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October 12, 2010

Diasporic Intimacies Panel at 'Writings of Intimacy in the 20th and 21st Centuries'

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Diasporic Intimacies: Papers from Houlden, Ramone and Wolfe.

The first paper by Kate Houlden from Queen Mary was titled ‘Post-Colonial Intimacies: Andrew Salkey, Same-Sex Desire and the British Home’. In particular, Houlden studied the novel Escape to an Autumn Pavement, which, she argued, presented the figure of the “respectable homosexual”. Houlden noted that Salkey was black and gay and that the hero of Escape to an Autumn Pavement, Johnny, is middle class and Jamaican. Salkey’s specific perspective on British culture creates disorientations, according to Houlden, and it questions nature, home and belonging. The context of the novel was outlined in the light of 1950s moral panics and the tendency in this period to figure homosexuality as a threat to the nation state. Houlden mentioned the 1961 film Victim and Rodney Garland’s novel The Heart in Exile (1953). Having outlined the context of Salkey’s writing, Houlden mapped out how the gay couple in Escape to an Autumn Pavement aspire to heterosexual norms within the home. For example, one character, Dick, is described as having ‘brisk housewife movements’ (p. 52). Although, the conventional heterosexual norms of the British home do emerge in the lives of Salkey’s gay characters, Houlden argued that they are still victims of coercive language. What is clear, however, is that experience of repression by gay and black subjects are not exactly the same, and that, in the novel discussed, Salkey emphasizes different kinds of prejudice and resulting behaviours.

The next paper, ‘Spilt Ink: Retelling and the Motherly Body in Postcolonial Diaspora’ was presented by Jenni Ramone from Newman University College in Birmingham. I was really glad to see this paper as I missed it when Ramone was presenting it at the CWWN conference in San Diego in July of this year. Ramone’s paper focussed on a number of texts: Hanan Al-Shaykh’s The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story, Jamaica Kincaid’s Autobiogrpahy of my Mother and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: Memoir of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Kincaid’s pseudo-memoir tells how the Xuela’s mother died the day she was born, and later she aborts her own child viewing the motherly body as dangerous. Ramone is keen to note that Xuela is not diasporic, but is an alternate self for Kincaid: a self that stayed in the Caribbean. Ghosts in theses novels represent not only foreignness and the state of being an outcast, but the narrators themselves are ghostly witnesses in autobiography. So Ramone went on to discuss Hong Kingston’s memoir of growing up ‘Among Ghosts’. In this context, it is the American Chinese community who are ghosts, and Ramone describes how Hong Kingston’s women struggle to grapple with Chinese traditions in the context of the USA. Consequently, the woman warrior of the book’s title hides her maternal body and so lessens the prospect of marriage. Perhaps the most interesting text discussed was Al-Shaykh’s The Locust and the Bird, a book which expresses her ambiguous feelings about her mother, Camilla. Al-Shaykh is resistant to making the maternal body tangible and describes herself as having been given birth to by a voice. In thinking through her mother’s turbulent life and her attitude to it, however, photographs play a significant role. The first photograph shown seemed to display a group of children, but, in fact, it is a picture of Camilla, the child bride and mother, alongside her own children. The second is a picture of Camilla with her lover, and next to the figures are two deep scratches. Al-Shaykh tells that her mother scratched her and her sister out of the photograph, banishing them from her relationship with her lover, or perhaps hiding her shame at having taken her children along to one of their meetings.

The final paper by Jesse Wolfe (California State University) was titled ‘Intimate Passages to and From India’, and it was being developed out a book that Wolfe is writing on the influence of E.M. Forster. Wolfe focussed particularly on Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia focussing on Karim’s interracial eros and comparing it to the queer relationship of Aziz and Fielding in Passage to India. My notes on this paper are somewhat incomplete.


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