The ruling that the morning-after pill is to be made available over the counter and to girls of only fifteen years of age has caused conservatives to fret and oppose the move. This blog will surprise some of my readers because I will take a feminist position on it, and one that is also aware of changes in life expectancy. Some of it will be autobiographical.
May 22, 2013
May 21, 2013
Dear readers, I am not at my computer for a few days, so will not blog until this weekend at the earliest. Please do use this absence to read long pieces that mean a lot to me, such as the review of Peter Moreira’s bad book on Hemingway’s spy mission with Gellhorn in China (1941), or the series on Hitler and the Big Lie. Lots of reading and research went into these, and both series were vetted by scholars and are original in conception. Or read anything you can find about mental health and education reform, my favorite subjects. Or multiculturalism, a sinister and confusing innovation by social democrats influenced by German Romanticism.
Even if I were home right now, I would probably be so upset by the tornadoes and their aftermath in Oklahoma, that writing about the past would be uncomfortable.
May 18, 2013
The publication today of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 manual, reminds us that insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies alike have no interest in Freud’s “talking cure”—which simply meant that relief from psychogenic symptoms could be alleviated by telling a neutral party (the psychoanalyst) in a protected, safe (confidential) setting about the traumas and family relationships of early childhood up to the present; in the case of Freudian therapy, such memories were usually repressed and dredged up through free association and transference, in which the analyst was the recipient of feelings about the parent that gradually, under the guidance of the analyst, were traced back to the family of origin. Presumably psychogenic symptoms would abate. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_cure.)
The un-ambivalently bourgeois Freud and his methods are now not only under attack by postmodernists and Foucauldians, but by his old enemies, those who believe that human suffering is inevitable in this, the Devil’s realm, and that freedom from what are now deemed to be “personality disorders” can at best be alleviated with pills and behavioral cognitive therapy, a form of short-term “affordable” therapy that ostensibly rewires the brain. (It is derived from Behaviorism, and was seen as torture in Clockwork Orange.)
While I was briefly teaching at California Institute of the Arts, a form of therapy called “Re-evaluation Counseling” was in vogue and several marriages broke up as a result, for it was my theory at least that partners in “co-counseling” (never married to each other) had never experienced being listened to for one hour as they brought up troubling experiences from their past. Such rare attention to old troubles was an impetus to romantic love (as I speculated). (On this method and its origin, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-evaluation_Counseling.)
Which brings me to the subject of this blog: how even one intimate, strictly confidential friendship can partly substitute for the loss of Freud and his methods.
First, despite the romanticizing of the nuclear family by politicians and churches, the family of origin is a hotbed of potential trauma that can haunt the adult throughout life, poisoning all relationships and causing chronic illness. I have no doubt that rivalries for the favor of either Mother or Father are real, however out of fashion “Freudians” may be. But we must bury such rivalries (with either parent, or with siblings) for the sake of the “family unity” that is favored by demagogues of every stripe. I refer not only to Oedipal feelings or to “the Elektra complex” but to the fierce resentments inflicted through sibling rivalry. Our feelings toward parents and siblings, however, must remain “pure” and unambivalent, for ambivalence is a no-no as we celebrate Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or the birthdays of childhood rivals whom we are not permitted to resent, even as they displaced us or bullied us in untold and/or repressed family dramas. (For more on this, see http://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/, and http://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/.)
How can friendship alleviate these forbidden, often sick-making feelings? My first advice is not to expect family members to substitute for the undivided attention of a friend. Parents and siblings are the last persons who want to hear about their lack of parenting skills or other deficiencies, some structural and not their fault at all.
Second, the friend must be one who has been tested through time not to gossip and to keep confidences; also to be non-judgmental about the expression of negative feelings. Such a person will presumably have enough self-knowledge to be an appropriate recipient of such personal confidences and not to be freaked out.
If we are so unlucky not to have such a buddy, then do what I do: cuddle up to the great fiction writers and poets. Most of them were Freud’s inspiration too, as he freely admitted. Besides the Greek dramatists, many of the greatest contemporary novelists of the last two centuries were such resources, whatever their politics. Personal favorites of mine are Benjamin Disraeli, Herman Melville, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow. Melville, for instance, threw his inner feelings and ambivalence wide open for all readers to witness, to mull over, and to apply to one’s own closest attachments.
