Archives for the month of: December, 2012

so much has happened this year. it’s felt like a very disjointed year.

between winter and spring, and the summer, and now fall — i feel like this year has been segmented into 3 parts. one part dealing with the transitions in the decolonize/occupy movement. it’s hard to imagine that it was early this year that the drama at the labor temple went down. that was an unfortunate significant event that happened this year.

then the farmworkers march and organizing, which were super fun and exciting moments.

and…some precious moments here and there

and then summer. home. family. realization of the expectations on me. im hitting 30, the age where im supposed to have figured alot of stuff out, where my bank account is supposed to be brimming, where i am able to provide for my parents.

i have been wondering these days if my experiences of home have much to do with my lack of $ when im home.

i feel like i grew up a little. not just in a political sense but in a life sense that impacts my political work and being. my family’s situation made me recognize that i want to be someone who can weather all this, who they can count on to get stuff sorted out, who can prioritize what it is that needs to be done. who is solid.

i think i have felt this for myself. that i can and will get shit sorted out. but i havent felt this in relation to them. so much of my self perception and identity is tied up with distance from them. and now things are changing.

group stuff. so many changes. moments of demoralization, what is the purpose of this?

my feelings about political work have shifted back and forth in this past year. im seeking elders. elders who have continued being motivated, political, strong, even in the midst of things collapsing, bleak times.

i want to age well. be a positive person, be a wise person, be a calm person, be a committed and passionate person, be a kind and humble person, be a solid and trustworthy person, be a humble and dignified person.

 

i know myself and my writings. they are most powerful when they come from deep inside of me. when i try to do it the other way around, and substitute words and form and craft, for passion, they come out fake. i write best when ideas and feelings sitting inside of me seek clarity. after i have respected them enough to let them grow, to let them ask the questions and make the connections, that aren’t predetermined by me. when i give space and pay careful attention, my ideas formulate outside of my reach. when i stretch to touch them, they pull me further into an unknown. and each stretch, each pull, and pop, out comes a surprise. i like that surprise. that moment, almost, actually, just like an orgasm lol. much anticipated. coming, and, arrived. joy. except sometimes that joy isn’t pleasure. that joy can be a silent one, a calming one…so, a surprise is more a good way to put it.

and that surprise inspires me to write. to put into language the journeys that my mind have taken.

i am seeking this journey right now.

patience! determination! attention!

 

 

Last week, I geeked out on Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. This week, it’s Emily Bronte’s turn: Wuthering Heights. To be clear, I only recently read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, I read a long time ago, but just watched movie versions of them recently so my impressions of these 2  texts are limited. My revisiting of these films/books are prompted by Selma James’ anthology, Sex Race and Class because she references them in some essays.

Wuthering Heights is intense. I havent read it in a long time, so I don’t know how accurate the film actually is to it. The film I saw recently was the Masterpiece British version starring Catherine Riley and Tom Hardy (both very attractive and so make it easy to watch :)) I felt the film to be very flat in its character development and failing to bring out the reasons why the characters act as they do — a little psychotic, neurotic and very anti-social.

It made a lot of sense thinking about Wuthering Heights as a text being written during the time that Marx wrote Wage Labor and Capital and the Communist Manifesto. Emily Bronte has a main protagonist/antagonist (for he is absolutely an anti-hero that you empathize with, but then grow to detest) in the form of Heathcliff, a dark skinned person, described as a “gypsy” or in class terms — someone who is free to sell his labor, with no property under his name. His predicament in the Heights, and in the drama that ensues, his brutality and neuroticism, cannot be separated from the oppressions he face as a result of his skin color and his poverty. Basically, to escape the cruelty he faces under his foster brother, Hindley Earnshaw’s hands — which include a lot of flogging and insults — Heathcliff escapes and breaks out on his own in the industrializing England. He becomes what might be a rogue capitalist — he self proclaims that he earns his money from other men’s riches — he is an individualist capitalist and the changing English environment offers him an outlet, an opportunity to strike out from his seemingly unworthy birthright. He returns to the Heights, buys the land after deceiving Hindley who is at this point, the epitome of dwindling feudalism. But this individualistic capitalism eats Healthcliff up. His is a race to the top, a rags to riches story, not one of collective class struggle. He is awful and demeaning to the servants, he relegates Hindley’s son the position of a servant boy. He becomes a new master. This power drinks him up alive as he wrecks havoc to avenge the pain and trauma he had felt as a young poor man of color. He is most importantly, unaccountable to anyone. He is a wealthy and powerful individualism eating itself alive.

