3/20 Weekly Discussion — In Our Own Words and Stories

Reading Guide

Prof. Gieseking

Spring 2017

Author: Audre Lorde

Title: The Uses of Anger

Year: 1981

Other bibliographic details: First given as the keynote of the 1981 conference of the association of Women’s Studies in Storrs, CT.

  1. Where or what in time-space is the study’s object? What is the work’s spatial scale and scope?

The essay refers to the state of American feminist and racial movement in the 80s, although its conclusions and political challenges continue to resonate in today’s political climate.

  1. What is/are the work’s key question(s)?

How are women to use anger in a productive way, to understand intersecting marginalities and expand consciousness without resorting to guilt or defensiveness? How can difference among women be put to work in liberatory ways?

  1. Who is the announced and/or implied audience for the work?

The Women’s studies association conference and, more broadly, women activists and scholars involved in feminist struggle.

  1. What are the work’s structure and style?

She begins by identifying the problem of racism within women’s movement, and identifies productive, dialectic anger as a solution (as opposed to guilt, which protects the guilty from change or accountability). She then gives example of black womens’ exclusion and silencing from within the Women’s studies community. She explains then that anger and listening are tools for dialogue that responds to and draw strength from  emotional responses to the deep injustice women live with. She then argues that any woman’s liberation is contingent on the liberation of all women and suggests that women form new, more inclusive coalitions that recognize and respond to intersectionality.

Lorde’s style is that of direct, impassioned address. She speaks for herself in the first person as well as for women in general. Her work, although intellectually rigorous, is not intended as a study, but as a political call to arms, an incitement for movement as well as for study,

  1. What method(s) does the researcher use, if noted?

She chronicles the experiences of black colleagues within women’s studies as well as her own in order that her discussion not be “purely theoretical.” She speaks from her experience in feminist movement and frequently draws on its history to rebut its inequities.

  1. What problems and issues are posed?

One is the problem that white feminist women ignore the ways that race and gender intersect to compound injustice. Lorde argues that white women recognize their racial biases and their lack of engagement with the conceptual structures of racial oppression, and feel guilty rather than take action to expand their politics. This inaction results in a homogenous white feminism that excludes women of color and, by the same intersectional principles, lesbians. Black women are simultaneously considered solely responsible for the political imperatives of dealing with race, and also told that their anger unproductively alienates white women. The result is their exclusion from the cause, and women’s activism become stratified by race, class, and sexuality, replicating the oppressive structures that interlock to support patriarchy. This exclusion precludes the formation of diverse, politically creative coalitions.

  1. What are the arguments? In other words, how does the writer use the theory, method, and evidence to propose answers (or make claims)? (List 3-5)
    • Anger is a wellspring of experience and power for women, “loaded with information and energy” (280).
    • Anger is different from hatred and as such can be used to create understanding. Anger must be expressed. When it is, anger between women is “direct and creative” (281).
    • Anger must be listened to and understood, not dismissed, defended against, or reduced to guilt.
    • Such a politics based on the productive use of anger allows for women to recognize the differences and complexities of overlapping modes of oppression, of different positions with regards to power. This allows women to identify continuities of oppression and articulate mutually beneficial goals.
  2. What evidence does the writer use? Why do these examples (stories, visuals, graphs) stand out above others?

Lorde draws particularly from her experience with women’s studies scholars. She details being interrupted, asked to temper her anger, having her experience laughed at and dismissed, and being made solely responsible for thinking about race.

  1. What ideas and/or assumptions serves as the writer’s guide to action?

Lorde is driven by the idea of intersectionality. Lorde believes that recognizing intersecting sources and modes of oppression not only raises the possibility for a new, inclusive women’s coalition, but that it is necessary to pose an effective challenge to oppressive cultural and social institutions.

  1. What is the role of the external actors such as the state or institutions, and how are they defined?

Academia and activism are the forums in which the racial conflicts of feminism play out. In addition, the media reduces the work of feminism to an obscurative fascination with its purported radicalness.

  1. What works for you? What does not? Why?

I think this piece is incredibly thought provoking and effective. I am deeply challenged by Lorde’s call to move beyond guilt and to respond honestly and productively to anger. This is a thrilling political turn because it moves beyond the politics of blame and victimhood and towards one of empathy and shared goals. New Vocabulary

Significant Authors or Texts mentioned (list significant authors or texts discussed)

Black Boxes (sections you do not yet understand)

Description                                                                              Page number(s)

The part in which Lorde writes that anger does not carry 284

moral authority

Questions (That occur to you as you read):

-What is the difference between anger and hate?

-She says that anger is different from moral authority. Is it, the way she articulates it? Can the anger she describes ever be “incorrect” or mistaken?

-What does Lorde feel about guilt? Is it useful?

