“Dismissing popular things that women like doesn’t require some special kind of bravery. It happens all day, every day – especially in literary criticism”
Jennifer Weiner’s recent piece in the Guardian has been gaining significant traction on Twitter, Facebook, et al, speaking, it seems, to a common experience of readership, one which in turn resonates deeply with the questions of gender, authority, cultural production and consumption that we’re interested in discussing at “Women and the Canon”. Focussing in particular on Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Hana Yangihara’s A Little Life, Weiner coins the term “Goldfinching” to account for a critical turning on previously accoladed, now popularly successful (usually woman-authored) books. She looks at gender-coded language and critique in “against-the-flow” negative reviews of these popular, prize-winning books as part of a phenomenon of at-heart misogynist cultural practice that aims to devalue texts which “risk” over-feminsing the cultural high-ground reserved for “proper literature”.
Now, there are certainly issues with Tartt’s novel, particularly when it comes to representations of race, as succinctly demonstrated by Joy Castro in an essay for Salon, but, to be blunt, whitewashed or overtly racist (not mention homophobic, misogynistic, and otherwise oppressive) texts get/remain classed as canonical/literary with remarkable persistence, and, as Castro points out, this was not a current in the discussion around the literary value of The Goldfinch.
In general, Weiner’s article raises some very interesting questions about the cultural authority of readers and taste and how that is also treated and diminished along gendered lines. The idea of reading (as well as viewing, listening, and other forms of active reception) as an act of cultural production, is something that will be touched upon in some of the papers on collaboration at Women and the Canon, but is also something we could think about more explicitly and distinctly; in a consumer society, how does consumption function as cultural production? how is it gendered? how does it gain or lose authority? Indeed, the idea of reception as cultural practice is something we should actively consider as conference participants as well as more broadly as cultural consumers (a discomfiting, but possibly honest term). How are we listening to papers and discussions or engaging with artworks? How is our mode of interaction playing out along lines of gender, identity, authority, hierarchy? Are we good readers and who gets to decide?