The Clare Spark Blog

November 10, 2013

The pursuit of happiness, co-counseling, and reality-testing

happinessTimeThe following links are relevant to this blog. I especially recommend the song “A Sunny Disposish” available on YouTube, lyric by Ira Gershwin.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/fashion/After-a-Parents-Death-a-Rush-of-Change-modern-love.html?_r&_r=0.

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2146449,00.html

http://historypsychiatry.com/2013/11/10/the-geography-of-depression/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/11/07/a-stunning-map-of-depression-rates-around-the-world/?tid=pm_world_pop

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-counselling

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJEWLnblbzc  (“A Sunny Disposish”)

Why do you suppose that the ever popular Over the Rainbow was nearly dropped from The Wizard of Oz? Could some mean-spirited Republican have sensed that Yip Harburg the lyricist was a Red, pushing utopias? Or could the song have contradicted the major message of the film: that rural life on the farm was filled with attachments that surpassed those of the Emerald City? Why, after all, did Judy Garland want to get away and pursue happiness elsewhere? (See comment below that argues I am wrong, that she always wanted to get home. But the lyrics betray a yearning for something else: some earthly or heavenly utopia? Maybe that is why it was nearly dropped, assuming that my facts are correct.)

I could ask the same question of the song I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, a Vaudeville song from 1918 suggesting disillusion with the promise of American life. (See lyrics here: https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/ retitled Film Noir, decoded.) The bluebird of happiness motif is reproduced in the Harburg-Lane hit song, first heard in the Depression year of 1939.

The Declaration of Independence built its polemical foundation on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but never guaranteed that such an outcome of universal happiness would be the case for everyone. Hence, the popular culture emphasis on romantic yearning, laments for lost loves, or admonitions to be happy, lest you lose the regard of your friends and family, not to speak of success in “the community.”

Life is hard, attachments are fraught with ambivalence, and frequent sadness should not be diagnosed as a personality disorder. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysthymia.  Or perhaps I am mistaken and am really a neurotic (formerly called a melancholic), in danger of sinking into a serious depression that could fill my horizon with utter darkness.

Anyone can play.

Anyone can play.

I don’t mean this to be a long blog, so let me end with this anecdote from my two years as a volunteer faculty member at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where I spent a lot of time after my divorce in the early 1970s. It was rather a hippie outfit, very counter-culture with revolution in the air, along with marijuana smoke, faculty sanctioned jerking off, critical theory, and Kierkegaard. “Co-Counseling” was all the rage. The idea was to cut out professionals, and engage each member of the dyad (male-female pair only) with another suffering person. You would hold hands, gaze into each other’s eyes, and take turns in talking about earlier traumas to your partner. Then after an hour of spewing forth painful memories, the partner got a turn dredging up the past and you had to focus on what you were hearing. This was considered to be revolutionary and a substitute for “the talking cure.”

Several faculty marriages broke up during that time, while a few partners in co-counseling married each other. My theory: no one had ever listened (or pretended to listen) to the co-counselors for such an extended period before, and without interruptions or otherwise cutting them short, changing the subject, or falling asleep. The partners (supposedly) never lost focus, or at least that was how they were perceived.

I told this story to my son-in-law and he laughed his head off. It is so true. Changing the subject is what we do and what we experience evermore as a result of the internet, mass media, and the Progressive imperative to be optimistic, to maintain “a sunny disposish” at all times, lest we found ourselves “All Alone” like those hapless Americans who have had their health insurance cancelled by Federal fiat.

Bless you, Irving Berlin and every other songwriter who reminded us to “Remember.”

For more on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/03/eros-and-the-problem-of-solidarity/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/05/10/losing-focus-and-mass-media/.

positive state

June 8, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s love letter to the world

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

This is a meditation upon Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s third book, NOMAD: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through The Clash of Civilizations (Free Press, 2010).  I was there during the late 60s-1970s feminist movement, both as a reporter and facilitator of women in the arts. To understand why Hirsi Ali is not the toast of that closely knit movement (though she should be), one must look at the evolution of the “second wave” feminists.

