Saturday, October 06, 2007
“It’s a nervous laugh, calculated to deflect questions she wants to avoid answering.”
“Totally phony. Clear that her handlers have sought the advice of someone in the social sciences who says that she should copy the laugh of a famous and beloved character. They copied Mickey Mouse”
Three things you would have heard “serious journalists” say this week if Hillary Clinton laughed the way George W. Bush does.
What you’ll hear the exact same pundits say before the end of the presidential campaign, “Vincent Foster”.
There, in one short vignette from a longer work, was everything that was wrong but also that was so right about how Aaron Copland’s music is used and abused. I don’t blame Burns for his use of it in that context at all, it was appropriate and I can’t imagine Copland, who was famously accommodating, would have been offended. Generally I’m passionately against the use of pre-existing music in movies and the excerpting of them in any case, without the direct permission OF THE COMPOSER. What can I say, here, after the long and honest look at The War, it worked.
Copland’s “easy style” pieces have certainly been some of the most abused music still under copyright. Appalachian Spring and the other ballets are the most abused, the other orchestral music and the chamber and piano works, thankfully, not so much. They have certainly been copied too. The frequent stealing of magnificent sonorities invented by Copland by much lesser composers for Hollywood and beyond have rendered them cliches. That a skinny, homely, bookish, gay, Jewish, socialist from New York invented the “American sound” heard in a thousand cowboy and “heartland” movies has to rank as one of the greatest ironies of our cultural history. The temptation is to leave behind the great virtues of his music in the rush to avoid the tacked on associations of the copy cats. But Copland’s music has real worth even within its limitations**.
The Violin Sonata is a piece that is entirely rewarding both in the listening and the playing - though not as much in the clarinet transcription in which the piano is pitched too low. The second movement is one of the most fitting elegies for a dead WWII soldier ever written. The Four Piano Blues, The Piano Sonata and even the over exposed Our Town score all have real meaning. The early Variations and the late 12-tone works are great pieces too, particularly the somber and unappreciated Nonet for strings, but those are in little danger of over exposure.
It’s hard to categorize how I feel about Aaron Copland. Sometimes I think that Michael Tippett was a better Aaron Copland than Aaron Copland was. Sometimes I can’t imagine not agreeing for once with Leonard Bernstein that Copland was the best we had. I’m not interested in the petty and insignificant war between the American tonalists and the “authentic modernists”, never having seen any reason you can’t like it all, accepting the value that it really contains. As was proved the other night, sometimes no one said it better than the "easy" Aaron Copland.
* Thinking about it later, it’s possible that Burns knew he wouldn’t be able to do the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki justice in the time available. In that case there should have been a bit of mitigation to the entirely understandable pro-bombing sentiments voiced. That is certainly a viewpoint that is there and has to be taken into account. It is completely understandable in those who expected worse in the planned invasion of Japan. But it is certainly not universally shared and it is a viewpoint that carries some of the largest load of moral ambiguity of any position ever held. If Ken Burns is paying any attention, he really needs to do a very serious piece about the bombing of the two cities including an extensive examination of the motives and results.
** The great composer, Milton Babbitt, pointed out several years back the obsession that Copland, and some other of Nadia Boulanger’s students, had with chords. That is certainly a key into understanding the technical structure and motivation of his music, as it is with Rameau’s. It can’t account for all of the effect though. Copland went considerably beyond “the chords”.
Concerto for Clarinet CBS Masterworks Catalog #: 42227. I’m not certain that the recording here is the one that Copland said was the best recorded example of his conducting. One of the two he made with Goodman was.
Violin Sonata Naxos Catalog #: 8559102. Peter Zazofsky’s perfomance is the best I’ve heard.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Shakespeare's Sister comments on the new Republican Convention logo, this one:
The elephant does look a bit stunned, with that starry eye. As if it had just been hit on the head with something. But most of the conversation in the right blogosphere is about the color choice. Many believe that blue is the manly color and should be re-appropriated by the Republicans, whereas others see the choice of blue as a sign of appeasement monkeys who try to make people think of Democrats (the blue states stuff) while looking at the elephant. Then there is the whole paradox of red communism and Maoism and the proudly red states. - All fun to watch from the sidelines.
