February 4, 2010

Michelle Detorie

Michelle Detorie lives in Goleta, CA where she edits Hex Presse and Womb. Her pamphlet about humans and animals and seabird rescue, How Hate Got Hand, was recently published by eohippus labs. She is currently working on a series of synesthetically coded visual poems that investigate the question of women and animals and whether or not they are real. She blogs at ovariessequins.blogspot.com.

I. How do you see yourself as a participant in feminism?
I see my participation in feminism as constant: how could it not be?

Despite this constancy, at this time, I do not know where to begin when I am asked to describe my feminism to others. It is easier to describe my history with feminism than it is to articulate the ways I attempt to engage my feminism in order to manifest creative work. Increasingly, I think the difficulty has to do with an escalating anxiety of being misunderstood, isolated, or punished for articulating my feminism.

Time has a politics (see this recent article on sleep as a feminist issue). In the same way that “color blind” ideologies try to hide inequalities created by asymmetrical demands on the time of African Americans and whites (for example, in the academy, African American scholars are often commanded to be on every committee—not to mention to be the de facto expert on all things black for their colleagues, a la Wanda Sykes in Curb Your Enthusiasm—in order to give the appearance of inclusiveness, and thus have much less time to do their research), sexism continues to operate by requiring women, but not men, to work many many extra unpaid hours. Marginality is not the only cost of doing feminist work in the realm of poetry and art: exhaustion, the sapping of resources from precious time for creative work, and the expenditure of energy steeling oneself against and recovering from insults and trauma are all very real costs, too.

As an editor and publisher, I’ve encountered what I imagine to be the usual amount of criticism regarding my publishing ethos. I have been criticized most for my decision to publish only people who self-identify as women. Several people who self-identify as men have taken issue with this. A few of these men have published in publications I admire and are professed "feminists,” and I have been surprised by the ire and disdain directed at me in the correspondence that ensues when I reiterate the mission of the journal in my responses to their submissions. I’ve also experienced persistent guilt around how long it has taken me to respond to submissions, lay out an issue, or complete the printing and assembly of chapbooks because I have not had the time or money that I had hoped. I’ve have also had to push back time-lines and delay publications because of the events in the world of “everyday politics” (intimidation, harassment) that result from gender inequality.

I am frustrated that this anxiety elicited by these experiences has hindered me from bringing certain projects to fruition and has prevented me from fully engaging in particular communities. My relationship to my feminism is not conflicted, but as a feminist I am determined to remain vigilant in my resistance to sexism, racism, and classism, and this has meant that I must participate in – and sometimes initiate – conflict. And to do this requires energy, enthusiasm, and optimism. And it is this energy-enthusiasm-optimism that always most scandalizes the defenders of the status quo when revolutionary movements arise. Women, minorities, subalterns of all sorts are not only supposed to be too stupid to resist—they are also supposed to be too tired.

I have been reflecting lately on the challenges of remaining energetic, enthusiastic, and optimistic as a working feminist poet without the stimuli of a feminist popular culture, and outside the hothouse of the academy. Like many other women born between the late 1960s and early 1980s, my sense of feminism when I was a teenager was a rush of idealistic enthusiasm infused with Bikini Kill, Sylvia Plath, baby doll dresses, Sassy Magazine and Queen Latifah. My pop-culture was feminism. And in college, reading Hélène Cixous and Simone de Beauvoir, taking classes in women’s studies and post-colonial theory and writing papers about bell hooks and Toni Morrison, my academics were feminism. And as I wrote more poetry, my poetry became my feminism. In each of these milieus, I found power and comfort and friends. Feminism has been a source of energy, creativity, and community. And yet I must admit that I’m experiencing a period of decreased energy, although I now see this period as transitional: a sort of necessary hibernation. What I would like to see is for feminist poets to reinvigorate two tendencies of feminist social movements of the 1970s: the emphasis on consciousness-raising as a political act, and the foregrounding of solidarity.
II.:: Items from my Commonplace Book ::
:: Women and animals: Are they real?::

The large cat is like a spirit animal, a white tiger perhaps. The woman, a young Chinese student in the United States, figures that which is human, the universal, the generic. The "woman of color," a very paraticular, problematic, recent collective identity, resonates with local and global conversations. In this paintinig, she embodies the still oxymoronic simultaneous statuses of woman, "Third World" person, human, organism, communications technology, mathematician, writer, worker, engineer, scientist, spiritual guide, lover of the earth. This is the kind of "symbolic action" transnational feminisms have made legible, S/he is not finished.

-Donna Harraway, from “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inapproriate/d Others

But art is not simply the expression, recognition or celebration of an animal past, a pre-historical allegiance with the forces that make one; it is not memorialization, the confirmation of a shared past, but above all the transformation of the materials from the past into resources for the future, the sensations not available now but to be unleashed in the future on a people now ready to perceive and be affected by them.”

-Elizabeth GroszArt and the animal

“This happens over and over again, but the heterografts work on dogs – close up to a dog torso with a perfectly square patch of foreign dog hair growing and thriving, its edges sharp as astroturf. ‘Why, why, why does this work on dogs but not women,’ frets the scientist who tortures out of necessity, not evil. It’s hard on him, finding places to bury all the faceless women, and the dogs’ incessant howling is driving him crazy.”

-Dodie Bellamy, “Dogs without a Face,” Academonia
Figure 8 "Cute Magic Bunny Costume Adult: A Magician's Dream Come True" by Party City
Figure 11 Mermaid Swim Fins by Bluewave Products
Figure 12 "Portrait of a Girl Covered in Hair" by Lavinia Fontona (1594-95)

BEDIENT: Do you play with the image of mules in your poem because of Mules and Men, a title re-echoed, in a warped way, in the title Muse and Drudge?

MULLEN: Yes. Who are the mules and who are the men? If you think about black and white, then the black people are the mules and the white people are men. If you think about the black community, then the women are the mules and the men are the men. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, the grandmother says the black woman is the mule of the world. I changed that to muse of the world.

-Harryette Mullen and Calvin Bedient, from “THE SOLO MYSTERIOSO BLUES: An Interview with Harryette Mullen” Callaloo 19.3 (1996) 651-669

Figure 13 Bjork in her infamous swan dress, designed by Marjan Pejoski

“Anthropornography is the depiction of non-humans as prostitute-animals who desire to be eaten. From this month’s Vanity Fair with a dead chicken in high heels, to the ‘Turkey Hooker,’ animals’ suffering is made into sexualized fun. With anthropornography the inequality of species conveys the inequality of gender; desire hides dominance. While vegetarians, vegans and animal activists are accused of anthropomorphizing animals—of projecting human qualities onto nonhuman animals—it seems that really it is meat eaters and anthropornographers who do this. Animal activists know that animals are like human beings because human beings are animals. ‘Animorphs,’ through its sympathetic magic theme, suggests this truth too.”

-Carol J. Adams, interview

1 comment:

Gail White said...

Loved the art! There is a definite link between women and animals. I addressed this in a sonnet on Beauty and the Beast, which begins "I disliked children even as a child...Animals, on the other hand, were mild/And tractable."
Gail White