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Further up, further out.

Here I am, trying to get some writing done, and Ray Davis with a footnote has to go and open up a wonderful, terrible world where I can while away a Labor Day afternoon. Here’s what you’ll need to play along:

Have it at. My only contribution to the mix would be the memory it stirred up, of a childhood confusion I doubt was particular to me: on hearing of all those gorilla wars on the nightly news, in Asia and South America, I would lie back and wonder whether they wore uniforms, and how on earth you trained them to hold guns.

No, wait: one more thing. Much as I love Tiptree for her steel and her skew and her sly, sharp sentences, I’ve always come at her stories warily, as if approaching something I was not meant to know. “My usual method of writing,” she said, “is to take one of those pockets in my head that is full of protest against unbearable wrong and dangle plot-strings in the saturated solution until they start coming up with plot-crystals on them.” And she had an uncanny ability to limn a rectitude that, hopelessly outgunned, stood up nonetheless howsomever it could against that unbearable wrong, and even if some of those pockets are thankfully quaintly outdated today, still: it’s hard to look a rectitude like that in the eye when you’re indisputably part of the problem. —I don’t agree with Tiptree’s gender essentialism, or her all-too-apocalyptic take on the war between the sexes; but to ascribe to her a belief in gender essentialism, or an apocalyptic war between the sexes, is deceptively reductive. She was exaggerating to prove a point, is all, and even though I’ll go on chanting “Biology is not destiny!” till my dying day, “The Screwfly Solution” is still going to wake me up now and again in a cold, cold sweat.

(Something else she said: “Listen! Listen and think, you dolt! Feel how it really is! Let me inscribe a little fable on your nose that will carry more than the words with it when you look in the mirror!”)

But some few of those pockets are outdated, quaintly, thankfully, finally. Ruth Parsons digs it up in “The Women Men Don’t See”—

“Men and women aren’t different species, Ruth.” [And I cringe; if there’s anyone in the world I don’t want to agree with, it’s Don Fenton from St. Louis.] “Women do everything men do.”
“Do they?” Our eyes meet, but she seems to be seeing ghosts between us in the rain. She mutters something that could be “My Lai” and looks away. “All the endless wars …” Her voice is a whisper. “All the huge authoritarian organizations for doing unreal things. Men live to struggle against each other; we’re just part of the battlefield. It’ll never change unless you change the whole world. I dream sometimes of—of going away—” She checks and abruptly changes voice. “Forgive me, Don, it’s so stupid saying all this.”

It’s not the My Lai reference, no; if there’s anything the past few weeks have proven, it’s that My Lai is still somehow too astonishingly deep and painful for us to be honest with ourselves about it. —But: the whole world has changed. It’s been changing, it’s still changing, it will never stop, and the choice that Fowler’s narrator makes in “What I Didn’t See,” the character of Eddie, what she sees in him, that she can see it at all: ample proof that the whole world did just that. Not enough, no; not nearly enough, except in the ways it’s changed unimaginably much. (It’s hard to see how far we’ve come when we no longer see where we were.) And Lord knows this is far too Pollyannaish a reading to do much more than mark my own starting point in the complex tangle these two stories make when you set them next to each other. Rest assured, it’s not that I’m papering over the prickly price paid by Fowler’s narrator; it’s just I’m weak enough to take what comfort I can from the promise of compromise in the face of Tiptree’s unimpeachable rigor.

Especially when, as aforementioned, I’m part of her problem.

But what comfort I take is itself cold and prickly: the choice Eddie makes, the things that Fowler’s narrator did not see, open whole oceans of unbearable wrongs that have barely been glanced over in this discourse.

She checks and abruptly changes voice. “Forgive me, Don, it’s so stupid saying all this.”
“Men hate wars too, Ruth,” I say as gently as I can.
“I know.” She shrugs and climbs to her feet. “But that’s your problem, isn’t it?”

Marilyn Shannon Brooks’ purple heart.

  1. Dylan    Sep 6, 03:10 PM    #
    Oh yeah, those Purple Heart band-aids. That's really classy and mature, RNC. This election cycle is so fucking junior high I could just barf.

    By the way, all men are pigs, long live the matriarchy, Dave Sim was right and we're all siphoning your brain power in order to inject our own evil conceptions into your cerebral pudding. TAKE IT SUCKERS.

  2. scribblingwoman    Sep 6, 08:01 PM    #
    SF stuff
    Gerald Lucas points towards this week's Guardian special issue on SF. Nalo Hopkinson: did she or didn't she? She did!...

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