Annotation for Les Guérillères
Building a Digital Feminary
Building a Digital Feminary
"Fais un effort pour te souvenir. Ou, à défaut, invente."
"Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent."
Saturday, April 17, 2004
one thing is clear to me. in order to know, I have to know from a variety of sources and those sources can be trusted to greater or lesser degrees. I trust the accuracy of the encyclopedia britannica 11th edition in one way: that things like dates and names will be accurate and that they will include a certain range of people or events as important. but for example I might find "mrs. bernard shaw" mentioned in there as part of George Bernard Shaw's encyclopedia entry. andmaybe something about "Mrs. Bernard shaw's letters to so and so". Great, that way I know she exists. I can infer that she is a writer too - it is usually safe to infer or hypothesize it. But I have to look elsewher to find that information that she too was a writer and that she published translations of radical feminist plays. I can also infer that if I looked deeper - if I went to the library and found books by her or on her or on GBS I would find much more interesting information and probably all about her political essays and fabian feminists and in fact I'd probably find her fabian feminist friends as well. But it would take some digging. From the Britannica I'm usually not going to find out her first name (Charlotte) or the list of books she has written. And I'm not going to find it is important to the britannica who her friends were if they were female writers.
As another example take The Matchless Orinda, katharine philips. She is/was famous for her poems to other women: Celimina, Lucasia, etc. and who those women are is known and their other "real" names and I think they also were poets and writers. But you can rely on the britannica not to mention any of their names: It mentions only that Orinda was friends with the Earl of Whateverdon and the sixth baronet of Someplaceshire and Poliarchus (Sir Charles Cotterell). It does say "she was known as the apostle of female friendship" but you can absolutely rely on the Britannica not to actually give any information about those female friendships but instead to mention all her men friends.
So it is important to know "the canon" or the canonical truths (as I think the britannica is) but also to know the non-canonical truths (such as "Katharine Philips was bisexual or a lesbian and had important long term relationships with other women who also wrote and she wrote about that" which is distinctly important to know. That that information is supressed from the canon or left out of it is also important to know. The more examples like this I come across, the safer I feel in inferring or hypothesizing the existence and the lifestyle of the writing women mentioned in passing in the canonical sources that elide across all the interesting bits.)
This is not quite getting across... I lost the thread or the importance here... as I was interrupted about 10 times getting juice and finding swords and kissing scrapes and reading 'the lively little duckling' out loud for the hundredth time.... but I had some sort of deep insight, the punchline of whicih was, "It is important to know both the canonical and the non-canonical truths."
I remember a little of it. It was that it is not only important to my knowing. It is that I have the strong impulse when I find this sort of thing to include in the "name definition" in the database of the feminary, I want to include both piece of information and their sources. to put "charlotte bernard, wife of george bernard shaw" with the source being britannica. then to put all the other interesting information with that source which is probably some feminist something or other or book of letters or diaries (the "noncanonical sources" I was talking about) Simply because the differences between the canonical and the non-canonical information often exposes patriarchy and what it is and how it works.
this idea is also important to my bilingual poetry project as I notice the enormous disjunction between "poetry that is canonized" and once you get into the non canonical world of chicano/a poetry, nuyoricans, etc, finding that poetry's goodness or what is of value about it or what is interesting. I am less interested in revising the canon (though I do think revising it is necessary and good) than i am at looking at the differences in order to expose That Thing which is, maybe, power? I say patriarchy but could equally say racism or classism - the general term for "the workings or misuse of power and privilege" escapes me.
Meeting with Professor Peel thurs. a.m. Next meeting to be determined as I can send her updates thru email. Pseudo-assignment for me to find out for sure what I am doing for the OTHER class that isn't this one - by next tuesday evening - and email her.
Her comments on my essay outline draft were helpful. I feel like I know what I am doing and I am confident and have plenty of things to say. However she pointed out that the way I outlined it, it was like small mini-essays stuck to gether like an essay with subheadings. So true. she asked that I try to write it as a unified essay (almost merely because that is hard for me and so it will be good for me to try.) So I'll try to do that. I think that means I will write the essay about 3 different ways before I figure out how to do it. And why not? I would write a poem or a translation 6 different ways. With essays I am lazy.
