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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (May 1, 1978)
monday, may 1, 1978
'Herstory of women's liberation seen through rebels life
By David Wood
Burning Questions, by Alix Kates Shulman, Knopf, $8.95.
Strangely, there are two title-pages in this new, second
novel by the authoress of Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen,
Alix Kates Shulman. The first has the same title on the
cover, Burning Questbns. The second is by a fictional
authoress, Zane IndiAnna, who calls the story My Life as
Both titles are borrowed from books listed in the
novel s bibliography - which is also strange, since novels
don't normally name their sources. Lenin once wrote a
book titled What Is To Be Done? Burning Questions of
Our Movement And My Life as a Rebel has been written
before by a contemporary of Lenin's, Angelica Balaban
off, a feminist revolutionary.
Shulman isn't using the earlier books as parallels,
though. She uses them as just two more evocations to the
long history of social struggle against oppression.
Shulman writes of the modern "herstory" of the
women's liberation movement,. as heard through the voice
of Zane and seen through her life as a rebel. The ex
perience of the individual in relation to historic events,"
Angelica Balabancff wrote, "doesn't belong to oneself
alone. It should be put at the disposal of those who can
make use of it."
And this story at our disposal, Shulman intends to be
made use of, not for our conversion to the cause, but to
help us understand it.
Zane IndiAnna, from the start, felt in herself the rebel,
however without a cause. This was mostly through the
awareness that she just didn't naturally fit into the con-
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formity of small-town midwestern permanence. She
craved distinction, as intelligent adolescents do, and could
find it only through deviency.
But she knew, from certain books, written by New
Yorkers, and from her Aunt Louise, the widow of a 30s
communist, that outside there was more to living. Her
spirit had been born into the wrong place, Zane felt. She
was meant to live in New York City.
She soon moved there alone, but for a quotation from
Louise by Oliver Wendell Holmes; "It is required of a man
that he share the passion and action of his time at peril of
being judged not to have lived." Zane had figured that was
required of a woman too and that passion was most cur
tent in the voluntary impoverishment of the Greenwich
Village of the beatniks.
Her nature to be flippant in the midwest was, in the
East, changed into shyness and a readiness to cling. Ihe
change was understandable, as was everything in her life as
a rebel, she thought, according to Hegelian dialectics. That
is, when a conflict fuses, from its resolution evolves the
Next, Zane fused into the Village, of which Jack
Kerouac, Beat Generation spokesman, wrote, "We didn't
have a whole lot of heavy abstract thoughts. We were just
a bunch of guys who were out trying to get laid." Living
with a poet, who later in the 70s, like Kerouac, was far
enough removed to claim fame as nostalgia, Zane was
uneasy acting under the only value of the 50s Beats, that
of the moment. She didn't like their defensiveness about
So she went to the dialectic opposite, marrying, and
becoming mother of three. There was naturally mixed
pleasure in the rewards of love and children. But she an
guished at being so tied down that years flew and she
could only watch "the action and passion" of the 60's
from the window of her home overlooking the changing
daily parade through Washington Square.
Her rebel, her "Zanity", frustrated, and her kids old
enough for sitters now, Zane went out protesting, sharing
in the times, against the war and for civil rights. But
not until she heard of the Third Circle, began attending
their meetings, then participating in the activism for the
rights of women, did she finally find her cause.
The comradeship she calls "sisterhood" was the thing
she finally found that could relax the guilt she'd always
felt with herself in former relationships. She took to
the movement rabidly at first, bitterly accusing society,
even reality, of being a product entirely of male minds.
She gave all her energies for the cause, and gave up her
husband, her adulterer, and much of her care of the kids,
"those starlings on her runway."
And she fell in love with a co-libber, who told her,
"Every man knows we're only women, so at the bottom
they can despise us. Unless she somehow impress them as
exceptions. It would be ridiculous for us to pretend to be
exceptions. Anyway, we can do much better than impress
each other. We can know each other."
Now women's liberation, like the 50s and 60s, has
passed its hey-day, and Zane, like her first real lover, the
beat poet, is at last, in the 70s, independently middle
class and lecturing at New School in N.Y.C. like a remnant
from history. She's optimistic about the future of the
women's statement, though the times are no longer ripe
for activism - obviously, if there's no longer so much for
a rebel to do that she's had time to write her story.
Zane admits things are better for women now, though
much remains to be improved. She even concedes that
some men have shaped up, that they're humbler, though
still alien. But largely the novel is free of too much
over-all reactionary bias. Besides having an efficient,
feminine style, the book offers a wider scope which is
more historical, and analytical and Marxist literature.
The Good Neighbor.
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