Thursday, 1 December 2011

Teresa e o bolo de bolacha (maria?)

Conheci a Maria Teresa Horta a semana passada. Foi emotivo conhecê-la e ouvi-la, estar perto dela e fazer-lhe perguntas. Mudou tudo saber certas coisas, como por exemplo, que ela tinha vindo falar-nos apesar de o neto a esperar nessa tarde em Lisboa, a ela e ao bolo de bolacha ainda por fazer. Imaginei-a na cozinha a olhar para as bolachas maria em cima do balcão, e depois a ir buscar a manteiga ao frigorífico com aqueles dedos longos cheios de anéis. A lavar os anéis depois de o bolo estar já em cima da mesa, nos dedos do neto. Esta Maria Teresa contou muitas histórias com uma generosidade que eu não esperava. Não sei bem por que razão eu não esperava a generosidade. Senti-me pequena, quase neta de novo, naquela sala. Havia muito amor ali, fios de amor que se cruzavam na lã do ar. Nós, os do projecto, fazendo perguntas como se de médicos amorosos nos tratássemos, buscando sintomas nas memórias dela, inquirindo, observando, rabiscando. Novas Cartas, agora que as tres-leio, fazem-me pensar muito mais no amor do que antes. No que há de antiquado nisso de escrever (cartas de) amor. Quero ler A Lover's Discourse do Barthes, mas enquanto não leio, vou vendo The Deep Blue Sea, e lendo outras coisas, como o Museu da Inocência do Orhan Pamuk, dentro do qual os dois amantes reconhecem agora mesmo que,

 "the gap between compassion and surrender is love's darkest, deepest region" (pp. 141)

Claro que todas as cartas de amor são ridículas. Até esta. Apetece-me desdenhar. O que pode o amor? O amor em carta ou em blog, o que pode, o que explode? Sim manas, "como imaginar o amor num mundo todo torto?" (NCP, pp. 301)

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Workshop Internacional Novas Cartas Portuguesas | 40 Anos Depois

25-26 Novembro 2011@ Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto
Com a participação de Maria Teresa Horta


Thursday, 10 November 2011

On WISPS @ IGRS (and on movable books)

How nice to see old friends and meet new people at the WISPS conference today.  I gave a talk on "Performing Novas Cartas (instead of reading it)" (will post soon), and had some productive feedback. Thanks to Catherine Boyle for making me think about why some books go through revivals at certain points in time. Why does it make sense to re-read Novas Cartas today? How does this 70s book help me understand the world I live in? And why is everyone suddenly talking about/working on this book in Portugal? As she said, it is not a problem that some books get to be perceived as political symbols. What matters is what they have to offer beyond the political - what makes them "movable", so to speak.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Are we all feminists now? When subversion becomes the norm

Toril Moi, the James B. Duke Professor of Literature, Romance Studies and Theatre Studies at Duke University, used to offer an undergraduate seminar called “Feminist Classics”. She would always start by asking students whether they considered themselves to be feminists. The answer was usually “no”. When she asked them if they were in favour of freedom, equality and justice for women, the answer was always “yes”. “Doesn't this mean that you are feminists after all?, Moi would ask. The students' reply was: “Oh well, if that's what you mean by feminism, then we are all feminists. But we would never call ourselves a feminist” (Moi 2006: 1735).

Toril Moi's students share something with my students, most of whom are women. They would never call themselves a feminist. Never mind that their presence in the university is entirely due to the feminist struggle. Often, the politically convenient explanation for rejecting the label is that the fight has already been won and that even if some things aren't equal yet, change will just come over time. Moreover, despite the fact that women continue to fare less well than men everywhere, my students would suggest that inequality is elsewhere, and that feminism is needeed only in faraway places like Saudi Arabia and African countries – a belief that may have been reinforced, perhaps unwittingly, by the Norwegian Nobel Prize committee's recent decision to award the Peace Nobel Prize to three “Third World” women. The Peace Nobel Prize was jointly to the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, peace activist Leymah Gbowee (Liberia) and human rights activist Tawakkul Karman (Yemen) for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work”.

