I had an idea one day and thought I should put it down as I have here. Who I am is not important, a theme my writer-father has taken up again and again, one he has me assert here as I am the inferred author; he is the implicit author. Everyone who reads understands that what they read has been written; passive voice understood and imposed. By someone; this someone here for this something-havong-been-written is me. This me, though, must not be confused with the true author–is that what we should say; should I say “true author” for my father, for I am a child of his brain as any narrator is a child of the brain of the author as much as Sancho Panza was a child of the brain of Cervantes. Even in the matter of essays, let’s say the essays of Montaigne, the essayer in any particular essay is or was a persona of the author; each expositor Montaigne created–and he did create a separate expository-mask for each essay as he did for each later and later revision of essays he had written already. All the world Montaigne understood; all men and women being players her understood. How am I the same person when I write about abortion today that I was when I wrote about it three years ago. This is why Yeats wanted the letters he had given friends back so he could revise them. He did not want any of his letters to remain as artifacts, to be parcel in a kind of archaeology he did not approve. He wanted perpetual contemporaneity for his letters. The only valid Yeats for Yeats was the Yeats of now–perhaps this is what Whitman means by there is no more time than now. I am currently in a biography of Williams (Thomas Lanier . . .) as well as one of the volumes of the collected and published journals of Jean Cocteau; I do not know which one I prefer, if I do prefer either one. I do not prefer duck to chicken; I like differently, just as I like lobster and shrimp differently; just as I like boiled lobster differently than I do broiled. The key question as of late for me is how do I appropriately–that is an ugly word although we cannot live without it in a world with so many hundreds of millions of unenlightened people–the question then, “how do I make literature out of my life?” I am actually asking if I should be asking this question–the punctuation should have been different; I should have fixed it to my syntax differently. My life is literature? Am I inadvertently pandering to the simplistic view that everything a writer writes is autobiogrpjay if not autobiographical?
All of Piece; or, What She Is
Women, cows, horses and pigs; all of them mammals, all of them breeders, the latter three when female, as is woman a female person–the etymology of the word ‘woman’ sets in motion what happens when we discuss her–she is thus in the back of our minds, a modified person. A man is person in himself a person. What then must we do better to understand more? Now, it is not simply the matter of her modification in our diction first and then perhaps lastly in how we think of her, that is prime for discussion. There is further dissatisfaction with the language we use to describe her, define her, confine her–she is confined by words. All the articulation about her, surrounding her, to her, for her, et cetera, et cetera, has been managed against her.
A woman, for a more specific instance, is, as she has been for millenia, transformed by marriage. The institution, as it has been constituted by custom, ceremony, contract and diction, has in-formed the shape women are to take or assume in society. By way of matrimony, a woman goes from person to female, from being a modified person to being other than a person, being only a sexual object or container to be filled, thus, we could assume the logic would extend to being fulfilled, no? We are really fucking idiots.
Diction is everything in our ceremonies. The word woman is from the Anglo-Saxon wif man which means, literally, female person; the Anglo-Saxon word man meant what we mean by person (the word person, from the Latin persona, translates mask, giving rise to a better understanding of the word ‘personality’). Man was person; wif man was a female person, a modified man; Adam and Eve revisited in Anglo-Saxon before their conversion. The word man subsequently came to mean what we mean by the word ‘man,’ the fruits of patriarchy extend to semantics and the ascription of meaning. Yes, a woman goes from woman to female in marriage; you could not have missed the current word wife in the Old English wif. So, before marriage, a woman is a person; once more, modified by the Old English adjective for female, wif.
Modified by patriarchy she is, but nonetheless, before marriage, she is a person, woman. After marriage, however, she becomes a wife, primarily so–if not entirely so. Thus, the modified human person woman, becomes a female without personhood. She loses her personhood for the overarching role of breeder. All females are designated as females in relation to the biological function of breeding, which is why the man becomes husband, as in animal husbandry, the manger of the breeding, the manager of the brood bred by the female. This transformation has also been the way of the world around the world for all women irrespective of culture or civilization (that word is used in its primary connotation, not what we have come to understand by the word, what new connotations we have ascribed).
