“Uncreative Victories”

The distortion of relationship which says “I disagree with you, so I must destroy you” leaves us as Black people with basically uncreative victories, defeated in any common struggle.—Audre Lorde

“Unable” to write, I turn to Audre Lorde, find comfort in the familiarity of citation. Not simply comfort, but provocation.

I return to the question that haunts me: why aren’t we nicer to each other?

A former professor once claimed we are always engaged in a Hegelian death-match. The one who blinks first loses. It remains provocative, but it is not a vision and version of the world I can endorse or embrace.

Here, the troubling question of what it means “to be realistic.”

(In class, we are discussing Fanon’s use of “anecdotes” and whether that strategy makes him a more compelling figure for us now, when, arguably, digital media has elevated the anecdote—the rumor, the lie, the accusation—into “evidence,” into something on which one must act. Evidence—the thing that compels action. I like this definition. That I use an “anecdote” to illustrate my point is telling.)

Although the idea of the “empty victory” is familiar, I much prefer Lorde’s notion of the “uncreative victory,” the victory premised on annihilation, that refuses to view or understand living together as a constant act of improvisation and innovation. We don’t simply fall into patterns of being together. We create them.

In an interview, Foucault says, “The problem is not to discover in oneself the truth of one’s sex, but, rather, to use one’s sexuality henceforth to arrive at a multiplicity of relationships,” adding, “we have to work at becoming homosexuals and not be obstinate in recognizing that we are. The development toward which the problem of homosexuality tends is the one of friendship.”

Lorde and Foucault begin at different places, different histories, different genres, and end at the same place, the search for “friendship” as a “creative” solution to conflict.

At a historical period when we are inundated with the language of “development” and “innovation,” when our lives are filled with parades of “the new” and “the better,” it is stunning to realize (I have no evidence for this) that we suffer from a lack of creative resolutions to conflict. Indeed, languages and methods of war, while advanced by technology, remain hopelessly mired in “uncreative victories.”

Victories measured through body counts and submission.

Lorde anchors her discussion in race, Foucault in sexuality. Both end in the same place, thinking of friendship (which Lorde does not name) as a “creative” solution. (I still can’t write and so I am merely re-citing.)

Understanding “friendship” as a “creative” victory, to extend Lorde, requires labor. While we are willing to accept the idea that friendship “takes work,” the sense that it names something toward which we incline or should incline in social movements seems quaint, if not naïve. We are too “sophisticated” to believe in such “easy solutions.”

There is nothing “easy” about friendship. (Which is not the same as saying that it is impossible to “make” friends easily.) Sustaining friendships takes creative labor. Arguably, it is precisely this “labor” that makes sitcoms on friendship so fertile.

What might it be to think of “creative victories?”

How does a social world or a social movement premised on the notion of “creative victories” function? Similarly, what happens when we begin to map the histories and presents of “uncreative victories”?

What kinds of political and social histories become evident when we think about “uncreative victories”? And, more, how does the notion of “uncreative victories” allow us to understand the problems that bedevil politics today, and this in the U.S. and Kenya?

Finally, and because I must, Lorde and Foucault write from within “minority” and, arguably, “progressive” positions. They note, implicitly, that such positions can ossify, become stuck in their visions and versions of a “better world,” become too convinced by the rightness of their strategies. Seek “uncreative victories.”

I want to tread carefully here.

Progressive politics require persistence. A persistence that the proliferation of “posts” cannot capture. I don’t quite know what we mean by “post-race” or “post-post-“feminism.”

Persistence can and should be creative, anticipating fissures—we are humans: we split, break, splatter.

Yet the persistence I have in mind is less “staying the course” in any rigid manner and, instead, searching for and inhabiting the possibilities that might lead to “creative victories.”

Again, I can only re-cite: how might thinking of victory as creative rather than as achieved change our strategies? Direct us toward different possibilities? How might we cultivate a “creative” that is “different” from the language of “innovation” that now propels us? Or, because that question is unfair, a “creative” that can work in concert with “innovation” to create opportunities for friendship?

One thought on ““Uncreative Victories”

  1. I, like you, constantly cite the greats. I continually find myself returning to Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and especially bell hooks. I think what you are aiming for in this post is a focus on a change in values rather than any “physical” change that can be wrought. I think it’s important for us to focus on the creative aspect of innovation, invention, etc, and not just a focus on the achieved result as you say. Your thoughts on friendship are particularly insightful and I think they translate well to foreign policy, diplomacy, etc. “Friendships” which are not easy, but with creativity could be maintained and sustained, would help with global relations.

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