I'm not sure why the elephant is on its hind legs, though. Is it performing a trick? Is it supposed to be attacking, and if so, do elephants attack that way? I would think they just stomp on you.
Jesus' General once made up a yellow elephant logo, for the 101st Republican Keyboard Brigades, those conservative bloggers who are all gung-ho about the war as long as they don't have to go. This one:
His elephant doesn't rear but it is otherwise quite funny.
A good headline? This post will be on the topic of women not being able to have it all, as usual, specifically on that old saw I first read in an anti-feminist book by a Women's Studies professor who went all Catholic and decided to sacrifice the rights of women to the rights of families, defined as husband+children-wife.
The old saw was her advice that a woman can juggle two out of the following three: marriage (or partnership), children and job. So, for example, a woman can have a husband and a job but no children. Or she could be a single mother with a job. Or she could have children and a husband but no paid employment. Trying to do all three is just impossible.
I came across this advice during the last seven days three times on various comments threads in the blogworld, which means that the stupid statement has been absorbed into the folk wisdom of the American culture and needs to be lanced before it infects even more otherwise sane women.
So into the lancing. Note, first, that according to that aphorism it is easier to be an employed single-mother than an employed mother with a male partner. Really? The only way this could at all be true is if having a husband around means a net increase in work for the woman, that having that male partner means more socks to wash and more hurt egos to soothe with nothing positive coming out of the relationship for the woman. How very sexist, to think that way about men!
But then an astonishing undercurrent in anti-feminism has always been the assumption that men are rats. The reason why this isn't attracting much attention from men is that the assumption is linked with another undercurrent stating that nothing whatsoever can ever be done about men being rats, that it is these rats who run the world and it is their rat values which determine how women should behave. Note that I'm not saying this. I'm telling what a certain school of anti-feminism actually believes.
The corollary of this is that men are work for women, children are work for women and work is work for women. It is women who are seen as responsible for all the social and psychological work that goes into keeping a family together, all the child-rearing work, all the sexual work of keeping a husband happy and, naturally, all the work that a paycheck requires. No wonder, then, that only two of the three balls can stay in the air for these juggling women.
What makes all this much clearer is to do a reversal and to ask whether men can juggle the three balls of a job, a marriage and children. We don't ask this question very often. Almost never. Neither do we ask questions about the wider circus in which the juggling women perform.
Something in the air this week? Suddenly two New York Times op-ed pieces are about the basic philosophies of conservatives. David Brooks writes about the "creedal" and "dispositional" schools of conservatism, the ones I'd call "Bugger off, I've got mine" and "barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen" schools, respectively. But then I'm not a conservative, though I would certainly count as the intended victim of both of those noble schools of thought.
Krugman also writes about conservatives, and he's a little bit more like me in eschewing fancy words and noble language (which hides some very tacky things) and just going straight for the real sliminess:
Today's leading conservatives are Reagan's heirs. If you're poor, if you don't have health insurance, if you're sick — well, they don't think it's a serious issue. In fact, they think it's funny.
On Wednesday, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded S-chip, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, providing health insurance to an estimated 3.8 million children who would otherwise lack coverage.
In anticipation of the veto, William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, had this to say: "First of all, whenever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it's a good idea. I'm happy that the president's willing to do something bad for the kids." Heh-heh-heh.
Most conservatives are more careful than Mr. Kristol. They try to preserve the appearance that they really do care about those less fortunate than themselves. But the truth is that they aren't bothered by the fact that almost nine million children in America lack health insurance. They don't think it's a problem.
"I mean, people have access to health care in America," said Mr. Bush in July. "After all, you just go to an emergency room."
By the way, I'm not being snarky here because of the philosophizing. Indeed, Linda Hirshman has started an interesting series of posts on the need to discuss liberal principles, too. I just decided that nobody likes to read thoughtful posts because they are like a mouse squeaking in the wall.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
We have the incredible opportunity to interview Echidne Coulter, the blond viper-tongue whose sensational utterances are the Talk of the Town and so funny. Here she is on the advisability of overturning men's suffrage:
"I think [men] should be armed but should not [be allowed to] vote. No, they all have to give up their vote, not just, you know, the man clapping and my trophy husbands. The problem with men voting -- and your Fascists will back me up on this -- is that, you know, men have no capacity to understand how children are birthed and raised. They have a lot of ideas on how to kill them. And when they take these polls, it's always more money on the military, more money on nuclear bombs, more money on guns."
