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Language In Her Ear
by Erin Moure

READING Telling It, I was struck by its differences from another recent anthology of women`s words. In Language in Her Eye, the voices were writerly, singular, they didn`t interact; some even suspected each other without having spoken directly. What was missing, I thought, was listening, without which there is suspicion and blockage, fear that culminates in refusals. Telling It reconstructs a conference held in Vancouver in November, 1988 on women and language, from viewpoints at the "margins" of dominant culture: Asian-Canadian, Native, and lesbian. The content will not be new to the reader familiar with feminist discussions of diversity and racism; for that matter, many participants (Lee Maracle, Jeannette Armstrong, joy Kogawa, Betsy Warland) have expressed their views elsewhere. What is compelling is the book`s structure: it isn`t a dry chronicle of proceedings, but a web of sinews wherein the electric impulse of each fibre awakens the fibre next to it, provoking a tension of thought, response, reaching, and listening rarely found in any document. The listening and the importance the Native women placed on that listening infuse the book. As such, it privileges the audience as well as die speakers, allows the reader not just to "read" the text but to feel this reading in her ears. To feel the intimate connection between hearing and the voice, and how ones own voice is not singular, but interwoven with the voices of others. There is even silence here, the silence of an audience member who did not want her comments included. Still, she is present by marks of ellipsis, and her protest (that "lesbian" is not a culture) is discussed (and rejected) by others. Most of the book consists of panel discussions, audience interaction, and photographs, as well as selections of writing from each of the panelists. In a final section, Sky Lee, Lee Maracle, and Betsy Warland reflect a year later on the event, on its dialogue and divisions, its evocation of personal discomfort and pain; they bring the conference into the present tense, and leave it with us, readers, listeners. My only peeve was the insistence of some white women in the audience on their minority status; while it`s true that our backgrounds are often erased in the assumption that were all "WASP," this insistence trivializes real issues of exclusion and marginality. And I disagreed with one panelists comments about Gertrude Stein`s language as "codes for lesbian intimacy." And maybe I missed it, but I couldn`t find the exact date of the conference, its location, and panel times. Overall, I had very much the sense of being in the room, though I felt the caring and thoughtfulness of the editing more strongly than the tensions of the actual event. The conference, Lee Maracle wrote, was like the foundations for a bridge. The book doesn`t disguise that the bridge still needs to be built if we are to stop being, to quote Maracle, "the kind of society that needs to erase someone"

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