This term, I took a fascinating seminar in a field I once said I’d never to take a course in, Women’s Studies. The course, Venus in Chains: Writing the Lives of Anonymous Women, proved similar to my undergraduate experience in History of the City of New York in that my head has been expanded and kneaded and thrown around a bit as it learns of new things and ways of thinking. I hope that I’ve come out for the better. This multi-disciplinary class examined how does one, or can one, give voice to those without one? To the slaves, to the whores, to the orphans without history, can we resurrect their lives? Can we do this from a scrap of a page found in an archive? Or, in attempting to do so, do we erase them forever and cause further violence? I’m not sure I have any answers, but I’m thankful that I took this course and have proven to myself that I can take a course by an English professor (my last English course, over a decade ago, resulted in my desiring never to darken an English professor’s door ever again. I’m very happy I’ve taken this course and have indeed darked an English professor’s door and lived to tell the tale.) The course has definitely given me much to think about.
These are the last two books we officially read for the seminar. There are a few that were initially on the reading list but fell off for a variety of reasons. I hope to one day read them.
by Yvette Christiansë
This took my brain and shook it hard. The first couple of pages are really difficult– I don’t recommend them if you are fighting a cold. You wonder what this craziness is you have to read. How does it all relate? What am I doing here. Slowly, Christiansë’s poetry washes over you and you learn how strong and clear the story is. I had the pleasure of her coming to my seminar and talking about herself, her relationship with Sila, and quite a few things in between. It’s poignant and I came away with a very different impression of what South African colonial life (and slavery) was like than I had going into the book (ok ok, I had no opinion because I had never been taught anything about South Africa and internal (colonial) slavery). The meandering is an intentional story telling device and I think it does a beautiful job in telling the story Christiansë wanted to tell, from finding the one scrap of Sila in the archives and hearing her alone speak Heartsore.
Be warned, this is a poet’s first novel and there are some bits where I think that fact shines through, but it’s definitely a novel that made me think.
Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade
by Assia Djebar
I’m still wrapping my head around this one, as the cover’s not yet cold from my finishing it this afternoon. However, once again, the braided story has left me thinking. I think of story telling methods, I think of uses of an archive, I think of ways to organise and build that archive, and I think toward the future of archives. These interwoven stories, the history and culture (of which I was somewhat ignorant), and the quest for independence result in an enjoyable read. Don’t think that the short chapters mean you can read it in short bursts. I found it made more sense when I read it in larger stretches.