank you,
postcard email may be sent to [email protected]. Selections will be made with a view to range and diversity.
From: megan minka lola camille roy
LUST FOR LIFE
Dear How2 writers-readers,
Call for Paper
We invite you to
submit paper proposals for a conference on the writings
LUST FOR LIFE is
planned in conjunction with the publication of
The LUST FOR LIFE
committee-Amy Scholder, Carla Harryman, Avital Ronell,
Marvin J. Taylor
from Mendi Lewis Obadike
feminist Net Art project: keeping up appearances
I have been reading your journal for a few months. Harryette Mullen recommended that I check out the site. Thanks for all the work you do. I really like the idea of the postcards. The dialogue we have because of email is its own thing, isn't it? I like the way the public nature of that section makes those exchanges a model of community-building. I am writing to let you know about a new project I have online, "keeping up appearances, a hypertextimonial". The press release is below.
Mendi Obadike Textifies
Online Intermedia artist Mendi Lewis Obadike presents "keeping up appearances",
a hypertextimonial. In the tradition of black feminist artists Faith Ringgold
and Audre Lorde, Obadike makes art out of what is said and not said. Her
past projects have examined intersections of sound, propriety, and enactments
of a black female aesthetic. This project is part of her "Black.net.art"
actions. See "keeping up appearances" at: http://blacknetart.com/keepingupappearances.html
from Marieke Gaboury
Susan Glaspell Estate
I am seeking contact information for whomever handles the estate of Susan Glaspell. Any information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Marieke Gaboury [email protected]
from Elizabeth Robinson
A response to "erotics" [featured in reading/s How2/5] Against/Grain
All poetry is an erotics insofar as it is about tension and texture. Intimacy implies a thorough knowledge of a limited body while that body continually renews itself. The tension of the known occurs while stumbling upon unexpected comminglings: collage: one atop another. Eros invites us to enter the dim mystery of a pattern. It is a pattern, however, that is animate. The known defies the familiar, so fluid. These contradictions of lived experience arouse. Tension doesn't so much release as give, against itself, permissions. Contra-Dictions. The body sometimes needs to go against the grain in order to perceive the grain. So there's a gorgeous, voluptuous obstinacy in pronouncing the unsayable. What is more palpable--breath, saliva, &c--than the blurring of boundaries. These many forms, 'figurative' and literal, make up the pattern of some shifting whole. So a body of work resounds and resides with a body of desire. As desire beckons with its ultimately tantalizing textures. The very pleasure of the word, the words, are their life as a body and how they rub me the wrong way.
PERILS OF GOING PUBLIC:
between KF and Kelly Everding, Art Director Rain Taxi
KF's question/ 1 . 18 . 01:
You write: "I am an MFA grad from ten years ago (a survivor of sorts) who has forsaken the academic life for something less volatile. I am a woman poet who is primarily influenced by male poets--particularly surrealist poets--and it's hard to shake that."
These two sentences are the basis of a book! But meanwhile, why don't you read the "forum" in H2/n4, currently on-line through February, and see if you have any response to any of it from your position of having chosen to give up the academy. If anything burbles up, just write it into an email and maybe we can get some discussion going among other readers. It seems that many women remain quite timid around entering the public arena... and must be lured in, i.e. given very particular invitations.
I wonder what this is about....I'm puzzled why more women don't respond to the "bait" of having a place to write responsively from any perspective or style they choose. I've really wanted the unspoken questions of "taste-making," selection of what gets into print, and the on-going questions of power relations to have a place to be sorted-out in this journal....
I'm curious where you did your MFA work? In the early '70s, I taught for two years at the Iowa Writers Workshop--as well as a year at Reed College--before landing at SF State University...and find myself very interested in how you've described your academic experience as "volatile"--sufficiently so, to lead you to give it up... .
Everding's response/ 1 . 22 . 01
I will definitely look deeper into the layers of the H2 site and maybe get up the courage to contribute. I was struck by what you said in your last email about women needing to be lured in--I think I follow that behavior. I am timid and every piece of writing needs to be almost beaten out of me. I resist the work of writing, but once I am in it, I love it. I don't know if it's a self-esteem thing or what--probably. Being outside academia, I sometimes don't feel qualified to make any statements or judgements. I have definitely left that high-critical language behind. Would I sound dumb? Not in the know? These are the personal demons I struggle with and sometimes overcome by writing ... Every new review is a new accomplishment, something new to learn.
