Today is the official publication day for my book Living a Feminist Life!
This is a sweaty book, full of the struggle that is a necessary part of living a feminist life. I mentioned in a dedication post that I wrote the book in the same three years we had been working on the problem of sexual harassment as an institutional problem. This was the same three years we had built a Centre for Feminist Research. We need feminist shelters, places to go when the violence that surrounds us is too much. I think of writing too as a feminist shelter; a place to go when the violence that surrounds us is too much. Writing is companionship: the words that fall out create something, which then acquires its own life; writing is full of surprises, twists and turns. This is especially true for writing that stays close to the skin. Through words, you travel; you revisit places; you make sense of what first seemed all jumbled up. I called the method of this book: putting a sponge to the past. You do not know what will be mopped up.
A feminist book comes out of living a feminist life. A feminist book is what you send out. It goes out and about. You do not know where your words will end up. Words too can shatter. Can splatter. We can pick up the pieces with words.
I know words have pulled me up. Sometimes words have turned me inside out.
Feminism: a way with words.
Thank you so much to all my feminist companions. And to my wonderful publishers Duke University Press: thank you for giving my work a home. And thanks to Sarah and Poppy for being home.
The following is a short extract from my introduction. I am thinking with fondness of our collective feminist task: caring for the fragility of feminist archives.
A companion text is a text whose company enabled you to proceed on a path less trodden. Such texts might spark a moment of revelation in the midst of an overwhelming proximity; they might share a feeling or give you resources to make sense of something that had been beyond your grasp; companion texts can prompt you to hesitate or to question the direction in which you are going, or they might give you a sense that in going the way you are going you are not alone. Some of the texts that appear with me in this book have been with me before: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I could not have proceeded along the path I took without these texts. To live a feminist life is to live in very good company. I have placed these companion texts in my killjoy survival kit. I encourage you as a feminist reader to assemble your own kit. What would you include?
The materials we include in our kits could also be called “feminist classics.” By feminist classics I mean feminist books that have been in circulation; that have become worn from being passed around. I do not mean classics in the sense of “canonical texts.” Of course, some texts become canonical, and we need to question how these histories happen, how selections are made; we need to ask who or what does not survive these selections. But the texts that reach us, that make a connection, are not necessarily the ones that are taught in the academy, or that make it to the official classics editions. Many of the texts that connect with me are often the ones assumed as “dated,” as belonging to a time that we are in no longer.
The idea of “feminist classics” for me is a way of thinking about how books make communities. I was part of a Feminist Classics reading group held in Women’s Studies at Lancaster University. This reading group was one of my favorite experiences of feminist intellectual life thus far. I loved the labor of going over materials that might now tend to be passed over, of finding in them some abundant resources, concepts, and words. To attend to feminist classics is to give time: to say that what is behind us is worth going over, worth putting in front of us. It is a way of pausing, not rushing ahead, not being seduced by the buzz of the new, a buzz that can end up being what you hear, blocking the possibility of opening our ears to what came before. What I also really enjoyed too in the reading group was the attention to the books themselves as material objects. Each of us had different copies, some of them tattered and well-read, worn and as it were lived in. You can, I think, live in books: some feminists might even begin their feminist lives living in books. Participating in the group with books made me very aware of how feminist community is shaped by passing books around; the sociality of their lives part of the sociality of ours. There are so many ways that feminist books change hands; in passing between us, they change each of us.
There are many ways of describing the materials I bring together in this book: companions texts; feminist classics are just two possible ways. The materials are books, yes, but they are also spaces of encounter; how we are touched by things; how we touch things. I think of feminism as a fragile archive, a body assembled from shattering, from splattering, an archive whose fragility gives us responsibility: to take care.