Upon closer inspection, the reasons invoked for rejecting the label change ever so slightly. It turns out that feminists are supposed to be very uncool: they wear ugly clothes, hate sexy high heels, don't shave their armpits or legs, are angry all the time, hate porn, hate men, particularly those who insist on opening doors, carrying their shopping and helping them choose computers, are secretly lesbians, are responsible for the rise of obesity of children, of child bullying and divorce rate, and get easily offended when someone calls God a “he”. And they definitely don't give enough importance to a good pedicure. The bitter, men-hater, flannel wearing, militant, hairy, lesbian feminist stigma offers a more viable explanation as to why there is a clear rejection of the label, even if people express attitudes that could be called feminist.

And yet, after 40 years of equal pay legislation in Britain, my female students will still be paid 70% of male rates once they graduate (according to a report from the Eurobarometer). They will also be more likely to be made redundant (4.5% women compared with 3% men) and to end up with a part-time job. The UK is a world-leader in the field of part-time work for women, being 5 times as common among women as among men (Central Statistical Office, Social Focus on Women, pp. 25). While women may be going to universities more than men, the courses of study that they “choose” remain very different. Also, convergence is being achieved much faster in education than in, say, political participation, and where female labour force participation has increased, the representation of women in senior management and the board rooms has risen more slowly (World Bank report 2012: 35). Less than 20% of seats in parliament around the world are held by women.

In this situation, the old socialist quote comes to mind, but with a difference: a young woman who isn't a feminist hasn't got a heart, an old woman who is a feminist hasn't got a head (or a bra).

Toril Moi's classroom experiment exemplifies the situation in which we find ourselves in relation to feminism. In white, privileged parts of the world, like North America and Western Europe, it seems that feminism has been very successful at spreading a rhetoric of freedom, equality, empowerment, and justice for all. In public hardly anyone wold openly defend inequality between men and women. But this does not mean that the creation of a genuine and throroughly institutionalised justice has been achieved. Thus we live in an era of what could be called normalised feminism: one that advocates the female subject as an equal – but mainly as an equal consumer. By virtue of having succeeded at this rhetorical level, or by virtue of having failed really well, feminist rhetoric has become independent of the movement. It's like democracy (Fraser): we're all in favour of it. And like democracy, it is out there, to be used by anyone, for any purpose whatsoever.

So, we have Bush and Blair announcing that they are going to liberate Afghan women from the Taliban. As pointed out by Sebastião Martins here, there has been a certain complicity from women's groups, most notably from peace advocate Hibaaq Osman, who gave a speech at the United Nations in 2001, claiming that the only just cause for invading Afghanistan was the ousting of the women-repressive Taliban regime.

We have Sarah Palin who, in a speech (May 14 2010) given to an anti-abortion rights group, invoked the words “feminism” and “feminist” a dozen times, calling for a “pro-woman” sisterhood and systematically addressing her “sisters” in the audience

We have the British higher education minister David Willetts who has promoted the idea that working women are responsible for unemployment in Britain, while arguing that “it is not a bad thing that women had these opportunities”.

We have self-proclaimed “feminist” books such as Caitlin Moran's recent How to be a Woman, offering readers “who don't have time to work out if they are a woman's libber” (79) a quick and rather innovative way of finding it out:

Put your hands in your pants.
a) Do you have a vagina? And
b) do you want to be in charge of it?

If you said yes to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist.” (79)


This situation presents new challenges. What do you do in this context, where white, privileged opinion either rhetorically endorses feminism, provided we don't call it that way, or claims the F-word triumphantly, provided we abandon any serious examination of the political/economic life conditions of women across the world? Our society is one which despises feminists but loves the feminist buzzwords. Equality, freedom, choice, difference, self-expression are becoming players in the master narratives of right-wing politics and capitalism. What do you do when your discourse of emancipation is put at the service of society's often sexist and consummerist logic?

In an age when even Sarah Palin wants to be known as a feminist, I am afraid of being known as one. This is not because I'm concerned that the tag will put men off, but because I don't want to be associated with the invocation of war, anti-gay rights or pro-life propaganda in the name of choice and freedom for women. In this context, I suggest we apply Sturgeon's Law to everything that reads as “feminist”. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Sturgeon's Law is “a humorous aphorism which maintains that most of any body of published material, knowledge, etc., or (more generally) of everything is worthless”. The expression was apparently first formulated in 1951 or 1952 at a lecture at New York University and it is based on a statement by science fiction Theodore Sturgeon (well known among readers of classic science fiction works, achieved the height of popularity in the 50s) and usually cited as “90 percent of everything is crap.” The remaining 10 percent is what we call good, and ten percent of that – one story in a hundred – is really good. To Sturgeon, science fiction was the only genre evaluated by its worst examples rather than its best. Something similar happens with feminism, which needs to be evaluated by its best examples, rather than its worst.

