Friday, February 26, 2010

We Wear the Red Garb of Criminals

This article in the New York Times on Amy Bishop, has anyone read it? Amy Bishop, the woman who stormed into her faculty meeting once being denied tenure and opened fire. I am in no way setting up Amy Bishop as any sort of hero, like Lacan & the Surrealists re: The Papin Sisters, I am not fetishizing her violence as some call to arms, like a new Valerie Solanas, although certainly shooting up a faculty meeting is of course as much attacking the patriarchy as shooting Andy Warhol. I do not advocate violence in reality. I am actually very very against violence in reality (although applaud some acts of anarchy and destruction). But I UNDERSTAND violence in reality. I understand what makes women violent, and how women are pathologized for their violence. Andrea Yates drowning. Frances Farmer kicking and screaming. R.D. Laing writes something about how the way to make someone violent is to invalidate them. That is true I think. And even though I'm against violence in reality I love & passionately worship literature by women that writes violence, violence which otherwise mutes us in the official versions, steals our language, my Brontes, my Sylvia Plaths, my Elfriede Jelineks. Writing that seizes, that seethes, that is about destruction, possession, revenge & fury.

And thinking of the Papin Sisters, they were on their menstrual periods, everyone makes such a big deal of this, Genet in The Maids: They Wear the Red Garb of Criminals, Sylvia was on her menstrual period allegedly when she offed herself, an article I read recently on Salon or Slate or Something: It was all PMS! How humiliating. Can you imagine? I am synced up today, with the Papin Sisters, with Sylvia Plath, yes, with Amy Bishop.

Back to this atrociously dumb article in The New York Times. How women are not portrayed as violent in art. Thus Spake the New York Times:

It is not news that so-called senseless acts often unfold along the coordinates of an inner logic. This is what makes criminal violence so attractive a topic for artists and thinkers. The Western literary tradition, from Shakespeare to Dostoevsky, teems with pathologically violent men. Norman Mailer and Truman Capote wrote nonfiction masterpieces about them. They dominate the novels of Don DeLillo and Robert Stone, not to mention films by Sam Peckinpah, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. But the landscape of unprovoked but premeditated female violence remains strangely unexplored. Women who kill are “relegated to an ‘exceptional case’ status that rests upon some exceptional, or untoward killing circumstance: the battered wife who kills her abusive husband; the postpartum psychotic mother who kills her newborn infant,” Candice Skrapec, a professor of criminology, noted in “The Female Serial Killer,” an essay included in the anthology “Moving Targets: Women, Murder and Representation” (1994)

Dumb, dumb, dumb. Um, let's start with the Greeks. How about fucking Clytaenmnestra, the red tapestries paved for Agammenon's arrival, who coolly plans her revenge. How about fucking Medea. How about Hedda Gabler? Blowing herself to pieces in front of the fireplace, a spectacle of the unraveling woman? How about Sophie Treadwell's amazing play Machinal about a woman who cracks and murders her husband (or was it her employer? I read it in college.) Madame Bovary? ring a bell? Anna Karenina? Edna Pontellier in The Awakening? The narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper? Ophelia, who Elaine Showalter sees as the model of madness for psychiatric Victorianism? Or does violence against one self not matter? How about Genet writing The Papin Sisters in The Maids? The Sadeian woman? The Surrealists were fascinated by women criminals like Germaine Berton. For fuck's sake, most of modernism takes as its muse the female madwoman or criminal. Vivienne damaging the hotel room. Zelda throwing herself off a staircase. How about the figure of the femme fatale in art and literature? Salome carrying John the Baptist's head on a platter? How about the character of Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre, setting the house on fire?  How about the murderous fantasies of Sasha Jensen in Good Morning Midnight?  Sylvia Plath in her Ariel poems, "Out of the ash I arise with my red hair/and I eat men like air." The women in Elfriede Jelinek's novels are terrifically violent, I think of Erika in The Piano Teacher stomping on people's feet in the trolley, sticking strangers with her cello case, Anna and Sophie in Wonderful, Wonderful Times participating in beating up strangers. This is off the top of my head. The top of my head. Burning, burning.

Oh you want cinematic versions? Okay, how about Frances? How about Heavenly Creatures? Repulsion? Daisies? I Shot Andy Warhol? The films of Catherine Breillat? Okay, I'll stop.

The only thing Mr. Sam Tannenhaus of the NYT Book Review got right was mentioning women performance artists big in the 80s/early 90s like Karen Finley, those quaking ids, although doesn't realize this is still being carried on, in really interesting literary works that borrow from performance art: Three poetry collections I just read are full of delicious violence, post-Artaud, post-Plath: Kate Durbin's The Ravenous Audience, Ariana Reines' The Cow, Hiromi Ito's Killing Kanoko, including her one poem on harikiri. Of course he wouldn't know about these since the NYT is deaf and dumb and mute to small presses.

And anyway Mr. Sam Tannenhaus of the NYT Book Review which doesn't actually review any real literature anymore is totally essentializing in this dumbed down "cult-crit" piece. Notice of my above examples how many women internalize their violence, turn it inwards, onto themselves, so much of this is about our training, and how women's violence is often pathologized, women put away for going through psychotic grief, Mary Todd Lincoln roaming down the halls of her hotel, a woman is supposed to be a doll, supposed to be good, anything else is a crime, anything else is not permitted, we punish, we pathologize female anger. And Durkheim writes that suicide is often a suppression of the desire to murder someone else.The narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper reduced to the bestial and defeated, creeping around a monster, sickened on her suppressed violence. Same with Robin Vote at the end of Nightwood. Sasha Jensen in Good Morning, Midnight. We as women are trained to self-destruct, to cut, to stab, to wound, physically and psychically (now I think of Erika stabbing herself at the end of The Piano Teacher). And there's a huge huge list out there of books by women writers (and men writers) about female characters who do just that.

And...didn't think my dislike for Joyce Carol Oates' and her Law & Order lit-4-quik could be any stronger. This is who they interview in this NYT article, our obvious soothsayer of female violence, Joyce Carol Oates. Joyce Carol Oates who I still have not forgiven for her unforgiving, pathologizing NYRB essay on Shirley Jackson, of the creepy wonderful We Have Always Lived in the Castle, with her violent yes! her violent girl-narrator Merricat, who JCO diagnoses as paranoid schizophrenic and is freaked out by her sadism. The New York Times links Amy Bishop to Merricat and follows up with the ol JCO for a quippy quote:

No genre writer had sharper antennae than Shirley Jackson, whose gothic classic, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” first published in 1962, was reissued last fall. Its narrator is an 18-year-old multiple murderess who lives with her devoted sister and fantasizes about killing again. She is “socially maladroit, highly self-conscious, and disdainful of others,” Joyce Carol Oates wrote in a penetrating essay recently in The New York Review of Books. “She is ‘special.’ ” Words that ring ominously in the context of Dr. Bishop.
Ms. Oates, of course, has examined violence as thoroughly as any living American writer. When I asked her what she made of the case, she drew an implicit comparison between Dr. Bishop and Shirley Jackson’s narrator: “She is a sociopath and has been enabled through her life by individuals around her who shielded her from punishment.”
Ms. Oates’s feminist credentials are in good order. But her assessment comes from beyond the realm of predigested doctrine. It echoes the blunt assertion made by Ms. Cornwell: “People kill because they can. Women can be just as violent as men.”

I'm so glad Ms. Oates' feminist credentials are in good order. Can I see your papers, madame? I would like to burn them, burn them!