Judith and Jack and Chandan

Hi all!

The other night, I went to an informal presentation by wonderful team Jack and Judith Halberstam and Chandan Reddy at Elliot Bay Bookstore promoting their new books.

It was a wonderful reminder of why it’s awesome to live in Seattle 🙂 In my graduate work, I often studied Halberstam, and greatly admire her scholarship. I could not believe that two amazing and pretty famous queer theory scholars would be offering a talk in a bookstore basement easily accessible to me. This was during the MLA Convention, so many scholars were in town. Still, I was very impressed with their choice of location, especially since I did not pay 60 dollars for registration to attend closed panels at the convention.

So, I excitedly hailed a cab to Capital Hill and arrived just in time for the presentation to begin.  I was planning on meeting Judith, but when I arrived, I was introduced to Jack. Apparently, Halberstam is only Judith in writing. Jack’s presentation was really fun, and I found his style incredibly engaging. Chandan was very verbose, but also very pedantic and somewhat jargony.  I think that non-academics had a hard time understanding some of his points, but I also think that he worked hard during and after his presentation to make his information more accessible to the public.

Together, this team of scholars was pretty formidable, and I felt lucky that I got to see them in action.

Here are the pictures from that night:

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I promised a friend that I would copy notes for him, and I decided to copy some for you all as well.

I found myself scribbling excessively for both presentations, but more so for Chandan’s half. He went second, and he made many complicated points about modernity, but interlaced with discussion of a complex racial history. Writing down key points during the presentation was really helpful for me, and I think I got the gist of what he was arguing.

Like Halberstam said at the beginning of their presentation, Reddy’s arguments are complex, but they also reflect the intense complexity of the issues he is working with, some of which would be done a disservice by being condensed. They obviously have a lot of love for one another’s work, and their long-standing friendship began when Halberstam was Reddy’s professor during his first year of teaching. How awesome is that?!

Halberstam’s key points/ highlights:

1. “Failure is something all people do, but perhaps is something only queer people can really turn into a lifestyle.” Jack related this to a capitalist model, arguing that in our society, and in the capitalist model, there must be “winners” and “losers.” There is no way to opt out of capitalism without becoming a “loser” when to succeed in our system, one must have money and conform to both a capitalist and heteronormative timeline for success.

2. Jack also said that “if that’s success, then I choose failure.” I found that to be a very powerful statement.

3. Halberstam also argued that Pixar movies have been “feeding children communist fables” of anti-corporate sentiments in movies such as Monsters Inc., Robots, and Over the Hedge, which she believes has helped the young generation feel so strongly about the Occupy movement and anti-capitalist reform.

4. She also gave 3 lessons in how to “fail,” or to embrace failure, which included: 1.) Learn to lose, 2.) Be a Lesbian (she gave a lot of examples of how Lesbians are still not represented as “winners” in western media, especially “The Butch,” since straight men do not desire her and straight women don’t want to emulate her). Thus, Lesbians are the greatest losers, because they are still unable to be defined by the heteronormative capitalist model. 3.) Embrace a certain type of negativity, and find other options besides winning and losing.

Reddy’s Key Points/ Highlights: 

1. Introduction of his book Queer of Color Critique of Capitalism, and the goal of exploring what a queer reading and queer person of color perspective can bring/do to capitalism.

2. Capitalism = racial capitalism in the US, which = racialized state because of colonial history, which has always been racialized.

3. Discussion of Neo-liberalism. He says that we often think of freedom as the antithesis of violence, so when the state is pointed out as the source of violence, we need to reconcile that lie, or in his words “at the moment in which “freedom” becomes the vehicle of violence.

4. Pointed out the “3 regimes of modern freedom,” which includes his notion of “negative liberties,” or when freedom from violence was untenable; it rather was a freedom through revolutionary violence. He argues against the national rhetoric of the state that purports the idea of attaining freedoms from violence and all peoples becoming equal once that illusive freedom is attained. He pointed out that this approach and this myth hasn’t worked, and has never been attained, using that as a touchstone for the necessity of rethinking our subject positions and the idea of freedom within a violent state.

