The May 2002 instalment below shows its age mostly in the letter to readers, where you can see me attempting to dredge up a bit of hope where there wasn’t much (the invasion of Iraq hadn’t happened yet, but the attempts to stop it would fail). The two following pieces do last, and both are meant to be read aloud (Barbara Mor’s “Suicidal Girls” would’ve made a great podcast, with sound effects, and my piece is a speech, to be delivered to a conference I never got to).
SHE IS STILL BURNING
An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers
10 May 2002
We are against war and the sources of war.
We are for poetry and the sources of poetry.
(Muriel Rukeyser, 1949)
All humanity today lives under one global god: the God of War, who is continuously empowered and enlarged by the religion of money.
(Barbara Mor, 1987)
Peace is a place where no war is held.
(line from children’s poems circulating the internet, 2002)
I’ve begun this letter three times in the past six weeks, and then gotten submerged in translation contracts, while events raced ahead, outstripping my attempts to understand them. My first try began like this: “It’s March 31st as I begin writing this, and two old, ruthless and cynical men who despise each other (a description of Ariel Sharon and Yassar Arafat stolen from Robert Fisk, Mideast correspondent par excellence) head towards their final confrontation in the Land of the Patriarchs. … I hate it when men play chess with human pawns, particularly when they’re playing on a board that’s already soaked in blood. I hate it even more when nobody stops them.”
Six weeks later, the civilian infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority is wrecked and Arafat sidelined, and now it’s Sharon and his Likud party versus Hamas and Hezbollah. But these players are also mirror images of each other: both want the same land, all of it; both think they can take it by force; both believe their god backs them in this endeavour.
Personally, I think the opposing sides in all the battles spreading over the earth are serving the same god, the one Starhawk calls “The God of Force” (secular types worship him too, under names like “full-spectrum dominance”). This god may have ruled the earth for the last 4000-odd years, but these are strange times and I suspect that he might have finally shot himself in the foot.
Force doesn’t work anymore—it may be as simple as that. Here we have, for instance, George W. Bush, the most powerful man in the world and the least free, with his heart set on bringing down Saddam Hussein. Can he do it? Only if he’s willing to lose 10-30,000 troops, use low-yield nukes and crash the U.S. economy.
I’m thinking, in other words, that there’s something resembling hope at the bottom of this wastebasket. And if you’ll grant me a few moments and a little poetic license, I’ll try to explain why.
First, let’s say that the “God of Force” is shorthand for “dominant human belief and behaviour patterns under patriarchy.” When this god collapses in a bloody stalemate with himself, who’s left standing? Well, it’s probably (to use another of Starhawk’s phrases) the “Goddess of Regeneration.” She’s also shorthand, a metaphoric image for human potential (if you think of human beings as one body, then she’d be the soul—or, in scientific terms, the quantum hologram—of humanity). But she’s also a metaphoric image for the unity-in-diversity of matter/energy—hence, the soul of a humanity in sync with the rest of the cosmos.
And if we want to locate her prophets, we don’t need to look much farther than the Women in Black, with their week-by-week, year-by-year street-corner vigils for peace. Are they unrealistic and politically naive, these women? I don’t think so.
Bon courage (and happy reading),
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
IN THIS INSTALLMENT
1) “Suicidal Girls”: an Irish Crone rap by Barbara Mor, about which she writes, “i really want to bodily pick up women, in all this chaos, and set us back on the OldFeministRoad: Fuck Off, Stupids!”
