Leslie Jamison, a novelist and essayist, has written an essay called Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain. She cuts open the wound. She examines under a microscope the hurt, the angst, the suffering, and the trauma of female life. She dwells on the wound. She doesn’t disregard the pain, as anyone else would if they witnessed a woman’s bleeding heart. She doesn’t ask her female contemporaries to stop whining and she doesn’t think sedatives will help either.
Her essay is a long hard look at the way women and their pain has been trivialized. It has been reduced to the ridiculous round of girls narrating their worst fear as rape, gang rape, or gang rape and then mutilation. Women either turn numb or use the crutch of sarcasm to find their way. Some women turn their pain to art, maybe poetry.
This is how she tries to make sense of her own discursive thought:
“I’m trying to map the terms and borders of that complicated right. I’m not fighting for a world in which suffering gets worshipped, and I’m not just criticizing the post-wounded voice, or dismissing the ways in which female pain gets dismissed. I do believe there is nothing shameful about being in pain, and I do mean for this essay to be a manifesto against the accusation of wound-dwelling. But the essay isn’t a double negative, a dismissal of dismissal, so much as a search for possibility—the possibility of representing female suffering without reifying its mythos.”
If you want to have a deeper understanding about the fate of a short story, not how it was written, but more of which lit mag it came from or which anthology it went to, then this feature by Christian Lorentzen is an interesting journey indeed.
Lorentzen talks about how celebity anthologist, if there could be such a term, Edward J.O’Brien had the distinction of hand picking short stories by reading extensively through the fiction magazines printed at the time. Without a rich magazine culture, short stories suffer the most.
“It’s strange to read of the dynamics that governed the production of short fiction at the time he began his anthology project because they are the reverse of what they are today. As an art form, the short story was deluged in commercial modes, and what we’d now call “literary fiction” was an exception in need of champions (not least from British and Irish critics who were prepared to dismiss the entire American scene); today, it’s the proponents of “genre fiction” who cast themselves as the underdogs against the hegemony of literary realism.”
In fact, writers preferred the quick money they made by getting published in literary magazines to the prospect of getting their books published. Today of course, this is not the case.
The content of the short story has changed. So what you may find in an anthology of 1915 would have none of the influences of Chekov, Joyce or Kafka. But by the 60s, sex and violence become part and parcel of the short story, while later on conservatism came back.
The question is does the short story have scope to change. An anthologist has a larger job than he or she realizes.