This book is of its time: a salvo in the feminist sex wars of the 1980-90s and an angry response to Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, Celia Kitzing...moreThis book is of its time: a salvo in the feminist sex wars of the 1980-90s and an angry response to Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, Celia Kitzinger et al. Having grown into adulthood at the height of those so-called sex wars, I've spent some time lately trying to make sense of how they affected both my own relationship with sexuality and the wider cultural landscape.
20 years on, Segal's book is still relevant and powerful. It is dated, with plenty of contemporary references (Thatcherism, Madonna, Clause 28 etc), and a long (slightly exhausting) discussion of psychoanalytic theory (Freud, Lacan, Irigaray) and Foucault (remember how new and exciting all that stuff was back in the 80s?), but I guess that's to be expected (Segal is after all a professor of psychology and gender studies).*
But in addressing the way feminist critiques of heterosexuality often replicate and reinforce traditional conservative narratives of active male aggression and passive female submission, Segal is smart, insightful and scathing. She writes powerfully about the disruptive complexity of desire - whatever our gender and sexuality - arguing that actual, real world heterosexuality is far queerer (in every sense) than the simplistic caricature often conjured up in both feminist and anti-feminist discussions.
At a personal level, I read much of this book with a great sense of relief. Segal's account of the experience of sexuality (at least when it wasn't tangled up in Freudian and post-Freudian psychobabble) felt far closer to my own than anything I've encountered in the Dworkin-Dines feminist tradition (or, for that matter, than much of what I encounter in media in general). Segal's call for a "queering" of our view of heterosexuality resonated strongly with me, as a straight cis-gender man who has never felt like I fit the stereotype of what those labels imply (whether those stereotypes came from Playboy or Broadsheet).
In reality, when you really dig deep, sexuality (like gender) is slippery, fluid and enormously complex. Segal's most welcome contribution is to emphasise this point again and again, and to insist on a genuine respect for the variety and power and fragility of real people's actual experience of sex; to listen openly and honestly to the voices of women (and men) describing their sexual desires, hopes, experiences, fears and disappointments; and to work towards a sexual politics of pleasure and liberation for all.
*It's also interesting to note that Segal occasionally criticises the "political correctness" of some feminists. After all, this book was written at a time when "PC" was a term people on the left used to satirise each other: that particular strain of ideologically driven moralising that can so easily emerge when "the personal is political." It wasn't until the mid-1990s that the right took over the term "PC," using it to belittle everything from health and safety policies and environmental regulations to the whole idea of progressive politics. Which is a shame, because I reckon it would still be a useful corrective for some left-wing activists, if only it hadn't become so weighed down with stupid hateful conservative baggage...(less)
I went into this book expecting something far simpler: angry, caricatured polemic; easy to dismiss and depressing to read. Instead I found an extraord...moreI went into this book expecting something far simpler: angry, caricatured polemic; easy to dismiss and depressing to read. Instead I found an extraordinary piece of writing that will echo through my head for some time to come - as a dark, apocalyptic vision of hyper-gendered sexuality that appalls and disturbs to the core, even as I struggle to reject it.
Difficult, confrontational, unpleasant, idiosyncratic, exasperating - but also full of beautiful, surging - almost chant-like - prose, compelling ideas and powerful polemic, Intercourse is not a book that can be easily digested or ignored. Dworkin's apocalyptic perspective often overwhelms her analysis, and I was frequently infuriated by her relentlessly single-minded interpretations. But reading Intercourse made me understand why Dworkin was so often described as a powerful public speaker, because her written prose is suffused with the rolling rhythms and repetitions of an old-school rabble-rousing preacher, driven by a slowly building intensity and righteous conviction that makes the final chapters roar like a raging hurricane of fury.
