The Difference Engine
By William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
Cyberpunk novelists contort technology
The Difference Engine
Defining the feminist eye
Language in Her Eye: Writing and Gender
Views by Canadian Women Writing in English
Coach House Press
sit before the mirror
with chin in hand and rehearse the
look of fascination in your eyes.
nod and smile repeatedly. murmuring
There are a number of common threads running through this book, engendering a feminine collectivity, which serves to underline and make more eloquent the individual experiences.The authors often speak of themselves, of their own initial discomfort with a language which has failed to express their own sense of being. Many mention their struggle for self-articulation and their eventual acceptance that an inability to sink comfortably into a “gender-neutral” patriarchal form of consciousness is not due to any personal shortcoming. They speak of “overcoming” feelings of isolation, of oddity. In a society where masculine experience is posited as “universal,” it is not surprising that an inability to share in this “universal human experience” would create a sense of alienation and self-doubt. The voices of these women writers create a refuge for those whose experiences have been denied and re-defined by language. Many mention the self-assertion that rushed upon the heels of discovering other women writers, producing lists of authors who, by providing them with the necessity of self-recognition, enabled them to overcome their feelings of oddity, allowing them to trust in themselves. As Daphne Marlatt so succinctly states, “The struggle over reality is a deadly one that cuts to the root of being.”The struggle over reality also manifests itself in the debate over gender/race constrictions in writing and the inevitable cries of censorship that emerge in its wake. Marlene Nourbese Philip questions the nature of white privilege within our society, emphasizing the necessity of the privileged to approach other cultures with humility. The issue of responsibility is raised — those writers who most vigorously decry thought-censorship are often those who shrug off the idea of responsibility towards those groups they choose to depict. Lee Maracle points out that “stories about women of colour written by white women are riddled with bias, stereotype and intellectual dishonesty.” She maintains that any book purporting to represent the consciousness of anyone who is significantly “other” cannot, by definition, do so — that inevitably, everything is filtered through the writer’s perspective, influenced by her own race and socioeconomic status. As long as such books present themselves as insightful, as claiming to present truth about another, they cannot be anything but dishonest — even if they sincerely believe their work to be accurate. Here, however, the understanding of the audience also plays a role. People read books in order to feel connected to others, to believe that they have insight into characters, and this is most easily done when the perceptions of the characters — however remote they might be from the reader — are filtered through a similar set of presumptions and ideological frameworks. To confront the alien, the incomprehensible, is to be put off-kilter — but as the experience of the woman reader attempting to associate herself with the characters produced by male writers. The juxtaposition of these two issues serves to give them greater meaning, for if I, as a white woman, associate myself with those women who write of their sense of gender alienation, it does not require too great a leap of the imagination to imagine a similar sensation of the part of a visible minority member, even if I cannot feel the specificity of their complaints. By gathering these diverse, articulate responses, the editors have successfully provided a forum, an exploration of language through language which serves to both satisfy and arouse the consciousness of the reader.