Tuesday, September 22, 2009

about biblioblogging...? Jacqueline Jones Royster's voices

I don't know why you read my blog. It's a strange mix of feminisms, translation stuff, rhetorics, and because of that sometimes often it's bibliobloggish. I know, doesn't make sense much to the pure or the purists of any sort.

So let me offer at least 2 reasons why you might read this particular post:  1 - you might have read something yesterday here about April DeConick sounding rather like Moses (moses, the male, I mean) when I was hoping she might just also speak with another voice of hers;  2- you might be holding me to my promise (sort of) that I'd say something more about why afrafeminist Jacqueline Jones Royster has very much influenced how I read the bible.

1- DeConick does not disappoint.  Look at the whole post What is it about biblioblogging...? But at least read two central paragraphs:
As for the historical-critical approach and feminism. There is nothing anti-feminist about the historical approach in and of itself. What is anti-feminist is its application which has been controlled by white (mainly European) males since only recently. So the kind of history that has been recovered and written has been the history of the dominant group, and it is the history that justifies and sustains that group. Here again we are talking about white males who are in power and who wish to remain so. When our histories, whether religious or social or political, have been written and put into text books and taught to our children, it is the history of the dominant group - their master commemorative narrative - that we are disseminating. Now this is not new news. It is ho-hum by now and I imagine you are yawning.
So what have we done about this now that we have recognized it because feminist scholarship and literary critical methods have brought this to our attention? We have gone back and added a paragraph about important women in our textbooks and we have minted coins with Anthony's face on it, coins that we never use! But we haven't rewritten our histories to reflect what we are learning about the hidden histories and the marginalized past nor have we commemorated it as a society (this is especially true of our religious histories - which is why I am writing Sex and the Serpent). Why not add a paper dollar to those we use already, and put Anthony on it? Why not make a government holiday commemorating the Suffrage movement? Why not rename important boulevards with the names of women we wish to commemorate? Etc.
Doesn't she sound wonderfully like Patricia Bizzell?  And if you're a (feminist) rhetorician you should know how she sounds.  For example, in her speech and in her writing (“Feminist Methods of Research in the History of Rhetoric: What Difference Do They Make?”), Bizzell asks,
Have [Jacqueline Jones] Royster, and other feminist scholars for whom she has now more completely articulated methodologies already in practice, departed radically from the rhetorical tradition?
So Bizzell answers:
Yes, and no. No, because their work relies upon many of the traditional tools of research in the history of rhetoric. No, because the rhetors they have added to our picture of the history of Western rhetoric seem to me to be working within this tradition and enriching it, rather than constituting utterly separate or parallel rhetorical traditions. But yes, because in order to get at activities of these new rhetors, researchers have had to adopt radically new methods as well, methods which violate some of the most cherished conventions of academic research, most particularly in bringing the person of the researcher, her body, her emotions, and dare one say, her soul, into the work.  From my [Bizzell's] perspective as editor of an anthology called The Rhetorical Tradition, contemplating the major changes in scholarship over the last ten years, these new methods have made all the difference.
2 - Now you've noticed my little segue into talking about Royster.  I don't think I can say more really than Bizzell has.  I do think Royster herself has lots to say.  The best place to start, if you're starting to read Royster, is her essay, "When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own."  There, she talks about her many voices, and she does so using her "academic voice."  She's writing (also) as a woman, as an African American, as one often talked about by other experts on african american women, experts who themselves are neither women nor african americans.