April 20th Tues. tell prof. P. my projects and deadlines for bilingual project.
(April 22) thurs. tenative deadline, go to prof. m.'s office hours and check in with him. have something to show, even a draft.
(may 7) tenative deadline to turn in something smallish on bilingual proj. to prof. m.
May 13th Thurs. Final wittig paper deadline. Turn it in to prof. p. at her house or office.
(may 19th) thurs. tenative deadline to turn in something or other to murguia (but what?) (or should/could this date be later?)
May 19th Wed. official end of classes
may 25th Tues. Turn in final project of the whole database. I will do this by printing it all out neatly but it is also available online for browsing.
May 28th Fri. end of exams
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Did I mention that I've now gone through Z-R, backwards? Most everything has a little information. I figure as long as there is a pointer that might be useful to someone, that is enough. At least it's clear that there ARE pointers out there if you look hard enough. I'm halfway through P, still going backwards.
Monday, April 12, 2004
Progress: Cleaned up a few more source entries. Finished "B". Started going through Salmonson's Encylopedia of Amazons, backwards. I'd like to get the works cited list into decent shape by Thursday's meeting with Prof. Peel.
Friday, April 09, 2004
procedure lately has been:
(look in specific source if it's obvious, like a biblical name)
Look up name in columbia encyclopedia
Then google it with "french" "feminist" or if I have a good guess for the ethnicity I try it: name + feminist + chinese
Then a googling with other possibilities: +woman +goddess +amazon +female
I also have many reference books like "chinese mythology" or "Women Poets of Japan" or "Goddeses, Amazons and Sluts", things like that, so if I think it's likely from online clues, I'll look in a book in preference to an online source.
If I can't find much, or I suspect the spelling might be off because it's a name translated from some language other than french/english, I will poke around with likely other spellings, or skim general lists.
For a fairly common name - say "Anne" I'll pick french feminist ones, and i mean directly "declared feminist", and I'll also take anyone who I would describe as a strong woman character, anyone who's a philosopher, associated with war, a political leader like a Dowager Empress or a famous mistress or concubine, artist, etc. or a writer before 1900-ish. These aren't strict criteria at all.
Thursday, April 01, 2004
Meeting notes (will type them later).
I worked all day putting in names from the chapter on feminists associated with Saint Simonianism from around 1830 (from the 19th Century French Feminists book). That book is great. I recommend it to everyone.
One note from the meeting I don't have to look up. Ellen asked me these very good question. "How will you know when you are done? When do you know when to stop on any one name? Do you have standards? How much do you think you have to do before the end of May?"
Uh. That would be "I'll do way too much and get stressed and hate myself for not doing more. It will never be enough. "
It is hard not to just keep looking for one more confirmation or fact. I can try to look up each name in: Wikipedia. 1911 Britannica. Columbia Encyclopedia. Then Google it. Then I kind of get lost in reading the whole Encyclopedia of Amazons, and taking notes from that on OTHER names, or reading all of Fatima (p.b.u.h.) the prophet mohammed's (peace be upon him) daughter's speeches, then looking for better translations of those speeches, then trying to find a source for it that won't be a total pain in the ass so i can cite it. You can imagine this goes on forever. I worked 7:30-9:30 this morning. Then met with Ellen. Then drove off to a cafe near the beach and had lunch and worked till 2:30. Got Milo and read to him at the allergist's office. Came home and worked from 5 until just now. I think I ate some crackers and cheese but forgot dinner.
If you can call endless browsing about Fatima or Fatmeh or whatever "working"... then I've been working all day. I got some kind of information and citation for MOST of the names under "A" done. PLUS most of 19th Cent. French Feminism book's women at least mentioned. That is awesome progress. However. I should get up and move. My whole body hurts.
thinking too of Deep Rivers - a wonderful book - and the way the main char. uses different names for people depending on how their relationship is. When he begins calling his friend by his quechua nickname but still calls him the spanish name to everyone else and then when he stops the quechua nickname out of anger with him but instead calls him the spanish version of the nickname.
