Category: articles

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.

The quest for home

Krista Tippett in conversation with Junot Díaz, author of the novels Drown, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and This Is How You Lose Her (interview via the On Being podcast). I mention him previously here. Emphasis mine.

Ms. Tippett: Also, back to the matter of intimacy and love — I mean somewhere you’ve said that the quintessential American narrative is the quest for home and that — but that’s not just about shelter. It’s about intimacy. It’s about love. I mean are those — as you think about walking through this American moment and expansively, having a large view, a long view of time in this long-term project we’re in, how do you — is “love” a word that enters your imagination, that enters your conversations these days, and what can that mean?

Mr. Díaz: Well, of course. I mean what are we in this game, if not for love? I can’t speak to anyone else, but if you’re — if someone tells me there’s no love in the universe, I’m — well, what interest is there in the universe, then? What’s interesting about the universe? For me, perhaps overly simplistically or perhaps overly sentimentally, love matters. I do believe that human beings are, without question, social creatures. Our biology seems to dictate that.

But I would also say that there is a challenge, in being human, that we have vulnerable needs, but we also have minds that can deceive us that these needs are unimportant. And for many of us, to be able to trust somebody else, to be able to have faith that someone else or that the future or that the community can take care of us, that we will not be destroyed when we lower our defenses, for many of us, that’s a challenge. And yet, you can’t have any kind of love, whether we’re talking about civic love or we’re talking about interpersonal love, without first dropping those defenses, without first making yourself vulnerable.

I mean ultimately, when you look at it — you don’t want to be too simplistic, but the nature of having these chats is, you oversimplify — but when you think about it, look at the whole debate around climate change. The whole debate around climate change is a bunch of lying fools sitting around, almost all male, but whatever — a bunch of lying fools saying, “The earth is not vulnerable. There is no injury.” And there’s just a repetition here; there’s this mantra that comes out of these hegemonies, which is: “We are invulnerable. We’re not vulnerable. There is no loss. We don’t need to change anything” that just is — it’s just destroying us, man. And it’s so dull and wearying, and yet, we’re all caught up in this madness, simply because of our pride, our inability to be like, “Hey, man, that hurts. Hey, man, that’s scary. Hey, sister, that’s humiliating.”

As Krista mentions in the interview: How refreshing that here is a Dominican man talking about vulnerability and love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what home means to different people. How much the word is defined by how you grew up, what you yearn for, and the ways in which you have been hurt. What types of intimacy create safe space. What types of intimacy should be reserved and which should be freely given to all.

Also relevant: I have noticed a big difference when someone has the ability to look at me (as the earth in Junot’s example) and face the damage instead of denying it: “Yes, there is injury here, so how do we fix it now? Let’s fix it together.”

to love inappropriately, to be ambitious, to simply want more.

J. and I walk to the edge of Chinatown and back. Our bellies are full from wine and pasta. It’s nighttime; the city stinks of summer, and we revel in it. I can’t stop thinking about how it’s already the end of summer. How will we survive the next winter? I am never ready for the cold. J. says, “Honestly, I think the worst thing is feeling lonely while you’re in a relationship.”

I nod, watching the headlights paint the corners of Bowery as the cars turn.

***

A tall guy with yellow lens sunglasses appeared next to me. The sun had already set. Do you dance? he asked, leading me towards the less crowded interior of the pier.

I liked that he modified the way he led turns to account for the wooden slats of the piers underneath my shoes. Turn AND turn AND turn. The pauses were one thing, and more so, the attention to and anticipation of the pauses made the thing.

***

I ran three miles along the river’s edge. On Being’s meditative cadence chanted at me, and Krista brings up Rabindranath Tagore’s quote: “We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.”

***

I’m responding to K. about the things we talked about last night. “I’m too sensitive. Maybe I want too much. I should be okay with things as they are. I just need to stop bringing things up.”

“Don’t let yourself be gaslit,” K. warns.

The theme of hunger is everywhere.

In the New York Times today: Who’s Afraid of Claire Messud?

‘‘Women aren’t supposed to want stuff,’’ she said. ‘‘They’re not supposed to have high emotions.’’ Recently she went to a party where all the women were skinny and all the men were overweight. ‘‘For the men, it’s perfectly acceptable to be a person of appetites,’’ she said. ‘‘You’re in midlife, you’re at the peak of your professional moment.’’ Again, she slipped into character. ‘‘ ‘Pour me a glass of wine and give me a steak!’ ’’ The women, by contrast, were nibbling crackers and drinking seltzer. ‘‘There should be no shame in appetite,’’ she said, her voice rising. ‘‘There should be no shame in anger. There should be no shame in love. There should be no shame in wanting things.’’

‘‘If it’s unseemly and possibly dangerous for a man to be angry,’’ she said, ‘‘it’s totally unacceptable for a woman to be angry.’’

[Ferrante’s] work quietly seethes at the idea that a woman needs to be ‘‘likable’’ — or that a man should be the judge of her likability. More than that, it offers a space for women to be, as she puts it, ‘‘appetitive’’: to love inappropriately, to be ambitious, to simply want more.