Saturday, April 30, 2011

Remembering Joanna

The impact Joanna Russ's work has had on two overlapping fields of interest--feminism and science fiction-- is incalculable. Despite the brilliance of her work, she has received a relatively modest degree of recognition for it in the way of awards: in 1973 she was awarded the Nebula for "When It Changed" (a story that burst onto the scene at around the same time that science fiction began to change for a significant segment of sf writers and fans); the Hugo, Locus, and SF Chronicles Reader Awards in 1982 for "Souls"; two retrospective Tiptree Awards in the 1990s; a Gaylactic Spectrum Hall of Fame Award for The Female Man; the SFRA's Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievement; and the Florence Howe Award of the women's caucus of the MLA.

In fact, Joanna Russ was a powerhouse. People who read this blog will be most familiar with her fiction and the importance of her work for feminist sf. But in the 1980s, at least, Joanna Russ was a significant presence in the larger world of feminism. Her essays in various feminist publications (Thirteenth Moon, Sinister Wisdom, and Quest, to name just a few) articulated important arguments much needed at a time of passionate, even angry ferment as sex, class, and race issues arose during the last phases of what we now call "Second Wave" feminism. Her famous How to Suppress Women's Writing arrived on the scene in 1983, streaking like a bolt of lightning through the winter sky, making us see clearly what had previously been only dimly visible. I can still remember sitting on my bed in a mildewed New Orleans apartment, reading it cover to cover the November afternoon it arrived in the mail from the University of Texas Press. Yes, I had read much of the work she takes off from-- Tillie Olsen's Silences, Virginia Woolf's Room of One's Own and The Three Guineas, Ellen Moers' Literary Women, and so on-- but I had not been able, by myself, to get from those texts to where Russ took us in her magnificently polemical book. Reading it, I was both enraged and enthralled at the same time (a state of mind I always find myself in whenever I read anything, fiction or nonfiction, she wrote). She made the connections, distilled the insights. She showed me the way.

Her next major work of nonfiction, What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class and the Future of Feminism was equally powerful, but failed to get the reception it deserved. Timing, alas, is everything when it comes to trenchant political analysis. She wrote most of the book between 1988 and 1990, and then for various reasons I won't go into now took years to finish a chapter needed to complete the ms. And so it wasn't published until 1998. Despite its voluminous documentation, the fact that she drew most of her data from the late 1980s allowed people to dismiss it as irrelevant (though much of the data, had it been updated, would have made her case even more strongly). The desire of so many people to dismiss the book probably stemmed from the abysmal attitude toward feminism current at the time of the book's release. The ability to make feminist connections does seem to wax and wane with more general cultural currents.

Since I heard, late Wednesday afternoon, that Joanna was dying, I've managed to sleep about six hours total. My insomnia hasn't resulted merely from my sadness at the loss of such an intellectual powerhouse, but more because my personal memories of her and the few active years of our friendship suddenly began pouring into my thoughts, and once begun, could not be halted. (And it was also, I will admit, a special pain I felt because a letter I'd received from her last December had raised my hopes about her being close to well enough to be able to write again.) Last night at 4 a.m. I got out of bed to begin the process I'd been putting off-- namely, hunting for all those personal documents that would clarify my memories, memories which were, I'm afraid, a sad jumble. I easily located letters I'd written about my first meeting with her and journal entries describing or referencing many, many conversations. I even found my own letters to her on the hard drive of my computer (in files written in Wordstar 4.0, which had to be converted). I don't, however, know what I've done with her letters to me. I'd forgotten that I even had old letters from her. But in one of my journal entries, I quote from a letter she wrote me about the draft of a political essay I'd been working on: "Joanna's letter provided me with [...] a little pep-talk on fighting tactics in nonfiction writing. This is war, she reminded me-- & advised me to avoid as much as possible making myself a target in political nonfiction essays (but not, she said, in my fiction)." At the moment, I'd very much like to read that letter. My office filing cabinets are crammed with old correspondence, and none of my filing drawers are alphabetized. It's there somewhere, I know, for I never threw out so much as a postcard or even Solstice card from her.

Along with experiencing a flood of memories, I find myself wishing to talk about her, as a person, with other people who knew her. This is a departure from my years of near-silence about the fact that a couple of decades ago we had a very intense relationship. I never thought much about why I've seldom mentioned it to anyone. I suppose, if I'd thought about it, I'd have concluded that it somehow felt too private to discuss whenever the subject of Joanna Russ came up, since discussions were always of her public persona-- the writer and critic-- rather than the private individual. And as you might imagine, for an acquaintanceship to bloom into friendship requires being able to see and focus on the private individual in all their particularities and idiosyncrasies. When I began reading the traces of that old friendship, I realized it was more complicated than that-- or rather, I should say, our relationship was too complicated to be neatly summarized.

I vividly recall my first meeting with her. Here's an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a friend, about that meeting:

I, too, was properly intimidated about meeting her. (I've heard plenty (first hand) accounts of the snubs suffered by those who've had the audacity to introduce themselves to her.) […] Impersonal, is how I'd characterize her manner with me. She talked intensely, & frankly, & never took her eyes off mine for a good forty-five minutes. The conversation flowed easily, without awkwardness. But there was a sort of wall there, too, which strange to say didn't make me feel in the least bit uncomfortable. (Maybe it's how I might imagine Margaret A. being? That kind of impersonal. It will be interesting to see if her manner is different when next we meet. Judging by her letter to me, I rather think it will be.) Despite the wall, though, I had the impression that she considered me competent, intelligent, knowledgeable about the subject of our conversation... She never once patronized me or tried to put me at my ease (the way a woman professor, say, might do with a graduate student). & I never found myself worrying about what she might be thinking of me. Granted, I had some time to warm up (i.e., get rid of my nervousness) by chatting with Cynthia, who was sharp-witted but also easy & friendly.

Joanna was sleeping when I arrived (a little after 8 p.m.). She's put on a bit of weight since I last saw her (at the 1983 writers conference, by the bye), & reminded me a little of a large shambling bear. She has tremendous authority & competence. (It was only afterward that I started remembering how unique most of her books are, each of them groundbreaking in its own way.) [...] [She] had a sinus headache. Spent several minutes fussing about the wattage of light bulbs (taking them in & out) of the light fixture over her head. (We were sitting at her kitchen table.) In the meantime Cynthia fixed her English muffins, & then went out to do some grocery shopping. (JR, I think, keeps late hours-- dinner was to be eaten after I'd gone.)

Once settled, we got down to it with great intensity & liveliness. (She really has a wonderfully authoritative speaking style-- I don't mean arrogant or pontifical, but assured & widely referential & complete-- in the way that only women can be-- dipping back into past events the way male "experts" only ever do in a one-upping self-conscious, self-packaging way.) […] She told me she stopped work on a novel she was 75pp into three years ago, because of back problems. When she finally recovered enough to begin work again, she started a nonfiction project. The novel's now cold, the nonfiction book in full swing. She doesn't know if she'll be able to get back to the novel when she's finished the nonfiction book or not. Teaching, unfortunately, takes most of her time & energy, & of course novels demand great quantities of both. So of course teaching is one of the main reasons she hasn't done as much writing as she might have. (She stated unequivocally that writers cannot make a living from their writing & at the same time escape corruption by censorship: the professionalization of the sf writer, she says, is a recent phenomenon, & a disaster.) I remember feeling as I walked & bused my way home a great grief at the thought of that unfinished book. It seemed totally inappropriate for me to express any opinions about her work to her-- so I didn't. (& anyway there's something in her manner that forbids gratuitous comments, & would make a compliment seem presumptuous.) It's depressing to think we're to be deprived of the fiction she could be writing, all because she has so much teaching to do. (It surprised me to learn that she's teaching summer school-- thus losing her the one bit of free time for such work that full-time university teaching ever allows.)

That unfinished novel, by the way (the ms of which she said she kept in the freezer, for safekeeping), she once characterized as a story of lesbian lagniappe, free of anxiety, of a beautiful, lesbian life... Because of the back problems that she spoke of, she had a tall worktable in her work room at which she stood while she wrote, on an electric typewriter. She would never use a computer, she told me, because it would make the work go too quickly. Speed and fluidity, she assured me, were the enemies of the serious writer. Several times during our late-night phone conversations she told me more about her writing process. For fiction, she said, she always knew the exact shape on the page that her sentences would take before she would put anything down on paper. Since Joanna was a perfectionist when it came to her prose, I imagine that the sapping of her energy through CFS must have made writing even harder for her than it would have been for writers with an easier, more multi-draft process.

Anyone who knew Joanna could tell you that her great joy and necessity was conversation. I notice that most of my letters to her reference a conversation we've had and look forward to the next one we'll be having. Here's an example:

Dear Joanna,

Here's the article reviewing research on CFS I mentioned to you. Looking it over again, I thought of how differently it would have been written had it been addressed to people suffering from CFS. There's a certain style & focus for all Science news articles. In practical terms, that means allotting more than two columns to discussing a researcher's not following the standard form of peer-review, & none on possible drug treatments of the disease!

I've been mulling over what you said about envy-- & realized that your envy is my ressentiment-- which I've tended to think about more as a problem for the person feeling it, causing her/him to self-destruct & distort the reality of her/his world. But of course, in the process, it twists personal relations, naturally. Nietzsche talks about this quite a lot (& directly ties it to the lumpenproletariat, too), which is how I got onto it in my early 20s (when I did most of my reading of Nietzsche). & I recently heard a Russian on the radio describing what she called "the Gulag Mentality," (she thought it came from too many people doing time in prison), which was essentially a culture of envy taken to an extreme...

I could go on for pages! But I didn't want to write a letter, just send you this article! 'Til the weekend, then.

Even when she was ill, even during a December 1992 hospitalization for severe depression, she would talk, intensely, for as long as her interlocutor had the stamina to go on. I recall one night Joanna called me (often she'd call at 11 or 12 or even later) and announced, gleefully, that she'd acquired a speaker-phone, which meant that she could lie comfortably in bed and chat, without her arm or ear getting tired (unlike mine). She was accordingly highly sociable (unlike me), and loved getting people together. Our one-on-one conversations ranged all over the map, skipping about from highly personal matters (masturbation, her long-ago marriage, her relations with her mother) to dissection of television shows and anecdotes about people in the field. As I mention in a journal entry written about my hospital visits, "one hour talking with her at any time is so intense & provocative that the impact is always considerable." That same entry is deeply anxious: "We talk about such painful things that I wonder if she'll want to wipe me from her memory once she recovers from this. [...] I only wish I could believe she is going to be fine once she gets past this depression. How to find a way to get her to feel hope? [...] God knows I'm no prophet of hope. The irony, of course, is that her work is responsible for giving lots of us-- me included-- hope. & here she is, utterly hopeless. (Which is, of course, her depression talking. But that's her reality right now.)" The next entry, a week later, notes: "Joanna's improving rapidly" & talks about her reading of books of feminist criticism & theory that I'd taken her. & mentions our talking about "literature, films, & feminism," specifically remarking that she had read Angelika Bammer's book "in one long gulp this morning & loved it."

Joanna did recover from that depression, but finally decided that because her depression was exacerbated by Seasonal Affective Disorder her best hope was to move to the desert. She loved the light in Tucson, and so it was the perfect place for her to live. In her last letter to me, this last December, after alluding to the "long list of illnesses that've been getting in my way" she writes "But medicine has finally caught up with most of them and by the time I get back on to orthopedic OKness and fix a torn tendon in my left hand letter-writing will be much easier." Her penultimate sentence is "In a few months I hope to be more ambulatory and type-competent."

If you have memories of Joanna you'd like to share, please send them to me to post. In one of my journal entries I note that Joanna had said (as she'd done on other occasions) that she wanted me to know the things she was telling me about herself because she wanted other people to know them, too. (My discretion, that is to say, was not at her request.)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Joanna Russ (1937-2011)

I'm feeling too emotional to write more at this time, but I felt the need to acknowledge Joanna's death here at once. Her importance to me personally and as a writer, and for feminist sf as a whole, cannot be overstated. I know I'm not alone in feeling this way. Condolences to us all.

More about Joanna and her work later, I promise.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Reading is always serendipitous

Read tonight in the bathtub:

"Some say the dead don't die completely until there is no one alive who remembers them. Action or response, unique arrangement of words, a particular way of marking time. Until no image remains in living consciousness, they say, those semi-dead wait in a place of semi-death. Only when no memory speaks in past or present tense do those completely forgotten enter the world of the completely dead."---Margaret Randall, "Remembering Mother"

Read a couple of hours later, shortly before brushing my teeth before going to bed:

"Her need to taint her dead was something new. These were not feasts but snacks, focused only on details, which I was hearing for the first time, and, indeed, she may have fabricated them on the spot to hold my attention and confide a secret she had never told a soul. Perhaps the fact that she was in possession of information relating to the dead gave her a glow of satisfaction. Recalling her late friends, sometimes, as if she'd just then decided to take their grades down a notch in the school records, she'd add importantly: I never took to him; I never liked her much either; They didn't appeal to me; She was always stingy; No, they were not nice people

[. . . ]

"It may be that with this tainting of the memory of the dead she was easing her feeling of guilt for things she hadn't done for them but might have, her guilt for what she had let slip by. She camouflaged her lack of greater attentiveness to the people closest to her with a hardness in judgement. She simply seemed afraid of caring more for others. At some point she had been scared of life just as she was scared of death. That was why she held on so firmly to her place, her stubborn coordinates, and shut her eyes to the scenes and situations that moved her too deeply."--Dubravka Ugresic, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

Monday, April 25, 2011

Carolyn Ives Gilman has a new novel out in August!

As a big fan of Aqueductista Carolyn Ives Gilman's work, I was thrilled to hear she has a new novel coming out in August-- the first of a two-book dark fantasy. It's been a long, long time since she published the intense, unforgettable Halfway Human. When I asked her about it, she sent me the jacket copy:

Is it slavery, or is it love?

Dhota is the life-giving ritual that binds the people of the Forsaken Isles. From the poorest fisherman to the greatest leader, it gives them health and peace of mind. But for the person who c
Publish Post
onducts the healing, it is a perpetual bond. A dhotamar can never break free of the people she has cured.

Spaeth Dobrin is destined to life as the dhotamar of the tiny, isolated island of Yora. But then the outside world crashes into her life in the form of two men—Harg, the troubled and rebellious veteran, and Nathaway, the privileged outsider come to teach her people civilization. They propel her into a vortex of war, temptation, and—just possibly—freedom.

The Forsaken Isles are on the brink of revolution. Spaeth, Harg, and Nathaway are about to push it over.
I'm intrigued-- can hardly wait, in fact. I can use me a good novel of revolution, yeah.

PS Carolyn will be attending WisCon this year.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Guilty pleasure?

The April issue of the New York Review of Science Fiction arrived in my mailbox today. Glancing over the table of contents, an article by Joan Gordon, "The Importance of Sheri S. Tepper" caught my eye. Ordinarily, of course, it would not have, but given Rachel's recent posts, the article demanded notice. In it, Gordon, speaking about how much she admires Tepper and her work, asserts the importance of Tepper's work, citing Gwyneth Jones and Sylvia Kelso to support her view. Note well: for Gordon, Tepper's vehemence and "lack of good manners" are strengths-- specifically, feminist strengths. Interestingly, she sees Tepper's literary shortcomings as the most equivocal aspect of Tepper's work (though one that doesn't get in the way of her (Gordon's) reading pleasure:
It is for her preaching that Tepper is most criticized. She herself says, "I have a feeling I would have done a better literary job if I had been able to avoid polemicizing, and Gwyneth Jones quotes Tepper as wishing she could get a "polem-ectomy." Polemic can get boring when presented as large set pieces, like the classic sf expository lump, but I'm seldom if ever bored by Tepper's preaching."

Gordon briefly touches on one of the issues Rachel raises:

Humanity is defined through the Council's, and Tepper's, ideology, in as rigid and unscientific a way as "race" was defined by the Nazis and for the same purpose: to halt ethical obligations and concern beyond the species barrier. And yet I cannot tell you what a guilty pleasure it is to think such vengeful thoughts, as this and many of Tepper's novels allow one to do. Throw away the "reasonable man" and forget trying to avoid "stridency" and "shrillness" for the space of a novel and wallow in the righteous anger usually denied to the political left.

She then goes on to note the one bit of flak Tepper's gotten from feminist critics:

But once in a while it hurts, as Wendy Pearson points out in an article on The Gate to Women's Country. There, Tepper imagines genetic engineering ridding the society of the "hormonal reproductive maladaptation" of homosexuality: homosexuality is a disease to be eradicated, just as the men who choose warrior status are eradicated. Then we remember that wallowing in righteous anger is not really particularly righteous, or mature-- a guilty, youthful pleasure we might do better to resist. I happen to agree with Kelso in seeing the novel as a condemnation of both the male warrior culture and equally ruthless feminist separatist culture, one that would wipe out a tenth of humanity, including those who serve the human definition even by Tepper's standards. For me, this cruelty is not Tepper's but a trait of the dystopia that is disguised as a feminist utopia. Nevertheless, we cannot deny this cruel streak, and it appears in many of the novels.

I like that "nevertheless." I wonder if Gordon heard Tepper's GoH speech at WisCon 22, or has read that Strange Horizons interview. "This cruelty is not Tepper's" is of course literally true, but Tepper's own stated beliefs and wishes may well alter the conclusions to be reached about that cruelty.

I've always found the "feminist separatist utopia" a straw man, myself-- full of false assumptions about feminism. In my opinion, this "dystopia disguised as a feminist utopia" is a throwback to the "Battle of the Sexes" "flasher novels" Joanna Russ once talked about. Every time I've encountered it in fiction (though I'll admit I haven't read Tepper's version of it), I've seen it as homophobic and inherently distrustful of what women are ("at core"-- as if there's some essentialist quality in women that means they'll do atrocious things when given power-- things that men, left to their own devices, [apparently] never do-- never mind all the "separatist male utopias" we've had to live through for centuries and centuries). I guess that's why I've always been surprised to hear Tepper characterized as "feminist." (And sometimes even taken as the epitome of feminist.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Call for poetry submissions

This is from Rose Lemberg, who's editing...

...a feminist speculative poetry reprint anthology from Aqueduct Press titled The Moment of Change (referencing Adrienne Rich's "The moment of change is the only poem")*. I hope this anthology will bring feminist questions to the foreground, while featuring queer poets, poets of color, and international poets as much as possible. My interpretation of speculative is pretty broad, as is my interpretation of feminism; please try me.

To the best of my knowledge, this will be the first feminist anthology within the history of speculative poetry (for a list of speculative poetry anthologies, follow the link).

To this end, I would like to solicit reprint submissions at the editorial address, feministspec at gmail dot com.  Submissions are not limited by gender and sexuality, age, race and ethnicity, disability, immigration status, etc - everyone is welcome. Please send me your previously published poems that you think are feminist (maximum 5 poems per submission, please). Date of original publication does not matter, but please supply the  previous publication details for each poem.

If you have ideas for poems by others that can fit the anthology, please let me know at the editorial address ( feministspec at gmail dot com).

Rights: We ask for non-exclusive one-time reprint rights, non-exclusive promotional rights, and non-exclusive ebook reprint rights. These rights should be available when you send me your submissions (i.e. if the poem is under exclusivity period somewhere, that would be problematic).

Payment: one copy per contributor.

Submissions are open now, and will remain open until June 15th, 2011. I will respond to all submissions by July 15th, 2011.

Please ask any questions here, and please spread the news! A static website is coming soon.

