That Bloody Chamber: Feminism, Lit Theory and Angela Carter

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image c/o: www.amazon.com

Since I am recently out from the red velvet fiction of Ms. Angela Carter’s the Bloody Chamber, let’s talk feminist literary fiction and theory.  That bloody chamber is right.

While reading her work, I admired what I detected as a hidden mirth under a proud and defiant spirit; like a Shakespearean Puck character.  The writing is smart, beautiful, and sexy, to boot; regardless of gender.

When I love, then I dissect, literarily not literally.  To get to know this writer better, a closer examination of the writing was needed, beyond the super-girl, sometimes gothic, persona.

And let me tell you there are some downright rock-star moments in this book.  Rockstar, kick-ass, literary fiction. I never thought those adjectives would go together. I love it!  She is her own freakin’ genre.  (We should blog later about the definitions of literary fiction, as they are dubious; in need of an Other.)

I wondered about Ms. Carter and the era she grew up in.  What was she searching for in her stories?  What was she really telling me through her fiction?  This trail brought me back to that word I haven’t used in a long time: feminism.

... the only writer I’ve ever known to make a widowed mother sound like a rock star ...: It was a confrontational word back when I knew it and when she was living it; there’s no doubt in my mind that it was. But she willingly put herself in that fight by claiming the title. Did she?  Just by the stories she chose to publish in that Bloody Chamber: I think, yes.  But how did she do it?  Happily, defensively, aggressively, angrily? I am sure she needed a high level of certainty about who she was in order to write so sharply, almost like she couldn’t afford doubt.

While I was in school, whenever feminism came up throughout the history of English Literature, from antiquity, Middle Ages, etc, I felt I was being asked to define who I was as a woman, and if I couldn’t, then I had to confess ignorance of my sex and its role in shaping human history.

I was too inexperienced to honestly consider feminism on a personal level.  I was also too busy trying to prove academic opinions when I barely knew enough to have any.   The thesis statement: another bloody chamber.

I eventually learned that I don’t need to be defensive, or offensive, to be comfortable in my definition of myself as an intelligent woman because I make my mark everyday by how I choose to be. ie. Today, this is what a woman does.  Tomorrow, this is what a woman does. And some days are stupider than others.  I adhere to that highly ideal and poetic theory that each one of us essentially define all through being one.  But I appreciate that I enjoy this relaxed stance because those history-making fights for women’s rights, in the Western world, had already been waged for me.

Was Ms. Carter’s fierce brilliance a little defensive?  Her fairy tales leave a lot unsaid. Fairy tales generally do.  To go further into a fairy tale character might reveal an ordinariness behind that magic designed to dazzle us into following after her.  I personally love it when legends become huggable but, sometimes, it is not easy to be both tough and soft.

P.S. On a side but interesting note, after noticing a few references to the Bible — ‘a mark of Cain,’ ‘Eve’s sin’, etc. — in the Bloody Chamber, I wondered if in the process of finding her sense of identity as a feminist and writer, in her era of individualism and defiance for the status quo, Ms. Carter wanted to challenge the biggest male – and arguably literary — presence in her Western culture as an equal — and that would be God.  Now, that’s a pretty big statement but an interesting chew, not just for her, but her generation of writers. Whenever literary fiction has taken direct aim at religion there might be a case to be made for these writers wanting to face their own ‘God’ for an ultimate self-revelation.  Think of the way religion was used as a form of repression during her lifetime.  I might be onto something. Wonder what my former Lit profs would think of that thesis statement …

P.P.S.  Was surprised that I could not find any satisfying illustrations inspired by this book …

© lyw 

A Poet’s Words Pressed through a Tube Named lyw

https://sabiscuit.wordpress.com/WordPress allows me to subscribe to one artist’s journey the way traditional forms of publishing never did.   I am always comparing, because I am still always amazed, at how different the literary world is from just twenty years ago.

Today, I launch two new poetry videos on the lyw YouTube channel, because a WordPress poet and artist allowed me to play with some of the work on her site which I had admired.

