dira: Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Default)
Dira Sudis ([personal profile] dira) wrote2009-09-20 07:27 pm

book review, of sorts, again.

Sometime in the last five years, in reference to some discussion of the way fanfic and slash are devalued and ghettoized and marginalized and dismissed by everyone but us--and sometimes even by us--someone somewhere mentioned Joanna Russ's book, How to Suppress Women's Writing.

This weekend, I finally got around to reading it. I had already had the main points summarized by that fanperson who recced it, and then by the cover, which reads:

She didn't write it. But if it's clear she did the deed... She wrote it, but she shouldn't have. (It's political, sexual, masculine, feminist.) She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. (The bedroom, the kitchen, her family. Other women!) She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it. ("Jane Eyre. Poor dear, that's all she ever...") She wrote it, but she isn't really an artist, and it isn't really art. (It's a thriller, a romance, a children's book. It's sci fi!) She wrote it, but she had help. (Robert Browning. Bramwell Bronte. Her own "masculine side".) She wrote it, but she's an anomaly. (Woolf. With Leonard's help...) She wrote it BUT...

So it was a quick but still difficult, dizzying read. The book was, I believe, originally written in 1979, making it the disheartening experience of the generation before mine. I was intensely conscious as I read it of my gratitude for the existence of Lois McMaster Bujold, who wrote the books I wanted to read and received critical acclaim for it, and never allowed me to imagine that I could not go right ahead and do the same (and Dorothy Sayers and Georgette Heyer and the rest, for inspiring her). Still, I came away with a sizable list of women's writing to go out and find and read, post haste.

And also, of course, I was reading it with an eye to fic, and slash, and our rightful place as a massive literary movement. I was just as conscious of being thankful that I had come into fandom at a time when I never had to do anything for the first time, when fans who came before me had already invented our genres and vocabulary and fannish infrastructure, so I didn't have to wander around in the outer darkness wondering about this funny feeling I got whenever Jack and Daniel or Jim and Blair looked at each other like that. I could dive right in and write and label my story and send it out to the mailing list devoted to its pairing--I had all the tools, models to follow, and a ready-made audience.

But, of course, it was just fanfic.

So here's no less an authority than Jane Austen (as quoted by Russ, 101) addressing, in Northanger Abbey, the stigma that attached to her community of writers and their chosen form of expression: the novel.
Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than any other literary corporation in this world, no species of composition has been so much decried. ... There seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and under-valuing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.


Russ writes, "Jane Austen ... worked (as some critics tend to forget) in a genre that had been dominated by women for a century and one that was looked down upon as trash, a position that may have given her considerable artistic freedom." (100)

So I thought of the Five Things story, and flashfic and drabbles and those challenge stories where you have to include the word eggbeater and a quotation of the prompter's choosing, and Written by the Victors and the Shoebox Project and every other wildly experimental way we've done this thing we do.

Later, discussing the forms in which the Europe's earliest literate women wrote, Russ mentions that "women always write in the vernacular. Not strictly true, and yet it explains a lot. It certainly explains letters and diaries. ... It explains why so many wrote ghost stories in the nineteenth century and still write them." (128-129)

And, it occurred to me, that's what we're doing. We're writing in the vernacular. If there is a ubiquitous, disposable, disreputable form of writing today, it's internet porn. And here we are, making it (to say nothing of the equally-ubiquitous television show, comic, movie, or children's book) our own.

And this is a real thing we are doing, and our work is real work, and our writing is real writing, and we are really here together doing this, and I am glad.


This entry is crossposted at http://dsudis.livejournal.com/527925.html.
giglet: (Default)

[personal profile] giglet 2009-09-21 02:07 am (UTC)(link)
This is brilliant, and I love this very much. And I'm off to rec it far and wide.
Edited 2009-09-21 02:12 (UTC)
scrollgirl: sam and vala female friendship (sg-1 girls)

[personal profile] scrollgirl 2009-09-21 03:09 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for writing this, and for pointing toward Russ' book. I'll definitely have to check it out.

