CAN THE SUBALTERN BLOG?

any one interested in a discussion here?

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27 thoughts on “CAN THE SUBALTERN BLOG?

  1. I think you have to start out with something more controversial. Some kind of blanket statement that people can debate. Of course people will say that the subaltern can blog, as in, “everyone can blog! we love everyone!” which is of course a lie. But if you said, for instance, the subaltern can’t blog because only middle/upper-class people with a certain amount of leisure time (ie, mostly white people entrenched in money) can waste money on a fast internet connection and waste time blogging. You have to sort of cast(e) the first stone I think.

  2. hm, you could conceivably problematize the term, “subaltern,” who comprises the subaltern, who is really disenfranchised, what does it mean to be of privileged castes, etc.

  3. sorry, but i started the post and then realized i was late for work! but how pleasant to come home and see my three favorite bloggers!

    Here are mostly questions, some thoughts:

    first on the title of the post: was meant as a joke…if the subaltern had access to a blog, then they would no longer be subaltern. OR: how many subalterns does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Well, if they had access to a lightbulb (knowledge) then they wouldn’t be subaltern, etc. I know, bad taste. Once I was at the proctologist and he had stepped out to use the bathroom and the note he left on the door said “gone colonizing.” okay, i’ll stop.

    so the question that was raised for me in relation to the non-representation of women in the PW article, is its equal non-representation of minorities. Shanna mentioned in her post on jessica’s blog that she counted around 80 women + in her links. this is wonderful! let’s continue and also count how many are minority writers…the examination of difference and borders is a necessary cleavage (to use Williams’s word, with both its divisive and unifying connotations).

    relating this to many of the comments on jessica’s blog, can we trace vital or essential differences between blogs of white poets and minority poets (thinking here just in america)?

    or, as some have contended, is this kind of strategic essentialism is too dangerous? are stylistic devices (diaristic, discursive, etc) transgender and transracial?

    does one’s choice of devices determine one’s subject position, or does one’s subject position determine one’s devices? (this same argument could also be applied to questions of prosody – in Olson’s terms, does one’s form determine one’s stance towards reality, or does one’s stance towards reality determine one’s form). or both? or neither?

    this is, of course, presupposing that “stance” and “form” are stable, coherent identities. perhaps this is much more “borderlands” than this sketch.

    Returning to the idea of the subaltern for another moment: even though I am from a colonized country (Guam), the fact that I have titled my post “Can the Subaltern Blog” is not proof that the subaltern CAN blog, but only that I am not subaltern.

    (I am reminded of Williams critiquing Stevens saying that he is an ivory tower poet, and Stevens’s response was that Williams is also an ivory tower poet with a good view of the dumpster in the back alley.)

    this poses a further question: what are my responsibilities as a minority poet-blogger? what are the ethics of blogging from a privileged subaltern position?

    Do I relearn my “sites of blogging” in order to provide a space for the subaltern to blog? what would this mean / looktouch like? or is blogging an ideal place to transcend such issues?

    ALSO, if there is no “essential” difference established by the ethnicity of the blogger, then are there prevalent differences that we can map on local levels. i.e. what is the difference between jessica and barbara’s blog, or gelsinger’s and mine – being of the same gender, do any of these differences have to do with ethnicity?

    one thing that has struck me most about blogland, still being quite new to this thing, is the ability to map DIASPORA. On all your blogs, there is an incredible sense of community established by your links – no blog entire of itself, the contact zones established by these links, by an effort to build community, an effort that arises within the diasporic experience and attempts to bridge the diasporic. with jessica’s mapping of the american scene particular, of barbara’s recent list of filipino/a writers and the discussions on her blog re: community, poetry, etc, and of course Kablow!sm.
    And although I do read Silliman’s blog (and dig his poetry), it is the spectacle of judgement that is difficult to bear. it is its panoptical blog roll that frightens to encompass.

    To me, one of the gifts of blogland is that it can be “dia(b)logic” and establish contact zones across gender, race, sexuality, and age and allow us, within the postmodern diaspora, to link and recognize and celebrate the ways in which we cleave.

