It is confusing and embarrassing to have two mouths. Genuine kakophony is the sound produced by them. Let us consider one more example from antiquity of female kakophony at its most confusing and embarrassing. There is a group of terracotta statues recovered from Asia Minor and dated to the 4th century BC which depict the female body in an alarmingly shortcircuited form. Each of these statues is a woman who consists of almost nothing but her two mouths. The two mouths are welded together into an inarticulate body mass which excludes other anatomical function. Moreover the position of the two mouths is reversed. The upper mouth for talking is placed at the bottom of the statue’s belly. The lower or genital mouth gapes open on top of the head…This Baubo presents us with one simple chaotic diagram of an outrageously manipulable female identity. The doubling and interchangeability of mouth engenders a creature in whom sex is cancelled out by sound and sound is cancelled out by sex.
– Anne Carson, “The Gender of Sound”
This essay comes at the end of Glass, Irony & God, a last large chunk of text, the most intimidatingly long paragraphs staring you down. It’s like Carson is daring you to say that this academic writing doesn’t match the rest of the book. But it does—in my own feminine language, it totally does. Starting the book with “The Glass Essay,” this enactment of female voice/wailing/grief/sexuality, this dangerous and easy-to-dismiss female narrative, and ending with “The Gender of Sound,” exploring language and literature and psychology in a voice that is both academic and essayistic, makes this argument whole. It’s a circling-back to the same idea, not a justification of the female voice, but a pointing out of your dismissal of it, which is the way you have been conditioned to approach it.
I’m guilty of this myself. Years back, a professor told me that my writing was “melodramatic,” and ever since then I’ve been running away from that term, that oh-so-female term. Talking to a friend yesterday about my thesis, I found myself circling back to that same word. I’m worried that the writing I’ve been doing toward my thesis is too melodramatic, too emotional, too personal, too female. I’m aware that these terms are ingrained, and I ask myself what’s so bad about the personal, the emotional, the highly lyric, but it’s hard to ignore the accusatory finger of melodrama. I’m afraid the content of my writing will be dismissed because of the voice, and the writing itself will be dismissed because of the content.
It’s that old two mouths problem. Even Carson speaks from two mouths at either end of this book, the poetic at the beginning and the academic at the end. But there’s something about her writing that has always seemed to me to be winking at both of those terms. I feel like she’s a writer who does whatever she wants, and you? You can just deal with it. That’s the kind of attitude I’d like to cultivate.