I received my MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.... It was harrowing at times, but the best thing about it was meeting close friends whose relationships really helped to shape my writing life more than the classes or teachers. Some of these same friends are here in Minneapolis, so we continue the discussion and mutual celebration of poetry and writing.
Please check out Rain Taxi's new online edition, recently posted (www.raintaxi.com). I have a review there of a book on Jean Painleve, a science filmmaker who was a friend to the surrealists and really pioneered science films, shooting underwater footage and such.
By the way, our RT website has had a link to How2 since our inception. Eric Lorberer (the editor) knew about H2 and has great respect for it....so many avenues of information. The great thing about web sites are their non-linear structure, a sort of Big Bang theory of expansion as one link takes you to another, one interest sparks another. H2 definitely shows the care and time you've spent on it--I really like the old B&W pictures of modernist women writers as well as the minimalist and clean white look of it. .
KF to KE/ 1. 22 . 01:
Dear Kelly, You'd be surprised at how your feelings and situation speak for so many!!! The push/pull around going public that you describe is an all-pervasive problem many are up against. Recently, several H2 readers' private emails spoke of the anxiety of writing beyond a small circle of friends and also of the various traumas of grad school--who/what is voiced vs. what remains unvoiced...both in grad school and after, feeling a bit anxious to have one's actual experience or thinking revealed.
By the way, if you are into film, you might enjoy writing about some female-directed (or authored) surrealist or modernist film/s??? Did you see the interviews we did of filmmakers Pelle Lowe (H2/3) and Yvonne Rainer (H2/4)? I see film and its construction as very interrelated to the project of constucting the modernist and contemporary inventions of/interventions into that thing called "poem". Why don't you work on a visual/word piece for the mixed media section for issue 6 (since n5 is just about to go on-line, end of Feb., under the new Editorship of Ann Vickery. (I'll still be doing the "postcard" selection.) Think about it...you could use photos, art work, written responses both longer and shorter...It could be fun!
[Note: for direct link to Rain Taxi website, click on LINKS at bottom of H2 home page.]
between KF and Mary Berger, editor Narrativity
KF's question/ 1 . 10 . 01
...if I hadn't thought to invite you (as now clarified) to write a response to an "under-appreciated" book (or books) you are currently fascinated by, would you have thought to ever send in something to How2 on your own?? Would it have felt risky in any way? Would you have felt prohibited? Unconsciously waiting for a personal and specific invitation? I ask because I've been struck by the fact that in over 2 years of editing H2, the only persons initiating "reviews" have been male, even though I thought H2 was proferring an open invitation... Clearly we've not yet adequately understood a missing piece of the puzzle.
Are we looking at habit, here, or something more?? I assumed that if the place was created and the descriptions of/invitations to different sections clear enough, the space would be used very actively. Not true. It is in precisely this area that work still needs to be done to further open up the range of styles and voices --poets who might be interested in and willing to write about their own takes on what they are reading, instead of leaving it entirely up to the academic scholar/critics--many of whom are brilliant and inventive, others who read, rather exclusively, from the perspective of a very specific training & set of categories tending to leave out work that doesn't "fit".... Daunting. .
MB's response/ 1. 12 . 01:
As for whether I would have sent work without prompting...I am no doubt too reticent for my own good in unleashing my work on the world, a result of my abiding ambivalence, whether learned or innate. I haven't yet managed to balance my particular needs for privacy, focus, and modesty, with the authoritativeness or exoticism that seem to be required for a public literary identity. But then again some of that comes from the indifference with which the work is often greeted. My ambitions are conflicted and not infrequently discouraged. I've invested too much in feminist/leftist critique to say that my reticence is just a function of my personality. On the other hand I've been slow to engage that critique in a way that would bring my work into a more public discourse. Yes, I've been afraid to be a more public writer; have maybe kept my work more subjective, private.... Which has left me with the dissatisfying feeling of being outside of any public dialogue.
