Friday, May 20, 2011

Reclaim the lexis? (continued from yesterday)

‘I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses’ (Lyrics by Jerry Herman)

The debate about SlutWalk’s use of the word ‘slut’ seems to be largely centred around ‘reclaiming’ words and whether it is possible to ‘reclaim’ the word ‘slut’. I think it is not possible. But let’s just think a little about how words are ‘reclaimed’ and why that is not a useful term for this particular action.

Language is fluid, and changing. Words that meant one thing fifty years ago (‘queen’, ‘fuck’, ‘housewife’) now are used in a completely different way. Language reflects the dominant discourse yet is constantly subject to reinterpretation, subjectivity and subversion. And semiology has shown us that while the word itself may remain constant, its meaning can change each time it is used, for different people, registers and contexts. Nonetheless, to use a word in its generally accepted way is to wield the power of that word’s meaning. Thus the word ‘immigrant’ currently carries negative connotations which reflect the power of anti-immigration politics and a racist media.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You’re slutting yourself go, dear

When I heard about the Canadian demonstration SlutWalk, my first reaction was ‘How nice. Like Reclaim the Night, only more inclusive and less bitchy.’ It seemed like a festival against objectification, specifically concentrating on how women are pigeonholed by their appearance: the primary concern obviously being the slut/virgin dichotomy. Can it be subverted? I thought so. I’ll come back to this initial reaction, because it’s important.

Now SlutWalk is coming to London. After a couple of other demonstrations in the States, I have identified three main problems within the debate about SlutWalk, although I feel they are all connected. The first is the issue of reclaiming a word: can it (always) work? What about words such as ‘nigger’ and ‘bitch’? Does it depend on the word? And are there even benefits to reclaiming a word?

One more poem... while I'm too busy revising to write.

Billy Collins: nailed it. He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York and has been the USA Poet Laureate. The guy understands the trauma of teaching poetry to unwilling students! 
Interestingly, AQA used this poem as an example of the unseen poetry question in their practice paper for the new spec English Literature GCSE. Who says they don't have a sense of humour: that meant that I was actually forced to teach  this poem to kids. Sample remark: 'Is "Like a colour slide" a metaphor, miss?' And of course I don't give a shit about whether it's a metaphor or not. Not as long as they are incapable of telling me in one sentence what the poem is about, or who 'I' is, and who 'Them' is is the poem. Bless Their hearts.

Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Duffy is queen of Object-Subject identity crises

Although while trying to teach this poem to resistant 16-year-old, I realised I'm the only person who likes it. Nobody's memory is wrong, kids! Just the way people use/abuse those memories. But you're too young to appreciate that.

We Remember Your Childhood Well by Carol Ann Duffy
Nobody hurt you. Nobody turned off the light and argued
with somebody else all night. The bad man on the moors
was only a movie you saw. Nobody locked the door.
Your questions were answered fully. No. That didn't occur.
You couldn't sing anyway, cared less. The moment's a blur, a Film Fun
laughing itself to death in the coal fire. Anyone's guess.
Nobody forced you. You wanted to go that day. Begged. You chose
the dress. Here are the pictures, look at you. Look at us all,
smiling and waving, younger. The whole thing is inside your head.
What you recall are impressions; we have the facts. We called the tune.
The secret police of your childhood were older and wiser than you, bigger
than you. Call back the sound of their voices. Boom. Boom. Boom.
Nobody sent you away. That was an extra holiday, with people
you seemed to like. They were firm, there was nothing to fear.
There was none but yourself to blame if it ended in tears.
What does it matter now? No, no, nobody left the skidmarks of sin
on your soul and laid you wide open for Hell. You were loved.
Always. We did what was best. We remember your childhood well.