Two pieces from a weird and as-yet unpublished choose your own adventure online story "about" Ada Lovelace--the inventor of computer programming, daughter of Lord Byron, and all around bad-ass lady--are online in the second issue of We Are Champion, a fiery new online magazine from the mind and body of Mister Gene Kwak. Thanks Gene for publishing my stuff. WAC 2 also features work from Jimmy Chen, Chris Oklum, Ben Mirov, Joseph Goosey, Tyler Flynn Dorholt, Miguel Morales, Mark Leidner, and Reynard Seifert, along with an interview with Ben Marcus.
Not only are all those dudes duly/dudely representing, but there's also internet controversy. For those following along at home, we can take this time to pre-dispense the "Is WAC wack?" jokes that your brain is probably too mature to even think about making. You're welcome. Here we go: after Blake Butler announced the publication of WAC 2 on HTMLGIANT,, Amy King left a comment on Blake's post, which I'll quote in lieu of paraphrasing because the beginning is about how she likes me, and who wants to colonize via paraphrasing something about how somebody likes you?
I love Gary Lutz and Mike Young, but I ain’t buying this mag. Three women writers in the entire contents of two issues? And it’s a new mag?
I’m sure the editor, or someone, will come along and insult me, call me bitchy names, mock my face, etc in “defense” of the contents and for pointing out such obviousness, but it’s plain and simple: here we go again, repeating the old exclusive boy’s club traditions of what we thought was fading. Shall we all retreat to Black Mountain and sit at Olson’s feet whilst we write poems for Pound? Oh, I’ll shut up; that’s my job.
I’ll post my response in advance so that I don’t have to return for the certain vitriol:
I’m not saying the work in this mag is bad! I’m sure there’s good stuff within. But it’s exclusive. SUPPORT MAGS THAT PROMOTE A VARIETY OF WRITERS, AND SINCE WE’RE AT LEAST HALF THE WRITING POPULATION, THAT SHOULD INCLUDE A FEW WOMEN. MORE THAN THREE OUT OF EIGHTEEN. I just subscribed to Parrot yesterday. Do that. It’s not hard to find excellent, complex, thrilling writing by women published with excellent work by men. It just isn’t. And if you say it is, well, you’re not trying hard enough.
Unrelated to that comment, but along the same thinking, Elisa Gabbert made a post on her blog about things she was into and things she wasn't into. One of the things she wasn't into was this:
Issues of journals with all-male contributor lists. It's not designated as a special all-dude issue. I just don't get how editors don't notice a discrepancy like that and feel weird and wonder how it came about. People always say that this happens because all the submissions are from men. But if you're a new magazine (this is Issue 2 of We Are Champion), how about doing some solicitation? I'd venture to guess the editors are already doing that. If you want more submissions from women, publishing all-male issues, without disclaimer, doesn't send the best message.
What happened next? I'm glad you asked! Here's what happened next: the aforementioned Mister Butler posted a snippet on HTMLGIANT entitled "Language Over Body" that asked these questions: "When you are reading or editing an issue of a magazine, do you perform a contributor penis and vagina count, to verify a decent mix? Do you perform a race count? Do you verify the range of the letters in the last names?"
If you've been gawking the GIANT for any casual amount of time, you know that such questions (especially in a snippet!) will yield a race-is-on-to-5454359-comments effect at about the same likelihood as Massachusetts will snow annoyingly or I will need to poop in the library after I've drank a lot of coffee. This particular comment thread discussion featured intelligence, idiocy, startling clarity, good jokes, bad jokes, good jokes in annoying context, lowercase letters, well-groomed sentences, name-calling, tangents about Paradise Lost, earnest philosophical wankery, entertaining philosophical wankery, sometimes both earnest and entertaining philosophical wankery that we probably shouldn't call wankery anymore because we actually kind of liked reading it and are just saying "wankery" to let people know that I'm aware philosophy is uncool and please invite me to your next Daytona 500 party. What else? People commenting on HTMLGIANT who never comment on HTMLGIANT because they feel uncomfortable then being "yelled at" by people who comment on HTMLGIANT all the time, people commenting on HTMLGIANT who never comment on HTMLGIANT because they feel uncomfortable then being engaged with surprising and refreshing civility by people who comment on HTMLGIANT all the time, ridiculous hyperinflation of the discussion at hand (think: dudes doing epic guitar solos with their shirts off at a pizza chain because somebody asked them why they were being dicks to the waitress), so on and so forth. Par for the course.
