an introduction to The Twilight Zone: Weird Women by Soh Kay Min, with illustrations by Wasima Farah.
published in TAH VOL.2 – coming February 17, pre-orders for paper copy opened until on March 22
Let us begin at the beginning – at the hour of Twilight: a world hovering between sleeping and waking, night sky trembling on the cusp of morning. When Twilight steps into the world of Art – one that claims itself radical and progressive – with the toes of one foot still curled deep into a night that is not quite last night (a past that is not quite past) and the heel of the other digging into the floor of a morning that is not quite yet a new day (a present that is not quite present), she often finds herself stepping into a hallway separating the Feminism room and the Anti-racism room. She is a strange sort of ghost, one with gumption, quasi-corporeal apparition squeezing through from under the door jamb like an overflow of sticky syrup; yet when she raises her oozing fist to knock on the door – either one – her knuckles seep through the surface with a little squelch. Her request to enter goes unheard yet what is that shadow of a sound buzzing low in the canals of your ears, that whisper of wind raising the gooseflesh on your skin, that ugly stain blooming mysteriously on your door? Perhaps there is a world you’re missing in those twilight moments between consciousness and unconsciousness.
Twilight thus finds a congenial affinity with Jacque Derrida’s Spectre, who has been described in Spectres of Marx: The State of Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International as: “a paradoxical incorporation, the becoming-body, a certain phenomenal and carnal form of the spirit…some ‘thing’ that remains difficult to name: neither soul nor body, and both one and the other.”1 Neither something nor another, and both one and the other – Derrida’s words provide us with a poignantly precise description of the intersectional anti-racist and feminist artistic activity that occurs within what we shall call in this essay the Twilight Zone: that spatial-temporal area of bleary murkiness, characterised by being undefined, intermediate, mysterious; that becoming dimension in which our intersectional woman-spectre Twilight lives and breathes, performs and sings, continues to haunt us all.
Continuing in the vein of Derrida, “it is flesh and phenomenality that give to the spirit its spectral apparition.”2 Similarly, in this essay I posit that it is flesh and phenomenality that give to (most) feminist art its spectral apparition, particularly when considering the mediums of performance and body art. As the celebrated Lucy Lippard once wrote, “when women use their own bodies in their art work, they are using their selves; a significant psychological factor converts these bodies or faces from object to subject.”3 Lippard’s comment has since been taken on by a new generation of young feminist performance artists, including Oriana Fox, who boldly proclaimed, “the women objectified throughout the history of Western art (and popular culture) had not spoken until the performance artists of the 1970s imbued them with agency by embodying their images in the flesh.”4 Women artists have indeed voiced their agency with a rousing passion – yet one wonders if all of them have been heard amidst the ringing reverberations within the echo chambers of the multiplicity of feminist conversations. Yet, as Trinh T. Minh-ha wrote, “without other silences, however, my silence goes unheard, unnoticed; it is simply one voice less, one more point given to the silencers.”5 One must thus acknowledge that within the feminist movement itself, already persecuted as it is, there lies a further internal persecution of women of colour. Speaking to the threat women of colour experience from white feminism – or the threat white feminism perceives from Third World feminists? – Trinh T. Minh-ha further expounds:
“It is not unusual to encounter cases where the sense of specialness, which comes here with being the ‘first’ or the ‘only’ woman, is confused with the consciousness of difference. One cannot help feeling ‘special’ when one figures among the rare few to emerge above the anonymous crowd and enjoys the privilege of preparing the way for one’s ‘unfortunate’ sisters…Thus, despite my rhetoric of solidarity, I inwardly resist your entrance into the field, for it means competition, rivalry and, sooner or later, the end of my specialness. I shall, therefore, play a double game: on the one hand, loudly assert my right as a(n exemplary) woman, to have access to equal opportunity; on the other hand, quietly maintain my privileges by helping the master perpetuate his cycle of oppression.”6
In her landmark essay Demarginalising the Intersection of Race and Sex, Kimberlé Crenshaw called out the “problematic consequence of the tendency to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis.”7 Crenshaw pointedly noted “that black women encounter combined race and sex discrimination implies that the boundaries of sex and race discrimination doctrine are defined respectively by white women’s and Black men’s experiences.”8 In this sense, black women are seen as either ‘not feminist enough’ for the dogma of white feminism or ‘not black enough’ for black anti-racist politics, rendering their experiences doubly invalid by virtue of taxonomical impurity in the eyes of both camps. Crenshaw’s research focuses in particular on the wider legal and social discrimination faced by black women in America, but this essay seeks to apply the framework of intersectionality to all women of colour, and by proxy, all women artists of colour. Furthering the arguments put forth by Crenshaw, Trinh, and other scholars of intersectionality, this essay posits that the work of women artists of colour, floating in that Twilight Zone between the closed doors of Feminism and Anti-racism, trapped between the past and present of both movements, lends itself convivially to Derridian spectral analysis. The lived experiences of women of colour tend to exist as ghostly spectres – translucent, murky, not-quite-acknowledged in the eyes of the law, society, and the art world.
