Sara Ahmed on Audre Lorde and Self-Care at the University of Kent
by Veronika Schuchter
17 December 2015
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
(Audre Lorde in A Burst of Light)
In celebration of Audre Lorde’s work and legacy, as well as the book launch of Audre Lorde’s Transnational Legacies, edited by Stella Bolaki and Sabine Broeck (http://www.umass.edu/umpress/title/audre-lorde’s-transnational-legacies), Sara Ahmed gave a lecture at the University of Kent on 10 December.
As a self-proclaimed lover of words, she says she follows them around and finds inspiration in companion texts (texts that allow her to see things differently). Her lecture was accompanied by two such textual companions: Audre Lorde’s (of course!) and George Eliot’s work which she used to explore the concept of fragility with regard to objects, relations and bodies that evening.
Lorde’s legacy continues to inspire Ahmed’s own writing and for her, a legacy, too, can be a lifeline. For Audre Lorde, as Sara Ahmed pointed out in her talk, life is protest. This is particularly reflected in A Burst of Light in which Lorde writes about her battle with cancer and draws parallels between fighting her illness and her fight against anti-black racism; making the incredibly important point that looking after oneself and after one’s own happiness is not an act of selfishness but rather an indispensable responsibility in order to be able to care for others and continue to work and to fight. This always makes me think of the flight safety demonstrations in which you are reminded to put on your oxygen mask before you help anyone else – self-preservation and caring for one’s own health and emotional well-being are essential, especially for a radical feminist praxis, because “feminism needs feminists to survive; and feminists need feminism to survive.”
Central to Ahmed’s lecture was the powerful and recurring image of a/the wall reminding us that through the act of “speaking of walls, a wall comes up”, that “a wall can be an atmosphere, a gesture” and, most importantly, that walls are not always visible to everyone since for “those who do not come against it, the wall does not exist.” In that she specifically addressed how less abled bodies can become walls, how walls can come up between people and how some relations(hips) are celebrated and others openly devalued. Sara Ahmed’s work continues to be a much needed and at times uncomfortable (even more important!) reminder to check one’s own privilege in a world that is persistently imbalanced. Even though we “learn making from breaking” we must not break/be broken in the process of standing up, speaking up and fighting against (systemic) inequalities but allow fragility to be seen as generative as Audre Lorde did; since for her fragility did not equal the loss of hardness, they do not cancel each other out.
As an avid, grateful and inspired reader of Ahmed’s, I was eager to also hear her in person and I found confirmed what I already knew: that her work is not only of outstanding theoretical quality but also wonderfully relatable and usable, especially outside the academic discourse.
Let’s all look after ourselves and each other better!
Anyone interested in reading more on Sara Ahmed’s work (on Audre Lorde), should have a look at her wonderful blog feministkilljoys (www.feministkilljoys.com) or her twitter (@SaraNAhmed). The lecture was recorded and there should be a podcast available at some point by the Centre for Gender, Sexuality and Writing at the University of Kent: https://www.kent.ac.uk/english/research/centres/gswcentre.html