Susan Sontag

December 29, 2004 at 7:47 pm | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

When I heard of Susan Sontag’s death yesterday morning, this surge of anger passed through me like a bolt of electricity. It was the first time that I felt angry at the news of someone’s death. How do I explain this? I didn’t know Susan Sontag. And although I’ve read quite a bit of her work over the years, I can’t even say that I’ve read most of it, or that I could refer to it easily in conversation. But I feel this rage at the fact that another good person has died. Someone we need now, here, has died and won’t speak to our situation, while other people who are incredibly stupid continue to hog airtime. So that was one reason for the anger.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there was a deeper, psychological, and possibly embarassing reason, too. Because I know that I’ll never be able to match her prodigious intake of learning and reading, nor her nearly equally prodigious output, I feel like an intellectual insect compared to her. She was this shining example of what’s possible, and even without knowing all that much about her, I did know that I couldn’t come close to working that hard, or being that good. I’m not even sure where the dividing boundary lies between working hard and being good — I want to believe that they lie far apart from one another. You don’t get to be someone like Sontag just by working your tail off. No, there’s a giftedness inherent in being Sontag, which she had, and most other people simply don’t. And when she figured out where that gift lay, she did work hard to increase it. But you can’t acquire it without the initial hoard, and she had that in spades.

My anger over Susan Sontag’s death was fueled by the obvious: what her death means is that, well, it means that her life is over. It means that now she’ll be a biography, and in becoming a finite bounded biograph-entitity, the comparison — the one I was making for myself — is final for me. That’s her, that’s me, and because she is no longer becoming, I will never ever be able to begin even to allude matching Susan Sontag’s intellectual share. I think that’s what really hit me hard. I’m an insect, and that’s that. And I was angry because there are so few women who are that tremendous and clear (because when you’re a clear woman vs. a “mysterious chick,” chances are that guys will hate you), but it’s those women that I want to compare myself to. And when she died, I knew that the die was cast: I’m the insect, and that’s it.

And my anger is fueled by loneliness too. Anger and loneliness. There are too many stupid people everywhere, and too few people who escape the limitations. I want the company of those outstanding escapees, and when they die, there’s this terrible anger and loneliness at their passing. For consolation, I can summon no belief. For me there’s no platitude that spouts, “Oh well, good thing that’s done and over with,” or, “She must have been suffering horribly with her disease, and it’s all for the best that she died.” No, I’m just angry that human beings haven’t found cures for these diseases, I’m just angry that people like Susan Sontag don’t get to rule the world, but people like George Bush do, I’m just angry that I’m surrounded by people who — if I consider myself an intellectual insect — are mineral or vegetable substances. It’s the loneliness, and it’s so intense you want to roll over and die. When you feel like that, everything once again begins to pool over into everything else, and you think, “God, I’ve marooned myself on this island here, and the internet sort of keeps me connected, but what does it really mean, and I’ll never live in New York.” It’s just crazy, and it’s so banal.

For further reading: I came across this article by Tim Rutten about Sontag and her death, Sontag’s Life Is Testament To Democratic Meritocracy. The poets among you will like it (read to the end, to punchline). Steve Wasserman has another article on her death, Author Susan Sontag Dies; A self-described “besotted aesthete” and “obsessed moralist,” she sought to challenge conventional thinking. She was 71. She was actually only 19 days short of her 72nd birthday. Wasserman has some good quotes:

“We live in a culture,” she said, “in which intelligence is denied relevance altogether, in a search for radical innocence, or is defended as an instrument of authority and repression. In my view, the only intelligence worth defending is critical, dialectical, skeptical, desimplifying.”

My favourite is this:

Sontag devoted herself to demolishing “the distinction between thought and feeling, which is really the basis of all anti-intellectual views: the heart and the head, thinking and feeling, fantasy and judgment. Thinking is a form of feeling; feeling is a form of thinking.”

This is completely in tune with Adorno’s thinking about the subject-object relation, with his critique of idealistic thinking: the idealist, Adorno noted, flatters himself by analysing “opposing” concepts which he himself divided into oppositions in the first instance.

