Saturday, September 06, 2008

Isabel Allende's Tales of Passion

Oh, how I love this woman...

I ran a course last year based around her book on food and love, Aphrodite. It was fantastic to plan the exercises and I think we all enjoyed it. I will remember forever one student's brilliantly funny description of a 'First Orgasm Party' as a highlight of my teaching career. Mind you, Divorce Soup was also memorable, if more bitter a taste!

I like this particular answer she gives to a question too:

Q. Could you elaborate on the idea of writing fiction, of telling a truth, of telling lies, of uncovering some kind of reality, and of how these ideas might work together or against each other?

A. The first lie of fiction is that the author gives some order to the chaos of life: chronological order, or whatever order the author chooses. As a writer, you select some part of a whole; you decide that those things are important and the rest is not. And you will write about those things from your perspective. Life is not that way. Everything happens simultaneously, in a chaotic way, and you don't make choices. You are not the boss; life is the boss. So when you accept as a writer that fiction is lying, then you become free; you can do anything. Then you start walking in circles. The larger the circle, the more truth you can get. The wider the horizon, the more you walk, the more you linger in everything, the better chance you have of finding particles of truth.

I wonder if the question of truth and fiction ever stops bothering a writer? And if there is a writer around who wasn't told to 'stop that storytelling' at least once when they were a kid?


Douglas Bruton said...

Though not an old man, I am older, and felt quite uncomfortable with Allende's talk... not because I think she was referring to me in her critcism of the male-run world... but because there is a lot of sense here and passionately done and the world is a bit messy and maybe a different world order could make it good and women a part of that order... but, and this is I think a big 'but' here, there are men who are not the 'alpha-male' model she describes... men she would say who had developed their 'feminine sides' (why does she feel she has to take the credit on her gender for men that are sensitive and caring and concerned and passionate about all of these things?) and who play their part in the world - they may be smaller in number or less conspicuous, but they are there and I felt a little uncomfortable here because I feel we were ignored by this talk because of the 'feminist flag-waving' that went on... I think something more constructive is needed here - yes, down with the alha-male brutality that keeps women down-trodden in so many parts of the world; yes empower women economically, intellectually, socially; yes use women to make the world better and get them into positions of influence in society... but do not tar all men with the same brush and so alienate those who are also a force for good in the world.... and as for not being able to teach old dogs new tricks, or having to wait for old men to die becasue they cannot be changed... I think that was just a cheap joke... I like Isabel Allende's work... but this was more passion than sense... and more show-womanship than intellectual argument... more entertainment, if you like.


Sarah Salway said...

But I think it's uncomfortable for women as well, Douglas. Isn't she rather more quietly asking (for me anyway) whether we (women) would rather have Sophia Loren's breasts or a 'warrior heart'? The first still brings conventional attention and praise so is perhaps the easier option - I thought she demonstrated this beautifully with the laughter she raised at the start of her speech by comparing her and SL, which then was questioned by her last point - a nice case of showing not telling! Perhaps the 'old man' joke was a bit easy, but in her memoir, 'My Invented Country', she talks about the patriarchal society and family she was born into and I thought she was referring more to this than actual people. She was careful after all to say 'young minds' not 'young men'. To me, she was far from criticising ALL men - saying instead there could be a different way of doing things. The 'feminine side' she talks about is surely referring to an established term (certainly from my admittedly limited reading of Jung?). As for show-manship, I took it that she nodded to the fact that this was what she was doing right from the beginning by using an olympic opening ceremony, of all things, as her structure. I'm not expressing myself very well but it felt to me like an opening for a discussion such as yours - which I love - and I appreciated hearing it done with humour and, yes, passion.

Douglas Bruton said...

But it was not a talk delivered to women, but to men, too. It gave credit to the ‘warrior woman’ as the passionate ideal and held it higher than the ideal of beauty and body – not that she hasn’t, by her own admission, used the latter to surround herself with enough men! I got all of that. But I just felt that a rallying call to women is not the whole answer to the global problem that she highlights. Men who are sensitive and caring have a role to play too, and I simply felt that we were not a part of the equation, of her equation.

I accept that she comes out of a patriarchal culture and her thoughts must be coloured by everything she has seen and experienced. I worked some time in Peru helping the rescued ‘street children’ there, abandoned by their families where women are abused and downtrodden just in the way Allende describes. There is something seriously wrong in such a society and the need for a solution is immediate. I can accept that the brutal alpha-male cannot be allowed to run the world, this world, that something with more heart and compassion and sensitivity is called for… but women are not the exclusive owners of such attributes… and so I felt her case was a weaker one than it should have been.

Ok, so Yung and others refer to those qualities in men as demonstrations of their ‘feminine side’, but Allende is calling on a new world order, and language is her metier… so maybe she needs to get this right. It is not wrong, I think, to hold what she says up to higher scrutiny in the area of the words she uses, to expect more from her use of language. She had, after all, constructed this speech, taken time to write it out in full and so must have deliberated over the ‘right’ words to use. It only helped her feminist rallying call to describe sensitive caring men as having a feminine side, and so elevate woman to the pedestal and reduce men to the lower levels of animal(beastly)-male or womanly men.

There was a requirement that she be entertaining, agreed. How dry the talk would have been without it, without the laughter and the wit. I just felt, as I feel with so much, that there needed to be more balance. Women alone will not bring about the change she calls for, even though the bigger part might be played by them. The other sex must play a part too… and be educated to their new parts, not ‘killed off’(even if only by time and waiting) to make way for young male minds who might have a place in the brave new world of women warriors!