A Politics of Blood, Sweat and Tears
By Joanne Costello at Nov 15, 2009
It has been a time of endings and beginnings for me. A long battle with months of infections came to an end and now I recover from a recent surgery. A relationship ended and now I go forward refusing to fear that I am unlovable because I have a chronic illness. I have also parted ways with a political organization as I grow more confident in my own convictions and seek a politics of authenticity that begins with relationships in my own community. Finally, as someone who was raised as an atheist, I have begun to discover my own spirituality in ways that inform my daily choices and political perspective.
I have found nourishment in the pages of Starhawk's Dreaming in the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics. She writes,
We must also demand that our politics serve our sexuality. Too often, we have asked sexuality to serve politics instead. Ironically, the same movements that have criticized sexual repression and bourgeois morality have themselves too often tried to mold their sexual feeling to serve the current political theory. This tradition includes 19th century revolutionary asceticism, the New Left's demand that women practice free love (meaning sex without involvement), the fear of lesbianism in the early women's movement, and the mandatory separatist line taken by some in the later women's movement. Too many generations have asked: What do my politics tell me to feel? The better question is: What do I, at my root, at my core, desire?
I have found myself in political organizations that are drowning in their own academic rhetoric. Let me say it plainly: if you refer to yourself as the "left intelligentsia," you have little to contribute to a popular movement let alone a revolution.
Lerner's call for a politics of meaning resonates with me. We have to return to the basic building blocks of community: "people respond to an inner need, not to a commitment to an abstract idea, nor the sense that someone else ought to be treated differently..."
In my own process of soul searching, Starhawk's emphasis on symbols and images guides me to Frida Kahlo's work.
I stare at this image - The Two Fridas.
I find an essay on her work by Jeanette Winterson titled 'Live Through This':
The victory is more than personal. It is a victory offered to everyone who looks at her pictures. If you can see yourself as the centre, and not as the edge, if you can see yourself as many-minded, protean in possibility, which is the vision of the self offered by Kahlo, then there is a chance at freedom. In our world, most people feel powerless, their lives determined by others. Here is a woman who should have been powerless, her body determined by injury, yet who recreated herself. Her paintings have a moral and spiritual dimension that goes beyond a simple confrontation with the moment. They hit the questions all of us have to ask: 'Who am I? What am I? How can I be free?'
When Kahlo first came out of hospital, she lay in a four poster bed with a small mirror hanging from it. She looked in the mirror and she saw herself. That is what she painted. She could not look outside, and so she looked inside. Communism, Fascism, Imperialism, war, none of these things passed her by, but she could not be a young man up a stepladder painting the world. Action and art are sometimes the same thing, sometimes not.
I sometimes literally feel imprisoned in my body and it makes me uncompromising about my freedoms in other aspects of my life. I see so many "healthy" people living in fear. They may support radical ideas, but they are not radicals.
While Winterson's closing thoughts are on art, they apply to politics more broadly:
I love Kahlo's work because it puts the personal right where it should be - at the centre. She is always self-conscious, never self-indulgent. True to herself, never lost in herself. If you believe, as I do, that art contains the whole world - its inside as well as its outside - then debates about autobiography, or documentary, or realism, soon become false. What matters is not autobiography, but authenticity. Not documentary but witness. Not realism, but reality. What matters is that the work takes us nearer to ourselves and further towards an understanding of life in all its complexity. Kahlo is a great artist because that is what she does.
So, I patiently wait for my body to strengthen. I wait to go out with people to rally, laugh, cry, fuck, sweat and fight. I crave an animated existence. I am ready to lay down my books and revisit another form of learning...
'Left Needs Soul Searching' by Murray Dobin, The Tyee
Starhawk. (1997). Dreaming in the dark. Boston: Beacon Press.
Winterson, J. Live Through This. Modern Painters. (June 2005) p. 98-103