Notes: Garlough, Christine L., Desi Divas: Political Activism in South Asian American Cultural Performances

Garlough, Christine L. (2013). Desi Divas: Political Activism in South Asian American Cultural Performances. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

Summary:

Garlough discusses, through case studies of cultural performances, South Asian American grassroots activism, highlighting the ways in which calls for acknowledgement operate in their diasporic rhetorical practices.

Keywords: diasporic rhetorics, social histories

Quotations:

“In performing a desire for acknowledgment and by making claims of vulnerability, a petition for future relations and a stake in one’s own being is made. These diasporic performances by South Asian American women—what I will call diasporic performances—keep trauma visible and testify to the suffering of others” (p. 15).

“Of course, not everyone wants to hear this story or feel her pain. She is performing as a parrhesiastes—speaking at great risk, in front of an audience where power relations are unbalanced, freely confessing the truth of her experience, although the threat of retribution is quite real” (p. 128).

Reflection:

One of the things I’m thinking quite a bit about, probably because I’m steeping in this project is the ways that her conception of “passionate acknowledgement” (p. 174) and her discussion of recognition/acknowledgement throughout the text is activism in the ‘AIDS Crisis’ and particularly the activism of ACT UP.

When she discusses Roopa’s performance and the rhetorical moves being made that center around call and response and that ask for and give welcome, I’m thinking of the relationship that this establishes between a ‘rhetor’ and an ‘audience.’ For one, the construction of recognition and acknowledgment itself troubles such a boundary: here we have two possible rhetorical actions the audience can make—which is to say that the audience is agentive here. This troubles boundaries of rhetorical subjects and questions or performs in many ways who has agency within a rhetorical situation—by constructing the audience as having agency that influences the trajectory of the performance, not only is the audience moved (perhaps in both senses of the word moved) into the subject role that experiences the suffering of the performer, but the audience is also questioned as to who actually has agency in this situation. The performer’s agency is acknowledged here as conferred to her by her audience. We can see this running through each of her case studies.

What we don’t necessarily have an answer to is what the boundaries or effects of acknowledgement are. Acknowledgement and recognition both are modes of response that position the audience as having different power, privileged locations, but to what extent does this have to be confronted in order to constitute one response or the other?

This is what brings me to late 80’s AIDS activism. When ACT UP occupied streets in New York to call attention to the crisis, they were giving a call for acknowledgement. They needed governments, institutions, and people to acknowledge the crisis, to acknowledge AIDS, to acknowledge gay people as people, to acknowledge that people were dying. However, their zaps, or their protests—though a performance—was not made to make others experience suffering. The appeals were not made to have the general public feel them but to hear them: their work was an active refusal of systems designed to silence queer people and AIDS. In this way, agency was something held hostage in the same way that the queer community was held hostage. This is not to say that pathos didn’t operate at all—the act of disruption is a felt experience—but that something in the power, reciprocity, and purpose behind how Garlough discusses acknowledgment seems different than these performances.

Notes: Eric H. Newman, “Ephemeral Utopias: Queer Cruising, Literary Form, and Diasoporic Imagination in Claude McKay’s Home in Harlem and Banjo”

Newman, Eric H. (2015). Ephemeral utopias: Queer cruising, literary form, and diasporic imagination in Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem and Banjo. Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, 38(1), 167-185.

Summary:

Newman examine’s McKay’s work as being structured through queer associations with cruising and diaspora.

Keywords: diaspora, critical race theory, LGBTQ, queer, queer studies, utopianism

Quotations:

“Though queer sexual encounters in early-twentieth-century America were often clandestine affairs of fleeting duration, the sexual practices that organized such encounters were as powerful as they were ephemeral, making imaginable a community that could appear and disappear virtually anywhere and which composed itself out of a promiscuous assortment of classed and racialized bodies” (p. 167-168).

“[C]ruising is defined in two distinct but complementary ways: wandering or lingering in public places looking for anonymous, casual sex; and, as a peregrinating movement through dense urban space that finds transgressive pleasure and stimulation in random encounters with the persons, objects, and architecture that constellate the modern metropolis” (p. 169).

“The context in which cruising unfolds in the novel—across spaces populated by queers and largely organized by the circulation of same-sex desire—makes visible the relationship between queerness, as practice and habitation, and the novel’s diasporic vision. Queer encounters, or encounters with queers, offer a consciousness-raising education for McKay’s heterosexual characters” (p. 172).

“Cruising brings out a love of difference that transcends the limits of nation and language as it moves the body through ephemeral and powerful contact with a range of anonymous partners. As eroticized travel, cruising in McKay’s novels is oriented toward the utopian “beauty of other horizons,” the possibility of an encounter with others that does not adhere to national, racial, or class distinctions, but which promiscuously finds love everywhere” (p. 175).

“In its resistance to the normative organization of bodies and time, the ephemerality of cruising gives it the unique capacity to (re)envision the relationship between the self and the other in ways that constitute a new orientation to the world predicated on an anti-teleological looping of attachment to and detachment from an ever-expanding pool of bodies and spaces” (p. 176).

