. . . Manly

. . .

When a man profits from the unacknowledged labor of men, it's exploitation; when a woman profits from the unacknowledged labor of women, it's a feminist victory.

+ + +

Guys are most comfortable focusing on contact when it's blunted: Straight sailors blind drunk. Poor little kittens with glued-on mittens.

. . .

Twentieth Century Ooze: Like any smart science fiction writer, Bernard Wolfe, author of cult-novel Limbo ("I think it is a masterpiece" -- David Pringle, Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels), knew that he was describing the present, not the future: "I am writing... in the guise of 1990 because it would take decades for a year like 1950 to be milked of its implications." Mind-control was a global preoccupation in the novel's birthyear, and so Limbo plays as many variations on lobotomy as Philip K. Dick on hallucinogenic drugs or Rudy Rucker on fatuous preening.

Equally accurate but not quite so self-aware is Wolfe's depiction of sexual attitudes among the educated and heterosexual. In a central episode of the book, the hero undergoes the indignity of having a women straddle him ("only a frigid woman would have to make such an issue of the top billing.... the most difficult of positions, a man-deposing position which for most women would exclude the possibility of any real orgasm at all -- a full vaginal one, not a pale clitoridean substitute") followed by the further indignity of her autonomous movement ("he did not relish that part of him which could be aroused in this passive way.... beholden to no man for her triumph, involved with her partner only insofar as she had momentarily borrowed him as a necessary prop....") and, worst of all, mutual satisfaction ("The most frustrating and humiliating erotic moment of his life, he thought with a grimace.").

And what a waste of time! "You had a full experience, sure, but it took you a hell of a long time to arrive at it: well over thirty minutes, I'd say, whereas the average normal coitus lasts for only a few minutes. And like all women who achieve satisfaction only with great difficulty, and only under special aggressive circumstances and only after prolonged tension and anxiety, you were determined to be the pace-setter. That's quite characteristic of frigid women too -- the men's mechanism must be only a passive reflex of theirs. You'll find this hard to believe, but the normal state of affairs is quite the other way around.... With a kind of warm melting you don't know anything about."

To prove his point, he rapes her. In the proper missionary position.

But she even manages to screw that up! "It was not, although it had started out to be, the genuine full reaction of the wholly yielding, wholly warm woman -- she, or her ornery unconscious, had executed a diversion to defeat him at the last moment, at the price of her own full satisfaction."

If all of the women he meets are either openly frigid or covertly frigid, how can he talk so confidently about "normal" women? Ah, the age-old problem for male pontificators, solved in the age-old way with the invention of a fantasy: the perfectly yielding Gauguinesque island girl, Ooda. Good old puddin'-headed Ooda. Nothing like his first wife....

Much more straightforwardly instructive than work by such old prevaricators as Norman Mailer, Limbo is highly recommended to postfeminists, Lacanians, and the nostalgic.

And only a quarter-century after Limbo's publication, noted heterosexual intellectual male Woody Allen was ready to debunk the two orgasm theory, although, naturally, he had it mouthed by a silly-billy blonde bimbo rather than by a heterosexual intellectual male.

. . .

It's humped and scarred and disgustingly hirsute
Hey la, hey la, my boyfriend's back.

. . .

Our brain-tickler today is posed by "CL of SF":

I dreamt that Jolita told me a wonderful riddle about three reasons men are like sandwiches. It was so amusing that I asked her to please tell it again so that I might commit it to memory, but she just said, "Well, you know."

It had something to do with bread and truth.

Any help from Hotsty Totsy readers would be most appreciated. The only thing I can come up with is that they're both islands. And, speaking of Manly guys, the front page story for the Manx Independent today is:
Love turned sour for widow, 77, man, 32: A charity collector left a widow more than twice his age in a pool of blood after a naked attack carried out when their bizarre relationship turned sour, a court heard....

. . .

Nothing sums up the 1990s better for me than the remarkable document that follows. (For best results, read aloud.)

Here's hoping that the next decade is less large and more pleasant: cheers! -- Cholly

Finally -- a brand-new right-between-the-eyes, slam dunk men's magazine that lays it all on the table. And shows you how to live smart, live stylishly and live large.

Introducing P.O.V. -- the bold new men's magazine for you and your very best friends. Rolling the dice. Taking chances. Scoring big. And playing it smart in-between.

Dear Friend:

Tired of all those super-slick "men's magazines" that show you toys you can't afford, trips you can't take, and clothes you wouldn't be caught dead in?

Wish you could grab the publishers by the lapels and scream, "Get real!!!"

Well here's good news! Because here's P.O.V. Our kind of magazine. From our point of view. Yours and mine. Real guys. Who want real answers.

The first men's magazine to see things the way you do. Speak your language. And give you what you want to know more about. Careers. Cash. And making your weekends count.

P.O.V. is about taking control. Thinking big. Making some cash. Being your own boss. Starting a business. Investing wisely. Staying in shape. Traveling cheap. Getting it right. And getting it often. Living large. And living an active life.

P.O.V. shows you how to do it. Because it's written by guys who are doing it right now.

It looks different. Feels different. And has a fresh new attitude. Irreverent. Witty. Stylish. With a great sense of humor. And a big set of -- well, you know.

P.O.V. lays it all on the table...

It's interviews with people who matter
Like Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band. Matthew Perry of Friends. Seinfeld's Michael Richards. MTV's Idalis. ESPN's Dick Vitale. Governor John Engler. All in P.O.V.

It's sex like you've never had it before
What I mean is, our sex columnn is different. We pose the same question to our male guy and our female gal. He-said-she-said kinda thing. We've asked...

Does size matter? Who wants it more? What's your biggest turn-on? Is it possible to have too much? (What?!)

Just bring up (sorry) a few of these eyebrow raisers next time you're on the Net, and see where things go from there.

Plus we delve into music worth hearing. Movies worth seeing. Books you ought to know about. And other things that matter. All in P.O.V. (You're likin' this already, aren't you?)

If you're ready for a new kind of magazine that packs a big wallop and hits you where you live...

Then welcome to P.O.V.! I'm anxious to hear your opinion of your FREE Charter Issue! Act now! And I'll send it pronto!

Drew Massey

. . .

Must be a pretty recent era -- I'm a decade older than these guys, and my mom had no qualms about making me and my brother split the chores....

. . .

Sofia Tonight the Coppola clan strengthens both their position as the Kennedies of Kalifornia Kulture and the local tradition of "You Go, Daddy's Girl!" post-feminism when little Sofia's gala-ly opens the shmooze-happy SF Int'l (Intel? Internal? Intellectual? as if!) Film Festival. Early blurbs from the critics of Premiere, Vogue, and Flair indicate that she's sticking to the paternal formula of very expensive mediocrity; fittingly, the most sycophantic account to date comes from the festival schedule itself, which swoons over

"the baffling, hidden reality of teenage girls.... Her most astounding feat, however, is going beyond the expected genre conventions, to discover and courageously reveal a romantic, at times mythic power." gorgeous blonde teenagers. Yeah, that's breaking new Hollywood ground.... Hell-LO! You can't "courageously reveal" a myth. You can, however, mindlessly repeat one.

. . .

Critics rave

"Much may be said on both sides." -- Hark! I hear
A well-known voice that murmurs in my ear:
The voice of Candour. Hail! most solemn sage,
Thou drivelling virtue of this moral age,
Candour, which soften's party's headlong rage.
Candour, which spares its foes, nor e'er descends
With bigot zeal to combat for its friends.
Candour, which loves in see-saw strain to tell
Of acting foolishly, but meaning well;
Too nice to praise by wholesale, or to blame,
Convinced that all men's motives are the same;
And finds, with keen discriminating sight,
Black's not so black; nor white so very white.

Give me the avowed, the erect, the manly foe,
Bold I can meet -- perhaps may turn -- his blow.
But of all plagues, good heaven, thy wrath can send,
Save, save, oh! save me from the Candid Friend!

-- George Canning, 1798

. . .

What Joseph Campbell Didn't Tell You: From 18th Century England's Long Meg ...

Long Meg
It was their misfortune at St. James's Corner to meet with two thieves who were waiting there for them and took an hundred marks from Willis the Carrier, and from the two wenches their gowns and purses. — Meg came up immediately after, and then the thieves, seeing her also in a female habit, thought to take her purse also; but she behaved herself so well that they began to give ground. Then said Meg, Our gowns and purses against your hundred marks; win all and wear all Content, quoth they. — Now, lasses, pray for me, said Meg — With that she buckled with these two knaves, beat one and so hurt the other, that they entreated her to spare their lives — I will, said she, upon conditions. — Upon any condition, said they — Then, said she, it shall be thus :
  1. That you never hurt a woman, nor any company she is in.
  2. That you never hurt lame or impotent men.
  3. That you never hurt any Children or innocents.
  4. That you rob no carrier of his money.
  5. That you rob no manner of poor or distressed.
Are you content with these conditions? We are, said they. I have no book about me, said she, but will you swear on my smock tail? which they accordingly did, and then she returned the wenches their gowns and purses, and old Father Willis the Carrier an hundred marks.

