The Clare Spark Blog

January 23, 2014

Androgyny

marlene Start here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFyPtCOEq8Y.  I queried my Facebook friends yesterday about what they thought “androgyny” signified, and got only a few answers. Perhaps it is a sensitive subject, particularly since many Americans believe that the second wave feminism and the gay rights movement were out to destroy the nuclear family, with its traditional division of labor between the father-disciplinarian-breadwinner, and the unconditionally nurturing, domesticated mother.

Many Americans across the political spectrum have not thought deeply about practical matters involving power between partners in either gay or heterosexual attachments (see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/27/power-in-gay-andor-heterosexual-attachments/, also https://clarespark.com/2012/05/10/androgyny-with-an-aside-on-edna-ferber/) , let alone what constitutes an ideal environment for raising children, or other relevant concerns that lie outside the realm of religion. To even mention Freud’s theory of “polymorphous perversity” is to raise many eyebrows and inspire dizziness, for we ask people to question their own upbringing, which could force them into dangerous, anxiety-provoking, territory.

This is how I see “androgyny.” My parents, being the children of Eastern European immigrants and preoccupied with earning a living, the Depression, and WW2, were oblivious to the challenges of child-rearing. But since there were only two girls (a baby brother died in infancy), and since I was the elder daughter, my father treated me in some respects as if I were a boy with male ambitions to excel at a profession outside the home.  And my mother, absorbed in her own preoccupations, never taught me how to be “girly” (as they say nowadays). I do recall her warning me that men desired their love-objects to be like “cows,” and that women should be interested solely in propping up the male ego. But with all her negligence, it was my mother who urged me to apply for a fellowship at Harvard, and she was ever proud of my independent mind, even when I was vaguely on the Left, which she never was.

So for me, androgyny, meant seeing my brain as an autonomous entity, no worse than the male brain, and with great effort, occasionally superior. Indeed I took pleasure in graduate school in overcoming obstacles to my scholarship whether the professors be male or female.

I never saw myself as torn between male and female roles. During my marriage, I took delight in pregnancy, child-rearing, and homemaking, but then I had help after my second child was six months old, which made all the difference. When the women’s movement erupted in the late 1960s, I was convinced that these were “unnatural” women, and held myself aloof. It never occurred to me that I was subjugated or socialized away from intellectual pursuits until after I was divorced, and especially after I read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Indeed, it took me many years to assert myself appropriately, and it was a long, painful, and gradual process, with which I still struggle.

I shall end this too short blog with this observation: it is a characteristic of authoritarian societies that male and female “roles” are sharply delineated and polarized. And it remains an open question as to whether gender identity is determined by the genes or chosen in the context of a particular life experience. I tend toward Freud’s view that Eros is a powerful drive or instinct that manifests itself variously in different individuals depending on specific life experience and the circumstances of their times.

tildaswinton

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July 19, 2012

Communist ideas go mainstream

Rosa Luxemburg

[This blog should be read in tandem with https://clarespark.com/2012/08/20/ernest-hemingway-carlos-baker-and-the-spanish-civil-war/.]

The most important idea in this blog: that the original Progressives wanted a regulated capitalism that would stave off the specter of red revolution. Their enemies were Gilded Age robber barons/ finance capital, but more so, a militant working class that seemed to be on the march, especially during the riotous year of 1919, but before that, in the take-off period for industrial capitalism after the Civil War. In the first eight months of 1919–in August introducing the first article publicizing the ostensibly forgotten Herman Melville (1819-1891), The Nation magazine advised its conservative readers to move sharply to the left, outflanking the Industrial Workers of the World and its evil twin the Socialist Party. Oswald Garrison Villard’s influential magazine preached “honest Anglo-Saxon populism” of the communitarian sort that such Anglo-Saxon upper-Midwesterners such as Ernest Hemingway would embody in his novels, for instance in A Farewell to Arms (where war is blamed on the upper classes, and suffered by hapless peasants), and then For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940, written shortly before EH was to be recruited by the KGB as revealed in The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, 2009, see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/).