Consider the recent publication, Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital, by Catherine Hakim, a senior research fellow in sociology at the LSE. Honey Money received a lot of media coverage before and when it came out, no doubt because of its polemic treatment of how women should behave, act and desire. In the book, Hakim coins the term “erotic capital” in order to argue that, for women to overcome unequal pay and succeed in life, they should invest in good looks and a substantial degree of charm in the workplace. This is because of what she terms the “male sex deficit”: in short, men want much more sex than women, and therefore, women should exploit this by transforming physical atractiveness and sexuality into power assets. She asks in her introduction: “Why does no-one encourage women to exploit men whenever they can?” (Hakim 2011: 3).

I think that this book made the headlines also because of the highly marketable account of feminism it provides. Distancing herself from feminism, Hakim systematically conflates feminist perspectives, lesbianism, man-hating practices, and a distate for beauty practices, as if these always came in one bundle. To her mind, “Feminism, in all its colours and variations rejects sex and sexuality” (90), while “radical feminists are fundamentally anti-sex and anti-eroticism as well as anti-men” (98). Without providing examples, Hakim argues that “the feminist messages offered, explicitly and implicity, stimulate impotent rage against men and society with no realistic alternative to heterosexuality and marriage except for celibacy and lesbianism”, two options which, according to her, “both represent a flight response to male domination and are defeatist” (93). Also, all feminists prefer “the equality of complete symmetry in family roles, employment and earnings” (pp. 43), although in real life “women don't really want equality: gender studies courses leave women diminished instead of empowered, angry instead of confident” (93), says Hakim. The discourse on feminism that makes the headlines is often of this sort, picking stereotypical perceptions of feminists, exaggerated feminist polemics and extreme statements so as to show how they accurately reflect the general drift of the feminist perspective, as if there were only one.

But feminism does not defend that all household tasks should be equally shared. Nor does it defend that all women should pursue a career instead of marrying a rich man, staying at home, and being mothers. And it is not a defining feature of feminism that feminists should hate men. Instead, feminists often problematise a pervasive patriarchal system which affects both men and women.

In fact, feminism isn't about telling people what to do. Instead, it is an outlook on life that aims at changing existing power relations, in order to create the conditions necessary for people to craft their own sexual/gendered/social identities as they please. When we read a book like Honey Money which constantly argues that men almost invariably want more sex than women, we are in effect being told how to desire. When we read that Holly, the main character of Breakfast at Tiffany's is “adorable – extrovert, playful, stylish, flirtatious, very pretty and very sexual, but streetwise enough to ignore poor men” (Hakim 2011: 163-4), we are being told how to act. 

Often, however, the feminist replies to the kind of provocations books like Honey Money make aren't very helpful either, for they tend to offer moralistic responses. As pointed out by Nina Power in One Dimensional Woman, they are usually characterised by middle-class moralistic horror and disapproval, and they offer little more than descriptions of how our society wants women to behave like dolls (cf. Natasha Walter's Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism).

Effective feminist discourse does not fall in the moralising trap, but contributes to upsetting sexual assumptions by producing structured explanatory analyses of how men and women behave, for example, under capitalism. It is not enough to occupy an emancipationist position or a sexual difference position, or even to write/talk about and for women in order to speak as a feminist. On the other hand, there is little that distinguishes a feminist from a person who rejects the F-word but acknowledges the idea of women's subordination, and tries to change exploitative power relations which continue to structure all areas of life, the family, education and welfare, work, culture and leisure, between men and women.

The best examples of feminism do not tell us what to do. They emphasise the idea that there is no pure or single feminist or female space from which we can speak. Although feminism contains the marker of ideology, it has a pluralistic nature. However, books that make this pluralism visible, by decentring points of view and playing out the tensions between different feminist positions in the broader contexts of economics and history tend to be problematically received or even discarded and forgotten (cf. Novas Cartas). I think one of the main challenges that feminists face today is to provide a real alternative on how to go mainstream.