SB is a poet and artist on WordPress at Sabiscuit.wordpress.com.  You’d think that I would be less interested in making a video of poetry that was not my own.  It’s actually a very creative and engaging process to make them.  The research and development of these videos open me to new ideas for my own creative writing.  The David et Goliath video-poem has some bright celestial punch to it and is nicely counter-balanced by the softer and quieter video-poem, Luminous.  These videos feature a writer and an artist who has a talent for working with the different shades that can happen with light.

Please check out the links to these videos at the bottom of this blog, and let’s let the work speak for itself.

This opportunity to work with another writer’s poetry is very unique to my current literary climate. Most of the real books (as in not e-books) in my personal library are of great masters whose human bodies have long since passed on or, they are writers who I could never imagine writing back to me if I had a question about their work.  I will most likely never have direct contact with them.  I will most likely never have access to their daily, personal thoughts as writers or human beings.  My impressions of these writers remain as theories in my head.  This is a good thing, in many ways. For one, eventually, I learned to answer some of those questions myself thereby truly making these writers’ novels and poetry my own — as a reader.  There is a lot of value in giving myself that time to be immersed in another’s artwork.

However, this WordPress/social media thing does something for writers that I believe may be historical, at least to my creative writing world.  Not only are creative writers given more power to be their own ‘companies’, make their names their brands, but we do this by showing how human and individual we are as artists.  Twenty years ago self-publishing was either an act of desperation or that of a hobbyist.  Writing on a day-to-day personal level, as bloggers often do, would not have been deemed professional. Bloggers would have probably been classified as self-publishing columnists back in my day.  Today, social media allows writers to develop an unique kind of relationship with their readership, one that can be both social and professional.   On this plane, writers present themselves as humans, just like everyone else.

Well, of course, writers are humans, you might say.  And I would tell you that it was a popular way to think, when and where I was a wee lass, that writers, as people who were trying to be true observers of life, were isolated and different from the rest of society.  Either we were too brilliant or too spaced out from observation to fit well with the rest of society  The fact is that we have had some amazing writers in our human history who have had the wisdom and foresight to fit the more flattering version of that persona. However, there is a more heart-warming connection to those great writers when I allow myself to observe, even in the most brilliant of them, their beautiful human flaws.

Writers on social media, such as SB, present literature and art that is accessible, responsive and actively part of everyday life.  When we think of writers like that, I think, this will go a long way to make fiction and the literary market more accessible in popular media.

These are new lit thoughts for me and I thank you for letting me share my chew on them through this blog.  I’m not quite sure about them and am curious to see how they will evolve with time.

Here are those video links that I mentioned earlier.  I hope you enjoy them:

David et Goliath – a poem by SB:

Luminous – a poem by SB:

© lyw 

The Ghost who Haunted Subtly

Tom Gauld

© Tom Gauld c/o:  www.tomgauld.com

Until a few days ago, I did not know that literary fiction was popularly known as boring fiction; challenging, yes; questionable, often; but, not boring.

I was actually preparing a short blog series to celebrate literary fiction when coincidentally during my research I was trying to finish a debut novel of a now, award-winning, literary writer.

Marcel is an eloquent and charming short novel, leaning heavily on the passive side.  The back of the book said the main character is haunted by the mystery of a family member’s life and death.  But there is no haunting.  The boy is not haunted.  More like mildly curious, in a very mute way.  I wasn’t expecting a horror novel but, at least, a character more on edge.

The back of the book also promised me a dramatic discovery of the dead man’s letters yet I was halfway through the novel and no letters.  Novels are not scripts, so it’s okay that this writer did not prescribe to needing the main action to start any time soon.  It’s good to have variety in our media art.  Like having Tolkien’s Ents in our midst.  Instead of letters, I was steeped in poignant and poetic descriptive writing, heavy like the air on a hot summer evening.  This had been enough to get me to buy the book but the lack of motivation could not get me to finish it.  Life is too short.

Subtle is another word used on the back of this book cover.  Yes, I got the subtle.  Subtle and passive.  A challenging combination for any writer to maintain for even half of this short novel especially for my generational sickness of a short attention span.

