The authors explain this book is a companion to a performance. It consists of short essays and stories along with photos and illustrations. The storieThe authors explain this book is a companion to a performance. It consists of short essays and stories along with photos and illustrations. The stories are well written and are personal. Their main theme, the only theme really, is the difficulty of the authors and other transgender people to both adapt and defend the right to define themselves as they please. The authors being performers and musicians also touch on the expectations placed on commercially successful acts as related to gender, appearance and the content of their work. The most poignant parts of their stories, in my opinion, were the bits about friends and acquaintances that struggled to fulfill their identity. For some reason, the authors being Canadian and having available to them not only the means to modify their bodies but also the legal framework to do so made me think their constant irritation with people using the wrong pronouns as not all that urgent. In the end, the stories become repetitive with the only progress becoming an increasing emphasis on the sense that language with its in-built feminine and masculine binary constructs is somehow oppressive. "Language is a living thing, and I find the attempts to preserve it from the threat of gender-neutral pronouns to be a transphobic reaction." writes Rae in a chapter called "How I got to 'They' "in which he advocates for the use of 'they' instead of 'he' or 'she'. Not only does the author omit any examples of the proper use of 'they' for a singular individual but he dismisses the concerns about grammar as transphobic. Poor grammarians. Never mind 'they' connotes plurality of individuals, not gender. Never mind 'it' is a perfectly accepted gender-neutral pronoun already in use. Never mind other languages have gender built in 'they' as well. I question whether using 'they' would make anyone significantly more comfortable. It is this single chapter that really toppled the henceforth good sympathy-building exercise and made it all crumble down as a collection of invented slights. The merits of the book are rooted in the personal account of difficulties experienced, not the difficulties that the limits of language impose on everyone, straight, gay, white and black. Language is alive but changes in it respond not only to political consciousness but many other stronger forces that sometimes even run contrary to comfort, common sense and efficiency. Morality can't be legislated and neither can grammar. ...more
The book seems more apt for a comic than a novel with it's staccato dialogue and chorus repetitveness. I enjoyed the odd schemes of the soap fabricatiThe book seems more apt for a comic than a novel with it's staccato dialogue and chorus repetitveness. I enjoyed the odd schemes of the soap fabrication and the Fight clubs, the overall anticonsumerist message as well as the plot twists. Not so much the tabloid philosophizing. I haven't seen the movie but the book leaves enough visual gaps to become curious. Mercifully short....more
I was recommended this book for a writing workshop. It certainly got some creative juices flowing. The book was written sometimes in the 70's and it I was recommended this book for a writing workshop. It certainly got some creative juices flowing. The book was written sometimes in the 70's and it shows its age. It is an attempt by the author to recast the main premises of Freudian psychology, that of the repressed subconscious, the sexual fears, etc.. , with a more powerful repressive force, the avoidance of the reality of death. To that effect, he enlists two main authorities: Kierkegaard, a philosopher; and Otto Rank, a psychologist. To begin with , the dilemma: Humans are the only animals that are self-conscious of their own death. Man is both a lowly creature destined to be "fancy worm-food"but also able to dream of so much more beyond himself. We have trouble accepting that our nature is as base as that of a mouse precisely because we seem to aspire to do and achieve so much more: happiness, knowledge.. and our powers may seem godlike except for that little caveat, they aren't, we are a speck of dust destined to nothingness. We haven't achieved immortality despite all of science's advances just giving us more years. As a matter of fact, the more years we get, the more we increase the fear of death by some foolish accident or sickness. As a result of this fear, humans have developed all kinds of coping mechanisms by inventing culture, religion and many other avoidance and transference systems, including "character". What we call character is a "vital lie", nothing else but the way we try to balance terror with the need to function in our environment. Character arises in childhood as we develop an ever growing sense of separation and "anality" (one of those freudian terms). In other words, as soon as we realize we are limited, dirty little machines and we start relying in our imagination, culture and most importantly our parents to provide a modicum of sanity, we are developing a personality. Our limitations are not shared by our parents (initially, at least) so they become our first deities in that they provide us with the safety net that prevents us from crashing into despair. Becker goes on to re-cast the root of all Freudian early childhood theories, most of them erotic in nature, with the new central theme of death fright. In some cases this makes sense, in others, it is a stretch. I still have trouble with teh whole Oedipus complex and castration fear Freud was so fond of.
