I recently read that in the seventies, one Robert Byrn, a forty year old professor of criminal law at Fordham University, took it upon himself to represent in court all human fetuses between the fourth and twenty-fourth week of gestation scheduled to be aborted in New York City municipal hospitals. Byrn’s attorney, Thomas Ford, made the following amazing statement: “The fetus might well be described as an astronaut in a uterine spaceship.” Continue reading →
I read the other day that, in the code of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb, if the bomb was a dud, they were going to say, “It’s a girl.” If the bomb worked as hoped, however, they would say, “It’s a boy.”
My first thought on reading that was to wonder what it says about masculinity if it is thus closely linked with the horrifically destructive, if this technological wonder of supreme violence is specifically male-gendered. Continue reading →
“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.” – André Gide
Corydon by Andre Gide (image courtesy Goodreads)
The complex and provocative André Gide is known for his unconventional examinations of morality in which he usually pits the conventions of accepted public morals against the individual moral (sometimes amoral) views of his characters. In novels such a The Immoralist, Strait is the Gate, and The Vatican Cellars Gide explores alternate lifestyles, failed relationships, and Nietzschean acts of ubermensch-iness for both tragic and comic effect. These works won Gide the Nobel Prize in 1947.
I’ve read all of the above mentioned works by Gide. My favorite is The Vatican Cellars (Les Caves du Vatican), a comic adventure that crosses elements of The DaVinci Code sort of conspiracy theory nonsense with Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. In the hands of an arch satirist like Gide, a plot about saving the Pope from the machinations of the Masons goes sideways because of the actions of a Raskolnikovean sort of ne’er-do-well named Lafcadio who decides that what he really needs to do with his life is kill someone at random so that there is no motive at all to connect him to the murder. Unfortunately, the man he decides to kill turns out to be a vital cog in the aforementioned Pope v. Masons business. Hilarity of the darkest shades ensues. Really. It’s a very funny book – in dark, dark ways.
Unfortunately, this sort of funny stuff was an anomaly in Gide’s oeuvre. He mainly focuses on the unhappy effects of rebelling against (L’immoraliste) or falling prey to (La porte étroite) accepted social and cultural institutions and behaviors. Corydon, his attempt to justify homosexuality as a natural human behavior, is firmly on the serious side of the Gide ledger. Continue reading →
I only just discovered one of the most fabulous feminist foremothers ever – Matilda Gage. And if I may be blunt about it, I am pretty fucking pissed off that I am only just discovering her. I am pissed off for two reasons.
One, I found her referenced by the contemporary writer Mary Daly. The degree to which Daly reintroduces ideas set forth by Gage more than a hundred years previously illustrates all too clearly how women are written out of his/story. With each generation, therefore, we are forced to reinvent the damn wheel. Continue reading →
Knowledge in our chosen fields of endeavor is important, certainly…knowledge of ourselves is essential….
The Burgundy Briefcase by Roberta Burton (image courtesy Goodreads)
Roberta Burton’s The Burgundy Briefcase is a difficult novel to discuss because it doesn’t seem quite sure what sort of novel it wants to be. It’s part star-crossed love story, part therapeutic confessional, part self-examination. Its settings shift from place to place as its main character, a doctoral student named Lee Lindsey, moves around Tallahassee, Florida where she is completing her doctorate in marriage and family counseling at Florida State University. It moves, sometimes rather blithely, through time from present to past and back again. It has a shifting cast of characters who appear, disappear, and reappear in those weird ways that people sometimes do in life.
Perhaps The Burgundy Briefcase is best described as a picaresque novel about education. The work is filled with various types of educations, and Lee Lindsey, willingly and unwillingly, gets educated in all all of these education types. Continue reading →
The London School of Economics and Political Science calls the following ten books “must-reads” for Women’s History Month this year. I draw your attention to the review of Recoding Gender, which mentions the story of a very successful woman-owned American tech company that relied heavily on flexible scheduling and home-based work for women. When the company tried to expand into Denmark, however, it turned out that Danish women had little interest in working from home because of the well-developed child care system in that country. This leads me to wonder what the impact here might be if we actually offered child care like it is offered in Denmark and many other European countries. I am also especially interested in getting to my book shelf Gender, Agency, and Political Violence, which invites readers to reconsider the agency of female suicide bombers and also examines the masculinity and emotional depth of men imprisoned during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. Actually, if money were not an issue, all ten of these books would be on their way to my bookshelf. Continue reading →
The Yellow Wallpaper is especially important to me because I struggled greatly with depression and mental illness during four years of physical confinement within a very patriarchal marriage. Read it in full here. Also, Jane Addams is especially a hero of mine. She had so many pots boiling at once – I don’t know how she did it. I hope you will follow the link below and read more about her. Continue reading →
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…parent dotes on children who are ingrates and…yeah, well…
Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac (image courtesy Goodreads)
It is easy to make arguments against Père Goriot. It’s a rather sloppy book because the author, Honoré de Balzac, wrote quickly and rarely labored over his words. It’s a frustrating book because Balzac veers back and forth between Romanticism and Realism, sometimes on the same page. Two characters who would seem to be major figures disappear from the novel without adequate explanation. The ending is both overly long and abrupt, quite an accomplishment in itself, but not the preferred effect one would expect a great author to achieve.