* Thanks to Rachel Swirsky ([info]rachel_swirsky ) for suggesting this title!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 1, No. 2

The electronic edition of the second issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone has just gone out to subscribers, and we're expecting the print version to arrive from the printer this week. Here's the issue's table of contents:

Vol. 1 No. 2—April 2011

Feature Essay
Hyperbolic Futures: Speculative Finance and Speculative Fiction, by Steven Shaviro
She Lives, by Shweta Narayan
Grandmother Magma
Vonda N. McIntyre’s Dreamsnake, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor, reviewed by Uzuri Amini  
Birdbrain, by Johanna Sinisalo, reviewed by Carrie Devall  
The Broken Kingdoms, by N. K. Jemisin, reviewed by Ama Patterson  
Destination: Future, edited by Z. S. Adani and Eric T. Reynolds, reviewed by Karen Burnham  
Under the Poppy, by Kathe Koja, reviewed by Rachel Swirsky  
Of Blood and Honey (Fey and the Fallen), by Stina Leicht, reviewed by Paige Clifton-Steele  
The Universe of Things, by Gwyneth Jones, reviewed by Nisi Shawl  
Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft, reviewed by Liz Henry
Featured Artist
Susan Simensky Bietila
Ursula Le Guin's piece inaugurates the Grandmother Magma column, which will be devoted to retrospective reviews. And Liz Henry's review includes a "Lesbian Steampunk Bingo Card." You can purchase the issue or start a subscription here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Deconstructing Sheri Tepper's 2008 Interview with Strange Horizons

So, someone asked me what was so offensive about Tepper's interview. After reading her comments, I'm convinced that it might actually be helpful to some people if I did a deconstruction. I don't usually fisk things because it's a format I usually find boring, but it seemed like the best way to come at this.

I'm not going to post the whole thing here, but I still think writing about racism in feminist science fiction is, you know, relevant to the whole Aqueduct Press thing, so I wanted to post some of it here. The rest is at my livejournal.

In sum: This is not a well-researched, annotated, considered response. This is off the cuff, based only on the information I have at hand to draw. I didn't fact even fact check myself. But even if some points are weak or badly stated (quite possible), I think this establishes the rudimentary foundations for why I found Tepper's argument so desperately offensive.

Any given one of these comments I'm criticizing may not be so bad. Certainly, some of them are much, much worse than others. Taken all together, they suggest a certain amount of authoritarianism and black and white thinking, ignorance of or willingness to ignore context & culture, and lots and lots of racism.


Was she ranting? I don't know? Maybe she was ranting? I get ranting and, you know, if what she said wasn't meant for a literal reading then yay?... but her books mirror these points of view and it's clearly something she's thought out so it's not like "she got on a tear and just went with it." If this is a recurring rant, even one not meant to be taken seriously, she should probably consider the ways in which ableism/etc are fundamentally integrated into it.

Mother Teresa would have done more for humanity by convincing the poor of India to use birth control than she did by being sainted.

So. Of course, this exists in a world in which the stuff Nicoll is talking about in the other thread (first comment) also exists. So, that's point one. Basically point two is that westerners are extremely keen on telling brown people especially, and poor people generally, how many babies they should have because OTHERWISE DOOM. People from those populations push back at the idea by, you know, pointing out that the kind of ecological impact from an Indian child is nowhere like the kind of ecological impact from the average American child. We do not need to prevent brown people from having children in order to save the world; given the history of A) colonialism generally and B) white people attempting to prevent brown people from having children, the fact that this is a popular talking point solution is very disturbing. Additionally, research indicates that birth rates lower when women are given economic resources and education. The idea that one should take away options from women, rather than giving them options--all in order to achieve the same effect--is not awesome. Also, at one point, IIRC, (I don't know if it's still true), India had a number of political seats reserved for women (good) but whether or not women could access them was dependent on how many kids they'd had (not good), and Tepper's comments exist in that world. (ETA: This is apparently incorrect--see also: apologies for the misinformation and for my misconception. Thanks to @jayaprakash) Tepper may not be aware of this shit, but at some point, if she's advocating policies that require taking over the bodies of poor brown people, it sort of becomes her obligation to be aware.

and, they are tribal. Tribal religions, languages, and cultures are bad news. No one with any sense would ever start a war with a tribal country because you would never have any way of knowing who the enemy is at any given time. It took Bill Clinton a few short weeks to figure this out. Bush will never figure it out if he lives to be a hundred. You can conquer and dominate a tribal country, as "the Raj" did in India, but you cannot "work with it" to instill democracy or any other "-cracy." And if you turn over a country to a tribal people, it turns overnight into a tyranny with one tribe dominant.

Ooooookay. So, religions that she detests have features in common. This could be not so racist; e.g. American Christianity could be one of those religions. But one of the features these religions share is being tribal, a word associated with brown people, and sure enough, they are immediately & directly put in contrast with white Americans. Then we have this interesting "you can't work with tribal people" thing which puts them in contrast to white people who apparently can be worked with? India is not a democracy because it is a tyranny with a single dominant tribe? By the rules set out here, America ISN'T a tyranny with a single dominant tribe? You can't "turn the country over" to brown people because they will run it wrong? Seriously?

Regarding the money quote:

Humans cannot purposefully injure others. They have to be capable, once adults, of controlling what they do. Persons who look human but who are uncontrollable or who habitually hurt other people will no longer be defined as human.

Okay. So. Humans who habitually hurt other people will no longer be defined as human. Someone said in your other thread that it must be very hard to see people as inherently good and realize, daily, that they aren't. Sometimes people are complex. Sometimes humans habitually hurt people in some ways and do other stuff, too. So, let's chalk this up to black and white thinking, but I'm going to basically give it to her with the assumption that if she was explicating, she would define what "habitually hurt" means (does colonialism count?)

Then there's the whole "controlling what they do" thing. This is where the ableism/crazy bit comes in, esp because she later uses the word crazy in what appears to be an explication of what "can't control yourself" means. A generous reading indicates that she means that she's declassifying people who HURT OTHERS because they can't control what they do, but that's not exactly what she said. She said OR. I hope OR wasn't what she meant. It probably wasn't. Right? But invoking crazy people and then talking about eugenics (via forced sterilization) also invokes this lovely history America has of forcibly sterilizing people in institutions. Have you read WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME? I assume so? Classification of uncontrollable or crazy is influenced by cultural factors. See also: drapetomania. But more troubling is that the kind of walled city she later invokes reads like some of the abuses perpetuated (historically and contemporarily) by institutions. She's advocating for the kind of cruel treatment crazy people already sometimes get. Again, maybe all this is unintentional, but when you're making this argument, especially while taking on the mantle of advocating in the name of social justice, it's sort of incumbent on you not to stomp on the necks of already oppressed groups, yeah?

Every person born of human parents is not necessarily human. Those born to other parents might be, however. Probably the bonobos are human.

