Cunt Norton by Dodie Bellamy
In one episode of the BBC series Balderdash & Piffle, feminist writer Germaine Greer discussed the word "cunt" at length. This word, Greer noted, is one of a scant few which have retained the ability to genuinely shock its audience in general parlance. Though usage of "cunt" is still divided between those who use the term as an insult ("'cunt: our essence... our offence," Andrea Dworkin writes) and those who use the word within a context of feminist reappropriation, the word is indeed charged, no matter the speaker. "Cunt" is still a loaded enough term that an entire episode of 30 Rock ("The C Word") centered around Tina Fey's character, Liz Lemon, being called a cunt -- a word so problematic that it wasn't even used in the episode. Take also, for instance, the satirical newspaper The Onion tweeting that nine-year-old actress Quvenzhané Wallis is a cunt (a tweet which earned a rare apology from The Onion's CEO). No other word would have had the same destabilizing impact, but no other word would have been as shocking to apply to a nine-year-old.
On issues of social change, Audre Lorde famously wrote that "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." In this review, language itself is that house (specifically poetic language), and the tools are the pejorative words levied against marginalized people. Words like "cunt," for instance, a tool of the master that feminists have been reclaiming by giving the word positive associations. One such writer attempting to dismantle the master's house is Dodie Bellamy, whose latest wrecking ball is her book Cunt Norton,"the big budget sequel to the indie Cunt-Ups, which I published with Tender Buttons in 2001," Bellamy writes in her artist's statement for the former title.
In Cunt Norton, Bellamy is consistently concise and hilarious, as well as occasionally shimmeringly beautiful. She has mastered what is admittedly her own process of creating a cunt-up: "When you cunt a text, both texts are devoured, both are spit back up stunned by their new undulations, their hybridity an act of endurance and of disappearance, meanings evaporating behind them like a trail of smoke. Monstrous, unashamed, the new text mobius-strips itself, sprouts long silvery corkscrews of hair, walks barefoot over gravel, gold lunula glinting about its throat."
Cunting the classics, rewriting the master's words in a decidedly feminine voice, may well be this millennium's response to l'ecriture feminine. L'ecriture feminine, a philosophical and literary movement that essentially began in 1970s France, was built on the premise that language had too long been owned and operated by men, and it was time for women to write not just the reality of their bodies or their difference, but the totality of their being. In the same way that the founders of l'ecriture feminine believed men had the key to language and it was the job of women writers to steal it back, Bellamy's speaker steals not just language but the very language that comprises classic (white male) poetry. Using pidgin Middle English and updated cultural references in "Cunt Chaucer," Bellamy writes:
My cock, it
groweth beanshoot harde against thy softe side[…]
I am so ful of joye and of solas, hot for thee in thy rental car.
Returning to the concept of l'ecriture feminine, Helene Cixous plays with the double meaning of the French verb voler (to fly or to steal), in "The Laugh of the Medusa," a formative essay of l'ecriture feminine that first appeared in 1976:
What woman hasn't flown/stolen? Who hasn't felt, dreamt, performed the gesture that jams sociality? Who hasn't crumbled, held up to ridicule, the bar of separation? Who hasn't inscribed with her body the differential, punctured the system of couples and opposition? Who, by some act of transgression, hasn't overthrown successiveness, connection, the wall of circumfusion? differential, punctured the system of couples and opposition?
The case for Cunt Norton as new l'ecriture feminine is bolstered by the fact that in her artist's statement for the book, Bellamy details Luce Irigaray's "When Our Two Lips Speak Together" as a main source of inspiration. Irigaray's text, published just one year after Cixous's in 1977, similarly celebrates the power of the female written word:
Kiss me. Two lips kiss two lips, and openness is ours again. Our 'world.' Between us, the movement from inside to outside, from outside to inside, knows no limits. It is without end. These are exchanges that no mark, no mouth can ever stop. Between us, the house has no walls, the clearing no enclosure, language no circularity. You kiss me, and the world enlarges until the horizon vanishes. Are we unfinished? Yes, if that means that we are never finished. If our pleasure consists of moving and being moved by each other, endlessly. Always in movement, this openness is neither spent nor sated.
This new l'ecriture feminine is one of the most exciting shifts happening in poetry today, whether it's penned by Hiromi Ito, Lara Glenum, or Dodie Bellamy. It is almost equally exciting to wonder who will next who inscribe with her body the differential, puncturing the system of couples and opposition.
Cunt Norton by Dodie Bellamy
Les Figues Press