I now engage in dialogue with Cherrie Moraga’s “A XicanaDyke Codex of Changing Consciousness”, an essay that, at first glance, would seem not to desire someone “like me” as an interlocutor, as a discussant. I am white; I am male. Both of these qualities are easily apparent and so may even be confused with my substance. But they of course are not my substance. I have no substance.
The question at stake in Moraga’s essay is how one ought to relate to the past, especially the immemorial past. The past may be immemorial in at least three ways. The first concerns those events that we, as humans, constitutively cannot recall; our own births, for example, perhaps traumas taken on at a young age. The second concerns the unspeakability, the untransmissibility, of certain extreme, liminal conditions of living in which human beings have been put (think of the camps; think of colonialism) to which ordinary, digestible prose cannot seem to measure. The third concerns a kind of systemic obliviousness; here, the unspoken thing is forgotten completely, not even retained as the memory of a forgetting as in the first or second kind. Moraga perhaps has in mind an immemoriality of the third variety:
But for Indian Children to love themselves, […] They must develop a living critical consciousness about their land-based history (outside of the White Man’s fiction), a history that remains undocumented by mainstream culture and is ignored by the queer, feminist, and “Hispanic” communities. They must remember they were here first and are always Xicano, Dine, Apache, Yaqui, or Choctaw; for that memory can alter consciousness, and consciousness can alter institutionalized self-loathing that serves cultural genocide. (7-8)
The question here is how to relate to the kinds of events that compose the second variety (those that are unspeakably violent) in the context of the third variety, that is, as events always already forgotten because of the system of cultural codes in which the remembering can take place. Moraga then advocates a kind of digging up of the past, bringing to light forgotten traumas whose effects are still being felt today.
But she holds onto identity. For those who remember, in fact, “must remember they were here first and are always Xicano, Dine, […]” (ibid., emphasis added). This because: “Genocide is what I am afraid of, as well as the complete cultural obliteration of those I call my pueblo and the planet that sustains us.” (8) Pueblo here means “people”, in the sense of the people who would compose a nation; an ethnos. Consider:
The evolution of my own changing Xicana consciousness led me to make the same basic decision Alexie made: “to marry an Indian woman” and “to give birth to and raise Indian children who love themselves,” not necessarily in that order, but, I believe, prompted by the same moral imperative. (7)
And in the most succinct formulation of the ethic she advocates adopting:
For as taboo as it is to admit within the context of the firmly inscribed multiracial social democracy progressives paint of their imagined “America,” I had a child to nation, one regenerated from the blood-nations Mexicans born in (or coming to) this country are forced to abandon at the border. I had an Indian child to counter the loss of my family’s working-class Mexican Indianism with each succeeding generation. I had a Xicano child cuz Raza’s turning white all over the States. (6)
Present action settles the debts of the past. The scales are out of whack and must be stabilized. One part of this correctional act is apparently refusing to engage in dialogue:
For these reasons I believe my conversation about strategies for revolution as a Xicanadyke mother resides more solidly within the cultural-political framework of American Indigenism than in any U.S. gay and lesbian or feminist movements. At their cultural core these movements remain Euro-American, in spite of a twenty-five-year history of people-of-color activism. I have for the most part removed my self from conversation with the gay and lesbian feminist movement because most of its activists do not share my fears and as such do not share my hopes or strategies for political change. (8)
And, as if we needed any further confirmation, Moraga cites not totally unapprovingly one label with which her thought has been branded: “politicized cultural essentialism” (5).
Everything is how you use the past. We find ourselves tossed always already into a world, into a narrative, and must collect ourselves, gather our bearings, as we go. This perpetual story operates according to many, perhaps incommensurate, times—the times of school days, of the body’s growth, of families and lineages, of genealogies and histories. These times are not so in the conventional sense (are not narratives) until we take the singular events that we will put into a constellation (thereby rendering meaning possible) and put them into a (temporal) constellation. We may then even relate the individual times to one another if we wish; indeed, this is perhaps the supreme task of thought. The supreme task of thought not for any metaphysical, that is, ethnocentric, reason, but rather the supreme task because its completion could result in the rendering inoperative of all nations, all peoples—all communities founded upon a presupposition. This because there is sacred time and profane time and the latter is messianic and the first nihilistic. The time of the presupposition, of the negative foundation, of the ineffable present absence, is this nihilistic sacred time, which opposes us to ourselves, us to our time, having us undergo it rather than taking it up as our own. The contemporary is composed of many times. Sacred times are those composed of constellations that stubbornly refuse to change, refuse to alter themselves, refuse to grow. Profane times are simply sacred times rearranged, returned to use, to properly human praxis, which is not any particular use, but again, rather use itself, the very space of use.
The figure, the type of this space is love. Love entails forgiveness. Love entails an experience of time that revels in the power we have to construct our own time, to use the past and new ways and thereby not drown in it. We love to live.