Poem of the Day 9

PSALM CXXXVI.

Let us with a gladsom mind
Praise the Lord, for he is kind,
For his mercies ay endure,
Ever faithfull, ever sure.

Let us blaze his Name abroad,
For of gods he is the God;
For, &c.

O let us his praises tell,
That doth the wrathfull tyrants quell.
For, &c.

That with his miracles doth make
Amazed Heav’n and Earth to shake.
For, &c.

That by his wisdom did create
The painted Heav’ns so full of state.
For his, &c.

That did the solid Earth ordain
To rise above the watry plain.
For his, &c.

That by his all-commanding might,
Did fill the new-made world with light.
For his, &c.

And caus’d the Golden-tressed Sun,
All the day long his cours to run.
For his, &c.

The horned Moon to shine by night,
Amongst her spangled sisters bright.
For his, &c.

He with his thunder-clasping hand,
Smote the first-born of Egypt Land.
For his, &c.

And in despight of Pharao fell,
He brought from thence his Israel.
For, &c.

The ruddy waves he cleft in twain,
Of the Erythræan main.
For, &c.

The floods stood still like Walls of Glass,
While the Hebrew Bands did pass.
For, &c.

But full soon they did devour
The Tawny King with all his power.
For, &c.

His chosen people he did bless
In the wastfull Wildernes.
For, &c.

In bloody battail he brought down
Kings of prowess and renown.
For, &c.

He foild bold Seon and his host,
That rul’d the Amorrean coast.
For, &c.

And large-lim’d Og he did subdue,
With all his over hardy crew.
For, &c.

And to his Servant Israel,
He gave their Land therin to dwell.
For, &c.

He hath with a piteous eye
Beheld us in our misery.
For, &c.

And freed us from the slavery
Of the invading enimy.
For, &c.

All living creatures he doth feed,
And with full hand supplies their need.
For, &c.

Let us therfore warble forth
His mighty Majesty and worth.
For, &c.

That his mansion hath on high
Above the reach of mortall ey.
For his mercies ay endure,
Ever faithfull, ever sure.

–John Milton (psalm translation)

I would like to pillage a Viking hoard; I think I would look very well in it.

Right.

Ebola, salvific blood, Dolly Parton

 

Malala

Nabila

 

 

This is the worst thing ever.

The best of the Adulthood pieces so far, variations here and here

 

I cannot wait to see this.

 

Aside from everything else, it will be great to see such a different animation style than that of the usual Studio Ghibli favorites; also happy to see resistance to trend of one-word titles for animated films. See Tangled, Brave, Frozen.

 

 

 

 

Lands End

One of my brother’s teachers has, over many years as an educator and bibliophile, amassed an impressive personal collection of children’s literature, particularly minor or out of print books. When she began teaching at the school she donated the entire set; it now lines the walls of the main meeting room.

The other day, there by happenstance, I decided to read them all. Or at least as many as I could, winding from bottom to top, left to right.

The first book I pulled off the shelves was a brightly colored hard-back called Lands End, by Mary Stolz.

lands end

It’s the story of a boy who loves the Florida coast and finds family life challenging. First published in 1971, it is part of what seems a distinct late-sixties-early-seventies niche chronicling the inner growth of young WASPs-in-training pulling away from their WASP families. E.L. Konigsburg published possibly the best iteration of the sub-type in 1967, From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Judging Lands End by its cover, as one should, I almost thought it was one of the books Moonrise Kingdom’s Suzy packs in her suitcase.

But not quite. Suzy’s taste is much more fantastical, and if anything, Moonrise Kingdom itself is Lands End and its genre’s counterpart: troubled WASP youths engaging in rebellion and gentle self-discovery against a similarly WASPy background of summer wind, water, sailboats.

All the assembled elements point towards success–an alienated boy, a ramshackle eight-person family of cheerful chaotics that moves in next door, and most of all, the constant presence of the coast’s bird and sea liife. The only real animating force behind Nature Girl was Carl Hiaasen’s lush bayou Florida, and Stolz almost manages a similar feat. Gulls, egrets, and cormorants fly off the page.

But cormorants can only do so much, and the novel never really musters around them in any coherent way. Joshua, the hero, is self-involved and prickly, frustrated and frustrating. Twelve to adulthood can be a very difficult time, but the fact that Joshua must endure the indignities of those years does not oblige us to soldier through beside him, and neither he nor the book presents any compelling reason why we should. His father, and to a lesser extent his mother, is self-possessed and rebuking, a good and reasonable parent when not delivering a detached, lacerating spate of corrections. Watching father and son go at it, round after round, is exhausting.

There’s little payoff, either. The dialogue feels stiff and unreal, which may just be a function of different times and the idioms of each. The plot, equipped with no similar excuse, never gains momentum or direction, and most of the relationships and emotional developments remain sketched and insubstantial.

