From Marguerite Duras:
(...) when women don’t write about desire, . . . they’ve entered the realm of plagiarism.
From Marguerite Duras:
(...) when women don’t write about desire, . . . they’ve entered the realm of plagiarism.
Great stuff from Mary Beard:
Apologies are always difficult. There's always a fine path between the Scylla and Charybdis of saying too little and saying too much (do we really need to know...?. Then there's the question of whether you seem sincere or just mouthing it. There's hundreds of times we've heard people say "I am very sorry if I upset you over this" (carefully not, "I am very sorry to have done this"): good enough or not?
In a way, too much scrutiny of the words is perhaps beside the point. Apologies are rituals, they are a very simple case of "doing things with words". The only thing that actually counts is the audible expression of "I'm sorry" (like "I do" at a wedding). Or are we expecting people to SHOW contrition? And how do we recognise it, in any case. Some people can seem dead truculent and controlled but actually be eaten up inside -- and vice versa.(...)
I particularly dislike the governmental kind which fulsomely apologise for some dreadful wrong of the past (like slavery or our treatment of the Maori -- or, in the case of the Pope, the death of Galileo). It's not that those things are not terrible wrongs, but a government apology seems too easy a way out. It has all the appearance of a "that's OK then" line being drawn under the issue, and a pretty low cost one too. (Rather like "First Capital Connect apologises for the late running of this train and any inconvenience caused".)
I agree with Jessa Crispin on this:
If you read enough about materialism, you start to wonder if you accidentally picked up an intelligent design book. The language is weirdly similar: we are all machines, we have no free will. It's just that in materialism, there is a scientific explanation for why this is so, rather than a religious one.
The materialist worldview has been pushed forward by the so-called "New Atheists" (somehow so much worse than the old ones!) like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. (Dawkins himself has for some reason decided to push a racist, sexist agenda as well, as if deciding the best way to defeat the biggest dicks of Christianity is to become the biggest dick of Science.)
From Ta-Nehisi Coates :
People who take a strict binary view of culture ("culture of privilege = awesome; culture of poverty = fail") are afflicted by the provincialism of privilege and thus vastly underestimate the dynamism of the greater world. They extoll "middle-class values" to the ignorance and exclusion of all others. To understand, you must imagine what it means to confront algebra in the morning and "Shorty, can I see your bike?" in the afternoon. It's very nice to talk about "middle-class values" when that describes your small, limited world. But when your grandmother lives in one hood and your coworkers live another, you generally need something more than "middle-class values." You need to be bilingual.
David Brooks polluted the American 'culture' debate with mediocre thinking and thus, it is just desperately obnoxious and wasteful!
The sentence of the year, so far, from Simon Waxman:
In some respects, identity politics is a monster the left has unleashed upon itself.
George O'Brien on the meaning of the title of Philip Roth's classic:
One version of America’s notion of its exceptionalism is that it embodies the values of the pastoral, that it is uniquely a haven, allaying the homeland insecurities of, say, Eastern European Jewry, and doing so not by accident but with a degree of national awareness that reaches the assurance and inviolability of myth. Deliverance, shelter, the huddled masses and the green fields of the republic on which they may safely graze, are all to the fore in the story of the Swede and his immediate forebears. But as well as achieving, thriving and profiting being possible, so are their opposites, and these too make their presence felt as lavishly as American bounty, only with destructive consequences. It is as though the extreme promise of America generates an alternative extreme that betrays and negates that promise, a negation that is particularly intimate and corrosive when the promise seems to have been perfectly reproduced in the person of the Swede’s beloved daughter Merry. America is the pastoral and the anti-pastoral, the “paradise remembered” of this novel’s opening section and the “paradise lost” of its close. Between the two is “the fall”: what else could there possibly be? The fall and all the fallibility it connotes is inevitably the synthesis of the two opposing but related paradises, the American and the pastoral.
Cher Monsieur Comment,
Je vous écris pour attirer votre attention sur Christelle Nadia Fotso, une jeune auteure américaine d'origine camerounaise de grand talent avec une histoire unique dont je suis l'attachée de presse.
En effet, Mademoiselle Fotso est née au Cameroun dans une grande famille africaine et s'est exilée aux Etats-Unis à l'âge de 14 ans à cause d'un sévère handicap. Elle est avocat à New York aux Nations Unies mais sa première et plus grande passion est l'écriture dans ses deux langues le Français et l'Anglais.
Son premier roman en Français, L'Empreinte des Choses Brisées, a été publié en 2010. Il a connu un franc succès dans le monde francophone grâce au style frais et élégant de Mademoiselle Fotso et sa liberté de ton.
Nous sommes convaincus, Monsieur Comment, que vous serez intéressé et touché par ses nouveaux écrits notamment un sublime recueil de poèmes dont la beauté et la force sont percutantes.
Pour le dire simplement, Christelle Nadia Fotso a l'étoffe et le talent des grands écrivains et ne peut que trouver sa place dans une maison d'édition telle que Seuil tout en permettant à celle-ci d'affirmer son attachement à la création littéraire et de continuer d'afficher son excellence légendaire.
Nous vous demandons humblement de donner une chance à Christelle Nadia Fotso.
En attendant votre réponse, je vous prie de recevoir, Cher Monsieur Comment, mes salutations distinguées.
