Girls Rush Out Like Ghosts
July 2, 2019 2:12 PM   Subscribe

“Every time you slice into the canon, girls rush out like ghosts. . . . It takes a tiny inkling of a tiny person in the vast cavern of history and tries to pull the plug on their aura of singular, masculine genius. I can only offer a method, and it isn’t even mine. Can the past one hundred years be written through the lives of the wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, workers, and spinsters?” Audrey Wollen on reading Rilke without reading Rilke.
posted by sallybrown (22 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
That was a very good piece. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by PMdixon at 2:41 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


I hold my women close, dead or not. Not-ness, of course, being our way of life. When I was asked to consider how men should be, I thought about how it must feel to not be not—a walking double negative. I can’t tell you how to be from this space of non-being. My boyfriend and I frequently get into arguments over my tendency to generalize. He loves specificity, context, nuance. I respect it, and I love those things too. But I usually speak in large categories, universal proclamations, talking like a manifesto even in gossip, in passing. I know stereotypes are stupid and harmful, for obvious reasons, but I’m willing to defend generalizations, as that’s all language seems like to me. A small, insufficient thing standing in for a big, complicated one.

Thanks, sallybrown.
posted by cgc373 at 2:45 PM on July 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

Yeah, this is great.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:45 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, thank you for posting this.
posted by Wobbuffet at 2:54 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

So incredibly good I started to have fear going onto the next sentence.
posted by jamjam at 3:14 PM on July 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

I haven't finished it yet but I had to come here and say that it is so good.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:38 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can tell you my life in patriarchal harm, but it would take the length of my life over. I only have one.

Thanks for this.
posted by salt grass at 3:40 PM on July 2, 2019 [8 favorites]

Lovely. Makes me think of Etty Hillesum and her Rilke readings.
posted by huimangm at 4:08 PM on July 2, 2019

Just adding to the chorus that this is amazing and thanks for posting it.
posted by saladin at 4:23 PM on July 2, 2019

"On Love”: “I just want a humble, murderously simple thing: that a person be glad when I walk into the room.”

Amazing how being taken for granted, impressed into various roles, builds a day to day isolation chamber, invisible to everyone but the prisoner.
posted by Oyéah at 4:37 PM on July 2, 2019 [8 favorites]

best essay I've read in recent memory.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:45 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

I will second prize bull octorok, that was everything a great essay can be.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:25 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh wow. Rarely you'll read something where the individual sentences are poetic and finely turned, little nuggets of beauty. "Girls rush out like ghosts" is an evocative and wonderful a sentence as I've read in a long while. Rarer still is something where the whole is as finely crafted as the best of the sentences within it. Rarest of all is where the thing itself has an actual, worthwhile point that sorely needed making - I've read plenty of masterfully written essays which, sadly, are impeccably wrought hot garbage. Sharing this with my favourite word lovers immediately.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:48 PM on July 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Jon Mitchell: individual sentences are poetic and finely turned, little nuggets of beauty.

Yeah! It's hard to stop quoting them once you start reading.

I consider myself a well-read person, at least for Los Angeles.

I went to a liberal arts great books college for one year before I had a mental breakdown and was asked to leave, which is actually the sanest response possible to most great books.

I always imagine [Susan] Sontag as the character in the action movie that has to be called in from the van to defuse the final bomb. Her language always clips the right wire. ... [Marina] Tsvetaeva, on the other hand, writes like the bomb itself.

... ah, dammit, I'm gonna end up quoting this whole essay! Go read it yourself and have a kung fu holiday.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:21 PM on July 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

One more thanks for posting, that was a lovely read.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 8:53 PM on July 2, 2019

I got into Audrey Wollen a couple years ago through her photographs (on Instagram.... I know!) and her beautiful Sad-Girl Theory, (when I think she was still a teenager). She writes so amazingly, thanks for keeping me up to date. Parts of this gave me full-body shivers.
posted by evelvenin at 8:54 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes! Just beautiful. I particularly appreciate how her essay structure presents in advance her closing suggestion that a logic of fragmentation - or at least some as-yet-not-quite-manifested narrative logic - emerges when one centers women in histories.