5. He used a great image example of a “missing billboard” installation art to illustrate the people who are left out of the picture the state paints in the capitalist model. He says that by intentially leaving out or disqualifying other possibilities of being, the modern capitalist state attempts to sustain [and advertise?] very specific system of experience. According to Reddy, we need to look at the latticework, or the frame, the people on the outskirts of what is being represented to us, for models of being.

6. He also argued that we are all being asked by the state, through citizenship agreements, to lose a little bit of our personal identities, and also to re-imagine our complicity with “freedom” and all that it costs. In essence, our complicity is really asking us to reconsider that subject position in the state with it’s history of violence (most likely through ignoring or attempting to “forget” that history of violence). Because we are taught that to identify ourselves and attain “embodiment” through the state, or to be “recognized” by the sate in order to have rights, we sacrifice for those rights.

7. Thus, he argued that “we need not ask for representation, but should try living on the fringe, in disorganization.” Too often, according to Reddy, Gays and Lesbians, etc. “make the cut” with this knowledge once they find safety or representation via citizenship, and THAT NEEDS TO STOP, since only in the fringe can true revolution and self-actualization without participation in state violence really occur.

8. I have 3 more pages of notes from this talk, more than I feel is appropriate to share through blog post, but if you want to know more, just let me know 🙂

I found both presentations compelling, and am very glad that I live in Seattle and was able to experience this discussion. I found Chandan’s argument especially intricate, but very very interesting. Both Reddy and Halberstam really argued strongly for resisting capitalist heteronormativity, for different but valid reasons. In other words, it rocked my socks off!

Excitedly yours,

Miss E

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Year of Pleasures, Elizabeth Berg

So, number one on the aforementioned Winter Book List ticked off and read: The Year of Pleasures, by the author Elizabeth Berg.

Look at the delicious looking food on the cover 🙂

I bought this novel from Third Place Books in Ravenna, Seattle.

I read this on the plane ride home for Christmas holiday. It was quick and enjoyable, and I only got my pen out three times, a record low for me in recent years.

That isn’t to say that it was boring, however. I’ll call it subdued, but I didn’t mind that for this type of story. I thought the message embedded in the novel was that living for oneself, and living the best life possible, is never a mistake, while wallowing in grief or pain is a definite mistake, and in fact destroys the pleasure in life.

Good point.

Betta, the main character in the novel, seems to know this pretty well. She is a writer, after all. However, it is with the death of her husband that she is forced to really recognize the importance of living her own life, for herself.

Although Betta herself seemed a bit dull as a character exploration, despite hints throughout the novel at her bravery, adventurous nature, and creativity, her personal story, and the idea of the novel itself was beautifully executed from a writer’s perspective.

My favorite parts:

  1. Female empowerment. The lifelong female friendships portrayed and discussion of women giving of themselves for each other and for loved ones, sometimes at the expense of simple pleasures in life was well-done. While not as dramatic as it could have been, I appreciated that Berg had addressed this issue, one that rings true for many womens’ lives. For example, Betta realizes that she can play music that she hasn’t listened to for years in compromise to her husband’s taste. She can eat when and whatever she likes, and etc. She is, in a way, beautifully freed by his death.

Even though there is some sadness and pain alluded to, Betta is in no way portrayed as tortured over the loss of her husband. At the same time however, the reader’s sense of her freedom is lessened by the narrator’s constant mention of her husband.  She does often wonder if he would approve, and most of the time, he does. I wanted to know, why does it matter?

It was Betta’s story, not his, and at times I felt it was the author’s sense of duty to Betta’s husband, rather than Betta’s. We get a sense as readers that he was a kind and loving man, who showered Betta with thoughtful support and encouragement. However, we as readers don’t actually know him as a character. While it’s expected that Betta will think of him, I felt like some of the narrative reminders of her husband were forced, and made Betta less of an interesting character.

