Monday, 26 March 2007

So Let's Talk about Communism

No, not really about communism, about those who write about communism, those who support communism. No, better yet, about those who write about those who wrote about communism, because therein lies the rub. I just read an essay by Clive James about Rilke vs. Brecht as Germany's greatest poets. While the essay contains many a trick of the tongue and fleet turnabout of words, on a first read this essay is problematic for caring too much about its own style and less about what it's actually saying. After all, what exactly does "The idea behind it is at least half right, although it would have no force unless it was partly wrong" mean? What idea isn't half right and partly wrong is a world without absolutism, surely without absolute truth, and most definitely without a poet who has ever managed to express anything quite nearing it?

This both isn't and is the point, because James takes a very Judt-ian route to then condemn Brecht for his writings for his support of Stalinism, praising Arendt's essay on Brecht, and wondering why Picasso himself has never been so censured. When I think of all the supporters of Stalin and of communism in the past 20th Century and how many artists and philosophers and writers we would have to throw in the bin.... Once again James misses the point that perhaps Brecht should be condemned for being a smarmy character himself and for writing simplistic poetry about the evils of capitalism, and less for his actual support of communism. Should he should be judged based on his "egomanic" shamanism? Perhaps, but only because it retrospect this part of his personality appears in his poetry itself. Until one takes a historian's view of his role as a supporter of communism (particularly one writing across the rise of Nazi power when the only other seeming hope truly were the communists in Germany...and I would take a communist in Germany, if not in the Soviet Union (being two quite distinct creatures), over a Nazi any day. But we have oft spoken of the power of hindsight, although even here I wonder if it isn't even hindsight but the blindness of one's own historical era, and the failure of one to even attempt to reach a hand into the past and uncover the cloudy framework behind a past intellectual's actions, that is at work here. In any case, like Merleau-Ponty, like Sartre (and I doubt we will stop quoting "Hell is other people" anytime soon despite his Stalinist support well into the fifties), judgment is not prohibited, but served with a trace of understanding would perhaps make the more sustainable critique.

Link here:

Monday, 19 March 2007

Why in the world do we dance?

No, but seriously. What is it about flinging our bodies in random directions? All we're doing is taking up more than our allotted space. Fling the arm out, push the ass that way, air grind to the ground? Joy joy joy joy joy?

Monday, 12 March 2007

Killing the Angel in the House

I love this passage from Virginia Woolf:

And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: “My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.” And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself, though the credit rightly belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money—shall we say five hundred pounds a year?—so that it was not necessary for me to depend solely on charm for my living. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self–defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me.

agency, history, circumstances: Woolf sums up all the issues in the potentiality of women emancipating themselves without the use of feminine wiles, that she is in a special economic circumstance which makes her more capable of turning around and killing the angel; at the same time, it is she who does so. She, as the woman, must enact her own agency and kill the angel with her own hands. To continue to rely on feminine wiles would mean that she had only ever achieved a false emancipation.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Quick Thoughts- MacKinnon

Following Catherine MacKinnon talk at Cambrdige University Gender Studies annual symposium, "Gender: The Future."

On pornography:
-she works in a very practical sphere and thus understand her complete opposition to pornography as an exploitative tool
-but, worried that this model doesn't work long-term on a theoretical level