Stolz, a Newberry honoree, is both prolific and highly recommended. I wouldn’t pass Lands End on to anyone else, but there’s enough–just barely enough–charm in its descriptions of boating and clamming to merit the author another chance.

I’d be interested, for instance, to see what she did with Pangur Ban.

 

Previously in children’s books

Poem of the Day 8

PARAPHRASE ON PSALM CXIV

WHEN the blest seed of Terah’s faithful son
After long toil their liberty had won,
And past from Pharian fields to Canaan land,
Led by the strength of the Almighty’s hand,
Jehovah’s wonders were in Israel shown,
His praise and glory was in Israel known.
That saw the troubled sea, and shivering fled,
And sought to hide his froth-becurlèd head
Low in the earth; Jordan’s clear streams recoil,
As a faint host that hath received the foil.
The high huge-bellied mountains skip like rams
Amongst their ewes, the little hills like lambs.
Why fled the ocean? and why skipped the mountains?
Why turnèd Jordan toward his crystal fountains?
Shake, Earth, and at the presence be aghast
Of Him that ever was and aye shall last,
That glassy floods from rugged rocks can crush,
And make soft rills from fiery flint-stones gush.

 

–John Milton

In Which Bloody Mary is Vindicated by Wikipedia

It always started with a dare, and ended with a shrieking dash from the room. Goaded by each other, my friend, sister and I would lock ourselves in my grandmother’s walk in closet, sitting in total darkness except for the shapes gleaming off the full length mirror in front of us. Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, we’d start to chant.

If we said her name a hundred times, the story went, Bloody Mary would appear in the mirror. What would happen next varied from legend to legend, but we never stayed to find out. Having little desire to be physically dragged to Hell, we’d run out, screaming, by the seventieth incantation.

The legend, we understood, was linked somehow to a queen made infamous by a reign of bloodshed and brutality, a queen so wicked her demonic majesty haunts and murders children to this day.

The queen was Mary the First, and, according to Wikipedia, she is the best English monarch since Boudica.

Her childhood:

 Mary was a precocious child.[11] In July 1520, when scarcely four and a half years old, she entertained a visiting French delegation with a performance on the virginals (a type of harpsichord).[12] A great part of her early education came from her mother, who consulted the Spanish humanistJuan Luis Vives for advice and commissioned him to write De Institutione Feminae Christianae, a treatise on the education of girls.[13] By the age of nine, Mary could read and write Latin.[14] She studied French, Spanish, music, dance, and perhaps Greek.[15] Henry VIII doted on his daughter and boasted to the Venetian ambassador Sebastian Giustiniani, “This girl never cries”.

 

Damn straight she never cries, you wife-killing wart.

 

“Despite his affection for Mary, Henry was deeply disappointed that his marriage had produced no sons.”

 

You do not deserve her, and neither does your rancid arrangement of male-preference cognatic primogeniture.

 

“Mary determinedly refused to acknowledge that Anne was the queen or that Elizabeth was a princess, further enraging King Henry.”

 

Sticks up for mother, enrages murderous father.

Although both she and her mother were ill, Mary was refused permission to visit Catherine.[39] When Catherine died in 1536, Mary was “inconsolable”.[40] Catherine was interred in Peterborough Cathedralwhile Mary grieved in semi-seclusion at Hunsdon in Hertfordshire.[41]

And suffers for it.

 

Later, after she is bullied into acknowledging Henry as head of the Church and reinstated in court:

Her expenses included fine clothes and gambling at cards, one of her favorite pastimes.

GET YOURS MARY.

 

On 10 July 1553, Lady Jane was proclaimed queen by Dudley and his supporters, and on the same day Mary’s letter to the council arrived in London. By 12 July, Mary and her supporters had assembled a military force at Framlingham Castle, Suffolk.[74] Dudley’s support collapsed, and Mary’s grew.[75] Jane was deposed on 19 July.[76] She and Dudley were imprisoned in the Tower of London. Mary rode triumphantly into London on 3 August 1553 on a wave of popular support.

 

Dudley eats it, Mary is triumphant and beloved, all is right with the England’s scepter’d isle.

 

“One of Mary’s first actions as queen was to order the release of the Roman Catholic Duke of Norfolk and Stephen Gardiner from imprisonment in the Tower of London, as well as her kinsman Edward Courtenay.[78]

 

Mary takes care of her own, is Bruce Springsteen.

 

“Mary understood that the young Lady Jane was essentially a pawn in Dudley’s scheme, and Dudley was the only conspirator of rank executed forhigh treason in the immediate aftermath of the coup. Lady Jane and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, though found guilty, were kept under guard in the Tower rather than immediately executed, while Lady Jane’s father, Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, was released.[79]

 

Executes men, is lenient to young women; is a much better proto-feminist icon than Elizabeth “I have the body of a week feeble woman but the heart and stomach of a king” Tudor, the Virgin “oh what we crushed a pregnant lady to death under rocks in my persecutions?” Queen.

And let’s talk about her marriage. The marriage in which Phillip’s titles, honors, and participation in co-rule depend on his relationship with his wife.

