In cases of profound and permanent unhappiness, a strongly developed sense of shame arrests all lamentation. Every unhappy condition among men creates the silent zone alluded to, in which each is isolated as though on an island. Those who do escape from the island will not look back. -Simone Weil
A hard hitting essay in The Boston Review- too many people writing have nothing interesting to say and no interesting way in which to say it– and I wonder if it condemns me entirely. All my personal reflections here: are they too thinking about some stuff then thinking about some other stuff that kind of relates to the original stuff you were thinking about but not really, like that of Durga Chew-Bose, into whom the reviewer Merve Emre sticks the boot into so enthusiastically?
The tag at the top gives me a way out. “Feminism”. Aha, this is women resisting patriarchy and refusing “femininity”, first kicking the feminine essayist who reveals her feelings then praising the more muscular feminists who follow, and their insistence that we disentangle ethics from empathy…[which] We see in Weil’s “painful clarity”: her simple, yet brutal, prose style that stressed concrete detail over abstraction in her descriptions of factory work, and thus extended neither sympathy nor empathy to laborers but a far greater form of compassion: attention and intellectual honesty.
Mary Gaitskill: I think this is the reason every boob with a hangnail has been clogging the courts and haunting talk shows across the land for the last twenty years, telling his/her “story” and trying to get redress. Whatever the suffering is, it’s not to be endured, for God’s sake, not felt and never, ever accepted. It’s to be triumphed over. And because some things cannot be triumphed over unless they are first accepted and endured, because, indeed, some things cannot be triumphed over at all, the “story” must be told again and again in endless pursuit of a happy ending. To be human is finally to be a loser, for we are all fated to lose our carefully constructed sense of self, our physical strength, our health, our precious dignity, and finally our lives. A refusal to tolerate this reality is a refusal to tolerate life. Am I one of those boobs? I would love nothing more than getting on a talk show, my essays are in print celebrating my Feelings- often resentment, anger, fear and sadness, caused by circumstances which I lament as a toddler does, loudly demanding someone remove them.
There is one more problem humans, and writers, have: we live in a world of illusory shared experience, ready-made identities, manipulation, and masks so dense and omnipresent that in this world, an actual human face is ludicrous or “crazy.” Every human experience is pretense, and most attempts to write it down,or to explain it to yourself or others, are continuations of that pretense. Not all: the best art illuminates the cracks in our inexhaustible social performances, lighting our way through “the maze of personality and persona” so that we may, if only for a brief and fragile moment, forget who or what we are playing at.
Unless I am Simone Weil or Virginia Woolf, there is no point in writing at all.
I appreciate the aims of these women, and they are not mine. I treasure a compliment from 2014: I also like this writing. There’s something Proustian about it. If you can get through the thirty pages on a goodnight kiss without throwing The Way by Swann’s across the room, you might suffer through the boredom of the narrator’s paranoid speculation about Albertine’s lesbian affairs. It is him, in his wrongness and humanity, his petulant childish idiocies stripped of all masks. This is me, attempting to understand, or self-justify, or formulate so I may communicate, or cover things up because I find them too frightening.
I am still tempted to read Merve Emre’s essay for rules on writing, so that I might obey them, and evade her criticism- though even if I obeyed them to her satisfaction, someone else would find my writing wanting. The only way forward is to do what I do, and keep doing it- or to do other stuff- in fact the way will be as it will, exploring and excavating, not necessarily a way forward at all. I write because I want to, and find it worthwhile.