Nonsense and Sensibility


TO ACCEPT THE NEW Advocate on its own terms is to give everything away from the start. Simply to argue about the term "feminine sensibility"--which is the issue's title and theme--is to admit that the notion might be useful and important. But this collection doesn't even offer us any good reasons to argue about it.

Why not just "Writing by Women?" The title "Feminine Sensibility" and the question of whether to use it are fronts for a narrow notion of feminism, veiled in vague generalities. The introduction may claim that the magazine is not an attempt "to celebrate, expose, or reject this sensibility." "...We wish to consider and then to test the term." But what is the standard for the test? Ther term does little more, in fact, than to gather the pieces of writing included here under its flimsy and apologetic aegis.

To claim these pieces as part of "feminine sensibility" simply gives them more credit than they deserve. They are, in general, mediocre work, self-indulgent, one-dimensional, or just badly written. There are a few exceptions: Sadie Stern's long first-person story called "The Saddest Young Woman" is stylistically promising if immature. Cynthia MacDonald's "Another Attempt at the Trick" is a deft and chatty poem symbolizing art as a fantastic tight-rope walk. The visuals are of a quality that tends to embarrass the verbals: there is an excellent photo essay on Hell's Angels by Barbara Boatner, a portfolio of portraits of women, several skillful sketches and a witty, colloquial cover by Marisol.

But often the contents come to resemble acrobatic acts and freak displays which can find common shelter only under the circus big top. What can one say about statements like:

Childbirth is part of human experience which is incomprehensible but valid in an artistic sense, just as death is. The basic difference is, however, that childbirth is strictly a female experience and also, that though many women die in childbirth, most women endure.


This is from Carolyn Balsucci's letter in the forum of "reactions" to a quotation from Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.

PART OF THE PROBLEM is that the issue begins from a fashionable kind of desperate feminism, of which Virginia Woolf can be seen as a symbol. "Sensibility" itself is a legacy of a thoroughly nineteenth-century, over-sensitized, sitting-room mentality to which Woolf was the direct heir. And like Virginia Woolf, this set of attitudes finds itself caught uneasily between hating and depending on men.

Why shouldn't a fuller, more contemporary kind of feminist literature take, say, the independence and genuine literary innovation of Gertrude Stein as its rallying point, and prove that it can do without resenting men as well as without depending on them?

THE ADVOCATE ALSO seems to have abdicated at least two of the goals which, as I understand it, this issue was originally intended to achieve. The issue was first planned last year as part of the magazine's general effort to put out more issues with more student writing. As it turns out, this is the first issue to appear since last spring, and the number of undergraduate writers is well under a third of the whole. There is a real need for a magazine that will function as a consistently open vehicle for undergraduate literary efforts. It would be nice if the Advocate returned to its program to achieve just that.