The men desiring to know who it was had so lustily be-swinged them, said, To alleviate our sorrow pray tell us your name? She smiling, replied, If any one asks you who banged your bones, say Long Meg of Westminster once met with you.

. . . .
The Wars in France being over, Meg came to Westminister, and married a soldier, who, hearing of her exploits, took her into a room and making her strip to her petticoat, took one staff, and gave her another, saying, As he had heard of her manhood, he was determined to try her — But Meg held down her head, whereupon he gave her three or four blows, and she in submission fell down upon her knees desiring him to pardon her — For, said she, whatever I do to others, it behoves me to be obedient to you; and it shall never be said, If I cudgel a knave that injures me, Long Meg is her husband's master; and there use me as you please — So they grew friends, and never quarrelled after.

... To 20th Century Hong Kong's Mom of Fong Sai Yuk

. . .

From Samuel R. Delany's new book, 1984: Selected Letters

"Thoroughly enjoyed your descriptions of B- A-, though I'm sure you're aware of all the myriad ways academia passively encourages hysterical women -- especially if they truly are intelligent -- and actively discourages level-headed ones, the latter usually by simply saying, truthfully, there are a whole lot of situations other than this one where you'd probably be happier. Underneath the ire that such odd and odious behavior as Ms. A-'s produces in her colleagues, somehow men -- and the overwhelming majority of her colleagues are, certainly, men -- find themselves being protective of this sort of twit. I've had more than one academic woman tell me, with some indignation, that if she tries to play the game by male rules, going entirely on good fellowship and intellectual competence [of course you and I know that someone was just kidding her about those being the male rules! - RD], she's totally ignored -- until one day she decides to get hysterical in a departmental meeting and flees the room in tears from a too-intense reaction to the wallpaper texture or something; whereupon she suddenly finds herself co-chairman of some juicy interinstitutional symposium.

"Somehow university women seldom reap the fruit of prestige and advancement unless the men of these same institutions can feel that they are giving it, graciously, to bright but fragile emotional paraplegics -- otherwise, zilch.... I recently saw a T-shirt that declared, sensibly enough: 'If Reason and Understanding Fail, Bitch!' Well, social evolution being what it is, if you have a situation where reason and understanding aren't given much of a listen, eventually you end up with a small but unprecedented number of bitches."

Although Mr. Delany doesn't specifically address the question, this also explains why so many successful and purportedly feminist women in academia are so horridly rude to their female students and colleagues: people who are convinced that they're being victimized on all sides and are barely able to hold it together -- and are also being rewarded for their loudly expressed convictions -- are very unlikely to give any time, energy, or even sympathy to anyone else in objectively similar circumstances: they're seen as unworthy rivals for attention, not as comrades. Besides, how could someone who feels so barely able to hold it together possibly view (and responsibly behave) themselves as a success?

+ + +

Counterpoint via Cyndi Lauper via Usenet via Robot Wisdom:
Someone in the back yelled "We love your new album!!"...then a few other people shouted in unison, "It's better than Madonna's!!". Lauper looked very uncomfortable for a few seconds and then said something like "Please don't take this the wrong way, but...Never put down one woman in order to raise up another... but I'm glad you liked the album, thank you."

. . .

A Call to Arms

J: They offered me "a documentary about the Dogma movement in filmmaking," but I passed.

R: "The Dogma movement"... sheesh. It's amazing that trick still works: all you have to do is call yourself a movement, and boom!, free publicity forever.

J: Especially if all of your movies sexually degrade women.

R: Hey, that must be where the Weblogs are going wrong!

. . .

(Continuing with what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called "that gentle degradation requisite in order to produce the effect of a whole"....)

Legs The 100 Super Movies au maximum: The Married Woman

One of the nice things about works of art, and vacations and drugs, is that they give us delimited events to point to and say, "This -- this was the turning point. This was where my life changed," as opposed to the usual waking up to find yourself in a strange bedroom thousands of miles away with a resculpted nose and no left leg and the phone off the hook and the cops hammering on the door.

For example, I used to be pretty normal about movies. I liked them and so forth. I'd say things like "Wanna see a movie?" and then later on say things like "That was pretty good."

Then, twenty-three years ago, I went to the Temple University Cinematheque (which I guess is closed down now) and saw Jean-Luc Godard's movie from thirteen years earlier, The Married Woman. And by the time it was over, I had turned into me.

An essential aspect of turning into someone is that other people don't simultaneously turn into the same person. Even while I sat there head ringing and sparkle-eyed, comments like "Did you get that?" and "Weird!" began to worm their way through my protective daze. On my shamble out, I stopped to thank the wizened Anglophile who ran the place. "I hate Godard myself," he said, "but someone has to show him."

Yeah. Nowadays I'm just embarrassed when I see those 1960s Godard movies, but I wouldn't blame the old guy for that any more than I would blame my mom for how embarrassing it is to think about toilet training. The only one I enjoy all the way through is his comedy noir, Bande à part, which reminds me of the Coen Bros., who, like Godard, seem to have been raised in some sort of white plastic box from which they take random stabs at what real life might be like -- there's a very thin crust of experience sagging under the weight of all these violent gesticulations, a bouncing on the plywood mood that seems to work best with dimwit comedy. Of Godard's work from the 1970s, I like the TV interviews with "real people" where he sounds like Charles Kuralt from Mars; from the 1980s and 1990s, his crazy old coot self-typecasting in Prénom Carmen. The only serious Godard moments that still work are the ones where he finds himself back in that white plastic box trying to figure out why everyone looks at him funny: for example, staring into a coffee cup while taking a break from trying to show off those supposed Two or Three Things I Know About Her that, nowadays, it seems obvious to me that he never knew at all.

How to Strip Not that anyone called him on it. There's no safer way for an uncool nerd to show off than by bragging about his up close and personal knowledge of women (or, safer yet, "Woman"). All those nouvelle vague guys leaned on that tactic big time; Godard, being Godard, just did so most explicitly. (As French censors realized, the title's "The" is an important part of The Married Woman's ambition.)

And, to Godard's credit as a forever uncool nerd, he was the only one of the nouvelle vague guys to try to engage equally explicitly with feminism. Unfortunately, he's also forever unable to approach female characters without interposing the clearest (and most brain-dead) demonstration of "inside knowledge": nude photography.

At the time, of course, I was more than willing to fall for such demonstrations; as an eighteen-year-old sex-crazed uncool nerd, they seemed like a darn fine idea.

And at the time, all such considerations seemed completely unrelated to what was most important about the experience, which, the next day, I inadequately described as the realization that "movies can do anything."

At the present time, my inadequate description would be that "movies can combine the discursive and the narrative."

I don't feel as comfortable with either account as I feel with explaining why they differ: It's natural for the individual who's gone through an ecstatic revelation to assume that there must be some relevance to the individual's life.

What's changed in my life is what seems relevant.

Twenty-three years ago, I probably thought of myself as someone who "could do anything," so that's how I was predisposed to understand the experience. Right now, I think of myself as someone who has to drag the discursive into every experience, so I think that the movie just happened to strike a natural-born critic.

You see, even though I promised a couple paragraphs back that I wouldn't bring blame into it, I couldn't just leave the question alone; I felt like I had to try to figure out what happened. For us natural-born critics, it's not enough to say, "My taste changed," or "Can you believe we used to like that stuff?" When we like something, it's a public statement, like pledging our troth.

Not that marriages really do last till the death-do-us part. What marriage means is that, having made a public statement of allegiance, you have to make some correspondingly public statement of divorce.

And then you get to make jokes about your ex for the rest of your life.

. . .

Just in time for our Sexual Degradation Special, here's Episode 4 of Juliet Clark's tell-all serial...


Your Friends and Neighbors (1998)

When I arrived at the office everybody was huddled in a semicircle around the TV in the corner of the Content Department cubicle. They were watching a video of Your Friends and Neighbors. When the movie ended, the Senior Editor noticed that I’d arrived and asked me what I thought of the movie. I said I hated it. "No, Juliet," she informed me calmly, "it was a film of tremendous courage." "IT WAS A PIECE OF CRAP," I replied, less calmly. The Senior Editor repeated exactly what she had said before. Then she repeated it again, trembling slightly. The other reviewers on staff stared at us. I figured I would have to quit on the spot, forgetting that I’d already quit my job at the web site six months earlier.