Under the terms of the Act for the Marriage of Queen Mary to Philip of Spain, Philip was to enjoy Mary I’s titles and honours for as long as their marriage should last. All official documents, including Acts of Parliament, were to be dated with both their names, and Parliament was to be called under the joint authority of the couple. Coins were also to show the heads of both Mary and Philip. The marriage treaty also provided that England would not be obliged to provide military support to Philip’s father in any war. The Privy Council instructed that Philip and Mary should be joint signatories of royal documents, and this was enacted by an Act of Parliament, which gave him the title of king and stated that he “shall aid her Highness … in the happy administration of her Grace’s realms and dominions.”[19] In other words, Philip was to co-reign with his wife.[20]

 

Phillip has his own country, so, while he did not deserve an iota of Mary’s excellence, he is not quite on the same level as George Clooney and Mr. Galadriel  Celeborn. It’s a marriage of co-titans.

 

Felipe_of_Spain_and_MariaTudor

Nice work if you can get it.

There are false pregnancies and deep griefs that should win the sympathies the of anyone who is not a complete garbage monster (which largely explains why the English seem to have so thoroughly disavowed her.) There are Marian persecutions enough to warm the blackest illiberal heart.

There is Ireland, of course, but after all, she was English. She was Catholic, and that must be enough.

And her jewels! La Peregrina.

1554-portrait-of-mary-i-by-hans-eworth

Seriously, get out of my way.

 

The brooch that reads “Emperor.”

You may stare.

Yes, I am.

.

 

She deserves the tributes of a million spooked children and a million hungover morning drinkers.

So next time you sip the reviving brew, pour a little out on the floor, and whisper, “To Queen Mary.”

 

 

Comments containing Bloody Mary recipes are encouraged. Criticism of Mary or Elizabeth-apologia will be summarily deleted, in the spirit of Her Gracious Majesty.

Previously in Royalty

Wolves are wonderful

A letter

I don’t know, sometimes a princess just needs a kiss from a powerful authoritative older woman to wake up, it doesn’t have to be a thing

“But there is something whole and nurturing about these relatively isolated traditions

This is nonsense, obviously the moon belongs to Mary

My hero

So many heroes

Obviously

On the bright side

Chick Flicks and Tearjerkers

Fall is here, which means we are exactly a month away from Love Actually season and all its miseries.

It’s not so much that I mind the movie itself–the way it flaunts its manipulative triviality is almost endearingly goofy–its the inexplicable canonization as quintessential chick flick and tearjerker.

Because really, if we’re going to designate a special genre for sentimental dramas about women and their relationships (I would love to hear what the corresponding term for Braveheart and Field of Dreams is, by the way) I think we can do better than a film that largely consists of Alan Rickman cheating on Emma Thompson and Colin Firth mooning over the beautiful maid he’s never had a conversation with.

Behold, the real chick flicks, or at least a small sampling thereof.

 

Anne of Green Gables

When I was five and my sister was three, our best friend moved in next door to our grandparents. We did not know she was our best friend when she moved in, but it soon became obvious. We spent almost every moment of every subsequent summer together, on roofs and up trees, playing the kind of demented games that three very close, over-energetic, under-supervised children will invent. The highlight of every July was a sleepover spent watching Anne of Green Gables.

I had read the books, and loved them, but my sister and friend never did. It didn’t matter. The movie captures and distills a great part of the book’s dusty red, tree-lined heart, somehow making it its own. It’s the shots of Anne and Diana walking across a field, lit by the fall sunset, or through the tall dune grass (Anne walks by the sea with no one else), always accompanied by the fluting soundtrack. The total impression is of an idyllic Prince Edward Island whose visual and affective contours mirror the workings of memory–the way certain friendships, and certain moments in those friendships, exist always vivid, always enclosed and perfect, dipped in summery and autumnal golds.

I may or may not have teared up at this:

Anne’s sick and desperate face upon hearing that Diana is marrying the meek and worthless Fred (I love Bruce, but you must admit he was not fit to untie Anne’s shoelaces) says everything. Diana goes through with the wedding, but she kisses Anne first. Anne was always first.

The whole post, like the movie, is for anyone who’s fallen in love with a friend at at first sight, head over heels in total heartsick longing.

 

Sense and Sensibility

Out of innumerable Austen adaptations there are only two true greats: the six hour BBC Pride and Prejudice and the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility. The BBC Pride and Prejudice is a delicious, impeccable romp; its source material is less steeped in grief than Sense’s, and it is too busy being a perfect Austen adaptation to be anything else.

Sense and Sensibility, though, is that rarest of birds–an adaptation whose liberal tweaking is defensible and coherent, a marriage of minds in which the text shines through, but suffused with the particular vision of the adapter.