The leading lights were either primarily leftists, the children of leftists, or dissatisfied participants in the civil rights-antiwar movement that defined 1960s politics. In the late 1960s, certain movement “heavies” emerged, all male, and they were hogging the media’s attention. Women meanwhile, were used as traditional women always had been —as sexual objects, cheerleaders, and cooks. In this aspect, the antiwar and counter-culture hippie movements fused in the figure of Woman as Earth Mother.

Some of these young women weren’t pleased with their lack of access to fame or notoriety, and almost overnight came a flood of books about “the patriarchy” authored by Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, and Germaine Greer, to name a few. In the art world, Judy Chicago (née Gerowitz) became the most celebrated luminary.  The Feminist Art program at California Institute of the Arts, run by Judy and Miriam Schapiro, laid down the new law: women were defined by their vaginas, men by their phalluses: hence, women artists who painted circular forms were right on; glorification of the male organ was taboo, unless as an object of derision, or terror to the “white male supremacist.”

I myself, fascinated by these developments, put together a poetical montage/slide show of sex and violence in the work of female artists and photographers, historically important and/or new to the scene, presenting the slides accompanied by recitations from Simone de Beauvoir and other European writers. My provocation was widely shown around the country and generally appreciated, with one exception: When I gave the show at Judy Chicago’s class at the Women’s Building in downtown Los Angeles, the audience of student feminists under the tutelage of Judy were cold and unresponsive. When I invited comments, Sheila de Bretteville (then associated with Cal Arts, then the Women’s Building, and later Dean of the Design School at Yale), asked me if I was disappointed at the stone wall of disapproval that we both sensed. She lamented on my behalf that I had usually gotten “love” back from the audience for my efforts.

I quote my former buddy Sheila because it is hard to imagine that Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote her three books expecting love and appreciation from the world that had attempted to socialize her into the nightmarish world of Islam, and for some time had succeeded in that effort, until she gradually and painfully extricated herself through an epic journey. Nor do I expect the 60s-70s feminists to appreciate her current affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute; indeed she is the classical liberal enemy to the feminist army of leftists and social democratic super-statists, despite her firm adherence to the right of all women to protect and control their reproductive organs, not to speak of embracing their sexuality.

No, the 1960s feminists and their male allies now populate the humanities departments of the elite universities and their academic presses, having graduated from antiwar demonstrations and art shows to “postcolonial” literary theory, postmodernism, and the multiculturalism that Hirsi Ali so persuasively discredits in her work.  (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/, for an account of the transformation of an integrationist movement to a separatist authoritarian one that mirrored Leninist ideology.) But she does adhere to one practice of post60s feminism: the giving of personal testimony that awakens the conscience and informs the intellect of the reader. To accompany her on this autobiographical journey is to be transformed, partly through the revelations of graphic and shocking details that political scientists and other academics cannot know about, or will not discuss. It is simply life-changing to encounter this woman of fortitude and compelling insight into a Muslim “civilization” that is unremittingly backward, barbaric, and deeply threatening to the West, especially now with the deliberately Obama-inflicted weakness of the American superpower that has given her shelter (although with the need for bodyguards, so thoroughly have we been infiltrated).

But Hirsi Ali’s book is, from top to bottom, a love letter to all the world: love for the Enlightenment, for Reason, for the capacity of even the most backward of peoples, with our assistance, to throw off their hellish imaginations, and to join those of us lucky enough not to have consumed a brain-deadening culture of terror from infancy on. And she understands what probably every woman of accomplishment has experienced: the importance of a father’s example (no matter how idealized) to the aspirations of the daughters, struggling against the odds to declare and embody their independence and unique value. In Ayaan Hirsi Ali, we have in our midst a woman for the ages.

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