...I expect this was just… a turn of phrase… but it does also suggest that she thinks of some humans (based on behavior) as lower than non-humans (who are not being judged by behavior). Race implications of saying humans one does not like are not people, particularly then going on to invoke ape imagery? And also in, as someone in your earlier thread said, the context of black men in prison populations like the proposed walled city? Like whoa. See also: PETA campaigns where slaves are compared to chickens; lynched men to hung meat; Jews to penned pigs.

The cities for nonhumans will not get overcrowded because the inhabitants will probably kill each other off fairly regularly.


Seriously, what the fuck? This is the logic that makes prison rape an ongoing nightmare. This is the logic that chains jailed women giving birth. This is the logic that feeds prisoners green meat. This is the logic that waterboards, that puts prisoners in stress positions, that pries off their fingernails, that presses them with weights, that carves out their organs before putting them in the fire.

And another thing. Look, if you're a radical, then police brutality is something you should be fucking aware of. State abuses are something you should be aware of! Police killing black people on a regular basis and not being punished for it is something you should be aware of. I don't know if I agree with the prison abolition argument, but it's there; it's this progressive idea that demands response when someone talking about social justice is making an argument about the awesomeness of deliberately violent prisons. Is the violence of the system really that much more awesome than the violence perpetuated by individuals?

Are all the arguments about the death penalty going out the window, too? The death penalty applies for everything? Really? Super really? And it's just okay? And I don't think judging fantasies by the real world is always awesome, but with all this other shit going on, too, I really have to ask--in this real world, wherein black people are imprisoned at enormous rates, wherein the apportionment of the death penalty is vastly influenced by race and class, wherein people who are determined to have significant cognitive impairments are killed… is it really a great idea to argue that whatever, it's fine for anyone who contravenes Tepper law to just die?

Walled cities will be built in the wastelands and all nonhuman persons will be sterilized and sent to live there, together, raising their own food

Yay forcible sterilization. This might be less disturbing if so many of her books did not have "yay eugenics" themes. Just ranting? Maybe? But she rants like this a lot. And it's somehow super easier for white, first world ladies to come back to the idea that "oh, eugenics could really work IF ONLY WE IMPLEMENTED IT CORRECTLY" than it is for people who, you know, MIGHT BE SUBJECTED TO IT.

There will be no chat about this sequestration being "inhumane," because the persons so confined are not human by definition… The cities for nonhumans will not get overcrowded because the inhabitants will probably kill each other off fairly regularly.

As Heron said on my blog, "I've yet to see an exception to the rule that anyone who is willing to definite some adults as not-human &/or inherently deserving of exclusion or limited civil rights is not worth listening to." And as Grace Annam said on Alas, "Every OTHER time in human history when we penned certain classes of people into concentration camps … excuse me, “walled cities”, it worked out so well. What could go wrong?"

Sorry, angry capital letters coming: IT IS NOT OKAY TO REDEFINE SOME PEOPLE AS NOT HUMAN AND THEN TAKE PLEASURE IN IMAGINING THEM SUBJECTED TO VIOLENCE. This is why the doctrine of hell is creepy as fuck! She says earlier in the interview that "We all see how the afterlife bit is playing out today"—well, what is this fantasy of walling people who hurt others off and letting them be tortured except what is, effectively, a veiled version of hell?

Just a rant? Maybe. Maybe just a rant. Certainly better if it's a rant! But a rant that supports eugenics from a woman who writes books where eugenics is a solution that works. A rant that supports authoritarianism from a woman that claims to hate it. A rant about how some people aren't really human from someone who claims to be interested in social justice. A rant that classifies addicts and the mentally ill as less than other people. A rant that, hey, revels in torture and pain because apparently Tepper finds imagining that satisfying.

Who's going choosing to go to hell so they can revel in describing the awful?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fiscal Illiteracy: does it matter?

"Tax Day" in the US approaches. Yesterday, The Seattle Times's lead story, Where Do Your Taxes Go? Receipt Could Show you, reported on our local Congressperson's bill for improving taxpayers' fiscal literacy:
The average American family pays more than $7,000 in federal income taxes a year. The average American also mistakenly believes a big chunk of it is spent on foreign aid.

As President Obama prepares Wednesday to unveil his most detailed plan yet for weaning the country off borrowed money — following a House Republican budget-cutting plan released last week — some people say an urgent national debate about the federal deficit and debt is stymied by many Americans' fiscal illiteracy.

Voters, they fear, have but a dim grasp of the nation's finances, including how the government spends their taxes.

Enter the taxpayer receipt.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., is among a band of people from inside and outside Congress who believe Americans should see an itemized receipt for their federal purchases. As early as this week, the Seattle Democrat plans to resurrect his bill to require the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue a detailed annual spending breakdown for each taxpayer.

Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., introduced a similar measure last month. Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington, D.C., is promoting the idea actively.

Beyond educating Americans about income and outlays, taxpayer receipts are meant to help pop the fantasy math where no tax increases and minimal spending cuts equal a balanced budget.
I'd like to think that a heaping helping of facts would create a more constructive, better informed public discourse on government, government spending, and taxation, but the last ten years have shown many, many people in the US to be immune to facts. When facts undercut rhetoric that is repeated again and again, does anyone who wasn't already well-informed pay any attention? I tend to doubt it, especially given what is well known about torture, for instance, and the Obama Administration's determination not only to excuse but also to continue its practice.

Also, I'd like beside a receipt, to include comparisons of the amount of taxes collectively paid by corporations and billionaires to that paid by the poorest 10% of the population.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Have I mentioned that some feminists are eyesporks?

Generally, talk of feminazis is all overblown, but once in a while the exception that proves the rule walks up and splatters effluvia all over your nice, clean shoes.

Here's one for which we'll be bringing out all the replacement words for using crazy as an insult*:

As out of touch with reality as a conspiracy theorist on LSD who's just been hit on the head with a fifty-pound bag of wind-up toys
Mimsy as a borogrove
Amazingly fucking wrong

"When Sheri becomes Head Queen, what three things will get changed first?" Well, according to science fiction and fantasy author Sheri S. Tepper's clown-pants answer to Strange Horizons in 2008:

2. The Court of Equity shall define humanity more strictly. Merely being born to human parents in a reasonably human shape will not be sufficient. Human beings have to have certain attributes: most importantly, being a humane creature. Humans cannot purposefully injure others. They have to be capable, once adults, of controlling what they do. Persons who look human but who are uncontrollable or who habitually hurt other people will no longer be defined as human. Every person born of human parents is not necessarily human. Those born to other parents might be, however. Probably the bonobos are human. Whales and dolphins may very well be human. I have met some very humanlike dogs and cats. Mere language does not define humanity.

