“For many of these women, the reading experience begins from a place of seething rage. Take Sara Marcus’ initial impression of Jack Kerouac: “I remember putting On the Road down the first time a woman was mentioned. I was just like: ‘Fuck. You.’ I was probably 15 or 16. And over the coming years I realized that it was this canonical work, so I tried to return to it, but every time I was just like, ‘Fuck you.’ ” Tortorici had a similarly visceral reaction to Charles Bukowski: “I will never forget reading Bukowski’s Post Office and feeling so horrible, the way that the narrator describes the thickness of ugly women’s legs. I think it was the first time I felt like a book that I was trying to identify with rejected me. Though I did absorb it, and of course it made me hate my body or whatever.” Emily Witt turned to masculine texts to access a sexual language that was absent from books about women, but she found herself turned off by their take: “many of the great classic coming-of-age novels about the female experience don’t openly discuss sex,” she says in No Regrets. “I read the ones by men instead, until I was like, ‘I cannot read another passage about masturbation. I can’t.’ It was like a pile of Kleenex.”
This isn’t just about the books. When young women read the hypermasculine literary canon—what Emily Gould calls the “midcentury misogynists,” staffed with the likes of Roth, Mailer, and Miller—their discomfort is punctuated by the knowledge that their male peers are reading these books, identifying with them, and acting out their perspectives and narratives. These writers are celebrated by the society that we live in, even the one who stabbed his wife. In No Regrets, Elif Bautman talks about reading Henry Miller for the first time because she had a “serious crush” on a guy who said his were “the best books ever,” and that guy’s real-life recommendation exacerbated her distaste for the fictional. When she read Miller, “I felt so alienated by the books, and then thinking about this guy, and it was so hot and summertime … I just wanted to kill myself. … He compared women to soup.”
Just by reading the book, the woman reader is forced to grapple with her relationship to being that girl, framed in opposition to the boy whose full story is being told. It’s not just that the roles of women are conscribed in the books, but that a woman reader is conscribed in the experience of reading the books (and her experience living in the world when the book is finished). The men who read them can easily slip into the role of “the deceptive, neurotic, charmingly flawed hero balancing competing claims for his affection … the bearer of narrative,” Emily Witt says, but women are resigned to “the role of the bovine female,” in the mind of the narrator and that of the reader, man or woman.”
I think a lot of my latent commitment/relationship anxieties come from an early awareness of the asphyxiating male narrative. I’m kind of genuinely terrified of being swallowed into someone else’s story, but I also have the very non-Western naturalistic instinct to give myself entirely to love. It’s unnecessarily difficult.
There’s always conflict when the person you love is inherently one of your oppressors. Hegemonic Western patriarchal heteronormative society makes everything that should be righteous so incredibly uneasy.
Pierrot le Fou
Godard, in a scene clearly lifted from notable author John Green,
“Silence is God’s first language.”
— San Juan de la Cruz
where are are the like-minded residents of LA? Are they all under a rock somewhere? Was there a meeting and I missed the invitation and now everyone is having fun, drinking cocktails and discussing barthes, post-colonialism and queer theory?
For those of you who think that radical feminists exaggerate or cherry-pick the worst of the porn industry, I have an experiment for you. Type ‘porn’ into Google and click around the most well-travelled websites that appear. With mind-numbing repetition you will see gagging, slapping, verbal abuse, hair-pulling, pounding anal sex, women smeared in semen, sore anuses and vaginas, distended mouths, and more exhausted, depleted and shell-shocked women than you can count. You will not see two people having sex; you will see images depicting a level of physical cruelty that would not be out of place in an Amnesty International campaign.–
One of the only studies of contemporary pornographic content found that the majority of scenes from fifty of the top-rented porn movies contained both physical and verbal abuse targeted against the female performers. Physical aggression – including spanking, open-hand slapping and gagging – occurred in over 88% of scenes, while expressions of verbal aggression – calling the woman names such as ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’ – were found in 48%. The researchers concluded that ‘if we combine both physical and verbal aggression, our findings indicate that nearly 90 per cent of scenes contained at least one aggressive act, with an average of nearly twelve acts of aggression per scene’. [x]
That this is the major form of sex education for men should be taken very seriously by the women’s movement. The same men who get off from women being brutalised and called cunts, sluts and cum-dumpsters are the ones who go on to become politicians, corporate executives, judges, media professionals, policy makers and bankers. In other words, they become the economic and cultural elite that shape the material and ideological world that determines how women – and their children – will live. Most of them will become partners and fathers. To assume that porn is mere fantasy and does not impact on the way men think and feel is to ignore decades of research on how images frame our social construction of reality.
reminds me of Maurice Godelier’s claim that you can’t strictly delineate the real from the imaginary from the symbolic
thank god for school.
