A Wrinkle In Time

July 30, 2011

Did you know that I hadn’t read this until like a week or two ago? When I was in fifth grade I read the first couple pages and decided it was too advanced, or serious, or something, and took out Locked in Time or Stranger With My Face from the school library again.

Um, I don’t really have anything to say about it. It’s pretty solid feminist anti-conformism YA sci-fi from the early sixties. I can see why folks like it so much. I only picked it up ’cause a used box set of the three books in this series came into the store, and y’know, consumerism. I’ll totally read the other two though.


It’s So Easy

July 21, 2011

Everybody knows Axl’s serpentine slither, of course. Far fewer people know that Slash is also a world-class Russian crouch-down-and-kick-your-legs-out dancer.”

-This is actually for real from early on in Duff McKagan’s forthcoming memoir “It’s So Easy,” which is clearly marked “do not quote from publication until verified with finished book.”


The Passion of New Eve

July 16, 2011

I feel so sad writing this, but after reading this book, I’m striking Angela Carter from my queer pantheon/sheroes list. It breaks my heart. I have vague plans of setting up flying buttress altars in my bedroom with books from authors like Dennis Cooper and Kathy Acker on them, candles, dried herbs, and other relevant stuff, to remind me every morning and every night that there are good things in the world, and Angela Carter’s work was third on the list. Uh, the list was three people long.

She just did so many of the things that resonate with me: she took feminism very seriously, she had an absolute wingnut imagination, and she was confrontational with those things. She did a lot of work with fairytales. She didn’t tell you how smart she was, she showed you.

Here’s the thing. As allegory, it’s brutal and effective, in large part because of its bluntness: Evelyn is a jerk. He dehumanizes his partner and bails when she gets pregnant. Radical feminists turn him into a woman; part of the indoctrination to womanhood is Ludovico technique screening of the works of Tristessa St Ange. Once Evelyn becomes Eve, she’s kidnapped into a brutal, polygamous parody of a heterosexual relationship, in which she and seven other subservient women cater to every whim of an inarticulate primitivist poet. Eve experiences sexism/the other side of patriarchy firsthand. The inarticulate poet- Zero- decides to kill Tristessa, the movie star, but he and the seven of his wives who aren’t Eve die in the raid. We also find out during the raid that Tristessa is a trans woman. She’s brutally ungendered and then murdered. Eve- pregnant with Tristessa’s child- moves on, into California, into the Earth’s vagina, back to the beginning of time, then leaves America in a boat.

Tristessa is at the center of the novel. If we conceptualize her as the embodiment of patriarchal beauty culture, everything else works as allegory: Eve[lyn] has a soft spot for her from the beginning of the novel. Part of Eve’s training to be a woman is being indoctrination into patriarchal beauty culture; the poet, inarticulate as he is, understands on some level that he’s been made to feel insecure by the same patriarchal beauty culture. She also provides the seed for the baby that’ll eventually, I don’t know, complete Eve’s transition to womanhood, or something. On one level it works very well! It’s smartass satire, which is a pretty effective, indirect way of talking about women’s oppression; in this way, Angela Carter is ahead of the polemics that a lot of other feminists were writing in 1977: she’s saying, “this shit is complicated, so let’s sharpen it up and kill someone with it.”

But by making Tristessa a trans woman, and focusing on her as a product of this ultimate male narcissism- created and perpetuated as much by men in Hollywood, invested in their own culture and privilege and power, as by herself- Carter places at the center of her novel the same straw woman argument that gave us Michfest, Janice Raymond, Bitch, and the narrow definition of women’s liberation that continues to liberate a very few women. The scene in which it’s revealed that Tristessa is a trans woman- was The Reveal already a cliche at this point? I don’t know- leads to thirty pages of the most brutal ungendering, both in the world of the novel and in the text itself, that I think I have ever read. We find out about Tristessa’s junk and immediately Carter’s (or perhaps Eve’s; I tried to read the novel as Eve’s unsophisticated understanding of transsexuality, instead of Carter’s, but much like the racist language Eve uses early on in the novel, that analysis/loophole doesn’t lead anywhere that I can figure out. And I wanted it to) pronouns change. Tristessa is mocked, beaten, sexually assaulted twice in two different ways, her house and art are destroyed, she’s forced into a mock wedding, and then she’s literally ungendered- stripped, head shaven- and unceremoniously shot. In the world of an Angela Carter novel, this cartoonish level of violence is normal- sexual assault is rampant here, in the context of talking about the sexual assault many women experience- but the language, the speculation, the narrative discussion of Tristessa’s sex is so brutal, mean, and located in such an ungendering cultural position, that it just broke my heart. Like outside of the text. My actual heart in my actual ribcage; it fell, my mood deflated, and I had to admit that Angela Carter’s analysis is viciously acute about everything except me.

