I think that A Room of One's Own is really quite good - well, Woolf was a genius - but it's also . . . wrong about a lot of things. Probably in 1929 a...moreI think that A Room of One's Own is really quite good - well, Woolf was a genius - but it's also . . . wrong about a lot of things. Probably in 1929 and in the ~History of Feminism~ the things Woolf gets right were more important than what she gets wrong (because by now it is as much an historical document as anything, and a canonical work, so we judge those works as much by the avalanche they set rolling as by what they are in and of themselves, not that any work exists in a vacuum) and speaking pragmatically, there's definitely important work to be done in consciousness-raising for privileged women (privilege being so instrumental in binding you to your bad faith). I think that Woolf's argument points the way to something like a reevaluation of traditional [Western/Christian/Anglo-American/capitalist] gendered values, but it doesn't go quite far enough. But also, I know that when Woolf and I read the same words, we don't always read them as the same words, how could we? Ideas and shifts that are huge now were, at best, embryonic then - this is pre-The Second Sex. I suppose my biggest area of discomfort comes from the way A Room of One's Own fits into the dialectic - she seems to want artists to function "freed" of immanence, but you know . . . I am myself a pretty pro-transcendence person, but it seems to me that this would never be enough to free women or men from injustice, since it just creates another underclass. Not that I expect Woolf to address these concerns since 1) the book is 114 pages 2) like I said, this predates The Second Sex (though not Marxism). And also, perhaps, sometimes it is enough for a book to be a rallying cry. Where would we be without it?
That idea of the "androgynous" soul, though, what? Does she write about it elsewhere? It seems embarrassingly old-fashioned to me, but that may have been the context. (I just want Virginia Woolf to write like a philosopher, is that so much to ask?) (Actually, it is too little to ask. If only more philosophers wrote like Woolf . . . !)(less)
This is minor Mitford, definitely, if someone like Nancy Mitford can be said to have minor and major works (we're grading on a scale, okay?). Still, i...moreThis is minor Mitford, definitely, if someone like Nancy Mitford can be said to have minor and major works (we're grading on a scale, okay?). Still, it luckily lacks the sourness of, for example, Don't Tell Alfred, and if there's a huge cognitive disconnect in reading a trivial and charming book about . . . rich people joining the BUF - well, she's a Mitford after all.
I quite like jokes about fascism, though; it seems the sanest way to react to fascism. Wigs on the Green is a slight book, though, so if you're looking for some bite in the jokes about fascism, look elsewhere. They're really jokes about rich people.(less)
1. I read Beauvoir's book for a class devoted solely to reading it, which is kind of the perfect way to tackle this enormous, multifaceted examination...more1. I read Beauvoir's book for a class devoted solely to reading it, which is kind of the perfect way to tackle this enormous, multifaceted examination of what it was like and what it meant/s to be a woman. Things have changed, she gets things wrong (Simone de Beauvoir and I do not have the same tastes in literature) but there are also many, many elements of The Second Sex that ring even more true now - "The Independent Woman" chapter particularly.
2.Holy shit, this book.
Like the filthy carefree souls cheerfully scratching their vermin, like the joyful Negroes laughing while being lashed, and like these gay Arabs of Sousse with a smile on their lips, burying their children who starved to death, the woman enjoys this incomparable privilege: irresponsibility. Without difficulties, without responsibility, she obviously has "the best part." What is troubling is that by a stubborn perversity - undoubtedly linked to original sin - across centuries and countries the people who have the best part always shout to their benefactors: It's too much! I'll settle for yours! But the magnanimous capitalists, the generous colonialists, the superb male persist: Keep the best part, keep it! The fact is that men counter more complicity in their women companions than the oppressor usually finds in the oppressed; and in bad faith they use it as a pretext to declare that woman wanted the destiny the imposed on her.
