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Jamika Ajalon "The Fugitive Archetype of Resistance: a metamorphical narrative"

Queer feminism
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by Jamika Ajalon
presentation @ Civilmedia 2011 in Salzburg
Stream: Feminist Media Production in Europe

The Fugitive Archetype of Resistance (FAR) is a narrative with no fixed point, no beginning or end. The Fugitive Archetype of Resistance lives on the divide, a space occupied, transformed, and juiced by the soul energies Women of Colour, (WOC), possess; we are a transient collective symbol of the FAR. I take liberties in using the word 'we', but I believe, using the term WOC leaves interpretation wide open. In her Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway says,

“….. 'women of colour' might be understood as a cyborg identity, a potent subjectivity synthesized from fusions of outsider identities and in the complex political-historical layerings of her 'biomythography', Zami.” (Haraway 1991:175)

I can not alone, as one single person, with a single story, define what it means to be WOC, I can only contribute to a collective impulse. I do not wear a WOC flag, nor do I hold a code book, because what it means to be WOC is changing as we speak. This FAR narrative is a personal journey but it is also open to interpretation and reinterpretation... and in this way, attempts inclusivity.

In this paper I use many elements, while exploring narratives in science fiction, non-fiction and mythical autobiographies, (literary and visual), which speak to the WOC's subjectivity and our subterranean journeys as representatives of the FAR. While incorporating some of my own personal fictive bio-mythography through prose and yarn, I will return again and again to the near mythic legend of General Harriet Tubman ,a pro at crossing lines/borders undetected. For me her story, on many levels supports a reality of the FAR. Another element I use throughout is the miscegenation/distortion of western academic and sci-fi terminology, to explain ideas, and to subvert, privileged lingo which often traps us inside the very cages from which we are attempting to free ourselves (not that I succeed but I try). For example the term, “Majoriborg” reappears throughout the course of this narrative, and though never fully or directly defined I hope will hold some resonance through repetition. The main ideas I thread together in this narrative focus around voice, agency and coded language, migrant/nomadic subjectivities, and the terrain of possible futures, which is ultimately the terrain of the FAR.

The FAR supports mythology(ies) which live in the realm of possibility.
The FAR resists the “Centre” as ascribed by the majoriborgs, the instigators of the isolating chimera commonly understood as 'reality'.
The FAR lives in the realm of the fantastic, is a transient totem for all eccentric futurist/imagineers.

The FAR becoming her : an explanation
Positioning the WOC as Fugitive Archetype of Resistance, I am exploring the ways in which she phenomenologically and ontologically represents the spirit /idea of becoming; the ways in which she escapes the repetitive stereotypes, transversing boundaries as subject and agent, (as world actors, creators, and producers of alternative realities). I began this journey in Locations of the M/othership1, citing her as an archetype of resistance- as a symbol and agent of change. WOC's narratives/stories, and lived experience, including the way she negotiates her subjective self, act as sign posts during various points in time representing resistance to that which is fixed and is the (oppressive) dominant. However, having problems the word 'archetype'- a definition which is connotative of an idea in stasis, seemed limiting- but where am I going with this? I think it might help to begin with a break down of F.A.R, to elucidate trajectories I am both exploring and (re)distorting.

The archetypical challenged
We use archetypes to inform memory. Archetypes were used before the written word to pass down large amounts of information. One symbol could carry with it a whole thought process, philosophy and/or emotion. In order for a symbol to work as archetype it has to represent 'a truth' something that can be understood as a meta-truth; an over all truth which encompasses all truths (i.e. the truth of womanhood, manhood, valour [the hero/ine] etc.) However, where does the archetype, (or original symbol), end and the simulacrum begin? If what we have actually is a series of symbols representing a 'prototype' where does this archetype as 'original' actually exist? Perhaps there is no original, or beginning, only replication and repetition?
I am playing with the idea that the WOC, as her subjectivity and expression of lived experience is migratory, nomadic, and outside the law of dominant culture- that her narrative(s), which live outside the Cannon, more closely resemble that of a fugitive archetype- always on the move, slipping between the lines and spaces which dictate our proscribed reality and existence within heterogeneous culture.

