What is a Woman?

Fifty years ago I was born a female human animal. This, I was told, mean that I was a “Woman.”
But I never knew what they meant.

Fall in love with a man and you will see … I fell (several times), but saw not.
Give birth and you will see … I gave birth and did not know. Who am I?
Am I? Who?
Am I that which I observe or that which observes me?

Yet, like everybody else I yearn for an identity although this yearning mystifies me always.
If there is a true individual identity I would like to find it, because like truth on discovery it has already gone.
So I try to reduce myself to facts. I am a aging human female, now: soon I will be old and than dead. This is all I know as far as facts are concerned.
These facts are not particularly edifying or original.
However, out of the depths of this humanoid female a nameless apprehension is constantly present of a no I, no me, not it , but Is, limitlessly mysterious, but there _ no doubt at all.
Pre-form, pre-light, pre-darkness, pre-sound, Is.
Then in idle rumination I find pleasure in imaging I am some kind of seed that must split and germinate into something so unlike what I appear to be that I could not imagine in my wildest moments [… ]

Leonora Carrington, “What is a Woman?” in Penelope Rosemont (ed), Surrealist Women, An International Anthology, (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1998), pp.372-373.


Yet all the time the sieve is leaking, filtering me out: fantasies diluting facts. Creeping into bed. I push and pull parts of my self around until I am in the position. I think I want. But it´s the moment when the light turned off that counts. It’s dark then. I am quite alone. What am I waiting for? Do I really want to sleep? Hibernate? I roll over eyes shut, as if it mattered. Why shut theme? What is going to happen? Why don’t I just stay up?
All the time rummaging away, dragging my life all out like brocante, or frayed vintage clothing once glorious, but who would know, to look at it now? How can I be sure in the dark about what to throw away? All the time knowing that it won’t make any difference, that my deciding is clumsy and vain. (…)
Meanwhile, minutes fly like pollen. A dry gust from the window cups me like a seed and I take root; far away in some dreamy constellation, until the first gray of four a.m. brings me home. Finally morning, and then afternoon. They are both undeniably seductive: green light strikes through the grape ivy and the euphorbia in the window to prove there is still a green world, the one we have forgotten and will surely find again; and of course , there is the promise. Just that: the promise. By evening the pall has lifted. Everything waits radiant. Life is okay.
Dorothea Tanning, Between Lives, (New York, W.W.Norton and Company, 2001), pp. 362-363

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