“Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of difference strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.
Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.”—Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”
There are a number of things going on here that I like. Lorde gets the fundamental dimension of worldly experience, of its immersion in diversity, and I have always been a little leery of how her work has been taken by folks talking about ‘intersectionality.’ I appreciate the aims of intersectionality, but it always feels like it is trying to enforce charters on the world and act as if those charters are ‘really there.’ Lorde, here? Is bold and charges out into the scene.
She also gets the potential resources for egalitarianism that lie in that direction. This isn’t the equality where everyone gets the same bowl of rice and the same stack of books, but the equality rooted in the mutual encounter of the wild and woolly world. It is an egalitarianism forged of courage and mutual admiration. It is forward looking and visionary, virtues in short supply.
It also undoes the tendency to associate the ‘master’ with courage. The master is the one who needs the house, who needs the safety, who accumulates advantage atop advantage for fear of actually having to confront the world more directly.
“Thunderbolts explode between different intensities, but they are preceded by an invisible, imperceptible dark precursor, which determines their path in advance but in reverse, as though intagliated. Likewise, every system contains its dark precursor which ensures the communication of peripheral series.”—Gilles Deleuze, Difference & Repetition (119)
Though it is cliche to say things like this, I suspect some of Lorde’s insight derives from poetic sensibility, a sense of the transmission of the wordless and worldless communication of beings and objects into words.
I’m thinking of the manufacture of a nailed nkisi, of the nails driven in, of the cord strung between this and that nail creaking as it is tightened. In that creaking cord is the creaking of the trees in the night, of the hunters who will surge out into its darkness bound to each other as their cord holds tight to the nails. The silent thunder that joins hunter to hunter, nail to nail, tree to tree, hunter to tree to nail, the whole assemblage creaking in the yet-unseen storm that follows and draws the shrine where the pact is made into the heart of the forest where it is executed, where charters are born and die. The nkisi becomes the hunter becomes the forest becomes the pact becomes…becomes…becomes.
Neither microcosm nor macrocosm, but the shuddering and eager surging into a jagged possibility amongst others, blast of lightning to lay hold of the wicked.
That isn’t to glorify the nkisi, to raise this charter over another, just to consider what is near to my thoughts at present. There are many possible pacts, and they are all made in the “chaos of knowledge” to which Lorde refers, in the contingency of our times. There are pacts for every point along which we meet the cosmic matrix.
And, that to the extent that there is ecstasy, it is an after-image of the assemblage, the half-dreaming confusion of the ego that comes to itself again and the movement in which its body became other to its will. There is a more humble and sober passing outward which makes the ecstasy unnecessary.