genre or movement?

I was challenged to explain what I mean by “genre” and how it’s different from a “literary movement”. So, is modernismo a genre? A movement? Or what? Some theorists talk about genre as form – as poetry, drama, prose; elegy, epic, lyric. Then there’s another way of talking about genre or subgenre, or “historical genres”: science fiction, gothic romance, realist painting. And if a literary movement is some people copying each other to do something a new way, or a particular way, and create a different frame of reference of aesthetic judgement, how is that different from inventing a genre — a body of work that shares some particular characteristics?

Or, think of it this way… a sonnet is a form, not a genre. But we could talk about a historical genre of “courtly love poetry” which often uses sonnet form. Or one could talk about a genre of writing about “courtly love” which would include various form-genres like poetry and exchanges of letters.

So am I way off base in using that word to talk about modernismo as a genre? And suggesting a countergenre? “Movement” doesn’t fit, and I’m trying to talk about the beginnings of decisions about canonicity… though I suppose you can talk about being canonical within a particular movement. But how critics/poets decide who’s in the movement and who isn’t is quite suspect. So if a movement depends on traceable connections between writers, and I’m reframing rather than proving connections, I don’t feel like “movement” is the right word. Plus – it makes me think of going to the bathroom.

East Coast bilingual poets

“In Two Tongues/En Dos Lenguas: Bilingual Spoken Word.” Emerging poets (or student poets) living in the Mid-Atlantic region sought for a new reading series to begin this Spring in Arlington. Each emerging poet will be paired with a “master” poet. Poems will be presented in both English and Spanish. Submit 4 typed copies of up to 3 poems in English or Spanish.

Deadline: Feb. 24. Mail to:

Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201. For more info
and entry forms, see: http://www.arlingtonartscenter.org.

Dear Lillian,

Reading “Treason Our Text” is so orgasmic… it makes everything clear and beautiful. Well, clear and scary, but that’s better than dark and scary.

Am I really going beyond it? I feel like I can see beyond it, but I’m still IN it. And no one I have read seems to have gone beyond it.

1) criticize existing canon – pick it apart
2) make case for individual women writers that they fit the canonicity
3) make countercanons (but: questions of aesthetics/quality)
4) women’s culture, continuity, connections (evading “quality”)
– break down class/elite/genre high/low (here is where I am pounding the keys on genre formation, which Robinson only lightly touches on: “an entire literature previously dismissed because it was popular with women and affirmed standards and values associated with femininity” )
5) style challenged

“Once again, the arena is the female tradition itself. If we are thinking in terms of canon formation, it is the alternative canon. Until the aesthetic arguments can be fully worked out in the feminist context, it will be impossible to argue….”

and then:

The development of feminist literary criticism and scholarship has already proceeded through a number of identifiable stages. Its pace is more reminiscent of the survey course than of the slow processes of canon formation and revision, and it has been more successful in defining and sticking to its own intellectual turf, the female counter-canon, than in gaining general canonical recognition for Edith Wharton, Fanny Fern, or the female diarists of the Westward Expansion. In one sense, the more coherent our sense of the female tradition is, the stronger will be our eventual case. Yet the longer we wait, the more comfortable the women’s literature ghetto — separate, apparently autonomous, and far from equal — may begin to feel.

So my answer to that has been to construct not a countercanon, but a countergenre. Then within that genre (which might be the “women’s culture” strategy) I propose to redefine literary quality. Then to reintegrate canons. (Of course: Someday? When? How?)

But where I go much further, or where I can see further, is in tech, in databases and tagging. Databases and indices, taggable entries, and open source algorithms that people can tweak to construct their individual or institutional canon of the moment. Obviously, large powerful universities would “brand” their own algorithm and perhaps might make them closed-source. I’ve been saying it for a couple of years now. It would be so beautiful. Tagging and tag clouds would make popular input possible. The construction of algorithms with spectrums of weighting desired important qualities would come up with results to construct syllabi, anthologies, and reading lists on the fly. Databases and the web make it possible to build infinite multiple dynamic canons.

at the BlogHer launch party


January 2006 068
Originally uploaded by Jo Spanglemonkey.

I’m blogging on Latin America as a contributing editor for Blogher. Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks is also covering the region – she’s taking anything Caribbean and I’m, in theory, linking up with blogging women from the rest of Latin America. The idea is not to cover news, as Global Voices does, but instead, to look at what women are writing.

My hope is that English-speaking and Spanish-speaking women bloggers will become more aware of each other, and will jump into conversation with each other, unmediated by me, on each other’s blogs. Even if they’re monolingual, they can use automated translators like Google Language Tools or Babelfish to read each others’ posts and comments.

