Monday, June 27, 2016

What should writers write?

Short answer: whatever the hell they want to write.

I want the trend that says a writer should only write about things they've experienced directly to be over. At best, it says, it's inauthentic; at worst, it's appropriation. I even saw an example of addiction being something that shouldn't be written about unless one has experienced it directly.

I'm not about to become an alcoholic to create a character who is an alcoholic.

James Walker of quillette posted a lengthy piece on the fetishization of identity and authenticity in art and literature:
What has been forgotten in this consciousness of how we are shaped, misshaped, and battered by the world is our own ability to shape it: Freedom. And it’s this forgetting that has perverted our understanding of authenticity. We take how the world has acted upon us as definitive of who we are. We rarely consider that authenticity might not lie in what has been done to you, not in the mere situation in which you find yourself, but in the manner in which you conduct yourself toward it. Writers are not merely receptacles of experience just as they are not the sum of their influences. As much as authors draw from their own experiences or other authors, they seek to define themselves from them, to set their own work apart. When we admire a beautiful work of art, we do so not as if it is a sort of serendipitous accident, the fortunate convergence of historical and social determinacy, but because it bears the mark of a particular will, imagination, and creativity. It is what is active that renders art art, defines the artist as an artist. Authenticity is activity.
It's important to view this as part of a larger phenomenon where experience trumps knowledge and is exempt from criticism. To this, he adds:
Rationally and epistemologically speaking, this elevation of “lived experience” to a sort of untouchable status makes little sense. At the most basic level, personal experience is unreliable at best, outright misleading at worst.
And it says nothing about talent, about detailing the human experience in a way that anyone can find meaning in. Restrictions on who gets to say what doesn't make the canon any stronger.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Quoted: Carol Tavris on Victim Identity

The power of these symbolic abusers -- and the power of the narrative of The Victim Who Survives -- are reasons that many women, and increasingly men, are attracted to the victim identity, which is rapidly expanding its boundaries. Incest in childhood is abuse, because it is committed by a trusted relative, and is extremely detrimental to a child's emerging sense of self, autonomy, and agency. But is it as traumatic to be flashed by an exhibitionist, fondled briefly in the subway, or kissed against one's will at the end of a date? Increasingly the answer is yes: if you feel abused, you were abused. -- Carol Tavris from The Mismeasure of Woman
This seems harsh now, but given the self-help/repressed memories climate of the late 80s and early 90s in which the book was written, it made sense to ask those question. And maybe I am heartless, but I think those questions should be asked today. "If you feel abused, you were abused."  If you feel victimized, then you are a victim. Not much different the cries of "My FEEEELS!" from those even tangentially tied to the activist left. When your choices are oppressed and oppressor, and you see the most oppressed claiming the biggest prize, what's the alternative?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Susan Faludi on the constructs of identity

Surely there was a more complex drama beneath the crinoline and cinched waists, a narrative involving a particular set of needs, desires, aspirations, fears. If so, it was impossible to divine from those accounts [of transgender narratives]. The one plotline of I-have-always-been-a-woman seemed to be trumping all the other motivations that might reflect the crosscurrents of the human psyche, motivations that weren't exclusively about gender. Where were the memoirs that engaged in some degree of self-introspection? I looked in vain for an account where the author asked, "Could I also be seeking womanhood to reclaim my innocence, be exonerated from the sins of my male past?" Or "Could I be craving the moral stature that comes from being oppressed?" Or "Do I want to be a woman to feel special? Celebrated? Loved? Could that whole nest of an individual's history, all the idiosyncratic struggles, disappointments, and yearnings of a life, really be stuffed so tidily into the bottle labeled Identity? -- Susan Faludi from In The Darkroom
I'm reading Susan Faludi's new book on her father's late-in-life transition. I hope it isn't summarily dismissed as "transphobic" simply because it asks those very questions. For what it's worth, I do find those other narratives, sometimes written by de-transitioners, usually hidden in the deep recesses of the blogosphere and under assumed names.

"Could I be craving the moral stature that comes from being oppressed?" 
I think this is pretty important and under-explored in progressive-thinking circles, not just feminist-queer ones. When you have an ideology that places everyone along axes of power, and now, where even being an "ally" simply isn't good enough, spurious claims of "victimhood" (Tumblr's never-ending parade vanity genders, someone claiming to be "disabled" by seasonal allergies, etc.) are bound to happen. Of course I'm not saying all claims of oppression are created in response to a system that rewards suffering, but as someone who's spent a fair amount of time in those circles, it's easy to see how, say, someone like Rachel Dolezal happened.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


I'm not deleting this blog -- not yet -- but I've done some serious housekeeping, getting rid of the link dumps and the video dumps that have become all too familiar around here. I'm going to be focusing on my other writing for a while, so my posting here my be pretty sporadic. The truth is, it's just not fun anymore: the constant worry that one wrong post, one "wrong" opinion that can forever slot a writer in the category of "bad person." The weird "ownership" or particular viewpoints. I'm ready to be done with it.