-Can we draw connections to the women’s march/black women?

-Not black women’s job to involve themselves in struggles that exclude them

-Not just on black women to talk about racism?

-What are concrete ways Lorde might suggest diversifying conversations with an absence of intersectional voices? Ways that don’t put the impetus for change on such voices?

One sentence summary of reading

Audre Lorde argues that women should express their anger at exclusion from women’s movement, and that such a process raises consciousness of women’s’ intersectionality in struggles against patriarchy and racism, resulting in a more inclusive and effective feminist politics.

Freewriting (Recommended.  A short, or long, response to what you have read focusing upon anything you would like.)

I find Lorde’s argument to move beyond guilt to transformation particularly resonant today, particularly as left politics are frequently absorbed by calls to “check priviledge” and acknowledge complicity as a sort of task of punishment or reparation. I think Lorde’s suggestion to focus on the anger of the marginalized as an consciousness raising tool for those with power works well with recent re-conceptions of racial and gender prejudice as “implicit bias,” in which racism or sexism are not personal moral failings but incredibly persistent biases imprinted without consent. By this view, there is nothing to feel guilty about as long as those with power acknowledge the truth contained in the anger of the oppressed. Perhaps this resolves my question about the moral authority of anger, in that such an interaction does not establish one person as wronged and the other as perpetrator, but treats both as products of a system that has limited their life chances. Anger’s exercise then becomes not about punishment or leveling of scales, but about mutual gain and radical political opposition to intersecting and interlocking forces of oppression.

DISCUSSION NOTES

Introduction to Angels

Tony Kushner — Angels in America (1993)

Critics

“Some visionary playwrights want to change the world. Some want to revolutionize the theater. Tony Kushner, the remarkably gifted 36 year old author of Angels in America, is that rarity of rarities: a writer who has the promise to do both” (Rich, 1992)

By contrast, in an essay titled “Angles in America”, Lee Siegel wrote in The New Republic, “Angels in America is a second-rate play written by a second-rate playwright who happens to be gay, and because he has written a play about being gay, and about AIDS, no one—and I mean no one—is going to call Angels in America the overwrought, coarse, posturing, formulaic mess that it is.”[14]

***

David Savaran: “The opposite of nearly everything you say about angels in America will also hold true.” = play’s thematic and political ambiguity

Bigsby pg. 6 (go to page 6) = “a man wandering through a snowstorm of influences, his head tilted back to the sky. Where others see contradictions, he sees a kind of harmony, unlikely, perhaps, but real enough given his upbringing”

***


Benjamin’s Angel: p 50 (mtg)

“The inspiration for the angel is taken from Walter Benjamin’s (1892-1940) “Theses on the Philosophy of History” in which he describes a painting by Paul Klee called ‘Angelus Novus’ portraying an angel blowing backwards through space while staring back at where he came from. The angel faces the past, which we might perceive as a chain of events, but he sees it as one large catastrophe. Yet he is constantly blown forwards by a strom from paradise whol debris from the past piles up around his feet. In Benjamin’s description the storm from paradise: ‘has gotten caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. The storm is what we call progress.’” —Ken Nielsen, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (Modern Theatre Guides)

“the twentieth century. Oh dear, the world has gotten so terribly, terribly old.” -Prior Two, Angels 3.6

***

Index of Scenes I Like/Think Are Important

(page numbers from the TCG edition—sorry)

51—Roy having sex with men but not being homosexual

55—wrestling with an angel

78—Joe: what it would be to shed your skin

95+—Louis and Belize big political discussion, “no angels in America”

106—Belize and the hard law of love

147-148—What theory do you have to offer?

228—Belize on America

275—Harper’s last monologue

280—Prior at the end

***

Questions!

(my formatting seems a little garbled as it didn’t copy well, but hopefully you’ll be still be able to understand my questions/constellations of thought)

Angels

What are the political crises/battles that set the events of the play into motion?

-AIDS crisis

-Reganism

-Soviet union/cold war

-climate change/ozone layer

-racism

-homophobia

Accordingly, what are the big oppositions?

-conservatism vs gay

-optimism vs. pessimism

-religion vs. god

-America as fresh start vs. bogged down

Is one character Tony Kushner?

What about all the characters being gay?

How do you imagine this play being staged? Why?

-Brechtian theatrical ethics

What do we make of Roy Cohn?

Is the play at all sympathetic?

What about the potential for forgiveness?

-On one hand: no forgiveness

-What Louis/Joe do are unforgivable

-On the other hand, a sort of reconciliation

What do we make of God leaving? Of the Angel’s command not to move?

Cathy J. Cohen p. 438 (on movement)

How does Kushner feel about love/monogamy?

-Is this queer?

