Sunday, February 28, 2010


"Women who pay their own rent don't have to be nice."

---Katherine Dunn

the same song

"Não se ama alguém que não ouve a mesma canção." (You don't love someone who doesn't listen to the same song.)
Carlos Tê/Rui Veloso

How difficult, how rare indeed to find a really intelligent person who shares your concerns and commitments, who reads the same books, listens to the same songs, but also interprets silence and change fearlessly, serenely.

Your absolute need for company, your absolute need to be alone. No lengthy explanations needed.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


They're quite a rarity, but there are still some serious male scholars genuinely committed to interesting and relevant feminist research, away from the creepy and female-phobic jargon of high theory & their high priests (and often priestesses).

Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Female Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture (London: Oxford University Press, 1988).

An amazing study of misogynist genitalphobia in Western literature and painting over the past 100 years:

At the turn of the century, an unprecedented attack on women erupted in virtually every aspect of culture: literary, artistic, scientific, and philosophic. Throughout Europe and America, artists and intellectuals banded together to portray women as static and unindividuated beings who functioned solely in a sexual and reproductive capacity, thus formulating many of the anti-feminine platitudes that today still constrain women's potential.

Bram Dijkstra's Idols of Perversity explores the nature and development of turn-of-the-century misogyny in the works of hundreds of writers, artists, and scientists, including Zola, Strindberg, Wedekind, Henry James, Rossetti, Renoir, Moreau, Klimt, Darwin, and Spencer. Dijkstra demonstrates that the most prejudicial aspects of Evolutionary Theory helped to justify this wave of anti-feminine sentiment. The theory claimed that the female of the species could not participate in the great evolutionary process that would guide the intellectual male to his ultimate, predestined role as a disembodied spiritual essence. Darwinists argued that women hindered this process by their willingness to lure men back to a sham paradise of erotic materialism. To protect the male's continued evolution, artists and intellectuals produced a flood of pseudo-scientific tracts, novels, and paintings which warned the world's males of the evils lying beneath the surface elegance of woman's tempting skin.

Reproducing hundreds of pictures from the period and including in-depth discussions of such key works as Dracula and Venus in Furs, this fascinating book not only exposes the crucial links between misogyny then and now, but also connects it to the racism and anti-semitism that led to catastrophic genocidal delusions in the first half of the twentieth century. Crossing the conventional boundaries of art history, sociology, the history of scientific theory, and literary analysis, Dijkstra unveils a startling view of a grim and largely one-sided war on women still being fought today.


Note: Also worth reading Bram Dijkstra's Evil Sisters: The Threat of Female Sexuality and the Cult of Manhood, though a far less well achieved book.

Then and now, indeed, misogyny holds sway and manifests itself in all sorts of camouflaged, disappointing ways...

Friday, February 26, 2010

soft or hard, that is the question...

Despite all the mumbling & grumbling, one's professional survival in the academic world depends more and more on getting published, so there's no alternative but to grab the bull by its horns when you have to. Seizing these precious few weeks unburdened by teaching commitments, I've been writing and re-writing a couple of papers and book reviews for (possible) publication.

One of the texts I'm currently working on is a study of images of "female nature" in contemporary women performance and land artists. Ever the sceptic, I've been reading through, half amused and half irritated, a pile of books on different brands of feminism, variously committed to celebrating, dismissing, deconstructing, etc., the persistent association of "woman" with "nature". Having no vocation or patience whatsoever for the impenetrable (literally) theoretical elucubrations of sisterhoods of resented lesbians and tomboys, I decided to explore other less... erm... dense critical discourses, namely one that goes by the name of ecofeminism.

While I tend to empathize with some of their goals & tenets, I nearly always end up with a bout of indigestion when I bump into pearls of wisdom such as this one:

Can we understand mortal 'techne' as an overflowing of rich sap, an expressing of warmth and wonder, rather than phallocentrically as an active producing of "man-made" products, mentally directed and often violently erected? (Can we understand the phallus itself as soft and giving rather than hard and penetrating without losing the erection?)

Carol Bigwood, Earth Muse: Feminism, Nature and Art (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993), p. 187.

It's certainly laudable to do away with dichotomies, binary thinking, etc., but... soft without losing the erection, good ladies?... I think you're in serious need of a radical reality call, if not of a good anatomy lesson.

If this is where feminism is heading for (no pun intended!), then I'm so much happier with Paglia's stuffy old non-conformist feminism-with-brass-balls - which, by the way, has the perfect reply to what she intrepidly calls the "granola brigade" and their politically correct pieties:

I have intensely disliked the tendency of many feminists to want men to be remade in a kind of shy, sensitive form - to become, in essence, new kinds of women, contemporary eunuchs with a soft penis, which is less inconvenient to women. I think that this is not in the interests of the human race. We want a hard penis. We want masculine vigor. And I'm afraid that in order to get men macho again, we may have to endure a certain amount of instability in sexual relations. That is, there may have to be a kind of honorable truce between enemy camps.
So what would be my advice to the sexes at the end of the (20th) century? [arms akimbo in fierce, campy drag queen mode] I would say to men: get it up! And to women I would say: deal with it!