Rest in peace, Susan Sontag. We’ll miss you.

There are many other things I want to blog, but won’t have time for till later. Thanks for b-day wishes, more later. Did go to Massive Change at the Vancouver Art Gallery; it was fantastic and I want to blog about it for weeks to come. Later.

Just briefly for now because this is really important, Chris Locke sent around an email sometime during last night to his EGR subscriber list (note: subscribe now, it’ll do you good) about Amazon‘s incredible leveraging of its efficiency scale to make it easy for you to donate some money to the American Red Cross’s disaster relief fund for the victims of last Sunday’s tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. One click will do it. If you’ve bought stuff from before, you’ll have made your donation and gotten a receipt within 30 seconds, no kidding. If you try calling the Red Cross direct to make a donation, be prepared to wait on the phone for ages. Amazon is leveraging its phenomenal efficiency of scale for a good purpose. So far (7:40 pm, PST), the donations to the American Red Cross are at $3,359,571.57 from 57,439 people. I think that’s effing amazing.

Oh, and I’ve got my bit to say about George Bush and the disaster, too, but it’ll wait till later.

On steroids

December 24, 2004 at 11:48 pm | In yulelogStories | 11 Comments

I haven’t blogged anything for a few days because I felt a real obligation, first, to follow up on my last entry about Sharia law in Ontario, and yet hadn’t the stomach for doing it. For now, you can find out all sorts of stuff yourselves by googling “sharia ontario.” I’ll follow up eventually, if not just yet. The Winter Solstice Open House Party kept me busy, but it was one of those really great big small things to do. We had 50 guests (about half of the number we would have had if everyone who was invited had shown up), many of whom were neighbours. No, let me start again: I made lists of people to invite by creating a sort of Venn-diagram with different areas of “contact,” and somehow the “synergy” between the guests (and how the circles overlapped), for the most part, worked. The circle that really worked in terms of giving me instant gratification was the “neighbours” group: we had folks who’d been living practically next door to each other for years and years, but didn’t know each other’s names, who were thrilled at the chance to meet. Did I find this weird? You bet — it’s incredible to me that a person can be so un-nosy as to not know their neighbour! But there you have it: folks who didn’t know each other, but who were positively giggly at meeting at last. Go figure. Boy, it doesn’t take much to start a social network. It’s a corny phrase, but the “spirit of giving” felt very much alive, insofar as this party-giving was something I wasn’t “getting much out of” (you don’t get to relax all that much when you’re the host/ess), and I didn’t have much of a sense of what was going on while it was going on, and yet it felt good to do. The next day the “thank you” emails and notes and cookies on the doorstep started coming in, and I thought, “Gee, I guess people did have a good time…,” and that felt great. I also felt that xmas was over and done with, as far as I was concerned — we had just given ours, and whatever was still coming down the pike on the calendar didn’t really matter. We didn’t exactly have a potlatch, but it was really fun. And there’s enough unopened food left over to donate to the Open Door. Overall, the party made me feel relaxed, as though a river of abundance flowed right over my front stoop. (Eeww, that sounds so corny, doesn’t it? But…) And there are so many interesting people out there. For example, I made a new set of friends because of the party; they came late — after it ended, actually — to drop off a gift and say their regrets at coming so late. They were detained at a writer-friend’s house, whom I’ve heard of but who I don’t know. I googled her, and found a wonderful speech she gave in Vancouver this past year — On Poetry, by P. K. Page:

