i just started to read Said's Orientalism (1978, republished in 2003). It's gripping and is helping me to articulate what it is that I am doing in my thesis. I am expanding the concept of orientalism beyond race, to sexuality and disability. At least, that is part of the project. Another is queerying and cripping race, cripping sexuality and queerying disability. I like the way Said juxtaposes the orient and the occident, where the latter generates the former (like het discourse generates homosexuality, as Foucault has explained). When i refer to "progressives" in describing whose discourse i'm looking at, i mean occidentals who talk about orientals, but also orientals who orientalise themselves. In Foucaultian terms, i mean both hets who talk about homos, and homos who talk in the "reverse discourse" defending homosexuality.
a new running title: Defending the Other.
i found a really useful concept a few days ago in a chapter in Hage's Arab-Australians Today book. they talked about there being a difference between essentalisms that are controlled by other people and used to control you, and essentialisms that you use yourself, to generate community. it's an interesting idea, because it certainly resonates with my life, for example with mental health consumer stuff, i'm happy to take on the bpd label among mad people, because it does explain something about my experience, and i definitely bond with other bpd-ers over our experiences. but i hesitate to use the label around people who don't get the politics/experience, because it can essentialise me and contain me in ways that i despise.
but, on the other hand, i've also experienced essentialism used in the community-building sense to be deeply problematic. a few years ago, i went to lesfest, which is an annual lesbian festival that excludes transpeople on political grounds. on some level, i understand the desire to create community around a sense of commonality, and i do think that what i've heard/read about trans experience that it is different to that of women who have been identified as women their whole lives. but then, i also believe that women are so heterogenous, that actually transpeople aren't the only people that the lesfest community excludes, the processes of exclusion extend to anyone suspected of disagreeing with the politics of trans-exclusion (aka "women-born-women's only space"), to people who engage in bisexual activity, or believe that such women should be welcome, to people whose lesbian-feminist politics are "a bit iffy", perhaps they are into S/m, or are femmie, or enjoy heels and lippie, or to be honest, it felt like anyone who wasn't middle-aged, feminist from the 70s, short-haired, wearing purple and green paraphernalia and volunteering "for the community", then we were outside the circle of unconditional welcome.
Derrida in On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness puts forward a concept of "absolute forgiveness", which I think is fundamentally what "unconditional welcome" is about. I haven't yet read this work by Derrida, so I'm going to have to quote from a website i googled up :>
"absolute forgiveness requires a radically singular confrontation between self and other, while conditional forgiveness requires the breaching of categories such as self and other, either by a mediating party, or simply by the recognition of the ways in which we are always already intertwined with the other. (OCF 49)." (from http://www.iep.utm.edu/d/derrida.htm#SH7c)
That's definitely what I keep finding in my very informal research, e.g. Yooralla's ad that says "Why Yooralla Week? Because this is our community." To me, this ad is really asking "why be nice to people with disabilities?" (in fact, I'd go further and say, there's a dark undercurrent of "why not solve the problem of disabled people by gassing them or perhaps preventing them from being born? (the latter is the more contemporary way of "solving the problem" but springs from the same profound repugnance)). Why? "because they're part of our community". Not "because they have the capacity to suffer" or "because human life is precious" or "because human diversity is intrinsically valuable" or "because the logic of human perfection is an inherently destructive way of imagining what the purpose of life is" or ... whatever else is possible.
Wow. am feeling like, so academic, referring to ideas from Said, Foucault, Hage and Derrida all in the same post. I should look back at this next time i feel like i spent the whole week planting cabbages and digging up jerusalem artichokes. although my time is spent more in the garden than at my desk, i think my brain works better this way.