- Audre Lorde’s Zami, Erotic Embodied Memory, and the Affirmation of Difference
In this article I provide a close analysis of Audre Lorde’s biomythography Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, examining how Lorde writes individual and collective memories, erotic and traumatic memories, and homeland memories as they relate to self-invention and self-narration.1 Using the theories of the philosopher Edward Casey, I propose that Lorde depicts two forms of embodied memory in this text: erotic embodied memory and traumatic embodied memory. While Lorde does share a few incidents of traumatic memories to break the silence—the painful memories of her family experiencing everyday and systemic racism in her childhood, the loss and death of her friend Genevieve, along with experiences of sexual assault during her girlhood—Lorde is more interested in elaborating on the empowerment of erotic memories for herself and for other women. Erotic embodied memories are found in narratives and rituals of food preparation, in Lorde’s recall of intimate relationships with her multiple female lovers, as well as in her sensual mythical invention of homeland Africa as symbolized by Afrekete. I note that by discovering her sexual awakening and same-sex desire through narrative or storytelling, Lorde is able to arrive at self-authorization and self-affirmation, writing her subjectivity and personal history through the embodied erotic. Lorde’s life narrative shows us that the erotic can be deeply connected to a woman’s writing, creativity, spirituality, and potentiality. In emphasizing the memories of the embodied erotic through life narration, Lorde reminds us of the importance of reclaiming and practicing what I call “the ethics of pleasurable feminism,” that is, the reclamation of female embodiment, female pleasure, and female sensuality as an activist sacred site to counter the patriarchal, racialized, and heteronormative oppressions that so many women experience in our daily lives. Throughout the memoir memory narratives serve as a way to deal with the [End Page 113] tension between Lorde’s wish to cherish the Afro-Caribbean creolized legacy and cultural memories she inherits from her mother and foremothers, and her need to break away from cultural and social traditions and expectations in order to write her own subjectivity and history toward a narrative space of freedom and self-autonomy. Lorde’s text, in working through this tension, is a manifestation of both individual and collective or cultural memories and of self-invention.
Writing from a wounded individual and collective history, the black feminist writer Audre Lorde (1934–1992), who died in 1992 after a fourteen-year struggle with breast cancer, recognizes experiential knowledge as a result of what Zora Neale Hurston calls the “infinity of conscious pain.”2 Part autobiography, poetry, narrative, myth, and revisionist history, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name chronicles much of Lorde’s life, from her childhood memories in Harlem to her coming of age in the 1950s as a black diasporic lesbian poet and writer in the United States. Zami is not simply an autobiography but a biomythography, in which myth and fiction function to frame past, present, and future selves. Here I am interested in analyzing how Lorde conceptualizes narratives of memories, whether homeland memories, childhood memories, erotic memories of her female intimate relations, traumatic memories of sexual assault, or mythical memories of spiritual song and symbolic Africa. I argue that the resistant narratives of remembrance, specifically the embodied erotic memories, become an important place for Lorde to narrate self-invention and subjectivity and to rewrite personal and cultural histories. While previous scholarship on Audre Lorde’s writing in general and Zami in particular has focused on issues of identities, queer sexuality, and the importance of communities and difference, my article adds to this body of knowledge by focusing on the relevance of memories, both erotic and traumatic, in Lorde’s creative and activist writing.
erotic embodied memories
The memoir is structured in three sections. The first deals with Lorde’s ancestry and childhood memories, the second focuses on her school years and her increasing separation from her mother and her family, and the third recalls the lesbian love relationships she has had with various women in her life. In...