So in this novel Angela Carter explicitly excludes trans women from her feminism. The central plot, wherein Eve becomes a woman, doesn’t set off any alarms; as I said when I wrote about Trouble on Triton, men- people who are not trans women- becoming women, without having any investment in being women beyond, I don’t know, the superficial- I do think that’s an interesting thing to write about, and the kinds of entitlement that both Even and Bron feel are worth talkig about. I thought Samuel Delany did a good job with it, for the most part! But Carter, here, did not. The difference between Eve and Tristessa is basically that Tristessa felt on some level that she was a woman, whereas Eve did not; and as such, Eve is portrayed to be the real woman, and Tristessa as necessarily not. The only other difference I can think of is that Eve had access to bottom surgery and Tristessa did not; in fact, the surgeon who nonconsensually performed the “sex change” on Eve had previously refused to perform that operation consensually on Tristessa.

It just breaks down pretty hard if you’re looking for a reading that’s respectful of trans women.

And so I feel pretty hurt. I’m 32 years old and I’ve had my heart broken by so many people I thought I could look up to that I pretty much don’t look up to anybody I don’t know any more; most of the stories I write are, on some level, about a failed or failing search for a mentor. But I had thought Angela Carter, author of The Sadeian Woman, wingnut feminist genius with razor-sharp teeth who died young and was willing to confront pretty much everyone, had an analysis that included me. Turns out it doesn’t. It makes sense that this was written in 1977 since hating trans women was pretty popular among “feminists” at that time, but that’s not an excuse;


Trouble On Triton

July 13, 2011

Okay, I think I told you this story before, but Smoot was like “Who’s your favorite author? I want to read him or her!” and I was like “Kathy Acker, who is yours? Me too!” and she was like “Samuel Delany!” and then we each bought books by the other’s favorite author and then the next time we saw each other we were both like “Well, I couldn’t get into it, so I gave up.” It was pretty good.

Anyway, I read some stuff about Delany, including a recent interview he did with the Paris Review (which said, on its cover, “SAMUEL DELANY AND WILLIAM GIBSON INTERVIEW”- or at least, that’s what I thought it said, so I thought it would be the two of them in conversation, but actually it was two separate interviews. I still haven’t read the Gibson one ’cause I kinda don’t care), and I think getting to know him a little better gave me the context I needed to get over the “I already know what I like. Nobody can recommend anything to me because I am so smart that if it was any good I would already have read it” automatic reflex in my nervous system, eg the hipster system. But I did! I got over it and I read this and I’m super stoked that I did and then I went out and bought two more of his books but I haven’t read them yet.

So Samuel Delany: the blurb goes “gay black science fiction writer whose struggle with dyslexia informs/informed the way he makes sense,” I guess. Which is interesting! I’m not gonna lie, if you’re not a woman writer but you want me to read you (unless you write total trash that somehow I can’t resist, ROBOPOCALYPSE YOU FUCK), it’s not going to hurt for you to be a person of color or a homo or to experience some other kind of oppression. And I will tell you this, Trouble on Triton reads to me as queer literature.

“Oh but Imogen you say that about everything you like: ‘check out this queer subtext!'”

Fine, whatever.

Uh

My point is that just, okay. (Here are spoilers.) It took me a long time to understand that the main character, Bron, totally sucks, and I wasn’t supposed to like him. He basically spends all of his time justifying everything he does and writing off everything everybody else does; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as the embodiment of a lot of kinds of privilege, even in the context of heterotopia (y’know, Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. Obviously), Delany chooses to make Bron tall white and blond.

