Saturday, June 4, 2011

Electrified Fences and Conversation Hopefully to Remove Them

In a single sentence [my book critic] reimposed the very dichotomies I had constructed the book in order to call into question, putting electrified fences around the categories “academy,” “criticism,” and “writing” to keep the various critters from intermingling, maybe interbreeding to create some nameless monster very like the one I aspire to be.
--Nancy Mairs

Thanks to Kristen, Suzanne, and Theophrastus for joining in conversation yesterday around three posts here, each related to Shawna R. B. Atteberry's helpful and hopeful new book, What You Didn't Learn in Sunday School, Women Who Didn't Sit Down and Shut Up.

Suzanne says, most recently:  "Okay. I have to admit that this conversation has me completely baffled."  Kristen writes again, "Switching gears here to talk more about the actual blog post."  Theophrastus, still in high gear, signs off as "Emmanuel Goldstein" after confessing first, "I haven't read Shawna's book (and I'm not likely to ...), and then further complaining, "I think that weak arguments benefit the oppressor....But most of all, I think her 'Godde' and 'Christa' are gimmicky and reminiscent of Newspeak."

I myself am feeling again what Tonya and Daniel have kindly acknowledged: "Conversations in person are rarely this stressful."  And now I'm afraid that this weekend I'm not going to have much time to add anything, hoping that the conversation, nonetheless, will continue on without me as it is important, to me, and to the conversants here so far.  I know it's important to Shawna and the readers of her book.  Please feel free to join in, as you would.  If things get (more) heated and out of hand, then please do watch your own boundaries of protection for yourself.  (Remain anonymous or pseudonymous even, as you wish.)  The space of a blog can be hurtful.  The personal is, nevertheless, important.  So is, I think, your voice.  Please don't sit down or shut up; this is Shawna's point.

I'm going to use my remaining few minutes on the blog today to quote one of my favorite writers from one of my favorite books of hers.  She does expose the sorts of judgmentalism that would seek not to listen but to silence others.  This writer expresses resistance to binary thinking of the sort that would force a neologism, such as Godde, into a pure and one-gendered category (i.e., as if it must always and only be the exact opposite of the "divine masculine," somehow obviously just "feminine," and clearly, theologically heretical).  I'm hoping the writer I'm quoting below here will encourage us to keep talking and to consider more what Shawna is saying, what women of the Bible are saying.  Here's the quotation; its from pages 3 and 4 of the book Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer, by Nancy Mairs:
     An anonymous reader of an early version of this book, about whom I only know that “she” is “an academic,” concluded:  “It is obvious from her criticism that she wasn't meant to be an academic, from her encounter with French feminist theory, that she wasn't cut out for a career as a critic.  What is obvious is that she is a real writer.”  I could have wept, if frustration any longer had the power to elicit the tears reserved now for anguish unspeakably deeper.  In a single sentence she reimposed the very dichotomies I had constructed the book in order to call into question, putting electrified fences around the categories “academy,” “criticism,” and “writing” to keep the various critters from intermingling, maybe interbreeding to create some nameless monster very like the one I aspire to be.
    And what queer syntax. “Meant” by whom?  “Cut out” by whom?  Is there a God in the Academy creating academics in His own image and dispensing careers according to some holy plan?  If I'm the product of intention, I'd like to know who intended me.  And how is a “real” writer distinguished from other sorts (what sorts?) of writers?  These are not idle questions.  And they do not have merely private significance. The capacity -- the drive -- to segregate and hierarchize intellectual pursuits, to speak of them in the passive voice as though they were ordained by some anonymous agency, and to envision “real”as a discrete state distinguishable (by the rigorous critical mind) from some other way of being infects otherwise fluid and flexible intelligences with a kind of cerebral tetanus that inhibits jouissance before the first lovely ripple of pleasure has fairly begun.
     I am a not a “real writer.”  I am a writer.  Without modification.


Theophrastus said...
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Theophrastus said...
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Suzanne McCarthy said...

There is no equality in her Bible -- her Bible teaches a world where women rule over me.

No wonder you feel bad! ;)

But now at least I can see what Shawna is saying. I am sure that she feels that men have been nourished over the millenia by a Bible which portrays the divine masculine, and she feels that women should have this experience also.

I personally have little interest in this approach, but rather I ask myself what our image of God is. God is the sustainer of life, the One who provides. How can I, a woman, be someone who sustains others?

That supplies me with plenty of homework for the time being. I want to be someone who is able to care for other people, in very practical ways, not just in stereotypically female ways, not that I reject that, but that pertains only to a woman's private and personal life, but I mean in the way a man provides, to be a sponsor, or a mentor - to be a benefactor.

J. K. Gayle said...

You badly (and apparently deliberately) quote me out of context.

I think I quoted Nancy Mairs badly! Hope she didn't notice my mistake. At least the blogger format has let me edit and correct the post where I made it. Please note that I'm not deliberately misquoting her or you (when writing very quickly to try to say too much, to have a conversation with several of you, when you yourself have been saying so very much in, now, the context of several days and a few blogposts here!); and at the very least, as some consolation to me and your other readers, you've been able to correct me; and, at least, from the start, my readers of your quote have been able to follow my link to read correct what you've written in the very context where you wrote what you wrote. I'm trying to be silly here now. But do know that I'm not misrepresenting anything you say deliberately.

Thanks for catching the connections I was hoping you'd make between what Nancy Mairs has written and how she's been read and what Shawna Atteberry has written and how you've just had to imagine, based on my book review and on her blogposts and on her Bible translation teams freewares, how you'd read her book. Yes, I do get your complaint that it's unavailable for anonymous purchase and is not in libraries.

This problem is not insignificant. But it reminds me of a metaphor, a theme, that runs right through Nancy Mairs's book: being "inside" and privileged, and then having to be "outside," as many women in our socities in our histories have had to be and still are.

Mairs starts playing with this theme in a rather startling way right on page 1, to begin her "Prelude:" - which she subtitles (get this) "Loving the Other." (She also has an epigraphic quotation of Helene Cixous, from "Sorties": "Other-Love is writing's first name."

Mairs starts her book:

"and if you're very, very lucky, like me," I wrote to my daughter several years ago as she made her leisurely way from a Peace Corps stint in Zaire to Tucson to begin whatever-came-next, "you'll wind up with a perfect life!" I really did, and do, believe that my life is perfect, although I recognize that certain details of it -- like my own advancing debilitation by multiple sclerosis and my husband's metastatic melanoma -- might seem from the outside to forbid it such status and even to mark me as (1) a Pollyanna, to use a quaint term, (2) in denial, as pop-psych-speak would have it, or (3) to be blunt, out of my wits.

"The outside," however, never provides a good vantage point for life study....

So, Theophrastus, I believe I understand some of the difficulty here for you. Seems that Suzanne gets even more! "Nourishment" is not the typical male term to qualify a good Bible translation. ;)