Poetry is a vitally important literary form. It’s too often overlooked in this age of fast food, fast ideas, fast acts, fast living. And who has time for it? Nobody. Or few. And yet if my fast facts are correct, there are respectable psychologists who claim that, in order to develop the full powers of the mind—now listen to this, this is important—early exposure to metered verse is essential. Some go even further, suggesting the reading of poetry develops pattern recognition, a sophisticated sense of time and timing, and more importantly, such positive emotions as peace and love. Now if they are correct, you need me. And you need all the other poets who are here… including Patrick [Friesen], who has just crept in. If they are correct, I have not spent a lifetime goofing off… although it may look like it. Being a poet requires the acquisition of a considerable armoury. No no, not weapons of mass destruction—subversive though poets are apt to be. Definition ‘B’ in Webster. Armoury: A collection of available resources. A treasury. Homer and all the poets since who have told us about ourselves, told us, what’s more, in curious rhythms that may have been shaping our brains. I mean this is really serious stuff! Who knows what Shakespeare did to us, with his iambic pentameter. Let me end by paraphrasing an article by Frederick Turner—he’s a poet, he’s a polymath—and Ernest Popul, a German brain researcher. They deplore the rise of what they call ‘Utilitarian Education’, and the loss of traditional folk poetry, and claim this trend may have led to the success of political and economic tyranny. They conclude that, starved of the beautiful and complex rhythms of poetry, we become susceptible to the brutal and simplistic rhythms of the totalitarian slogan—or advertising jingle. I told you I was going to be serious, and I’m being serious. But we live in serious times, and I think it’s perfectly legitimate to take this tact. We need all the help we can get. I’m especially delighted, for all these reasons, that poetry has been honoured, in this tenth year of the Terasen [Award]. And every time I light my gas fire, I will think of this evening, and all of you, and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

(Terasen is our local British Columbia gas utility, hence the closing pun. There’s more about P.K. Page here.) So, that’s an invigorating quote for all my poet friends out there. I love her “I have not spent a lifetime goofing off” comment, which is so important to keep in mind in our Nazi age of “work makes you free.” Before the show closes on January 3/05, I want to go to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see Massive Change: The Future of Global Design. It hit me this morning, talking with the offspring about the future, about careers, and about wanting to design stuff, that this might be an important show to see. Just for ideas, inspiration, and such. There’s an associated website, Massive Change, which could take the place of seeing the exhibition, but perhaps it’s time to hit the ferries and cross the Straight to see the real thing. Reading about Massive Change reminded me of this television show I loved to watch back in the early 70s: it was on CTV, and was called Here come the seventies. This show was great — total fluff in most ways, but inspiring in an inappropriate McLuhanesque way (i.e., I don’t think McLuhan was ever that optimistic). The future was going to be cool, and stylish. When, years later, I heard Zaphod Beeblebrox talk about “style,” I knew he had watched Here come the seventies or its close clone. (Verbatim: “hey, this is the most stylish heap I’ve ever been in!”, with Ford Prefect, ever practical, answering, “It looks like a fish, but steers like a cow,” etc. etc.) Here come the seventies was stylish — a fish in its sleek appearance, a cow in terms of handling its subject matter. It had this really groovy theme song: “Tillicum,” by a band called Syrinx. And of course yours truly has the record — I have a knack for keeping kooky paraphernalia — as well as for throwing out some really good stuff: all my David Bowie albums are gone, alas. Every week the show opened to the strains of Syrinx‘s Tillicum, and the view of a naked woman walking away from the camera, into a lake, disappearing in its gentle waves. The future was going to be great, at least it looked that way in Canada in 1971. And so I put the record on the turntable. It sounds like caterwauling, but it’s catchy caterwauling. My husband screws up his face — “do we have to listen to this?” It sounds like klezmer on steroids, I say. My son says, “I like it.” My daughter wisely keeps out of it. But in the end we agree that it has an undeniably puerile quality: it lacks depth, it’s eclectic in the way it plays with “orientalist” and modern strains, and it “jazzes” things up with syncopated rhythms that don’t seem to go anywhere to suggest deeper geometries of space or patterns of perception. It’s pretty bad stuff. It’s exactly right for the seventies. I’ll reserve judgement on Massive Change until after I’ve seen it, but I hope it’s not like the cobbled together version of techno-optimism that Here Come the Seventies was.

This is depressing: a sad milestone for women in Canada — going backwards into the dark ages

December 20, 2004 at 11:21 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

The Toronto Star reports that Marion Boyd, a former Ontario attorney general, concluded an official report endorsing a form of Sharia law in Ontario. See today’s TO Star article here. Boyd is being criticised by a number of progressive Muslims, who accuse her of “naivete” and of caving in to pressure from right-wing Muslim groups. Boyd does a lot of talking around Sharia, saying that the Ontario recommendation is not exactly Sharia law, but simply a recognition of “Muslim religious principles within Canadian law.” I can’t see this as anything but a defeat for women and for progressive men, however. As Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress puts it in the TOStar article:

“What exactly are these Muslim principles?” asked Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

“For her (Boyd) to come here and lecture Muslims as to what Muslim family law is, and Sharia is, is despicable and racist.”

