Stephen Batchelor, Widow Basquiat, Feminine Ecriture, Prescription
**Stephen Batchelor: Compassion As Awakening**
When we are faced with the unprecedented and unrepeatable complexities of this moment, the question is not, “What is the right thing to do?” but “What is the compassionate thing to do?” This question can be approached with integrity but not with certainty. In accepting that every action is a risk, integrity embraces the fallibility that certainty disdainfully eschews.
Ethical integrity is threatened as much by attachment to the security of what is known as the fear of the insecurity of what is unknown. It is liable to be remorselessly buffeted by the winds of desire and fear, doubt and worry, fantasy and egoism. The more we give in to these things, the more our integrity is eroded and we find ourselves carried along on a wave of psychological and social habit. When responding to a moral dilemma, we just repeat the gestures and words of a parent, an authority figure, a religious text. While moral conditioning may be necessary for social stability, it is inadequate as a paradigm of integrity.
Occasionally, though, we act in a way that startles us. A friend asks our advice about a tricky moral choice. Yet instead of offering him consoling platitudes or the wisdom of someone else, we say something that we did not know we knew. Such gestures and words spring from body and tongue with shocking spontaneity. We cannot call them “mine” but neither have we taken them from others. Compassion has dissolved the stranglehold of self. And we taste, for a few exhilarating seconds, the creative freedom of awakening. (from Buddhism Without Beliefs)
The not-yet-widow of Jean-Michel Basquiat meets up with Rammellzee. “He says that he was put on Earth to smash the written word apart. He explains that all the letters of the English language come from social change, patriarchal societies, economics and history.”
It reminds me of the debates during the so-called first wave of feminism, which saw language itself as the carrier of patriarchal ideas and violence. The inherited forms were rotted out and needed to be changed. In order to have a new society in which women would be equal to men, we needed to change the way we speak to one another. The old ways were locked inside samskaras, perhaps we could call them the nadis of language, and if it’s true as Lacan says, that the unconscious is structured like a language, and that the unconscious doesn’t exist in some spot a few centimeters away from your eyeballs, but is spread across the entire body – then the nadis of language are busy flowing through our whole body, and the forms of oppression and violence contained in that language are also part of our movement vocabulary. It was these debates that led French writer Helene Cixous to coin the term feminine écriture in an essay called The Laugh of the Medusa (1975). It offers the prospective of a women’s language, a rewriting of language from her point of view. The feeling is that the form needed to be changed, so that the content could change. That there is no difference between form and content, just as the line between the mind and the body does not exist.
**(fragments from The Laugh Of The Medusa)**
I shall speak about women’s writing: about what it will do. Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies-for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text-as into the world and into story-by her own movement…
Thus, as there are no grounds for establishing a discourse, but rather a millennial ground to break, what I say has at least two sides and two aims: to break up, to destroy; and to foresee the unforeseeable, to project.
I have been amazed more than once by a description a woman gave me of a world all her own which she had been secretly haunting since early childhood. A world of searching, the elaboration of a knowledge, on the basis of a systematic experimentation with the bodily functions, a passionate and precise interrogation of her erotogencity… Beauty will no longer be forbidden.
I wished that woman would write and proclaim this unique empire so that other women, other unacknowledged sovereigns, might exclaim: I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst-burst with forms much more beautiful than those which are put up in frames and sold for a stinking fortune. And I, too, said nothing, showed nothing; I didn’t open my mouth, I didn’t repaint my half of the world. I was ashamed. I was afraid, and I swallowed my shame and my fear. I said to myself: You are mad! What’s the meaning of these waves, these floods, these outbursts? Where is the ebullient, infinite woman who, immersed as she was in her naiveté, kept in the dark about herself, led into self-disdain by the great arm of parental-conjugal phallocentrism, hasn’t been ashamed of her strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted normal woman has a … divine composure), hasn’t accused herself of being a monster? Who, feeling a funny desire stirring inside her (to sing, to write, to dare to speak, in short, to bring out something new), hasn’t thought she was sick? Well, her shameful sickness is that she resists death, that she makes trouble.
And why don’t you write? Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it. I know why you haven’t written. (And why I didn’t write before the age of 27.) Because writing is at once too high, too great for you, it’s reserved for the great-that is for “great men”; and it’s “silly…”
Every woman has known the torment of getting up to speak. Her heart racing, at times entirely lost for words, ground and language slipping away- that’s how daring a feat, how great a transgression it is for a woman to speak-even just open her mouth-in public. A double distress, for even if she transgresses, her words fall almost always upon the deaf male ear, which hears in language only that which speaks in the masculine.
It is by writing, from and toward women, and by taking up the challenge of speech which has been governed by the phallus, that women will confirm women in a place other than that which is reserved in and by the symbolic, that is, in a place other than silence. Women should break out of the snare of silence. They shouldn’t be conned into accepting a domain which is the margin or the harem…
Listen to a woman speak at a public gathering (if she hasn’t painfully lost her wind). She doesn’t “speak,” she throws her trembling body forward; she lets go of herself, she flies; all of her passes into her voice, and it’s with her body that she vitally sup- ports the “logic” of her speech. Her flesh speaks true. She lays herself bare. In fact, she physically materializes what she’s thinking; she signifies it with her body. In a certain way she inscribes what she’s saying, because she doesn’t deny her drives the intractable and impassioned part they have in speaking. Her speech, even when “theoretical” or political, is never simple or linear or “objectified,” generalized: she draws her story into history.