The language on a sentence level was often lush in description, rich in parallel construction (I am a sucker for parallel construction), and done with an elegant respect for language.

  1. I brought out my pen to underline beautiful sentences, something I usually only do in workshop. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading nineteenth century lit. However, since that is the area I research, I usually take out my pen much more often and underline a few beautiful sentences, while focusing primarily on the social constructions of gender, national identity, or class commentaries in the novels I read from my research period.

That being said, those elements of interest still existed in this novel as well. They were just couched in simple and elegant language, and they were more overarching and systematic, inherent to the very nature of the novel itself, as opposed to statement after statement, passage by passage.

  1. The descriptions of food and cooking- YUMMY.

Problematic elements of the novel:

  1. White upper class privilege. It was practically screaming at me. Betta is a white woman from the East coast, and the most financial trouble she seems to have ever endured in her life is during a hippy phase in college. I feel like this might be one of the only explanations of why she seems so lackluster despite the allusions to her interesting personality. She never has really suffered until her husband’s death, and even then, she is a millionaire who can do whatever she pleases. It seemed just a little too convenient, and a little too boring.
  2. She moves to the Midwest, outside of Chicago, so she can experience the “simple” life. I am from the Midwest, and am in fact on a visit there while I write this. I still don’t know how “big city” people, like the fictional Betta, can romanticize it as much as they seem to, while deriding it all the same. I wish Berg would have more deeply imagined her characters from Betta’s new Midwestern town a bit more as well. Many of them were hollow representations. There were a couple that could have been interesting, and Betta only has a few interactions with the most interesting one (the old woman with spunk and history who she buys her new home from). Since it was Betta’s dream to move to the Midwest and open a knickknack store, and her personal goal to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, you’d think that the people in the town she moves to would be painted a bit more clearly. They were not, because they apparently didn’t matter in Betta’s egocentric “search for herself.”
  3. The other problem I had with the novel was that even though Betta and her former husband were supposed to be the main focus, they were so dull that I just really didn’t care. Her old college friends and some of the characters even just mentioned from the town she arrives in seemed much more interesting than Betta herself.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, despite the small disappointments, and in its optimism I can see why it sold well. The writing tone and style was warm and inviting, and Berg treats her characters very kindly.

I would recommend the novel if you are in the mood for a quick read that is not complete trash, that has some literary merit without being actually literary, and that focuses on renewal and new beginnings.

I would not recommend it if you get jealous easily, since I think it is very easy to envy the fictional Betta and her cushy gushy, yet lonely and somewhat dull life.

It gets 3.3 of 5 stars from me purely for entertainment purposes and beautiful sentences.

Read with a DR. Pepper (a drink that gets mentioned so many times you start to crave it) and Indian food leftovers (because it’s something Betta might eat, and because they are simply delicious).  Or, herbal tea and a fruit pie, which is also discussed in the novel often.

My Defense of Bridgett Jones

 

Generally, I consider myself a traditionalist in many ways, especially in relation to literature. I tend to stay fairly canonical a lot of the time, and my interests are primarily in the 19th century, so you know, that type of traditional. For example, although I do plan on reading and reviewing books like, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for this blog, I don’t expect to like them.

 

I love Jane Austen, and, as you already know, I love Pride and Prejudice and its characters.  I feel like putting random un-dead elements into a story that has wooed readers successfully for around 200 years is just unnecessary and gratuitous.

However, in contrast with my traditionalist beliefs, I have developed what I now feel free to term an  undying love for the movie-adaptation-of-a-modern-book-adaptation- of-Pride and Prejudice,  Bridgett Jones Diary.

I have been sick this week, and watched that movie three times. Every single time, I found myself laughing with Bridgett during her missteps and triumphs, and oohing and aweing  when Mark Darcy (Colin Firth of course) comes over to make dinner with her.