Above all, however, read the post-Freudian attachment theorists: you won’t find many feminists recommending them, for they emphasize the danger of careless separations between mothers and infants: John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott and Margaret Mahler. (For my summary of how hasty maternal separation from infants and small children can cause panic attacks and separation anxiety, see http://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/. For my blogs on Freud and anti-Freudians see http://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/. For an even more negative view of DSM-5 than mine see http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21578050-single-book-has-come-dominate-psychiatry-dangerous-shrink-wrapping?fsrc=scn%2Ftw%2Fte%2Fpe%2Fshrinkwrapping.)
May 16, 2013
May 15, 2013
My most popular blogs have dealt with the enigma of POTUS, with a consensus among many of my readers that he is a narcissist, possibly of the most malignant and incurable variety. This blog makes the claim that Obama’s personality is the wrong focus of attention. We do better to look at the incoherence of the base that elected him, and what is the bond that links him to such disparate sectors of the electorate, ranging from Wall Street liberals, Hollywood moguls and celebrities, teachers unions, the AFL-CIO, youth culture, environmentalists, and “racial” minorities, including liberal Jews still tied to the New Deal embraced by their parents. (See http://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/ and http://clarespark.com/2010/04/05/is-potus-crazy/.)
Moreover, there is wide difference among both supporters and critics as to his “real” politics: Is he a stealth Leninist, a crypto-Muslim with jihadist sympathies, a liberal internationalist in the Wilsonian tradition, or a traditional Democratic Party centrist (the latter a diagnosis by disgusted Leftists and populists who hoped for a more radical, anti-imperialist agenda)?
Mental health professionals and cultural historians have (perhaps) unwittingly aided the current focus on personality disorders, especially with the proposed revision of DSM-IV in the news during the last year. (On the theoretical foundations of the DSM manuals see http://clarespark.com/2012/12/09/neurotic-vs-objective-anxiety-dsm-iv-and-beyond/. Also “identity politics” as promoted by social democrats.) That and the popularity of mental health and relationship advice on radio and television have taken the voting public into private space at the expense of a broader and more appropriate education in political and economic theory, about which the general public is ignorant, thanks to decades of indoctrination in schools and universities regarding remaking ourselves so that we are wiped clean of “prejudice” toward “the Other.” Such a purification ritual has served some social movements and their upwardly mobile adherents, but destroyed our critical faculties.
The questions we should be addressing are these: why are so many American voters glued to celebrity culture, including pundits of either major political party? Why are the public schools so awful in urban ghettoes, and who made them that way? Why has public speech deteriorated to the point where the English language has been ground down to such exclamations as “awesome”! “amazing”! “cool”! No tribe of grunting savages in the prehistoric ages of our species could have survived with such a limited vocabulary. If we taught Shakespeare today, would students even be able to read him with comprehension? Or a plot summary, even? Meanwhile, my blogs, deliberately written to a non-academic audience, are often deemed to be “over the heads” of many readers.
To answer the question posed in the title of this blog: we cannot look into the heart of Barack Obama. We are not psychoanalysts who have treated him for many years, with accurate information about his childhood and the many traumas he may or may not have endured. But we can look into his social policies, and evaluate their content and efficacy. These fail on the grounds of intelligibility and effectiveness. Both our economy and our safety as Americans are on the table. Yet “moderates” in both parties urge us not to get over excited or too “extreme;” rather, find your “community” and cuddle up with it, no matter how incoherent or internally divided on major issues the “members” may be. (I am thinking specifically of Charles Krauthammer and Bill O’Reilly, who yesterday advised their viewers on Fox to lay off POTUS and Hillary Clinton until “facts” on such matters as the AP scandal are uncovered.)
I would be happier with “the moderate men” if they refrained from cooling us out, and departed from the safety of their cliques inside the Washington DC Beltway. They won’t of course, for they are paid handsomely for their services to the status quo, specifically to the ideal of the neutral state, and of the notions of “healing” and “closure.” (See http://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/.)
We are in terrible trouble, and have no one but ourselves to rely upon. We still have the internet and social media. These must be protected above all else, whatever our politics. The republic will stand or fall depending on our defense of free and inquisitive communication, let the chips fall…. (For a follow-up blog see http://clarespark.com/2013/05/16/divide-et-impera/.)
May 12, 2013
Everyone probably has some gripe with her or his Mother, which we are supposed to put aside on Mother’s Day. So today, I am going to remember all the maternal accomplishments of my late mother Betty Spark, a.k.a. Betsy Ross, Rebecca Dorothy Rosen, and others I can’t remember.
My mother’s parents were both immigrants from somewhere in Eastern Europe. She named me after her beloved mother Clara Thumin, whose rabbinic family is shown here (at the bottom of the page).