There is not that scission, that division made by the common man between the logic of oral speech and the logic of the text, bound as he is by his antiquated relation-servile, calculating-to mastery. From which proceeds the niggardly lip service which engages only the tiniest part of the body, plus the mask…
When the “repressed” of their culture and their society returns, it’s an explosive, utterly destructive, staggering return, with a force never yet unleashed and equal to the most forbidding of suppressions. For when the Phallic period comes to an end, women will have been either annihilated or borne up to the highest and most violent incandescence. Muffled throughout their history, they have lived in dreams, in bodies (though muted), in silences, in aphonic revolts….
A feminine text cannot fail to be more than subversive. It is volcanic; as it is written it brings about an upheaval of the old property crust, carrier of masculine investments; there’s no other way. There’s no room for her if she’s not a he. If she’s a her-she, it’s in order to smash everything, to shatter the framework of institutions, to blow up the law, to break up the “truth” with laughter. For once she blazes her trail in the symbolic, she cannot fail to make of it the chaosmos of the “personal”-in her pronouns, her nouns, and her clique of referents. And for good reason. There will have been the long history of gynocide.”
There is a violence, a harming, contained in the language that we use, the way it cuts apart one object, one face, one moment of light, from another. It is a blunt instrument of cutting, forever divvying up the world into named boundaries. That arrangement of wood is a table. That arrangement of wood is a tree. There are some social frames that adopt languages of their own, sub-species of languages, specialist argots and jargons. Some of these may soften the violence inherent in, what shall we call it, the usual way language is used? (Is there already a violence in the word ‘we’ – in the many assumptions this word conjures – this necessary obliteration of differences. How can there ever be a we? And how, recognizing our already interdependent intimacy, can there be anything but?) The hospital, the specialist’s office, the doctor’s appointment, are places where the hyper specified language of science can be used with violence, as it is conjured by professionals who need to keep from feeling what is happening to their patients, so that they can keep on functioning. It is a language that is there, and not there, at the same time. So particular, so specifically nestled into your organs, into the deepest cavities of the body. And at the same time, so far away, as if you, the patient, were an object, a meat slab on an examining table, a sample beneath a microscope. How to recognize these inevitable patterns of language harm, and know how to negotiate them? Especially as they arrive at exactly the moment when we are at our most vulnerable.
**Wednesday 7:47 by Pat Rockman**
i wake this morning slightly anxious and tight
it’s still dark because at this time of year
it’s always dark when
i open my eyes
unusually my lids are heavy, slightly encrusted with sleep.
this is unusual
not the usual springing open to meet whatever is out there.
this morning i see that i feel traumatized
this is not ahimsa
i am feeling violated, harmed, hurt, vulnerable, tearful,
a pain that is now recurring
thoughts that are repeating
creating a groove from the past into the present
seeing my beloved quiet
holding his leg and rocking in pain
as if this might soothe
as if his leg were a baby
which it isn’t
seeing him in this white bed curled up
unable to find a relief
except perhaps through amputation but that would simply bring other difficulties
the worst form of cruelty may be ignorance and indifference to the pain of other beings
there’s a part of his body screaming in agony as his immune system attempts to expel an invader from a closed space
an impossible endeavour without assistance
and the assistance is not perfect of course
much of it uncaring or irritable or stupid or condescending
and in some ways it is worse to know
to know so much
to see so much
to be part of the under belly and yet
now seeing as always it doesn’t matter
because there is no real protection from anything
only the uncertainty is certain
only everyone gets their quotient of pain as the author reminds us
and you either get it at the front end, the back end or in the middle
no matter how charmed, how rich, how beautiful, how old, how strong
we are all small hiding in our grandiosity
staving off terror by believing in some idea of ourselves
and then there is everyone else
not seeing how clearly everyone is doomed if it is
us against them
if there is no – A Him Sa
if we do not love
if we do not see that there truly is no difference
like when we were high on mushrooms and my lover was playing the piano and getting off on the Ya – Ma – Ha – a short piece of poetry repeating with a bell of laughter
and yet sometimes it has to be us against them in an effort to make something clear
to wake up – goddamnit!
to try to show that there might be a better way but not the TTC
perhaps humans sprouting wings and taking away all the guns and feeding all the starving people
and eliminating prejudice
and really being kind when someone is sick or hurting
and not always assuming the worst about someone when he or she does something “wrong”, whatever that is.
but i see that
i have been nurturing my anger and hurt
looking for blame
looking for difference
to strengthen, to carry me forward because this is so much easier than crying and feeling sad and helpless and scared
better to inflict violence
to give in to my prejudice
to love my own hatred
to reach through the phone and grab the imagined german resident expressing her condescension and dismissiveness by the throat and rip her tongue out of her head
better to see her eyes widen while i smash her pretty blonde face in and watch her superior expression flee as she realizes that things are not as she believed.
so much more useful than this constriction in my diaphragm
this vision of a future that will arrive in some variation
that is not Goldberg.
it will not be a piano jazz rhythm by an odd genius locked in a room creating
but rather some unrelenting roller coaster until it just comes to a
unless we are lucky to go painlessly, quickly, easily with a chance to say good-bye like some fairytale death that has a reality somewhere in some form or
someone wouldn’t have made it up
like heaven where you go to sit above the clouds
with all the angels and god is a white bald man
with a big beard and a staff
and the music doesn’t drive you crazy
even if it does sound like Wal Mart because you’re dead
and now you just think it’s the best
and if your heaven is different maybe there is Bacchus
and wine and grapes and bare breasted women
to meet your every need.
i’m not sure what happens to dead women and children.
in this case maybe they just become men
and that’s heaven for everyone.
or maybe there really is Indra’s net
and we all just become a gorgeous jewel radiating from a vertex, infinite and unimaginable expressing the unfathomable interdependence that is life
more likely there is nothing