Nation writers in 1919 also made a vital distinction between industrial capital and finance capital: the latter were Shylocks, while industrial capital was, by contrast, close to the earth, *suggesting the same primitivism, earthiness, and regressive use of language [childish prattle?] that Hemingway (a.k.a. “Hemingstein”) admired. They also posited mystical bonds to unite society, for they were at heart organic conservatives, hostile to anything that smacked of empiricism or “materialism.” Above all, they preached deference to gentlemanly, compassionate Anglo-Saxon experts, who, properly reconstructed, would avoid the extremes of heartless laissez-faire capitalism and communist revolution (Jew/Jacobin-led mob rule). That is why I call them the moderate men, and these moderates can be found in both political parties today, arguing for “the neutral state,” while at the same time, the moderate men are attuned to life among the lowly (see https://clarespark.com/2012/06/29/the-neutered-state/, with its bizarre notion that all conflict can be reconciled by the artful, manipulative “mediator” bringing progressive ideas of order to the “mixed-economy”).

For a detailed account of The Nation line in January-August 1919, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/. For more on the separation of finance capital from industrial capital see https://clarespark.com/2010/09/11/is-wall-street-slaughtering-the-middle-class/.

In a more recent blog, I summarized the main ideas of Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes in their detailed summation of the Communist movement in the U.S. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/06/03/connecting-vs-connecting-the-dots/. ) As Klehr and Haynes demonstrate the heyday of American communism was the Great Depression, or as literary scholars say, the Red Decade, where virtually every important writer studied Marx and Lenin, with many joining the communist movement, though there were vicious animosities between Stalinists and Trotskyists that remain relevant today (for instance, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, between readers of The New Masses and Partisan Review). Klehr and Haynes argue that the communist movement today is weak and nearly defunct, but did not trace the infiltration of Leninist statism into the progressive movement and the New Left, though they mention several instances where New Deal strategies such as social security were first introduced by the CPUSA (but see Professor Cherny’s objection to this claim below in his lengthy comment).

Marcus Garvey

New Left developments: The civil rights movement, under infiltration by communist thinkers and organizers, quickly turned from an integrationist movement (the MLK Jr. line) to a militantly cultural nationalist movement, drawing on both the cultural pluralism introduced by earlier progressives, and the separatism advocated by avowed fascists such as Marcus Garvey (a petit-bourgeois radical and precursor to Malcolm X), or by Communists  advocating a Black Belt in the deep American South as reparations for the horrors of slavery, debt-peonage, and Jim Crow.

Schine, McCarthy, Cohn

The New Left (many of whom were readers and admirers of the anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist British Left still reeling from the 1956 revelations about Stalin) defined itself as “anti-anti-Communist,” with a great horror of McCarthy and his vile [Jewish] henchmen, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine, arguing that anticommunism was a (continued) cover for right-wing opposition to the statist New Deal, and of course that we had not “lost China” as “right-wing loons” had insisted. It was this 1960s generation that turned once again to history from the bottoms up, or social history or cultural history, histories that had already been made fashionable and appealing by 1930s progressive journalists, authors, songwriters, filmmakers, and playwrights  celebrating the Common Man/the Salt of the Earth.  See https://clarespark.com/2012/06/16/the-social-history-racket/, but also recent blogs on such figures as Edna Ferber, Oscar Hammerstein, and Martha Gellhorn. Today, NPR, the Pacifica Foundation, and academic departments of humanities  continue the populist-communitarian strain extant since the last decade of the 19th century, antisemitism and all. What a shock it must have been when Yale University Press published its series of books that delved into the briefly opened Soviet archives, revealing that Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, et al, were guilty of espionage after all, that Whittaker Chambers was no sociopath, and though McCarthy was a vile opportunist, he was not so far off the mark as liberals had insisted.

TIME Cover, March 8, 1954

Although in prior blogs I have made sharp distinctions between liberal anticommunists (social democrats) and hardcore communists and fascists, the statism and crypto-elitism advanced by “progressivism” have so blurred the boundaries between social democracy and full-fledged Marxist-Leninism that I cannot blame those on the Right who conflate all the variant statisms into one huge encroaching monster. Popular Front politics did not stop in 1939, but persist into the present.

*It was Nation writer Lincoln Colcord who draw a distinction between “international bankers” versus “commercial bankers”; the latter were closer to the site of production, hence would make concessions to labor, whereas the international bankers were solely involved with the extraction of profits. Cf. J. A. Hobson, also favorably cited by The Nation in this period.