Clara, who was fluent in seven languages, ran away from her family at age thirteen, I am told, to make her way in America. She met and married Louis Rosen, and together they ran a dry-goods store in Columbus, Ohio. From family stories, Clara was a premature anti-racist, as was my mother Betty.
Here is my mother at her most glamorous, taken probably in the 1930s, the decade when her mother died. She met my father the doctor in New York City shortly after her mother’s early death, and worked for the Republican National Committee under the nom de guerre of Betsy Ross. Later she became a social worker, an investigator of Harlem families who might or might not be eligible for welfare benefits.
My mother was not enthused about domesticity (though she was great at soups and gefilte fish, made from scratch), was even delinquent in many respects, but here is what she taught me anyway:
She taught me to read when I was five years old, and gave me such books as Bible stories for the very young; during one of my many childhood illnesses she brought me stories from the opera, so that to this day I remember reading the plots of such obscure operas as “The Daughter of the Regiment” or “Fra Diavolo.” We always listened to radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, then sponsored by Texaco,I believe; she taught me arithmetic; she taught me to swim; she taught me to love museums; she had graduated from Ohio State University in three years, so I graduated from Cornell in three and one half years, at which point (after I had taught tough kids science at Jamaica School for a semester) she advised me to apply for a fellowship at Harvard, where I met my future husband Ronald Marvin Loeb, father of my three children, including Daniel S. Loeb (Betty gets some of the credit for Dan’s drive and interest in investing). She was also sociable and fascinated by the lives of strangers, whom she might meet on a bus or anywhere.
But most of all, she taught me to stand up for myself, even when I was strongly on the Left (at least theoretically). I am thin-skinned, so she said “Now, Clare. People are going to attack you. Build a fence around yourself and defend your turf.” My mother was never anything but a capitalist, and yet she was proud of me, wherever I happened to be on the political spectrum. A strong woman herself, given to taking the microphone at shareholder meetings to complain about the lack of women on their boards of directors, she was the embodiment of unconditional love and an exemplar of strong convictions that were not to be hidden from any and all antagonists.
We should all have such mothers, mothers who insist that we be ourselves without losing interest in the lives of other people. She most strongly identified with her mother Clara Thumin’s illustrious Romanian family, said to be rabbis stretching back to the thirteenth century. I proudly claim that lineage for myself, a secular Jew who reads closely and fights for universal literacy. Thanks forever, dearest Mother.
May 11, 2013
http://clarespark.com/2011/10/15/baltzell-on-the-good-jews/ (retitled The Protestant Establishment Taps a Good Jew)
It is a misconception to think that a person's views toward individual Jews tests their antisemitic views one way or another. A-S is above all, a theory of history, most recently a reaction to modernity, and an identification of the source of Evil.
May 10, 2013
This blog is about how journalism can break our concentration on the most vital subjects, simply through its format. Nothing gets treated in adequate depth, and other events are interpolated that are de-politicizing and hence impede ameliorative action or curiosity about those debates that are crucial to our personal safety and survival as a putatively democratic republic.
Why elites hate mass media. Mass illiteracy in reading print and in reading other forms of media (including photos) is a present-day emergency, but I can’t get anyone excited about this. Many academics (the Frankfurt School critical theorists, for instance) blame totalitarianism on mass culture, by which they mean newspapers, radio, television, and movies. Today, add to that list the internet and social media. Why? Because religous authority, the Church that diverted attention from this world to life after death, suffered the greatest crisis since the Reformation at the point where visual and audio media became cheap and popular, promising large financial rewards to its technicians, writers, and artists.
Once naturalism and realism overtook mysticism and symbolism, accelerated by the world-shaking innovation of mass literacy that began to build after the invention of the printing press, democratic sects sprang up in Europe as part of the Reformation. (Read the communist historian Christopher Hill’s semi-classic The World Turned Upside Down that detailed such as Gerard Winstanley’s Diggers and other radical puritan sects of the 17th century, and which Hill clearly hoped would inspire current day readers to adopt their collectivism, including the notion that the earth was a common treasury. Such a historical reconstruction and popularization was surely meant to counter the growing individualism that leftish Romanticism and free markets had encouraged.)
