All entries for August 2010

August 06, 2010

CWWN Conference Pictures.

Writing about web page

Conference 1

Sonya Andermahr (Northampton University), Sorcha Gunne (Warwick University), Katsura Sako (Japan)

Conference 2

Lara Buxbaum (University of Witwatersrand, South Africa), me, Sorcha Gunne (Warwick University), Jago Morrison (Brunel University)

CWWN Conference Panel: ďConstellations of Home GroundĒ.

Writing about web page

Here are my notes on a panel on ideas of home at the CWWN conference . If you were there and I missed something, don’t be afraid to add a comment. It’s hard to remember all the details and I have terrible hand-writing in my notes!

The first speaker on this panel was Bonnie Kime Scott who discussed home as a domesticating term. The most memorable part of the talk for me was where Kime-Scott discussed Barbara Kingsolver’s book of non-fiction essays High Tide in Tucson, the title of which refers to a hermit crab that Kingsolver accidentally brings back with her from the Bahamas to her desert home. Kime Scott suggests that in writing about the transplanted crab, Kingsolver is articulating an ethics of care. Kime Scott also discussed a writer that I hadn’t come across before: Mary Lou Awiakta. Awiakta is a Native American author of the Cherokee tribe and Kime Scott explains that Awiakta presnts in her writing a sacred respect for the earth and for the “Earth mother”. Kime-Scott focuses though on an essay by Awiakta titled Baring the Atom’s Mother Heart , in which a history of Cherokee women is articulated through science: the quark, the atom’s mother heart, the eternal life-force that drives all human beings.

Nuclear energy is the nurturing energy of the universe. Except for stellar explosions, this energy works not by fission (splitting) but by fusion—attraction and melding. With the relational process, the atom creates and transforms life. Women are part of this life force. One of our natural and chosen purposes is to create sustain life—biological, mental and spiritual. (Nantahala Review )

This positive view of nuclear energy contrasts with the attitudes of many American writers, for example Terry Tempest Williams from Utah who wrote about the prevalence of cancer in her family after they were exposed to radiation during the nuclear testing in the Utah desert between 1951 and 1962. See her moving essay: The Clan of the One-Breasted Women .

Next was Pauline Newton who discussed home in relation to ideas of transplantation. Newton mentioned a few writers, but mainly talked about Jamaica Kincaid and her relationship with Wordsworth. Newton began though by discussing the symbolism of gardens in colonialism, noting the colonialist ideal of the garden/colony as a bounteous Eden. In her essay ‘Dances with Daffodils’ and her novel Lucy, Kincaid has described her feelings of disquiet about Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, in part because she associates the poem with the colonial education system. Reconciling herself to the poem, however, Kincaid describes how her own garden has thousands of daffodils and she uses that garden to think carefully and deeply about troubling moments or aspects in history.

Finally Nancy Srebro spoke about Gurinder Chadha and her film Bride and Prejudice focussing on the different spaces that appear in the movie, including Amritsar in India, Britain and LA in the States. Chadha works out of the heritage film tradition and its sentiment for countryside spaces (especially England). Chadha, however, uses the visual style of the heritage film to focus on India and Indian women. So, in reworking Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family become the Bakshi family and Bollywood meets Hollywood. Srebro notes that in this meeting, a lush and visual India is contrasted against the homogeneity of LA, yet the India presented is a ‘Disneyland India’, which makes it all the more ironic that discovering an authentic India is one of the themes of the film.

Blossombones: The Freud Issue.

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I heard today that the new issue of the literary e-zine blossombones is up. The magazine is featuring a special issue on work that engages with Sigmund Freud (including two of my poems).

August 03, 2010

CWWN Conference: Panel on Chicana/Latina Writers.

Title: “Chicana/Latina Writers Decolonizing Spirituality, the Body, and the Self

This was a very entertaining panel. The first paper from Christina Grijalva was on the performance artists Elia Arce and Grijalva talked about Arce’s use of inbetween spaces and places of transition in her performances. Born in LA, Arce lived from the age of two in Costa Rica and spoke Spanish. Returning to the US, Arce felt more like a resident than a native, but from this space of detachment, Arce is able to critique US institutions. This is the purpose of the performance The Fifth Commandment which riffs on the dictum ‘Thou shalt not kill’ in order to challenge the assumptions and routines at the heart of the US army.

Next Irene Lara’s talk discussed the mythical “Goddess” of the Americas, seeking to discover a Latina womanhood beyond the virgen or the puta. Lara focussed on writings in the anthology Goddess of the Americas edited by Ana Castillo. This book collects together the writings of women on Our Lady of Guadalupe, a mythic figure that has become in Central America not so much a counterpart of the Virgin Mary as a symbolic avatar of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin. The Virgin of Guadalupe is, as Lara Medina paraphrases:

Tequatlanopeuh (She Whose Origins Were in the Rocky Summit), Tlecuauhtlaupeuh (She Who Comes Flying from the Light Like an Eagle of Fire), Tequantlaxopeuh (She Who Banishes Those That Ate Us), Coatlaxopeuh (She Who Crushed the Serpent’s Head), Mother of Mexico, Mother of Orphans, Our Lady of Tepeyac, la Santa Patrona de los Mexicanos, Empress of the Americas, Mother of the True God, Mother of the Giver of Life, Mother of the Lord of Near and Far, Mother of the Lord of Heaven and Earth, Mother Who Never Turns Her Back, Sister in Suffering, Subversive Virgin, Undocumented Virgin, la tele Virgen, “the sustainer of life, the one who protects us against danger, the one who comforts our sorrows,” she who “understands everything,” Our Lady of the Cannery Workers, Vessel of the Indigenous Spirit, Madrecita, la madre querida, la Morenita, la Diosa, Guadalupe-Tonantzin, Ms. Lupe, la Virgencita, la Virgencita tan bella, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Irene Lara discussed in detail the story ‘Virgencita, Give Us a Chance’ by Liliana Valenzuela and ‘Guadelupe the Sex Goddess’ by Sandra Cisneros . In both texts, women’s sexuality is reframed, so that desire is possible beyond the dichotomy of the whore and virgin. As Valenzuela writes:

La Virgencita swims, Venus in the water, her light robes appear and disappear. ... The monks in their white habits pray, raise banners, the miracle of the vulva is back.

