I've actually abandoned this one--it's just too dense. (And after reading Foucault's History of Madness, that's saying something.) The theories in herI've actually abandoned this one--it's just too dense. (And after reading Foucault's History of Madness, that's saying something.) The theories in here are interesting enough, and I definitely appreciate the copious illustrations, particularly when Dijkstra is referencing art. But I just couldn't get through the last quarter or so--the writing style is so heavy, and I feel like the points are being reiterated without adding anything new.
On the bright side, there was plenty of literary reference as well, which led to me picking up the Henry James novels I'm currently working my way through....more
Stuart's examination of the historical, cultural, and sociological impact of the showgirl, from her inception in the mid 19th century to present day is fascinating. She considers the personal histories of the major showgirls covered in the book: Mistinguette (late 19th century France), Colette (turn of the century France), Josephine Baker (early 20th century America & France), Barbette (early 20th century Europe & America), Marlene Dietrich (1920s and '30s Germany and America), Mae West (1930s America). Of course she includes the context of the life of these and other showgirls, from the descriptions of the hot, uncomfortable preparations for the stage to the careful constructed personal lives covered by hungry tabloids.
The showgirl has had many meanings over the years: the object of the male gaze, the symbol of women's self-sufficiency, sexual empowerment, sexual and moral deviance, and camp icon, among many others. Stuart explores these ideas, historically as well as in the contemporary (this book is from 1996, I would love to see an updated chapter covering the last twenty years).
What is particularly successful about this book is how the author transitions from analysis to a riveting narration. She includes many small details about the lives of these performers that illustrate the intensity of being a showgirl, from the average weight of those feathered headdresses (15 pounds!) to the makeshift "facelifts" that Marlene Dietrich created in her later years to hide her sagging wrinkles (she held her forehead taut with straight pins in her scalp, under a wig).
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in theatre, Belle Epoque Paris, feminist/cultural studies, or performance art....more
Certainly Alexandra David-Neel was an amazing and interesting person, but this book doesn't do her much justice. In a nutshell, this plucky, well-educCertainly Alexandra David-Neel was an amazing and interesting person, but this book doesn't do her much justice. In a nutshell, this plucky, well-educated French woman took it upon herself to travel to Tibet, particularly the capital Lhasa, and achieved that goal in 1924. She was an adept of many years study in Tibetan Buddhism, spent time as a disciple to powerful lamas, mastered many of the more esoteric practices of Buddhism, and managed to document many everyday rituals of the various tribes in Tibet whose cultures are rapidly disappearing.
The Fosters state at the outset that their purpose in writing this book is to countermand the works of some other authors, Jeanne Denys in particular, who claim that David-Neel never made it to Tibet and all of her later writings chronicling her 14 years in the Orient were entirely fictitious. Their writing style is plain, but the entire time you have the impression that they must prove that they have the definitive version of David-Neel's life. It's extremely off-putting, and they continually state that they lack access to her private papers, which led me to wonder how they became such experts.
The story of a woman crossing the Himalayas, learning Tibetan, begging for food, and finally achieving a site never before seen by a Western woman is fantastic. However, in the hands of these authors, you begin to doubt the journey, or how they assert David-Neel felt about her journey.
I will be looking to find some of David-Neel's own writings, and another biography in the future.
Most people approach the subject of footbinding in China with a gross fascination. How could someone do that to themselves? A daughter? How could it bMost people approach the subject of footbinding in China with a gross fascination. How could someone do that to themselves? A daughter? How could it be considered attractive? After reading Beverly Jackson's Splendid Slippers, and searching the internet for images and articles, I decided to delve as deep as possible into a cultural history of the practice.
Dorothy Ko's book puts footbinding in as complete a context as I have encountered. She includes excerpts from texts of footbinding fetishists, images, stories of small foot contests, and the cultural implications of the size of a woman's foot. As you delve into this text, footbinding becomes less strange, and I gained a great appreciation for what it meant to Chinese society before it was outlawed and eventually discredited.
This book is not for the casual reader, it is an academic text, and reads slowly for someone simply looking for a quick glimpse at footbinding. For those simply looking for a basic understanding of the practice, I recommend Splendid Slippers, or Ko's other book, Every Step a Lotus. ...more