Monday, March 18, 2013


Today turned out to be busier than I expected, so I'll just pass this video along.  It's the trailer for Audre Lorde - The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992, a documentary I saw tonight at the university cinema.  Cinematically it's not much, being pasted together from sound recordings, still photographs, and low-res video recordings by Lorde's German publisher Dagmar Schultz, but it's still fascinating.  Lorde was not only a brilliant writer, she was a charismatic (if often difficult, one gathers) human being. 

On her visits to Germany, Lorde made great efforts to meet Afro-German women, to find out what they thought about their lives and their places in German society, and to urge them to talk each other.  It's fascinating to watch footage of these women, both as they appeared when they first met Lorde in the 80s, and as they appeared nearly thirty years later in interviews for the documentary.  Dagmar Schultz was present with Lorde's German translator for tonight's showing to answer questions, so we got to see them both in three periods.

What struck me very forcefully as I watched was Lorde's insistence on multiple (or hyphenated, as she also called them) identities.  As the documentary website puts it,
A delicious paradox about Audre Lorde’s life is that she was impossible to label or to categorize, and yet at every turn and with every utterance, she stood up and defined herself, made it clear to all whose lives she touched when she was introducing herself as “African-American. Feminist. Lesbian,” continuing, “I speak to you today as Warrior. Poet. Black activist,” and then filling in, “I come to you today as Professor. Mother of two children. Cancer survivor.” As the Ghanaian-German poet May Aim, who appears in the film, says in the film “Hope in my Heart. The Story of May Ayim”: “The way she stood there in saying who she was impressed me a lot, because normally people hide behind their words.” With these multiple identities Lorde asked people to acknowledge differences, to build bridges, to become conscious of one’s own power and to use it.
My own insistence on the multiplicity of identities and the importance of engaging with difference instead of trying to erase it was probably inspired by Lorde, though I'd forgotten it until tonight.  Her ideas as she expressed them in the film were so close to mine that I must have internalized them from reading her essays.  I couldn't have chosen a better inspiration.