2) “Some Reflections on Lesbian Culture, Feminist Thought, Jazz and Love” by Harriet Ellenberger (presentation written for the conference “Ruptures, Résistances et Utopies” to be held in Toulouse, France, September 2002)
scream in my walls 4sex in a 4plex
their boys are crazy nightspliced wires
pliers glow in the dark
i live here numb
in rental skull bang bang bang they move in
redone stucco studio used to be a garage
cars lived there leaked oil on the rug
wall to wall rust atmosphere end of the
world plus heat theyre not neat decorate
w/fists purplebluegreenpink hair tattoos
noserings amplifiers huge ashtrays of
noise on bad days it costs too much to
live here we’re on a one-way street wheels
roll west 24/7 nothing stops no rest dont
mess w/our trucks global politics some
say i wouldnt know they dont sleep
like normal people could be aliens or
vampires no jobs blowjobs blowdriers or
they could be bald women hang out on the
moon stare at dead planet MTV no pots or
pans to speak of they eat boys skinny
i feel sorry sometimes
spikehead genius corvair lurches around
town YouthGoingNowhere not much future in
punk music they yell at each other&they
yell back bi-chicks polydicks 6packs 8trax
up&down yr dreams all hell breaks loose
fuckfuckfuck you me anarchy murder wheres
the cop wheres the flag wheres the earplugs
wheres the preacher homedelivery tampax
brain apocalypse pizza just get married
and shut up
white&black scared persian
kitty hides under porch as party rages at
dawn new strange girl passed out on asphalt
terrible sad suitcase left behind on a
motel bed genitalrentalsingularexistence
month-to-month poetry in her head she plays
guitar voice like doomsday vomit moves in
now the sound is complete KILL EVERYTHING
DUMB THAT LOOKS AT THEM from farside of
mirrors what looks back isnt pretty on
purpose this is the gestalt leave a bowl
of milk thing pukes in the parkinglot
the news is not good
plane crash into my mind
Fukuyama bloody mama clash of civilizations
bigger noise than girls radio tv
world-in-trauma 24/7 hypnotic drama
Nostradamus on CNN a september month
HolyKing of Terror bangs LadyTowers on
way to Heaven they are nuts as foretold
osamabinMabus rare avis sirens cellphones
meltdown computers GogMagog angels plagues
smoke fire pain confetti of bodyparts
stocks&bonds roasted sparrows a trillion
Revelation pages flying around as
torn wings end of world infomercial:
desert bibles neon tribals electropsycho
uber alles 2000 miles away my
glass eyes explode the NationalEnquirer
on the spot each Tower had its own
zipcode zip zip as earth says this
is how it feels
ragnarok girls so
secular Tribecular just want to party &
be peculiar History busts in w/guns
nasty as hormone problems zits condoms
revolution they rise to the occasion
plug-in fingers speed drums dirty throat
gutter drains&screams they wanna put a
sack on my head bangbang somebody wants
a bag over my head
its a catchy tune
man has a Vision God hates women is
religion Headbanger thumps his brow on
the ground the more dull lumps on his
mind the more devoted he is the skull of
a mullah has many bumps submission to
Allah thumpthumpthump if females do
this they expose their rumps so We must
be Invisible like Terror to scare the
children the more you dont belong to yr
body the more you belong to God submission
to Love o yeah they talk this shit to
BigZip 1440 minutes a day the girls say
it sucks if you cant evolve or dance or
read just fuckmybrainz&breed blackwrapt
toe to head bodybag of livingDead over
the city the earth gasp for breath no
fists laughter thought libraries galleries
of stars a huge anoxiablue vinylplastic
drastic shroud yr dreams for worms burqa
woman burqaAll FEARfashions necrophilia
HolyDicks gag yrmouth for aDeathSquad
cover my tits for the Inquisition
under rubble hear them scream IslamBamBam
thank you mam piety humps the female
WildWest war on our Holes waronourHoles
they wanna put a bag on the Statue of
400 years but nothing changes
they came to pillage&pray stayed to pay
rent grow roots build be fruitflies quiet
housewives but cant stop going crazy it must
be in the water psychedelic daughters dogs
drink their piss and freak out
it takes a lot of sex to get beyond sex
(V Solanas) so here we are and all the
virgins are psychotic BornAgain fanatics
w/whips talkshows burning books Satan
out to get us Ignorance is Bliss God in
hiz bloodshot eyes kill on hiz hands God
in Hiz eyes bloodshot on Hiz hands death too
late to wake up go back to soap opera
RevelationsRevengeText on CDs All
Natures Children on their knees just wait
til Jesus comes back just wait til yr Daddy
girls move out inner
bitches throwback witches every step West
more sure lessPure this is a new world
for congenital Rebels progeny of misogyny
know whats happening T&A twitch&spin gyrate
on cablevision give Puritan fathers what
they want HOT SEX give thanks to whatever
made matches ropes paper documents money
jails and beer
and the poor girls have been
shaking for so long to advertise it was
coming to tell you look out look out
now who can eat
the world is starving barely breathe air
is so fat they discipline themselves to
meet the threat liberate origynal cunt
deworm the cat their new hit on the list
of coming fatwas
PUT A SACK ON YR OWN FACE ASSHOLES
how did they cross the ocean how do i
cross the street daily life is everywhere
else the bodies are exploding in open
markets you must learn to separate human
parts from the fresh fruits & seasonal
vegetables even worse in fish&poultry
sections except the meat is raw on ice and
human parts usually cooked but look at it
this way everything is organic who cooks
anyway it takes too long i like things in
cans and plastic packets smaller than a
breadbox ziplock poptop too busy dancing
to eat worry shit my mommydaddy sunday
comix usedcarsalesman tv preacher promised
land parkinglots happiness so the world
is flat would they lie? if i fall off
the edge thats better than Afghanistan they
cant dance they dont eat they die in the
street in fever chewing grass delirious
like the Irish history repeats if you let
it or forget humans not doomed by Nature
but by DumbIdeas im starting to like
these loud girls when they scream in the
daytime it must be serious
– Barbara Mor (February 13, 2002)
note: Barbara Mor is the author, with Monica Sjöö, of The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, a text which she completely rewrote and updated for the 500-page 1987 U.S. edition (Harper & Row).
