A couple weeks ago, when I posted these quotes from New Narrativists abt gossip, I left them unaccompanied by any commentary, mostly because I was still trying to wrap my head around what it actually means to embrace gossip as an aesthetic/aesthetics of, for and about marginalized folks, and why I found the concept so provocative.
Then I realized I’d missed an entire two pages of the awesome Dodie Bellamy article I linked, because when my friend Amanda Marbais (editor of the awesome Requited) sent it to me, she sent me the third page, and the article had a “forward” button, but no back button, and I didn’t notice until after I read it a few times that it said “page 3” in my address bar.
Anyway, Bellamy goes into a lot more detail abt the politics and aesthetics of gossip in those first two pages, but sadly, I can’t quote them, because the article is suddenly no longer available online — the site, facsicle.com, seems to no longer exist.
Among other things, Bellamy talks how the label “gossip” is applied contextually vis-a-vis marginalized vs. privileged identities, abt whose gossip gets considered GOSSIP in that super-stigmatized way, versus whose gossip is taken as “legitimate” criticism and/or literature w/ a capital L, with some particular examples of writer memoirs by establishment folk that are super gossipy but “taken seriously” as lit.
Influenced by Bellamy, I’ve had a few of my own thoughts abt why I’d choose to claim gossip as part of my Queer politics and/or aesthetics that seemed worth sharing:
~Embracing gossip means embracing what queer theorist Michael Warner, after Erving Goffman, calls a “stigmaphile” Queer identity. Women, queer folks, and other marginalized folks have long been accused of being “gossips” in a way that stigmatizes and shames. To identify with this stigma is to challenge the values system that creates it. So my life, preoccupations, sex acts, private obsessions, and those of the other Queer people I talk about or with are considered petty, insignificant, throwaway, not the stuff of great lit? Well maybe I embrace that. Who said I even wanted to write the Universal and timeless, anyway? Suck it.
~Gossip erodes the distinction between the public and private. There’s all manner of scholarship on the public/private thing from all manner of theorists, and I am definitely not smart enough nor well-read enough (at least not right now) to reiterate it at all, but… two quick points: Lots of feminist and Queer activists and theorists have written abt how confining intimacy, the family, etc. to atomized private spaces perpetuates violence by limiting community accountability. At the same time, the privacy and bodily autonomy of particular groups has never been respected. For instance, the violent and coercive display of women of color’s sexuality in public spaces. Because the so-called “right to privacy” had always at its root been abt white men in capitalism and the stuff they own. Sometimes when we write gossip, we air shit publicly that needs to be heard. Sometimes for our survival. And sometimes when we gossip abt others, it is w/ their welfare at hear, to communicate information abt violence they’re experiencing. Which brings me to…
~Gossip creates community. Go with me here. A few years ago, this local (Chicago), basically illiterate, Gen Y-targeting “newspaper” the Red Eye published a story abt a study finding that gossip, when properly managed and not allowed to become malicious, creates camaraderie . Gossip is a fundamental component of how we build and nurture relationships, perhaps particularly in marginalized and vulnerable communities. Need an illustration? Try watching the film version of “Steel Magnolias.” Then try watching it a second time, but this time, picture the women as drag queens.
~Gossip is fun. This goes along, I think, with that whole project of embracing an aesthetics that doesn’t reject entertainment, that takes so-called “low culture” texts seriously and that even erodes distinctions btwn so-called “high” and “low” culture. So all those smart analyses of shit like burlesque or Roller Derby or like Kevin Killian’s dissection of his own obsession with Kylie Minogue. That is, other people have written abt this a lot more intelligently than I’m capable of doing at the moment.
…Um, that’s all.
2 thoughts on “Gossip Part 2”
Very interesting, especially in light of the fact that the novel itself used to be a similarly gendered/stigmatized form in the cultural hierarchy. In the eighteenth-century, the novel was fit only for “women and servants,” whereas men, in their powdered wigs, read and wrote dramatic verse. The novel was regarded as suspicious and a little dangerous — women and servants reading, after all, might give them ideas. So the embrace of an aesthetics of “gossip” in fiction might also be a re-energizing return to some rad roots. Probably the New Narrativists themselves have written about this; even though I’m familiar with various figures in the group (Acker, etc.) I’d never heard about the movement as a whole, so thanks for these posts.