Monday, June 30, 2008

To my beloved brother, if I had one

He uses the body to do harm when he is in his periods of sickness. He still is the same body even if he is better; has the same arms and lips that in those dangerous occasions reached for me and poured hatred at me. And he uses the same eyes. His body made it possible to have a go at my smaller body. Didn’t it? Was it only my smallness? He had not eaten or slept much so he was surely physically tired: his skinniness and paleness testified of hours and hours of lack of nutrition, lack of rest. When my father’s body was present there were frightening situations too, but they were not focused on me. He has a bigger, but older, body. A safe body, in a ‘keeping himself and others safe’ kind of way. My little brother had at the time a very small one, almost never targeted by his older brother’s sickly anger. My mother’s body had a similar fate as mine. However, she has also a big body. If it is not (only) size… shape?

"It isn’t only size that provokes anxieties about the body among teenage boys. There is the question of shape (Connell 1983 [1979]:20)".

I have a profound problem with men. There, I have outed myself. I have a problem with not always and constantly being in the critical mode, of always (expected to) being affirmative when it comes to men. Of being endlessly understanding, respectful and nice when my history and my body reminds me of injustices, restrictions, limitations, abuse, violence. In the academia I am not allowed to say these things, not allowed to even think them. Easy equations are simplistic we are taught in feminist courses. The reality is more complex, more nuanced, more dynamic and fluid. I want to stand up and scream: fuck all that! Let’s riot! Let’s hold men responsible for the things they DO! Part of me strongly believes in feminist revolutions, in separatist organizing and sisterhood. I do not, however, stand up and scream in anger. Instead, I sit nicely on my seminar-chair and nod my head understandingly while discussing yet another disembodied text on men – or masculinities as they now are fashionably termed.

Prescription by wise men: separation of mind and body helps. Your brother is not his sickness, the wise psychiatrist tells me. Yet my body feels reluctant, becomes tense and reserved in my well-brother’s presence. Separation between deed and person is a must must, the wise psychiatrist adds. Yet my body remembers past and present violations, recognizing my brother’s well-shame as well as my idiocy of not being able to do away with my stupid stupid anger. There is no body I am allowed to dispose it on. His body is a sick body is a socio-emotionally and hence a culturally protected body. My body is now a distanced body is a materially protected body.

So perhaps target the body of academic work instead? Perhaps men and masculinities – as subject, topic, discipline? Maybe my material anger fits there? I am not allowed to scream. Not literally. I can write my anger, hide it in diaries and let it be the best darn kept secret in the world. Anger should not materialize into kicking and screaming, into torn papers and nasty words, into tears and broken bones. Yet I think I out myself constantly. It must be obvious, must it not? You all looking at me strangely, becoming silent in the seminar (hysterical woman, mad woman). And I go to enormous effort of not disposing myself as the rabid radical feminist. All my energy placed into picking the key board even harder as I feel my temperature rising, my blood boiling. The academic playground becomes my place for anger management.

The wise psychiatrist does not help me/make me wiser. Or my brother. There is no ‘we are dealing with this together’-situation. ‘We are not dealing with this ever, period’. It is literally my body against his in those painful moments. His presence, my shrinking non-presence. His expanding spatiality, my diminishing.

"To be an adult male is distinctly to occupy space, to have a physical presence in the world (Connell 1983 [1979]:19)".

Why did his body catch this sickness? How come he used his body in the way he did to exercise hate? Why hate? Why my body?

"The significance of the body in the formation of masculinity has mainly been discussed, under Freud’s influence, as a question of the psychological and symbolic importance of the penis (Connell 1983 [1979]: 18) ".

"[P]enises are particularly tangible symbols of masculinity (Gerschick 2005:374)".

This is all very well, I think, when and after reading. I put the book or article aside, I might even be a little exaggerated afterwards. Such brilliance! Such amazing analyses! Surely this in itself is revolutionary! So I get a new role model, another bright scholar to put on my growing best of-list. And then… yeah, then what? All this seems separated somehow. From my anger, my initial and immediate experience. It is as if I cannot feel the connection. Or maybe just do not know how to. Or even want to. Suddenly everything feels a bit too enormous to take in. The change always talked about in the final paragraph, the preface or conscientiously put into the text here and there, exactly how should it come about?

Man, male, masculinity.[1] Woman, female, femininity. Concepts Garlick (2003) urges us to use interchangeably. An act of change in itself? And how does this fit into the rigorousity of scientific practice, ie defining in absurdum, and keeping the categories neat and discrete? And all these nice notions of fluidity and non-fixity, of transgressed boundaries and (conceptual) messiness? What if I need some order, some sort of ‘realness’ to cling onto, so I don’t lose track of my goal, my motif, myself?

