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Lindsay Turner’s Questions Concerning the Matter of Being Female in I’ll Drown My Book

By Harriet Staff


Lindsay Turner adds her name to the hat of I’ll Drown My Book reviewers, and it’s one that aims directly at gender. At the Boston Review, her primary concern is: “If conceptual writing aims to do away with the subject, why gather female writers?” More:

…[T]he paradox explored by I’ll Drown My Book is not exactly the paradox of pinning down a workable definition of conceptual writing.

Instead, I’ll Drown My Book deepens a preexisting debate over women’s writing and anthologies, focusing on the apparent incompatibility between the traditional authorial “self” or subject and the type of language or procedure often claimed by conceptual writing. The anthology’s contributors occupy both sides of that debate: Juliana Spahr voices the expected position—“the terms that make up one’s own writing are, from the start, outside oneself, beyond oneself in a sociality that has no single author”—while Renee Gladman writes, “I really believe that my ‘I’ could not possibly be the same as yours.” Judith Goldman states the contradiction outright:

Constraint-based or w [sic] writing has often been characterized as a de-personalizing or non-subjective apparatus for composition. Yet it often comments quite acutely on habitus and praxis, and on subject-formation and -maintenance.

Simply put: If conceptual writing aims to do away with the subject, replacing it with textual process, what matter who’s speaking? Isn’t the re-instatement of “by women” an unnecessary and possibly essentializing move?

Considering the persistent gender inequality in most publishing, there’s an argument to be made for the simple necessity of a gathering of female writers. But the gendered work of I’ll Drown My Book extends beyond the corrective impulse. Conceptual writing becomes feminist writing as Echo does more than faithfully echo. Co-editor Caroline Bergvall quotes Kathy Acker: “I was unspeakable so I ran into the language of others”—the act of appropriation becomes an act of intervention, a strategy for expanding the range of what or who might be speakable, and how. The methods of appropriation (also distortion, attenuation, détournement, etc.) upon which much conceptual writing is founded vary inherently with the position of the appropriating agent. As Place and Fitterman note, “The absence of mastery is old hat for females and other others.”

Read how this fate is reconciled and reworked here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, December 27th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.