V.S. Naipaul, nobel laureate, yesterday declared that no woman writer was equal to him because all women writers are "sentimental" and have a "narrow view of the world." He claims he can tell a woman writer in a paragraph or two and that his editor who he liked, when she started writing, wrote 'feminine tosh.' Which he didn't 'mean in an unkind way.' And this is all because "inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too." So, from my perspective, those are fighting words, and I am not going to 'rise above' these remarks. The Writer's Guild in Britain said they would not 'waste their breath' commenting on this, but I call bullshit on that. Since everyone here in the UK 'wastes their breath' talking about how he's the greatest living writer in English, then go ahead, knock yourselves out defending his view on all female writers.
Now, leaving aside that some people have attempted to compliment me with this gem: "you don't sound like a female writer" - and at the time I was stupid enough to take this as a compliment, I don't think anyone can tell the gender of a writer as easily as they think. The so-called compliment reminds of the famous Simone de Beauvoir statement that when a woman acts like a human being she gets accused of acting like a man - except apparently in writing this is a good thing.
The issue is not of style or even subject but of point of view. And perhaps yes many women writers, who have barely been heard from until the last hundred years or so - with a few exceptions, usually of women who had to either hide or obscure their identity in order to get published - may sound somewhat different to someone who has only read the point of view of men. Men, many of whose world view is Far Too Narrow, not including real women or anything revolving around women's real lives in any meaningful way except from a primarily male perspective. Men, like Naipaul who clearly think anything women have to say is 'narrow' or 'sentimental' - what do they know that is so all-encompassing about the 'human condition' that so blithely discounts half the human experience?
And finally, what about Naipaul's sister nobel laureates, those sentimental, narrow-world-view-holding authors such as Doris Lessing and Toni Morrison? His defenders, even in the comments section of The Guardian say no woman has held a sustained political narrative. Oh really? Have they ever read Doris Lessing or Morrison or Atwood, to name just a few. And these defenders are all men, of course, and they say he is 'more intelligent than the rest of us' so 'his view needs to be respected.' Well, fuck that, and fuck you and fuck him. I have had it with this bullshit and I am not going to fall for the 'rise above it' crap anymore. I am guessing a lot more men than him believe what he has said but don't have the balls to say it.
But, hey, you know, men, they all write the same way about everything don't they? Oh, no, I don't mean that in an unkind way. Naipaul says calling his editor's work 'feminine tosh' wasn't meant in an unkind way, so don't worry guys, I say this with a friendly chuckle and a knowing smile: it's OK that you all look, sound and talk the same. It's cool that you're published more and that you got to be raised with reading books that had all male protagonists with fear or desire based female projections masquerading as characters and you get to call them classics. No problem. No worries that you can't understand the weird double vision every woman who wants to grasp ideas from history of philosophy, religion and literature has to have - to be able to project ourselves into your POV but somehow also know ourselves to be female even when we - or I will just speak for me here - I - don't have the slightest idea of what the so-called women in most of your books have to do with any real life emotion I have ever felt, thought I've ever had or desire I've ever known. But hey, that's cool. You're all just writing masculine tosh. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
But, no, of course I can't sustain this for All Men because I love a lot of men's books, too. (which reminds me of a bookstore in SF that decided if they were going to have a women's literature section, they should have a men's literature section too - but everyone got so upset, they changed it back) And this is the sad fact: women read men and women and most men just read men. As long as this continues the great inequality between the sexes will continue, because it is maintained on the most existential, basic level of How We Tell Ourselves Who We Are To Ourselves. And it seems to me, brothers and sisters, that the women - who are reading both men and women are getting a far wider view of the world than the men.
And as for the idiotic 'master of the house' thing, no, I'm not the 'master' of my house, but neither is my husband. We are - shock - partners. I suppose this is the moment where I'm supposed to 'understand' that poor old V.S. is from a different generation and all that, but no, I'm sorry. He's alive now, he's only in his mid-70s and anyone who is as literate as he is has had every opportunity to read many extraordinary female writers and open his supposedly enormous 'genius' mind to the other half of humanity.
I do not usually go off on rants like this, but I just can't take it anymore. I was raised at a time when all the 'classics' we were given to read were written by men and I had to do contortions to ever consider myself a writer and I still do. If Naipaul had made a similar comment about another subgroup of people there would be riots, but because it's 'just' about women, well we can all knowingly chuckle. No. Not good enough, not any more. This also reminds me when there was a news item in the 90s about how women in the Southern Baptist Convention had to obey their husbands, and no one said a word. Or in 1975 when I was informed by my female Sunday School teacher that girls were inferior to boys. So the two overweight and under-bright boys in the class pumped their firsts, while the more intelligent girls just looked down. We couldn't say anything. That was The Word of the Lord. The Good News.
So forgive me if I do not sit still this time in 2011. This time I call bullshit. His authorized biographer described him (Naipaul) as "bigoted, arrogant, vicious, racist, a woman-beating misogynist and a sado-masochist." So this is the greatest living writer of English prose? Great.
But let me end on a note of thanks to Naipaul in the end for confirming that by returning to my writing I am doing the right thing and heading off any chance I might stop. I will now make it my life's goal to write until I drop and not let any more assholes (male or female, internal or external) stop me from writing ever again.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.