Anyway. I have been home like 30 minutes and went on the various social networks and saw JSA Lowe's brilliant, brave, necessary essay "Blog is Still a Four-Letter Word" on HTML Giant, where she writes about administrators at the Ph.D. Program in Creative Writing at the University of Houston disciplining her, and yes, shaming her, for the confessional nature of her blog, building this incident into a reflection about this emerging form, and the oft-threatened position of the confessional woman writer within these institutions, and even broader than that, the feelings of shame and smallness women writers can carry around with them, the self-censoring violence. I read it like five times, made John read it, John and I both got so furious and enraged, and my mind is whirling, and so this will probably not make much sense, but I need to respond.
This is the first, childish, thing I have to say: THE UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON, PLEASE GO FUCK YOURSELVES. This is the second, childish thing I have to say: WHATEVER STUDENT DARED COMPLAIN ABOUT LOWE'S HEARTFELT, POETIC BLOG OF THE QUOTIDIAN, PLEASE go fuck yourself, then finish out your Ph.D. program with a dutifully well-crafted book, go deaden and manipulate and mercilessly bore classrooms of students for eternity, while knowing in your heart of hearts that you will NEVER write anything as urgent or as honest or as thoughtful as a single one of her blog posts. Okay, the caps have petered off, my rant has ended, and I can continue.
The thing is, this is a serious issue. But even though as Lowe rightly states, the blog is an emerging literary form, this question of women swallowing panic about the autobiographical, and often censoring themselves, or being asked to censor themselves, is not new. Heroines actually *tries* to answer some of the questions Lowe poses so thoughtfully, trying to trace the disciplining of women writers, especially in the last hundred years, but especially back to the founding myths of Western culture, also a self-disciplining that then goes on, an internalizing of this shame and disgust and guilt about writing the truths of our lives that Lowe verbalizes so gorgeously. And I also bring in Anais Nin, but also really focus on the case of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, how their autobiographical writings (Zelda's novel Save me the Waltz, where she attempted to write about her asylum experiences, versus Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up) were treated differently within the culture. I also try to get at this seeming-truth about writing we seem to hold dear, that writing the self is indulgent or narcissistic, especially if it's the truth of a woman's body or experience.
I'm writing the end now, reworking it, which is all about blogs, and not only that, specifically about the community of mostly women-penned literary blogs that Lowe is in the community of, along with FFIMS, Repat Blues, everything on my blogroll. Some of what I write at the end echoes what Lowe is saying here, blogging as a performance, blogging as an extremely meta-form, blogging as playing out this battle between public and private, it's giving me so much more food for thought, maybe even some concern, that I'm not GETTING IT RIGHT.
Lowe mentions me in the essay, along with other bloggers - I will say as a correction - I am not institutionally affiliated. I haven't been able to find work here where I live now, and yes, I am pretty sure I didn't get the last job I applied for, an adjunct gig at Duke, because of my blog, and not only my blog, but because I write about, well, drugs and fucking and madness and taboo things, in the books. I was interviewed, almost damn near offered it, and it was mysteriously then not offered to me. Also when I was writing the first draft of the essay book my editor was worried that me writing in an autobiographical sense - without the veil of "fiction" - about an experience with psychiatry where I was almost institutionalized - would also sully my employment chances. I snorted and said: Chris, I'm already pretty unhirable, as O Fallen Angel had just came out, and believe me, when you're applying for fiction jobs without a terminal degree and the book you have is a cruel little novella that features the phrase "Fuck'n'Run" you don't have great chances of even getting past the first pile. Lowe also mentions Dodie Bellamy. Although I believe Dodie does teach creative writing in San Francisco (I don't know her personally, am just a fan of her writing, so know her narrative through the essays), in her book Academonia she explicitly writes about not being considered for full-time positions because of what she writes about, how she writes so explicitly about emotions and the body.
But here is my thinking. Here it is. You can NOT write worried about your employment opportunities, because then you've already made your writing safe and hygienic, which I find problematic about writing by committee, to begin with. I'm not saying you need to alienate everyone around you, or give out personal details that would humiliate others, but more than anything I think what is vital, what Lowe performs in this essay and in her other writing, is writing the fucking TRUTH OF HER EXPERIENCE. And we live in a culture that punishes and tries to discipline the messy woman, and a literary culture that punishes and disciplines the overtly autobiographical, we get this from T.S. Eliot and New Criticism, maybe earlier to the depersonalized theories of Flaubert. WE DO THE POLICE IN DIFFERENT VOICES. What Lowe is describing having happened to her at Houston is a form of OBLITERATURE. It's totally bullshit.
I realize I haven't written anything except gestured to the book I haven't finished. It's true, as JSA Lowe writes in her essay, that I will be taking the blog down. I was actually planning on doing it today but that seems like horrible timing with this essay. For me it was a performance, and it has ended, for now, and other versions of it might pop up in its place. I will definitely keep an archive. But for now, I'm sure this will be a continuing conversation and dialogue in many sections on the Internet, now I want to end with this quote, which I quoted from in my very first post on the blog, by Helene Cixous, which I quote from at the end of Heroines:
Write, let no one hold you back, let nothing stop you: not man; not the imbecilic capitalist machinery, in which the publishing houses are the crafty, obsequious relayers of imperatives handed down by an economy that works against us and off our backs; not yourself. Smug-faced readers, managing editors, and big bosses don't like the true texts of women- female-sexed texts. That kind scares them.