- Dionne Brand's Poetics of Recognition:Reframing Sexual Rights
At the center of Dionne Brand's novel In Another Place, Not Here, Verlia repeats to herself almost as a mantra these words of Che Guevara: "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love" (165, 183).1 Brand's novel offers an extended meditation on love's relation to revolution, not without also considering the ridicule and associated risks Verlia takes to pursue her visions of social change. The setting is a thinly fictionalized Grenada during the months leading up to the United States invasion in 1983, as well as Toronto, where Verlia lived before joining the socialist revolution in Grenada, and where her lover Elizete flees after the invasion. In Another Place, Not Here is a geopolitical novel that aligns desire and affect with political struggle against racism, imperialism, and patriarchy while mapping both love and politics onto the physical geography of the Americas. Between the novel's two primary coordinates, Grenada and Toronto, stretches the United States, whose political and economic interests cast a long shadow upon both.
In Another Place, Not Here expresses the frustrated aspirations of a revolution gone awry, but as a cartographical novel of the Americas deeply concerned with memory, desire, disapora, place, and displacement, it also offers an orientation—a guide map, if you will—for analyzing the intimate connections among gender and sexuality; love and desire; anti-imperial, antiracist, and feminist cultural politics; and international political organizing.2 The novel does not engage the language of international human rights, for reasons I will discuss subsequently. Nonetheless, it is overtly concerned with a number of social, economic, and political questions of justice that international human rights concurrently addresses, and in what follows I will demonstrate why it is helpful to read Brand in relation to human rights, and rights in relation to Brand. Brand's novel is particularly helpful in focusing attention on capitalism and on a leftist critique of it. Moreover, it suggests ways of thinking about the politics of love—and especially the sexual love of two black women for each other—as a challenge to the political and economic structures that limit the capacity for human flourishing in our contemporary era. In Another Place, Not Here does not outline a political program of action, but as a powerful work of lyrical insight it does offer us an extraordinary poetics that clarifies the political work of recognition. For Brand, recognition is as much a concern of intimate sexual love as it is of political citizenship, and her poetics of recognition offers a compelling defense of sexual and gender minorities. [End Page 1100]
The Cultural Politics of Recognition
Nancy Fraser has captured in two words, "redistribution" and "recognition," an epochal shift in global progressive political work that has taken place over the last one hundred years. A century and more ago, the effort to promote social justice via redistribution of wealth and resources arose from a class-based analysis of inequality and human suffering under formal colonialism and Fordist industrialization. Demands for justice through redistribution continue, and Fraser's work is exemplary among contemporary philosophers who make this demand. But Fraser pursues this work fully cognizant that the political landscape has shifted over the course of the twentieth century, and that a new paradigm of justice advocacy based on what she calls "status claims" has emerged. Under this new paradigm, social justice is understood to depend upon recognition of and respect for identity and difference. Certain civil rights struggles in the United States exemplify this politics of recognition, which has come to be closely associated with the politics of identity. In the United States, efforts to end racial segregation and institutional racism, as well as feminist and lesbian and gay movements, have appealed to constitutional protections of equality for all citizens while simultaneously demanding respect for difference demarcated by lines of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and, more recently, disability. Fraser has critiqued the susceptibility of identity politics to accept cultural and symbolic forms of recognition in lieu of substantial political and economic change, and has argued...