This selection, from the conclusion of The Second Sex is one of the tartest, most heavily and obviously ironic parts of the book. Really, throughout Beauvoir is remarkably cool-headed, thorough and impassioned, but sincere and not particularly snarky (I mean, she might be vicious in some spots, but it's always in a very chill way). Here she's finally had enough of explaining reasonably why patriarchy &c is wrong and self-perpetuating, and points out how ridiculous the whole thing is, how self-deluding, how inauthentic. For an existentialist, of course saying lack of responsibility is a blessing - a privilege! - is ridiculous, unethical, and harmful. And that's actually, sort of, one of the points in her book: that women are confined to immanence and then told they should be grateful for it, because it makes them better and happier and luckier (or whatever) than men, and how could they want anything else? Don't worry your pretty little head about it, baby! Oh, you're so sexy when you're angry/exploited/frustrated - wait, what do you mean I've never made you come?
And I think that the contemporary critics who say Beauvoir over-invests in masculine ways of meaning, on masculine projects have a point: there are significant ways of creating meaningful lives and projects using "feminine" experience and projects, so long as they synthesize immanence and transcendence in an authentic way. But I think they overlook her specific phenomenology, meaning the experience of being a reasonable, rational woman perfectly capable of functioning in the eminently masculine world of philosophy and being told over and over and over that you're doing it wrong. Not only are you doing philosophy wrong, because you're a woman and it's ridiculous of you to want to do it in the first place, but you're being a woman wrong too - and you don't understand how good you have it. Yes, it's stupid and limiting that the only way to transcendence is the masculine way, but it's equally stupid and limiting to say that you can only have meaning by embracing your Otherness. Beauvoir makes a point throughout of the impossible position negative and abstract freedom places women in, so that your Otherness defines you - but it usually defines you falsely, in inequality and oppression. Existentialism, to borrow from Thomas Flynn's Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Sartre, "is chiefly about: challenging the individual to examine their life for intimations of bad faith and to heighten their sensitivity to oppression and exploitation in their world," about balancing freedom and responsibility and trying to be who you are. But, because existence precedes essence, who you are is what you do - the choices (look at your life, look at your choices) you make can trap you in bad faith. BUT, you can ALSO get out of it, and permanently if enough people agree with you and try to change the social structure.
So, in some ways The Second Sex is really depressing - because it's true - and in other ways it's hopeful - because it's true.
The Spa had no big secrets to defend, so the guards did nothing but monitor the ladies who were going in, frightened by the first signs of droop and pucker, then going out again, buffed and tightened and resurfaced, irradiated and despotted. But still frightened, because when might the whole problem - the whole thing - start happening to them again? The whole signs-of-mortality thing. The whole thing thing. Nobody likes it, thought Toby - being a body, a thing. Nobody wants to be limited in that way. We'd rather have wings. Even the word flesh has a mushy sound to it. We're not selling only beauty, the AnooYoo Corp said in their staff instructionals. We're selling hope. Some of the customers could be demanding. They couldn't understand why even the most advanced AnooYoo treatments wouldn't make them twenty-one again. "Our laboratories are well on the way to age reversal," Toby would tell them in soothing tones, "but they aren't quite there yet. In a few years ..." If you really want to stay the same age you are now forever and ever, she'd be thinking, try jumping off the roof: death's a sure-fire method for stopping time.
Like many people, I suffer from Tudor burnout (seriously, I wish we would get over them). But I loved Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety, and I...moreLike many people, I suffer from Tudor burnout (seriously, I wish we would get over them). But I loved Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety, and I think her prose is impeccable. Thomas Cromwell is an interesting choice - although maybe I actually mean he is a wise choice, I'm not sure - of a protagonist. It's actually something of a disappointment that he has to become involved with Anne Boleyn and her family, characters suffering from overexposure (and the fact that they are not really that interesting to begin with) but whom Mantel manages to revive very well. I especially liked Norfolk, who became vivid nearly to the point of caricature.
Wolf Hall doesn't break the fourth wall, but it seems sometimes to come close. Cromwell is so well-crafted, and so crafty, he seems to be reading the book alongside you. More than that, he seems to be editing it. It's an odd experience.
