Women reconstructing the world

“Nothing endures,” said Varda, “unless it has first been transposed into a myth.”– Because a myth is the embodiment of some unchanging aspect of human nature; it is a sort of x-ray vision of what lies beneath the costuming of the present, a kind of cosmic camera by which the haze of history is brought into definite focus. Anaïs, however, best expresses the idea in the third Volume of her Diary when she observed that It is always the same story one is telling. But from a different angle. The story is the myth, the angle is history–the sequential record of the many ways in which the story has been told.

The thought occurred to me as I participated in the weekend events at Wainwright House and when I recollected my impressions later of whether or not the gathering at Rye was a mythic one in this sense, and if so what was its prototype. That is, to borrow Nin’s terminology, I began to wonder whether the attitudes expressed by the participants during the course of the three days were relatively unprecedented or whether they were simply the new angle from which an old story was being told.

There were men present at the gathering and the purpose of the weekend I believe was to celebrate and encourage artistic achievement and creative aspiration in general. But the majority of the participants were women and the emphasis seemed to be upon the artist, she. The story told within this narrowed frame of reference it seemed to me had as its theme both the need for a change with respect to the general attitude toward woman’s creative role and the changes that had been wrought as evidenced by the art on display and the narratives of success and determination.

In that the tenor of this theme was thus the progress that had been made and the necessity for liberation from the past the spirit of the gathering was explicitly anti-mythic; the feeling generated was that this gathering signaled and epitomized a new age; the implicit and explicit argument was that what was being experienced was not a contemporary expression of a recurring phenomena but on the contrary a unique moment in history.

Yet the more I thought about it the more I began to wonder whether this spirit and feeling itself did not have precedents, and I thought about it the more because, according to Varda’s statement, if the situation were not mythic then its significance would not be an enduring one, and as a participant I did not want to think that I had been a part of something that was ephemeral. So I took the liberty and recourse of generalizing the spirit of liberation I encountered into a theme of woman’s rebellion against man and the place she had been assigned in the cosmic scheme. Thus the question now became one of whether ever before a woman had asserted her independence and proved it. Was there a mythological prototype for the woman who proclaimed her self-sufficiency and refused to blindly accept the demands of her mate or of a male code; did ancient history include the tale of a woman who found and established her identity in terms of her relationships not with the opposite but with those of her own sex?

I thought of Eve, who if in plucking that apple disobeyed God had in the first place gone against Adam’s injunction by going to the site of the forbidden tree alone; I thought of Psyche, who rebelled against her lover’s command that she should blindly accept him without asking questions by lighting a candle and looking at him one night after he had come to her and lay sleeping; and I thought of Sappho, of her love poems, and of her Lesbian isle.

In spirit, certainly these great women constituted the advance guard of the militancy and victory expressed at Rye. The same story then was being retold; but not only had the angle changed, however, the conclusion also stuck a different note. For whereas as a result of her liberation Eve lost Paradise, and Psyche her lover, and Sappho her life, the women at Rye protested their success and happiness. Tears not of regret but of triumphant elation overwhelmed one’s eyes, as one listened to the protestations of elation instead of regret that concluded the individual narratives of rebellion. Lady Macbeth did not protest her innocence half so effectively as the many female participants protested their happiness.

So ultimately my impressions of the weekend at Wainwright house leave me swinging between the boughs of a paradox. I am intuitively a believer in the archetypal creed of eadem, sed aliter, but to practice such a faith one must deny the direction spearheaded by the gathering at Rye. When Varda entitled one of his collages “Women Reconstructing the World,’ he was according to his own definition of enduring art evoking a prototype; was the program of liberation outlined one late April weekend similarly archetypal?

Evelyn J. Hinz,
Post Doctoral Fellow,
University of Manitoba,
Winnipeg, Canada.

Continue to Part I § Celebration index