I started on a paper were my purpose and aim was to disentangle the concepts ‘man’, ‘male’ and ‘masculinity’. I did well, I thought. Had things to say (I always do). Yet, I felt uneasy, untrue to myself. OMG! This crap that I’m producing on the academic assembly line transforms me into a person I’m not sure I want to be. It’s like with sick people who do not want to become well (if we for a moment imagine this as a choice), because they are comfortable and secure in the identity of an unwell. I’m not sure if I want to be cured from my anger. My biggest fear is a state of emotional vacuum, of not being moved, touched by anything, emotionally disabled. Yet, bell hooks once fabulously wrote that “[o]pposition is not enough. In that vacant space after one has resisted there is still the necessity to become – to make oneself anew” (hooks 1991: 3). I guess I need to do this, “become anew”, without forgetting the reasons for me being here, doing this. You guys will keep me on track, right?

[1]Funny thing: this fragmented sentence is not underlined with green in my word processing program. The next sentence is (woman, female, femininity). Explanation: “Fragment (consider revising)”. Irigaray has a point: woman is that which is not.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

You are the light by which I travel

In tracing my own academic roots, I remember my encounter with Feminist Studies (as it then back in 2001 happened to be termed at The Centre for Women’s Studies) as a sort of epiphany. Not merely due to the fact that I for the first time felt the connections to my own life and could identify with the theories/lives that had been translated into text, but also because the itching, aching lump persistently residing in my body and under my skin during the disciplined/ing literature studies suddenly dissolved when I realised the possibilities for a different way of producing knowledge. Gone was the confinement to single theories, solitary methods and obsessions with singular male geniuses! For some years I lived, breathed, ate and dreamt feminism (professionally and in private life), nevertheless, due to various reasons I decided to retreat into the realms of a mother discipline. Although I at occasions found joy and challenge in conventional linguistics, my heart never skipped any beats for it. Like so many others, I genuinely thought that the crosscutting themes I was interested in could not be transformed into an academic career for real – this was echoed by my father’s voice inside my head that I also should be vary of becoming a “fackidiot” [pejorative term for a specialist in a narrow field]. So, the good girl writes her bachelor’s and her master’s, and thinks narrowly about her disciplinary future until an announcement for interdisciplinary PhD-positions in Gender Studies at another university suddenly catches her eyes.

Fast forward half a year (because I was appointed for one of the positions), the task for the course on interdisciplinarity is to reflect upon possibilities and restrictions when it comes to interdisciplinarity. Although in one sense I never consciously contemplated on interdisciplinarity before – I sort of took it for granted – I do recognize having a continuous, perhaps unaware, conversation with myself on the matter. Disciplinarity, for me, was proper science while interdisciplinarity (and hence effectively Gender Studies) was not. Me a doctor in Gender Studies? Haha! How on earth can I ever explain that for my parents (they barely understood what linguistics was)? And all the feminist critique of the positivist paradigm (with all its implications also on the structure of the universities) I had engaged in, contradicted my thinking on the necessity of disciplinary affilitation (cf Lykke 2004). Was disciplinary discipline not in fact a demand for surviving academically – and socially?

I do not think I fully understood what I got myself into when I accepted the appointment I now have. Nonetheless, to remain in a state of becoming gives certain comfort, and allow for openness: to explore, bridge, develop and invent. Intellectual mobility and “messiness” paradoxically brings forth security and stability. The remains of my disciplinary thinking (if I ever had one) rest now in peace. Instead I greet the freedom and inspiration of intellectual flexibility and of being able to think from different perspectives and angles (cf Pryse 2000). My current thought companion bears the name disciplinary reflectiveness (Pryse 2000) and challenges me to deploy several lenses in order to understand and responsibly engage, as well as identify commonalities and differences. I wish to grasp the potentials for building alliances and affinities, but also to remain respectful of possible restrictions and limitations. It is an extensive task, and I hope my companion will never leave my side. She has to continue to force me to be and remain updated, to dig deeper although my time does not allow it, to be always prepared (thank goddess I was a girl guide for twelve years!) and torture me to be specific, clear, stringent and up to the point.

My companion arrives in a time where the commodification of higher education and marketization of knowledge in Sweden has travelled far down the neo-liberal road. The changing nature of both the universities as institutions and the individuals attending them does not automatically entail that the interdisciplinary trend lands in the critical soil it perhaps is intended for. Interdisciplinarity per se is not critical, nor produce criticalness or different thinking, but can with the methodological help of my companion be defended as a strive-worthy mode of producing different kinds of knowledge (cf Gibbons et al 1994).

