just reread this for my class. there are so many issues this book brings up, it's hard to do justice to all of them. first of all, the devastating con...morejust reread this for my class. there are so many issues this book brings up, it's hard to do justice to all of them. first of all, the devastating consequences of parental neglect and parental abuse. secondly, how abused kids can and often do develop an amazing tenderness and capacity for love that makes them treasures of comfort and light to others. then, how abuse breeds abuse, how trauma forces itself into daily life and exacts endless repetition. fourth, the role of lying in the book and outside the book (is a narrator who owns up to being a habitual liar ipso facto an unreliable narrator? if not, why should we believe her?). fifth, the appalling treatment people get in mental institutions, across the board, all the time, at all ages, with all diagnoses, period. narrative after narrative testifies to this. our mental health system is so broken you want to put your face in your hands and cry. yet, the "mentally ill" are one of the weakest constituencies in the population. they have no in-built credibility, they are frightened and traumatized, they are held captive against their will, they are tremendously needy, they are often poor and resourceless, so there isn't much hope for reform. sixth, gender identity disorder and all the bullshit mistique of gender norms as represented, among other bullshit places, in the DSM. seventh, what are we to do with kids whose parents are unable to manage them? see the slew of dropped-off kids in nebraska once the legislature passed its safe-haven law, which it hastened to modify). eighth: transgender kids. ninth: sexual abuse in mental facilities and how it is overlooked and even to some extent condoned. ninth, how the psychiatric community has given up on talking to patients and truly "treating" (i.e. helping) them. tenth, how there is little viable treatment for anyone suffering from mental pain anywhere in this country unless they are rolling in dough and lucky enough to find a professional and compassionate therapist.
ten neat points.
this book is written beautifully, lyrically, and effectively. it's a short book, and daphne will enchant you. (don't forget, at the end, to check her out on the net.)(less)
lesbian fiction for the thinking person. i love this book so much, i am so impressed by it, i wish everyone in the world read it. no, not everyone: ju...morelesbian fiction for the thinking person. i love this book so much, i am so impressed by it, i wish everyone in the world read it. no, not everyone: just every woman who works with/for women and thinks she can peg one or the other down. there is no truth in human matters -- it's all very complex, slippery, and fascinating.(less)
this is my second time around, after many years, and i still find this books exceptional. first of all, kate millett writes beautifully. this woman's...morethis is my second time around, after many years, and i still find this books exceptional. first of all, kate millett writes beautifully. this woman's had many careers -- artist, activist, feminist theorist, writer -- but if her talents resided only in putting words in sequence and saying amazing things with them, she should still be qualified as a genius.
this book oozes pain. if you cannot deal with pain, you should not read it, otherwise you'll find it long, verbose, overwritten, or self-indulgent. autobiographical writing about pain is possibly self-indulgent by definition: the writer indulges one's own distress enough to put it down on paper and present it to everyone's eye to contemplate, hopefully with sympathy. it's hard to be detached, ironic, funny, or lithe if you write about horror. it's hard to convey the sense of "being over it" (isn't this what we require of those who talk about their suffering, a sort of heroic self-transcendence?). kate millett has all the reasons in the world not to be over it. it is thanks to that fact that she isn't anywhere near over it that those who have experienced her selfsame pain can read this and find themselves home. kate millett provides a home for a category of people who feel so dispossessed and persecuted, they think they are never entitled to a home ever again.
in more than 300 thickly printed pages, kate millett describes what happened to her when her next-of-kins decided she was bipolar (they didn't mind about the depression, only about the mania) and had her hospitalized. the devastation millett, by then an accomplished and famous writer and artist, not to mention a university professor, felt at this sudden loss of autonomy and personhood is heartbreaking. her world crumbled. when you are labeled with "certifiable" (as in by a doctor) insanity, anything you say will be used against you. it is perhaps the most insidious and unfightable form of invalidation. it erodes, not only your standing in the world, but also your faith in others and yourself.
to express this horrible experience of pervasive hostility millett needs lots of words. the words are beautiful and on many occasions one finds they say things one would be hard-pressed to find the words for. she makes you want to grab your pencil and underline. she makes you want to memorize.
what strikes me most upon this second reading is the way in which millett produces verbal magic in the dark. in a way, she is writing in a lightless room, hoping that what she feels under her hands are in fact a blank sheet and a pen full of ink. she writes from a place in which her words have stopped making sounds. she is crazy, after all. why should her protestations, her anguish, her pain be taken as anything other than the rantings of a madwoman? her faith in words and readership is miraculous. she is as tough as nails.
the writing is rich, slow, yet urgent. she writes like her life depends on it, yet at the same time she dwells on sensations, more often than not, perhaps surprisingly, delicious sensation of pleasure. hands, the land, the dirt, art, colors, wine, food, bodies. she is not shy. all the pleasure is sexual and all of it is on the page. the pleasure demands to be written even more than the pain, because it is so precarious yet so miraculous, so terribly precious, so inexplicably life-giving. trust those who have been killed again and again (forced thorazine and straight-jackets will do that to you as surely as guns and knives) to know the pleasures of the skin, the eye, of simple survival.
she also depicts an intensely paranoid world. anyone around her, at any time, could pick up the phone and tell her family that she's gone down the deep end again. her inner fights with her (much justified and realistic) paranoia are one of the most powerfully disturbing moments of this book, especially when the objects of this pervasive, soul-destroying suspicion are lesbian lovers on a reclaimed piece of land on which a feminist art colony is being built. these are not the people who will call the man. these are the people who call the man. if these people call the man, nowhere is safe.
