ON WOMEN, HORROR, AND THE NEW WHATEVER
For a really long time, and maybe still in a sense but really differently now, anyone who knows me well knows that writing is not something that ever required a lot of effort on my part – not to say that I did/do not work at it, very hard and very diligently, because I do, but I have never before been struck dumb by that desire to write something and the knowledge that it will be written but is not currently being written at the exact moment of thought-conception.
This has less to do with my youth and recklessness, as some have suggested, and more to do with what I think of as my horror-drive, which is a little different than a death-drive in that I have always assumed that my life would be very short, and was imminently ending; a death-drive seemed redundant. A horror-drive involves the constant imagining of infinite scenarios in which my body remains alive to witness a series of terrible events that level the known universe while somehow leaving me to bear witness and write it; a kind of reverse or inverse martyrdom, maybe.
I think it was last week that I spent a lot of time with a lot of really brilliant women, all of them “writers” but probably more importantly women who are very serious thinkers. I went with one of them to see the Whitney Biennial after many nights of being very drunk and talking a lot about things like The Boyesque and watching this super-girly Japanese “horror” film called House and listening to a lot of Madonna and Stevie Nicks.
On the way to the Whitney we started talking about being a Great Writer, which is not a thing I think even exists anymore, and canonization etc. These are conversations I have as often as I can with as many people as I can because I am curious to know if other people think these terms are relevant. I have always had a very stupid desire to be both Great and Canonized, and I think it has always had a lot to do with my simultaneous desire to be an infiltrator of something I feel can never be mine because I am gendered very female.
When I was a child and read a lot of Great Literature it was almost all by men. I read literature that I liked by women; I read Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder and these satisfied my need to see ribbons in great novels; I read Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and then I got to college and read Bishop and Stein, and I liked all of it, obviously, but it always felt like: okay, here are some girls. They’re Really Good. Maybe Bishop got to be Great, but only around certain people. Stein got to be a Genius but she also didn’t really get to be a Woman, and now that there’s all of this drama about Stein she’s not really a Woman even a little bit anymore she’s a Witch of some sort, which is like the most terrible mutation of the Masculine Woman. When I think of Stein, lately, I think of that horribly horrifying book Radclyffe Hall which is of course a Great Book, and I had to read it twice in graduate school.
Yesterday I had my tarot cards read on Governor’s Island and the Five of Cups turned up. The Five of Cups is a card that has been in almost every tarot reading I have ever had, and even though it is a horrifying-looking card I am always drawn to it in a way that does not feel unpleasant. It is a card of acute sorrow and loss, which I have always thought of as always-already true in a kind of really sad reading of my theoretical place in post-modernism.
Anyway on the way to the Whitney the woman I was with talked about how she did not feel that Greatness was a viable aspiration, especially for women especially now, because with the current socio-political climate and the digital age and everything we’re pretty much already in the midst of an apocalypse, and there isn’t any future to speak of that she can see, and that’s a kind of perverse and horrific freedom. The woman was Lara Glenum and of course her work is violently prophetic and probably comes directly from a time and a space both pre- and post- our own.
Generally, when I ask people this question, the answer I get could be called a lot of things but none of those things could be called “sincere.”
Lara’s answer struck me as shockingly honest and I told her so, and thinking about making art in a futureless apocalyptic space colored my entire experience of the Whitney Biennial, and there were things we saw that were so moving it was necessary to sit down afterwards. One of these things was the room filled with tiny painting by Forest Bess, who was so distressed by the disjunction between the Masculine and the Feminine in his own self that he cut himself a vagina. This, to me, seems like the kind of act of ultimate Apocalyptic Sincerity to which any artist can only hope to aspire.
For many months now I have tried to stay away from conversations about literature that take place primarily on the internet because I find them to be really distressing and generally masturbatory and not useful to anyone. But I have recently started working a job that takes place in an office and requires that I sit in front of a computer all day and since literature is a thing I care a lot about and no one in my office has any desire to talk about it I’ve started reading “the blogs” again, and it’s pretty much awful. There’s all this talk about “The New Sincerity” as though Sincerity is a thing that has temporality and can be judged and it isn’t. What strikes me as most upsetting is that so much of it is in response to Marie Calloway, not so much her work even but her existence as a human being with agency, as though she is some kind of mutant sex monster who ought to be kept from writing about her genuine experience of the world because women are not allowed to experience the world that way, as she does, in all of its dirty abject cum-splattered horror.
Probably what bothers people about Marie is that she’s doing to male writers what they’ve done to women writers for centuries, which is treat them like precocious whores. This is an activity I’ve enjoyed although I’m maybe less overtly public about it. What bothers both men and women about women who do this sort of thing is that it’s in a way the opposite of Bess’ self-inflicted vagina. It’s taking something we want and saying fuck you to Nature which maybe seems insincere to people who put stock in the idea that only what is physically Natural is True. And it’s a kind of self-mutilation because anyone who would do something like this already knows how People will react.
For the past several weeks what I have found to be the sincerest mode of existence is undeniably horrific. I have spent most of my time in the company of women who are sincerely horrified, of various things. It requires a lot of drinks, a lot of fucking and dancing and crying and holing up in rooms to write. & I am sure this kind of behavior is frightening, especially to the Gatekeepers of the terribly insincere thing that Literature has become; a lot of people writing angry, cliquey blog posts (and maybe this is one) versus people in hypothetical smoking jackets patting each other on the backs for their ability to keep the rabble out of Institutional/ized Publishing. What a gross game.
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- June 11, 2012 / 4:15 pm