The Brennan Baby (Mills & Boon Vintage Desire)

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Or, as Beloved, the continual eruption of 'undecipherable languages' of slave memory obscures the historical narrative of infanti- cide only to articulate the unspoken: that ghostly discourse that enters the world of 'from the outside' in order to reveal the transitional world of the aftermath of slavery in the s, its private and public faces, its historical past and its narrative present.

It effects an 'externality of the inward' as the very enunciative position of the historical and narrative subject, 'introducing into the heart of subjectivity a radical and anarchical refer- ence to the other which in fact constitutes the inwardness of the sub- ject. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. What is more obscure - and to the point - is how such an inward and intimate desire would provide an 'inscape' of the memory of slavery. For Morrison, it is precisely the signification of the historical and discursive boundaries of slavery that are the issue.

Racial violence is invoked by historical dates - , for instance - but Morrison is just a little hasty with the events 'in-themselves', as she rushes past 'the true meaning of the Fugitive Bill, the Settlement Fee, God's Ways, antislavery, manumission, skin voting'.

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What finally causes the thoughts of the women of 'unspeak- able thoughts to be unspoken' is the understanding that the victims of violence are, themselves 'signified upon': they are the victims of pro- jected fears, anxieties and dominations that do not originate within the oppressed and will not fix them in the circle of pain.

The stirring of emancipation comes with the knowledge that the racially supremacist belief 'that under every dark skin there was a jungle' was a belief that grew, spread, touched every perpetrator of the racist myth, turned them mad from their own untruths, and was then expelled from Bluestone Road. But before such an emancipation from the ideologies of the master, Morrison insists on the harrowing ethical repositioning of the slave mother, who must be the enunciatory site for seeing the inwardness of the slave world from the outside - when the 'outside' is the ghostly return of the child she murdered; the double of herself, for 'she is the laugh I am the laugher I see her face which is mine.

What historical knowledge returns to Sethe, through the aesthetic distance or 'obscuring' of the event, in the phan- tom shape of her dead daughter Beloved?

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In her fine account of forms of slave resistance in Within the Plantation Household, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese considers murder, self -mutilation and infanticide to be the core psychological dynamic of all resistance. Unlike acts of confrontation against the master or the overseer which were resolved within the household context, infanticide was recognized as an act against the system and at least acknowledged the slavewoman's legal standing in the public sphere. Infanticide was seen to be an act against the master's property - against his surplus profits - and perhaps that, Fox-Genovese concludes, 'led some of the more desperate to feel that, by killing an infant they loved, they would be in some way reclaiming it as their own'.

This knowledge comes as a kind of self-love that is also the love of the 'other': Eros and Agape together. It is an ethical love in the Levinasian sense in which the 'inwardness' of the subject is inhabited by the 'radical and anarchical reference to the other'. This knowledge is visible in those intriguing chapters 46 which lay over each other, where Sethe, Beloved and Denver perform a fugue-like ceremony of claiming and naming through inter- secting and interstitial subjectivities: 'Beloved, she my daughter'; 'Beloved is my sister'; 'I am Beloved and she is mine.

They explore an 'interpersonal' reality: a social reality that appears within the poetic image as if it were in parentheses - aesthetically distanced, held back, and yet historically framed. It is difficult to convey the rhythm and the improvization of those chapters, but it is impossible not to see : t them the healing of history, a com- munity reclaimed in the making of a name.

We can finally ask ourselves: Who is Beloved? Now we understand: she is the daughter that returns to Sethe so that her mind will be homeless no more. Who is Beloved? Now we may say: she is the sister that returns to Denver, and brings hope of her father's return, the fugitive who died in his escape. Now we know: she is the daughter made of murderous love who returns to love and hate and free herselffjier words are broken, like the lynched people with broken necks; disembodied, like the dead children who lost their ribbons.

But there is no mistaking what her live. Aila's in-between identity and Beloved's double lives both affirm the borders of culture's insurgent and interstitial existence. At this point we would do well to recall Walter Benjamin's insight on the disrupted dialectic of modernity: 'Ambiguity is the figurative appearance of the dialectic, the law of the dialectic at a standstill. I have ended this argument with the woman framed - Gordimer 's Aila - and the woman renamed - Morrison's Beloved - because in both their houses great world events erupted - slavery and apartheid - and their happening was turned, through that peculiar obscurity of art, into a second coming.

Although Morrison insistently repeats at the close of Beloved, 'This is not a story to pass on,' she does this only in order to engrave the event in the deepest resources of our amnesia, of our unconsciousness. When historical visibility has faded, when the present tense of testimony loses its power to arrest, then the displacements of memory and the indirec- tions of art offer us the image of our psychic survival. To live in the unhomely world, to find its ambivalencies and ambiguities enacted in the house of fiction, or its sundering and splitting performed in the work of art, is also to affirm a profound desire for social solidarity: 'I am looking for the join I want to join I want to join.