And what a lonely vision it is: the muted palette of steel grays and blues, the rainy skies, the expanses of Devonshire moor. It’s a lonely place, and a lonely movie; full of the pain of isolation and of being misapprehended, of worry and doubt and no one to share it with, of the ever present threat of loss. For Marianne, who cannot comprehend losing what she loves, and for Elinor, who always fears that she will.

Watch her beg Marianne not to leave her alone, then go call your sister, tell her you love her, and maybe weep to pianoforte music for an hour or so.

 

I am realizing now that almost every movie in this sampling is about sisters. I realize, and acknowledge, but I do not apologize. On to Little Women.

Louisa May Alcott’s most famous novel charms and torments by turns. The March sisters, and their rich intra-familial life, and their fervent Trascendentalist context, are irresistible.  Alcott’s relentless didactic incursions into the text, on the other hand, nearly drove me to to distraction. I am a tolerant lady, tranquil as the flowing stream, but there are only so many speeches–often about feminine modesty and the sweet, tender power a maiden wields over young men who reverence her as the principle of womanly purity and the sacred domestic hearth–that a body can take.

And there’s then there’s jarring difference between the two mini-novels that comprise the whole.The first, Little Women, is a love letter to the March clan. The second, Good Wives, picks up after the marriage of the eldest daughter, and is a plodding, meandering account of a now less vibrant clan’s drift into marriages and death.The whole thing seems a vindication of Jo’s complaint “Why must we marry at all? Why can’t things just stay as they are?”

None of this even touches the book’s cardinal sin, the ghastly crime of Jo and Laurie (I cannot bring myself to speak that interfering German fathead’s name).

Rest assured, I am not implying that the plot is a crime against Laurie, that he “deserves her” just because he falls in love and knows how to wear a cravat. I am firmly opposed to women, fictional or otherwise, being handed off to men as prizes, no matter how prepossessing the waistcoat or necktie involved. The resolution of Jo’s love affairs is a crime against Jo and against the universe.

That two people who light each other up, who confide in and challenge each other, who have known and loved each other through the vagaries of youth, in whom the same slight piratical streak runs, should sunder on pretexts flimsier than the social safety net; that Jo must pretend that she would not be magnificent traipsing around Europe with husband Laurie–a rascally, growly belle laide–it is all unconscionable.

I do not know if Alcott felt compelled to punish Jo, or punish herself in Jo, or if she simply could not imagine a practicable sexual relationship without a large age gap and strong paternal subtext. Whatever the dreadful reason, there is little to be done now.

The film adaptation, oyster-like, does its best to soften all these irritants in a layers of nacre-gleaming excellence, and largely succeeds.

The fascinating, maddening, WASPy New England triad of patrician battiness, moral rigorism, and social conscience remains. It’s made more accessible, though, by the excision of Alcott’s direct address, and by making the feminist thread that runs through the book more explicit.

The casting doesn’t hurt either; Susan Sarandon’s jawline alone could play a credible Marmee, while Winona Ryder and Christian Bale simply are Jo and Laurie. Ryder in particular seems born for this role, and her eager, angular, beauty, almost poignantly evocative of a specific moment in time, perfectly captures Jo’s muddle of towering ambition and resistance to life’s onward march.

Much of the novel, necessarily, winds up jettisonned, but it’s hard to imagine how the final cut could be more perfect. The demands of on-screen concision go a long way towards mending the faults of the novel’s second half, chronicling Jo’s development and the unraveling of the March’s domestic knot without the episodic weariness of the book.

Perfection would perhaps entail grownup Amy married off to some polite and human-looking English lord, and Professor Bhaer darning socks alone in his boarding-house forever. But, since that is not to be, it is some comfort that the film really does the best it can.

Jo actually gets a love interest, not a grandfather, courtesy of the beautiful, beautiful Gabriel Byrne. She gets a a courtship, a real courtship that does not consist solely of Bhaer shuffling around and offering unsolicited opinions about what she should be writing. Laurie grows capitally offensive facial hair, which takes some of the salt out of the wound.

It’s not much, but against the backdrop of the telescoped years with Jo and her family, it’s more than enough.

Here is the soundtrack, in lieu of the Concord Farmhouse you really wanted.

 

A League of Their Own

When we did not feel like going out on weekends, my college roommate and I would build a nest of pillows and blankets on the floor of our room and curl up together to watch this movie (or, occasionally, Stardust; never anything else.)

There is little else to say about it, except that Geena Davis is resplendent and full of the warm female authority Jane Eyre spends most of a novel searching for.

Whether you are by nature a mule or a nag, if it’s on, you watch it, and if you watch it, you will cry.

 

 

Anastasia

 

Disney movies are all very well in their way, but none of them even come within a hundred miles of twanging the old heartstrings like Anastasia.

I don’t know whether it’s the hungry search for her family, or the confirmation of secretly harbored beliefs that one is probably a disinherited empress, or the delights of a fairy tale set in jazz age Paris, or just the thoroughness with which Anya crushes Rasputin under her immaculately shod heel.

