Sunday, February 10, 2013

"She wrote it, but..."

Reading Kate Zambreno's Heroines over the last week, I've been inevitably reminded of Joanna Russ and the chapter "Anomalousness" from her book How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983) (which book I have not, unfortunately, read in full; I have read the chapter in, and am transcribing it here from, Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism (1991), edited by Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl), which begins with this litany (all italics in the original):
She didn't write it.
She wrote it, but she shouldn't have.
She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.
She wrote it, but "she" isn't really an artist and "it" isn't really serious, of the right genre—i.e., really art.
She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it.
She wrote it, but it's only interesting/included in the canon for one, limited reason.
She wrote it, but there are very few of her.
And ends like this:
Quality can be controlled by denial of agency, pollution of agency, and false categorizing. I believe that the anomalousness of the woman writer—produced by the double standard of content and the writer's isolation from the female tradition—is the final means of ensuring permanent marginality. In order to have her "belong" fully to English literature, the tradition to which she belongs must also be admitted. Other writers must be admitted along with their tradition, written and unwritten. Speech must be admitted. Canons of excellence and conceptions of excellence must change, perhaps beyond recognition. In short, we have a complete collapse of the original solution to the problem of the "wrong" people creating the "right" values. When this happens, the very idea that some people are "wrong" begins to fade. And that makes it necessary to recognize what has been done to the "wrong" people and why. And that means recognizing one's own complicity in an appalling situation. It means anger, horror, helplessness, fear for one's own privilege, a conviction of personal guilt, and what for professional intellectuals may be even worse, a conviction of one's own profound stupidity. It may mean fear of retaliation. It means knowing that they are watching you.
[...]

Of those who are not ignored completely, dismissed as writing about the "wrong" things, condemned for (whatever passes for) impropriety (that year), described as of merely technical interest (on the basis of a carefully selected few worst works), falsely categorized as other than artists, condemned for writing in the wrong genre, or out of genre, or simply joked about, or blamed for what has, in fact, been deleted from or misinterpreted out of their work by others, it is still possible to say, quite sincerely:

She wrote it, but she doesn't fit in.
Or, more generously: She's wonderful, but where on earth did she come from?

2 Comments:

Blogger Ethan Robinson said...

This bit:

And that means recognizing one's own complicity in an appalling situation. It means anger, horror, helplessness, fear for one's own privilege, a conviction of personal guilt, and what for professional intellectuals may be even worse, a conviction of one's own profound stupidity.

Reminds me of Adrienne Rich:

Once open the books, you have to face
the underside of everything you've loved--
the rack and pincers held in readiness, the gag
even the best voices have had to mumble through,
the silence burying unwanted children--
women, deviants, witnesses--in desert sand.

February 13, 2013 1:31 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Oh, excellent. Thanks!

February 13, 2013 1:35 PM  

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