by Carina on May.14, 2013
So last night I was sitting in a very date-y bar with two girl poets, which made three of us girl poets in the cozy booth at the date-y bar except I was wearing Converse sneakers and pants and a jacket so maybe I was in that moment the boy or at least the mustach’d girl.
A few nights ago I watched the Le Tigre documentary “Who Took The Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour” with my roommate with whom I have recently formed an electrofolk dancepunk pop rock girl group. Then the next night we watched it again with the third member of our trio.
There are a lot of things to take away from the Le Tigre documentary: the open-space approach to feminism with a rider that includes not being worried about making people (feminists & otherwise) uncomfortable or pissed off, the Supremes-esque choreography, the subtleties of what my roommate called “Bush-era New York music” (because no one’s writing bitch-punk about Obama), and excellent use of neon spandex, among others, but what I would like to focus on is the concept of Mastery.
In the documentary, Kathleen Hanna says that she feels there aren’t more women starting/in bands because there’s this concept that if one is a woman there will be ruthless criticism and therefore it is necessary to become technically masterful with one’s instruments. Not so, says she, for men in bands, particularly punk bands. They can perform on balls, pure nerve. The obvious end to this story is that Le Tigre says screw it and does their thing regardless of whether or not any one of them could shred on Stairway to Heaven.
Let’s backtrack: I recently stopped caring about poetry. I mean this thing that had totally consumed my life for literal years slowly started to atrophy and die, the way the love for an awful ex does. I have spoken often and in many venues of my idyllic and classical upbringing as a poet, how I was reared on the model of Apprentice/Journeyman/Master. It’s a comfort; there’s a road, you walk down it. It doesn’t have to be the one you were walked down when you finally walk by yourself, but it’s nice to know someone’s walked a road before – they’ve shown you some tools and how to use them, told stories about getting mauled by bear cubs or otherworldly encounters with albino deer.
In this situation the Master isn’t trying to dominate the Apprentice or Journeyman, they’re just trying to shepherd them in some productive direction. That is when it’s good, when it’s PURE. Purity is an exceptionally problematic term and it’s one I use a lot because I believe in Purity as I believe in Truth and Sincerity. They’re zero-sum phenomena, relevant only in relation to themselves. Where the self is a concept the substance becomes at once hollow and over-filled, gives in to a weirdly inert sense of transience.
Merely agreeing to set foot on the road, to look at someone who’s done something about which you are curious, implicitly buying into the contract makes you an Apprentice and gives you power. How does a Journeyman become a Master? By passing the knowledge along. You have to be hollowed out at least a little. You have to become totally self-referential in order to best illustrate to your Apprentice how a sort of life might be lived. The Master stands to lose very much; the Apprentice could gain everything.
So last night at the date-y bar we were talking about dominance and Mastery, the sex-/class-/colonial-ist implications of saying “I know how to do this so let me show you.” The other girls thought Mastery was definitively bad, implied a power imbalance impossible to right except maybe in the case of the dominant sexual submissive, and that situation is obviously fraught. The problem, we discussed, might be the terminology. We could say “I am a fount!” or “I am a tissue box!” and mean that we have a sense of proficiency with a given set of tools, but if we say “I am a master of poetry!” or “I am a master of tissues!” skill is no longer the issue – it’s just power.
The Agony of Power.
I read this book all winter. I did and do not think Mastery is bad. I do think there is something agonizing about extreme technical proficiency and what it requires of a person to wield. This is the beauty of something like the kind of art that Le Tigre was making a decade ago – the weight was lifted by the concept of “fuck it.” Not that they were not megastars in the biggest sense that feminist separatists can be megastars, which is to say, howevermuch they want, because everyone is a little afraid of feminist separatists and lesbians with mustaches (See: everything ever written by Kristeva, the general reaction to Gertrude Stein). The combination of apathy and passion makes the hollow/Pure. The apathetic is thusly made Master over care.