iusedmybelief

I used my belief in the power of good writing as a way of giving meaning to some injustices I saw around me. When I was very young, still in high school, I thought about writing the way Fay Weldon outlined in her essay, “The City of Imagination,” in Letters to My Niece on First Reading Jane Austen. I imagined that Literature was, as she named it, a city with many districts, or was like a great library of the human mind that included all the books ever written. But what was most important was the enormous diversity contained in that library of the mind, that imaginary city. I cruised that city and dreamed of being part of it, but I was fearful that anything I wrote would be relegated to unimportance—no matter how finely crafted my writing would be, no matter how hard I worked and how much I risked. I knew I was a lesbian, and I believed that meant I would always be a stranger in the city … When feminism exploded in my life, it gave me a vision of the world totally different from everything I had ever assumed or hoped … it forced me to understand, suddenly and completely, that literature was written by men. Judged by men. The city itself was a city of Man, a male mind even when housed in a female body … Literature was a lie, a system of lies, the creation of liars, some of them sincere and unaware of the lies they retold … I had to make a life raft for myself out of political conviction, which is why I desperately needed a feminist community and so feared being driven out of the one I found … Many of us lost all sense of what could be said to be good or bad writing, or how to think about being writers while bypassing the presses, grants, and teaching programs that might have helped us devote the majority of our time to writing, to creating a body of work … I had no independent sense of my work’s worth … I never imagined that what we were creating was also limited, that it, too, reflected an unrealistic or dishonest vision … I began to teach, etc …. All of this helped me to systematically work out what I truly believed about literature, about writing, and its use and meaning, and the problematic relationship of writing to Literature … The result has been that I have come to make distinctions between what I call the academy and literature, the moral equivalents of the church and God. The academy may lie, but literature tries to tell the truth. The academy is the market—university courses in contemporary literature that never get past Faulkner, reviewers who pepper their opinions with the ideas of the great men, and editors who think something is good because it says the same thing everyone has always said. Literature is the lie that tells the truth, that shows us human beings in pain and makes us love them, and does do in a spirit of honest revelation. That’s radical enough, and more effective than only publishing unedited oral history. It is the stance I assumed when I decided I could not live without writing fiction and trying to publish it for the widest possible audience.”

Dorothy Allison, "Believing in Literature," Skin