Like the French feminists, the women writers discussed speak from the banocha to find a new language for women’s desire.

Last to speak was William A. Nerricio who also drew on the French feminists beginning his talk with a quotation from Luce Irigaray. He presented an entertaining paper on mirroring in the paintings of Remedios Varo , the diaries of Frida Kahlo and the novels of Cristina Rivera-Garcia . I’ll be excited and interested to read the final version of this when it is written up.

Keynotes at the Third Biennial International Conference of the Contemporary Women's Writing Network.

Writing about web page

In San Diego in July, I attended the Third Biennial International Conference of the Contemporary Women’s Writing Network. Organized by Edith Frampton and Anne Donadey , the conference was titled New Texts, Approaches, and Technologies .

Keynote by Susan Stanford Friedman

The conference began with a fascinating keynote speech by Susan Stanford Friedman from University of Wisconsin-Madison. The talk was titled ‘Riding the Waves: Women’s Writing and Feminist Literary Studies for the Twenty-first Century’, and Stanford Friedman began by questioning why there is still a need to look at women’s writing specifically. She noted that feminist literary studies no longer claims commonality between all women. Instead we have turned to Woolf and De Beauvoir, because they insist on a full humanity for women not restricted by the categories of gender. Stanford Friedman suggests that we must be ‘attuned to oppression but not limited to it’.

Thinking about new directions in feminist literary studies, Stanford Friedman lists the following areas:
• biocultures and the posthuman;
• digital and visual cultures;
• environmental studies;
• and the movement from the national to the transnational.

In all of these areas, the focus is on diversity rather than commonality.

In the second part of Stanford Friedman’s lecture, she moved on to talk specifically about religion and women’s writing. Stanford Friedman contended that religious oppression does exist, but affirmed that representations of religion by women do not always condemn religion. Our analysis should not begin in assuming that religion is always negative in women’s writing. Instead, three factors were suggested as the basis of effective analysis, considering women’s negotiations with:

1. the theological,
2. the institutional and
3. the cultural aspects of religion.

Engaging with these three areas, women writers explore their faith, their relation to religious authorities (often men) and their identities as transnational subjects. Fundamentalism is an issue too because it creates strict and exacting boundaries between those who are inside or outside accepted traditions: those who are believers or those who are infidels. Opposed to such boundaries, however, is another aspect of religion which is mystical, spiritual or personal.

To illuminate her explorations of women and religion, Stanford Friedman provides a detailed reading of two fascinating books: The Translator by Leila Aboulela and A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar . She also mentions Adhaf Soueif’s novel The Map of Love, in which an Edwardian war widow has less freedom than Islamic women under the veil. Like The Map of Love, The Translator and A Map of Home consider the relation between Islam and the west, but they do so by depicting a love affair between an Islamic women and a Western man. Both novels are in the category of the bildungsroman, but Aboulela presents a more orthodox muslim view much like that of Zainah Anwar , while Jarrar is a secular Islamic writer in the vein of Irshad Manji’s The Trouble with Islam Today . The comparison of the lyrical poetry in Aboulela’s The Translator and the graphic style of Jarrar’s A Map of Home was fascinating, and Stanford Friedman was convincing in showing how each writer engaged in their own way with Islamic thought.

(Personal Note: What impressed me about this keynote was Stanford Friedman’s demand that more attention be brought to women’s representations of and dialogues with religion. She talked about how religion has been rather sidelined by feminism, and this made me recall my own work on the Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis and her unique fusing of non-Conformist Christian beliefs and Zen Buddhist practices. Approaching Lewis via a detailed understanding of her religious beliefs has not been popular. It’s almost as though some critics want to ignore the fact that Lewis is religious.)

Other Keynotes

There were many other interesting keynotes during the conference. Caroline Bergvall gave a fascinating talk on her own poetic and artistic practice titled ‘Middling English: Nodalities of Writing’, which was interrupted by an earthquake, though Bergvall bravely went on with her talk. Thadious Davis gave an interesting keynote titled ‘Enfoldments: Natasha Trethewey’s Racial-Spatial Phototexting’, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni gave a talk titled ‘One Writer’s Journey’ on her creative practice. In addition, there was a remarkable experimental poetry reading, featuring Rae Armantrout , Cristina Rivera-Garza , Anna Joy Springer and Elizabeth Willis .

August 02, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

I’ve been back from my roadtrip for just over a week now, but one thing that stays with me are small acts of kindness from random people.

Like when we were driving through Kansas and our beat-up old Subaru Forrester started making some very strange noises. We pulled off the freeway at one of those junctions without a shop in sight, just long rolling plains as far as the eye can see. The car coasted on down the road and the only building was a run-down old garage.

Kansas Garage

A mechanic came out and briskly looked over the car. He told us that all we needed was a bolt and he probably had one inside. When he came out again, he had a box of tools and the bolt and he proceded to fix our car for the price of the bolt: 10 cents.

We filled up on gas and glass bottles of coke from a rusty freezer in the dusty shop. I said thank you many times, but the mechanic never looked at me or acknowledged what I said. I wondered whether he was used to being thanked.

We drove all the way to California from there and then back again to Pennsylvania. The 10 cent bolt held all that time.


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