Afterword: “When We Are Loving”
Author(s): Clancy Ratliff
Clancy Ratliff is Professor in the English department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her research and teaching interests are in feminist rhetorics, writing program administration, and copyright and authorship. She has published research in Women’s Studies Quarterly, Kairos, Pedagogy, and other journals and edited collections. She is involved with several community advocacy organizations, including Sierra Club Delta Chapter, Move the Mindset, Citizens Climate Lobby, Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness and Housing, and Louisiana Association of Sports, Outdoor Adventure, and Recreation (LASOAR).Tags: bell hooks, in memoriam
I first read Teaching to Transgress in my M.A. program at University of Tennessee in 2000. It was my first introduction to bell hooks, and I was enthralled. I wanted to be a good teacher, and I was reading what my professors suggested, but it was a lot of brain-on-a-stick theory and research about rhetoric, the rhetorical situation. I was absorbed in hooks’s directness and focus on teaching. I remarked to my mentor, Mike Keene, about how much I appreciated hooks’s writing style, and he said, “well, it’s not academic writing.” This might sound like a dismissal, but it was in fact high praise; Mike admired hooks’s work and could even have been the person who recommended Teaching to Transgress to me.
Reading the beautiful memorials in this issue once again showed me how important hooks’s clear writing style was. I am someone whose first language is Standard American (Written, Edited, Academic) English. I’m third-generation college. My mother had a graduate degree. In college and graduate school, I did the assigned reading and other reading I needed to do for my projects, which meant I stuck with it for as long as necessary. I spent an entire Sunday reading Donna Haraway’s 36-page “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” I had to engage in an active, ongoing process of thinking of real-world examples of every thought expressed in every mystifying sentence so that I had a solid understanding of the ideas. I was privileged: I had the luxury of time enabled by family financial support, and I was single with no family responsibilities. Although the reading I did in graduate school was difficult, I never found it alienating, and I never felt like I didn’t belong in graduate school. Reading hooks was more enjoyable and less of a chore, and I learned as much or more from hooks than other theorists. Over twenty years have passed since then, and I have become far more aware of many people’s experiences of aloneness in academia. Now, as I have read tributes to hooks, both here and on social media, I understand her writing style as more than just instructive and beautiful prose, but as inclusive and creating belonging where it is desperately needed.
Since hooks passed away, I have been revisiting her work on love. At the time it was published, I didn’t understand why she was so interested in love; it seemed like a nebulous and touchy-feely topic to write about, and I was unable to see practical implications. After her death, I have been re-experiencing her work under very different material conditions from those 22 years ago. Now I have a spouse and three children, so my encounter with hooks was not an immersive, quiet Saturday afternoon alone. Instead, I’ve been playing her lectures on YouTube while folding laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, sweeping floors, and dealing with frequent interruptions from my family members. I’m in a book club through my local public library called “Beyond Black History Month,” in which we read a book every month. We’re reading All About Love: New Visions for the month of May, so I’m getting an early start. In this book, hooks writes: “When we are loving we openly and honestly express care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment, and trust” (14). In one of her video lectures, she remarks that love is not compatible with domination, greed, envy, or destruction. It has implications for public policy: she asked, why do we think welfare is bad? She explains “genuine love” as “a combination of care, commitment, trust, knowledge, responsibility, and respect,” as well as “the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth” (6-8). She says, again in one of the recorded lectures, that the American left hasn’t responded to the needs of the spirit. The right, however, knows and understands emotional needs, and they have used this knowledge to significant advantage. The left, hooks argued, has to talk about love. hooks knew this in the late 1990s, and maybe we are finally starting to realize that she’s right.
Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” Socialist Review, vol. 80, 1985, pp. 65-107.
hooks, bell. All About Love: New Visions. William Morrow, 2001.
hooks, bell, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall. “This Ain’t No Pussy Shit|The New School.” YouTube, uploaded by The New School, 12 Oct. 2015. www.youtube.com/watch?v=hb5ktcC3UEk&t=2103s
hooks, bell, and Cornel West. “A Public Dialogue between bell hooks and Cornel West.” YouTube, uploaded by The New School, 10 Oct. 2014. www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LL0k6_pPKw