-complete focus on pornography involving women (i.e. heterosexual or lesbian for heterosexual male eyes); what of gay pornography? are the men in these exploited?
-absolutist judgments on those who are involved in pornography: what about white, upper-middle-class students at ivy league/top tier schools who are creating their own pornography of their own will. and who is this for? just men or men/women? (the same might be said of young women who create blogs documenting their hookups/etc. I think the sentiment may derive from a similar place: begin with sex and the city, then embrace your sexuality, then write a blog about it, eventually it turns to free love and free sexuality (perhaps also a bit of nostalgia for the 60s/70s?) and next thing you know you have an ivy league porno
-MacKinnon made it very clear that her focus is on the effects, she's not basing her arguments on some sort of misguided morality (thus her issues with Muslim/Christian anti-pornography/prostitution arguments; and thus her work with the Swedish government to criminalize the johns and decriminalize the prostitutes/victims). But then where does this leave us in terms of non-real-life pornography: erotic fiction and cartoons.
-Why is this an issue? Because MacKinnon still argues that pornography desensitizes people (i.e. men) to real compansionship and intimate sexual encounters. Wouldn't erotic fiction essentially do the same? But doesn't this argument constrain the realm of sexual possibilites? Doesn't this argument in the end lead her to a moralist judgment on what type of sexuality is 'right' sexuality? What of people who enjoy BDSM--are they always those who were sexually abused as youth, is this sexual relationship abnormal/non-intimate and therefore illegitimate, or would she consider it a viable means of sexual expression. And what of femdommes? And let's be fair, power relations are constructed into sexual relationships, and while it is vital that they not result from misogynistic/abusive relations, to attempt to take all power out of all relationships would be to make sex always lovemaking. I.e. wouldn't we be losing a few possibilities for added excitement?

In conclusion: I fully support what MacKinnon is doing. On a practical level most of the women involved in pornography and prostitution (and in an ideal world I would absolutely love to see prostitution abolished as I think this industry in particular is driven by economic/race exploitation) are exploited, and she has made amazing strides in changing laws, preventing rape, defending the exploited. And I appreciate that she is aware herself that her actions are contingent on what the outcomes of these industries are. However, I think we also need to be aware that on a greater theoretical level, absolutely condemning pornography in particular is a moralistic argument.

To be cont'd (in a more coherent, articulate version)

Monday, 5 March 2007

A Feminist's First Outline

A 2000 word outline of the basics of the first chapter of my thesis on Helene Stoecker, German radical feminist, sexual reformer, eugenicist. Voila.

In the October/November 1926 issue of Die Neue Generation, its editor, Helene Stöcker published a posthumous article by Dr. Paul Kammerer, a well-known biologist who attempted to prove the validity of Lamarckian inheritance through his study of amphibians. Lamarckism, which argued for the heredity of acquired traits, was one of the earliest attempts to explain the transmutation of species, but had been rejected in the late nineteenth century by most of the German scientific community following Weismann’s germ-plasm theory and the rediscovery of Mendelian laws of inheritance in 1900 (Proctor 93-4). A month earlier Kammerer had committed suicide after an American scientist accused him of injecting ink into the foot of a Midwife Toad to demonstrate the inheritance of an acquired characteristic.

In a tribute to Kammerer, which appeared following his article arguing for the inclusion of biology in female students’ education, Stöcker praised Kammerer’s “epoch-making research” and argued that Weismann’s theories were the underlying rationale behind modern, conservative race theories. “According to Weismann’s theories,” she wrote, “the only way to eradicate those of inferior quality in the ‘Struggle for Existence’ would be through their elimination.” (Oct/Nov 1926). In opposition to this “egotistical fatalism” Stöcker praised Kammerer for scientifically demonstrating that the provision of healthy physical and intellectual conditions would ensure the health and ability of future generations.

Stöcker’s main biographer, Christl Wickert, has dismissed Stöcker’s use of a Social Darwinist language as merely “part of the discourse of the day” (Wickert 68). In doing so, Wickert is intent on discounting a linkage between Stöcker’s philosophy and the National Socialist fallout. However, in protesting too much, Wickert ignores the significance of Social Darwinism for the formation of Stöcker’s own social theory, and its development from the Wilhelmine era to the Weimar era when eugenics was increasing in popular legitimacy and Stöcker had become an iconoclast of the feminist movement.

To claim that Stöcker merely participated in the discourse is to overlook that she actively contributed to this discourse: for one, from 1904 she was a member, and later chair, of the Bund für Mutterschutz (BfM), an organization which used Social Darwinist language to argue for the support of unwed mothers and their children. The eugenics discourse would only become popular within the mainstream of society with the outbreak of World War I and the fear of population decline and degeneration. Further, Stöcker’s Social Darwinism was not a mere accident of historical place but has traceable roots in an intricate web of intellectual and personal influences which culminated in her use of Social Darwinism to advocate for the advance of women and the development of a new society. The incident described above reveals that Stöcker didn’t only use a eugenics discourse when handy, but that she thought deeply about the meaning of various forms of Social Darwinism for her philosophy. In this paper I will outline the web of intellectual influences, and this will eventually constitute the first chapter of my dissertation. I will then go over an outline of what I plan to do in the second and third chapters. Any and all feedback is welcome.