And here she reports on a speech Senator Webb made:
Webb began his rebuttal by complaining that we are running a pointless occupation of Iraq, killing people and spending billions on fraudulent "reconstruction projects" over there. In other words, he talked about national issues that only are national issues because of this country's rash experiment with men's suffrage.
Good, huh? The actual quotes by Ann Coulter which I reversed can be found here and here, respectively.
I wrote a review on Katha Pollitt's recent essay collection earlier on this blog. Another and slightly different take is available at the TPM Cafe's Book Club. It's a little more edited but doesn't cover quite as much ground.
Oh, and it is really quite good.
Dirk Gently showed me an interesting site of a photographer, Jordan Matter. I am especially fascinated by his series of pictures of women in New York, all with bare breasts. The stories linked to the pictures are also fascinating, often feminist and always about real people.
Watching the series is a great way of understanding some of that internal body hating that so women have and the many reasons behind it. It is also fascinating to wonder if a guy going around taking pictures of bare boobs is doing something feminist or not and why.
You can watch the whole series by starting here. Not worksafe, although it should be.
Listen to what president Carter did:
Former President Carter got in a shouting match Wednesday with Sudanese security officials who blocked him from a town in Darfur where he was trying to meet representatives of ethnic African refugees from the ongoing conflict.
The 83-year-old Carter walked into this highly volatile pro-Sudanese government town to meet refugees too frightened to attend a scheduled meeting at a nearby compound.
Carter was able to make it to a school where he met with one tribal representative and was preparing to go further into the town when Sudanese security services interrupted.
"You can't go. It's not on the program!" the local security chief, who only gave his first name as Omar, yelled at Carter, who is in Darfur as part of a delegation of respected international figures known as "The Elders."
"We're going to anyway!" an angry Carter retorted, telling security officers they didn't have the authority to stop him.
As a growing crowd gathered around the former president, Carter's U.S. security detail and his African Union escort tried to ease tensions. Carter later agreed to a compromise in which tribal representatives would be brought to him at another location later in the day.
"I'll tell President Bashir about this," Carter said, referring to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir
Now, it may not have been the wisest possible action, in hindsight, but it certainly was brave. I'm not sure if "brave" is quite the right word. I'm looking for something which would mean "focused on the task at hand, determined to help, refusing to give in to fear." But brave will have to do.
It's sad how partial words sometimes are. I want to give you the taste I have on my tongue when I think of the right word which doesn't exist, and how I almost feel what he must have felt and how it would be to have that razor-sharp edge of focus in that place, under that hot sun, with all those hurting people, and then to be told you can't go on.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
President Bush has vetoed the higher funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), as expected. This program is intended to take care of the health insurance needs of children whose parents are poor but not poor enough to get their children covered by the state-based (but federally subsidized) Medicaid program. George Bush believes that private markets should take care of these children. Never mind that private markets are not offering affordable coverage for many of these families.
Some conservatives appear to agree with Bush's veto. It was quite funny to note a blog post by the conservative economist Greg Mankiw in which he posed the following question:
With medical costs skyrocketing, the middle class struggling, and heartless Republicans running the government, what has happened to the percentage of children without health insurance over the past seven years?
As a clue to the correct answer Mankiw offered a link to some government data which shows that the number of children without health insurance has steadily declined since 1997. Lo and behold! That must mean that there is no real reason for an enhanced SCHIP, right? See how well the markets are taking care of all those previously uninsured kiddies!
Well, not quite right, because an important reason for the drop in the number of uninsured children is the SCHIP:
Due in large part to the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the percentage of low-income children in the United States without health coverage has fallen by one-third since SCHIP was created in 1997, despite the erosion of private health coverage over this period. More than 4 million low-income children, most of whom would otherwise be uninsured, are enrolled in SCHIP.
In fact, the current enrollment is around 6.6 million children.
What does Bush's veto mean for those 6.6 million? In thirteen states they may become uninsured within a week or two and in yet another 23 states by the end of the fiscal year 2008. This is because Bush has promised to veto any increase in the total cap of the program, at 25 billion dollars, despite continuously rising health care costs. So it goes.