Women’s application of makeup is an update of the Narcissus myth. It cannot be applied; or at least not well; without looking in a mirror. The self-reflexive gaze required has elements of the lover’s gaze: Eyes and lips are focal points and demand the most attention and care. Thus, applying makeup is a ritual of self-love, a kind of worship at the shrine of the self, though it can also reflect insecurity and even self-loathing. At its best, it is an exercise in self-critique, and, if you’ll permit me to be grandiose, a path to self-knowledge.
Sugary excerpt from Mary Beard's must read article over at the London Review of Books:
For it seems to me that many aspects of this traditional package of views about the unsuitability of women for public speaking in general – a package going back in its essentials over two millennia – still underlies some of our own assumptions about, and awkwardness with, the female voice in public. Take the language we still use to describe the sound of women’s speech, which isn’t all that far from James or our pontificating Romans. In making a public case, in fighting their corner, in speaking out, what are women said to be? ‘Strident’; they ‘whinge’ and they ‘whine’.(....) Contrast the ‘deep-voiced’ man with all the connotations of profundity that the simple word ‘deep’ brings. It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they don’t hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather they have not learned how to hear authority in it; they don’t hear muthos. And it isn’t just voice: you can add in the craggy or wrinkled faces that signal mature wisdom in the case of a bloke, but ‘past-my-use-by-date’ in the case of a woman.
They don’t tend to hear a voice of expertise either; at least, not outside the traditional spheres of women’s sectional interests. (...) More interesting is another cultural connection this reveals: that unpopular, controversial or just plain different views when voiced by a woman are taken as indications of her stupidity. It’s not that you disagree, it’s that she’s stupid. ‘Sorry, love, you just don’t understand.’ I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called ‘an ignorant moron’.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Jonny Thakkar :
Sexuality and race are fairly obvious fault lines for oppression, as are class and gender. But if oppression is treating people otherwise than they deserve, there’s another category that tends to slip under our radar, namely the oppression of the ugly.
We don’t choose the configuration of our facial features any more than we choose our skin colour, yet people discriminate based on looks all the time. As the psychologist Comila Shahani-Denning put it, summarising research on the topic in Hofstra Horizons in 2003: ‘Attractiveness biases have been demonstrated in such different areas as teacher judgments of students, voter preferences for political candidates and jury judgments in simulated trials … attractiveness also influences interviewers’ judgments of job applicants.’ From the toddler gazing up at the adult to the adult gazing down at the toddler, we ruthlessly privilege the beautiful. The ugly get screwed.
Yes ! :
My heritage includes Woody Allen films, but it also, sadly, includes rape culture. And though I hope Allen’s comedic legacy will be part of my kids’ lives, I badly want them to live in a world where abuse victims are supported by society and their abusers no longer protected.
To end rape culture, we must vigorously question our own allegiance to powerful, talented men at the exclusion of the people they allegedly hurt. We self-styled cultural sophisticates may be ace at sifting the artist out from the creation. But that’s not enough. If we aren’t going to be hypocrites, we have to hush the din of applause to let victims’ voices through.
Awesome response from Philip Roth to the assertion that he is considered to be a Jewish American writer:
'An American-Jewish writer' is an inaccurate if not also a sentimental description, and entirely misses the point. The novelist's obsession, moment by moment, is with language: finding the right next word. For me, as for Cheever, DeLillo, Erdrich, Oates, Stone, Styron and Updike, the right next word is an American-English word. I flow or I don't flow in American English. (...)The American republic is 238 years old. My family has been here 120 years, or for just more than half of America's existence. They arrived during the second term of President Grover Cleveland, only 17 years after the end of Reconstruction. Civil War veterans were in their 50s. Mark Twain was alive. Sarah Orne Jewett was alive. Henry Adams was alive. All were in their prime. Walt Whitman was dead just two years. Babe Ruth hadn't been born. If I don't measure up as an American writer, at least leave me to my delusion.
Ah oui ! :
Why, at a moment when French culture and ideas have never felt less influential in the world, are we being told to look to France for the answers to all our ills? Clearly, France, in our collective imagination, has become a nostalgic parody of itself. At the same time the French, all these writers agree, seem to have retained something that we’ve lost: a relatively healthy relationship to food, to our children, and to the opposite sex.
(...)So what lies behind the French woman’s ineffable charm? For a start, because she hasn’t been entirely reconstructed by feminism, she’s playing a more traditional role. Secondly, she’s relatively free of the guilt that seems to emanate like toxic fumes from all areas of Anglo-American life—from parenting, to sexual relationships, to food. And lastly, she has a much more flexible relationship with the truth: none of my French girlfriends have any scruples about lying when it comes to dieting or plastic surgery, even to their closest friends. None of them have had lip jobs, even when they clearly have. Taking the lead from Catherine Deneuve (upheld in several of these books as the archduchess of “growing old gracefully”) the watchword in this matter, as in most matters relating to the mystique of the French woman, is deny, deny, deny.