One of the most interesting chapters is dedicated to Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher who preceded Freud and Rank by many decades. For Becker, Kierkegaard provides the only possible answer to the vital lie we immerse ourselves in. After abandoning all illusions, one must take a 'leap of faith'. I'll admit this was a bit disappointing since the whole impetus of the book seemed to be going precisely against creating some mythical belief system to cope with our expiration date. But that is precisely what Becker offers. If culture and religion are coping mechanisms, lies we tell ourselves and tell others to feel safe from eternal irrelevance, isn't precisely religion, the worst delusion, the one that has caused the most damage as far as murder and mayhem in humanity's history a very very bad idea? . Other large culprits? : Political absolutes like capitalism, Marxism, etc.. and the transference of power to charismatic leaders, blind faith in science, unbridled hedonism, the list goes on. Why would Becker propose exactly FAITH as an heroic outlet? He defends this position by saying that having a "belief system" is far removed from having faith, that leap one takes into the unknown trusting without a clue. It is faith without attributes, not religious "truth" of any kind.
On the chapter on metal illness, the author totally ignores any biological or chemical basis for mental disease. For him, it is all a continuum between those who are unable to mold themselves to the culture because they are immerse in "too much possibility" like the schizophrenics -and to some extent artists, which are able to bring the overload into material creations- and the people immerse in too much fear, like those suffering and paralyzed by depression. All mental sickness seems to stem from the inability to harness the coping mechanisms into one direction or the other. Neurosis is the natural state of man, it is the balancing that gets one in trouble.
Another interesting chapter, very relevant after the recent US elections (in which a narcissistic egomaniac won and people attribute this to the will of God) , is that of the transference of power that masses grant to charismatic figures and how that transference allows us to numb our guilt and even kill, figuratively and literally, in order to allow the "bulwark" -represented by the leader and his ideals -to survive. All humans use transference as a means of protection. For centuries, Europeans lived in an unquestioned state of slavishness to Christianity . Most people at that time were aware they meant nothing but sickness and death couldn't rob them of their significance in the scheme of things. Once religion became diluted, other sources of meaning had to be invented. The most clear example is romantic love in which we imbue the loved one with a godlike essence that we need to partake in to be "saved". But there are many other examples in every culture from China's emphasis on communal subjugation to native tribes constant warring. Transference is a well studied human trait so i won't elaborate any more. The author mentions Kant as someone who pointed out a certain innate heroic impulse for the good and the beautiful. i think he dismissed this idea way too quickly and I wished he had elaborated on how to explain that besides the "heroic" impulse. how does that impulse fit in the death fear?
The book shows its age in two main aspects: First, Freudian psychology during the seventies still claimed to be scientific and it was very popular. Secondly, biological and chemical studies as well as more modern notions about what it means to be a homosexual, female and 'manly' have drastically evolved from Becker's starting points even if the basic human nature is still pretty much unchanged. This is why I removed one start from my review. Becker is in some cases accepting Freud wholesale -even when he reduces him in scale. While the book is a very interesting read, it comes to some screeching halt moments when it tries to accommodate every aspect of Freudian nonsense. Not to mention the biggest leap of all, that of his final abandonment to faith as the only possible "heroic" act. Then again, what else is left? I also believe that fear of death is not as absolute as the author claims. I think the fear of pain, poverty and sickness are more pressing that just annihilation. One might say these things are surrogates of death but it is not very clear to me. in conclusion, I love anything that brings up Kierkegaard and we all should accept that the 70's were a disaster.... so I enjoyed the book a great deal. ...more
This book wasn't all that interesting. Not that I was hoping to become a believer or discover Earth shattering stuff . I started it in hopes to learn This book wasn't all that interesting. Not that I was hoping to become a believer or discover Earth shattering stuff . I started it in hopes to learn more about the Middle Ages and may be a few details on Jewish rituals, holidays, etc.. Its main thesis is that the survival of the Jewish people as such was due to the fact that hey predicated their existence on a Book of Laws (Talmud, Torah, Bible) -whatever you want to call it or regardless of how it was composed. They didn't base their unique survival on Semitic racial purity -even though apparently this was heavily encouraged in such Law or Instruction- and also didn't depend solely on the existence of a Jewish Land -even though the "Promised Land" and the Temple weighs heavily in the Jewish consciousness. Some groups have amazingly persisted through history despite their relative minority status : i.e. Roma or gipsies (with no Book!) and have been able to navigate nationhood without integration in what some would call a show of true "reverse racism". Some groups have built a similar law-based core upon the Jewish model in order to persist and expand : Islam, Christianity and their derivatives like Mormonism and such. Of course they all claim to be true, "chosen" and distinct.
