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A Conservative Sapphic Replies

June 26, 2009

 

In this entry, Rose, a “conservative lesbian,” responds to the charge in the previous post that she is self-glorifying and guilty of idealizing woman love. Among her most interesting comments is this: “Eccentrics need a stable society in which to be eccentrics.”

Rose writes, initially quoting the female commenter Kidist Asrat Paulos:

“In a way, she is saying that there is no non-romantic, Platonic (or otherwise) relationship possible between women. She doesn’t say this explicitly, but I have a feeling she believes this.”

I, in fact, do not believe this, and rather agree with what Heather Elizabeth Peterson writes in “Romantic Friendship: Not Just a Code Word for Gay” and “The Misguided Search for ‘Homoeroticism’ A Plea for Research on Friendship.” As you’ve stated, the sexualization of our culture has helped destroy the possibility of nonsexual closeness. A modern Wordsworth would hide the extent of his love for his sister for fear of accusations (as I have read about William and Dorothy) that his regard was incestuous.

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The Balance Myth

June 25, 2009

 

The following is a critique of the widely prevalent notion that the ideal life for a woman is one of “balance,” the judicious mixing of career and home. I call this the “Balance Myth,” one of the central ideas of mainstream feminism.
 
On the face of it, “third-wave feminism,” as it is known, seems reasonable,  an appealing counterpart to middle class virtue. In fact, it normalizes the radical tenets of feminism. Thanks to the Balance Myth, the casual neglect of children, marriage and home are now mainstream phenomena. This seemingly harmless idea wears a soft and pleasing exterior. But, it offends exactly what it purports to uphold: the intelligence of women and their innate desire for meaningful work.

 

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Theatrical Women and their Trials

June 24, 2009

 

Where is Shakespeare on this pie chart?

This article in today’s New York Times states an amazing fact. Apparently, female artistic directors and literary agents have a tendency to discriminate against female playwrights. Are women naturally more competitive with other women? If so, the more women in positions of influence the harder time women trying to break in will have. In other words, the idea that women will be kinder to women is false. Or do women agents, sick and tired of the feminist claptrap that lands on their desks, secretly wish to purge the field of all women? Whatever the answer, the solution is this: Feel sorry for women.

Here’s another question: Is it possible for artistic endeavour to survive in a world where people are charting its progress?

 

‘Fantastic, Mutable, Illusory’

June 24, 2009

 

James M. writes:

Your piece on clouds reminded me of a passage from one of my favorite obscure books: V. M. Yeates’ Winged Victory, a semi-autobiographical novel about RAF pilots during the Great War.

    It climbed well, and in a minute reached the cloud layer, which was at fifteen-hundred feet.  After a few preliminary obscurings he was involved in the grey deleting mist. The world had gone; dissolved into intangible chaos. Nothing had form except the aeroplane and himself and perhaps that queer circular ghost of a rainbow that sat in the blankness in front. Every motion had ceased, for all the roaring of the engine. Nevertheless, he knew by experience that in this no-world it was necessary to keep the pitot at eighty or more, and the joystick and rudder central, or bad sensations as of dizzying flopping would follow. The mist grew darker. He put his head in the office and flew by his instruments. He kept the speed right but he could feel that all was not well, without being able to tell what might be wrong. The mist brightened. He came suddenly into sunshine. A cloudless blue sky arched over a gleaming floor of ivory rocks. It was all around him in the twinkling of an eye, and the grey chaos away in another universe, a million years or a few feet distant. The two sphere were as close together and as far apart as life and death. He saw that he was flying with unintentional bank.
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Are Compliments Dangerous?

June 22, 2009

 

Kristor writes in response to my comment about the need for praise:

I wouldn’t worry too much about getting attached to compliments. Let them register. After all, their ultimate effect in a basically duteous person will be to raise the bar you set yourself to hurdle every day. Am I right? Plus you’ll never give yourself credit for them anyway, never leave them on the plus side of your personal balance sheet. Right? You’ll say, “Oh, it wasn’t me; all I did was interfere with the Lord less than usual.”
 
What counts, what makes the difference, indeed all the difference in the world, is the direction of one’s ultimate orientation. For those who are oriented horizontally, along the plane of the mundane, the world’s effects will affect them by pushing them about therein, to no ultimate relief. For those whose orientation is even a little bit angled up toward Christ’s pure orthogonal to the mundane, the world’s effects will affect them by pushing them about in the world and pushing them up a bit on their diagonal. The closer we approximate to Christ’s orthogony to the world, the more profound this effect, and the more delightful it will be. At the apotheosis, we will see that every worldly experience is radiant with uncreate light; we will enjoy creation as God does. 
 
A purely worldly person, if such there be, refers everything to the world, and is entirely entrapped. Such perhaps is the fate of say Richard Dawkins; it is the Hell C.S. Lewis describes in The Great Divorce, a shadow world of deficient actuality. But almost no one I think is purely worldly; almost all of us want to get out of this shadow world, and into the high bright solid light at the top of the mountain, where our world is no longer obscured, but able at last to be fully itself.
 