Well, best wishes to all for the new year (ah it's a world cup year yeah!) and here's a sugary excerpt from Fredrick C. Harris:
What started as a philosophy promulgated by black elites to “uplift the race” by correcting the “bad” traits of the black poor has now evolved into one of the hallmarks of black politics in the age of Obama, a governing philosophy that centers on managing the behavior of black people left behind in a society touted as being full of opportunity. In an era marked by rising inequality and declining economic mobility for most Americans—but particularly for black Americans—the twenty-first-century version of the politics of respectability works to accommodate neoliberalism. The virtues of self-care and self-correction are framed as strategies to lift the black poor out of their condition by preparing them for the market economy.
For more than half of the twentieth century, the concept of the “Talented Tenth” commanded black elites to “lift as we climb,” or to prove to white America that blacks were worthy of full citizenship rights by getting the untalented nine-tenths to rid themselves of bad customs and habits. Today’s politics of respectability, however, commands blacks left behind in post–civil rights America to “lift up thyself.” Moreover, the ideology of respectability, like most other strategies for black progress articulated within the spaces where blacks discussed the best courses of action for black freedom, once lurked for the most part beneath the gaze of white America. But now that black elites are part of the mainstream elite in media, entertainment, politics, and the academy, respectability talk operates within the official sphere, shaping the opinions, debates, and policy perspectives on what should—and should not—be done on the behalf of the black poor.
The sugary excerpt of the day from Alain Finkielkraut who is almost as blind as he is rotten by his self-righteousness:
C'est trop souvent dangereux ou juste inutile d'être trop intelligent et de le savoir !
I am pained to see that the French mode of European civilization is threatened. France is in the process of transforming into a post-national and multicultural society. It seems to me that this enormous transformation does not bring anything good. I am pained to see that the French mode of European civilization is threatened. France is in the process of transforming into a post-national and multicultural society. It seems to me that this enormous transformation does not bring anything good. (...)Today the Muslims in France like to shout in an act of self-assertion: We are just as French as you! It would have never occurred to my parents to say something like that. I would also never say that I am just as French as Charles de Gaulle was.
I agree with Nancy McDermott on this :
Paternalism has emerged as the dominant form of authoritarianism in our society. Across the world, policymakers are quietly working behind the scenes to save us from ourselves, nudging us towards Jerusalem with smaller fast-food cups, architecture intended to make us climb more stairs, and maternity wards that encourage bonding and breastfeeding.
A good reason to read and to love Belle Waring:
The past is a region ruled by the soft bigotry of low expectations. We all allow it to run up against the asymptote of any moral value we hold dear now. We are moved by the ideals of Thomas Jefferson even though we know he took his wife’s little sister, the sister she brought with her as a six-month old baby, the very youngest part of her dowerage when she married him—he took that grown girl as a slave concubine, and raped that woman until he died. We would all think it a very idiotic objection to The Good Soldier Švejk that women weren’t allowed to serve in the military at that time and so it didn’t bear reading. My favorite part of the Odyssey is book XXII, when Odysseus, having strung his bow, turns its arrows on the suitors and, eventually, kills them all. This is despite the fact that he and Telemachus go on to hang the 12 faithless maids with a ship’s cable strung between the courtyard and another interior building, so that none of them will die cleanly, and they struggle like birds with their feet fluttering above the ground for a little while, until they are still. There is no point in traveling into the land of “how many children had Lady MacBeth,” but, at the same time—the suitors raped those women, at least some of them, and likely all, if we use our imagination even in the most limited and machine-like fashion on the situation. Still it is my favorite, because I am vengeful.
More from Art Goldhammer on l'exception culturelle:
The cultural exception is one of those French eccentricities that baffle and exasperate even well-disposed foreigners. It is an "identitarian" anxiety that, altogether too explicably, plays well with the normally anti-identitarian Left because it is directed primarily against the great neoliberal Satan, the United States. It is also a convenient alibi for the Socialist government, a sop to be thrown to protectionist critics of its generally liberal approach to trade issues.
I find the principles behind the exception culturelle cute and touching, but also absurd and dangerous. Oh well, shit, as porn, is better and almost palatable and artistic in French.
Race.” I really can’t understand it as anything other than something people say. The people who have said that you and I are both “black” and therefore deserve a certain kind of interaction with the world, they make race. I can’t take them seriously. Not beyond the fact that they have the ability to say that you and I are a single race. You know, a piece of cloth that is called “linen” has more validity than calling you and me “black” or “negro.” “Cotton” has more validity as cotton than yours and my being “black.” It is true that our skin is sort of more or less the same shade. But is it true that our skin color makes us a distinctive race? No.
The people who invented race, who grouped us together as “black,” were inventing and categorizing their ability to do something vicious and wrong. I don’t see why I have to give them validity, or why I have to approach that label with any kind of seriousness. We give the people who make this category too much legitimacy by accepting it. We give them too much power. They ought to be left with the tawdriness of it, the stupidity of it. It’s a way of organizing a wrong thing, it’s a way of making a wrong thing easy. It’s too easy to say this or that is “race,” and that has been a vehicle for an incredible amount of wrong in the world. (...)race as a subject only comes about because of what I look like. If I say something truthfully, people say “Oh, she’s so angry.” If I write about a married person who lives in Vermont, it becomes “Oh, she’s autobiographical.” Norman Mailer stabbed his wife, and was not ever described as angry, and nothing he wrote was ever described as autobiographical. And all of these things are, in some sense, ways of diminishing my efforts.