If only the money spent on the Iraq occupation and reconstruction was this carefully scrutinized. Come to think of it, how many days of Iraq occupation would pay a year of SCHIP? I know, I know. Apples and oranges. Or weapons and children.
What the lesson might be depends on your point of view. But in all cases watching this interview in The Daily Show is worthwhile.
Added a few minutes later: I start my morning blog-reading rounds and this same video is on the first two blogs I click on. Drat. It's hard to get fresh material, these days.
That is a name of a movement many years ago aimed at targeting the advertisers who chose to be connected with the Rush Limbaugh show. Now something similar on a more official scale is taking place: Wesley Clark has called for his show to be removed from the Armed Forces radio airwaves. Those airwaves are paid by tax dollars:
Last week, Rush Limbaugh labeled American service members who support an end to the war in Iraq "phony soldiers."
We're going directly to Congress to take him off the Armed Forces Radio airwaves. Elected officials in Congress have the power to prevent Limbaugh from using taxpayers' money to disrespect and censure the voices of our soldiers.
Join us and hold Rush Limbaugh accountable for his offensive and outrageous comments -- tell your member of Congress to Dump Rush From Armed Forces Radio today!
Mmm. I've just spent some time reading Rush's views on us, the weaker and more stupid sex, and his views on ethnic minorities are fairly unflattering, too. True, he got dumped from ESPN for racist comments. But his sexist comments have hurt him none.
It's not that I'd mind at all if Rush found his comeuppance with this "phony soldiers" business. It's just that sometimes I'd like to see people care enough about how he smears women, too. I mean "people" in general and not only the small appointed cadre of cleaning ladies in the feminist movement. You know, the ladies who are expected to both fix the world for womenfolk in general but who are also guilty of anything not yet fixed, and all this without pay.
It doesn't exist. Never mind, the New York Times decided to post a piece about such a gap, anyway, and in short order received 700 comments on it. Seven hundred comments really about whether men do enough housework, whether women are genetically capable of happiness only as housewives and so on. It's a real riot, a free-for-all festival of hating on the other sex. And quite a lot of hating on feminism, because feminism made women think that "they can have it all" and they can't! Then there is that other old saw about "feminism being all about choice" and how we have forgotten the need for women to choose but how come can't men choose at all?
You should read the Language Log link I gave in the first sentence and also a second post on the same studies there, because the problems with the studies are addressed in those quite adequately. Also because I want to rant and rave on those two smelly old ideas, the ones about having-it-all and feminism-is-choice.
I'm not sure who it was who first thought of describing feminism, the movement for equal rights of men and women, as a movement which pretended that women could have it all. Whoever that person was, may she or he never be able to enjoy chocolate again.
On one level the statement is obviously true: nobody can "have it all" by being both a master tenor, the leader of a country, the mother of fifteen children, a Buddhist monk and so on, all at the same time. But feminism really never said that women are capable of such superhuman acts. The point was more along the lines that if men could have both jobs and families couldn't women have those, too? And if married men could have bank accounts in just their own names, why couldn't married women have the same? Stuff like that. Equality stuff.
But reading some of those 700 comments on the NYT post I get the impression that what most critics see as "having it all" is the need for women to both work for money and to do all the housework and if they are stuck with this it is either the fault of feminism which made them think that they could do it all, without help or their own fault for not realizing that they can only be happy as stay-at-home wives and should have picked their husbands more carefully. Or they should have remained childless if they wanted a job that badly.
Note what is held constant in all those explanations? Men's roles. Indeed, some commentors complain that men don't have choices at all. Whereas feminism gave women all those choices (to work full-time, part-time or to work at home for no money), the story goes, the men were given no choice at all but to work, work and work for money.
I don't see what the laws are that stop men from being stay-at-home dads (I even know some) or from working only part-time. Given that many of the women's comments complained about their male partners not helping at home it can't be the case that they have never thought about those alternatives. They are quite legal, though probably not the way for a man to get ahead in his career. But that's exactly what they do to women's chances as well. The rewards are also quite real, of course: More time with the children, more time away from the rat race and so on.
So men do have some choices. Granted, they come with both positive and negative consequences but that is the nature of most choices.
