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Reading List Without Women
September 26, 2013 - 9:08pm

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UD

"Don't you realize that as long as you have to sit down to pee, you'll never be a dominant force in the world."

James Axton, anti-hero of Don DeLillo's novel The Names  -- a student of UD's went to see DeLillo last week at the National Book Festival on the Mall; she asked me, beforehand, to give her a question to ask him.  "Ask him," I told her, "why he thinks readers find The Names such a difficult book."  She asked; he answered:
 

DeLillo said that The Names was his most difficult novel because it was the first where he actually took his time...beforehand he said he was publishing one book per year.  He said he can't even really remember some of those books, which I thought was very interesting.  But The Names was different -- he wrote it while he was in Greece, where he was trying to learn the language.  Because Greek uses different letters, he began to see language more as an alphabet.  He began to really visualize how language worked sentence by sentence and word by word; he took his time.  That seemed to translate into the difficulty of the novel.


-- anyway Axton says this to his ex-wife and it's one of those lines ... One of those limp lines that gets delivered by angry confused men, and Axton (whose wife, whom he deeply loves, has left him) is angry and confused... So it makes sense in the novel; it's well-observed on DeLillo's part.

Lines of this nature tended, in the past, to be delivered not out of anger and confusion but with the tranquil amusement of a privileged gender, as in Samuel Johnson to James Boswell:

 

 

"Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."


That was, however, a different time; now, at least in the west, such lines are either not delivered, or delivered in a different (usually personal, or subculturally small, as at the local watering hole) way.  If anything, they tend to be seen as expressions of anxiety (consider a man saying that Angela Merkel's speechifying is, by the standard of dogs who walk poorly on their hind legs, etc.). 

So when an English professor at the University of Toronto said, the other day

 

 

 

 

I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories...  Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.


the world lit up with rage.  Also with funny stuff:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Demers @charliedemers

 

 

 

 

 

By saying he doesn't like women writers, David Gilmour has finally stirred up a controversy as boring as his prose.


I'm not sure Gilmour's prose is boring; the excerpt I've looked at is not thrilling but it's certainly respectable, and since many of his plots seem to resolve into angry confused men who, although highly civilized, break things and kill people, it's not boring on the level of plot, I guess.  It's even socially useful, since we need to know all we can about the very dangerous Angry White Male, and Gilmour's work seems a primer on him.

Some idiots are calling for Gilmour to be fired, but let us calm ourselves.  Here's the deal.

You want - within reason - oddballs and narcissists who say and do shocking things on your faculty.  By 'within reason' UD means that you do not want conspiracy theorists and political extremists  who spend the semester proselytizing their students rather than teaching their subject matter, and then get fired, and then spend the rest of their life suing their university.  But especially among  your creative writers you do want some talented embarrassing types ("I'm sorry Mr Ginsberg we can't hire you because you're smelly and druggy and you write disrespectfully about your mother's hysterectomy..."), and Gilmour seems to be something along these lines.  His Rate My Professors page is respectable.  One of the commenters writes:

 

 

 

When asked why there were no female authors on the syllabus said "I don't believe in 'good for you' literature".


Yes, just like August Kleinzahler (another man's man - UD loves his prose and poetry), who in a rage against Garrison Keillor writes:

 

 

 

 

Multivitamins are good for you. Exercise, fresh air, and sex are good for you. Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not.


And just like Gilmour's hero Henry Miller who writes:

 

 

 

 

 A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God. This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty ... what you will. [...]  For a hundred years or more the world, our world, has been dying. And not one man, in these last hundred years or so, has been crazy enough to put a bomb up the asshole of creation and set it off. The world is rotting away, dying piecemeal. But it needs the coup de grace, it needs to be blown to smithereens.

 

 


Yadda yadda.  If we didn't have these pissed off guys trying to kill the world (see Dostoevsky) our literature would be the poorer for it. 

Most of these guys would ritually disembowel themselves before agreeing to teach in a creative writing department, but Gilmour can apparently (barely) sustain the contradiction.  Hold onto him.

 

 

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