I’m hoping to be a good party host, introducing people to each other and facilitating the start of their conversation. Look, there I am in the photo at the BlogHer Launch Party, raising my glass… It’s a GREAT party.

If even a few people become aware of each other, I’ll be so happy! And at the very least, English speaking bloggers will become more aware they aren’t the only ones talking. I hope that I can serve as a translator, though I’ll be an imperfect one, to help make this happen.

My other very strong hope is that someone will step up and “cover” blogging-women’s Brazil, because I’m already overwhelmed and I don’t know Portuguese! There are so many fantastic Brazilian bloggers, I’d go crazy trying to read everything.
Thanks to BlogHer founders Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort, and Jory Des Jardines for a great site and a fun party!

Em duas linguas: B. Trayner

I was just reading Beverly Trayner’s blog, and realized she links to one of my dusty old blogs ( a little embarrassing) where I was keeping my working notes for a project on bilingual poetry. She’s talking about some great stuff – being in two languages, being a blog chick, and getting round the rules with one half your mind while following the rules with the other.

So on the one hand I am Beverly the duh-sent who goes through the motions, never upsets the status quo and talks of Bolonha, internationalisation, insucesso escolar and always cumprirs as regras.

At the same time I am also Beverly the Blog Chick who dabbles in being international, entrepreneurial and pedagogic and who knows how to get round all the rules just like any other Chica Esperta. It’s the Chica Esperta who does and who makes things happen.

So far I’ve not been very adept either at keeping the rules, nor at getting round them. But organising my identity between Duh-sent and Chica Esperta Blog Chick is proving to be an empowering experience.

I love that, what she says about organizing her identity. It IS empowering. That’s just what I’ve been trying to do. And it’s also what Doris Lessing was writing about in The Golden Notebook, and Joanna Russ in The Female Man. We end up with “different selves” because of our multiple roles as women, and maybe because of the pressures of … well, a certain impossibility of integration, or suspicion that integration of our selves would mean the erasure of part of the self that is loved and valued.

As I continue doing huge amounts of poking-around and researching and blog-reading and note-taking, for the new BlogHer site — I’m writing about Latin American women’s blogs — I keep noticing women popping up in multiple identities, newly linked in the last year or so, just like me and my web presence… Gabby of La lesbiana argentina, hooking herself up with her other self at Pont des Arts; Dr. Kleine with a wild and woolly blog at En nombre del BLOG and then her polished essays at Olganza; Iria Puyosa with Rulemanes and Reste@dos. There’s so many more, but those are the ones I’ve read the most of.

It seems to happen as a fragmentation over time and then a re-linking or coming-out (or outing) process.

I wonder if it will become more normal to have the ability to dig into the personal lives and personal blogs of people who have professional status in nearly any field? You don’t necessarily want to know about your dentist’s sex life, but you might like to know about their opinions and experiences as a dentist. You might want to only know their professional front. But… if we consider the possibility that we are not bigoted, and people have a lot of personal freedom, and we assume as human beings that everyone around us has a rich, strange interior life, why NOT have their personal voice, their intimate thoughts they’d like to reveal on a friendly level, why NOT have them be knowable. That voluntary openness, and deliberate fragmentation and organization, is very powerful. Of course it’s not always comfortable.

WoolfCamp – blogging and writing

The date for WoolfCamp has been set! It’s a writing-blogging-creativity-DIY retreat in Santa Cruz:

I invite you, Dear Readers and Interested Parties, to WoolfCamp, Winter 2006, Saturday, 2/18 and Sunday 2/19:

Behold, our tee shirt/schwag logo and image of our muse, Virginia Woolf, Her Very Self.

The “camp” concept is based on the barcamp and brainjam innovative models of conferencing- cooperative, participatory, zero bureaucracy, zero power tripping, total immersion, big fun.

Historically, these camps and jams have been geek-based. WoolfCamp will differ in providing a focus on the creative aspects of blog content. The goal is to help each other with writing on our blogs, in whatever form we wish to explore – memoirs, creative non-fiction, fiction, poetics.

And if a geek or two wants to join up and help me decide, once and for all, on which RSS feed I should be using, that geek will be welcomed.

If you’d like to come, sign up on the wiki, or send me email for help signing up.

outrageously erased

Today in the library I meant to write up a formal description of my anthology project, but instead skimmed through biographical dictionaries.