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Young person speaks out against online feminism

Confessions of a Recovering Tumblr Feminist
When I was in middle-school, I discovered feminism. Always a voracious reader, I devoured every book on it that I could find — eagerly eating the words of feminists like Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, and Naomi Wolf. When I was done with books, I turned my attention to the interwebs, where communities of social justice warriors congregate.
I was exposed to feminism piecemeal; I never had a “click” moment. My grandmother had a lot of disdain for “women’s libbers" because she thought they were taking away men’s jobs. To her and her sisters who waited tables or worked in factories, staying home to raise kids seemed like a luxury, so I don’t blame her. I read Blacklash and The Beauty Myth in high school, and later Greer and Friedan, but I also read women critical of feminism like Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Katie Roiphe. I thought they were part of the same system, not the enemy. I never took a woman’s studies class, for which I’m thankful now. Either way, I love when posts like this one pop up in my newsreader.
For me, feminism was an enticing religion. Raised in a home devoid of faith, I eagerly accepted its philosophy as my ticket to salvation.
Any ideology can function as religion when you grant it enough power.
Social justice theory also taught me about microaggressions. Rarely did I go a day without interpreting what someone said as such, as a personal affront to myself or one of the 7 marginalized identities that feminist social-justice Tumblr gifted me.
I snorted a little at this.
The advent of conservative speakers being de-platformed or harassed by screaming social justice warriors is a logical consequence of an ideology that equates conservative opinions with physical violence.
Except that it’s not only conservative speakers being de-platformed. (And even if it was, I would still think that’s wrong.) The greatest vitriol has been leveled against other liberals who don’t pass ideological purity tests.

(Reblogged from, ironically, Tumblr)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Identifying out of womanhood

Helen Lewis in the New Statesman:
Because we have smudged together the categories of “transsexual” and “transgender”, is every youngster who questions their gender – and, frankly, every youngster should, because gender is restrictive bollocks – getting the message that they must bind their breasts or tuck their penis? I wince when I read oh-so-liberal parents explaining that they knew their toddler son was a girl when he wore pink and played with Barbies. Is there really anything so wrong with being a boy who wants to dress up as Elsa from Frozen? Or a girl who would rather be outside getting muddy than wear skirts and be “ladylike”? Toys and children’s clothes are becoming more gendered: when I was young, we played with Lego – not “Lego” and “Lego for Girls”. As we have shrunk the boxes, is it any wonder that more and more children want to escape from them?
For those of us over forty, this trend -- and I don't say this to discredit anyone who feels their gender differs from their assigned sex, but it is a trend in the sense that there has been a measurable increase in girls calling themselves non-binary -- looks a lot like identifying out of womanhood. Particularly for those of us who now find ourselves fitting the "non-binary" category, which didn't exist in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and instead turned to feminism to validate those feelings of being "not girl enough." Until I read this, I didn't even know Lego made a "Lego for Girls" lest the original Lego require testosterone. And it's frustrating because to even talk about these things is subscribing to a kind of bigotry.  Rather than expanding what it means to be a man or a woman, we're just creating more boxes.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The New Yorker on coddle culture; campus activism

The New Yorker has a lengthy feature on the current state of campus activism, particularly at liberal arts colleges. (The focus is on Oberlin, which is sort of ground zero for this kind of thing.) The whole thing is worth losing an afternoon for  but there are a few points I need to make:
Whatever job they’re doing, they appear to do it diligently. “In class, sometimes I say, ‘Is your identity a kind of knowledge?’ ” James O’Leary, an assistant professor of musicology at the Oberlin Conservatory, told me. “The answer, for forever, has been no.” But his current students often vigorously disagree. In the post-Foucaultian tradition, it’s thought to be impossible to isolate accepted “knowledge” from power structures, and sometimes that principle is turned backward, to link personal discomfort with larger abuses of power. “Students believe that their gender, their ethnicity, their race, whatever, gives them a sort of privileged knowledge—a community-based knowledge—that other groups don’t have,” O’Leary went on. The trouble comes when their perspectives clash.
One of the most dangerous products of an identitarian, post-structuralist, whatever-you-want-to-call-it culture is the exchange of intellectual honest for identity. Lived experience is important, but it shouldn't be the sole qualification of whether someone's opinion has merit. Which brings me to my next point:
“It’s just a massive catastrophe,” Eosphoros reported of the microaggressions he encountered even in his work-study life. “You get your supervisor monologuing about how everyone is just here for ‘pocket money,’ and you’re sitting there going, ‘You cancelled the shift on Sunday, and, because of that, I can’t pay my rent.’ ” He feels that he’s been drawn into a theatre of tokenism. “It’s always disappointing to be proof of concept for other people,” he told me.
But it's all part of the same system that got you there. When we're nothing but a collection of "identities" tokenism happens.
“Students are coming to campuses today with mental-health challenges that in some instances have been diagnosed and in some instances have not. Maybe, in previous eras, those students would not have been coming to college.”
No, a lot of them still would have gone to college. They would have gone undiagnosed. Maybe for another decade. Maybe some of them would have dropped out, but it's hard to guess the rates of mental illness among undergrads when in past decades, things that now are considered pathological would have been dismissed as bad behavior. Those of us who collected our diagnoses in adult have had to walk back a lot of adolescent and post-adolescent crazy to determine what was disorder and what was just... adolescent crazy. And it's still hard to determine.

Okay, this just sounds like the Onion:
I literally am so tired of learning about Marx, when he did not include race in his discussion of the market!” She shrugs incredulously.
But old people still don't get it:
Hyman started college in the eighties. Her generation, she said, protested against Tipper Gore for wanting to put warning labels on records. “My students want warning labels on class content, and I feel—I don’t even know how to articulate it,” she said. “Part of me feels that my leftist students are doing the right wing’s job for it.”
This has been one of the hardest things to swallow for us “olds” who grew up with a concept of censorship that was decidedly right-wing. Yes, Tipper Gore is part of the tribe, technically, but the PMRC was still viewed as “conservative" to leftists in the 80s. (We had punk rock on our side, damn it!)

I do think a lot of this is generational, but with the added development of social media as a tool for activists. PC existed when I was in college, but it was routinely mocked, and often by the people it was supposed to help. There was no Facebook, no Twitter. When you couple that with liberals fear of being seen as anything less than tolerant, a free exchange of ideas seems a little less free.