. . .

Movie Comment: Chuck & Buck You got a friend

(concluding our Sexual Degradation Special)

So I wanted to finish up with a couple of male sexual degradations, you know, just for variety's sake, but I couldn't remember any, mostly 'cause I don't think it really counts as degradation if the guy is paying for the service. (Feel free to submit your own suggestions in the upper right corner....) There are those great male sex symbols of the 1920s and 1930s, but one of the reasons they're sexy is that they all seem so cheerful, like big happy puppy dogs (ref. yesterday's episode).

The best I can come up with is Hollywood's more-revived-than-ever interest in ugly, sweaty, stupid, disgusting, and utterly isolated homosexual characters. You know, the kind of thing junior high kids and other morons have in mind when they say stuff like "That's so gay." As far as I know, this was re-initiated by Boogie Nights, which posited a 100%-heterosexual porn industry in which an actor with a twelve-inch dick somehow became a star. Huh. Anyway, the one homosexual in the porn industry (heck, in all of California!) was, of course, very lonely.

The tradition continues with Chuck & Buck, which is powered by a lot of pleasing Albert-Brooks-style squirm humor but which wants to show off its indie muscles by going all "dangerous" on us. And what's more dangerous than a gay guy? Gee, how about a gay guy who actually manages to ever encounter even one other gay guy in Los Angeles? Yeah, I know, that would defy credibility....

Personally, I think the story would've worked a lot better if it had been about the degrading relationship between a Hollywood producer and a Hollywood writer.

. . .

Dialog you don't want to hear shouted outside your window early on a Saturday morning

"Rico, you ever worked on power lines before?!"


"You know how to tell which ones are dangerous?!"

. . .

TV Comment: "The Replacement" - Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There's a type of male bonding that begins with Calibanism and ends in narcissism: The sheer blatancy of the overlap between our faults brings on mutual hostility (possibly due to a mutual fear of disclosure), whereas continued exposure reassures us that these faults are often found not only forgivable but charming. Which is a delightful thing to learn. For a while, anyway; in my experience, this particular type of friendship doesn't have much staying power.

. . .

"They say he's a genius. I say he's from Chicago. Saul Bellow! Huh." -- Lou Reed on Nelson Algren

Whether we're talking mainstream poetry (as in the New Criterion) or mainstream fiction (as in the New Republic), it can be embarrassingly hard to describe just what offends you in a piece of art as long as you remain entrenched in the offensive assumptions behind that art.

The reason James Wood was able to make such a hash of Saul Bellow's dopey biographer is that Saul Bellow's dopey biographer made such a muddle of attacking Saul Bellow. Since I dislike Saul Bellow -- not as much as I dislike his dopey biographer and not as much as I dislike Robert Hass, but enough to get by -- my own interest in all this is as a cautionary tale: If you can't stand the smell, get to a different kitchen.

If I felt like revisiting the awful smells, my nose might wrinkle first at Wood's persistent equation of Saul Bellow's "exuberance of detail" with James Joyce. Joyce's "high style," like all his styles, was used structurally -- and it was used rarely after Portrait of the Artist. (Probably where Joyce comes closest to all-out Bellowing is in the Giacomo, an unpublished notebook impossible to confuse with a Joyce novel, much less with a mainstream novel.) In mainstream literary fiction, on the other hand, the structural place of "style" is to cover the burnt bits, and Bellow's slather looks like he's trying to build a meringue from Crisco icing. (This is where I start to think of Restoration "heroic drama" and Romantic "poetic tragedy": If the greatest things in theater are noble soul-stirring quotes from Shakespeare, then the best way to write a play is to restrict yourself to noble soul-stirring quotes, right?)

But the idea of such a revisit fills me with inertia. (An irritable inertia, admittedly.) It's like a couple of years back when I got a chance to contribute to an art project about male heterosexuality, and got very interested in the idea because male heterosexuality is so unexamined and undertheorized, and I made lots of notes and rearranged them and stuff, trying to stumble into an organizing principle, and finally decided that all of my feelings and thoughts could be summed up far too effectively in the single sentence: "Heterosexual men seem funny at first but then they get boring."

The Hotsy Totsy Club doesn't need any stupid old organizing principles, though, so, in honor of President George W. Bush, I think I'll dump more of those notes in here and see what develops.

. . .

 Cholly on Software pointless software management

Eminem on Software  

Teambuilding with IRC.

You may not not think that macho locker room posturing is all that attractive, but it sure beats computer geeks pretending that they're posturing in a locker room. Not to mention computer geeks pretending that they're Amos and Andy posturing in a locker room.

Watching skinny baldhead rich white kids cavort like so many demisemipint versions of Tarantino and Eminem makes one reflect on the plight of Special Ed teachers when Jerry Lewis was at his peak.

. . .

Movie Comment: Neil LaBute of Salt Lake City, UT, & Harmony Korine of Bolinas, CA

Why is it that wake-up calls to America always happen at 3 AM with lots of heavy breathing?

. . .

"His voice was like an organ...."

Contrary to what you might gather from the past two decades of sob brothers, male hysteria far pre-dates 1970s feminism. In fact, the symptoms have stayed pretty much the same since the first hetero guy first realized that he wasn't getting everything he wanted right away; the purported cause merely varies according to which female stereotype's most prevalent at the time.

For example, 1961 seems like a golden age of unthreatening women, some brittle (Julie Harris, Piper Laurie), some pliant (Natalie Wood, Leslie Caron), but none of 'em rigid, or even erect. What's to complain?

But I recently took a look at Judith Merril's 6th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F and found some familiar complaints, including Richard McKenna's Fight-Clubby "Mine Own Ways" ("He walked hard on his left heel to feel the pain and he knew that it is no small thing, to be a man"), Kingsley Amis's "Hemingway in Space" (a Gardner Dozois title if ever I heard one), and, most direct of all, Joseph Whitehill's "In the House, Another" (bafflingly yet pokingly acclaimed by Samuel I. Bellman as "baffling the pieties of political correctness yet poking gentle fun at both sexes"), here reprinted for the benefit of next year's crop of postcultimultifeminitional college students.

Oh well, we only had six more years to wait before Joanna Russ published her first Alyx stories (which, oddly, remain unmentioned by Prof. Bellman)....

And only thirty-four years after that, Gene Wolfe's "Copperhead" shows how far we've come.

(Apology in arrears: Wolfe's polished surfaces and unutterable plots show to better advantage at novel-length, and There Are Doors delivers the "women are weird, dude" message more impressively. At shorter length, by far the best recent example I've seen is John Crowley's "Exogamy." But "Copperhead" is what's linkable....)

. . .

The Earl of Rochester reminisces, October, 1677

Though I am almost blind, utterly lame, and scarce within the reasonable hopes of ever seeing London again, I am not yet so wholly mortified and dead to the taste of all happiness not to be extremely revived at the receipt of a kind letter from an old friend who in all probability might have laid me aside in his thoughts, if not quite forgot me by this time. I ever thought you an extraordinary man and must now think you such a friend who, being a courtier as you are, can love a man whom it is the great mode to hate. Catch Sir G. H. or Sir Carr at such an ill-bred proceeding and I am mistaken.

For the hideous deportment which you have heard of concerning running naked, so much is true: that we went into the river somewhat late in the year and had a frisk for forty yards in the meadow to dry ourselves. I will appeal to the King and the Duke if they had not done as much; nay, my Lord Chancellor and the Archbishops both, when they were schoolboys -- and at these years I have heard the one declaimed like Cicero, the others preached like St. Austin. Prudenter persons I conclude they were, even in hanging sleeves, than any of the flashy fry (of which I must own myself the most unsolid) can hope to appear even in their ripest manhood.

And now Mr Savile, since you are pleased to quote yourself for a grave man of the number of the scandalized, be pleased to call to mind the year 1676, when two large fat nudities led the coranto round Rosamund's fair fountain while the poor violated nymph wept to behold the strange decay of manly parts since the days of her dear Harry the Second. Prick, 'tis confessed, you showed but little of, but for arse and buttocks (a filthier ostentation, God wot!), you exposed more of that nastiness in your two folio volumes than we all together in our six quartos. 'Pluck therefore the beam out of thine own eye,' etc.

And now 'tis time to thank you for your kind inviting me to London to make Dutchmen merry, a thing I would avoid like killing punaises, the filthy savour of Dutch mirth being more terrible. If God in mercy has made 'em hush and melancholy, do not you rouse their sleeping mirth to make the town mourn. The Prince of Orange is exalted above 'em and I could wish myself in town to serve him in some refined pleasures which I fear you are too much a Dutchman to think of.

