Wednesday, November 14, 2007

a room of one's own

virginia woolf argues that women need money + privacy to become great writers. these are two things traditionally denied to women, who were until just 50 years prior to woolf's famous essay still legally defined as 'chattel' + forever denied 'a room' free of husband, children, + servants.

women must also rise above the personal to understand the world more objectively. woolf argues that many past women writers were chained to a sense of bitterness over their limited options +, failing to transcend the reality of daily life in sitting rooms, focused on the novel, rather than on epic drama or poetry.

yet women have served, symbolically at least, as a fundamental part of male-dominated literature--as muses, sirens, earth mothers. these male-constructed women of art + literature were tools for men to express 'universal' truths, transcending gender.

women, she says, must learn to discover their own androgyny, as all the great male writers, notably shakespeare had done. (here, she borrows samuel taylor coleridge's idea of the spiritual androgyny of genius.)

women must stop viewing themselves as victims or self-sacrificing martyrs or grudging dependents or tragic suicides (like, regrettably, the woolf who was to be in later years) + discover their own integrity or 'incandescence'--the emotional independence gained by finding 'a room of one's own,' a true, unique voice that is unshackled by community other than that of one's own genius or choosing.

she doesn't call for woman-identified literature, but literature by women as fully developed human beings, independent of household or familial associations.

what she says, of course, has been echoed by a number of subsequent artists + writers, who want to create + perform without being ghettoized as a 'woman's' writer, or a 'black' artist, or a 'gay' performer. (her friend e.m. forster struggled with his own homosexual identity, deciding that it could play no evident role in his public art until after he died.)

how does one take something as personal as identity, refine it, transcend it, + find her (or his) 'incandescence"? how does one 'universalize' her or his creative vision, without suppressing (with either shame or bitterness) the identity that, once known, is all that others in society are able to perceive?

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