OFF WITH THEIR HEADS
I was having a life crisis in September. My friend flew in for the weekend and in addition to just being there, which was so much more than enough, these are some of the things she did, unbidden:
• scrubbed the black mold from my freezer
• washed bird shit from the windows
• weeded the garden
• advised me on my mice infestation
• made "grain bowls" for me to eat after work for the next six nights
• taped on the kitchen wall a 6-point marketing plan for my book
That last one. My friend is a writer, knows about books. Mine is a novel. Just out. I love it.
Sometimes early in the morning, I read aloud from it with a windswept voice. (Yes windswept.) Totally have a crush on my own book. Totally have done close to zero so far to pro-mote it.
That my friend understood how much writing is a part of me... a crucial part that even amid crisis needs to be addressed right alongside eating and making a home for my kids, must be part of the reason she and I are friends.
But I have revised the marketing plan she wrote for me.
First step: decapitation. (The Queen of Hearts: "Off with their heads!")
This plan owes a lot to Georges Bataille, particularly to The Sacred Conspiracy, a collection of drawings, letters, and papers that tell the story of his secret society: Acephale. (transl: "headless")
This Bataille book... it has a drawing by Andre Masson on the cover: a naked figure: my author photo. Clutched in its hands: what looks to be a ball of flames and a sword. (And yes, I want my book to ride a fucking flaming chariot across your brain. And yes, I want it to make you want to take your head off.)
The figure's intestines are coiled like a maze. Or like the spiral that Jarry drew on Ubu's belly. Maze, spiral—I always, only, write from stuckness.
And in place of the genitalia, a skull. "Eroticism opens the way to death. Death opens the way to the denial of our individual lives." (Bataille of course). I do not think I write to expose my self to my self. I think I write to die.
Huge YES also to how Masson put the skull in place of the genitalia. The life I am trying to stay alive in is a woman's life. Would rather inscribe my self with my labia majora than with my lips.
Most of all, I want not to speak for my book. I don't write like a man— why speak up for my writing with that certain kind of assertiveness that the patriarchy recognizes...?
Off with their fucking heads.
(oh yeah: The essential thing about the Masson drawing: it's headless.)
Bataille's Acephale society: The members taking the train—separately, without acknowledging each other—out of the city. Walking single file spaced out in silence through the woods to an oak tree struck by lightning—headless—in the pursuit of something sacred.
Acephalousness became their driver. They were living with the Nietzschean idea that God was dead. They were eschewing authoritarianism. They planned at one point to decapitate one of their group, a sacrifice that would prepare them to fight fascism.
The head is...logos.. the word of God... The head is authority. It is perhaps only possible to act not in self interest, not pleasing to authorities, when one is headless and therefore without reason.
(Whoever can stop reasoning, says Clarice Lispector, which is terribly difficult, let them come along with me.)
Headlessness as a marketing plan for a book means to stop myself from following the man's way...
(Kneeling in front of a man and some pebbles are pushing into your bare knees and his balls are kind of sticky and you're hoping he's showered recently and he's pulling your hair and you're wondering if he's blown away enough that your ego can stop sucking in your stomach. "Off with his head!" suddenly drifts into your head. That must happen to fellatrixes all the time.
You're laughing because which one? There's like three heads right here next to my teeth nevermind the main head lolling about up there with pleasure. If you laugh you mess up. If you don't laugh you end up with a mess in your mouth.)
I want to take a semi-metaphorical sword to the throats of men in power.
But also want to make a new passage.
The most moving thing to me about the Acephale society is its members moving silently through the dark woods to the tree where they believed in the collective rite about to unfold... (Pause to note that the root of "passage" is the Old Saxon word for outstretched arms...)
Headlessness has an ancillary rule, one that I'm calling the Judith Slaying Holofernes rule... Caravaggio painted this scene first. In it, a frail and wary Judith is beheading Holofernes while her maid looks on. Then Artemisia Gentileschi (so many things to say about her—she who had been raped by her tutor, who, taking the tutor to trial, was tortured by thumbscrews in court,
who painted a Madonna and Child with the mother turning away from her baby and her breasts bleeding...) she paints the same scene, and Judith and her maid are both right there, strong, in the thick of the decapitation, holding Holofernes down because duh it's easier to behead a man if multiple women are doing it together.
I love the women I am surrounded by, the weird creations we make together and alongside each other, how their writings tendril into my brain. I love most the secret societies we make—the dinners together that no one but we know about—and the things we do for each other, visible only to ourselves, like how another friend came to my house on Friday with a laundry basket full of envelopes, into which she stuffed copies of my book, addressed to people I love from afar.
I'm not going to go as far as to say that her laundry basket is her sword, because that's just too pat. But there's got to be something about giving and generosity that is at least as powerful as the sword. When Anne Sexton killed herself, Adrienne Rich wrote that self destruction seems the only violence that women are capable of. Not arguing there. And anyway violence is just destruction inscribed in male forms.
return to ISSUE THREE
Passage is the second point of my two-point marketing plan...
When I read the end of Rose Mellie Rose by Marie Redonnet, I think of the type of abortion where the doctor crushes the skull of the fetus in order to move it through the vaginal passage.
I think again that headlessness is required for passage... In the novel, Mellie returns to the mountains to give birth alone, and then leaves her baby Rose in a grotto. Mellie just leaves Rose. Yes, swaddled, and yes, fed and bathed, and absolutely loved, and yes, with a book of legends inscribed to Rose. But she leaves her. She begins the 3-day walk down the mountain road (the vaginal passage) to the harbor, to die.
It was so hard for me to read that ending. To see Mellie leave Rose, a baby she wanted and loved. To see her give up ownership.
Mellie hopes someone will find Rose. A day later she sees a couple making their way to the Grotto—but she leaves before there is a certainty. Why does Mellie leave? Because she is dying... Why can't she die beside Rose? I'm not sure I will ever have the answer, but on my strongest days I think it is an act of strength that she does not. Rose has her book of legends
and the possibility of life and love.
Over time I've begun to think of Rose, the abandoned baby, as a book, and that I should abandon each book I write and run down the hill and die.
(Mellie hemorrhages to death in the backseat of a Buick marooned on the shore. The blood stains all over the backseat will be the start of another story for someone... I will write another book.)
I wrote my novel on my lap, by hand, mostly at dawn. Sometimes when I was writing, my pelvic muscles were shimmering. I was orgasmic. I dedicated the book to Marie Redonnet and Brigit Pegeen Kelly, women whose books I've not just read but slept with, their covers as a pillow, or held against my sweaty chest. In all these ways, I wrote this book with my body. It is my infant... And in many ways, I, headless, now abandon it, with thanks to the women who give me strength on this passage.
Still from Mother Ghosting - Serena Chopra