Aliases and pseudonyms. How they spring to life a different identity. The name creates an identity: more than a persona or a mask. That identity over time develops a whole history.
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Instead of writing the quote-filled primer on feminism and naming, I ended up writing a very personal statement. so be it. I will work tomorrow on the more academic end of things. i felt that trying to write this woudl clarify my thoughts. It is a draft. It had large gaping holes. I just asked for comments, but don't be all picking this to pieces, please, or correcting my grammar or something. I repeat. It's a DRAFT. It's IDEAS. It is not an essay, it is NOTES for an essay.
I would like comments from other feminists. is that clear now people? anyone who feels the urge to be all like "oh you feminists are so whiny and you drive people away with your ignorant drivel and besides it's men who suffer as we are all going to die of heart attacks when we're 50", listen up. I am officially driving you away. Go away. Go learn something somewhere else first. I've had it up to my millionth chakra with you people. I'm not here to educate you.
A personal statement of feminism and my relationship to the text
As a young girl I was raised to believe that the problems of sexism had been solved. It didn't matter that I was female; I could do anything, because Feminism (meaning something called '70's feminism') had fixed everything. I was told it was different for my grandmother's and mother's generations, but now everything was different. I could be President or an astronaut or a doctor or writer and go to any school I could get into; or at least I wouldn't be stopped because of being female. I didn't have to wear dresses. Hell, I didn't even have to wear clothes.
Puberty, or other people's reactions it, then hit. It was like slamming into an invisible wall, like the bars of a jail-cell, woman shaped, had encased me. It might have been okay for me to do anything I wanted as a girl, but clearly it was not okay for me to do anything I wanted as a woman. Under this pressure of hitting the wall and growing up against the woman-shaped cage - and I think this a very ordinary story of being a suburban girl in middle class America - I came to some hard realizations about sexism. More than that, I realized that sexism was linked strongly to rationality and reason. I turned to language as a safe way to peer into the abyss of unreason; I studied un-happening, un-thinking, un-science, and un-saying.
Anger filled me, insane rage at what was happening to me. The invisibility of the iron cage made it hard to fight against. Some people never see it. I am grateful for the many years of freedom that I had. But that freedom, while it gave me a useful sense of entitlement and self-confidence, also made me naive and blind. Other girls without my freedom had grown armor early. It was part of their being. At 15 - when my breasts finally grew - I had no armor.
I saw the iron cage come down then, at puberty. Once I experienced actual oppression I realized that the cage was everywhere. It was in all the books I loved best. Everything I had loved now had terrible flaws; I could no longer use my imagination to write myself into the Ringworld's Future History, into Middle Earth's quest of the Ring, or into, dare I say it, Le Guin's Anarres. It just wasn't working out between me and the books. I realized they had made it so that I had to be a man just in order to have an identity at all, as my heroes were all male. I was not Galadriel, I was Gandalf. I had even dressed as Gandalf for Halloween as a little girl, with a long beard, a pointy hat, grey robes, and a staff. I was not Gandalf. And I was not Takver, I was Shevek. But Shevek was Shevek, not Shevekia. I was not Shevek and in fact could not be Shevek and Shevek could never become Shevekia because Shevekia would be an entirely different and possibly impossible person. I was mad as hell. There needed to be new books. This needed fixing. I refused to be a man. I refused to be a woman either. The categories were not working. Surely other people had thought my thoughts before - why had they not fixed it, said it, and wrote it? Or had they, and then their work was "disappeared"? Where were they? I had deep faith that they existed; if I was not impossible, other feminists were not impossible in other times and places, in any past and future. This was the beginning of my search for utopia - a feminist utopia, even an imaginary one.
