Coiled Tongues: A Critical Reading of Thinking Class: Sketches from a Cultural Worker by Joanna Kadi

Article excerpt

Contemporary minority women's autobiographies have significantly altered, over the past few decades, our understanding of the social and political basis of identity formation. In their articulation of their own subjectivities, minority women autobiographers expressed an urgent need to conceptualize issues relating to women's place and writing and traditional forms within patriarchal systems in conjunction with issues of race, class and gender.

Current social structure in the U.S. portrays various degrees of inequality where race, class, and gender form a complicated web of power relations. As an instance of this, minority working class women often suffer from a triple marginalization based on their concurrent gender, class and racial inequality.

Noticeably, minority women writers have made that triple discrimination one of their main thematic focuses. Thinking Class: Sketches from a Cultural Worker by Joanna Kadi, comes with the urge to write history 'from below', from the perspective of ordinary working class women, making them central to historical interpretation and to the writing of the collective biography of subclasses. In the preface to her autobiography, Kadi remarks: "I didn't write this book alone...Without discounting the incredible amount of work I did, I am focusing here on communal aspects of working-class experience reflected in my life and writing." (Kadi, p.5) Kadi emphasizes the group effort that marks the pages of her book, mirroring thus, the working-class tradition of barn raisings and quilting bees. This could account for the multi-faceted and multi-layered structure of the autobiographical discourse adopted by the author.

Autobiography, has long been considered the literary expression of individualism, of a belief in an integrated and coherent personality central to the narrated experience. At the outset of her narrative, Kadi projects a different view and rejects this notion of writing as an individual experience, 'Don't imagine a lone rugged individual fixedly concentrating in her study with the door firmly closed against any intruders -human, feline, or canine.' (Kadi, p.5) For her there are no myths about triumphant figures pursuing fame and fortune, and most importantly, 'We weren't raised to believe we could do it alone, and I'd never trade this dependence on and interaction with community for any fictitious rugged individualism.' (Kadi, p.5) Personal histories that link the individual with particular communities at given historical junctures, as Caren Kaplan states, can be read as cultural autobiographies, 'The link between individual and community forged in the reading and writing...deconstructs the individualism of autobiography's Western legacy and casts the writing and reading of out-law genres as a mode of cultural survival.' (Kaplan, p.213) This notion is also emphasized by Susan Friedman who asserts that, "The emphasis on individualism as the necessary pre-condition for autobiography is thus a reflection of the privilege, one that excludes from the canons of autobiography those writers that have been denied by history the illusion of individualism." (Friedman, pp.34-62)

Kadi goes beyond the traditional (auto)biographical convention of verifiability or attempted objectivity, as she models for the reader a consciousness that is intent on questioning its own assumptions, and constantly redefining itself, as, and apart from 'the other'. That is why writing for her becomes a resistance:

   My writing results from this desire to resist; it
   stems from deep feelings of love and caring--for
   people in my communities, for dogged survivors
   who refuse to succumb to forces wearing them
   down day after day, for the ones who've
   generated beauty in spite of incredible hardship,
   for the wise, articulate, sweet people I grew up
   with who disappeared quietly into the night
   because they were too yellow and too poor. (Kadi, p.14)

What results is a narrative strategy that links past and current events, past experience with present understanding, and past self with present self-construction. …