Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Medusa Laughs Again, Through Me, at Ms.

I guess May is my month. "A Body Manifesto in Five Acts", which I wrote, appears today at the Ms. Magazine blog.

This essay has been cooking in me for years. Influences include Hole

, Sadie Plant

, Stephen King, Simone de Beauvoir, Laura Mulvey, and most especially Hélène Cixous.

If you haven't read "The Laugh of the Medusa", do yourself a favor. My essay is the first ten minutes of the film of Fellowship of the Ring to Cixous's boxed set of LOtR plus The Silmarillion.

I've discussed the genesis of this essay before, but there are a few things I want to note about it now that it's out in the world.

First, it was being angry at someone that kicked me in the ass to write it after years of thinking about it. Generally, I don't think being angry is much of a reason to do anything, but this particular anger was good for me. And that itself was a useful lesson: the motivation to make art may not always be lofty or noble, but whatever makes you make art is a good reason to make art.

It happened like this. I tentatively introduced in class the idea of women living in their bodies differently than men, and an older woman, in her fifties or early sixties, disagreed with me. She said she didn't think women had any particular consciousness of living in their bodies that functioned differently from that of men. I looked at her and thought - perhaps unfairly - you are interpellated. You have been fooled by the patriarchy. There is something different about women, and you can't see what it is because you've lived too long in the shadow of men, through the maddening eye of the male gaze. How would I explain to this woman, I wondered, that a woman is more aware of her body than a man is aware of his?

When I sat down, I thought initially about all the different names and adjectives under which women operate, and that's where the first paragraph came from. The first paragraph was the last time I remember thinking consciously about what I'd put on the page. It poured out of me from there.

That's about as in-depth as I can get on the process of creating it, because that's the second thing I want to note. This essay did not come from painstaking word-by-word work; it came from white heat. I wrote it in a long gasp, except for two paragraphs which I was too distracted to add at the time and added later. The foundations of feminist theory it builds on are all in my head, though, and that theory took years to acquire. I read Dworkin and de Beauvoir and Mulvey in college, fifteen years ago; I read Freud and Kristeva and "Medusa" in the last two years. All that was a primordial soup from which the words came flaming out. But that is the way I write: the painstaking work takes place over a long period of time in which nothing is produced. The production period is extremely brief, but it calls on all the thinking-work. I've tried to explain this multiple times, because my work schedule looks breezy and weird to other writers, but this essay is possibly the most extreme example of it. Fifteen years of work condensed to 2,100 words I wrote in a few hours.

Third, my vision for this manifesto is to publish it with photographs in a standalone book. I have mental sketches for what I want the photographs to be (they involve my body, red paint, my husband's clothes, other things), and I have a photographer in mind, but she is in Oregon and I'm in L.A. and I have no idea how to arrange studio space, lighting equipment, and so on to make it happen. If you have fallen in love with this piece and are in a position to help me with any part of this project, by all means let me know.

Fourth, very importantly, I am not an essentialist. I don't believe that only biological women are women. I don't believe that organs or mascara or vocal pitch make or break the status of "woman". If you are a transgender/genderqueer/gender-fluid person and you think that, with this essay, I am somehow saying there's no room for you at the woman table, please, please, please get in touch with me (kcoldiron at gmail) and let's dialogue about it. My endeavor is to demonstrate how women, in my experience, live in their bodies, and to diagnose cultural conundrums relating to life in that body. I do not desire to offend or exclude.

(A non-binary friend of mine loved this piece, so I'm proceeding on the idea that I did okay...but I'd genuinely like to hear about it if not.)

Final thought: I never wanted "A Body Manifesto in Five Acts" to find a home anywhere but Ms. I am proud and honored beyond measure that Ms. agreed it belonged with them. But this publication, this honor, was kindled by my belief in my own power to speak and think and write. I would not hold such a belief without what Ms. has been doing since long before I was born. What goes around comes around, and around, and around.

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