A Woman Divided

Elaine Showalter makes a link in The Female Malady between the diagnosis of schizophrenia and the idea of a woman dividing herself in two by being both the surveyor and the surveyed, quoting from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing: “A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself.” Berger goes on to use the example that at her father’s funeral the woman sees herself weeping.

Kate Zambreno
Heroines

Is this the text of an author or a madwoman?

Yet it’s so impossible to shut out all the voices. Not only: no one will read you (Nietzsche: non legor, non legar.) But: you are mad. When you are told that you are ill, that is something you internalize. Days I worry, wonder-what if I’m not a writer? What if I’m a depressive masquerading as a notetaker? Is this the text of an author or a madwoman? It depends perhaps on who is reading it. Who has read it first. For once you are named it’s almost impossible to struggle out from under the oppression of those categories-it is done, it is done at a price, and the price is daily, and it is on your head.

Kate Zambreno
Heroines

Can the diary be recovered?

The big rhetorical leap I’m taking in Heroines is that the impulse to discipline the self or the excessive out of our literature, comes from modernism and is mostly about moral attitudes of the time. In modernism we see this happen more with women writers, whose work and behavior was often critiqued as being TOO MUCH. Too excessive, too autobiographical, and then, not literary enough. There was a simultaneous horror for as well as fetishizing of the feminine in modernism. And now, think in terms of how Sheila Heti’s book was often reviewed. I’m curious why our conversation about fiction seems to often pivot on how fictional a work is. If that makes sense.

Kate Zambreno
From a superb interview in which she discusses her latest book Heroines, an intoxicating and personal study of the wives of Modernism. I will undoubtedly be writing more about the book. You can read an excerpt of the book.

You may also enjoy this conversation between Tamara Faith Berger and Kate Zambreno.