Friday, February 29, 2008

Book Review & Make Up

The book I'm reviewing here is A Communion of Friendship by Beth Daniell. I’m going to give away the ending now. Daniell writes:

A Communion of Friendship is like [the 6-year-old, dress-tugging] Karen’s [saying] “Look, mommy, a cat.” The truth I [Daniell] tell [you my reader] depends on whether the community I write for [including you] sees the cat or at least takes my observations into account in discussions about the existence or nature of the cat.

I didn’t say I was going to spoil the ending because Daniell has written so much more than that up to those final words of the book. You’re just going to have to read it for yourself to really get it. That’s not to say it’s a difficult book to get at all. It isn’t. But it is to say, I’m tired and just gave a long-winded explanation of something else. And 2) Daniell is very right to leave you some things at the end. Her book is an ethnography, and it's subtitled Literacy, Spiritual Practice, and Women in Recovery. She’s researching women in recovery, as you can imagine. She’s listening to their "little narratives." Little narratives are, for Daniell, not the metanarrative that postmodernists say modernists tell. Modernists don’t need recovery. The women Daniell hears and speaks with do. Daniell is most curious about the ways the women use literacy and spirituality in their recovery. Let me just offer a hint here. Just as Jacqueline Jones Royster is not the cold objective historian in her Traces of A Stream but is also part of the traces of the stream she writes about, so Daniell has such subjectivities. But there’s a little difference. Daniell hides her subjectivities until the end of her book. I think she has to. I think you’re not ready to hear who she really is while writing such a book. Let's let her be anonymous until you join in with her.

Which turns me to something else I heard at a recent rhetoric symposium. A feminist scholar was researching AA and presenting it at the rhetoric conference. Her claim is that the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is sexist because there are more personal testimonies by men than by women. So I asked her whether she saw the process of “recovery” and of story telling in recovery and of collaboration in recovery and of anonymous safety in recovery as feminist discourse. I asked her if she’d read Daniell’s book. She said No to both questions. She elaborated that Step Two invokes a higher power, and concluded quite tersely that that is masculinist. End of story. I wanted to ask her if she thought Step Nine (which calls for making direct amends to people) was in any way related to Step Two, but she’d been asked enough questions, some less polite than mine. This then ends my review of Daniell’s A Communion of Friendship except to add that it reads like a parable and may get you reflecting on your own communion of friendship while you read about theirs.

I’ve been reflecting on my own communion of friendship. Through email there’s been some direct amends. Publicly here I just want to add that I was wrong to disparage friends in a blogpost when I had the opportunity and the responsibility to make sure first that they could respond without simply having to use the comments. I want to make up, as my siblings and I had to do when we mistreated each other when I was around 6-years-old. Forty years older or so now, I ask for forgiveness and pledge to be more considerate in the future. I’m also most grateful for their personal candor, and friendship. (And to all of you who prefer to make anonymous comments on this blog, or any comments of any kind, please be assured that you also are welcomed and that we will be friendly).

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