A Parallel Fractal

Emile Deroy’s La Petite Mendiante Rousse is a nameless girl in a brown velvet jacket, an adamant street singer, […] the figure of a magnificent impulse.1 She had a name. Her name is gone, forgotten by history. In the painting, she is inactive beauty acted upon. In life she was an actor, not a beggar, singing and charming Deroy, Baudelaire, and their poet/painter/philosopher circle out of sense and money.

Very likely she did not care about their ostentatious ambitions. She had her own songs.2 This feminine namelessness seeps outwards with undisciplined grandeur.3

From within her frame she defiantly asks, How does a girl become what she is—with no knowledge, but all of her visceral autonomy? 4

Hazel says, In her gaze I coincide with my own tradition. It is made up of multiple times, like bodies. And yet those bodies are now mostly nameless. In the shelter of this namelessness I have built various possible worlds—as many as I need. The girl made it possible to
speak of myself.5

I don’t speak French like this singer and Hazel. My linguistics are shouted in Le Tigre lyrics.

Kathleen Hanna, she’s not a girl—she’s the original riot grrrl. Her hair is black and she’s singing, screaming—not begging. She’s paving a riotous path carved out of queer angst and subversive bravado and freak feminist anomalies. She’s free of a frame: not a girl in a painting—a grrrl on a CD cover, a grrrl with a microphone, a grrrl in a cheerleader skirt and a pink and black t-shirt.

       Le Chanteur Punk

It was she, the object of my early twenty-something fascination, who called out by name, Gertrude Stein, Yoko Ono and Vaginal Davis, Cibo Matto, Kara Walker and Yayoi Kusama, and more, and finally, name un-enunciated but enveloped and carried in an infinite WE, to me. She said:

       We won’t stop. Please don’t stop.6

Hazel says, There is no nameless girl. There is no girl outside language. The girl is not an animal who goes aesthetically into the ground, as many philosophers would have it. (Rousseau chief among them.)
The girl is an alarm. Her lust is always articulate.7

The girl. The grrrl. The sound is percussive. The single syllable is a bass drum kick. Kathleen Hanna dances in front of the drum kit to a distorted guitar. Her voice is a punch, a screech, a scream. Her voice is shredded and out of tune. It’s inhospitable. It’s discordant. It’s seductive. It’s urgent.

            The girl is an alarm.

On stage she speaks of a nineteen-nineties night when she and her friend Kurt Cobain turned out the lights in his apartment and defiled the place. She drunkenly, in Sharpie, wrote the words, Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit on a wall, accidentally naming Nirvana’s ubiquitous anthem that brought grunge to the forefront of rock-and-roll. One night when Kathleen was working as a part-time stripper, a foray into owning her own erotics, some boys in a band asked her, Bikini Kill singer, ‘What can us guys do to help out you feminist girls?’ a few hours before they slipped a bill into a jukebox, challenging her to crawl across a phallic stage like a black cat in heat for their sexual pleasure to the very song she inspired, and with a deep breath she accepted.

            The girl is not an animal. Her lust is always articulate.

Kathleen, and Hazel and I love fashion and the ways in which it works. In an interview with The New York Times, Kathleen explained that ‘second-wave feminism had successfully reclaimed the word “woman” but had left girls out, and many of her onstage style choices sprang from a desire to salvage a specific kind of girlhood’8

            The girl is not a concept.9

Sometimes her howling feminist theory and fuck-you attitude are a mask. Sometimes her performance is a soft shell protecting an underbelly of uncertainty. Even the original Riot Grrrl is, at times, unsure. Kathleen says,

       I’m just a fucking person who 
       likes being creative.10      

So am I. So is Hazel. So is Lisa.

We carry these things in common.

We all want to make art and love and sentences.

  1. Lisa Robertson, The Baudelaire Fractal, (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2020), p 104
  2. Robertson, p 99
  3. Robertson, p 105
  4. Robertson, p 104
  5. Robertson, p 108
  6. Le Tigre, “Hot Topic”, Le Tigre (London: Wiiija Records, 1999)
  7. Robertson, p 105
  8. Kathleen Hannah quoted in Alexandria Symonds, “Kathleen Hanna Revisits her Riot GrrrlPast”, The New York Times Style Magazine, 1, September 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/01/t-magazine/kathleen-hanna-bikini-kill-ocean-song.html, [accessed 8 April 2021]
  9. Robertson, p 105
  10. Hannah in Symonds