- Considering and Reconsidering:Hemmings's Considering Emma Goldman
I have a coffee cup in my office, provided by the thoughtful folks at the Emma Goldman Papers Project in Berkeley, sporting a headshot of Goldman and her quote, "Someday the American people are going to wake up." Goldman was both endlessly exasperated by people's willingness to accept their own oppression and equally determined that anarchists could intervene in that situation, tipping the balance toward revolutionary struggles for lives of freedom, justice, and joy.
Clare Hemmings levers her own analysis into such spaces of tension within Goldman's thinking as well as within our reception of Goldman. For example, Goldman is usually taken today to be a feminist, even though she sometimes said she was not. She worked for women's liberation but she often didn't seem to like women all that much. In a move particularly troubling for intersectional feminists, Goldman castigated lynching but appears to offer little insight into racism. Hemmings encourages readers to take seriously these and other instances of "profound ambivalence" (5) she finds in Goldman and to work at inhabiting rather than resolving that ambivalence. "What is gained from embracing a politics of ambivalence," Hemmings argues, "is a view of the past and present that centres both psychic and social aspects of inequality, the tenacity of our attachments to the objects that poison our lives, to paraphrase Lauren Berlant (2011), and an opportunity to engage in the struggle over what inequality is and how best to intervene to transform it" (6). Hemmings takes ambivalence to be the opposite of political certainty, and warns us against cleaning up Goldman to suit our needs, while still daring to intervene in Goldman for her own purposes.
Without some active guidelines about how to make it work, a commitment to ambivalence can be merely an alibi for a retreat from tough decisions, a wish to be satisfied with feeling strongly both ways. However, Hemmings wants our cultivation of ambivalence to "ameliorate rather than increase inequality" (6). In Goldman's writings, along with several related archives, she finds tools for harnessing a sense of ambivalence to an egalitarian politics. In particular, she draws from four different textual arrays:
1. Goldman's own work (the "subjective archive"). Hemmings has read widely beyond Goldman's readily available publications, including her correspondence and the extensive array of primary sources collected by the Emma Goldman Papers Project at Berkeley (a precious archive that has been de-funded by [End Page 978] the University of California and operates month to month on a shoestring budget and a steady diet of fund-raising, much as did Goldman herself). Hemmings' careful reading of Gold-man's expansive writings supports her insistence that readers may miss what Goldman can offer in their need to either justify or distance themselves from what she doesn't offer. For example, in correspondence between Goldman and her second husband, Welsh coal miner James Colton, Hemmings finds a "transnational view of kinship" (123) rather than simply an expedient means to secure a passport.
2. The critical archive of scholarly engagements with Goldman. In discussing the extensive secondary literature, Hemmings offers her acute perception of commentators' will to power over Goldman: feminist readers are often desperate for Goldman to be the Goldman they need, and in the process may overlook the possibilities of the Goldman they could have. For example, Hemmings finds resources in Goldman's internationalism to reframe race as "kinship whose day has passed" (82, italics in original). Warning feminists not "to assume that we already know the best way of understanding race and racism," (81) Hemmings suggests that Goldman, rather than being inattentive to race, offers a different attention, a less familiar attention to different forms of nationalism and the race-based violence that accompanies them.
3. The theoretical archive of feminist and queer thinking more broadly. Hemmings' reading is richly informed by contemporary literature on sexual...