As a white woman, Cixous draws upon the oppression placed upon her black “sisters” (to steal a term from popular culture), expressing the double negative placed upon black women because they are both black and women. On page 887 of “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Cixous speaks of women “from afar, from always,” returning to reclaim and write their selves. She describes the condemnation of these women by men (interpreted as the patriarchy in general) as well as “the sex cops [who] bar their threatening return” as follows:

You can incarcerate them, slow them down, get away with the old Apartheid routine, but for a time only. [Sidenote: I was reminded of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” while reading this sentence.] As soon as they begin to speak, at the same time as they’re taught their name, they can be taught that their territory is black: because you are Africa, you are black.

This essentializing viewpoint describes the process of colonization, segregation (and the “old Apartheid routine”) as well as other ways in which “whiteness” has powered over – in fact has written over – “blackness” and other racial and ethnic differences. She continues to give the reasoning behind the atrocities:

[These women are taught] Your continent is dark. Dark is dangerous. You can’t see anything in the dark, you’re afraid. Don’t move, you might fall. Most of all, don’t go into the forest. And so we have internalized this horror of the dark.

After pointing out the stereotypes surrounding this racialized other (and this is my favorite part), Cixous decides to vocally reject these notions of fear, repression, and ignorance. She does not avoid the dark forest, unafraid of the difference constructed by our cultures. She speaks up against other-ization by attempting to embody the voice of the oppressed, which, as a(n angry) woman, she can do with some ease:

We the precocious, we the repressed of culture, our lovely mouths gagged with pollen, our wind knocked out of us, we the labyrinths, the ladders, the trampled spaces, the bevies – we are black and we are beautiful.

We’re stormy, and that which is ours breaks loose from us without our fearing any deliberation. Our glances, our smiles, are spent; laughs exude from our mouths; our blood flows and we extend ourselves without ever reaching an end; we never hold back our thoughts, our signs, our writing; and we’re not afraid of lacking.

…From now on, who, if we say so, can say no to us? We’ve come back from always.

As I read this, I think about bell hooks and her notions of talking back and speaking out, of spreading black female voices and infiltrating a world of writing which is still male- and white-centered. There is also an obvious Freudian allusion in the passage where she states, “we’re not afraid of lacking,” of being seen as inferior, of being ostracized for who “we” are. The intersection of race and gender (as well as sexuality because each is inseparable, especially when looking at Cixous’s texts) is present here and is being deconstructed to produce a new and transgressing viewpoint of blackness as beautiful and as something to be embraced rather than avoided. Cixous is stating that there is not a lack in oppression; there is no inherent fault or flaw in the individuals or in the race itself, but rather in the institution causing the fear of darkness.

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I just downloaded an article from the Electronic Journal of Sociology (citation on bibliography page – Fox, Nicholas) on the concept of intertextuality, defined as: “the process whereby one text plays upon other texts, the ways in which texts refer endlessly to further elements within the realm of cultural production” (1). This immediately reminded me of Gottlieb subtly drawing upon Cixous and her theories of writing one’s self… it’s always nice to be able to attach a label to whatever you’re writing about. The second connection I made was also from the first page, this time in the from of a definition of postmodern analyses, which “challenge the ontological status of modernist claims to knowledgeability concerning the world” (1). To me, this sounded extremely similar to the definition of queer theory as quoted in my last post. When applied to writing and intertextuality, these analyses (whether defined as queer or postmodern) view texts as  “fabrications and as such are subject to deconstructive re-writing and re-reading” (2). Claims made in social science texts, for instance, should be seen not as essential, capital-T Truths but rather as “claims” of truth, or narrative work that can be contested. Compare this to a portion of the Sandahl definition of queering: “appropriating a representation for one’s own purposes, forcing it to signify differently” and you can see commonalities surrounding critical analysis and reclamation of concepts, constructions, texts, and supposed Truths.

Fox also looks at Cixous and her concept of ecriture feminine, or the act of writing woman, linking it to textuality by using “one text as de-constructive of another, itself in turn dissolved or reread” (6). One particular passage also reminded me of my sexuality and gender classes, contrasting Cixous’s philosophy concerning feminism with that of a Marxist and/or modernist viewpoint:

Unlike philosophies of resistance… which have grounded their logic of resistance in identity (membership of a class or gender), a concern with the intertext is a celebration of difference and the possibility that things can be otherwise. Such a politics of difference goes far beyond feminism and suggests the potential for resisting discourse, knowledge and power through intertextual practices. In the context of writing social research, it replaces objectivity with indeterminacy and the search for control and closure with generosity and openness.