Camile Paglia, "The Penis Unsheathed", in Vamps & Tramps: New Essays (London: Viking, 1995), pp. 15-16.

Couldn't agree more, especially these days when you find yourself surrounded by this sinister, invading army of narcissistic metrosexual clones. Perfectly groomed and moisturized, alright, but sexy as ice cubes and boring to death, bah.

[Image: Kanamara Matsuri/Festival of the Steel Phallus, Kawasaki, Japan]

Thursday, February 25, 2010

in praise of sanity

There is a kind of insanity in founding your whole existence and raison d'être on things that depend on the approval of others - such as academic work, theses, papers, whatever - especially when you're forced to make a living in an environment of widespread (though often covert) incivility and suspicion.

To carve a fierce, uncompromising self-sufficiency, to be able to be alone with yourself, to devote a significant amount of your time and space to some consuming passion or source of gratification regardless of what others say or think: is there any other way of preserving your sanity in these dark times?...

the mysteries & absurdities of waiting...

...and how it can utterly, irredeemably change your heart. Forever.

The Princess and the Soldier

A: Once a soldier saw the princess of his kingdom and fell in love. He told her that though he was a mere soldier he thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and he was in love with her. The princess was touched by the soldier's sincerity. She told him that if he really loves her, he should stand beneath her balcony for 100 days and 100 nights. If he can wait for her that long, she will be his. So the soldier went and waited below her balcony. One day, two days, ten days, twenty days. Each evening the princess looked out and he was there. Standing, waiting for her. Birds would shit on his head, bees woud sting him, but he didn't move. He just stood there. After ninety days and ninety nights he became dry and white. He couldn't hold back anymore. Tears streamed from his eyes and he didn't have the strength even to sleep. At long last it was the 99th night. One more night and she would be his. But on the 99th night the soldier got up, and left.

S: What happened at the end?

A: That is the end. Don't ask me what it means. I don't know.

the perfect antidote to the misery of friendship accountancy & gated 'communities'

I want all my friends to come up like weeds, and I want to be a weed myself, spontaneous and unstoppable. I don't want the kind of friends one has to cultivate.

Roger Deakin, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm (London: Penguin, 2009), p. 63.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

language (and the world)

The Language

Locate I
love you some-
where in

teeth and
eyes, bite
it but

take care not
to hurt, you
want so

much so
little. Words
say everything.

love you

then what
is emptiness
for. To

fill, fill.
I heard words
and words full

of holes
aching. Speech
is a mouth.

Robert Creeley, from Words.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

apropos a friend's remark on the strange 'lightness' of my books...

Books are like seeds: they come to life when you read them, and grow spines and leaves. I need trees around me as I need books around me, so building bookshelves is something like planting trees.

Roger Deakin, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm (London: Penguin, 2009), p. 24.

I too need trees around me when I read, but I also need water. Books are like seeds indeed and water brings them to life. I read in the water - or at least in the proximity of water - whenever I can: in the bath (at home or at the local onsen), in the sauna, in the rain, in the snow... All my books, except for library ones and those borrowed from friends, bear the imprint of the place where I read them. They are vital to my sense of place.

The books undergo amazing metamorphoses and get all creased and dog-eared - and strangely light. Some even develop fungi, like a living organism, a tree.

And so does my heart.

Friday, February 19, 2010


that you are still
what you are
a stone
bearing all the imprints
of wind & weather
still I
I fly above the whole thing
grow younger everyday
crackless, forgetful perhaps
that you still hold my hand
& kiss & cuddle
despite the
all & everything
makes one, anyone wonder

Well, I don't -
I'm not

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I need a hero... (2)

Devendra Banhart, I feel just like a child

Well, I feel just like a child
Yeah, I feel just like a child
Well, I feel just like a child
Well, I feel just like a child
From my womb to my tomb
I guess I'll always be a child

Well, some people try and treat me like a man
Yeah, some people try and treat me like a man
Well, I guess they just don't understand
Yeah, some people try and treat me like a man
They think I know shit
But that's just it
I'm a child

Well, I need you to tell me what to wear
I need you to help and comb my hair
Yeah I need you to come and tie my shoes
Yeah I need you to come and keep me amused
From my cave to my grave
I guess I'll always be a child

I need you to help me reach the door
And I need you to walk me to the store
And I need you to please explain the war
And I need you to heal me when I'm sore
You can tell by my smile
That I'm a child

And I need you to sit me on your lap
And I need you to make me take my nap
Could you first pull out a book and
Read me some of that
Cause I need you to make me take my nap

And I need you to recognize my friends
Cause they're there even though
You don't see them
They got their own chair, plate, and a seat
You know I won't touch my food
Unless they eat
From the roof to the floor
I crawl around some more
I'm a child

And I need you to help me blow my nose
And I need you to help me count my toes
And I need you to help me put on my clothes
And I need you to hide it when it shows
From being my daddy's sperm
To being packed in an urn
I'm a child

And when I steal you gotta
Slap me til I cry
Don't you stop til the tears run dry
See I was born thinking under the sky
I didn't belong to a couple of old wise guys
From sucking on my mama's breast
To when they lay my soul to rest
I'm a child

Well, I'm a little child
Well, I'm a little child
I guess I'll always be a little child

I need a hero... (1)

I often don't know whether to laugh or to cry at some guys who pout feminist rhetoric and all its abstractions & stereotypes, but deep down are scared to death of real, assertive, independent women. And who needs the phoney protection of these chaps, when their ingrained misogyny & bad faith come to the surface at the least provocation?