After Helene Stöcker first encountered Nietzsche in 1891, he became central to her philosophy of society and selfhood and to her promotion of a New Morality. Despite his sometimes negative comments on women, Stöcker used Nietzsche to energize a feminism focused on self-realization (Thomas, 91). She thus developed an optimism that society could form its own future, and she differentiated a radical feminism from one that argued only for legal equality by focusing on development instead of on the extension of the status quo to the other half of society. Women were to become aware of their potential identities through education, a freer sexuality, and finally, as Stöcker asserts throughout articles in the Neue Generation and in her description of a failed love affair in her 1921 novel, Liebe, in a deep, monogamous relationship with a man. Because sexuality played such a large role in this development, Stöcker’s Nietzschean philosophy promoted “an image of woman based essentially on her biological role” and thus became tied to Social Darwinism (Thomas, 91). Self-realization stopped being an end in itself, and instead became a tool toward the improvement of the next generation, which shifted the emphasis from the individual to the human race as a whole. However, Nietzsche’s fundamental emphasis on the individual helps explain why Stöcker never endorsed non-voluntary means. Nietzsche lay out the overarching framework for Stöcker’s social theories and gave her work a higher goal, and in fact a higher population, toward which to strive.

Alexander Tille, an extreme, negative Social Darwinist, who preached a German morality based on the teachings of Nietzsche, Darwin, and the monist Ernst Haeckel, and who saw the high mortality rates in London’s East End as a social curative, was Stöcker’s lover at the end of the nineteenth century (Weindling 192). Stöcker first knew of Tille as the author of “Von Darwin bis Nietzsche” and they came together over a shared passion for the philosopher. Tille’s emphasis on a combination of Nietzsche, Darwin and Haeckel’s monism must have made an important impact on the younger Stöcker. Stöcker particularly seems to have absorbed Tille’s emphasis on work as the backbone of a revolutionized society and the means by which one should judge a person’s worth. A person’s ability to do work is a theme that reoccurs in Stöcker’s writings, and provides a strong link to the importance of fitness and health. However, Tille was much more conservative than Stöcker (generational?) and didn’t understand her ethical attachment to the biblical Sermon on the Mount, though she had rejected all other church doctrine. Stöcker’s continued respect for the Sermon on the Mount reveals the importance of brotherly love to Stöcker and, along with Nietzschean individualism, helps to explain why she refused to endorse violent, non-voluntary measures.

Monist theories never explicitly promoted eugenics, though the Monist League did campaign for sex education and voluntary euthanasia, however the theory that both mind and body are one held significance for the application of Darwinist theories, suggesting that biology could be applied to diffuse areas of society, and helped propagate a theory of the social organism that was popular in Wilhelmine Germany. Thus, social behavior, psychology and art were to be explained along natural guidelines (Weindling 46-47). Early on, Stöcker rejected Church taught dualism and turned to monism, which further helps to explain why the spiritual and intellectual transformation necessitated a biological revolution to support it.

Neo-Malthusianism, a prevalent movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, provided a doctrine on how to achieve this biological transformation: social planning. Initially, Stöcker sought positive measures, such as better housing and motherhood insurance, to improve social conditions. However Neo-Malthusianism advocated the use of birth control to prevent overpopulation, which corresponded with Stöcker’s own focus on sexuality and the body. As a result, Stöcker advocated for the legalization of contraception, abortion, and in the BfM’s sexual advice clinics in the Weimar Republic, sterilization was used as a means to prevent children who were unwanted and who could not be cared for properly. In the early 1900s, Stöcker would begin to seriously study psychology and Freud’s theories, which led her endorse the idea that one’s education and upbringing left an indelible mark on one’s adult life (“Gewalt oder Verständigung, 233m). It was therefore essential that children receive proper care and nutrition. If parents were unable to make such provisions, Stöcker argued that children must be prevented, a stance that especially targeted the working class.