One thing did unnerve me about Wolf Hall: the dynamics feel discomfortingly similar to A Place of Greater Safety. Without rereading both novels, I do not think I can better articulate this opinion, but it nagged at me throughout the book. Perhaps, however, this is due more to Mantel's quite distinct style of writing . . . . perhaps I imagined the similarities.(less)
I've read four of Austen's novels, and although Persuasion is not my favorite*, I do think it is the funniest. The humor a slightly different source t...moreI've read four of Austen's novels, and although Persuasion is not my favorite*, I do think it is the funniest. The humor a slightly different source that Austen's other novels - it's a little broader (or maybe just a little bolder) and the ridiculous characters are 100% ridiculous. Anne's family have nothing to redeem them** . . . except for the opportunities they provide Austen's narrator (which I guess is Austen herself) to snark at them. And they do deserve it: when you are sucking up to your Irish relatives you are 1) pretty far down and 2) pretty stupid. But I think the different humor serves the story very well, because the nature of the romance could very easily slip into a depressing or sentimental plot. Instead, it feels quite true emotionally.
Wentworth and Anne moved me more than Elizabeth and Darcy (although not more than Cathy and Tilney, who are SO ADORABLE, I just want to wrap them up and put them in my pocket so they can flirt with each other by complaining about grammar, talking about books, and wondering at the crazy people around them). I'm not a huge fan of the "girl waits for and moons after the boy she lost" but Jane Austen is Jane Austen for a reason, and it's a plotline that fits perfectly into 1815. Even though it is not the most subtle of Austen's works, I think it is one of the truest and most convincing.
* My favorite is Northanger Abbey, which I know is not a very respectable choice. ** I know Forster said all her characters were at least capable of rotundity, but I am not sure that is the case with Sir Walter.
12/02/10 I think it's interesting that Mr. Elliot is as mixed a character - he's difficult - as Mansfield Park's Henry Crawford. This exchange, for example, gets to the heart of the book in many ways:
"My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company." "You are mistaken," said he gently, "That is not good company, that is the best. Good company requires only birth, education and manners, and with regard to education is not very nice. Birth and good manners are not essential; but a little learning is by no means a dangerous thing in good company, on the contrary, it will do very well. My cousin, Anne, shakes her head. She is not satisfied. She is fastidious. My dear cousin, (sitting down by her) you have a better right to be fastidious than any other woman I know; but will it answer? Will it make you happy? Will it not be wiser to accept the society of these good ladies in Laura-place, and enjoy all the advantages of the connexion as far as possible? You may depend upon it, that they will move in the first set in Bath this winter, and as rank is rank, your being known to be related to them will have its use in fixing your family (our family let me say) in that degree of consideration which we must all wish for."
I am deeply ambivalent about Lolita. It is clearly a technically exquisite novel, but I don't know if I could ever like it. Additionally, it seems to...moreI am deeply ambivalent about Lolita. It is clearly a technically exquisite novel, but I don't know if I could ever like it. Additionally, it seems to have been romanticized by a disturbing number of readers and reviwers in addition to the misinterpretation that every novel goes through (or at least risks). (less)
"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood and she lived all alone."
Beagle's novel is, by now, so thoroughly intertwined in my brain with the excellent anima...more"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood and she lived all alone."
Beagle's novel is, by now, so thoroughly intertwined in my brain with the excellent animated adaptation it's difficult for me to really pull the two works apart. Even though they are a bit different: there's much more humor in the novel than there is in the movie, and I think there's a kind of distance and self-awareness in the book that the film doesn't capture.
Of course, the poetry of Beagle's prose mostly goes missing in the movie, too. But that's okay: the movie has pictures! And they're quite lovely pictures.
Okay, but what about the book . . .?
I remember getting really annoyed when someone saw me reading The Last Unicorn and said, "oh, yes, it's a wonderful allegory." I suppose it is an allegory (of the "blackberry blackberry blackberry" type), but I suspect that's a reductive way of looking at it. The book engages with archetypes but Beagles is skillful enough that he doesn't just stop at invoking the archetypes. Forster said of Jane Austen that if her characters weren't all round, exactly, they were all at least capable of rotundity. And something like that is true here, largely, I think, because Beagle shrouds the whole thing in an air of melancholy. It's that melancholy that really makes the book, and it's quite an accomplishment because the proper note of melancholy isn't an easy one to hit. But Beagles does hit it, and holds it, and it's marvelous.(less)