And what about the other old saw of choice-feminism? The idea that feminism made it possible for women to choose what they wanted to do with their lives and that all these choices should be applauded as feminist ones?
I have trouble with that idea. It's certainly true that increasing gender equality would, on average, increase the number of choices women have available for them. But this does not mean that every choice a woman makes is a feminist one or somehow not subject to questioning or criticism. For instance, if I decided to become a cannibal goddess that choice would not be a particularly feminist one, and I certainly would expect some criticism for it. More realistically, a woman who chooses to subjugate herself to a man is not making a feminist statement by exercising her right to choose. She can make such a choice. But it's not a feminist one.
Ok, the ranting is done for the day. I'm fully aware that those 700 posts which set me off are not some random sample of opinions on the relationships between men and women. Those who feel strongly enough to comment are those who feel strongly and most likely in the direction of anger towards the other sex. But it wasn't really the anger in the comments that made me upset (for the lack of a better word, something less than anger but with a tinge of sorrow). It was the sexism peeking through in so many of those comments, especially the ones who think that the world would be a better place if the want-ads still (or their equivalent in Craigslist) came either in pink or pale blue (with higher wages for the blue ones) and if women just accepted that their role in life was to focus on their biological destiny and to leave all the rest of the world to those who are genetically equipped for it.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
That charming sentence was supposedly added to old maps when the map reached an area that nobody had any knowledge about. I love the idea! To leave off the technical work of putting in mountains and rivers and lakes and just to draw some fantastic dragons in the blind spots! It gives us goddesses hope about humanity, it does.
Sadly, "here be the dragons" was also my first reaction to reading Katherine Q. Seelye's recent NYT piece "Women, Politics and Internet." The idea behind the piece was a clever one: Seelye asked her readers to give her opinions on whether indeed there are fewer women than men discussing politics on the net and if this is so, what might be the reason. This is clever, because I can imagine an ancient mapmaker going to the local inn and interviewing travelers about what they may have seen in some far distant place, looking for something to put in place of those dragon pictures.
But it has the same problems as a strategy. What you get is individual opinions. A sample:
I asked our readers if they thought more men were engaged online in politics than women, and if so, why.
Many said yes, guessing that perhaps twice as many men as women, maybe even three times as many men are involved, at least on the traditional politics-oriented sites.
As for why, readers offered lots of reasons, including this newsflash: women are just too busy, often with the household chores that men choose to ignore in favor of going on the computer.
Other thoughts from readers:
* For men, elections are like sports and they love the horse race. C Ray (gender unknown) put it this way: "I think men are more interested in the competitive nature of the election. It's like a sport — who will win or lose, who has the best strategy, who is on offense, who is on defense? Men are interested more in the minutiae of the game." He/she added: "I think women could care less and are more focused on the big picture."
* Men "like to show off more, like to force quasi-muscular opinions more on the unseen multitudes that they think are eager to hear them, want recognition more," wrote another reader.
* Many readers note, sadly, that if a woman makes her opinion known, she opens herself up to abuse, thanks to the anonymity and rancor of the blogosphere. One poster who said she is a woman said she posts under fake male names because women "are routinely attacked." (Along these lines, Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University and a blogger, reminded us about the recent coming out of Digby, a highly respected progressive political blogger whom many had assumed was a man but turned out to be a woman.)
* Abe asked this: "Is it women who aren't interested in politics or politics that isn't interested in women?"
* Men and women communicate differently. Sarah writes: "This is a generalization, of course, but much has been written about how men tend toward more problem-solving and direct point-to-point repartee whereas women like to sit down and discuss more details and come to consensus."
The piece ends with some ideas about how politicians could reach women in unexpected places on the Internet, such as on mommy blogs. But it's a useful corrective to remember that women vote in larger numbers than men do. For some odd reason we don't do long pieces wondering why men don't vote more and asking people to propose reasons for that.
I suffer from a certain amount of burnout whenever this topic crops up again, because I have written on it several times in the past and I do run what I modestly think of as a political blog. But the main reason for my frustration is this whole image I get of women as the mysterious ones, the ones who need to be analyzed, chased and trapped, the forgotten ones. The dragons.
Cross-posted on TAPPED.
