Heroines is a text that flares furiously: willfully ignoring Woolf’s fretting in A Room of One's Own over female authors whose work is driven by “thHeroines is a text that flares furiously: willfully ignoring Woolf’s fretting in A Room of One's Own over female authors whose work is driven by “the red light of emotion,” Zambreno instead throws in with the red-haired speaker of Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” who rises exultantly “out of the ash” to remorselessly chomp upon “men like air.” A showcase for Zambreno’s deep and wide-ranging study into the lives and experiences of a number of women of the modernist era, she also dares write herself and her experiences directly into Heroines, ingeniously undermining traditional distinctions between literary scholarship and personal memoir.
And I feel the need to stipulate right off: this is not my text. It is not mine in the sense that I am not a woman, let alone have experienced the kinds of mental illness or crippling insecurities disclosed throughout these pages. I feel it’s important to honor that reality, as scanning through the current Goodreads ratings and reviews it appears Heroines resonates much more with readers who identify as female than with the several males who have so far logged responses (with inevitable exceptions, of course) Considering how central the idea of creating a sense of community among women is central to many of Zambreno’s ideas, I respect and admire its attempt to record and actively construct a space of visibility and support.
On the other hand, this is very much my text; when she writes “I feel compelled to act as the literary executor of the dead and erased” I immediately recognized an impulse nearly identical to my own personal literary and academic project of Queer Modernisms, my blog on marginalized and forgotten queer figures of the modernist era. As someone also strangely compelled to spend so much time and effort to research and reclaim the life stories and artistic work of the historically erased (and outside of the typical orbit of academia), there were so many moments where I found myself muttering “yes, yes—that’s exactly it.” Reading Heroines in many ways felt like crossing paths with a fellow pilgrim while wandering in the wilderness—our trajectories or intended destinations aren’t the same, but the underlying motivation is.
Vivianne Eliot (married to T.S. “Tom”) and Zelda Fitzgerald (married to F. Scott) quickly emerge as the patron saints and great tragic figures of Heroines, with much space accorded to the explication of their heartbreaking life stories which eerily echo each other. A kaleidoscopic array of individuals also appear and disappear throughout the pages of Heroines, including Woolf, Plath, Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys, Djuna Barnes, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Anaïs Nin, Elizabeth Hardwicke, Mary McCarthy, Anna Kavan, Laure (Colette Peignot), and countless others (though I will say this is a disappointingly white project: I was eagerly anticipating the appearance of Nina Simone as she appears on the collage on the original Semiotexte cover, but she only warrants one passing mention like a bit of trivia. But that’s still one more mention than afforded Josephine Baker, also glimpsed on the cover. This odd and unexpected myopia is my primary critique of the book—really, not even one allusion to the women of the Harlem Renaissance?).
Over the course of nearly 300 pages the fragmented paragraphs of Heroines twist and blur into many different forms as it blends familiar modes of literary analysis, autobiography, hagiography, confession, apologia, scholarship, criticism, reportage, and even the more informal, impassioned style of internet writing (the book is indeed rooted in Zambreno’s blog), a multitude of shapes that add up to something that often feels somewhat singular. If there are stretches that seem to lead to dead ends, it is always sustained by its energy and its passion. And as much as a Herculean effort of reclamation, Heroines also seems to me to function as a site of possibility, opening up spaces, paths, and avenues of expression and inquiry yet to be taken. It’s a thrilling thing to experience.
"So much of modernism is myth-making–who gets to be remembered? Whose writing is preserved and whose is not?" ...more
I found Deleuze's cinema books practically incomprehensible (gorgeously, beguilingly incomprehensible, but incomprehensible nonetheless) before this iI found Deleuze's cinema books practically incomprehensible (gorgeously, beguilingly incomprehensible, but incomprehensible nonetheless) before this invaluable study helped untangle some of the more difficult knots. Rodowick accomplishes this not so much as explaining as contextualizing and helping draw revealing connections to Deleuze's larger philosophical project. I only read the section immediately relevant to what I was studying at the time (cinema and "minor" literatures), but plan someday to return to take on the rest. ...more
Absolutely invaluable—I turned to this countless times for refreshers and ideas in how to present many of the key ideas, concepts and terms of cinemaAbsolutely invaluable—I turned to this countless times for refreshers and ideas in how to present many of the key ideas, concepts and terms of cinema studies to my students in ways that were both clear and meaningful (I honestly don't know what I would have done without the concise explanation of film semiotics). And I swear I'm not biased just because he was my thesis advisor! ...more