Despite the neutral tone of this particular volume and the insistence that Judaismis an ever evolving commentary , un-dogmatic and non theological, some biases certainly pop up. Many people from the more "enlightened" hues of any other religion could make the same arguments about their particular beliefs. But it is not these more advanced characteristics that make Judaism distinct. Otherwise, Buddhism would be a much more evolved religion. It is a One God (monotheistic) religion and doesn't suffer intermediaries or anthropomorphic baggage gladly (move over, Jesus, scurry Mohamed). One God, life after death and a moral path that can't explain the presence of evil in a world created by a moral God either, except to say that it is to preserve free will, a principle that won't satisfy anyone on the bottom end of the feeding chain. I found the best historical accounts those relating to the Babylonian exile and the destruction of the second temple as well as the Jewish presence and expulsion from Spain. It was tough going after that because the exhaustive account seemed quite void of human drama. And drama there was in spades. As a black legend about Jews spread in Europe that linked them to money lending as a practice they were forced to undertake since Christianity frowned on usury, the plague, Christ killers and other nonsense, the Jews became a much hated group all across Europe . What the author fails to give is a broader perspective. What made the Jews, which by any accounts respected the civil laws of every country and made great contributions in the sciences, industry and arts, so much a target? The Jewish reader might just assume it has always been like that as some sort of a curse but it is still remains a bit mysterious, why not just mix in? What other groups paid such a similar price for their suffering? I don't think the author should have strayed and digress about mass psychology or religious doctrine but fleshing out some specifics could help non Jewish readers get into the heads of the reasons and the sources of all that pain. What I came to find out here were the details. As a reader who considers the premise of a kind Creator that controls the Universe and provides eternal life quite far fetched -this is where the meat is. By the way, I know Buddhism does not believe in life after death but that makes t more of a self-help theory, great but so what. Yes, the nuances come when , once you skip the premise, you add 613 precepts about food and marriage, Kabbalah, regional differences and a myriad commentaries, responsa and sects. That is, the external visual and behavioral signs. I am not minimizing the importance of the faith itself as many people lead exemplary lives thanks to it, but I can't share that faith so I'm left to look around at the museum. For a visual person this book is also lacking. As a student of art and culture, it is essential to know in order to appreciate, even if one shares none of the beliefs and preoccupations with chicken parmigiana and circumcision.
Reading it made me think that it must be hard to remain Jewish when one compares the alleged miracles performed by God on behalf of "His" people in ancient times and the absolutely nothing "He" did during the Holocaust and other nasty incidents like progroms and mass expulsions from Spain, Poland and other places. As a matter of fact, it is hard to remain a believer at all, in anything. (Beyonce included) It was also interesting to see how the association between Communism and Judaism became a self-fulfilling prophecy as well as the eager interest in societal ascension and self- education shown by Jews around the world when given the opportunity and that is mirrored in groups under similar pressure. ...more
A meticulous account of the author 's twenty three visits to prostitutes that serves as a vehicle to an essay on the need for decriminalization of theA meticulous account of the author 's twenty three visits to prostitutes that serves as a vehicle to an essay on the need for decriminalization of the oldest profession. Interesting read even though I feel the author is just trying to justify his status as a 'john'. His "consumer is blameless " and rationalization approach is NOT how most people with a brain purchase shoes or chicken, much less sex despite of what he says. Not all clients are as self-exploratory as he is. Some very valid against traditional marriage and -specially- romantic love but I think a lack of data on sex trafficking is not just an invitation to think the best of people. This author is Canadian and he interacts with prostitutes in a very specific context. One can hardly extrapolate the circumstances to many other locations where the rule of law is sketchier. He thinks the sex transaction should be considered tax-free (as in the case of churches) and untaxable. The fact remains that to remove sex transactions from "business as usual" is almost impossible. You cannot claim that it is 'sacred' to justify its tax exemption. Churches are not tax exempt because they are sacred but because they are supposed to provide other benefits to society at large. Sex work provides benefits