And, it occurred to me, that's what we're doing. We're writing in the vernacular. If there is a ubiquitous, disposable, disreputable form of writing today, it's internet porn. And here we are, making it ... our own.

Wow. I'd never thought of it that way, but you're absolutely right.
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[personal profile] sasha_feather 2009-09-21 03:33 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you.
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[personal profile] minoanmiss 2009-09-21 04:35 am (UTC)(link)
Dira dearest, I needed this tonight.
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[personal profile] lomedet 2009-09-21 05:31 am (UTC)(link)
And this is a real thing we are doing, and our work is real work, and our writing is real writing, and we are really here together doing this, and I am glad.

yes. this.

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[personal profile] china_shop 2009-09-21 08:04 am (UTC)(link)
And this is a real thing we are doing, and our work is real work, and our writing is real writing, and we are really here together doing this, and I am glad.

*applauds loudly, hoots and hollers*

I'm glad too, and so grateful for this space we have!

(Anonymous) 2009-09-21 08:32 am (UTC)(link)
Yay!

There are moments when the fandom love surges (surges!) up in me all over again, and this is one of them.

I like the bit about coming into a ready-made generic fandom world and not worrying about this 'funny feeling' when Tom and Dick and Harry look at each other. Also, the sheer fun of it. And the experimentation: I'm so happy you brought this out.

But you're right, sometimes it's hard to think of it as a 'real thing'. And yet it is.

lobelia321: (Default)

[personal profile] lobelia321 2009-09-21 08:33 am (UTC)(link)
Sorry, I'm not really anonymous, I'm just still stuck in LJ and rarely venture into DW.
lamardeuse: (Second Time by 2am_optimism)

[personal profile] lamardeuse 2009-09-21 10:38 am (UTC)(link)
Yes. Thank you.
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[personal profile] pomegranate02 2009-09-21 10:58 am (UTC)(link)
Fantastic - thanks for the book rec. I loved reading about applying the ideas of the book into our world. I'm off to find this book and read read read.
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[personal profile] laughingrat 2009-09-21 01:43 pm (UTC)(link)
(Here through Network)

This was great--I'm glad I stumbled across it. Russ' book has been on my list for years now and it's high time I read it.
laughingrat: Little old lady witches drinkin' tea and plotting. (Consciousness-Raising)

[personal profile] laughingrat 2009-09-21 01:53 pm (UTC)(link)
I really liked how you wrapped it up by tying it into fandom (the more woman-majority end of fandom, anyway) and writing in the vernacular. That reminded me that what we're doing here is still subversive, still juicy.
flamewarrior: (English)

[personal profile] flamewarrior 2009-09-21 06:19 pm (UTC)(link)
\o/

Thank you for sharing this!

(And I'm ashamed to say, I've had that book for *counts* twenty years, and I've still not read it.)
gloriamundi: (Default)

[personal profile] gloriamundi 2009-09-21 08:46 pm (UTC)(link)
OMG YES YES YES.

We're writing in the vernacular. If there is a ubiquitous, disposable, disreputable form of writing today, it's internet porn. And here we are, making it (to say nothing of the equally-ubiquitous television show, comic, movie, or children's book) our own.

YES.

Russ's book was one of my formative texts, how come it never occurred to me to reread it with a fic-writer's eye?!

And your point about the artistic freedom of writing what's perceived as 'trash' -- absolutely! This is one of my big 'why I write fanfic rather than original' arguments: I hate the idea of some editor-person telling me what to change, in some cases even what to write ... I don't think I could even write a tie-in novel unless I had complete freedom. And that's why I'm not a working writer.

*friends you in expectation of more wisdom*
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[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2009-09-25 10:06 pm (UTC)(link)
no idea how I missed this when it was posted, but rubynye sent me back here and I'm so glad she did. I'm cheering. Thank you.
thedrummertobeat: (Default)

[personal profile] thedrummertobeat 2009-09-26 06:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for this post. It's a great--and important--read.