Looking Back at the Semester

This past semester the course Dispersed Desire has touched on themes such as diaspora, identity, sexuality, colonization, and the erotic. For me this course has expanded my theoretical knowledge, but I have also gotten the chance to have a personal connection with the different works read in the class. Being Haitian-American myself, Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory resonated with me very much. Reading Breath,Eyes,Memory by Edwidge Danticat felt like reading a family history. Sophie the main character is a young Haitian girl. Her aunt looks after her. Her mother lives in the US and she doesn’t meet her until she’s twelve. My own Aunt told me long ago this was her situation. She grew up thinking her Aunt was her mom till her mom sent for her. Sophie’s family are of the fields want a better life for her. Education is highly stressed. This is almost every immigrant I know. When Sophie gets to the US she’s told to learn English quickly or she’ll be ridiculed. My parents have stories for days about how they treated Haitians in the US.

When reading a piece of work that was seemingly so familiar to me it was difficult to analyze it for what it was. I recall the blog post I made for this book having a lot of personal opinion infused into it. After that particular blog post and the commentary I received I found that my own close readings and analysis on works thereafter shifted in tone. This course furthered my ability to consider the different meanings behind text. Moreover, to reconcile the theoretical with the creative and how they work together.

Above all, I’m really grateful to this course because it felt like I fell back in love with reading and writing. It reminded me that academic writing can be interesting and engaging. Furthermore, with the small class size I truly felt comfortable participating in discussion. With all the different backgrounds we had contributing to the class it was always an enjoyable hour.

Desperate for Life

“On our erotic adventure, Hiram and I went as far as the Isle of Pines, where we could enjoy entire regiments. The recruits desperate for sex, woke up the entire camp when we arrived . . . All dictatorships are sexually repressive and anti-life. All affirmations of life are diametrically opposed to dogmatic regimes. It was logical for Fidel Castro to persecute us, not to let us fuck, and to try to suppress any public display of the life force” (92-92)

Reinaldo Arenas’s Before Night Falls is the story of a Cuban gay exile from birth to death. Arenas chronicles in detail his life on the island of Cuba, from the erotic to the despair and destruction. Most intriguing about his memoir is the irony. Not just the erotic being in the midst of despair, but the overthrowing of one dictator to only be controlled by another. The enforcers of the anti-homosexual revolution engaging in sexual relations is an outstanding paradox in the book and movie. I will discuss the portrayal of the paradox of Arenas and his friends having sex with military officers.

In the movie Arenas and his friends are confronted by an army regiment after dark. The scene begins in a menacing tone, but then Arenas boldly flirts with the head of the regiment. The next scene shows all of the men running around a fire naked. These men were repressed by the revolution and had no outlet. They were turning to the literal antithesis of their revolution, which they were charged with keeping intact, for release.

Arenas directly links the erotic and sex to life, and Castro’s suppression of sexual freedom is a suppression to their very life force. Arenas and his friends enjoying the erotic out of these army men’s desperation is another irony. This is due to the fact that Arenas and his friends are also desperate, their desperation is to live freely. They are taking their life back from their oppressors in a sense by enjoying the erotic from them.  Furthermore, in the movie it is significant that the director did not simply show a sex scene, which he placed throughout the movie. Rather, they are running around a fire. Fire, which symbolizes passion but also destruction. The men were playing with fire in the literal and figurative sense. They were living out their passions but could so easily be destroyed by the men they were expressing their passions with.

Arenas’s memoir was shocking, but revealed a truth about life in Cuba that is often overlooked. Island life in general, which is often romanticized is seen through a clearer lens in his memoir. Through his own sexual history, he reinforces the idea of the erotic being essential to life. Arenas expresses how desperate island residents are, but also their will to live. Moreover, his sexual relations with men from the regiment exemplify how their will to live and to have access to their life source made it worth risking everything for.

The Branded as Erotic

“We were The Branded, the Lunatic Fringe, proud of our outrageousness and our madness, our bizarre-colored inks and quill pens. We learned how to mock the straight set, and how to cultivate our group paranoia into an instinct for self-protection that always stopped our shenanigans just short of expulsion. We wrote obscure poetry and cherished our strangeness as the spoils of default, and in the process we learned that pain and rejection hurt, but that they weren’t fatal, and that they could be useful since they couldn’t be avoided. We learned that not feeling at all was worse than hurting. At that time, suffering was clearly what we did best. We became The Branded because we learned how to make a virtue out of it” (82).


In Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde provides her life story in the format of a biomythography. Throughout this account of her life seemingly non-erotic scenes can be read as erotic if analyzed through the lens of Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic”. One such instance is the description Lorde provides of her friend group – “The Branded”.

This group of young women were Lorde’s lifeline in high school (despite the racism she faced within the group). As a member of this group that Lorde describes as “sisterhood of rebels” there is evidence of Lorde’s definition of erotic at play (81). Although Lorde insists that the erotic is not only for women, she is explicit about its “feminine” nature, making it important that it is with this group of young women that she begins to find the power of the erotic within herself.

Other than “The Branded”, Lorde also calls her group of friends the “Lunatic Fringe”. This terminology is important because it suggests two things, that they are crazy and on the outside of society. In her essay Lorde makes it clear that the erotic is not recognized by society and utilized to suppress women. Lorde figuring her friends as “Lunatic Fringe” places them in an erotic space because they are non-conforming to society. Hetero-patriarchal society makes a claim that the erotic is not useful, and should be suppressed, but Lorde and her friends make it into their power. Moreover, they “mock the straight set” which alludes to the queerness of their group and the way they figure themselves outside of the male gaze (82). The erotic is for self-empowerment, and “The Branded” empowered themselves by configuring themselves away from the way in which society expected young women to behave.

