Yesterday at htmlgiant, Jackie Wang asked folks to discuss where they stand re: issues of lineage and generationality, acknowledgment vs. non-acknowledgment of forebears, contextualizing her questions w/ quotations from Judith/Jack Halberstam and Joyelle McSweeney, among others.
It’s pretty much impossible for me to consider these questions outside the context of Queer and feminist aesthetics and politics, particularly given the frameworks introduced by McSweeney and Halberstam, and the critique of canonization introduced by Mike Kitchell in the comment thread.
A few years ago, I heard Halberstam give a really great lecture about the value of forgetting. She argued that with our constant emphasis on “writing our own history,” and claiming and sharing neglected histories of social movements and movements of resistance, and telling the truth about histories of racism, colonialism, imperialism, etc, social justice folks tend to privilege “remembering,” at the expense of “forgetting.” She did not argue against this emphasis on remembering and historicizing, but rather argued that our capacity to forget has untapped potential — for instance, what would it mean to forget heteronormativity? Or internalized legacies of imperialism? To forget them entirely, as opposed, I suppose, to solely unlearning them?
This talk included a critique of the focus on generational frames in feminist activism and Women’s Studies programs. …There’s pretty much constant talk in Women’s Studies circles about cross-generational tension, and cross-generational dialogue, and this wave and that wave and which wave are you, and how do we value our foremothers’ contributions while simultaneously acknowledging their limitations, or how do we tell young people they’re missing part of the story while also not being ageist, and valuing their “fresh” perspectives, etc, etc.
Anyway — Halberstam argues these conversations around age and generationality often create and reproduce the very conflict they purport to address. And that in particular, the application of the (heteronormative) family frame in non-familial spaces creates these sort-of bullshit Oedipal dynamics where younger folks are expected to critique and overthrow what came before, and older folks are expected to resist this shift.
And there’s a similar phenomenon in literature, no? I’m not super well-versed in this stuff, but isn’t there a whole Harold Bloom thing about the child murdering the parent? And also that producers of “experimental” or “innovative” texts are understood to be particularly patri-and/or-matricidal?
(One thing I’ve really appreciated about A D Jameson’s epic posts here at BIG OTHER is how he’s prized continuity over disruption and placed various aesthetic innovations in historical context).
One of the things I find really provocative about Halberstam’s argument — and also about the McSweeney quote Jackie pulled into her post — is this idea that the generational framework obscures intersections or analyses or continuities across and between generations that may only be visible when chronological or generational frames are rejected altogether. And that there are radically creative practices in both aesthetics and politics that are only possible when we “forget” chronology.
So that there is value in a radical “forgetting” (to apply Halberstam’s term) of “literary time” (to use McSweeney’s) — for instance, I can imagine, through this frame, bringing texts into conversation with one another across time, across disciplines, across “high culture” and “low culture” in weird-ass, Orthodoxy-defying, creatively explosive (diarrheal) ways that simply are not possible in more chronological frames.
McSweeney’s words alone are tasty as their own text, no?
a kind of leveled, ambivalent, invisible perpetuity without precedence or antecedence, not based on permanence but on decay, infloration, contamination
INFLORATION. Shit’s hot.
All that said, I understand there is important work to do in claiming and valuing history, particularly for marginalized communities and writers. I guess I’m thinking about the forgetful, anti-chronological, or post-chronological, or un-chronological frame (or frames) as a creatively enticing mode or modes, one with a lot of awesome, but not necessarily one to be placed in a dichotomy or binary with historicizing and remembering and claiming lineage. I think a lot of us (and I guess in this particular moment, my “us” is queer and feminist-identified or allied folks who write) do embrace lineage, or place ourselves within lineages or traditions, and have done or are engaged in the hard work of excavating forebears who have not received their due. This is work I believe in, and believe in honoring. I am thinking, for instance, of the way Kate Zambreno regularly acknowledges her debt to Jane Bowles, Elfriede Jelinek, Virgina Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Clarice Lispector, Jean Rhys, etc. etc, and seems to do so very deliberately and politically.
What definitely doesn’t jazz me is the murder-the-parent schtick, all that emphasis on generational upheaval and usurpation. That shit sounds an awful lot like a dick contest to me, and as most of the folks who have heard any of the pop songs I’ve been writing for live performances of late know, I prefer to focus a lot more on my ass.