Monday, October 20, 2008

adapting to being Other/submarine

From: Sue

Have you seen this?

I read Slow River for the first time in 1996, when I worked at a feminist/progressive bookstore, which has tragically closed since, in Edmonton. I credit Nicola Griffith with singlehandedly instilling in me a love for science fiction that I had at that point not discovered, as well as with torturing me with her refusal to write more of it…Oh, why, Nicola, whyyyy?! Not that Aud doesn’t deliver in her own action-packed way, but Ammonite and Slow River awakened a hunger in me for good, queer-centred and female-centred sci-fi that has rarely been sated since. I know it exists out there, but something about this book really touched me in a way that few others have. Recently I decided to re-read Slow River to see if it still held the same power for me that it had over a decade ago...

I thought maybe this (the attitude to queer future/lesbian relationship) felt connected to your Mary Sue post. So I guess if I have a question its along the lines of, when we look for certain types of relationship in lesbian novels, are we buying into our own oppression?

That's a very nice review (and from someone who knows how to spell 'centre' properly). Thanks for pointing it out. I have to admit that my first thought was, There was a feminist/progressive bookshop in Edmonton? (a Seattle suburb). Who knew.

But I was puzzled by your question until I came to the comments to the post you reference, one of which reads, in part:

Y’know, I was thinking about this book’s treatment of queer relationships and how in this version of the future same-sex love had become a non-issue while you and E. were talking about identity politics yesterday. I found myself almost unwittingly missing the typical queer narrative while reading this book, like I was almost looking forward to the us-against-the-world dyke plot. Even though I can acknowledge on an intellectual level that it would be really cool if everyone could fuck/marry/love whomever they wanted, on a more emotional level I am more invested in being able to stand outside society as an Other. Oh my god, I am in love with my own oppression! Is this bad? Do you still respect me?

If I'm reading the comment correctly (and, yes, I know she's being all ironical but the question is, I think, worth consideration), then I think the author has hit upon something that could do with serious exploration: that people in some subcultures are Othered to such a degree that we grow into a permanent fighting stance, that we don't know how to do anything but push back. That to then try read a novel where that pressure isn't there can lead to a version of explosive decompression: we can't cope with the idea of being ordinary; we've adapted to being Other.

That's pretty interesting. The answer to your question--does this mean that when we burst because there's nothing keeping us down, imaginatively, we're buying into our own oppression--is, well, fuck, I've no clue.

But, okay, I'll take a shot. No, I don't think we're buying into our own oppression if we feel momentarily flummoxed by fiction that doesn't push us down. I do think that such feelings are a huge red flag, a warning sign of warpage: if we can't even allow ourselves to imagine how it might be to be free, then how will we ever become so? It seems to me that if a book makes you feel this way, you should seek out more of the same, try to adjust to the lack of pressure, at least in the privacy of your own home. You might have to armour up again to leave the house but, for a while, you should practise liberation.

In my mid-twenties I wrote a poem about living under constant pressure. It appeared in my memoir under the title 'Submarine' along with a brief admission that I couldn't remember what the poem was about. But I recently found a hand-written version of the poem, complete with subtitle 'a lesbian coping strategy' and it's all clear. Here's the poem:

Submarine (a lesbian coping strategy)

I do what submarines do:
I go deep.
Water pushes
at my double hull.
I am safe
at this depth
sealed and smooth

I do what submarines do:
I go deeper.
On silent running
there is no sound except
the groan of plates twisting
pushing away water
pressurised to a cold rushing fist
waiting to punch through
make me

behind water-tight bulkheads
some small areas
maintain their air integrity
I can ascend
be pumped out

I will go back
to the deeps:
by their very nature
do not spend
in the shallows.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here: