08 March 2007

Mysteries practical and profound

From Colleen Mondor's Bookslut interview with Scarlett Thomas:
I have always been a bit of a geek, I suppose, and I have been helped in this by not having any desire to marry or have children or get swamped by any of the domestic stuff that often (but by no means always) snaps women out of their geekdom and forces them to think in terms of nappies and bottles of baby oil and to be normal for God’s sake because if you’re not normal other parents will look at you funny and eventually someone will come and take your kids away...

Aristotle says that fiction should do one of two things: reflect the world as it is, or make it better. While this is a little too cheerful for where I am at the moment, there’s a lot of truth in it nevertheless. People sometimes forget that real women, even ones covered in nappies and shit and bleach etc., do not spend all their time thinking about dresses and princesses and kisses--it’s women in stories that do that. And these are stories that make things worse. So my stories seem different because they’re not like other stories, perhaps. I don’t know. Most women out there are geeky in some way, and you’re right that not much fiction reflects this. I guess the more common experience is for women to be somehow restricted by domestic life or to live under the threat of this restriction, and of course there’s a lot of fiction that reflects this beautifully--like The Bell Jar, which is probably my favorite novel, in which Esther Greenwood pretty much has to stop being a geek or else. Oranges are Not The Only Fruit does something similar, too, where the character Jeanette has to try to find a new way of inhabiting all the fairy stories and religious myths she’s grown up with.
(Emphasis mine.) As a fellow geek, I think many women (fully aware of their geekiness), are finding ways to not be caught up in either of the two extremes that Thomas articulates so well. A kind of non-domestic domesticity exists, where responsibilities are met, but in liberating and non-restrictive ways. I would hazard to guess that it all depends on the type of spouse and on the joy one takes in "nappies and shit and bleach". Elements of non-traditional "domesticity" can survive if one refuses to sacrifice personal geekiness and the desire to live an authentic life.

Incidentally, Happy Women's Day! The Guardian has a smart quiz on female authors, in honor of today (via Books, Words, and Writing). Funny how having spent most of my life in the U.S., I was completely surprised by the hugs and kisses from my students celebrating today. (Evidently, there are many things right about Colombia.)

Another aspect of the Thomas interview I loved is this:
All learning is independent. However, I’m not really striving to make any point about this. But now I think about it I realise that almost all "knowledge" I’ve been given within an institution is to serve someone else’s purpose, not mine, and most of it is just wrong, or not even wrong. I work in a university now, and the only way my students learn is by doing things themselves or by reading complicated writing that doesn’t give them any facts. I actually have some sort of undiagnosed medical condition, I think, because I am incapable of remembering any dates, facts or figures -- even ones I make up myself! I can remember long strings of abstract numbers, but not ever four figure dates. When I was younger I felt stupid all the time because I didn’t know Latin and Greek, and my mathematical skills weren’t that great, and I hadn’t read enough "classic literature." I think I’ll always feel like that, but now I am learning bits of Greek, and I’m reading stuff I missed out on at school, and I am finding that what all good professors and lecturers tell you is true: read books, all by yourself, and work out why they are or are not important yourself.
Truer than true.

The End of Mr. Y sparked many long-held thoughts of mine, and was just the thing to validate personal theories and inspire further thought. When I read lines like, "Thought is what encodes matter," I'm reminded of Genesis and the narrative of how spoken words brought matter into being. Be it myth, literature, or a matter of faith (or all three at once), I find it fascinating that this common idea/thread is found in literature, ancient and contemporary. There is harmony in paradox.

I also found myself wondering about the cause and effect nature of this (word or thought) does that (encode or create matter) and the possibility of everything happening at once...light as particle and wave...how traveling at the speed of light would show you reality as a cubist painting: an all-encompassing present, an eternal Now....

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