Another collection of words that are of importance in the way that Lorde describes “The Branded” include “outrageousness and our madness” as well as “our shenanigans” (82). In her essay Lorde discusses the origins of the word erotic, as “born of Chaos” (56). The detailed way that Lorde chooses to describe her and her friends seem negative, without the proper lens. However, using her essay to decode it I found that they coincide with the origins of erotic. Their group carried among them the very essence and origin of erotic in their behavior.

Lorde also discusses the erotic as an expression of creativity. In this group the girls “wrote obscure poetry”. The girls tapped into a creative outlet, which is required to tap into the power of the erotic. Furthermore, the erotic is about getting in touch with one’s deep feelings. The feeling that Lorde expounds the most on in her essay is joy, contrastingly it is suffering that brings together “The Branded”. They recognized that feelings were in fact “useful” and “not feeling at all was worse than hurting”. Opposed to society, they placed a value on their emotions.

The erotic is a very important component of Lorde’s work. Utilizing her essay “Uses of the Erotic” to analyze her friend group “The Branded” made it clear just how powerful the erotic can be even for young women at a young age. The erotic was important in this instance to bring together women as well as to allow them to express themselves outside of a society that rejected them.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Book Reading & Signing

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie read from the first ten pages of her newest novel Americanah and answered several questions at the Literacy Lives event at First Baptist Decatur Church. In the first few pages that she read subjects such as race, class, desire, and body image were introduced. Adichie’s female protagonist Ifemelu discusses these issues in blog form which is interesting since this is an avenue our class is using to discuss similar issues. It appears blogging is becoming more and more important to the way that the message of Black feminism and those who once felt voiceless are able to be told. It seems new age, but I think there is an element of blogging that should be considered when we talk about desire. In this age of technology, those who are underprivileged and desired to have a say in society but were not allowed access to any sort of platform may find blogging of incredible use. Adichie having Ifemelu be a blogger is a statement on how our society is shifting and the value we place on words is being manifested very different from what we have seen before (not in journals, books, newspapers). There are several blogs that are taken as sources of truth and knowledge, which I know is not always a good thing but, it is allowing the experiences of the underprivileged to be validated in a new way.

The greatest desire that is talked about in Americanah and the audience got to experience a taste of was Ifemelu wanting to return to Nigeria after being in the states for thirteen years and hopefully rekindling with her first love Obinze. Adichie giving Ifemelu a desire to return to her home country and her first love intertwines the different types of desire we feel to belong. The desire to belong is not specific to the diaspora, but in the context of the diaspora one may feel they have to alter themselves and their cultural identity to be accepted in different circles of people. It may have been that Ifemelu found herself changing who she was and not liking the person she was becoming, thus rekindling a desire for home. Home where you are (supposed to be) accepted as you are.

More than belong, Ifemelu longed to settle down, Adichie writes “Nigeria became where she was supposed to be, the only place she could sink her roots in without the constant urge to tug them out and shake off the soil” (7). In class we have discussed rhizome roots in relation to identity. Rhizome roots which are not linear and shoot out in various different directions, symbolizing that those belonging to the diaspora have an identity connected to a network of different things. The way in which Adichie discusses roots does not lead me to believe she would have disagreed with the idea of identity being like rhizome roots, but that the main root must be in good soil. Identity is a process, living in different places and making new connections alters one’s identity, but our identity still has to take root someplace. This passage for me also represented the importance of lifting up the root and placing it elsewhere if necessary, it is okay to alter the setup of the network.

Identity Differences

“Creole of pure English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either” (Rhys 39).

In Stuart Hall’s “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” the themes of identity, diaspora, difference, and continuity are parallel with Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. For Hall identity is “a production which is never complete” and can manifest itself in one of two ways. The first way identity can come about is by a “shared culture . . . a shared history and ancestry” or “a matter of  ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being’”. The production of Bertha Antoinetta’s identity is convoluted between these two means of identification in that she is a white creole. Racially, historically, ancestrally she is European, but has been raised in the Caribbean. Her struggle with identity is present throughout Wide Sargasso Sea and is expressed in the difference between her and other characters.

Instances between Antoinetta and the male figures in the novel are most expressive of the difference that occurs with identification. Mr. Mason, Antoinetta’s stepfather, underestimates the hatred of the former slaves that inhabit the island and Antoinetta wishes to warn him “out here it is not at all like English people think it is” (Rhys 20). This makes it clear that there is a distinction in the way a European who was raised in Europe perceives a situation as opposed to a European raised in the Caribbean. Another example of this difference appears again between Antoinetta and Mr. Rochester, her husband from England, when he speaks of his wife he says “Creole of pure English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either” (Rhys 39). For Mr. Rochester they share an ancestral history but they are hardly relatable due to being raised on two different continents. 

Rhys portrays Antoinetta as a character who herself is constantly confused about who she is and where she belongs. Antoinetta says to her husband “It was a song about a white cockroach. That’s me. That’s what they call all of us who were here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders. And I’ve heard English women call us white niggers. So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all” (Rhys 61).  This passage exemplifies how Rhys uses Antoinetta as a way to complicate what exactly makes up identity by raising issues not only of race, but socioeconomic status and geographical location. All of these factors are present even today as descendants of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and those affected by the Diaspora has persons questioning their identity.