As with most essay collections, it is difficult for me to give a review A World of Difference that feels comprehensive. So, I'll just talk about two o...moreAs with most essay collections, it is difficult for me to give a review A World of Difference that feels comprehensive. So, I'll just talk about two of my favorite essays. The book's third essay, "Gender Theory and the Yale School," seems at first to be an attack on the central, and male, figures of the "Yale School' of literary criticism. Johnson argues that these four figures 'efface,' or remove from the foreground, female presence from the works they write about. She goes on to use that effacement to make explicit the gender relationships/views of the critics. Two things are wonderful in this essay. First, Johnson is transparent in her method, in a way that allows the reader to follow along, a partner to the criticism. From a discussion of Harold Bloom: "The essay begins: :"The word meaning goes back to a root that signifies 'opinion' or 'intention,' and is closely related to the word moaning. A poem's meaning is a poem's complaint, its version of Keats' Belle Dame, who looked as if she loved and made sweet moan. Poems instruct us in how they break form to bring about meaning, so as to utter complaint, a moaning intended to be all their own." If the relationship between the reader and the poem is analogous to the relation between the knight-at-arms and the Belle Dame, things are more complicated than they appear. For the encounter between male and female in Keats' poem is a perfectly ambiguous disaster. Rather than a clear "as if," Keats writes: "She looked at me as she did love/ and made sweet moan." Suspicion of the woman is not planted quite so clearly nor quite so early. In changing "as" to "as if," Bloom has removed from the poem the possibility of reading this first mention of the woman's feelings as straight description." Second, near the end of the essay, she turns the criticism on herself - tracing, in past essays, how she'd written women out of her academic life. She finds that she has almost completely avoided female characters, authors, and even fellow critics. Se investigates the few moments in previous essays, where women make appearance, and finds that she has dealt shallowly with them, and "repeated a dramatization of woman as simulacrum, erasure, or silence." AWoD's final essay is perhaps may favorite of the book. It's something of a rambling dialogue about ethics, rhetoric, and abortion. She begins by discussing the poetic technique called apostrophe, in which a poet speaks to an inanimate or dead thing - by extension personifying it. Johnson argues that by speaking to the dead/inanimate, we put on them the ability to hear. By this personification, we make of them a being able to hear, and to be spoken to. Her chief example is a Shelley poem, "Ode to the West Wind," in which the poet cries out for his lost childhood. Shelley mourns the animation that he used to be in him, and that now exists only in the wind, "A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed / One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud." Johnson notes that, "If apostrophe is the giving of voice, the throwing of voice, the giving of animation, then a poet using it is always in a sense saying to the addressee, "Be thou me." The essay takes off from there, as Johnson unearths this technique in the poems written by women about their post-abortion emotions. She asks how much of this writing to the aborted is "apostrophe," and how much honestly assumes that there is someone to write to. Just because you have something to say, to clarify, doesn't mean that there is in fact a listener. What is the line between person and personification?(less)
Some of the essays are perfect, and others are over-the-top and unhelpful (to me). Perhaps it's a perspective problem - on my part - as I'm not the id...moreSome of the essays are perfect, and others are over-the-top and unhelpful (to me). Perhaps it's a perspective problem - on my part - as I'm not the ideal audience.
Things I liked: Serano's argument that, in addition to a gender and a physical sex, each person is born with a subconscious sex. I don't know if I agree, but it's a useful argument and is a very helpful way to look at transsexuals. Oh god I hope I used the right term.
I also really enjoyed Serano's criticism of how trans people have been constantly exploited by academia. Oh, and the trashing of Middlesex was gold. Pure gold.
Things I didn't like: The weak magazine column rants at the end about femininity. But, like I said, I might not be the target audience.
Also, I don't like the term genderqueer, and that shows up fairly often...
Like previous essay collections by Barbara Johnson, The Feminist Difference examines and uncovers issues of race, gender, and authorship itself in fic...moreLike previous essay collections by Barbara Johnson, The Feminist Difference examines and uncovers issues of race, gender, and authorship itself in fiction and poetry. In simplest form, her method is to find inner conflicts in a specific work, and use them to discover how's the author's identity is also complex and conflicted.
In my favorite essay, Johnson describes the poetry of an 18th century slave who become a teenage poetry prodigy. Taken from West Africa at the age of seven, she was writing publishable poetry by 14. Writing before and during the Revolutionary War period, Phillis Wheatley's New England masters even got a book of her poems published, and she was eventually freed. Johnson talks about a poem of hers that decried the tyranny of the English, and stoked the fires of rebellion. The poem, the name of which I've now forgotten, was written while the author was still a slave, and seems to modern ears to be a bitter joke. Her masters loved the poem and didn't seem to see the irony, and had it published in a newspaper. Johnson discusses how modern black writers tend to view the poems as acts of submission instead of the carefully calculated acts of what Johnson calls 'excessive compliance.'
