Unless, another list

by Yule Heibel on September 22, 2003

Mark Woods points to an article by Deron Bauman on minimalism in literature (the link doesn’t work, however), who quotes this list: Don DeLillo, Thomas Bernhard, Guy Davenport, Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Saul Bellow, J.D.Salinger, before concluding: “writers of craft, intelligence, and wit [who] exhibit efficiencies of language, that, although not purely minimal, place them in a realm that begins to transcend the necessities for the genre.” They’re also all men. A couple of days ago I quoted Arno Schmidt’s comment about himself: “I don’t find anyone who is right as often as I am!” I remarked that I wish I had some of that attitude. But I also think that Carol Shields was right, that you typically have to be male to believe it fully enough to make it work. The list above reinforces that it’s your prerogative as a man to feel this way. Pace to the men who don’t feel that they’re right or have a right to be right. The point is that many — most — do and that as a man you’ve got a ready tradition to step into, one that’s constantly, incessantly being reinforced as natural. In Shields’s last novel, Unless, her protagonist Reta Winter is in the midst of a real crisis during which she begins to write “extreme” imaginary letters to people — men — who are pontificating on cultural matters. She does this because her crisis is provoked by the actions of her teenage daughter, who has reached a figurative dead-end through her realization that there’s just no way forward for women. Here’s one of Reta’s letters, which all the male list-makers should glue to their eyeballs:

Perhaps you were tired when you ran through your testicular hit list of literary big cats; trying to even out the numbers may have seemed too much of a reach or too obvious in its political correctness. But did you notice something even more signficant: that there is not a single woman mentioned in the whole body of your very long article (16 pages, double columns), not in any context, not once? …Bean counting is tiring, and tiresome, but your voice, Mr Valkner, and your platform carry great authority. You certainly understand that the women who fall even casually under your influence (mea culpa) are made to serve an apprenticeship in self-denigration.

That’s exactly why women don’t (typically) say they don’t find anyone who is right as often as they are. They wouldn’t know how to believe it. It all wouldn’t be such a crying shame if it weren’t for the fact that men are so often wrong.


Joel September 23, 2003 at 6:32 am

You’ll be happy to know that when I suggest books for my writers to examine, Jane Austen, the Brontes, and Barbara Kingsolver always make the list….

Betsy Burke September 23, 2003 at 9:03 am

The women are there- especially in writing-bravo Joel- and even in music composition- but you have to be looking for them. I personally, am counting on women in music to do greater and greater things. An opera or two?

Yule Heibel September 24, 2003 at 3:17 am

Yes, bravo Joel for including them. And Betsy, the other day I was arguing about women symphony conductors — the waving stick thing, “mine is longer,” etc. etc. — and an hour later saw a newspaper report about Victoria Symphony Orchestra having just appointed a woman conductor — and a Canadian, too: Tania Miller, who at 33 is also the youngest woman to lead an orchestra.

Anonymous September 2, 2005 at 5:34 pm

Interesting info

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