I don't want to sound like a convert; there's plenty in Dworkin's politics that makes me deeply uneasy. But I can totally see why her impact on the feminist movement (and the wider debates around sexuality and pornography in contemporary society) was so significant. I recently read Gail Dines' Pornland, which I found simplistic, patronising and shallow. Compared with Dines, Dworkin is infinitely more interesting. (less)
Yes, yes, yes! Hell, yes! Made me wish I could move to Santa Barbara and take Constance Penley's course on porn (among other things). I don't have tim...moreYes, yes, yes! Hell, yes! Made me wish I could move to Santa Barbara and take Constance Penley's course on porn (among other things). I don't have time to write a proper review (deadlines call), but read this book. The perfect antidote to Gail Dines et al. (less)
OK, so I drew the cover on this book, so I should be biased. But actually, I avoided reading it for months because the excerpt I'd been sent to base t...moreOK, so I drew the cover on this book, so I should be biased. But actually, I avoided reading it for months because the excerpt I'd been sent to base the cover on was so potent and chilling I was frankly a bit scared of reading the rest.
Well, I shouldn't have worried. Wake is disturbing, and it did cost me some sleep, but it was so very worth it. Terrible things happen, but somehow it was made less horrible because the characters were there with me - an ensemble of fascinating, complex, utterly human people, whose companionship quickly felt intimate and important, as though I too was trapped in Kahukura with them, dependent on their courage and kindness and vulnerable to their frailties.
Wake is a masterful piece of storytelling: gripping, compelling, immersive, superbly structured and paced, beautifully told. But it's also much more than a powerful yarn; it's an instant New Zealand classic. Wake overflows with images, moments and details that resonate deeply in the Kiwi brain: from Belle's precious kakapo to the familiar sights of a quiet New Zealand seaside town - but turned, disrupted, intensified and altered by the intrusion of something unexpected and awful (in every sense of the word). These images are now a permanent part of my internal landscape of New Zealand, and Theresa, Bub, Belle, Oscar, Jacob, Warren, Curtis, Dan, Kate, Holly, Lily, Sam and even the visiting American William have entered my personal pantheon of iconic Kiwis. And The Wake itself (the No-Go, the Zone, the Madness) has become a mythical - symbolic - entry in that grim catalogue of New Zealand disasters and tragedies - natural and man-made - that haunt the collective national psyche.
In short, Wake is a New Zealand masterpiece. Don't be scared. Just read it.(less)
Torn between 2 stars and 3. I was pretty disappointed by this book in the end. It promises far more than it delivers. The initial chapters push the ar...moreTorn between 2 stars and 3. I was pretty disappointed by this book in the end. It promises far more than it delivers. The initial chapters push the argument that capitalism is a cultural phenomenon rather than a monolithic system governed by natural laws. There are some intriguing (albeit brief) discussions of the emergence of the modern idea of progress, and of ways in which notions of human nature changed during the early development of capitalism. All of this was fascinating and suggested the book would explore the history of the idea of capitalism and how our social and economic relationships have shaped each other over the centuries. Which it does; a little, and rather superficially.
Instead, much of the book is a chronology of technological change and an account of historical events and trends that influenced the spread and evolution of capitalism, rarely going deeper than an introductory text for beginners. You'll come away from it knowing something about who Rockefeller, Edison and Ford were, but with no real insight into what they reveal about the cultural, social or intellectual history of capitalism (beyond the most superficial clichés).
The second half of the book is its weakest, launching into a fairly predictable catalogue of historical landmarks of the 20th century (the world wars, the Depression, post-war prosperity, the oil shock, the rise of India and China, an endless list of new inventions), with brief and unsurprising nods to how each event impacted on the economy (who'd have thought the wars led to a period of increased government investment in the economy and a burst of technological innovation?). There are virtually no insights in here beyond the obvious things everyone already takes for granted and for much of these chapters I felt like I was sitting through a long and tedious recitation of a dull high school text book.
So: disappointing. I would *love* to read the book this promised to be, but I can't really recommend the book it actually is. In a word: superficial.(less)
Holy shit this book is amazing! One of the most powerful and distinctive graphic novels to come out in a long time. I can't recommend this strongly en...moreHoly shit this book is amazing! One of the most powerful and distinctive graphic novels to come out in a long time. I can't recommend this strongly enough - but brace yourself. It may make your skin crawl.(less)