Hey there. I’m just a fun-loving 20something trying to find my way in the world after graduating from DEATH university with a major in HELL
—my okcupid profile
In Judith Butler’s essay from the anthology Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two, Butler identifies doubt as the primary relation to love. But I disagree. Doubt, or its bastardization, is precisely the position that the majority of people now hold when it comes to love, and we are currently stuck there. It is one thing when doubt becomes the paradigmatic starting point for trying to love more and to be more loving. If doubt were the springboard for examining our lack of faith, disbelief, paralysis, denial, cynicism, nihilism, and despair, it would be one thing. But it’s not, as there is no shortage of disbelievers and doubters when it comes to love. But doubt is often the thing that keeps us where we are. From moving at all. We doubt so much, we never believe or act on faith.
I don’t think love needs more doubt from us. I don’t think doubt on its own is the answer to love. Doubt is often the way we perpetuate and increase our despair and let ourselves off the hook. If, however, doubt becomes the way we doubt our own limitations and capacity to love; our own openness and receptivity to love; our own sexist, racist, and homophobic conditionings and destructive relations to others—if, in other words, it makes us question the existence of things as they are—then yes, more doubt is needed. Doubt as part of the process of critical thinking and rigorous searching both inwardly and outwardly. But doubt can also be (and has been) corrupted and co-opted; used as a way to avoid, bypass, and brand thinking, feeling—much less loving—altogether. More often than not, for most of us—and for philosophers, too—so-called epistemological “doubt” is just an excuse for laziness, cynicism, and ambivalent cool. Doubt is precarious and should not be taken lightly. It is both the cause and effect of precarity, and if it is not watched carefully, it will swallow everything else whole.
Yes, doubt is part of love, the way that doubt is part of life—part of everything. But there is doubt that opens us and doubt that shuts us down. Doubt is part of the way people are increasingly bailing on everything, compulsively substituting one thing for another. Therefore doubt does not always equal deeper understanding and commitment, or any understanding or commitment—to anyone or anything. Or even to oneself. Often doubt means we don’t give anything or anyone a chance. We dismiss everything. Doubters today just doubt—they don’t care either way, they don’t feel much apart from doubt—and they most certainly are not: “becom[ing] philosophical in and about one’s passions.”
But, it is true, for those of us who are really doubting in order to better understand, better love, “Love always returns us to what we do and do not know.” And this opens us up and makes us surrender when surrender is needed. James Baldwin wrote that true lovers are as rare as true rebels, and I think the same is true for doubters. True doubters—doubters who are simultaneously engaged in life and with people, despite how difficult it is to do both, while also being deeply questioning—are equally rare.
Here are some passages from Butler’s essay:
“On occasion when I am getting to know someone — when someone seeks to know me or, indeed, find in me the occasion for love — I am asked what my idea of love is, and I always flounder. There are clearly those who have their ideas of love, who enter into their conversations, their letters, their initial encounters with an idea of love in mind. This is admirable in a way. And I am somewhat embarrassed by the fact that I have no answer, and that I cannot, in the moment of potential seduction, [have] an entrancing view of love to offer the one with whom I speak. … One knows love somehow only when all one’s ideas are destroyed, and this becoming unhinged from what one knows is the paradigmatic sign of love.”
“[Freud] is the one who writes, ‘A man who doubts his own love may, or rather, must doubt every lesser thing.’ And this is the line I return to in my life, a line that cannot be read once, at least not by me. Freud is making a statement, but he is, implicitly, delivering as well a warning and an admonition. The one who doubts his own love will find himself doubting every lesser thing.”
"There is no way around it: If you doubt your own love, you will be compelled to doubt every lesser thing and if there is no greater thing than love, you will be compelled to doubt every other thing, which means that nothing, really nothing, will be undoubted by you."
Where is the Kierkegaardian (Popova’s write-up states that Butler describes herself as a “secular-Kierkegaardian when it comes to love”) leap of faith in this? When it comes to love, I will stick with bell hooks, Alain Badiou, Roland Barthes, and Erich Fromm.
Here is a quote I like more:
“He who knows nothing, loves nothing. He who can do nothing understands nothing. He who understands nothing is worthless. But he who understands also loves, notices, sees… . The more knowledge is inherent in a thing, the greater the love… . Anyone who imagines that all fruits ripen at the same time as the strawberries knows nothing about grapes.
Q: How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?–
A: He lit a cigarette. His glass of whiskey lit a cigarette too. “I can only truly love my best friend,” he said, “but not in a gay way. Women wouldn’t understand it. They’re too gay.” Both of the cigarettes agreed.
Q: How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: The beast, which had represented his feelings, was dead. “I think I’ll do a pushup,” he announced to the sea. The sea respected him for it.