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8 Books That Destabilize Master Narratives

8 Books That Destabilize Master Narratives

There is an urgent need to make sense of the discourse that has been happening surrounding the destabilization of hegemonic “master narratives.” How do we wrestle with the stories that we have been told and the stories that we have been systemically denied? How has this impacted the way we perceive ourselves and others, and where does reconciliation start? What attitudes towards otherness have perpetuated an erasure of those communities’ experiences? Where do we begin in reanalyzing our own positionality in relation to the narratives that have been historically erased?

Below, I have provided a small but impactful list of prose, memoir, and poetry that have aided in my own quest to answer these questions and “queer” history (although not all works explicitly involve LGBTQIA+ concerns).

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat 

“These women tell stories to their children both to frighten and delight them. These women, they are fluttering lanterns on the hills, the fireflies in the night, the faces that loom over you and recreate the same unspeakable acts that they themselves lived through. There is always a place where nightmares are passed on through generations like heirlooms. Where women like cardinal birds return to look at their own faces in stagnant bodies of water. I come from a place where breath, eyes, and memory are one, a place from which you carry your past like the hair on your head,” (Danticat 238-239).

The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison 

“Mary Prince knew how the treatment of slaves degraded the owner, as did Harriet Jacobs, whose Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) appeared thirty long years after Prince’s memoir, on the eve of the Civil War. Jacobs write: ‘I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks. It makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched.’… The necessity of rendering the slave a foreign species appears to be a desperate attempt to confirm one’s own self as normal. The urgency of distinguishing between those who belong to the human race and those who are decidedly nonhuman is so powerful the spotlight turns away and shines not on the object of degradation but on its creator.

Even assuming exaggeration by the slaves, the sensibility of slave owners is gothic. It’s as though they are shouting, ‘I am not a beast! I’m not a beast! I tortute the helpless to prove I am not weak.’ The danger of sympathizing with the stranger is the possibility of becoming a stranger. To lose one’s racial-ized rank is to lose one’s own valued and enshrined difference,” (Morrison 29-30).

This Mournable Bodyby Tsitsi Dangarembga 

“The people are hollering now about holes in her woman’s body… The crowd at the Market Square ascends, moaning, to that high place with you… Your hostelmate whips her head from side to side. She is frantic for escape… Her mouth is a pit. She is pulling you in. You do not want her to entomb you. You drop your gaze but do not walk off because on the one hand you are hemmed in by the crowd. On the other, if you return to solitude, you will fall back inside yourself where there is no place to hide,” (Dangarembga 21).

Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, compiled by adrienne maree brown 

“I see my own early erotic artwork as resulting from the lack of support I was given as a young child expressing transgender desires… I see it as a result of a transphobic world that responded to my outward expressions of gender transition with violence, and my own lack of knowledge about how to care for myself in that process… By finding a supportive community, I have come to understand how my desires in intimate relationships have been shaped by trauma and have often re-created those traumas. I agreed to contribute to this anthology with the hope of sharing my experience and strength in finding new, healthy forms of desire and intimacy. Now I see that I have to actually love myself ,” (cárdenas 287, 289).

Sister Outsiderby Audre Lorde 

“It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences… And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminist and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable. To read this program is to assume that lesbian and Black women have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women’s culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power. And what does it mean in personal and political terms when even the two Black women who did present here were literally found at the last hour? What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable,” (Lorde 110-111).

Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García

“As I listen, I feel my grandmother’s life passing to me through her hands. It’s a steady electricity, humming and true… Women who outlive their daughters are orphans, Abuela tells me. Only their granddaughters can save them, guard their knowledge like the first fire,” (García 222).

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

“The first book about lesbian abuse was published the year I was born. Not the most ancient scholarship in the world, but old enough. Why did no one tell me? But who would have told me? I knew so few queer people, and most of them were my age, still figuring things out themselves. I imagine that, one day, I wil  invite young queers over for tea and cheese platters and advice, and I will be able to tell them: you can be hurt by people who look just like you. Not only can it happen, it probably will, because the world is full of hurt people who hurt people. Even if the dominant cultureconsiders you an anomaly, that doesn’t mean you can’t be common, common as fucking dirt,” (Machado 232).

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

“If your builder could place a small red bird in your chest to beat as your heart, is it so hard for you to picture the blue river hurtling inside the slow muscled curves of my long body? Is it too difficult to believe it is as sacred as a breath or a star or a sidewinder or your own mother or your beloveds?

If I could convince you, would our brown bodies and our blue rivers be more loved and less ruined?

The Whanganui River in New Zealand now has the same legal rights of a human being. In India, the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers now have the same legal status of a human being. Slovenia’s constitution now declares access to clean drinking water to be a national human right. While in the United States, we are teargassing and rubber-bulleting and kenneling Natives trying to protect their water from pollution and contamination at Standing Rock in North Dakota. We have yet to discover what the effects of lead-contaminated water will be on the children of Flint, Michigan, who have been drinking it for years,” (Diaz 51).

Learning, unlearning, and re-educating are forms of empowerment, tools that can be used to dismantle “the master’s house,” as noted by Audre Lorde. This list — as well as the practice of unlearning harmful oppression — is infinite, especially as we uncover more of the histories of those whose experiences have been continuously excluded in the quest to build a new world.