Of course, an important corollary to Sturgeon's Law is that 90% of everybody thinks they are part of the 10% that isn't crap. And so, everything I have to say about feminism is going to be really good, by my own standards. You might rightly ask, who am I to define what feminism is or should be? Who am I to spot when feminism is being misused? And more importantly, is there a “real” feminism out there that specially-designated people (like academics) can distinguish from “fake” feminism?

In an ideal society, no-one should tell anyone how to live their lives. An ideal society offers the conditions necessary for people to make up their minds about the kind of life they would like to pursue. This is the outlook on life defended by feminism as I understand it: feminism offers people the freedom to do whatever they want to do with their lives, bodies and identities. But – and there is a big but here – these are exactly the conditions that allow the Bushes and Blairs and Palins of this world to get away with it. So, again, what do you do? Can we – not “we” as experts or leaders, but “we” as citizens – continue to avoid making choices about the kind of society we want? Can we afford not to apply Sturgeon's Law to everything that reads as “feminist”, or “emancipatory”, or “empowering”? Being a feminist is like being an ecologist. You have to take care of the environment if you want to survive. You have to tackle inequality, exploitation and injustice if you want to survive. As academics, our task is not to sell this or that political/philosophical label, but to set the terms of an open, inclusive debate where everyone can contribute their views, but also make choices together that will allow us to survive in the long run. As academics, this is the best we can do. As Italo Calvino once wrote, “the best we can do is to avoid the worst” (Calvino 1979).

Monday, 7 November 2011

The untold stories of Menina e Moça

"De como a levou ele, e o ela perdeu, se conta um grande conto. Deixá-lo-ei agora, porque tenho outro caminho tomado, ainda que, entre os homens, todos os caminhos vão ter a fim de mulheres; mas, pois morais nesta terra, outra hora nos veremos, e contar-vo-lo-ei então, se por ventura vos ficar desejo de ouvi-lo." Menina e Moça (Ribeiro 2011: 55)

"E, daqui até que lhe aconteceu a desventura que vos contarei, se passaram tempos e outras infindas coisas; pois os paços de Lamentor acabaram-se, e pelo apartamento do lugar onde eles estavam, Aónia e a ama, com outras mulheres de casa, iam passar tempo 'a ribeira deste rio, onde Bimnarder sempre andava." Menina e Moça (Ribeiro 2011: 84)

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Leitura colectiva - Novas Cartas Portuguesas

Local: Centro de Cultura e Intervenção Feminista (CCIF)
Morada: Rua da Cozinha Económica, Bloco D, 30-M e N, Alcântara, Lisboa
Contactos: 218 873 005

Websites: de Eva FCSH
Uma iniciativa CESNOVA/ Faces de Eva, em colaboração com a UMAR

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

think equal - are we all feminists now?

Nike has one. The Commonwealth Countries League Education has one. The World Bank has one. (I think this one is also Nike's) It seems that having a THINK EQUAL/GIRL EFFECT video is the new must. Have you got one yet? Post them here if you do, I'm interested in collecting. I'm writing a talk on this new equality craze and will post soon... PS- There's even a parody on the genre here!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Fresh from ABIL (and a year older)

Another very nice ABIL conference, this time in Leeds. Apresentei esta palestra. Regressei a casa com perguntas, daquelas chatas que parecem simples mas que depois se agarram às paredes do corpo antes de dormir: What is there about Novas Cartas Portuguesas that hasn't already been said, de onde vem esta vontade de escrever sobre este livro, de mim ou dos outros. É uma vontade grande, por isso vou em frente.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

second wave goggles

(left: women in Tahrir Square in Cairo; right: women in Cartello Sforzesco in Milan)

Sometimes it feels like we're still surfing the second wave... As I was reading this post from La ventisettesima ora - un blog al femminile curato da 15 giornaliste del Corriere della Sera - I remembered Kathleen Sheldon's conversation with Raquel Fernando, a cashew worker and OMM (Organizaçao da mulher moçambicana) activist from Beira, which may be found in the introduction to Pounders of Grain: A History of Women, Work and Politics in Mozambique. Here's a quick summary. Walking along a dusty road, Fernando asked Sheldon if women in the US had a women's organisation like OMM. Katheen explained that "American women's organisations were not only autonomous from governmental structures, but were even antagonistic to them", whereas in Mozambique there was a very close connection between the women's organisation and the ruling party Frelimo. As the discussion unfolded, Fernando suggested that perhaps Sheldon could use her experience in Mozambique to help American women develop their political organisations. This chat led Sheldon to rethink her own assumptions about women and political organisations. I think the insights of Sheldon's thought-provoking introduction (and whole book) would help answering (or perhaps rephrasing?) Cecilia Zecchinelli's question: "ma l'esperienza di noi italiane può servire oggi alle donne arabe?"

