partial response to Sour Duck's take on the women's visibility panel

This is in response to Sour Duck’s commentary on SXSWi and specifically on the panel I was on… I commented it on her post but then realized it’s so long I might as well repost it here. And I have a lot more to say later in response to her comments on other panels!


First, I do know that some people got where I was coming from, and got something out of it.

I was trying to avoid having to explain what the patriarchy was or defend the very idea that sexism exists in general or on the web or in tech. Without having to explain that, I knew we could push much further into “So now what.”  I was not there to do Feminism 101 for SXSWi. That would be a different panel…  It might be quite useful to have it, as well as a panel of “And here’s about 8 bazillion examples of evil sexism that I as a woman in tech have experienced.”  Which, actually, all of us on the panel talked about to some extent, but decided was not the point.

I think Jan’s position was to approach the solution by facing down internal barriers women have that make them feel that self-promotion is wrong. Her solution was not just “kick ass 10 times more than the men around you”… but also “and don’t forget to tell the world about it.” What she was saying on the panel was a direct demonstration of that philosophy. Not to wait to be asked, or looked for, but to step up and say “I’m great at my work and here’s why and here’s how to find me.”  I agree with Jan that this is crucial. Diffidence and niceness isn’t going to help fix anything. I think it’s possible to do this without becoming part of the problem – i.e. do it without stepping on anyone else.

I wanted, though, to take a different approach. I suggested a systemic technological fix  — as the furthest thing I could think of from Jan’s solution. (At least, the furthest thing that seems within women’s grasp, and that doesn’t involve violent revolution.)  

I was not suggesting tagging. Instead, two things: an extension to xml, something like xfn, that people could use to mark up their pages to indicate authorship and identity. It could be built in to existing tools, or added to whatever people like Kaliya are doing with identity authentication layers, or be xml… but it would create standards for people to declare their identities or affinities – including gender, but I also mentioned race as an example.   There’s room for discussion of what that would look like.   

The second part of my proposal is that tools be built to use that information.  Currently, we look at a set of all pages (for google or other search engines) or of blogs (for Technorati or whatever other blog-specific search engines.)  so we know by Technorati’s algorithms what blogs are considered the most important by other bloggers. We *can’t* ask the question, “Who are the most important bloggers in the view of all the *women* bloggers?” or “in the view of all the *non-male* bloggers?”

If we had gender identity data we could see if the answer to that question.  What blogs do women rank most highly? What blogs do men rank most highly? What male-identified ( tiny joke…)  blogs do non-males think are most interesting?  etc.   Extend this to race and you might see how it could be both fascinating and useful.  

The mere fact that those answers would all be different means that we should do it and see what the answers ARE.   Also, seeing their differences shows directly how we construct “value” and ranking, and how that value depends on the identity of the constructors.  So what I am suggesting is actually rather radical. I am saying that tech can give us a direct way to take the power of constructing value, and own it, and make it very very transparent.

Of course that data could be used for scary purposes, but…. I guarantee you it already IS… or will be.  So why not build it to be open and used by everyone?

Not everyone would identify themselves, but enough would that we would get interesting data.  It would actually allow us to “name the problem” MORE than we can now with existing vision.

It would make women more visible to each other, and it would also make them more visible to men who cared to look at what women’s standards of aesthetics, usefulness, and value are.  

You might argue that it will not matter if those aesthetics are visible; patriarchy basically guarantees that women’s standards and power will be denigrated, belittled, etc.  In other words what women assert is valuable, patriarchy will devalue *because* women like it. One merely has to breathe a hint that “teenybopper girls” or “housewives” like something for it to become the epitome of unpowerful. Consider romance novels; they *sell*. By all rights their continued existence should change something about what is considered valuable – they have this huge economic power. But… are they Literature? Somehow… (sarcasm) Not.  HOrribly.. I remember this same dynamic being pointed out to me when I first joined the STC in the early 90s – I was warned that because women were succeeding in “infiltrating” tech writing, tech writing was going to become a low-power pink-collar job.  THAT sort of thing.   Anyway, you could argue this against what I’m proposing. And you would be quite right to argue it.  I don’t think it’s a good reason for not DOING it, though.

Tara and Virginia had other things to say, but I thought I’d try to make my own statement a little more clear.