Sex turns heads, does it not? I decided to look for some pictures of naked men to add to my blog decoration, but I got waylaid by this one:
It seems an apt decoration for a snake goddess blog, though it's a little sad that the men don't seem to be enjoying themselves that much. They also have incredibly long toes. For mortal men, I mean.
Monday, October 01, 2007
Neponset on Eschaton comments threads says that it is ba-a-a-ck:
October 1, 2007. Jill Zuckman wants to know about the "age old question", which candidate do you want to have a beer with.
We should add some more recent questions of similar importance. For example, which candidate would you most like to add to a threesome with you and your favorite partner? Which candidate would you most like to drill your teeth at the dentist's office? Which candidate most makes you think of a leaf-chopper and why?
These are all equally relevant tests in my mind. You know what? I don't want a president I can have beers with. I want a president who knows how to run this country and wants to do it in a way which doesn't steamroll over people and ideas that I value. Beer drinking palship might be on my list of desirables but really only in the sense that I hope the next president doesn't drink and push those red buttons.
Remember the need for the Senate to censor the MoveOn ad for the way it called General Petraeus General "BetrayUs"? Now that Rush Limbaugh has called soldiers who are against the Iraq occupation "phony soldiers", the "what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" game is being played. Will the Senate censure Rush, too? Or is it acceptable to say mean things about the military as long as it is not said about the generals?
On one level this is all pure horsecrap. On another level it's pure horsecrap, too. But sometimes manure is what we need to handle and it's good for compost, at least.
This is the sort of blog post that a good editor would erase. From one metaphor to another in less than a hundred words! Yea me.
Katha Pollitt's new collection of essays, Learning to Drive And Other Life Stories, is not about politics in the sense we have grown accustomed to expecting from her but about life, especially about its not-so-pleasant aspects. She writes about her struggles to learn to drive a car, about her reactions to finding that a boyfriend of seven years had a harem of other women, about the lives and deaths of her parents and about aging. She writes about her own life as a half-finished prospect and about the way feminism, politics and the specific time and place of her existence interact or how she thinks all these interact. And she has been very heavily slammed for doing this.
Susan Salter Reynolds in Los Angeles Times writes:
It must be my problem. Watching a feminist I've admired my entire life dissolve into a whingeing puddle in her late 50s is painful. Katha Pollitt's fourth collection of essays is self-indulgent at best: She writes about losing her boyfriend; Web-stalking her ex-boyfriend (a phrase used so often it causes a kind of vertigo as a reader learns to anticipate the free fall of self-hatred and victim mania); yuppies on Manhattan's Upper West Side (apparently sacred ground for poverty-stricken intellectuals); real-estate developers in Connecticut (No! Yes!); and the popularity of plastic surgery. These are just a few of the topics that get Pollitt going. "It's not as if I like being like this," she admits. "People who despair after a certain age are just depressing. We don't have the looks for it, and besides, we make others uncomfortable: what if we're on to something?"
And Toni Bentley (the author of a book about the joys of erotic submission) makes the connection even more openly in the New York Times: That Pollitt shows herself as sometimes vulnerable and not in control means that feminism as an ideology has failed:
Groaning and moaning from clever, sassy women has become a genre unto itself, the righteous revenge of the liberal, pre-, during- or postmenopausal woman (anyone missing?) in the post-chick-lit age (it is over, isn't it?). Perhaps this heralds the birth of fourth-wave feminism? (Or is it the fifth?) Or maybe it's not something political, but just plain old biblical revenge: God knows women have centuries of wrongs to catch up on. An enraged, educated woman (Vagina dentata intellectualis) with her arsenal of experience, observation, self-deprecation and indignation is a force to be reckoned with, a kind of intellectual Mike Tyson — though, apparently, she is still not as likely to be seduced into bed as the bombshell bimbo, one reason she's so irate. Not only is she entitled to be angry, but it is virtually the bedrock of her independence, and pugnacious prose is her lethal weapon.
Ultimately, a sharp tongue, a quick wit and ample intellect provide a powerful defense but little consolation for women in search of that phantom that is freedom from men and the vulnerability of love. They can trap the rats — with the impunity feminism ordains — but jailers are in prison too.