I can see how some parts of the movie are problematic, but what isn’t problematic for those of us who analyze? I honestly and unabashedly love this movie, despite those problematic elements. I could probably watch it every day. It never gets old. Trust me, I definitely expected to stop enjoying it after the first 50 or so times I saw it, but it just keeps staying awesome.

I don’t know why I have been embarrassed to proclaim my love of this movie around my academic friends. Maybe it seems silly, or maybe I keep hearing that Wambats song with the lyrics “this is no, Bridgett Jones” when I think of it, or feel like maybe I’m supporting capitalism or heteronormativity when I watch it and root for Bridgett to get her dream man. I’d like to respond to this anxiety in two ways.

1). The critique I hear from a lot of people is that Bridgett is just an annoying character who perpetuates the stereotype of the woman who wants to marry. I may be totally prejudiced, but I don’t feel like those people really get it, kind of like I how people who say that Austen’s books are basically marriage plots and that’s it just don’t really get it.

I would argue that Bridgett is actually showing how many modern women actually feel, since we are still pressured to marry, as I have discussed before in previous posts.  Everybody wants love and companionship, so that’s not a new concept to work with, and it does seem like the Bridgett Jones filmmakers empathize with the stigma of the “single woman” in this movie. At one point, for example, Bridgett gets asked at a dinner party why there are so many unmarried women in their 30’s these days, and Bridgett, taken aback, responds with an uneasy joke first, then a jab at the high divorce rate in Great Britain. And of course, I love that Darcy stands up for her and backs up her critique of a smug faith in marriage.

2). Now, you may wonder how this representation of Pride and Prejudice is OK with my Pride and Prejudice purist beliefs. To me, Bridgett does not represent Elizabeth in a lot of ways, but I think her character is a clever play on the class difference between Elizabeth and Darcy.

Bridgett is obviously a bit “chav” as some English people would say. In other words, her family, although middle class, behaves without tact. What I find interesting about Bridgett is that she also behaves this way much of the time. What I really love about the movie is that dialogue about class in England, which although it looks very different currently from what it did back in the regency times, is still a topic of interest.

Her friendships also show her habits, her behavior, and her priorities to be totally different in many ways than Mark Darcy, something I think highlights the real class disparity between Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. In the film, Mark Darcy is a well-educated and kind of elitist lawyer.  Bridgett and her friends behave “irresponsibly,”  but believably, and definitely with a different set of priorities than Mark Darcy’s crowd.

Beyond the fun that occurs with this contrast, I also love Bridgett herself. I love how she just can’t help saying what’s on her mind, even though it’s probably embarrassing. Although Elizabeth had a quick tongue, it was more one of quick wit and biting sarcasm than of verbal incontinence and social awkwardness. However, they are both in earnest when they speak, something that I admire.

When Bridgett Jones speaks, she means what she is saying. She really feels strongly about it at the time, even if her opinion might change or be open to influence later. Although I love Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice possibly more than any other protagonista, I think that Bridgett is a very relatable spin off, and she is probably my favorite “leading lady” from a modern movie.

I think that  I love the character Bridgett Jones, not in spite of her differences from Elizabeth Bennet, but because of them.

I’m fine with them because Bridgett Jones is a fully actualized character of her own, and I am happy to see her figure things out through what seems to be a pretty painful process (even though it gives the viewer a sense of comic relief).

Like Elizabeth she has character development, and although she is at times silly, as is her movie genre (romantic comedy) in general, sometimes that is exactly what I’m looking for in life.

In other words, I may not quite be ready for Zombies in Pride and Prejudice, but I am totally accepting of this dash of Pride and Prejudice, or nod to it, in a modern interpretation.

Have to go now- I have a movie to watch.

Miss E

Why Does Austen’s World Appeal So Much to Modern Ladies?


Because not that much has changed in terms of gender expectations and role fulfillment. Gender dynamics are largely the same it seems, even though women are now able to own property and have the right to vote.

