The Clare Spark Blog

August 27, 2014

The imagination going dark

cannibalferoxBefore I left for a summer jaunt, I reread George Fitzhugh’s CANNIBALS ALL! (1857), a defense of slavery as a benign institution, especially as compared to the voracious capitalism and radical politics he claims to have witnessed in the industrial revolution.  What makes this work important is hardly its timeless wisdom or exhaustive research into the historical record, but the stunning fact that C. Vann Woodward, the foremost (liberal) historian of the South, wrote a lengthy preface for its republication in 1960.

Why would a liberal resuscitate such a relic in the mid-20th century? Woodward doesn’t tell us, but it is a good bet that Fitzhugh’s enemies and his were cut from the same cloth; that Fitzhugh’s reactionary cooking the history books to make all slaveholders throughout the West and the American South the best of patriarchs: religious, classically educated, family oriented, agrarian, and never, never turning slaves into throwaway commodities as the materialistic, science driven Northern laissez-faire capitalists were allegedly doing. Woodward undoubtedly saw Fitzhugh as the model New Deal liberal, paternalistic, agrarian, and statist, avant la lettre.

On the airplane that took me back and forth from the East I saw three movies, one older, two recent: Brazil, Divergent, and Transcendence. Before that, I had leafed through a large art history book, heavily illustrated, entitled Symbolism at my son’s house. I feel that I am drowning in postmodernist negativity regarding science, technology, “positivism,” and the modern world, for all these works were retreats into the Dark Ages, mysticism, and even postmodernism (even Christopher Nolan, who has a conservative following,  is awash in ambiguity and subjectivity–not all of which is bad.)

The Symbolist painters of the 19th century were lyrical and visually extravagant, carrying forth many of the themes developed on this website—escapism into a re-enchanted world: primitive, pagan, nature-loving, risqué, often Catholic. But the movies I watched on the airplane were typical film noir: As the Erudite want to take over the world (Divergent) choosing their version of “human nature” as justification for their oppressive and divisive leadership (compare to Fitzhugh’s hated abolitionists and utopians), the Abnegation faction that currently rules is under threat but ably defended by young misfits who see through the traps set by the (Űbermenschen). The symbolism is obvious to the audience: the rationalists have carved up the human personality according to the division of labor that Fitzhugh too criticized as dehumanizing.

The Isle of the Dead (1884)

The Isle of the Dead (1884)

It is this division of labor that has turned the lights out all over Europe and America, de-skilling honest craftsmen, and corrupting the new industrial working class, once the projected saviors of humanity, with cheap and abundant consumer goods.

Is it any wonder that nearly all our sci-fi movies are set in murderous, visually degraded, crazy-making cities, and that popular entertainment has gone dark and mobbish? For in olden times, there were heroes capable of slaying the monsters who stalked the land. Those days are gone forever, except in the imaginations of the younger filmmakers who, like Nolan, has his characters (apparently) join forces with eco-terrorists who confuse science with The Bomb. (Were Orwell alive today, he would see himself as a prophet, for the social democrats have inverted freedom and slavery. Don’t confuse the tenets of social democracy with communism, for the communists viewed technology and science as emancipating for toiling humanity.)

Jen Liu (2006) featured in Environmental Impact show (2014)

Jen Liu (2006) featured in Environmental Impact show (2014)

Nowadays, we have the dubious choice of eating or being eaten, dreaming in our pop culture of unpolluted Nature, meditating upon “whole foods.”

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June 2, 2013

Hair and Make-up: Megyn Kelly smackdown

bettygrable2

[Update 10-26-16:last night, MK demanded that Trump “take responsibility” for his insults in an interview with Mike Pence, then took on Newt Gingrich who failed to back down in their dispute over media bias.]

[Update, 10-1-16: Megyn Kelly continues to present herself as a feminist, while seemingly regressing to an “aw shucks” parody of femininity and defending (obesity) in the name of outraged womanhood.]

Megyn Kelly, often considered the brainiest of Fox News Channel anchors, does not overtly define herself as a feminist, but she sure sounded like one in her spirited and feisty interviews with Lou Dobbs (Fox News Channel commentator) and Erick Erickson (editor of Redstate.com), May 31, 2013. So much so that liberal blogs have been gleefully covering her encounter with the two conservative males.

(See the smackdown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hN_EP3zcUXs )

Before I go on to the time wasted by women in decking themselves out as dolls and harem girls (Betty Grable, illustrated: the number  one pinup girl in WW2), I must make this point about the internal contradiction of some “Christian” thought: Much of what Dobbs and Erickson presented as incontrovertible truth relies upon some brand of sociobiology: men were, they insisted, biologically determined to be protectors of the weaker females, especially during the vulnerable period of pregnancy and child-rearing. Working women who defied these God- and Nature-given sex roles are obviously responsible for social decadence and worse. (The same would go for ‘unnatural’ gay marriages where the usual division of labor between father and mother would not prevail.)

