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Spaces, Bodies Flows, and Blockages : The intrinsic architecture within Sara Ahmed’s "Feminist Killjoys And Other Willful Subjects”.

Academic essay written for Columbia University's UW.

In her essay "Feminist Killjoys (And Other Willful Subjects)", Sara Ahmed states the relationship between happiness and feminism is one that is immensely complicated. In other words, Ahmed refers to feminists as a “killjoy” and explains this statement as “how happiness is used to justify social norms as social goods”. Unfortunately, this happiness is not the social equator of feminism as “there is a desire to believe that women become feminists because they are unhappy” (Ahmed, 2). However, as Ahmed vocalizes her inquisitions throughout her essay - an intrinsic architecture of "spaces" is being simultaneously formed in her written body. In her own words, her essay is “[to] make sense of the complexity of feminism as an activist space” (Ahmed, 1). Yet in the same essay, Ahmed will also state that feminism is not just activism but that "feminist spaces are [also] emotional spaces (Ahmed, 4). The cross references between her argument and spaces will not be limited to these two examples - therefore, why mention spaces? And more importantly, whether in similar or different contexts - what is Ahmed achieving with the utilization of spaces in her essay? Thus, although Ahmed’s essay can be viewed as a complicated analysis between the relationship of feminism being a killjoy in contrast to happiness, however, there is also another dynamic within her essay.

First of all, Ahmed initially refers to the word “space” in a figurative sense but under close inspection - “space” in Ahmed’s essay can also be identified with feminism in the literal narrative. In other words, the social structure and spatial placement in her work are written to reflect each other. For example, Sara Ahmed supported her argument that feminism is perhaps a ‘killjoy’ by utilizing an example of a childhood memory. Sara states that "one way of telling [her] feminist story would be to begin with a table" and goes to detail that "around the table, a family gathers. Always [they] are seated in the same place: [her] father one end, [her]self the other, [her] two sisters to one side, [her] mother to the other" (Ahmed, 1). As this description lines out the physical placement of the beings in her house, she also goes to describe their actions with "my father asking questions, my sisters and me answering them, my mother mostly silent" (Ahmed, 1). Here, the very linear setting of both her actions and spatial placement at the table are used as examples in elucidating the social structure in her home. If feminism at its core means equality for women, then by definition, her mother should be at an equal physical and social standing in their home - but as shown by this example, she is not. Therefore the social structure at Ahmed's own home goes against the core of feminism and that illustration is brought to life through the observation of the spatial placement. In this case, there is an existing parallel that runs between the intangible social structures which whom we feel, but cannot see - and the tangible, physical structures of placements (such as furniture) with whom we see but cannot directly feel the social impact.

However, there is a difference between bodies and spaces; Sara Ahmed is not just interested in the "spaces" themselves but more specifically interested in the bodies that move through them. How does she show this? Ahmed states that "a flow is an effect of bodies that are going the same way. To go is also to gather. A flow can be an effect of gatherings of all kinds: gatherings of tables, for instance, as kinship objects that support human gatherings" (Ahmed, 6). But, can a body block a flow of bodies? It can. Ahmed brings up an example of how the 'angry black woman' and how unlike white feminists, "she might not even have to make any such point to kill joy" as Ahmed points out that the "atmosphere will noticeably change when a woman of color enters the room" (Ahmed, 4). Here, bodies become the spatial blockages that block or catalyze the social flow. In other words, the presence of bodies create or disrupt certain conversations as the aforementioned black woman is seen both literally disrupting the conversation as well as the figurative flow of that space. Thus through Ahmed's analysis of the 'angry black woman" - it becomes clear that Ahmed is clearly invested in the "how" of this statement.

However, why is this "how" crucial? The reason physical space is important is because Ahmed seeks to manifest a subject that wants itself to be invisible. Ahmed points out that "not speaking about racism can be a way of inhabiting the spaces of racism" (Ahmed, 7). Thus, racism in itself wants to be invisible. And this is done "because racism saturates everyday and institutional spaces, people of color often make strategic decisions not to use the language of racism" (Ahmed, 7). Ahmed speaks about the tangible space (as aforementioned) in the sense that if a social structure wants to disappear, then the disappearance in itself encourages Ahmed to seek to make it appear for herself. Hence, it is in this very interest that we delved earlier into why bodies are specifically blocking that space. Ahmed observes that "if you already pose a problem, or appear 'out of place' in the institutions of whiteness, there can be 'good reasons' not to exercise what is heard as a threatening vocabulary" (Ahmed, 7). In other words, racism as a social structure does not want to be touched because if done so, then it loses its mystification. Racism it is not just a simple metaphor, it can be read as a metaphor but one should not. Ahmed is not interested in the metaphors since as aforementioned, she speaks of real bodies in real spaces. Therefore, what is hidden within Ahmed's writing is that it is the very focus on the literal space that makes Ahmed push against the invisibility.

The spaces within her written work gives readers the groundwork in which we are able to visualize the social flow, and in turn ‘see’ the bodies that occupy the foundation spaces. But this literary architecture is not random, as the illustrative flow leads us to blockages that pinpoint Ahmed’s hidden desire to render what is invisible, visible and if not visible - the root of the invisible cause.

Word Count: 1064

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. "Feminist Killjoys (And Other Willful Subjects)." S&F Online. Barnard Center for Research on Women, Summer 2010. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

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