Deconstructing Me

Someone in a land far, far away is blogging about
an old essay of mine, "Deconstructing Me."

I still care deeply about these issues, but rarely talk about
them with anyone, so it's exciting to see another academic
feminist's musings.

I'd love to hear more thoughts on this topic.

It seems like ancient history, but I was very afraid to write
that article, much less publish it. I wrote it outside the classroom,
critiquing the very program I was enrolled in. It wasn't so much
a critique of poststructuralist feminism as it was a critique of
my program's absolute refusal to allow me (or any other student)
to question poststructuralist methods of inquiry. I felt silenced,
frustrated, unheard. My essay was met with disdain, for
the most part, and not long after I stopped working on my
PhD dissertation (which was focused on precisely that conflict,
the intersections between radical feminism and poststructuralist
feminism; my attempts to bridge the two).

I'm grateful in a way that I left the PhD track, because I channeled my
energies into creative writing, publishing my first novel while
I was still in graduate school. I found a way to translate the
questions I'd had about various theories into creative texts.
For example, my first novel dealt with a man whose
lover, Dell, was cheating on him with a woman. Dell's slippery
identity, and her own obvious conflicts about sexuality and gender,
worked themselves out nicely in the form of fiction, without
my having to pledge adherence to any specific theoretical party.

Nonetheless when I think back on the ways I was shunned and
silenced in graduate school -- often by queer professors, who saw
my activism and openness as somehow unprofessional or
overly involved in the community, rather than the academy --
I feel angry, and I worry about my own position as a teacher.
It's important to me to teach my students about poststructuralist
thought, and they are often very excited by, say, Judith Butler's
ideas about gender performance. But I don't want to do to them
what was done to me; that is, to squash their excitement about
embracing self-exploration. There was a real sense of shame
and stigma directed at me (and other activists) from our
feminist and queer professors. We weren't pure enough for
them; we weren't sophisticated enough; we were LIVE and
they were, well, tenured.

I have more thoughts on this, as ever, but I'll save them for later.
Suffice it to say I'm glad my essay has made its way across
the water, and I'm glad that I'm primarily, now, a poet,
and don't have to bow to any theorist, or swear on any
particular text-as-Bible. I much prefer making my ideas
into music, and avoiding the jargon that passes for
prose these days, jargon very few academics can use
with any grace or integrity. So much of the theory
coming out of programs now is just cookie-cutter:
take a theorist, apply their primary idea to a cereal
box or Shakespeare, and you've got an article.

I much admire writers like Eve Sedgwick and Michael Warner
who come up with actual ideas, who create paradigm shifts
that allow us all to see the world anew. But deep thinking,
shaking things up, requires the freedom to make mistakes,
to let the mind wander, and to choose for yourself.
I didn't find much of that in graduate school. I want to be
a better teacher, the kind of teacher who allows her students
to risk -- and I want to write poetry that startles and sings.


Jeremy said…
Oh my god, Carol, someone else besides me has read Michael Warner! I read The Trouble with Normal back in my undergrad and it literally changed my life more than any other book I read as an undergrad or grad. Someday let's discuss it, if you like.
Carol Guess said…
Jeremy, yes! I want to talk about Warner with you. I found him so helpful, on both a political level (obviously) but also on a personal, emotional level. His observations on the way the queer movement has fragmented into "good" vs "bad" queers; his discussion of shame and stigma; and his observations about ways that queer relationships ARE different from heterosexual relationships (and how this is a good thing, something heterosexuals can learn from) have been crucial to my thinking. I need to re-read The Trouble With Normal.

We'll talk soon, for sure.

(I'm trying to write again; very reclusive right now, and it feels good. Reading a lot of Carl Phillips.)