Sunday, April 10, 2011

Alice Walker on The Sisterhood

From "Outlaw, Renegade, Rebel,Pagan", an interview with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now (2006) in Conversations with Alice Walker

Amy Goodman: Alice, I want to ask you about the Sisterhood. Who was this group of women writers in the 1970s that you gathered with?

Alice Walker - The Sisterhood was the brainchild of myself and June
Jordan, because we looked around one day -- we were friends -- and we felt that it was very important that black women writers know each other, that we understood that we were never in competition for anything, that we did not believe in ranking. We would not let the establishment put one of us ahead of the other. And so, some of us
were Vertame Grosvenor, Ntozake Shange, Toni Morrison, June Jordan and myself, and I think Audrey Edwards who was at Essence, and several other women that I don't tonight remember.

The very first meeting was at June's apartment because it was the
larger of -- I had moved out of my marriage house into basically two
small rooms. And so June had this beautiful apartment with lots of
space, and the women gathered there, and I remember at the first
gathering -- I had bought this huge red pot that became the gumbo pot -- I made my first gumbo and took it to this gathering of women, all so different and all so spicy and flavorful like gumbo. And we have this photo. There is a wonderful photograph that someone took of us gathered around a large photograph of Bessie Smith, because Bessie
Smith best expressed our feeling of being women who were free and women who intended to stay that way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes

On recommendation of both Kanako and Tobi I read this book. As of late with the mass media look back at riot grrl I've been wondering what feminism in punk rock is today. Does it exist? Is there a purpose? What is it's function? Is there a cohesive movement?

Judging by critics and sound bites this seems to be being hailed as the new punk feminism. It's got some good points, it's got some bullshit. Through the intro and first chapter I hated it. The writing struck me as that of a rebellious teenager trying to go for ultimate shock value, the content read like an overly wordy rip off of the SCUM Manifesto.

The second chapter deals with rape. This is the point where I started understanding the book. Despentes brings about several points: we are at our most feminine when being raped, rape is thought of as this huge life shattering thing that we are powerless against, men are really good at excusing themselves out of being rapists. There were other themes but these are the ones that stood out to me, especially the idea that rape is this huge life shattering thing that we are powerless against. As in the book, I am in no way trying to diminish the effect of rape on our lives, but it made me think of something a friend once said "women get raped, then they get over it". Casting rape as this huge horrible unimaginable thing not only prevents us from talking about it, but prevents survivors as permanently damaged creatures, rapists as horrible monsters you can spot from far away, and streets as places that innocent young girls shouldn't tread. At one point in the book Despentes talks about after getting raped while hitchhiking she continued to hitchhike. If she didn't continue to hitchhike she would have stayed at home, scared and closed off from existing in the world - this is such a hugely important point - giving into the fear of rape, whether that it might happen or might happen again - makes women cease to exist.

The rest of the book seemed to wander back into the same territory as the beginning of the book. A lot of it was also incredibly heteronormative, which at this point with the intermingling of feminist and queer theory seems like an outdated path to take. There seems to be a lot of time taken casting femme girls into a shameful light, which really just seems kind of juvenile to do. Though there are femme girls out there that seem so complacent that I do wonder if they've ever had a critical thought in their life - to sit around and say that femme girls=useless fucked up enemies, which is what she seemed to be implying a good amount of the time is pretty fucked. To imply that somehow being a femme girl myself somehow ousts me from outsider status and dumps squarely into playing the game of normal society is pretty absurd.

Then the worst of it reared it's head at the end. Despentes wraps up the book by talking about becoming a figure in mass media through her banned movie Baise Moi and how because of it she temporarily became more of a feminine woman and became quieter and more complacent - and that her savior out of this was Courtney Love? Don't get me wrong, as a teenager Love was somebody I looked up to in a way (I was more into Kat Bjelland) but keep in mind, I was 13 and it was 1995. If anything Courtney Love demonstrates the villanization you come into as a woman in the spotlight, I wouldn't really see her as someone who exists as both a more masculine leaning female and respected in media. Despentes goes on to end the book with some gender role switching - for example taking a break up letter by Antonin Artaud and replacing all uses of "woman" with "man". I really hate this strategy of switching genders to prove points because it doesn't make sense, it completely denies the power dynamics of society.

