115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Seeing, Being Seen, and Touching: Exploring Moments of Identity-Recognition in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

Ashley Kimura, San Francisco State University

This paper centers on moments of sight and touch in Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. I argue that both senses operate in her novel to give the author new recognition of her identity both by herself and in relation to others.


A novel that portrays coming-out and reclamation of an intersectional identity, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, also discusses sight and touch as sites of knowledge. Privileging a lesbian perspective, Lorde discusses the sensation of touch as a new way of knowing both herself and others. Moreover, growing up as a Black woman from an immigrant family, Lorde also discusses aspects of sight as ways of knowing otherness. Always considering herself an outsider (and re-appropriating that status in several of her works, such as Sister Outsider), Lorde uses sight as a way to position herself both in relation to, and opposed to, other people. Lorde uses these senses in her novel to center certain power women, and especially women of color, have within an oppressive society.

    This paper will discuss how sight and touch are related to different parts of Lorde’s identity. I argue that sight is related to both Lorde’s racial identity and sexual identity: visibility connects to both how Lorde’s race positioned her against others and how her patronage of lesbian bars provided inclusion into a lesbian community. Moreover, the idea of visibility becomes problematized when considering Lorde’s near-blindness, and how sight operates through disability. I argue that touch, though, is more closely related to Lorde’s sexual identity, how having lesbian sex gives Lorde a different sense of intimacy than what she was accustomed to. Ultimately, both sight and touch operate in Lorde’s novel to provide her new ways of understanding herself, both with and without others as comparison. Paired with her passion and need to write, Lorde’s novel and understanding of how her senses work give her new ways of obtaining knowledge.