Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The personal is political

NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

I remember the first time I heard that phrase bandied about, by self-professed intellectuals engaged in what we were certain was profound analysis in my life-altering Women's Literature class. Just to give you an idea, in that class we read the likes of Gloria Steinem, Toni Morrison, Laurie Colwin, Leslie Marmon Silko, Terry Tempest Williams. Some of what we read I found highly overrated if not outright dull: The Joy Luck Club, Like Water for Chocolate. At any rate, you can definitely see the idea of "the personal" being a political statement, if you like to phrase things that way, in that literary list.

But now here I am in Nobel Prize-winning Gordimer's book, and I see the deftly combined personal and political in a new light.

Of course one of the interesting things about this book is this woman's work as a social justice lawyer. I also find it interesting that when I initiated this little "literary blog project" (over winter break) I gravitated toward books about writers, whereas now I weirdly gravitate toward contemplating my lawyer self. (My other 'G' finalist was A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis.)

But after her husband leaves her, on the surface just out of the country for a little while staying with their son but really their relationship is coming to an end, she sits alone in the house drinking vodka and devouring news from newspapers, television, radio.

"The evidence of personal life was around her; but her sense was of the personal life as transitory, it is the political life that is transcendent, like art, for which, alas, she'd never had time after Bennet read wonderful poetry to her in the mountains...Politics affects and is evolved endlessly through future generations--the way people are going to live, the way they think further. She had no illusion about politics; about her part in it. People kill each other and the future looks back and asks, What for? We can see, from here, what the end would have been, anyway. And then they turn to kill each other for some other reason whose resolution could have been foreseen.
Yet there's purpose in the atempt to break the cycle? On the premise that the resolution is going to be justice? --even if it is renamed empowerment." - p. 305

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