To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 1989 7:15:06 MET
From: Lars Magne Ingebrigtsen <email@example.com>
Subject: "Kate Bush and her women" in Vagant by Johann Grip
This article was recently published in the Norwegian magazine "Vagant". "Vagant" is an arty magazine with, I would guess, a very small circulation. I am Norwegian, the article was written in Swedish and I have translated it to English. The translation is problaby pretty horrible, but I think it is might be readable. I think it's an interesting article.
"this house is full of M-M-MADNESS"
An article about Kate Bush and her women
by Johann Grip
To begin with a (rhetorical?) question: In our culture, is there a specifically female literary tradition that differs from a typically male, patriarchal tradition?
If there is, then what does it look like, and what would this have to do with Kate Bush?
According to the authors of the book "The Madwoman in the Attic" (Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gaber, New Haven/London 1979) the first question has to be answered affirmative. Starting from the 19. century authors Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and the later Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, they can trace a distinctly feminine literary tradition with "pictures of entrapment and escape, fantasies of mad "twins" that play the roles of anti-social surrogates for an unselfish I, metaphors for physical pain in frozen landscapes and a furious inner - these patterns are recurring throughout this tradition, together with manic descriptions of illnesses as anorexia, agoraphobia and claustrophobia" (s.xi).
And why should just female authors be haunted by these metaphors and fantasies? According to the same book: "Confined in an overwhelmingly male-dominated social architecture, these literary women were trapped in the literary constructions that Gertrude Stein called 'patriarchal poetry'" (s.xi).
A literary woman in the 19. century doesn't only live in a house owned and built by men, "she was also hindered and enclosed by the Palaces of Art and Houses of Fiction that male writers authored."
With these women the serious and difficult attempts to redefine the womans place in art, fiction and society started.
Something this specifically female literary tradition had to do was to examine the ruling metophors that has described an excluding, wholly male process of creation, in which the women has been tied up in either angelic or monstrous shapes. One is tempted to cite a few lines by Norman O. Brown as an example of this picture of women: "Poetry, this sexual act. Sexuality is poetry. The women is our creation or Pygmalions statue. The women is poetry; (Petraca's) Laura is in fact poetry." (The Madw., p 13).
Using this feminist theory, I will take a walk through Kate Bush's landscapes and try to show how such an investigation of traditional (patriarchal) metaphors and attempts to break free of them is staged in a excellent fashion.
The journey starts on the first record Kate Bush produced on her own, "The Dreaming" (-82), on the last track of the album, "Get Out of My House."
THE HOUSE OF FICTION
In "Get Out of My House" the listener/reader finds "pictures of imprisonment and escape." Here we meet the Woman's ambigous attempt to lock herself in her own house and at the same time trying to lock the Man, the male, outside. The Man is drawn to, and controls, the outside world.
"When you let the door was (slamming)
You paused in the doorway
As though a thought stole you away
I watch the world pull you away"
The Woman has acquired this metaphorical house and key. She is full of "anxiety" over this crime to the patriarchal tradition. She locks the door. However, she has to pay dearly for this victory. She has stepped into her own trap. She has her own house, but she has lost the world:
"I'm barred and bolted.. and I
Won't letcha in"
Has the woman in "Get Out of My House" really conquered her own woolfian house, from which she can develop her distinctly feminine universe? No, the scenario is a bit more complicated than that:
"This house is as old as I am
This house knows all I have done"
This house, that becomes a picture of the woman herself, is
"(This house is) full of m-m-m-my mess
This house is full of m-m-mistakes
This house is full of m-m-madness"
It is a house that still is "built" by men, and as architects they have defined the house's/the Woman's shape and being. Against this monstrous binding the Woman has to oppose by dressing up in the masculine metaphor of aggression:
"This house is full of, full of, full of, full of fight"
A fight both inside the Womans house and with the Man from the outside, who acts as the seductive Devil's Advocate of the tradition, and who tries to force his way in into her fictive house with promises and threats:
"Woman let me in
Let me bring in the momories
Woman let me in
Let me bring in the Devil dreams"
The attemps to acquire the Womans fictitious house seems to fail:
"I will not let you in
Don't you bring back the reveries
I turn into a bird
Carry further that the word is heard"
But don't be fooled. The Womans attempt to escape as a bird is just going to bring her out into a world controlled by men. And this romantic metaphor, the bird, does not have sufficient force. It's song does not have the force to resist the Man. The Temptor suggests this when he in the shape of air tries to bind the bird/the Woman with a (cold) kiss, the binding touch of love:
"I turn into the wind
I blow you a cold kiss
Stronger than the song's hit"
Yet the Woman resists in an ironic manner. She decides to enter a strange compromise:
"I will not let you in
I face toward the wind
I change into the mule
Into a mule. Both the Man and the Woman has in fact been transformed into this mixture of different elements. This would suggest that no-one has won, that none of them has managed to kill the other, because "As we will show, the images of 'angel' and 'monster' have been so everpresent in the male litterature that these images have also penetrated women's writing to such a degree that women definitly have 'murdered' one or the other figure" (p. 17).
