OK, so I decided to go with the medieval myth of the vagina dentata, recently resurrected by some bleeding awful z-grade horror movie, as the title for this post for no other reason than my original one wouldn't fit twitter. It makes no real sense and does little but allude to Zadie Smith (not a bad thing in itself).
The article I wrote for Year Zero tomorrow is a chastisement of the writing classes of the noughties. I ask, very simply, where did all the questions go? When I was a student in the late 80s and early 90s we took it for granetd that whenever we wrote something we were entering into some larger, complex powerplay. We assumed there was no such thing as neutral. It was the age where language was taken to be imperialist/patriarchal as a matter of course and if you wanted to write you had to justify every word you set on the page and explain why it wasn't simply perpetuating the imperialism/patriarchy.
Sure this often led to a combination of bizarro weird non-linear stylisation and the somewhat easier tactic of wwriting nothing and limiting oneself to chattering idly about theory (in the name of the class/race/gender struggle, of course). But there is something inherently good about not taking things for granted - about realising that one is part of a context, about placing oneself within larger discourses and, basically, thinking about the implications of what you write.
What I take issue with in that post is why so few writers question - PROPERLY question - the internet. What kind of a space is it? What's its power status? Where does it sit in the nexus of discursive strategies?
Anyway, having berated others for not asking questions, I thought I should post some thoughts of my own. Here they are - unrounded, probably not thought through. But they're a discussion starter at least. I'm happy to discuss in more detail in the comments.
I "grew up" studying Irigaray, whose main point about linguistics is that language is male - the qualities of western discourse embody maleness. Language is sex-power. For women to speak they must use a language that is male. Irigaray's own writing is a wonderful mix of theory and poetics as she tries to find a new way of writing that embodies the female yet cuts across the lies of the male (I hesitate when saynig "embody" because it implies essentialism, and "is Irigaray an essentialist?" is one of those string-measuring exercises of which linguistics is full.
It amazes me that more people aren't asking questions of the internet, and how it fits into this theoretical model. So I want to imagine what they might say, and relate it to teh politics of literature.
I have 2 points to make:
1. the internet feminises literature.
2. this is why the literary establishment greets web-based discourse with a mix of fear-conquer-laugh.
1. The Internet Feminises Literature
I am talking in Irigaray's terms. You will probably disagree and find the points overly Freudian. They start a discussion, though.
- webcourse (to avoid repeating web-based discourse endlessly) is fragmented (something Irigaray made steps towards with her incomplete sentences - she must go nuts for text-speak)
-webcourse is associative. It makes links rather than statements. It's unitive but not in a colonizing way - it brings things within a context organically
-webcourse is preservatory by nature. Its caches and dark corners are the marshes and forests that patriarchy could never expel from mythology. They preserve the monstrous and the outcast from deletion.
-webcourse never destroys, it builds on what has gone before.
-webcourse is nutritive - it feeds itself through cooperation and contact
2. No wonder "Literature" hates the web
You will generally find one of three reactions from the literary establishment to webcourse:
- fear - free content, the noise of universal subjectivity, lack of respect for experts, lack of quality control and gatekeeping - are these really treated very differently from the vagina dentata of old? No. Literature fears webcourse because it is different. Because it refuses to respect tradition. Because it is other...
- conquer - the web is great, but do it like this, that and the other. Brand yourself across media, use the web wisely. Use it if you must but use it our way!
- laugh - "you're a writer. Great! For whom do you write?" "Oh, AN E-ZINE"
Like I say, think of webcourse as feminising, and of discourse as patriarchal, and doesn't this suddenly fit?
And of course it's even more wonderfully subversive that this feminised webcourse uses imperialist technology - what I want to avoid owing to its awful Platonist associations is a spirit-body dualism that's hardware/cyberspace based - rather I'll say patriarchy created a space of its own, feminised culture found a way in, resisted, inverted, created an enfolded space of its own from, within, and independent of the oppressor's tools.
In many ways the webcourse debate mirrors the feminist debates of the 70s - you have people of all stripes from the separatists to the revisionists. One could argue that cultural flare-ups simply have a tendency to produce this kind of multi-polarity. Or you could argue that it's the SAME debate.
So where does this leave me, as a male writer? Well, women have been forced into discourse in order to be heard for centuries. If webcourse IS feminised I fail to see I'm in a position to complain. No, what I find exciting is the fact that webcourse might actually be something different. Something with its own set of rules. Something new and fresh and liberating.
Most of all, what I feel is a relief that I've started asking questions about what I write on line in the same way I've always asked them about what I write on paper. And excited that the two sets of answers may be different