“If the pen is a metaphorical penis, with what organ can females generate texts?” Sandra Gilbert.
There was once an aging literary professor who, although the proud author of many craftily constructed paraphrases, wanted desperately to be a writer of fiction. He yearned for this so frenziedly that his yearning began to eat up all his thoughts and mostly he felt empty and uninspired.
One day he met a woman with ample breasts. Normally he disliked women with ample breasts and if he came across one he would turn around and walk in the opposite direction for he felt quite certain that he had nothing in common with those who had the misfortune of developing overblown udders. In fact he felt a hint of disgust mixed with pity for these women. But the more he bumped into this particular woman the more he realised that she seemed to wear her mammary glands like a heroine’s gossamer breastplate, as if they were a gift from some magical unknown source. Although they were large and round they seemed to float lightly in front of her and their roundness spoke of undulating hills, ice cream and free-thought.
The aging literary professor felt drawn to this woman and soon they became friends.
The woman with the ample breasts, was, it turned out, a successful fiction writer. Her mind flowed and played like mercury and she spoke easily of her newest idea for her latest short story or novella or poem with a lightness that seemed to ebb and float like a feather on a breeze. The aging literary professor would listen and feel the barrenness of his mind and wonder how the woman with the full tits accessed a seemingly endless supply of inspiration. When he returned home he would pull out his hair and wish that an idea for a story would come to mind. But it never did.
Instead a vast and horrible emptiness engulfed him.
Soon his emptiness turned to envy and resentment and he began to despise the woman with the ample breasts, convincing himself that she was, in fact, no more than a bovine chewing on her cud of endless ideas which more than likely did not originate from her. He spent hours imagining his friend as a black and white milk cow and soon he began to refer to her out loud as ‘the cow’. By the time he had filled up the barrenness of his mind with many images of cows mooing banally in green pastures he forgot altogether that his friend was human and this made it much easier to do what he was going to do — for he had little respect for cows and could think of nothing better than to turn one upside down in a thunderstorm and watch it kick and moan in helpless futility.
One stormy night he pulled himself out of his bed and paced his room in the hopes that this would bring forth a good idea for a story. But it did not and though the lightening cracked and the sky boomed he found himself walking to ‘the cow’s’ house. When he arrived he noticed an attic window had been left slightly ajar so he climbed onto the roof and sneaked in. Once inside he realised it was not only the attic but also the room in which ‘the cow’ wrote her stories.
“Omigosh, this is a lucky break,” he exclaimed as he began to rummage through the drawers. But he did not find any paper with text upon it and though he searched high and low he did not come across anything that vaguely resembled writing. Nor could he find a reference library.
Instead he saw wonderful bits of cloth all over the floor and he knelt down to inspect them. They each displayed intricate and non-linear patterns made from an array of colorful glowing threads. The aging literary professor was drawn to the cloth and he hungrily picked up the bits and pieces that were constructed into a circular pattern on the floor. Each cloth was a unique and complex tapestry and as he lifted them into his quivering hands he felt an immense surge of white light shoot up his spine and explode in his head and he began to float in an ink-blue sky that was made up of thousands of joyful and musical voices. Each cloth had a diverse musicality, a resonant hum, a distinctive aroma and an essential aura.
He stayed in this realm for a few blissful hours but when he eventually saw the sun begin to rise he knew he would have to leave before the woman with the ample breasts found him out — for she was sure to begin writing when the night folded itself away. So he reluctantly reconstructed the magic circle on the floor and tried to drag himself home. But try as he might he could not climb out the window as he found the barrenness of his mind unbearably heavy. He climbed back into the room and in an instant, his one thought — that he wanted to be a fiction writer — transformed into cold slicing scissors that shot out of his mind and snipped off the tips of four threads in the magical tapestries that he wished were his own. He shoved the threads into his pocket and leapt out the window.
That day he began to weave and was pleased with the results. He could not believe that writing could be so effortless. He was astonished that stories did not reside in words on paper but rather were bits of cloth, layered and textured and colorful and light. He wove together a cloth in one afternoon and was pleased with the results.
But by sunset his mind was again empty and he felt a rapacious hunger in the pit of his stomach and he knew he had to go back to the attic for more.
When the moon was eventually high he made his way back to the woman with the ample breast’s house, but to his horror the attic window was shut fast. He ran around the house looking for a way in but there was no door ajar, no window cracked open and no secret tunnel that burrowed into underground cellars. He made his way back to his own house with a heaviness of heart and he cursed ‘the cow’ for locking him out.
Three days passed and the aging literary professor could do nothing but lie in bed and toss and turn in abject misery. Try as he might he could not re-access that ink-blue sky that was made up of thousands of musical voices though he willed his mind to take him there. When that did not work he began to analyse and criticise the woman with ample breast’s work and finally wrote her an indignant letter in which he told her that she suffered from anxiety of influence and that she ought to read Harold Bloom. He called her work disingenuous and angrily told her she was immersing herself in logical fallacy. He recriminated her for making creative and intuitive links between seemingly disparate schools of thought and sarcastically told her that her interest in the irrational had no place in scholarly circles. Finally in fury he told her she was dumb.