Mentally little boys still clinging to mommy's skirt, no wonder they prefer to stick to their own kind (and to mommy's skirt), with whom they can indulge in their little fits of temper and live in eternal childhood, amen.

Now, is it my impression or these little horrors are mushrooming everywhere  like sinister clones? O, masculinity, masculinity, where art thou going...? [sigh]

Friday, February 12, 2010

sois belle et tais-toi...

Some things haven't changed that much as far as being a woman is concerned. How very often, to make yourself lovable, gentle, graceful, sweet, dependable (and dependent), etc., in other people's eyes - both men and women - you feel compelled to camouflage your professional ambitions, desires, not to mention your brain. As if all these things were exclusive, incompatible.

My clinical experience and reading convince me that the repressed is gendered in the sense that women in our culture tend to repress distinctive aspects of the self which are bound up with autonomy and aggression. One dimension of what is repressed is women's non-object related ambition and interest in exerting various sorts of mastery: interpersonal, intellectual, or creative. Both men's and women's sense of gender and the self partially grow out of and are dependent upon the repression of women's desire and ambition. Both genders maintain an active interest in forestalling or prohibiting the return of this repressed material.

Jane Flax, "Re-membering the Selves: Is the Repressed Gendered?" Michigan Quarterly Review (1987): 92.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

like some everlastin' onion pulled by love...

Devendra Banhart, Baby

I finally know what I'm goin' after
I'm learnin to let in all the laughter
holy moly yer so funny
you crack me up you crack me up
look out for dreams that keep returnin'
cause magik ain't no hand me down yearnin'
you gotta feel it gotta want it
the way I want you babe
travellin' by choo choo train
we know where but we just don't know when
like some everlastin' onion pulled by love
never heard a better bad joke said out loud
you flipflop wild out
can you believe it? I can't believe it but its true!
You're givin 80 billion years of gigglin'
a whole new world to live in
but this one's real this one's real this one's real
like some bow tied kangaroo
you be one I'll be one too
play it goofy or play it cool
were on our minds
everything that happened
it don't mean a thing to us
cause so much is gonna happen
you showed me a sunset overflowin'
but who cares where its going
as long as you're next to me

(Lyrics by Devendra Banhart, transcribed from the album What We Will Be, 2009).

Monday, February 8, 2010

we all do too

Devendra Banhart, Little Yellow Spider

Little yellow spider, laughing at the snow
Ah, maybe that spider knows something that I don't know
'Cause I'm goddamn cold

Little white monkey, staring at the sand
Well, maybe that monkey figured out something I couldn't understand
Who knows?

Well, I came upon a dancing crab, and I stopped to watch it shake
I said, "Dance for me just one more time
Before you hibernate and you come out a crab cake"

Hey there, little snapping turtle, snapping at a shell
Ah, there's mysteries inside, I know
But what they are I just can't tell for sure

And hey ya, little baby crow, you're looking kinda mean
I think I outta spit before you start letting off your steam
For sure

And hey there, little sexy pig, you made it with a man
And you're got a little kid with hooves instead of hands

And oh, all the animals
All the animals

And hey there, little mockingbird, they sing about you in songs
Ah, where you been? Have you broke a wing?
I haven't heard you in so long

And hey there, little albatross, swimming in the air
Ah c'mon, you know I can't fly
And I, I think we really outta play fair

And hey there, Mr. happy squid, you move so psychadelically
You hypnotize with your magic dance all the animals in the sea
For sure

And oh, all the animals
All the animals

And hey there, Mr. morning sun, what kind of creature are you?
I can't stare, but I know you're there
Goddamn, how I wish I knew

And hey there, Mrs. lovely moon, you're lonely and you're blue
It's kinda strange, the way you change
But then again, we all do too

"to everything, everywhere"...

Superb, superlative concert by Devendra Banhart in Tokyo last Friday. I wasn't much of a fan, but gladly succumbed to the spell after this.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

intimations of mortality

Ana Mendieta, Isla (Silueta series, 1981)

The Image

When I understood the terrible thing:
that her body had gone bad,
dry, spoiled, mutilated,
I made an image of my love;
not the comfortable image
that a poet would put on a shelf in a tower,
but one that would grow big in the Desert,
where blood would be water.

Sorley MacLean, From Wood to Ridge: Collected Poems in Gaelic and English Translation (Manchester: Carcanet, 1999), p. 191.