For whatever rhetorical power Penny has at her command her writing is rife with overstatement and a determined ugliness of depiction. Her main metaphoFor whatever rhetorical power Penny has at her command her writing is rife with overstatement and a determined ugliness of depiction. Her main metaphors are of slavery ("drudgery" "suffering" "oppression" "cruel machine"), filth, violence and unclean physicality ("butchery", "stink of my flesh" "cannibalistic", "brutal" "the ooze and tickle of real-time sex") but above all, POWER.
The final words of this collection are "we need to end our weary efforts to believe that our bodies are acceptable and begin to know, with a clear and brilliant certainty, that our persons are powerful." Specifically, that power is to "say "no"" and only through this will "woman of the 21st century," according to Penny, "regain their voice and remember their power." Though this is an adaptation of her journalistic writings and should not be expected to be too unified, the desire for power (nominally expressed as a collective striving) is by far the strongest single thread in the collection, as far as I could tell. One may judge for herself. ...Though repulsed by the perceived constant abuse of power over women by the patriarchy, Penny does not think that the glory of power is suspicious in any way, if one is to judge from her tried and tested political revenge-rhetoric. The purpose of this hypothetical power is not clear: equality under the law is not the vanilla mission statement, but rather the complaint is of a more deep-rooted form of spiritual corruption that is allied to the exercise of power (see the quotes to follow).
However what dimensions of power are worth women holding? Penny explicitly ridicules the "drudgery" of "brain-bleedingly pointless tasks" such as knitting and cupcakes, and to accuse as false superiority women who boast of their rule in the domestic setting, and of "well trained" male helping hands in the domestic sphere (p.58). But again, what dimension of power matters? This dimension of power is real enough: possession thereof seems to satisfy many women who are not Laurie Penny and her readership. And the object of this sort of power is clear: to make a habitable, peaceful sort of environment to live in through some concrete division of labour. Neither the justification nor the lifestyle would appeal to Laurie Penny and her readership, but the existence of this power - roundly dismissed here - seems to undermine the flat demand that women realize their power: what Penny rather means is unsure, then. Perhaps that women should demand political power, though the reasons for this are unexplicit and more obscure than the reasons for baking cupcakes and maintaining domestic chores.
What also turned me off, at a more stylistic level, was the reliance on literary techniques, such as the employment of spuriously holistic entities such as "society" "the culture" or "the world" with the active singular voice to create a ghoulish, vampire-like personificaton: "[society] condemns young women as wanton strumpets," "[women] are destroying themselves and western society, fostering a deep loathing for female flesh applauds them for doing so." This last example is interestingly mirrored in a later, in my opinion unconscionable, accusation against her own family for encouraging her anorexia: "my family complimented my new figure, reinforcing the message that good girls don't eat."
The frequency of such autobiographical anecdotes reveal a sad personal history of self-hatred, mental illness and hermit-like behaviour which goes some way to explain to the skeptical reader why she views the world as such a scary place, and more importantly why the uncomfortable metaphors of bodily violence and unclean physicality are so superimposed upon the entirety of Society, which is deemed to work so homogeneously and conspiratorially. In addition, her own mental problems are retroactively gilt-framed as a kind of unconscious rebellion: "a rebellion by self-immolation, by taking society's standards of thinness, beauty and self-denial to their logical extremes."
"Women are not powerless beings without agency, even in this circumscribed culture, and only by acknowledging that fact will we ever achieve full adult emancipation, or ever save ourselves from the hell of narcissistic self-negation. We need to take responsibility for our part in the cruel machine of enforced feminine starvation psychosis. To do anything else would be to accept our own victimhood." p.29
Penny is adamant that women should not live as helpless victims, however there is some tension between her stark and visceral choice of words, magnifying the threat of the obstacles to liberation, and her willingness to imply that socially constructed entities such as gender ("human biology is not subject to cultural norms of gender polarity"p.39) can be swept away given such simple advice as "remembering how to say no."...more
A frustrating book in which the book's author, and chairman of the debate ("Inquirer"), fails to understand that his posed "problem" to theoretical liA frustrating book in which the book's author, and chairman of the debate ("Inquirer"), fails to understand that his posed "problem" to theoretical linguistics is utterly irrelevant to any scientific understanding of what we call "language." He points out that the empirical evidence of research in Syntax - the acceptability of given sentences to "The Native Speaker" - does not correspond to any person of "flesh and blood."
Informative speakers are hardly given room to speak in amongst the long-winded objections of Inquirer and his allies, who gas on about literary-philosophical conundrums inordinately whilst chastising Chomsky's repeated attempts to correct their discourse as "red herrings."
