Liminal Subjects: Weaving (Our) Liberation

Liminal Subjects: Weaving (Our) Liberation

by Sara C. Motta


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Through the stories of women in movement in the Americas, Europe and Australasia, this book explores a decolonising and feminised politics of liberation which is being weaved through the words and worlds of black, colonised and subaltern women. These stories demonstrate the complex and multiple forms of critique as practice that are being developed by women in movement in multiple sites of the Global South.

Written through story, prose, poetry, analysis and offering case-studies, methodologies, practices and generative questions the book expresses and contributes to the (co) creation of a new language of liberation. This is an enfleshed language in which there is a return of the world to the word, of the body to the text, and of the heart/womb to thought. This is a language of the political in which a new political subjectivity that is multiple, deeply relational and becoming is formed.

The book offers a window onto the complexities and depths of the wounding enacted by patriarchal capitalist coloniality through these stories but it also offers, through sharing and conceptualising prefigurative and dialogical co-creation of critique, the gift of practices of healing as emancipation, and the conditions of possibility for our collective liberation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781786608116
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 08/31/2018
Series: Radical Subjects in International Politics Series
Pages: 252
Product dimensions: 6.02(w) x 8.73(h) x 0.62(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Sara Catherine Motta currently works in the Discipline of Politics at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia. She has published over 30 academic articles, edited 8 academic journal special issues since 2010, the most recent of which is (2017) Feminised Resistances with Tiina Seppälä for the Journal of Resistance Studies, and her most recent book is (2014) Constructing 21st Century Socialism in Latin America: The Role of Radical Education with Mike Cole (Palgrave Macmillan Press).

Read an Excerpt


Untamable Women

I begin on Samhain, on the dark moon, a time to let go of all that no longer serves.

I let go of the silence. I let go of the unworthiness. I let go of the wounds that have separated me, exiled me from myself and you, you from me.

I give thanks for my strength, resilience, joy and for our capacity to create works of art, life, love, and possibility, of exquisiteness, out of the pain.

For we are lotus.


I write this as an act of defiance, as a work of carving myself into being, and as a passing down the line of the wisdoms of our women of survival and of the groundwork out of which we might weave our liberation. I write this as a testimony to the war that is waged and has been waged for over 500 years against our women, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, grandmothers, ourselves. I write as mestiza woman, as a political and epistemological choice and pathway of becoming other. I write, then in the traditions of racialized women who know how our philosophizing is cut like diamonds through the struggle to maintain ourselves alive and to create out of our wounds a healing that is beautiful and multiple. Our healing refuses to be contained within the disembodied epistemological borders and boundaries of modernity for whom we have always been the non-subject; the present absence whose silent screams haunt Your claims to Reason, Progress, Knowledge, and Revolution.

I realize that I cannot keep waiting, for a time will not come when I have the luxury of time and space to think and let words and thoughts flow onto the page in the leisurely breeze that comes from the open window and a vista of peaceful waters. I realize that the only way in which I can write is to write in the cracks of my/our attempt to make sense of the traumas inflicted upon the women of my line and the communities to which I belong and where I have found my home-comings. And that this writing could never be separate from those traumas, could never or should never claim to create a sanitized distance from our red blood that flows in defiance of the claims to know us/me, the raced and feminized body politic under the White patriarchal gaze of capitalist-coloniality.

I make no apology that this does not resemble the texts of high theory, that there is no attempt to mimic, imitate, or complete. When the (mis)naming comes (as they always name us, before we have had time to speak), of this as folkloric, ethnic (read concrete vis-à-vis your universal), unphilosophical, a politics of identity, a recuperation into hegemonic normalcy, a disappointing fake, an irrational monstrosity my reply is "FUCK YOU." No apology. I will no longer hide. I will speak in tongues, on our terms. No attempt to explain in Your language for we have always had to explain and contort our bodies and minds and souls into such frames, grammars, worlds. Well now, it is time to LISTEN.