May 10, 2012

Androgyny, with an aside on Edna Ferber

Kleo, by Kremena Ivanova

“Receptiveness is a rare and massive power, like fortitude; and this state of mind now gave Deronda’s face its utmost expression of calm benignant force—“  [Ch.24,  Daniel Deronda, 1876, by George Eliot, nom de plume for Marianne Evans]

I read a lot, but rarely does a sentence such as George Eliot’s stick in my mind as a life lesson. I’m not sure we mean the same thing by “fortitude” (its religious meaning is to soldier on as vessels of God’s will), but if she means a kind of courage and honor that women usually attribute to men, then I am with her in her suggestion of androgyny. For every artistic person must combine the qualities often assigned either to men (fortitude) or to women (receptiveness).

In reading and teaching the literature of the past, militantly gay academics, journalists, and critics, have detected closeted gays in 19th century literature. We were not there, so cannot evaluate such annexations to the (male) gay project, but in the case of Herman Melville, it is possible that he was simply androgynous, blending the receptiveness and fortitude recommended by George Eliot. Melville’s British admirer, James Thomson (“B.V.”), was thinking of Eliot when Thomson wrote his famously pessimistic poem “The City of Dreadful Night”: the Queen who ruled this godless, desperate place, was none other than Eliot! See my essay https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/, where I quote an interchange between Thomson and Eliot, also from his poetry. For misogynistic images linking Gorgon, vagina dentata, and androgynes as Pierrot figures, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/assorted-degenerates/.

In the past month or so, I have been reading some of the major novels of a 20th century successor to George Eliot, the famed best-selling author Edna Ferber (1885-1968) who, unlike George Eliot, never shacked up with a man (Eliot’s love was Goethe biographer George Henry Lewes, 1817-1878). Indeed, Ferber’s spinsterhood is in doubt among some younger critics, who deduce that she must have been a lesbian. But in the case of Ferber, it is crucial to go back to her texts and to her autobiography in order to evaluate her status as a feminist and antiracist avant la lettre.

I have read in this order, Showboat (1926), Giant (1952), So Big (1924), and her first autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure (1938), also Ferber (1978),  a semi-debunking biography by her great niece Julie Goldsmith Gilbert, who reveals her as a closet racist, and a mother- and-sister-hater, as well as a probable lover of several men. In the 1938 autobiography, though she has been writing as a regionalist and a friend to the “common man”, she suddenly comes out as an indignant ueber-Jew, furious with Hitler for Kristallnacht. And yet, she rejects her father, the small businessman (of Eastern Europe extraction and owner of a dry-goods store) in favor of her German Jewish ancestry through mother, which is ever so much more aristocratic in their tastes. Her most appalling villain is a New England Puritan (with all the Hebraic characteristics assigned to them), “Parthy”—Magnolia’s penny-pinching mother in Showboat.

It happens that aristocratic women in Europe were not only educated, but were influential behind the scenes, if we are to believe the 19th Century novels of Benjamin Disraeli, who glorifies and adores them (see https://clarespark.com/2011/05/04/disraelis-captive-queens/) . Similarly, in Ferber, her female heroines are remarkably persevering, outspoken, and progressive in all their social views; they are autodidacts like herself; they also are not great beauties. But most remarkably, they conquer their hidebound conservative antagonists with wit, compassion, endurance, and the power of their arguments, i.e., they are admitted to boy’s clubs to take off the rough edges. Would that all outspoken women were so persuasive, or all plain women so beloved by men.

In real life, Ferber adopted all the traits of the traditional woman eager to please various establishments: she had a nose job, was a fashion plate, threw herself into home decoration, gourmet food, and grand dinner parties; but most importantly, ingratiated herself with the leading WASP progressives and assimilated Jewish businessmen-artists (such as “Dicky” Rogers or his half-Jewish collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II, whose lyrics could not be more traditional in the subordination of women to men). As an aesthete and a moralist, Ferber lived out the European tradition of the aristocratic woman who pulls the strings behind the scenes. Or was she the puppet of social forces and inner drives that she had yet to master? (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/24/the-subtle-racism-of-edna-ferber-and-oscar-hammerstein-ii/.)

On the illustration: the two white lines on the right of the image are probably damage to the post card I scanned, advertising a student art show at El Camino College.