Royster, you may also want to learn, is an "English" academic professionally, not a bible scholar.  But as such she is a historian, a feminist, a rhetorician, a literary scholar.  Royster has a fabulous book she's entitled, Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change among African American Women. If you haven't caught on, then you might want to understand that Royster finds herself in the historical stream of women she's researching and writing about. This is objective but subjective stuff.  Two of my favorite paragraphs are these (from pages 254-55):
     My role as researcher has been to look theoretically and philosophically at the data, to bring meaning to it.  The very first order of business by necessity has been to establish an interpretive viewpoint that clearly places African American women at the center of our own story.  The assumption is that viewpoint matters.  As Anna Julia Cooper stated in 1892 in A Voice from the South, "What is needed, perhaps, to reverse the picture of the lordly man slaying the lion, is for the lion to turn painter!"  (1988:222).  In scholarly research and analysis, the question to be addressed is more than whether African American women occupy a passive position of object or an active position of subject.  Rather, the question, at the level of interpretation, is how--as objects or subjects--we are placed on a landscape or within a material reality.
     In this analysis, I rejected images of African American women that would position us interpretively as a mirror or a reflection of others, or as a room accessed by other people's doors and windows, or even as a backdrop against which other stories are told, invigorated, or clarified.  Instead, this analysis positions African American women as the "lions" in a "lion's tale."  My intent has been to consider African American women as the embodiment of our own dreams and aspirations, our own created and re-created selves, in a world with others, certainly, but without the need at critical points in the analytical process (that is, in the initial stages) to be filtered through the experiences of others, no matter how resonant or dissonant those experiences might be.  In making such a commitment to creating a working space amid dualities, I believe I have acquired an understanding of both scholarly positioning and knowledge production in this arena from which advice to others might be abstracted.  In choosing an appropriate mechanism for sharing advice in a more direct manner, however, without suggesting the notion of easy prescriptions, I realize once again that theory, like history, also begins with a story.
Let me quote three paragraphs more, and then say something about the bible and about my reading (and some blogging about) it.  Here's from Royster's preface to Calling Cards: Theory and Practice in the Study of Race, Gender, and Culture (page x):
     Colleagues in mainstream and not so mainstream academic circles have learned to focus more acutely on what it actually means to carry out a research agenda that is defined and substantively directed by schemata (race, gender, culture) that have traditionally been marginalized and disregarded.  We have learned to adapt and invent research and teaching strategies, and we have struggled to negotiate the social and political dynamics of academic lives that are so clearly tied to traditionally devalued interests.  In the main, there have not been road maps by which to determine appropriate and worthy pathways, since these interests actually go against the grain of many traditional practices.  We hear tales of colleagues who have worked without advocates, mentors, or champions to run interference or to keep resources enabling structures in place.  Personally and professionally, many of us have felt on our own, isolated, and struggling against the odds.  These are the facts of many lives.
And here's from Royster's preface to Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900 (page vii):
     As complements to each other, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases and A Red Record clearly state Wells's position on lynching, revealing the insight and perception with which she was able to launch the most successful of the early anti-lynching campaigns.  Wells's courageous analysis helps us to understand the told and untold story of this sinister thread in the fabric of American life.  The third pamphlet, Mob Rule in New Orleans, is a case study that dramatically details an individual incident as it escalates in the absence of law, order, and the application of justice to become yet another striking example of "southern horror."
     I have also sought to establish an appropriate framework for understanding the personal achievements of Ida B. Wells.  Born into slavery, Wells went on to garner a place of respect as a nationally and internationally prominent journalist and as a leader in the black clubwomen's movement.  Wells was one among a relatively small but growing number of "public" women in an era when public arenas were not considered the place for women.  Going against this grain, Wells earned a reputation as an outspoken and steadfast crusader for justice, and the three pamphlets presented here are testimony to her achievement.
Now it doesn't take an entirely careful reader to see how Royster, historian, finds herself in the history.  Nor does it take a woman, or an African American, or an AfricanAmericanwoman to appreciate what she's doing, and the authority with which she does it.  The marginal voices of the "traditional" history speak.  They do not demand to be heard.  They deconstruct and reconstruct their histories before an expert not in the stream of history (not that history anyway) can construct them otherwise.

So, the bible.  It is history, re-presentations.  And most today doing scholarship on the Bible come at it as lion slayers in the painting, not letting the silenced lions paint, not listening to the voices, not standing themselves in their own margins where they belong.  Since I am not a Jew of old, not even one of those who spoke for or as Thomas or Mary, then I do better, I think, to listen to the stories not always told.  Royster reminds me of the horrors of the silenced in the south.  She reminds me that rigorous historical criticism (even in biblical scholarship) is too often necessarily done "without advocates, mentors, or champions to run interference or to keep resources enabling structures in place."  There are many (yet) unheard and overlooked.  The subjective perspective is most important when "being" objective.



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