Wuthering Heights captures this human experience through the disastrous relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff. Catherine embodies the the conflict between proper Victorian society and a real passion, otherwise described as “untamed” and definitely brought out by her relationship with the darkest person in her circles, Healthcliff. Catherine tries to be honest to herself, to follow where her love takes her but it is not a socially acceptable option, and her attempts to be consistent to it are also not supported by her other half, Healthcliff. In fact, Healthcliff, a long with the rest of the Victorian society personified by her husband, Edgar Linton, drive Catherine into madness. Both driven by so-called love, but ones that do not consider the well being of the object of love, Catherine. There is no truce among the male figures. They both want her for themselves. This contrasts with Catherine’s love for both of them — both present, both true, and yet different. She is not lying when she says she loves them. She just loves them differently and neither of the 2 men can comprehend that. They drive her to use emotional manipulation, feigned madness at times, to assert her needs. Short of weapons, short of feminist solidarity with other womyn, in isolation, Catherine’s conflict turns inward. She dies of madness.

Talk about unhealthy relationships. This is one classic example. Catherine’s famous line, “I am Healthcliff!” has Selma James describing it as anti-racist. I get where she’s coming from, for a novel to be written about a white “proper” English lady’s unabashed tumultuous passionate relationship with a dark-skin “gypsy” man, appears to be ahead of its time. And I guess the material of novels come from many conflict ridden and dramatic places, and Catherine’s descriptions of her love for Heathcliff are truly beautiful. But coming back to Earth, the girl has lost any sense of boundaries about her self. Her damned life is about the drama between her, Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Another part of me is like, really? Your life is really really truly only about these 2 men? Like Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea, these women don’t try to escape, dont try to find another path. They remain in the endless abyss of patriarchal relations that MURDER them. They don’t have selves outside of that.

I am not trying to blame the victim here, to fall into blaming the victim of domestic abuse: why didn’t you just leave the house/ why aren’t you strong enough to leave? I am not saying they don’t have a reason for staying, and how important it is to have shelter over our heads and food and emotional dependence and that mysterious real thing called Love etc.  These are all real. But I still think it is worth asking in a non-blaming way, why couldn’t they leave, or why didn’t they consider leaving? What was preventing them? Other characters had left — most notably, Isabelle Linton leaves Healthcliff and brings up her child alone (bastard brother won’t even help her cos she “tarnished” the family name. damn that man.), and Jane Eyre leaves Rochester…I am reminded of Ibsen’s The Doll House, and Lu Xun’s response to the Doll House: What happens to Nora when she leaves?, and Ding Ling’s Miss Sophia’s Diary, or the more recent “Returning to Phoenix Bridge” of migrant Chinese womyn who work in big cities. Leaving is a classed option. It is very often proletarianizing through waged work. It can also be relying on other rich men through unwaged work. It can also be emotional independence.  It is filled with contradiction. This is the experience of many proletarian people. If Bronte’s novel was fast forwarded to today, the option of leaving would be a lot more present and would shape the novel a lot more. The Heights would most likely also have factories nearby, with advertisements for those positions plastered in close vicinity to Catherine’s dwelling.

So do womyn and others who experience gender normative heteropatriarchy, stay, or do they leave? This is such a politically and emotionally charged question. Which option is less patriarchal? I guess there is no easy answer because traditional rural heteropatriarchy, or aristocracy heteropatriarchy, nor the heteropatriarchy of the workplace or the state, are undesirable options all way around.