On the other hand, many social conservatives often believe that our species is not in Nature, but stands above it: nothing so irritating as a Spinoza follower, who often drops into pantheism.  (See Leon Wieseltier’s commencement speech quoted here: https://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/. Wieseltier draws a sharp line between Man and Nature and laments the period when the two were conflated. )

I would have preferred that Megyn Kelly, herself an experienced lawyer, point out this contradiction, but she chose to stand up for working women and for married gay parents, suggesting that research had shown that their children were not harmed by the lack of a traditional father and mother.

Nothwithstanding her smackdown of Dobbs and Erickson, Kelly is a babe, whatever she says about herself;  I felt some cognitive dissonance watching her stand up to the two conservatives, for she is a beautiful, expertly-coiffed, heavily made-up blonde. After seeing the encounter yesterday, I thought I should say something about “hair and makeup”, those two time-consuming, nature-defying imperatives for women out in the world or waiting at home for the male breadwinner to return to his castle.

Antiquity-dreams...Deviant Art

Antiquity-dreams…Deviant Art

In the nineteenth century, during the first wave of feminism, the female pioneers whose tireless efforts and dedication gave women the consideration and political power they wield today, were not babes. They were usually religious Protestants, were plainly dressed, and certainly did not waste hours and hours on coloring their hair or applying make-up to enhance their lips, cheeks, and eyes, let alone painting their fingernails and toenails or lusting after high heeled shoes by Christian Louboutin. Rather, such decorations were generally confined to actresses and fancy women.  There were not enough hours in the day for self-education (19th century women did not attend male colleges or have their own–with a few exceptions– and were denied entrance to the professions, though their [maternal]nursing skills were highly valued); these heroic early feminists were traveling to remote parts of America to further feminist  causes (including abolition, temperance, votes for women, cleaning up corrupt city governments, and rescuing prostitutes from a life of disease, degradation and early death). Some of them were unmarried, while others had large families: household help was cheaper and husbands pitched in. In regarding their intertwined efforts at elevating our country, historian David Pivar has described their cause as a “purity crusade.”

Generally considered to be killjoys determined to pry into the affairs of men, these women have been caricatured by other male opponents.  As a rising class, as progressive women “who want to make the whole world home-like”, they are blamed for “the nanny state” and for “the fetishism of facts.” Their masculinist opponents “want a girl, just like the girl that married dear old Dad.” Lots of luck, guys. (For more blogs on the various stages of feminism, see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/, or its twin https://clarespark.com/2012/03/19/links-to-feminist-blogs/.)

The photographer of the Deviant Art image is John Lynn of SNTP, and is on Facebook, as is Raven Winter, stylist and model.

its time to wear the pants

March 19, 2012

Links to feminist blogs

Bocklin’s Medusa

https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/23/she-who-gets-slapped-the-magic-of-middle-aged-boomerdom/

Feminist in love series (3 collages): https://clarespark.com/2011/01/06/feminist-in-love-1/,

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/06/feminist-in-love-2/,

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/06/feminist-in-love-3/.

https://clarespark.com/2011/11/12/the-woman-question-in-saul-bellows-herzog/

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/07/feminism-and-its-publicists/.

https://clarespark.com/2012/02/13/feminism-on-the-docket-2/.

https://clarespark.com/2012/03/18/history-as-trauma-2-rosebud-version/.

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/01/sex-sex-and-less-sex/ (On Shulamith Firestone and second wave feminism)

https://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/

https://clarespark.com/2012/03/31/nell-painters-history-of-white-people/.

https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/ (on the Great Dumbing Down)

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/02/hair-and-make-up-megyn-kelly-smackdown/

February 13, 2012

Feminism on the docket (2)

Gorgon, recent rendering

During a long thread on my Facebook page that started by my remark that I found it incomprehensible how feminists could simultaneously fight the Catholic Church on matters having to do with reproductive rights, and also to stick with the Democratic Party position on illegal Latino immigration that, if perpetuated, would drastically enhance the voting power of the Catholic Church, an institution that entwines sexuality with procreation, preaches abstinence until marriage, and forbids abortion, contraception, and abortifacients. As the thread lengthened, it evolved into a debate over the respective policies of Democrats and Republicans, with feminism firmly attached to the Democratic Party. I then promised a blog on how it was that I call myself a feminist.

