On Elders and Idols

SaraAhmedLAFL
bell hooks (left), 1952-2021; Sara Ahmed (right), born 1969.

 

 

“By writing, bell hooks refuses to be confined.” – Sara Ahmed

 

 

Finding words is difficult; being present is difficult. I look at writing as a way to be present. A way to talk back. To write is to dwell in a moment or expand on a singular feeling. A way to locate the wound. Archive a moment. Writing eases us forward: it provides a landing place to ask questions. I look to my trusted feminist texts to ponder what has already been said. I call my mom and ask for her opinion. I talk with my partner and friends. Good writing involves research. By making connections between disparate thoughts and realities, we become a part of that story, and we attach ourselves to our elders and idols, whom we reference and look up to. The very act of writing detaches parts of ourselves to exist on their own. This is the beauty of creation; it lives forever—beyond us. The body is ephemeral but the spirit lives on through writing.

 

In a love letter to bell hooks on September 20, 2022, Sarah Ahmed wrote in a blog post that by writing, hooks “spreads her words, herself, all over the place.” “By writing, bell hooks refuses to be confined,” she said. Both Ahmed (born in 1969) and hooks (1952-2021) are feminist heroes of mine. Ahmed’s profession to hooks signals a generational feminist citation practice, paying homage to her. Ahmed has previously written about the politics of citation; it is something she is deliberate about. In her 2017 book Living a Feminist Life, Ahmed states “Citation is how we acknowledge our debt to those who came before; those who helped us find our way when the way was obscured because we deviated from the paths we were told to follow.” 

 

Being a feminist necessitates deviancy because it is a straying from the norm. We need reading, just like we need writing, to find the way forward. Being a feminist can be extremely alienating, because of resistance to change. Looking to the past provides the vitality and encouragement to know that others have lived through similar struggles. In her blog post, Ahmed writes that “feminism is necessary because of what has not ended: sexism, sexual exploitation, and sexual oppression. And for hooks, ‘sexism, sexual exploitation and sexual oppression’ cannot be separated from white supremacy and capitalism.” All of these issues need to be considered in unison, as Kimberlé Crenshaw (born 1959) advocates for through her theory of intersectionality. All systems of oppression come together and overlap.

 

 

Being a feminist necessitates deviancy.

 

 

Writing in the margins is a survival tactic—a passion often born of pain and loneliness. Through writing, Black, Indigenous, and women of colour name their oppression, and as Ahmed puts it, write themselves into existence. “We write, in company,” she said. “And we write back against a world that in one way or another makes it hard for us to exist on our own terms. When I think of what it takes to write back, who it takes, I think of how many came before us who laid out paths we could follow. And I think of you.” As Ahmed addresses the late hooks, I can’t help but think of the foreverness of feminist icons, but also the others we choose to follow: matriarchs, ancestors, community leaders, artists, poets, theorists.

 

In a conversation between Lebanese writers Lina Mounzer and Mirene Arsanios following the Beirut Blast in the summer of 2020, they address tragedy, the role of writing, and what it is to bear witness. They reference Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) as an influence on writing about war. Mounzer says that language is “probably one of the few things [she] believe[s] in without question or doubt.” In Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness, which is “written about and from within the Israeli invasion and bombardment of Beirut in 1982,” says Mounzer, he “expresses repeatedly the desire for ‘a language that I can lean on and that can lean on me, that asks me to bear witness and that I can ask to bear witness.’” These words show the power of writing—what creating language through crisis, grief, and oppression can do. 

 

We have a wealth of historic and contemporary texts to support us. We may never know our heroes personally, but through their writing, we lean on them, we bear witness, and we find the words so that others might lean on us too.

 

 


 

Editor’s Muse column by Christina Hajjar (senior editor, Herizons)

 

Christina Hajjar is a queer femme first-generation Lebanese artist, writer, and cultural worker based in Winnipeg on Treaty 1 Territory. She is passionate about independent publishing, self-publishing, and print media. Hajjar is co-editor of Carnation Zine (on diaspora and displacement) and qumra journal (on world cinema). Her writing has appeared in BlackFlash MagazineC MagazineThe Uniter, and CV2. Learn more at christinahajjar.com.