If Wuthering Heights was written around the time of industrialization in England, depicting the pros and cons of individualized responses to class and racial oppression, then what about works of art/literature/film that describe these conditions today? Furthermore, if a piece like Wage Labor and Capital, and the Communist Manifesto are works that contextualize Bronte’s period for a distant reader like me, what are the pieces today, that similarly contextualize our times?

I think of “Blind Shaft” , a film of 2 coal miners in China and their struggle with humanity, while trying to “make it” under conditions of harsh capitalism. I think of Jia Zhang Ke’s films — I am currently watching the one about the Three Gorges Dam which opens with a pretty poignant scene where a coal miner from Shanxi province travels to look for his family only to find that the address no longer exists because it has been submerged with the dam project. The womyn in his family have been displaced. He finds his daughter has become an indentured servant to pay off her family’s debt. Still watching to find out what happens with her.

What would a modern day Wuthering Heights look like, set in China, Brazil, India…or any one of the places where industrialization is booming? What options would be available to Catherine? What solutions, materialist ones, can new feminist frameworks offer to her? And Healthcliff? A Heathcliff who might be able to find alternative ways to reconcile his trauma, would he be as abusive, as possessive and, seriously, as fucking psychotic as he is in the book?

 

 

I just read Jean Rhy’s “Wide Sargasso Sea.” A beautiful and poignant, and heartwrenching piece of writing. But also super political. And a talking back by a West Indies writer, against the colonialism and racism of the renowned Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

I was named after Jane Eyre. My father idealised the story of her triumph. He wished me the same. He was unable to recognize the racism that over rides the book. A British woman’s struggle to find love, to find a place in her white world, he didnt realize then, would be unapplicable, or vastly different, from my own search for fulfilment and truths.

So it means a lot to be reading Wide Sargasso Sea. Jean Rhys gives voice to Bertha, the lunatic wife of Rochester, whom he locks up in the attic because unlike him, she has wild feelings, a longing for home, a desire for sunshine. Unlike him, she is insane.

Selma James writes a review of the book. It is brief and powerful. She chronicles how Rhy’s writings of West Indies characters change, with the sociopolitical changes in England. Rhys is a white West Indies writer. Her subjectivity emerges through the wave of anti colonial revolts in the West Indies. It is not a coincidence she writes Wide Sargasso Sea at the time of mass migration from West Indies to Europe, and also at a time of anti colonial revolt. James tells us this very articulately.

Some passages that struck me. These are from Jame’s 1983 speech on Jean Rhys (p130 in Sex, Race, Class anthology)

These [earlier] novels are about how women are aliens and how, because the cards are stacked against us, we don’t stand a chance. The novels have in common the isolation, defeat and hopelessness of the heroine. Each personifies the female condition and each is a perfect victim. Unable because, being foreign, she is outside the terms of reference of the dominant culture and does not know how. Unwilling, because she will not fight for things that are withheld, nor tailor her case according to what her opponent will understand and respect, but which is not the truth, nor be brutally honest for the sole purpose of self defense […] These alien sets of standards, terms of reference, sense of proportion, leave the heroine defenseless against domination by men and exploitation by anyone.

[Rhy’s] problem is most certainly not her consciousnessness. Nothing – neither the nuance nor substantive act of social domination by men — escapes articulation. But she [her characters] does not fight back. Knowing deeply what is happening and having neither defense nor allies is a formula for suicide. “[italics are mine]

Selma identifies the difference between Antoinette Bertha’s character from the other Rhy’s heroines, and explains the context for this difference. Antoinette fights back. She burns down Rochester’s house. The man who has entrapped her, and removed her power and independence by taking her to Europe and stealing her money.

Now, something happened between Jean Rhy’s writing of novels in the 1920s and 30s and the writing of [Wide Sargasso Sea] in the 50’s (published in 1966). What happened was first, a massive movement for Third World independence and, secondly, a mass West Indian immigration into Britain. Her people had come — the Tias and the Francines and the Christophines — and they were stronger than they had been when she left them in the West Indies in the early part of the century. She would have heard English racism against them […] in 1958, the year of Nottingham and Notting Hill riots against Black people, and she wold have felt that she herself was under attack. But she would not have felt alone. This was a new source of power finally to confront all the misery and isolation that she had worked to record and articulate in her earlier novels. She had been an outcast as a woman, as a West Indian in Europe, as a white West Indian. She had ended her novels in defeat because she herself was born in defeat.

