MS 190: Authorship is the course website for the Fall 2006 Media Studies senior seminar at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
In her article "Postmodern Blackness," bell hooks shows that the largely avant-garde concept of postmodernism is not only interesting in theory, but potentially progressive in application. She refers to its "deconstruction of 'master' narratives" (point 9) and its "critique of essentialism--to affirm multiple black identities" (point 11). Stereotypes can be redefined, and marginalized voices can be heard. That is the ideal application of postmodernism.
I wanted to address two ways in which these ideas have impacted me. First of all, I did a research project this summer that involved the creation of an online biography. As my subject, I chose my grandmother, and in my academic analysis of my project, I described the importance of presenting previously silenced perspectives on history. Because she is a Mexican woman who was dealt with stereotypes of gender, religion, etc., her voice is marginalized. In writing this explanation, I had no idea that it connected so directly to the heart of postmodernism, that elusive word that always get tossed around in high circles of culture in the ivory tower of academia. Reading bell hooks' article has helped me to feel more of a personal connection and interest in this concept. (The online biography of my grandmother is at http://abuelitarosita.com/ and the academic discussion is located under the "Discussion" tab.)
hooks' reading really made me question who her intended readers were. While she makes it quite clear that she wants black women (and men) to read and understand the oppression society's racial constructions, it is evident throughout her essay that she also wants the white, intellectual male population to read and interpret her work. In one part of her essay she states that she worried about her arguments lacking conviction. Well, it is possible that if these arguments were more common or better known (especially among the dominant white male intellectuals), they would have the conviction necessary to make an impact. While reading her essay, it was clear to me that she knew that many potential readers were going to be these white intellectual males she is discussing. She clearly knows this, as she says she is cautious when discussing such topics. However, the essay is also potentially aimed at blacks to raise their awareness of the societal situations they are placed in everyday. So clearly she can have more than one target audience, but I find myself torn as to discover which one she wanted to reach or influence more...
So bell hooks is here talking about post-modernism and the "black folks" place within it. It would seem that in this post-modern era, where we can have dead authors and readers that write the texts they just read, having specific racial identities that are also authors may have little place amoung the dead. There are two sides to this. Going back to Barthes, we can see that eliminating the identity of the "black" author, makes the work stand on its own without the context of black history and ideals. However, this doesn't work at all when a black author decides to write a work dealing with black issues.
I just finished reading Marchessault's: Is the Dead Author a Woman?, and after sifting through, what most of the time was next to impossible to comprehend, I have come up with a question so powerful, that it shall end all other questions about Deaths of Authors...Why? Why is it important that the dead author be male or female, as either will only serve to confuse the reader, who, according to Barthes, shouldn't care about the author in the first place. Sure, there are people (readers) who come to the table with pre-reservations on gender, ethnicity and class when experiencing a work, but at least personally, the background of the person is more fun to find out after the work is finished and thought through, almost as a self perscribed afterword.
Every time I read something by Ms. bell hooks I get a little bit upset that she doesn't capitalize the first letters of her name. When I was little I wanted to be called Crystal Bright, but noooo my parents refused to be hippies. This bitterness has stuck with me my entire life, forcing a jaded outlook on pennames and other manipulations of self.
I have a point with this.
Why does bell hooks refuse to capitalize her name? According to Wikipedia, captain hooks refuses to capitalize her name because it signifies that what is most important in her works is the "substance of books, not who I am."
In bell hooks' essay Postmodern Blackness, she says she was at a social gathering where she was one of two black people. The other black person in attendace said to her, "this stuff does not relate in any way to what's happening with black people." I would actually go further and say that postmodernism does not relate to any people. What is postmodernism, and why does it need to be talked about? I'm not sure bell hooks even knows.
In this essay, she discusses who discusses postmodernism. She never talks about the concept of postmodernism itself.
Why is postmodernism such an important thing to discuss, and why is it important that such discussions are inclusive of all types of people. What in God's name is 'postmodernist discourse.' Why is postmodernism even a subject of conversation? Who are these people that discuss postmodernism over dinner? I don't know anyone who does this? do any of you?
After re-reading "Postmodern Blackness," I like it more and it seems far more relevant, probably because I understood the terminology and ideological framework a tad better the second time around. As I began to understand Barthes comments more in his dead author article, I became interested in the ramifications of his position advocating for the divorcing of the author from the text. Hooks made more clear some of the ideas surrounding the interaction between the terms "author" and "authority" as they can apply to both mainstream and marginalized groups. By removing the "authority" of texts, there is the potential to allow them the same weight, importance and validity.
"Postmodernist discourses are often exclusionary,' begins Bell Hooks in "Postmodern Blackness." Throughout her article on the relationship between postmodernism and the black experience, Hooks suggests that this discourse and its ramifications for experience and identity ought to be extended to marginalized groups (namely "black folks" and feminists). However, she also argues that black women authors should be "approached with intellectual seriousness." She simultaneously advocates for the intellectualization (is that a word?) of marginalized groups, and also the importance of making discourses accessible. I think we must have different definitions of accessible, because I don't think the majority of these marginalized groups would understand much less relate to much of the article. She dismisses "specialized audience" to which critical voice is directed, yet she is most definitely addressing this exact audience. Finally, towards the end, she truly advocates discissing postmodern ideas with "underclass non-academic black folks."
...that was, until I got a hold of Janine Marchessault.
It's not that I didn't understand most of the words she was using, it's just that when they all came together into sentences - or even worse, paragraphs - they didn't make quite enough sense to me.
When I say they didn't make quite enough sense, I mean that most of the time they didn't make any sense. This forced my mind to wander. I read the entire essay before I realized that I was thinking about girls the entire time. And not in the way that Ms. Marchessault would appreciate.
I think Marchessault's problem is that she loves words so much that she feels the need to use every single one she knows when she writes something. If she would write more like people speak - and understand - I would have gotten a lot more information out of this essay.
I know I said in my last post that I was going to go to sleep...but the Internet has a way of sucking me in sometimes. I just wanted to put it out there that this new blog is much better than the system we used for MS 149 last year. Being able to comment directly from the machine page is a huge improvement, as is the "Recent comments" column on the left-hand side of the screen. This is definitely going to make the blogs a more active forum for discussion. Good work, KF.