But my version of what a public, political discourse might be may not be recognizable to some. I'm suspicious of much conspicuously "political" writing and its potential for dogmatism and reductiveness. I find politics in the subtle, solitary acts of perception and the formation of cognitive structures for apprehension and response. But the subtlety, the minutia, of such activities may result in work that seems inert rather than arresting. Or so I conclude, as I seem often to find myself mouthing inaudibly amidst a thunderous din.
Undeniably a "specific and personal invitation" is a motivation to enter the fray. It's exactly that kind of interest that brings a sense of the work being relevant to an audience, of its being a part of the larger writing/reading/ thinking world. I'm not one of those who's been able to convince myself of a work's relevance without some sign from the outside. To a certain degree, I think my writing project is about this very thing: the (often vexed) relationship between the very private subject and the seemingly remote power vectors that shape the social world. While the duality of private/ public is discredited these days, I need to retain some distinction like that to understand what's at stake in taking part in a public dialogue.
[Note: For direct link to Narrativity website, click on LINKS at bottom of H2 home page.]
Between Grad Student and KF, Oct. '00 through Feb. '01
KF to GS/ 10.14.00:
Do me a favor, and keep a list of questions that arise in your grad seminars or related conversations--particularly as regards the areas of tension you've written of, between theory and practice, as well as looming issues of power relations (even beginning at this grad school level)...the sort that might be interesting for other of our readers to discuss further in "postcard". .
GS to KF/ 10.14.00:
I've been thinking about what I might do for How2, and would like to suggest a book I've been fascinated with for a while...longing for a chance to engage with one particular piece. That piece seems to fit in with my on-going obsessions about landscape, space, and grids, dynamics, and connections . . . I'm very flattered to be asked to contribute to H2! I much enjoyed delving into the archives of HOW(ever) when I was researching Barbara Guest's work. It's so good to have all that material available on the web--I'd been wanting to see copies of the original journal for a long time--and have been following How2 ever since. .
GS to KF/ 2.2 .00:
I don't know how to write about all this. Struggling with the gender issues has been very very painful for me here, and now that things seem to be improving somewhat, I'm a bit loathe to reopen old wounds!
There are some real practical issues for me that account for my not sending materials to How2 and not speaking up in on-line formats that I'd like to touch on. But most importantly, I have to find a way of writing about the politics of women's connections with each other that is truthful (but not over-revealing) of the particulars of my situation, yet at the same time avoids giving the impression that I think it's just "my problem" ...for the subject is extremely important.
Thank you for giving me the chance to see the other email contributions to this "postcard" correspondence. The questions raised make me think about all kinds of _practical_ reasons why someone like me doesn't make good use of forums that seem ready-made for speaking-out, even those as welcoming as How2. More on this later in this discussion.
I also need to find a way to write "in public" about the kinds of issues you and I have discussed in earlier emails. (Even revealing a previous one-on-one discussion feels problematic!) I can see _your_ frustration, coming across verbalized anxieties (issues) that often tangle us up in women's writing and scholarship --but not being able to persuade us to write about them in a form we'll allow to be made public.
The feeling that it's "just me" is part of ithe problem, of course. It's not so much that I always think my point-of-view isn't worth listening to, or that it doesn't deserve to be heard. (To my surprise, I often feel quite confident about my views, though of course that creates its own pressures.) The basic issue is that I am the only woman in my program to voice dissatisfaction--consistently and somewhat openly--about its gender politics. The program I am currently a part of is one that has constructed its identity on the basis of oppositionality, and requires that its students be loyal dissenters in supposedly hostile territory: "If you're not for us; you're against us." So the intellectual climate is very much"the fray" that Mary mentions, rather than any kind of open arena or protected zone!
A seemingly "open space" is created that is full of invisible barriers. The odd thing is that when someone bumps up against one of these, s/he becomes amazingly and embarrassingly visible, fully clothed in whatever kind of identitarian outfit suits the occasion. "Ah, we have a woman among us... (substitute whatever other label you like). How nice that you can speak up!"
