The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

[The link will be added to this review once it is live.]

Penguin have started printing tiny pocket-sized "Modern Classics" for like a quid again, and when I saw that they had Audre Lorde, I pounced. The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House is a selection of essays from Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian, poet, writer, teacher, and activist. It doesn't contextualise her work, which seems a little strange for an essay collection, but as an opportunity to just dive straight in it does work. Especially because it's such a tiny collection – it's maybe fifty pages, and contains "Poetry is Not a Luxury", "Uses of the Erotic", the titular "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House", "Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism", and "Learning From the 1960s" – so it's got a decent range of topics. 
I think the essays were really well chosen, because most of them are still depressingly relevant. “The Master’s Tools” and “Uses of Anger” both cover intersectional feminism (although it doesn’t call it that) – the way that even conferences that should be centring marginalised speakers only actually book those speakers at the eleventh hours, and assigns both (because you can only have two!) to the same panel? Sure sounds familiar from tales of the convention circuit. Especially with the calling out of “Why won’t you educate me?” and “Why won’t you find me WoC to ask to be speakers?” and “I can’t hear you if you’re angry,” as derailing tactics, and the way that white feminism (although she doesn’t call it that) frequently doesn’t account for – or even acknowledge – the experiences of women who are marginalised in other ways, making their entire field of scholarship poorer. The point that she raised about white women not acknowledging the poorer women, especially WoC, who mind their children and clean their homes while the white women attend conferences on feminism, feels a lot like discussions surrounding the Women’s March. “Learning from the 1960s” and its point that revolution is a constant process? Exactly a lesson that people have been trying to hammer home for the latest generation since at least Trump’s initial run as President. You see what I mean about still relevant? 

As for the writing itself, Audre Lorde’s words are incisive and beautiful and in the case of “Poetry is Not a Luxury” and “Uses of the Erotic”, lyrical and weird. It’s a collection that I read s l o w l y to make sure that I took it all in, and to revel in her imagery. I love her turns of phrase, and I really want to try her poetry now. 

I really liked The Master’s Tool Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, and I think it’s a pretty good entry point to Audre Lorde’s essays – I’m not an expert though, so I will happily defer to people who’ve read more of her work than I have! 

[This review is based off an ARC from Netgalley. Caution warnings: discussion of racism]
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I think this little book is one I'll be reading many times. Succinct yet powerful, the issues of intersectionality, racism, feminism and gay identity are ones which are still very much discussed today. A really important read!
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"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own:"

I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed this. This packs such a punch in such a shot time. I was instantly captured by Audre Lorde's words and I would literally recommend this to every single person on earth, especially every woman. I will definitely be buying myself a physical copy of this, so I can read and reread it and lend it out to every. single. person. I ever meet.
I am so happy I read this.
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This collection of essays by Audre Lorde  appears, at least at first, to have plenty to say about the subjects of poetry, eroticism and feminism.  Yet they fail to really reach out to me, they do not infect me with a passion to create change. I feel like they are excerpts which fail to carry the point of the whole. Did she take parts of several conference papers and stitch them together?  I think there are better treatises on the power of women and the need for conjoined action
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The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House is a slim volume of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde, published as part of the Penguin Modern series. Dealing with poetry, feminism, power, and anger; Lorde’s words are thought-provoking and, sometimes, confronting, which is not a bad thing, in fact it’s necessary!
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This book is one from the exciting new Penguin Modern collection published only this month. 50 pocket-sized books for £1, and all from some of the most radical and exciting thinkers and writers of the twentieth century, whether that be Capote and Burroughs, Jackson and Orwell, Kathy Acker and Andy Warhol, or Luther King and Audre Lorde.

I started with the collection of essays and speeches from Audre Lorde, titled The Masters' Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master's House. The title alone is a truth bomb and this non-nonsense factual, hard-hitting approach continues throughout, whether that be in her powerful speeches on intersectionality, the necessity of the arts, and her response to those who question whether the erotic can be a source of legitimate power.

As you read this, it's easy to see why Audre was so far ahead of her time, and why Black women, in particular, have been setting the pace when it comes to inclusive feminism. I particularly loved Audre's thoughts on Malcolm X and the lessons we should learn from the 1960s. I am hugely thrilled to have this book in my bag and will continue to refer to it.
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Prior to reading this I had never heard of Audre Lorde, and so this was an eye-opener for me. Her essays were confident, and many of the text is still relevant to today's society. She provides the reader a wide range of her ideas to think about, and it makes you step back and look at the way you act. However, while it is short, it was difficult to get into, and I found it dragged at points. 
The penguin modern series is a fantastic idea, and I think it makes texts such as this so much more accessible to students such as myself.
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This slim volume is comprised of a series of essays Lorde wrote concerning topics such as poetry, feminism, and the erotic. These essays offered an often scathing insight into historical society and afforded Lorde's passion on each subject to become easily evident. The "self-described black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet" portrayed a bleak outlook on life and it was shocking to me how much of her writing was still relevant, today.