It's a hard thing, this being a feminist icon. Are you holding that coffee mug with the right amount of strength and clarity, my dear? It would have been better if Pollitt had revealed a problem with running a gang of armed feminists in Manhattan, or an addiction to taking steroids or something else which is sort of manly. Of course it would have been best if she had written essays about how she beat patriarchy into the gonads and came out a winner and the current ruler of the world. Make a note of that for the next book, Katha.
Then to reviewing the actual book which I read before reading any of the reviews, though I did hear that some of them were nasty. The book can be read on different levels, and the level I enjoyed best was the purely sensory level: of enjoying Pollitt's lyrical language, of being seduced into the book as into drinking a glass of sparkling wine, of slowly getting inebriated with the rhythm and flow of the sentences, of being lulled into thinking that the ride to drunkenness should always be this gentle, only to be suddenly stopped, when a sentence blows into your face like a popping champaign bubble, revealing something hilarious or true or just very odd:
Sometimes I think I would like to be word - not a big important word, like "love" or "truth," just a small ordinary word, like "orange" or "inkstain" or "so", a word that people use so often and so unthinkingly that its specialness has all been worn away, like the roughness on a pebble in a creek bed, but that has a solid heft when you pick it up, and if you hold it to the light at just the right angle you can glimpse the spark at its core."
Or when a sentence gives us the gist of what I think the book is saying, as in this description of Pollitt looking backwards to understand a crisis in her life:
In the months to come, I would look back on this time in my life almost as a kind of out-of-body travel, from which I had returned with nothing but a sense of memory of having been somewhere inexpressibly exciting and far away. It wasn't like a dream, exactly; although it had a dream's strange internal logic. It was like looking through the window of an airplane at night, the way the city below appears so near, yet untouchable behind the glass -- a network of lights, flames, stars.
I also read the book on the level of finding a major theme in it, for me at least, and the theme has to do with map-making, the many ways, some silly, some creative, some obvious, that we all make maps about that universe out there, those people and the way power is allotted to them; maps about how we relate to the rest of the landmarks, maps which will allow us to navigate this life. Maps.
Pollitt calls it "observing" in the title essay about learning to drive. In the essays about her unfaithful lover and her obsessive reactions after finding out about the infidelities she calls the map-making internet stalking. She doesn't actually stalk her ex-lover. She is making maps, writing a history, providing an explanation, although in that specific example the endeavor is not a helpful one. But it is how humans try to make sense out of events, by thinking and by observing, and sometimes by compulsively going over the same ground to see if a large STOP sign was ignored, if a car engine light flashed on unnoticed. An attempt to make sense.
In other essays the theme crops up again. The essay about a Marxist study group portrays the group participants as making sense of the demise of communism by finding it in books and in the study group, by making maps. "Sisterhood" shows us Pollitt's own attempts to make sense of the love affairs of her ex-boyfriend by interrogating those he took to his bed. What did he want? Did he ever love her? These examples show the pointlessness of maps about the past but they also show the human attempt to understand, to create a coherent explanation for incoherent events.
Pollitt's essays about her parents' lives and deaths mention their FBI files, places to seek for further information now that they can no longer be questioned themselves, and in one essay we join Pollitt in rummaging for files in the basement of her father's house, searching, searching, making maps. Even the short piece on the environment uses something to draw maps, this time of Connecticut's disappearing shoreline which reminds Pollitt of Danish landscape paintings, sometimes available for purchase on eBay:
Besides, I tell myself, there may be a picture buried in there of the view from Beach Park Road - there were quite a few minor painters in this part of Connecticut at one time; it's quite likely that pictures of those very fields exist. Or, if not of that exact view, there may be a picture of another view very much like it, perhaps in Denmark.
This is how I read the essays before reading them on the third level, the level that the reviews focus on and the level that has to do with a feminist writer revealing parts of her life which show her not-in-control, perhaps even out-of-control. And Pollitt does choose to reveal these episodes. Note that she doesn't tell us that she learned to drive. It is only from a later essay that I deduce she actually does drive these days. Note also that she lets us observe with her (Pollitt-the-cool-observer) the breakup of a long-term relationship and its odd obsessive effects on her behavior (on Pollitt-the-cyberstalker). She doesn't tell us how she regained her balance. It is only from reading carefully that I find she is newly married, for example. In short, the selection of episodes and themes is purposeful. The author wants to show us her "soft underbelly". She's not writing her memoirs, mind you, not trying to tell us that the Whole Life of Katha Pollitt is Dreadful. She is choosing to focus on certain events only.