Amy Villarejo, “Tarrying with the Normative: Queer Theory and Black History”

Villarejo, Amy. (2005). Tarrying with the normative: Queer theory and black history. Social Text, 23.3–4, 69–84.

Summary:

Villarejo develops a queer of color critique that tends to the symptom (the affective) and system (the normative).

Keywords: affect, bodies, critical race theory, embodiment, film studies, queer, queer theory

Quotations:

“[Q]ueer theory seems to me most equipped to ‘tarry with the normative’ when it forsakes its claims to the literal and makes for the more dangerous—but also more commodious—complications of relationality and variegation.1 Queer is but one name, hurled back with pride, for social abjection, exclusion, marginalization, and degradation; it provides, by this logic, but one opening toward freedom” (p. 70).

“Queer theory offers a view of relationality that is not strictly speaking symptomatic; it offers ways to fly with language and desire away from homology and continuity. Queer theory can offer, in other words, a way to grapple with feeling and with response (affect), a way to work in the interstices of contacts, affiliations, relations” (p. 75).

“The powers of the normative do not yield themselves at all times according to systematic rules of equivalence, where what is progressive lines up historically or theoretically with content alone…. The challenge is to parse the difference between prescription/symptom and living/agency, to resist the desire to tell the old story about how black nationalism is a ruthlessly masculinist enterprise, or to remark the heteronormative assumptions without moving on. The challenge is not, finally, to confuse similarity with equivalence” (p. 82).

Notes: José Esteban Muñoz, “Feeling Brown: Ethnicity and Affect in Ricardo Brancho’s ‘The Sweetest Hangover (And Other STDs)'”

Muñoz, José Esteban. (2000). Feeling brown: Ethnicity and affect in Ricardo Bracho’s “The Sweetest Hangover (And Other STDs)”. Theatre Journal, 52(1), 67-79.

Summary:

Muñoz looks at Ricardo Brancho’s “The Sweetest Hangover” to show ethnicity as in-process as the performance of affects.

Keywords: affect, bodies, citizenship, critical race theory, culture, embodiment, ethnicity, performance studies, utopianism

Sources:

Alarcón, Norma. (1996). Conjugating subjects in the age of multiculturalism. in Avery F. Gordon & Christopher Newfield (eds.) Mapping multiculturalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 127-48.

Quotations:

“Latino, a term meant to enable much-needed coalitions between different national groups, has not developed as an umbrella term that unites cultural and political activists across different national, racial, class, and gender divides. This problem has to do with its incoherence, by which I mean the term’s inability to index, with any regularity, the central identity tropes that lead to our understandings of group identities in the United States” (p. 67).

“To be cognizant of one’s status as an identity-in-difference is to know that one falls off majoritarian maps of the public sphere, that one is exiled from paradigms of communicative reason and a larger culture of consent. This exile is more like a displacement, the origin of which is a historically specific and culturally situated bias that blocks the Latina/o citizen subject’s trajectory to “official” citizenship-subject political ontology” (p. 68).

“This blockage is one that keeps the Latina/o citizen-subject from being able to access normativity, playing out as an inability to perform racialized normativity. A key component of my thesis is the contention that normativity is accessed in the majoritarian public sphere through the affective performance of ethnic and racial normativity” (p. 68).

“This theoretical formulation, ‘dreaming of other planets,’ represents the type of Utopian planning, scheming, imaging, and performing we must engage in if we are to enact other realities, other ways of being and doing within the world. The play, like the poem, does not only dream of other spaces but of other modes of perceiving reality and ‘feeling’ the world” (p. 74).

“This analysis has posited ethnicity as ‘a structure of feeling,’ as a way of being in the world, a path that does not conform to the conventions of a majoritarian public sphere and the national affect it sponsors. It is my hope that thinking of latinidad in this way will help us better analyze the obstacles that must be negotiated within the social for the minoritarian citizen-subject” (p. 79).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Fragile Connections” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Fragile connections. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 163-186.

Summary:

Ahmed describes how the uneven distribution of diversity work wears and shatters nonnormative bodies and also how diversity work can be a work of breaking. Ahmed offers a different orientation toward breaking, one that holds the tension of nonnormative bodies within institutions as a site of resistance.

Keywords: bodies, critical race theory, disability studies, diversity, embodiment, feminism, feminist theory, queer, queer theory, theory

Quotations:

“It might be that in order to inhabit certain spaces we have to block recognition of just how wearing they are: when the feeling catches us, it might be at the point when it is just too much” (p. 164).

“Clumsiness might provide us with a queer ethics. Such an ethics attends to the bumpiness of living with difference, so often experienced as difference in time; being too slow or too fast, out of time” (p. 166).

“Bumping into each other is a sign that we have not resolved our differences. The resolution of difference is the scene of much injustice. Things might be smoother because some have had to adjust to keep up with others” (p. 166).

