Writers on Writers: Ceridwen Dovey on J.M. Coetzee
Black Inc., $17.99 hb, 96 pp, 9781760640613
‘We think back through our mothers,’ writes Virginia Woolf (twice) in A Room of One’s Own. At first, she seems to be suggesting that women artists can only derive inspiration from women who precede them: ‘It is useless to go to the great men writers for help … the weight, the pace, the stride of a man’s mind are too unlike her own.’
But Woolf’s bravura rhetorical essay (she calls her writing ‘harliquinade’ for its ‘assortment of patches’) arrives at far more radical ideas about gender and the imagination than this essentialist position foreshadows. The artist’s mind, she argues later, is androgynous, with ‘no single state of being’, and can think back ‘through its mothers or through its fathers’.