So far therapy has been quite fraught for me and ambivalent. I have had one session so far, and I feel mostly we argued. I'm not sure therapy is for me. I don't know. Or I think I need an extremely feminist therapist - who works from a model of empathy. It seems to be all about assigning some sort of blame to the individual for feelings that are completely warranted in an often alienating world. There seems to be little attention to systems of oppression. The goal is seemingly to discipline someone into wanting to behave- to function - to do well. I don't want to feel I've arrived at mental health through feeling guilted and shamed.
Anyway, I was reading Subashini Navaratnam's essay on Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be? this morning, and I was really interested in this book she wrote about within it, Eva Illouz's Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism, which seems to have something in common with Lauren Berlant's work on the idea of the therapeutic.
Illouz also talks about how the discourse of psychology is evacuated of structural socioeconomic inequality and power differences, enabling people to think of their problems—both failures and successes—in purely individual terms. The rise of therapeutic narratives, Illouz explains, dovetailed nicely with existing institutionalised religious narratives, because in both of these narratives “everything has a hidden meaning and purpose. In the same way that human miseries are explained by the assumption of a hidden divine plan, in the therapeutic narrative the choices that seem detrimental to us serve some hidden need and purpose. It is here that narratives of self-help and suffering connect for, if we secretly desire our misery, then the self can be made directly responsible for alleviating it.”
I find this so interesting. I read this this AM and thought - Okay, I'm going to stop therapy. But I almost feel I'm in therapy in order to understand therapy, if that makes sense. It's funny to me that recent critiques of Sheila's book - by Subashini and Jessa Crispin in a series of posts on Bookslut - have invoked Green Girl as some other-text than Sheila's. I mean, I'm gratified they liked the book, and both are really smart critics who I always enjoy reading, even if I disagree with them (like with Jessa dismissing ideas of girlishness), I always think about some aspect of reading and literature from a different perspective. But to me, Sheila's book operates in the realm of the nonfiction novel—so in communion with Chris Kraus, Eileen Myles, Michelle Tea—which Green Girl is not. I am entranced by the nonfiction novel. I think it's one of the most urgent and interesting forms out there, that is questioning what a novel is and what an essay is. I just don't think I accomplished that in Green Girl. I mean, I don't think I did. I never thought of Green Girl as a nonfiction novel. Maybe, if I want to locate the narrator as some autobiographical self, which partially she is, or partially Ruth is, but I don't think that boundary is blurry enough. In some ways I think of Heroines as a nonfiction novel. I don't know. What is a novel? What is an essay? These are inquiries obsessing me lately.
I recently read Tamara Faith Berger's Maidenhead—which was so fucking brilliant, on one level the erotic and emotional and intellectual coming-of-age of a Canadian teenager as she gets intermeshed in an abject menage a trois while on vacation in Key West, a work that deals with queasy race as well as gender dynamics (on the level of fiction, the work reminded me of Christine Schutt's Florida as well as Mary Gaitskill). But the novel is also self-conscious of being a novel, and in many ways essays—Berger uses a Greek chorus of two secondary female characters commenting on the action, a sort of dialectic established within that mirrors the heroine's essay she is writing on the Hegelian master/slave dialectic, Bataille, Simone Weil, and the abject, for high school, which reminds me in a more sophisticated way of Janey Smith writing about The Scarlet Letter in a book report in Blood and Guts in High School. Like with Sheila's book, I'm still thinking of Maidenhead—what I find really exciting is there seems to be a new literature out there, that is about provoking boundaries, of what the novel is, what memoir is, of public versus private.
But what I thought was interesting in both Jessa's and Subashini's reading through Sheila's book - and I think in both through the reading-through of this quite acclaimed text trying to locate a politics and poetics of their own preferred literature—was their critique of so much modern memoir being of the self-help variety. I think there's some truth in that. To me that answers a discomfort I've had with some recent universally acclaimed texts. I don't locate Sheila's book within that idea of self-help—I think Sheila is purposefully subverting the sentimentality and banality of reality television in her work, and I don't think there's really any sort of catharsis, thankfully. But I do think there's something to that—in terms of some works that have been feted—the idea that a more mainstream reader might crave the reparative as opposed to the nihilistic or traumatic. In terms of my own work, I have had, recently, a couple editors interested in translating or publishing Green Girl overseas until they got to the second half and read the ending. I have wondered about that. Part of me wonders whether the second half is just not as "good" or as "literary" or as "well-crafted" but I don't really know what that means. I suspect it might have to do with the lack of arc on the part of the character. I mean, nothing really happens in Green Girl. There's no massive change the character undergoes. There are no real epiphanies. I wonder whether it is our duty as feminist/political writers to feature the reparative in our endings—I remember Ntozake Shange writing that somewhere—I have always resisted that idea. I've always been more enthralled to that image of Alex the droog jumping on the bed in ecstasy in Clockwork Orange, resistant to therapy, unchanged.