In other classes that I attend, issues of race, class, gender, sexuality come and go as seems required by the subject under discussion and it isn't always left to the "other-identified" (as opposed to "self-identified") minority to speak up for themselves about whatever "their" issues are judged to be. While theory can certainly be misused as a debating tool--i.e., "I have a bigger, more famous, currently cooler theorist to apply to this issue than you do!"--it can also provide a framework that, because it is somewhat depersonalized, can allow push/pull and debate that goes beyond identitarian boxing-in. This is what I see happening in the best of the classes that I attend outside my own program. The risk, of course, with that kind of approach is that "speaking from experience" can get censored-out. In classrooms where I do feel comfortable enough to speak up, I try to take a pride in speaking from experience as well as theory.
Sitting in a room full of smart, interesting people who consistently ignore certain kinds of extremely important issues or assigned readings, and knowing that unless "my" kind of person raises them they won't be raised--whereas, if I do speak up, I'll be assumed to be speaking just because I am that kind of person--is not only appallingly silencing, but also excruciatingly frustrating. I leave the room and feel utterly drained with the effort of (not) speaking.
It also feels very lonely. The obvious answer to the situation I'm describing is for a group of the "whatever" kind to get together and speak up and support each other. But here I find myself in another kind of quandary that is particularly hard to talk about in this context. One of the very sad things about all this, especially for me, given the wonderfully supportive female community I had while getting my MFA, was to see how the women here get split apart and almost set against each other. For various personal (?) reasons, few have seemed prepared to rock the boat.
A difficulty for me in this situation is handling inter-generational feminist divides. From my experience here, the woman student who is "non-traditional" (in this context, older returning students) doesn't have much authority in the lit crit or poetry classroom, She is, I suspect, seen as boring, mumsy, and worst of all, "essentialist".
Most perplexing of all, if she also declares herself to be a feminist (how old-fashioned!), she obviously hasn't read (as indeed I haven't--I was hoping for a class here that would provide it!) the historical sequence of first-wave, second-wave, etc., feminisms. It is very clear to me that in my program, women (among other groups) are are not in a situation that encourages them to speak up about issues that aren't on the currently "mainstream" agenda." To say anything in the classroom--or to individuals, privately--that would even hint at this observation would be seen as patronizing. How dare I speak for someone else and make them look weak and naive? (As I write this, I notice--and resent--the twist I find myself putting on all this: not "this situation is bad," but "here's why this situation is so hard for me".)
I know that none of this will be news to many women. It's just been a big lesson to me--my hardest seminar last year was probably "gender politics". Having spent so much of my work life, and then in my MFA program among highly articulate and competent women scholars and professors, I came to realize that up to that time, I'd been very sheltered in professional situations. Even at work when, as happened not infrequently, I found myself "the only woman" (certainly often the only college-educated one, and hence an anomaly!), in business meetings, I never felt I was speaking "as a woman" (hence boxed-in)...as has happened to me here. I was an oddity, but there was respect for oddities, especially if they had some technical expertise.
Of course I have had some support, especially in private. But the worst hostility I encountered here came after a few of us dared--openly-- to put together a publicly identifiable united front. I now restrict myself to minimal appearances at poetry arenas (though that subject is what I came here to do!), and feel much more confident now that I'm not constantly exposing (or not exposing!) myself. There have been some changes in the last year, though, and more women have been entering this program, which has to be a good thing! I can see some differences happening, as a result of that--I notice that women's issues are discussed more...but still, from what I hear, this happens mainly at the instigation of the women in the room.
About my difficulty in expressing any of this in public (as opposed to privately): that awkward business of seeming to speak for other people. How dare I do that? I worry that perhaps I have got it all wrong, after all? What right _have_ I got to voice an opinion, especially a public one? I badly need to know that I've got it "right" . . . as if such a thing were entirely possible!
I actually feel deeply anguished at being told that I've "misunderstood" or that I just "don't get it". . . I can find a certain confidence (mentioned earlier), but I know it's a bit of an act. Because it's an act, it feels easily under-minable, and at the same time, I worry about its staginess and its (necessarily?) forceful rhetoric, and the effect that this has on the truthfulness of what I am saying?
I find that a good deal of my best thinking is done through poetry, and I believe that this is because there I am able to be truthful about the difficulties inherent in writing--anything at all. That feels much more honest!