I checked out several huge fat multi-volume dictionaries of Latin American authors, and some other Spanish-language Encyclopedias of Famous Women. It was interesting to see patterns emerge. Some encyclopedists knew a fair amount of Cuban women writers, but missed all the Chileans. Others got the Argentinians and Uruguayans, or knew about certain of my own favorites like the Venezuelan poet Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, or massively famous feminists like Adela Zamudio, but missed the Cubans entirely except for Gomez de Avellaneda. *Everyone* was blind to the very strong groups of Guatemalan women writers. Some of the encyclopedias who knew the Matamoros-Borrero-Xenes circle still missed Emilia Bernal, or perhaps left her out on purpose for being too scandalous – I have no idea.

Sainz de Robles’ Diccionario de Mujeres Celebres, 1959, was strong on international and historical references. I’d enjoy reading all of it someday. If I found similar books from 1900 or so, and simply read them through, I’d understand these women’s poetry better. I’d see their references, just as reading a historical review of Sappho-myths helped me understand the poetry of Mercedes Matamoros and Nydia Lamarque. And just as my somewhat random knowledge of Norse mythology clued me into understanding Juana Borrero’s poem about Ran’s daughters.

Anyway, I studied patterns, took notes, xeroxed some things, and added considerably to the short biographies of many of the poets.

I enjoyed skipping around in Cesar Aira’s dictionary of authors. The appendices, which listed writers by country and then by birthdate, looked extremely useful. Though he missed quite a lot of the women I think are interesting. I like to think that he just didn’t know about them – rather than that he knew them but rejected their work as inferior.

Then I got into a terrible history-of-literature book, Literatura Hispanoamericana, volume 5 of an enormous and authoritative-looking reference series, Historia de la literatura espa├▒ola. It’s from 1969, and its author, Professor A. Valbuena Briones, included only one woman in his 600-page review of five centuries of Spanish-American literature, and it was… wait for it…. who do you think? There are only two possibilities and it is unimaginable to leave one of them out. It was Gabriela Mistral! He left out Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. Fucking incredible… of all the people you’d think it would be impossible to erase. I kept looking through the index in dismay and finally flipped through the books’ opening chapters. Nope! No Sor Juana! I still hope I’m wrong. It keeps my faith in human nature going. The Valbuena B, he’s an amazing guy. I started having flashbacks to my classes 20 years ago in the Spanish department at University of Texas… maybe those old fossils had learned off that very book. Since The Valbuena had huge bibliographies that made it clear he had at least opened the flyleaf of many fine books that had women in them, we have to think that perhaps he is the distillation of many filtering layers of sexist anthologizing and critical reviewing, so that all the times that women writers were shunted off into the last paragraph of the last chapter of the book finally came to a head, like an enormous, gross zit, and popped, leaving nothing for Valbuena Briones to work with. He didn’t even have the obligatory section of “mention a couple of women while putting them down and lamenting that they aren’t better and there aren’t more of them” which I notice in so many literary doorstops of the 20th century.

Making lists and breaking aesthetics

Marilyn Hacker said on the WOMPO Women’s Poetry mailing list recently:

If, as feminists,we can’t discuss racism openly, if not “comfortably,”
then what did all the feminist writers who were discussing it in the 70s ,
and those doing so now –Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Toi
Derricotte, Alicia Ostriker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Marilyn Nelson, Joy Harjo,
Marilyn Chin, Elizabeth Alexander, Jane Cooper, Rita Dove, Irena Klepfisz,
Alison Joseph, Jan Clausen, among others — — accomplish ? There
are a lot more African American poets, Asian American poets, poets of
color, published now, enough of them that they don’t have to conform to
any kind of mold or expectation , political or formal — and yet that
change doesn’t seem to have changed the consciousness of many women whom
I’d have expected to have READ those poets and thought about what they’d
read.

Yes, exactly!

I note that it is important to go on making lists like this and telling people what to read. Lists of names make paths and entryways for people who need the guidance. As readers, we can’t rely on any sort of established power structure to represent diversity.

I also note that reading widely with an open mind needs to come first. THEN break and re-form your aesthetics and your poetics. In other words, upper class white people with the education that goes with it can’t impose the aesthetics they’ve developed from that background onto what they read from who are not just like them Keeping your tired old privileged aesthetic is like saying that beautiful meaningful things can only be built with legos. Maybe Legos made of gold, but still — so limited!

*** A rant I’ve been wanting to make for a long time***

I’m thinking of a particular incident with a person who happens to be quite powerful at the moment. I’ll call him Mr. Darcy. A few years ago, Darcy was just on the cusp of coming into that powerful position. I was tagging along to an event with my friend Martin, a poet and translator. Darcy, Martin, and I ended up hanging out over coffee. I didn’t register on Darcy’s radar as a person… a mohawked callow youth, perhaps Martin’s unaccountably freakish girl-of-the-minute.

