By Erin Wunker
Manifestos are often the avant-garde of a social, political, or artistic movement. Defined as a public explanation of past actions, and an announcement of the motives for forthcoming actions, manifestos intervene. In the sometimes-intersecting history of feminisms and social justice movements, manifestos have played a crucial role in articulating inequities and outlining specific plans for action. Texts as various as Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto,” Valerie Solanis’s incendiary S.C.U.M. Manifesto, Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex, The Redstockings Manifesto, The Black Women’s Manifesto, and The Combahee River Collective Statement all share a commitment to intervene in the status quo. Typically, we expect statements of fact from a manifesto: this is how things have been; this is how they will be from this day forward. Rarely does a manifesto draw on the potential power of the partial.
Why write an incomplete manifesto?
Incompleteness refuses mastery. It acknowledges the need for revision, for conversation, for contemplation, and for change. Yet, an incomplete manifesto also signals the urgency of immediate and public declaration. The incomplete manifesto takes a risk, takes a stance, but does not pretend that it can speak to all the issues. In “An Incomplete Manifesto for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts” Shannon Webb-Campbell harnesses the power of poetics to circulate ideas by other means. After reading the title, itself a nod to the ongoing nature of the work to be done, we encounter line after line beginning with “BECAUSE.”
Grammatically speaking, Webb-Campbell’s incomplete manifesto is comprised entirely of independent clauses. These statements stand alone; they do not require explanation to make sense. And yet, these independent clauses nudge the reader in the ribs. They expect us to know why the “W” in CWILA is always a contested space, why “we” won’t go down the hall even in the same moment we will trouble the collective pronoun that brings us, how ever incompletely, together. They demand diversity and they demand that readers think hard about how to do diversity work in an ethical manner. They are conspiratorial. They invite readers to contemplate, to respond, and to discuss. This incomplete manifesto for CWILA is an offering and an announcement. Why does it matter? “BECAUSE we count.”
Published on October 7th, 2014