While much of the race hygiene movement during this time, and particularly during and after World War I, focused on the improvement and increased birth rate of the German race in competition with other European countries, Stöcker instead promoted a milder form of German cultural nationalism. Stöcker may have particularly been influenced by Maria Lischnewska, who worked in the BfM with Stöcker from 1904 to 1914, and who was a militant and racial nationalist. Indeed, according to Stöcker, Lischnewska was one of the few who supported Stöcker’s proposal to create a special commission to study the problems of love, marriage and parenthood in the Verbande Fortschrittlicher Frauenvereine in 1904, and she followed Stöcker to the BfM when the proposal was rejected (NG Oct/Nov 1924, 10/11, p321). Lischnewska was also a steady ally of Stöcker throughout the troubled period from 1909 to 1910 when many in the BfM’s regional groups, as well as primary member Adele Schreiber, attempted to oust Stöcker from her position of power. Such loyalty may have played a moderate role in Stöcker’s attempts to incorporate German nationalism into her ideology, although Stöcker never supported a militarist form and the two parted ways at the beginning of World War I, seemingly over Stöcker’s increased pacifist activities in the BfM.

These various influences, all of which would have impacted Stöcker from the last decade of the nineteenth century through the first decade of the twentieth, culminated in a form of Social Darwinism with three key characteristics, which I will briefly outline. First Stöcker’s Social Darwinism emphasized the interconnection of mind and body. For Stöcker, self-realization was primary and biological fitness only a necessary step toward its achievement. However, in Stöcker’s novel, Liebe, the significance of the union of mind and body, and the effect of a sick body on the activity of mental development and scholarship become clear. Those who are sick cannot work, and those who cannot work cannot achieve. This interconnection also leads to a view of Motherhood, which posits that while many women may be biologically fit for motherhood, not all are mentally and spiritually suited to raise a child. Thus, Stöcker’s Social Darwinism focused not on quantity but on quality. She did not attempt to enter a population race with other nations, as she abhorred war, but instead wanted to create a German race which would produce high culture, ensure non-violence, and guarantee that all members of its society achieved to their fullest.

Secondly, Stöcker’s Social Darwinism advocated gradual development toward a universal utopia. While some Social Darwinists may have seen German culture as at the apex of evolutionary development, Stöcker believed Germans, and in fact the human race, still had much work to do. However, as seen in her discouragement following World War I, as well as in her insistence on Larmarckian heredity, which would allow reforms made in this generation to transfer to the next, her utopian future was not thousands of years off but could potentially be reached in a few generations. Thus she called for planned population politics, asserting that the ‘struggle for existence’ had been misunderstood; it was not a violent fight, but instead required cooperation and the education of the populace through propaganda. Stöcker’s use of propaganda, however, raises questions regarding the extent to which she was willing to excise all non-coercive means. Who was to be led to understand that it was better for them not to procreate, and in what manner? (discuss Wickert)

The question of propaganda and coercion then leads to the problematics of scientific uncertainty and ideological absolutism. While this is still a theme I need to explore, first findings would lead to the conclusion that in Wilhelmine Germany Stöcker emphasized individual responsibility and voluntarism, but following the war, with the expansion of statistical analysis, the assumption of objectivity, and the human devastation of the war, her insistence on an absolute ideology increased. Such absolute idealism, if one were to follow the rationale to its natural conclusion, would require absolutist measures. I am not suggesting that Stöcker ever advocated forced sterilization or contemplated ‘euthanasia’, but what has been missing from her biographies has been not only a study of the complex strands leading to the formation of her Social Darwinist ideology, but also a conception of how it developed and changed from Wilhelmine to Weimar Germany, and how it then interacted with the issues of the post-war and post-suffrage women’s movement.

Goodbye to all this?

