Monday, December 14, 2009

Speaking of The Second Sex...

Here is an interesting article in the Guardian by Rachel Cusk about "women's writing," A Room of One's Own, and de Beauvoir's own behemoth. Although this is a thought-provoking consideration of the room as a kind of property and collusion with the patriarchy's own property-centered structure (thereby, gaining the room creates conflict and, possibly, a complex "silence"), I would have liked to see Cusk's assertions contextualized in the work of contemporary female writers a bit more. These conclusions seem a bit abstract, as is, and most of her textual analysis leaves out the past seventy or so years of the literary landscape.

However, from her first sentence, she reminded me of the classic male/female split in the garnering of literary acclaim - namely, that a novel of "action" is always seen as more relevant and expressive of reality than a novel of "inaction." Of course, these "action vs. inaction" dualities are often defined (oftentimes erroneously) as gendered spheres. War is male; the home is female. Thence, a novel of the battlefield is more relevant than a novel of the home. Luckily, we have come to a point in time where many men write beautifully and eloquently on the topics of relationships, family, and civic life. Conversely, I can think of many female writers who explore lonely landscapes, brutal violence, and other topics traditionally considered "masculine." In my mind, if a writer is good enough, he/she can write about anything, and I will be enthralled. Period. That's where the "art" comes in. It's not all about subject matter, after all, but so many other elements that conspire to create awe; to reveal truth.

On the other hand, I have reached a point in my literary self-education where the moral vision of a writer matters to me. And I also cannot deny differences of gender in what I respond to, what speaks to me, and what I repudiate. In fact, all of this puts me in mind of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, which I read (and hated) earlier this year. One could almost see McCarthy's desolate, blood-soaked "American" landscape as masculine culture taken to its hyperbolic extreme. Possession becomes the possession of life, and the only assertion possible is through the destruction of other lives. Without given land or property, the only thing that can be owned is another's body; without land, subjugation through serfdom is succeeded by subjugation through annihilation. I could easily argue from the other side - that patriarchal structure does not operate in McCarthy's novel, because it operates from the dissolution point of all organized forms of interpersonal interaction: namely, chaos. Still, when viewed as the videogame-like playing field of the male Id, Blood Meridian makes me want to imagine what a "hyper-feminine" novel might look like. When I try to imagine it, however, I cannot. Set loose and howling upon the plains, what romps would an unfettered woman have?

Perhaps here I have encountered the "silence" of which Cusk speaks.

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