Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir by Rebecca Solnit
English | March 10th, 2020 | ISBN: 0593083334 | 256 pages | EPUB | 1.47 MB
“An un-self-centered book . . . At the same time that [Solnit] describes her forays into her past, she invites us to connect pieces of her story to our own, as a measure of how far we’ve come and how far we have left to go.” —Jenny Odell, The New York Times Book Review
An electric portrait of the artist as a young woman that asks how a writer finds her voice in a society that prefers women to be silent
In Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit describes her formation as a writer and as a feminist in 1980s San Francisco, in an atmosphere of gender violence on the street and throughout society and the exclusion of women from cultural arenas. She tells of being poor, hopeful, and adrift in the city that became her great teacher, and of the small apartment that, when she was nineteen, became the home in which she transformed herself. She explores the forces that liberated her as a person and as a writer—books themselves; the gay community that presented a new model of what else gender, family, and joy could mean; and her eventual arrival in the spacious landscapes and overlooked conflicts of the American West.
Beyond being a memoir, Solnit’s book is also a passionate argument: that women are not just impacted by personal experience, but by membership in a society where violence against women pervades. Looking back, she describes how she came to recognize that her own experiences of harassment and menace were inseparable from the systemic problem of who has a voice, or rather who is heard and respected and who is silenced—and how she was galvanized to use her own voice for change.
One day long ago, I looked at myself as I faced a full-length mirror and saw my image darken and soften and then seem to retreat, as though I was vanishing from the world rather than that my mind was shutting it out. I steadied myself on the door frame just across the hall from the mirror, and then my legs crumpled under me. My own image drifted away from me into darkness, as though I was only a ghost fading even from my own sight.
I blacked out occasionally and had dizzy spells often in those days, but this time was memorable because it appeared as though it wasn’t that the world was vanishing from my consciousness but that I was vanishing from the world. I was the person who was vanishing and the disembodied person watching her from a distance, both and neither. In those days, I was trying to disappear and to appear, trying to be safe and to be someone, and those agendas were often at odds with each other. And I was watching myself to see if I could read in the mirror what I could be and whether I was good enough and whether all the things I’d been told about myself were true.
To be a young woman is to face your own annihilation in innumerable ways or to flee it or the knowledge of it, or all these things at once. “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world,” said Edgar Allan Poe, who must not have imagined it from the perspective of women who prefer to live. I was trying not to be the subject of someone else’s poetry and not to get killed; I was trying to find a poetics of my own, with no maps, no guides, not much to go on. They might have been out there, but I hadn’t located them yet.
The struggle to find a poetry in which your survival rather than your defeat is celebrated, perhaps to find your own voice to insist upon that, or to at least find a way to survive amidst an ethos that relishes your erasures and failures is work that many and perhaps most young women have to do. In those early years, I did not do it particularly well or clearly, but I did it ferociously.
I was often unaware of what and why I was resisting, and so my defiance was murky, incoherent, erratic. Those years of not succumbing, or of succumbing like someone sinking into a morass and then flailing to escape, again and again, come back to me now as I see young women around me fighting the same battles. The fight wasn’t just to survive bodily, though that could be intense enough, but to survive as a person possessed of rights, including the right to participation and dignity and a voice. More than survive, then: to live.