All and all, if I had this to read when I was 15 it would have blown my fucking mind, and there were parts that did blow my mind now. Even though there are things in this book that wander into juvenile shock rock and its overall tendency towards heteronormity, even though there were multiple times I wanted to throw this book against the wall, I am glad that this voice exists. Even though I feel her writing has a tendency to shock to be shocking rather than prove a point that anger is real and not surprising that it exists and I am glad it's articulated in some way. The majority of the bare bones ideas in this book are really good, I hope people can discover them.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hi Bumpidee Readers, it is 2011

hello readers...I am going to try and be better about updating the bumpidee reader in 2011, I read a lot last year that I didn't review here and I need to stop doing that! I often don't read a whole book and am always reading more than 5 books at once...maybe I have A.D.D., maybe I should read a book about it! or A.D.H.D. or whatever it is...but guess what? NO EXCUSES!

here's a short list of stuff I'm reading now, for my obligatory january post:

culture clash: dread meets punk rockers by don letts...don letts hung out with the clash, managed the slits, djed punk shows, makes films, was in big audio dynamite and was a part of the kings rd proto-punk anti-fashion scene...this is a great book, read it if you are interested in cultural history, racism, punk, reggae, post-colonial london or the politics of style.

a tale of two cities
by charles dickens. started this before xmas because of oprah (for real) but also because I'm about to go to london and paris. i read this book in 9th grade, but it's not my favorite dickens, it's got less humor and more streamlined storytelling. it's reminding me a little bit of nathaniel hawthorne, who I'm not super's good though, gotta hurry up and finish so I can move on to great expectations...I read the first half really fast and then got interrupted by the holidays and then chaos at work aka this is what I'll be reading for the next few days...I am realizing all my ideas about the french revolution come from this book, so that needs to change, but it's a vivid, fast-paced class-struggle-themed political drama/romance...on the side I am reading a book by peter ackroid about c.d. and also reading a little about him in some london travel books.
at one point I was going to london a lot and got really obsessed with peter ackroyd in the way you do when all these coincidences start happening that seem to connect with the book you are reading and things get weird. actually the last time this happened I was reading a dorothy sayers mystery on tour and stayed the night at my friends parents house. we arrived at night via amsterdam I fell asleep reading about a murder that took place in epping forest, which I thought was in london. over breakfast I asked "where's epping forest" and the people we were staying with informed me that we were in epping forest and in fact it was across the street from their house. I'm sure if you live in london (or new york or l.a.) you are used to stuff like this happening, but nothing ever takes place in this is something that is really cool about travelling, getting all caught up in the literary landscape and history of a place, uncovering multiple layers of narratives embedded in the geography of a city.