I suspect though, that it’s largely something to do with the movie’s gleaming, wistful, ghostiness.

I mean, an amnesiac beggar-princess dancing with the ghosts of her executed sisters. What more do you want?

 

There are other movies, I am sure, that many will contend deserve top billing on this list–Steel Magnolias, Fried Green Tomatoes, Thelma and Louise, The Color Purple, et cetera–but since I have not seen these films, I will let others make the case for them.

 

 

A Troll on OkCupid

 

And on the first day, she created her profile, and it was good.

My Self Summary:

I am a deathless immortal, born from the sea, radiant as the sun.

What I’m Doing With My Life

Like the ungovernable waves from whence I rose, I give life and take it, as is my fancy.

I glory, and move from triumph to triumph.

What I’m Really Good At

Casting down mine enemies from their thrones; drinking mead from their skulls.

Favorite Books, Movies, Shows, Music, and Food

My food is the beaming light of stars, my wine is the lifeblood of rubies.

If perchance I need a respite from rejoicing in my own strength, I enjoy sporting with dragons.

The Six Things I Could Never Do Without

Fool, think I shall discover to you the talismans of my deathless power?

I Spend A Lot of Time Thinking About

The ages of the world I have seen, the ages I shall yet see.

On A Typical Friday Night I Am

Enjoying a long walk on the beach with a nice Chardonnay.

 

On the second day, a man sent the first message, and it was long

KitchenKing19: Hey,

I was just looking over your profile and I couldn’t help noticing that you seem like a nice girl and I thought why not give it a shot and message her she seems insanely nice. I would like nothing better than to meet you and hang out and see how things go. I know there is an age difference between us but let me tell you something about that. Age is just a number and we are at an evolution in society where we can disregard it. Maybe you would like someone who is mature and stable and knows how to treat a girl right. I was raised with old-fashioned values and I can literally blow your mind, sorry if that sounds corny. You probably want a man and not a boy, I am a man and I can promise you that. Meet me and see for yourself and besides why would I be taking the time and putting so much thought into this deep message. I am a nice guy looking for that special someone and am hoping it can turn into a long term relationship. I don’t play games and I’m all for commitments, if there’s something special there. And on top of that I’m built on chivalry which you don’t see any more and I put my friends and family first. We’re all human and one in the same and what’s life without risks and taking chances. After all neither of us have anything to lose and we could really benefit from it.

 

On the third day, she decided to answer some messages, and it was a questionable decision.

Insideu: lol i probably have no chance u would never go out with someone like me but hey i at least i can say I messaged you.

ClareMarie: You are correct, peon, I would not sully my luminous immortal body by taking a mortal mate.

However, as you seem most decorously aware of your lowliness, I shall allow you to serve me.

Pluck for me the feathers of swallow, cormorant, jay, and peacock, and in a fan commingle them. You may then use it to refresh my limbs when the languorous heat bedrowses them.

 

Smarterguy: Hey

Claremarie: Silence, idle babbler.

 

DanG174: Heu

Claremarie: Heu quibus illeiactatus fatis! quae bella exhausta canebat!

 

Philliesdude9: Hey what’s up?

Claremarie: If I told you what was up, above your earth, slowly circling that endless darkness, waiting for the appointed time to rain death upon your people, you would beg for the mercy of oblivion.

 

Brosaurusrex: Just thought you should know your entire profile reads like a self-aggrandizing sociopath.

Claremarie: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

And on the fourth day, dude circled back, and it was unclear what he thought he was accomplishing.

KitchenKing19: Hey I hadn’t heard back from you and was wondering if you had even read my message. I took a lot of time over it and I would like to know what you thought of it and if you’re interested in getting together and seeing where it goes. I am very straightforward and I hate playing games and I would like to know what the situation is going forward if that makes sense.

Claremarie: So sorry I did not answer the very deep and thoughtful message (that you took a lot of time over) within forty-eight hours!

I’m so glad you think that age is just a number, because, as it happens, I am actually 97! I know I lied on my profile, but if you think about it, a lie is just a bunch of letters strung together.

Also happy to know that you’re so sincere and reliable, because I was left at the altar by my scum fiancé and have spent the last 75 years locked up in my moldering ruin of a house, picking at the threads of the rotting wedding dress I have never removed and musing on the treachery of men! So, long story short, very glad to hear you are UPFRONT and STRAIGHTFORWARD and nothing like the rest of your lying vampiric predatory kind.

Rest assured, I hate playing games too, unless the game is “use a beautiful and cruel young woman as a pawn to break the hearts and spirits of men” ;)

Want to meet up?

 

And on the fifth day she got replies to her replies, and they mostly said “crazy” and “bitch.”

Claremarie:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

And on the sixth day there were new messages, and they were definitely worth answering

CRB1: u should post more pics

Claremarie: Not so easily shall you steal pieces of my soul to use in your necromancy.

 

Lerecherchedutemps:  Sadly Claremarie you are not immortal. You must realize how impossible and ridiculous that is. People often think this until they realize all experience is fleeting and the only hope of meaning is in human connection.

