Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Open Access to the Academic-Personal

In reading around rather than actually within Paul Baker’s book, Sexed Texts, I have possibly figured out more about the book than I would have having had it in front of me.  Here’s what I know.  

1.       Paul Baker and his readers are either "not into" or "not up in the know-how on" open-access sharing.  A pdf of the first chapter of this book (required reading for the fall course course I am taking, Language, Gender and Power) is not to be found on the internet.  And the book, of course, is out of stock everywhere from Amazon to our local Grey’s University Bookstore.  So, what does one do?  Read around the internet to see what I can find out about this book. 

2.       Elaine Fraser (2009, Sociolinguist Studies) reviewed the book, naming the work of bringing current context to a history of research in language and gender.  Fraser names part of Baker’s larger work as critique of the project of Queer Theory.  She also problematizes the range of contexts Baker uses, particularly naming his foregrounding of male over female gay communities.

3.       Lancaster University identifies this as an undergraduate textbook.  Dang. (If one day someone names something I write a textbook, I will be totally irate.)  More handily, Lancaster University also provides the only snippet of this text to be seen on the web.    This pleasantly turns out to be a narrative of the author’s problematic encounter with gender-labeled muffins.  This excerpt really gave me enough to go on until my nice, used copy arrives next week.  Baker, like many of us, wants to disrupt category boundaries.

As I will be doing with most of my “school” readings, I am putting alongside Baker, my summer reading of Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin.  This book is actually also a required course reading.  For some reason it is the first one I picked up to get started on while on a family RV trip to Indiana in July.  Somewhere in the North Carolina mountains I opened the book and read the preface.  And read it again, stopping to tell my mom that this book seems weird.  Finally, I flip the book over and to the back cover and realize this is a novel!  And science fiction!  Woot!!  Well, then it actually felt like summer reading!!  Through several states and a campground stay in Kentucky, I read the first couple of chapters, intermittently also attending to children, work emails and somehow risking the danger of fixing myself cups after cup of tea en route.  The book opened with narrative and dialogue of men in a meeting and a rather pitiful if hardened introduction of the novel’s protagonist, Nazareth.  Putting these alongside my knowledge that this was a “feminist” book, I started getting worried what kind of feminist Suzette Haden Elgin might turn out to be.  I probably flipped to check the copyright date, 1984… hmmmm…. Somewhat before movements I knew of to complicate ideas of gender difference.  I kept reading, still rather hungry for whatever kind of fantasy that this novel might let me have the rare dip into.  

Fascinated as I was with Elgin’s fiction I have similar feelings when reading her writing about her work with language, particularly in her Introduction to The First Dictionary and Grammar of Laadan.  I feel compelled to read much more about her, from her.  I want to ask her about the ways that difference is constructed in Native Tongue and in the language primer for Laadan.  I want to ask what she thinks about critiques of essentialism in this kind of work.  I would tell her that I am so drawn to the way she makes visible the material issues of women and that still I find problematic the firm categories between gender that, for instance, a “women’s language” might sustain.  I am wondering, in what ways could a women’s language disrupt the appearance and social activity around firm categories of gender.  And by using categorical and possessive words to name a language as “women’s” doesn’t that continue the binary way of patriarchy?  Sigh.  

To bring all of this together for now, I want to think about how identity categories construct my literacy practices in these readings.  I am maddened and offended at required readings that are categorized as “textbook” reading.  It puts both the book and me as a reader into a box that presses in on me, defining me as someone in-need of learning, not someone who brings ideas to a text.  It makes my reading, my ideas, my identity as a student less part of “real” work.  And yet, I am reading and writing about Baker and Elgin here because of my identity as a student, while I somehow don’t make time to post to my blog about readings that have to do with my life at home and in community outside of “work”.   And so, I also name here on my blog my academic and professional lives as the “real” part, the part worth sharing and talking to others about.  And I don’t tell you that as I type a four year old with an earache is pressed against my arm or that in another window on my computer screen is an email to a the women who run our preschool co-op. It seems that at just about at every turn as student, as mother, as teacher (more on that elsewhere) my work is shaped as other.

Categories of identity, as I write them, write into them, rewrite them, shape me.  Somehow I would like to lean on both Elgin’s disruptions of dominant power stories and Baker’s critique of the naturalization of gendering language to figure out how to tell my academic story in a way that values and complicates my too personal and too private work of mothering and teaching.  So that's where I'm headed in more discussions of  readings coming this fall :)

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