First, consider the world in which I grew up. When the famed David Riesman wrote to a prominent teacher of American literature, Richard Chase, the mutual loyalty to traditional sex roles was apparent. (This excerpt is from my Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival.) I was sixteen years old, and still in high school. Had I read this private letter then, I would not have noticed that “the artist” was a male, nor would I have suspected that young women at Smith College were aggressively contesting Riesman’s segregating “bluestocking” “girl(s)” to weekday “blue-jeans informality.”

[University of Chicago Committee on Human Development sociologist David Riesman to Chase, 15 Apr. 1953:] What remarkable observations are contained in your letter of April 1! I wish you could write something about these experiences you have had with students. Your point that art is “insincere” seems to me a correct interpretation. The artist is not “being himself” so that the standard question “who does he think he is” is particularly applicable.  I spoke recently at Smith College and got into a lengthy discussion in which I was defending the non-coeducational colleges. The students attacked me very, very fiercely on the ground that segregation is insincere and artificial and they would not listen to the possible advantages when, for instance, I suggested that it was pleasant to vary one’s pace, to live in an exciting intellectual and blue stocking culture five days a week and a boy-girl culture on the week-ends. They felt it was just this dichotomy which was insincere. They were in search of a blue-jeans informality seven days a week. [End, Riesman letter to Chase, first published in my book. Chase died under mysterious circumstances, a possible suicide, at the pinnacle of his career.]

Although I was an outstanding student at Forest Hills High School at the time, it never occurred to me that I should develop myself in any direction that conflicted with marriage and a family. I was, in short, the very type of woman to whom Betty Friedan was writing in The Feminine Mystique. Nor did I find friends or role models at Cornell University who deviated from the type.

[A brief digression, though I don’t like to talk about my family: My mother didn’t like housework or cooking, and was absent from the home much of the time, either doing social work (investigating welfare recipients in Harlem or writing gossipy pieces for the local press in Queens, New York). I felt obliged to take her place, probably to curry favor with my father the doctor, whom I worshipped. Yet this same male hero warned me not to allow boys and romance to derail from my future as either a great artist or a great scientist of some kind. “Men are all fickle,” he warned, binding me to him ever closely, while my mother warned me that men preferred women as “cows” and who listened to them intently. When he left my mother at my age 19, I was literally hysterical with grief, and used my fellowship at Harvard to find a father-substitute, i.e., a husband. Those were great hunting grounds for a girl who could cook. And I was a good listener.]

As I have related here before (https://clarespark.com/2012/01/07/feminism-and-its-publicists/), I was appalled by the second wave of feminism. I was still married and had yet to antagonize my husband by following his suggestion that I follow up an invitation to produce and write radio documentaries on the art world for the local Pacifica radio station. I mention this, because he probably wanted both a traditional wife and my development as a creative person (I had been painting and practicing the piano assiduously during the marriage), little dreaming that public activity would turn my head and render me less submissive to his authority.

During that period (1969-71), I supposed that indeed, I could “have it all” as such feminists as Betty Friedan were claiming. She was mistaken. I was not of that generation of women whose husbands shared in child care and housework and who delighted in the extra-family accomplishments of their wives. Very few such men existed, and if they were so enlightened, were already “taken.”

My husband declared, three years into my life as a radio producer and personality, that he was leaving me for another woman. Thus, this man, a Harvard Law School graduate and good liberal, emancipated me for a second time. And yet, to this day, I would have sacrificed my life in the wide, wide world, for my children (ages 10, 8, and 3 in 1971), had such a gesture saved their lives from the indelible trauma of a broken family.

So, I have great sympathy for those “traditional” women who are suspicious of “secular” feminists, and who put their children’s welfare above their own “fulfillment” as professionals or artists. I also understand those working class women who must work outside the home to support their children or to supplement the family income. I also sympathize with “conservative” women who are alarmed by the hyper-sexualization of popular culture, and the general dumbing down, acting out, and licentiousness that afflicts our period.

I am not sympathetic to those women who, in a stunning but predictable role-reversal, use the feminist revolution to dominate and guilt-trip their mates, using the generally subordinate position of women (still!) as if their significant others had single-handedly opposed the Enlightenment and those revolutions and advances in medicine that suddenly or incrementally adjusted the status and aspirations of women. The Battle of the Sexes rages on, and I feel empathy for both sides in a struggle that will probably never end, for the genders are put together differently.

Feminism is about female solidarity, equality of opportunity and real choices for young persons of both genders. The women artists and designers whose careers I had helped promote on the radio in the 1970s have allied themselves, with few exceptions, to the “anti-imperialist” Left from which they had originally emanated. Talented as they are and were, as cultural relativists they betray all the social revolutions that endowed them with public voices.

Medusa, A. Bocklin

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