In the words of Martin Hagglund, “what is important about the figure of the spectre, then, is that it cannot be fully present: it has no being in itself but marks a relation to what is no longer or not yet.”9 Indeed, the artistic twilight zone exists in that liminal space between its relation to a history of misogynistic and imperialistic violence, and a nervous anticipation of what is to come from this history. Time is thus a haunted entity. Borrowing from the late Mark Fisher, a hauntology is a failure of the future, with two provisional directions of failing: firstly, toward a future which in actuality is no longer, but which risks a “traumatic ‘compulsion to repeat’, a structure that repeats, a fatal pattern”,10 and secondly, toward a future which in actuality has not yet happened, but which operates on an attraction toward an anticipated futurity that shapes the present.11 Fisher’s use of the term hauntology originates from Derrida, for whom a phonetic pun on the French ‘hauntologie’ both builds upon and deconstructs the English ‘ontology’. Opposing the ontological premise of a sensuous Being, Derrida launches an interrogation into an alternative mode of thinking existence via hauntology: “what does it mean to follow a ghost? And what if this came down to being followed by it, always, persecuted perhaps by the very chase we are leading?”12 In answer to his own line of questioning, Derrida concluded, “here again what seems to be out front, the future, comes back in advance: from the past, from the back…Each time is the event itself, a first time is a last time. Altogether other. Staging for the end of history. Let us call it a hauntology.”13
Fisher has expounded upon Derrida’s project’s succinctly in the following passage: “haunting can be seen as intrinsically resistant to the contraction and homogenization of time and space. It happens when a place is stained by time, or when a particular place becomes the site for an encounter with a broken time.”14 This brokenness of time involuntarily conjures flashbacks of blood and violence afforded by an imperialist history of misogyny and racism interjected with today’s bursts of brutality and a dreaded paranoia of the potentiality of what tomorrow might plunder. As Derrida has foretold, “from the lips of a master this watch word [life] would always say something about violence.”15 History becomes – is always becoming – a spectre of life. We need only recall the hurt He has inflicted upon women of colour – Hottentot Venus, Sojourner Truth. Rosa Parks and Angela Davis. On another side of the world, unnamed East Asian and Southeast Asian ‘comfort women’ of the 20th century wars. And today…in today’s ‘globalized’ and ‘progressive’ world there are young Southeast Asian brides mail-ordered to America; on the streets of Delhi, there are men, having experienced a woman’s rejection, reward their audacity with acid; in bedrooms in a lover’s embrace there are women hurt and humiliated, forced to submission when fondness falls apart and (racialized) fetishism comes forth. The situation is as such: “No matter which side I belong to, once I step down into the mud pit to fight my adversary, I can only climb out from it stained.”16 The bodies of daughters of colours are thus stained by time, sites for encounters with, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet would say, a “time out of joint.”
