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Queering the borders: Lorraine Hansberrys 1957 Letters to The Ladder
Unformatted Document Text:  Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 23 it is about time that equipped women began to take on some of the ethical questions which a male dominated culture has produced and dissect and analyze them quite to pieces in a serious fashion. It is time that ‘half the human race’ had something to say about the nature of its existence. Otherwise – without revised basic thinking – the woman intellectual is likely to find herself trying to draw conclusions – moral conclusions – based on acceptance of a social moral superstructure which has never admitted to the equality of women and is therefore immoral itself. As per marriage, as per sexual practices, as per the rearing of children, etc.” 68 What is especially interesting about this letter is how Hansberry responds to Bradley’s vaguely Freudian psychoanalytic framing of the question of married lesbians (which foregrounds questions of maternal desires) with an ethico-political critique that foregrounds questions of the social and economic contexts in which desire is rendering meaningful, or even possible. It is if here, if for only a moment, the Hansberry/Bradley dialogue anticipates, if only in sketchy outline, pending debates between historical materialists and post-structuralist Lacanians. What is presented by Bradley as a psychological issue (she refers to lesbianism as a “psychosexual orientation”) is reconfigured by Hansberry as a historically material experience grounded in social and political context. Hansberry does not even respond to the psychological issue at all, brushing off the entire question with “I am afraid that homosexuality, whatever its origins, is far more real than that, far more profound in the demands it makes…” 69 What is further remarkable in this letter is where Hansberry locates the sphere of the ethical. In contrast to first-wave feminists and contemporary civil rights activists who predicate ethical claims on notions of Christian or universalized morality, Hansberry predicates her political imagination not on a universalized morality that ignores, flatterns, or obliterates distinctions, but in a historical-materialist context that recognizes questions of both the universal and the particular. That is, in contrast to abolitionist/feminist foremothers like Angelina Grimke who argued that women were equally capable of moral reasoning as men, Hansberry argues that because historical and material conditions, women had different contributions to make – contributions that would expand the boundaries of moral thinking. 68 Hansberry, August 1957, 30. 69 Hansberry, August 1957, 29.

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 23
it is about time that equipped women began to take on some of the ethical questions which a
male dominated culture has produced and dissect and analyze them quite to pieces in a serious
fashion. It is time that ‘half the human race’ had something to say about the nature of its
existence. Otherwise – without revised basic thinking – the woman intellectual is likely to find
herself trying to draw conclusions – moral conclusions – based on acceptance of a social moral
superstructure which has never admitted to the equality of women and is therefore immoral itself.
As per marriage, as per sexual practices, as per the rearing of children, etc.”
68
What is especially interesting about this letter is how Hansberry responds to Bradley’s vaguely
Freudian psychoanalytic framing of the question of married lesbians (which foregrounds questions of
maternal desires) with an ethico-political critique that foregrounds questions of the social and economic
contexts in which desire is rendering meaningful, or even possible. It is if here, if for only a moment, the
Hansberry/Bradley dialogue anticipates, if only in sketchy outline, pending debates between historical
materialists and post-structuralist Lacanians. What is presented by Bradley as a psychological issue (she
refers to lesbianism as a “psychosexual orientation”) is reconfigured by Hansberry as a historically
material experience grounded in social and political context. Hansberry does not even respond to the
psychological issue at all, brushing off the entire question with “I am afraid that homosexuality, whatever
its origins, is far more real than that, far more profound in the demands it makes…”
69
What is further remarkable in this letter is where Hansberry locates the sphere of the ethical. In
contrast to first-wave feminists and contemporary civil rights activists who predicate ethical claims on
notions of Christian or universalized morality, Hansberry predicates her political imagination not on a
universalized morality that ignores, flatterns, or obliterates distinctions, but in a historical-materialist
context that recognizes questions of both the universal and the particular. That is, in contrast to
abolitionist/feminist foremothers like Angelina Grimke who argued that women were equally capable of
moral reasoning as men, Hansberry argues that because historical and material conditions, women had
different contributions to make – contributions that would expand the boundaries of moral thinking.
68
Hansberry, August 1957, 30.
69
Hansberry, August 1957, 29.


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