3. The idea that a term in prison "pays a debt to society" shall be stricken from the vocabulary. Persons who are not human must be perpetually separated from society. People who purposefully hurt others may not—ever—be released to move about in society. This includes crazy people, alcoholics, and addicts who cannot be permanently cured. None of this, "Oh, he's fine when he's on his meds, but he forgets to take his medicine." People who traffic in arms and drugs, wife beaters, serial rapists, pedophiles, and their ilk are included. Walled cities will be built in the wastelands and all nonhuman persons will be sterilized and sent to live there, together, raising their own food. There will be no traffic in, no traffic out, except for studies that may be done which might lead to a "cure." There will be no chat about this sequestration being "inhumane," because the persons so confined are not human by definition. (Aren't you really sick of reading about some guy who's been arrested six times for driving drunk and finally jailed after killing a family of five, and now he's getting out because he's "paid his debt to society"? Who thought up that idiocy?) The cities for nonhumans will not get overcrowded because the inhabitants will probably kill each other off fairly regularly.

As James Nicoll puts it, memetic prophylactic fucking recommended.**

Let's be honest; as Barry just said to me in IM, "Tepper's books have always flirted with lefty fascism." Yeah, true. But we flirt with lots of things. Back in college, we flirted with that jerk who kept talking about how he wanted to fling poo at people like a proverbial monkey. We might even, on one dark day, have flirted with a Libertarian.

Sometimes, in writing, we play with premises that we don't fully believe are true. We say "what if tendencies toward violence WERE entirely genetically predetermined" and then stagger drunkenly forward with that concept, trying to navigate the increasingly inviting shores of eugenics, and finally just sailing into that harbor, because fuck it, it's a black box experiment. Sometimes we think "what if there was a story that read just like all that really fucking stupid misogynistic literature from the 30s about how life would be better if women would just DIE already, except it was written about men, and what if that highlighted all the ways in which the first narrative is oddly and uncomfortably embedded in the social consciousness?" Sometimes we write fictions that don't encompass all the complexities of the world because we want to reflect the claustrophobia, the rage, the terrifying whimpering impotence of one particular experience.

And then sometimes we say, "There is absolutely no difference between a writer doing a book about torture and pain for the delectation of perverts and a Roman emperor ordering a few dozen or hundred slaves into the arena to be tortured and killed by gladiators or beasts for the delectation of perverts." WAY TO MINIMIZE TORTURE, SLAVERY AND DEATH, MISS WIBBLEWOBBLE.

(Also! Sometimes we say a number of racist things that are harder to pull out in tidy quotes.)

The Rejectionist at writes, "In many ways her writing epitomizes the problems of the second-wave feminist movement, a movement that was largely defined by and for middle-class white women and notoriously failed to deal with the complex intersections of gender, race, class, and sexuality that women outside that narrow bracket negotiate daily."

And that's all, you know, true. But it vastly avoids the conclusions I want to draw about the interview. Which are that it requires whole new landscapes of invective.

Slitherbutt! Doucheblister! A Marianas trench of tapeworms! Oh, let's face it, I just want to spout angry gibberish at this point. Kazhagragda, vishgore, unhyrgro, fabprowse, sporfle, squamous, rugose, luftwaffe, ziggurat, lickety-split!

Being a pretty good storyteller (which Tepper is) is not a justification for being a babbling, bungnosed, bowelbrained, barfbellied burpzipper.

Dudette, get off my side. You're getting your primeval, parasitic compost all over my nice, clean movement.***

Further reading: James Nicoll, Strange Horizons,


*Some replacements are not usable in all situations. Some may be suggested with a tongue-in-cheek tone. Offer not valid in areas where Sheri Tepper may be lurking nearby with a sackful of weasels.

**OK, I added the fucking.

***Feminist movement not in actuality clean.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Quote of the day

The orator of violence is merely an instrument of dictation by tics and reflexes. There's nothing gratifyingly original about the language of attack, in which old speech plays through the accuser; it's the one who speaks the damage who becomes its sounding board. (I'm not inching toward a sneaking sympathy for the utterer of hate: that he himself is not remotely in possession of his language does nothing whatsoever to soften his words as they streak through him to crash onto their target.) Rage speaks monotonously. The righteousness of wrathful diction's vocabulary sorely restricts it, the tirade marked by that lack of reflection which alone lets the raging speaker run on and on. Once any awareness of his repetitiousness creeps over him, rather than feel vindicated by the tradition which is driving him, he's more likely to feel embarrassed enough to stop. His fury may be exaggerated by his helplessness at being mastered by his own language (whether or not he gives this description to his subjugation). For the language of anger is so dictatorial that it won't allow him to enjoy any conviction that he's voicing his own authenticity. Meanwhile, my very existence as the butt of his accusation is maddening to him, since under his onsalught, I'm apparently nothing for myself any longer but am turned into a mere thing-bearer of his passion. --Denise Riley, Impersonal Passion: Language As Affect

Carol Emshwiller is Ninety!

Today is Carol Emswhiller's 90th birthday. Happy birthday, Carol! What a fabulous joyous occasion this is!

To celebrate Carol's birthday, a group of her friends has put together a collection of materials about her and her writing, including a film by her husband Ed that she appears in, personal tributes, photographs, reviews of her work, and interviews. (The piece I wrote for the WisCon Souvenir book the year Carol was GoH-- written before I knew her personally-- can be found there.) Check it out, and celebrate!

Monday, April 11, 2011

A meaningless illusion

Among the many responses to Maine Governor Paul LePage's arbitrary (and summary) removal of a mural (paid for by the Federal Government) from the lobby of Maine's Department of Labor, one of my favorites is the "photo-bombing" of Maine's capitol building by the activist artists known as BrokeFix. Last week, on April 2, they projected a large image of the mural onto the Capitol's exterior for about two hours until a police officer, learning that they were "putting the mural back up," warned them that if they didn't leave, he would have to arrest them.

Arrest them? For what? As far as I can make out, the officer believed he would be obliged to arrest the artists simply for making a political statement in the vicinity of the Capitol. Is there now a law against making political statements in civic spaces? Here's a video the artists made of their "photo-bombing":

The Huffington Post reports on their interview with the artists, given "on the condition that their identities not be revealed. That interview took place on Friday -- like much of the group's work, late at night."

Here's a snippet of the Huffington Post's account of the interview:
"The beauty of what we are doing is in the DIY [do-it-yourself] mentality that fuels the project," the BrokeFix members said. "The methods we use to achieve our projects are crude, and we, very much so, are making this all up as we go along. We are hoping that this video acts as something of a springboard for more people to get out there and produce something. Anything."

The artists said they had been experimenting with photo-bombing -- a type of non-destructive graffiti and street art -- and used the mural controversy as a test case. The biggest question, they said, was whether they could properly and safely get the technical pieces right.