Rebecca Traister in Salon discusses the advisability of this:
Picking up these pieces again in book form, accompanied by other essays about Pollitt's daughter, the Marxist reading group she joined in part to impress her scoundrel boyfriend, and friendships with the women with whom her ex cheated on her, I have a much more intricate reaction than when I first read them. Instead of simply rearing back from them, I wonder: Is there ever a point at which it is a good idea for women, especially intellectual, politically engaged women, to strip off their clothes and caper naked as jaybirds in front of a line of would-be assassins?
Is it advisable? For whom? Perhaps the theme I spotted in Pollitt's book required this particular approach, and perhaps allowing feminists to be human beings requires them to be allowed to have problems and flaws and even out-of-control times in their lives? But Traister is of course right in pointing out that a book of this kind exposes Pollitt to anti-feminist ridicule and the embarrassment of those who prefer their feminists in armor at all times.
There is an advantage to the approach Pollitt took, and that is the advantage offered by the feminist views she offered to explain the events surrounding her relationship and its ending. If nobody discusses such intimate reactions, how can we then decide whether we agree or disagree with assertions such as the neediness for male love in women or the desire to center ones life around a man or whether G., Pollitt's ex-lover, is just a jerk or something more like a metaphor for all men?
How can we learn that someone else views men in a certain light, perhaps a light quite as alien to us as the Manhattan street lights would be to someone living in outer Siberia? How can we learn to differentiate the effects of a certain social class or place of residency or even industry on our views about men and women and the role of love in general? Generational differences, do they matter? Does it matter that the men Pollitt knows are men in the media or the arts or other places where a certain type of personality seems more frequent?
I don't know. These are some of the questions the book elicited in me, mostly, because my experiences with love and men are not those Pollitt regards as general among the women she knows. It could be that I am the odd bird out, or it could be that the world is a very complicated place and that the maps we make shift and distort and only really apply for a few moments of time.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
In Catholic churches today the gospel is Lazarus and the Rich Man* , this is relevant because also in today’s Boston Globe magazine Jake Halpern gives us a depressingly awful look at the up and coming crop of selfish young things America's education system is turning out. While a few of the would be cream of their generation seem like they might not be so bad, the article is in praise of some really horrid brats. Halpren and a host of psycho-business babblers think that these self-centered little creeps are just what the world needs. Why doesn’t really become clear though there is some mention of how corporations are outsourcing new labs and such. Why these bright-young-brats, once they become successful owners of corporations wouldn’t follow the same profit-driven path as their elders in Me-Generation I isn’t much mentioned. The article says that it’s their narcissistic qualities and sense of entitlement are the best thing about them. Why theirs will prove to be less of a disaster for the world than the George W. Bush generation's cocky selfishness is far from obvious.
Are these little snots the face of the future ruling class? I doubt it will turn out as Halpern and his experts predict, though any prediction in a decaying empire is difficult. Some of us were predicting that eventually the evangelists of the bottom line would discover that India and other countries were producing a potential white collar class who would do at least the same quality of work as those living in the U.S. for much less money. I’d thought that this would lead white collars here to find the virtues of unionization and protecting jobs here. Maybe that will happen, though if the Globe Magazine has laid aside it’s current favorite subjects of conspicuous consumption of the home and fashion kind for this kind of rumination, it’s not going to be easy. Those who have every reason to know they’re not going to climb to the top are still being encouraged to blow life into the burned out tinder. They’ll have to give up that pipe dream before they’ll sign the union card.
As far as I’m concerned, selfish creeps of any generation can go to hell. Nothing good is going to come of them.
Update: An e-mail complains that the reference is too obscure and excessively religious. Without further comment.
‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there used to lie a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with what fell from the rich man’s table. Even dogs came and licked his sores. Now it happened that the poor man died and was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s embrace. The rich man also died and was buried. ‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his embrace. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” Abraham said, “My son, remember that during your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to prevent those who want to cross from our side to yours or from your side to ours.” ‘So he said, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them.” The rich man replied, “Ah no, father Abraham, but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.” – The New Jerusalem Bible