Not long ago, I wrote a blog ruminating on why young women no longer heed the call for equality. (Blog 2/16/16) A day later, I received an interesting response from a reader. What politically active young women focus on today, she wrote, isn’t about women’s equality but about sharing that equality with those who have been marginalized: gays, transvestites, transgender folks and ethnic minorities. The passion is real. The focus is changed.
The comment was eye-opening, even though the argument seemed to create an artificial divide. The Women’s Movement has always been about inclusion, starting with men. Certainly, anyone pushed to the outer rings of society should be embraced.
A similar and equally useless bifurcation is going on in literature. (“Professional Fictions,” by Sam Sacks, New Republic, Jan/Feb 2016, Pgs. 56-61.) Writer Sam Sacks illustrates the difference between schools of thought as he critiques two new anthologies published by thinkers in different ideological camps. The Unprofessionals is a collection of short stories produced by The Paris Review, an apologist for the traditional notion of what art is. Generally, literature consists of “vignettes of sin and suffering among the privileged.” (Ibid, pg. 58.) Mostly, they admire stories where the male protagonist undergoes a “male-crisis.” (Ibid. pg. 59) In sum, The Paris Review and its ilk may be said to be keepers of the cannon.
New American Stories is “a broadside “against the timidity and uniformity of American publishing.” (Ibid pg 58.) It celebrates the experimental and looks for new voices to bring into the mainstream. Here’s an example from Rachel. B. Glaser’s, “Pee on Water.”
Chairs are rare. They sit patiently in rooms. Mutton fat is boiled to make soap. Rocks are fired out of bamboo poles.
Sacks explains Glaser’s sentence is constructed to allow sound and the meaning of individual words to take precedent over syntax. (Ibid pg. 60.) An interesting idea but the experiment is far from new. An excellent example of the same intent occurs in Lewis Carroll’s, “The Jabberwocky” published in 1871.
Nonetheless, Sacks insists the two new anthologies confront us with evidence of a schism in literature where both sides look longingly, if secretly, at the other. While traditionalist thirst for the freedom to experiment, the experimentalists look longingly to be deemed legitimate. (Ibid. pg. 59.)
For me, the schism is a tale of sound and fury signifying nothing. The unifying theme of almost all literature is alienation. The writer, whether playing with angst or our perception of how words function, is attempting to make sense of a world that seems largely foreign. The goal is the same for the Woman’s Movement, past or present.