My 2 metaphors, which I just didn’t have time on the panel to go into, and I realized they were too wacky to pass without a lot of explanation… were … well… “radical fuzzy separatism” which just cracked me up as a name… because I’m suggesting a temporary separatism and one with fuzzy boundaries.  The other metaphor is of Maxwell’s Demon. Think of patriarchy, or racism, as being Maxwell’s Demon, i.e. an invisible and imaginary and impossible Agency, a being sitting at the tiny doorway between two chambers and keeping them separate… picking particles out of the air with tiny tweezers, perhaps…    We could shoot the demon maybe; we could point out who’s wearing the demon suit; we could exhort various particles to whiz around faster so they can trick the demon and get through the door; what I was proposing is to recognize the shape of the system itself and, well, drill some new holes between the two chambers. But first you have to know where the walls are.  

Imaginary argument with anyone who might care

In everything I’ve read about Cuban women writers, Luisa Pérez de Zambrana is either called a romanticist (and dismissed for it) or a not-quite-romanticist or post-romanticist-but-not-a-modernista (and dismissed for that too). I see the romanticism in a lot of her work, though I haven’t found, much less read, everything she’s ever written. And I see the not-quite-romanticism. But then, in other poems, I see modernismo. As far as I can tell there’s no reason to call her not also a modernista.

What the heck do you call this, if not “modernismo”?

La poesía esclava
a Aurelia Castillo

Con túnica de nácar, pasa pura
una dulce, una espléndida figura
más blanca que el jazmín.

Es un ángel con alas estrelladas,
un ángel celestial que lleva atadas
las manos de marfil.

Tú eres esa beldad tierna y sombría
¡adorable y celeste Poesía!
¡prisionera inmortal!

¿Cuál es tu culpa, ¡oh cándida acusada?
-¡Sobre mi frente pálída y sagrada
llevar la Libertad!

Poetry Enslaved
to Aurelia Castillo

In her pearl-pale tunic, she endures, pure
and sweet, a splendid figure
whiter than jasmine.

She’s an angel with starry wings,
a celestial angel,
her marble hands in chains.

You are that lovely maiden, tender and serious
adorable and heavenly Poetry!
Immortal captive!

What is your crime, oh innocent accused?
“On my pallid, bleeding brow
I bear the mark of Liberty!”

White ethereal ideal marble jasmine maidenly starriness. Check. Art and Beauty internalized by Artist as a sort of metaphysical/aesthetic/political method of acheiving The Good. Check. Parnassian tendencies. Yup, got that too.

Perhaps the sticking point is the idea that modernismo is about exact form. This is true for one strand of it, but even Darío gets to be modernista in his long Whitmanesque rambles. Critics of the early 20th century were in surprising agreement for such a waffly topic that they were just making up anyway – that there were various strains of modernismo, formal and free verse, symbolist/imagist or symbolist/parnassian. Over time, this evolved to a more and more patriarchal geneology, where Darío sort of fertilized everyone else; but this is not true since plenty of other poets were reading the same things he was reading in Paris and elsewhere.

Perhaps the sticking point is the artist’s life-myth? As the poet of modernismo had to embody Art in their entire life and whatever they did. Perhaps Pérez de Zambrana was too old and had too much of a reputation for stuffy elegies and elaborate patriotic verses. But then I turn to her elegy for Mercedes Matamoros, which also seems like a paragon of modernismo. In her elegy, “Ya Duermes!” she hits every point… Matamoros is hanging out in a tunic, dead and ethereal, like a lily… lyres are mentioned.. muses… silver and blue, sublimeness, infinity, alabaster, and finally Matamoros kind of waves farewell as she steps lightly out among the stars. As for being too old… That should not matter. Besides, Pérez de Zambrana was hangin g out with all the modernista chicks (whose existence seems in dispute of course) in Cuba, in the 1890s, and with Julian de Casal and that whole gang.

It irks me!

So why care? Actually, my ultimate argument is that we shouldn’t care. But since stuff is getting published in “modernista” anthologies and bigger anthologies seem to need that handle to make poetry of that time hip and cool and valuable, it does matter that all the women (except maybe sometimes Agustini, with caveats) are excluded. If you think it’s important, I’m gonna argue that plenty of women fit it. But fitting into a genre should not be all-consumingly important.

