Friday, January 1, 2016

Men Are Bums

It seems the hot new thing in literary circles is belated feminist critique of classic novels. Yay, I guess. I’m all for taking the piss out of canonical “serious” literature but this current crop just doesn’t get mean enough.

Like Rebecca Solnit’s critique of Lolita - and her critique of others critiquing her critique. The maven of mansplaining has admirable goals and her analysis of Lolita has some good points. But…

The rest of us get used to the transgendering and cross-racializing of our identities as we invest in protagonists like Ishmael or Dirty Harry or Holden Caulfield. But straight white men don’t, so much. I coined a term a while ago, privelobliviousness, to try to describe the way that being the advantaged one, the represented one, often means being the one who doesn’t need to be aware and, often, isn’t.

I’ll be honest, I had to laugh at 1) the turgidly non-neologism “privelobliviousness” and 2) the idea that anyone relates to Ishmael and Holden Caulfield. At least anyone worth talking to. If I wasn’t feeling charitable, I’d say she’s squirting impenetrable clouds of ink to look smart. I also sat in a fiction workshop just the other week where several middle-aged men regurgitated the patently wrong interpretation that the titular Lola is the sexual predator in the book. So maybe this is just an “everyone’s being stupid” situation.

So let’s instead look at some authors who subsurviate the genderdigm, as Solnit would say.

Jean Rhys

The source of the post title - in a roundabout sort of way - and the best thing to ever happen to Jane Austen’s wretched chick lit. Her subaltern answer to that privileged white chick, Wide Sargasso Sea, is familiar to causal literati but hardly does her justice. Rhys toiled for years in obscurity, cranking out cranky works that rival Charles Portis for penetrating insight. Good Morning, Midnight has all the cosmpolitan wit of Dorothy Parker but none of the self-satisfaction, skewering its protagonist as ably as its many male targets.

Olivia Manning

The best author of the 20th century that you’ve never heard of, you ignorant churl. Like Elizabeth Bowen, her work reflects a feeling of being unmoored from any sort of national identity, which was damn scary at the time the Germans turned their own national identity into an apocalyptic cult. Fortunes of War, a staggering six novel series, follows an average English couple across Budapest, Athens, and Egypt all through the Wermacht’s advance and shows just how stiflingly normal life can remain even when Rommel is five miles from your house.

Joan D. Vinge

While science fiction often claims a progressive pedigree, the truth is far less inspiring. Joan D. Vinge - no relation to that other guy - is a rare case of actually progressive speculative fiction. Her novels about the half-human telepath Cat are some of the best in the genre since Dick returned to the cosmic pink laser and also one of the rare fusions of a far future setting with serious socio-political issues. The overblown angst even fits a narrator who’s barely out of his teens and I swear Vinge predicted Lady Gaga.

So there you go. Some legit lady writers you should go out and read. Right now. Then maybe you can make a coherent literary argument, unlike Solnit.

No comments:

Post a Comment