If, for some reason, my companion decides to retire, becomes fatally injured or, goddess forbid dies!, before I safely disembark in my first haven, interdisciplinarity meets a shaky fate. Everything’s presumed mixability (theories, ontologies, epistemologies, methodologies) is a slippery slope if not used ethically and responsibly. “Messiness”, creativity and eclecticism are, after all, dependent on rigour, order and stringency.

Monday, April 28, 2008


I will begin from the rear end in this presentation. I wish to do that precisely because one of the points made by the author (Kamala Visweswaran – Fictions of Feminist Ethnography, 1994) departs in a belief of a chronology or time lineage to show continuities, divergences, contingencies and restraints. I wish to intertwine my reading story with the review of the book, thus “atemporally” scaffolding my reading and the text. I begin with the words of another critic, presented at the back cover of the book:

Textually innovative, theoretically vigorous, often lyrical, Fictions of Feminist Ethnography is both intellectually provocative and a pleasure to read.
(Dorinne Kondo, back cover on book)

This initial unsettling feeling I so often get when reading non-canonical, visionary and poetic academic work, has once again got hold of me. These initial emotions repudiate all the bright notions I’m sure the author wants to convey. First feeling: What the hell is she saying? (Fierce Anger, at her and me in stereo – why can’t she write more accessible or am I plain stupid?) “This book will enrage as many readers as it will engage”, another critic, Arjun Appadurai, boldly states at the back side of the book cover. Then comes the next feelings: Too difficult, just shut off. So I benignly transmute; at once become blind, deaf, stiff, rigid, catatonic, imperforated. Of course I could read the text again and again. And should. We always say we should, will, must. And then time reminds of itself. The text is placed back into the bookshelf, nibbling and itching on my bad conscience, cursing my reading in-obedience. I move on – spatially and temporally – with parts of the text’s grammatics etched in some remote backpart of my brain, probably finding light and oxygen sooner than I would have imagined.

We do not go well together, the text and I, we are incompatible at this conjuncture. I am tired, she awaits me. She forces me to alter my principles. I cry on red cotton sheets while I receive the shoulder massage I have needed for a week (on days that thoughts of her should not be). I do not understand the unfamiliar references, the language that is not mine, the difficult topic addressed (ch 5 in particular). Her syntax – phrases; syllables; letters – inaccessible. Reaction: tired tears. Language and thought so vex, demanding (time, which I do not seem to possess in the excess needed for proper reading-understanding; energy, which I appear to find so little of right about now; effort, something lacking; motivation, existing but hidden under all sorts of life-junk). Occasionally joyful; impinging; thrusting me to explore prescriptive dictionaries, new semantics trickling under my skin. Favourite word of the month in a learnt tongue (the hold ons, losses, re-f(o)unds – oh yes! I have known you before Mr Juxtaposition and Ms Rhizomatic, siblings of imaginary universes and imploded metaontologies). But you, words, merely touch the surface, fluid and fleeing, leaving scarce marks of nothingness. (Panic panic, what should I say on Tuesday? Why didn’t I read more: earlier, later, before? Good doctoral girl finally in break down, break up with university? I should of course write and present the traditional book review just to prove every conventionalist wrong, that I too, have attained Academia’s writing conventions.) I dream of her, while my stomach cultivates the gastric ulcer my Western social heritage and my fitness lifestyle quarrel over in (de)colonizing (1-0 to WSH). I curse at her for troubling my sleep and ruining my days off.

Time again. Had I had more of it, I would… have read differently. But what if I, just frankly, refused to read? Refused to read in a way designed for doctoral students?

Refused to read, properly? The amount of reading, the form and type of readings? Deferred to read? Betrayed the text, the authors, EVERYTHING? (When does this confusion end, or begin, and where do I enter, depart, arrive or exit?)

I have probably misunderstood everything, been too lazy, disengaged or failed to put enough effort and time in to the task. I have yet to disentangle the various forms of refusals, deferrals and antagonism texts such as these sparks in me. They surely do not stem from the same resistance cells, they do not all say the same things, in all occasions. I’m convinced that the texts are great, they always are. I just can’t see the greatness for all the trees – not now, not here. (Context of reading, reading-story; Richardson 1997, 2000)

Reading in reverse?

Next day. Proper work day, hence propensity for efficiency. Still however, these incompatibility emotions hovering. Birthday breakfast over, full office day ahead. Text in different (new?) light. “Feminist ethnography as Failure” – heart-success!