If I describe a person’s physical appearance in my writing, which I often do, especially in fiction, I never say someone is “black” or “white.” I may describe the color of their skin—black eyes, beige skin, blue eyes, dark skin, etc. But I’m not talking about race. I’m talking about a description. What I really want to write about is injustice and justice, and the different ways human beings organize the two.
I agree with Kincaid.
Sugary excerpt of the week so far from Zoe Holman:
Discussing the traditional role of corporeality in protest, Judith Butler recently noted that: “if there is a body in the public sphere, it is masculine, free to create, but not itself created... When male citizens enter into the public square to debate questions of justice, revenge, war, and emancipation, they take the illuminated public square for granted as the architecturally bounded theatre of their speech.” By contrast, the female body has customarily been associated with the sexual, the childish, the labouring and the pre-political. This being the case, Butler argues for the need to interrogate and challenge the division of gendered bodies into “one that appears publicly to speak and act, and another, feminine, foreign and mute, that is generally relegated to the private and pre-political sphere.” (...)
Boobs can be fun. Boobs can be frivolous, primal or sexy. For this reason, they are compelling. In the right context, they might prove powerful. But they are also distracting. And for those women wishing to enter the theatre of political speech to debate questions of justice, emancipation, war, or indeed the sales tax on tampons, to achieve something more than lechery and to be taken seriously, they may prove a diversion.
I agree wholeheartedly with Art Goldhammer on this :
Anyone who watches French TV or goes to the movies is aware that whatever "cultural exception" has existed since World War II has not done much to ward off American influences on French popular culture. Whether one deplores or applauds those influences (and I personally think neither deprecation nor applause is warranted), a trade negotiation is not a good place to stop it. In such a venue, money is what counts, not culture.
Perhaps as a cultural mongrel myself, capable of appreciating both high and low, domestic and foreign, I simply don't evaluate the stakes as the self-appointed defenders of European culture do. I say, let people decide what they like. I may often not approve of other people's choices, but I don't think that taste can be improved by imposing quotas, any more that it can be legislated or enforced by curricular edict. I do know that part of my love of France came from watching some fairly low-brow French films. I would have lost something if my government had tried to "protect" me from them. But American governments have never been much interested in that kind of protection (as opposed to prophylactic censorship of supposed sexual immorality). The mask of antiphilistinism is more commonly worn in Europe, but those who wear it are less concerned with the culture of the masses than they are with the profits to be made from them.
Pertinent stuff from Any Davidson on the Steubenville's rape trial:
There is something deeply harmful in all of the adults reinforcing the idea that the lives of teen-age boys are destroyed when a girl says what they have done. There is also something incomplete about just replying that they deserved the consequences (as much as they do). For one thing, it can mean asking a sixteen-year-old to be the one to judge the weight of her own trauma. It isn’t trivializing the seriousness of the sentence to say that teen-agers always think, when one door is closed, that everything is over, and that it’s the job of grownups to explain that it isn’t. A different life is not a worthless one. (Absent parents, not incidentally, are a theme of this story.)
The problem is that Americans are as obsessed with absolute justice as they are with absolute freedom.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Jennifer Vanasco:
Why do we in the media try to make some women standard bearers for all women? (...) A man who writes an inspiring business book meant to help people get ahead at work doesn’t have his wrist slapped because he’s promoting himself as well — of course he is! And a man who tries to change a failing corporate culture is more likely to be lauded as courageous than accused as cowardly, as [Marissa] Mayer was. (...) Not everything every woman does is a social statement. And it shouldn’t have to be.
It is sad to realize that Quebeckers take French more seriously than France :
It began, as do many things these days, with a tweet. On February 19th, Massimo Lecas, co-owner of an Italian restaurant, Buonanotte, in Montreal, wrote that he had received a letter from the office warning him that there were too many Italian words (such as "pasta") on his menu. This was a violation of Quebec’s language charter, he was told, and if they were not changed to the French equivalents (pâtes in the case of pasta) he would face a fine. (...)Much to Quebec’s credit, French is alive and well there, even though the province's 7.4m French-speakers (94% of Quebec's population) are barraged with English from the rest of Canada and from the United States. It’s not easy for the government to find the right balance between preserving French and making peace with a world where English is the language of business. What makes the job harder is that the guardians of French also want to keep out foreign words, whereas English tends to appropriate them. Language is of course also a deeply political issue in Quebec, a former French colony conquered by Britain before it became part of Canada. The current Parti Québécois (PQ) government wants to make the province an independent country.Diane de Courcy, the Quebec minister responsible for language, tried at first to shrug off the pasta stories, saying she was satisfied with the work of the inspectors. When the bad publicity persisted, she announced a review of that particular case. The PQ government is currently attempting to toughen language laws, and pastagate was becoming a distraction. But by March 8th it was clear something more was needed. Quebec was the butt of too many jokes. Ms de Courcy announced that Louise Marchand, president and director-general of the language police, was leaving her post effective immediately.
From Nidra Poller:
Contraception and abortion alone could not bring about the desired transformation of the female condition. They were the technology. The metaphysics was what has become known as “gender studies.” In the early days of Women’s Liberation it was makeshift ideology peddled in volumes of look-alike fiction and non-fiction best sellers shouting that maternity was a drag, femininity a hype, sexual differences induced by cynical manipulation, love and marriage an extension of the military industrial complex, and men were chauvinist pigs. No more pink for girls and blue for boys. Sexually marked toys were not abandoned but switched: cars and trucks for girls, dolls and tea sets for boys. Women wanted, or were told they wanted, something called equality.