Another salient point that Derrida has raised is that “hegemony still organises the repression and thus the confirmation of a haunting. Haunting belongs to the structure of every hegemony.”17 The art practices I speak about in this essay thus come into themselves in a Twilight Zone haunted by narratives lurking on the margins of the dominant discourses of art world hegemony. Specifically, this essay discusses the spectres of the strange, which Fisher describes in The Weird and the Eerie as having to do with “a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition and experience.”18 Fisher rightly pointed out in his account of such strange spectres that fantastic creatures such as vampires and werewolves somehow seem less strange than the scientifically proven black hole in the universe – indeed it is as if Twilight herself inspires more fear and repulsion than a blood- sucking vampire. If one is to believe the urban myth that a vampire must be invited into one’s home before he/she can enter, it seems somewhat sad that Twilight does not even have that chance – when she knocks on a door she is not heard, therefore she can never be invited to cross into the threshold of any door. She is remains stranded in the hallway between the closed doors of Feminism and Anti-racism. Fisher argues that “the weird and the eerie…allow us to see the inside from the perspective of the outside.”19 Twilight, who is forever on the outside, is therefore in Fisher’s estimation very much weird and eerie.
Further, Fisher expounds that “the weird…involves a sense of wrongness: a weird entity or object is so strange that it makes us feel that it should not exist, or at least it should not exist here.”20 This remark demonstrates why Twilight, the cosmic ghost of the woman artist of colour standing at the intersection of feminist and anti- racist discourses, struggles to make herself seen and heard. Travelling from Fisher at this point, I argue that Twilight engenders not simply a sense of wrongness but a sense of reverse wrongness – one borne out of a collective historical guilt. After all, in the face of accumulated atrocities against people of colour and particularly women of colour it is easier to deny that they ever took place than to bear the overwhelming emotional weight of History; it is easier to reverse the sense of wrongness and once again put Twilight in her rightful place under the category ‘wrong’. Paraphrasing Trinh T. Minh-ha, “it is, indeed, much easier to dismiss or eliminate on the pretext of weirdness [difference] (destroy the other in our minds, in our world) than to live fearlessly with and within weirdness [difference(s)].” 21 Undertaking a close examination of critical race and gender theory, this essay ultimately seeks to show that the Art World can only benefit from opening its doors to a Twilight Zone if it is to truly progress, in a radical fashion, from its defensive position of denial, suspended in time and space.
1 – Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York, London: Routledge, 1994), 5.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Lucy Lippard, “The Pains and Pleasures of Rebirth: Women’s Body Art” in Art in America, Vol. 64, no 3 (May 1976), 79.
4 – Oriana Fox, “Once More with Feeling: an abbreviated history of feminist performance art” in Feminist Review, 96(2010), 120.
5 – Trinh T. Minh-ha, “Difference: A Special Third World Women Issue” in Feminist Review, No. 25 (Spring, 1987), 8.
6 – Ibid, 13-4.
7 – Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics” University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1), Article 8, 139.
8 – Crenshaw, 143.
9 – Martin Hägglund, Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2008), 82.
10 – Mark Fisher, “What is hauntology?” in Film Quarterly, Vol. 66 No. 1 (Fall 2002), 19.
11 – Ibid.
12 – Derrida, 10.
13 – Derrida, 10.
14 – Fisher, “What is hauntology?” 19.
15 – Derrida, xvi.
16 – Trinh, 11.
17 – Derrida, 45.
18 – Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, 8.
19 – Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, 10.
20 – Ibid, 15.
21 – Trinh, 8.
Kay Min is an arts practitioner working between the intersections of contemporary art and critical theory. She is interested in the performativity of writing as an artistic and aesthetic method, taking an experimental approach to the practice of writing to perform, through text, her various preoccupations which range from the history of colonial conquest to its contemporary capitalist manifestations to intersectional feminism. Kay Min currently works at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, and is also co-organiser of independent initiative A Weekend Affair, an art symposium-festival addressing the specificities of her home city Singapore’s relationship with coloniality and capital.
Wasima Farah is an 18 year old Digital Artist based in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her art varies from vibrant illustrations, graphic design and videography. She is also a Layout-Editor for Ascend Magazine and aspires to make motivational and inspiring content!