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Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred / Edition 1

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Overview


M. Jacqui Alexander is one of the most important theorists of transnational feminism working today. Pedagogies of Crossing brings together essays she has written over the past decade, uniting her incisive critiques, which have had such a profound impact on feminist, queer, and critical race theories, with some of her more recent work. In this landmark interdisciplinary volume, Alexander points to a number of critical imperatives made all the more urgent by contemporary manifestations of neoimperialism and neocolonialism. Among these are the need for North American feminism and queer studies to take up transnational frameworks that foreground questions of colonialism, political economy, and racial formation; for a thorough re-conceptualization of modernity to account for the heteronormative regulatory practices of modern state formations; and for feminists to wrestle with the spiritual dimensions of experience and the meaning of sacred subjectivity.

In these meditations, Alexander deftly unites large, often contradictory, historical processes across time and space. She focuses on the criminalization of queer communities in both the United States and the Caribbean in ways that prompt us to rethink how modernity invents its own traditions; she juxtaposes the political organizing and consciousness of women workers in global factories in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada with the pressing need for those in the academic factory to teach for social justice; she reflects on the limits and failures of liberal pluralism; and she presents original and compelling arguments that show how and why transgenerational memory is an indispensable spiritual practice within differently constituted women-of-color communities as it operates as a powerful antidote to oppression. In this multifaceted, visionary book, Alexander maps the terrain of alternative histories and offers new forms of knowledge with which to mold alternative futures.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Pedagogies of Crossing is a tour de force. M. Jacqui Alexander addresses the conditions that make multiculturalism possible and powerfully shows us that those conditions are ultimately ethical and spiritual. Beautifully written and deeply moving, this book shows us how we need an ethic of translation if we are to be able to engage in classroom teaching so that both students and teachers can grapple with the politics of our complex, globalized world. Pedagogies of Crossing is a must read for anyone in women’s studies, anthropology, political science, English, comparative literature, or sociology.”—Drucilla Cornell, author of Defending Ideals: War, Democracy, and Political Struggles

“In Pedagogies of Crossing, M. Jacqui Alexander ventures an archaeology of the heart to cross over to the ‘other side’ of knowing, returning the sacred to the classroom. Here the ‘altar of the secular gods of postmodernity’ is finally dismantled and we are urged the freedom to think before and beyond them. I am indebted to this sister-scholar-in-arms.” —Cherríe Moraga, coeditor of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color

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Product Details

Meet the Author

M. Jacqui Alexander is Professor of Women’s Studies and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. She is a coeditor of Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray! Feminist Visions for a Just World and Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures.

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Read an Excerpt

Pedagogies of Crossing

MEDITATIONS ON FEMINISM, SEXUAL POLITICS, MEMORY, AND THE SACRED
By M. Jacqui Alexander

DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3607-5


Chapter One

Erotic Autonomy as a Politics of Decolonization: Feminism, Tourism, and the State in the Bahamas

In 1994 Marion Bethel wrote the following tribute to the members of Developing Alternatives for Women Now (DAWN) and in memory of the women of the suffrage movement who severed the colonial connection between property ownership, respectability, and citizenship.

And the Trees Still Stand We are here because you beat back the bush because you raked rocks and stones because you pitched scalding tar to make that road You uprooted lignum vitae trees to turn that uncharted road into a journey with landmarks And because you replanted those trees of life we are here

In this poem Bethel establishes a deliberate link with a particular history of women's political struggle in the Bahamas. Foregrounded in her incantation is a conscious political move on the part of women in the contemporary women's movement in the Bahamas to choose from particular feminist genealogies and from particular histories of struggle,especially at a moment when the legacy of British gentility and respectability threatens to mold Bahamian identity. According to Bethel, the choice of a legacy is an uncharted road strewn with entangled brush; it is a tumultuous journey out of which a path must be cleared. But Bethel also suggests that the political and strategic work of movement-building involves danger, pitching scalding tar, simultaneously deploying tools that might entrap, ensnare, or liberate. These symbols of contradiction and liberation deliberately evoke the ideological dialectic in which the women's movement is now positioned.

