Journey through the night at g16
Poet, author and researcher Mara Lee will take the participants at Sweden’s largest gender conference, g16, on a journey through the night. Packed in her suitcases on the journey is her PhD thesis titled När andra skriver – skrivande som motstånd, ansvar och time [The Writing of Others: Writing Conceived as Resistance, Responsibility and Time]. Mara Lee is internationally known for her novels Ladies and Salome, and at g16 we will meet an author who brings theory to life and shows how to offer resistance through creative writing.
Mara Lee is clear about where she comes from. She is an author at heart, with a focus on language that creates realities and does not merely portray. In her thesis, she explores in-depth how the relevance of the resistance for the writing can be traced to the actual action – the writing – where the writing body and how it becomes a subject are in focus.
Mara Lee’s writing is driven by a strong feeling of necessity.
‘My wish is to move away from static positions… and open up for something else. I want to make visible language that does not force us to make impossible choices, that does not give in to the binary order. I see writing as a medium that can be used in many ways, not least to write about spaces that are not already defined.’
Through her PhD thesis, Mara Lee tries to generate resistance through writing in alternative ways. During her keynote lecture at g16, she will talk about the concepts of the night and the journey.
‘It will be a regular presentation with some performative elements. I’m going to explain both the journey and the night as well-established poetic images and what they can mean in the meeting with othering.’
Othering is the process that defines for example racialised and female bodies as ‘the other’. One way to provide resistance against this is to conquer one’s own agency through the subjectivity of writing, Mara Lee explains.
Browsing the long rows of books on library and bookstore shelves reveals that the word night occurs quite frequently in book titles. According to Mara Lee, the night is a cherished, classical and well-established image used among poets and authors.
‘Poetry is grounded in the image of the night. Here we may ask the question: whose night is it and who becomes flesh and blood? Who is granted agency and who is sent off to the background? The night means different things to different bodies, some bodies can go into the night and speak out of it, whereas others are forced to stay there.’
The image of the night, which emerges in the urban environment, implies that the man can disappear and dissolve into the mass; he can walk in and out of the night in any way he pleases. The man can choose to be transformed into something else, something exhilarating and adventurous, says Mara Lee.
‘Parallel to this image of the night, there are bodies that don’t have this opportunity and never will. We, our female and racialised bodies, will always be the night. And it is through my writing that I’m trying to create agency for the other, the other body.’
The journey is one of the most widely known themes that exist in literature. A hero’s journey is always lined with challenges, and as usual, the hero runs into obstacles.’
These obstacles are embodied by other bodies. It might be that the hero is exposed to seductive women, and in the way the journey is portrayed we women remain stationary stereotypes, stuck in a time and in a place. In what we understand as a journey in the literary description, it does not embrace our bodies’ journey. Other bodies are bundled off to becoming the other, an imprisoned body. When the other travels, the body is stopped during the journey.
In her g16 presentation too, Mara Lee will talk about the journey and the night. And she will show how art can contribute to science. She can see that an increasing number of feminists are becoming interested in creative writing as a new path to creation of knowledge and methods in academia.
‘Many gender and literary scholars specialising in gender have long been interested in creative writing. I think it offers them an alternative to the have-to’s and rules created by the universities. And in order to articulate other, invisible traditions, you need another language. But with creative writing comes a great responsibility, and sometimes you have to back off and be disloyal to traditions of thought to be able to articulate something else, something radical.’