Before signing-off, I wanted to say something very quickly about some of the practical things that stop me from taking part in this kind of public debate. First there must be time and effort! This is the third or fourth occasion in the last 8 months or so that I've done this kind of writing. In each case, I felt I just had to get something out, forcefully, and fast. Email is very pressurized--listserves particularly so, and particularly competitive, too. Get something out now! Jump in before the next person! A practical side of me says, yes, this is the only way to do this, while you're burning hot with the issue, while there's interest in it, an occasion for it. But this fights with the side of me that says, this is not how effective work is done. You have to be able to edit, to have time to write and come back fresh to revise.
The occasion was there, the issues demanded it, and I felt fired-up and desperate to make myself heard. But this is actually the hardest and most challenging kind of writing I ever do. Far harder than writing academic papers! It feels like running a race, or taking a very tightly timed exam. How best to do justice to the occasion (and the people involved), and my anger, and to be truthful to my insights and intuition, and at the same time be as persuasive and clear as I can? Even done all in one day (as this current piece is), it takes up huge amounts of time and emotional energy. Today, I've put aside some long-overdue grading, just to give this thing the time it needs, including going through its various layers: first emoting, then trying to get to some more rational-sounding structure, some attempt at balance (no one wants to sound shrill, or whiny), then editing for diplomacy's sake (after all, this thing is public!).
Re being invited--that certainly makes a big difference! But even then, and even given less emotionally fraught material, it's genuinely difficult to make the time. Even you had to ask me twice for a book review last year, and I was so thrilled to be asked!! As I'm sitting here typing I'm trying not to look at a second reminder to send some poems to a magazine. I guess, having the space to speak may not be enough. (After all, the frustrating classrooms I've described certainly looked open enough to begin with!) I need invitations, structure, something to bounce off, and the emotional resources that will help me key myself up to speaking-up and ignoring my other commitments! I don't think well on my feet; would much rather take things away and look at them quietly, digest them a bit, and then come back and say my piece. But frustratingly, my current lifestyle won't let me do that. Really a very basic aspect to being shut up!
I'm actually very very angry that graduate school (in its PhD form) shuts me away from all kinds of what I characterize as connecting, feminine parts of me --keeping up with and being supportive to friends and family, taking part in exchanges like this. I absolutely don't think the either/or sacrifice is a necessary part of the choice, and I think it's especially hard on women!! Sorry to go on and on about this--it's a very sore point right now. Add the fear that I have in this place, isolated as I am, of cutting myself off even more, and perhaps you have an answer to some of your questions?
from Kristy Anderson
Film in the works I thought you and your readers would like to know about a documentary film on Zora Hurston for the Public Broadcasting System with major grants from PBS, the NEA and the NEH. This project has been a "work in progress" for ten years, which probably says more about me than it does about the project. But it's now in full-swing and I think it will be an exciting piece just because Hurston is such a fascinating character -- and we've filmed interviews with folks who have since passed on (Dorothy West for instance) who have inner perspectives. The script was co-written by Julie Dash and myself -- my co-producer is Sam Pollard, one of the "Eyes on the Prize" producers as well as a film editor for Spike Lee. We anticipate a PBS broadcast in late Spring 2002. The films focus will be Zora's anthropological work as a platform for her fiction, for her life and politics.
In addition to the film, Carla Kaplan is editing a collection of Zora's letters which was to have been published this year but isn't out yet -- Valerie Boyd is writing a biography which is to come out within the year -- and the Hurstons are due to release a book of their own about their family. I found some folktales at the Smithsonian that the Hurstons want to publish but I don't know when that might happen. So there are many of the written word types of publications going on with Hurston.