Thursday, 18 August 2011

"How to Be a Woman" - an uncomfortable laugh

The title of Caitlin Moran's new book, How to Be a Woman, is a nod and a wink to Simone de Beauvoir's famous argument that "One is not born a woman, one becomes a woman". The publication of The Second Sex in 1949 disrupted the eight-century-old model which had been used in France for written debate on the woman question. Beauvoir did not consider herself a feminist at the time of the publication and this changed the terms of the discussion by producing a text that did not defend or answer previous anti-feminist attacks. As the editors of New French Feminisms argue, the centre of her study was elsewhere: how does a female baby become or not become a feminine woman? (Courtivron and Marks 1980: 7). Instead of enumerating or realigning categories, Beauvoir goes on to analyse a process. Instead of suggesting that all the available systems were biased because they had been devised by men, she argued that they were biased because they were limited (they left women out). The question in The Second Sex is thus no longer relegated to an anti-feminist/feminist debate. Rather, the question becomes fundamental to any discussion of human culture.

Despite the wink and the nod, How to be a Woman doesn't follow this path. It's a book that defines feminism as a search for common sense in the eternal battle of the sexes. As such it manages to reinforce not only a very reductive definition of feminism (which is much more than a search for common sense), but also an aura of negativity around this term, which tends to appear only in opposition to something else.

Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed Moran's new book. It's witty and chatty and a great beach read. But its aspiration to being a feminist book had a perplexing effect on me. Every funny remark (and there are some really funny pages) made me feel very uncomfortable. This shiny new book, which aims to popularise, revive and energise feminism, and to take it back to the streets again, has the potential to achieve a level of visibility that I will never dream of achieving with my obscure academic papers on the Three Marias's long-forgotten New Portuguese Letters. I mean, you don't have to have been to the UKFeminista's suffragette school in Birmingham this summer in order to imagine how this book must be inspiring the protest techniques of would-be-twenty-something London activists.

So where does this sense of discomfort come from?

How to Be a Woman seems, at first, to proudly bear the burden of representation of the working class. With this book, Moran knits her own this-is-what-a-working-class-girl-turned-feminist-looks-like literary shirt. Caitlin is the eldest of eight children, and was brought up in a small council house in Wolverhampton, the reader is told repeatedly. As we learn at the very beginning, she turned into a precocious writer because she had literally no friends. Except, that is, Saffron, a psycho German shepherd who used to manifest distress by licking its vagina.

But instead of tracing this visible burden's weight, the book goes elsewhere. From chapter 4 onwards, the middle-class bias starts popping in unannounced. For example, the bulk of the chapter dedicated to “I am a feminist” boils down to an attempt to exorcise Caitlin's own guilt complex for hiring female domestic help. She argues painstakingly that there is no difference between paying someone to clean your house and “paying someone to apply peroxide to your bumhole and make it look like Marilyn Monroe”(83). Everything turns out to be the choice of free, autonomous female individuals, and no decision whatsoever has anything to do with myths put forward by the patriarchal society we live in. Why bother asking women why they want to have Marilyn's bum. Want it? Have it. Do you wish to work as a cleaning lady? Then go and fulfil your life-long dream!

An interesting point made in How to be a Woman is that women are not naturally co-operative. Caitlin doesn't “build in a 20 per cent 'Genital Similarity Regard-Bonus'” (85) if she meets someone else wearing a bra. It's perfectly OK that this is not a super original argument (Walter wrote exactly the same thing in 1998). For an idea to sustain itself and enter people's brains and make change it needs a lot of repetition, and witty repetition, if possible. One of the problems with this book is that, again like Walter before her, Moran is still – wrongly, I would argue – fighting for a piece of the pie of hegemonic power. Her rule of thumb, which allows her to judge “whether some sexist bullshit is afoot” (86), is asking the simple question: “Are the men doing it?”. To Moran, one needs to reclaim the term feminist so that women can do what men are doing and refuse to do what men are not doing.