It is said that the place of the academic critic is inevitably within the Euro- centric archives of an imperialist or neo-colonial West. The Olympian realms of what is mistakenly labelled 'pure theory' are assumed to be eternally insulated from the historical exigencies and tragedies of the wretched of the earth. Must we always polarize in order to polemicize?

Are we trapped in a politics of struggle where the representation of social antagonisms and historical contradictions can take no other form than a binarism of theory vs politics?

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Can the aim of freedom of knowl- edge be the simple inversion of the relation of oppressor and oppressed, centre and periphery, negative image and positive image? Is our only way out of such dualism the espousal of an implacable oppositionality or the invention of ah originary counter-myth of radical purity?

Must the project of our liberatiofiist aesthetics be forever part of a totalizing Utopian vision of Being and History that seeks to transcend the contra- dictions and ambivalences that constitute the very structure of human subjectivity and its systems of cultural representation? Is the cause of radical art or critique best served for instance, by a fulminating professor of film who announces, at a flashpoint in the argument, We are not artists, we are political activists?

Forms of popular rebellion and mobiliz- ation are often most subversive and transgressive when they are created through oppositional cultural practices. Before I am accused of bourgeois voluntarism, liberal pragmatism, academicist pluralism and all the other ' -isms' that are freely bandied about by those who take the most severe exception to 'Eurocentric' theoreticz'sm Derrideanism, Lacanianism, poststructuralism. I am convinced that, SLthe l anguage of political economy, , it. Despite the claims to a spurious rhetoric of 'internationalism' on the part of the established multinationals and the networks of the new communications technology industries, such circulations of signs and commodities as there are, are caught in the vicious circuits of surplus value that link First World capital to Third World labour markets through the chains of the international division of labour, and national comprador classes.

Gayatri Spivak is right to conclude that it is 'in the interest of capital to preserve the comprador theatre in a state of relatively primitive labour legislation and environmental regulation'. Think of America's 'backyard' policy towards the Caribbean and Latin America, the patriotic gore and patrician lore of Britain's Falklands Campaign or, more recently, the triumphalism of the American and British forces during the Gulf War. I am further convinced that such economic and political domination has a profound hegemonic influence on the infor- mation orders of the Western world, its popular media and its special- ized institutions and academics.

So much is not in doubt. What does demand further discussion is. Are the interests of 'Western' theory necessarily collusive with the hegemonic role of the West as a power bloc?. A large film festival in the West - even an alternative or counter- cultural event such as Edinburgh's Third Cinema' Conference - never fails to reveal the disproportionate influence of the West as cultural forum, in all three senses of that word: as place of public exhibition and discussion, as place of judgement, and as market-place.

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An Indian film about the plight of Bombay's pavement-dwellers wins the Newcastle Festival which then opens up distribution facilities in India. The first searing expose of the Bhopal disaster is made for Channel Four. A major debate on the politics and theory of Third Cinema first appears in Screen, published by the British Film Institute.

An archival article on the important history of neo-traditionalism and the 'popular' in Indian cinema sees the light of day in Framework. I don't think I need to add individual names or places, or detail the historical reasons why the West carries and exploits what Bourdieu would call its symbolic capital. The condition is all too familiar, and it is not my purpose here to make those important distinctions between different national situations and the disparate political causes and collective histories of cultural exile.

At this stage in the argument, I do not want to identify any specific 'object' of political allegiance - the Third World, the working class, the feminist struggle. Although such an objectification of political activity is crucial and must significantly inform political debate, it is not the only option for those critics or intellectuals who are committed to progressive political change in the direction of a socialist society.

It is a sign of political maturity to accept that there are many forms of political writing whose different effects are obscured when they are divided between the 'theoretical' and the 'activist'. It is not as if the leaflet involved in the organization of a strike is short on theory, while a speculative article on the theory of ideology ought to have more practical examples or applications. They are both forms of discourse and to that extent they produce rather than reflect their objects of reference.

The difference between them lies in their operational qualities. The latter does not justify the former; nor does it neces- sarily precede it. It exists side by side with it - the one as an enabling part of the other - like the recto and verso of a sheet of paper, to use a common semiotic analogy in the uncommon context of politics. My concern here is with the process of 'intervening ideologically', as Stuart Hall describes the role of 'imagining' or representation in the practice of politics in his response to the British election of This occupies a discursive space which is not exclusively delimited by the history of either the right or the left.

It exists somehow in-between these political polarities, and also between the familiar divi- sions of theory and political practice. This approach, as I read it, intro- duces us to an exciting, neglected moment, or movement, in the 'recognition' of the relation of politics to theory; and confounds the tra- ditional division between them. Such a movement is initiated if we see that relation as determined by the rule of repeatable materiality, which Foucault describes as the process by which statements from one insti- tution can be transcribed in the discourse of another.

In what hybrid forms, then, may a politics of the theoretical statement emerge? What tensions and ambivalences mark this engimatic place from which theory speaks? In this complicated formulation I have tried to indicate some- thing of the boundary and location of the event of theoretical critique which does not contain the truth in polar opposition to totalitarianism, 'bourgeois liberalism' or whatever is supposed to repress it.

