|University of Leeds, Dept. of Cultural and Media Studies|
Not only am I hopelessly out of date in cultural studies, but I don’t even remember the date. However, this is not one of those dirges by an old-lady-who-once-was-cool-looking-back nostalgically-at-her-radical-past-saying-in-my-day-we-did-it-better. I don’t use the phrase « in my day », because I’m still here. I am often very still, but I am here. And please remember that the linguistic root of radical is root.
I’m reading Maggie Nelson’s brilliant The Argonaut, and I fell in love with this phrase: »if prose is but the gravestone marking the forsaking of wildness...". I will come back to this later, I promise. But meanwhile I have been absorbed in Nelson’s world of contemporary cultural studies and gender preoccupations.
I taught Women’s Studies beginning in 1974. The door of rediscovered female accomplishment in the arts opened for me at the same time as my students: We learned of Artemisia Gentileschi, first woman admitted to the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. We were outraged that all of the artist Judith Leyster’s work had been attributed to Frans Hals, and it turned out that the unfamiliar artist and sculptor Rosa Bonheur had been famous in the nineteenth century. None of these artists had appeared in the art history books I’d been assigned in college. Our new knowledge was the result of exciting research by J. J. Wilson and Karen Petersen.
|Judith Leyster, Self-portrait, c. 1630|
As a teenager I consumed 50's French cool. The flavors of choice were Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, so we said that life was absurde, wore berets, and argued over whether Sartre’s turn toward Communism was a defection from Camus’ early indifference. What was more profound than « Mother died yesterday »? That this period in our lives was a transition between the conformity of high school and the courage of individuation was not even known, let alone expressed.
(photo from Progressive Thinking)
|Sartre & de Beauvoir, The Guardian|
Full disclosure - I miss my students. But teach now? Cultural Studies? Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, Peter Sloterdijk: Who are those guys? I only got as far as Irigeray, Kristova and Deleuze before my attention turned elsewhere.
So back to »if prose is but the gravestone marking the forsaking of wildness... » Ah, the dangers of maenads and Orphic hymns, and wild sex and the seance of their calling!
But this is where that phrase led me: When the wild song that wilderness sings ceased to repeat in our brains like the lyrics of pop songs, did we turn to prose? Is the deep green and root-ridden forest the natural home of poetry - along with the riverbank and the wave-struck beach and the red dunes, and, and….all of it? When I heard the trees in the last patch of old forest in Chiapas call on me to speak for them, could I have written essays instead of poems? Published an anthology of prose rather than poetry?
|from PBS website|
The Queen of Trees. Walking Palm. Hoatzin bird. Bowerbird. Desert Paintbrush. Not my only, but my new vocabulary, married to rhythm, and rhyme and alliteration and imagery. I could teach that biopoetic language. But then there would be syllabi to create, and media presentations, and papers to grade, and grades to give, and……..