Sunday, January 31, 2010

Perhaps I've been going about it all wrong

The difficulties of hacking through the Gordian knot I've made of knitting and politics have been weighing on me; I've made little progress in terms of figuring out what I might like to make for the art show. It's the same crippling thought that has bogged up much of my creative writing for the last few years: everything I think of always seems so hopelessly derivative.

Then Karie passed on a link that has made me see that perhps the problem is not with me, but the way in which I am considering art as resistance and knitting as politics. Anna, of Knitting, Sex and God, writes:
What I have enjoyed about the 100 Objects series so far is that it is collapsing distinctions between ‘art’, ‘craft’, ‘tools’, ‘technology’, etc. The only criterion is that each object is an artefact – made by human beings. The semantic awkwardness there is significant – the words that easily slip in the structure of our language are ‘man-made’ – made by men, or with men representative of the whole of humanity. The whole traditional men/women, culture/nature division is particularly significant as regards ‘thingyness’, because men ‘make’ and women ‘generate’, men invent things and make decisions and get them done, whereas women give birth. Or the things that women make traditionally – textiles, food, domestic items – aren’t as valued as those of men: they are craft, not art; tools, not technology.

Feminism hasn’t always done as well as it might in trying to redress the neglect of ‘women’s things’: having diagnosed the culture/nature dualism, it has often wanted to choose one side of the divide rather than to dissolve it. So you have a disembodiedly intellectual kind of feminism that is dismissive of activities such as cooking or embroidery, versus the spiritual feminism saturated in the imagery of the natural, untouched by the social – moon, sea, soil, etc, speaking of ‘technology’ as the evil tool of patriarchy that has subjugated women and the earth. Or feminist reclamation of traditional female crafts has tended to romanticise them as being closer to the natural and part of women’s birth-giving capacities, rather than part of the general human project of negotiating the world through tools and objects that are useful and beautiful.

There's quite a lot going on there. To start with, Anna brings up the word "man-made" as significant; I would also add that the objects women produced are more often referred to as being "handmade," which is a term loaded with solipsisms, conjuring up images of macaroni picture frames and pinecone bird feeders on one hand, or expensive, "Fair Trade" wooden bowls carved in a Third World county on the other. Anna goes on to talk about the divide between intellectual vs. spiritual feminism, which in some ways reinforces this solipsism.

I think that I need to stop thinking about knitting as resistance in terms of capital P Politics, and start thinking about where knitting sits in terms of the politics of feminism, and in what ways my position as a [third wave] feminist and knitter resists, subverts, conforms, or defies this feminism.


Castor Rouge said...

Everytime you say solipsism I must confess there's a part of me that'd like to jab Descartes with a knitting needle and cackle "Hey Rene, keep telling her it's only in her head!".

I wouldn't have thought I'd have much more to say on the politics of knitting (especially after "alpacas uber alles"... that was really the last bit of wit I could muster) and even less on feminism but I will venture this; my father is a craftsman. To a lessor extent so is my one brother. Me, not so much. You suggest things made by men are "man-made", or rather men are given credit for the greater share of things made in our society. For a time, most of history in fact, this definatition was gender biased and widely employed, however man-made has, save for references and reverence for great buildings and monuments, been eclipsed by "man-ufactured". Go PoMo all you like on the wording of that one, the inference today implies more the produce of machines (albeit with human guidance systems shackled to them on occassion) than anything produced by a person, gender notwithstanding. I reference the craftsmen in my family as, being my only frame of reference to share, their wares are often referenced as being "handcrafted". Where you see "handmade" implying maccaroni pictures and the sort, "handcrafted" implies exquisite art, objects and wares that surpass the shoddy standards we've become accustomed to from manufacturing. The question then is whether something knitted can be of sufficient quality and imagination to warrant being called "handcrafted", or whether knitted goods must always be relegated to the lessor standard of "handmade" quality. If not, it then remains to be determined if it is the quality of the craft or a general bias towards the crafters that's to blame. Can knitting circles rise to the same level as the traditional and often fraternal guilds? Something I saw at Winterlude in the nation's capital a while back leads me to think so, but as I can't leave a photo in the comments I'll have to send it to you and leave it up to your judgement.

Anna said...

Hi, thank you for reading my post - I'm really glad that my meandering ramblings have been of some help to you!

I know that you're wanting to think about knitting as resistance in less literal terms now, but I wondered if you knew of microRevolt:
Handknitting against sweatshops and brand culture, often by representing logos.

Your post about the HBC appropriation of Cowichan sweaters is really thought-provoking, and I wonder if that difficult intersection between colonialism, 'melting pot' cultures and capitalism is something that you should pursue - maybe more for the gallery project than the Ravelympics?