Even here in these United States, a woman goes from personhood before marriage, to breeder of her brood afterwards, going from woman to wife, the bride whose ring symbolizes the bridal bit or the ring through the nose of the mare. All traditional marriages have been such: woman is wife as soon as she takes her vows–we have removed ‘obey’ from the avowals a woman speaks, but the greatest rhetorical leverage against women as persons is in the diction of the ceremony itself.
Man and wife; person and female; the etymologies are clear–we reject the study of etymology as we have the study of philology. Never mind what husband and wife might infer inside our half-baked attempts to invest new meaning into our ceremonies. This wife, now female, in this sense of her “obligation and duty to carry on,” to hold up the family, which is why she is expected in most matters that concern both husband and wife, to lie down. The once enforced missionary position was a reinforcement of woman’s subservient and submissive role. These may only be residually present today, but as I have said in other essays, words never lose former meaning, they lie dormant in a semantic collective unconscious.
Birth comes from the Old English to carry. Woman becomes pack-animal, or she subsumes in her entirety the vessel that is her womb. She becomes a womb. This has been and remains an is now in most traditional societies where woman is a lesser man, a modified man. In these societies, man is the prime being, the prototypal person. So then, let me reiterate: a woman, once a person, becomes then a wife, a female, one that is in effect, if not by design, a surrogate for breeding a man’s brood.
Now, all birth is an act of surrogacy within the marriage contract; a woman, traditionally, has been the surrogate for the man’s brood. It is not until very late in our history that we accept woman as person with rights to her brood. But just how progressive we are in the world can be noted by how a country supposedly as advanced as China has the most forced abortions in the world when the fetus is female, and has the highest incidence of sexual slavery on earth, not to mention a rate of at least 500 women a day committing suicide. This is our world today.
Infertility is still grounds for divorce. Extending this ground to stand on to women does not extract it from being embedded in patriarchy, a rule against woman’s personhood. Yes, a woman loses her personhood by the very words we use that cannot be removed from their etymology, nor can they be voided of the residue of meaning they have carried for millennia. A woman has bargained her personhood, if you will, by becoming a breeder in trade for financial security, or so the traditional arrangement went in spite of propaganda to the contrary spoken vehemently by men.
How is traditional marriage, then, not a form of prostitution as the Romantics and the Modernists both insisted it was? This could be why traditional married women are the most savage in their critiques of prostitution–traditionally, it is women who make the most vocal opponents to prostitution, and often not because prostitution is a form of oppression for women, but because it offends traditional marriage–if you can believe that.
So then, to reiterate, wife means female, as in female cow, female horse, female pig, or female dog. We do know where this is heading: female Homo-Sapiens.
We are one of many species of animals in the world, but is that what we want from our humanity? The distinction of female is in her potential or actual status as breeder; this is what is currently offensive when young men refer to women as females–and no amount of somersaults to explain ethnic, racial or class culture or heritage in America can explain away the dehumanizing referencing by young men calling women females . . . it is frequently heard among young African-American men, the word ‘female’ instead of ‘woman.’ Incidental, accidental or misogynistic?
We do not learn from language because we disrespect language, and we show our disrespect for language because we cannot honor erudition in language. However, language tells us everything, or so I have said before. We cannot escape the power of language, the influence of our etymology is present. Woman is person before marriage; after marriage she traditionally becomes just another female mammal by our very words. Do you wonder how we stall on our way to re-covering our lost humanity each time it slips? Look to how we speak. If you wonder how we continue to slip and falter on issues like abortion rights and gay marriage, look to how we speak. Look carefully at what persists in our diction, our common parlance.
Autobiography is advanced by the art of fiction; it is in effect fiction, or is it in the result, the end, fiction; in the cause, self-life-writing, in the effect, an effect, what affects me most, is the fictinality of all autobiography. I remember having heard–or was it learned–that Gibbons learned inordinately from Fielding’s narrative how to advance historiography.