Fatah said most Muslims in Ontario want to be treated as equal citizens. Proponents of Sharia in Canada are not concerned about settling family law disputes, he added.

“They are concerned at bringing justification for introducing Sharia, and legitimizing it in Pakistan, in Iran (and) in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“She has been listening . . .to the Muslim fundamentalists . . .that this was not about Sharia.” [More…]

The report supposedly calls for “safeguards” to prevent women from being bullied into religious-based arbitration vs. real legal counsel and representation, but Boyd’s critics attack her on this front, too:

Her critics say Boyd undermined those protections by also allowing people to waive their right to legal advice before they agree to arbitration instead of going to court to settle a dispute.

“I need to sound the alarm on a recommendation that poor women should be allowed to waive their fundamental right to an independent legal opinion,” said Marilou McPhedran, legal counsel to the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

“Marion Boyd today has given legitimacy and credibility to the right-wing racists who fundamentally are against equal rights for men and women.” [More…]

I hope that progressive Muslims in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, along with voices from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, can convince the Ontario government to ditch Boyd’s recommendations. Fatah noted that this will immediately enter the rightwing Islamist propaganda mill: “Tomorrow in Tehran, in Jeddah, in Pakistan, in Kabul, in Sudan, every newspaper will say that Sharia has been approved by Canada,” predicted Fatah. I find it frightening that equal rights and representation before the law could, in a modern democracy, be undermined in favour of medieval, misogynist “religious” exemptions. What happened? Women really are the niggers of the world, aren’t they… Some men make her “paint her face and dance”, but some others make her put bags over her head and body. Same f*ng difference.

Keeping up appearances

December 19, 2004 at 10:56 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

It’s going to “posting lite” around here for the rest of the year — whew!, no more run-on sentences for y’all! But there’s that party coming up, last minute preparations to attend to, it’s my birthday soon (d’uh), and between all that and the chocolate and wine, I don’t think I’m going to drag myself to the computer very often. Besides, it’s going to take me a couple of days to get comfortable sitting down again: last night, dancing enthusiastically to US 3, I did a split (too quickly) in exuberant memory of my younger self, and felt this exquisite sensation where my thigh muscle connects to my butt muscle. Sigh. Ou sont les neiges d’antan? Where indeed… I sent out invitations to the upcoming Winter Solstice Party at least 2 weeks ago, and now I worry that, having asked for RSVPs only in the case of “regrets,” any number of people never received their invitation. (Guiding motto: if there’s nothing to worry about, invent something.) If you think you should have an invitation, but it hasn’t arrived, email me (myfirstinitialmylastname at post dot harvard dot edu, or myfirstname dot mylastname at gmail dot com). Perhaps you’re someone I read, but don’t know; or someone whose events I’ve gone to, but didn’t chat up afterwards. And there you are, without an invitation, even though you might be someone I’d like to see! Quelle malheur! (Then again, given my past experiences with local Victoria Nazis, there are some of you out there that I don’t want to see, ever, because you’re terribly scummy people. You can keep away.) Further: email me also if you write something (or read something) I really should read, because otherwise I’ll miss seeing it during my virtual hibernation. We do that tree-thing at our house, and I bought a noble fir at a parking lot last Wednesday night. It went straight into a water-well stand, and yesterday (Saturday) I started stringing lights on it. I have incredibly rigid standards as to what constitutes a “good” Christmas tree — you might say I’m an xmas tree authoritarian (don’t want to use the “n” or “f” word). It has to be lit in just the right way — I once shared a flat with a National Theatre School student who studied set design and whose subspecialty was lighting: she taught me that lighting is everything. With that in mind, I spend hours (or, in this last round, due to problems with the strings, 2 days) putting the bloody lights on the tree, until I bloody well hate the whole thing. I start by wrapping lights around the trunk of the tree. A good tree has to be lit from the inside out. It’s absolutely no good if your tree is lit from the outside in. You have to start at the trunk and wrap it with lights, and then work your way outward, weaving the lights so that they glimmer through the needles. In the end, your tree should be see-through with lights, it should shine like something on fire. I used at least 50 metres of lights on our tree (a metre is just over a yard, I think [uh, no: it’s just under]), and the tree is about 2-plus-something metres high (7 or 8 feet): “lit up like a Christmas tree” has real meaning around here. Once the tree is lit, the kids (or anyone who is still standing after my rages and fights with the goddamn string lights) decorate the tree. This year’s tree event was especially buggerful because two of the lightstrings kept fizzling out, then coming back, and fizzling out again because of a loose connection somewhere, which I hope and pray I managed to fix. I just hope they stay intact for the next 10 days or so, because otherwise I’ll use a flamethrower to light the tree. But you know, lighting really is everything. Once that’s done, the rest is easy. And yet …while I feel that I can relax this year since Martha is in jail, unable to remind me of my hostess-and-homemaker shortcomings, I’m also deeply aware that there’s always Hyacinth….

