A feminist asks where all the other feminists were (planning a boobquake?) (via River Slant)
The three events were started in response to an Iranian cleric’s proclamations about women’s immodesty and promiscuity causing earthquakes, and have subsequently been supported by members of such prominent feminist sites as Feministing.com, Jezebel.com, and Feministe.com. I was initially intrigued by the idea as a sort of campy and playful way to collectively disprove an idea, but after about 5 minutes of perusal, it became glaringly apparent that this North American response to an Iranian cleric was more about Islamophobia and ethnocentrism than the rights of Muslim women. The events are a vector for the co-option of feminist rhetoric to further objectify women, and a demonstration of the smug North American sense of moral and developmental superiority over those “other” brown folks in the Middle East. The people who should REALLY be leading the response to the statements made by the cleric are IRANIAN and MUSLIM WOMEN, who have, you know, the LIVED EXPERIENCE of dealing with these statements every day, but their voices are silenced by us obnoxious and entitled white-educated-secular types who feel the need to make a BOOBQUAKE instead of really listening and standing in solidarity. Our form of protest also bars and mocks women who CHOOSE to dress modestly — such as women who wear the niqab — from participating in and being at the forefront of the protest, a protest which actually affects their lives far more than ours.
Therefore I ask: why is it so easy for feminists to organise around a chance to show off some cleavage in order to belittle one man overseas who would police the lives of Muslim women, whereas it is so difficult to get feminists to organise around a chance to protest a powerful provincial government who would police the lives of Muslim women?
Michael Scharf on Indian poetry — English and bhasha writers (via Vivek Narayanan)*
. . . while most people agree on what it means to use English in daily discourse, more controversial is the role of English in Indian literature. Indian critics overtly evaluate a writer’s regional linguistic loyalties and correlate those loyalties to the writer’s degree of “Indianness.” In that equation, as Sadana has documented, writers of English come in for lashing critique by bhasha, or vernacular, writers (a category that includes Hindi, somewhat complexly still considered a vernacular literature).
Nowhere is this more true than in Indian poetry in English. English-language fiction is a major medium for the expression, and the export, of India and Indianness, even as it is critiqued by the vernacular writers for “pandering to a global . . . audience,” as Sadana reports. Indian poetry in English, however, is denounced, dismissed, or ignored pretty much across the board in India, partly because the cultural demands made on lyric are very different from those on prose.
Lyric poetry is the form that most explicitly and self-consciously explores the relationship between the construction of the self and the construction of sentences. Its intimacy sets it apart from the novel, and makes it the ultimate expression of a culture’s sensibility — of its most intimate self (or selves).
As such, whether the poet intends it or not, lyric is political. When Indian reviewers wonder aloud whether India can ever produce poetry in English that would be of any value—or what the point of doing so would be—they are making a political argument. A related move is to challenge the poet’s linguistic competence in English, so as to impugn the poet with lingering colonialist sensibilities, to condemn alleged mimicry. Such critiques, rooted in a politics that does not see English as a proper medium for an Indian poetic, deny that Indian poetry in English is Indian at all.
. . . As a result—though for reasons Thayil may not totally recognize—The Bloodaxe Book is the most forceful reply to bhasha critiques to date. . . . At the same time as he throws a spanner in the Indianness works, however, Thayil tacitly bypasses a powerful means of refuting bhasha definitions of authentic Indianness.
Lyric has peculiar connections to truth, to the mechanics of language, and to voice. Those connections present obstacles to piecing together stable political identities within lyric—of any kind, in any language. There is a large body of work that engages those difficulties and attempts to write out of or through identity positions, and to do so as an end in itself. The goals of this “identity work” are to transmit, for example, knowledge about being “Indian” or “Gujarati,” or to define the problems in trying to do so.
Thayil largely avoids identity work, possibly because of its connection, in India, to forms of political and religious communalism. But its exclusion deprives the anthology of an important insight that undercuts the anti-English critics: English has become a local mode of expression that acts differently in different contexts even within India.
Chris Cox on literature’s last taboo — masturbation
Masturbation has always been literary. “Traffic with thyself”, as Shakespeare tuttingly referred to it, is the only sex that takes place purely in the imagination – fictional characters are its livelihood. Better still, there are no rules, all bets are off, and you can get away with whatever you like. But despite being truly democratic – if not downright anarchic – in its availability, masturbation is the one form of sex that writers have yet to truly get to grips with.
Perhaps this is because we’re still hungover from the time when self-love was seen as the cause of everything from insanity to infirmity to an early death. According to one prominent historian, we have yet to resolve our anxiety over this activity, which represents not a social engagement with another, but a retreat into the unbounded world of our imaginations. We still feel deep ambivalence about such unpoliced pleasure, even while most of us are paid-up subscribers. The horror of masturbation – which has no rules and can’t be brought to heel by society – has been handed down to us largely intact. Ninety years after Ulysses was banned for not-very-subtly describing Bloom’s “long Roman candle” joyously exploding in the air, the act of onanism retains a power to shock that no other kind of sex in literature can.
Katie Roiphe compares two generations of American writers’ explorations of sex in fiction**
The younger writers are so self-conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex. Even the mildest display of male aggression is a sign of being overly hopeful, overly earnest or politically untoward. For a character to feel himself, even fleetingly, a conquering hero is somehow passé. More precisely, for a character to attach too much importance to sex, or aspiration to it, to believe that it might be a force that could change things, and possibly for the better, would be hopelessly retrograde. Passivity, a paralyzed sweetness, a deep ambivalence about sexual appetite, are somehow taken as signs of a complex and admirable inner life. These are writers in love with irony, with the literary possibility of self-consciousness so extreme it almost precludes the minimal abandon necessary for the sexual act itself, and in direct rebellion against the Roth, Updike and Bellow their college girlfriends denounced. (Recounting one such denunciation, David Foster Wallace says a friend called Updike “just a penis with a thesaurus”).