I would also note that another force is in play. Pérez de Zambrana gained some fame as a Romanticist, and then moved on to write in other styles. When male poets do this, it makes them versatile. When women do it, it’s because they haven’t mastered any one thing, they haven’t focused, and they have no depth. Ah, fickle Woman!

liveblogging at the library

Since I read very quickly I’m done reading the poems for the Redwood City Youth Poetry Contest before the other judges. We’ve read, discussed, and judged K-1, 2-3, 4-5, and now are in the middle of reading poems from grades 6-8.

It’s so much fun! The poems, a good selection and range from English- and Spanish-speaking kids, are knocking my socks off. One of them made me cry. Well, when the contest results are announced and the poems are on the Redwood City Library web site, I’ll link to them and discuss them in detail.

The three of us judges have varying opinions about what make a poem good poetry. Trish likes complex thought and sentiments of beauty and I would say she values form highly. Leslie likes a social issue and a conscience, a poet who looks outside herself. I like to see daring, leaping, unusual juxtapositions, and an awareness of language and form whether that is free verse in its jazzy meter and flow, or regular meter and rhyme.

translation, Lit and Lunch

This sounds great. I’ll be going! The Center for Art in Translation sponsors a lot of great events in SF, but I hardly ever get a chance to go to them.

We hope you’ll join us on April 11 and the second Tuesday of each month
12:30 to 1:30 pm (doors open at 12:00)
111 Minna Gallery
Minna Street at 2nd Street (two blocks south of Market)
Downtown San Francisco

Spring 2006 Schedule

April 11: Writers from Europe and Latin America
Pulitzer Prize-winner and translator Galway Kinnell
Galway Kinnell has won almost every honor that can be bestowed on an
American poet, from the Pulitzer Prize to the National Book Award. He is
renowned for spellbinding readings. Kinnell has translated some of the
greatest modern poets, including Lorca, Neruda, and Rilke.

A quick attempt at Salome

I’m really digging Salomé Ureña de Henríquez, and though this is a rough draft of about the first third of a long poem, I thought I’d share it with you. When I come to a more final version I’ll post the whole thing. My translation is very rough. I’d like to polish it up to reflect Ureña’s rhythmic invocations, which are very beautiful in Spanish! Very fancy-languaged and high-toned. This poem is like Krishna’s call to action when he’s talking to Arjuna… a little bit… I remember someone, maybe my friend Humberto, telling me I’d like Urena’s work a nd now I see why. She praises tumult, destruction, and hubris! Cool.

Urena (1850-1897) was a fiercely political writer and a feminist.

In defense of Society (1)

Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people. (Isaiah 62:10)

Creator spirit, fertile genius
you who with inexhaustible activity widen the making
of miracles from your sublime power,
you who perennially shine
in your good works, you who grasp
regions without end in your thoughts
and you who, with your love, extend from world to world
the laws of eternal movement:

Can it be be that the ultimate reward
offered by your august hand
would be condemnation to the repose of nothingness?
Would you have us be lethargic
before your show of active power,
indolent idleness spent in
admiring you – oh Lord – to pass one’s life?

No: wake up, all you who from pleasant fields
in the flowery cushions
only hope for a serene spirit
for hours of peace in ignorant shade.
Rise up, all you who follow
the current of agreeable fashion,
be anathema to the popular uproar,
let out a shout, break the dreams of the most happy.

It’s not pride – all you who raise up to heaven
a grand pyramid
and who exalt yourselves, aspiring to infinite flight:
it’s the immortal spark, that huge and powerful
immense great work,
and in constant travail and internal labor
you create, so that man in his delirium will follow
something of greatness, to stand forever.

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third anniversary of war

It was a full moon three years ago as I drove down the highway crying, thinking of Salam Pax.  These days I still think of him, but every day wonder about Riverbend and her family…  Jeremy, of Daddy Dialectic and othermag,  asked me to post something as a parent on the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Baghdad.

moon veil your mirror

    March 19, 2003

Moon, sky-hook, when I turn to you
my face is turned away from my mother.
My face is turned away from my mother.