What do we think of nationalism?

December 18, 2004 at 11:42 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

David Orchard is interviewed by Justin Podur for ZNet.

In a larger sense, the question is all about how Canada can keep its distance from a too-close US embrace. Is it an irony of history that Canadian “nationalism” (nationalism being a throw-back to categories rooted in the19th century) should be for us what the EU (with its dismantling of nationalism) is for Europe? I remember researching the immediate post-1945 period in Germany and in France, and it was clear that France was nationalistic to the teeth, with no ability to see that nationalism was one of the roots of evil, while within Germany, many thinkers and politicians (shell-shocked and subdued by the horrors of their supposed 1000-year ultra-nationalistic Realm) debated the concept of national sovereignty as being outdated, and quite seriously argued the merits of abandoning all notions of national sovereignty outright. And today we have: a united Europe, brought together as a non-nationalist political body through a careful dismantling of national sovereignty of its member nations; the United States acting like a rogue nation imperialist out to bully, in the name of sovereignty, any and all other sovereign nations; and Canada poised between blending into the American fold or yanking the old nationalist cloth from the shelf, to drape itself with some measure of protection against the nationalist imperialism of the US.

Justin Podur: Leftist strategy isn’t oriented towards the parliamentary system but towards increasing agitation and eventually some kind of general strike followed by collective, democratic control of the economy. It’s clear that you’re against imperialism, but many radicals see capitalism itself as the problem and wouldn’t be satisfied with a country that was independent but capitalist.

David Orchard: For Canadians, the battle right now is, as it has been so often in the past, to keep the border between the U.S. and us. Once that is gone we are inside the U.S. and we will have no chance to decide what we want for the future. Traditionally we have had a mixed economy, with public and private sectors coexisting. All of those possibilities are foreclosed if we become part of the U.S. Graham Spry and the leaders of the fight for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the 1930s had a slogan: “The State or the United States.” They knew that without the state, there would be no national railways, no Trans-Canada highway, no national airline or public broadcaster. In a country like Canada the state has to be involved. You can’t open your arms to your neighbour when your neighbour is the world’s only superpower. Unless Canada has a different vision, the center of power will just drift south by the very force of that superpower and its economic strength. By design or inertia, we will drift. Our system of public health care, the vital east-west lines of communication in a far-flung country like Canada, a viable public sector, will all disappear when up against the reach of private U.S. corporations, backed of course by these trade agreements and the U.S. state itself. First we have to make sure we have a future as a nation, and then we can decide and debate what that future should be. [More…]

Future Tense — not just a book

December 16, 2004 at 9:17 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Future Tense — not just a book

Everyone at my house is reading Gwynne Dyer’s Future Tense. I finished it a while ago, my son just finished it, and my daughter’s reading it right now. (We’ll even get the husband to read it!)

YOU should read it, too.

Other reviews and commentary here (The Tyee) and here (Pulse Niagara).

