Monday, November 3, 2014

Quoted: Arlene Croce on victim art

Victim art defies criticism not only because we feel sorry for the victim but because we're cowed by art. -- Arlene Croce from Writing in the Dark: Dancing in the New Yorker
When I was in college, I took a class on the art of oral interpretation. It was basically poetry slam for credit, but hey, it was the 90s. Performing an original piece wasn't required (though a lot of students did perform their own work), but some connection to the piece was obviously expected. Too much connection, however, and the performer risks losing control of the piece. I've always thought that was the "correct" way to approach performance, but one day a student brought in a monologue written by a rape survivor and burst into tears during her reading. The class stood up and applauded.

After class I told my instructor, "You know, I could never lose control like that." She said, "You're not really supposed to." I guess I felt vindicated, but I always go back to this example when I hear someone talk about writing or art that draws on themes of victimhood as ennobling. I supposed it's a pretty unpopular opinion.

For women it's especially difficult because women's writing is supposed to be suffused with the personal. And women's lives are often messy. And as consumers, we like them messy. (Whitney, Amy, Courtney, et al.) I guess if you can draw strength from within the darkness it's a good thing, but the line between pity and praise is thinner than we'd like to admit.