Since we were not able to cover all the readings assigned last week, this week we start with Trinh Minh-ha. We also handed out midterms and other assignments. For those of you who have not completed these assignments, please do so. These are required for the class, and late assignments are accepted.
Week 13: Trinh T. Minh-ha was born in 1952 in Vietnam and came to the United States as a student in 1960. She received her BA, MA, MFA, and PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. She is a filmmaker, writer, poet, theorist, musical composer and ethnographer, with an extensive list of books, articles, films, exhibitions, and lectures. Trinh is a well-known post-colonialist, feminist theorist, also working with deconstructionist methods. Her latest book is Elsewhere, Within Here.
She works around the theme of the “other.” Trinh likes to look at it as the “inappropriate other.” This other can act out, refuse to behave correctly, and, as such, also gets known as the “inappropriate/d other.” You become the inappropriate so you do not become an inappropriated other.
Also in her work is hybridity and the reclamation of language. She discusses going towards hybridity, as opposed to moving away. She writes of hybrid and transcultural identities. She creates the “one drop” metaphor: one drop of ink changes the composition of water or ocean.
Her first major publication was in 1989, a book entitled Woman, Native, Other. The text for class, “Grandma’s Story“, is a section in this book. It took over 5 years, over 30 rejections, to get it published. It was not considered “academic” enough, it could not fit into the existing categories. Once published, it was received with praise. She personally relates to the issues of being a writer versus a woman of color who writes, who writes as she sees fit instead of the institutional standard. In her work, she brings up the triple bind. This, like the double bind, has to do with multiple identities. For Trinh, it is about her triple identity of a thinker of color, woman artist, woman of color.
This is a video compilation of some great quotes of Trinh Minh-ha. If you can stand minutes of cheesy music, and bad sound quality to boot, then you may enjoy the following video.
In 1982, she releases her first film, Reassemblage. Filmed mostly in Senegal, her first film came after three years of ethnographic research. She learns to film in the 1980s, a time when she had no job, and was not sure of what to do. She began learning film-making, coming into labs after hours and picking up skills from friends. Reassemblage was actually filmed on a borrowed camera. In the film, Trinh approaches this documentary in a very distinct manner, not coming to the viewer as an expert or an omniscient narrator, saying she “can talk nearby” these people she films.
In “Grandma’s Story“, Trinh sets up for us this focus on truth/fact and story/history. She is asking us to consider what is a story? As Trinh tells us, everything is a story. A story does not have to have a beginning, middle, end, a climax, a reason, or a purpose. Oral traditions, oral histories, have just as much weight as written, recorded “facts.”And why is a fact, just because it is written and has been proven “truth” in an empiricist framework? And what is truth? Our own identities are stories, are not these stories truth?
If our lives, our memories, are made up of small narratives, then so is history. But history–in the definition it has been perpetuated–is written by the victors, so not every one gets to be part of it. There arises this hierarchy, where truth and history are put on the top and fiction and story on the bottom. Trinh is forcing us to look at the relationship of history and story, in a way that sheds light on how they are the same thing. As we said in class, history is a story.
Trinh points out how Aristotle, in Poetics, discusses history as what happened and poetry as what could happen, as demonstrating how humans grow, change, evolve. It removes the constraints of time and space. Poetry becomes truer than history. Poetry is the potential, what could be. History is the specifics of the past.
History is a story with a set structure, a linear one, but not all stories have to be this way. Stories are about human interaction, sharing, retelling, re-enlivening the past, illuminating and comparing things. Human beings began with myth (stories), history as we know it came later, followed by history written down as text. Interestingly, text comes from Latin textere, meaning to weave. Consider the phrase “to weave a story.”
Storytelling, as Trinh points out, is connected to women. Women have been transmitters of stories since stories have been told, but interesting enough, history becomes an institution dominated by men. In Africa, it is said if a female storyteller, a griotte (griot for men), was to die, it would be like the loss of an entire library.
After Trinh, we move onto bell hooks.
bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She took on the name bell hooks, her great grandmother’s name to celebrate female legacies. The lower case letters is about ego, to focus attention on her message rather than herself. The same goes for taking on the name, it provides her the opportunity to establish a separate voice from the person Gloria Watson.
She was born into a family of five sisters and one brother. Her father was a custodian and her mother a homemaker. Strict gender roles were enforced at home. She was raised in a segregated town; however, the evidence of racism, classism, sexism was in her childhood. The extent of these would actually become greater after leaving her hometown. She went to all black academic institutions, which was empowering, but she would experience greater racism in the mixed, interracial communities she entered.
hooks calls herself a “Black woman intellectual, revolutionary activist.” She is an intellectual, social activist, cultural theorist, poet concerned with the inter-connectivity of race, class, gender. She sees racism and sexism inherent in all these structures: mainstream feminist movements, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and the Black liberation struggle. She also sees this in academia, and has a different approach. She has a holistic approach to education. She believes “teaching is a performative act.” If interested in her views on education, which are highly influenced by Paulo Freire, check out Teaching to Transgress: Education as a practice of freedom.
hooks believes in “dissident writing” and in challenging various institutions, especially the academic system. She is a very prolific writer, publishing about a book a year. Her first publication was in in 1981, a book entitled Ain’t I a Woman? : Black Women and Feminisim.
hooks received her BA in English from Stanford in 1973, her MA from the University of Wisconsin in 1976 and her PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1983. She currently is a professor at City College of New York.
In our text for class, “Feminism, a Transformational Politic, hooks is looking at family structures, as an initial encounter with power and domination. Adults have the power, and they don’t always impose it with love and respect. As the main protectors, the parents hold power over the children. The family can promote and inhibit growth. She calls it a “paradigm of domination.” A paradigm is an example, a model. From the family, we are getting a model of how power and domination works.
hooks discusses how the oppressor and the oppressed exists in each of us. Women can be perpetrators as well as victims. (Think of Mommy Dearest.) We are all actually potential oppressors, and this stems from the nuclear family in many ways.
She reminds us to talk about feminism is not to only consider sexism, or just patriarchy, but all interlocking and interconnected systems of oppression and domination. hooks advocates for a new feminism centered around talking and conversation. To talk to different kinds of people, and to transmit the information that is relevant (as we do in our class) in a less elite context, is to begin to understand how oppression works. To change and transform yourself, you must recognize the dynmanics of power, and not participate in them.
Next week: For next week, we will be covering Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” (a handout, and at this link: http://lists.econ.utah.edu/pipermail/margins-to-centre/2006-March/000794.html), Angela Davis‘ “Outcast Mothers and Surrogates: Racism and Reproductive Politics in the Nineties.”, and Andrea Dworkin’s “Israel: Whose Country is it Anyway?”. Sandra Harding will be discussed at a later date.
See you Wednesday!