Claremarie: whoah u have opened my eyes

 

 

PureEuro: What ethnicity are you? You ever been with a European guy before? ;)

Claremarie:  Whatever ethnicity would please you least, wyrm.

 

PeteinHTown: We’d make for very sexy cuddle buddies.

Claremarie: Until the searing heat of my radiant flesh reduced you to a charred pile of bones.

 

AS457:  Hey, do you ever let commoners “ride” that “dragon” of yours?

Claremarie: Sure, all the time! Though they usually get devoured by my dragon’s row after row of perfectly pointed, razor sharp, gleaming white teeth.

 

And on the seventh day, the Rand fan came, and there was nothing left to say

roark_howard: You seem like a strong woman and I’m a strong man. Looking for my Dominique Francon, are you up to the challenge ? :)

Claremarie: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

 

A broadside against feminism’s relationship with mass incarceration and the state recently made the rounds. The basic premise is on point, but its articulation is in a few ways sloppy and troubling.

The first problem comes when the author refers to the unjust prosecution of a daycare worker as part of a “sex panic.” Definitionally, even an ungrounded terror of sexual malfeasance by daycare workers is not a “sex panic,” but a sexual abuse panic. The difference between the phenomena of sexual relations and sexual abuse is one of most basic concessions sought by various anti-violence movements; it’s an odd and unnecessary show of bad faith to conflate the two.

It is an even stranger show of bad faith if you call to mind particular communities scarred by sexual abuse. The Catholic Church has a historically fraught relationship with sex. Should we conclude that fear and trauma over rampant and hushed-up priestly abuse is part of a “sex panic?,” or that outrage over two 30 year old teachers sexually exploiting a 16 year old is merely the replacement of the emancipatory sexual revolution with the “armor of victimhood?”

In her eagerness to make a confused and confusing distinction about “victimhood” vs. “liberation,” the author stumbles over any difference between decrying a response to crime and denying the seriousness of the crime itself. This, in the end, weakens her argument: if the problem is not the machinery of mass incarceration, but its participation in a series of groundless sexual hysterias, it is not clear why the carceral state is itself the problem.

It also undercuts the possibility of achieving justice through non-carceral means. In her conclusion she cites two cases clearly meant to demonstrate the absurd and horrifying reach of punitive responses to sexual assault. One of them is a six year old labelled a sexual harasser for “stealing a kiss.” A heavily punitive response to an offense by a child is seriously wrong, but the way Wypijewski described the incident is irresponsible. Both the mother of the child and the school confirmed that unwanted kissing and touching was a repeated, deliberate pattern that was impinging on the girl’s ability to participate in school. Arguably, a transformative justice approach would recognize that patterns of domination are learned and normalized early, and work to uproot and re-make said patterns within a community; not only for the sake of the little girl who was afraid of her classmates, but as a response to society-wide sexual violence. Careful and dedicated work alone can make the particulars of this kind of justice a reality, but the trivializing power of the phrase “stolen kiss” is as much an impediment as a carceral framework.

If dismissing victims of violence only short-circuits a call for a more totalizing justice, it also misses one of the most salient critiques of the prison industrial complex. Wypijewski argues that “sex is not special.” In the sense she seems mostly to mean the statement, it is true. Sexual violence does not uniquely necessitate or find restoration in cruel and violent responses, whatever the revenge porn genre might say. But in another sense sexual assault is special–in the sense that violence, and intimate violence, holds a more terrible place in the human capacity for evil than other offenses. Part of the horror of Kalief Browder’s story is surely that we immiserate humans in cages at all, but another is that we cage them for such petty misconduct.

Sexual violence is indeed especially terrible. Wypijewski reminds us of the reality of sexual assaults in prison, but never makes the explicit connection that the prison industrial complex is itself a massive state-run project of sexual violence, and therefore as deserving of feminist attention, and on the same grounds, as other culprits. She states that sex (always sex, never sexual abuse) has been “almost as instrumental in this nightmare state as racism.” As far as I can tell, this is questionable on the merits. At the state level, 12 percent of sentenced state inmates were serving time for rape or assault in 2013. 38 percent of said inmates were black, and 21 percent were Latino, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Underplaying the absolute centrality of violent white supremacy to the creation of mass incarceration seems a mistake, but so is positing sexual and gender violence and state violence as two competing and counterbalancing phenomena. State violence is sexual and gender violence, especially for black women, targeted as prostitutes, forcibly sterilized, pursued and raped by cops, raped by prison guardsimprisoned for being the victims of domestic abuse, imprisoned for trying to leave their abuser. It is sexual violence for Native American women, for whom the centuries old colonial state has meant unending rape with impunity by white men. It is sexual violence for migrant women, brutalized and raped in deportation centers. And it is sexual violence for men of color, whose threatening black male bodies can never be truly victimized; not when they are raped in prison, and not when they lie dead in the street.