In prior blogs I have shown how popular television shows not only instil fear of the internet and social media as a goad to “malignant narcissism” and serial killers, but that many series create an atmosphere of paranoia (“you are being watched” says Person of Interest every episode). Paranoia erodes basic trust, without which self-confidence and the search for truth are effectively undermined. We can’t count on our own senses, even when we reflect upon them and do research, for “we see through a glass darkly.” Thus, the old religious fears of “worldliness” and the terminal acceptance of insoluble “mystery” is reinforced: We won’t solve the mystery until we get to Heaven. (For related blogs see http://clarespark.com/2013/04/21/fascism-what-it-is-what-it-is-not/, and http://clarespark.com/2012/01/13/mark-twains-failed-yankee/.)
Why I wrote this blog. This blog, however, is not a defense of the potential democratizing mass media as currently practiced, but rather a different kind of warning about their effects, for this criticism comes from a historian who must focus, if necessarily, obsessively, on a significant problem before any writing can begin, and even after that, one’s writing is constantly interrogated with the same concentration, lest distortions and false claims be laid upon readers, readers who are expected to act upon this new knowledge that has been dug up, chewed over, tested and retested, and usually read by sympathetic but critical colleagues prior to publication.
What concerns me the day after the “explosive” hearings on the Benghazi affair, is that no sooner has the viewer or listener or reader absorbed new and potentially destabilizing information, than the subject is suddenly changed to a “human interest story” that invariably arouses strong emotions and causes the new facts on State Department misconduct to disappear from memory. So it was yesterday: the Jodi Arias verdict, the continuing drama of the Cleveland kidnappings, new facts on the Tsernaev brothers, all jumbled together with Democratic Party accusations that the hearings were a Republican stunt over a phony affair that was already moribund, and that nobody could have saved the four Benghazi victims, even if Clinton and the military had acted immediately upon being notified. (What is of course ignored is the prior cries for enhanced security sent to the State Department and then refused. A few commentators have emphasized this point, but only a few.)
Hence rational political discourse is discouraged, not only because the French Revolution is still on, producing only mobs, or because the nation is polarized over economic strategies or illegal immigrants. We are hampered from focusing on those preconditions that make citizenship possible: the close scrutiny of all our relationships, the desperate need for education reform, and the knowledge gap between most of the electorate and the specialists who make our society hum.
Without basic trust in our (educated) abilities to make sense of conflict; without proportion and a sense of appropriate scale so that we can discern between national emergencies and local problems, all talk of “participatory democracy” is an obscene joke. At one time, our opinion leaders knew this. (See Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion, publ. in 1922, and my blog about Chomsky’s attempt to take it down: http://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.)
This was a letter from your surrogate mother. Happy Mother’s Day.
May 6, 2013
It was once my fantasy that scholarship entailed a thorough comprehension of the field under discussion, and that recent events were the purview of journalists, not scholars (who were supposedly waiting for the opening of archives and all primary source materials before rushing into print).
But with the antiwar movement that was contemporaneous with the student strikes all over America during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the activist scholar came into her own. I remember one such, Temma Kaplan (author of The Anarchists of Andalusia), introducing herself to a seminar at UCLA as “an activist” (or possibly as “an activist scholar”).
Assistant Professor Kaplan’s self-introduction suggested a sea change in the teaching of the humanities and social sciences. It is true that it is difficult to escape ideological biases, but Hugh Thomas’s mammoth book on The Spanish Civil War used sources from the Nationalist Right, interviewed many of the survivors, some of whom lived in Franco Spain, and was careful to footnote many accounts that might differ from his own generally moderate narrative and interpretations. (For instance, I call him a “moderate” because he blamed socialist factions for not cohering to prevent the rightist nationalist rebellion led by General Franco in July 1936 that finally prevailed over the Spanish Republic in a conflict that rocked the world. For a Pop Front treatment of the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage see http://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/).
But with the New Left there was no such eclecticism or acknowledgements that recent events might be too polarized for a relatively objective reading, not to speak of the usual inaccessibility of government or other official documents, hoarded by interested parties or descendants protecting the reputations of their illustrious ancestors.
Alexander Saxton, my own Stalinist dissertation director, upon seeing my first draft of an introductory chapter, explicitly ordered me to delete criticisms of his ideological allies (e.g. Ellen Schrecker), and never to praise his enemies (e.g. John Dos Passos, author of the USA trilogy). Later, he also let me know that he and his [communist?] wife had met one of my chief Melville revivers and his wife (Jay Leyda and Si-Lan Chen) and liked them very much. I pressed ahead and devoted a long chapter to Jay Leyda, an outspoken and versatile Stalinist, and after years of stubbornly sticking to primary sources (some either previously restricted, misreported, or only briefly opened) got my dissertation approved. It was a Trotskyist scholar of international fame who agreed to be my co-chair after Alex Saxton retired. (Saxton even wrote a strong letter in support of my dissertation, telling me that I was the first student for whom he had done such a favor.)
