as transcribed* from Town Bloody Hall, a 1979 film documenting a raucous panel in 1971, where Norman Mailer appeared with Greer and three other feminist speakers:
I'm afraid I'm going to talk in a very different way possibly than you expected. I do not represent any organization in this country and I dare say the most powerful representation I can make is of myself as a writer, for better or worse. I'm also a feminist and for me the significance of this moment is that I'm having to confront one of the most powerful figures in my own imagination, the being I think most privileged in male elitist society -- namely the masculine artist, the pinnacle of the masculine elite.
Bred as I have been and educated as I have been, most of my life has been most powerfully influenced by the culture for which he stands, so that I'm caught in a basic conflict between inculcated cultural values and my own deep conception of an injustice. Many professional literati ask me in triumphant tones, as you may have noticed, what happens to Mozart's sister?
However they ask me that question, it can have caused them as much anguish as it has caused me because I do not know the answer and I must find the answer. But every attempt I make to find that answer leads me to believe that perhaps what we accept as a creative artist in our society is more a killer than a creator, aiming his ego ahead of lesser talents, drawing the focus of all eyes to his achievements, being read now and by millions and paid in millions. One must ask oneself the question in our society, can any painting be worth the total yearly income of a thousand families?
And if we must answer that it is -- and the auction reports tell us so -- then I think we are forced to consider the possibility that the art on which we nourish ourselves is sapping our vitality and breaking our hearts.
But the problem is very deeply seated, as you can see. I'm agitated in this situation because of the concept I have of the importance of the artist, because of my own instinctive respect for him. Is it possible that the way of the masculine artist in our society is strewn with the husks of people worn out and dried out by his ego? Is it possible that all those that have fallen away -- all those competing egos -- were insufficiently masculine to stay the course?
I turn for some information to Freud, treating Freud's description of the artist as an ad hoc description of the artist's psyche in our society and not as in any way a metaphysical or eternal pronouncement about what art might mean. And what Freud said, of course, has irritated many artists who've had the misfortune to see it: "He longs to attain to honor, power, riches, fame and the love of women, but he lacks the means of achieving these gratifications." As an eccentric little girl who thought it might be worthwhile after all to be a poet, coming across these words for the first time was a severe check. The blandness of Freud's assumption that the artist was a man sent me back into myself to consider whether or not the proposition was reversible. Could a female artist be driven by the desire for riches, fame and the love of men?
And all too soon it was very clear that the female artist's own achievements will disqualify her for the love of men, that no woman yet has been loved for her poetry. And we love men for their achievements all the time, what can this be? Can this be a natural order that wastes so much power, that frets a little girl's heart to pieces? I had no answers, except that I knew the argument was irreversible. And so I turned later to the function of women vis-à-vis art as we know it, and I found that it fell into two parts, that we were either low sloppy creatures or menials or we were goddesses. Or worst of all we were meant to be both, which meant that we broke our hearts trying to keep our aprons clean.
Sylvia Plath's greatest poetry was sometimes conceived while she was baking bread, she was such a perfectionist -- and ultimately such a fool. The trouble is of course that the role of the goddess -- the role of the glory and the grandeur of the female in the universe -- exists in the fantasies of male artists and no woman can ever draw it to her heart for comfort. But the role of menial unfortunately is real and that she knows because she tastes it every day. So the barbaric yawp of utter adoration for the power and the glory and the grandeur of the female in the universe is uttered at the expense of the particular living woman every time.
And because we can be neither one nor the other with any peace of mind, because we are unfortunately improper goddesses and unwilling menials, there is a battle waged between us. And after all in the description of this battle maybe I find the justification of my idea that the achievement of the male artistic ego is at my expense for I find that the battle is dearer to him than the peace would ever be. "The eternal battle with women both sharpens our resistance, develops our strength, enlarges the scope of our cultural achievements." So is the scope, after all, worth it? Again the same question, just as if we were talking of the income of a thousand families for a whole year.
You see, I strongly suspect that when this revolution takes place, art will no longer be distinguished by its rarity, or its expense, or its inaccessibility, or the extraordinary way in which it is marketed, it will be the prerogative of all of us and we will do it as those artists did whom Freud understood not at all, the artists who made the Cathedral of Chartres or the mosaics of Byzantine, the artists who had no ego and no name.
*Most of this transcription was done by Jessica Peri Chalmers in connection with the live reenactment of Town Bloody Hall that she organized at Columbia College Chicago last year. [YouTube] [transcripts and other documentation] I made a few editorial tweaks to the text and filled in several paragraphs that she removed for the reenactment, I assume in the interests of brevity.
The original Hegedus-Pennebaker film should be viewed in its entirety before watching the reenactment, since other redactions for brevity change the meaning slightly (Cynthia Ozick's question from the audience, for example, sounds much more intelligent in the original). Hegedus-Pennebaker are selling the DVD for sixty bucks and appear to be issuing takedown notices for full-length YouTubes. As of this writing the video is here (turning off the speech-to-text doggerel captions is also recommended).
In future posts we'll discuss Greer's speech and how it relates to current feminist writing in the net art context (it's much better). Also to be considered is a behind-the-scenes lawsuit Greer was involved in regarding the film rights, in the early '70s.