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Cutting Remarks | The Nation

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Cutting Remarks

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Plath's suicide and Solanas's attempted murder of Warhol might be considered the two major acts of feminist violence of the 1960s. Plath and Solanas can be seen as representing two aspects of the movement. On the one hand, women were trying to articulate their unhappiness and their madness in a male-dominated society. They talked, soul-searched, bore witness. They wrote memoirs and met in consciousness-raising groups. Plath's writing predates this discourse, but belongs firmly in it.

About the Author

Claire Dederer
Claire Dederer, who lives in Seattle, writes frequently for the New York Times Book Review.

Also by the Author

In his 1997 song "Highlands," Bob Dylan reports a conversation between
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you?/...

Memoir and consciousness-raising were not for Solanas. It wasn't just that she came along too early for consciousness-raising. You feel pretty sure she would have detested it, had she ever met it. She believed in action. "SCUM is too impatient to wait for the de-brainwashing of millions of assholes." The SCUM Manifesto is a kind of anti-memoir. Instead of focusing inward on her own feelings and experiences, Solanas looked outward at the world and demanded action. She had a theory and a plan. Men were ruining the world, and must be gotten rid of. "SCUM is impatient," she wrote. "SCUM wants to grab some thrilling living for itself."

But Solanas couldn't entirely escape memoir. Her description of the women who are proudly SCUM is imbued with a carnal knowledge. "[F]unky, dirty, low-down SCUM gets around...and around and around...they've seen the whole show--every bit of it--the fucking scene, the dyke scene--they've covered the whole waterfront, been under every dock and pier--the peter pier, the pussy pier...." B. Ruby Rich, quoting the same passage, pointed out that this is a species of autobiography: "Of course," wrote Rich, "'they' in this story can only be 'I,' since there were no other members of SCUM. It's as close to confessional as the Manifesto ever gets."

Solanas imagined her SCUM sisters as a fierce tribe of vibrantly imagined ur-women: "dominant, secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling, arrogant females, who consider themselves fit to rule the universe, who have free-wheeled to the limits of this 'society' and are ready to wheel on to something far beyond what it has to offer." To me this is the most painful and beautiful moment of the Manifesto. You picture beer halls and fistfights, wet kisses and joy rides. But Solanas, as far as we know, wasn't a member of some utopian girl gang. She was evasive even on the topic of her lesbianism. She had no SCUM sisters. She was alone. In her introduction, Ronnell rightly situates Solanas alongside David Koresh and Ted Kaczynski, a trio of revolutionaries "unmoored and alone with their inscriptions."

A manifesto needs a goal, a green pasture where you'll presumably go when all your revolutionary acts are discharged. Solanas's goal was an intimate fantasy of female comradeship. Her green pasture was filled with freewheeling women. In the meantime, her happiness was made safely impossible by the unmanageable scope of her revolution. Solanas is saying she'll be happy personally after her political needs are met. Since this can never happen, she's perfectly justified in her misery and loneliness.

In a sense, Solanas's manifesto is an expression of powerlessness. Her revolution is so huge that it can never begin. True, she did shoot a man, but even that seemingly militant act was marbled with vulnerability and unsureness. In the Manifesto, Solanas was the decisive woman who attacked silently, ruthlessly, in the dark. Her real-life shooting lacked a basic unifying intention. It was a flailing. She went to Girodias's office to shoot him, found he was out that day, so shot Warhol instead. (And the art critic.)

The SCUM Manifesto is a document of profound vulnerability, written in a voice of profound empowerment. It's a brutal call to arms, written by a woman in a world of hurt. This tension between powerlessness and power makes it an enduring piece of writing. Never have the personal and the political been so mercilessly zipped together, like little steel teeth.

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