The best present I can make at this time is the bearer, whom I beg you to take care of that the King may hear his tunes when he is easy and private, because I am sure they will divert him extremely. And may he ever have harmony in his mind, as this fellow will pour it into his ears. May he dream pleasantly, wake joyfully, love safely and tenderly, live long and happily, ever prays, dear Savile, un bougre lasse qui era toute sa foutue reste de vie votre fidele ami et tres humble serviteur,


. . .

Movie Comment

When they say "The world will never be the same" (and they're still saying it quite a lot; just in the past week the California State Auto Association, an alumni group, and a credit union have all mailed their confirmations to me), I really hope they mean that we'll never have to hear anyone ever say nice things about Fight Club again. In a crowded pack of overblown Hollywood indies blinded by self-regard and terminated by horrendously unconvincing "clever twists," it managed to distinguish itself by imagining the deaths of urban thousands (who, naturally, didn't include the hero or his girlfriend and who, therefore, were of no concern) with a smugness that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger might envy. OK, I admit I wrote that same story myself when I was eighteen, but I felt thoroughly embarrassed by it before reaching nineteen. The idea that those collapsing special effects added moral depth to the movie's obnoxious flattery is like saying that porn becomes socially redeeming when all the secondary characters die of syphilis.

+ + +

A reader queries: "Rich frat boy PC?"

It's a rigid code of speech easily induced from the following imaginary dialogs:

. . .

  Peace on Earth, Mistrust towards Man
Photos by Juliet Clark
The Elves of Teegeeack 3

Scariest sight during last month's visit to Los Angeles was the line of normality-starved families waiting to visit The L. Ron Hubbard Winter Wonderland ("Santa's Home in Hollywood").

Department store Santas are disturbing enough; can you imagine the MEST-scarring trauma of a Scientology Santa? "Well, Jimmy, your free personality test indicates that Santa will bring you EVERYTHING YOU WANT FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY if you'll just stuff these copies of Dianetics in your parents' stockings...."

In Hubbard's holiday homily, note his characteristic replacement of wishy-washy "love" with manly paranoid "trust." That was the true meaning of Christmas 2001, all right: No telepathic mind control, no peace!

The nicest sights were at the Getty Museum's Devices of Wonder exhibition. Gadgets through the ages isn't that novel a curatorial idea, but not many curators get to plunge fist-first into Getty-sized pockets: a Chardin, for example, is casually thrown on as illustrative spice....

As usual in high-concept historical surveys, the contemporary work included seems an ill-advised afterthought. I'm not even sure what they were afterthinking: our investment-oriented rhetoric-privileging high art world pointedly shares neither intent nor craft with infotainment manufacturers. Better to just borrow a corner of the Exploratorium, or fill a plastic tub with boing-boing-ed swag.

On the other hand, the Joseph Cornell boxes fit right in, especially the knock-down twist-around pick-me-up gorgeous "Beehive (Thimble Forest)" -- with silver bells/boughs sadly frozen, though, by the conflict typical of such exhibitions: the fine art museum relies on preservation whereas the artifact relies on manipulation, and they compromise in mere display. Perhaps deep pockets somewhere sometime might be persuaded to provide replicas in the gift shop...?

Beehive (Thimble Forest)

. . .


We'd always maintained that the man who is tired of London is tired of prats. And yet, three argyles (strong ginger tea gently criss-crossed into a tumbler of scotch, thank you, George, you're a wonder) into the wind, his ship of state of mind floundering through the Strait of Doldrums -- yes, even allowing for breeding and physiognomy, Lord Trough was in a ghastly mood.

Not exactly flush with breeding or appearance myself, save for the latter, and then only around the snozz, I wasn't sure I had a strong right arm to offer his hour of need, especially if it lasted the full sixty minutes: I'm not the Oxford crewsman I used to be, nor was I ever. But noblesse obliged, quickest mended; and I set about pummeling his shoulder with a manly open hand: "Here, old blot, what's the cringe about?"

"Hasn't it struck you with somewhat the same annoying persistence with which you're striking me that there's very little decent prose-writing in weblogs? Our Club spirit dwindles, I fear, and the spirit of the Empire with it."

I ruffled his beaver affectionately. "Ah, but there's a new spirit abroad, my dear (in the most manly way) chap. Haven't you tossed a squint at that list of weblogs-I-follow (or weblogs-I-follow-on-IE5) which tops (or sidles) every page I post?"

"To tell truth, in recent years I haven't even seen my own navel."

"That's neither here nor there, which may be why it remains unseen. Our format has recently grown plump and rosy as my very proboscis with interesting essayists. Permit me to single out some writerly compeers. (Although I can't in good faith do so without also singling out the more readerly wood s lot and Follow Me Here, any stout fellow's invariable departure points.) Ruthie's Double has already been around long enough to go on hiatus; other harbingers of dawn included the increasingly (though still not sufficiently) well known Eclogues, Visible Darkness, and UFO Breakfast."

"Perfessors or some such creatures, aren't they?" queried Trough.

"Of good stock, though; of good stock. Also boiling over the academic burners, I suppose, would be Alex Golub, metameat, bhikku, and the delightful Nordic smörgåstrophe of jill/txt, thinking with my fingers, Dust from a Distant Sun, and Field Notes. Not forgetting the specialized study of Philosophical Investigations, or the professionally scholastic but personally diarish Mad Monk, whose serial drama has enthralled me like no other on the web.

"Poot-poot-pootering with him along the diary route are clinkclank and How to Learn Swedish, while a more free-form sort of sphagnum blankets Open Brackets, Eeksy-Peeksy, Fireland, and litter in the streets.

"We can watch editors experience the simple pleasures of the unedited at Splinters, the prickly Electrolite, and the less-prickly and therefore less-prolific Making Light. Utopian web punditry more genteel than the Old Skool is being maintained by a professional pundit at JOHO and a professional parson at AKMA. Speaking of punditry, since the unpleasantness of last September --"

"Unpleasantness? What, did the tabloids catch that awful coney Charles snick-snicking at another wench?"

"A long story, I'm afraid. To return to the more pressing topic of weblogs: the price-conscious consumer will find their political commentary non-euro well spent at Busy Busy, Sideshow, Looking Glass, and tedbarlow -- our benighted American cousins would do well to heed Mr. tedbarlow's recent health-care summary, for example."

"I've always thought the knighting of Americans a disgraceful practice."

"Our own Club's Protocols of Miscellany are upheld to the highest standards by Cheek. And Lagniappe finally fulfills the longstanding need for a weblog of science commentary by a professional scientist -- although there's room for plenty more change in those slots. Also needed: more comedy! misterpants can't keep doing it on his own! Please, won't someone help misterpants?"

"Missing pants, you say? Good heavens, you're right; no wonder I felt debagged. George!"

. . .

The Secondary Source Review

Theorizing Backlash, ed. Superson & Cudd

"Theorizing" titles rarely entice. Fin-de-siècle academic mannerisms grow even uglier when synchronized in massed full-dress parade, and their drill sergeants are less convincing than most. Such weird contortions only make sense as a long-winded last-breath defense against otherwise fatally sheering forces.

However, the continuing campaigns against feminism seem complex, real, and fatal enough to require full-out Drunken Mistress technique. And so this particular title hooked me -- but this particular attempt to get a grip on biological research fumbled me back into the water to breed:

"There is either a difference between men and women, or there is not."
Yes, and there is either a difference between a man and another man, or there is not. There is either a difference between a woman and another woman, or there is not. There is either a difference between me at 18 and me at 43, or there is not.

It may be just as well that so many theoryheads spit over their shoulders and cross the street when they see science coming. Jacques's socks! You'd think a postobfuscationist would at least understand the problematic nature of "difference"!

  Compare and contrast

. . .


You can always tell a hetero white male by the inanity of our complaints. (But you can't tell us much! Ha!)

One of my fellows once vented that he felt insulted by the label "vanilla" and wished it could be replaced with something more appealing.

"But it's perfectly appropriate!" I vented back. "Vanilla isn't vanilla because it's bland; it just seems that way to people who don't like vanilla or who do like blandness. Vanilla is vanilla because it's the standard; it's what you expect to find. Just because vanilla is common doesn't keep vanilla from having a very distinctive flavor, and it doesn't keep aficionados from being passionate about their preferences -- for French vanilla, for example."

My vent was longer, so I won.

. . .

A Testis of Poetry

"He ridiculed 'Womens-Poets' who had 'a kind of tuneing, and riming fall, in what they write'.
(Jonson tended to compose initial drafts of his poems in prose.)"

-- David Norbrook on Ben Jonson, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance

. . .

Too Cool for School

"My men showed no mercy. Outstanding."
- Squad leader, Third Battalion
(via PeterMaas)

. . .