Just read Joan Didion's "Goodbye to All That"--her tribute and eulogy to her time in New York, which took place when she was young (her twenties) but which coudl not last into her thirties. In it, she discusses her obsesssion with the newness and fantasy that is New York if you're from the South or West, because Grand Central has never been anything but a symbol, Madison but another word for money. Oddly, for me growing up in a very sheltered center Connecticut, I feel the same. Probably because I never visited New York more than once or twice (one school field trip, once to see a show and visit Columbia) before I moved there for good (or at least four years, with now a year off, and then a return to all that next year). When deciding whether to go to school in New York, my image of the city was so superficial: in that dismissive, 'realist' way one can only have when one is dreaming to be sophisticated while in high school, or when one is truly sophisticated and inert as an adult, I thought only of New York as a place of cocktail parties, image, and masks. For some reason, I wanted to buy into this world, having already given up on this world when I was only seventeen.

And New York was wonderful. It taught me to see much more than the cocktail parties (I think I didn't actually attend one until I was twenty-two), into the beauty of a simple concrete sidewalk, a few steeple lights at night, the shifting clouds and starless nights above College Walk on a fall's evening, the rushed walking, and the fact that no matter how quickly one attempted to walk (and I was particularly good at the jab and withdrawal that a parry down a New York sidewalk demanded), we were stopped, from time to time, by a sight that pulled one's eyes from the greyness below to a sign, a grafitti, a man selling erotic books on 125th street at 2pm.

Have I ever cried in a Chinese laundry? No, I don't think so, though I have cried other places. My room is a prime location, the exit of a subway, the first entrance into the gates of Columbia after a long departure and the knowledge that one will never truly be back, the glimpse of my neighborhood bar--its bright sign under which I was kissed one night. Perhaps I cried more for the person than the city, but at the time they were all one in the same. Some say that New York is the place all those people who don't fit into their hometowns go to find solace. This was true for me, it was true for many of my friends. And I grew in New York. Eighteen to twenty-two are not years to be sniffed at, they are moulding years and now I sometimes talk in a New York rhythm, my words come clipped, my hands move roundabout, my hip juts to the side. It's not a foreign tongue, but I think I might be better understood this somewhere else than where I am now.

Sometimes I think I was more sexual in New York City. Maybe I just like New York guys better.

But then again, I am only twenty-three now. Perhaps my crying times have not yet begun. I am still young and enthralled, and I am far away from all this, and I long to return. And now, living in a slower town, where tea breaks are actually observed and night is not just an extension of the day's work, I have come to understand that New York obsesses a person, it embodies that person, and that person no longer belongs to anyone else but New York. I finally understand, being away from all that, that achievement and managing to stretch a day to fit a thousand things is not all there is to life, that perhaps one even accomplishes more when one doesn't have a city weighing on one's mind, when one has a little room to think. Someday perhaps I will even act on this gathered wisdom. But for now, I am still young, and in love and lust with New York.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Editing Board

Getting there, though the last two or three paragraphs still need intense work.

What Are We So Afraid Of?

We think that we’ve reached the age of tolerance. We mock the provincial, the homophobic, the misogynist. This post-X generation has supposedly reached sexual enlightenment: the acceptance of sexuality, the embrace of sex. It may be our greatest claim to fame, and indeed sexuality is the one area that has actually been revolutionized in the past hundred years. Everything other area—democracy, capitalism—has maintained the general population’s acquiescence. Yet despite this revolution, our definition of sexuality still remains tightly binary. Slowly it’s been revealed that yes, we like sex, but really, in one lifetime, do we really believe that any one person can really lust after more than one, well, sex?

The dilemma of this generation’s relationship to sexuality became apparent to me recently when one after another of my friends—all liberal highly educated young Americans—acknowledged that they just didn’t believe in bisexuality. I was struck by their testament to faith, as if sexuality was a God and Its second commandment ran: there can be but two sexualities. These conversations were provoked by a 2005 study by a team of psychologists in Chicago and Toronto, which appeared to prove that bisexuality was an unstable state of sexuality, and for men, often a transition from heterosexuality to homosexuality. Suddenly, everyone was seemingly relieved of the burden of political correctness by a study which many have since criticized for its unscientific and biased conclusions.