This is what Moran's feminism seems to be all about. The problem, then, lies in the terms of the discussion. It's really hard to miss the flaw here. Never mind the lack of real social and political analysis. We can assume from anecdotal evidence taken from Moran's working class childhood memories that all her middle class feminist experiences equal reality for Woman everywhere. The arguments put forward in the book are poor and often circular, with little real analysis behind them. What's more, the book is meant not to have real analysis behind it, so that it can reach more women, real women who aren't academics. As if theory wasn't needed in the world we live in, and as if real women couldn't follow arguments that aren't circular and backed up with reliable evidence.

The chatty, universalist liberal feminist tone of the book of How to Be a Woman is not new. Moran's book is part of a wave of literature dealing with a certain notion of crisis within feminism, a desire to reclaim the term and give it a new direction. Others before it have claimed that the second-wave achieved only half of the revolution's goals (think Natasha Walter's The New Feminism, and Living Dolls: The return of Sexism). But I find myself thinking twice before embarking on this rediscovery of feminism.

I've been thinking a lot about whether I'm a feminist or not. I've recently decided that I should start calling myself a feminist. I have since realised that I'm not comfortable calling myself a feminist. I've decided that I'll go on calling myself a feminist. My discomfort, which stems from the kind of ambivalence I experienced towards Caitlin's book as a Portuguese woman working in the UK, is not enough to prevent me from enjoying the popularising buzz of her writing. After all, How to Be a Woman is doing its bit to help place feminism back on the UK agenda for public discussion. This is no small feat. As a feminist, I acknowledge the feat, but reject the terms of the discussion. Still, I share the joy in the air.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Alice in researchland is thinking that...

... si on est né politique, on ne devient pas théorique.

The more I think and read about Novas Cartas, the more I'm convinced of this simple truth. I'm finishing an article about this (hence the blogger's silence) and will post it as soon as it's ripe.

Another silly reason for my long blogger's silence: I'm reading the at times hilarious, but feminism-rocks-kind-of-superfluous How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran (above in a Neal Fox illustration). More about this soon too...

Monday, 13 June 2011

Website to set the wheels in motion

The project Novas Cartas Portuguesas 40 Anos Depois has a brand new website. Worth having a look!

"Este projecto tem por objectivo criar uma rede transcultural e internacional em torno do livro Novas Cartas Portuguesas, publicado em 1972 por Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta e Maria Velho da Costa, dando conta da investigação desenvolvida em Portugal e em vários países ocidentais nos últimos quarenta anos em torno de Novas Cartas Portuguesas."

Friday, 10 June 2011

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

post that couldn't fit in a tweet

porter's lodge of college @cam, closed for visitors due to top secret choir rehearsals inside

Middle-aged male English porter
Young non-English woman

Porter: Are you student or staff?
Woman: I'm staff.
Porter: Oh, kitchen staff... you may come in.

Saturday, 28 May 2011


"Encontrará o amor outra maneira senão esta: aquele que utiliza ou é utilizado. Aquele que devora ou é devorado; se finge devorado e por sua vez devora." (NCP, pp. 33)

Monday, 16 May 2011

Take this book and make it home

But what does it mean to take this book and make it home? What are the political consequences of claiming it as origin? If Novas Cartas brings with it the idea of “home”, and if home is that which is inherently different from an elsewhere, then the implicit connection between the book and one’s feminist identity ultimately reinforces the state of being tied to a specific location. In this case, the location is Lisbon, Portugal. I'm Portuguese, but I'm not from Lisbon. Lisbon is beautiful, with its famous light and charming eléctricos. People like Eugène Green make ravishing shots of the place, but Lisbon clearly isn't crossed by my hometown's ribeira. (Apparently that ribeira is stamped on my face, since old ladies in college dinners tend to ask condescendingly, so were is your village, my darling, once I tell them I'm from Portugal.) It gets more and more complicated, because I'm not from my hometown either. (I used to be, now I am and I'm not from there). Even if I were entirely from there, what a curious place to root my feminism. And yet, that ribeira stares at my feminism, day and night. Vem sentar-te comigo, ribeira, à beira do meu feminismo. Fiquemos assim, as duas, bucólicas e pensativas, a murar este ismo que um dia chegou de Lisboa. Underneath my goal to make the web of “clausuras” around the book implode lies a hidden desire to centralise, to find an origin, a specific geopolitical, temporal point, a stable, unchanging frame of reference pinning feminism down to a particular national ground (or local ribeira). My perception of the “book-as-root” ultimately signals an anxiety in relation to its status as “book-en-route”, in transit in and out of Portugal, into the world.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Allegra writes like a girl

I just read an article in The Guardian that made me think of a paper I gave back in 2009. The paper addressed the way in which two women writers coming from both sides of the Lusophone postcolonial divide coexist within Lusophone literary studies, and it was one of the most provocative I ever wrote, eliciting some strong post-conference responses (which I took as evidence that I was indeed asking the right questions).