Men are from Champ de Mars, women are from Picardy

The chief quality of a dolt is to espouse causes on the basis of popular belief and hearsay.

+ + +

Further, the human animal, taken rightly, is neither man nor woman, the sexes having been made double, not so as to constitute a difference in species, but for the sake of propagation alone.... And if it is permitted to laugh in the course of our journey, the jest would not be out of season that teaches us that there is nothing more like a cat on a windowsill than a female cat.

+ + +

Jesus Christ is called Son of Man, although he is that only of woman.

+ + +

And if men boast that Jesus Christ was born of their sex, we answer that it had to be thus for necessary reasons of decency, since he would have been unable without scandal to mingle as a young person and at all hours of the day and night among the crowds in order to convert, succor, and save the human race, if he had been of the female sex, especially in the face of the malice of the Jews.

+ + +

Finally, if Scripture has declared the husband the head of the wife, the greatest folly that men can commit is to take that as a license conferred by their worthiness. For in view of the instances, authorities, and reasons noted in this discourse, by which is proved the equality let us even say the unity of graces and favors on the part of God toward the two sexes, and in view of the fact that God declares, "The two shall be but one," and then declares, "The man shall leave mother and father and give himself to his wife," it appears that this declaration of the gospel is made solely for the express need of fostering peace in marriage. This need would require, undoubtedly, that one of the conjugal partners should yield to the other, for the usual weakness of intellects made it impossible for concord to be born of reason, as should have been the case in a just balance of mutual authority, nor, because of the imposing presence of the male, could the submission come from his side. And however true it may be, as some maintain, that such submission was imposed on woman in punishment for the sin of eating the apple, that still hardly constitutes a decisive pronouncement in favor of the supposed superior worth of man. If one supposed that scripture commanded her to submit to man, as being unworthy of opposing him, consider the absurdity that would follow: woman would find herself worthy of having been made in the image of the Creator, worthy of the holy Eucharist, of the mysteries of the redemption, of paradise, and of the sight indeed the possession of God, yet not of the advantages and privileges of man. Would this not declare man to be more precious and more exalted than all these things, and hence commit the gravest of blasphemies?

The Equality of Men and Women, 1641
by Marie le Jars de Gournay
translated by Richard Hillman & Colette Quesnel

. . .

Apollinaire Contra IKEA

What I want in my house is a sane woman, a cat wandering around the books, and friends all the time. Otherwise why bother?

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are

"She's A Soldier Boy"
A New Generation, 1969

She tells lies with her eyes
She's not a lady all the time
Though she's breaking inside
She will only cry at night

She's a soldier
She's a soldier boy

She deceives me and leaves me
And then she's back in love with me
To my weakness she's blind
She always sees the best in me

She's a soldier
She's a soldier boy

Evenings I meet her
Make longing sweeter

Like a soldier she'll fight
Till she's got what she's looking for
If it's wrong, if it's right
I'll stand by her forever more

'Cause she's a soldier
Yes, she's a soldier boy

When You Looked In Lizbeth's Eyes You Saw Yourself
+ + +

Another month, another idiotic gender essentialist story:

Scientists say they have discovered what happens in the brain when someone falls in love.
This BBC reporter is careful with the "most"s and "more"s:
Most of the women showed more activity in the body of the caudate, the septum and the posterior parietal cortex, which are areas linked to reward, emotion and attention. Most of the men in this study showed more activity in visual processing areas, including one associated with sexual arousal.
And also careful to do so only several paragraphs after the blatantly overstated hook:
But scans found women's brains showed emotional responses, while men's showed activity linked to sexual arousal.
That's called balance.

Where to start? How about with the original researchers' assumption that "falling in love" is a simple biological universal, free of cultural specifics? Because otherwise they certainly wouldn't be coming up with these fascinating hypotheses about evolution.

Or, sticking to the story's own terms, how about the possibility that most women in New Jersey reach orgasm more slowly than most men in New Jersey, and that New Jersey women have therefore "evolved" to associate sexual arousal with systems of reward and attention? Or that most men in New Jersey have more opportunity to jerk off to porn, and that New Jersey men have therefore "evolved" to associate sexual arousal with visual processing?

And how about those "most"s and "more"s? Given that we're talking about "17 young men and women," in just how many individuals was that played-up distinction incarnated?

If I was a cheerier sort, I might take it as a good sign that essentialists have been more and more forced to rely on the most variable and plastic organ of the human body (no, breast implants don't count) for support. But I'm depressive, so instead I take it as another sign that the government is preparing prenatal genetic tests which, along with universal "Seinfeld" syndication, will replicate the social norms of present-day middle class America forever.

I think my doctor called that "depressive." Sometimes I get those medical words all mixed up.

+ + +

In other news, still no comeback in sight for bisexual chic!

. . .

I Love Luana

If you -- particularly you Butlerites -- would be kind enough to shelve those P. K. Dick trade paperbacks for a few minutes, I'd like to direct your attention to the recently reprinted-for-the-first-time-anywhere author's cut of Chandler Davis's 1958 story, "It Walks In Beauty", plucked from the sexist hegemony of 1958 and maybe still of interest to a 2004 where strong female role models feel compelled to sew plastic into the flesh of their lips and breasts.

"It's done tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn't mean I'm kidding."
- "Paradoxa Interview with Chandler Davis"

. . .

Bergman, Camera, Men

Two Years Before the Mastiff

"What I was going to say is that the other thing Hitch had in mind for us to do was fun but insane. He wanted to take a John Buchan novel, and he was going to rent a yacht, and Alma and he and my husband and I and my dog were going to sail around the world, going from port to port, doing research for this John Buchan novel, and we were going to take two years doing it. It sounded great, but as Hitch was an old Turk of the deepest dye, he loved working with women, but he really didn't like their husbands. Lewis was so excited about the boat, and I said, 'You fool! You'd be the first to go overboard! Before the dog!'"
- "An Interview with Jay Presson Allen" by Richard Allen

In Notorious, a table of well-fed well-dressed men discuss, in perfect comfort, plans for the lifelong degradation of a young woman, Alicia. (They're the good guys.) One who spent the previous night with her protests. But he's an emotional coward, his protests are weak, and he quickly deserts the field.

Then Alicia enters the room, and their detached contempt shifts to avuncular concern as smoothly as if they'd trained from birth to handle the transformation.

Squirmingly recognizable, that scene remains film's clearest-eyed depiction (as opposed to manifestation) of how sexism works.

In the (mercifully hypothetical) Demi Moore remake, Alicia would tell the old farts off and go get the job done her own damn way. Here, Alicia suffers all the degradation the good guys hoped for and more, and her stoically endured terrors fill all but the last few seconds of film.

What might we infer was the filmmakers' intention?

  1. To expose the workings of sexism.
  2. To linger over the pain of a young woman.
  3. To apply social insight to the narratological problem of isolating and endangering a protagonist while increasing tension on her sole lifeline that is, to revivify the gothic form by finding contemporary equivalents for the moribund sexist institutions that originally powered it: wives and daughters as property; restricted civil rights and employment; acceptability of rape....

Check all that apply.

But please, don't then publish essays with titles like "Hitchcock the Feminist" and "Alfred Hitchcock: Misogynist or Feminist?" As a collective name for five decades of collaborative work, "Hitchock" is much too large and slippery for such personal labels to be meaningful. ("Random House: Vegan or Murderer?") All we're likely to establish is that the movies partake somewhat of experience, where misogyny and feminism find their common source.

As for Alfred Hitchcock the human being, more appropriate than a false dilemma like "Hitchcock: Misogynist or Feminist?" might be a conjunction like "Hitchcock: Artist and Laborer".

Or "Hitchcock: Fat Ugly Sissy and Heterosexual Man".

Or, more generally, "Hitchcock: Observer and Manipulator".

. . .

Questions of Turbulent Velvet

1) "It's all good and well to love your artifact, but why write to express your love for it?"

Because I am a river to my people. It's a small people cute as a handful of buttons but then it's a small river.

To put it another way: I don't write to the Heathers. I barely write to any public at all, as my poor editors used to bemoan. That's OK. Writing isn't oral tradition. It doesn't need a steady stream of oxygenated blood. Being stumbled over's the extent of my ambition.

To put it another way: Talking to myself is a poor substitute for conversation. Talking to the walls, or the page, or the screen is another poor substitute. But when those two substitutes get together (faint bass in the background)... they're about to discover (music begins to swell)... that they just might have to say (vocals kick in): "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage." No, wait, "I Like It Like That."

To put it another way: I wouldn't deny the thrill of spitting confrontation, or the increased attention with which it inevitably rewards me. Similarly, we get more attention when we break our child's arm than when we tuck our child into bed. Only a sociopath would take comparative levels of public attention as a guide through life.