I said in my last blog that I feel like I meet writers in their fiction and that this is one of the most interesting ways of meeting another person.  How interesting a story is depends on how skilled the writer is and how much a writer is willing to give of him or herself.  I can’t believe that some writers just aren’t interesting.  If I’m not interested in a book either it’s not my type, or more likely, it’s because the writer is holding back or some thing is holding the writer back.

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Book Cover image c/o: http://www.goodreads.com/

Marcel is the first novel of a writer who was probably fresh out of school.  While reading it, I felt like I was meeting a writer who didn’t know how to present himself and so instead, presented what he learned in school over a footprint of human history.  At least, I think so.  I never finished the book. The writing is very safe and proper.

I do think this literary novel is boring but it’s still better than anything I could have conceived.  If I had written a novel fresh out of school, I would have come out with some weird, violent metaphor for my soul that would have frightened the daylights out of anybody.  Fortunately, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to go all the way to a full manuscript.  This writer did, and went on to continue to evolve his craft.

Who said all literary fiction had to be good anyway?  Just like, who said all literary writers write on a higher plateau?

Nevertheless, literary fiction is still the art of creative writing in one of its higher forms; when writers reach for this, we are bound to get the crazy bad with the crazy good.   It is still the genre that makes genres and our known archetypes and plot scenarios.

Literary fiction can suck.  However, I believe it is only boring when writers let themselves be held back or discouraged.  Who was that first person to coin the phrase, ‘Embrace the sucking’? Though its origins may be military, I think brave artists take the phrase to a whole new level.

© lyw 

Goth my Grimm: Go Ahead and Make my Day

artwork by Blender84 c/o Deviantart.com

image by Blender84 c/o pinterest.com

I was looking for some light reading and picked an e-book that boasted a modern gothic spin on my favourite childhood fairy tales. Red Riding Hood as a modern day biker!  Goth my Grimm! What a great concept!  I was severely disappointed to find that it was little more than an adolescent attempt at applying erotica to my favourite childhood fairy tales.  Not only did the book not deliver what it said it would; it was also poorly conceived.

What gets me is that these writers were already riding on the backs of incredible stories and thus in a great position to ride right into another great story.  Gothic fiction is not equivalent to erotica and erotica does not have to be equivalent to cheap and stupid. I am amazed at the use of the term ‘adult’ or ‘mature’ to the two-dimensional story-lines and characters that often make the erotica literature genre.  Intelligence, including emotional intelligence, is way sexier; like all things that take more time … and effort … and imagination to get.

For example, think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: this is a story where both the erotic and gothic successfully merged but did not beat the story to death.  The story is about a vampire and his human victims, how they strive to exist and survive in the same world and how their natures clash.  The Freudian metaphors in this novel are far from subtle yet the story goes without a single, sexual encounter.  In this novel, the gothic and erotic were better developed because the whole story was better developed.  The erotic scenes or elements actually did something to illustrate or develop the story or characters – not just as a result of oh, somebody hot showing up.

When I read the description of this e-book, I was hoping for a more kick-ass version of the damsel-in-distress archetype of Red Riding Hood, exploring a character who takes a more head-on approach to her path from innocence to maturity, and maybe even a reflection on her own primitive nature.  That could have been very sexy.

Our classic fairy tales do what this fantasy-type fiction should have; compare our strangest and most impossible dreams against what we think we can’t do in our waking life regardless of whether we are emphasizing a specific genre in the telling (erotic, gothic, horror, etc.).  This theory does not work with porn because that is not the purpose of this type of literature.  If I was looking for porn and got a great story, instead, I’d have been just as irritated, right? Yet, this e-book seemed to aim for a hybrid between the two and, I guess, due to lack of focus, it failed.

I firmly believe that even the pulpiest writer is looking to eventually get into his/her ‘own’: the kind of stories that go beyond genre, formula or, in this case, using fiction as a tool.  Because writers are artists, too.

