Translatina world-making in The Salt Mines and Wildness
This chapter discusses issues of trans social justice politics and ambivalences of transgender representation, focusing on two documentaries about translatina communities: The Salt Mines (US, Susana Aikin and Carlos Aparicio, 1990) and Wildness (US, Wu Tsang, 2012). The concept of vulnerability has become central to trans activism, in terms of both the political work of trans survival in the face of structurally enforced vulnerability and political organising that centres the experiences and leadership of the most vulnerable people. Trans media visibility is often hailed as an unalloyed good, but it can also contribute to the vulnerability of trans women of colour. The author argues that both documentaries provide potent examples of how cinema can contribute to the political project of trans of colour survival and imaginative world-making, even as they demonstrate the potential dangers of documentary representation.
This chapter introduces the main questions addressed in the book and thoroughly accounts for the concept of vulnerability, its various theoretical legacies and uses in feminist, anti-racist, and queer scholarship, and key role in present-day discussions about power, agency, and the media. Vulnerability is addressed both as a concept and as a political language. The authors highlight four aspects of how this language operates: as a human rights discourse, as a language easily appropriated by dominant groups, as a contested language invoking long-running debates in queer, feminist, and anti-racist media cultures, and as a language translated into cultural policymaking. The #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter campaigns exemplify how the public articulation of experiences of injury, trauma, and hurt can turn into powerful movements. However, in neo-liberal media culture, vulnerability operates as a political language not only for disadvantaged, but also for privileged groups. Claims of vulnerability can translate to claims to agency and voice, but these claims can have completely oppositional political consequences, depending on who is making them. Drawing from Lauren Berlant and Judith Butler, the chapter sheds light on this and other paradoxes that the concept of vulnerability evokes, and asks: what does the language of vulnerability do?
Johanna Gondouin, Suruchi Thapar-Björkert and Ingrid Ryberg
This chapter analyses the racial and emotional dynamics in the acclaimed crime series Top of the Lake: China Girl (Australia, Jane Campion, 2017), set in Sydney where Inspector Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) leads the murder case of an unidentified young Asian woman. Revolving around charged issues such as surrogacy, adoption and migrant sex workers, the series offers a rich and complex reflection on the current debate about the global division of reproductive work across axes of gender, race, nationality, migrant status and class. The authors show how the series sets conflicting notions of vulnerability in motion, evoking diverging positions in the current debate: a Western liberal notion of reproductive rights on the one hand, and a postcolonial critical notion of reproductive justice on the other. China Girl, they argue, privileges the Western notion of reproductive rights by amplifying the emotional vulnerability of the white intended parents at the cost of the illegally contracted Thai surrogates in the series.
This chapter looks beyond bio-critical interpretations of Harkness and her work to address the ‘subject’ Margaret Harkness, and specifically her relationship with her pseudonym, ‘John Law’. Although female authors’ use of male pseudonyms was not uncommon in the nineteenth century, the chapter argues that, for Harkness, it constitutes a rejection of personalised character analysis: ‘John Law’, it suggests, signifies ‘not Margaret Harkness’. This rejection of psychologisation applies both to Harkness’s authorial identity and to her representation of working-class life and characters, as the chapter shows by placing Harkness’s work in a tradition of individualisation and psychological portraiture of working-class characters in the nineteenth century. It argues that Harkness’s work is rendered distinct by the fact that her characters cannot use subjective means to challenge their material experience.
Margaret Harkness’s serial story ‘Connie’ appeared in the socialist Labour Elector in 1893–94, but was left unfinished when the periodical folded, reaching no conclusion to the cross-class romance between actress Connie and her lover, the son of a rural landowner. This chapter explores how Harkness uses melodrama in the serial to create a specific form of socialism: one based on the Tory narratives of duty, guidance, and a harmonious relationship across social classes. By focusing on Harkness’s use of the dual lenses of melodrama and Tory socialism, this chapter demonstrates the ways that Harkness uses the former to elucidate working-class women’s precarious social position under capitalism, and the latter to indicate possibilities for the amelioration of this compromised position.
Margaret Harkness, the Salvation Army, and A Curate’s Promise (1921)
Despite its distance in time and history from Harkness’s original and best-known London novels, A Curate’s Promise in many ways brings Harkness’s oeuvre full circle. Set in the East End of London during the First World War, it resumes her focus on London’s marginalised communities and the efforts of the Salvation Army to ameliorate their condition. Through a reading of this final novel, this chapter draws together some of the strands of Harkness’s thinking which other scholars in this volume have begun to unravel, and considers her lasting ties to an organisation she never intended to join, but to the faithful chronicling of whose work she devoted a significant part of her long writing career.
This biographical chapter presents new information about Harkness’s eventful life. In spite of her active engagement with many of the leading writers, radicals, and social reformers in late nineteenth-century London, as well as her own political work and literary labour and extensive travels, relatively little is known about Margaret Elise Harkness. Four continents form part of her life narrative, which is only now beginning to reveal a more nuanced picture of her activities, associations, and accomplishments than was previously presumed. The consideration of newly uncovered materials on her is an exploration that extends beyond ‘darkest Londonʼ and suggests that there are additional relevant details that should be attached to her resume. Libraries and archives around the world possess key documents to enlighten her ideas pursuits, but there are also other unexpected settings and sources for a preliminary biographical investigation of the woman who was more than the author designated as John Law.
This volume is the first to bring together research on the life and work of the author, activist, and traveller Margaret Harkness, who wrote under the pseudonym ‘John Law’. The collection contextualises Harkness’s political project of observing and recording the lives and priorities of the working classes and urban poor alongside the broader efforts of philanthropists, political campaigners, journalists, and novelists who sought to bring the plight of marginalised communities to light at the end of the nineteenth century. It argues for a recognition of Harkness’s importance in providing testimony to the social and political crises that led to the emergence of British socialism and labour politics during this period. This collection includes considerations of Harkness’s work in London’s East End at the end of the nineteenth century, but moves into the twentieth century and beyond Britain’s borders to examine the significance of her global travel for the purpose of investigating international political trends. This collection gives substance to women’s social engagement and political involvement in a period prior to their formal enfranchisement, and offers insight into the ways this effected shifts in literary style and subject. In offering a detailed picture of Harkness’s own life and illuminating the lives and work of her contemporaries, this volume enriches critical understanding of the complex and dynamic world of the long nineteenth century.
This chapter is based on Harkness’s three London novels to explore how they provided a space in which she was able to experiment with a new style of literary realism designed to reflect both its historical moment and an evolving linguistic and political discourse. It argues that, in a period of social change, Harkness’s task in writing novels about contemporary social conditions required her to employ the shared language and conventions of the present but, crucially, to listen and hear the as yet unarticulated but evolving meanings of the future. It explores the ways in which Harkness’s writing participates in and contributes to emerging forms of experimental writing that seek to relay the experience of urban modernity.
This chapter examines how Harkness and her contemporary W. T. Stead navigated the position of journalists with an activist agenda in a transatlantic market for socially engaged publications. It explores the extent to which both Harkness and Stead made use of the ‘rhetoric of progressive Protestantism’ across the generic categories of their writing: realist fiction, activist journalism, and critical travel writing. In examining the ‘clash between socialist and evangelical rhetoric’ in the context of emerging ‘modern marketing methods’, the chapter exposes the problems inherent in labels of ideological inconsistency as applied on gendered terms.