Sociopathy is, as we've both noted, the sole spiritual goal currently approved and propagandized by our corporate fathers, a sociopath being the sole personage a corporation can convincingly mimic. And, as you've noted with special force, our weedy academic uncles mostly support that goal. Thus the need to explicitly remind myself of explicit reminders of slightly-less-sociopathic pleasures. Not that I believe that anything as piddly as an artist or as piddlier as a critic makes a lick of difference, but now's the season for empty things.

To put it another way: A vice that makes us better human beings is best renamed, no matter how minute the good effect or how greatly the renaming inconveniences our formulae.

Or, to put it another way: Where my attention's drawn, I become curious. But I'm constructed (or misassembled) in such a way that the only way I can feel I've understood is through words. If I don't write the words, they keep nagging the noggin. It's not heroic, it's chronic.

To put it another way:

—Goggins, you're the flamingest dirty devil I ever met, do you know.
—I had it on my mind to say that, Goggins answered firmly. It did no one any harm, did it?
Fff! Oo. Rrpr.

Nations of the earth. No-one behind. She's passed. Then and not till then. Tram. Kran, kran, kran. Good oppor. Coming. Krandlkrankran. I'm sure it's the burgund. Yes. One, two. Let my epitaph be. Kraaaaaa. Written. I have.



2) What's all this about "pleasure"?

A manly sentiment. Almost Nietzschean: "Thou goest to cozy sofas? Do not forget thy whip!"

(What heavy metal band was it wrote a song boasting about how quickly they ejaculated?)

I want to take your word on it. But was there really nothing but mechanical reflex behind that word's satisfying snap, tang, and closure? You took no satisfaction in its shaping? Then it seems unfair that I take such satisfaction in its shape.

When a living writer asks Why write? or Why live?, they handle snakes. Making is inherently pleasurable, even if the line between pleasure and painful necessity remains mercifully unfixable, even if that pleasure is easily diverted and diversified. Like gravity, it's a comparatively weak force with comparatively visible results.


Pleasure is nature's bell. To get the spit out. The spit's the thing.

T.V. continues to find marrow in the bone here and here.

And, by email, here:

I used to bury them in the backyard, but was too dimwitted ever to find them later.

Growling, wagging, we do what we can to save the world.

My moral ambitions do tend toward the doggish (though not the dogged more chihuahua than pitbull). The Tutor interpreted "stumble over" as in drunken bum, which is fair enough, but the pet lying obtusely in the path from bed to bathroom was part of the image, too.

. . .

...merely old rubbish out of books...

Prince Prigio by Andrew Lang

New from the Repress, an illustrated edition of Andrew Lang's Prince Prigio.

Because there are wittier fairy tales, and there are more profound fairy tales, but there aren't any fairy tales with a better moral.


What serparates the brain into two sides?

A Tibetan neurosurgeon. Next!

Let Manly, house of Manly rejoice with the Booby a tropical bird. And give thanks with the rest of us, and credit where due.

jkljklkkjkj. Next!

Long-lost Beth Rust sends:

Greetings from the Great Old Pumpkin Patch

John Holbo wisely draws non-parallels.

. . .

The New Eurydice

(after Elkanar Settle & Joanna Russ)

He slowed down, maybe remembering my bum foot. He picked up again, maybe forgetting it. He slowed down again. I couldn't see his face of course but I imagined feigned distraction and feigned determination and feigned worry. And all to no response.

Without an audience he was lost. He would have been happier with Echo.

I heard him say "What a week." I heard him say "How long is this thing?" I heard him say "That's what she said." I heard him say "This quiet really gets on your nerves." He paused, he fidgeted, he sighed. I heard him say "You know" and saw his shoulders shift and knew he was about to turn.

So I shot him.


As Thurber said: Little girls these days are not as easy to fool as they used to be.

. . .

The Male Feminist: Myth or Menace?

As one of the repelled colonizers of Bryn Mawr's Denbigh Hall in 1978, I can actually speak with authority on this question. It's a completely trivial and distracting question, but hey, you take what authority you can get.

"Feminist" is a label. A label is not essence, nor an equivalence function. Like all such social markers, it's meant to be applied when applicable, and applicability varies by context.

In contexts where the label is a contested object of desire (notably some blogs and some academic departments; I'm not sure women's folk festivals even exist anymore): No, a man cannot be a feminist. Proof by contradiction: To insist on the "feminist" label would help me override a woman's voice or take a woman's place.

Anyway, the self-applied label usually conveys little information beyond hope for a merit badge. Treating a woman as a sentient being should be a matter of common decency rather than a newsworthy achievement, and enjoying the company of women might indicate nothing more than heterosexuality.1 You shouldn't need to be acknowledged as a "feminist" to feel disgust at date-rape, or to argue with idiots,2 or to shut up and let others get a word in edgewise. Painstaking accounts of female suffering can sometimes be useful to feminism, but to produce them you need only find female suffering attractive as spectacle.3 You only need ears to appreciate Joanna Russ's prose. And you only need eyes and a brain to notice that Hollywood buddy comedies (like William S. Burroughs) posit an Earth populated by two species: male humans and female Borg.

In contexts where the label is used dismissively (notably most non-academic settings after 1985 or so): Yes, a man can be a feminist. Dismissive senses include "crazy people who take that crazy shit seriously" or "killjoys who bitch about gross power imbalances" or "perverts who don't mind leg hair" and so forth. And I am, in fact and undeniably, one of those crazy killjoy perverts and might as well fess up to it. Besides, how far am I really gonna lower the tone of a neighborhood consisting mostly of Daddy's-Girl feminists, Let's-Go-Shopping! feminists, and Rich-Republicans-Are-The-Real feminists?

1   Stendhal supported higher education for women on the grounds that it would make them even more fun to hang out with. I find this a convincing argument.

2   From a vanished comment at vanished UFO Breakfast:

I reserve the right to reveal this revelation at my own site or deathbed confession, but I discovered the American economic class system, cultural class system, and how fucked up the rest of my life was going to be on my first evening at the Quaker teaching-oriented financial-aid-guaranteed no-frat no-football college when the guys I was walking with talked about going to Villanova to seek stupid girls because only stupid girls would fuck you.

And I knew -- I knew from the bottom of my balls -- that this was evil and wrong. Because only smart girls knew where the local Planned Parenthood was.

3   From innumerable cites, I pluck Hitchcock.


Jessie Ferguson kindly pointed out that at least one of my attempted jokes ("indicates heterosexuality") was too compressed even for my intended audience, and that blogs provide a safer home than the academy for contemporary feminist discussion. I've quickly revised in the hope of clarity.

Josh Lukin points out more error:

"You only need ears"? What kind of ableist message is that?
Marge: Homer, didn't John seem a little... festive to you? Homer: Couldn't agree more. Happy as a clam. Marge: He prefers the company of men! Homer: Who doesn't?

And remember, chicks dig male feminists!

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are : Four Pacifists

"United Nations Air Men"
Charlie & His Orchestra, 1943
Let's go bombing.
Oh, let's go bombing
Like United Nations airmen do.
In the night when peaceful citizens are sleeping,
Far from any AA gunfire we are keeping.

Let's go shelling
Where they're dwelling.
Let's shell churches, women, children, too.

Let us go to it.
Oh, let's do it.
Let's bomb neutrals, too.
Let's go bombing,
It's becoming
Quite the thing to do.

I went out of town on business some years ago. After one of the business meetings, I went to a business dinner.

A fellow diner talked about movies. He listed his favorites. It was a long list, all but one made after 1975.

The exception was Sergeant York.

He warned us that it was old and black and white, and so the acting was terrible and the special effects were terrible. But the story was great.

It's about this guy from the country, very simple and religious. He was a great shot but he was still a conscientious objector. But they finally convince him to join up and all he has to do is defend himself.

But then a bunch of Germans attack his squadron. So to save his buddies he has to go out and he captures a hundred enemy single-handed.

True story. True story.

* * *

A few weeks before, on another trip, I had heard another story.

In the last years of the Vietnam draft, a young college graduate chose the Air Force over the Marines. Instead of rising above the times, he was placed at their foundation, in one of the underground missile launch control centers which assured mutual destruction.

Maintaining a state of constant abstract readiness is a tough job, even in an air conditioned office with comfortable chairs. Drills were frequent. An urgent message would arrive. Then a long list of urgent procedures would be checked off, or almost off, since they were always interrupted well before the end.

Once while off duty, this young man phoned the center to shoot the breeze with a buddy, but was brusquely cut off.

