Black Alice.

Author:Cadava, Eduardo
Position:Fourth Annual Symposium: The Work of Patricia Williams

Dearest Pat:

I have wanted to write to you for a long time now, to tell you what your work has given me, and what it continues to give me, to tell you of the strength I receive because of your existence and friendship, to tell you that I thank you for everything that you are.

Like the alchemist who believes that value can be created out of heterogeneous elements, you repeatedly have given us stories of race and gender relations drawn from your own experiences, from history, critical theory, philosophy, newspapers, legal cases, television and radio, and fairy tales. Pointing to the violence of racism, to the histories sealed within legal cases, or to the injury that so often touches our everyday life, the effects and importance of your writerly, alchemical experiments are immeasurable, and our gathering here is a testament to this.

I promise to write a longer letter to you soon, but today I want to tell you about the three figures to which I have returned as I have thought of writing this letter to you and as I have been rereading your books these last days. I want to write to you about silence, water, and animals. In this way, I want to say something about what your work tells us about the essential interdisciplinarity of the law, something that, in your hands, prevents the law from ever being identical to itself, perhaps even tells us that what makes the law the law is that it can never be simply itself. Using an "intentionally double-voiced and relational, rather than a traditionally legal black-letter, vocabulary," you say that your writing is "staked out as the exclusive interdisciplinary property of constitutional law, contract, African-American history, feminist jurisprudence, political science, and rhetoric," something that already opens the law to its presumed others.

But first, silence. You will remember that we first met in the 1988-1989 academic year, during the months when your essay, On Being the Object of Property, (2) had just appeared. We were both inaugural fellows at the University of California Humanities Research Institute at UC Irvine. We had been invited to participate in a collaborative, interdisciplinary research project entitled "Interpretation and the Law," which included, among other participants, Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, Drucilla Cornell, Martha Minow, Joseph Raz, and Thomas Heller. Each session was devoted to a presentation by one of the fellows, and what I remember most about these sessions was the complicity that you and I shared, a complicity that was confirmed at the end of each day when we would spend time together commiserating and rehearsing this or that moment from the day's session, often in the mode of complaint. If I hadn't yet fallen in love with you--and I'm certain I already had--I did on the day it was your turn to present your work. Although you and I always talked after the sessions, you had not spoken a word during the sessions themselves. You began to speak this day, though, and I still remember the effect your voice had on everyone in the room, as you began to tell us the story of your having discovered the bill of sale that had sold your great-great-grandmother into slavery, along with goods and animals. We were, as everyone who hears your voice so often is, utterly mesmerized, not only by the story you were telling, but by the pace and breath of your telling, by the richness of your story's implications and consequences. At a certain point, as we continued to be led by your voice through your story, you stopped, and what we all experienced was the quiet, the silence that was our response. After an almost awkward amount of time, Stanley Fish, never one to remain silent for too long, addressed you directly, and somewhat loudly--or so I remember it, given the quiet with which we had been left--said: "Well, Pat, I find it very interesting that the very first time you break your silence in this seminar, everyone is reduced to silence." After a pause, after another moment of silence, you replied, with a question that was also a response: "Who said I broke my silence?" If I hadn't yet fallen in love with you--and, as I said, I'm certain I already had--I did from that moment onward, and not only because you seemed to have done the impossible--you had silenced Stanley again--but because you had signaled the strength of your voice in a declaration that sacrificed this same voice: a voice that, in all of its silences, nevertheless continued to speak.

What I understood by your remarkable question was that, from the moment you had begun speaking, you had made a promise, and that this promise had overtaken "you"--the "you" that was speaking at that moment--in order to say something at the very limit of what could be said: that it is necessary to be silent, and to be silent especially about what one cannot speak. I thought then about what it meant to be silent, even in speaking, how, in speaking, you still could refrain from saying this or that, in this or that manner, how, in...

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