king kong theory by virginie despentes...I asked for and got this book for xmas, since kanako said she might start a book club. I read the first and last chapter and skimmed the rest. that's usually what I do with theory, a habit from school, where you try to figure out what the thesis is and evaluate whether or not it's argued coherently. so far it's more poetic than I expected and rebellious in an in-yr-face punk style, which is rare these days. in that sense it reminds me of s.c.u.m. manifesto by valarie solanis, which I'm not a big fan of although I recognize its historical impact was major --it helped inspire the women's liberation movement for example--but I never got totally into the poetry or rhetoric of solanis like some of my friends did.
I don't know too much about virginie despentes other than that she is a filmmaker. I've heard her compared to catherine breillat. I know some people think her movies reinforce patriarchy in their depiction of violence against women, even though that is not her intent. she's provocative and controversial and seems to be more of an artist than anything. she's interested in power...the weak and the strong...she evokes some of nietzsche's ideas in the genealogy of morals/beyond good and evil... also: lydia lunch helped translate this book.
I'd like to read some contemporary feminist criticism of king kong theory to see how people have reacted to her work. there seem to be some possible limitations here repeated from early 'radical feminism'...radical feminism in the sense of feminists who believe that gender oppression is primary and trumps class or race...that despentes has a class analysis and talks about economics and capitalism is relevant here, but so did many "radical feminists" and as invigorating and influential as a lot of those early texts are, they are limited in scope and have been widely critiqued. I'm not saying king kong theory is necessarily fucked up in the same ways, just that I'm questioning a lot of her claims and some of my thought process is the same as what happens when I read a lot of what is known as radical feminism from the late 60's/early 70's...I am questioning a lot of her generalizations and broad sweeping statements and wishing for more specificity.
these are my initial impressions, which will probably change as I read more. I want to finish this before february so I might actually go ahead and read it this week...but maybe that is just wishful far I'm not super into it, but I can see how it might be totally inspiring if you read it in the right time and place. it's got a lot of anger and vision to it. it's cool to hear someone say "fuck you, this world is totally fucked but I am not". it's a bold thing to say and something that women need to hear. there is a lot of resistance and courage in this work. it's visceral and descriptive.

a strange stirring: the feminine mystique and american women at the dawn of the 1960's by stephanie coontz...i got a review copy of this in the mail this week and have been reading it's johanna fateman's review here...I am forcing myself to put it down until next month...if anyone would like to read this book and meet up to discuss it I would be totally into that, so let me know! it's a nuanced, social history of betty friedan's the feminine mystique, but it doesn't seem to be just for theory-nerds or womens studies majors; this book is for anyone interested in having a clear understanding of post-war 20th century American history.
coontz has a race and class analysis of the feminine mystique , but persuasively argues that it is worth a deeper look, not a quick dismissal. I read the feminine mystique when I was 18. I wasn't a 50's housewife or mom, I was a teenage girl in a band in a male-dominated punk scene struggling not to be defined as "someone's girlfriend", and it resonated with me at the time. I look forward to reconsidering it in its social context.

other than this, I'm reading a lot of travel books about london and paris but that will soon stop and I will be there! I think I'm going to have to return everything else to the library and save it for another rainy day. I'm sure there are plenty to look forward to.

what should I read when I'm on my trip? that's the real question!

WOMEN OF UNDERGROUND MUSIC interviews by Zora von Burden

I picked this up in the hopes that it would be similar to re/searchs ANGRY WOMEN, which is one of my favorite books ever, and was sadly disappointed by this. It has an amazing line-up of interviews - Laurie Anderson, Nina Hagen, Adele Bertei, Deanna Ashley, Patricia Morrison, Moe Tucker and the list goes on. It's pretty interesting but it's more because of the subjects rather than how the subjects are handled. There are some highlights - the Teresa Taylor (Butthole Surfers) and the Sean Tseult (White Zombie) interviews were good - but beyond that and even with those overall I was kind of disappointed. The type of interviews I like to read are more like discussions rather than question and answer. The interviewer comes off as cold and scripted for the most part, like she's doing an interview for food stamps or something. Really stand-offish. There's a lack of inquiry and a lack of opinion input from the interviewer. It's almost like a sales call for creative people. Luckily, the women featured in this book are really interesting, and honestly the most exciting parts of the book were when the interviewees veered off course and just started talking about whatever they wanted to. On top of that it seems like the interviewer wasn't exactly a fan of most of her subjects, but rather just picked them out because they are considered "underground women" - what I mean is there was a lack of excitement and enthusiasm, and a lot of the topics seemed to be gleened from internet research rather than actual fandom. It just seemed incredibly disconnected. Overall, this is a book about some of the most rebellious and rule-breaking women of the underground - yet it manages to stay incredibly sanitary.