A text message from my dear friend, my little girl misses me, for we are separated as I must split myself in two like the barbed wire of which Gloria Anzaldúa speaks:

1950-mile-long open wound dividing a pueblo, a culture,
running down the length of my body,
staking fence rods in my flesh,
splits me splits me me raja me raja This is my home,
this thin edge of barbwire.
But the skin of the earth is seamless.
The sea cannot be fenced,
el mar does not stop at borders to show the white man what she thought of his arrogance,
Yemaya blew that wire fence down

(Anzaldúa 1987, 24–25)

I speak with my youngest daughter. I remind her to imagine roots growing out of her small broad feet to ground into mother earth. I remind her to imagine starlight flowing into the night sky to connect with the ancestors, our guides, to cosmic mother, to hug her mermaid and owly, and to remember that I am next to her, that I am there always with her. She has the courage and bravery of the butterfly; my ancient soul child.

I lay my body across the land to be at the side of my elder daughter; suffering the wounds of patriarchal capitalist coloniality, right here, right now. As I write, "Mummy I want to die" she whispers.

I must stop now: 50 minutes grasped as the baby sleeps and in my hope that my elder is safe, in the dim light of a bent, damaged lamp, sitting on the hostel floor. My back aches, soreness, the bruises from lack of iron, listening to Lemonade — a sistar speaks. We are beginning to speak ... of that I am sure.


Tired weary body, shoulders, pain. No energy to write in the 2 hours for which I must pay. Plant a tree of possibility, cut out the noise to focus on the silence inside. Drip, drip, memories, recognition, words, being, belief.

Many have spoken of the wounds inflicted upon us as feminized and racialized peoples by patriarchal capitalist coloniality; of our systematic negation as subjects which Frantz Fanon describes as "a furious determination to deny the other person all attributes of humanity" (1961, 250). This negation is experienced as invisibility, the White gaze of suspicion, and denial of the capacity of gift in which the question is always asked "are you like us" "are you truly human" (Maldonado-Torres 2007). This denial of the capacity of gift legitimizes the idea that there is nothing to learn from us; we are absent as (knowing) beings. In this the state, as sovereign, legitimizes an anti-ethics of war and conquest in which the exception of removal of rights, denial of humanness, and logics of elimination becomes the norm which structures our reality as raced "southern" women (Surin 2001, 205–11; Morgensen 2011, 69–73).

These logics are the ground out of which modernity was sown and continues to grow. These logics are an attempt to colonize the/our imagination, distort desire and create an internalization of such negation of humanness "one which forces the people it dominates to ask themselves the question 'in reality' who am i?" (Fanon 1961, 200). Colonization is not therefore external, but rather constituted through a relation in which the White patriarchal subject of reason and rationality is constituted against the non-being and dehumanization of the colonized Other. This is premised upon a biopolitical logic of extermination through destruction or assimilation which began upon the body of First Peoples, was extended to the slave body, and to the European witches and heretics of the Middle Ages — the women who would not be contained. This remains the underlying logic of being (or coloniality) that structures our contemporary world. It is a logic that is increasingly extended outward toward all those considered other as the violent logics of patriarchal capitalist-coloniality become ever more visible and generalized across the global body politic (Ahmed 2007; Motta 2017b; Morgensen 2011). "Coloniality," as Maldonado explains, "survives colonisation. It is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of peoples, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our modern experience. In a way, as modern subjects we breathe coloniality all the time and everyday" (Maldonado-Torres 2007, 243).

Destruction and assimilation are enacted through the denigration, objectification, and commodification of the body of the land and the body of the colonized. Each becomes associated with the feminized and racialized lacking rights and rationality; part of nature; absent as subject, present only as object to be eradicated or redeemed into modern rationality. This legitimizes centuries of intervention through and upon the body of the colonized, including removal of land and livelihood, mass incarceration, systematic sexual violence and child removal, and education and socialization to remove "the Indian from the man" (Waquant 2002). These constitute a myriad of strategies, rationalities, and practices aimed at maintaining our absence as subjects.