Sexual, gender, and intimate violence is not only particularly evil, but it holds a unique historical role as an especially cruel and dehumanizing component of the United States’ brutal subjugation of black and brown bodies.

Wipijewski, I am sure, knows this all, and mentions some of it in her essay; she is fighting a good fight for a righteous and urgent cause. But her piece unintentionally replicates the most damning sin of carceral white feminism: a failure to clearly see state violence as precisely indistinguishable from sexual. A lack of focus means that it is unclear whether the target is “victimhood” or “sex panic” or a sexually violent state, and whether the remedy entails abandoning feminist concerns, or expanding them to include and prioritize the most marginal.

Beyonce strode out onto the Video Music Awards stage under the banner of feminism—literally. Behind the silhouetted star loomed, in huge white letters, the word “Feminist”, which, as a sampled Chichimanda Ngozi Adichie talk contends, means “the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. And, as usually happens when Beyonce exercises her powers, the feminist internet sat up and took notice.

There is nothing healthy about the scrutiny Beyoncé’s feminism has garnered; not the warm appreciation and critical analysis she has elicited from some quarters, but the haggling over whether Beyoncé is a feminist and what that means for feminism.

On one hand, the scrutiny demands a superhuman level of feminist legitimacy performance.  Supporting the broadly conceived social and political goals of feminism is not enough—she must as an individual attest to the purity of Beyonce the feminist through all of her creative, marital, quotidian choices.It is a cruel burden to lay on anyone—especially a black women vocally championing a social movement forged in alliance with white supremacy. On the other, the anxious search for the next celebrity spokeswoman is one of the grimmest spectacles in the grim mutation of a radical social movement into a cyclical rebranding exercise. The overweening amount of time and resources spent proving that feminism can be fun and sexy, often at the expense of more substantive principles; the desperate wooing of young (upper middle class) women, as if all that mattered was adoption of the label—none of these commodifications are quite as naked as the eagerness to turn a celebrity’s life and choices into a product marked “feminism.”

But the conservative culture commentariat’s take on Beyonce The Feminist raised neither of these objections to third party attempts to harness and narrate the mega-star’s assumption of the feminist mantle. Rather, they dived with abandon down the What Beyonce Says About Feminism rabbit hole, and found, by most accounts, a mess of damning inconsistencies. The fact that feminists and critics met Beyonce’s VMA performance with delight or at least critical engagement, while condemning Sofia Vergara’s rotating pedestal gag at the Emmys, drew the most ire.

If the measure of the artistic and emancipatory merit of women’s work is how much ass they show and how gleefully they show it, or how many times and how explicitly they reference sex in their performances, then yes, Knowles-Carter’s and Vergara’s performance should stand or swing by the same rope. But a quick look at other criteria illuminates instructive differences.

Beyonce is a dancer and singer, a performing artist in two mediums that, since the courtly love troubadours at the very least, have taken romantic and sexual passion as a chief subject. Moreover, even within the heavily eroticized form, Beyoncé’s opera has been dedicated to exploring and voicing in first person the sexual experience of a woman at a specific nexus of contexts—Black, female, Houstonite, lovesick, submissive, vengeful, ferocious.  Her artistic choices have at least sometimes been problematic from a feminist perspective, but her eroticized performance persona is entirely appropriate to her work, and functions within its parameters to form a luminous whole.

Vergara is a comedian. And while her medium is not so steeped in the vagaries of sex, there is certainly a long and venerable comedy of the erotic. Of course, some of the brightest stars of this theater have rendered performances as ideologically indeterminate, as conflicted and contradictory as any of Beyoncé’s. Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, Nora Ephron musing on the difference between men and women, among many others, offer up  a vision of sexual love and female personhood that is at times disturbing and at others openly misogynistic.  In all cases, though, the comedian participates as an agent in a tense gendered dance, or spins the state in which she finds herself with a personal and judgmental eye. The comedy of erotics, like the dance of erotics, will always be open to feminist criticism, but it provides a space in which women’s experiences of love, sex, and gender become as creatively important, regarded, and fruitful as men’s have traditionally been held.

In the Emmy bit, Vergara is neither an equal participant nor a commentator. Note that this holds no matter whose idea the gag was or how much control she had over the scene. Although an analysis of the power of female performers relative to their (usually male) producers and recording industry CEOs would be interesting, the issue at hand is not actor-behind the scenes but actor-producing-work. And the Emmys sketch was not structured around how Vergara engages the desires of others, or her own desire, or how she feels about or deals with the joys and frustrations of a publicly erotic body. None of that provided material for the joke—the joke was her body. Literally, the way the joke worked was thus: a man said, people like to look at Sofia Vergara. Ha ha ha. To further demonstrate his point, he put her on a cake stand, or the nearest equivalent. The internal logic of the jest required no insight, or participation from Vergara.  She functioned as a prop.

