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Rebecca Solnit: Recollections of My Nonexistence

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Of my nonexistence. It's a profound book. It moved me deeply and let me say furthermore that this is the first time we're doing a show under these corona virus situations. I'm in my home. Rebecca's in her home and we're going to talk to one another without being able to see one another a real I for bookworm. Hi Rebecca Hello Michael. What do you mean by my nonexistence? I had the title before I wrote the Book and the book in some ways a reflection on it. It's most of all about all the forms of violence against women. The literal violence that leaves some women. Did some woman silent. Some woman pushed out of full participation in different social arenas but I also wrote about other social groups game in native people etc who face other kinds of erasure and I also wrote about reading as a positive form of non existence where you withdraw from your own life and your own physical being to enter another world and kind of float disembodied in somebody else's imaginings in somebody else's language. Wow let me say that as I was reading the book although I regard myself as I hope sensitive gay man I was made aware of how frightening it is used say at a certain point partially ironically that in your childhood your hobby was not getting raped. To what extent is that true. I-in it's completely true and I was really writing about my adolescence and early adulthood. We've had a really valuable and significant conversation. Last several years thanks to black lives matter and the response to the killing of Trayvon Martin about black parents giving talk to their sons about the dangers. They faced because of their race and gender. Most girls get different forms of the talk. Telling them often in roundabout evasive ways that they can't wear this. They can't do that. They can't aspire to this. They can't move freely. They can't go out at this hour. They shouldn't go to the party. They shouldn't have a drink and that it's entirely on them to prevent men from harming them and that society has no interest in taking responsibility for that but Democrat violence against women. So as young woman I had to constantly think about safety and strategy as I move through the world and every situation walking out in the world public transit meetings classes social situations parties Cetera and it was constant and it took a toll. I remember when I was first in college. This is around. Nineteen seventy the first feminist movements. Were starting in it in phone stickers. That said this exploits women but it wasn't yet clear that we were in a culture that exploits women altogether and that when I started to join gay men's liberation groups. We discovered how much we had grown up being teased being heard being disregarded in the language of the Normative Patriarchal Heterosexual Culture held one. Live in such a culture. You know I think if you add up those who are not male those who are not white. Those are not straight those who are not conventionally able bodied et CETERA. You end up with the majority of facing these forms of non existence. I think that you know it is a burden that people shouldn't have to carry That a lot of kinds of people carry these burdens and I wrote this book partly to try and home in on some of the nuances and complexities around gender. That I didn't feel we're talking about enough but I also wrote this book very much as a first person account of my formative years in San Francisco and gay men were a joy and support and inspiration in those years You know I lived about a neighborhood away. You know a fifteen minute walk from the Castro to see these men who had said we're going to refuse our assignment. We're going to refuse our role because we've decided it's worth paying the price rather than the price of avoiding who. We are and conforming. But I also WanNa talk about another form of non existence that really had an impact. And I think has an impact on young queer people even now on people of color the non-existence of being given reading material stories histories in which people like you don't matter don't exist aren't the protagonists. I grew up reading. Very male centered white centred literary Canon and I should say Christian centered and I feel like there was a non existence that to imagine myself as the protagonist of the great stories. I had to D- imagine myself as a woman and it always felt like I was wavering. Between who I was in my bodily identity and who I was if I wanted to be like Odysseus Sir Lord Jim more so many of the adventurous people in the books that I love when I was growing up the used to as a regular thing on once book reports ask. Who Do you identify with in this book? And since there were no queer characters and no Jewish characters except extremely negative. One says in the case of the sun also rises. I mean hemingway was particular corporate for giving us no one that we could know who would be like us. We would want to grow up into and my parents intern. They were the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves and they were given Ivanhoe to read when they got to school and suddenly they were saying words like pretty young maiden where did that come from. They weren't learning American English in their English classes. That will earning Sir Walter Scott so when I was reading your book. Rebecca this idea of non existence and the ways in which it's pressed upon us move me so deeply that I'll tell you the truth I was breaking into tears every ten or fifteen pages. Wow thank you I will say if I'm not mistaken. Ivanhoe has a beautiful Jewish named Rebecca in it but it is a very anachronistic archaic book. Rebecca Soni is an explorer of the American West and when she became involved with her younger brother in anti-nuclear demonstrations. She was there at the test sites in Nevada. Exploring what it was lied to beyond Shoshoni lands. Yes yes and actually that was such a formative place for me. I like to say the Nevada test site taught me to write because the place was so extraordinarily it demanded. I learned to integrate the different modes. In which is writing journalism criticism and kind of lyrical personal essays but also was a place in which the protagonists were Western. Schone elders Mormon down winters atomic survivors from Japan Lesbian Pagans and anarchists and just really remarkable coming together of a lot of people who already weren't part of the central narrative to exert real power make real alliances about the future of the world against the dominant narrative being told by Cold War America and then nuclear physicists and politicians who were mostly white men and it was an extraordinary movement with many