The harbingers of this “sexual revolution” were, more often than not, closet lesbians. Later we not only discovered that they were lesbians telling heterosexual women to kick their men in the balls and out of their lives, they were also playing stereotypical sexual roles in private, some as simpering mistresses to others more macho than any man could be.
I'm so speechless that I've lost my French!
Awesome stuff from Hilary Mantel:
Marie Antoinette was a woman eaten alive by her frocks. She was transfixed by appearances, stigmatised by her fashion choices. Politics were made personal in her. Her greed for self-gratification, her half-educated dabbling in public affairs, were adduced as a reason the French were bankrupt and miserable. It was ridiculous, of course. She was one individual with limited power and influence, who focused the rays of misogyny. She was a woman who couldn’t win. If she wore fine fabrics she was said to be extravagant. If she wore simple fabrics, she was accused of plotting to ruin the Lyon silk trade. But in truth she was all body and no soul: no soul, no sense, no sensitivity. She was so wedded to her appearance that when the royal family, in disguise, made its desperate escape from Paris, dashing for the border, she not only had several trunk loads of new clothes sent on in advance, but took her hairdresser along on the trip. Despite the weight of her mountainous hairdos, she didn’t feel her head wobbling on her shoulders. When she returned from that trip, to the prison Paris would become for her, it was said that her hair had turned grey overnight.
Antoinette as a royal consort was a gliding, smiling disaster, much like Diana in another time and another country. But Kate Middleton, as she was, appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished. When it was announced that Diana was to join the royal family, the Duke of Edinburgh is said to have given her his approval because she would ‘breed in some height’. Presumably Kate was designed to breed in some manners.
Beauty is always unproblematic and uncontroversial when it is/appears to be empty and yes, David Cameron can't read.
Much of the decline in fertility correlates with the development of poorer countries, increasing literacy and education of women, a migration from the country to the city, and a collapse in infant mortality rates with the arrival of modern medicine. All good things. But as Last describes, a population that is both shrinking and increasingly elderly leads to stalled innovation and other serious economic and political problems.
Everyone should be welcome to live life as they choose, remaining single or childless if that suits them. Freedom really does matter. But at the same time we ought to be thinking hard about how to make our society and our culture more child-welcoming. It’s a matter of life and death.
Kill me now! Why should humans be eternal?
Pertinent stuff from Carly Lewis:
Male writers have had decades to remedy themselves, but still write jejunely about women, accentuating one isolated, exploitable trait (attractive, rebellious, sweet, rude, slutty, rich) for the sake of producing more easily understood subject matter. Until they learn (or at least try to learn) how to write about female subjects in a way that does not purposefully weave paternalistic generalizations into every paragraph, I propose a moratorium on this stagnant approach to literary writing. Let’s allow women to write about women for a little while. Maybe then we can swap the prevalent illusions of femininity for realistic portraits of women as complex human characters. I’m not saying that women are better writers than men, and I’m not saying all men lack the will to rise above stereotypes in their work (do you hear that, comment section?). I’m saying that something needs to change in the way literary profiles are written and the way the lives within them are handled, and that this would be a good step toward smoothing out what is currently an unbalanced gender structure in literary journalism. Too often, the privileged male writers whose bylines dominate the publications we read fail to write about women in a way that doesn’t simplify female existences into condescending phrases like “sassy kitten” and “bombshell.”
From Paul Barrett:
The reason why we can’t learn much in a practical sense from other countries is that we’re not other countries, and we’re not going to become other countries. We’re not going to have Australia’s society with Australia’s values and Australia’s attitudes toward firearms.
If your desire is to have a society that is more like that, it would be much easier for you to move to that society than to transpose that society onto this 300 million-person, 3,000 mile wide, incredibly complex, culture-of-many-cultures country.
Well d'oh or may be not!
Sugary excerpt of the day from Kathryn Joyce:
Even among nonhysterics, John Kerry’s 2004 defeat was attributed by liberal writers in part to his outspoken wife, and the excesses of the Tea Party are denounced most vigorously by Republican moderates who ridicule the movement’s female politicians as unserious.
Even in the Democrats’ 2012 convention, lauded for women’s central role, First Lady Michelle Obama’s otherwise powerful speech discounted her entire professional life in favor of her role as “mom in chief.” Listening to that speech, I don’t hear hysteria but rather calculation, which is sadly realistic at that. Understanding why it’s still necessary means understanding what continues to drive the backlash. And it demonstrates that, if the sexual counterrevolution is ever over, the unfinished work of the original revolution is still waiting.
In my definition, anything that could be termed obscene departs from the bourgeois norm. Whether concerned with sexuality or violence or another taboo issue, anything that breaks with the norm is obscene. Insofar as truth is always obscene, I hope that all of my films have at least an element of obscenity.
By contrast, pornography is the opposite, in that it makes into a commodity that which is obscene, makes the unusual consumable, which is the truly scandalous aspect of porno rather than the traditional arguments posed by institutions of society. It isn't the sexual aspect but the commercial aspect of porno that makes it repulsive. I think that any contemporary art practice is pornographic if it attempts to bandage the wound, so to speak, which is to say our social and psychological wound. Pornography, it seems to me, is no different from war films or propaganda films in that it tries to make the visceral, horrific, or transgressive elements of life consumable. Propaganda is far more pornographic than a home video of two people fucking.