Now another power enters her writing arm. Her heroine is no longer the passive victim that history has tried to make her. Now Antoinette is able to move against the arrogant, racist and brutal metropolis and against the arrogant, racist and brutal man who personifies it — Mr. Rochester. Many years before, she had said, “I will live with Tia and be like her.” But first she had to let Tia know the terms on which she planned for them to be together. All she had offered Tia before was the domination of her white skin. But as Antoinette burns down the Great house which imprisons her — as Tia burnt down the Great House which was the center of her exploitation — Tia welcomes her home. [italics mine[

James analysis is so powerful because she traces the evolution of Rhy’s novel to the social political changes, but also to the possibilities that these changes offer up to the individual in how we navigate our selves, our identities, and also, our imaginations.

Writing about Rhys [p135], Selma says,

[In previous novels], Rhys’s heroines are the woman, the foreigner, the alien, always the same person, is taken by European readers to be European.

But Rhy’s heroine is not European. She is West Indian. And though she is white, she is less the descendant of the English stepmother, than of Francine, her West Indian mammy. Tia is her sister under the skin. Divided from Tia by the history of slavery and the racial chasm, this woman begins life divided from herself. In the novels, she wanders through Europe, first as a young then as a mature and finally as an ageing woman, but never able to mobilize herself to fight back. It is because she is divided at the root of her being that she lacks the strength, the sustenance, the positive confirmation of her right to be autonomous, to survive, to flourish. As a woman she is particularly under attack, as w aomwn she has no wife or girlfriend to mitigate her loss and confirm her life right.

Her dilemma as a woman is one with her dilemma as a white West Indian. The separation of race and sex as political categories has limited use when they are aspects of one personality, in fiction and in life. These 2 aspects of herself shed light on each other and emphasize the grossly uneven balance of power the heroine is always up against”

James identifies how our identities are split, frayed, repressed, distorted based on the separation between our emotional affiliations and social divisions. Liberals will have us say that the emotions are most important and can cross physical and social chasms. But here, James identifies how this is a dialectical relationship — our conceptions of self change with our material conditions and our material conditions are also shaped by the movement of our self conceptions. Neither is static. The power of a political movement, such as the anti colonial revolts, is that it enables this to happen in a faster, broader, more definite way — it forms new subjectivities, it resolves former dilemmas, it creates new truths, it dispells old confusions. It creates new questions.

Another excerpt which I also love from the German Ideology. I think Selma’s analysis and Rhy’s writings express this:

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established , an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

Last but not least, this passage from Wide Sargasso Sea which is so beautifully written.  So sad. And so unsentimental. Describing the scene when her friend Tia, along with other former Black slaves who burn down the Great House/Plantation house, Rhys writes,

“Then, not so far off, I saw Tia and her mother and I ran to her, for she was all that was left of my life as it had been. We had eaten the same food, slept side by side, bathed in the same river. As I ran, I thought, I will live with Tia and I will be like her. Not to leave Coulibri. Not to go. Not. When I was close, I saw the jagged stone in her hand but I did not see her throw it. I did not feel it either, only something wet, running down my face. I looked at her and I saw her face crumple up as she began to cry. We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking glass.”

Selma adds,

Divided from Tia, she is divided from herself. At this moment of powerlessness, she sees reflected in Tia noth sides of her dilemma, clearly and simultaneously: in Tia’s tear stained face and in the stone she has thrown; in Tia’s attachment to her and rejection of her; all this has been revealed by the act of burning down the Great House.

So in this context, with this groundwork laid, with this baring of truths, it makes it all the more powerful when Antoinette, in her own rebellion, burns down the other Great House, the source of all Great Houses, that in England. And in doing so, she reunites with Tia. But on the terms of struggle, without the domination of her white skin. But on the basis of common struggle and the carving of new relationships.

SO MUCH HERE!!!!