Later, his buddy told him that Brezhnev had launched a couple of ICBMs without bothering to warn anyone. The crew had been two procedures away from completing the response sequence when it finally became apparent that the missiles would stay within Soviet territory.

Not long afterwards, when the Pope revised his earlier position and indicated that all-out nuclear defense would probably have to be considered a genocidal sin, the young man decided he couldn't continue in his job.

He received an honorable discharge on condition that he never publicize its cause.

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
When our victory is ultimately won.
It was just those nasty Nazis who persuaded them to fight,
And their Beethoven and Bach are really far worse than their bite.
Let's be meek to them
And turn the other cheek to them
And try to bring out their latent sense of fun.
Let's give them full air parity
And treat the rats with charity,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.

We must be kind, and with an open mind
We must endeavor to find a way
To let the Germans know that when the war is over
They are not the ones who have to pay.
We must be sweet
And tactful and discreet,
And when they've suffered defeat we mustn't let them feel upset
Or ever get the feeling that we're cross with them or hate them.
Our future policy must be to reinstate them.

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
When we've definitely got them on the run.
Let us treat them very kindly, as we would a valued friend.
We might send them out some bishops as a form of Lease and Lend.
Let's be sweet to them
And day by day repeat to them
That sterilization simply isn't done.
Let's help the dirty swine again
To occupy the Rhine again
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.

We must be just and win their love and trust,
And in addition we must be wise
And ask the conquered lands to join our hands to aid them.
That would be a wonderful surprise!
For many years they've been in floods of tears
Because the poor little dears
Have been so wronged and only longed
To cheat the world, deplete the world, and beat the world to blazes.
This is the moment when we ought to sing their praises.

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans,
For you can't deprive a gangster of his gun.
Though they've been a little naughty to the Czechs and Poles and Dutch,
I can't believe those countries really minded very much.
Let's be free with them
And share the BBC with them.
We mustn't prevent them basking in the sun.
Let's soften their defeat again
And build their blasted fleet again,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
When the age of peace and plenty has begun.
We must send them steel and oil and coal and everything they need,
For their peaceable intentions can be always guaranteed.
Let's employ with them
A sort of Strength Through Joy with them.
They're better than us at honest manly fun.
Let's let them feel as swell again
And bomb us all to hell again,
But don't let's be beastly to the Huns.

. . .

Movie Comment : The Constant Nymph (1943)

If I was teaching gender studies, or just wanted to shake the kids up, I'd ask them to imagine Peter Lorre in Joan Fontaine's part. And while watching Peter Lorre, vice-versa.

. . .

The Secondary Source Review : Two Correctives

Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences
by Rebecca M. Jordan-Young

Terrible title; slightly misleading subtitle. Jordan-Young isn't fool enough to take on the entire "science of sex differences" armed only with thoroughness and rigor. Instead she surveyed a single research topic the determination of stereotypically gendered behavior by prenatal hormones and that proved enough to fill thirteen years and three hundred pages.

Of course Jordan-Young's chosen slice and the broader headline-whoring community draw from a common store of techniques. For example, the grossly tendentious summary, whereby "All the children preferred to play with the truck, but truck-deprived children who picked up a doll were slightly more likely to be girls" becomes "Men are hard-wired to be mechanics and women are hard-wired to be nurturing." And the whatever looks good at the buffet approach to confirmation: a miscellany of self-evidently sexually linked characteristics is compared to the particular evidence at hand; positive correlations are reported, negatives discarded; and the winnowing vanishes behind the paper's title. Particulars may never be successfully replicated, but that's just nit-picking; the titular beast thrives on.

In a few respects, though, the hormonal shtick is instructively unique.

  1. Killjoys might blather all we like about purported "facts" like the cultural specificity of gender-keyed colors or the tendency of homosocial communities to consider womanizers effeminate, yeah yeah whatever that's not science! Where's our nonlinear regression?

    Stereotyping hormonalists have been churning out text for a century now, and the brain organization theory targeted by Jordan-Young was introduced in the year of my own chemically-imbalanced birth, 1959. That makes it by far the most venerable line of current research and therefore most firmly established but also most vulnerable to social change.

    When, for example, early researchers managed to correlate higher IQ scores to one set of subjects, they would describe that population as "more masculine." What was significant evidence for them would become insignificant noise to their successors, disadvantaged by the revelation that men in the general population didn't really test higher after all.

    And early research described women who weren't particularly interested in sex or sexual fantasies (involving men or anyone else) and never experienced orgasm as more feminine than freaky chicks who fucked around or masturbated. Whereas by the mid-1970s good girls and boys had other expectations, and asexuality began to count as less heterosexual/feminine/normal rather than more.

    But, as Jordan-Young shows, later paper-writers and popularizers would continue to cite these earlier papers as if they were supportive rather than contradictory. Pluralism had infected SCIENCE ITSELF!!1!

  2. Still, a lot of studies report some significant differences in prenatal-hormonally-divided populations. Crediting the integrity (within limits) and validity (within limits) of those studies, is there any way a single biological factor might genuinely sway social behavior in one direction at one time, yet in another direction at another time?

    Well, if the biological factor attracted unusual attention to a child's sex, and if extraordinary attention influences behavior, then one might expect some deviation from expected sexual norms even while expectations change. What do I mean by "extraordinary attention"? Consider:

    The vast majority of women and girls with classic CAH, even in fairly recent studies, have had clitoral surgeries [and] have either impaired clitoral sensation or no sensation at all.... for most women with CAH, vaginal penetration is painful.... In a very large study that is now more than twenty years old, Mulaikal and colleagues found that the sexual orientation and activity women reported was more closely related to their vaginal condition than to the degree of prenatal androgen.... Medical visits every three or four months are often considered necessary to monitor children's hormone levels as well as their response to treatment. As Karkazis documents, girls with CAH, as well as their parents, often experience the genital scrutiny as "intrusive and dehumanizing."

This feels like a nice solid piece of work which (as you probably already realize) did not achieve New York Times Number One Best Sellerdom or win blurbs from our leading bullshit artists. Was Jordan-Young's analysis fatally flawed? Probably not; the most negative critique I've found goes "We wish she'd written about more flattering things and oh hey look over there at that other book, man, that's a bad book, in conclusion why do these women write such bad books?"

No, most likely the fate of Brain Storm was determined from its very conception, and by that I don't just mean the terrible title:

A long time ago I was asked to analyze a sex survey conducted by a popular magazine, and the editor was especially interested in comparing the interests and behavior of men and women.... When he finally said to me, "People don't buy this magazine to learn something, they like to confirm what they already know" I knew it was time to withdraw from the project.

* * *

Reading in Time: Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century
by Cristanne Miller

A densely researched, rationally argued, and slightly miscellaneous contextualizing of Dickinson's techniques, subject matters, and career path by a writer with clear mind-mouth-ears-&-throat, access to large libraries, plenty of patience, and a healthily congenial attitude towards those she disagrees with. If she somehow neglects to cite this seminal-in-my-dreams Valve effusion, well, I confess to having missed some of her prior art as well.


Peli points out:
Cordellia Fine's 'Delusions of Gender' came out at almost the exact same time and got a lot of buzz/praise, and is a very good book.

Yeah, but it looked (and looks) a bit poppy for my taste more what I like to write than what I like to read. Pretty much on that basis it's the whipping-book of the "negative critique" I linked to; their complaint about Jordan-Young, on the other hand, is that she didn't shift her focus from claims about human sexual orientation and stereotyped social behavior to less embarrassing and more useful research that she wanted to write this volume rather than some other.

. . .

Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

The Warm South by Paul Kerschen

“God knows how it would have been — but it appears to me — however, I will not speak of that subject.”
- John Keats to Charles Brown, November 30, 1820

Fiction begins in mean-spirited gossip, and the fictional career of “John Keats” began in 1818 when Blackwood’s Magazine cast him as little Sirrah Aguecheek, sticky sidekick to Leigh Hunt’s insolent Master Belch. Three years later, Keats’s death provided Percy Bysshe Shelley with Adonais, whose preface described a fluffy duckling skewered mid-peep, ne’er to reach full-fledged quackery.

These two accounts largely (and inaccurately) agreed on the facts of the case, differing by the tone in which they pronounced it “pathetic.” The magazine’s Keats was a bad poet who published bad poems, received bad reviews, and died badly; Shelley’s Keats was a promising poet who did the same. As Blackwood’s and Lord Byron feared and Matthew Arnold lamented, Shelley’s deflected self-pity won undisciplined hearts and minds, and the Martyrdom of Saint Mawk supplied a low-impact model for sad underbred poetic youths until punk duckling Rimbaud finally edged it out.

