Feelings

July 30, 2019

I cannot tell you. It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language that is chiefly made by men to express theirs.

Thomas Hardy
Far From The Madding Crowd

When you think of a woman consumed by fury, what do you think of? Is it the classical Greco-Roman representation of a woman scorned: Medea, Electra, and Medusa – tales of anger and revenge; or is it the modern-day stories of hard-bodied feminism and black widows – North Country (2005), If These Walls Could Talk (1996), Gone Girl (2014), or A Woman Scorned (2000)? It seems, historically, that if a man is furious, it is righteous fury, or biblical fury. Its violence is synonymous with justice and honesty, and if not at all times justifiable, it is always forgivable. The story of the angry man is not one of destruction, but one of rebirth. Women’s anger bears an entirely different image: the picture of the screaming woman, her anger neither acceptable nor forgivable. It is not a story of redemption, but a story of self-destruction; a story of women who choose a darker path, and never recover themselves. They, in a way, become less stories about angry women than they do about women stricken by madness – so unspeakable to society was the idea that women could be angry that they found it more acceptable that women simply sink into depression or insanity, such as the stories of Calypso and Ophelia. Today, society’s acceptance of women’s anger is slowly growing, but it is an agonizingly slow process. The image of the Victorian woman is a hard one to break free of, it seems – the soft woman sitting at home, accepting of what is given to her and taken from her, pliable and subservient. This is not a question of individual choice, but of social freedom. Even when accepted by popular society, it is an even smaller margin that accepts ugly female anger – the kind that cannot be fixed by a gentle word, or a man’s touch, the kind of emotion that almost transcends anger and moves to rage, a scream that refuses to be quieted. When we read of anger like this, we find it ugly and unpalatable – which bears the question: why do we accept it out of men, and not out of women? A passage by Ana Božičević, from her poem “Casual Elegy for Luka Skračić,” puts this in clearer words than I ever could with only two lines:

“I want to be the kind of monster you
don’t want to fuck — ”

Isaak Frank
Anger in Female Literature

I don’t relate to standard psychologizing in novels. I don’t really believe that the backstory is the story you need. And I don’t believe it’s more like life to get it — the buildup of “character” through psychological and family history, the whole idea of “knowing what the character wants.” People in real life so often do not know what they want. People trick themselves, lie to themselves, fool themselves. It’s called survival, and self-mythology. I wanted to create a person who felt in her thinking how I think a person might actually think, but through literary language, mine, not stream of consciousness (with all due respect for those experiments), and maybe that’s one trick of it. I don’t do the big hand of God placing people around the Kriegspiel board and claiming to see into their deeper motivations. Even Freud would not do that. He would probably just listen to what they are saying, and let the reader interpret.

I do study Proust, for multiple technical virtuosities but also his swerve, as you say, between characters and in scenes. Certain films can help for that, too, in terms of understanding how multiple conversations at a table, or in a room, can take place and remain separate, and dissonant, and also gather themselves, accidentally, into a collective rhythm and an affect. Altman is very good at that, for instance. So is Jean Renoir. I compared her voice to water above but really it’s about neutrality, as you say. About the tone of the whole, every part has to kind of vibrate on the same internal register. It’s impossible to describe or name that register but I know when something is off from it.

Rachel Kushner
Interview in Guernica 17th February 2014