Your web site looks interesting. I'm going to tell a writerly friend about it because it looks so affirming for us fems. Keep up the great work!
from Shelley Jackson
"The Doll Games" project
I'd like to invite readers of How2 to contribute to a collaborative web project, the Doll Games. http://www.ineradicablestain.com/dollgames. My sister and I began this project to document the perverse and elaborate doll games we played as children, and that remains the core of the project. The Doll Games has several layers: we tell true stories, and include bonafide evidence that survives from those times (miniature books and letters "written by" our dolls), but we also footnote and theorize in a faux-academic manner, and address readers through a fictive and Kinbote-like editor. But this "scholarship" is slippery in tone: it's funny, but sometimes we mean it. The whole project sits uneasily between fiction and documentary, and that's the way we like it. (I am a writer, best known as the author of the acclaimed hypertext 'novel' Patchwork Girl; my sister is an independent scholar with a PhD in rhetoric from UC Berkeley, so this hybrid work is a kind of amalgam of our interests.)
This is an ongoing project, and it's still in an early stage. Right now it revolves around our own doll games, but over time, we hope the site will expand to include a vast section of contributions from other women (though we will we welcome men too) who have good stories to tell about their own childhood doll games. (Our note to contributors is located at http://www.ineradicablestain.com/dollgames/question.html) Because I suspect many of your readers are academics, however, I hope some of them will feel moved, as we were, to subtly spoof their own disciplines--under a pseudonym, if that seems liberating!
Contributors can email me directly.
from Jeff Hamilton
Riding Readers, RSVP!
Laura Riding's 1930 work Though Gently mixes prose, verse, and aphorism into a coherent analysis of the crisis of gender in the new humanism, American democracy's ascendant geo-political power, and English poetry's infatuation with the avant garde. Printed in a run of 200 copies, the text was slightly flawed, and the book never reprinted. In 2001, the Laura Riding centenary, Delmar magazine will reprint a correction of the original text, along with responses to it by poets and critics, Riding scholars and Delmar's past-contributors. The work received absolutely no attention in its initial commercial life. Delmar then invites the participation in this project of interested Riding readers. Responses of under 2500 words must be submitted by December 31, 2000. For more information, or for those interested who need a copy of the text, inquire to the editor: Jeff Hamilton/[email protected]
Difficulty reaching How2/n4 with search engines: A problem-solving session between Jeanne Heuving and Roberta Sims (HOW2 Webmaster)
I just tried to get current issue of HOW2 off of my computer at home using Microsoft search engine--and using the www address on its own--and each time I ended up with page showing #3 as current issue??? At the University using the same procedures, I get page showing #4 as current issue. I have no idea why this is happening? My computer at university is more powerful--but I have a fairly good computer at home, too--and in both cases am using UW internet services, so. . . --Jeanne Heuving, U. of Washington (Bothell/Seattle)
Jeanne, I've just tried searching for HOW2 through numerous search engines. One of them (Yahoo!) turned up an archived issue (on the Rutgers webserver). All the other searches turned up the correct one. When I searched through Lycos, I found the current issue when searching Lycos, Infoseek, Northern Light, Dogpile, Google, Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista, Direct Hit, HotBot, Go.com. In all cases How2 appeared within the first page of results, and often it was first or second. This looks pretty healthy to me, so I'm not sure I need to do anything to "fix" it. Jeanne, if there's something I'm overlooking, please let me know. --Roberta Sims
Jeanne, Could you try emptying the cache on your browser? Every time you load a web page, your computer stores a temporary version of that page so that if you call it up again, it will load faster. Your webserver at work might be regularly emptied, but you have to empty it manually at home. If you use Internet Explorer, click on "TOOLS," then "INTERNET OPTIONS." In the middle it says: Temporary Internet Files. Click on "Delete Files," then click the "okay" at the bottom If you use Netscape, chose "EDIT" then "PREFERENCES." On the left side, at the bottom, it will say "ADVANCED." Click on the Plus sign beside advanced. Click on the word "CACHE." Click on the button that says "CLEAR MEMORY CACHE," then click "OK". Now click on the button that says "CLEAR DISK CACHE" and click "OK." Click "OK" one more time. Now try typing in the exact URL http://www.departments/bucknell.edu/stadler_center/how2 and see if you get the currect issue (#4). If this doesn't work, please let me know. --Roberta Sims
Dear Roberta, Kathleen and Ann, It did work. I am sure this has been a factor in my not accessing other current WEB sites, so am glad I know now. Thanks to Roberta and HOW2 for all manner of aid--and now technical service, to boot. --Jeanne Heuving