April 24, 2012

The subtle racism of Edna Ferber and Oscar Hammerstein II

1929 poster for Showboat film

(This blog follows https://clarespark.com/2010/08/22/south-pacific-and-liberal-guilt/.)  Liberals like to think of themselves as anti-racists, and struggle valiantly to distinguish themselves from blood and soil (Blut und Boden) Nazis, the hereditarian racists par excellence. But there are more subtle, more insidious forms of racism, because they masquerade as antiracism, for instance in one kind of “environmentalist” logic or in primitivism/exoticism. (For the racism inherent in “multiculturalism” see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/. Briefly, it is believed that there are no universal ethics or universal facts, for diverse languages and cultures create reality, and no one culture is better than another, nor is it legible to “the Other.” For the genealogy of “the Other” see https://clarespark.com/2014/09/08/why-progressive-social-psychologists-make-us-crazy/.)

In this latter “environmentalist” variety, it is imagined that different climates and material conditions literally molded their diverse populations. These non-whites, upon discovery, exert a fascination for travelers and other fantasists, for the primitives are associated with the inexhaustible bosom of mother Earth, or with the release of those “spiritual” or erotic (or even aggressive) instincts supposedly repressed by such as the hard-driving, uptight money-maddened Hebraic Puritans of cold and rocky New England and their Yankee brethren in Philadelphia and New York. Different environments, it was thought even by such “advanced” anthropologists such as Franz Boas, produced different skull formations, and presumably differing human types. (For the reception of Boas into progressive race pedagogy, see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/, especially the enthused melding of Boas with 18th century German Romantics of the Aufklärung by Bostonian educator J. Mace Andress, 1916.)

Almost everyone who writes about American musical theater credits Oscar Hammerstein II for the precocious antiracism of the musical Showboat, (1926), followed by several film versions, the most famous one released in 1927. He is also the acclaimed lyricist of the stage musical South Pacific (1949), then translated into film in 1958, with his lyric for “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” covered by every liberal singer imaginable, eager to distance themselves from nativist yahoo Republicans.

I consulted Paul Osborn’s “Final script” for the 1958 movie, dated June 10, 1957, to see if the movie version, like the play (and unlike Michener’s original Tales of the South Pacific) had Lieutenant Joe Cable renounce his conventional life in Philadelphia for the sexual charms of Liat, the younger than springtime daughter of Bloody Mary. The script makes it clear that the song itself has converted Cable away from “My Girl Back Home” (a song dropped from the original stage play). What follows are my notes from the movie script:

First Cable remembers what he has left behind:

(p.103)”My Girl Back Home”

“My girl back home/ I’d almost forgot/A blue eyed kid/ I liked her a lot/ We got engaged/Both families were glad/ And I was told/By my uncle and Dad/That if I was clever and able/ They’d make me a part/ Of a partnership/Cable, Cable, and Cable.

How far away/Philadelphia P.A./Princeton, N.J./How far are they/From coconut palms/And banyan trees/And coral sands/ And/ Tonkinese”

p.106 Following the singing of “You’ve Got To be Carefully Taught,” there are “Directions: speaking, going close to Emile, his voice filled with the emotion of discovery and firm in a new determination.” Cable speaks: “Yes, sir, if I get out of this thing alive, I’m not going back there! I’m coming here. All I care about is right here.”

Significantly, the reference to Liat (in “My Girl Back Home”) follows references to the physical environment of a South Pacific island, and even then she is not individuated with a name, but collapsed into her race, the Tonkinese (now known as Vietnamese).

Return now to Showboat, the best-selling 1926 novel of Edna Ferber. I had assumed that the theme of miscegenation, the very core of white supremacist angst, would be part of Ferber’s psychological attractions. But no. It is true that Julie, the mulatto played by Helen Morgan in the film version, is a major character who sings such standards as “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine” and “Bill”, but in Ferber’s novel, Ferber’s Doppelgänger Magnolia, is attached to Julie as a projection of herself, a showboat actress and maternal figure with black hair, plain features, and a sallow complexion. (Ferber’s mother’s name was Julia).  As Julie and her blonde husband are driven out of Lemoyne (where she was born and known to be part Negro), (hysterical) Magnolia runs after her, and Ferber writes, “…And when they finally came together, the woman dropped on her knees in the dust of the road and gathered the weeping child to her and held her close, so that as  you saw them sharply outlined against the sunset the black of the woman’s dress and the white of the child’s frock were as one.” (p.153)