We tend to think of Jane Austen’s time period, around the late 18th and early nineteenth century, as charmingly antiquated. Despite the changes that have occurred since the 18th century, it seems culturally significant that Austin’s male protagonist has regained popularity in recent years.

A friend recently told me that her little nephew asked her if she was in college. When she told him that she had already graduated years before, he said “Oh my gosh! We need to get you a husband! You should join an internet dating site!”

I other words, a person as young as 9 years old was concerned that a woman of my friend’s age was unmarried.

This issue is also discussed in all Austen novels. The social need for marriage is pressed upon the female characters, and they are forced to weigh their own desire against the desires of the world. The reason many of Austen’s novels are considered “happy endings” is because we are excited that the protagonists’ desire won despite the pressures bearing against them.

In the 1850’s, a man by the name of William Rathbone Greg wrote an essay titled “why are women redundant?” It was thought that there were too many single women of a certain age in England at the time, and this evoked anxiety in a heteronormative, marriage-driven society. Greg’s attempt to solve the problem was to come up with a plan to ship all of the “quite abnormal” number of unmarried females overseas to the Americas so that they could fulfill their proper gender role and marry. Women were seen to be a problem to be dealt with- if they did not marry, the entire social structure might have crumbled, according to Greg and probably Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

These fears of staying single were grounded in harsh reality for the women in Austen’s time. In Persuasion, this fear of the unmarried woman, or “superfluous woman” is discussed in detail. Anne Eliot, the protagonist of the novel, is 27 when the book opens. She is seen as a problem, a liability, as one who has passed her peak time for being auctioned off to the highest bidder in the marriage arena. She is plain and “old,” two things that damage her chance of fulfilling her gender role.

In today’s world, there are plenty of unmarried women. But oftentimes, they are still seen as a “problem.” I mean, how much has really changed since 1851? Do we not still live in a heteronormative, marriage and babies driven society? Most women I know, even the independent and educated ones, still feel pressure from family and friends to “settle down,” and many wish to marry for various reasons. I currently work with a 21 year old who is being pressured by her family to marry as soon as she can. She often talks about how worried she is that it won’t work with her current boyfriend both because she likes him and also because she’s “running out of time.”  Time for what, exactly?

I often here snippets of conversations that sound like the Eliots from Persuasion. People judging women on their age, and how much time they have left to fulfill what they were apparently purposed to do, how shabby they look, how they will never “find a man,” etc. Unfortunately, I am 26, and all these people talking about running out of time are, quite frankly, freaking me out.

This is becoming more true now because I am feeling more and more inclined to become a redundant woman and do whatever I want without obligation to a partner or children. If that’s how I end up living my life, I can think of at least 30 or 40 acquaintances off the top of my head who would feel uncomfortable having me around.  As a single woman of a “certain age,” I am still a liability. Perhaps not as much as in the time Jane Austen was writing, or even William Greg, but still, a liability nonetheless.

In Jane Austen’s world, at least to contemporary viewers, there seem to be certain rules that guarantee a chance at a proposal. If you were of a certain age, and a man called on you, or danced more than a few dances with you, it is significant in terms of the likelihood of proposal.

For the multitudes of heterosexual women who are trying not to be superfluous or redundant, who are dating men and looking for “Mr. Right” or “Mr. Future Husband” in every man they meet and constantly failing to find him, the predictability of 18th and early 19th century courtship can be very appealing.

I am not implying that all women feel this pressure to avoid living what Greg terms an “incomplete existence” and therefore are attracted to the courtship in Austen’s world. Do I think it could be a factor in some of the more recent popularity? Yes. Do I think it is important to study both Jane Austen and the potential cultural undercurrents that make her work extraordinarily popular right now? Yep.

Yours redundantly,

Miss E

Be a Man, Read Some Trash

Writer: Allen B 

I had something odd happen to me the other day. I was sitting at the Elliot Bay Book Store (great place, if you don’t know it, go find it, get a coffee and a book and improve your sad, sad life) reading a novel I had recently bought. The book was called Danse Macabre by Laurell K. Hamilton and for those of you who have never read her work, it is a collection of hot sex, horror, hard-boiled detective, with a tip of the hat to the great Anne Rice and a flip of the finger to those sparkly angsty characters of another series which I will not here name. Some might call it trash but in my not at all humble opinion, it’s better than candy.