In spite of all these flaws, it’s a magnificent book and one that will haunt anyone who has been a parent or had a parent who, for all the best intentions in the world, can’t seem to get that most fundamental life relationship right.
A couple of rambling asides before I get to Goriot. This is another of those books that I read a very long time ago (I believe Nixon was POTUS) and decided to re-read for this year’s world lit themed portion of the 2015 reading list. Continue reading →
It is Women’s History Month and my goal is to post about a different woman every day for the rest of March.
Dominique Christina is a poet, artist, activist, educator, author and self-described “colored girl with stars for eyes.” She is also the only person to hold two national titles for slam poetry at one time and is the only poet in history to win the Women of the World Poetry Championship twice. A former 1996 Olympic Volleyball player, Dominique has over 10 years of experience as a licensed teacher, holding double Masters degrees in Education and English Literature. She conducts performances/workshops all over the country for colleges, universities, nonprofit organizations, and conferences like the LOHAS forum in Boulder, Colorado. She does branding and marketing language for companies like Lotus Wei and Gaia. She is the niece of one of the Little Rock Nine. She sometimes performs with Denice Frohman as Sister Outsider, the duo representing two of the top three female slam poets in the world. Continue reading →
A little over two years ago, a young couple in India went to see a movie. They were celebrating the young woman’s completion of her exams to get into medical school. On the bus they took to get home at 8:30 P.M., the male passengers raped the young woman, raped her so badly that her intestines actually came out through her vagina. Continue reading →
S’s mother and my mother were very close friends going back to their high school days, so S. and I grew up together, ultimately losing touch as adults. When her father died of a heart attack, she made a nearly successful effort to commit suicide. What came out of the suicide attempt was that S. had, in fact, been molested by her father from a very early age.
So my mother told me about what had happened, about the molestation and the suicide attempt. And then she added, “I never liked her. She was always such an overtly sexual child.” Continue reading →
I have been passionately researching my family history for over twenty years.
The first issue a genealogist will notice is the difficulty in tracing matrilineal lines. Records on women simply were not kept as those on men were. Often, one finds a female ancestor with just a first name known.
Another aspect of the patriarchy I’ve discovered in tracing my French colonial Louisiana roots is that under French law, all the value of a deceased man’s property was divided amongst his sons. Continue reading →
patriarchal principle: Men are entitled to take up space
“Manspreading” refers to men sitting in public spaces with their legs spread wide apart. Anyone – and especially a woman – who has sat in a movie theater, airplane, or any sort of public transportation is all too familiar with the phenomenon. All too many men seem willing to rudely spread out beyond their little designated spaces in places like those I’ve mentioned. I’d really like to have a dollar for every time I’ve been squeezed out of my space in a movie theater by a man manspreading next to me – I could buy most of the books on my wish list at Amazon. Some speculate that this behavior is an act of dominance or is about male privilege. Personally, I have always thought the message is, “Hey,everybody look at me – my balls are so big that I can not even close my legs!” The problem is widespread – if you will – enough that now, the New York City subway authority is mounting a campaign against the practice, using the slogan “Dude, stop the spread please. It’s a space issue.” Continue reading →
The Song of the Nibelungs, i.e., Das Nibelungenlied (image courtesy Goodreads)
As promised, we come now to a pair of works that share a common story ancestry as well a commonalities in cultural ethos. Heroic epics and sagas reflect a culture based on power, strength, violence, and what Frank Zappa famously called “a great deal of personal hurt.” Most readers are likely familiar with at least one of the heroic epics (these are sometimes called national epics because there seems to be one for each major European country – Das Nibelungenlied for Germany, La Chanson de Roland for France, El Cid for Spain, and, of course, Beowulf for England), so dust off those memories of, you know, that class you took that time where you read that loooong poem….