  4. in relation to this:

    this is, of course, presupposing that “stance” and “form” are stable, coherent identities. perhaps this is much more “borderlands” than this sketch.

    I wanted to add, inspired by jessica’s paper, perhaps there is more of a borderland plasticity of stance and form (self and art)…

  5. hi craig. i’ve never been to your blog before. your post made me laugh. thanks.

    kevin elliot & didi menendez have also raised the racial distribution of poetry bloggers elsewhere, and didi commented specifically on the overlapping lack of latino representation in the article that started some of this talk. she’s right. i didn’t remark on it at the time because tho i noticed it, i didn’t for a fact know (and still don’t know) the ethnicities of everybody mentioned in the article. i do know all the bloggers mentioned are white and male.

    i was particularly intrigued by kevin’s comment that his witnessing of racist behavior in the poetry blogsosphere led him to transform his mostly poetry blog into a mostly political blog. rampant sexism, racism, homophobia and all-around jerky behavior were a much larger part of my experience when i partipated in poetry listservs, which i do not, for that reason, do any more.

    (an aside: my blogroll, as i said off the bat at jessica’s, is a representation of most but not all of the blogs i read, and to me seems fairly representative of the community i see out here. but of course is relatively small. and i am sometimes a lazy linker. i apologize if i gave the impression that my perfect blogroll was somehow the ideal. that’s actually really hilarious. if someone appears there, it is not because of their ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or any other reason, but only because that i am attracted to their blog writing, which is even distinct in some cases from my attraction their other writing or activities. but i’d venture to guess that description is true of most blogrolls. i did remark on craig teicher’s blogroll’s lack of women because it seemed relevant at the time we were discussing his selection of blogs he thought were most prominent. like, i wondered if maybe he was just not aware of any poetry blogs by women & was looking for evidence to the contrary.)

    your question about “what are my responsibilities as a minority poetry-blogger” are similar to a new twist in the read at jessica’s about how some of us ladies (i happen to be white, but not anglo) feel about our responsibility to feminism. the parallels are fruitful and interesting. about what wearing the armor or costume of a combatant for a cause does to an artist, our fear of labels, our resentment/guilt about the unwanted responsibility, and all the ways we torture ourselves about our indenties, which after all, we didn’t choose.

  6. jessica, yes that’s the stance.

    hi shanna, thank you for your thoughtful comments and i’m glad we can share a laugh in “such troubled waters.”

    I just posted on BJR’s blog a comment from Stein on Pound:

    “Met Ezra Pound. Didn’t much like him. Found him to be the village explainer. Very useful if you happen to be a village; if not, not.”
    (The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.)

    that always makes me laugh…the “if not, not.” we can certainly translate this to “Read Craig T. Didn’t much like him. Found him to be the blogosphere explainer. Very useful if you happen to be a blog; if not, not.” I am only kidding, of course, Craig T., whom I’ve never met, and doesn’t seem like such a bad person.

    it saddens me to hear about your experiences on listservs and kevin’s (i haven’t been blogging for very long so never have had similar experiences) but am glad that there are those who are able to extend their activism into cyberworld. and thank you for linking kevin and didi, these conscientous links seems like an important strategy here.

    also, i am a lazy linker too…and i didn’t mean to imply that your blog roll was “too white” or whatever, but just that i really admire that you were able to take stock of the gender of the your links, and that we should do the same for ethnicity sexuality and class as a further examination of how borders bend.

    I wonder if we can extend jameson’s argument in The Political Unconscious: perhaps Blogging is also a “socially symbolic act” and that I should not be so lazy when it comes to linking, that the choices I make when I link and blog have ethical implications.

    I agree that the parallels are fruitful and meaningful. And I hope we can continue to explore these ethics.

    thank you…and i will establish a link to your blog as soon as possible ­čÖé

  7. Hum … It’s true that Craig Teicher’s mentioned bloggers are mostly white males. What about us cephalopod Jupiterian poets?

    Okay, I’ll stop with the Jupiterian cephalopod jokes.

