Speaking of eating and digesting and vomiting, the type of writing on this blog has been called bulimic, as I laid on a silver platter by naming my initial post "vomitous" and bringing up Barf Manifesto and so on and generally being unable to edit myself, in thought or word (which is probably why my bulimic texts haven't been as successful to get published as my one! anorexic one). But this made me think about bulimic writing versus anorexic writing, and how both are rather charged models for women writing (or anyone writing, but let's stick with the idea of women writing, which to me encompasses born-woman writing, writing that deals with "feminine" themes, as Woolf discusses in A Room of One's Own, writing by women that deals with feminist themes, writing interrogating somehow or paying witness to the place of a woman in patriarchal society and then Cixous' concept of feminine writing, and where does queer writing fit with this?).
Gilbert and Gubar in their essay "Infection in the Sentence" write about the enforced anorexia of the Victorian woman writer, that as opposed to eating the "poisonous apple" of femininity they chose to be anorexic. But what about an anorexic text? Is the current movement of feminine poetics a sort of anorexia? Speaking of one of Cixous' favorites, Clarice Lispector is an anorexic writer, The Hour of the Star is such a slim, disciplined text, meeting an untimely end like her unfortunate Macabea. Who else is anorexic? Danielle Collobert. Her Notebooks I recently read, and there is this notion, in her writing of the reduction of language, of whittling away the body of the text until it has almost disappeared. Interesting these two texts are so suffused with this notion of mortality, Collobert's notebooks ending with her suicide, Lispector's with Macabea's death and her own death.
The notion of the anorexic in feminine writing makes me think of Vanessa Beecroft's food diary drawings, and this book on mystics and anorexia, which I read for my novel Green Girl, which is infused with the language of mysticism, and makes me think of Simone Weil starving as a mode of resistance, and then anorexia in a way an aesthetics of her notebooks, her Gravity and Grace, along with this notion of carving away the self, the ego. This also makes me want to reread Chris Kraus' Aliens and Anorexia, as I love Chris Kraus' works and she blurbed my novel that's coming out! I *think* Kraus is talking about reclaiming anorexia, and I know she's writing about Weil specifically, anorexia as a way of rebelling against society, kind of a continuation of the argument that the hysterics were bodily resisting patriarchy. Is this Kraus' argument (about resituating anorexia?) I will have to reread it!
*UPDATE: Okay, I think she's arguing against popular readings of anorexia, that an anorexic girl is trying to destroy her femininity, or sever her relationship with her mother. Instead she's opening up the radical possibility that an anorexic is trying to step outside of her self, drawing on Weil, her act of decreation that Anne Carson writes to as well. Chris links this desire to step outside of oneself through anorexia to the out-of-body experience of taking hallucinogens. An act of mysticism. "Anorexia is a violent breaking down of the chain of desires," she writes. Perhaps linking to what Foucault and Bataille call a limit-experience. To be outside of oneself. Oh, and she really takes issue with Holy Anorexia, mystics being read as either manipulative or tragic.
But I don't think you could call Kraus' awesome text anorexic, I think it belongs in the bulimic camp, philosophical treatise, biography and analysis of Weil, essay on Ulrike Meinhof, stuff about art, diary entries, email, documentary, film analysis, dream language.... Who else is bulimic? I don't think any radical writer is either/or, not all experimental or innovative writing works on that level, but some definitely fit into this aesthetic of purging, privileging the verbal. The New Narrative writers are bulimic (such as Bruce Boone's excellent strange Century of Clouds, that Nightboat recently reissued). Acker is totally bulimic. And Dodie Bellamy, with her Barf Manifesto, is arguing to reclaim feminine writing, or radical writing by women, or feminist writing, from ascetism, from anorexia. Brigid Brophy's In Transit is definitely bulimic. Bulimic writing could be read as more feminist, perhaps, the idea that we as women are supposed to be slim, careful, poetic, and this is a way to write rage and messiness and chaos. The Dionysian, all of it. I actually had an editor who I very very much admire consider Green Girl, but then ultimately reject it, for a number of valid reasons I'm sure, one of which is because she thought it was too long (it was 300 pages). But I wonder if the current vogue of anorexic texts, specifically in small press publishing, is because of the dictates of capitalism? This is what I argued to her about. Of course if the book was deathless it wouldn't have mattered. But all my books are corpses.
