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Introduction to Starting From Zero

Introduction to Starting From Zero

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Published by carolyn6302
Excerpt of the Introduction to Starting From Zero: One-Act Plays About Lesbians in Love by Carolyn Gage
Excerpt of the Introduction to Starting From Zero: One-Act Plays About Lesbians in Love by Carolyn Gage

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Published by: carolyn6302 on Oct 03, 2012
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Copyright © 2012 Carolyn Gage
They say that they are starting from zero. They say that a new world is beginning.—Monique Wittig.
In her novel,
Les Guérillères
, French lesbian-feminist author MoniqueWittig envisioned a world where women were rising up in armedrebellion against patriarchal institutions. In attempting to describe thisnew world they wanted to create, Wittig’s women warriors foundthemselves perpetually frustrated by the limitations of the languagethey had learned from their colonizers:
The women say, the language you speak poisons your glottistongue palate lips. They say, the language you speak is madeup of words that are killing you. They say, the language youspeak is made up of signs that rightly speaking designate what men have appropriated. Whatever they have not laid hands on,whatever they have not pounced on like many-eyed birds of  prey, does not appear in the language you speak.
This is specifically the difficulty with lesbian theatre. The symbolicgestures, tropes, metaphors, “bits,” stock characters and formulaicsituations that facilitate the compressed telling of a story in real timeon a stage—all of these derive from a canon that has traditionallyemployed female characters chiefly as rewards or obstacles for men,in narratives that presume an audience identified with the principlemale characters and their issues.
“Whatever they have not laid hands on”—that is, the paradigms andarchetypes belonging to female-identified narratives, and especiallyto lesbian narratives—do not appear.Lesbian-feminist philosopher Mary Daly described this “malestream”culture as the “foreground,” while designating as the “Background”the world of women’s authentic being:
Background: the Realm of Wild Reality; the Homeland of women’s Selves and of all other Others…foreground: male-centered and mono-dimensional arena wherefabrication, objectification, and alienation take place…
Marilyn Frye, another lesbian-feminist philosopher, made aninteresting analogy between women and stagehands, noting thatwhat she calls “Phallocratic Reality” occupies the foreground of theworldview, where men and their experiences are illuminated, whilewomen constitute the shadowy backstage crew whose invisibility isas essential to the maintenance of male performance as are our resources.How then to tell the stories of the “stagehands?” To place ourselvescenter stage—divorcing us from the patriarchal context that gives usmeaning and renders us coherent in contemporary culture? How canone represent with integrity stories of lives lived behind the scenes byplacing us in the glare of the spotlight? On the other hand, to movethe audience backstage is to risk revealing the secret of maleperformance described by Virginia Woolf in
Room of One’s Own
that women “have served all these centuries as looking glassespossessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting man as twicehis natural size.”
The staging of stories by, for, about, and serving the interests of women, and especially of lesbians, is more than a question of switching up pronouns, affirmative action hiring, or special initiativesto promote the work of women artists. It is about, literally, startingfrom zero. Because, what Daly and Wittig are talking about is acolonization of language—a colonization of the imagination.Wittig goes on to describe the lack of language for “whatever theyhave not laid hands on:”
This is apparent precisely in the intervals that your mastershave not been able to fill with their words of proprietors and  possessors, this can be found in the gaps, in all that which isnot a continuation of their 
discourse, in the zero, the O, the perfect circle that you invent to imprison them and to overthrow them.
 And this is where we must begin. The perfect circle, the zero. Lesbianrelationships, like lesbian theatre, are expected to recycle theaccepted tropes of heteropatriarchal culture—its gender roles, itspower dynamics, its sexual clichés: “Boston marriage,” “lesbian beddeath,” “which one is the man?” When lesbians resist suchappropriation, our relationships, like our theatre, must be relegated tothe “intervals,” to the “gaps” of patriarchal language and of paradigms.But the patriarchal stigma attached to this absence cannot comparewith the promise of the zero, the “perfect circle” we will invent toimprison the narratives that exclude us and to overthrow their archetypes. Our zero encircles and encompasses what maleplaywrights and critics have declared for millennia to be “universalthemes.” Imprisoned in the context of their narratives, they cannot

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