  8. hmm, well, bjr’s blog appears to be disappeared. i mean, there is only one post, which is postdated for monday. i can’t find the rest of it right now.

    i hope that’s temporary.

    & i love that bit about pound. & in fact, the rest of the book around it, too. it’s actually a perfect example of stein trying on another identity, tho alice was still a minority in terms of gender and sexuality, her voice and the realm of the domestic and the memoir format were all more readily acceptable by the literary culture as feminine than stein’s usual stunts. (she’s one of my everlasting faves.) ­čÖé

  9. Francois, do you have a blog? (I know you’re on some group blogs I already visit, but…)

    Just wanna make sure I’m not missing it if so.

  10. stein’s one of my faves too – i have a post on her somewhere on this blog called “creating it without naming it” – her prosodic strategy in resisting partiarchal history / poetry is very interesting to me and effective (at least in its own time, poetry now and history being so much more complicated) – (i wrote an essay on this once called: “A noun is a noun is a noun is a noun.”)

    in the same way, Rimbaud had it easy…he only had to read French poetry!

    in relation to the PW article, “A white hunter is nearly crazy.”

    um…i wanted to say one more thing about stein….ah yes, Rub her coke.

    is it lunch time yet? i’m thirsty.

    Francios has a great blog! i must link to it also…

  11. Though I appreciate all this fancy banter, when are we gonna all drink beer again?

  12. thanks lee, I really like your blog as well, one of the most diverse blogrolls i’ve seen. i think perhaps the idea of blogging as a “socially symbolic act” lends itself to a certain ethic of linking, which you are one of the examplars. also, on barbara jane reyes’s blog, she just did a “feminine” post that has interesting implications. i hope she will return to comment here on that post.

    thru various links (jessica – francois – johannes) there is an interesting discussion regarding “the performance of Othering.” the discussion centered around the marketing (or packaging) of russian poets around a certain “russianness”.

    Strange to look at the blurb on a Banana Yoshimoto book and her prose is described as a tea ceremony, or a cherry blossom. Or Bukherjee’s novel and there the prose is described as a flowing sari. or Cathy Song’s poems are “flowers: colorful, sensual, and quiet.” I imagine a day when my book is published and my poems are described as “coconut trees taking root in the sand” or as “canoes embracing the trade wind”.

    although i guess it’s true that orientalism sells, that america has a fetish for the neglected, minor, subaltern, exotic, ESL poet – and that i shouldn’t complain. that i should perform my otherness and fulfill indigenous and imperial expectations and offer my poetry to satiate america’s “imperial nostalgia” … maybe i should title my collection “Ode to the Lone Ethnographer.”

    my girlfriend (a phd. at berkeley in ethnic studies) is writing a paper right now on advertising images in travel magazines. we had an interesting discussion regarding countries that create their own ads depicting virgin beaches, sexualized natives, etc. although i find these ads completely offensive and counter-progressive, i found myself sympathizing with the use of these images, particularly because Guam is a country whose economy depends on tourism. I argued that these ads were neither self-orientalising (no native actually believes their nation is that) nor complicit with the orientalism of their culture by the tourist-gaze (we don’t care about the tourist’s gaze, just their money). But simply that these ads were “merely” capitalist survival strategies, and thus almost redemptive. that we want what they have and we know what they want.

    and i felt sick to my stomach. especially since guam was occupied by the japanese military during WW2 and so many atrocities and now we make these ads for japanese tourists. this othering is a sick colonial irony.

    relating this to poetry, I see the performance of othering very sharply from both sides of the colonial divide. in the advent of modernism, particularly, we see poets responding to the Other. Rimbaud most vividly when he says “je est un autre”. He could not say this unless the other was a valid enough presence for the I to be. We see this in Whitman, his response to encompass, become, salute, and experience the other. In Baudelaire’s use of “Cockaigne” (which i posted on about a week or two ago – check it out, a great painting by Brueghel). and it becomes really interesting in the twenties: to do a contrapuntal reading of Cendrars with the Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade, Breton with Cesaire, or Neruda with Lorca, or even Stevens with Hughes (it’s probably obvious by now that I’m writing a paper about this).