In post-Victorian fiction, Rudyard Kipling’s Medium-is-the-Medium short story “Wireless” transmitted Keats’s voice to 1902, but all it could find to do was recite a bit of “The Eve of St. Agnes” before fading into static. At much greater length at the other end of the century, Dan Simmons used Keats as the props department for a series of super-science space sagas, and a Keats-shaped token made the midpoint shit-is-getting-real sacrifice in The Stress of Her Regard, Tim Powers’s Lives of the Poets with Vampires. Anthony Burgess’s more delicate reinterpretation of literary history, ABBA ABBA, hung a series of elaborate set-pieces from Mr. Finch’s account of the dying Keats’s uncooperative mood and the dying Keats’s own account of compulsive punning. More recently, Andrew Motion mulled a drowsy muddle of reincarnation and/or transmission and/or alternative history in The Invention of Dr. Cake.

None of these “Keats” characters resembled the “Keats” in my head; none of these Keats stories satisfied me as storytelling. And that bothered me not at all; I didn’t particularly expect or crave a believable Keats in a satisfying fiction. Writers are people so extraordinarily dull that they need to put themselves through the ridiculous fuss of writing and publishing merely to make anyone notice them at all. Why should we turn to a pillow-bellied mimic of Henry James when the original had so much more incentive to hold our attention? Gluing a fake nose on Nicole Kidman is its own reward; why drag poor Virginia Woolf into it?

The Warm South taught me what was missing from the previous two hundred years of John Keats stories and why I should have missed it.

All of them shared at least one characteristic besides the nominal presence of “Keats”: immobility. Their Keatses consist of funeral orations, Royal Academy paintings, quotations, checklists, and holographic freeze-frames of that-living-hand. Blackwood’s goofus was hopeless from the start; the hottest action in Adonais was Shelley flipping the Mourn / Don’t-Mourn switch. Tim Powers drew a loopy narrative line, but it connected the dots which had been printed long before. And Motion’s heavy concentric Victorian frames unleashed all the narrative force of an after-dinner speech at the Keats-Shelley Association. To repurpose Jeffrey C. Robinson’s summary of a hundred verse tributes, they were “driven not by Keats’s life or by his poems but by his death; Keats is that poet who by definition died young.”

It’s true enough that John Keats was besieged by death from childhood, and in good sad underbred poetic youth fashion he indulged occasional suicidal fantasies (Chatterton being the definitionally dead poet of his generation). But he was never une nature morte; allowing for the constraints of wealth, health, and family, he careened and caromed as wildly as Byron or Shelley, and, lazy though the Keats children might have been by nature, he refused to stay still when it would be the wisest course of inaction. You might be certain that he wouldn’t follow good advice or accept assistance gracefully, but past that all bets were off. “He would not stop at home, he could not quiet be.”

The Keats in my head was, if anything, that poet who by definition made mistakes. Of course, many of us have made more and larger mistakes than Keats could manage. But Keats seemed unusually enthusiastic about the prospect and more determined to be content with the result. It was a way to go adventuring on the cheap, to elevate unprovisioned circumstances into self-earned manly independence.

“I refused to visit Shelley, that I might have my own unfettered scope.”

“I will write independently. I have written independently without Judgment. I may write independently, and with Judgment, hereafter. The Genius of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man: It cannot be matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself.”

“I feel that I make an impression upon them which insures me personal respect while I am in sight whatever they may say when my back is turned.”

Paul Kerschen’s Keats convinced me by making Keatsian mistakes in a Keatsian manner. And although it might sound odd, his Keats carried even more conviction for having changed. Death should be, after all, a life-changing experience, and one rarely survives one’s mid-twenties without some self-definitional trait being revealed as ballast; it’s the age when, for example, most sad poetic youths stop writing poetry.

In pre-posthumous Keats’s letters and his circle’s memoirs, we encounter an instantly charming young man: warm, forthright, engaged, generous, even pretty in a peculiar way. Byron and the Keatses’ icy guardian, Richard Abbey, were immune, or allergic, to his appeal, but more appear to have been susceptible. And we also encounter a moody, thin-skinned abandoned child: distrustful, paranoid at times, misanthropic and misogynistic, and quick to break his most fervent attachments.

During his last summer, Keats began to note his own role in this repeated drama: “I am in the wrong, and the world is in the right, I have no doubt. Fact is, I have had so many kindnesses done me by so many people, that I am cheveaux-de-frised with benefits, which I must jump over or break down.”

The benefactors responsible for his Italian trip and Roman residence would have piled such chevaux past overlooking or misinterpretation. But rather than letting this new clarity break his established cycle, the novel’s post-posthumous Keats redirects his distrust inward: he’s not so manic, not so prone to gush puns and bouts-rimes and fill all available verbal space to sustain engagement between those abrupt retreats.

Environmental changes, also, would put adaptive pressure on Kerschen’s subject. Rebirth drops Keats into an impoverished, repeatedly conquered and divided land, with little command of the language, no family, no funds, and a great deal of debt — albeit the countable debts of a middling sort rather than the transfinite debts of the rich. Counter-revolutionary reaction blankets Europe; science is sedition; incarcerations and executions are frequent and fast; and by year’s end democratic movements in Italy and Spain are as dead as Napoleon. The insecure upper crusts fail to imagine how life might be managed without servants; on the other side of that unfathomable gulf, the division between those who hire laborers and those who wait to be called, between beggars and those who pass by beggars, is very thin indeed.

One might reasonably ask if this is the sort of world to bring a new (or renewed) life into. The novel’s most experienced resurrectionist, Mary Shelley, was less than sanguine about the procedure’s prognosis. Having tended the deathbeds of mother, brother, and utter strangers, Keats himself rejected heroic measures, and the final horror of his short nonfictional life came when Joseph Severn overrode his advance directive.

Presume then, for the sake of review-reading, that Kerschen’s machinery works and Keats Lives. Should Keats live?

A third into The Warm South, we reach a “Is he really...? Did he really...?” sort of passage and feel generic ground shift a bit. Nothing that breaks the surface, mind; Keats doesn’t don a domino to thwart the reactionary terrorism of the Scarlet Pimpernel, or collaborate on a prophecy titled Content-Purveyor “K” Anno CCXXVII. Aside from one spontaneous remission of end-stage pulmonary tuberculosis, Kerschen sticks to the rules of well-researched historical fiction; the closest we come to meta is Lord Byron’s public denunciation of well-researched historical fiction.

Instead, as pages turn and narrative focus glides, an increasing sense of artifice rises from the arrangement of incidents. Some situations which might find simple resolution instead become more complex — which, I admit, in the context of the Lives of the Second-Gen Romantic Poets remains strictly naturalistic. Less predictably, situations which might resolve tragically do not always do so, and some tragedies we vaguely recollect seem delayed, or have we passed them by entirely?

And mistakes? Mistakes all the way down. In certain times and places — maybe most times and places, maybe even all — success is out of the question. At best, we might have a choice of failures.

Which tempts us to call any move, any sign of life, worthless, pointless. But having been placed in a game whose outcomes exclude lasting worth, its non-attainment can’t reasonably be considered a loss of points: by definition, we can only lose what’s at stake and build with what’s available. Therefore the game at hand, overhead, underfoot, in our blood and in our bellies, beyond reach of resignation, calls for a different scoring system. How well were our failures intended? How immediately damaging were our attempts? In the past, or elsewhere, what happened when failed attempts were not made?

Closing a fannish review, twenty-two-year-old Keats apostrophized Edmund Kean, “Cheer us a little in the failure of our days! For romance lives but in books.”

Unlike our days, our books have the benefit of choosing their end. Adjust the trim, and a self-cast Hamlet or Timon might be revealed as Telemachus, or Viola’s brother. And The End may determine the genre: death delimits a proper biography, for example.

A proper comedy begins in sorrow and ends with a hat trick of happiness. As for its sequel — well, we learned how that goes when John Marston checked in on the rom-com marriage of Antonio and Mellida and found the bridegroom on a killing spree. We know the chorale of forgiveness which ends The Marriage of Figaro won’t prevent further transgressions and retaliations, and if we didn’t, Beaumarchais reminded us in a third play. To reference the lore of my own rustic childhood, when Luft Stalag 13 survivors convene, they don’t analyze Colonel Hogan’s fatal sexual drives or Frenchie’s Algerian atrocities — they retell that time they really put one over on Klink.

The Warm South ends, in a chorus of forgiven indebtedness, where its characters would have ended their retold story.

I’m grateful to Kerschen for telling it the first time. It comes as a balm in the failure of our days; not a cure, but a welcome tonic. As Edmund Kean, I think it was, said, “Infirmity, that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool.”


I wrote the above to work some things out. For Music & Literature, I wrote this review. I thank editor Daniel Medin for the opportunity and his guidance.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.