So we are reading for my Transnational Feminisms class that I’m teaching this fall at Nyuad, an essay by Yuanfang Dai, a Chinese American feminist scholar who expands on Maria Lugones’ world-traveling theory:
“World”-traveling generates deep understanding and makes one feel at ease. Playfulness is the loving attitude toward others and an openness to uncertainty while traveling, because when we are playful, we are not self-important, nor stabilized in any particular “world,” but rather, being creative and open to further self-construction and new possibilities.
( from “Bridging the Divide in Feminism with Transcultural Feminist Solidarity” by Yuanfang Dai).
I really loved this passage as it elucidates two key ideas or affective states that define my own sense of feminist travel. At their best, these affective states marked by 1) playfulness and 2) an openness to uncertainty, lead to an expansion of ones understanding of the self via a paradoxical diminishment of the ego as it opens to an embrace of the other by refusing the comfort of righteous certainty and the serious policing of the borders and fences we construct to hang on to our sense of ourselves as exceptional, an exceptionalism we have to shed if solidarity is our goal. Exceptionalism is a dead-end, a one-way street to oblivion
I find my traveling feminista-style is indeed transforming the space of the unheimlich into one of expansive and joyous connections across differences that cease to be radically “other” — I’m aware of the many different contexts of my colleagues and students and all the “others” I’m meeting here in the UAE, but the affective nature of our interchange allows for the possibility of theorizing solidarities that are rooted in careful listening and the willingness to suspend certainties that being in a space where we are all “different” encourages.
I’m reminded of Annette Kolodny’s wonderful essay from 1970, “Dancing Through the Minefield” on feminist literary criticism- the insight esp that feminist ideology allowed us to “bridge the gap between how we found the world and what we wanted that world to be.” She calls for a “playful pluralism” in our approach to making sense of the world that might lead to forging connections across differences. She asks that we entertain “the possibility that different readings of the same text” –our shared world?–“might be differently useful, even illuminating , within different contexts of inquiry.”
To be playfully serious, or seriously playful. To dance, even through minefields. To honor pluralism, playfully. To commit to justice, seriously. To dream, to play, to dance on the floor of beauty’s detritus knowing, believing, reaching across our differences, keeping hope alive.
” I could have danced all night… and still have begged for more”
Let’s do those thousand things we still haven’t done… including imagining and bringing into being, a world of solidarity, playfulness, uncertainty– keeping the borders porous, open, full of promise.