Maybe it is because I do not (wish to?) understand that I cannot get what she is after. Part of me knows, that part which also is ashamed of my (racial) privileges although it should rather acknowledge and act. It is a reminder of limitations and restrictions: of what I am allowed to speak of, of things I need to do my homework on, of always personal issues of ranges I cannot fully grasp.

Maybe it is due to me being in a continuous critical mode, not actually reading. Constantly countering, rebutting, finding pockets of this’s and thats, buts and rathers. I am not really READING: actively letting the flow of her syntax reach the inners of me, keeping it inside long enough so I can grasp her (pain, joy, sorrows, despair, anger, hope and delights). Keeping her at bay legitimates my refusal to partake, be occupied by and melt into what she actually says. (Then I realize that she has succeeded to engage, to provoke and stir up controversy through her text.)

Two weeks after, hindsight. Emotional reading inflicts emotional writing. Had I not encountered her, this text would not have been. I would not have been. Would not have wanted to become anew. Again. And again. Thank you.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

I can spend my hours staring at the light bulb in my roof
I can watch her photo-
graphies at the flashy washroom downtown
I can take a chai tea to go
I can write an essay on the semantics of tears
I can buy myself a smile for five more minutes

but I don't
instead I disappear
into whispers, chlorine and reassuring uncertainty

The spring has arrived where you are
while I ride on dim highways to escape swedish sounds

I can barely recall the feeling of gravel underneath my converse's
under my bicycle tires
the taste of sunburnt tears in Bulgaria
the sense of safety
the white furry beauty

I'm moving too fast toward
dryness you real blood summer you sobriety

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Why are you not crying big brother?

Father drives you everywhere. Your tongue is unable to articulate the easier, the harder words, your sight is no longer sharp. Still your body continues being restless, runs back and forth, to places of intoxication, to friends with masculine chemicals, knives and shattered hearts. Father drives you everywhere, father drives you anywhere because that is what father does, has always done. No, brother is not sick. He gets seizures. No, brother does not have an illness. He has bad times. All states are non-emotional, all words derived from semantic universes without Is and yous.

Tomorrow my feet will once again pedal to institutions, hospitals, sterile coats and locked doors. Sudden head aches like flashes from unclear skies. I do not belong to this city anymore, to this time. I wish you could leave too, to another time, city, whatever. I wish you could leave with me (back to your untidy room, to the blue carpet and your Commodore 64).

You can leave during the days. But the nights are married to sleeing pills and surveilled corridors. Little brother is irritated over his lack of knowledge, irritates all over bigger brother (no knowledge shared to the small because we do not exist). What's wrong, why do you not cry big brother?

Through rain and cold. My body is smaller than ever, I have no blood in my fingers. Eyes burn. Skin burns underneath my cold fingers. No one notices if you're tired during the summer, even if you forget to breathe. And who breathes for you, big brother? I can barely keep myself alive.

Friday, March 30, 2007

But do you want to try this language with me?

You want words that are discrete, right? Definitely defined. Words that can be placed in your ABC categorized bookshelf, where fiction is neatly distinguished from reality. And there are no weeks without weekdays, no golden gardens or lovers who only live for 350 pages. No room for passionate faints, for unreason, for mornings that lasts forever.

How can there be hope if there's no fiction? How can love survive in spaces where there is nothing beyond immediate human perception? Say, do you not wish for something (else than this) for queen and country, for children of the next generation, for yearning hearts and unreasonable passion?

I wish I could sleep
longer in the mornings
at least until the clouds ascends
I wish I had a dog
that never left my side
not even for washroom trips
I wish I had a thinking jukebox
that played love songs all day long
(except on Thursdays
because that is laundry day)
I wish I wouldn't have to
wake up with heartache
or at least not the subtle kind

I wish a trip to South Africa
could be done in half an hour
from the other side of the globe
I wish I knew how many more minutes
I will breathe
so I can plan my future
I wish the maple leafs could be
red in the summer
so I could watch them get stuck
under my bare white feet
I wish I was forced to lie on the side
because my belly's grown into proportion

I wish I somehow
was able to give you the words
you need to hear
on a rainy afternoon
inside my brown room
on the street with no name

I do not think my reality is distorted. It is enriched, by beliefs that does not have a material manifestation. I choose my words carefully (they reflect a politics of love). Yet I do not feel sure that you understand them as I do. I try way too hard and get disappointed when I accidentally realize that we do not share the same linguistic universe. I feel deprived, stripped of my language, my shield, my skin. How will I ever convey something that demands more than my words to describe?