Though a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal, several states retain trigger laws that would come into force if Roe v Wade were ever overturned (see map). Leaving them in place is a cheap way for politicians to place themselves on one side of a culture war without having to accept the consequences of their position.
Nowadays, in America and elsewhere, being successful in politics means being cheap!
Food for thought from Alice M Milller via Balkinzation:
Contemporary sexual rights work has some of this same tendency in the hands of the nations who have picked up the standard as part of their geopolitical positioning. Moreover, perhaps because sexual rights has had to gain credibility as a form of rights work, advocates have often mistaken respectability for respect. There are many moments in which ‘progress’ in the sexual rights claims of one group has been made by the strategic clambering of one group up the ladder of respectability over the backs of others. Some sub-groups ascend the sexual hierarchy by conforming to as many of the prevailing standards of sexual legitimacy as possible. Other advocates seek the longer and more difficult route of changing the standards of sexual legitimacy for everyone. Think of the respectability attached to monogamy, sex without money, regulated fertility. These short cuts to advance by groups are not new problems, or unique to sexuality, nor are they likely to end—they are part and parcel of social struggles.
From Stefany Anne Golberg:
When we say that love is ineffable, as Beckett knew, what we mean is that, when we love, we don’t know what the hell we are doing. We can’t stop talking through it, trying to figure it out. We think we ought to be talking about everything, doing everything, doing anything — breaking into spontaneous rage, talking about suicide, playing games, complaining about our boots — instead of just loving. We wait and wait and wait. Inevitably, boredom creeps in, terror creeps in. (...) When we attempt to utter what we think we know, Beckett wrote, we are doomed, doomed to fail. Trying to talk about love may be the most futile performance of all. But just because words fail love doesn’t mean that love fails. Samuel Beckett is not known for writing explicitly about love. But he was writing about love all the time.
There is a lot of Samuel Beckett in Michael Haneke!
Sugary excerpt of the best article I read last weekend from Scott Reynold Nelson on Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, which I'm planning to see because of what Roger Ebert said about it and because I don't want Spike Lee to be right in this case :
Immediately after the Civil War, African-American men built these powerful, folkloric characters in a world where slavery had ended but attacks against black men and women had intensified. The stories of quiet, unpredictable, and violent men who were fearless and died at the end could be simultaneously cautionary tales about the dangers of challenging white authority and covert stories about the thrill of resistance.
They are fantasies about striking back. Yet they are frank about how dangerous fighting back could be. Bad-man stories passed into rhymed insults called "the dozens," then into blues songs, then into rap, and finally into hip-hop.
They were also emulated and twisted by white interpreters into "coon" songs popular for decades, then by Jim Croce in "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," and finally wended their way into blaxploitation films. Indeed, the stories have been so distorted that it is difficult to learn about the original songs, the parodies having outshone the originals. The legendary African-American bad man became irresistible to white interpreters simultaneously fascinated and repelled by the image of a quiet, violent, fearless black destroyer. The bad-man story that freed people told about slavery and its aftermath was quickly converted into the story of the sullen black stranger, the zoot-suit Negro with a razor in his pocket, the dangerous ghetto demigod.
Great stuff from Katherine Franke:
I wish Franke hadn't used Tom Friedman to ake such a poignant point.
In an ironic sort of way, sex and sexuality have been collateral victims of recent advances in the rights of gay people to the extent that their claims have been framed as a right to family, not a right to sexual freedom. Whether by design or by accident, some of the advocates of marriage equality who have defended and celebrated the sanctity, dignity and special-ness of marriage have fortified the rather conservative notion that sex outside of marriage (whether it be adultery or hook ups with people you find out the internet) is somehow indecent and worthy of reproach.Thomas Friedman famously observed that “9/11 made us stupid” – well, sex, it seems, makes us even stupider. At precisely the moment when gay people’s right to marry seems to be reaching a positive tipping point, sexuality is being driven back into the closet as something shameful and incompatible with honor (in the case of Petraeus) or decency (as in the case of Clash). How did we get to this curious place, a place with a politics that would be almost unimaginable to the sexual freedom fighters of Stonewall?
Great stuff from Sadhvi Sharma:
The Delhi rape has led to an outburst of middle-class angst about modern India and its populace, and has generated widespread demand for more authoritarian social control. Commentators have turned this extreme act of violence into a symbol of nationwide decay, encouraging every Indian to assume guilt. With everything from Bollywood to Indian family values, from economic growth to parenting style, being called into question, the reaction to the rape appears more and more removed from the incident itself.(...)There is something perverse about the way we’re all encouraged to feel culpable for this crime. The aspiring, emerging nation of India appears simultaneously anxious about its economic and social transformations, and particularly about how those transformations are impacting on a certain class of men, who are apparently ill-equipped to deal with them. ‘Is the sight of a young, smartly-dressed educated female professional generating a sense of displacement in men?’, asks one journalist. The feminist writer Urvashi Butalia thinks an increase in the incidence of rape in India is related to the slowing down of economies in recent years and the fact that the ‘slice of the pie’ is getting smaller. That is, faced with rapid economic and cultural change, the ordinary Indian male becomes an even more brutal creature.
