problems with names, or: the figure of the killjoy/ sara ahmed

Uit het eerste hoofdstuk van Sara Ahmeds Living a Feminist Life (Duke University Press 2017), ‘Feminism Is Sensational’ (to be clear: iedere witregel betekent einde/ begin van alinea/ fragment. Ik heb lukraak overgetypt wat ik in mijn boek heb onderstreept. Vermelden dat alle woorden uit het eerste hoofdstuk komen lijkt mij op deze plek voldoende. Woorden die dik zijn of schuin staan, doen dat ook in Ahmeds boek.):

Feminist work is often memory work.

You are taught to care for yourself by being careful about others.

Documentation is a feminist project; a life project.

Sometimes it might even seem that it is as or even more tiring to notice sexism and racism than to experience sexism and racism: after all, it is this noticing that makes things real.

In Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde describes the words racism and sexism as "grown up words". We encounter racism and sexism before we have the words that allow us to make sense of what we encounter. Words can then allow us to get closer to our experiences; words can allow us to comprehend what we experience after the event. We become retrospective witnesses of our becoming. Sexism and racism: if they are problems we have given names, the names tend to lag behind te problems.

Feminist and antiracist consciousness involves not just finding the words, but through the words, how they point, realizing how violence is directed: violence is directed toward some bodies more than others. To give a problem a name can change not only how we register an event but whether we register an event. Perhaps not having names is a way of turning away from a difficulty that persists whether or not we turn away. Not naming a problem in the hope that it will go away often means the problem just remains unnamed. At the same time, giving the problem a name does not make the problem go away. To give the problem a name can be experienced as magnifying the problem; allowing something to acquire a social and physical density by gathering up what otherwise would remain scattered experiences into a tangible thing. Making sexism and racism tangible is also a way of making them appear outside of oneself; something that can be spoken of and addressed by and with others. It can be a relief to have something to point to; otherwise you can feel alone or lost. We have different tactics for dealing with sexism and racism; and one difficulty is that these tactics can be in tension. When we give problems their names, we can become a problem for those who do not want to talk about a problem even though the know there is a problem. You can cause a problem by not letting things recede.
         We need to acquire words to describe what we come up against. Becoming feminist; finding the words. Sexism is another such word. It often arrives after the event: we look back and we can explain things that happened as sexism. To name something as sexist does not make something there that was not there before; it is a sexist idea that to describe something as sexist is to make something sexist. But naming something as "sexism" does do something. Because, after all, to name something as sexist is not only to name something that happens as part of a wider system (to refuse to give what happens the status of an exceptional event), but it is also to give an account of that something as being wrong and unjustifiable. To name something as sexist is not only to modify a relation by modifying our understanding of that relation; it is also to insist that further modification is required. When we say, "That's sexist," we are saying no to that, as well as no to the world that renders such a speech or behavior permissible; we are asking individuals to change such that these forms of speech and behavior are nog longer acceptable or permissable.
         Not just individuals: the point is that individuals are encouraged and rewarded for participating in sexist culture. It might be a reward given through affirmation from peers (the egging on that allows a group to solidify over how they address others as imposters). But institutions also enable and reward sexist behavior: institutional sexism. Sexual banter is so often institutionalized. You might participate in that banter because it is costly not to participate: you become the problem, the one who is disapproving or uptight. You are treated as policing the behavior of others simply by virtue of not participating in that bevior. Not participating can be judged as disapproval whether or not you make that judgment. You are judged as taking something the wrong way when you object to something. When we give an account of something as sexist or racist, we are often dismissed as having a faulty perception, as not receiving the intentions or actions of others fairly or properly. "I didn't mean anything by it," he might say. And indeed then by taking something said or done the wrong way, not only are you wrong, but you are misunderstood as ommitting a wrong against someone else. When you talk about sexism and racism, you are heard as damaging the reputation of an individual or an organization.

When you expose a problem you pose a problem.
         It might then be assumed that the problem would go away if you would just stop talking about it or if you went away. The charge of sensationalism falls rather quickly onto feminist shoulders: when she talks about sexism or racism, her story is heard as sensationalist, as if she is exaggerating for effect. The feminist killjoy begins as a sensationalist figure. It is as if the point of making her point is to cause trouble, to get in the way of the happiness of others, because of her own unhappiness.

She makes things tense.

Rolling eyes = feminist pedagogy. 

We can see now how feminism is refuted or dismissed as simply a personal tendency, as if she disagrees with something because she is being disagreeable; as if she opposes something because she is being oppositional.

Feminists: looking for problems. It is as if these problems are not there until you point them out; it is as if pointing them out is what makes them there.

We become a problem when we describe a problem.

Poor him


When you question sexism and racism it is hard not to question everything.
         That is another promise.

The experience of being feminist is often an experience of being out of tune with others. The note heard as out of tune is not only the note that is heard most sharply but the note that ruins the whole tune.

To be misattuned is to be out of sync with a world. Not only that: it is to experience what is in tune as violence.

If alienation is sensation, it is not then just or only the sensation of negation: of experiencing the impress of a world as violence, although it includes those feelings. Alienation is studious; you learn more about wishes when they are not what you wish for.

It is when we are not attuned, when we do not love what we are supposed to love, that things become available to us as things to ponder with, to wonder about. It might be that we do destroy things to work them out. Or it might be that working them out is perceived as destroying things.

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