Whilst passionate and whilst certainly important, I found myself becoming disenchanted with the penmanship, of these essays. The first, concerning poetry, I wrote multiple notes on and really spoke to my soul. The second, concerning eroticism, not so much. Perhaps this a merely a case of personal interest but I found it harder to grasp the central idea each small essay was concerned with, as this anthology progressed. The metaphors bogged down each concept and, whilst still certainly containing important and powerful works I am glad to have read, I have found other feminist essays that have personally triggered my emotions more profoundly.
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Waffle, and not the best way to advertise a series of books, even if they're only £1 a throw.  Bizarrely capitalising the adjective 'black', and not 'American' or 'European', the author struggles to engage.  And what cockamamie world is she describing where the erotic has been suppressed?  If the real book had the truth behind these essays - that they're very old, and incorrect these days - then the netgalley should have included that data also.
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Sounds like an episode of Star Trek: Discovery, is actually a short collection of essays on race, feeling and feminism by Audre Lorde – and number 23 in the new Penguin Moderns series.

Lorde does not speak directly to my lived experience, but there is a universality to what she describes (and describes beautifully in clear but lyrical prose). The whitest, cisest, able-bodiest straight man will recognise something in her statement "We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves".

That's not to say that I, a white middle-class straight bloke, read the work of a black feminist lesbian and took from it: "Gosh her struggle is just like mine!" But understanding my own recognition as a white middle-class straight bloke as an echo of what the black feminist lesbian describes is important to achieving some form of wider societal reconciliation.

It hurts the ex-Etonian (that's not me) when he's ribbed for being posh – and fair enough, no one likes being mocked. But it's nothing like the black woman being beaten by the police. However, for a moment, he got the vaguest, most distant sense of what it might be like to be excluded and derided by those around you for some part of his identity.

Identity politics is divisive, built on the lines it ostensibly wants to wipe away. Our experiences of the world are different, but they are also recognisable to one another on some level if we are clear-sighted. And recognition of each other is the key to some better harmony.

Now let's all go dance naked.
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As a self-professed black lesbian feminist, poet, and mother in an inter-racial marriage, the voice of Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was certainly distinctive and it can be heard to good effect in ‘The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House’, a slim volume in the Penguin Modern series.

I use the word ‘heard’ advisedly because several of the five short essays reproduced here seem to have originated as addresses to various conferences.

Lorde makes points which in the eyes of many have sadly not become dated, not only castigating a patriarchal country “where racism, sexism and homophobia are inseparable” but berating mainstream feminism for failing to pay due regard to poor and black women. One of the pieces is entitled ‘Uses of Anger’ and the whole book is suffused by Lorde’s righteous indignation.

But if passion is this book’s strength it is also its greatest weakness and what might have carried the day as soaring rhetoric when delivered from a platform loses much of its force when examined in cold print. 

Thus most of Lorde’s arguments - that the erotic should be sharply distinguished from the pornographic; that use without consent of the used is abuse; that “the necessary ingredient to make the past work for the future is our energy in the present”; that we “do not have to romanticize our past in order to be aware of how it seeds our present”; that “there is no simple monolithic solution to racism, to sexism, to homophobia”; that anger should be directed towards the patriarchal oppressor rather than “towards those closest to us” who mirror “our own impotence” - are, or at least should be, platitudinous.  

There is also a tendency for her to use heightened language which obscures rather than clarifies her meaning. “I have suckled the wolf’s lips of anger”, she writes, “and I have used it for illumination, laughter, protection, fire in places where there was no light, no food, no sisters, no quarter.” But one cannot suckle lips, whether or not they belong to wolves.

Or consider this passage:

“Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) difference lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of the future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being.”

Having re-read that sentence several times all I think Lorde is really saying is that “Feminism should embrace diversity”: a meaning no sooner brought into focus than it appears trite. 

The publisher’s blurb states that “these soaring, urgent essays on the power of women, poetry and anger are filled with darkness and light”. In reality much more heat than light is generated and even much of that is needlessly dissipated by Lorde’s language which aspires to take flight but all too often remains lumpenly earthbound.
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Unreadable, utter drivel spouting regressive-leftist dogma – just another offshoot of the cult of victimhood and paranoid oppression insidiously pervading sociological discourse. Can’t wait for this useless drek to die soon!
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Lorde died in 1992 but she remains a powerful voice as she confronts the patriarchal and racist assumptions that might still reside at the heart of feminism. In the 5 short essays here (including the seminal 'The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House) she takes issue with what she saw, at the time of writing, as the predominantly white, middle-class, Anglo-American nature of feminist activism, Lorde is a voice for difference rather than homogeneity, with her pleas to embrace the differences that exist beneath gender: differences of race, of age, of class, of sexuality, even of health (Lorde herself suffered from cancer).

Her voice is often unashamedly angry and yet there is always a plea for community, a hope of healing and a true ground for social and political change. Lorde is frequently uncomfortable reading as she forces us to reassess and expose our own ideological assumptions and blind-spots - but this is truly powerful stuff.
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