I didn't find out until college, although I was looking quite hard in what library resources I had available to me, that feminism hadn't started with women "being given the vote" in various countries in various years; that it hadn't started with "70's feminism" or Rosie the Riveter. I don't think I would have heard the name Simone de Beauvoir even in college if I hadn't come across pointers to it as a name important for feminists it in Erica Jong's Fear of Flying - borrowed from an adult friend's bookshelf at 15.
Feminist history was hard to find, even when I knew that it was vitally important to look for. My survival as a writer and thinker, and possibly my survival as a living person, depended on it. Why? I needed comrades. Since I realized sexism had not disappeared or been defeated, and yet I was allowed to get as far as I did
The intellectual and poetic forays of teenage girls - their letters, notes, diaries, and especially their poetry - are often mocked as the ultimate irrelevance. We all know teenage girls are overly emotional, self-involved, self-important, concerned with trivial things. They are trivial things merely because the girls are concerned with them. When middle class suburban teenage girls kill themselves, it is because they are silly. This is wrong. I believe strongly that the intellectual struggles of children and teenagers should be respected. Eric Maisel, on writing about the struggles of artists, says, "...why shouldn't just good reality-testing and a keen intelligence provoke feelings of meaninglessness and emptiness?" Maisel does not see feelings of 'depression' as being necessarily pathological. The despair of suburban teenage girls is the despair of slamming up against patriarchy at high speed with a keen mind and eyes open.
At 16-17 I was experimenting with poetic forms and looking for freedom of language. I copied every style in the Norton Anthology. I wrote like ee cummings and T.S. Eliot and Shakespeare and Denise Levertov. Insanely ambitious, I wanted to do more. I knew nothing I wrote at 16 was going to be "really any good" but I felt that because of that, I was completely free to write anything. It could be as bad, as uncontrolled, as stupid, as violent, and as experimental as I could imagine. It could mean nothing. I could completely break my attachment to meaning. I would fear to do nothing and could look at everything. Everything was valid input. This, if applied in real life, is skating on the edge of schizophrenia, and at times I felt that I was dangerously near it. When limited to the realm of the page, it became art. I don't love many of those poems as poetry, but I love them for their fearlessness. I was skating up the half pipe and going out over the edge of language into the air with no helmet, into the air and into outer space. I wanted to do what had been done and then go further and say things that had not been said. Ambition filled me.
I still try to go back to that freedom from the pressure to be good when I write poetry. Anything can be written. Words can just come out onto the page. No thoughts are forbidden. Any of those thoughts can be expressed. To hold back would be to lie.
Lesbians and bisexuals sheltered me and inspired me. I won't say more, but despite their human flaws and their limited power and many problems, they were the only people who showed recognition of what I was up against. They had sympathy. They hid me from view. They let me cut class. They cut me some slack. They did the same for other girls who were hitting rock bottom. I still appreciate it.
Gertrude Stein was helpful once I came across her in college. But de Beavoir was like meeting a friend. I have felt that way about many writers, that warm friendship for Coleridge or someone else long dead or, less cruel than death but sometimes just as painful, writers far above my sphere of possible knowledge other than perhaps a personal signature on a response to a fan letter.
This is, in part, why Wittig's book exploded poetry, narrative, science fiction, and history for me — very welcome fireworks. It made everything clear to me.
I think my burning fireworks burned me out before I was 20. Only remnants of that energetic, ambitious girl are still here. Now that I have armor, it is harder to be free.
here is my first stab at the longer essay where I'll talk about the project. I thought it might be good to take Ellen Peel's advice and start from my personal relationship with the text.