SOME REFLECTIONS ON LESBIAN CULTURE, FEMINIST THOUGHT, JAZZ AND LOVE
by Harriet Ellenberger
When I first went to the University of Iowa, in 1966, I heard stories about the deaths of two women, stories that haunted me. Abortion was illegal then, and in an apartment building I walked by every day on my way to philosophy classes, a young student had bled to death alone, after having tried to abort herself with a coat hanger. Her body was discovered only after her blood seeped through the ceiling of the apartment below hers. The second woman who died alone was someone I knew by name—we’d been in the same high-school French class. When her new roommates at university had begun spreading the rumor that she was a lesbian, she slit open her throat with a razor blade.
In Iowa City, Iowa, USA, in 1966, there were no lesbians visibly creating with each other a way to live freely—1966, in fact, was the first time I’d ever heard the word lesbian spoken aloud—and there was no women’s liberation movement. There was no name for the system that had killed both these young women; there was no place to express outrage at what had driven them to die alone, in shame, of self-inflicted wounds; there was no way to honour their lives nor to mourn their deaths.
By the time I’d graduated from university in 1969, I thought I was a political sophisticate—literate in Marxist analyses, an activist in the U.S. civil rights and anti-Vietnam-war movements. The first consciousness-raising groups of women were beginning to form by then in Iowa City, but I didn’t find out about their existence until years after the fact. I was awarded a fellowship for Ph.D. work in philosophy at an elite East Coast university, and then gave it up to marry one of my professors, a man old enough to be my father, an intellectual who had been booted out of the US Communist Party for left-wing adventurism (I found this glamorous, for some reason). We moved to North Carolina with his three sons. The sons were 10, 11, and 12; I was 23, still in shock owing to my sudden self-inflicted fall from much-praised student to much-criticized wife and stepmother. And then the women’s liberation movement exploded spectacularly into existence, with out-of-the-closet lesbians many of its most daring writers, thinkers, and activists.
Fast forward to 1976, the year that Catherine Nicholson and I began publishing Sinister Wisdom. By that time I was 30 years old, had helped found and sustain the women’s center in Charlotte, North Carolina, trained as an auto mechanic and ended up with a job as a technical writer, gone through a dramatic and traumatic divorce, and come out publicly (in the newspapers) as a lesbian feminist. But the whirlwind of creation/destruction/creation was only beginning.
In the next five years, Catherine and I put out sixteen book-length issues of Sinister Wisdom, doing most of the production work ourselves and with volunteer help: years of intense work for no pay, years of travelling all over the States to meet other lesbian feminists, years of all-night conversations with strangers who became friends, years of exhilarating highs as the movement grew in ways we had never imagined, years of sickening lows as the arguments and splits multiplied in number and acrimony. By 1980, we were burned out and intent only on turning over Sinister Wisdom in good shape to Adrienne Rich and Michelle Cliff, who had promised to keep it going.
In 1976, if you’d asked me the question “Is there a lesbian culture?”, I’d have answered, “Yes, of course, there’s a lesbian culture, and we’re making it up as we go along.” But I had lots of camarades then, and we were riding a wave—a near-ecstatic fusion of lesbian experience with radical feminist thought. It was like the birth of jazz, that fusion of African rhythm and European harmonic structure that swept the globe and left its enduring mark nearly everywhere musicians gather. You could feel the beat, the movement was real, the voicing was authentic, the soul-force profound.
