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Unghosting Apparitional (Lesbian) History

Erasures of Black Lesbian Feminism

Michelle Moravec, Author

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Where remembering and forgetting intersect with the internet

Unghosting Apparitional (Lesbian) Histories traces a woman named Bonnie Johnson who came to stand in my mind for the countless participants in women's liberation who live on in the footnotes of the “academic colony,” while their authors remain sister/outsiders. Although Bonnie Johnson, I eventually learn, held an MA in women’s history from Sarah Lawrence College, her contribution to feminist thought and history is largely relegated to one pivotal publication, Black Women on Black Women Writers.

Gloria T. Hull has written, referring to Audre Lorde, that black feminists live "on that line between the either/or and both/and" that often leads to them falling between the cracks of history. This metaphor also appears  in “Both And” a paper given by Johnson along with her co-author Camille Bristow at the 1979 conference, The Second Sex Thirty Years Later, an event best known as the occasion for  Lorde's speech that became The Master's Tools.  Leaving behind and looking beneath this well known work, I trace Johnson through materials found mostly on the internet.

In the process now of months spent researching Bonnie Johnson, I’ve come to understand this project, which I describe as anunghosting” of an “apparition, in several ways. The first concerns the politics of digitization, access, and archival silences, while the other revolves around the dynamics of histories, specifically the politics of exclusion, or where remembering and forgetting intersect with the promises of every (wo)man her own historian held out by the internet.

Clare Hemmings recent work Why Stories Matter analyzes narratives of feminism over the past three decades. Hemmings argues that feminist scholarship itself has erased that which it claims to value most, the voices of the marginal. Although Hemmings focuses on gender and cultural studies, I found her methodology and conclusions quite provocative when applied to history. How, I wondered, could I avoid perpetuating these erasures, or ghostings as I came to think of them?

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Discussion of "Where remembering and forgetting intersect with the internet"

Can you prevent the ghostings and erasures?

I am doubtful that ghostings and erasures can be prevented. I think the limitations of time and attention combined with the linear nature of narrative - the process of reading words sequentially, of scanning across the page - means that there will always be ghostings and erasures. We cannot recreate the moment, relive what has passed. The challenge is the selection, the recreation of the narrative as Hemings suggests and also Katie King in her book Theory in its Feminist Travels (Indiana University Press, 1991). This also seems to be exactly the anxiety Derrida encounters in Archive Fever. What do we do as scholars, historians, thinking people if we want to be conscious about our own engagements with ghostings and erasures?
And, of course, in my work, I also have talked with people like Bonnie Johnson who feel as though they have been erased. How do we ethically respond to those perceptions? How do we recognize our own complicity in the ghostings, in the language, in the archive?

Posted on 9 February 2014, 12:07 pm by Julie R Enszer  |  Permalink

Getting better!

It's so great seeing this unfold! It get's a little confusing telling the difference between what needs a click vs. what needs a hover, and the numbers are a bit confusing in some of them.

It might also be tricky to take notes on the hovernotes (I made that term up).

Posted on 28 April 2014, 8:30 am by Tricia Matthew  |  Permalink

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