1 PICTURE THEORIES
She moves slowly. Her movements are made gradual, dull, made to extend from inside her, the woman, her, the wife, her walk weighted full to the ground. Stillness that follows when she closes the door. She cannot disturb the atmosphere …
Upon seeing her you know how it was for her. You know how it might have been. You recline, you lapse, you fall, you see before you what you have seen before. Repeated, without your even knowing it. It is you standing there. It is you waiting outside in the summer day. It is you waiting and knowing to wait. How to. Wait. It is you walking a few steps before the man who walks behind you. It is you in the silence through the pines, the hills, who walks exactly three steps behind her. It is you in the silence. His silence all around the unspoken the unheard, the apprenticeship to silence. Observed for so long and not ending. Not immediately. Not soon. Continuing. Contained. Muteness. Speech less ness.Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee, 104, 106[*]
In our silence, out of docile bodies and silent minds—out of multiple silences more and more audible—we've constructed theories and accounts of a historical endurance and power we call "women's silence." This is only one of many silences to which an increasingly heterogeneous and problematic we is attending after modernism's figure/ground shaking "now." Isn't it, come to think of it, curious that the twentieth-century
What we've learned from this coincidence of silences (as venerable and portentous as a siege of herons or a murder of crows) is that silence itself is nothing more or less than what lies outside the radius of interest and comprehension at any given time. We hear, that is, with culturally attuned ears. The angles of our geometries of attention are periodically adjusted, sometimes radically reoriented. This century's formal investigations into experiences of silence have meant opening up previously inaccessible or unacknowledged or forbidden territory, where the very act of attending entails a figure/ground shift. We continue to be startled by Cage's discovery that silence is not empty at all but densely, richly, disturbingly full. Full of just those things we had not, until "now," been ready or able to notice; or reluctantly noticing, had dismissed as nonsense or noise. The long postponements of acknowledgment that constitute our cultural silences are not only accidental oversights. They are also indications of just how threatening to surface composure and cultural self-image the articulation of silence can be.
Not an accident, but certainly an intriguing coincidence to discover the force of silence at precisely this cacophonous moment on the Western Civ time line. A moment of accelerated technological momentum hell-bent on drowning out silence in every form once and for all, stuffing information into every crack. This is no paradox. All those probes and antennas, satellite dishes and cellular phones are designed to make the experience of limit and respite we have called silence as conceptually irrecoverable as the romantic idea of wilderness. And yet cognitive/intuitive frontiers remain. If silence was formerly what we weren't ready to hear, silence is currently what is audible but unintelligible. The realm of the unintelligible is the permanent frontier—that
What is currently most prominently audible/intelligible is, as Judith Butler pointed out in Gender Trouble, a trap. It is a world authored in the image of Rational/Universal Man—Homo Protoregulator studding a clear and distinct (Cartesian) prose with man's randy, generic pronouns. (Slipping back—do you notice?—after a brief, PC interlude.) We have been presented with a subtle and treacherous "text" declaring itself generic and normative starting point—homogenius, monolithic, active, authoritative—just as Moses brought it down from the mountain; i.e., masculine. In Gender Trouble Butler sees the generic feminine as sub text, either sub jugated or sub versive (reactive) to the master narrative. But we must be cautious about the consequences of such a view. If one defines feminine power only as the power of subversion, one is valorizing the predominance of the masculine "version." We might note with unsettling, extraliterary logic that if the subversion of rape is seduction, then seduction is an implicit legitimation of rape.
In the unnaturally constructed choreography of cultural survival, the text, as rational, imperial, constitutive fabric, has been understood as logically prior, defining the terms of the intelligible. For Judith Butler, who implicitly accepts the normative status of the "intelligible," and therefore the constraints of this binary textual code, to make "gender trouble" is to act up as subtext: that is, to perform sub-versions: parody, pastiche, ironic mirrorings, deconstructive replications. Doing this, she believes, exposes the arbitrariness of the phallogocentric text. But this prescription for a performative feminine subtext doesn't spring the binary trap. On the contrary, it reinforces it by positing its referential stability and by ignoring strong traditions of multivariant feminine texts. To make real gender trouble is to make genre trouble. Not to parody, but to open up explorations into forms of unintelligibility (unintelligability?) as transgeneric feminine frontier.
Textual traditions that have enacted and explored modes culturally labeled Feminine have oddly—or, as we shall note, not so oddly—been practiced until recently more by men than by women. Gender Trouble, in its strong argument for the social contingency of traits (and bodies) labeled feminine/masculine, can help prepare us for a radical rethinking of the occurrence of the feminine in culture. Feminine textual traditions have had tumultuous histories of appropriation and rejection by women and men alike in the long, topiary hedgemony of masculinist values disguised
To the extent that such swerves have been abhorred, they've been identified as feminine whether or not they've been declared as such. When valued they've been almost entirely incorporated into the myth of dis- or e-ruptive male genius. In the romantic tradition the strong male poet is inspired by a female muse, a pointedly external feminine element. But as far back as one looks it's there. Even prior to Sappho's acknowledgment of male poets as her precursors or Plato's incorporation of the feminine Socratic rationalist. In Homer, as well as in the mythic sources of Attic drama, one finds the paradoxical and ambivalent linking of the feminine with both the yielding and the threatening.
From the end of the nineteenth century to the present the exploding genre (if not gender) project has been located in what is called "experimental" or "avant-garde" traditions. Because of the masculinist bias of establishment literary traditions, these labels have often been applied pejoratively to connote the threat of unintelligibility. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about our present time is that women are finally powerful enough sociopolitically to undertake the risks of this feminine challenge in their own texts.
A realistic optimism, not just for the feminine but for the complex human, lies in forms that engage the dynamics of multiplicity (three and more). In acknowledgment of difference, yes, but, more important, in
It happens that this has been the condition of women's experience for as long as our histories recount and imply. An interesting coincidence, yes/no?, that what Western culture has tended to label feminine (forms characterized by silence, empty and full; multiple, associative, nonhierarchical logics; open and materially contingent processes; etc.) may well be more relevant to the complex reality we are coming to see as our world than the narrowly hierarchical logics that produced the rationalist dreamwork of civilization and its misogynist discontents. I wonder if we may find in the collision of radically destabilizing institutions and emerging feminine forms the energy to make something unprecedentedly, poethically generous of our complex future?
Let's essay into this seismic zone and explore some odd logics in the literary disposition of women's silence.
She is education history. She. Is water written lament. And cool education written blue. A literate blue. A literate yellow. And arrogance she. Speaks. Forgetting. The first Brazil. Is yellow and so speaking yellow as blue as writing. Lament. Yellow and blue. Slip. The negative. Bury the negative. Growing written water. And arrogance. But first. The oversight.Carla Harryman, "Dimblue," In the Mode Of, 7