    In reading across the colonial divide, in examining the dynamics of transculturation (or, in these cases, transpoeticulturation) one thing seems true: The Occident orientalizes the Orient, the Orient occidentalizes the Occident.

    i recently saw an interview with an “illegal immigrant” who came a godawful way from columbia and he thought america would give him opportunity. talk about occidentalism: this CondeNast image of america. not of virgin beaches, but of virgin capitalist opportunity.

    my point: one cannot not other. thus, one cannot not perform otherness.

    at least, according to Marinetti, we should still consider ourselves very likable.

  13. “one cannot not other. thus, one cannot not perform otherness.”

    It is the performance of otherness, of self divided from self, and me from you, and we from us (etc., ad nauseum) which is also troubling to me and seems too simple in its binary oppositions. Those writers (poets mostly, but long & short fiction writers, memoirists, and some essayists) who choose to work with the contrariness of life and reject the easy answers provided by relying on “a vs. b” (which I’m not saying any of you are doing, btw) capture and keep my attention. I don’t write about the books/poems I’m reading as thoroughly as Craig does (but I’m not in class anymore either) but it’s a fascinating subject that I would like to expand upon.

    What, in the world of web logs, is it that you are looking for? How does this differ from what you look for in books/magazines/journals – or does it differ at all (i.e. the medium is the only difference)?

    The audience for my web log is essentially people I already know, and who might be interested in some of the strange or random things in my life which I might not pick up the phone to share . . . but what about the lurking audience? I also try to write (just a little bit) with the rest of the possible readership in mind (i.e. anyone that could find my web log could read it, but would they want to, and would they come back, not knowing me personally?) I’m trying to ask and begin to answer the question, “why do I write?” and “why do I blog?” at the same time I guess . . .

  14. So, according to Spivak, the subaltern is no longer a subaltern if she speaks?

    Because your blog post title suggested, obviously, a parallelism there.

    Or what?

    I don’t think blogging erases one’s condition as a “subaltern” subject (that is, if we want to follow Spivak’s terminology).

  15. thanks for posting ernesto! i agree also that only if we stick strictly to spivak’s terminology can one say that blogging erases one’s subaltern condition.

    i will say that if you have access to write such a blog title as “Can the Subaltern Blog?” then you are a “privileged subaltern.”

    what do think about the idea that blogging is a “socially symbolic act”? are there ethical implications to who/what we link to? is there an inherent ideology in how/what (form/content) we blog on? does a “privileged subaltern” blogger have a responsibility to retrieve “the sites of blogging.”

    do you think these are even relevant questions?

  16. Yes, I think the questions are relevant. I suppose that we should redefine “privilege”, and I think it should be done also from the so-called “Third World” as well.

    I am positive that the amount of Mexican bloggers who have read Spivak and therefore can read the reference in your post’s title is minimum. Not to say that those who can read English and write it make up a very reduced group, too.

    But I wonder if this, at least for the Mexican reality, amounts to being “privileged”.

    I must say that I write this within a few minuts of having received the last two notifications that I had been rejected to all the PhD programs I applied to in the States.

    The subaltern can blog, publish, interact in different levels in the public sphere (with so-called “subalterns” and not-subalterns) but this does not erase the subaltern condition.

    Not that having been accepted to the PhD programs would have made anyone “less” subaltern.

    What I guess I am very hastily to say here is that privilege is relative.

  17. yes the point does come across quite powerfully. unfortunately, I have to race to work, so i will respond tonight…if anyone else wants to chime in, PLEASE feel free!