Like most appliances, the lamp used to project the mural runs on alternating current (AC). In order to project from the road, the artists had to derive some sort of power source.
Story continues below

"We used a car battery because the projector requires great amount of power and the car battery can also be run in conjunction with a car, using the alternator to maintain the charge," the BrokeFix members said. "So our main challenge was to change DC [direct current] power to AC using an inverter to run the projector."

The trio recently became even more mobile, creating what they call a "photon pack" -- which somewhat resembles the "proton pack" of the "Ghostbusters" franchise -- connecting the inverter directly to the car battery rather than the vehicle itself. They used this method during their most recent photo-bombing in Portland, Maine, which featured the mural along with comments they've received about their artwork from around the web.
. . . . .

Pointing to recent union protests in Maine and Wisconsin, among others, and the uprisings in the Middle East, the group added: "The weight of futility that our society places upon the individual is a meaningless illusion that disappears as soon as you realize that your own two hands can lift it away. Power exists within you as soon as you choose to use it."
Lately, under an increasingly vicious onslaught of reactionary savagery I've been finding the effort to shake off the the "weight of futility" as a "meaningless illusion" increasingly arduous. I guess this "choir" (and a few others I can think of) needs some preaching to.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Clear as clear can be

Most people generally know that the super-rich have been getting richer and almost everyone else poorer for the last decade or or so. But I wonder how many of us know how extreme the redistribution of income has become since the Reagan Administration (which set the US firmly on the path of taking income from the middle and poorer classes and giving it to the super-rich). I've just seen a bar chart, composed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, that makes it all so painfully clear (the way Niall Harrison's pie charts do for the gender imbalance in sf reviewing):

As Zachary Roth notes for Yahoo News,
the 30 years following the Second World War were a time of broadly shared prosperity: Income for the bottom 90 percent of American households roughly kept pace with economic growth.

But over the last 35 years, there's been an abrupt shift: Total growth has slowed marginally, but the real change has been in how the results of that growth are distributed. Now, the bottom 90 percent have seen their income rise only by a tiny fraction of total growth, while income for the richest 1 percent has exploded by upwards of 275 percent.

One can argue about why this is happening. Some say it's the result of a decline in workers' bargaining power as labor unions have weakened, while others blame the rise of offshoring and outsourcing. But despite the best efforts of some commentators, there's really no serious debate about the overall realignment of income in our age: The already super-rich have vastly increased their share of the pie--at the expense of everyone else.

It's important to bear in mind this extreme trend of redistribution of income in the US when we see Republican governors, legislatures, and the US Congress (and, yes, the POTUS as well) doing everything they can to give all the power and all the say to a tiny handful of people and stripping young people of their right to vote, workers of their right to collective representation and bargaining, and all of us of decent, affordable healthcare, support for those with disabilities, a reasonable retirement, and a safety net for families who have lost their homes and livelihoods.  I'm just saying. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Taste and critical judgment

Sherwood Smith posted MEN and women a couple of days ago, in which she offers up a few thoughts on the issue of gender balance in reviewing and reviewers of books, an issue that has been considerably clarified by Niall Harrison's statistical analysis. A couple of her points resonated particularly strongly with me. First, she writes:
Harrison himself is a reviewer, sharp and articulate. Our tastes don't often overlap, which has sometimes caused me to ponder on the years that I went away from male-penned reviews thinking that the contrasts in taste meant that I had no taste. When I was growing up, the tastes of men in their thirties and (if famous) older seemed to be the accepted standard.

This point reminded me of how for many years, reading sf magazines and critical publications, I thought I must not be reading sf "correctly." (I thought this though I'd long since rejected the traditional notion that correct aesthetic judgment is absolute and indisputable and not open to individual differences in perception. I just assumed that I must not be "getting" something in sf that everyone else, apparently, was.) More often than not, I couldn't imagine what reviewers and year's best list-makers saw in the works they valued and praised-- and wondered why apparently no one had even noticed the work that I judged interesting and sometimes even brilliant. This constant dissonance was incredibly alienating. And not only that, I figured that same problem must have something to do with the tepid interest my own work received (and the many rejections of stories by editors who characterized them as "fascinating and well-written").

Everything changed for me in late 1996 when I joined the fem-sf list and began posting comments to that list on what I was reading. I discovered that I was not alone. (And that some of the very writers I so respected were reading very much as I did.) Shortly after that, Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge urged me to do more critical writing and reviewing. From the frequent (and often fervent) feedback that resulted when, thanks to the Internet, I began taking my reviews public, I gradually came to understand that the "standard" critical voices in the field were, in fact, not representative of the tastes and values of the entire sf/f readership. What was needed, obviously, was more voices, representing the taste of those whose taste is excluded from the "standard," as Sherwood Smith calls it. Now, thanks to Aqueduct Press, that I'm so frantically busy all the time, it's harder for me to continue writing reviews, and I sometimes think about stopping, but I haven't felt confident that my absence would necessarily be covered by another reviewer with a taste that deviates from the standard. Niall's pie charts demonstrate to me that my intuitive sense was probably correct. I've talked to various people whose voices I'd like to read (more often) in critical venues, but knowing the sacrifice involved in making such a commitment, I haven't felt as if I can really press them.

The second point Sherwood Smith made that particularly interested me was this:
The sense that men write about Important Things and women write about Domestic or Sentimental Things still appears to be pervasive.

Virginia Woolf wrote about this, of course, and the topic has been discussed often since the Second Wave and, more recently, about the spectacle of Jonathan Franzen being lavished with praise for doing "pathbreaking work" when he condescended to write on Domestic Things-- the very kind of writing that women have long been despised for producing. (It's always "new," of course, and "bold" when a man takes up an idea or innovation or usual practice of women.) But what struck me this time in thinking about this was that the problem could also be seen as one afflicting reviewers as well as novelists. What reviewers review has as much to do with shaping their reputations and establishing the degree of their critical authority as the quality of their reviews do. My experience as a reviewer has included a mix of books assigned to me by the editor and books I've chosen, with assignments predominating. Some editors might assign books to particular reviewers at random, but it's more likely that they'll match books to reviewers according to their (largely intuitive) ideas about the reviewers. Sometimes the criteria might have to do with areas of interest, but I suspect that the books the editor considers the most "important" will usually be assigned to the reviewers the editor considers the most authoritative. I became a reviewer for Strange Horizons when Niall invited me to review Charles Stross's Glasshouse-- and explicitly said he'd like my review of it because he hadn't yet "seen a serious review [of it] by a feminist critic." That was in 2006, and I still occasionally receive notes thanking me for the review I then wrote. But most of the books I review have been by women. I was, for instance, thrilled to be assigned the Shirley Jackson Library of America volume. In my judgment, that book is an Important Work. But I can't help thinking that although the book received attention at the time of its release, that was largely because a genre writer had received the honor of being given a volume in that series--and not because her work is, in itself, considered Important. (And in fact quite a few mainstream literary critics expressed surprise and disapproval that it had been selected for the series.)

