Wednesday, May 6, 2009

R.I.P. Marilyn French

Marilyn French, novelist and staunchly feminist writer, has died, aged 79.

I meant to write Marilyn French fanmail.

My first book by her was Beyond Power. I remember seeing it, and remembering a book by Nietsche of the same name. I bought it from Venus Envy, intrigued by it. I don't remember why, exactly, I picked it up, although I know I'd heard of it before then.

It took me six months to get through the book. I wasn't reading anything else. I wasn't working much that summer, either. I would read a few paragraphs (paragraphs!) and then have to stand up and pace my apartment, piqued, my mind roiling with what I'd learned in those few paragraphs, my frontal lobe parsing the information that had been dealt to me.

I had thought before then that human problems stemmed from an inability to get along, more deeply from greediness. But even then, it couldn't make sense to me. Humans were greedy, yes. But that didn't, in my mind, justify the amount of bloodshed and killing that had been committed. Some exploitation, sure. But not the injust-sort-of-hanging-threats-over-proles-in-order-to-make-them-do-what-you-want-them-to-do sort of exploitation. I understood that politics were a play in order to gain authourity, in order to get people to do what you wanted. It's pretty much a necessary game sometimes. But I didn't understand why.

Until I read Beyond Power. Then I understood.

It's not because we've placed value on money, riches, or wealth. No, the root problem with society isn't materialism.

It's not because we've placed value on being sexually available and Men Being More Important. No, the root problem with society isn't the Male Gaze.

It isn't because we've become too individualistic, or become like drones, or we're too capitalistic, or too socialistic, or whatever.

No, all problems with society boil down to: we place too much value on having power in society.

We place too much value on being able to control others. We place too much value on being able to dominate others. We place too much value on being able to oppress others.

That's the crux of being in power. Being rich, being desired, being [insert any desirable trait in here] are simply just tools to having power.

We look to those with power and influence. If we are critical, we will question their right to power until we are satisfied that they are there for just reasons. If we are cautious, we will question their methods of exercising power, until we are satisfied that what they do is just and right and beneficial to all. If we are careful, we hold them accountable for any fuck-ups they commit, that we may be satisfied at having power wielded in a righteous manner.

But so often in the past, to have power is from whence injustice, massacres, rapes, wars, and oppression erupts. Loyalties can be bought as long as you have the influence, or maybe just the capacity to deliver a swift death to others if they dissent.

What makes even less sense than this continual value of power is that with power, one has no choice but to oppress, in order to maintain this power. And one is always afraid of the oppressed, because at any one time, one of the oppressed may rise above you, and take away that power so highly valued. It is the root of why abuse occurs - because abusers thinks this power to hurt others will be enough to validate themselves. It's the root of why rape occurs - because rapists crave that power to dominate and harm others. It's the root of why world leaders will send soldiers, who may be good people unto themselves, to war - under the illusion that their decisions will gain them the prestige of being the powerful army that either vanquishes, or, more recently, liberates other.

History's continual tragedies occur.

Suddenly, all the hateful narratives that had been spoonfed to me since I was a child made sense. I understood why Christ was a good man in a hateful world and I understood Islam to be, at its heart, a good lifepath, and why I had problems with religion as an institution. I understood why Buddhism aimed for Nirvana, and why I had so much trouble with its philosophy.

I meant to write Marilyn French fanmail. I read Beyond Power over and over again. It was bathroom reading - on the toilet, in the bath, waiting for the delipatory creams to work gave me the quiet moments I needed to further percolate her ideas in my mind. Some days I picked it off the shelf, thumbed to any random page, and read the first paragraph my eyes alighted on. Every reading was revelatory.

I am so sorry I didn't write Marilyn French fanmail, to tell her how much this one book meant to me, how much it had, really, I felt, poured light into my soul.

It was a tough book to read, Beyond Power. But it became excellent groundwork for reading her epic From Eve To Dawn. I only bought Volume 4 two weeks ago. I was looking forward to reading it. Volumes 1 to 3 were amazing. Ideas from Beyond Power were in there, and even more illuminated with examples from women's history.

Women have history! Right alongside men! While men went off to wars and gained accolades, women did stuff at home, and French found it necessary to collect information about them and write about them in a manner that's friendly to a wide audience. And it was necessary! It still is! And, more than ever, it became clear to me that this criminal quest for power was driven some need or some lacking only some men feel, and it led to culture-wide dysfunctions that all societies today still reel from.

Reading those books, I felt even more and more that men and women do best standing side by side, rather than participating in the mad dash to trample on each other, trying to cancel out each other's existances. That feminism is still necessary. That speaking out is utterly necessary.

I meant to write Marilyn French fanmail. I didn't, so I guess I'll settle for heartily recommending her book, Beyond Power.

Also, I'm thinking of having a draw for an entire collection of From Eve To Dawn. All participants will have to do is write a blog post on women's history, or something. If you'd be interested, let me know.

1 comment:

  1. Reading "The Women's Room" in 1977 and again in the 90's, was like reading two different books from my reactions. Perspective is so important.

    The book was instrumental on my journey to womanhood. It's affect on me was similar to reading "Sisterhood is Powerful", Robin Morgan's anthology in 1970.

    Yet, when I re-read it 20 or so years later I remember being uncomfortable with the anger in "The Women's Room".

    In commemoration of Ms. French's life (I too wish I would have written her a fan letter), I am going to read for the third time.

    Thank you for your blog as I'm looking for "Beyond power" immediately.
    Megwich- Tia

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