Roundtable: Intersectionality, Part 2

Karen Joy Fowler

Nisi’s original question, Where the idea of intersectionality fits in a discussion of speculative fiction is in the representation of differences to be found in our stories and in the courting of larger audiences for them.  has me thinking of something Chip Delany once said to me about publishing.  He said that when a writer writes a murder mystery with a large cast of gay characters, (s)he believes there is a large audience for the book — everyone who reads murder mysteries plus everyone who looks for books with gay characters.  But the publisher believes that the book will only appeal to the overlap between the two, the subset of people who want both gay characters and murder mysteries.

That I think is what I’ve been trying to get at — my solidarity with the writer and reader who hopes that our multiple identities enlarge us by giving us a way inside all kinds of books, making us part of that book’s audience by calling out some part of us even in books we read primarily as outsiders.  That’s the way it works for me as reader.  But, as evidenced by Chip’s story, mileage may vary.

F. Brett Cox

Karen’s comments on reading like a boy remind me of how, when I was a kid, girls might read the Hardy Boys, but boys would never read Nancy Drew.  And then we’re in the early 1990’s, and I’m clerking in a bookstore, and here comes a 10-year-old (or thereabouts) boy, with his parents, and he plops a Nancy Drew book down on the counter, and buys it.  Happily, times change.

Jeffrey Ford

I’d never heard of the term “intersectionality” before Karen posted Nisi’s question.  I looked it up and came away with the idea that it’s an intellectual system that is a tool for achieving greater awareness — of the text, the author, the self and the world.  If that’s the case, what’s not to like?  It would seem that any time spent travelling that path would be time well-spent.  The claims for this process of investigation are that it is capable of circumventing the ego and revealling to the practitioner his/her own fallacies and ignorances as well as other insights that might have remained invisible without employing this system.  What I’m interested to find out is what are these “lenses” people are referring to in the discussion.  How do they work?  Is it merely a matter of thinking, “Now I’m going to look at this story through the perspective of economics or class?”  Any explanations would be welcome.  How are insights revealed by them?

Peter Straub

Me, too. Thanks, Jeff. At its best, this way of reading widens and deepens our experience. It aerates everything, it is generous and contributes a kind of amplitude that fiction itself is entirely open to — that fiction desires, I’d say. But I think it’s odd that this same approach can lead to reductive judgements and a “template” way of reading. It should so not work that way.

Cat Rambo

Jeff’s hit on the thing I like about this kind of reading – that it gives you new ways of looking at a text, which can be immensely entertaining as well as illuminating. I wrote a Marxist analysis of the TV version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” back in grad school days and I don’t know that I’ve ever again had that much fun with a piece of nonfiction.

When I taught college, I found that first year students would react with either horror or delight to their first taste of applying theory to something like “Star Wars”. Half of them would bitch and moan that I’d “spoiled it” for them while the other half was already coming up with new and interesting analyses. I suspect the second group was having a much better time.

Cecelia Holland

I’m all for reading with as open mind as possible. Which may be why I find categories, “lenses” and jargon off-putting.

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