Friday, February 19, 2010

homme est mort?

Authorship, for example, Pauline authorship of Pauline and Pseudo-Pauline letters, is an idea fostered by Enlightenment notions of the self and Lockean concepts concerning the ownership of property; it is of vital importance for some Christians to believe that the apostle Paul, wrote, for example, Ephesians, because he is the owner of the text, the subject that imparts wisdom, and therefore he owns it, and he belongs to the apostolic tradition and therefore Paul’s writings are inerrant because Paul wrote them (Paul being the subject/author, which Foucault said was “dead”). Why is it important for Paul to be the author? Because of our own concepts of ownership, which remain foreign to the Greco-Roman project of writing, which includes secretaries such as the one Paul uses in his their letter to the Romans.
-- from "Fridays with Foucault" by Rod, at his blog 
The above is Rod's example of what Michael Foucault meant when he authored the words, “homme est mort.”  This is quite important because Foucault was very much alive when he wrote what he wrote and when somebody else also alive translated that into English as, “man is dead.”

So where does author-ity come from?  And who exactly does a text come from?  Well, you and I are reading all of this, aren't we?  We're participating in meaning, in meaning making, in meaning construction, and in meaning deconstruction, aren't we?  This is some Rod's point, isn't it?  It's one of his points, you see, don't you?

But I want us to step back a bit here.

I'm not going to go all postmodern on you, as one of my blogger friends accused me of doing.  (He meant it not the way I took it -- as a compliment).   I'm also not trying to be difficult, as another of my blogger friends charged me with.  (And he was not trying to be kind).  I am wanting us together to listen.  Listen to what oppressive men write.  Listen to how the oppressed write.  Listen to how you write.  How I write.  Here goes:

To try to pin "authorship" on the likes of Enlightenment men like Descartes or modern(ist) men such as John Locke seems like a bad end game.  Yes, I know how they tried to distance themselves from the perhaps more-collaborative and, therefore somehow, more-inclusive "Greco-Roman project of writing."   However, these fellows all are playing King of the Mountain, it seems to me.  (Someone could even write a dissertation on how influenced by certain Greeks, namely Aristotle, writers like many Roman men, and most anti-Aristotelian Enlightenment men, and more modern modernist men were.  And didn't they all, like Aristotle, try to be brighter than the next guy, even to the point of calling Aristotle names like unEnlightened and pre-modern and such?)  The whole system of authorship and ownership is older probably, I think, than history.  Sometimes it's the point of history to have authority over and to own.  Which is why Canada and the United States of America do well to take a month of each year for 'Black History Month' and then 'Woman History Month.'  By the people, red and yellow black and white, for the people, men and women, and of the people, the governments can for a couple of months allow authority to get checked.  This isn't just intellectualism or political correctness gone haywire.  There are consequences to who owns texts and how they are owned.  There is deconstruction and reconstruction and civil rights re-rightings to be done.  There is recovery and reviewing and rewriting to be done.

If we were a Jewish-Ukrainian polyglottal Portuguese-writing Brazilian named Clarice Lispector, yes even a woman, then we might call the typically male notion of "author-I-ty" how Mario Vargas Llosa, Marilyn French, and Hélène Cixous (in their 1996 project together) translate Lispector describing "It":
the ‘phallocratic system,’ the [author-It-ative] ‘system of inflexible last judgment, which does not permit even a second of incredulity
The thing to note, and Cixous does this well, is that
Lispector herself ‘did not think in terms of phallogocentrism.’  How could she?
If we were an African-American woman named Toni Morrison whose Nobel Prize for Literature allows an opportunity to think on these things with an audience, then we would not think in terms of phallogocentrism either, would we?  No.  How could we?  What kind of authority is that?  Rather, we'd listen, as her griot, the wise blind woman, "the daughter of slaves, black, American, [who] lives alone in a small house outside of town" listens.  Yes, it's Toni Morrison.  She's thanking the Nobel committee out loud.  She is telling a parable like Jesus would.  She might be telling on us, like Nathan told on David by letting David tell on himself.  Here's a story thrown beside (y)our own.  Listen (if there are ears to hear):
She is worried about how the language she dreams in, given to her at birth, is handled, put into service, even withheld from her for certain nefarious purposes. Being a writer she thinks of language partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as agency - as an act with consequences. So the question the children put to her: "Is it living or dead?" is not unreal because she thinks of language as susceptible to death, erasure; certainly imperiled and salvageable only by an effort of the will....

She is convinced that when language dies, out of carelessness, disuse, indifference and absence of esteem, or killed by fiat, not only she herself, but all users and makers are accountable for its demise...
The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. 

Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek - it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language - all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

The old woman is keenly aware that no intellectual mercenary, nor insatiable dictator, no paid-for politician or demagogue; no counterfeit journalist would be persuaded by her thoughts. There is and will be rousing language to keep citizens armed and arming; slaughtered and slaughtering in the malls, courthouses, post offices, playgrounds, bedrooms and boulevards; stirring, memorializing language to mask the pity and waste of needless death. There will be more diplomatic language to countenance rape, torture, assassination. There is and will be more seductive, mutant language designed to throttle women, to pack their throats like paté-producing geese with their own unsayable, transgressive words; there will be more of the language of surveillance disguised as research; of politics and history calculated to render the suffering of millions mute; language glamorized to thrill the dissatisfied and bereft into assaulting their neighbors; arrogant pseudo-empirical language crafted to lock creative people into cages of inferiority and hopelessness.
"It" is that ‘system of inflexible last judgment, which does not permit even a second of incredulity’ - "Author-I-ty" is that ‘systematic looting of language ... recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation.

Now when we go back to thinking about Paul as a writer, as a collaborative writer, as not so in authoritative control of his text as an author should be, then can't we see how we might start thinking about ourselves?  If you are not oppressed, or if your parent or your grandparent or your great-grandparent wasn't, then there's something going on.  Without wanting to side or to take sides, maybe you already have.  Then there really are other sides here.  Can Paul write something that keeps slaves slaves?  That keeps wives submitted and silent?  That keeps gays damned?  And if you hear that "he" does write these things, that the text does say that, then what?

How about we listen a little more to what Dr. Vincent L. Wimbush says in  True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary?
      Here are the radicalism and power of the interpretive stance taken and shared by [Toni] Morrison  and [W. E. B.] DuBois and so many other critics of African American life--that for black and subaltern critical consciousness there is no meaning in any Western-translated narrative, script, text, and tradition unless such is first ripped, broken, and then "entranced," blackened, made usable for weaving meaning.
      The metaphors here and throughout my article are mixed; they rather deliciously and poignantly run amok. Speaking so -- "in other words" -- is necessary in order to address complexity and pain and trauma. "Ripping the veil" means refusing to think according to and live dreamily within the realm of doxa, the realm of the canonical. It means accessing the sites of memory. Social therapy can begin only when these memories on their own terms -- not behind the "veil" of canonical text -- are woven together or "(re)textualized" (in the original meaning of that term) as "scriptures." And in agreement with writer-critic Ishmael Reed, it may mean, with ramifications most radical, that ultimately "we will make our own future text."


Rod said...

Thank you, Dr. Gayle for your imput.

I desperately need to read Ishmael Reed's book. I hear "his" work is quite intriguing.

J. K. Gayle said...

Reed is remarkable, Rod! He's definitely a sexist, an antiwomanist, and yet I think he's not at all like the phallogocentric (male, logical, elitist) Aristotle, DeCartes, or Locke. Men and women have lots to learn from Reeds works. You've inspired me to write another post. At the end, I link to some of my thoughts about Reed.