only to the contracting parts. And to claim that the money exchange should be considered a gift and therefore not taxable is ludicrous as is the claim that regulation of the commerce would create a black market. The author points to the many restrictions and price gauging imposed on Nevada prostitutes where the business is regulated. Certainly it can be regulated a lot better, Nevada just being a very clumsy example. Chester brown aspires to a estate of things where sex can be bought without guilt from people and by people like you an me. Sure, sound good. Payed sex and other kinds of sex are not that different morally speaking. However, sex remains a highly risky endeavor no matter how casual, emotionally and physically. It would be nice to remove all the stigmas associated with it and all the absurd notions like monogamy and permanent exclusivity and religion and criminalization of consenting adults. Then there's the real world. ...more
This is really not a book of precepts or self-help (perish the thought as most self-help books are no help at all ). This is a very well structured anThis is really not a book of precepts or self-help (perish the thought as most self-help books are no help at all ). This is a very well structured and sensitively written biography of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a revered French author of the late Renaissance. Montaigne is credited with starting the literary genre of the essay and, like Cervantes with the novel, this historical debut was brilliant. He stemmed from the small nobility in the region of Bordeaux and was afforded enough means to live off his estate by previous generations of his wine merchant family. He was well educated and felt a natural attraction to Hellenistic philosophy in its three somewhat related schools: Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics. Schools that valued life experience above texts and dogmas. He lived in very turbulent times when horrendous religious wars succeeded in tearing France apart and spread across Europe. These were fanatic Catholics against fanatic Protestants (Huguenots) and the balance of their murders makes the Inquisition look like a minor ailment. And when the wars receded, the plague would sweep away any hopes of recovery. It is in the midst of this apocalyptic era that Montaigne wrote his essays and filled them with a surprising amount of charm, delight of self-discovery and amused ramblings. Was he in some sort of denial? Far from it. While well situated in society, Montaigne endured trials and performed missions that would inform his life philosophy. He simply looked inwards... and decided to just write what he saw, unashamedly and honestly, with no order or attempt at grandiosity. And so, he wrote about his cat's gaze (famously), his sex drive, cannibals, friendship, education (I've read this one and it is unbelievable he had such an advanced notion of how children should be treated 500 years ago), kidney stones, politics and, above all ,cruelty, mercy and the best way to confront reversals of fortune, especially if they came in human form.
The author makes an excellent job at dissecting this most 'uninteresting' of men. She picks some recurring themes in Montaigne essays and does a very lively analysis while showing no remorse putting other "heavies" like Pascal, Rousseau and Descartes in their place by way of comparison. Pascal, in particular, comes out quite bruised as a person dismayed by Montaigne's nonchalant attitude to life. I found the connections to Nietzsche and absolute delight to read. As a Jesuit educated moron , I couldn't but wonder reading this book how my own life would have turned out had I followed my own nature instead of badly fitting into some moral mold or higher plan. Montaigne was nominally Catholic but he really seemed to move about unconcerned in the least by religious notions, busy with life itself and his observations.
Montaigne had no problem admitting he hated his 'jobs', be it the administration of his winery or being Mayor of Bordeaux. He never seems to have payed much heed to kings and offices. He performed excellently but never strained himself and he seems to have unlocked the secret of living a 'good life' by not aiming high, not trying to be the best, not "just doing it". Bullocks to all that. And yet, his work saw considerable success and multiple editions in all of Europe. The English in particular, says the author, felt a strong attraction to his practical matter-of-fact observations. This success 'without even trying too hard' flies in the face of our efficiency blighted times. And while some accuse Montaigne of being self-centered, a quality our modern world is no stranger to, his self-regard exposed every flaw and inconsistency he could find in himself while attempting to complete nothing or create an "image". No need to waste time with regrets and corrections when we ourselves change, no need to waste effort in erudition an trying to impress. The life most mediocre and commonplace already contains the highest possible order of wisdom and wonder. The rest is just cream on top. Now back to the essays.......