Woman, Native, Other

Woman, Native, Other
by: Trinh T. Minh-ha
Indiana University Press
© 1989 Trinh T. Minh-ha

One of the teachers at Vermont College of Fine Art recommended this book as a good read in preparation for my trip to Uzbekistan in May 2014.

I found this book to be very densely written … and frankly, not terribly lucid.  I certainly ‘get’ the core concepts being discussing, but found that the writing was much denser than necessary to get the points across.  There were a few poetic moments, but if the objective was to communicate a kind of revised vision on writing, anthropology and where power lies, it was hardly accessible to those that need to know.  There have also been a lot of worldwide change since 1989, when this book was published including the collapse of the USSR and South African Apartheid.  And there has been a fair amount of change in aptitudes about gender and race.  At least amongst the liberal intelligentsia.

The book is composed of a set of four essays.  The first principally on the relationship of writing and women.  With additional thoughts given to women of color.  The second chapter “Native” was a discussion about anthropology — mostly those commonly considered by those that are being ‘studied’.  It’s a story I’ve hear before.  The chapter on “other” I found simply too dense and convoluted to follow and the final essay, “Grandma’s Story” was terrifically interesting as Trinh T. Minh-ha discussed the significance or as she would frame it the in/significance of story tell in human history.

Some of the “Great Master” quotes from “Native” where pretty interesting, particular those of Levi-Strauss.  I’ve never read much of his work, but will put him on my growing list.  I did ‘capture’ one great quote from her – page 111: “Wounds do not seal off with humiliation. … So, women’s condition matters little to me when the human condition is sneered at.”

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I know that women — through-out history and today are discriminated against and are not given equal rights or opportunity.  And, it’s wrong.  Likewise for people who aren’t white.  Likewise for non-heterosexuals.

Anyhow, it was an okay read, but I’m not sure how her insights and statements are going to give me much help in navigating Central Asia.  After all, I’ve never read the Koran … let alone many of the stories/myths and/or history of this area of the world.  So, one must simply try to be open — but not too open.

A few quotes:

Page 6:  “Writing, reading, thinking, imagining, speculating.  These are luxury activities, so I am reminded, permitted to a privileged few, whose idle hours of the day can be viewed otherwise than as a bowl of rice or a loaf of bread less to share with the family.”

Page 56:  “Knowledge belongs to the one who succeeds in mastering a language, and standing closer to the civilized language is, as a matter of fact, coming nearer to equality.”

Page 59:  “Treating the indigene as object achieves only the first of the three steps instituted by the Great Master as essential to every scientific anthropological investigation.  Once the skin is acquired, the flesh and bone can only be reached through participation in the life and thought of the native.  Levi-Strauss: ‘Social facts do not reduce themselves to scattered fragments.  They are lived by men, and subjective consciousness is as much a form of their reality as their objective characteristics. ‘”

Page 60/61: Levi-Strauss, “Leaving his country and his home for long periods; exposing himself to hunger, sickness and occasional danger; allowing his habits, his beliefs, his conviction to be tampered with, conniving at this, indeed, when, without mental reservations or ulterior motives, he assumes the modes of life of a strange society, the anthropologist practices total observation, beyond which there is nothing except — and there is a risk — the complete absorption of the observer the object of his observation.”

Leave a Reply