And Darcy proceded to trash and eviscerate the idea of multiculturalism and political correctness. “Yeah, I make my anthologies and put in the really good poets, and then have to throw in some crappy PC person, and be all multicultural…” He spoke the names of some people of color with venomous bitterness and derision. I began to speak up to say that if he didn’t like those particular writers, he should look further into the latino, black, vietnamese communities to find ones that he did like, because the ones he was referring to weren’t necessarily the best by my judgement either… When I said this, it was as if a dog had spoken, an unexpected miracle. I talked about some ideas of poetry-of-inner-city communities poetry in public places, at bus stops, etc. And he got mad, saying that what people needed was to learn about real poetry, like Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman, and only the classics of American poetry should go up at those bus stops to force “real culture” on “those people”. He said the same sorts of things about modern women poets, including dissing on “confessional” “disgusting” “PC” women. (Who should also get a forced dose of Dickinson; almost enough to make one hate Dickinson… almost…)

I was shocked that Darcy would be so open about his bigotry — to someone like me, someone who clearly did not agree with him — He assumed, maybe, that I was a person it was safe to be bigoted in front of — that I would be complicit, even after I spoke up and argued with him. That purple mohawk radical feminist or not, I could be ignored or co-opted.

I am now grateful for this moment of my own invisibility on Darcy’s power-map. From his dismissal of my importance, his figuring that I didn’t matter, and his willingness to expose his own “pride and prejudice” in front of me, I learned some crucial and ugly things. I studied his anthologies to see the “presentable” face of racism and privilege, now armed with the knowledge of its unguarded scorn. Darcy’s anthologies never picked the poets of color who had been around, who were part of a tradition. Instead they would pick a short inferior work by someone very recent, the youngest person possible… Darcy behaved as if he could safely assume there were no traditions, no leaders, no communities, but only isolated examples he could safely tokenize and encapsulate… in short he only saw mediocrity in work by people of color or women, because he didn’t look deep…and then he actively promoted that vision of their mediocrity. This kind of tokenism harms everyone. I look back into anthologies all through the 19th and 20th centuries, and see the same pattern.

I still have trouble believing the depth of Darcy’s ignorance or his active malice, whichever was foremost in the operation of his racist, sexist aesthetics.

When Ran's daughters meet

Oh happy synchronicity! I opened my juicy new “Poesía moderna en Cuba” and right smack in Juana Borrero’s short bio:

Debido a esta doble cualidad de pintora y escritora, y la pintura, y a la precocidad de su geniio, Julián del Casal la compara con la fascinadora María Bashkirseff, cuyas analogías se acentuan despueés con la muerte temprana de nuestra poetisa.

My sister just gave me a ratty old volume of Marie Bashkirseff’s journals (translated) which I devoured whole… Of course, I love to make the connections of who knew of whom and of course it makes sense that Borrero and her sisters would have known about Bashkirseff. And Bashkirseff wrote about Madame de Stael and George Sand, and other women who were inspirations for her. There was a hilarious day when she made her bumptious country cousin from Russia, who was in love with her, read Corrine… as if to say “And if you can take that, you might begin to understand the tiniest part of my little fingernail…”

I haven’t yet gotten my hands on the volume “Grupo de familia”, which collected work by several of the Borrero sisters, edited by Aurelia Castillo. I translated a few of Juana B.’s poems, and some of Aurelia’s, and I’m reading some of Dulce María Borrero’s. Others by Mercedes Matamoros, Nieves Xenes, and another Xenes sister make it clear that their poetic circle was not always focused on Julian de Casal as its center. The women read each other and wrote poems to each other. They read work by women from other countries and times. It seems important to say this, because most of the critical writing, the short bios, and the prefaces of anthologies, speaks as if de Casal was The Influence on everyone of that circle.

how long it takes to make connections

I was coalescing vaguely this morning about the length of time in a woman’s life that it takes her to make connections with other women. Because of the ways tokenism works, if you’re sort of “successful” in the male-dominated world then you’re cut off in some ways… the isolations of nuclear families also factor in…

So I notice in feminist utopian fiction the women hit a point later in life where they start connecting. They get into the secret menopause club and all talk to each other. Like in Suzette Haden Elgin’s “Native Tongue”. I could make lists of books that show this pattern.

Maybe that’s what blogs and the net are changing. We find each other earlier in life. We get reinforcement and like-minded ideas, we can go further in thought because we don’t have to keep starting from the beginning in our explanations.