How I read

Just finished Landscape for a Good Woman by Carolyn Kay Steedman.
Lisa sent out some questions/guidelines for how to read this text (in view of it’s purpose in our academic setting), but I’d already read half of it, and decided to forge on without the guidance. I’ll return to those questions now that I’m done, but I decided I needed to read this without framing, to allow myself the full subjective experience of it.

I’m thinking that’s how I always read, even academic texts, even when I *do* take advantage of an instructor’s framing. I read to see where I fit in – where I make connections, parrallels, applications to my own life, to identify the places of such difference that I can’t/don’t see myself there, responding simply to what I like and dislike. Then, (maybe!), I can get enough intellectual distance to explore it’s ideology, stance, and location in larger arguments.
This book was tough. I knew this class was going to be personally challenging, given where I am in my life and the engagement with/thinking about class that I have already done. While I don’t relate to the broad sweep of Steedman’s story, I can apply it’s theoretical contours to my own life (growing up) and to what I’ve witnessed between my FP (that’s “former partner”, her label for me) and her mother. Steedman’s narrative structure is confusing; an enactment (?) of the confusion of childhood she describes and dissects. She shifts among levels of analysis rapidly and often without clear transition ~ just like subjectivity (my consciousness, to be precise) shifts emotionally in response to interacting with different structures of feeling. I think what strikes me most is that she depicts a stable structure-of-feeling, not a pretty one, but one whose boundaries are clean, solid, strong. The container they proscribe doesn’t seem porous. Whereas, in contrast, mine is unstable – the boundaries are NOT clean, there is little clarity, and they often collapse in accommodation or desire to join with another’s.
My suspicion is that my folks were one step “up” from Steedman’s. They felt and acted prosperous – as if we were solidly middle-class – but it was (I later learned) built on debt and appearances. There were no material deprivations and no perceived threat of such when I was young, but there was no emotional availability, as if the effort to maintain such class status required ALL their resources and attention. Perhaps this is why I never had a compulsion to become a biological mother, being content to participate in raising other people’s children in the ways that they would let me. I’m keenly aware, now, how conditional that participation is/has been. I can’t perform the calculations of attribution, but it’s clear that there is a form of possession which is wielded as a kind of tool to keep me actively and subversively denied “too much” of a connection. Undoubtedly the complex geometry of motherhood and class is a deeply embedded factor.

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