When we speak from the experiences of the Black, Indigenous, and Mestiza woman/feminized we find that these experiences mark her integrity as a person. She becomes subject to both negation as a rational and knowing subject and thus invisible, at the same time as she is hyper-visible as the sexualized temptress who is legitimately raped in order to domesticate her, and ensure the assimilation of the colonized through reproduction of the mestizo child. As Angela Davis's account of the black woman expresses, she is "simultaneously annulled from the category of woman, released from the myth of femininity" but then "violently coerced into taking up the gendering function from which she has been barred" (Davis 1972, n.p.).

She is also absent as mother. Black and Indigenous motherhood is denied and negated to legitimize continuing intervention into our families to remove our children so that they might be "protected" and to justify the murder of our children in the name of "law and order" (Motta 2016, 2017b). As Fanon describes in relation to colonization but which captures the continuing logics of coloniality which represents "[the colonial] mother [as] unceasingly restrain[ing] her fundamentally perverse offspring from managing to commit suicide and from giving free reign to its evil instincts. The colonial mother protects her child from itself, from its ego, and from its physiology, its biology and its own unhappiness" (1961, 169–70). Yet the Black mother is similarly the absent present surrogate mother employed in the mistress's house. As Spillers argues, "This is the historical template: on the one hand, white male state officials, or deputies of whatever race-gender configuration, claiming fear for life and limb before the imagined threat of a conglomerate blackness and deploying lethal violence with impunity; on the other, black women and girls in particular inhabiting 'long centuries of unregulated violence'" (2003, 19).

Isabella and Elizabeth, two displaced Afro Colombian women, are participants in Aves de Paraíso (Birds of Paradise) community theatre groups facilitated by La Máscara Theatre Company, the only feminist theatre group in Colombia that works with theatre of the oppressed pedagogies and methodologies. Displaced in 2001 from Nariño and Chocó states on the Pacific coast of Colombia, they left the violence of state sponsored paramilitary groups and guerrilla groups to arrive into the violence of urban poverty and racialised exclusion. Elizabeth is a grandmother, tall, proud with lines of sorrow around her eyes. Isabella is a single mother of five children, a deep voice and laugh yet with a well of sadness in her eyes. Ageless and yet with the weight of much suffering on their shoulders they have participated in the theatre group for 4 years. It is, as Isabella told me, a space of peace, of escape, of warmth and humanity.

Cali has been a harsh place for them; a place of much racism and discrimination, of individualism and consumerism where the displaced are viewed as thieves, delinquents, uneducated, where their children suffer verbal and physical abuse at school and the threat of death in their community, where they suffer the humiliation of poverty and the desperation of hunger. Yet as Elizabeth explained, they were forced to move as the region where she came from has been taken over by multinationals supported by the Colombian Government who grow Egyptian Palms for export which destroy the surrounding land further undermining further campesino (peasant) ways of life.

There is obviously a lot more to displacement than conflict between paramilitaries and guerrillas. The violence in their lives is multi-dimensional. It is intensely placed, subjective, affective, intellectual and psychological. In Elizabeth's words, she described how "when I arrived in Cali I couldn't express myself. I was panicked and shaking all the time." Or as Isabella explained "they say we are ignorant and we can't talk Spanish properly. I knew what I wanted to say but my tongue wouldn't work. My self-esteem had been destroyed." (cited Motta 2011b, n.p.)

They come at us from all sides, and infiltrate like glass in the cracks of our exile, loss, and trauma. They embed their lies deep inside, like whispers that haunt our everyday. Their lies reappear in the denial of women of our/themselves. Our self-emasculation as subjects, as creators. They mark us through internalized repression and oppression, madness, dis-ease, abuse, intimate violence mimicking the violence of the state, dominant culture, and political economy. We are left bleeding.

