Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Lisa Chavez and the UNM Non-Creative Writing Program

The beat goes on and on at the University of New Mexico re Lisa Chavez.  Or more precisely the beating up of Lisa Chavez continues unabated.This time the beat is orchestrated via an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the Lisa Chavez controversy and then by a cacophony of bloggers comments which demonstrated little or no factual and/or ethical understanding of the history of this controversy.  There have been exceptions, of course, and one glowing exception has been Amy Letter’s piece, “The Scarlet “SW” for Sex Worker” published on the Rumpus blog.

Amy Letter’s states-

…the crux of the matter is that afterwards, other faculty in the English department went on a witch hunt. And “witch hunt” is really the phrase for it, with more-than-average appropriateness: just as Medieval women who did not sufficiently conform to contemporary ideas of womanliness were pursued without reason, taunted, tortured, and deprived of their lives, some at the U of New Mexico want to pursue Chavez without reason, shame her, torment her, and deprive her of her job.”

Such is definitely the crux of the matter.  As the dankprofessor has previously commented, Chavez’s opponents are moral crusaders who will only be satiated when Chavez is exiled from their community of the righteous, or more appropriately stated their community of the self-righteous.  Rational argument has no place for them.  When their position was not affirmed they attempted to resort to coercion and intimidation via a myriad of lawsuits.  Chavez has remained essentially silent in terms of responding to the shrillness of the UNM English faculty crowd, but she herself caved into the lawsuit fever by filing her own lawsuit. In academic issues, coercion, legal or otherwise, should hardly ever displace the rigors of academic discourse.  The academic scene has all too often become the new legal turf where lawyers can freely run amok.

Letters goes on to set the scene in quasi Biblical terms-

It goes beyond “Biblical”: I mean, the Bible talks about forgiveness too. But those are the later parts. Bronze Age desert dwellers would certainly recognize what Harjo and Warner and the others want to do: they want to purge by fire what they perceive as an uncleanness in their community. They want to wash their hands in Chavez’s metaphorical blood.

Or putting it in Dankian terms, they want complete power over Chavez to work their will on a woman who insists upon willing for herself.  She refuses to be used as an agent of the power hungry faculty.  It is ironic that Warner, et. al, apparently embrace a real world s-m scenario, no fantasy here- punish her, degrade her, exile her.  No apologies forthcoming from these s-m practitioners.

Letters continues

…I believe, some in the U of New Mexico English department have lost their minds. They have ceased to see Chavez as a person — with whom you reason, from whom you accept apologies and make peace. They now see her as a beast: an unclean danger to the innocent who must be destroyed lest this imagined corruption spread. The basis for this view is sexism, but not the simple kind: it’s a complex built of the anti-woman attitudes that make some want to label and objectify and destroy a woman, just because they don’t like how she uses sex and her sexuality; attitudes that make them want to drag her before an assembly of disapproving peers to have them yell “shame,shame!” like the red-clad girls in The Handmaid’s Tale; attitudes that make them want to sew a scarlet “SW” for “sex worker” on the lapel of a woman who dared earn money dominating men on the phone.

I use the literary references for a reason. This is an English department we’re talking about. They study history and culture and society and psychology, they exercise empathy daily just to understand what they read, they live in the world of perspective and points of view. They should be able to see beyond their own. They should know better.

More precisely this is a creative writing program we are talking about; however, this is a creative writing program in which creativity appears to be absent. Harjo, Warner and their colleagues appear unable to to comprehend that what Chavez and some of their students engaged in involved fantasy and role playing or in other terms was a form of theater or performance art.

Yes, this was a form of theater which offended some of the creative writing faculty.  But so what?  Can one be a creative writer and worry if potential readers may be offended?  Such is antithetical to the creative mind.  Whatever the creative writing faculty may worship it is not creativity; their worship is the god of normal.

September 24, 2010 - Posted by | higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sexual politics, University of New Mexico

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