And yet I argued because I'm obstinate. I wrote to her, how come women writers are expected to write these slim, slight texts, almost as anorexic as their ideal bodies, but male "genius" writers are allowed to write massive system novels, these break your foot tomes like by Pynchon or Gaddis and Infinite Jest and the rest. I mean, an acquaintance of mine is having a 1500 page book published by McSweeney's, I'm sure it's brilliant, I wish him well, but I'm having trouble having my novel Green Girl published, which I've already whittled down to 180 pages. Could it be that his book is so exceptional and every page is brilliant and deathless and mine is not? I don't know. It's totally possible. I make no claims to being brilliant or deathless. But Green Girl has been rejected about 60 times and O Fallen Angel, which is coming out, was never rejected. Not once. O Fallen Angel was a 70 page manuscript. In many ways it was a text that worked; it was a slim text. I had a concept, this triptych, and it was, easier. But are we privileging easier, more accessible, bite-size writing in small presses, and is this perhaps ignoring difficult, messier texts? (Am I writing against my own work coming out? No no no. My work is brilliant and deathless. Ha.) I am purposely trying to make my future works slimmer, and this is not necessarily to their benefit (although all of my writing is bloated, as you can tell, so, maybe it is). This calls to mind Christine Brooke-Rose's essay "Mistresspiece," which is so important to read, and basically says that male writers are still allowed to be experimental writers and survive in the "mainstream" whatever that is (the market?) but women cannot be. I think that's true. Mostly true. I think it's a good and interesting point. I mean, it's really so phallic, these long masculine texts, like let's pull out your page count and measure it! How many people read La Medusa versus Infinite Jest? La Medusa is the only massive tome by a female experimental writer, recently, that I can think of (there's always Miss Macintosh My Darling which I've started a million times, and Stein's Making of Americans, and come to think of it, Vanessa Place really is in many ways a modern-day Stein). La Medusa is definitely bulimic, radical in its girth alone, but also that aesthetic of purging, of monologing, also with Dies: A Sentence (cementing this idea in my head that privileging the spoken has something to do with the radical bulimic text, I hope to return to Place's work with a discussion of Guyotat and others, soon soon).
I think there's a huge difference between the market or the mainstream mandating women's texts to be anorexic, versus anorexia as a reactionary mode. The point can and should be made as well, that anorexic texts (as I see predominant in contemporary feminine poetics) is actually in reaction to the big bloated tomes of patriarchal "geniuses," that these works are challenging what a traditional novel or book is, a fuck-you to the market-driven world of plot and character and traditional narrative. A sort of radical elliptical abbreviation. Think of Danelle Dutton's awesome Attempts at A life, whittling down works like Jane Eyre into tiny lovely pieces, or Jenny Boully's The Body, literally the disappearance of the main text, surviving only in poetic footnotes. One of my (only) close writer friends said that for every 10 lines she writes she removes 9. And Wittgenstein! This is an amazing post about Wittgenstein's cut-up method, paralleling him to Burroughs (is the cut-up anorexic or bulimic? or is it another form of self-destruction, the cutter? I am going to reclaim all modes of feminine self-destruction as aesthetic strategies!) I'm going to quote what this blogger quotes as well:
Wittgenstein had a peculiarly laborious method of editing his work. He began by writing remarks into small notebooks. he then selected what he considered to be the best of these remarks and wrote them out, perhaps in a different order, into large manuscript volumes. From these he made a further selection, which he dictated to a typist. The resultant typescript was then used as the basis for a further selection, sometimes by cutting it up and rearranging it -- and then the whole process was started again.
Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, p. 31
So this process of winnowing and winnowing away is totally anorexic, as opposed to Burrough's cut-up which I would call more bulimic (although I don't care much about Burroughs. Should I read Burroughs? I think I've read Junky, and I just remember everything was a "script," which I thought was quite textual, but it was a book that made me at the time want to do a lot of drugs, like watching Pulp Fiction.) The notebook is perhaps an anorexic form. Hmm. The aphorism is definitely a radical anorexic form. Hmm. Yet Tender Buttons. Tender Buttons, with one section about food! That must be bulimic. Tender Buttons which William Gass describes as "things external to us, which we perceive, manipulate, and confront," "things which nourish us," and "things which enclose us." No, I think Tender Buttons is still formally anorexic, by being a series of these cubist aphorisms. The anorexic text is elliptical, it doesn't tell or rant or blurt out. It hides, shades, teases, offering only glimpses.
