Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

In another context, the French theorist, Julia Kristeva, claimed women appeared as a historical group after the Second World War, along with groups like youth. Her dates are doubtful; but we are now accustomed to remembering that as objects of knowledge and as historical actors, 'race' did not always exist, 'class' has a historical genesis, and 'homosexuals' are quite junior. It is no accident that the symbolic system of the family of man--and so the essence of woman--breaks up at the same moment that networks of connection among people on the planet are unprecedentedly multiple, pregnant, and complex. 'Advanced capitalism' is inadequate to convey the structure of this historical moment. In the 'Western' sense, the end of man is at stake. It is no accident that woman disintegrates into women in our time. Perhaps socialist feminists were not substantially guilty of producing essentialist theory that suppressed women's particularity and contradictory interests. I think we have been, at least through unreflective participation in the logics, languages, and practices of white humanism and through searching for a single ground of domination to secure our revolutionary voice. Now we have less excuse. But in the consciousness of our failures, we risk lapsing into boundless difference and giving up on the confusing task of making partial, real connection. Some differences are playful; some are poles of world historical systems of domination. 'Epistemology' is about knowing the difference.❖

Trinh T. Minh-ha ( 1952-) is a filmmaker and composer, as well as a social theorist and writer. She teaches at San Francisco State University. Her films include Reassemblage ( 1982), Naked Spaces--Living Is Round ( 1985), and Surname Viet, Given Name Nam ( 1989). The selection is from her best-known written work, Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism ( 1989). Along with Cornel West and others, she is also editor of Out There.


Infinite Layers/Third World?

Trinh T. Minh-ha ( 1989)


Infinite Layers: I am not i can be you and me

A critical difference from myself means that I am not i, am within and without i. I/i can be I or i, you and me both involved. We (with capital W) sometimes include(s), other times exclude(s) me. You and I are close, we intertwine; you may stand on the other side of the hill once in a while, but you may also be me, while remaining what you are and what i am not. The differences made between entities comprehended as absolute presences--hence the notions of pure origin and true self--are an outgrowth of a dualistic system of thought peculiar to the Occident (the "onto-theology" which characterizes Western metaphysics). They should be distinguished from the differences grasped both between and within entities, each of these being understood as multiple presence. Not One, not two either. "I" is, therefore, not a unified subject, a fixed identity, or that solid mass covered with layers of superficialities one has gradually to peel off before one can see its true face. "I" is, itself, infinite layers. Its complex-

____________________
Excerpt from Woman, Native, Other: Writing, Postcoloniality, and Feminism ( Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), pp. 90-100.

-543-

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