i hope my students will like this. i hope they will appreciate how hard it is to put together beautiful, meaningful language out of forced silencing, and indulge in the pleasure of millett's words as much as i did.(less)
this is an amazing literary feat and reading it was a labor of love -- a highly rewarding labor of love. i can't imagine the artistic and intellectual...morethis is an amazing literary feat and reading it was a labor of love -- a highly rewarding labor of love. i can't imagine the artistic and intellectual rigor required to write a book like this. it has "classic of chicano literature" written all over it. viramontes must feel on top of the world.
the language is like a valentine -- language poetry, dense, stewed, surprising, hypnotic, virtuoso, exacting. here's a passage about an androgynous cholo who finds herself raptured by violence: "And Turtle lunged at the boy with all the dynamite rage of all the fucked-up boys stored in her rented body." jonathan lethem meets leslie marmom silko's Almanac of the Dead in east L.A. (less)
i found this book totally exhilarating. since i haven't read anything else by muriel spark, i have no idea how it compares to her other work, but, com...morei found this book totally exhilarating. since i haven't read anything else by muriel spark, i have no idea how it compares to her other work, but, come on, hard to beat a picaresque romp in and around israel and palestine taking place a few years after the end of the british mandate with the eichmann trial (not exactly comic matter) as background! the story involves muslim arabs, christian arabs, a jew who recently converted to catholicism, english and israeli jews, and of course good old unreligious but VERY DECENT britons. this decency is part of what's at issue, along with: occupation, colonization, and the birth of israel; sex and love; femininity and masculinity at the onset of post-modernity; and being a cool catholic in a complicated world.
spark delivers the crisp, well-wrought, wry, not-quite-explicit prose that we expect from a mid-twentieth century English Writer, and her composition, cutting quickly back and forth in time, is perfect.
the inter-cultural stuff is the most fun -- especially the way various groups have the other ones "made" only until it happens that they get totally outsmarted (did i mention this is a spy thriller? it's a spy thriller). here's a sample of the shrewdness required when people of various different cultures are forced to share narrow spaces: "By the time [the servant] returned, Joe had gone a long way to measuring Miss Rickward's substance, and with the experience he had long acquired of the English-woman on her travels, calculated that her cheap, shapeless, pink-and-red cotton dress, broad brown sandals, large old dark-brown leather shoulder bag, unvarnished finger-nails, eyes the colour, near-grey, of western spiritual compromise, and her yellowish, much-filled teeth, added up to a woman of some authority and wealth."
and, of course, people are constantly hiding, with lots of unlikely and thrilling masquerading, too. (less)
this is the story of joss moody, a fictional trumpet player with a west indian father and a white scottish mother; the story is inspired by billy tipt...morethis is the story of joss moody, a fictional trumpet player with a west indian father and a white scottish mother; the story is inspired by billy tipton, a real-life sax and piano player. in fact, there are no similarities between these two men except for the fact that they both were prominent jazz musicians and both were biological women who lived as men.
the element of race is so important in Trumpet -- as important, really, as the element of gender -- that billy tipton, who was white, seems barely more than an inspiration. jackie kay fashions a new story entirely and her story plays deftly and lyrically with the issue of joss's identity -- an identity that is simultaneously very strong and very tortured -- and other people's perception of it after his death. there is no doubt that joss perceives himself as a man, just as there is no doubt that everyone perceives him as a man too, even when his biological femaleness is revealed upon his death. for some reason (this is something it would be interesting to discuss) his wife is less than protective of dead joss's masculinity and lets the doctor and the undertaker examine him alone. inevitably, the story gets out.
there is a lovely passage in which millie describes helping joss dress in the morning. as she carefully wraps and pins his bindings around his chest, she observes that she never touched his breasts. when joss inserts a pair of socks in his boxers, she delicately averts her gaze. on his part, joss dresses heavily, with two t-shirts over his bindings and a shirt and jacket on top. he's always dressed to the nines, very elegantly and formally, even in the hottest weather and the most casual circumstances. this is no problem for joss and millie, not something they discuss. another couple might choose to have endless conversations about this; this couple chooses not to. this is interesting too.
so in a way joss's masculinity is entirely unproblematic: he is simply a guy and there is nothing to talk about. in other ways, though -- in the ways in which this masculinity is relentlessly, physically constructed each morning and each night, by himself and his wife, and then carefully tended to by both through a lifelong system of deception, it's a huge problem.
unlike billy tipton, joss dies of heart attack (or so it's implied). bound under tight bandages of all kinds, his heart gives out.
the book is narrated by a number of voices, each given one or more chapters. the lion's share is given to colman, joss's and millie's adopted-at-birth son. colman's profound love for his father is seriously shaken by the discovery of his betrayal, but, as i said, this goes farther than gender. race permeates the novel in ways more subtle than gender but still very profound. both joss and colman have white mothers (colman's is of course adoptive); both, as it turns out, have little knowledge of their fathers. the racial lineage of these two men is confused, hidden, and broken: joss's father died when he was young and joss refuses to discuss him; colman's adoptive father, joss, is a famous man whom his son cannot but see as an idol. idols are hard to live with and colman is faced by his own inability to live up to his idea of his father every step of the way.
in the fact that joss's father is not present -- even in stories -- and colman's father is not a biological father in more senses than one lies the burden of these two black men. their black masculinity is literally orphaned. each one of them has to fashion it on his own, any way he can.
colman's rage and hurt are depicted beautifully, as are millie's simple and profound love for joss and her deep mourning. but the secondary characters are beautiful too. in particular i loved the undertaker and, in the last part of the novel, one of joss's childhood friend. her chapter is a real treat. (less)