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Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Plus Ça Change

April 21, 2015 | by

Charlotte_Bronte_by_Patrick_Branwell_Bronte_restored

A portrait of Charlotte Brontë from The Brontë Sisters, by Patrick Branwell Brontë, ca. 1834.

From Charlotte Brontë’s letter to her friend Ellen Nussey, April 2, 1845. Brontë and Nussey exchanged hundreds of letters; this one, written about two weeks before Brontë turned twenty-nine and two years before the publication of Jane Eyre, finds her in a laudably bitter frame of mind, inveighing against marriage and men.

I see plainly it is proved to us that there is scarcely a draught of unmingled happiness to be had in this world. ——’s illness comes with ——’s marriage. Mary T. finds herself free, and on that path to adventure and exertion to which she has so long been seeking admission. Sickness, hardship, danger are her fellow-travellers—her inseparable companions … Yet these real, material dangers, when once past, leave in the mind the satisfaction of having struggled with difficulty, and overcome it. Strength, courage, and experience are their invariable results; whereas, I doubt whether suffering purely mental has any good result, unless it be to make us by comparison less sensitive to physical suffering … Read More »

Teaching Twin Peaks at Sweet Briar

April 8, 2015 | by

Remembering a momentous semester as Twin Peaks turns twenty-five and Sweet Briar closes its doors.

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The Sweet Briar House.

In 2012, I taught a freshman comp class called Myths About Women. The primary texts were Antigone and Twin Peaks. This was at Sweet Briar College, and as it happens, the students from that class will be among the last to graduate from the 114-year-old women’s college this May. Last month, the school’s board of directors voted to close it at the end of this academic year because of “insurmountable financial challenges.”

I’d been trying for a few semesters to arrive at a reading list that would help the students think critically about gender—this was a women’s college, after all. But Sweet Briar, in Virginia, is not like its northern counterparts Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke. Sweet Briar’s official mascot is the vixen; its official colors are pink and green, a color scheme long synonymous with preppy fashion. And everywhere there are the trappings of wealthy, white Southern culture: among the student body, pearls are imbued with an almost totemic power. The campus bookstore sells Lilly Pulitzer handbags. Read More »

Feminist Fumes

April 6, 2015 | by

Anicka Yi’s miasmatic art.

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Anicka Yi, Grabbing at Newer Vegetables, 2015, plexiglas, agar, female bacteria, fungus, 84.5" x 24.5". Courtesy of the artist and 47 Canal. Photo: Jason Mandella

In nineteenth-century England, it was believed that the poor, foul-smelling parts of cities were points of origin for disease. The word malaria is from the Italian mal’aria: “bad air.” Cholera was believed to come from decayed organic matter, miasmata. Adherents of miasma theory followed their noses: bad odors, they thought, carried infectious disease. In The Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population, published in 1842, the British social reformer Edwin Chadwick proclaimed that smell “generally gives certain warning of the presence of malaria or gases noxious to the health.”

The artist Anicka Yi plays with this amorphous, olfactory fear in her show “You Can Call Me F,” a meditation on contagion and femininity up through April 11 at The Kitchen. Yi’s media are bacteria and smell, and a sense of bodily invasion pervades the exhibition. She worked with cheek swabs from a hundred women—her creative peers, artists, collectors, curators, and the like—to form a bacteria collective that will grow for the duration of the show. It’s a sort of feminist ecosystem, powerful but fragile. Quarantine tents dot the dark, barren space, and the scent that permeates it is at once perfumed and antiseptic, redolent of a doctor’s office operating out of a woman’s bedroom. It’s almost pleasant, but it carries an undercurrent of danger: Where does this smell come from, exactly, and where is it going? Read More »

3: “Blasts and Lurches”

March 26, 2015 | by

From “A Fête Worse than Death” through “A Great Reckoning in a Little Room,” pp. 59–71

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This is the third entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

In their opening salvos to this celebration of/cerebration on Norman Rush’s Mating, it seems only reasonable that my virtual clubmates, Popkey and Piepenbring, have focused on the voice of the novel’s nameless first-person narrator. Without question, she’s a unique creation. Piepenbring calls her, approvingly, “strange,” a strangeness that Popkey would have us appreciate for a believable femaleness. I concede, as Popkey documents, that since Mating received the National Book Award for fiction, in 1991, it has been a point of debate, among critics and readers, to assess the degree of plausibility of the femaleness of Rush’s narrator (a nameless narrator who, in Rush’s third-person second novel, Mortals, has a brief walk-on part in which we learn both her pedestrian forename and her satisfying surname). 