"IS THERE SO MUCH HATE FOR THE ONES WE LOVE"
"What concerns all the nonsense that Henry and Harry were talking about, the necessetiy of "I am God" to be able to create (I assume they mean "I am God, I am not a woman") - this "I am God", that mokes the creation to an act of loneliness and pride, this picture of God that creates heaven, earth and sea, this is the picture that has confused women." (Madw., Anais Nin, p. 3).
In "Running up that Hill/Deal with God," the first song on Kate Bush's latest record "Hounds of Love/The Ninth Wave" (-85), we meet a scenario not unlike the one proposed by Anais Nin. We here meet the Woman who would, very much, like to arrange a swap with God or somebody in a similar position:
"And if I only could
I'd make a deal with God
And I'd get him to swap our places"
A swap like that would make the woman able to control the outer world, from which she locked herself in in "Get Out of My House." And she would no longer run away from something, escape, she would run with aim, with direction.
"Be running up that road
Be running up that hill
Be running up that building"
This song, that I will refrain from exploring in greater depth due to the length of this article, describes a Woman, "free" from "anxiety".
In the next song, "Hounds of Love" we meet this Woman's direct opposite, the mirror image, let us call her an innocent Snow White. The opening line of the song is not written on the lyric sheet. It says "Symmetry! It's coming," and I think it suggests an attempt to "repair" the previous song's - in the patriarch's eyes - dangerous wishes.
Here we meet Snow White, as we have chosen to call her, as an innocent child, filled with fear as to what the outer world (dominated by men) has to offer:
"When I was a child
Running in the night
Afraid of what might be
Hiding in the dark
Hiding in the street"
Then the text returns to the present where we meet the Woman, confused by what Anais Nin called "this image of God as lone creator of heaven, earth and sea, this is the picture that has confused the woman."
"I've always been a coward
And I don't know what's good for me"
This Woman is chased by the Hounds of Love, a repressive love that strives to keep her down by pointing out that her will is not independant. By doing this the woman, in my eyes, is transformed into a "Monkey of the Working Class," or, I should say, into a different kind of bird than we are going to meet later - not into "this Blackbird" - but into a parrot. The Woman, who, in "Running up that Hill", wanted to swap places, puts herself back into "her proper place". By making the Woman confused, the Hounds of Love make her repent; she'll feel better if she remains in her prescribed role:
"I've always been a coward
And never knows what's good for me
Here I go - Don't let me go - Hold me down..."
"Do you know what I really need
Do you know what I really need
I need love, love, love, love..."
In these two songs the listener/reader has been presented with both (Song 1) a kind of theme for development or dramatization of the Woman who must acquire the male (and phallic) pen in order to not (Song 2) continue to be a hunted victim, a Snow White fleeing through shadows, forests and streets. Or put in another way: "Patriarchal texts have traditionally suggested that every angelic, unselfish Snow White must be hunted, if not haunted, by an evil and selfish stepmother; for every glowing portrait of humble women trapped in family life, there exists an equally important negative picture that encorporates the blasphemous devilishness that William Blake called 'The female will'" (p. 28).
But as the quote indicates, every Snow White has to have an opposite, a negative mirror image. We get a glimpse of her in the fourth song, "Mother Stands for Comfort." We meet the child that has - in her own opinion - done somehing that is illegal. The Mother knows this, but keeps silent:
"She knows that I've been doing something wrong
But she won't say anything"
"Mother stands for comfort
Mother will hide the murderer"
This fits the child well as the mother lets the child live out its monstrous aggressiveness (the child as murderer), the opposite of the harmless Snow White. Still, the child is bothered by this situation, because the aggressiveness has come to her from the outside, it has not been created by herself.
"It breaks the cage, fear escapes and take possesion
Just like a crowd rioting inside"
"It" makes her do things:
"Make me do this, make me do that, make me do this
Make me do that"
Is she the hunted or is she the hunter? In the mothers eyes she is hunted, not a hunter, and here we might see a thematic conflict. The mother, the very sign of "comfort", chooses to see her daughter as an innocent victim, an unselfish Snow White. The child sees herself as someone who has taken on the image of a very young stepmother and acted out a symbolic murder. The murder can be interpreted both as a murder of Snow White and as an acquisition of the male pen.
Is this an elegant dramatization, from the Woman who wants to "make a deal with God", to a fully developed "son", a Woman who must accept and enter the male world on these terms, by becoming a man? With the last song of "The Hounds of Love", "Cloudbusting", with it's music filled with victory, one is tempted to answer "yes".
