‘Desire’s temporality is going to be perverse’: Elena Betros López Interviews Lisa Robertson

By and | 1 May 2020

EBL (1 March 2020): We spoke about forbearers and your own gradual recognising that you are coming through a lineage and tradition. How through time we redraw lines, which relates to how we make choices about value, tradition, and community. Within this you mentioned your repeated learning of what it means to be a feminist.

LR (22 March 2020): I have always considered myself to be a feminist. I was raised by a single mother, and I was the eldest of four children, so growing up I was very privy to my mother’s struggles and the injustices she experienced professionally and financially, and in her marriage. It was the period of publication of books like Our Bodies, Our Selves (1970), and also the period of my own sexual maturation. Unsurprisingly my early thoughts about feminism had to do with the striving for social parity and reproductive and sexual self-determination. I also then busied myself with systematically reading books by women. In my early 20s, I used the writers Virginia Woolf lists in Room of One’s Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938) as a guide to a lettered self-education, withdrawing them one by one from the public library. By my later 20s, I became compelled by more psychoanalytic and philosophical discourses – the political constitution of sexuality and gendered identity in the work of writers like Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, and Jessica Benjamin, and also by my discovery of women modernist writers, such as Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, HD, and Mina Loy. A little later, I discovered my slightly older contemporaries: Erin Moure, Lyn Hejinian, Nicole Brossard, Denise Riley, Dionne Brand, Dodie Bellamy. These writers are among my strongest influences. In more recent years, my feminism has begun to expand to include trans discourse. Trish Salah, Paul B Preciado, Kay Higgins, Hadley Howes have been guiding me, in conversation, by example, or through their texts. From the 70s through the 90s there was not an obvious access for me to trans experience as a core component in feminism. It wasn’t part of the community discourse I was enmeshed within. I feel that trans folk are now teaching many of us to open our ears and hearts, to identify the biases hidden in our vocabularies and actions. They are also blowing these gendered categories open in a way that potentially liberates all of us, including cis folk like me. The fluidity, and resistant criticality of trans experience is something that I have been emulating in my texts for so very long, before having a word for it, since before I became aware of the discourse. My writing has always wanted to be both, and also neither. I don’t want to claim trans experience as my own, because my risks have been relatively minor, and because my bodily identifications are cis. The zone of my own practice of such radical fluidity has been my language, rather than my body. (Though I do think the experience of menopause has a potential trans-ness at its core!) But my current feeling about the future of my feminism has to do with learning from trans friends and texts.

LR (6 April 2020): I am also very strongly compelled by learning from elders, as well as writers much younger than me. Friendship between generations is a very tender kind of necessity. And strengthening. I am friends with Etel Adnan for example, who is, I think, now 87. She is conscious now of each day as a gift. She speaks a lot about light and shadow and colour. She speaks about spirit, Sufiism, and neo-Platonism. What does a feminist near the end of her life understand to be urgent and necessary? How might we younger ones understand the political and spiritual present from her different embodiment of time? Etel stays in the space of joy and wonder even as her political critique continues its razor-sharp analysis. Last night I read a little book she just published – Voyage, guerre, exil (2020). She talks about the experience of exile, in her family, in Arab culture and politics, in relationship to colonial violence, and in the context of her own immigrations. Because I think this question of exile is extremely urgent right now, and might elucidate our experiences of confinement, I want to end this conversation by offering a short passage from the end of Etel’s book:

I came to think – which is no consolation – that our predicament is not only our own. Amidst ecological disaster, economic predatory tactics, and political bankruptcy, a human being, wherever, appears to be a fallen angel, an angel exiled from the old Paradise as well as from the future. Exile is not the sad privilege of only a few individuals: it has become synonymous with the human condition, but with (slight) difference that some of us are eaten by this illness in ways evident and definitive while all the others are not yet conscious of what they already are suffering from. We are, as contemporaries of this day and age, all, very, very close to each other, but very few are those who share with us that knowledge.1

  1. Please note that Voyage, guerre, exil was published as a book in 2020 ( L’Echoppe, Paris) and is a French translation of the above cited article, which was originally written in English.
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