David M. Guy, THE SUN’s regular book reviewer, is taking a leave of absence to complete work on his novel, Football Dreams, to be published by Seabury Press. His column will reappear soon.
Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her, by Susan Griffen. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.
In Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her, Susan Griffen explores the connection between feminism and ecology by tracing Patriarchy’s attitudes toward women and nature throughout Western history. These attitudes view women and nature as matter, inert and passive, therefore subject to the restless dominating activity of male prerogative. Ms. Griffen, a poet, traces this view through Western science, philosophy, religion, ecology, female history and feminism.
In her preface, Ms. Griffen calls this book unconventional. It is. Its form is loose and deep, oceanic, ritualistic, miniature-like in detail, colorful and shadowy. It began as a lecture in which she observed that women had often been given the problems of ecology to solve . . . “always being asked to clean up . . . that men consider women to be more material than themselves, or more a part of nature. The fact that man does not consider himself a part of nature, but indeed considers himself superior to matter, seemed to me to gain significance when placed against man’s attitude that woman is both inferior to him and closer to nature.”
Griffen goes “underneath logic,” writing associatively through intuition, using what she calls her “uncivilized self.” It is an emotional work, but without frenzy. Open in form, it is always sensible, fusing intuition and logic into pure vision. Also immensely sad, it is shot through with melancholy and terror.
Two voices speak in this book. One is the voice of patriarchal pontification. The other, an “embodied voice, and an impassioned one” of the natural world and the world of woman.
“He says that woman speaks with nature. That she hears voices from under the earth. That wind blows in her ears and trees whisper to her. That the dead sing through her mouth and the cries of infants are clear to her. But for him this dialogue is over. He says he is not part of this world, that he was set on this world as a stranger. He sets himself apart from woman and nature.”
“We are the bird’s eggs. Bird’s eggs, flowers, butterflies, rabbits, cows, sheep; we are caterpillars; we are leaves of ivy and sprigs of wallflower. We are women. We rise from the wave. We are gazelle and doe, elephant and whale, lilies and roses and peach, we are air, we are flame, we are oyster and pearl, we are girls. We are woman and nature. And he says he cannot hear us speak. But we hear.”
In Book One, “Matter,” man’s attitudes toward woman and nature are revealed in historical order. It is decided “that matter is only a potential form or potential for movement. It is decided that the nature of woman is passive, that she is a vessel waiting to be filled.” Woman, then, is closer to the earth, therefore corruptible and decaying; while man is heavenly and “shineth night and day of resplendour perpetual.”
“Separation,” Book Two, describes how woman and nature are captured and tamed. It is also here that women’s voices and nature’s voice begin to rise, revealing patriarchal vulnerability. The image of woman and nature captured and dangerous is tellingly described in Separation’s “The Zoological Garden”:
“Only once did she use her claws. Only once did she feel them sink into flesh. And it was her keeper’s flesh. Her keeper whom she loves, who feeds her, who would never dream of harming her, who protects her. Who in his mercy forgave her mad attack, saying this was in her nature, to be cruel at a whim, to try to kill what she loves.”
In the next two books woman’s consciousness separates from patriarchal consciousness and a new world is created. The women’s voices become clear to each other, they begin to sing and weep, and possibilities arise . . . “a day’s walk back into a future we could have touched: Such tenderness, such joy.”
Pain and joy are meshed in a beatific vision, utopian in the sense of equality and freedom, yet realistic in the knowledge of constant change and variety, the vision heightened to prophecy.