The Clare Spark Blog

September 1, 2012

Sex, sex, and less sex

Shulamith Firestone

[For a related blog see]

I have written before about the second wave of feminism, reminding my readers that it was civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s that generated the revolt of young movement women who wanted respect from the emerging male stars, particularly after such notorious remarks as “A woman’s place is on her back.” (Huey Newton) In other words, young women who insisted that “the personal is political” were already anti-imperialists, and had imbibed histories of the U.S. that painted their country as hopelessly opposed to Nature, to native Americans, to (racial) minorities, to gay men and lesbians, to all women, and to the labor movement. But it was sexuality that became the focus of much of their activism, for sex talk sells, and many a new feminist wrote best sellers cursing out men, including those in the white male canon of literary heroes.  Today their ideological offspring are tenured professors in Women’s Studies, in cultural anthropology, in film studies, in the history of science, and in related fields. I don’t know if any of them compares the 1960s-70s culture to the 1920s, when anticapitalism, primitivism and promiscuity were all the rage among expatriates and artists in general, all of whom were in revolt against “the genteel tradition” and their (“Hebraic”) puritan forebears.

Return to my life after I started the radio broadcasts on Pacifica. I did my best to publicize female artists, designers, and writers when I had my radio program. Thanks to the material collected at CalArts, I was able to mount a slide show on sex and violence in the imagery of women artists and photographers that was delivered in numerous prestigious venues during the 1970s. Thoroughly immersed in the writing of the Frankfurt School of critical theory in those days (e.g. Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization), I did not think of the large audiences I was drawing as an audience for pornography, but rather as a symptom of emancipation from old excessively prudish taboos that were better overthrown. I did notice, however, that the New Left men I had met were womanizers, or, if they were New York writers, had numerous failed marriages, and were not faithful to the wife of the moment.

In retrospect, this obliviousness to the value of traditional marriage was widespread among New Age liberals as well as leftists. I remember one psychologist telling me with great confidence that sexual jealously was unhealthy: that the jealous wife was “giving away her power” to the faithless husband and his consorts. That was Gestalt therapy in the late 1960s-early 1970s as practiced in West Los Angeles.

Alexandra Kollontai and comrade

The leftists and liberals mentioned above were no doubt exponents of Alexandra Kollontai’s famous claim that “sex was a drink of water.” I should have recalled Marcuse’s theory of “repressive desublimation”: that sexuality run amok would serve the aims of capitalists selling goods and services. Today, the cult of Beauty is dominant, and woman expend much of their time and resources defending themselves against bad hair, sartorial dowdiness and aging, at the expense of child-rearing, expanding their minds and their general socio-political-economic awareness.

But the second wave feminists were politically aware and media savvy, all right, and many of the artists I championed during my delayed adolescence were exhibitionists defining their “feminist sensibility” as a presentation of female genitalia.  Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party brought her fame, stimulating a cottage industry of feminist art historians who meditate upon her gestures and her contemporaries, some pro, some con. Personally, I rejected her mystical linking of famous women through the ages as pandering, ahistoric, and reactionary.

Dinner Party postcards

But then there were those New York women (Redstockings) influenced by Friedrich Engels and other materialists from the wild male Left. Here is one example from a book that became a must-read for hip women everywhere:

[An excerpt from Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex:]

“So that just as to assure elimination of economic classes requires the revolt of the underclass (the proletariat) and, in a temporary dictatorship, their seizure of the means of production, so to assure the elimination of sexual classes requires the revolt of the underclass (women) and the seizure of control of reproduction: not only the full restoration to women of ownership of their own bodies, but also their (temporary) seizure of control of human fertility – the new population biology as well as all the social institutions of child-bearing and child-rearing. And just as the end goal of socialist revolution was not only the elimination of the economic class privilege but of the economic class distinction itself, so the end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality Freud’s ‘polymorphous perversity’ – would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality.) The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of. either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.”

Sadly, Firestone’s body was found on August 28, 2012, possibly a week after her death in her book-lined East Village apartment in New York City. One report states that she owned many works of the Greek classics. Though she was born into a Canadian Orthodox Jewish family, her rebellion against a religion that supports strong families may have taken her into a paganism that was notoriously misogynistic and revolted by female genitals, despite its proliferation of goddesses. And her obituaries state that she was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The latter is a mental illness that presents itself usually in the early 20s. Firestone was twenty-five when she wrote her famous book. R.I.P. Shulamith Firestone, dead at 67.

September 25, 2009

On mobs, teaching, and Jungians

Unabomber shrinked

Here are three blasts from the past (2003): messages I wrote to other Melville scholars while reading Alston Chase’s trashing of Henry A. Murray.

Letter number one: The subject of democratic mobs has once again surfaced. As I reflect upon it, mobs are antithetical to democracies, and have often been stirred up by propertied interests (or the would-be propertied)—especially mischievous antidemocrats who cannot legitimate their rule through rational appeals. So if Melville complained about mobs, he has good company among every democratic theorist I have ever read.

