Self-Disclosing Days

Jenny Turner

‘Courageous, poignant, superbly written in blood’; ‘brave, funny, wise’; ‘sensitivity, intelligence, grace ... belies the huge internal struggle that leads to its poise’. Holograms of Fear, Slavenka Drakulic’s first and largely autobiographical novel, is one of those tight, solipsistic, well-written memory-rambles about which there is nothing much to say. Ostensibly the story of the author’s kidney transplant, it is in fact, as is sadly the convention with all too many ‘literary’ novels these days, a self-regarding show-tour of the fascinatingly sensitive inside of its author’s own head. But women in general, and feminists in particular, are meant not only to love this sort of stuff, but to find it personally and politically useful. And this presumably is why North American feminist figureheads of the stature of Barbara Ehrenreich, Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan have given it their impeccably feminist imprimatur.

As North American feminist figureheads of great stature, Barbara Ehrenreich, Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan are all closely associated with New York’s Ms magazine, the flagship journal of international sisterhood; Slavenka Drakulic is Ms magazine’s East European correspondent. But to say that the Ms pantheon puffs Drakulic because she is one of them is in itself not interesting: everybody knows that the one indisputable achievement of the contemporary women’s movement is that it offers professional women the sort of networking and back-scratching opportunities their male cohorts get from clubbability and the Masons. What is interesting, however, is the impression one gets that the Ms pantheon isn’t puffing Drakulic’s books just because she is one of them, or even because they feel sorry for her that she has had a hard time of it what with living in Yugoslavia and having had a serious kidney disease. These women actually seem to believe, in line with the great feminist ‘the personal is political’ trope, that because Drakulic’s novel is deeply personal it must in some way be deeply politically useful as well.

Used slackly and sentimentally, the trope becomes a big, baggy repository for all sorts of slovenly thinking and self-deceiving bad faiths. It allows, for example, for the tiresome assumption that to engage in personal disclosure in a book, no matter how boring or silly your self-disclosures turn out to be, is somehow ‘braver’ and more ‘honest’ than writing a book which is interesting and clever. Gloria Steinem’s own recently-published Revolution From Within, for example, was, as most reviewers pointed out, a boring and silly ragbag of personal revelation, friends-of-friends-type anecdote and casual bedtime reading in the literature of self-help – 12-point programmes somehow taken to prove that sexism and racism, Emily Brontë and Auschwitz and Steinem’s own romantic dalliance with a politically incorrect millionaire all have to do with lack of ‘self-esteem’. But Gloria is so kind to everybody, smiles so sweetly on the cover, has exposed herself as such a well-meaning and vulnerable little thing that it is hard not to be kind to her in return.

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