I’ve been thinking a lot about words. The latest is a title that I realize no longer has any power. I’ve been trying to work out how to shift the power back into a word that has lost it. I’m not sure it’s possible.
Somehow it makes me think about who owns the words – not that owning words is technically possible but there are those that own the pipelines for disseminating those words. For example, I thought of this list of the awards given for literature in 2013. One of them is a woman. Women appear in a very tiny percentage of reviews in the New York Times. The various structures that were created to deal with the imbalance of who owns the words are periodically plagued with “Why do we still need a separate prize for women?” Oh, that we didn’t.
I asked a friend what books he’d read if he had the time. It was a long list of very well respected writers and not one woman was on it. I don’t blame him for that one bit. If you want to find a woman on the list of well-known and well-respected writers, you’re probably going to be reaching pretty far back into history.
This is not to say that there aren’t well-respected writers in the current moment. I can name ten right now off the top of my head (Jeannette Winterson, AS Byatt, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Tea Albrecht, Jennifer Egan, Amy Tan, Jeanette Walls, Sarah Waters, Erin Morgenstern, Diane Setterfield) Or well known (JK Rowling, Charlaine Harris, Sue Grafton, etc) but somehow the lady writers don’t tend to qualify as Literature. They’re not Thomas Pynchon or Dom Delillo. Ladies don’t own the words. We’re just renting them somehow.
I think a lot about The Alphabet versus The Goddess. It might be bullshit. But it’s very interesting bullshit. It’s Shlain’s sense that the invention of the alphabet killed the Goddess – that is that the development of the written language (a left brained activity) created an imbalance of masculine energy, an abundance of left-brained linearity and cultures around the world became more patriarchal as they adopted the written word.
As a lover of the written word (and the read word and the spoken word) I hate this idea a little bit. I’d like to think of this language as my own. But it might not be.