The 'true' is always marked and informed by the ambivalence of the process of emergence itself, the productivity of meanings that construct counter- knowledges in medias res, in the very act of agonism, within the terms of a negotiation rather than a negation of oppositional and antagonistic elements. Political positions are not simply identifiable as progressive or reactionary, bourgeois or radical, prior to the act of critique engagee, or outside the terms and conditions of their discursive address.

This is not to state the obvious, that there is no knowledge - political or otherwise - outside representation. It is to suggest that the dynamics of writing and textual- ity require us to rethink the logics of causality and determinacy through which we recognize the 'political' as a form of calculation and strategic action dedicated to social transformation. Textuality is not simply a second-order ideological expression or a verbal symptom of a pre-given political subject.

That the political subject - as indeed the subject of politics - is a discursive event is nowhere more clearly seen than in a text which has been a formative influence on Western democratic and socialist discourse - Mill's essay 'On Liberty'. His crucial chapter, 'On The Liberty of Thought and Dis- cussion', is an attempt to define political judgement as the problem of finding a form of public rhetoric able to represent different and opposing political 'contents' not as a priori preconstituted principles but as a dialogical discursive exchange; a negotiation of terms in the on-going present of the enunciation of the political statement.

What is unexpected is the suggestion that a crisis of identification is initiated in the textual performance that displays a certain 'difference' within the signification of any single political system, prior to establishing the substantial differ- ences between political beliefs. A knowledge can only become political through an agnostic process: dissensus, alterity and otherness are the discursive conditions for the circulation and recognition of a politicized subject and a public 'truth': [If] opponents of all important truths do not exist, it is indispens- able to imagine them [He] must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them.

This makes it possible for contradictions to be resolved and also generates a sense of the 'whole truth' which reflects the natural, organic bent of the human mind. Even so, in his attempt to describe the political as a form of debate and dialogue - as the process of public rhetoric - that is crucially mediated through this ambivalent and antagonistic faculty of a political 'imagination', Mill exceeds the usual mimetic sense of the battle of ideas.

He suggests something much more dialogical: the realization of the political idea at the ambivalent point of textual address, its emergence through a form of political projection. Rereading Mill through the stategies of 'writing' that I have suggested, reveals that one cannot passively follow the line of argument running through the logic of the opposing ideology.

The textual process of politi- cal antagonism initiates a contradictory process of reading between the lines; the agent of the discourse becomes, in the same time of utterance, the inverted, projected object of the argument, turned against itself. It is, Mill insists, only by effectively assuming the mental position of the antagonist and working through the displacing and decentring force of that discursive difficulty that the politicized 'portion of truth' is pro- duced. This is a different dynamic from the ethic of tolerance in liberal ideology which has to imagine opposition in order to contain it and demonstrate its enlightened relativism or humanism.

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Reading Mill, against the grain, suggests that politics can only become representative, a truly public discourse, through a splitting in the signification of the subject of representation; through an ambivalence at the point of the enunciation of a politics. I have chosen to demonstrate the importance of the space of writing, and the problematic of address, at the very heart of the liberal tradition because it is here that the myth of the 'transparency' of the human agent and the reasonableness of political action is most forcefully asserted.

Despite the more radical political alternatives of the right and the left, the popular, common-sense view of the place of the individual in relation to the social is still substantially thought and lived in ethical terms moulded by liberal beliefs. What the attention to rhetoric and writing reveals is the discursive ambivalence that makes 'the political' possible. From such a perspective, the problematic of political judgement cannot be represented as an epistemological problem of appearance and reality or theory and practice or word and thing.

Nor can it be repre- sented as a dialectical problem or a symptomatic contradiction constitut- ive of the materiality of the 'real'. On the contrary, we are made excruciatingly aware of the ambivalent juxtaposition, the dangerous interstitial relation of the factual and the projective, and, beyond that, of the crucial function of the textual and the rhetorical. Its importance goes beyond the unsettling of the essentialism or logocenrncism of a received political tradition, in the name of an abstract free play of the signifies A critical discourse does not yield a new political object, or aim, or knowledge, which is simply a mimetic reflection of an a priori political principle or theoretical commitment.

We should not demand of it a pure teleology of analysis whereby the prior principle is simply augmented, its rationality smoothly developed, its identity as socialist or materialist as opposed to neo-imperialist or humanist consistently confirmed in each oppositional stage of the argument.

Such identikit political idealism may be the gesture of great individual fervour, but it lacks the deeper, if dangerous, sense of what is entailed by the passage of history in theoretical discourse.

The language of critique is effective not because it keeps forever separate the terms of the master and the slave, the mercantilist and the Marxist, but to the extent to which it overcomes the given grounds of opposition and opens up a space of translation: a place of hybridity, figuratively speaking, where the construction of a political object that is new, neither the one nor the other, properly alienates our political expectations, and changes, as if must, the very forms of our recognition of the moment of politics.

The Brennan Baby (Mills & Boon Vintage Desire) The Brennan Baby (Mills & Boon Vintage Desire)
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