This letter appeased his pain for an hour or so but he soon found himself tossing and turning and obsessing about the effortless quality of the woman with ample breast’s work. While he convinced himself that his analysis of her work was certainly accurate he had a foreboding feeling that there was something deep and wide and primal in it that he just could not grasp. Finally he fell asleep and had a nightmare in which he was being chased by straw men and slapped by red herrings and climbing ladders constructed out of erect penises and fighting a war against an army of Shaktiites. He woke up in a sweat when the nine muses entwined him in a web of complexity with their tropes.
The aging literary professor poured himself a stiff drink and tried to clear his thoughts but his craving for more inspiration eventually overcame his rational mind and he knew he had no choice but to phone up ‘the cow’ and invite her to Moyos for a cocktail.
The following day he sat upon a leather couch and listened to the woman with the ample breasts talking and he convinced himself that though the ideas that rolled so effortlessly off her tongue were wonderful to listen to, the woman opposite him was no more than a black and white bovine who spoke manure.
The woman with ample breasts began to tell him of her latest work which was about writing with her breast milk. She laughed happily as she pointed to her ample breasts and said; ‘And I have plenty of that.’
The aging professor felt his stomach churn as he fought back the urge to vomit and then his unpleasant thoughts transformed again into the cold spiteful scissors that shot out his mind and snipped off bits of the conversation that still hung in the air. He shoved these in his wallet, whipped out his credit card and paid for the cocktails with a false smile playing upon his lips.
After they parted ways he rushed home and began to weave a tapestry from the gossamer threads of the woman with the ample breast’s words and soon enough his mind was swimming in breast milk and this set in motion a story about writing with breast milk. So excited was he about his propensity to enter the terrain of the ‘other’ that he phoned one of his students whom he was interested in seducing and invited her over to his loft and spoke animatedly to her about his story and read her bits of his tapestry. His student thought he was brilliant and sat at his feet and listened to his narrative about a breast milk factory that was sure to save the world and how cocktails of menstrual blood would be administered to those who suffered the fate of phallogocentricism and she had no idea of the magnitude of his barrenness of mind.
The aging literary professor began to read her bits of the other tapestries that were lying around his loft. He read her sentences that seemed suspended on waves of light, so lucid and so original were the threads out of which they were born.
His soon-to-be-lover opened her beautiful brown eyes wide with delight when she heard about the overture of romantic foolery when a brave woman offers to cut off her clitoris and sends it to her girlfriend in a brown paper envelope so that she may forever keep it between her lips and roll it with her tongue and both would be bound by one long enchanting orgasm forever. Her legs grew as wide open as her eyes when she was read the story of the warrior woman who dislocates her body and slices off her right breast to express her love for the lady who knows not that she is a woman disguised as a soldier. By the time the aging literary professor began to read his lover the story of a family history wound up in magical threads of fairytales and fables and the little seal boy birthed in a pineal gland and Poseidon’s arrival in Yeoville and the smell of women beneath finger nails and the array of vagina’s on the floor of the ocean, they were lying upon a fleece rug naked and throbbing.
The aging literary professor finally began to feel multidimensional as he continued to weave his borrowed stories. By now he had managed to store up a few of his own ideas which fed upon the thoughts stolen from the woman with the ample breasts — and when he needed more he simply invited her to Moyo’s for a cocktail and snipped away at the gossamer inspiration that filled the air around her.
Finally he completed a tapestry and wondered what to do with it. His student lover, who was in awe of his fecund imagination, suggested that he take it to various readers who may be interested in recommending it to a publisher. His chest swelled with pride at the thought that he would finally be a published novelist and he would at last see his name written across a paperback cover. He gathered his tapestry and jumped onto his motorbike.
First he stopped off at his work place, The Tower of Pen, where like him, many learned men held high positions and ruled the roost with erect penises and Rock Star outfits. He groveled at the feet of a learned Rock Star whom he held in high regard and begged him to take a look. His colleague took the manuscript, glanced over it and giving him an embarrassed but supercilious look, said; “But this is not original thought.”
“Of course it is,” he shouted, for he truly began to believe it himself.
“No,” said his colleague. “Original thought glows a turquoise blue. Your threads are snipped in half and you have tacked them together with clumsy fingers and now the colour is no longer there. That is how we can tell if this is your thought or if you have stolen it from somewhere else.”
The aging literary professor grabbed his tapestry and snarled at him in a voice he did not recognize as his own.
“What do you know anyway? You are no more than a learned Rock Star.”
“Yes I am,” he agreed, “but like you, I do have a PhD in Paraphrasing.”
The aging literary professor turned angrily on his heel and with a barren mind climbed onto his motorbike. He decided that he had finally transcended learned men who knew nothing of original thought and that he would have to take his work into the unexplored territory of the arcane where they were sure to get what he was doing.
“I’ll take it to the wise Sangoma,” he said as he sped off.