"Cloudbusting" is directed towards a father figure, Daddy, as opposed to the last songs Mother/Mum-figure. The father represents something ambigous the same way the mother does. Kate Bush here uses an image of rain for Daddy:
"You're making rain
and you're just in reach
when you and sleep escapes me"
She has used this image in "Get Out of My House" from "The Dreaming":
"This house is as old as I am
This house knows all I have done
They come with all their weather hanging
This rainmaker as equated with a luminous yo-yo. What made the yo-yo unique - the fact that if was luminous - was also what made it dangerous. Therefore it had to be buried, hid away, let us call it "repressed".
"You're like my yo-yo
that glowed in the dark
what made it special
made it dangerous
so I bury it and forget"
The rainmaker has this luminous ability, he is a sort of god on earth with creative superiority. This makes him dangerous. Why?
"Everytime it rains
you're here in my head
Like the sun coming out"
This makes the cycle of nature, which God created - this image of male creativity - defined, every time, as a male act. And it is this luminous symbol of manhood that has to be buried if the Female is not to remain a dominated culture. Or it has to be sublimated, posessed and become a natural part of her. It seems as if this is what happens - or what is at stake - in "Cloudbusting," described as the Womans change into the Rainmakers son.
"Oooh, I just know that something good is going to happen
And I don't know when
But just saying it could even make it happen"
The song ends with this symbolic transformation: "Oh, God, Daddy - I won't forget
Your son's coming out"
In the second part of this record, "The Ninth Wave", which is an allusion to Tennyson's "The Coming of Arthur", we meet a somewhat different thematization of this situation than we have encountered earlier. However, here it is not the acquisition or the destruction of this "I am God" as symbol of creativity that is focused on. Instead we meet the exploration of female motives that one could call The Mirror Motive, The Painful Discovery that The Other Woman, The Monster or The Mad Woman in the Attic, in fact is the Woman herself.
Let me start with he closing lines of the first song, "And dream of Sheep," where the journey starts when "They" say that they are going to bring the Woman (that has acquired the light in "Cloudbusting") home:
"And they say they take me home.
Like poppies, heavy with seed.
They take me deeper and deeper."
This "home" soon reveals itself as a gallery of images of women that the Woman has earlier been bound to. In "Under Ice" we are presented with the Mirror Image and the Other Woman. The woman above the ice is skating and enjoys the speed and the control. The the picture is soon changed:
"In the ice, splitting, splitting sounds
Silver heels, spitting, spitting snow"
Something is moving, trapped under the ice. One is tempted to equate the ice to a mirror. There is something that's trying to break free, but it doesn't seem to manage it. In one - frozen - moment the skater painfully realizes that this dangerous something that is trying to get out, is herself, trapped behind this scarred ice-mirror.
In "Waking the Witch," a song with Faustian shape, with the witchtrial as theme - throwing the witch into the water to see if she floats - we meet a scene where the witch is going to confess her sins to a Priestly figure. "Under" this scene we can also hear another voice, the trapped bird we almost met in "Get Out of My House," but that changed into a mule. One of the reasons is explained here. The bird, now a "Blackbird", is described as tied, trapped.
"(Help this blackbird, there's a stone round my leg)"
Neither this metaphor or the witch-metaphor fits this Woman who wants to see her "real" mirror image. Both the witch and the blackbird is in the domain of the water which is the domain of the patriarchy. Something that is expressed in the line "I am responsible for your actions," which is said by the Priest, a hellish figure in "Waking the Witch."
One could carry on, dig deeper in. And I will, but I will only sketch it out, as I have already written too much. In "Watching You Without Me" we meet the Invisible Woman in "her fathers house," where she is reduced to nothingness, where she comes and goes like a ghost. The invisibility does, however, give her one advantage. She can objectify Him, explore Him and at least have her invisibility and freedom of motion to herself.
"You didn't hear me come in
You won't hear me leaving"
One should say more. But that will have to do, even though we haven't been introduced to the old woman, the Fortune Teller in "Jig of Life" or the Woman in "Hello Earth" that has replaced God and is controlling the world for a while, or the Woman in "The Morning Fog" who is reborn, but really just "repairs" everything she has done when she conquered "the light," how she becomes a nice girl again and fills the role as an all-loving mother:
"I'll tell my mother
I'll tell my father
I'll tell my loved one
I'll tell my brothers
How much I love them"
You'll have to look yourselves. What is left is simply a classical summation of what is caught in the article's mirrorframe: "And when self-concieving women from Anne Finch to Emily Bronte and Emily Dickinson stepped out of the glass coffin of male-authorized text, when they burst out of the queen's mirror, the old dance of death turned into a dance of triumph, a dance of authority."
Well, could anybody out there understand my English? I won't make any comments on the article, as this is much too long already. Just one thing: The opening line to "Hounds of Love" should probably be "It's in the trees! It's coming!" Well, that's it.
To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds