Wednesday, 23 May 2018
20/52 Sara Stridsberg: Drömfakulteten (2006) and Valerie Solanas SCUM Manifesto (1967) This post is about two books actually. I read Sara Stridsbeg's Drömfakulteten - tillägg till sexualteorin that has been been translated to Finnish this year and goes with a name Unelmien tiedekunta - Lisäys seksuaaliteoriaan. The novel's main character is Valerie Solanas who is a real historical person. In the beginning of the book it is said though, that all the characters are fictional. The novel includes parts from Valerie Solanas' work, SCUM Manifesto. The book made me curious to read through the manifesto as a whole to know better what kind of person we are talking about. Both the novel and the manifesto draw a picture of a person who doesn't compromise or make things more pretty than they are. Her thoughts go beyond political correctness and good taste. While writing and campaigning her manifesto she annoys people and seems to find few allies because she is so extremist.
The novel follows Valerie's childhood, student years, years as a radical feminist and last moments before her death. The story is written with short looks to situations and in the end the picture comes complete when the last mysteries kept between different eras are being covered. When I heard about this book I was enthusiastic to get to read it. After first few pages I doubted if I can finish it at all. The beginning was very rough as it opened to her death bed and traumatic childhood memories. It doesn't turn out to a happy story in any phase but knowing the sad end from the beginning makes it more easy to read and find out what happened in between all. The style how this novel is written brings to my mind beatnik literature. Tempo is fast and language doesn't hide the ugliness and sickening details. There is no room for euphemisms or trying to save someone's feelings. It is as unapologetic and rough as Solanas. I would suggest reading this book in a broad daylight or with someone you are able to talk about the text.
There is an inner conflict in the mind of Solanas, who is modern and intellectual person in a world that is conservative, restricting and bound to patterns. Based on the novel I got a picture of a person who is so far from this world that she doesn't get a grip on this reality or that the world doesn't get a grip on her thoughts.Valerie's talent and intellectual ideas stay unacknowledged and her ideas don't get refined to full capacity. In the novel she gets a short period of time when she believes that things are getting better and her work will be appreciated but soon she drops from this illusion. Her early years and traumatic experiences through her life seem to have an influence how she sees men and the functioning of the world. Still when I read the novel I didn't want to think that her work is only defined or explained by her rough experiences and that more positive ones would have made her work look different like for example more negotiating. She has a gift to see the current system, tell it's weaknesses to people and do visionary work to build an utopia.
When reading the novel and manifesto I felt she goes over the limit in some things. For example she suggest that all men should be wiped away so women could have an utopia where they could live and prosper. She writes that women are doing great together and using the latest science they could focus on making more women. She sees no reason for men to exist at all. Where does this come from? How could she say that and believe it to be right? One chapter in the novel opened the logic to me. As a post graduate student she studies mice and wants to study only females and execute the males as irrelevant to the research. Then a male academic says it is against the tradition and practices. While he explains the system to Solanas it is revealed that male are the norm according to whom everything is researched. Relationship between mother and child is only occasion where females are interesting and worth studying. The world where Solanas writes her rough words is a world where women are wiped away as unworthy. In a symbolic way women are banned to exist and exiled to margins. The world around Solanas is a one where men live and prosper according to their own rules. This opens up the context for Valerie's frustration and aggressive behavior.
When reading the novel it feels like Solanas is ahead of her time but I wonder what would happen if the manifesto was published in 2018 for the first time. Would it be banned because of the encouragement to violence and hatred even though in the end Solanas writes she doesn't believe in violence and killing. There are little hints about how the manifesto is accepted among fellow feminists. She meets other feminists that criticize her attitude towards men. They see men's role as companions when fighting for equality and better world. Solanas that we see in the novel is not ready for this jump from male overpower to peaceful collaboration towards common goals. She doesn't want to be mature and constructive but angry.
