Though I doubt I’ll be as thorough as my previous posts have been, I’ve decided to return to this blog periodically as I continue reading through my dissertation. As satisfying as finishing my reading for exams was, after I passed them I made a list of even more titles that I hadn’t included on my exam lists that I had since realized were going to be important. I’m writing as I’m reading—so far, I’ve sent two chapters to my chair, and have notes on two more chapters. These two in progress, however, are two chapters that I think will require a lot more reading.
I just finished Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, a short collection of reflections on her family and how they informed her understanding of the world. Chapter Three of my dissertation, on how ugliness can represent history marked on the body, is the one in which I expect to use Allison the most. I’m also re-reading her to prepare for my trip to Durham this summer, where I’ve won a fellowship to do research in the archive of her papers there. Two or Three Things, despite its brevity, is pretty key to my understanding of ugliness. In it, Allison makes explicit the connection between ugliness and class status—even women in her family who begin beautiful are eventually worn down and made ugly by life.
After she moves away, Allison reaches a new understanding of beauty and ugliness through her own romantic relationships: “Beauty is a hard thing. Beauty is a mean story. Beauty is slender girls who die young, fine featured delicate creatures about whom men write poems. Beauty, my first girlfriend said to me, is that inner quality often associated with great amounts of leisure time. And I loved her for that.
“We were not beautiful. We were hard and ugly and trying to be proud of it. The poor are plain, virtuous if humble and hardworking, but mostly ugly. Almost always ugly” (37).
I, too, am grateful for her girlfriend’s observation that beauty requires leisure. If ugliness is history marked on the body—if bodies worn down become ugly, does beauty, too, record events? Or does it signify an uneventful life? Lack of wrinkles meaning lack of worry, but also lack of laughing, concentration, even exposure to the sun? Beauty being fragile (slender girls who die young), protected (imprisoned?), who are objects of admiration rather than subjects of their own stories?