I want to forget I am part of this world.
I want to forget I am part of this world,
so I can become round enough to pity the dust.

Future light won’t shine here.
Future light won’t shine here,
because the wheel of stars will dip below
a housing development conveniently named ‘Purgatory’,
built where teenage boys wake up
handcuffed with their black bandanas.

Moon, breathe the atmosphere of sorrow,
suck it from my dying mouth
as I prepare to put out the light,
because what you are about to see is blood.

What you are about to see is blood.
Turn your face away
if you aren’t strong enough
and for a moment I’ll look for you
long enough to put out the light,

because teenage boys like thin colts
veiled in ash & black bandanas
nerve their legs and put out the stars in their eyes,
preparing for that day when no light will shine.
That’s why they can stare at the sun
while I can only look at you, moon.

Because I don’t have any blood to give.
I’ve bought too many telescopes
in my housing development coincidentally named "The Shadows".
I don’t have any blood to give.
I’ve bought too many telescopes that fold up like ice
and they’ll endure until licked away by a cow’s warm tongue.

shutter your face
to cut out the harsh light, the violent light.
Wear a black bandana
because a silver lamb unfolds from your pocket like a sailing ship.
Because you can’t close your eyes,
I’ll give you my black veil.

veil your mirror,
because my eyes have been defiled.

Because my eyes have been defiled
by the future of my country,
because the light gathered by you and thrown back in our faces
has seen the blood that I can’t bleed or see,
because of that, I’ll look, though I have no tears to give,
because my tears are gathering dust in a gallon jug
under the sink, where I keep my lambs and my telescopes,
where I keep my mirror, and the ruins of the Golden Gate Bridge,
and a cow’s hoof, and a ship in a bottle.

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Litgeek? Nerdaesthetics?

I’m so flattered that Brian labelled me a “Technoaesthete Mashup”. We had a really random encounter at the SXSWi conference, where within 3 minutes we established that we both think computer/net/tech and literary theory and cultural studies have this strange point of intersection that barely anyone else sees.

Then when I started to talk about translation, meaning to lead up into mentioning Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Suzanne Jill Levine’s translation of Tres Tigres Tristes, I swear this is true, before the words could come out of my mouth Brian said, “It’s like in Tres Tigres Tristes…” How mind-boggling!

It was great to come across another literary theory geek in the middle of a computer conference.

Reading this Friday at Art21 – Esther Kamkar and Julia Simone Alter

I don’t remember Julia’s poetry, but I heartily recommend Esther Kamkar’s work to anyone in the Bay Area. She’s one of my favorite poets on the SF Peninsula, really amazing. It’s like watching someone carefully bleed themselves and make wine out of the blood, or something. She has this particular intensity and delicacy, especially in describing the darker sides of human relationships, and is never boring. I think she writes at times in Persian as well as in English.

From JC Watson, the MC for this month:

Hello to all my dears who are drenched by rain and darkness!

Friday night, March 10th, 06, brings some RELIEF!

will read their work at Art 21 Gallery, corner of Hamilton and Alma,
in Palo Alto at 7:30 p.m..

I promise Enthrallment for all.

MZ JC Watson will emcee and provide good food and drink.
(No Shrimp Chips here!)

So, get under that umbrella and light up your soul!

Parking is easily had in the garage, just a stone’s
throw north of the Gallery.

JC Watson’s own poetry is excellent, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before. She’s well worth hearing. The Art 21 open mike is friendly and welcoming; it’s usually around 10-12 people reading a couple of poems each. Quality varies, but sincerity and variety abounds!

Tiptree winner announcement!

Congratulations to Geoff Ryman, who has just won the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award for his book Air: or, Have Not Have. It’s an unusual book and a great story.

The award goes each year to a work of speculative fiction that expands and explores gender. I had a great time being on the Tiptree jury this year!

The short listed works are:

Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender (Doubleday 2005)
“Wooden Bride” by Margot Lanagan (in Black Juice, Eos 2005)
Little Faces” by Vonda N. McIntyre, on SciFiction, 02.23.05
A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer (Roc 2005)
Misfortune by Wesley Stace (Little, Brown 2005)
Remains by Mark Tiedemann (Benbella Books 2005)

The long list and special mentions will be announced in a week or so.

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