Mine is not an unfamiliar story in academe. Since I had been studying multiculturalism during the period of my dissertation research (1984-1993), and had objected to its racialist discourse in various academic forums and conferences (sometimes to the screams or taunts of tenured left professors in both public and private spaces), I discovered that David Horowitz and Peter Collier were publishing a periodical called Heterodoxy that accurately described the PC takeover of teaching. At that time, Horowitz was living in my neighborhood, and running into him with some family members, I introduced myself to him as a reader of his work, which jibed entirely with my own experience as a hounded graduate student.
Somehow word got out that Horowitz and I were allies, since he and his wife April came to my first book talk at Dutton’s bookstore in Brentwood, shortly after 9-11-2001. Not long after that, I was interrogated by two well known Marxist professors (one a sociologist, the other an art historian) whether DH was a friend of mine. I take friendship very seriously and resent interference with my choices. I should have known that I was likely being marginalized by the academic left as at least an “unreliable” or “uncontrollable.” The final blow came when Christopher Hitchens gave a talk at the Horowitz Wednesday Morning Club in favor of the Iraq war, and numerous old friends, activist scholars and journalists, saw that I had entered the Devil’s realm. In retrospect, it was not surprising that Verso Press backed out of publishing my book on the Melville Revival (after telling people it would be published), because I refused to downplay the importance of John Milton, or to puff F. O. Matthiessen and Lewis Mumford. This was during the mid-1990s. To my sorrow, none of my once close allies, gathered when I was program director at KPFK (and had power, it seemed to them), lifted a finger to criticize Verso, which after all was publishing their work.
As an experiment (to test an old but languishing friendship), I invited one of the academics who was a close friend in the 1970s to friend me on Facebook. From what I can gather, he visited my FB page, and was appalled that I was writing about Fox News and continued to link to articles from Horowitz’s Frontpagemagazine.com, and announced that he was going to block me, but that we might still be friends, and that he welcomed a face to face discussion of our political differences (where he would have an opportunity to tell me to my face that I was now an enemy to the working class?). I responded that I had not changed; that I was still doing class analysis, and still defending the cultural freedom of every individual. Then I asked him if he had read at least part of my book. He responded that he had, but was too busy to read much of it. That did it. I thought that I understood what impelled the second wave of feminism. Here was my reasoning: he liked me before I was a scholar and had no tools to question his anti-art, anti-bourgeois cultural politics. I supposed that I was a worshipful female in his eyes. Now that I too was a scholar, I surmised that he was too burdened with committee meetings and other academic responsibilities (complained about in one of his many e-mails) to expend any effort on a book that purportedly changed Melville scholarship forever, and moreover, notwithstanding that it was mostly written from the Left (though not with any orthodoxy)! (In a subsequent email exchange, he denies that he thought any such thing.) As for my claim that my book changed Melville scholarship, I make no apologies. That is what scholars are supposed to do: find new sources and revise all previous scholarship! If they can’t do more than take other scholars down, without providing a reconfiguration of old problems, and providing new syntheses, then they are not scholars at all, but ideologues parroting some party line. You can be a scholar, or a journalist, or a party hack, but not all three at the same time.
I have told these stories because I want my readers to know that activist scholars have designs on their students, and must be outed and opposed. These activists use academic freedom to abuse it, and to smother all dissent, even among themselves. (Ironically, before his death, my dissertation director, wrote to me with great affection and appreciation as he enclosed his last book. But then he had the soul of an artist, and every now and then, it peeped out from some chinks in the Stalinist armor. I have forgiven his erratic conduct–sometimes censorious, sometimes approving– long ago. Bottom line: Saxton allowed me to write a Melville dissertation in the history department. No English department would have allowed me to write about “a major figure.” Such erratic conduct as Saxton demonstrated ironically fit in with Melville’s own wavering between aristocrat and democrat.)
Therefore, “Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”
May 5, 2013
The media are embroiled in the gay marriage debates as arguments are delivered in the Supreme Court this week, with persons opposed to gay marriage and those supporting it rallying in the nation’s capital.
So far, the media are guessing whether a national law will be passed legalizing gay marriage in all the states, or whether the matter will be returned to the states, and “democratically” worked out over time, with citizen input (as if some rational consensus will make itself obvious!).