SCUM is provocative read. But maybe if she would have modified it to more politically correct form it would have lost it's clearness and energetic message that works as a wake up call. Did she mean to have her manifesto to be taken literally? Or what did she try to say when she says that men are not needed anymore? Is there really a division to two groups, men and women, who are against each other or could the groups have other meaning? Manifesto is written in 1967 and the societal issues she lifts up are the same we read from news even today in 2018. That is something to think about. Maybe she saw the power structures the world is based on and all the issues that work against women getting to live fully satisfying life. In the novel she goes through the ultimate frustration with the current state of issues and loses her mind. She is put away from the public discussion because her message begins to blur and sound like sick person's mantra instead of something that is thoroughly pondered and evaluated. Maybe she sees how unwilling men in power are to give up their lead and position and that is why she is getting tired waiting to get some scraps in her lifetime. Maybe she doesn't want to be neutral and loved by all but needs visible change. And saying it aloud with radical and thought provoking claims makes the message easier to remember.
The societal problems she points out are not unfamiliar to us. The methods to fix those issues are in some parts unusable. But she helps to see the world and ourselves in a very different light and lets us to question how things actually are. She changes the roles and traits traditionally given to men and women. She writes in her manifesto that women are powerful, independent, brave, interesting and ready for adventures. She sees that men try to turn things upside down by making their weaknesses to be women's weaknesses. By making women believe this false truth they can have a role of a master, teacher and guide. She sees how women are made to listeners and laborers who book their days with tasks that serve men (like cleaning and taking care of men's needs). She sees women more adventurous, proud and self-sufficient by nature.
I was surprised to read today's headlines from a book that has been written in 1967. Solanas claims that talented girls lack self esteem and because of that don't take scientific career. She thinks that girls are deliberately taught to feel that way. Just last week I heard from Maailmanpolitiikan arkipäivää -program (Nyt tytöt koodaamaan! 12.5. Yle Radio 1) that women are needed as coders but quite few believe in themselves enough to take that career. It was criticized how people are worried about boys' school success when girls are having serious lack of confidence and they don't believe in themselves even though they do great work at school. Solanas also points out automatization and work life. She sees that some men are afraid of losing their position, control and power if automatization takes over. She sees that lots of capacity could have been freed to creative work and most tasks could be done by machines. I have often thought this, that it should be possible to give more work to machines and use that saved time to something more purposeful. Still there is a tradition that doesn't want to loose it's grip from old ways of doing things. Work is often seen very physical and repeating instead of planning new innovations for example. Even nowadays when machines and robots take lots of our tasks we are kept in a leash so that some people could keep their positions and make more money. Because if we were freed from work as we know it, it might mean equality for all to do creative work like science and art. People could come up with new ideas and have time to use their voice against power structures. This might sound terrifying to those who don't see pattern of taking advantage of others in that new order.
Maybe Solanas has written her manifest to people who don't get to bloom in this current system, who are waiting their grand moment that never comes and who want freedom. According to Solanas the system gives success and moments of achievement to some but not for all. Women are seen as a combination of characters that are not based on reality and that way men are let to rule against this false image. I don't know how relevant this dichotomy to two groups called men and women is these days. But I have noticed a false ideal of how women and girls should be guides my behavior too. There have been moments when I have thought that I have talked too much, that I stole too much time. That I should become better listener and try to learn what wisdoms people have to tell me. I have thought that I have nothing special to give that others would like to hear about so that it would be justified to take all that room for myself.
In Solanas' utopia women will create a magical world where everyone gets education, freedom of self expression and chance to explore, create new innovations and be together instead of being isolated from each other. It is very far from her life in the novel. She does have relationships and people who she loves. Still I felt that she is quite alone and walks in back alleys collecting all extreme experiences one can have and eventually finds herself somewhere deep and isolated from world and people who have just visited her life. But her utopia in mind we can be motivated to come up with solutions to make it reality. Anarchy that Solanas describes as the practical answer to success is too rough and unpredictable. But maybe we should be allowed to say things more straightly without limiting our thoughts and actions. To say what we ponder and blurt it out as it first comes to our mind. It might sound stupid or unsophisticated but at least it would include the issue we want to express. We could yell on top of each other and not be so careful about waiting our own turn that never arrives. Maybe this cacophony would produce new outcomes and those would turn into energetic action. And when doing we could make all the mistakes, yet we wouldn't be paralyzed by that but we could continue with new directions. Maybe that is Solanas politically incorrect claim: not to be passive but actively say what there is to be said and act when needed.