Licking The Book of Salt
Critical Feminist Studies
Licking The Book of Salt
"Powered sugar, cracker crumbs, salt...forgive my lack
of appreciation, my nonaffection for the snow." (225)
(From) The Folkloristics of Licking:
both the metaphoric and the epistemological dimensions
of Truong's novel. But first....
belated Stryker: Class Notes
Nature a story we tell about the material world: "I don't believe in nature"...in the inescapability of material life as a justificaiton for the status quo (nature as a justificatory story)
"geographical circulation is part of how I think": the bodily practice of travel to generate knowledge...continually discentered...a humbling education..."If you can't be at peace where you are, move"
and an addition to our discussion of Kindred as dream(s):
Her time travel is (to me) obviously dreams, and her physical alterations post-travel are metaphorical....the clue is when Kevin says she always comes back when she's in fear for her life--"everyone knows" you don't
experience your own death in dreams.
reporting in from Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights
tickets for Age of Arousal: now only $10!!
Seeing the Setting for the Voices now available on-line!
6-pp. drafts due by 5 p.m. tomorrow
Tuesday after Th'sgiving break: Gertrude Stein's "Lifting Belly,"
Poetry by Marilyn Hacker (esp. "Calzone" and "Embittered Elegy")
other favorite poems; our own??
reviewing/re-scheduling the remainder of the syllabus:
Th, Nov. 29 poetry and prose by Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Sandra Cisneros
T, Dec. 4 Wendy Wasserstein, The Heidi Chronicles
Th, Dec. 6 Paula Vogel, How I Learned to Drive
T, Dec. 11 FINAL PERFORMANCES
Th, Dec. 13 8 p.m.: Linda Griffiths, The Age of Arousal (2007) performed @ the Wilma
"My Madame knows that intrigue, like salt,
is best if it is there from the beginning." (177)
"Salt enhances the sweetness." (185)
"She had added a spoonful of salt to the
water to help cleanse the wound." (201)
"I charge four times the usual price for a salt print like that one." (246)
Salt (in other words!) has many uses...
One thing that it accentuates about this text?
That it's about tasting. Touching. Feeling.
Expanding the sensorium.
(from sarahcollins' class summary:
"It is 'writing the body,' Cixous-style....
Listen to what your tongue say; slow down thinking to perceive")
Can we not trust our expanded sensorium?
Let's think some more about the possible
political consequences of an expanded sensorium....
how do we come to know what we know; how close is "too close"? And what would a science look like in which knowledge was constituted by the deeply implicating and intimate experiencing of the Other?
[In] much of what we roughly characterize as "Western thought"...the eyes...are privileged above the other senses....Sniffing, tasting, touching...are so immediate, so intense, so of the body..."stress on the observation of material things...in which discrete items...are experienced at a remove would seem to lie at the core of our Western epistemology.
the power inhering in licking as a new mode of epistemology comes from its continuity with, and its presentation and immediation of, the nonlinear, nonrepresentational, nonmediating, "feelingful dimension of experience"....Licking, as opposed to looking, seeks to recognize and celebrate the existential conditions that all of us--whatever our relative positions in the ethnographic act of "gazing"...
are engaged with and must struggle to comprehend.
A relief for me. This is the kind of story I want to read more of, in which there are people like me, generally speaking (I'll settle for anything that isn't very heteronormative), but who have lives outside their genders, identities beyond their sexual partners and practices....Someone's got to do it, normalize (for lack of a better word?) queerness so it's not all Brokeback Mountain and Boys Don't Cry and The Well of Loneliness. Stories about queer people, not about queerness.
... And so perhaps The Book of Salt
represents an accomplishment which feminism is right now struggling
with: this book achieves a kind of inclusiveness, in which any and
every person is relevant because any and every person is gendered in
addition to and, and, and ... And the gendering informs the rest, the
rest informs the gendering.
(& a definition of contemporary feminist fiction):
an inclusiveness that not only gets beyond women,
but/and more generally,
beyond gender-definitionality and gender-centrality?
III. What role does Stryker's notion of "geographic circulation" play in this novel?
"Bridges belong to no one...a bridge has to belong to two parties, one on either side. There has to be an agreement, a mutual consent....Every bridge is...a monument to an accord." (92)
(The man on the bridge has the pseudonym Ho Chi Minh used while in Paris:
a "scholar-prince" with a postcolonial consciousness?)
On what are such bridges of accord built?
"A curse...was that man's boundless search or, perhaps, his steadfast belief that there existed an alternative to the specific silt of his family's land (59).
Is there "something more"?
"She thought she was hearing GertrudeStein's laughter....I thought I
was hearing my father's voice.
She had left hers behind. I had unfortunately overpacked." (160)
"there is no forgiveness in ancestor worship, only retribution and eternal debt." (196-197)
"To them, my body offers an exacting, predetermined life story. It
cripples their imagination as it does mine....I am an Indochinese
laborer, generalized and indiscriminate, easily spotted and readily
identifiable all the same. It is this curious mixture of careless
disregard and notoriety that makes me long to take my body into a busy
Saigon marketplace and lose it in the crush. There, I tell myself, I
was just a man...." (152)
"'the mutations of your condition are endless'...
the varietal nature of human attraction" (128)
What is the role of sex in this novel?
What is the relation of sex to narrative?
"there is no narrative in sex, in good sex that is. There is no beginning and there is no end, just the rub, the sting, the tickle, the white light of the here and now." (63)
"She has a democratic stare....She looks and looks until she
sees....Her weakness...lies in the sheer force of her
suppositions...They make her vulnerable in unexpected ways." (157)
"Sorrow preys on the unprotected openings, the eyes, ears, mouth, and heart. Do not speak, see, hear or feel. Pain is allayed, and sadness will subside. Ignorance...is best for someone like me." (107)
"I lie to myself like no one else can." (80)
IV. How do we read this novel, in light of Stein's aesthetic?
"Pointless overdecoration, GertrudeStein explains, thinking of the commas and periods she has plucked from the pages of her writings. Such interference, she insists, are nothing more than toads flattened on a country road, careless and unsightly. The modern world is without limits, she tells Miss Toklas, so the modern story must accomodate the possibilities--a road where she can get lost if she so choses or go slow and touch each blade of grass." (28)
"My comprehension...is based mostly on my ability to look for the signals and intepret the signs. Words...are convenient, a handy shortcut to meaning. But too often, words limit and deny." (117)
"'Slip your own meanings into their words'...Language is a house with a host of doors, and I am too often uninvited and without the keys." (155)
"A 'memory' for me was another way of saying a 'story.' A 'story' was another way of saying a 'gift.'" (258)
V. But: let's look harder and longer at the uneasy power relations in the novel (per Clausen):
--distorted intimacies of domestic service as a microcosm of distorted geopolitical relations
--condescension and racism in unwillingness to learn how to pronounce his name correctly
Wouldn't that make it a loan?" (164)
The Book of Salt as a good test case for Barbara Johnson's claim that
literature is important for feminism…as the place where impasses
can be kept
and opened for examination, questions can be guarded and not forced into
a premature validation of the available paradigms...
giving-to-read those impossible contradictions that cannot yet be spoken.