This generation of writers is suspicious of what Michael Chabon, in “Wonder Boys,” calls “the artificial hopefulness of sex.” They are good guys, sensitive guys, and if their writing is denuded of a certain carnality, if it lacks a sense of possibility, of expansiveness, of the bewildering, transporting effects of physical love, it is because of a certain cultural shutting down, a deep, almost puritanical disapproval of their literary forebears and the shenanigans they lived through.
In a vitriolic attack on Updike’s “Toward the End of Time,” David Foster Wallace said of the novel’s narrator, Ben Turnbull, that “he persists in the bizarre adolescent idea that getting to have sex with whomever one wants whenever one wants is a cure for ontological despair,” and that Updike himself “makes it plain that he views the narrator’s impotence as catastrophic, as the ultimate symbol of death itself, and he clearly wants us to mourn it as much as Turnbull does. I’m not especially offended by this attitude; I mostly just don’t get it.”
China Miéville on why fantasy literature is of interest to socialism (via Space Bar)***
Fantasy’s of interest to me because I grew up on it, and–along with horror and science fiction (SF), three inextricably linked genres–it’s still the stuff that I love to read.
For socialists in general, it seems to me that there are three main reasons. The first is a question of mass culture. Look at a bestseller list: Stephen King, J K Rowling and Terry Pratchett are up there in neon lights. Tolkien is one of the most popular writers of the century. I think we should be interested in why certain artistic forms and genres are popular, and try to understand them.
The second factor is that fantasy, SF and horror are completely denigrated as vulgar and sub-literary by mainstream critics. I’d say that socialists’ antennae should be raised by counter-cultures, subcultures and alternatives to ‘polite’ taste. I’m suspicious any time the semi-official arbiters of ‘quality’ tell us, with thinly veiled snobbery, that something is beneath their dignity. (I’m not suggesting that marginality is an automatic badge of quality, of course.)
Finally, and most intriguingly, there seems to be an odd affinity between radical politics and fantastic fiction. There are a number of writers of fantasy and SF who have serious left politics of some stripe. Iain Banks is a socialist, Ken MacLeod and Steven Brust are Trotskyists, Ursula Le Guin and Michael Moorcock are left anarchists, and there are plenty of others, right the way back to William Morris and before. Look at Surrealism, arguably the high point of the fantastic in the arts, and a movement many of whose adherents saw systematic socialist politics as inextricable to their aesthetic. Of course, there are plenty of excellent fantasy writers who aren’t political, or who are right wing, but I think the size of the minority at least begs the question as to whether there’s something in the form of the writing that lends itself to radical or subversive aesthetics.
Usual disclaimer: I don’t necessary agree with everyone quoted here, blah blah blah.
*Scharf makes some good points, I think, and also sort of confirms this thing that’s been bothering me: I’ve been wondering if (in the Indian subcontinent) writing in English is seen as more problematic for certain kinds of writers as opposed to others (novelists vs poets, poets vs playwrights, but mainly novelists vs poets and playwrights). It certainly seems that way. The Indian novelist writing in English is — generally speaking — celebrated, especially when she is rewarded by the West (monetarily, critically, being put on Time’s 100 Most Influential List). National pride is involved. So I wonder if novelists are bullied as much about writing in English as poets. (I’m not sure how often and in what way the question is put to playwrights; maybe someone will tell us.) Poetry is supposed to be more ‘authentic;’ it proceeds from the soul, and the Indian soul speaks a language that apparently is not, and can never be, English.
**I don’t know how invested I am in this since I’ve only read Roth from that list of writers, but I wonder why Roiphe speaks only of male writers. Are there no female writers in America who have written about sex, explicitly or otherwise? That’s rhetorical. Also: I don’t mean this is in a women-are-being-ignored-yet-again kind of way. I understand that she is pitting the forceful masculinity of Roth-Updike-Bellow-Mailer against the softer, more ‘tasteful’ approaches of the younger American novelists, but there must be some fiction by a woman that might be relevant to the discussion. Or perhaps the exclusion of women in this article bears some explaining.
***See also Sridala’s excellent interview with China here. I am going to pretend it could not have happened without me. : D I skipped the questions about The City & The City, because it said spoilers, but there’s lot of great stuff to think on.
Apropos of nothing:
||Tyler Riggs for Tush Magazine Spring/Summer 2009||
Some of you who follow my tweets may be suffering from my latest compulsion: a daily #eyecandy feature. Essentially, I post (a) picture(s) of one beautiful (in the sexy, hot, lust-inducing sense of the word) person every day. They are mainly men, but there are some women also. I also occasionally post pictures that are less . . . sexual. Pictures that make me drool for different reasons.
This means I’m actively scouting for images, and you have no idea how difficult it is. I mean, some of the people you get when you google ‘hot men’ are positively revolting. Brad Pitt?! The Twilight freak?! Gerard Butler!? Did you know that some people think Ryan Seacrest is hot?
Slowly, I’m beginning to find the images I want. It’s such a difficult project, you know.
Anyway, I found this photograph while hunting today. It’s not quite right for my #eyecandy picture, but I thought it was so striking. It’s sad, but most good/great fashion photography uses female models. I love the red in this picture, the way the fabric looks almost like lace. The model’s thinness isn’t exploited. He looks lean, but not starved. His face is gaunt — I love gaunt faces! — but still soft, somehow feminine.
Hey, I don’t know anything about writing about fashion or photography or fashion photography. I just really like this picture. — A
PS Are they really allowed to call a magazine Tush?!