Secret Canon

Excuse me while I drink summer through a firehose as medication for a particularly poor handling of northeast winter. A short how-to: live 17 days on a boat, snorkel every day, spend most of the time reading library books, eat slices of deli turkey straight from the not-cold-enough boat refrigerator, learn approximately 1.5 Greek words, stay awake for 1 sunset with some significant help, forget how to tie all the knots you were supposed to learn how to tie. And dance, dance! dance.

More on that later, but for now, the real reason I came here. I’m languishing (flourishing, really) in the heat of July and L. sends me an article. As I continue on my now-three-year experiment of reading mostly women, I thirst for a way to describe how I feel about suddenly understanding an entire planet, solar system, universe, black hole inside of me that I hadn’t even been able to put words to before. I’ve grown more wary of the self-centeredness of male writing, the way much of it chops life up to fit only the male author’s own tiny reality. So how much of my (our?) experience of the world would be different had we (also) been encouraged to read the secret canon, the one written from the female point of view? There are other interesting coincidences, but anyway, this piece by Audrey Wollen floored me.

I hold my women close, dead or not. Not-ness, of course, being our way of life. When I was asked to consider how men should be, I thought about how it must feel to not be not—a walking double negative. I can’t tell you how to be from this space of non-being. My boyfriend and I frequently get into arguments over my tendency to generalize. He loves specificity, context, nuance. I respect it, and I love those things too. But I usually speak in large categories, universal proclamations, talking like a manifesto even in gossip, in passing. I know stereotypes are stupid and harmful, for obvious reasons, but I’m willing to defend generalizations, as that’s all language seems like to me. A small, insufficient thing standing in for a big, complicated one.

I finally explained to him, when I talk about “men” and their power, their shortcomings, it is not for blindness to the subtleties of the individual or their circumstances. It is simply a practical solution for a lack of time. Do you want me to list every man who has done violence to me or my loved ones? I don’t know all their names. Trying to list them would be like recreating Borges’s map over a map—you know, that thing where they map the landscape so perfectly it just lays over it, doubling it. I can tell you my life in patriarchal harm, but it would take the length of my life over. I only have one.

I feel like I’m doing one of those negative space drawings in art class, tracing the air between the elbow, finding the blank edge. It is an impossible project, a feminist feeling. We spend a lot of time debating whether men should be written about, but I don’t know if “should” is the right verb. I don’t know if men can be written about, if it’s even a possibility. It’s simply not a sustainable model, as demonstrated by the impending end of the world. Every time you slice into the canon, girls rush out like ghosts. Lou, Paula, Katherine, Marina, so on and so on.

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