But more, Magnolia’s  hyper-Puritan business-like, “frigid” and “fanatical” killjoy mother, Parthia Ann Hawks, is the antitype to the spirituality of Jo and Queenie, the major Negro characters in the book. Magnolia hovers about them as a refuge from the hypocritical Mother, a strict Calvinist, secretly thrilled by wickedness. Queenie feeds Magnolia’s body, while Jo feeds her soul. “…Jo, the charming and shiftless, would be singing for her one of the Negro plantation songs, wistful with longing and pain; the folk songs of a wronged race, later to come into a blaze of popularity as spirituals.” Magnolia asks Jo to play “I Got Shoes” and Ferber even includes the score of the song, followed by “The longing of a footsore, ragged, driven race expressed in the tragically childlike terms of shoes, white robes, wings, and the wise and simple insight into hypocrisy: “Everybody’s talkin ‘bout Heav’n ain’t goin’ there….” She then asks for “Go Down Moses.” “She liked this one—at once the most majestic and supplicating of all the Negro folk songs—because it always made her cry a little. Sometimes Queenie, busy at the stove or the kitchen table, joined in with her high rich camp-meeting voice. Jo’s voice was a reedy tenor, but soft and husky with the indescribable Negro vocal quality. …purple velvet muffling a flute(120-122).” Later, Magnolia will sing these and other spirituals to her daughter Kim, when she is ill, imitating the “soft husky Negro voice. (291)”

Edna Ferber, an admirer of FDR during the Depression, should be grouped together with regionalist artists and poets of her time, reaching out to the wretched of the earth, to “the common man,”  not to the militant industrial working class or their intellectual allies in the Red Decade. Here is a passage from Showboat that she even quotes in her first autobiography A Peculiar Treasure (1939). She is describing the appeal of the showboats to the denizens of the Mississippi shores, especially those of the South: “They forgot the cotton fields, the wheatfields, the cornfields. They forgot the coal mines, the potato patch, the stable, the barn, the shed. They forgot the pitiless blaze of the noonday sun; the bitter marrow-numbing chill of winter; the blistered skin; the frozen road, wind, snow, rain, flood. The women forgot for an hour their washtubs, their kitchen stoves, childbirth pains, drudgery, worry, disappointment. Here were blood, lust, love, passion. Here were warmth, enchantment, laughter, music. It was Anodyne. It was Lethe. It was Escape. It was the Theatre.” (104-105)

Ferber was a great fan of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. (On Twain and disenchantment see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/31/the-numbers-game/.) But there was even more to Ferber’s primitivism that links her to Hammerstein’s fairy tales. Writing of the audience for the showboat’s plays and songs, “They made a weird spectacle of the commonplace. The whites of the Negroe’s eyes gleamed whiter. The lights turned their cheeks to copper and bronze and polished ebony. The swarthy coal miners and their shawled and sallow wives, the farmers of the corn and wheat lands, the backwoods poor whites, the cotton pickers of Tennessee, Lousiana, Mississippi, the small-town merchants, the shambling loafers, the lovers two by two were magically transformed into witches, giants, princesses, crones, gnomes, Nubians, genii. (102-103)”  For related blogs see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/21/wilsonian-internationalism-as-our-town/, and https://clarespark.com/2012/04/12/the-donkey-serenade-and-buffetts-rule/.

For shocking materials on Ferber’s family relations and her similarly surprising views on such questions as the rising tide of color (reminiscent of Lothrop Stoddard) or the archaic cultures of American Indians, see her great-niece’s biography: Julie Goldsmith Gilbert, Ferber: A Biography (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978). Usually, descendants guard private papers of controversial ancestors assiduously. In this case, Gilbert indicts, by extension, an entire class of actors, authors, playwrights, and movie producers revered today by most liberals and Democrats. They were the fabulous wits I was trained to adore growing up. But most interestingly, the transformations from Ferber’s novels to mass media or theater seemed to bother her not in the least, even though her social criticism was attenuated in favor of Romance, for instance in the film version of her novel Giant. I thank John Podhoretz for telling me about the  Gilbert book. (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/05/10/androgyny-with-an-aside-on-edna-ferber/.)

 

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