oppression/ makes us love one another badly/makes our breathing
mangled/ while i am desperately trying to clear the air/
in the absence of extreme elegance/
madness can set right in like
a burnin gauloise on Japanese silk.
though highly cultured/
even the silk must ask
how to burn up discreetly
And so, it seems to me, storytelling can be an act of survival.
The practice of storytelling begins in the day-to-day minutiae of one’s own life. Because we are meaning-making machines, we translate our experiences into potent narratives. We tell stories to make sense of our experiences. Through this act of translation, we develop opinions and assumptions about how things are. The human impulse to tell one’s own story is one of the basic human rights and freedoms in democratic societies. Speaking effectively, and communicatively, whether onstage, in poetry, in a book or in conversation, can free one from the prison of the past. Speaking a story can be an act of letting in light.
Revision is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are entrenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self knowledge, for woman, is more than a search for identity; it is part of her refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society.
A radical critique of literature, feminist in its impulse, would take the work first of all as a clue to how we live, how we have been living, how we have been led to imagine ourselves, how our language has trapped as well as liberated us; and how we can begin to see – and therefore live – afresh.
The lack of such qualities does have a cost, though, and if we would like to observe it, we need only examine the last 15 years of American history, which have been quite expensive indeed: recurring financial crises motivated by limitless greed, trillions wasted on incompetent foreign belligerence, rampant inequality, poor health, and a dysfunctional, unaccountable political system dominated by money. These problems are, of course, not new to the modern era—but they were not inevitable, either. It’s easy to blame those who led us, but as citizens, we have followed—either deliberately, or because we lacked the capacity to make better decisions. If we continue on this path, we will not only continue to make poor choices—we will lack the kind of citizens that we will desperately need to lead us through one of the most disruptive periods in human history: politically, economically, and culturally.