Sunday, November 13, 2011

Voice and Agency: Cooper and Intersex Voice

In her article, black feminist Anna Julia Cooper raises questions about voice, agency, and mis/representation. As another black feminist, Kimberle Crenshaw, has noted, misrepresentation is one of the three main forms of violence done to black women as a result of their specific intersectionality of oppression.

I am currently reading the book Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex by Alice Domurat Dreger for another class, and Dreger similarly discusses the violence of misrepresentation committed against intersex and hermaphrodite individuals in the 18-1900's and the postmodern movement of reclamation that is now underway as intersex persons reclaim autonomy, authority, and voice, all of which had previously been relegated to medical authorities.

Dreger outlines five aspects of postmodernism that make this reclamation possible, and I thought I'd share them with you all, as it seems to me that the reclamation of voice Cooper advocates for black women similarly benefits:

1. "Postmodernism has sen the valuing of voices previously considered nonauthoritative" (Dreger 170): both groups would definitely fall into this category.

2. "Postmodernism has brought with it the recognition that there can never be a single, self-evident, 'true' story to be told" (Dreger 171). I think this also plays into Cooper's point that different groups should be able to tell their own stories- i.e. that black men should not tell the story of black women, but rather that black women should be relegated the authority to tell their own story (and medical authorities should not tell the stories of their intersex patients).

3. "Postmodern sufferers share a sense that their bodies have been 'colonized' in ways that compel them to resist and object" (Dreger 171). This relates to point 5...

4. "The modernist conception of the active-physician-hero... has given way to postmodern challenges of the doctor-patient balance of power" (Dreger 172). This could also be applied to gendered and racial power imbalances.

5. Postmodernism recognizes the social construction of concepts like sexual identity, normalcy, and race, which allows individuals to "see their experiences as culturally, historically specific and therefore not inherent in or necessary to their bodies" (Dreger 172). Awareness of the social construction of these identity categories allows subjects to recognize and fight against oppressions of misrepresentation.

Granted, these tenets could be applied to most minorities/oppressed groups, but I thought it rang true with Cooper's arguments.

Thoughts, anyone?

1 comment:

  1. Blair, I am intrigued by your application and your question. Points 1 and 2 seem very easy for me to accept, as well as part of point 5. Points 3, 4, and the other part of point 5 make sense to me, but I have a more difficult time overlaying them on Cooper's project.

    Just as I was trying to figure out how to articulate my difficulties with retroactively applying some of the "postmodernism is X" statements to Cooper, I reread this:

    "autonomy, authority, and voice, all of which had previously been relegated to medical authorities."

    That statement gives me especial insight into Dreger's project (so, thanks!) and really complicates the idea that mis/re/presentation is agential! But it also makes me realize that perhaps there is something even more nuanced to note in comparing Dreger's and Cooper's projects.

    In other words, in addition to (or, perhaps, instead of) applying these aspects of postmodernism from Dreger to justify Cooper's project, you helped me focus more narrowly on one point of intersection between Dreger and Cooper that I think is pretty significant:

    that perhaps what Cooper cites as the art of "thinking one's self imaginatively into the experiences of others" (qua Stowe, 382) is a more visceral experience than simply reading.

    I'm going to chew on this a bit, only because Cooper's project doesn't explicitly mention the flesh, the embodied, or the physical subject. So, I am hesitant to co-opt that part of her discussion. However, there does seem to be a mystique to either "being able to identify" or "not being able to identify" that I imagine needed to be unpacked. Some of it has to do with simple imagination, i.e., does this character call up the vision or memory of someone like us we know? However, if the call that Cooper makes is for us to write (our) new representations into literary history, then I can't help but think that this awareness of new representations (new subjects, new forms) will involve our responses to new or unfamiliar physical subjects and forms.

    In simpler, shorter terms: makes me realize the importance of the physical in establishing and disestablishing what we consider to be "normative."

    Still chewing ...

    -Prof. Graban


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