My grandmother always used to say they were watching us from a car outside and that the house was bugged; that we were not alone. I took that to be my nana. She was just like that. Then I heard, much later, after she had passed from her earthly body, of the electric shock treatment and the break down, of the violence at the hands of her first husband, exiled and survivor of the holocaust. Then much, much later, as I was trying to make sense of my life, I learnt of the sexual abuse. Broken lines from exile and trauma, her body and spirit tortured through the interventions justified by her madness and the cruel disassociation enacted by "her" lover. A witness to the torture of her children. What guilt did she carry? What shame did she walk? What images tormented her thoughts? Is that why she kept our house closed, even to the boyfriends of my mother? No one entered. Was she protecting me? Was this her way to heal our line? Was this her redemption?

This biopolitical logic of non-being thus infiltrates our most intimate relationships, thoughts, desires, and emotions, for it is the underlying logics that structure being and knowing, the modern subject and their modern rationality. This is constituted through the dominant ontological distinction between humans (subject) and nature (object). Only full humans (read: White European masculinized subjects) have History, Agency, and Reason. Only these subjects have the right, duty, and ability to civilize, to develop, and to speak as (political) subjects. All others, of nature, the less-than-human beings, the uncivilized, the barbarians, the underdeveloped are legitimately subject to controls, repressions, and interventions. This produces a regime of visibility (Ranciere 1991) that prevents the uncounted to appear as such, the denial both of their existence and of their difference. Denial, dehumanization, and the eradication of epistemological difference are thus at the heart of modern knowing and being.

These processes of subjectification (re)produce a particular knowing-subject; the Westernized, White, masculinized, and individualized subject encapsulated in Rene Descartes's articulation of the ego-cogito, the knowing subject of "I think therefore I am." Yet as Dussel (2007) demonstrates, the ego-conquiro (the conquering self) is the foundation upon which the conceptualization of the ego-cogito was developed and justifies the dualistic exclusion of the raced and feminized less-than-human other (Lugones 2010; Maldonado-Torres 2007; Mendoza 2011, 11–13). The knowing-subject is a subject able to separate from the messiness of all that is feminized, including "his" own emotions and body, to dominate, master, contain, and tame the unruly feminized and racialized other. In this the word separated from the world becomes the pinnacle of reason and knowledge, with the delegitimization of all other forms of knowledge, knowing, and creating perspectives such as the oral, embodied, spiritual, affective, and popular. This coloniality of knowing-subjectivity is thus produced through a violent relation against racialized femininity, and in particular the racialized subaltern women as it attempts to render her invisible, mute, and absent (Lugones 2010, 745; Motta 2017a, 2017b, 2017c).

Such historic and systematic ever-repeating traumatic events, logics, and processes of subjectification produce profound and lasting changes in emotion, cognition, and memory which create soul wounds (Duran et al. 2008; Herman 1997). These soul wounds are ontological and epistemological as we come to internalize non-subjectivity, shame, denial, disassociation, and lack of self-worth. As Duran et al. describe in relation to the First Peoples of the United States, but relevant to our understanding of the impact of modernity on colonized and oppressed subjects more generically, "This history has resulted in forms of intergenerational trauma that continues to have an adverse impact on the mental health and psychological well-being of many Native persons ... the high prevalence of historical trauma associated with emotional distress (anxiety, depression) is routinely manifested in ways that undermine the individual and collective health of many persons" (2008, 292).


Excerpted from "Liminal Subjects"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Sara C. Motta.
Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd..
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Table of Contents

Part One: Speaking the Silence(d) / Chapter One: Untameable Women / Chapter Two: Silence / Part Two: Becoming Woman / Chapter Three: Knowing (Our) Selves / Chapter Four: Our Serpents’ Tongues / Chapter Five: Sacred Erotics / Part Three: The Black Mothers / Chapter Six: The Storyteller-Medicine Woman / Chapter Seven: The Guardian-Garderner / Chapter Eight: The Priestess-Shamanka / Part Four: Homecoming / Chapter Nine: Liminal Subjects / Chapter Ten: For You / Bibliography / Index

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