The history to which the contemporary women's movement lays claim is one that contradicts the imperial legacy of nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century organizations, such as the Queen Mary Needle-work Guild, the Women's Corona Society, and the Imperial Order of Daughters of Empire, all of which drew their ideological strength from the British imperial state whose fledgling infrastructure was established in 1718. These were organizations whose ideologies of "gentility" and femininity gave primacy to service-service to the queen and to the British nation, which in practice meant servicing white militarized masculinity as "daughters" during the Second World War. In essence, then, femininity was deployed in the service of, and out of allegiance to, British colonial norms. Women in the suffrage movement and in the National Council of Women, however, sought to contradict this imperial legacy of Britain as patriarch by attempting to reconcile the imposed epistemic opposition between woman and citizen that was characteristic of colonial relations of rule. This evolution-from daughter, to lady, to citizen-epitomized political contestation among women's organizations in the Bahamas, and ultimately emerged as a major point of contestation with the state. Should woman be perennial daughter raised as lady, always already defined by her relationship to men? Or, should woman and citizenship signify a certain autonomy-what we might regard as erotic autonomy-and sexual agency?

Women's sexual agency and erotic autonomy have always been troublesome for the state. They pose a challenge to the ideology of an originary nuclear heterosexual family that perpetuates the fiction that the family is the cornerstone of society. Erotic autonomy signals danger to the heterosexual family and to the nation. And because loyalty to the nation as citizen is perennially colonized within reproduction and heterosexuality, erotic autonomy brings with it the potential of undoing the nation entirely, a possible charge of irresponsible citizenship, or no responsibility at all. Given the putative impulse of this eroticism to corrupt, it signals danger to respectability-not only to respectable black middle-class families, but most significantly to black middle-class womanhood. In this matrix, then, particular figures have come to embody this eroticism, functioning historically as the major symbols of threat. At this moment in the neocolonial state's diffusion of sexualized definitions of morality, sexual and erotic autonomy have been most frequently cathected on the body of the prostitute and the lesbian. Formerly conflated in the imaginary of the (white) imperial heteropatriarch, the categories "lesbian" and "prostitute" are now positioned together within black heteropatriarchy as outlaw, operating outside the boundaries of law and, therefore, poised to be disciplined and punished within it.

A great deal of analytic work has been done by feminists in different parts of the world on demystifying the state's will to represent itself as disinterested, neutered, or otherwise benign. We now understand how systems of sex and gender operate at the juncture of the disciplining of the body and the control of the population. Feminists have clarified the patriarchal imperatives at work within the state apparatus, making it possible to examine the ways in which masculinized gestures of normalization exert and deploy force, generate new sexual meanings, displace and reinscribe old meanings, and discipline and punish women in disproportionate ways for a range of imputed infractions, not the least of which has to do with being woman. Much less work has been done, however, on understanding how heterosexualization works within the state apparatus, how it is constitutively paradoxical, that is, how heterosexuality is at once necessary to the state's ability to constitute and imagine itself and becomes, at the same time, a site of its own instability.

In this chapter, I want to extend an earlier analysis I made of the operation of these processes of heterosexualization within the state. Specifically, I want to combine the twin processes of heterosexualization and patriarchy-what Lynda Hart calls "heteropatriarchy"-in order to analyze the significance of a moment of crisis when state-sponsored violence moved to foreclose desire between women. The passage of the 1991 Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, which criminalized lesbian sex and moved to reestablish primogeniture under the guise of protecting women against domestic violence, signals for me the mobilization of an unstable heteropatriarchy, reelaborating and reinventing itself at a moment of crisis. But why was it necessary for the state to shore up its inherited power? Why this reinvention of heteropatriarchy? What, to use Lynda Hart's terms, are the productive breaks in this symbolic order that require the state to clothe itself, as it were? I want to argue here that heteropatriarchy functions in ways that supercede the sexual. At this historical moment, for instance, heteropatriarchy is useful in continuing to perpetuate a colonial inheritance (which is why I use the term neocolonial) and in enabling the political and economic processes of recolonization.

