When you write about men, you’re writing about people. When you write about women, you’re writing about women.
Aura, Lize, Rowan, Siham and myself. We’re five authors in this year’s Chronicles project, and we’re all women, young. It’s our turn now, I think, and although our backgrounds and stories differ, we have many things in common too. Lize tells us about how a review called her “a cute little thing”, says just that was the worst part of it: being objectified. I tell them about Norwegian critics’ inherent distrust of the female experience in books, which they consider self-centred; we’re unable to see beyond ourselves, are sort of stuck in our own bodies. We write niche literature, employ the problematic “I”. But that this exploration of the self, the female self, is indeed political, and universal too, nobody seems to see. As a writer, being written off in that way, so immediately, is discouraging. If we’re to talk about trends in literature, we must also talk about trends in criticism.
On the train to The Hague, I saw a young woman knitting. It’s strange, I think, that this craft has survived, in this age of mass production. Is it a preview of marriage and motherhood, or just a simple pastime, a way of keeping your hands busy?
At ten to five, I’m picked up by a driver in the lobby, he’s to take me to the airport. In the car, we talk – he tells me he’s lived in the city for the last forty years, not because he particularly likes it, but because he wants to stay close to his family, that’s all that matters, he says. We’re very different, I think, not that it’s surprising, that a professional driver in his sixties and me, a self-centred young Norwegian author, should be different, but it strikes me nonetheless: this interest in family, being together. It’s sad that I can’t relate to that, and at the same time not, things are different now. Religion is no longer important, neither is family.
Writing is important. Being a young woman who writes, insists on it, is important. As Helen Cixous said: ‘Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies – for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put her self into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement.’
We put ourselves into text, place ourselves in history, insist on being part of it all, that our experiences, too, are universal. Yet again we shall experience that feeling of surprise that we’re still not quite used to: seeing a name or an image, or a text, become a being of flesh and blood.