So it took me a while to get that, and also the writing is a little bit knotty and it took me a long while to figure out the rhythm of it and, like, get with it. That happened maybe a hundred and fifty or a hundred and seventy-five pages in? Right around the time that the person Bron has a desperate, all-consuming, boundary disrespecting, selfish love obsession with sends him a letter saying “here are all the ways that you are a fucking dick.” THAT was what hooked me. Bron isn’t even an antihero- just a jerk.

See how studiously I’m avoiding pronouns? In order to justify, uh, something, or prove himself right about something- it’s not super clear, or maybe it is, but all I have is the impression that it’s extremely self-serving- Bron goes in to have his sex changed. And his sexuality surgically altered. Though there were points of language that I’d quibble with, the conversation between Bron and the sex-change surgeon was pretty interesting and for the most part pretty right on, in terms of a culture where there’s no stigma to pretty much any kind of social thing; the surgeon is like “sure, y’know, whatever,” and Bron is like “I NEED YOU TO MAKE ME A GIRL IN THE BRAIN,” and the surgeon is like “well, most of the folks whose sex we change here already feel like they kind of are girls. In their brains. You don’t?” Which again points to the way that Bron is more interested in being right than pretty much anything else- I know people like that!- which sets up a pretty interesting context for this instance of transsexuality.

I mean, Bron changes sexes, without actually being trans, right? There are shades of (what reads to me as) a kind of seventies feminist, like, if culture weren’t so busted there would be no trans people, which maybe Delany was putting there and maybe he wasn’t; I mean, maybe it’s true, and my point is just that well who knows, that’s not the most productive thing even to talk about. So anyway Bron becomes a lady and it doesn’t make her any less of a jerk and then the ending- again I am spoiling this for you- is this fantastic scene of Bron aaaaalmost realizing that she is a jerk and her problem isn’t with everyone and everything else, but is instead her own bull-headed conviction that she deserves everything good in the world and the fact that she doesn’t get it is this massive cosmic injustice… but then she can’t quite get it, so she just lets it go, implying that she’s just gonna keep putting coping mechanisms in place, instead of dealing with her shit. Ha! Fuck yes! Fuck a happy ending!

Right after I finished this I got out my copy of the Passion of New Eve, by Angela Carter, which I’d been meaning to read for forever because it’s another story of a man who’s forced to become a woman even though he’s not trans. And it’s from roughly the same time period, too- and Angela Carter, also, was totally a wingnut (not to mention a phenomenal writer), so I’ve read the first sixty pages of her novel. I mean, other stuff than the gender thing happened in Trouble on Triton, but maybe predictably that was what was most interesting for me. I dunno. I’ll let you know how it goes. So far the epicness and the way settings are established, deepened and then left behind is reminding me of Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, which was a pretty awesome book. Fuck Yeah Angela Carter. Mira said it was like a long fictionmania fantasy, except written by a sadistic feminist cis woman instead of a… well, I don’t want to say anything mean.


There But For The

July 13, 2011

In an essay I wrote for Pretty Queer over here a little while ago, I accused my friend Red of hating fun, when the reality is actually that I am the one who hates fun. The thing I like best in movies is when they are kind of sadistic; I just watched this movie Insidious and except for the demon in blackface, I was like “this tale of a young man being tortured by demons just warms the cockles of my dead heart.” And the writer I always come back to, Kathy Acker, is confrontational as hell. I think it’s funny and exciting how confrontational she is, without taking away from how intense she is. It’s like a combination of bluntness and a different kind of bluntness. Even with music, most of the time when I listen to stuff other people like I’m like “why isn’t anyone shrieking.”

That might be an overstatement.

My point is just, I can’t figure out why I like Ali Smith. I mean, I know why I like her, but I have no idea where she fits into the body of stuff that I like, because her stuff is so relentlessly charming. It’s an intellectually rigorous kind of charming- she definitely confronts serious things, but it’s always in the context of puns and witticisms and, like, prose that exults in the joy of being prose, or whatever.

So like, this book was great. It didn’t have the melancholy that I remember characterizing her last novel, The Accidental, which means it doesn’t feel to me like it’s got the weight of that last one, which’ll go down as one of her major works. Did it win an award? I think it probably did. I forget. Or was nominated for one.