She stitches her argument into the fabric of the piece itself, in a way that not only makes her argument more tangible, but also makes her own narrative position more transparent. Damn. Well done.
posted by marlys at 9:49 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I can't believe how much density she managed to pack into one brief essay filled with restrained sentences, and what happens when she takes the brakes off those sentences and the piece goes flying into a magnificent velocity. Just.... an aria hitting the high F. Tightrope walking that looks as casual as any morning stroll.
posted by jokeefe at 10:00 PM on July 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is wonderful. I have been meaning to read Rilke in full, instead of the many excerpts I got in my grad school classes, but now I want to read Tsvetaeva instead.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:48 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is amazing.
posted by desuetude at 11:07 AM on July 3, 2019

Wonderful. Thankyou for sharing it.
posted by harriet vane at 4:51 AM on July 16, 2019

[Please forgive me, this comment ended up more lengthy than it should have been.]

This was one of the best essays I've read in a long time. There is so much there.

After reading it, I googled as many other pieces about and by Audrey Wollen, and her writing in the last few years has been very, very good.

As a man, I find the points she's making (or made in the past) with Sad Girl Theory to be fascinating and persuasive because my view from the outside -- my indoctrination into taking the male gaze for granted as what it means to see women -- in this sense that women are never allowed to be anything other than objectified and that because of this it implicitly attempts to delegitimize women's sadness as nothing more than performance for men ... well, the fact that it very much can be such thing doesn't weaken her argument, it strengthens it.

It strengthens it because sadness, like anger, is a very natural response to the daily experience of being a woman in a patriarchy and so it's no accident that the former is co-opted for male consumption while the latter is taboo. Popular culture has recognized for a while now that women are trained to be alienated from their anger and that reclaiming it is good, but I think there's a similar alienation from sadness that's actually worsened. This is how things look to me from outside the experience of being a woman -- I certainly don't intend to mansplain women's experiences to them. I may be totally mistaken, it's not my lived experience. But it's something I think I've observed.

Furthermore -- and maybe I'm risking mansplaining about this, too -- but I've had a hobbyhorse for years now that North American culture, at least, has changed women's gender roles into something that is not-coincidentally impossible as an aspiration but which women are constantly judged against.

Sure, there's still some goth glamor in there somewhere about what The Sad Girl has meant in the past; but these days it's increasingly the case that women are expected to be almost invariably strong. Men are now allowed to be overgrown children while women are expected to always be the responsibile adult. Women are expected to go to college and do well (not mostly get high), then get a good job while continuing to do all the emotional labor they've always been expected to do, tolerate men's angst and worries about "emasculation", even while they have children, and become the primary helicoptering parent who is inevitably held to impossibly high standards and subjected to constant criticism. A criticism fathers mostly avoid. Nowhere in that life narrative is room for sadness. (Consider, for example, the stigmatization of postpartum depression.)

From my perspective, women have been boxed into being expected to do almost everything perfectly even though, apparently, we've given up expecting men to be emotionally mature and responsible adults. Women have always been expected to perform, and perform according to men's preferences; but where in the past there was some overlap between "being genuinely really fucking sad because life is very difficult for women" with "the act of performing sadness as an acceptable role, within limits" -- an overlap that created some space for the former to hide within the latter -- here in North America that's forbidden. Men and women alike see sadness as weakness, about which almost everyone now feels justified excoriating women.

In this context, if I'm right about any of this, then Wollen's embrace of being a Sad Girl was subversive on two levels: reclaiming the right to an authentic human emotion (especially in the context of great injustice) and being self-aware of the irony that men will still only see what they want to see, and many women will condemn this because of how it validates these old male fantasies about women.

I mean, from where I'm standing -- which, granted, means I may see only a few things clearly but am blind to much else -- the subtext is that it's always rigged against women, which naturally would make someone sad, which they're either not allowed to express or, if they do, it' s willfully appropriated for male purposes. Sadness makes a whole lot of sense. And this modern social expectation of neverending perfection from women is soul-destroying.

Wollen's general theme is that women are erased from society as themselves in every way possible; everything is taken, even sadness. Authorship. Visibility. Authenticity. Everything feminine is allowed to exist only as a gap, a space where something isn't.

Having written all that, which are the ideas percolating when I read these essays and interviews and viewed her photography, I formed the opinion that she's brilliant. So I was very surprised to read the negative reactions to her here in this older 2015 post about Wollen, especially after readings the comments in this thread.

I'm very impressed with Audrey Wollen and while I strongly intuit some problematic "white feminism" stuff, she does seem (more recently) to be aware of this. Maybe she's grown and matured as an artist over the last four years. She's certainly a talented writer as well as a photographer. I really appreciate this post.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:31 AM on July 25, 2019

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