So, the aphorism is anorexic. Maybe? My favorite aphorisms are Flaubert's Dictionary of Received Ideas (on my bulletin board I have his definition—NOVELS.corrupt the masses), Olive Moore's (get her collected writings from Dalkey! she is this great too-little-read modernist writer, her novel Spleen is amazing), Simone Weil's, and of course my man Nietzsche's. My partner is reading Wittgenstein's aphorisms, and I looked at a page, and there was one that said something about the body being different temperatures all over, and how delightful that was, and I liked that. But much like Danielle Collobert's notebooks, Wittgenstein's aphorisms were pinched from his notebooks after his death. A sort of postmortem cutting. With Wittgenstein perhaps this is what he would have wanted, or dictated, as he did cut his own notebooks up rather laboriously. But the ethics behind the Collobert text gives me pause, although without knowing the history of the text, it's really quite gorgeous and really works as a piece of writing. It reminds me also of lifting poems from Emily Dickinson's letters (is Emily Dickinson anorexic? Walt Whitman is totally raucously, lustily, bulimic, I think writing that privileges the body is bulimic. This is an amazing post about Walt Whitman's crotch).
The fragment is essentially anorexic. (But how about a mess of fragments? Is Book of Disquiet anorexic or bulimic? Wasn't this also a post-mortem reconstruction?) My favorite book of fragments/maybe aphorisms I read this year was Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse, this gorgeous meditation about love in literature, such as in Goethe's Werther, with sections such as "to be engulfed" "absence" "jealousy" "mad" "clouds" "exile."
Can these ramblings and musings about the radical anorexic versus bulimic text turn to contemporary writing? My four favorite contemporary prose texts I read this year, books that were as Nietzsche writes of Stendhal, "beautiful accidents" to me, were Renee Gladman's To After That (Atelos), Gail Scott's My Paris (Dalkey), Peter Handke's A Sorrow Beyond Dreams (NYRB books are like candy to me, they look like candy! I have three, the Colette, the Elizabeth Hardwick, and the Handke, and I line them up together and look at them!) and Catherine Mavrikakis' A Cannibal and Melancholy Mourning (Coach House) (translated by my good friend the brilliant writer N. Stephens, also I think in the camp of radical anorexic writer; such a weird intimate experience reading a text when you know the translator, kind of like reading a text when you know the author, although in a second-hand, self-conscious way, like you know the medium through which a ghost is speaking). Of these four works the first three are definitely anorexic in terms of aesthetic, and the last, the Mavrikakis, is more bulimic, although not in terms of page count (both My Paris and the Mavrikakis are about 140-150 pages, and Renee Gladman's is 70, which is about what the Handke is, I think). But perhaps page count isn't the only way to measure whether a radical or "innovative" text is bulimic or anorexic, it's more an issue of form and aesthetics, the mode of writing, the binging and purging and frantic messiness versus the carving away.
Gail Scott's My Paris (one of my favorite book designs! that one green box!) is quite elliptical, abbreviated, a numbered diary about a woman's residency in Paris, and in many ways an homage to Arcades Project (hmmm would Arcades Project be bulimic? In a way it's a purging forth of notes, or by its abbreviated nature of the notes is it anorexic?) The Steinian sentences are punctured punctuated notes, ending abruptly, sometimes one word sentences, cutting themselves off, curbing verbosity.
In A Sorrow Beyond Dreams Peter Handke struggles to recreate his mother's life following her suicide, an elegy to a woman who was mostly invisible. As I write in Book of Mutter, "he says everything in that slim devastating text that I spend pages and pages stumbling around trying to communicate, my tongue stuck and fuzzy."
(At best, I am able to capture my mother's story for brief moments in dreams, because then her feelings become so palpable that I experience them as doubles and am identical with them; but these are precisely the moments I have already mentioned, in which extreme need to communicate coincides with extreme speechlessness. That is why I affect the usual biographical pattern and write: " At that time...later," "Because....although," "was...became...became nothing," hoping in this way to dominate the horror. That, perhaps, is the comical part of my story.)
What Handke says here about speechlessness can perhaps be added to my ramblings about the radical anorexic vs. radical bulimic text. Both deal with impotence and silence. The anorexic text is about the gaps, about the impossibility of speech, of speaking, is about writing silence, what Bourgeois calls "islands of silence." The loss and lack of language. The bulimic text overcompensates for this impotence, screams, insists on being heard, on externalizing this internal violence, is a man alone in the room insisting on talking to himself, the crazy forgotten man talking to himself even though no one's listening, inventing voices inside the head. Beckett's trilogies are certainly bulimic.Molly Bloom has her finger down her throat the whole time, obviously.