Among many other things, Dyer makes an interesting distinction between fundamentalist (which is a label that should be applied to Christians) and Islamists (politically radicalised Muslims):

The word Islamist is better than fundamentalist because Islamism is a political project based on a religious interpretation of what is happening in the world, whereas fundamentalism ….well, actually, fundamentalism is a Christian concept, and in Islam it is virtually meaningless. The two relgions draw so heavily on Judaism in their vision of God and their moral categories that they have sometimes been described as twin Jewish heresies, but in the matter of scripture there is a huge difference between them — and fundamentalism is all about scripture.

Both the old and the new testaments of the Bible were written by a number of different individuals, and the various prophets and evangelists don’t always agree on the details. So Christians are free to believe the gospel of Luke, for example, which claims that a Roman census obliged Jesus’s father, Joseph, to return to his birthplace to be counted, thus ensuring that Jesus was born at Bethlehem in Judea. Or they can observe that none of the other gospels mentions this story, that there is no other record of this alleged census, that the ultra-practical Romans were not likely to do something as pointless and crazy as insisting that everybody return to their birthplace to be counted — but that Luke’s story conveniently deals with the awkward fact that Jesus grew up in Galilee, whereas prophecy clearly stated that the Messiah would be born in Judea. The very nature of Christian scripture encourages a diversity of interpretations, and so there is a special name for those who accept every word of the Bible literally (ignoring the numerous contradictions): fundamentalists.

The Quran is different, because it was not written by a number of men. In fact, Muslims believe that it was not written by a man at all: rather, it is the direct word of God as dictated to and written down by the prophet Muhammad. Because it has only one author, it is a far more unified text, containing no glaring contradictions of fact — and all Muslims are fundamentalists in the sense that they are bound to accept the Quran as literally the words of God. That does not mean that all Muslims are rigidly conservative in the way they interpret God’s will in their daily lives; every religious community finds ways to contain and express the diversity of human personality and experience, and Islam does it as well as any. There are liberal Muslims; there are conservative Muslims, and there are some very radical Muslims indeed, but fundamentalism in the Christian sense has no meaning in Islam.


The fact that the Islamists have turned themselves into a revolutionary political movement is not intrinsically wrong or sinful in Muslim eyes, because religious movements have often played that role in Muslim history. From its earliest days, Islam was the religion of conquerors and of the state itself, so it does not make the same distinction between sacred and secular power as Christianity, which spent its formative years as the religion of underdogs, outsiders, and slaves. Indeed, since the authority of the Muslim ruler came from God, anybody wanting to oppose or overthrow an existing Muslim government had to couch his criticism in religious language, accusing the ruler of failing to respect and uphold true Islamic principles. (pp.75-78)

I’ve used the “fundamentalist” label repeatedly myself, indiscriminately applying it to both Christians and those of other religions. But this distinction is useful. It strikes me that Ayaan Hirsi Ali might argue along similar lines in the book she’s writing, “Shortcut to Enlightenment.”

What I (along with many many others) find so especially scary right now is that we currently live in times in which Christian (and neo-conservative political) fundamentalists determine the general tenor of discourse — and that the days of hermeneutics and post-modern interpretation of the Bible, and of Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man deconstructing various aspects of language and meaning, appear like halcyon days of yore when, in spite of all the pomo jargon, we still had Enlightenment, namely dispute and interpretation and hermeneutic reading.

Oh my god. (“Yes, and mine, too,” as Peter Sellers, playing The Pink Panther‘s Inspector Clousseau, would reply….): it’s over, for the time being. What dangerous waters are we in when freaks on both sides — those that read everything literally (without hermeneutics, without deconstruction) and those that believe that separation of church (i.e. mosque) and state is a heresy, are determining the conversation.

Those breasts!