One friend, a straight female, told me, “I’m sorry, I just don’t think it’s real. I just don’t think you get to have it both ways. Do you think that’s selfish?” Another, a gay male, argued, “Well, I was bisexual for a while when I first came out. I just think it’s a transition phase” And more bizarrely, a bisexual woman claimed, “I just don’t believe there are male bisexuals.” Responses were gut feelings, emotional reactions, but often these rapid responses to the latest ‘most emailed’ article are the more relevant demonstrations of our cultural Zeitgeist. In which case the question is clear: is the bisexual the next frontier in sexuality? And if so, why hasn’t it yet been conquered? This is a particularly important question for women, because a specific rejection of bisexuality often signifies male bisexuality and says much about the gender roles that are still ingrained and may not be transgressed in our society.

An old stereotype: any male would love to see two chicks go at it. Female bisexuality is accepted, and is often admired and sought after by male counterparts, because it is not seen as real. Instead it is just another sex act, an exhibition for male eyes. Women may engage in this act and yet still fall within the norms of sexuality because to the male’s eyes, they haven’t actually stepped outside of those norms. Instead, the general acknowledgment of female bisexuality reveals the inner turnings of society’s mind regarding the female character. Women are fickle, changeable, affectionate, and emotional. They can love each other and yet still prioritize men. Bisexuality may just be a phase, or a greater extension of women’s natural friendship and expression of love, but it is nothing threatening. It is either pleasing to the male, or the male assumes the women will ultimately return to a heterosexual relationship to take part in that greatest of all womanly enunciations: child-bearing.

Male bisexuality is an entirely different story. Though female bisexuality is fickle, society nonetheless sees male bisexuality as threatening. Men, those stolid beasts, are choosing to go outside their reproductive drive, and it’s not just because ‘they can’t help it.’ They are still attracted to women, yet they choose to sometimes have sex with men. If they are going to make that jump, society thinks, why don’t they go all the way, and once again we trot out the well-worn trope of the weak-wristed flaming gay. Establishing that males, if they’re going to turn ‘that way’ must turn ‘all that way’, society rejects male bisexuality, as merely a ‘transition’, a dusting off of the socializing normatives. We are obsesses with dichotomies. Everything must be one way or another. We refuse to work beyond binaries, because binaries are just so easy to juxtapose. But it is essential that the feminist reject any binary system, because such systems have historically resulted in woman’s subjugation. Instead it is vital that women embrace the concept of a female sex made of many, complex identities.

Now I’m not advocating that all women, in order to do their duty to the feminist cause, must go around and find themselves the requisite bisexual man to reaffirm a place outside the binary. But the fact that some women find it natural that they would reject the very concept of having a relationship with a bisexual man reveals a troubling relationship to their own femininity, not to mention a latent homophobia. Such absolutist statements imply that sleeping with a bisexual man would somehow undermine their femininity. Because, really, what else could be the problem? Do women have an issue with where the man’s penis has been? Do they have a preconceived notion of who the bisexual male is, no better than a preconceived stereotype of the homosexual male? Or is it that the image of one’s partner sleeping outside the heteronormative somehow confuses the woman’s own sense of place in the bedroom? If I were to hazard a guess, I’d place my bet on the last one.

While the feminist theorist Monique Wittig argued that female subjugation originates in the sex act, and to overturn female subjugation we must all become lesbians, this is clearly impracticable in reality. However, to reject the concept of bisexuality is to essentialize sex, thus gender, thus ‘woman’. To refuse to date a bisexual solely because he has slept with men is to express a homophobia founded in a concept of what the sexual nature of a man and woman should be. Homosexuality can be written off as the Other because it doesn’t actually affect the normal heterosexual. In the middle school dance of life, homosexuals are in one corner of the room, heterosexuals in the other, and no one can embarrass themselves as long as there is no awkward dancing between the two. God forbid that the essential female should engage in sex acts with a man who has engaged in sex acts with another man.

