gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

On the suppression and bastardisation of minority voices

The writers who tell me that they are entitled to write about any story in the world bug me. These are the writers who claim that the artist has privilege of story regardless of culture and regardless of understanding and regardless of permissions and regardless of power differentials. I've been trying to explain to them that writing is never culturally neutral and that there are ethics involved. I've said that cultural appropriation is not a good thing and tried to explain why. I've said many things. Some writers listen and learn respect. Some writers seem to have a selective deafness, quite possibly arising from their culturally privileged background.

Obviously this has been getting to me, for last night I dreamed about one aspect of this ongoing conversation. I've modified the dream slightly (I've attached a name to it, for instance) but here it is, in its full instructional vigour:

Once, an older man* married a younger woman** (who we will call Emily Bronte, just because). Emily wrote a lot. At first her husband thought it was letters to friends and smiled benignly on his wife. One day, when she'd slipped out of the room for something, he wandered over to her worktable and picked up a piece of paper. What he saw was astonishing, glorious prose. "My wife is a writer!" he thought to himself. He was very pleased.

He persuaded her to let him get her work into print. And so they did, and everyone said "What nice writing."

Alas, Emily died young. The distraught husband was interviewed by the press. He said. "I wish I'd kept the originals. I edited all the stories for publication because it was the right thing to do, but I miss Emily and her voice was stronger in the originals."

"You don't have any?" asked the newspaperperson.

"I've got three,' said Emily's husband. "Just three."

What the newspaperperson read in those three was quite different to the polite, restrained author Emily's husband had presented to the world. Her writing was wild, shocking, exuberant, full of genius and spirit. Emily's husband had reshaped Emily into the preferred ideal woman-writer for the society they lived in, and Emily's voice and personality was not in them. Nor was her genius. It had been subsumed by her husband's sense of propriety.

"Please tell me you didn't really destroy the originals," begged the newspaperperson.

"I told you," said Emily's husband. "They weren't as good as my versions, but I do miss my Emily."

*none of you, he's a metaphor for a type of society
**she's also a metaphor - it's about imbalance of power in a culture. It worries me that my dream spawned this particular metaphor.
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