Saturday, June 4, 2011

V.S. Naipaul is a pompous ass: an addendum

I wanted to add one more link to yesterday's list of links about V.S. Naipaul's recent comments about women and writing.

Roxana Robinson wrote an eloquent piece about the dangers of views like Naipaul's and how they're reflected in the way books are read, judged and rewarded these days. One of the key paragraphs:

Naipaul’s pronouncements are antediluvian. I won’t dignify with a response his comments on the mastery of the household; Diana Athill, the editor-turned-writer whom Naipaul denounces, is quite right to treat his maunderings as absurd. But if we can agree that this is absurd, then why do the numbers show, year after year, that our literary culture supports Naipaul’s belief? Why is it that men’s writing receives more prizes, more attention and more public acclaim than women’s? How is it that we accept this as a cultural norm?
"Do Women Write 'Tosh'?": Roxana Robinson's response.

I also wanted to post a quote, which is pretty much the first thing I thought of when I read about Naipaul's comments, in particular his comment about women's "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world . . . And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too."

Years ago, in graduate school, I read Annette Kolodny's essay, "Dancing Through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice, and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism." (The full text can be found here.) I don't remember many of the details, but there's one bit that remains, after all these years. It's this:
The (usually male) reader who, both by experience and by reading, has never made acquaintance with those [sex-related] contexts [out of which women write]--historically, the lying-in room, the parlor, the nursery, the kitchen, the laundry, and so on--will necessarily lack the capacity to fully interpret the dialogue or action embedded therein; . . . Virginia Woolf therefore quite properly anticipated the male reader's disposition to write off what he could not understand, abandoning women's writing as offering "not merely a difference of view, but a view that is weak, or trivial or sentimental because it differs from his own."
Virginia Woolf said that in 1929; Annette Kolodny wrote her essay in 1980. It's now 2011; isn't it time to move on? Aren't there other, better ways to spend our time than having to defend the writing of half the population against one arrogant bastard (as eloquent as some of those defenses have been)? Maybe we could actually be writing instead. Imagine.


Anjuli said...

I agree- we need to be writing!! (and reading).

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