Even as a kid, as much as I liked an entertaining, plot-driven story, it was easy to recognize the difference in the stories that momentarily distracted and the ones I cherished; these stories gave more.  These cherished books weren’t all classics or critically acclaimed but they all showed a writer’s passion. Reading a person’s fiction is like stepping into the back of a person’s head.  Because it’s fiction, I’m not stepping into blood, bones and brains; I’m stepping into the dream of that writer’s best craft: following a clever rabbit down his/her proverbial rabbit-hole.  This is true even in the most formulated genre-fiction, if it is written well.  These are the books that make the genres that other writers chase.

In fact, I think even porn could be literary.  The writer just has to try!  First and foremost, pornographic literature needs to have sex in it.  To give its readership anything else for the sake of a better story would just by annoying.  So, in that case, the best approach would be to start the story right in the act.  Don’t even bother explaining who they are or how they got there.  Cut out the superfluous, I always say.  Dialogue?  Forget that, too.  Let the action speak entirely for itself and develop character and conflict based on how the players physically react to each other and their given environment.  With this concept, a pornographic story can still fulfill its purpose and also provide an incredible stretch for any writer to develop a compelling story with such limitations.

I have heard that the type of erotica that I am criticizing in this blog has made a come-back in the market, bolstering fiction sales where the ‘literary’ kind has not.  I must, therefore, accept that my opinion might not be the popular one.  But, I ask, who cares what way the market is swinging, when, as a writer, you have a choice between making a real connection with your readers or just something you think they’ll buy?  Especially when you are already working off another piece of art?  Even a bad piece of art is better than not trying at all.

© lyw 

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The Well-Written Offensive

I picked up an article called, “The sexual fantasies of the working woman,” out of my father’s copy of the Toronto Star’s newspaper and was charmed by the writing style of Katie Roiphe; a sharp, intelligence and passion that was prominent but well-checked.  Class, sex and feminism – I couldn’t remember the last time I read a newspaper article that jumped on that much.  I reserved any judgment on her opinions about the new bestseller, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ because I didn’t want to interrupt the flow.  Through the act of reading the article, I reviewed my own thoughts and feelings about those old debates.  However, at the end of the article, she completed her own thoughts so well, I felt no need to rebut her, in spite of my own.

I decided to ‘Like’ her article.  Thought it was a brilliant slice from a refreshing writer.  Feeling good about that, I decided to Google this artist.  And, wooo!  Quite a controversial career!  At first, I felt like I had ‘Liked’ a monster.  I should have suspected that a mind that good with words came from that highly academic background that sometimes went looking for prey.  After digging further into bio information, her writing, and the writing of her critics — and the critics of her critics, I again became accepting that she is what she is (like Popeye) – a writer sinking her teeth into her subjects throughout a lengthy and very upfront career.  This short cap fits the different positions throughout her body of work.

As much as I felt literary and feminist theory learned me good during my term in post-secondary, I never looked back at it once it was done.  I mean, with my recent talk about the sport of boxing, that world was exactly that.  So many pointy points needing to hit their mark.  And often it felt like the only progression was towards the next round.  Personally, and I guess proudly, I’ve learned to prefer having as many strong opinions as I want but, in writing, to leave the positioning to either the characters or subjects, unless speaking in the first person.  She is, though, much stronger than me.  It makes me curious what that strength has meant to her over the course of her career; the power of her words over her subjects – and herself.  The more I think of it, however, the more exhausted I feel.  Boxing is better, if you ask me.

However, that is not what I think is truly fascinating about this little explosion, as a result of taking my father’s newspaper.  The point that is stickin’ me in the eye right now is how strongly adverse I am to some of her earlier work but this doesn’t change my mind about the beauty in her writing.

I’m talking strictly about the writing.  Rhythm, tone, pace.  I love it.  Subject-wise, I even have to applaud the level of conversation her work generates on feminism which not too long ago I remember reading another article that suggested the term, ‘feminism’, was dead.

Regardless of offense or defense, I personally would love to see her writing reach a balance – a place that doesn’t have to be so punchy to be powerful.   Talent like this is beautiful when it comes full circle.  Perhaps the literary world really needs these punchy intellects to balance it or tip it over.  She is very good at it.

Monster writer, monster feminist, monster monster?  Whatever.  I’ll not judge a working writer.