1. This is an extraordinarily bad idea. I am greasy-pitted, dizzied, and have that medicine-head feeling without actually being on any medicine. I will, however, plow ahead.
2. This is in response to this essay "The Semioautobiographers" Emily Cooke wrote on The New Inquiry, and Emily Gould's response blog post, "Home Cooking." When I first read the essay, it was the day before I was set to do the (lovely) reading in NYC that TNI was cosponsoring, and I felt a little stifled to respond, also because I was on Day #2 of Horrible Cold. Throat angry and raw. My right nostril raw, as it still is. I did fire off a series of incoherent tweets, including one to The New Inquiry that merely read: I Hate This Essay. Because I do. I really don't get it. Sheila H.thought maybe I was being oversensitive. Which reminds me a little of that scene in Green Girl: Ruth wondering, Am I oversensitive? Maybe I am oversensitive.
3. The essay groups together a handful of women writers including myself as The New New Narrative (even though the only one that is New Narrative among them is Dodie Bellamy, and Chris herself does not see herself within that tradition), writing: "All of these writers — the new semiautobiographers, you might call them —
reject privacy and propriety for openness and provocation. In their
novels-from-life they aim for a synthesis of the personal and the
intellectual on the one hand, and the fictional and the nonfictional on
the other." (I mean, this is all fine, I read this part, and I was fine with the essay, and I do feel inspired by New Narrative, esp. Acker, although I do not think I really fit in at all - certainly not Green Girl, which is the work referenced. To me, Dodie, Chris, Sheila, Eileen Myles, all some of my favorite writers, write nonfiction novels that do provoke the fiction/nonfiction category, who write of sex and the private in public. I don't really see GG as fitting in with this. Green Girl is not a nonfiction novel. It just isn't. It's partially drawn from past experiences and observations, but all the sex scenes, which this essay focuses on, and most of the situations are very largely fictionalized. For example, I never worked at a department store, have never been blonde.)
4. Oh my god I'm feeling really dizzy I don't know if I can go on.
5. I feel the essay misinterpreted my past online writings on the bulimic versus anorexic, early meanderings I'm not sure I totally stand by anyway, which was really a response to Dodie Bellamy's excellent essay Barf Manifesto. When I wrote this blog post about bulimic versus anorexic, three years ago, I was, yes, engaging with Henry Miller, wondering about Miller's ecstastic bulimia, but I was also positing two radical modes dealing with silence. I was speaking mostly of poetics. When I wrote that anorexic writing was published more, I was not writing of market forms. I was not writing of Alison Bechdel, as this essay does, at length. I was writing more of works that are abbreviated, full of punctuations and silences. Jenny Boully, Danielle Dutton. The lyric. When I was writing of bulimia or messiness, I was writing of an aesthetic. I was not encouraging the unedited, although was trying to muse on the unrepressed. In fact, after I wrote this post, Dodie B. emailed me and was like "You know I painstakingly edit my writing right?" I was like, of course. I mean, my blogs are unedited. My books are not. Not in the least. It takes me years to endlessly revise my books.
6. This is such an essay with a thesis. The conclusion is far too neat for me. I don't like her distinction between "raw" and "uncooked," which was never what "anorexia' versus "bulimia" was for me. To me this is a troubling comparison. When the women writers I write about in Heroines were often seen as raw, as raw material, especially those who wrote out of a notebook - who drew from their own life. That was Fitzgerald's sneering over Zelda's writing, that she vomited it, that it was automatic. The problem with Zelda's novel, more in the mode of Surrealist automatic writing, is that no one helped her edit her, even copyedit her, no one gave her time to edit it, it was published hurried and dismissed.
7. But all the writers I admire in the contemporary, all the writers mentioned in the essay, even if their writing was partially incubated on a blog, written in a vernacular, coming from a place of excess, all of them absolutely LABOR over their writing. This was a critique of Jean Rhys too. A scene I tell in Heroines, when I taught Good Morning, Midnight at an adult education seminar. "I just feel Ford Madox Ford put a pencil in her hand and said, "Write, deary, in your diary, and we'll just edit it a lot.""
8. From the essay: "And yet when our main mode of communication today is the bad writing of
the dashed-off email, and when sex and gossip have become as quick a
route to fame as any, how avant-garde is it to incorporate an email into
a novel? The idea that certain subjects or styles are forbidden is
mostly, these days, a useful pretence, affording the messy narrative the
appearance but not often the reality of brave honesty, and obviating
the costlier truths got by synthesis, interpretation, reflection,
9. Most of the essay is spent praising the work of Alison Bechdel, in opposition to these New New Narratives, as doing the careful work of refinement. I wish Emily Cooke had read Heroines, or even read interviews about Heroines, because if she did, she would know I worked on the project for about 8 years, way before the blog, full-scale rewrote it twice, revised it many more times, and only about 10% of the book ever appeared online, and was since edited, of course, edited. And that the work plays with form (as do all of the works she writes about?) And that the work isn't actually in a bulimic or raw mode, I consider it sculptural, carefully composed.
10. Perhaps I am oversensitive. It's so weird though to read essays where I feel there's a dig, and I don't really get the dig, don't get what it's aiming for. Isn't evoking my book without obviously having read it itself a sloppy act? There is something of value in this essay, an essay that strikes me as really two essays that are rather awkwardly joined together. The essay about the so-called New New Narrative writers and this other essay about Alison Bechdel. If there is anything that this first gathering of writers has to offer, it is perhaps a writing that comes as much from the validity and also the contradictions of a messy lived experience, the truths that can arise from that, rather than too neat intellectual idealism.
11. It is this neat conclusion at the end of the essay, this sort of academic thesis wrap up, that isn't actually the careful, circumspect, synthesis she is in fact arguing for. It is a neat ending. A too neat ending. That speaks as if with a type of authority. When I wrote of the "bulimic" and the "anorexic" I was speaking of language, of aesthetics. Emily Cooke is opining that in fact our works are not thought-through, that we are not careful and refined enough with our ideas. It's not that the works chosen are not thought-through - they're absolutely thought-through. The books by the writers mentioned—and I believe I've read all or most of the memoir works by the authors mentioned— aim for a complexity, creating portraits of a life, or lives.
12. How does Cooke's dismissal of the works as not refined (sophisticated?), too raw (emotional?) not just double how the girl has always been dismissed writing, doubles in fact a girl-on-girl crime that's so familiar in literary history, like Elizabeth Hardwick reading Anais Nin or Zelda.