The Clare Spark Blog

March 24, 2013

The State of the blog (2)

Kidman as GellhornThis is a report to the readers of the Yankee Doodle Society/Clare Spark blog about our progress and how the readership has ebbed and flowed. But also what themes have garnered the most interest, and which have not.

I did not get serious about the blog until I had finished other academic work, sometime in mid-2009. All told, we have had 256,313 views, about half of which appear to have been visitors, as some came because of one title, then stayed to read more (WordPress is now distinguishing between visitors and views). Those reading “About Clare Spark” numbered 9,163, which I am told is a respectable number. The best year was 2012, probably because of the presidential election, and because Nicole Kidman’s performance as Martha Gellhorn drove several thousand viewers to my blog on Hemingway and Gellhorn’s supposed “spy mission” to China in 1941, partly dramatized in a HBO movie. The readership of several conservative websites were also coming to the blog in considerable numbers. I suspect that the latter were pleased to see my criticisms of Obama, but less pleased to see my constant critiques of populism across the political spectrum. (Even at KPFK, I was called an “elitist” by some young listeners, and recently one anonymous internet comment diagnosed me as “a non-coercive leftist.” For those into classification, you are on your own.)

My family and some friends are staggered when I report these numbers. I am less satisfied: there should be more comments and presumably helpful feedback. Why, I wonder? Though the internet is crowded with blogs, perhaps mine are less predictable, less easily classified or labeled as “conservative”, “liberal”, “moderate,” or “radical”, and are consequently more demanding upon the reader. Perhaps they discomfit some who want echoes, not reconfigurations of old problems and new questions. Since I started writing about Freud’s continued relevance and/or about the culture wars, where I come out as a student of the psyche and am also strongly supportive of the separation of church and state, I have seen the number of visitors diminish. (For my blogs on what is useful about Freud or about the abuse of “Freud” see

When I was first hired as Program Director of Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles, the News Director Marc Cooper stated flat out that my radicalism consisted in believing that the audience wasn’t stupid. Indeed, one of my core beliefs is that “public intellectuals” are less interested in teaching their readers or viewers to be independent analysts, than in getting paid in money and celebrity with “niche” followers. I was vindicated as PD of KPFK, for our subscriptions swelled by 20%, and I continue to be impressed by the quality and learnedness of comments I get on some blogs and on Facebook.

What themes have I found most vanguard in planning future essays?

  1. Antisemitism is still not discussed in all its manifold forms, in spite of the liberal enthusiasm for studying “prejudice” and “hate speech.” Assimilated Jews want to believe that they are safe in America by hewing to the Democratic Party, and few Americans of my generation recognized that anyone who lived through all or part of the twentieth century has suffered multiple traumas.  So if many are obsessed with Israel (pro or con), it is probably because they don’t feel safe in America, particularly those who are descended from Holocaust survivors. While we study “hate speech” we don’t study why people hate, and I am determined to get to the bottom of “misogyny” in all its forms, and particular, its intertwining with antisemitism. Is Woman the Jew of the Home?
  2. The very notion of the “individual” is under attack, whether it be in the regressive, infantilizing rhetoric of “family” that pervades the discourse of both left and right, or in the general, often well-founded, suspicion of mental health professionals.
  3. Popular culture needs much more decoding, including primitivism and death cults among youth or the military model throughout (think NCIS and its popularity). Lately, I have been studying the “degeneration” narrative that alleges that the modern world necessarily leads to the death of the planet and civilization as we have known it. This pervasive belief is dangerous to political will, and possibly affects all of us, whatever our political preferences.

I will probably continue my offensive against antidemocratic propaganda, doing my best to decode loaded language and images, while remaining detached from any particular politics. Scholarship demands that distance, though my personal feelings toward readers of my work continue to be warm and protective. I love teaching, and always have, even in a war zone.

Gellhorn ca. WW2

Gellhorn ca. WW2


  1. Clare, thanks for the response.

    I have a friend who taught psychology and political science at a my college, very interesting guy; Jamaican, US Navy veteran, politically conservative though possessed of a radical worldview, poetic and often Dionysian. Like you, while well informed, he also regards Freud highly in the face of contemporary criticism. He’s also VERY hot on rehabilitating Nietzche and Rousseau in the face of Alan Bloom’s attacks. Over the years we have had some great conversations. He’s trying to complete his PhD and running into roadblocks left and right (they keep changing his committee chair.) He has been working on stereotype threat in African-American males.

    As many have already mentioned, I enjoy your excellent writing for its breadth, but also it accessibility and its intellectual non-conformity. (is “non-conformity” the best term? Probably not as you adhere to a classical form of academic rigor while taking apart contemporary intellectual conceits. I love it, though I don’t always agree. You nearly always present a challenging point of view that I can’t dismiss.)

    “What Remains Useful About Freud”:

    Just came back from the High Museum’s Restrospective on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. As a result, I’m much more interested in Rivera than I had been previous. I was only marginally interested in them, but after the show, I’m seeing Rivera in a more complete light. I have always been more impressed by Rivera than Kahlo. (I’m sure that preference could be psychologized aplenty. )

    I used to see Rivera’s murals as achievements in a kind of pre-postmodern “authenticity,” but in your comment to Ashana M you position “theatricality” as “inauthenticity:”

    “ . . .the idea that the Victorian world had something to do with the rise of Hitler reminds me of the movies CABARET and CHICAGO. Both movies (and plays) were about decadence and the theatricality (inauthenticity) of modern life. . .”

    Not that I disagree with this, but I did notice that Rivera’s mural work — acclaimed for its cultural authenticity — is nothing if not theatrical in the extreme. It’s beginning to seem to me that all painting, all art, seems in at least one important sense foundationally theatrical, theatrical by initial premise alone. Does this invalidate it? I’m a fan of the “Ultimate Theater” of Bierstadt and Luetze as well. And I have long held the Victorian era as misused in the same way a younger sibling can resent the hell out of a close-in-age older sibling without realizing how much they’ve derived from that older sibling, (parallel Early Medieval Christianity’s relation to Classical culture.) I see the Victorian era as the source or seedling of contemporary egalitarianism, the emancipation of women, and liberation from the cultural and colonial imperialism of church and nation, etc. I think they get as bad a rap as Freud and for the same reasons. It was nice to encounter those harmonies of thought.

    Finally, I did like your phrasing on this question:

    “ . . .How many of us dare to give up the perverse satisfactions of the guilty liberal by emulating Minerva’s owl?”

    My only criticism would be that while I agree it belongs there, I would not have placed the onus of “perverse satisfactions” on the “guilty liberal” alone.

    Comment by Terbreugghen — March 25, 2013 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

    • Guilty liberals tend to be masochistic in their submissiveness to illegitimate authority. That is all I meant. Freud came down hard on sadism and masochism.

      Comment by clarespark — March 25, 2013 @ 3:40 pm | Reply

  2. Clare, I’m guilty of not delving into your Freud posts. My interests are very much in the direction of your #2, the individual and the changing (and frightening) view that the psycho-therapeutic community has of the rest of us, as well as the increasing power of that community to enforce what are at best weakly supported theories du jour, changing the lives of innocents forever, and not for the better.

    I also believe your version of “radicalism” is what keeps me checking and reading along and commenting now and then. It is much much appreciated. I teach foundation visual arts to college freshmen and much of what I push is twofold. . . raising consciousness about how our culture insults the intelligence of the individual, and enabling, encouraging and exhorting my belief that the best artists and the most transcendent and thus eternal art simply won’t go there.

    Comment by Terbreugghen — March 25, 2013 @ 1:07 am | Reply

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