-Relationships are fluid and in their best arrangements, run their course

-Prior/Belize/Louis a family unit

Are Prior’s goals in his final speech sort of neoliberal? Is this play queer?

-I would argue that that’s beside the point, for once. The play is set during a fight for survival, a moment of political clarity. And yet, why all the disagreement and self torture?

-Warner: “queers want to have queer experience and politics taken as starting points rather than as footnotes” in the social theories and political agendas of the left

Is this play optimistic? About progress? Worldview? What “theory”?

-“what theory” speech as well as Harper at the end

-Angel Novus

-Benjamin’s Angel: p 50 (mtg)

-Kushner’s play is a dialogic whirlwind, in which where forces meet that wouldn’t otherwise: earth and heaven, Ray Cohn and a drag queen, a Mormon (legal satanist) and a gay dude, an AIDS patient and a mormon lady

-Track the changes these meetings bring?

-Audre Lorde and Kushner both believe in a sort of progress through conflict, a trial by fire of the world and its people. Kushner’s play is a dialogic whirlwind, in which where forces meet that wouldn’t otherwise: earth and heaven, Ray Cohn and a drag queen, a Mormon (legal satanist) and a gay dude, an AIDS patient and a mormon lady

Is there hope for America?

-Joe on America vs. Belize on America

-Does it hold up?

-How do we read this play in the age of Trump?

-Does its ambiguity allow it to morph?

***

Audre Lorde — The Uses of Anger (1981)

In June 1981, Audre Lorde gave the keynote presentation at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, Storrs, Connecticut

-What is the difference between anger and hate?

-She says that anger is different from moral authority. Is it, the way she articulates it? Can the anger she describes ever be “incorrect” or mistaken?

difference between fury and moral authority

-Why does Lorde feel about guilt? Is it useful?

-Can we draw connections to the women’s march/black women?

-Not black women’s job to involve themselves in struggles that exclude them

-Not just on black women to talk about racism?

-What do you make of Lorde’s conception of everyone’s freedom as contingent on everyone else’s?

***

Cathy J. Cohen — Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens (1997)

-“Acceptance” is assimilation, instead, full expression and self definition

-Queer politics does not focus enough on intersectionality, instead it congeals Queer into a monolith set against “hetero.” This reinforces binaries. Further, it treats heterosexuality and heterosexuals as the enemy, not heteronormativity.

-“I envision a politics in where one’s relation to power, and not some homogenized identity, is privileged in determining one’s political comrades”

-Heteronormativity is used against Heterosexual people

-slaves

-welfare queens

-single mother

-miscegenation

-instead, we should seek to destabilize categories and seek to create coalitions based on relationship to power

-great concluding 459

-maybe aids quote on 460 in relation to Angels?

***

Alain Berliner — Ma Vie en Rose (1997)

-This movie was rated R!

-What did we think?

-Do we see Ludovic’s parents actually changing? If so, why do they change?

-Worn down by grinding? By the threat of losing their child?

-How do Ludovic’s friends react? What is the source of their prejudice when it shows up?

Parents. Everything is parents.

-How does the movie depict the couples’ marriages?

-Is this indicative of a sort of queer anti-normative position?

-Do we see any similarities with Angels? With the dream sequences (Pam)?

-Dreams are a safe, creative narrative space. Imaginative power.

-Why does the movie cut itself short? Is it squeamish about the work the family has to do ahead? Pessimistic? Is it required for the story to be received as well?

What We Did In Class

-We established the fact that Angels is dramatic, confusing, and contradictory.

-We shared scenes from the work, reading some aloud. We watched Roy Cohn’s scene from the HBO series explaining that he was not a homosexual.

-We discussed Reagan’s influence on American politics, and the increase in military spending he initiated

-We discussed the play’s attitude towards forgiveness.
-We discussed Cathy Cohen’s Punks, Bulldagers, and Welfare Queens, and listed ways heteronormativity affected all participants in the American sexual economy

-We discussed the way slaves in the American south and single mothers under Reaganomics were denied status by constrictive heteronormative standards

-We discussed the potential for anti-heteronormative organizing, and spoke about heteronormative culture at Trinity

-We enthused about Ma Vie En Rose, and the brutality and honesty of its depiction of trans coming-of-age

-We watch an episode of Planet Unicorn, and then one of Steven Universe, both of which offer the possibility of escape and demonstrate the use of imagination as a liberatory and politically creative tool. We connected this to Ludovik’s use of imagination in Ma Vie En Rose.

-We discussed Audre Lorde’s The Uses of Anger, and articulated the way her politics opened up political space for an intersectional liberatory politics based around mutual goals and simultaneous resistance to all forms of oppression

-We discussed racism on campus and beyond, particularly the discourses surrounding Black Lives Matter and the media.

-We discussed the gendered discourses that accompany liberal or conservative identity in America.

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