Chomsky, however, admirably presses on in spite of the insulting tone of the debate:
"Now [regarding the word "language"] as in the case of [the word] "water", etc., the scientific description is too precise to be useful for ordinary purposes, so we abstract from it and speak of "languages," "dialects," etc., when people are "close enough" in the steady states attained to be regarded as identical for practical purposes. In fact, our ordinary usage of the term "language" is much more abstract and complex, in fact hardly coherant, since it involves colours on maps, political systems etc.). All of that is fine for ordinary usage. Troubles arise, however, when ordinary usage is uncritically understood as having ontological implications; the same problems would arise if we were to make the same moves in the case of visual systems, hearts, water, etc." [p.60]
There's not a page of this book which is purely text, so I guess that's a clue that the words aren't supposed to be that important, but even so, the wThere's not a page of this book which is purely text, so I guess that's a clue that the words aren't supposed to be that important, but even so, the writing is so sloppy, dismissive and arrogantly stupid that it's remarkable anyone read it and considered it fit for publication - especially as the publisher, Thames and Hudson, and subject, Max Ernst (probably the best known Surrealist after Dali) are so esteemed.
I personally enjoy some Surrealist art because it's imaginative, vivid and amusingly absurd, and specifically because it has nothing to do with the existing world. Schneede, the writer of the text, clearly feels differently, and tries half-heartedly to connect Ernst's art to historical events whenever possible - even if it means, say, suggesting he prophesied the Holocaust in 1920.
Much of the commentary is bizarre and unelaborated:
Most sombre variations on the bird theme are The Elect of Evil and Bonjour Satanas. Glorification has given place to the manifestation of evil desires. Iconographical references to Christian mythology are often present, according to Werner Hofmann: thus, in the emblamatic system of the Baroque period, the pelican stands for Christ. (p.91)
Do these pictures still bear any relationship to surrealism? Surrealism is more than an attitude of mind than a stylistic tendency. Surrealism is the sum of Breton's doctrine, Dali's paranoiac-critical method, Magritte's intellectual semantics, Miro's automatism and Max Ernst's combination of guided chance and imaginative power. Each of the Surrealist painters goes his own way. In the last analysis there is remarkably little to hold them together. (p.99)
...With interpretations which are frustratingly inconclusive, pointlessly sourced, or syntactically strained):
John Russell has drawn attention to the fact that the Barbarians Marching Westwards call to mind 'the fantasies of Denos, in which idealized barbarians from the East would come marching in to save the western world from itself'. There is no denying that an element of discontent with civilisation, inspired by Surrealism, does have a part to play in these pictures, especially as the dogmatic Parisian leading lights of the movement did occasionally incline towards the idealization of anti-cultural impulses. Equally not to be denied is the fact that the Barbarians are conclusions drawn from political events, and thus point forward to the Nazi invasion of France. (p.134)
...Or speciously evidenced ("more or less current" here meaning "over 70 years old", just to pick one example from the small excerpt) or simply unimpressive:
The title of The Breakfast on the Grass is a borrowing from Manet; and Hunger Feast is taken from Rimbaud. Max Ernst likes to play around with more or less current concepts. On his own admission the titles only come in the final stages. As plays on words and ideas, that is, as independent entities, they exist alongside, or even run counter to, the visual work. There are direct references to Rembrandt (Polish Horsemen), Gericault (Raft of the Medusa), and the German Novelist Theodor Storm (Aquis Submersus); and paraphrases of Nietzsche (The Birth of Comedy), Baudelaire (The Elect of Evil) and Matisse (Lust For Life). So in the world of language, too, Max Ernst modifies found objects (p. 151)
It could well be that the book makes more sense to someone well versed in the world of the surrealists and that my reaction is only the frustration of the uninitiated, but that is perhaps the main problem with books on art history ostensibly targetted for the general reader: the academics cannot write in any other style except that of their in-group. Perhaps under the pomposity there lies at times nothing at all. ...more
Lots of Carrollesque humour and paradox, funny fables and allegory, but its whimsical style and episodic interruptions makes it all feel a bit inconseLots of Carrollesque humour and paradox, funny fables and allegory, but its whimsical style and episodic interruptions makes it all feel a bit inconsequential, and the book seriously lags in the middle where you're supposed to be following the characters with some concern. That concern just hasn't been earned. I also thought that the thematic obsession with writing and criticism came across as indignant and I felt a bit alienated by it. I like to read a novel and then think about it's "meaning" later, but the novel kept demanding analysis of the text as it was read.
One of the first things you read in my edition is a post-publication comment by Gombrowicz, who says "what a bore is the everlasting question: What did you mean by Ferdydurke? Come, come, be more sensuous, less cerebral, start dancing with the book instead of asking for meanings. Why take so much interest in the skeleton if it's got a body?" I agree completely with the sentiment but the novel itself is very concerned with symbols and metaphors and stylistic representations of things. What's more, the author makes a point of fracturing the story with highly cerebral philosophical-aesthetic digressions, barely disguised in the clothing of the plot. Anyway, it started off very promising which is why I'm giving it 3 stars. Overall, it wasn't for me....more