Audre Lorde and the Epistemological Intervention of Decolonial Feminist Poetry

İbrahimhakkıoğlu F.

PhiloSophia Conference, Colorado, United States Of America, 10 - 16 March 2016

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Unpublished
  • City: Colorado
  • Country: United States Of America
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: No


Audre Lorde understands poetry in terms of an overcoming of fear of difference instilled by the racist patriarchal structure of capitalism in which we are situated. She takes up 'the erotic' as a poetic source of empowerment, wherein poetry is understood as “a revelatory distillation of experience” (Lorde 2007: 37). Lorde offers poetry as a way to disrupt the cycle of fear and suspicion that comprises the structure of feeling of our social and economic system. “When we view living in the european mode only as a problem to be solved,” Lorde writes, “we rely solely upon our ideas to make us free, for these were what the white fathers told us were precious” (Ibid). This european mode of living entails a kind of epistemology which prioritizes thought over feeling. Their inseparability, however, is evinced in poetry, which, for Lorde, “is not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean – in order to cover a desperate wish for imagination without insight” (Ibid). She writes: “The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us – the poet – whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom” (Ibid, 38). Highlighting the importance of fusing these two approaches “so necessary for survival” (Ibid), Lorde offers here an alternative epistemology that finds its utmost expression in poetry. This paper will explore the political efficacy of poetry and the impact of decolonial feminist poetry in particular, in light of this alternative epistemology that challenges white western masculine hegemonic modes of knowing by insisting on, as well as performing poetically, the intertwinement of thought and feeling.

I will suggest that decolonial feminist poetry offers alternative epistemological possibilities to counter dominant western modes of knowing. Linking the western epistemological frameworks to the history of colonialism, Enrique Dussel writes: “Before the ego cogito there is ego conquiro; 'I conquer' is the practical foundation of 'I think'” (2004: 419). Ego cogito is premised on ego conquiro, both in the actual sense that the European colonialism was the precondition of the European knowledge accumulation all over the world, and in the ontological sense that the subject was the central being for whom everything else became an object of use, for knowing, enjoying, consuming, and so on. Nelson Maldonado-Torres writes: “The certainty of the self as a conqueror, of its tasks and missions, preceded Descartes's certainty about the self as a thinking substance (res cogitans) and provided a way to interpret it” (2007: 245). For Maldonado-Torres, “[t]he role of skepticism is central for European modernity,” as it provides “the means to reach certainty and provide a solid foundation to the self” (Ibid). There is another attitude, the imperial attitude, for Maldonado-Torres, which underlies and sustains the ego conquiro. He calls this Manichean misanthropic skepticism, which is “a form of questioning the very humanity of colonized peoples” (Ibid). This “permanent suspicion,” born in the sixteenth century, “was something more pervasive and subtle than what at first transpires in the concept of race” (Ibid, 244). “Misanthropic skepticism,” Maldonado-Torres writes, “provides the basis for the preferential option for the ego conquiro, which explains why security for some can conceivably be obtained at the expense of the lives of others” (Ibid, 246). What underlies the dehumanization and the related dispensability of the peoples of darker races, for Maldonado-Torres, is this deep suspicion. Lorde offers the erotic as a source of empowerment inasmuch it is capable of undoing these sedimented forms of knowing that produce suspicion, fear, and self-loathing, which can be traced back to the coloniality of western epistemologies and the affects they produce. In this way, decolonial feminist poetry becomes a tool for exploring alternative ways of knowing and feeling, as well as their practical implementation. This process of undermining western epistemologies through the erotic power of poetry will be examined in the works of Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Rupi Kaur.