  18. from only reading your blog for a short time, ernesto, those schools are missing out on a conscientious and passionate thinker. i hope you will still pursue whatever project you proposed to study regardless.

    on your post, i definitely agree that both “privilege” and “subalterneity” is relative – and i wonder if as a result of this relativism, if these terms really have any weight.

    thinking of the Chilean poet Huidobro – born into an aristocrat family (they had something like 80 servants) – would he be considered “subaltern” simply by virtue of being born in “The Third World” (isnt that a bad word?)

    is there a difference in subalterneity between the Senagalese poet Senghor, who was also born into a wealthy family, and the Martinican poet Cesaire, whose family was not as prosperous?

    is Emily Dickinson, born into a white, affluent family, subaltern based on her gender alone?

    although i don’t want to get into a discussion about who is more or less subaltern, these questions are more pointed towards this:

    What constitutes subalterneity? What constitutes privilege?

    and does this affect one’s poetry / poetics? does it affect one’s form / content of blogging?

    and thanks for linking this conversation on your blog…I hope your readers will feel free to engage in the discussion and offer their perspectives…

    thanks

  19. Since I had recently had to read the entire Spivak article (and if anyone else out there has made it through as well, I raise my cyber-glass to you!), it’s been on my mind.

    I think one of the key points tha Spivak makes is not so much that the subaltern cannot speak, but that no matter what she says (and Spivak’s subject(s) is/are female), her voice/text will be misread. I’m thinking specifically of the last third of the article which focuses on widow-burning in India. We don’t need to get into a whole thing about the widow-burning, but the point that Spivak makes is that even when a subaltern “speaks” (in her case, through the act of voluntary suicide for Indian wives when their husbands have died), her message will be misinterpreted two ways: both on a national (local) level and also on a colonial (international level).
    The subaltern, essentially, runs the risk of being misunderstood by her own “community” as well as by the colonial/imperial project. I think this is where Spivak’s feminism is crucial–she points out that patriarchy exists both within and outside subaltern communities, so subaltern women are double (triple) crossed by sexism, as well racial and class-based discrimination.

    Her last line in the essay is: “The subaltern cannot speak.” Spivak, whether she’s making a dramatic point or not, doesn’t really offer a way of the problem she identifies. This is where we can take up where she left off. If we want to dedicate ourselves representing the voice of the subaltern, even in the face of misreading and silencing, the only choice is to KEEP TALKING. The power of minority voices to persist even against all odds is an historical fact and a contemporary reality–we only need to look at the reecnt demonstrations against the proposed changes to U.S. immigration/border control for examples. Those of us who are not minorities should work HARD to LISTEN the voices of our minority commrades, and not just hear them, but help others hear them too. This, of course, has obvious implications in the “blogging” discourse.

  20. The other issue I wantd to raise focuses on my own process of working in the “interstices” of scholarship and art. Craig and I were talking about the responsibilities of minority bloggers and the issue of subject position, or “positionality” as my fancy grad school classmates call it.

    Craig brought up Jameson’s idea of the “political unconscious”…in very simple terms, the idea that one’s socio-historic moment influences one’s aesthetic production. Or, by examining a work of art, one should be able to unearth the influence of the artist’s political/historic/cultural moment.

    I’m struggling with this. As a scholar, I find Jameson’s thesis an incredibly easy way to approach analysis. Simply look for how, for example, Tomas Rivera’s And The Earth Did Not Devour Him speaks to issues raised by the Chicano Nationalilst movement of the 1960’s and bang! You’ve got an analysis. It’s a handy tool for theorizing about aesthetic production. In fact, I think it can become kind of crutch…an easy way to explain away a work of art. Not that I think that it’s not important to consider biography or history when doing an analysis, but my experience has been that this type of analysis ultimately doesn’t give as much treatment to the formal and stylistic choices of the artist (the words on the page, the brush strokes, camera angles, etc)…theme becomes much more important.

    As a fiction writer and poet, I have a hard time believing that everything I write necessarily speaks to my position within my historical moment. Moreover, I think I believe that there’s such a thing as “art for art’s sake” or consciously disengaged art. I want to resist the idea that my subject position will dictate my formal and stylistic choices. Perhaps the answer is simply to learn to live in the interstitial world between scholarship and criticism.

    Anyway, since so many who comment here also seem to be committed to both artistic expression and critical analysis, I thought I would just open it up for discussion…how are others navigating their multiple subject positions?????

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