While both works tell the story of a hero murdered through treachery and his beloved’s revenge on the murderers, there are significant differences between The Saga of the Volsungs and The Song of the Nibelungs. A look at those differences might be a good place to start and can lead us into a discussion of the similarity in, to use the German term, the weltanschauung of heroic culture. Those similarities are valuable to note, for some of the assumptions of heroic culture still pervade our own world views. Continue reading →
The sewing machine doesn’t hum. It barrels down the seam, rattling the table and everything on it. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m working on the Christmas jammies. Fifth Christmas without her and the sewing of my children’s jammies is a bit of therapy. She always finished her sewing at the last minute, too. I was sure I’d have to go to prom with pins in the hem of my dress. I didn’t, though. Likewise, these pants will be done by the time the kids go to bed. Continue reading →
What Daniel Defoe depicts in Moll Flanders is the story of a person who lives purely for pursuit of “the main chance”: accruing wealth at the cost of family, friends, self-respect…in the hope that once one has “a stock” there will be time for reflection, repentance, reclamation….
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (image courtesy Goodreads)
I went off the 2014reading(updated)list(s) for this last “non-holiday” themed book as a result of some comments on the first of my “art and tech” series of essays. An argument advanced by a commenter whose opinions I value and whose friendship I treasure suggested that the only reliable arbiter of human achievement is the marketplace – and argued, at least indirectly, that economic success = validation of one’s efforts. I freely admit that I find such arguments about how life and life’s work should be valued, and they are numerous in these times, troubling. I find them most troubling because, given the amorphous nature of human culture and its values, this may very well be the view that most people choose to adopt.
When I feel troubled by issues of this sort, I turn, as I have for many years, to literature. When I go to literature I am seeking, not answers of the smug and certain sort constantly promulgated by news outlets both left and right. Instead, what literature gives me is perspective – the perspective of fellow artists as well as in most cases (since my penchant is for classics of the canon), historical perspective. Continue reading →
There’s a sequence of 6 letters that appears nowhere in the transcript
President Obama finally addressed the nation today regarding the executive actions he’s taking in regard to our broken immigration system. If you’re looking for a strident pro or con piece, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a call to see him impeached, yeah, good luck with that. If you’re acting like this is the first time a sitting president has ever had the temerity to go it alone on the issue, maybe you might want to bone up on the administrations of Ronnie “Golf? I NAP!” Reagan and creepy ex-chief of the secret police George “I Threw Up on Helmut Kohl and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” Bush, the Elder. Even so, I’m here to throw our friends on the right a bone. Continue reading →
Amid current discussions of how genre fiction and literature are merging in the 21st century, Pride and Prejudice is a reminder that the genre of romance merged with literature a long, long time ago…
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (image courtesy Goodreads)
As I have noted before, my custom of re-reading Austen’s works systematically has shifted from reading all six of the completed novels each year (as I did for more than two decades) to a rotation through the oeuvre of that allows me to read two novels each year. My own background as an Austen scholar has given me cause to give each of the novels “close reading” (the scholarly term for close analytic reading of a text to ferret out meaning) numbers of times. Still, each time I return to any of Jane Austen’s novels, I find myself surprised by what I learn.
Such was the case during this reading of what the general public consider Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice. It is certainly her most widely read work, partly because there seems to have long been a belief among educators that it is her most accessible novel (I’d argue for Emma) and partly, I suppose, because it has enjoyed the most attention over the last century or so as the basis for classic Hollywood bowdlerizations, faithful and thoughtful BBC renderings, and hipster revisionist treatments. It says something for the greatness of the book that it has borne all these cinematic renditions without losing any of its charm as entertainment or any of its impressiveness as a literary performance. Continue reading →
Wait, gentlemen, please don’t run away! Yes, I am about to start throwing around words like uterus, ovaries, vagina, clitoris, nipples, orgasm, and hysterectomy. Here under the shameful for-profit health care system we have, an astonishing one-third of American women are hysterectomized, leading to physical side-effects, emotional side-effects, loss of sex drive and sexual response, and total loss of overall vitality. Surely you have a wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, mother, or aunt vulnerable to this outrage, so please do read on. I have read of so many men being devastated by the changes in women they love following hysterectomy – it is your issue too.