“Racism becomes the requirement to think of racism with sympathy, racism as just another view; the racist as the one with feelings, too” (p. 177).

“Perhaps we need to develop a different orientation to breaking. We can value what is deemed broken; we can appreciate those bodies, those things, that are deemed to have bits and pieces missing. Breaking need not be understood only as the loss of integrity of something, but as the acquisition of something else, whatever that else might be” (p. 180).

Notes: Gloria Anzaldúa, “Movimientos de rebeldía y las culturas que traicionan” in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Anzaldúa, Gloria (1987). “Movimientos de rebeldía y las culturas que traicionan.” In Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute.

Summary:

Anzaldúa writes gets at defining culture and the limitations imposed on the self.

Keywords: Cultural Rhetorics, Culture, Decolonial/Postcolonial, Queer, Feminist Rhetorics, Minority Rhetorics, Critical Race Theory

Quotes:

“There is a rebel in me—the Shadow-Beast. It is a part of me that refuses to take orders from outside authorities. It refuses to take orders from my conscious will, it threatens the sovereignty of my rulership. It is that part of me that hates constraints of any kind, even those self-imposed. At the least hint of limitations on my time or space by others, it kicks out with both feet. Bolts” (16).

“Culture forms our beliefs. We perceive the version of reality that it communicates. Dominant paradigms, predefined concepts that exist as unquestionable, unchangeable, are transmitted to us through culture” (16).

“Deviance is whatever is condemned by the community. Most societies try to get rid of their deviants…. The queer are the mirror reflecting the heterosexual tribe’s fear: being different, being other and therefore lesser, therefore sub-human, inhuman, non-human” (18).

“The world is not a safe place to live in…. The ability to respond is what is meant by responsibility, yet our cultures take away our ability to act—shackle us in the name of protection” (20-21).

Notes: Haivan Hoang, “Campus Racial Politics and a ‘Rhetoric of Injury'”

Hoang, Haivan V. “Campus Racial Politics and a “Rhetoric of Injury”.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 61, National Council of Teachers of English, Urbana, 2009.

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Keywords: Composition, Pedagogy, Critical Pedagogy, Minority Rhetorics, Critical Race Theory

Sources:

Himley, Margaret. “Response to Phillip P. Marzluf, ‘Diversity Writing: Natural Languages, Authentic Voices.’” CCC 58.3 (2007): 449–63.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Winans, Amy E. “Local Pedagogies and Race: Interrogating White Safety in the Rural College Classroom.” College English 67.3 (2005): 253–73.

Quotations:

“This article is interested in the ways diversity discourse, in a twist, can advocate for racial accountability while also undermining those same struggles” (386).

“Indeed, injury is perhaps the trope through which we understand racial accountability. To be sure, the trope has been fundamental to identifying and remedying those injuries caused by racial prejudice, but there are also worrisome ways in which the rhetoric of injury gets taken up. As college writing faculty, we should be troubled by injury’s articulations in campus racial politics. We see claims to and refutations against victimization, a desire to occupy injured subject positions, and excessive attention to individual distress and anxiety. We live in a privatized system that scrutinizes so very closely the wounds of individuals that it deflects attention from the material conditions, cultural systems, and histories that produced racial injustice in the first place” (386-387).

“[W]e might take care to foster students’ understanding of the historical production of racial difference, its impact on writing/speaking positions, and the ways in which difference is rearticulated in the present” (387).

“[T]he salvationist impulse among some teachers is not only the counterpart to a minority student needing salvation; the savior suggests moreover a triangular relationship with the presumed victim and the injurer. With diversity writing at the nexus of savior, victim, and injurer, students have few productive subject positions from which to write—especially if the student is cast as one who injures himself or herself. Indeed, what does diversity ask us to become?” (389).

“[D]iversity is a performative, albeit an infelicitous one. The self-involved dialogue between Cain and Abel, pervasive claims to victimization, and an interest in guilt and shame: these cue diversity’s performative nature… Public institutions… structure understandings of race, and these structures have enacted, are based on, and potentially carry on America’s vexing racial legacy” (389).

“One challenge is that diversity calls up authentic bodies that are part of taken-for-granted racial categories” (390).

“Within the university, college writing faculty are in a position to foster students’ rhetorical engagement within their campus communities; such work could encourage students to critically read a rhetorical context that matters to them and to articulate their concerns accordingly” (402).

“As a start, composition pedagogy must challenge the unfettered belief in the logic of individualism, the belief that inclusion and awareness of academic rhetorical conventions alone will eradicate unequal rhetorical agency. A critical race praxis, I propose, requires a deep sociohistorical inquiry into articulations of race over time as well as serious deliberation over community values” (402).

“A rhetoric informed by the commonplace of social responsibility, one in which students productively recognize and make use of their authority, rather than personal injury, in which students deny all agency, would better enable students to forward their democratic rhetoric” (405).