When he arrived at the Sangoma’s home he handed her the tapestry and asked if she would read it and give him an opinion. The Sangoma smiled and took the tapestry in her hands but as soon as she touched it she screamed and threw it to the ground.
“What have you done?” she shouted at the aging literary professor. “This tapestry is made from burnt-out snakes that have had their heads cut off. It is colourless whereas it should be glowing with all the colours of the rainbow. You are a long-fingered-ideas-thief and you must leave right now.”
The aging literary professor turned angrily on his heel and with a barren mind, climbed onto his motorbike. He decided that Sangomas did not know a thing about literature or art.
“I’ll take it to the famous sculptor who lives in the forest,” he said and sped off.
When he got to the famous sculptor’s studio, which was filled with magnificent works of art made from things that society both used and discarded, he handed him the tapestry and asked if he would read it over and give him his opinion. The famous sculptor took it in his hands. He closed his eyes and fingered the layers of the weave.
“Hmmmm,” he said. “I was hoping for bricolage or palimpsest — but this is no more than sand beneath my fingers. That can only mean one thing. You have stolen someone else’s ideas and tried to make them your own. A true bricoleur can borrow, parody and quote others with pastiche but they never once try to make the ideas their own. It’s a process which I’m afraid you do not get and you must leave.”
The aging literary professor turned angrily on his heel and with a barren mind, climbed onto his motorbike. He was grateful that his student lover was not with him, even though he secretly believed that everyone he had met so far was talking cow manure.
“I’ll take it to Snow White in Fairyland,” he said and with a barren mind, climbed onto his motorbike.
He found Snow White walking through a garden of wild roses and apples. Instantly overcome by her Madonna-like purity he felt the need to flirt — so with a dazzling smile he winked at her and asked her if she would look over his tapestry and give him her thoughts. She glared at him and took it in her tiny white hands. After a minute she looked him straight in the eye and said; “Did it not occur to you that Prince Charming was only able to kiss me once he had dropped all his macho shit?”
“For Chrissakes,” exclaimed the aging literary professor, grabbing back his script.
“I’ll take it to the stoned caterpillar, who I am sure has more life experience than you,” he shouted and with a barren mind, climbed onto his motorbike.
When he got to the mushroom on which the caterpillar sat smoking dubies all day, he handed him the tapestry. The caterpillar placed it upon the mushroom and perched his spectacles upon his nose.
“Dearie, dearie me … such nice thoughts … so vivid … and yet you have turned them grey. This is not your stuff.”
“You’re a pothead!” the aging literary professor shrieked as he turned angrily on his heel and with a barren mind, climbed onto his motorbike.
“I’ll take it to a body consultant,” he said and sped off.
When he reached the massage studio he handed his tapestry to the text-masseur who took it in her hands and massaged it softly.
“Hmm,” she said losing interest quickly. “This text has got no texture, no sensuality, no body. It is as if it does not ‘belong’ and it is the most disembodied story I have ever read. I think you need to learn how to orgasm cerebrally.”
“Fuck you!” shouted the aging literary professor as he turned on his heel and with a barren mind, climbed onto his motorbike.
There is only one more place to go and that is to the Ideas Factory in the centre of town, he told himself as he sped off.
When he got there he saw a sign that said:
JOIN US FOR A VIRTUAL JOURNEY THROUGH THE CHORA.
There were a lot of cars parked in the driveway and he was forced to park far down the road and walk, which he did without reluctance. He knew without a doubt that there would be a lot of attractive women at this seminar and that they would understand his thoughts and see them as belonging to him — for by now he had convinced himself that these very ideas had indeed manifested in his own barren mind. He also knew that despite what Snow White had said, he had a way with women.
He opened the door to the reception and was hurriedly ushered into the hall where many women stood in rapt attention, listening to a wonderful story that resounded in the auditorium with the vibration of thousands of musical voices that wrapped the audience in ink blue folds. And then he saw the woman with the ample breasts sitting at the front of the hall reading her tapestry and handing out champagne glasses filled with the breast milk that flowed from her rounded breasts. He stood and listened and in an instant realised that his mind could not grasp the rhythmic resonance of the primal lexis that filled the room and his eyes brimmed with tears as he longed to be back in his office surrounded by books of theory and espousing his own learned language to starry-eyed students who clung to his every authoritative word. His tears rolled down his jowly cheeks as he pined for a pen between his index finger and thumb.
A girl with large brown eyes turned around and looked angrily at the aging literary professor as she listened to the very story that she thought had been born out of his mind… but there was no mistaking that told by the originator it sounded vibrant, authentic and rich and wrapped her in a fluidity that was missing in the narrative he had used to seduced her. She showed him her middle finger and turned her back on him forever.
The aging literary professor was confused and he looked down to his own tapestry for solace, but he found he could not read the threads of the story for they were written with borrowed white ink.
The tapestry disintegrated in his trembling hands as he walked out the door into the bareness of his mind.
A Fabulist retelling by Gillian Schutte
© Ludic Press & Gillian Schutte 2010.
All persons appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and not bloody likely.