Inga Muscio’s latest book blends anecdotes, history and theory to examine where violence originates from and how to find space for love in a vicious world. The result is in turns naïve, stirring and provocative, says Katherine Wootton
The recent coverage of the VIDA report on the under-representation of women in literary magazines reminded me of something Inga Muscio urged in her book Cunt: A Declaration of Independence: support women artists by buying their books and records. Borrow men’s work from the library, or buy them second hand, but vote with your wallet when it comes to women. It’s a way of trying to level the playing field – to create and/or support a market that becomes too big for editors, publishers and recording companies to ignore.
In her latest book Rose: Love in Violent Times, Muscio continues her call for positive action, this time addressing how violence informs our everyday lives and how to resist becoming part of a damaging cycle of passive violence, supporting physical violence, finding space for love not just in spite of the problems presented by culture and society, but as an active response to them.
With her usual casual and confessional tone, Muscio directly addresses the reader, blending personal anecdote with lists, history and informal Marxist and feminist theory, to find where violence comes from, how it affects us, and what thoughts and actions can protect the individual and allow them to work towards a less vicious world.
The book is divided into two sections, ‘Violence’ and ‘Love’. She begins with violence, as manifest by acts of war, within social and cultural entitlement, the fragility of safety and rape. Muscio analyses the sources of violence and the meanings created by it, presenting a complicated view of its role in our lives – even the most blatant abuses can result in serendipitous opportunities, destruction can make “possible new understandings and relationships” – while observing how passive, everyday violence can numb us. “We tend to lack empathy (…) when we have none for ourselves,” she writes.
Muscio clearly sees love as an active and ongoing philosophy, a means of understanding and reacting to the violence around us. She begins with the dictionary, to show how received ideas go unexamined when we assume neutrality and authority, and urges the reader to notice these quietly inherited biases and how they support violence through justification and explanation. The cover of Rose is decorated with 101 words that Muscio insists that the reader define for themselves, as an exercise that will give a greater understanding of their own perspective. She encourages us to “discover oneself in the universe”, to find a connection with the natural world, the instinctual self and our community, and to recognise the cycle of activity and rest, beauty and ugliness, that gives rhythm to life.
Muscio’s colloquial style, clearly arising from a disregard for authority and a desire to address the reader as a friend and equal, can sometimes be distracting. Some of her vaguely spiritual anecdotes seem a little naïve, which jars with her thorough, critical analysis elsewhere – she is determined to see a straightforward goodness in the natural world.
However, her unflinching confessions about her own life illuminate how she thinks the way she does in a violent world, and why it is so vital to believe in one’s own power to create spaces of love and safety. Reading Rose is by turns depressing and uplifting, much like the interplay of pain and happiness Muscio sees in all aspects of life. However, as a philosophical call to arms it is powerful, stirring and provocative. The book is an act of love, and a worthy addition to the feminist canon for its insight and passion.