Tragedies encourage irrationality and oversimplifications for accepting that le mal, evil, unconscionable acts are banal and that shit happens is usually difficult and so unsatisfying!
Best thing I read about the Newtown tragedy so far from Bill Benzon:
Remember the story of the Emperor's New Clothes? The Emperor parades before the town proudly display his costly and gorgeous new outfit, NOT! For, as everyone sees, he's naked. But no one says anything for fear of displeasing the Emperor. And then one little boy blurts out "he's bloody naked!" and the whole delusion collapses.Everyone saw what the boy saw, but no one knew that their neighbor saw the same thing. Everyone was quaking in their boots in fear that they, and they alone, couldn't see the Emperor's fine raiment. Therefore, there must be something terribly wrong with them. But there wasn't. Their eyesight was fine. The little boy's cry showed them that.These terrible gun tragedies are like the little boy's cry. Now we all can see IT. But what is this IT that we can see, and why do we so quickly forget that we saw it? Why does seeing IT seem to make this failure of vision even worse? For that's what it does: "But after moments of healing, the partisan divide in attitudes toward guns has seemed only to accelerate after similar past events, as in Columbine, Colo." Just what is it that's been polarizing the American body politic over the last forty years?
Interesting stuff from Tim Parks:
America is very much a net exporter of literature. Its novels are read and translated worldwide, where readers generally accept miles and Fahrenheit, pounds and ounces, AM and PM and indeed have grown accustomed to these old-fashioned, American oddities (when it comes to doing science, of course, Americans use the more practical European systems). In Germany, for example, where around fifty percent of novels are foreign works in translation, Roth’s and Franzen’s characters are not obliged to discuss distances in kilometers.
Conversely, America imports very little—only three to four percent of novels published in the States are translations—and what it does import it tends to transform as far as possible into its own formulas and notations, in much the same way that Disney has turned every fable and myth worldwide into a version of Mickey Mouse. This situation is a measure of American power, but brings with it the danger of mental closure and inflexibility. Speaking recently at a conference in Milan, the Italian literary agent Marco Vigevani, lamented that fewer and fewer American editors are able to read novels in Italian, French, and especially German, and this inevitably has reduced their enthusiasm for publishing foreign literature, since they are obliged to rely on external readers for advice.
From Danilo Breschi:
In America, the matrix of individual freedom is "republican," and it is older than equality. It creates, within American democracy, devices of self-government decentralizing the exercise of sovereignty: freedom of speech and of the press, "jury," the idea of law as a duty to partake in public affairs.
In Europe, equality is imposed before individuals develop awareness of their own freedom and independently of any practice of the latter. The matrix of the continental idea of equality is absolutist and is ensured by the royal gaze. In The Old Regime and the Revolution, he wrote that "this kind of love for independence grows out of certain particular temporary mischiefs wrought by despotism, and is never durable; it passes away with the accident which gave it birth. What seemed to be love for liberty turns out to be mere hatred of a despot." For Tocqueville a "habit of despotism" was ingrained in the French people, becoming a sort of widespread popular culture.
Another reason to read Tocqueville.
From Angela Bourke in the Dublin Review of Books:
Writing culture assumes “the reader” to be male, until marked otherwise ‑ statesmen and churchmen are commonly portrayed reading ‑ but the unsettling of this assumption has been a critical pastime for decades, under the joined banners of reader-response and feminist theory. A text’s meaning changes over time, according to the culture where it is read and understood, and according to who reads it. If that person is a woman, the meaning may become excitingly unpredictable, not because women are capricious, or any more so than men, but because little in our education, even if we are women, has prepared us for how anyone but a white, northern hemisphere, heterosexual male, will read.
From Colin Burrow :
We moderns have moved on. We’re all free agents. We make choices. Choices are what make us. So give me tragedy with choice and give it to me now. Instead of just blubbing and crying out ‘NOoooo’ while what you don’t want to happen happens, why not just turn to page 394 and get a new ending? Cool. Indeed, totally friggin’ awesome.
I am wondering whether choosing has the same importance/meaning when it is totally uninformed/ill-informed for after all the current times are ones where people are just passionate about what they don't know and what they don't care to know!
I agree strongly with Corey Robin on this:
Only a country steeped in myths of innocence would find the most conventional and boring kind of realism about politics to be the trumpet blast of Truth, Brave Truth.
We see these quicksilver shifts, from innocence to cynicism or realism, in the culture all the time, especially its more elite sectors—though sometimes they go in the reverse direction. Think of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, how the wise-cracking cynic Jean Arthur becomes a true believer. Or Dave, where the Sigourney Weaver character makes the same pilgrimage. (Interestingly, in both cases it’s a woman who loses her cynicism and discovers her innocence via falling in love with a man.)
But whether it’s the cynic discovering or recovering her innocence, or the innocent losing his innocence, the story of politics among cultural and political elites in this country is always the same, toggling back and forth between two positions that are little more than the competing wisdom of juveniles.
Oh America, I have news for you even innocence can be sinful dirty complicated. As a matter of fact, in America, innocence is a way to fight the terrifying realization that purity in the modern world is impossible.