Recall his remarks on the French Revolution in a now rejected preface to “Billy Budd”. He approved of the first phase, then was disturbed, as were many other friends of the people, by the Terror. Even so, my recollection is that, on balance, he thought that the Revolution was needed. Recall too that he liked Wordsworth’s early poems better than the later conservative ones. (This can be found in his marginalia, I recall, though I may be wrong about the location of that statement.)

The test for democratic sentiments in his time would be his orientation to the great revolutions: The American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the American Civil War. Even in his relatively conservative Supplement to Battle-Pieces, he espouses many democratic sentiments and values.

As for the classroom as a democracy or something else, obviously the teacher is supposed to have superior knowledge and skills to impart. But the question is this: what kind of environment is provided for learning? Is it authoritarian or does it promote questioning of established authority? Do students learn how to debate, based on facts and research? How do teachers handle conflict?  And so on….

Also, I have in hand, Alston Chase’s _Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber_ in which we learn that Henry Murray was another Ahab, a mad scientist, a sadist, a murderer (he got away with killing his mistress Christiana Morgan, it is more than hinted) and, but of course, partly responsible for the Unabomber’s devolution. I will report back after I read it (as opposed to the quick skim I just did). I can’t believe that Nina Murray gave him access to Murray’s papers.

Letter number two:     I have just finished reading Harvard graduate Alston Chase’s _Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber_, published by Norton this year. Chase is not some kind of outsider to academe, but rather a PhD with a record of publishing in the history of science. The book is a world-class embarrassment. His basic thesis is that a combination of  “positivism” (the empiricist philosophy that claims that there is no objective foundation to morality), “the culture of despair” engendered by the Harvard General Education courses that perpetrated this poisonous epistemology (in the 1950s), the oh-so-kinky-Henry Murray’s sadistic experiments with students testing their ability to withstand negative criticism of their basic beliefs, and the Unabomber’s cold and distant father and controlling mother, created Kaczynski’s primitivism and a rage that was constantly recharged, expressed, and hence exacerbated. Moreover, all terrorists follow the same typology, as (Jungian) Chase claims in the last pages.  [added 9-26-09: keep in mind that TK was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, a condition that is inherited and not socially caused or conditioned. ]

As I stated in an earlier message on this subject, Chase explicitly makes hubristic Murray another Ahab (and possibly a murderer of his mistress), and so is the Unabomber in his indifference to human life/zealousness in destruction. Alston Chase believes that scientists have absolutely no business probing the operations of the human mind. Salvation comes to our decadent society solely through the love of God and an intellect respectful of the boundaries and in balance with other human attributes.

I have read thousands of books published by scholars, and I think it is not saying too much that this is one of the worst, if not THE worst book I have ever read.

Prepare yourselves for the apocalypse. And shouldn’t there be a movement to return the Melville Society’s Murray Prize? Read the book, see the movie. You’ll love the scenes with Murray (Mansol) whipping his mistress Christiana (Wona), with his red fingernails, jangly bracelet, and various brightly-colored skirts and blouses.

By the way, if any work of Melville’s was in the Unabomber Montana library (or ever read by TK), Chase doesn’t mention it.

Clare’s response to objections by the moderator of the Melville list “Ishmail,” John Bryant:

Henry Murray was very nice to me and could not have been more encouraging. I would be the last one to urge that the Murray Endowment be revoked, and surely no one on this list thought that, given the context of my scathing remarks on Alston Chase, I could conceivably have intended such a reading.

Thanks to JB for clarifying what has happened to Murray’s contribution to the Melville Society. Also, I was kidding about the movie, though I can imagine a movie of the week being made on the subject.

JB has asked me to provide the passage that mentions Murray. First I should reemphasize that Murray is the most villainous of Chase’s cast of mind-managers. Much of the book is about him, and where his remarks pertain to my own research, I can say that the scholarship is shoddy and often wrong. But then Chase is not the first Harvard graduate that I have encountered who has an elevated and exaggerated view of his own capabilities. (And I say that as a person with a Harvard degree from the lowly Graduate School of Education, ’59.)

Here are the pertinent passages requested by JB:

“When in 1923, he read Herman Melville’s _Moby-Dick_ for the first time, he became virtually obsessed with the novel and its author. He closely identified, not just with Melville but with Captain Ahab himself, the half-mad sea captain who sought revenge against the great white whale that had taken his leg. To Murray, the whale embodied the cruel and unforgiving God of Calvinism; and Ahab, by seeking to slay it, was a tragic hero. By battling the whale, the sea captain sought to strike a blow for psychic and sexual freedom.

From that time forward, Murray would pursue the whale. In 1949 he named the Harvard Psychological Clinic–that he had directed since 1928–“the Baleen,” adopting a spouting sperm whale as its logo. And his identification with Melville and the author’s fictional character would stay with him.

“Harry-Ahab-Murray Melville,” as Frank Barron described him. “…It was all Harry; the whole universe was inside him; the outside world had no reality; it was mere spectacle.”

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