December 15, 2004 at 10:33 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

What a relief — I’m not going mad yet after all. A couple of days ago I was experiencing a kind of “flashback” effect, hearing a spoken line over and over again, without having a clue where to place it. It was about breasts. About armoured breasts, and this really drove me crazy since I had written about “weaponising” my breasts in that Dec. 3/04 post. The line, which was driving me crazy as it careened through my head during my day of inane chores, sounded (to add insult to injury) like poetry, and I wondered whether I’d read it at Maria‘s other blog or …where?!? Finally, I remembered: it was in Elfriede Jelinek‘s Nobel Prize acceptance speech (Don’t worry, there’s an English translation, too, but you have to see the original first.):

Aber man wei

Budding creep, plays too many video games, likes to fence and hit people to “win”

December 15, 2004 at 9:50 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Budding creep, plays too many video games, likes to fence and hit people to “win”

This is one of those entries where I feel I should ask permission to post, …but I didn’t. If I end up pulling it, it’ll be because of fall-out from those concerned, i.e., family. It gives an indication, though, of some of the more mundane concerns around here … which in turn factor into my other cares. So: Shelley had this fascinating entry the other day, which among other things was about taking the person of the mountain spot in the game of life. I think the main point of her post was that it is desire which still propels (regardless of context, age, and media) the person who (temporarily!) inhabits the mountain top. The entry, which used modern childhood as its point of departure, sparked a number of responses, mainly by parents of variously-aged children, which is kind of interesting since Shelley doesn’t have kids herself, but I guess is a Big Perennial Kid Who Understands These Things Herself. From my point of view, the entry was fitting in the sense that it got me thinking about something that happened a week or so ago, when my daughter called an hour early from fencing class to say that she needed a ride home. Another player had whacked her twice so hard on the upper arm that it hurt to move it, and she didn’t want to continue with that evening’s class. (I guess he had managed to strike the muscle just right, and forcefully.) She’s 10, btw, and the class is for youth and adults, whereby “youth” is defined as those who the instructor deems mature enough and/or to be age 12 and older. Her tormentor was a pretty boy 15-year-old named Mc. who is known for his brutish ways. He gives the impression of being a spoiled brat, and it seems he lives in a world of video games. He fences avidly — to the point of being tournament material. He probably listens to a lot of rap music, too, since he is known for calling the other “girls” in the class “bitches,” and for using various epithets (eg., “fucking bastard”) that supposedly illustrate his manliness when addressing his male friends in the class (who range in age from about 14 or 15 to 20+). Mc is undoubtedly a virgin, but he likes to pretend he knows about things. Like many children these days, he has read about matters, and he has engaged in them at length virtually, and so he thinks he knows, even though he really knows nothing at all. The class is held at the downtown “Y,” and is intended for “youth” and “adult.” The two “girls” he has called “bitches” are ethnically non-northern European, and they “excuse” his banter, which has stopped my daughter and my son from telling them not to take this punk’s shit. These “girls” are also tournament fencers (whereas my kids are relative newbies), and they make excuses for Mc: “Oh, once you get used to Mc., he’s ok,” which makes my kids wonder what the point would be to try to reign this unfortunate misogynist in. And incidentally, neither my son or my daughter has heard Mc call the northern European females in the class “bitch.” I suppose I could make trouble for all concerned by complaining that Mc’s behaviour creates a climate of hostility and adversity unconducive to learning, and that his brand of swearing has no place in an officially designated “youth” class. It is, after all, a class happening at the Young Men’s/ Young Women’s Christian Association. Instead, I gave my daughter a bad time about not kicking Mc hard enough in the nuts. Mc likes to work himself into a state, based, it seems, on fantasy perception. Before fencing my daughter, Mc told her, “I don’t like you. I really don’t like you. I don’t hate you. But I really hate your brother, though.” My daughter’s brother (who, coincidentally, is my son) is 13 and at least a head taller than the two-year-older Mc. Yes, Mc has a “shortness issue”: from what I hear, he is a cherubic-looking, downright petite 15-year-old milquetoast who probably can’t stand being mistaken for an 11-year-old sop. (I’m not entirely sure I know what Mc looks like, but I think I spotted him recently — he looks like a doll, which probably makes him the evil git he is.) This still doesn’t excuse him from being a jerk for calling those non-northern European girl-fencers “bitches.” Nor does it excuse him for deliberately whacking my daughter on the arm (which doesn’t get him points) in an attempt to hurt her purposely. The only reason he stopped after two whacks was because my daughter used the opening his stupid attack gave to “parry-riposte” and gain two points for herself (despite the pain in her arm). That made him smarten up and return to “the rules.” Do I make official trouble at the “Y,” or do I stay the course and tell my daughter to kick his ass to kingdom-come, even if it takes 10 years of practice? He’s 15, she’s 10, he’s been fencing for a couple of years, she only started a few months ago. For the time being, I think she should either avoid him outright, or try to beat the crap out of him. The various responses to what Shelley wrote in her Mistress post are resonating in my head as I write this. I suppose my daughter will learn how to confront, avoid, or take on these sorts of creeps, and we’ll both learn that it’s not always my job or hers to “enlighten” the hordes of benighted boys out there, some of whom are her enemies, some of whom are her friends. They’re the ones who will suffer their own foolish attacks and their foolish defenses, their inability to play. “The play’s the thing,” didn’t somebody say that? At the end of the day, you’ll go home happier — and smarter — if you played well, with all the openness to feeling that entails. The greatest happiness sometimes comes from just saying, “I don’t know,” vs always making believe that you know everything. There are too many sad kids out there who have locked themselves down by pretending to know everything and anything. (“Oh yes, I know that.” [I’m so mature — a man, you might say!] Fuck you, you silly twit, I think to myself as I shake my head and wonder, What’s wrong with you, bud?)

