I’ve spent much of this week reviewing my lecture and workshop materials, preparing for my talk in Boulder on Friday night and its accompanying workshop on Saturday morning. One of the myths that we delve into in both the lecture and workshop is the story of Inanna and her descent into the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal. Inanna’s journey makes an excellent metaphor for the creative process and what it requires of us. I tell the myth, then we talk about it. However, rather than using the standard Wolkstein and Kramer translation of the text that is the most well known of the versions of the myth, I use Catherynne M. Valente’s long poem retelling instead. So, the lines from the poem are rattling around in my head as I prepare for the lecture. Here are the first lines…
Her foot is pointed like a dancer’s, laces inward,
indicating darkness. The bend in her knee is not quite classical–
the bone protrudes, white-blind, and her calf is mapped:
scar, welt, sun. It hesitates, ostrich-elongate,
and the ribbon knotted at the perfumed hollow of her ankle
The wind out of the deep smells of myrrh and cardamom,
and meat just shy of spoil.
Does she hear the sea far off from her? Does she hear the working
of worms in the ceiling of loam?
In an exciting turn of events, I was able to hear Ms. Valente speak on how her education in classics has influenced her work in a keynote speech at The Once and Future Antiquity: International Conference on Classical Traditions in Science Fiction and Fantasy that I attended over the weekend.
I discovered Ms. Valente’s work in 2008, and I’ve been singing her praises to my friends who love myth ever since. I even presented a paper on her Orphan’s Tales books at the 2012 Sirens Conference, my first and only conference presentation.
I’m excited to announce that Cat has agreed to be interviewed by me, for this blog. She is doing a book signing in Seattle tomorrow night at Queen Anne Book Company, and we should have a chance to talk myth for a bit before the signing. I’ll post the interview when I’m back from Boulder. I’m so thrilled to be having a conversation with one of my favorite authors!
Check back early next week for the interview. 🙂
Update: I finally wrote about my conversation with Ms Valente, nearly two months after our initial talk. What stuck with me about the conversation was her dismissal of Joseph Campbell and his work, or at least my perception of that dismissal. I was struggling with this question: at what point, if any, do we need to reject the work of writers or other artists if they turn out to be bad people? In our talk (which was very brief; less than twenty minutes) it seemed clear, to me at least, that Ms. Valente felt that the validity of Campbell’s work was in question because he was, or was perceived to be, a misogynist, racist, anti-semite, etc. Because of my respect for her, her work, and her intellect, I found myself questioning Campbell and his place in my own intellectual pantheon, as it were. I opened the question to the blog’s readers thus: do we have an obligation to discard the work of writers who may have been distasteful people? I had hoped to spark a dialogue around the shadow aspects of the people whose works we admire.
I did invite Ms. Valente to comment on my perception of our conversation. She did so, and vehemently objected to my take on what she had said. She accused me of setting her up to accept the interview just so I could trash her in print (to paraphrase), and then banned me from her fandom. I did apologize to her for getting our conversation wrong. I’ve really struggled with this entire incident, and I ultimately decided to delete the post, as it was attracting the attention of her fans, who turned out in droves to support her. It’s my first experience of really getting trolled/bullied online, and it’s been hard on me. So, now I’m hoping to put the whole incident behind me. I continue to reflect on this issue, and try to separate the shadow aspects of my favorite writers and teachers from what they have to offer in print.