Sipping my coffee, I looked up to see a very good looking man reading a book by Slavoj Zizek, one of my favorite political theorists. I smiled, he smiled back, I thought about getting his number, and then he glanced at the book in my hands. He didn’t say anything, nor did I, but for a moment, I felt a sting of embarrassment. I know it doesn’t matter that from time to time I read novels that may go on for pages (or chapters) about how hung a sexy vampire is, but for some reason I didn’t want to be thought about as the kind of guy who reads… that sort of thing at that moment.

I wanted this to be a symptom of intellectual snobbery, I know what that is and to be honest, I’m fine with it, but it wasn’t. I was embarrassed in the same way I was when some boys from my middle school saw me looking at the Barbie’s at the toy store in the mall. For some reason, I felt insecure because on some level, palpable caught there in the stare of that tall, sexy man, I didn’t think it manly to read romance. I went as far as putting the book in my bag and pulling a copy of James Clavell’s Shogun off the shelf when I went to the café to see if I could find him.

Sadly, he was already gone but as I stood there with the manly book (which I already owned) in my hand I wanted to know what the hell was wrong with me. I’m not one, in general to give a shit what other think of me, I’m a god damned lit student, people already think I’m a confusing mess, so why should this moment be different? I know the answer, you probably do too. There are some times when gender norms extend, however ridiculously, even to books. Once again I was caught looking at Barbie dolls in the toy store. Even worse, this time I was playing with them. I was more than a little annoyed at myself and rather than take the long bus ride home hiding the book in my bag, I picked it out of my bag, found a table where I could look at the passing guys (yeah, I’m kind of a dog), and then sat reading it shamelessly for anyone to see, even getting a kick out of being in public when the main character talked about things having to stretch.

In the end nobody cared. I wanted to know though, are there things that others have never read because of the ideas attached to them? I’m not talking about political ideas, I’m not going to try to talk any hard core right wingers into embracing The Grapes of Wrath, at least not today, but is there anything you chose not to crack open because it wasn’t ladylike or because it wasn’t manly? Guys, have you ever wanted to read Little Woman or a Jane Austen novel? Ladies, were you ever just a little curious about why some guys love Tom Clancy or John  Le Carre?

In the end, perhaps it’s helpful to remember that reading a novel with some erotica or that centers on a marriage plot won’t cause a man’s nuts to pull up inside of him like 40 degree water, and that some gun play and loveless sex won’t make hair grow on a woman’s chest. But maybe the problem has nothing to do with what we think these books will do to us and everything to do with what we think our friends will do to us.

Would I make fun of one of my guy friends for reading Sense and Sensibility? You bet your sweet ass I would; I’d ask him if his lady parts hurt and tell him to hold on because one day his prince will come. (Don’t hate me for the move into heteronormativity, I was after all brought up in America.) If I saw Miss E. reading some Hemmingway I’d make fun of her too, “Breaking out of the kitchen through fist fighting and womanizing?” But should that keep The Sun Also Rises out of her hands or a dirty erotica novel out of mine? To be honest, reading things that are out of my normal field have helped me to learn a lot about myself and where I stand in terms of sexuality, choices. I sucked it up and read Danse Macabre at the café in the bookstore.

So let’s be honest, it won’t threaten my manhood to read this kind of thing in public, and I was being a fucking sixth grader for reacting that way. Try it this week; go get something you’ve always been curious about. Some of the best nights I’ve had in my life have dealt with pushing the limits of my curiosity, (I’m talking literature and so much more.) If it makes you tingle in places you don’t want to talk about, all I can say is congrats. If you feel like your manhood is in question or your womanhood is being put upon, keep reading—you need to be threatened.