Saturday, 12 January 2013

You must be certain of the devil: on anger, art, and supermassive sense-of-humour shutdowns

I said to myself, last night, that I wasn't going to write about the Suzanne Moore thing. Partly it's because Stavvers at Another Angry Woman has written about it much better elsewhere. Partly it's because the whole thing has just upset me to the point where I genuinely feel unable to trust the leftwing press even a tiny little bit: not only was it the New Statesman, a magazine I've loved since I bought their issue about the 1992 Clinton election victory in a flush of teenage lefty pride, that initially gave Moore her platform; not only did the Guardian, the paper I've read the Saturday edition of every damn day since I was old enough to hold a broadsheet - every day except today - give Moore even more column inches in which to keep digging; but I woke up this morning to find Glen Newey, on the London Review of Books blog, making a vain bid for that quality much-prized among compulsive masturbators, 'edginess', by referring to a portrait of Kate Middleton as resembling 'a male-to-female transsexual'. I don't know about you, but the thought that the Holy Trinity of British Left Publishing was now effectively trolling its trans readership really put a dampener on my day. Reader, I almost bought a copy of the Independent, until I remembered it's owned by an ex-kegebishniki.

Then I looked at the copies of A Lady of a Certain Rage that arrived yesterday. And I thought about rage, and femininity, and what I thought was, really, how sad and tawdry the whole affair's been, and how much I wish Moore had had a better editor or, let's be honest about the state of publishing these days, an editor at all.

Because the fact is that if an editor - perhaps one who'd read the style guide available from Trans Media Watch - had wielded their blue pencil and changed 'transsexual' to, say 'swimwear model', I'd have been reading Moore's article and agreeing with it. I think female anger at oppression is an amazing, beautiful thing. I think all anger at oppression is an amazing and beautiful thing. There's a reason you will always find me moshing out if 'Killing in the Name Of' or 'Head Like a Hole' comes on in a club where I happen to be. And that's the same reason you'll also see me going crazy if 'Just a Girl' comes on, and that's because female anger includes me. Or it should. If you're a woman in this society, under this government, you damn well have a lot of things to be angry about. If you're trans, you have a whole lot more. Not the least of which is the idea that in order to 'pass', in order to satisfy the medical gatekeeper system - a system which, as this week's other, unfairly-neglected big trans story, pointed out, massively abuses its power - the one thing you should never, ever, ever do as a trans woman is allow them to feed you after midnight get angry.

Sod that. I'm a heavy metal kinda gal. Anger is an energy. Oi, bondage, up yours! I listen to Diamanda Galas for kicks and I'd rather have a Francis Bacon atrocity picture above my fireplace than a lovely landscape by Constable or Gainsborough or Thomas bloody Kincade. All the art and writing I admire is as angry as Hell, and that's the mode in which I choose to write, and perform, because, let's be honest, it's a messed-up world, and if you're going to do anything as an artist you may as well remind people that's what it is in the hopes that maybe, maybe, if you shout loudly enough to grab their attention, and make them laugh with you at the absurdity of it enough times then maybe people might get off their comfortable butts and change something. It's not that every single thing I write is written in anger, but I think anger deserves to be honoured. Especially in a world where so many of us are forced, day in, day out, to plaster on a Big Fake Smile and 'delight' people we've never met with our Customer Service skills in the hope that they might buy a donut/magazine/novelty Jubilee dildo.

The dark has to be honoured, too, otherwise it breaks through in weird, bad ways. A real artist accepts every side of themselves, and the world, and makes art with and about them. That's the bargain.

The problem is that this is very much a Devil's Bargain, and you have to go in it with one eye open and the fingers of one hand crossed tight behind your back. You need to keep enough distance from your anger to keep it controlled and in perspective. This is where humour comes in. Humour, and its near-neighbour in the dictionary, humility. The fatal overstretch when you make art from anger is that you identify too much with the anger itself, that you begin to take yourself too seriously. It's no accident that many times the best humour comes from the groups in society which have most reason to be angry, the people who've had horrible shit done to them. Everyone thinks humour is a survival technique, and it is, but the thing is that the humour helps you survive the anger, not just the initial bad situation. It's not so much that you have to laugh or else you'd cry, more that you have to laugh or else you'd kill a bunch of people and never stop until somebody shot you in the head.

And humility, too, because you will fuck up. That's what should have been carved over the portal of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and if they were the Stoic Mysteries instead it damn well would have been. None of us is a Paladin of Ultimate Right, none of us gets things spot-on all the damn time, none of us is perfect and we need people to point this out. That's why the Romans had a guy who whispered memento mori to the Emperor during triumphal parades, for goodness' sake.

And that's what upsets me so much about Moore's Imperial, de haut en bas reaction to criticism, as detailed  herein. It's a supermassive sense of humour failure. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Moore to admit she fucked up and try to learn and try to write better stuff. But that, she won't do. The bland, bland praise of fandom and the commentariat circle-jerk have convinced her she is above criticism. And she lacks the humility to see this is what's happened, because she's spent so much time angry, so little time leavening the anger, that righteousness has decayed into its qliphothic form, self-righteousness.

It's a cautionary tale. It's an example of why you must be certain of your rage, as you must be certain of the devil. Because none of us are as beautiful, as righteous, as terrible as angels. But some of us do burn like stars exploding, and some of us die in gutters and are buried under names we never wanted, and when you forget that those people matter every bit as much as you and maybe more, when you allow yourself to be seduced into disregarding justified criticism because you're a Big Important Writer...that's when you've lost it.

And you deserve every bit of the rage directed at you. And, as much as you might like to paint yourself as one, you are not a victim.

And that's all I have to say on the matter.

UPDATE: Actually that's not quite all. Judging from this piece by washed-up fake-punk has-been Julie Burchill, the Grauniad really is deliberately trying to troll their trans readers just to get fucking pageviews. I knew Alan Rusbridger was desperate to stop his paper collapsing, but I didn't know he was desperate enough to copy the Daily Mail's business model.

Today was the first day I didn't buy a copy of the Saturday Guardian. Last Saturday, it turns out, is the last time I ever did.

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