Friday, 21 December 2018

Men writing for men, women writing for women

Alice Fishburn set herself the goal of reading only books by women for one year. 50 books later, she comments:
There’s a strange sense of relief that comes when you find a writer who understands a fundamental aspect of you. Parts of my own inner life were suddenly echoed or imagined by someone who really, truly, got it. This, I realised one day, must be what reading is like for men the majority of the time. The ability to hear the beauty of literature without a faint but persistent discordant note …

Alice Fishburn FT, 15 December 2018
This text betrays two myths: first, the myth that only women can write about women, and only men can write about men. Secondly, the equally fallacious myth that there is some kind of a gender-based commonality, by which literature by women for women means a kind of understanding. Why should a male writer - any male writer, just because he is male - understand me, or echo my inner life? I find I have very little in common with, say, Ernest Hemingway, and I find his idea of maleness very foreign. I watched a bullfight once and I could not comprehend how anyone could find such a horrific event in any way noble. Hemingway is a male writer, but much of his writing is persistently discordant to me. Should I admire Henry Miller? When reading him, is there no “faint but persistent discordant note”? That’s not my experience when he gloats about his latest sexual conquest in Paris.

Equally, there is no universal ideology behind women’s writing, just because it is written by a woman. Here, for example, is Kathryn Hughes writing about Deborah Levy:
To ground herself in her eyrie Levy rereads Simone de Beauvoir, that great explorer and explainer of what damage home making does to creative female minds.
Kathryn Hughes, Guardian, 1 Dec 2018

Is this a universal law, that creative females should not make a home? You may agree or disagree with de Beauvoir's view, but Alice Fishburn's implication is that only a woman can understand fundamental aspects of her. Perhaps she should immediately abandon any thoughts of setting up a home.

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