All this reminds me of the awfully good movie Agnes of God with Jane Fonda in which a young and yes innocent nun gets pregnant and there is throughout the strong suggestion that she had sex with God, which makes it more than ok, not an exploitation, not a perverted act or a worse not one of a sexual discovery and empowerment but a religiously wonderful occurrence for the Mother Superior (Anne Bancroft ) declares solemnly and fanatically in the end of the movie that to be innocent is to be god's victim.
In honor of Thanksgiving, the sugary excerpt of the day from John Fletcher which comes a day after Voltaire's 318 birthday :
Irony is a notoriously two-edged weapon: ambiguity is of the essence. Writers seek to be understood à demi mot, that is, they wish for their overt statement to be grasped, and immediately afterwards, if not simultaneously, for their “true” meaning to force itself upon the reader’s attention. For this to happen, the skill of writers must be such that what they write will neither be too obvious (in which case there would be no irony, merely sarcasm), nor too obscure (for then the point would be lost). But the reader’s intelligence and sensitivity must also engage if the writer’s half-hidden meaning is not to pass altogether unnoticed. In other words, long before it became a commonplace in literary theory that the pursuit of literature necessitates the engagement of writer and reader in an act of cooperation rather than in the passive reception of a monologue, authors were in fact relying heavily on their audience’s ability to go half-way to meet them; if this did not happen, ironical discourse fell on stony ground. How often we say of a person in everyday life that he or she is “deaf to irony,” or that “irony is lost” on her or him. Obtuse people will receive only a writer’s overt meaning, and take it seriously; Voltaire’s belief that “a tyrant can only be spoken to in parables” holds true only if the tyrant in question is open to persuasion and willing to engage in the interpretation of double-entendres. But accomplished ironists usually manage to be sufficiently plain so that all but the most obtuse reader grasps the point they are obliquely making.
I share Baudelaire's poetic contempt for Voltaire, which is expressed magnificently in this super and still relevant maxim:
Je m'ennuie en France, surtout parce que tout le monde y ressemble à Voltaire.
Emerson a oublié Voltaire dans ses Représentants de l'humanité. Il aurait pu faire un joli chapitre intitulé : Voltaire, ou l'anti-poète, le roi des badauds, le prince des superficiels, l'anti-artiste, le prédicateur des concierges, le père Gigogne des rédacteurs du Siècle. (I am bored in France, especially as every one resembles Voltaire. Emerson forgot Voltaire in his "Representative Men." He could have made a fine chapter entitled Voltaire or The Antipoet, the king of boobies, the prince of the shallow, the anti-artist, the preacher of innkeepers, the father who "lived in a shoe" of the editors of the century.)
From Walter Russell Mead:
We are simultaneously the most licentious and sexually open society since Nero was fiddling around in Rome, and the most uptight and rigid country this side of Saudi Arabia. Our social judgements and tolerance about sexual behavior swing back and forth between the views of the Marquis de Sade and those of Cotton Mather depending on complex and ever changing calculations.
As far as I can make out, the authorities American society listens to most on the subject of sex are Hugh Hefner and Gloria Steinem. We combine, somehow, a pleasure seeking hook up culture with a feminist puritanism that takes us back to the 19th century bluestockings, and the line between the libertine and the bluestocking in our culture is constantly shifting and highly politicized.
My take on the subject is that America has no problem with sex as long as it remains a form of entertainment, which doesn't shake the foundations of its society.
Sex in America can't be about solely pleasure and amorality. That's why Americans have less of a problem with Porn stars whom it believes just work the money than it does with cheating/sexually adventurous politicians whom it believes are just bad people.
Interesting assertion from Frank Furedi:
It is important to realise that much of the conventional wisdom on the impact of abusive behaviour is driven by moral revulsion rather than by disinterested research. Of course, it is entirely legitimate morally to condemn behaviour that society deems evil. But moral condemnation should not be confused with a medical diagnosis. Nor is it an alternative to seeking and gaining clarity on the matter at hand. We do no favours to those who have suffered at the hands of adult predators if we treat them as the casualties of a moral drama.
The problem with modern societies is that they not only like victims, they love the idea of perpetual victimhood and enduring 'sin' because it makes it easier to sacralize and indeed objectify victims instead of empathizing truly with them to allow them to remain people tout simplement.
This sentence from Andrew O'Hogan on the BBC's child abuse scandal bothers me :
A man can’t help whom he fancies, but [Gilbert] Harding seems to have differed from the other BBC paedophiles only inasmuch as he kept it mainly to himself.
I have a hard time with the idea that man/people are just slaves of their passions, victims of their urges, their obsessions and never really choose the objects of their affection. Furthermore, fancying kids isn't about sex and taste.
Interesting stuff from Emily Witt:
Internet dating alerted me to the fact that our notions of human behaviour and achievement, expressed in the agglomerative text of hundreds of internet dating profiles, are all much the same and therefore boring and not a good way to attract other people. The body, I also learned, is not a secondary entity. The mind contains very few truths that the body withholds. There is little of import in an encounter between two bodies that would fail to be revealed rather quickly. Until the bodies are introduced, seduction is only provisional.
In the depths of loneliness, however, internet dating provided me with a lot of opportunities to go to a bar and have a drink with a stranger on nights that would otherwise have been spent unhappy and alone.
Isn't technology so human!