After that bit I ahve written I will go into some feminist theory stuff about names and identity and talk about the experience of researching some of the individual names and what that was like and where it led me.
here's the first bit:
I first read Les Guérillères in 1987, when I was 17. It was my first year of college and a time when my reading horizons expanded wildly. I operated on the technique of going ot the university bookstore and looking at the textbooks for classes that sounded interesting. Browsing the reading for classes I never took, I found great books. Other people's bookshelves also filtered information for me in useful ways. In my student housing co-op, I had a hundred neighbors, all with their own interests and book collections and opinions on what was interesting, new, unusual, or good to read. Les Guérillères was a book I read in bed, sometimes out loud, with my girlfriend Rachel, who also introduced me to Alfred Jarry, Anais Nin, and Georges Bataille. I had been a poet on a wild ride through poetry for three years. Wittig's book went off like a bomb, destroying and reconstructing my poetics in a way that freed me from bonds that I didn't know confined me. She and her women could do anything, say anything, be anything.
As a reader, I have been looking for a long time for women in literature and history. I own dictionaries of Amazons and books like "Famous Women Throughout History". They are sometimes hard to find - but not because they weren't there.
A few names in the capitalized lists were strange yet familiar. I knew Dinarazade, Aspasia, Zenobia, Draupadi, and felt proud to recognize them. The more common names like Anna or Martha made me wonder: does Wittig mean by them some specific Anna and Martha? Or several? Or does she mean All Annas, a sort of platonic form, an ur-Anna? Other names haunted me. The names unknown to me, but so unusual that I felt sure they must refer to some famous woman: Prascovia, Damhuraci, Heget, Ashmonigal, Xu-Hou. It seemed that I should know them, and that by not knowing them, I was missing out on something important; failing to pay respects to feminist foremothers whose ancestral shrines were neglected.
(include in the next bit about research specific names, especially dominique aron and ceza. also pick a general hard to pin down name, maybe my own)
(quote mary daly. quote claire goldberg moses. quote fr. revolutionary pamphleteers lwhen they explain why they use only their first names (can i find the originals in french?) talk about how it was important for me to think of what wittig might know differently from my knowing as she is french. (colonies! french feminism's history. quote gomez-pena. quote l. timmel duchamps' great in memoriam essay. )
here is my draft of what will go on the intro page to the project. (by the way, the project is here:Building A Digital Feminary.
Monique Wittig's book Les Guérillères creates a mythopoetic realm in which women instigate a violent revolution. She invokes the first names of approximately 585 women in the main body of the text and in lists of names in capital letters, set off from the body, a body which can be seen as a narrative or as vignettes or prose poems.
My goal is to provide points of entry to feminist history.
The names are keyholes that I look through to see facts, biographies, imagined future history, goddesses, and might-have-beens. At times, researching one name has led me through the keyhole, or through the looking-glass, to let me see whole communities of feminist women; in some cases my whole concept of the history of a time and place has shifted. The names and their possible meanings have been useful tools to dislocate my ways of knowing.
Each name will eventually be linked to at least one definition of the name's meaning, or a glossary entry tying the name to a woman in history, legend, or myth. These definitions and identifications are at times arbitrary. Whether Wittig had a specific "ANNA" in mind when she added the name to her list - a friend, an aunt, a queen, a bluestocking or pampheteer or a saint, is not possible to know in most cases.
The spelling of the names was often changed in the English translation. This Digital Feminary provides the French and English spellings of the names. Page numbers are provided for the French and English editions of the book, so that this Feminary can function as an index to either edition.
One thing that got in the way of the project was that John and I wanted (uncharacteristically) to make a general tool that I could use or that anyone could use to annotate a book and to make hyperlinked glossaries or indexes or databases. We tried to make this, but got very bogged down. I kept wanting similar tools for annotating the mahabharata or icelandic sagas or dream of red mansions.
but without having a super-specific goal in mind it was very hard to design this tool. What database fields did it need? How would it all be structured?
It worked much better to attack it from the other end. What would the user of this specific project, the Digital Feminary, want to do? What would the interface look like to that person? From the front end, we realized what kind of back end we needed.
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
this always cheers me up:
"The bricoleur is adept at executing a great number of diverse tasks; but unlike the engineer, he does not subordinate each of them to the availability of raw materials and tools, conceptualized and procured specifically for this project; his instrumental universe is closed, and the rule of his game is to make do with the means at hand." -- someone or another's translation of Levi-Strauss