Monthly Archives: November 2009

Scream a Song

Here’s a post from The Journal of Cultural Conversation that Laura apparently took down. I plan on doing something cool with the other post, which I’ll put up again at some point, probably when I decide it’s time to follow through with “something cool.” As you can see, all of the old posts are back up (except for Kiran’s Featured Fan) and I’m no longer planning on doing regular postings, though I think that’s a hot idea for someone with more time on their hands. Anyway, on to the old post!

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One of my favorite pastimes is to collect information from writers about writing. Whether it comes in the forms of interviews, essays, books, or word of mouth, I love logging the tidbits away for my own personal use. I see on social networks that people share this pastime, and they show off their passion with quotes. There’s something abstract about the knowledge, though, that’s more worthwhile to authors than any quote could retain outside of context.

For example, Soren Kierkegaard wrote in Either/Or that creative writing is the process of turning scream into song. The people who hear it will ask you to write more without ever realizing that what their asking of you is to suffer more. I paraphrase him because it took him a page to say this, and any quote extricated from the corpse would no longer retain the vitality of the whole.

Dorothy Allison came to Emerson College last spring to talk with undergraduate writers about writing. Among the topics, she discussed she learned to lie at a very young age, which transitions smoothly in writing as it turns out. She told about the shame poverty inspires, and that writers bit by this feeling often write out the effects without being fully aware of the system under which they’re struggling. Many beautiful jewels fell forth from her pool of knowledge that evening for the students. One statement in particular, undeveloped in the midst of the speech, stuck with me.

She, a Southern lesbian blue-collar author, said that lesbians no longer present themselves as a danger to society. Somehow, whether through the porn industry’s display of “lesbians” or by defaulting to the mass stereotype of woman, the subculture of the things has smooth over and become almost palatable, almost like a horse pill. She, briefly, berated any lesbians in the room who had given into the modern culture where lesbians are cute and fluffy bunnies who aren’t a threat to anything. Lesbianism is a threat, she reminded; it stabs at the very founding principles of our patriarchic society.

Many of you during this introduction may have looked back at my name and wondered why a male author is talking about a female author’s take on lesbianism. (A few of you may have done a double-take, wondering if Greg is a label ever slapped onto a girl. It doesn’t flow as well as “a boy named Sue,” I admit.) Though male, I consider her point well made and one that needs appreciation in the face of monotonous mediocrity.

First, the obvious question: Do I think lesbians are inherently threatening? No. At least, not anymore than any individual is a threat to the establishment. I don’t agree with Dorothy that lesbians are supposed to threaten order; a lesbian is just a person, and any person is liable to desire to fit in, to break off the odd shoots in order to slide along unhassled. We can go back to Machiavelli and find that the greatest political power lies in the assumption that people just want to be left alone to live as they see fit.

However, I do agree with the larger idea stated in her assumption: it is the responsibility of the artist to not fit in, to fight against a following mentality, to lead even when nobody is following. In the golden days of American lesbianism that Dorothy remembers and I wasn’t alive to experience, to be a lesbian meant something; the statement itself challenged the assumption of sexuality in our country, in any modern nation. But society is an assimilating force, and it adapted in order to reduce the threat of individuality by allowing lesbians to exist in peace, at least if they live in designated liberal cities.

What’s lost is the call to individuality, that one needs to stand up in the face of adversity even if they don’t feel the challenge directly, personally. What’s lost is the call to isolation, to stand as you are in the face of those who don’t wish you to be and fight for your right to exist. Artists most of all need to remember this call if only because it separates those who survived this period of middle-class middle-living pseudo-celebrities and those who managed to scrape a higher living and possibly even a little true renown.

Lesbianism used to guarantee pain, separation and isolation and torment and discrimination. In that way, it caused one to maintain themselves as an individual, to live true to Kierkegaard’s description of creative writing: to sing screams and have the mass love you for it. Individuals would do well to respect what it means to create; they would do well to avoid the smooth and oiled surface that causes them to fit in, preferring instead the way of pain, the way of artistic merit.

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Filed under Criticism, Humanistic, Personal essay, Writing