The women were Mozambican writer Paulina Chiziane and Portuguese writer Lidia Jorge. I was interested in approaching them comparatively, for although they are among the most successful women writers in the field, I sense that they are not popular in the same way. I drew on published reviews of both authors work which conclude that, as women writers, Chiziane and Jorge apparently lack the touch of Midas that will transform their books into literary gold. From this I inferred that gender concerns in women's writing continue to be viewed with suspicion, which leads to certain books being dismissed as if in need of "poda" in terms that, rather interestingly, cut across the postcolonial divide.

I’m still not sure if this is simply the way in which all writers, male and female, are read before they reach canonical status. More research would be needed here. But I think it’s got something to do with what particular books are about, and not simply with how they are written (the view suggested in the Guardian article). What they're about, together with where they come from and who writes them, influences how they're valued.

Friday, 28 January 2011

More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing -- Amartya Sen

"The numbers of “missing women” in relation to the numbers that could be expected if men and women received similar care in health, medicine, and nutrition, are remarkably large. A great many more than a hundred million women are simply not there because women are neglected compared with men. If this situation is to be corrected by political action and public policy, the reasons why there are so many “missing” women must first be better understood. We confront here what is clearly one of the more momentous, and neglected, problems facing the world today." (20 December 1990)

a great read by Amartya Sen, 1998 Nobel Prize winner

Friday, 21 January 2011

On pre-loved books

A most precious gift awaited me in the office this morning. Inside the envelope was the first Italian edition of Novas Cartas Portuguesas (Milano, Rizzole Editore, 1977, translated by Marina Valente, preface by Armanda Guidicci).

The dim yellow copertina morbida misspells “Velhoda Costa”, and exhibits the following sentence in red:

“I movimenti femministi d’Europa e d’America si sono riconosciuti in questo libro proibito sulla ‘clausura’ della donna”

I find the choice of "riconosciuti" interesting. I can't help myself and sniff at the use of donna in the singular. I feel fortunate as open it and read, for the first time, Prima Lettera I.

Poiché tutta la letteratura non è che una lunga lettera a un interlocutore invisibile, presente, possible o futura passione che liquidiamo, alimentiamo o cerchiamo. E già si è detto che non conta tanto l’oggetto, che è un semplice pretesto, quanto la passione; e io aggiungo che non conta tanto la passione, che e un semplice pretesto, quant oil suo esercizio. Non sarà, quindi, necessario chiederci se ciò che ci unisce è la comune passione di esercizi diversi o l’esercizio comune di passioni diverse. Ci limiteremo a chiederci qual è la forma del nostro esercizio, se è la nostalgia o la vendetta. Si, senza dubbio, la nostalgia è anche una forma di vendetta e la vendetta una forma di nostalgia: in entrambi I casi cerchiamo qualcosa che ci risparmi la ritirata o ci evite la distruzione. Ma non per questo la passione smette di essere la forza e l’esercizio ciò che le da senso. Con la sola nostalgia faremo una sorellanza e un convento, suor Mariana dale cinque lettere. Con la sola vendetta faremo un ottobre, un maggio, un nuovo mese con cui coprire il calendario. E di noi stesse, cosa faremo?

The gift surprised me when I most needed it. As I place it next to my own 1998 Dom Quixote Portuguese version partially destroyed by the handwriting of some disillusioned Amazon seller, I think that Derrida was right. Nothing is more difficult than to accept a gift.

Grazie tante.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

São Lima and São Tomé on "Pública" 09.01.11

"Diria que a agenda deste Governo parece não incluir a aceitação, e muito menos o encorajamento, de espaços de debate, de confronto de ideias, de exercício do contraditório, de acareação de perspectivas sobre as grandes áreas da cidadania, de interpelação, sobretudo dos governantes, sobre as suas opções e decisões." (pp. 46-51)