The Fugitive
For the longest time I wilfully misheard the lyrics of Tricky's song 'Black Steel'. I thought Martina sang, “I'm just a fugitive on the run”, when in fact it's “I'm not a fugitive on the run”. In retrospect I guess, identifying with the female vocalist , I felt she articulated my determination to free myself from the trappings of gender, race, sexuality, and class to live a life that is self determined and free.
Fugitive to me was somehow more fitting than exile, or refugee. Fugitive is to refugee as terrorist is to freedom fighter; the tag changes depending on which set of ethics is doing the defining, what side of the 'law' you are on, and/or what side of the border you are on. For example, run away slaves in North America were considered fugitives by their 'owners' and hunters, while the abolitionist referred to them as refugees. A fugitive is only fugitive until s/he finds a place of permanence, a place were s/he is not outside the law. Anything/one that is actively resistant to dominant force, when in action, must be fugitive in order to survive. Once it's restrained it loses the power of agency.
As I suggested above, an archetype is meant to be the dominant standard of an idea or ideology. If there is no original, then a fixed archetype cannot exist. Perhaps at 'best' we have transient archetypes and at 'worst' fugitive archetypes. An archetypical symbol for example say of masculinity, changes slightly as the times change, so is in some sense transient, but none the less protected, validated inside a homogenous power structure. A fugitive archetype skews the eye-line of majoriborg surveillance-- it's hidden in plain view, resisting assimilation-- to acquiesce is to be destroyed. WOC cross and blur boarders, simultaneously visible in the Othered place and non-existent. We are multiple linguists, in order to cross borders we must be not unlike a secret agent. Our true voice is criminal. Our language, experiences, and articulations destabilise the dominant pejorative. A fugitive archetype is one that escapes or slips through the cracks of the fixed 'law' or 'ethic'. It doesn't claim the permanence of 'the origin' but challenges the notion of the symbolic 'pure' by mixing, blending, leaving, returning, and mixing and blending again.

“Strength is irrelevant. Resistance is futile. We wish to improve ourselves. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service ours.” the Borg.

WOC are are shape shifters, resisting fixed form, and we use this ability to survive. The necessity of shifting between spaces, and or shifting in order to occupy certain forms, makes us professionals at adaptability. Intersectionality, as a state of being, is a 'place' or 'space' where one negotiates ones identity via shifting between and blending various aspects of 'Othered-ness.' Having this ability- is in and of itself- resistant to a fixed unchanging origin, or 'majoritarian' ideology. However it is dangerous to polarise difference. As Sara Ahmed writes in Difference that Matter.

“The narrative of becoming woman offered by Deleuze and Guattari works through another coupling- not just molar/molecular, but also majoritarian and minoritarian. One cannot 'become man' – man is the absolute majoritarian: the face against which all other identities are defined... Hence the other entity which one moves towards in becoming is always minoritarian: it is always less powerful” (Ahmed 1999: 73)

I want to suggest that resistance and becoming as it relates to WOC as producers of the FAR narrative(s) , negates these polarities. With 'voice' she becomes subject and finds a power and agency in a 'space of radical openness' (bell hooks, 1989:149). As Grada Kilomba writes, in her book Plantation Memories,

“In this sense, the margin should not only be seen as peripheral space, a space of loss and deprivation, but rather a space of resistance (my emphasis) and possibility.... a location that nourishes our capacity to resist oppression, to transform, and to imagine alternative new worlds and new discourses.” (Kilomba, 2008:37)

Both Lorde and hooks essays, prose and poetry validated an agency WOC have as 'outsiders', no longer victim, but with the power to define our own realities. Audre Lorde's famous poem “Litany for Survival” which poignantly speaks to those who “live at the shoreline standing upon the constant edges of decision”(Lorde 1978) reflects the often subjugated agency of the 'other' and a resistance to being erased or assimilated. In a lecture given at Hunter college, she expands on these themes.

Somewhere on the edge of all our consciousness here is what I call the mythical norm, which each of us knows within our hearts is “not me.” In this society, that norm is usually defined as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure. It is within this mythical norm that the trappings of power reside. Those of us who stand outside that power, for any reason, often identify one way in which we are different, and we assume that quality to be the primary reason for all oppression. We forget those other distortions around difference, some of which we ourselves may be acting out within our daily lives. For unacknowledged difference robs all of us of each other’s energy and creative insight, and creates a false hierarchy.. (Lorde 1981)

speaking in codes

Within the majoriborg cannon, a fugitive voice must be arrested.

WOC narratives are actions of resistance to the grand western discourses dictating a monolithic reality. Though replicas (false memory) of our stories are often consumed by and subsumed into the majoriborg babel, the real subversive elements slip through undetected. Often unrecorded, or mis-recorded within the Euro-western cannon, their truth can only survive through a covert repetition. General Tubman, a master story teller knew this.