My favorite part of which is the juxtaposition of two poems, one on the Stamp Act, and the other giving thanks for having been 'saved' from Africa. This is the ending line of the Stamp Act poem:
"And may each clime with equal gladness see A monarch's smile can set his subjects free!"
and then on the opposite page you have this:
"'TWAS mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too: Once I redemption neither fought now knew,"
* I reread some of these essays last week, and have bumped my rating up to 4 stars. Some of them are difficult but payoff with multiple readings.(less)
I was shocked to find a book by Butler that wasn't written in her crazy moon language. Really, in her other books it's as if she's actually from anoth...moreI was shocked to find a book by Butler that wasn't written in her crazy moon language. Really, in her other books it's as if she's actually from another planet.
Precarious Life has three essays, and I'll mention the first two which are about the interconnectedness of human beings and indefinite detention in the G-WOT (Global War on Terror).
Her first essay seems to be saying that when someone close to us dies we also lose a piece of ourselves. Meaning they are in us and we are in them. I'm too lazy to reread the essay and pull choice quotes, but I'd say she's arguing for the intertextuality of people. That we contain strands of the unconscious and otherness within us, and are not self-contained beings. I really liked this piece, and the essay had a lot of other valuable things in it.
Second essay is about the indefinite detention in which the US holds suspected and potential terrorists. Interesting points include how we configure anyone who doesn't embrace western civilization as an animal, living only to destroy. They must be leashed and caged so that they do not bite buildings and airports. Also notes on the undefining of 'trial.' (less)
I haven't finished this yet, because it takes energy to read and is very uneven. There are wonderful, intense chapters which drew me in and left me pa...moreI haven't finished this yet, because it takes energy to read and is very uneven. There are wonderful, intense chapters which drew me in and left me panting only to see me bored and trudging along through the next chapter.
Dhalgren is scifi written an immediate, first-person, detail-heavy narritive stream that resembles James Joyce. It deals directly with bdsm elements, and handles issues of sex and race in a delicate and theoretically-nuanced manner.
Argues Left has sold out the working class/poor by focusing on the politics of sex and identity. He's right, but fails to convince (me, at least) that...moreArgues Left has sold out the working class/poor by focusing on the politics of sex and identity. He's right, but fails to convince (me, at least) that we can't care equally for both.(less)
Popper fled the Nazi takeover of Austria, and set out to write a book that would somehow fight bad ide...moreI don't know what I would do without this book.
Popper fled the Nazi takeover of Austria, and set out to write a book that would somehow fight bad ideologies. He succeeded. If only anyone actually read it.
Open Society begins with an attack on Plato. Popper argues that we need to realize that Plato chose Sparta over Athens, and every other vaguely cosmopolitan city. He spends time describing just how controlled, misogynistic, and totalitarian Spartan life really was. Popper then moves on to show Plato worshiping that lifestyle in The Republic. Plato based his political theory on his belief in forms (perfect concepts outside of time of which all our ideas and creations are mere shadows), and so the political system which best resembled a form (unchanging) was the best system. This best system was a totalitarian city ruled by corrupt philosophers who taught lies. Popper links this belief of Plato
The heart of Open Society is the criticism of any philosophy or theory of history that claims to know the future. Branding these philosophies ‘Historicism,’ he argues that Marxism by arguing that history moves in stages (feudal, capitalist, communist) makes itself unable to choose a better world. By accepting that history is an inevitable march of economic forms, socialists become unable to work in the now.
Popper blames this aspect of Marxism for allowing fascism to rise in Europe. He believed that if Austrian socialists had been more willing (and less confident in History’s march) to ally with moderates they could have stop the rise of fascist and rightist parties.
This is truly one of my favorite books, and there’s a good chance I’ll pick it up and write a proper review with citation and deep thoughts one of these days. (less)
Argues clearly and poetically that identities are constructed through shared media. Examines how newspapers and other media create a shared identity w...moreArgues clearly and poetically that identities are constructed through shared media. Examines how newspapers and other media create a shared identity with people never met.
Pros: Excellent writing, clear argument, and historical evidence (almost exclusively) from the Spanish-speaking world. (less)
I should add a review. If my ideas and outlook were a house, this book would be the sturdy staircase leading down into the foundation.
It's a travelog...moreI should add a review. If my ideas and outlook were a house, this book would be the sturdy staircase leading down into the foundation.
It's a travelogue about a woman (Rebecca West) and her husband (referred to only as my husband) on a trip through the Balkans in 1938. It's also an exercise in extreme cultural and ethnic essentialism. And a history of the Balkans. And an amazing compilation of snark and wit. And stunning description of place and scene.
Things I liked: West make a subtle argument throughout the book that historical events leave indelible marks on groups of people. It's a viewpoint that I believe we do not spend enough time analyzing.
West is an amazingly enjoyable guide. She's comfortable delving into the history of countries you know nothing about (the tragedy of the Dalmation hillside?), the cookie eating habits of train travelers, and the beauty of simple domestic clothing. Her unnamed husband is hilarious (banker Henry Maxwell Andrews).
Warning: Racist toward Turks and Germans. Well, okay, vaguely racist toward Turkey, and an outright attack piece on German culture of the 1930s. One might call it prescient. (less)