In thinking about this a bit more, it occurred to me that my approach to reviewing is rather like my approach to publishing-- and thus, in a sense, almost guaranteed marginality. If you are someone with ambitions for becoming a major critic in the field and also have the critical and writing chops to achieve such an ambition, the most sensible thing to do would be to review the books that can be assumed--in advance of their publication-- to garner the most attention. (These, of course, are the Important books.) The upshot is, my primary goal as a reviewer is at odds with the formula for success. This is, of course, the story of my life. But more to the point, I think it's also the story for any critic whose taste isn't in line with the standard and has no wish to betray that taste.

My conclusion? We need to be hearing a wider variety of critical voices. The voices of women, the voices of people of color, the voices of people who aren't US or UK nationals. I'm hoping, of course, that you will be hearing a wider range of voices in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. But I'd really like some of this blog's regular readers to think seriously about adding their own voices to the mix. Please?

Five smart people talk about writing

I've just listened to a podcast made at IFCA, in which Eileen Gunn, Cecilia Holland, Paul Park, and Theodora Goss, moderated by Karen Burnham, discuss writing workshops as well as the pedagogy of writing generally. Their conversation includes fascinating insights about the writing process. I especially love their insistence in blurring the lines between writing critical essays and writing fiction. You can listen to it here

Oh, and there's a bonus: Eileen reveals what Bill Gibson told her was the "secret of writing."

Monday, April 4, 2011

Nisi Shawl x 3

It's virtually Nisi Shawl week over at Strange Horizons! This week, they're featuring:

(1) An interview of Nisi, by Joselle Vanderhooft;

(2) An essay by Nisi, Race, Again, Still;

(3) The first part of "Pataki," a story by Nisi.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Links for the Weekend

It's been one of those days. I spent several hours of it tramping through the rain so that I could get one of my precious electronic gadgets fixed. (Seattle's pretty decent bus system proved inadequate in this case.) I'd never crossed the Montlake Bridge (which is a drawbridge) on foot before, and so made the astonishing discovery that when buses cross its steel grid, they make the cement sidewalks running along the sides tremble in a rather scary way. So, a bit later than I'd planned, here are a few links of interest:

--Nicola Griffith, Hard SF and Soft, or Girls vs. Boys. Here's a brief taste: "For the Old Guard, a novel’s hardness depends to some degree on the biological sex of bodies entwined. Women are perceived as literally and metaphorically softer than men. If the viewpoint character having sex in an SF novel is a woman, the squick factor is doubled. If she’s having sex with another woman, the Old Guard passes out."

--At Locus's Roundtable, Karen Burnham speculates about what in New Wave sf makes readers today uncomfortable.

--Abigail Nussbaum sounds the clarion for A Few Good Women: A Call for Reviewers at Strange Horizons.

--N.K. Jemisin writes an open letter to Hollywood: Dear Hollywood: How’s That Bigotry Working Out for You? ---an absolute must-read.

--Gillian Pollock has posted an excellent collection of guest posts for (last month's) Women's History month. You can see the list of guest posts by Lucy Sussex, Ann Vander Meer, Jane Routley, Cheryl Morgan, and numerous others, here.

Friday, April 1, 2011

About "Eve"

Here's a guest post, from the southern hemisphere, which I should have posted yesterday, on the last day of March (and Women's History Month):

Let's do tell all about Eve 
by Anna Tambour

"Have we been so conditioned that we are no longer responsive to obviously flawed arguments?"
Deb Moyle, "The mother of all fiction", Sydney Morning Herald, March 28, 2011

Since Australian public schools teach the basics so well that children remember their history ("Eve ate the apple") and science, in all its physics, action and reaction (that apple-eating of Eve is "the reason that women have pain in childbirth"), I hope our schools are also carrying these lessons through about natural history, for elephant mothers also have pain in childbirth – and not only that, but they love fruit and live in (probably sinful) matriarchies. Deb Moyle's revelations about what children are learning were published three days ago in the Herald's "Heckler", an orphan of a column – not supported by a "Herald investigation" or an editorial, even in this, Women's History Month. Instead, "Why aren't women getting angry?" Moyle asked in this 450-word commentless rantspace allocated to people's whinges, however trivial.

I've fomented for years about state-sponsored religion-pushing, only to see proselytising that if it weren't hiding behind "God" would be deemed dangerous ignorant regressive bigotry, multiply as the cane toad.

So if we can't beat them, and if we taxpayers are paying to have these myths told to our kids as fact, we might as well be consistent and tell the whole story. Teach all about Eve, and Adam. While Adam was sitting on his bum, Eve ventured forth. Without Eve, "man" would never have progressed. She should be celebrated as the first human with the curiosity of a scientist, the first explorer into "what if?" instead of "just obey".  If Eve is a historical figure who changed history, like Napoleon, then teach her as she was: an early model for Mary Kingsley, a woman who, like Eve, came from a sheltered existence, and like Eve, made up her own mind (for that talk about the snake influencing is just hearsay. You tell me when you hear a snake talk and I'll tell you when I find a man with one less rib.)

Although Mary Kingsley had the abused life of the born-to-be-an-unpaid-servant, caring for a pinchbeck but highly self-prized and demanding father and brother--her escape, when it came, was spectacular. Always dressed like a perfect lady, she explored and treasure-hunted artefacts and stories for museums and her own delight, travelling rough in places where Western men dropped like poisoned flies and missionaries were, in her estimation, a constant pestilence. She boated, canoed and trekked with native guides but was herself, the leader of all her expeditions. Her accounts of her travels in West Africa show a cannibal-friendly woman who has not only great stamina, but courage, unconventionality, and a sense of humour that hints of a great love of life and untapped potential in this Victorian virgin by choice.

But back to the basics. I'd like to push for every child learning about Eve, to be taught who Eve was: the first human interested in knowledge--if we have to have the creation story taught as if it had been camcorded. I'd prefer kids finding out about the Venus of Willendorf, who was probably Eve's great-great-great-great gran--and Ms VoW's  ancestors, those many still to be recognised as pivotal to our history, living in the first garden of all, the primordial sludge that came before humans were a twinkle in the universe's history.

And by all means, let's have every child learn about religion, and by that I mean the history of all the goddesses (Ishtar and all the little Ishtaresses, yes!!!) and the gods, myths and prejudices associated with them and the power-structures they provided reason for, as well as the inevitable genocides and wars spawned on their behalf.

See also:
The glory of unintelligibility