Setting aside here the question of a male novelist’s capacity to imagine female prose (whatever that is), it seems to me that a deeper challenge, and the one by which we might measure Rush’s capacities, is his ability to imagine a character with a complex, plausible intellectual life. Though the human heart tested to its limits is amply central in the history of the novel, a human mind functioning at the peak of its powers is less well represented (and, when amply charted, is more typically criminal: Charles Kinbote and Humbert Humbert, for two). As such, I’m less concerned about veracity of voice than I am with memorableness of mind. No one I know talks like Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, but that doesn’t stop me from believing in him. And no one I know takes in the world quite the way the narrator of Mating does. Read More »

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2: “I Had Been Working My Tits Down to Nubs”

March 19, 2015 | by

From “Martin Wade Leaves a Party” through “Sekopololo,” pp. 29–55

mating

This is the second entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

My God, that’s awful!” This was, by her own account, Elsa Rush’s reaction to one of the most memorable—and one of my favorite—lines in her husband’s novel: “I had been working my tits down to nubs.”

Some context: Our unnamed narrator is trying to ferret out what her current paramour, a British spy she calls Z., knows about the elusive Nelson Denoon, an iconoclastic figure in the anthropological world. Denoon, who has been hovering on the novel’s margins since its very first pages, will soon become—and I trust this is no spoiler—her lover; but, for the moment, he is merely “the pinnacle of whatever vineyard I was laboring in as a groundling,” the object of her “ressentiment.” “I was thirty-two,” our narrator explains, “and a woman and no doctorate yet, no thesis even, and closing in on my thesis deadline. I had been working my tits down to nubs in the study of man, with the result that my goals were receding farther the faster I ran.” Read More »

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New Lovers: An Interview with Paul Chan

March 10, 2015 | by

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Paul Chan is best known as a multimedia artist, writer, and activist, but in 2010 he added publisher to his long list of achievements when he founded Badlands Unlimited, an imprint with a mission that embraced changes in the way books are created and circulated: “We make books in an expanded field.” Chan’s modest house boasts a list rich in writing and ideas. In its brief history, it’s published, among others, Calvin Tomkins’s collected interviews with Marcel Duchamp, Yvonne Rainer’s poems, Saddam Hussein’s speeches on democracy, and a monograph of curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s notes and hand-drawn diagrams.

This year, Chan and his Badlands coconspirators—Ian Cheng, Micaela Durand, and Matthew So—launched the first three titles of New Lovers, a series of erotic novels written by women for a new generation’s sexual imagination. In Lilith Wes’s We Love Lucy, a young woman throuples up with her best friend and his boyfriend; Wednesday Black’s How to Train Your Virgin tells of a queen in a colorful, fantastic realm who tries to win back the lust of her king; and in God, I Don’t Even Know Your Name, Andrea McGinty tracks a young artist’s worldwide sexual adventures after she begins using a new dating app called Bangly. In short, the books are intended to be colorfully hot reads for the thinking pervert.

I met with Chan to talk about New Lovers a few weeks ago in his airy, light-filled studio in Industry City, Brooklyn. He and his team were in the final stages of completing work for “Nonprojections for New Lovers,” Chan’s solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, organized in honor of his winning the 2014 Hugo Boss Prize. To my surprise, Chan was utterly cool and calm considering the coming storm.

Badlands Unlimited largely publishes art books. How does erotica fit into your mission?

From the very beginning, one of the models for Badlands has been Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press, which was one of the craziest, most vanguard presses out there. They funded themselves selling erotica. A year and a half ago, we published a political romance inspired by Michele Bachmann by the poet Trey Sager. It was called Fires of Siberia, and we had a lot of fun doing it. So we thought, Why not explicitly use the model of Olympia Press to do a series of erotic romance books? We’ll focus on women writers, publish them as paperbacks and e-books, and see what we get.

Why focus on women writers?

They write better erotica. We read some manuscripts written by men. We didn’t like them. Read More »

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