Anyway, I guess all I’m trying to say here is that Ali Smith is great and I really enjoy reading her and maybe somebody else can tell me why because I don’t have anything smart to say about her except the Joyce thing but honestly all you have to do is even allude to Joyce and lots of people will think you’re smart.


The Ship That Sailed Into The Living Room

July 8, 2011

Alex was going out of town for a few weeks to meet midwives she might apprentice with, so we had a total blowout dinner food party the night before. Part of the blowout dinner food party was tater tots and when I took them out of the oven I was like, “do you want to squeeze ketchup all over them? I know that is the way you like to eat them.” I like to have a ketchup puddle on the side and she likes to have it on top, y’know. But she was like “okay, sure! I had forgotten that I liked to have the ketchup that way.” We have been together for a long time.

I don’t know if I’m going to get around to finishing The Ship That Sailed Into the Living Room, because it is basically a second-wave feminist woman with a tendency to lose herself in relationships blaming relationships for that, instead of- or, complicit with but only augmentarily- being bad at setting boundaries, being bad at figuring out what she wants, codependency, being socialized to lose oneself into relationships, or any of the other work-throughable reasons we have for losing ourselves when we merge into a couple. It’s kind of awesome, in a “I refuse to have a sense of humor or forgiveness about this” way that I associate with eighties feminism; at one point she flips out and calls her friend across the country to talk and her friend is like “just come visit, I’ll buy you a ticket,” and she agrees, sleeps on it, wakes up in the morning and then calls her friend back to be like “Actually, when you offer to buy me a ticket to visit you, that is controlling behavior that takes away my own agency, and from now on I need you to listen to what I’m saying and not offer solutions unless I directly and explicitly ask you for them.” Like, that is awesome! And also makes me probably think I wouldn’t want to be her friend.

So anyway, I shouldn’t really be writing about this book, because I only read a quarter of it. I just wanted to tell you the tater tot story.


There But For The

July 7, 2011

“Animals, Mark, have no use for nostalgia, Aunt Kenna says. It is not a tool for survival, my darling.

But Mark has seen the pug, on a walk, pick up a stone in its mouth and carry it for a little of the walk before putting it down, and then on the way back home again stop to find the same stone and pick it up to carry it some of the way back.”

ALI SMITH IS JUST SO GOOD AT COMMAS


There But For The

July 7, 2011

New Ali Smith! I don’t know what to say about Ali Smith except that the feeling I get in my belly when I read her is the same “I’m really smart and I’m fucking with you because I like you” feeling that I get from James Joyce. I am halfway through this and it’s half Joyce, half a stage play set at a dinner party, and half some other stuff.


Damned

July 5, 2011

I have an ARC of the new Chuck Palahniuk book and I’m trying so, so hard to care, but I can’t make myself! I used to find him so interesting, like, at least as much as a cultural phenomenon as a writer, but I feel like in his last three novels he’s gotten his style ground down to such a fine, sharp, codified thing, that I can’t muster any feeling at all. Not even ennui or boredom! Like I picked it up and the first couple paragraphs were textbook plastic Palahniuk that made me put it down and want to hide it. I guess I will read it but it’s hard to make myself when there are so many other things that I’d rather know about. Like Ali Smith has a new book! How much more interesting is Ali Smith! Or I could even re-read Rant, which was when Chuck peaked, as far as I’m concerned.

And I am concerned pretty far, actually.


The Parable of the Talents

July 3, 2011

I finished this last week and I’ve been trying to think of something to say about it here ever since, but I haven’t really been able to come up with anything. I mean, it was great and all, I was super into it. The “God is change” thing totally works and makes sense, the frequent physical and sexual assaults didn’t feel salacious or superfluous, and the narrative arc worked and made sense and crushed your heart and then re-inflated it. It did everything a book is supposed to do, pretty much, and I think maybe it did all of that so well that I couldn’t even see the gears turning/blood pumping under the surface, ’cause it didn’t even really give me much to hang onto, to talk about. Righteous indictment of Christian America? Check. Exposure of the violence that can underlie stated good intentions? Definitely. A model of a working collective community? Heck yes. Shit so fucked up that it was hard to read? Definitely. I dunno. I’m stoked to read the Parable of the Sower, which I guess takes place before this one.