Performed at the Melbourne Fringe Festival on Wednesday 28th September, 2016
as part of
A live performance of feminist texts.
Presented by Loving Feminist Literature
What can a feminist poetics be?
A Medley of Trinh T. Minh Ha and Luce Irigaray
abridged and diced by Linh Thùy Nguyễn
I don’t know if Irigaray and Trinh ever read each others work. This piece is an imagined dialogue between two critical thinkers who opened up, for me, a new possibility of conceiving feminist theory through the lens of poetics. Their politics are embedded within their textual practice. Their poetics embraces fragmentation, fluidity, instability, dissonance, contradiction; an abject disavowal of the unitary, singular, & autonomous subject. Their language troubles the form of language itself within language, through a poetics that is located and derived from the body. Language is where subjectivity is constituted—that which, as Kristeva would say, structures and sustains the whole of the symbolic order. Irigaray and Trinh both seek an embodied language that unsettles fixed borderlines and boundaries, a language that signifies the fundamentally indefinable nature of the self, and of gendered identity. As Audre Lorde attests,
‘For women, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change …. Poetry is the way we give name to the nameless so it can be thought.’
Difference & Not You/Like You: When our Lips Speak Together
If we continue to speak the same language to each other, we will reproduce the same story. Begin the same stories all over again.
Don’t you feel it? Listen: men and women around us all sound the same. Same difficulties, the impossibility of reaching each other.
Same … same … Always the same.
If we speak to each other as men have spoken for centuries, as they taught us to speak, we will fail each other.
Again. Words will pass through our bodies, above our heads, disappear, will make us disappear.
Far. Above. Absent from ourselves we become machines that are spoken, machines that speak.
They have left us only absences, defects, negatives to name ourselves.
Get out of their language.
How many, already, have been condemned to premature deaths for having borrowed the master’s tools and thereby played into his hands? Elsewhere, in every corner of the world, there exists women who resolutely work toward the unlearning of institutionalized language, while staying alert to every deflection of their body. Survival, as Audre Lorde comments, ‘is is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.’
They neither taught us nor allowed us to say our multiplicity.
We are luminous. Beyond ‘one’ or ‘two’. Let them have oneness, with its prerogatives, its domination, its solipsisms,
in which the other is the image of the one, but an image only. bodies already encoded in a system.
For them, being drawn to the other means a move toward one’s mirage: a mirror that is (barely) alive.
Glacial, mute, the mirror is all the more faithful.
Our vital energies are spent in this wearisome labour of doubling and miming.
We have been destined to reproduce that sameness in which, for centuries, we have been the other.
It is a paradoxical twist of the colonial mind. In this unacknowledged self/other relation, the other would always remain the shadow of the self.
The core of such rationale dwells, untouched, in the Cartesian division between subject and object, which perpetuates a dualistic inside-versus-outside, mind against matter view of the world.
Their history constitutes the locus of our exile.
Their nation, family, home, and discourse imprison us in enclosures where we can no longer move.
Their property is our exile. Their enclosures, the death of our love. Their words, the gag upon our lips.
We don’t need to be produced by them, named by them, made sacred or profane by them.
How can we speak to escape their distinctions and oppositions?
How can we shake off the chains of their terms, free ourselves from their categories, divest ourselves of their names?
If we don’t invent a language, if we don’t find our body’s language, we will be turned over to the words of men.
[If you] measure you steps according to their need—or lack of need—for their own image, we will never talk to each other.
And we will continue to be violated by their words.
Let’s reappropriate our mouth and try to speak.
[Speaking] is a commitment of language. The web of her gestures, like all modes of writing, denotes a historical solidarity (or the understanding that her story remains inseparable from history). She has been warned of the risk she incurs by letting words run off the rails, time and again tempted by desire.
The unity, truth, and propriety of words come from their lack of lips, their forgetting of lips.
Words are mute when they have been uttered once and for all, neatly tied up so that their sense can’t escape.
Truth is necessary for those who are so distanced from their body that they have forgotten it.
But their ‘truth’ makes us immobile, like statues, if we can’t divest ourselves of it.
Words empty out with age. Die and rise again, accordingly invested with new meanings, and always equipped with a second-hand memory. In trying to tell something, a woman is told, shredding herself into opaque words while her voice dissolves on the walls of silence.
Stretching out, never ceasing to unfold ourselves, we must invent so many different voices to speak all of ‘us’—
that forever won’t be enough time.
Our abundance is inexhaustible: it knows neither want nor plenty.
This language we know is so limited. We are made for endless change.
despite all our desperate, eternal attempts to separate, contain, and mend, categories always leak.
Your language doesn’t follow just one thread, one course, or one pattern.
You speak from everywhere at the same time.
We are not voids, lacks which wait for sustenance, fulfilment, or plenitude from an other.
Within the context of women’s speech silence has many faces. On the one hand, we face the danger of inscribing femininity as absence, as lack and blank in rejecting the importance of the act of enunciation. On the other hand, we understand the necessity to place women on the side of negativity and to work in undertones in our attempts at undermining patriarchal systems of values. Silence is so commonly set in opposition with speech.
Silence as a will not to say or a will to unsay and as a language of its own has barely been explored.
Between us, the house has no walls, the clearing no enclosure, language no circularity.
These streams don’t flow into one, definitive sea; these rivers have no permanent banks; this body, no fixed borders.
The world enlarges until the horizon vanishes. Always in movement, this openness is neither spent nor sated.
Woman cannot be defined.
You are moving. You never stay still. You never stay. You never ‘are’. You/I are always several at the same time.
You remain in a flux that never congeals or solidifies—it is multiple.
We must learn how to speak to each other so that we can embrace across distances.
Let’s invent our own phrases, so that everywhere and always, we continue to embrace.
Otherness becomes empowerment, critical difference when it is not given but recreated.
Where should the dividing line between outsider and insider stop? You/I occupy hybrid realities.
Not quite the same, not quite the other, she stands in that undetermined threshold place where she constantly drifts in and out. Undercutting the inside/outside opposition, her intervention is necessarily that of both not quite an insider and not quite an outsider. She is, in other words, this inappropriate other or same who moves about with always at least two gestures.
Try to be attentive to yourself. To me.
We find ourselves as we entrust ourselves to each other. Neither you or I severed.
You don’t lose your candour as you become ardent.
It gives back as much as it receives, in luminous mutuality.
Speak, nevertheless. Speak just the same. Let’s not be ravished by their language again.
- When Our Lips Speak Together by Luce Irigaray (from Signs, 6, No.1, Women: Sex and Sexuality, Part 2,1980) luceirigarylips
- Difference: ‘A Special Third World Women Issue’ by Trinh T. Minh Ha (from Feminist Review, 25, 1987) difference-trinh-t-minh-ha
- Not You/Like You: Post-Colonial Women and the Interlocking Questions of Identity and Difference by Trinh T. Minh Ha (from Inscriptions, 1988) not-you_like-you-trinh-t-minh-ha
- Poetry is not a Luxury by Audre Lorde