Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Literary Test

 Okay, thanks for feedback all. I've cut the fourth line, hoping that the three rules actually cover the idea of tokenism. Let me know if there are further tucks or expansions needed to this revised, and hopefully simpler version of The Test. It's designed to assess any given contemporary literary discussion, publication, essay, critical debate, or otherwise purporting to be speaking generally of a literature or literatures, as opposed to something specialized, ie, men's or masculinist literature, etc. So, ideally the discussion should:

a/ include at least two female writers who are strangers to the writer (ideally one should still be alive)
b/ the writer must also be a stranger to that person (not simply a fan of the writer or a favourable reviewer)
c/ at least one of the women should not be identified soley with the literature of men (i.e. the woman referenced has her own ideas not only mirroring a male mentor or world)

Apply liberally darlings, and with humour. Make it a superfluous test.  I live to be outdated on this.  I'm hopeful. Deliriously hopeful.


mrsokana said...

I don't entirely understand this. If I am to engage in a discussion about literature I must mention 1/ 2/ 3/

But it takes no account of the fact you technically often have to know the woman writer to know the woman writers work because as the Alexis article clearly indicates women who write criticism are not read or noted as having written it. Certainly not noted enough to be entered into the bloody debate or even the aftermath of it.

In the case of poets that also would prove tricky because as Nikki pointed out poets books are mainly bought by other poets/writers. Then there's the matter of poets writing to each other.

I can see what the rule is driving at. But for example I "know" Helen Potrebenko because I found her novels and then went hunting for her! Does the matter that I play crokinole with her now lessen any future thinking or writing I will certainly undertake on her work? Ditto Rahat Kurd's work, (See current issue of Maisonneuve) I met Rahat on the street and learnt of her Granta essay on AS Byatt and muslim fashion.

I think what's needed is for women to take back/ up more of the oxygen. This requires writing for an absolute pittance and being unpopular and regularly frustrated by stupidity. It's getting v tough. I'd also like to encourage people to aide the Taxi! revival and to write about and teach Helen Potrebenko's work.

Kerry Clare said...

I love this.

lite house said...

mrsokana's point extends also to /b/. Writing etc. seems such a tiny world; if you like someone's work or blog or what have you, you may well have struck up some kind of correspondence/friendship, maybe even bedfellowship... It reminds me of debates about juries and conflict of interest.

After my comment(s) on the earlier version, I like the revision to /c/... though it's still kinda vague and seems ready for someone to decide rather arbitrarily to in/exclude someone... but I support its spirit big time!

I mean, wow... it almost seems like whether or not a woman passes the /c/ test could be the basis of a thesis. "World of men"; "mirroring a mentor"... I can imagine being very insulted if I found myself staring down the barrel of such dismissals when I didn't feel I was of mensworld or mirroring a male mentor. Anyway, lots of room for vigorous discussion. Which, of course, is probably the point.

Anyway, glad to see these rules being formulated and promoted... and, of course, we all hope to see them rendered unnecessary/outdated!

Lemon Hound said...

I'm not sure what you mean? You know Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Susan Howe, Judith Butler, Susan Sontag, Colette, Nathalie Stephens, Juliana Spahr...

One day I'll have to write about the effect Helen Potrebenko's work had on me. I think it was the opposite of your response, and that's the wonderful complexity isn't it? No one way to proceed, no one way to respond.

Anakana Schofield said...

Yes I think what matters is "a response". A pulse of some kind. My response to her work also only concerns her fiction, her novels and is very much connected to the city I live in. Her novel gave me in a way in that had alluded me hitherto.

I was referring specifically to Canadian women writers, since my most recent beef (new one probably by 5pm today!) is with the comments about this country's criticism and causes me to consider my contribution and its flaws. But your point is correct I do know 3 of these women and should know the other 4.

It occurs to me that not being an academic of any description it can also be tougher to find your way to some of the work or perhaps this is more reflective of other market forces. Twitter now helps!

Would you pen this as an essay and place it in the Tuesday essay section in the paper. It would be a welcome relief from the endless press releases masquerading as essays and writer life blather.

And yes vigorous discussion indeed. Much welcome.

wristsplints said...

"it almost seems like whether or not a woman passes the /c/ test could be the basis of a thesis. "World of men"; "mirroring a mentor"... I can imagine being very insulted if I found myself staring down the barrel of such dismissals when I didn't feel I was of mensworld or mirroring a male mentor."
This is definitely the problem for me with 'c'. For example, I am a feminist, my early & current writing role models were women (ie Woolf, Loy, Barnes) yet because the tutor who has most actively encouraged my work is male - my work is to be discounted? Doesn't such ignoring of women's writing reproduce gender hierarchies, the sexist myth that women can't write as well about the world around them as men can, and excluding their writing as unimportant from the feminist canon of literature leaves them quite literally in 'no man's land'? Some of this policy also smacks of literary bio-essentialism. What about trans/intersex/queer writing? What about trying to refuse gender identification of the writer altogether?

Lemon Hound said...

Actually Lemon Hound is a man but not really a feminist. The writing is not of any canon. No one is actually excluded. The interventions here are often too random. There is no canon, no direct route. This is meant quite tongue in cheek. More fun than it has apparently been read as. Ah well, when you find a place that doesn't register gender let me know!