Somewhere among the many blogs, Gene and Elisa had an interesting and rocky exchange that seemed, from my vantage, fairly productive. I hate words like productive, but here's what I mean in this case: distinct living bodies and minds got a little closer to imagining what it feels like to be Other distinct living bodies and minds while trying to avoid resentment and defensiveness. Or maybe they still hate each other! And I'm projecting. I hope not.
I hate arguing on the internet because it is unhealthy for me. I will think very hard and post something and then sit around in my kitchen with my shirt off clicking refresh, waiting to see who has engaged my post, funneling all energy into arguing on the internet and ignoring all other physical and emotional responsibilities and joys. So I avoid it. But it's true that Elisa, Amy, and Anne Boyer (in Elisa's comment section) all mentioned me, and Anne Boyer even said that she thought I'd be unhappy signing on for an all-dude e-journal (that's not an exact quote, but it's pretty close, I hope), so I sort of feel like it would be a dick move to sit entirely carefully in the corner and sort of hum and make innocent faces. But everything I have to say is pretty old hat. So I'm going to pretend that you, dear reader, are, like, my confused but sincere and intelligent uncle or something.
I like Gene Kwak! I think he's doing a great job publishing what he likes. Being passionate and hardworking and generous with his time. This might also be projection, but it seems like we both come from very unliterary environments, we both have intense experiences with literature we love, intense in that certain language chunks rattle us so significantly that we feel we have to treat language and literature--in a manner completely unsupported and even scorned by the kinds of communities we grew up in--as something to be respected. Fostered. Cultivated. Shared. And so on. But we're always uncomfortable because it seems like literature is a house mostly decorated by doilies we'd sure as shit never buy. We just want to get to the kitchen where all the good smells are. I mean, I've only met Gene in person once, but I've emailed with him, and I've read his words (here is an awesome excerpt from WAC's About Page: "Bleed words, stanch, and then slow death it to us e-mail style. We won't say bring the noise or bring the ruckus because this isn't Jock Jams, but bring the noisy ruckus"), and I've seen his Facebook. I feel kinship with Mr. Kwak. Broship, even.
Which is totally relevant to the matter at hand! That feeling of outsiderness [that I could be totally projecting in order for this whole post to work]. Here's why: language isn't over body. They be the same. You don't need to read Judith Butler to take high school Spanish, which I did. In Spanish, you can have a room full of cops, and if all the cops are women, the pronoun you want is "ellas." Ellos for dudes, ellas for chicks. Easy, right? Well, check it out: if there's just one lousy dude in the whole goddamn room, suddenly the pronoun you're using is "ellos." A million women. One dude. Ellos. That's how the language works. This is both certifiably fucked up and dunderishly artificial, i.e. not something "natural" about language, not something "organic" but obviously a social construct, which is a fancy way of saying "a thing installed into the way people treat each other by people who have been and continue to be unconsciously identified as the people in charge of how people should treat each other."
Why did the room of us fifteen year-olds notice a thing like that in Spanish yet still flop about glibly ignoring the artificial gendering of our native language? Well, Spanish was unfamiliar! English, of course, was something that had always existed and was set in stone and was handed down by Moses and was really useful when we wanted to say why Ffeiubge Feuibfe was hot or how dope certain things were and how stupid other things were. One of the last slopes in maturity, maybe, is recognizing the inherent constructedness and non-inevitability (the artificiality, right?) in everything that's Ours. Not just Others. Ours. Everything We are and everything We do; everything I am and everything I do. Not just those kooky Others. Everything is received, everything's due for scrutiny. Even the shit we like and the shit we hate, our sureness, our most emphatically swirly feelings--all of that was at least a little and probably a lot received, built by shit we once-upon swallowed without examination or scrutiny. Once we get to the point where we can start examining and scrutinizing, sure we discard and keep. But we tend to trust ourselves too much. We trust too much what comes easiest.