Applying these notions to Daphne Gottlieb and her poetry comes in as less concrete and more conceptual (which itself is postmodern or queer in nature) in comparison to academic and social science writing. Poetry in Gottlieb’s sense is definitely a form of narrative work and/or claim of “truth” from a personal sense. She details her personal-is-political esque stories using language and formatting that is quite unique to her work yet also reminiscent of her influences, or her intertextuality. For example, drawing upon Cixous’s theories is a form of tracing the genealogy of her work even though the wording and very medium is different between the two women’s writing. Gottlieb engages in the process of writing her self, writing “woman,” and therefore celebrates the concept of difference over sameness, subjectivity over objectiveness. I enjoyed taking this article, which was clearly written with academia in mind, and using it as theory upon which to build my analysis of poetry in this project.

In an article we read in class by Carrie Sandahl (2003) from GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, she introduces the connection between Crip and Queer identities and the concept of using these terms as verbs (emphasis mine):

Members of both [queer and crip] groups have developed a wry critique of hegemonic norms. In queer communities, the application of this critique has been given its own verb: to queer. Queering describes the practices of putting a spin on mainstream representations to reveal latent queer subtexts; of appropriating a representation for one’s own purposes, forcing it to signify differently; or of deconstructing a representation’s heterosexism

She continues:

Both queering and cripping expose the arbitrary delineation between normal and defective and the negative social ramifications of attempts to homogenize humanity, and both disarm what is painful with wicked humor, including camp.

In the article, Sandahl uses cripping and queering as verbs in the process of “solo autobiographical performances” in which (in these cases) a member of the “crip” or differently-abled community uses his or her disability to point out the biases and normativity of the audience and society at large. Similarly, I see Gottlieb’s poetry in some cases as queering notions of language, poetry, and sexuality.

In her poem, “mastering the art of poetry,” (link to full text) I see three verbs that can be intertwined: mastering, queering, and writing. In a free-write exercize, I jotted down something that may or may not make sense out of context:

Queer writing, master narrative, poetic mastery,
Power over language and ideas of sexuality
She is queering, writing, and mastering sexuality in this poem

Basically, in the poem she describes the “art of [writing] poetry” as a BDSM-esque experience, a master/servant relationship in which the writer/poet makes the poem “beg or struggle” by pushing it to “the edge of what it can stand.” This is one of my favorites because it gives an honest and unorthodox approach to pushing one’s self to the limit when writing… describes the process of searching for new words, formatting, ideas, and audiences.

The following lines on the first page of the poem:

“listen to your poem’s desires / and get ready / to be powerful and terrible. / your poem is quivering in front of you / and your iron will / as it kisses the collar you hold”

can be contrasted with these from the end:

“hold that precious poem close / show it how much it has pleased you / and rest. give it your name / and kiss it / goodnight.”

in detailing the powerful but loving (or at least lustful) struggle between both a master/writer with her subject.

(working on an analysis of this one… it’s one of my favorites)

mastering the art of poetry

make sure you have everything
you will need
on hand: (more…)

I decided a few weeks ago to email Daphne Gottlieb to let her know that I would be writing about her and to ask if she had heard of (and/or was influenced by) Helene Cixous since I saw a definite connection between the two. Much to my amazement, she got back to me a week later and said that my hunch was correct! It was very exciting because it gave my project and ideas more validity, and eventually gave me the courage to do this blog…

kate gramlich to peek [Mar 6]

Hi Daphne, my name is Kate and I’m a graduating senior in sociology/women’s studies at Southern IL University in Carbondale. I’m currently taking a class on sexual diversity and for our semester paper I wanted to do a linguistic analysis of some of the poems in Why Things Burn. I was wondering if you have read anything by Helene Cixous, a french philosopher from the 70s, because her concept of writing one’s self and writing the body is what I’m mostly focusing on in context of your poetry. If not, I would definitely suggest checking out The Laugh of the Medusa 🙂 You don’t need to respond if you’re busy, I mostly just wanted to let you know that I’ll be writing about your work and that I’m a huge (new) fan.

Thanks for your time, have a great weekend!
– kate
maymyheart@gmail.com

———————————————————————————

Daphne Gottlieb to me [Mar 13]

Hi, Kate-
Thanks so much for taking the time to write — I’m honored that you like my work. I do indeed know Cixous (and her Laugh of the Medusa is one of my favorite pieces of writing, bar none)! I’m sorry to be brief — I have repetitive strain which makes it difficult to respond at all — but I wanted you to know how delighted I am by your email.

Good luck with your work —

D

found this via therumpus.net under “spoken word memories”…

I met Daphne Gottlieb first at the Cafe Du Nord poetry slam and we had something resembling violent sex down the street in the bathroom stall of the Lucky 13. She sat on the toilet looking down on me as I lay on the floor, touching her boot.

“Usually,” she said. “I’m a lesbian.”

handed
by kate gramlich

I had my first
lover
when I was
seventeen.
I locked
the door, turned on
the music
to drown out
any noise.
I  was          nervous.
It was          longer
than I’d expected;
Thicker.
Smooth and
pink. Eager.
Hard,
pulsating
Plastic.

Three Glorious
Speeds,
although we never
made it past the first
(that night.)
There I was,
breathless, flushed
pink and
pulsating.      Happy
Birthday, my
friend had said
when she handed
me the
box.