About this issue
From a naming of female potency to a questioning of the notion of two sexes, from poems in the voice of a young woman kidnapped into sex slavery to reflections on lesbian desire, from a science-fiction nightmare to a personal meditation on the search for gentleness amidst cruelty, from a most unusual “Trivial Lives” to a review of Mary Daly’s latest, Trivia 4 walks the knife-edge of paradox, balancing between the wonder and terror of our times.
- Harriet Ellenberger
When our web manager Susan Kullmann asked us if this issue had a theme, Harriet unblinkingly offered: “The Wonderful and the Terrible.” The phrase didn’t sit right with me at first — too general, too bipolar — until I realized it exactly described not only the contents of this issue, but also the state of my life these past months. It was difficult not to feel apocalyptic this summer, between record-breaking heat all over the globe and Israel’s relentless firing on Lebanon, on top of ongoing US atrocities in Iraq. I used to take some comfort in the poetry of H.D., who in Trilogy, written as the bombs of World War II fell over London, announced her resolve to "leave the place-of-a-skull/ to those who have fashioned it" so as to dwell together with her fellow initiates (all of them women or so I imagined) in a realm where “The Walls Do not Fall.” Today such thinking is wishful in the extreme. The nature of globalized civilization is such that there is no escaping, climate change being perfectly symptomatic in this respect. Indeed, the idyllic “Islands of the Blest” invoked in Trilogy may be among those Pacific islands even now falling victim to rising sea levels. As Ronald Wright puts it in A Short History of Progress: “We still have differing cultural and political systems but at the level of economics there is only one big civilization, feeding on the whole planet’s natural capital. No part of the biosphere escapes our hemorrhage of waste.” Civilizations have collapsed before, he goes on to say, but if and when collapse comes again, this time it will extend to every part of the globe.
Yet how to explain that, even as this collapse seems to draw palpably near, I and so many of the women I know are living lives that seem to partake of ever more magic, beauty, and awe – are ever more in touch with what Mary Daly calls “Amazon Grace”? It’s a paradox that more and more I’m learning to simply accept and live with. And it’s one that’s mirrored in the essays and poems in this issue, which taken together confront the most inconvenient truths on the planet (in “Doe a Deer” Verena Stefan addresses a whole litany), while at the same time suggesting an enormous reserve of joy and possibility. Several writers in this issue grapple with questions of love and lust, carrying on the conversation from the last issue. Telling the truth to a lover, Renate Stendhal writes in her essay on lesbian desire, releases erotic energy and opens up heretofore unimagined possibilities. If this is so in the intimate realm of sexual communion, might not it also be so in other realms? Beginning with Jane Caputi’s evocation, in “Cunctipotence,” of the power of “down there,” most of the articles in this issue testify to the power of truth when it is unburied—especially when that truth has been historically devalued, denied, trivialized. So perhaps it is not such a mystery after all, this coexistence of the wonderful and the terrible in our lives. Perhaps it is simply a result of attempting to live in a state of fearless awareness.
Trivia has never shied away from challenges to the very assumptions on which it would seem to rest, and “Degendering Sex, Undoing Erotic Alienation” is such a challenge. PriscilleTouraille asks us to question our readiness to identify as “women” on the basis of nothing more than the nature of our plumbing, and points to the constriction, and the erotic damage, resulting from such identification. I myself have never before been persuaded by those who argue, along with Monique Wittig, that lesbians are not women (having seen too much evidence to the contrary), and I’ve been mostly enraged by the anti-essentialist assault on identity of the last two decades that makes it all but impossible to speak from any sort of embodied place as a woman. Yet when I heard Touraille deliver this talk in Toulouse in April, I hung on every word and felt myself in the throes of a paradigm shift. Is it possible, she compelled me to wonder, that the primary identity on which I’ve fallen back my whole life is nothing more than what she calls “an ontologization of organs” – an elaborate construct superimposed upon a biological happenstance?
At first glance, Touraille’s argument might appear to be a direct attack on the kind of thinking found in Caputi’s essay, in which the female sexual organ is celebrated as potent and magical. How to explain, then, that Harriet and I felt so excited and expanded by both essays? One answer is that “cunt” as Caputi conceives it, with the help of myth and ritual, is no mere sexual organ. Sharing certain attributes with the penis, it’s actually a challenge to the strict gender categories Touraille wishes to undo. ( Indeed, “cunctipotence” as Caputi defines it can be wielded by men as well as women.) A more elegant and elaborate answer was suggested by Harriet in the course of our e-mail correspondence regarding the apparent contradiction between these two pieces: “Many theoretical physicists,” she wrote, “are now trying to unify the two mutually incomprehensible and contradictory branches of physics – quantum theory, which works for the very small (the sub-atomic); and relativity theory, which works for the very large (solar systems, galaxies, etc). Their unification attempt is called ‘string theory.’ It's mathematically based and not verifiable by experiment and contrary to common sense, involving eleven dimensions and parallel universes, for example. Well, I'm thinking that perhaps Touraille and Caputi represent the feminist-theory equivalents of relativity theory and quantum theory. They seem to contradict each other, and they're dealing with different levels of being (Caputi for example deals with a much longer history than Touraille does and Caputi also deals directly with the spiritual, which Touraille wouldn't), and probably there is an as yet unfound way to bring them together...."
Whether or not these two points of view can ever be brought together inside one workable frame, Harriet and I have brought them together in this issue. Like the wonderful and the terrible, they exist now side by side, in full-blown paradox. Cunt as insult, as vilified organ; cunt as instrument of power and tranformation. We leave it to you, fearless readers, to find a way, if you can, to bring them together in your hearts and minds.
- Lise Weil
#5, THE RESURRECTION ISSUE
Our next issue, the long-heralded Resurrection Issue, will be dedicated to those radical writers, thinkers, activists, creators, friends, who are no longer with us. We invite passionate, critical, creative responses to the lives and work of both well-known feminists who have died — e.g. Andrea Dworkin, Monique Wittig, Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Gloria Anzaldua, Barbara Macdonald, Susan Sontag, Matilda Joslyn Gage — as well as the multitude of women whose life and work were not widely publicized but deeply affected others. Deadline is December 1, 2006.
Issue 4 • September 2006
and the Terrible
Doe a Deer
translated by Lise Weil
Undoing Erotic Alienation
translated by Lise Weil
Seven Stages of Lesbian Desire (What's Truth Got to Do With It?)
Read it Aloud
Notes on Contributors