Before proceeding further, let me provide a brief synopsis of the relevant legislation in order to mark the terrain on which I interrogate the questions of recolonization, heteropatriarchy, and their contradictions in the face of feminist popular mobilization. The most crucial elements of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act include the following provisions: (1) Sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and domestic violence are considered criminal offenses. A system of mandated reporting is to be used in the case of incest and sexual abuse of minors. Parents or guardians, teachers, employers, and medical practitioners are required to report suspected sexual abuse to the police, with a fine of $5,000 for failure to report; (2) Adult male sexual intercourse with another male, and adult female sexual intercourse with another female, are both criminal offenses, with a maximum penalty of twenty years imprisonment; (3) Prostitution is a criminal offense (before the passage of the act it was not); and (4) Anyone with HIV infection who has sex without disclosing their HIV status faces a penalty of five years imprisonment, if convicted.

In examining the state's gesture of simultaneously "protecting" some women while criminalizing others, I offer a theorization of the shape and contours of sexual politics within the neocolonial state through the lens of heteropatriarchy. While the black nationalist party (the People's Liberal Party) wrested power from an elite group of white owners in 1972, it seized ownership of some of the more popular symbols of the black working-class political struggle, such as the Burma Road rebellion and the right of women to vote, as its own benevolent achievement. This was one of its earliest attempts to erase the memory of popular struggle. It narrowed its own vision of popular nationalism, turning the mobilization of women, youth, trade unions, and churches, on which it relied for support, into a constitutional convention organized in Britain. There, the queen was retained as head of state. The imperial government retained control over foreign affairs and defense, while the Bahamas lost sovereignty over those portions of Bahamian territory that were negotiated away under the earlier leadership of the United Bahamian Party (UBP). Thus, part of what I narrate here is the extent to which these early politics of compromise and erasure, the state's desire to neutralize political struggle through its control over the instruments of co-optation and coercion, foreshadow the more contemporary politics of recolonization.

My use of the term recolonization refers to the ways in which political and economic strategies are made to usurp the self-determination of the Bahamian people. In this regard, heteropatriarchal recolonization operates on at least three levels simultaneously. At the discursive level it operates through law, which is indispensable in the symbolic and material reproduction and consolidation of heteropatriarchy, and in the elaboration of a cathectic structure based primarily in sexual difference. In light of this, I will demonstrate the ways in which the law forges continuity between white imperial heteropatriarchy-the white European heterosexual inheritance-and black heteropatriarchy. This unity is crucial to the creation of a marginal underground of noncitizens, historically figured around the "common" prostitute and the "sodomite" (killed by Balboa to mark the advent of imperialism), now extended by the neocolonial state to include lesbians and people who are HIV infected. To the extent that citizenship is contained within heterosexuality, the state can produce a group of nonprocreative noncitizens who are objects of its surveillance and control-subjected to its processes of normalization and naturalization that serve to veil the ruses of power.

Also at the discursive-juridical level, I establish continuity with white European inheritance by analyzing accounts of domestic violence. State managers recodified the text of this new law in terms of class-based symbols of the matrimonial home, in a way that continued the somewhat orderly patrilineal transfer of private property under the most disorderly and injurious circumstances of wife beating, rape, sexual abuse, and incest. This literal resituation of the law of the father and the privileges of primogeniture through state domestication of violence not only distanced parliamentary patriarchy from domestic patriarchy, but also narrowed the definitions of violence that feminists had linked to the organizing episteme of heteropatriarchy itself. From the official story, we know almost nothing about women's experiences of violence in the home, which were ideologically fragmented in the legal text. Women were made culpable for not reporting these acts (perpetrated against themselves and their daughters) and the burden of criminality shifted onto them, thus drawing them more tightly into the state mechanisms of surveillance-positioning them simultaneously as victim and manager-all under the ideological gaze of the heteropatriarchal state as "protector." Finally, discursive recolonization occurs, as well, in the legal reinvention of normative, dyadic heterosexuality and in the mythic reelaboration of sexual decadence as the basis for the destruction of the nation of Sodom and Gomorrah, and now, by extension, the Bahamas.