One can imagine the questions: “How can you be sure he’s really into you?” “Do you think he fantasizes about men when you’re together?” “So tell me, on a scale from one to ten, how much does he like your boobs?” Thus the woman becomes de-feminized in her peers’ eyes, a replacement for the male who the bisexual man must be lusting after. Because after all, bisexuality is just a stage, isn’t it? We think we’ve had a sexual revolution and yet we are still hanging onto the wreckage of the last century. In the end, women are still afraid of their own de-feminization, even in the privacy of the bedroom. To sleep with a bisexual man means that a woman has lost her standard counterpart. If the man is de-masculinized because he sleeps with other men, then the woman must in turn lose her ‘femininity’ because she is not sleeping with a real man who only hunts chicks.

Bad Education

Saw History Boys last night in the West End, which was fantatstic, though with the nose-bleed seats I wasn't able to see the emotions (confused, terrified, and deep deep longing) pass across Irwin's face when Dakin made a move on him, a moment that I loved in the movie. But unlike when I watched the movie, I was particularly struck this time by the concept of poetry that was employed in 'History Boys'. The idea that most of us are yet too young to actually understand the poetry but that we should memorize it anyway, because someday we will be sitting there, struck by grief, by love, by melancholy, and we will have the words at hand to express it. I have never been wonderful at memorization: piano pieces have long vanished from the disk of memory, and only one or two lines remain from the two Shakespeare scenes I've ever memorized (Romeo and Juliet death scene: actually blank; Macbeth: "Is this a knife I see before me...?"). But it appears a good plan at least to make an effort toward this effect. I remember the first time I read a work of fiction and realized that the author was expressing the exact same sentiment (in this case regarding loneliness and the futility of longing) that I was experiencing at that time (yet another sentiment expressed in History Boys, which is why the play is so damn good).

But to begin with, I give myself Richard III's opening lines, which I first heard at the end of the Chicago Shakespeare Company's production of the Henry Plays ('Rose Rage' was the title). This phenomenal actor played Richard, and it was a most chilling moment when he turned to the audience, spoke the line "Now is the winter of our discontent", snapped his fingers, and the lights went down.

(from: Richard III, Act I, Scene I)

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang'd to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visag'd war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front,
And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I -- that am not shap'd for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass --
I-that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph --
I -- that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform'd, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them --
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the King
In deadly hate the one against the other;
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up --
About a prophecy which says that G
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul. Here Clarence comes.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

NYTimes Correction Writers: the Bright Lights of Journalism

"An article yesterday about an interview Vice President Dick Cheney gave aboard his military transport on Tuesday, for which he asked to be identified only as “a senior administration official” but then spoke in the first person about his discussions with the Pakistani and Afghan presidents, truncated the final passage in some copies. It should have read: “On Iran, the administration’s highest-ranking and best-known hawk challenged a questioner who suggested that oil prices might drop 10 or 15 percent if the United States took off the table the option of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. ‘I don’t buy it,’ the senior administration official said, before retreating to his cabin.”

Sometimes you think the media is a pansy-filled profession, and then they come out with something like the above and you think, "Yeah, well maybe. But God they're good with snark."

Article linked here:

At the British Library

Sitting, trying to rummage my way through an article on a Frankfurt clinic's work in abortion and contraception advice, sniffing my way toward eugenic theories and racial hygienic motives, through a slog of no-end German words, a loud 'click' and then the lights went down at my desk and that of the man across from me. Long hair tied back in a ponytail, thin face sucked in at the cheeks. We both glanced up, our eyebrows raised simultaneously, and we looked quickly away. And then around. We avoided looking directly at each other even as we were aware of each others' movements, even as our thoughts slid along the same trajectory. What had happened to the lights? Would they come back on soon? Was there a switch, perhaps behind the long desk that an overtired worker would trudge back and flip and then, enlightenment once again? Our eyes shifted left and right. Then he reached forward, pressed the light on his lamp, and it turned on. A moment later I did the same to mine. It turned on. It was a moment and then it was over.