AJ Delgado pointed out that Vergara was wearing a tasteful dress and, in general stays away from explicitly sexual humor; thus, she implies, her joke was less offensive and more feminist than Beyonce’s show. But the random declaration of a woman’s desirability in an unrelated context is not less offensive than a dancer’s deliberate inhabitance of an erotic theater, and the fact that a woman’s breasts and ass will be made a public spectacle when she wears a formal dress is much more troubling than a dancer’s display of her body in movements of disciplined sensuality. Beyonce’s bodily display was the stuff of her work; Vergara’s was presented in contradistinction to it. We say we care about story, about talent, about comedy, went the subtext, but really, we’re all here for the show. Ha ha ha.

None of this necessarily means that the joke was unfunny, or that Vergara herself is a sexist. It only means the context and structure of the two stars’ respective performances were different, and evaluations of their merits must reach a little higher than “is showing off your body good or bad?”

It was a very easy joke to make, after all; women’s bodies are already hilarious—subject to exposure, cartoonishly sexual, other—simply as desirable flesh. A little more hilarity at the expense of the sexual female body came courtesy of Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist. Hemingway noted that the main differences between the two actors seemed to be that Vergara “wasn’t splaying her legs with all the subtlety of a stampeding herd of rhinoceroses.” The disdainful hyperbole of the image is telling. Whatever the correct critical responses to Beyonce and Vergara’s respective performances, there is no obvious reason to equate them. Doing so requires a violent and degrading reduction of female performers to their degree of exposure—to their hilarious bodies and shamefully splayed legs. And for two women who have so generously exposed their considerable talents to the world, it is an unjust reduction indeed.

Books and Baked Goods 9

Your baked good for this week is this  Smitten Kitchen’s plum cake, for maximum convenience suggested well after all the plums have vanished from the greengrocer’s. I tried to make this cake in a toaster over, which, I was promised, worked as well as or better than what I was used to. In point of fact the oven burned the top and failed to cook the rest, so I ended up scraping the burnt crust off and cooking it for ten more minutes before serving it with ice cream as plum pudding. It was surprisingly scrumptious.

Moral of the story: when everything goes wrong, serve it as a pudding.

Chapters 60 to 69! Previous installments here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Explanation of this ghastly drawn out Bataan death march of a book club, here.

Will is finding a little more about his family, and the plot thickens.

“[Bulstrode] was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs, and who had gradually explained the gratifaction of his desires into satisfactory arrangement with those beliefs.”

Ouch.

Bulstrode’s sanctification of profit scheme does not hold up very well to the light. He and his constant terror of exposure are so pitable.

Arghh. Will and Dorothea talking past each other is driving me insane. Lesson learned, folks: if you think it’s one hundred percent certain that the object of your affections must grok the hints and allusions you are dropping….they probably don’t.

Why won’t Lydgate let Farebrother help him? But his pride can’t hold long with the vise of debt squeezing him. The thread of debt runs all through the novel–Fred’s debts, his reliance on the death of a patron to absolve him; Lydgate’s debts, and the degradation in which they immerse him; Caleb’s disinclination to be in Bulstrode’s “debt” by accepting his patronage; even Dorothea’s relation to Will is colored by what she feels she owes him and cannot render him.

“The poor thing saw only that the world was not to her liking, and that Lydgate was the world.”

Rosamund sees herself, and the world, not herself among selves. Her narcissism seems to totally lack a theory of mind.

The idea of letting her house to the man she rejected must be terribly painful for her, coinciding with the loss of Will Ladislaw’s attentions.

Lydgate can only go lower than his original picture of a passive adoring spouse, not higher. Still, his continued love for Rosamund, and more than that, his fervent desire that he might continue to love her, is deeply touching

“In marriage, the certainty, “She will never love me more,” is easier to bear than the fear “I shall love her no more.”

This is true, and not just for marriage, I think. What terrifies me about my sin is not that God will stop loving me, but that I will lose my ability to love God.

This is also why Rosamund is more pitiable than Lydgate.

The alienation of their marriage  is so painful to watch–and Lydgate, with his many real excellencies, could have had a marriage of so much tenderness, respect, and mutual support had he treated the character of a wife more seriously. And instead he ends up sobbing with her while their furniture is sold, a togetherness without unity or intimacy.

Re Fred stopping Lydgate’s gambling, it strikes me how much important action of the novel takes place in public space.

And, as usual, Farebrother is being a hero to Fred. What else is new?

Speaking of news, Raffles has returned, sick and delirious. Uh oh. Is it all over for Bulstrode? Will Bulstrode murder Raffles? Tune in for chapters 70-79 to find out!

I’ll end with this quote.

He had never liked the makeshifts of poverty and they had never before entered into his prospects for himself, but he was beginning now to imagine how two creatures who loved each other and had a stock of thoughts in common might laugh over their shabby furniture and their calculations how far they could afford butter and eggs.

Unrelated: IT’S MY BIRTHDAY. Consider this my birthday present to you, after the manner of hobbits.