Jean M. Humez, in her book, Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories (2003) attempts to find the voice of 'Tubman' herself. She argues that perhaps a reason her legacy is fairly well documented, was that the real life (myth) narratives did much to counteract the embarrassment of the cruel history of slavery, so fresh in the minds of many at that time. Many biographers manipulated her story to paint a picture of a woman who though was a grass roots activist, understood her place with in 'white' christian culture, and had forgiven the atrocities committed by the slave owners (sinners). But juxtaposed to this portraiture, was a woman who regularly challenged segregationist laws,often physically resisting expulsion from a railroad cars, someone who, constantly campaigned for her rights as a veteran of the war (she died in poverty). She also aligned her self with women's rights campaigns and told her stories in both white and black 'feminist' camps. Her agency in securing some power over her own narrative, Humez argues is also present in her biographies. Even though she wasn't the writer, the form of her “mini-narratives left little room for manipulation, and inside these 'core stories' were codes which only those 'in the know' could grasp.

“The individual mini-narrative delivered orally is Tubman's own creation... more over, an artfully structured spoken mini-narrative can contain details that may not be understood by the recording collaborator and therefore can evade censorship by that person. Somewhat like the hymns she sang during her rescues, the core stories potentially can convey coded meanings to those “in the know”. At any rate they are excellent places to look for possibly “subversive” and relatively authentic expressions of Tubman's own ideas, values,world-views, and self-concept (if not her exact language). (Humez,158)

WOC artists (writers, visual artists/filmmakers, musicians), continue this legacy of embedding coded narratives within their stories. For us, Dubois's double consciousness splinters into multiple subjectivities. Coming from a place where gender, class, race, sexuality are in the mix, it's impossible to posit WOC strictly inside a polar dynamic. Science fiction author Nalo Hopkins explains,
There is no solid ground beneath us; we shift constantly to stay in one place.....Another writer once said to me that since the ability to code-switch is practically a given in post-colonial diasporic cultures, it makes sense that writers from those cultures will use it in their writing. (Hopkins,1999)
Inside the 'othered' space, there exists the freedom to create new languages, symbols, and forms of communication. Some artists blatantly subvert dominant language in order to express an 'oppositional gaze', ( hooks 1999), or simply to render negative stereotypes into positive affirmations, (re appropriation), not only in spoken, but also visual language . British Caribbean film-maker Inge Blackman, when speaking to one aspect underlying her work, defines what she calls the 'Guerilla Gaze'. In her words,

My definition of The Guerilla Gaze is the ability of LGBT (lesbian, gay bi, trans) people to derive pleasure from images not intended for us. We queer the images in our imagination subverting the inherent (hetero)sexuality of the dominant narratives presented in movies, music videos, adverts and TV shows.3
South african, activist, photographer, Zanele Muholi, uses photography as a visual language to document the multiplicitous subjectivities of the often hidden queer culture in S.A., defying that subject/ object polemic.
I envisioned us speaking to each other using visuals because anyone can look and have thoughts about a photograph or a film, even if they are illiterate... Often, it is silence and silencing that force us to the cultural margins to produce our own visual cultures as a form of resistance and location, and as other forms of expressions....”

A fluid code is needed. Once we find symbols/language which subvert repressive, dominant discourse(s), it is important that those symbols continually shift- are mutable. Too often 'radical' discourse is subsumed into the majoriborg machine- once it is static, it runs the risk of becoming essentialist , reflecting the very prison from which it sought to escape- or it be comes a victim of the 'reificating' machine. Gill Scot Heron once said, the 'revolution will not be televised', but its simulacrum is certainly commercialised. From Malcolm X car fresheners that kill odours, “by any means necessary”, to Che Guevara cigarettes, the reification of the subversive symbol into consumables has become swift and nearly absolute. It is not easy to beat the machine, nor is it possible to 'dismantle the masters house using the masters tools', (Audre Lorde 1984), which is why we must continue to write in code, (re)create codes, decode and recode... WOC are making work that not only resists dominant language but use text and image to distort mutate and recreate meaning/definitions which reflect their own expressions, subverting any notion of an 'original 'master' tongue. Haraway , citing, Cherrie Moraga and Audre Lorde writes.

Moraga's language is not 'whole'; it is self-consciously spliced, a chimera of English and Spanish, both conqueror's languages. But it is this chimeric monster, without claim to an original language before violation, that crafts the erode, competent, potent identities of women of colour. Sister Outsider hints at the possibility of world survival not because of her innocence, but because of her ability to live on the boundaries, to write without the founding myth of original wholeness... (Harwaway 176)

A fugitive voice must be arrested? The fugitive voice eludes (the stasis) arrest. The fugitive voice is migrant.

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