We're still doing Zami in Women's World Lit.
Today we were on about Intersectionality, and about Lorde's use of the transitional nature of her relationships. "What, actually," I asked, "is up with this? The first relationship, the one she has with Gennie, obviously ends badly for factual, plot reasons. But plot and meaning don't always converge."
We considered this deeply for a moment.
"And this sets the pattern for the rest of the text," I added. "That is, Lorde will continually have relationships like this -- she will love women who will not remain: who she will not be able to keep (in all senses of that word)."
I made a list of the women on the white board: Ginger, Eudora, Rhea, Bea, Muriel, Afrekete. They filled in a few women I had forgotten.
"This is not your heteronormative pattern," I noted. A few muted laughs from the classroom. I grinned at them, and added, "In your normal heteronormative piece of literature -- Shakespeare, Donne, Sidney -- this would be a trope that would aim us toward God."
I had taken them around the curve too fast and lost them, so I backed up.
"Like with Sir Philip Sidney?" I said. "Whatever fades, but fading pleasure brings?" I recited the stanza for them:
"Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings."
"See, for these guys, earthly love, mortal love, is only a shadow, a kind of teaching tool. It lures us toward the real love, the eternal love, God's love. Plato talks about this too." I drew them a quick sketch of Plato's ladder of love. "Plato said you needed mortal love, but that it was only so that you could be drawn upward toward real love, the eternal love."
"But! Is this what Lorde is saying?"
They thought this over.
"She doesn't talk about God at all," one of them said eventually.
"I don't think she mentions God even once," said another, "except when she says she has hair like Jesus's mama."
"Which," another hesitated. "What does that mean?"
"What does it mean?" I agreed. "If love isn't eternal love, and it doesn't exist to draw us up to God, then what is it?"
"It's that," another student said, pointing at the board, I thought at where I had written the title, Zami, but then I realized she was pointing at the list of names; although come to think of it she might have been pointing at both. "It's community."
I looked at the board and then looked at her.
"You don't have to have one person, forever, for all eternity, who is responsible for giving you everything," she explained. "Or who you have to be everything to. You have a community. We get what we need, and we give what's needed. But from lots of people, and to lots of people. The community is eternal."
Like I was saying. Such smart students.