More from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and some thoughts on equality

December 10, 2004 at 9:58 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

On November 2/04, Theo van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam by an Islamic fundamentalist. I wrote about it on November 3/04, in an entry titled Sex and shame and barter. A key emphasis of that post (as well as a subsequently more vehement one the next day, November 4/04) was that in reporting van Gogh’s murder, the press was leaving out Ayaan Hirsi Ali‘s part, and that by doing so, the relevance of van Gogh’s murder for feminism was getting lost. From my perspective, this murder in particular shed light on how the oppression of women is a basic tenet of all religious fundamentalism, and that in an enlightened society based on the principle of equality, this oppression is unacceptable, despicable, and intolerable. Yes, intolerable, and my perspective is that any discussion of multicultural tolerance, which is a worthy ideal, needs to develop the kind of critical self-reflectivity that allows it to be critical of itself and others. Tolerance has to know what it will not tolerate, otherwise it’s a blind, reified thing, vs an agent working for freedom and human rights.

Looking through press reports and commentary, I found it interesting, saddening, and finally infuriating that van Gogh’s murder was cast as a question of Dutch multiculturalism’s “failure,” of dangerous Islamofascist extremism (us=West vs. them=Islam), or of proving the need to respect the Other’s religious and cultural traditions (i.e., if we just “make nice” and try to understand one another, everything will be alright). Hardly anywhere was it cast as a question of women’s oppression, a question of women’s equality, a question of its denial by a traditional contingent of religious practitioners whose radicalised arm was merely carrying out enshrined policy. Nor do I see much commentary casting this event as a crisis for those of us on the left, who want to eat our multicultural cake and have it, too.

From my perspective, I draw my line at equality and its negation. If a religion or a tradition or a culture denies equality, it loses my respect when it tries to instantiate its benighted practices in my world. I live in a world that supposedly enshrined Enlightenment principles as a cultural ideal and as a legislated reality, and I will not respect traditions that belittle, undermine, or deny equality, our basic human right. There are too many bastards in my world, too, who (despite whatever laws we have in place) daily wait to trump their supposed superiority over their “inferiors.” We have plenty of bastards to stare down right here, in this western world, and my tolerance doesn’t extend to accomodating those who, on the pretense of having a different religion or tradition, ask for “respect” for practices that deny half of humanity the benefit of equal rights. Patriarchs, I will respect your practices a bit more when I see you on the street, demonstrating for equal rights for women — and stepping out of the way when women take their rights. When that happens, we can have a conversation about where equality should take us, because it’s not the case that equality solves social issues. But without it, we’re nowhere. Tolerance for systematic inequality? No way.

On December 3/04, I came across an article in Die Zeit, “Wovor haben diese M

Next Page »

Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
Entries and comments feeds.