Tag: channeling

Zambreno's Heroines on Fanzine

by on Dec.10, 2012

My review of Kate Zambreno’s excellent third book HEROINES is up now on Fanzine. Here’s an excerpt:

This pattern of men vampirizing their partners’ subjectivities is a central concern of the book: T.S. Eliot writing Vivien(ne)’s hysterical chatter in The Waste Land and subsequently abandoning her; Paul Bowles fictionalizing his marriage with Jane in The Sheltering Sky, a depiction that left her unable to write for years. “Is making someone a character giving them life, or taking it away?” Zambreno asks. Representational vampirism is the stuff that literature is (often) made of, of course; the problem, she makes clear, is that the men in question were championed for aestheticizing their partners’ “madness” while the women themselves were pathologized, institutionalized, and/or forgotten precisely because of it.

In a sense Zambreno is another vampire – in channeling these women she is using them to understand and support her own experience. But Zambreno’s is a reparative vampirism, a depathologizing corrective that identifies and empathizes instead of objectifying. Less reparatively, Zambreno vampirizes her own partner/husband, subverting the gender roles of her precedents by asserting herself as the artist and her partner as muse, their relationship her raw material, not his—even as she is describing the very gendered dynamics of their conflicts: her screaming and throwing things while he retreats into stoicism. Throughout, she interrogates these dynamics, reminding herself that they are playing roles, that John, her partner, is not T.S. Eliot or Scott Fitzgerald: “We might slip into these roles, we might play these ghosts, but we have become aware of this…He tries to listen. We try to learn.”

…Zambreno’s investment in her oppression, as a wife and as a woman writer, whether sympathetic or not, is the book’s greatest strength, and the reason why it will become an enduring text. Except when she celebrates the mainly-women literary blogging community that she helped build, Zambreno’s writing is characterized by cynicism and open hostility. Heroines is a performance of radical negativity, in other words: deploying an indulgent bitterness and a seething resentment, Zambreno refuses to be satisfied with what women writers have been allotted, and she is adamantly, fiercely entitled to more.

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