Monday, March 2, 2009

Week 8: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

Wikipedia generously gave me this quote from Tiptree: “A male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I've had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.” I’m trying to figure this author out. Yes, she had a PhD. Yes, she was in the military. But what makes her think she was the first in these occupations, and why use the word “damned”?

Honestly, her stories were hard for me to stomach. There are authors/writers who are offensive, but they make a good point, a thought-provoking catalyst into a much needed discussion. Then, there seems to be a post-modern approach to being offensive just for the sake of being offensive—a shock-and-awe sort of phenomenon that I have come to loathe. These kinds of artists make a stir, gather a crowd, and raise questions within the field—these are people like Damien Hirst. But there is a third category: offensive because you are sedistic or perhaps unstable. It seems as though Tiptree falls into this category.

This post isn’t a good literature analysis. Tiptree hasn’t put me in that kind of mood. She has made my stomach churn. My questions this week are about an author’s ability to make such hostile arguments and sound legit. How is her making cruel stabs at masculenity, claiming them to be natural rapists and violent animals, any different than racistly generalizing an entire minority and claiming them to be seditious, sex-driven maniacs? Her biggest offense, other than being blatantly graphic, of course, is that she pretends women (all of them) are naturally the opposite—good, wholesome, pure—and that men (all of them) at the root have evil brooding to emerge and explode. She offers no apologies and no rebuttal to this argument, at least not in “Houston.” Perhaps God, though, is used as a scapegoat. I don’t expect everyone to be religious, but her agnoticism (perhaps even making a joke of God) in “Houston” and her it’s-God’s-fault scapegoat argument in “Screwfly” don’t do much for me either. They are weak, unsettling, and superficial finger-pointing statements. All men are evil, raping, killing machines—must be no God. All men are evil, raping, killing machines—uh, God did it, his fault. Seriously?

Perhaps the exclamation to Tiptree’s offensiveness is that she feels impelled to use a pseudonym under which to hide her character. I understand the difficulty women had of being recognized and appreciated in the early ‘70s. I do. And I can see why many felt the need to label their writing under a man’s name to get attention, to be published and read. But if you’re going to be this offensive, then stand up and take the criticism. But the fact is, for stories like “Houston” and “Screwfly,” she had no argument. At least not in her stories. So what I am hoping here is that some light will be shed about her life in the presentation in class. I can only, in the kindness of my heart, give her the benefit of the doubt that her anger has grown from a seed of unfortunate abuse in her life. She obviously has a serious, deep-rooted and vindictive bone to pick with men and I can only assume that she has lost her trust through abusive childhood and marital relationships. What else would cause such sickening writing to be spilt?

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