Heteropatriarchal recolonization operates through the consolidation of certain psychic economies and racialized hierarchies as well as within various material and ideological processes initiated by the state, both inside and beyond the law. These actions can be understood as border policing; in this instance, the unequal incorporation of the Bahamas into an international political economy on the basis of serviceability-that is, tourism. Attempts to guard against the contamination of the body politic by legislating heterosexuality are contradictorily bolstered by state gestures that make borders permeable for the entry of multinational capital. Making the nation-state safe for multinational corporations is commensurate with making it safe for heterosexuality, for both can be recodified as natural, even supernatural. Thus, tourism and imperialism become as integral to the natural order as heterosexuality, and are indispensable in state strategies of recolonization.

Methodologically, I focus here on tourism because it has been the major economic strategy of modernization for the Bahamian state. It has now been transformed from its tentative beginnings as a leisure activity of an imperial elite, the domain of a primarily British foreign mercantile class, to a mass-based tourism dominated by North Americans and Canadians. Currently, approximately two-thirds of the gross national product of the Bahamas is derived from tourism. For our purposes, the significance of tourism lies in its ability to draw together powerful processes of sexual commodification and sexual citizenship. The state institutionalization of economic viability through heterosexual sex for pleasure links important economic and psychic elements for both the imperial tourist (the invisible subject of colonial law) and for a presumably "servile" population (which the state is bent on renativizing). It would seem that at this unstable moment of heteropatriarchy, socializing citizens into heterosexuality through legal mandate and through service in tourism is more urgent for the state than socializing them into self-determination, one of the major promises of anticolonial nationalism.

Psychic recolonization occurs, then, not only through the attempts to produce a servile population in tourism, but also through the state's attempts to repress, or at least to co-opt, a mass-based movement led by feminists. Put differently, it seems that law-positioned as order-functions both to veil ruptures within heteropatriarchy and to co-opt mobilization of another kind, that is, the sort of popular feminist political mobilization that made the break visible in the first place. It would be necessary for the state to work, and work hard, to recast the official story, to displace popular memory of the people's struggle with its own achievements (in this instance, the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act of 1991). But the fact is that Bahamian feminism, however ambiguously or contradictorily positioned, helped to provoke the political rupture by refusing the state conflation of heterosexuality and citizenship, and by implicating the state itself in a range of violences. In this regard, then, and as a prelude, I would like to locate myself within this narrative.

I write as an outsider, neither Bahamian national nor citizen and thus outside the repressive reach of the Bahamian state, recognizing that the consequences of being disloyal to heterosexuality fall differently on my body than on the bodies of those criminalized lesbians in the Bahamas for whom the state has foreclosed any public expression of community. Against the state's recent moves to reconsolidate heterosexuality, I write as an outlaw in my own country of birth. Both in Trinidad and Tobago and in the Bahamas, state laws confound lesbian identity with criminality. I write, then, against the "myth of lesbian impunity." However, I am not an outsider to the region, for feminist solidarity crosses state-imposed boundaries. And unlike the Bahamian state, which almost entirely aligns itself with the United States and foreign multinational capitalist interests, a regional feminist movement, of which Bahamian women are a part, consciously chooses links with the wider Caribbean region and with diasporic women living elsewhere.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Pedagogies of Crossing by M. Jacqui Alexander Copyright © 2005 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

I Transnational erotics : state, capital, and the decolonization of desire
1 Erotic autonomy as a politics of decolonization : feminism, tourism, and the state in the Bahamas 21
2 Imperial desire/sexual utopias : white gay capital and transnational tourism 66
II Maps of empire, old and new
3 Whose new world order? : teaching for justice 91
4 Anatomy of a mobilization 117
5 Transnationalism, sexuality, and the state : modernity's traditions at the height of empire 181
III Dangerous memory : secular acts, sacred possession
6 Remembering This bridge called my back, remembering ourselves 257
7 Pedagogies of the sacred : making the invisible tangible 287
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