Yet by 1980, the year Reagan was elected and the far right began its triumphal comeback, that fusion of lesbian experience and radical feminist philosophy, at least in the States, was starting to break apart—attacked, it seemed, from every side. For me, that coming-apart was marked by the loss of a subtitle. When Catherine and I had started Sinister Wisdom in 1976, we’d called it “a journal of words and pictures for the lesbian imagination in all women.” Shortly after the new editors took over the journal, the subtitle disappeared because, as Michelle explained to us, she and Adrienne thought that “it gave straight women too much.”
The phrase “for the lesbian imagination in all women” had been my particular invention, but that didn’t entirely account for the chill I felt on discovering that it had gone missing. To me, the missing subtitle was a sign that something more important was being lost, an idea that we’d assumed was so obvious it couldn’t be forgotten, a common-sense linkage which Susan Cavin had expressed in these simple words: “Women will not be liberated until lesbians are liberated, as lesbians will not be liberated until women are liberated. That is, women’s liberation cannot be achieved until female sexuality is free at last” (“Lesbian Origins Sex Ratio Theory” Sinister Wisdom 9, Spring 1979, p. 19).
The fusion of women’s liberation and lesbian culture that was the hallmark of Sinister Wisdom in its first five years had given me a philosophic home, firm ground on which to confront the past, the present, the future. It enabled me, for instance, to give a name, patriarchy, to the system that had driven those two young women to their deaths in 1966. It gave me a name for the belief system embedded in both right-wing and left-wing politics, a name for the institutions that underlay both the free-market and state-capitalist systems then terrorizing the earth with their hot and cold wars. It gave me a vantage point from which to make sense of the world around me and a group with which to influence that world.
When the movement began coming apart, I became, in a sense, homeless. For the next 10 years, from 1980 to 1990, I would try repeatedly, alone or with others, to begin new projects that were both lesbian and feminist (writing projects, international theatre projects, a bilingual women’s bookstore in Montreal), but clearly I was a girl out of step with the times. The wave I’d been riding had crashed onto the beach. The music stopped. By 1990, I had become a kind of solitary wanderer.
Now it’s the harsh winter of 2002, and I’m rereading, for the first time in a long time, those early issues of Sinister Wisdom. I laugh, I cry, I pick out the most prophetic passages, I notice how many of the women who wrote them have already died, I find again the poems that I loved. The words leap off the page; they seem more vividly true now than they did then.
Maybe this is because the unconscious global religion permeating every aspect of social life—what many feminists have called patriarchy, what Michèle Causse names viriocracy, what Mary Daly calls the sadostate or phallotechnocracy, and what I’m calling here simply the anti-culture—has become much more obviously a fast-track to extinction. When I was writing statements like “patriarchy is the funeral procession of the human species” for the first issue of Sinister Wisdom, I half-felt myself to be and was certainly regarded by others as a “doomsday lady,” a radical feminist who willfully exaggerated the common danger in order to justify her own political position. Now, in the twenty-first century, the sense of being driven to extinction by one’s own society is widely shared, for good reason, and not only among women.
These early lesbian feminist writings may also feel so vivid to me because many of them positively glow with a love for women. After the succeeding years of bitter internecine movement battles, many of us learned to dismiss that exultant love for women as naive, a kind of illusion. But clearly it was real. Love for women—both as individuals and as part of an awakened body of womankind—was the heartbeat of the lesbian feminist movement. In that fusion of lesbian experience with feminist thought, love played a role akin to the role played by African rhythms in the musical fusion known as jazz. Love, in other words, was the driving force.
I count myself among those who find persuasive and significant the evidence suggesting that it was women who invented the fundamentals of human culture. It seems to me that the early patriarchs knew better than we know now the value of the female creativity they were attempting to tame and use for their own purposes. It also seems to me that the crushing of female genius which lies at the core of the anti-culture has led inexorably to the genocide and biocide we now confront. Female genius is precisely what humans need to unleash if we are to save ourselves from socially-induced extinction, and female genius is precisely what patriarchal loyalists keep targetting.
If I were to devise a one-sentence definition of lesbian culture it would be this: Lesbian culture is that which devotes itself to the unleashing of female genius. I can imagine no work more vital to the interests of continuing life on this planet.
To those of you doing this work, I say, May the fire of the stars illumine your pathway. May the lioness lend you her courage, and the eagle her wings and far-seeing vision. May the ant people teach you patience, and the grasses bending in the wind, flexibility. And may you survive; may you succeed; may you love and be loved in return.
– Harriet Ellenberger, 14 February 2002