In my deleted post I also thought about the rather utopian concept of community that I write to at the end of Heroines, and not knowing what I thought about it now, wondering whether this was false or in bad faith, wondering whether I could achieve any critical distance thinking about the book at all. I felt a sort of distancing from so many writers who I had met online, and was beginning to project my anxieties about the book's reception upon what I perceive as a breaking down of friendships. I even emailed two friends yesterday and tried to ask them whether they had liked the book - I was unsure whether these two specifically had, and I think it was a worry that I carried with me. I'm realizing again, as I write to in Heroines, that it can be difficult being friends with other writers, especially women, I don't know why, although these friendships & intimacy are so important and so valuable, to guard against or reclaim feelings of marginalization in the mainstream. And I wonder if that marginalization or dismissal is part of the reason these friendships can be so fraught - not wanting comparison, not wanting to stand too close to the flame. That I was the flame, this unstable, unwieldy chaos, like Viv Eliot with the knife at the dinner party, who spoke back to critics, who was upset in public ways, who reacted, who was reactive. That other writers did not want to consider themselves in community with me. I think friendships with other writers/artists can be fraught - we are all trying to carve out our visions, we are all trying to be read/heard, there is so much envy and insecurity and projection and I think general weirdness with someone who is getting attention, even if a lot of the attention is negative.
And there's something here too about feminism, how exclusionary feminism can be—I'm thinking of Audre Lorde speaking out against being the token black, queer writer at the feminist conference, writing against this so marvelously in her essay on the master's tools—how racist, classist, transphobic, and yes, sexist, feminism has been historically, still is, obviously (I have been trying to get my hands on Mimi Thi Nguyen's essay on racism and riot grrl in the punk issue of Women & Performance, I think her work is so vital and interesting, I'm so grateful that Sarah M. introduced me to her work). How exclusionary radical thinkers can be (I'm thinking Shulamith Firestone's racism in her book on revolution, The Dialectic of Sex.) But also how excluded and alienated Shulie was from radical feminism, I have been thinking about this lately, circling around this, not knowing what I think about it, not wanting to draw any conclusions. In reference to Lorde, there were really important interventions/essays, like from Subashini, calling attention to the other silencing that was in Heroines, a book about silencing - how I omitted any discussion of how modernism also silenced and othered and fetishized writers of color, also less of a focus on queerness and class. I think this is so important, something I'm thinking about now, wanting to improve upon for the future, I think in our feminist texts we have holes, flaws, mistakes, blind spots, it is important these are brought up, discussed, to not repeat history/the past/patriarchy.
But I think I feel ultimately unsure about Heroines, what it was, as a text, I have no distance from it, there was so much...ambivalence about it, it's hard not to feel I did something *bad* or shameful writing it, or that it's a bad book, a flawed book, a failed book, without value, I know that might seem silly, but the feeling is there more than anything. I like the idea of a feminist epistemology that is one of unknowing, one of failure, I think that's the spirit in which I wrote the book, but it was read by so many different sorts who demanded rigorous conclusions and strict research/impeccable theory...I don't have these. I only ever had questions. And it's hard not to feel - somehow prickly or burned - that so many of my harshest, most dismissive reviews, were from other women, were from those who identify as feminists, and what does *that* mean. How do we feed on each other, as opposed to blaming those in power. And how did I let my ego in the way of honestly taking criticism, such as the way I omitted race from the discussion, or didn't comment enough on privilege. But also how some of this criticism *felt* personal. It felt personal, but about someone who wasn't me. I don't know if this makes sense. But if I champion emotions in criticism - why shouldn't I embrace commentaries and responses that were passionate, heated, angry? The killjoys?
But I'm realizing, ultimately, I need to get over myself. The book is there, it's in the world, and it succeeded in some ways, I think by triggering so many intense responses, and it failed in others. I can't help but feeling this giant sense of failure about the book. That the book wasn't appreciated enough for what I was trying to do formally, stylistically...as I wrote in the blog post that I deleted, I only ever wanted the respect of my peers, and I used to think this was a healthy, manageable goal. But...it's tricky. I think I just am feeling wobbly about moving on, about writing this wild novel I've been working on forever, thinking of even writing more essays. I think I've become fearful of the reception of my work, which is the worst type of faith to be in as a writer. It is I think responsible for the block I've felt ever since Green Girl was first published, and went out in the world.
But I don't know if I'm going to be able to take an adequate measure of Heroines. And I can't think about the book based on what everyone else is saying about it. If I listened to that, it would be entirely crazy-making - it has really catalyzed quite superlative reactions, positive and negative. Lately though people have contacted me to say that reading the work has legitimized their own work of feminist retelling or alternative histories, even when they are reacting against me. This thoughtful essay that came out today said something similar. And I guess if I've contributed to a conversation. I guess if the book inspires others to continue their writing - then maybe that was the point of the book. Maybe that's enough. Maybe that's its legacy. I think, thinking back, that was always its intention. I don't need to be seen as a genius. I might never be. I don't need to be legitimated by those who have power. I just need to write, and fail, and realize others are writing, and failing. And that is the work. And the work is also within me, trying to understand what stops me.
I'll end with Cixous:
Write, let no one hold you back, let nothing stop you: not man; not the imbecilic capitalist machinery, in which the publishing houses are the crafty, obsequious relayers of imperatives handed down by an economy that works against us and off our backs; not yourself. Smug-faced readers, managing editors, and big bosses don't like the true texts of women—female-sexed texts. That kind scares them.