If you've had the luck of living among, let's say, anyone, you've probably heard someone say "lady cop." Or "woman cop." Which is cringe-y and kind of fucked up. But which is also, on some level, practical.
Well, if I say "cop," what do you think of?
If you're a pretty normally conditioned member of society (reading a blog, no less!), Google says you think of this dude:
Not too far off, right? Maybe you thought of someone fatter. That's what I did. So, if I want you to think of someone different, I need to say "woman cop" (or "black cop" or "cop in a wheelchair" or "cop with glasses") to reroute your brain. Which is kind of fucked up, because practical isn't a good thing. Practical = practice = social practice = burning witches, etc. There's nothing inherently cop-like about that dude. A cop is someone who maintains civil order, right?1. Why do you need to have that stupid haircut to maintain civil order? You don't. You don't need balls, either. But we're conditioned to believe that "cops" is a word that stands for, among many other things, dudes who like their heads razored. Or think about "actor" and "actress." Why does the lady need a different noun? When we're talking about acting in the abstract, we don't use two nouns. We don't say a girl having a temper tantrum is "actressing up." If the abstract doesn't need a supplemental conditional, why should the concrete? Because of society! Because default language has the back of those in power. Without needing to think about it, people with privilege of one kind or another can comfortably use language in a way that doesn't call attention to their privilege. If I'm playing model trains with my buds, I don't need to say "I was playing trains with my dude buds." More importantly, Somebody watching me will say "He's playing trains with his friends." But if I'm playing trains with a bunch of girls, Somebody watching me is pretty apt to say: "Weird, he's playing trains with a bunch of girls."
Wrong, poor victimized strawman named Somebody! Both situations are weird. Nothing is not weird! It's only that society tells you one thing is weird and one thing isn't to set up a value in the word weird and, in so doing, to maintain power for one weird situation over another. This is why language doesn't exist without body. Sorry. It's weird for me to be playing trains with only dudes, and it's weird for me to be playing trains with a bunch of girls. We are playing fucking trains. That is weird. And it is only through insistent and rigorous realization of the inherent strangeness in all the accommodation we call life--not just select and cute defamiliarization here and there--that life keeps rebecoming rich and sweet. For the most part, I don't think there's a lot of use in becoming a "better" person. But a kinder, more empathetic, curious person--sure. Life isn't life until it's always examined.
I didn't notice WAC 2 was a bunch of dudes until Amy and Elisa pointed it out. After they did, I thought "Strange! I wonder why I didn't notice." And it was interesting for me to think about that. And I felt a little defensive about being "one of the bros," but I realized that defensiveness wasn't leading me to interesting thoughts or feelings, so I worked through and dismissed that defensiveness. In working through my feelings and reading the internet shitstorm at the same time, one interesting thing I noticed was what I thought about comments like this (from Mister Richard): "just publish what blows my socks off," he says, in a reference to what should serve as standards of publication. In other words, who cares if it's a dude or a lady, this or that, publish what blows your socks off. That makes sense, I thought. But then I thought: why should something have to blow my socks off to be good? If someone really blew my socks off, I might feel vulnerable and sockless, which--well, isn't that an interesting feeling? Are we not allowed to talk about that? Is this guy saying he wants to see writing by sock-blowers more than the socks-blown? Stick a mirror in me and yeah, I'd rather do violence to somebody else's socks than have violence done to mine. But why is that okay? Why not publish something that puts socks on in a tender and loving manner?
What does that have to do with dolls and guys?
Wells, would I have even thought about that if I hadn't made a conscious, good faith effort to think and feel about the issues Elisa and Amy raised? Probably not. Probably I would still be faithfully and ignorantly among you right now as an unrepentant sock-stripper. And you know what? I'd rather be and become and live as someone that I think and feel about being rather than as whatever I'm automatically entered into being by how society lives through me. So if this is what it takes for me to re-examine socks, I'm glad for that.
Oh what a sissy thing to think and feel! And then talk about it, no less. But I'm glad for it, and I'm glad for those who want to do a little listening and talking of their own.
1 -- I mean, cop might be an overly loaded example; cops tend to defy their definitions of themselves with alarming swagger; if you hate cops, substitute "football announcer" or something.