Are all notebooks anorexic? Rilke's Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, one of my favorite books of all time, was intended by Rilke to be like finding a mess of papers in a drawer (so can be seen as more bulimic? although I don't know if the work works on that level). The first book is the tortured writer insisting on communicating. The second book goes inward, withdrawn, mystic. And everyone is so frustrated by the second book! I love it, almost more than the first one, although I love when he writes that he has changed, and why should he write anyone if he has changed, and I love when he writes that he is alone in a room, and is 28, and is noone. But the second book to me is all ecstasy, which reminds me of Anne Carson's amazing essay Decreation, ecstasy as eksasis, as being outside of the self, the loss of the ego, and I think this is what Rilke performs in his Notebooks. The loss of the I.
On to the last best book I read this year. Catherine Mavrikakis' A Cannibal and Melancholy Mourning blew my fucking mind. A woman narrator mourns the deaths of all of her friends named Herve from AIDS, it is epic, to me, Antigone, scorn and bile and violence. Anger and rage and grief spewed. I think the notion of "spewing," of this logorrhea (in a positive way), and a privileging of voice and rant makes a radical text bulimic, and hence, radical feminine writing.
I must be giving Flora my crazy look, my hysterical look, my mad look, the look of someone in the throes of great anguish who has entered into a pact with the devil, because I can sense her growing fear of me. She asks me to sit down. While looking hard at her through my hollow eyes, which are still wandering the edges of my mind over something resembling Herve's ridiculously minuscule, shrivelling body, I dare to ask, 'How did Herve die?'
A thought about anorexia versus bulimia. One could ask, why use the model of disordered eating at all for a discussion of feminine or queer writing? Can writing by men be anorexic or bulimic? This is my thick and unconsidered thought. Cixous writes about feminine writing that it should be writing the body. When writing the female body, you are writing a body that is essentially disordered, abject, chaotic, that is taught to be disgusted with itself (this is both gendered and part of the larger culture, so it can't be essentialized to just women but mostly women). So writing that privileges the body, and the taboo of the body, is essentially dealing with a disordered body, a self-destructive body. And I would add to this queer writing, or writing about the Othered body. The sexual body, the chaotic body, the Dionysian body, is essentially a disordered, emotional, messy, non-normative body. So writing that is about taboo, and about the body, is either anorexic or bulimic. Both are ways of writing the disordered body, they are modes of writing, and I would say perhaps of the two, anorexic is particularly feminine (are there male writers that are anorexic? Celan? Wittgenstein?) as women are taught to discipline and control their bodies, to whittle away. But both can be a mode of resistance as well, aesthetically. Although I wonder, how many bulimic texts by women are being published now by small presses? It seems to me that anorexic texts are much more in vogue, and I wonder why. Does this have anything to do with the dictates of the market? That it's easier to publish a 70 page or 100 page book than a 300 or 500 page one?
I would certainly consider Artaud a bulimic writer, and he writes so much about disgust of the body. I would consider Henry Miller a bulimic, bodily writer. But can one be misogynist and bulimic (i.e. feminine?) (I don't necessarily think Henry Miller is a misogynist, and this I hope to get to that soon. Let's say next post!). For example, Celine is obviously a bulimic writer in terms of his mode of writing. The scourge of words like bile. Actually a lot of the so-called "genius" male writers could be classified as bulimic. Like David Foster Wallace (who I do think is a genius, whatever that really is) or Jonathan Safran Foer (who I don't). I don't know though, is DFW Appollonian or Dionysian? His footnotes are definitely bulimic. But maybe being white, male, Western, heteronormative, etc. is to be without a body, to not have to be aware of the disorder of one's body.
Sorry for all of the vomit. Upcoming: the whore in Henry Miller, Jean Genet, and Sade, along with a discussion of literary and cinematic prostitutes; reclaiming Henry Miller as a feminine writer along with a discussion of automatic writing, the abject body, Artaud, Killing Kanoko, and the birth metaphor; the discussion of the verbal text with Pierre Guyatat, Miller, Molly Bloom, Vanessa Place and Vedrana Rudan; an analysis of why I like bad paintings and art that's about atrocities, esp. the Holocaust.