I can’t figure out whether Numenius thinks we should be on the peak looking at the boat, or vice versa. Either way, one would be far from the hurry, noise and commerce of the shore. Having spent a lot of time in both situations – wave-tossed and perched on high scarps – I can say with confidence that both are fit places to open and cleanse the doors of perception.

Laura writes:

Yes, Numenius was unclear. I think whatever he meant it involved extreme isolation.

On the subject of compliments, I come from a long Irish tradition of treating them with embarrassment or sarcasm. According to this worldview, which is genetically transmitted, it is presumptuous to see any truth in them. They must be doled out and received sparingly for fear of creating an even minimally self-supporting ego. For instance, if someone tells you have made a great meal or they like what you are wearing, you just sort of shrug your shoulders and grimace. That means, “Gee, thanks!”

I think there are some who are purely worldy in their waking hours. Only at night, in their sleep, do they escape what you call “the shadow world of deficient actuality.”

 

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Clouds

June 22, 2009

 

Clouds are cheap. Wherever you are, they entertain and enshadow, magnifying to immense proportions the proposition that life is ever-varying shades of grey. Boredom is just a state of mind when there are clouds in the sky.

The plumes, puffs, phantasms and pillows parade across the local heavens. Few days are completely bereft of clouds in May and June, at least where I live. Brides keep planning their weddings as if thousands of June weddings hadn’t been obscured and dampened by banks of Cumulonimbus. This is cloud-denial, a common psychological disease. Cloud deniers always act surprised when spring is cloudy. They have a fixed, illusory image of a cloud-free spring that only the right psychotropic medication could cure.

Cumulus clouds are to June what snow is to January. They form in the lower atmosphere and sometimes extend in massive vaporous monuments upward into the stratosphere. Cumulus mediocris look like shredded cotton balls. Cumulus humilis are more reminiscent of clotted cream. Cumulus congestus create muscular heros, suggestive of so many shapes it is not surprising Zeus was believed to create the image of his wife, Hera, out of a cloud. The cloud was violated and Centaurus thus conceived.

Each Cumulus cloud is “the visible summit of a towering transparent column of air – like a bright white toupee on a huge invisible man.” So says Gavin Pretor-Pinney in his wonderful book, The Cloudspotters Guide: The Sciene, History and Culture of Clouds. Clouds satisfy both the scientist and the artist. The scientist looks at the sky and has the urge to measure droplets. He is a cloud-demystifier. The artist sees castles and ascending saints.  Clouds make him more depressed when he is depressed and more jubilant when he is happy. They intensify the inner condition.

I once lived in a place that was not cloudy for a single day for two months. It was a living hell. Thank you, clouds. You are unappreciated and vilified. You are too lofty for us.

 

 

Alternative Medicine

June 16, 2009

 

O, vegetative June,
Fragrant opiates,
Milky pharmaceuticals.
O, ruffled doctor,
Tend your emerald clinic,
Your lab coat askew,
Your hair disgraced with tendrils.
Dispense your prescriptions.
Drug and deceive.
Only lengthen this appointment.
I cannot hold you close enough.

 

On Gentleness

June 16, 2009

 

Pore through history’s records and you will find no evidence of gentleness. To the contrary, energy, initiative, will, ideas, and conflict – these seem to be the decisive factors in human affairs.

Gentleness is an inconspicuous and private thing. It’s hard to describe exactly what you have received when you’ve been its beneficiary. One wouldn’t want to live in a world governed by gentleness, but to live in a world short of it is like living in a city without trees.

Gentleness is feminine. A woman who has never expressed at least some of her powers of tenderness has not fully lived. It’s as if she had never walked. Gentleness, which I myself have by no means mastered, is both inborn and acquired. It can be unlearned and erased. If one lives in a culture that prizes only assertiveness and energy, one may lose the essential thing. Gentleness is low-wattage. With a surge of power, its filaments break.

Some people go to therapists in search of lost gentleness, either the ability to receive or to give it. Gentleness is not simply soothing. It’s an intellectual thing as well, a form of understanding and higher awareness with its own golden mean. Properly attuned, its objective is the buried truth. Improperly attuned, it becomes bothersome, meddling, all sentimental, treacly and indulgent.

Behind the achievements of civilization – the masterpieces, the monuments, the battles, the great works of thought – the hidden influence of the right sort of gentleness lives. It’s unrecorded. It never has received public acclaim and never will.  Here is something that is perhaps most apparent when it’s gone.

                                                                

 

The Anti-Neighborhood

June 3, 2009

 

Perhaps you live in a normal neighborhood. Maybe you reside in a peaceful corner of America where people still make eye contact, wave hello and share meals during a crisis. If you do, cherish what you have.

I was talking to an elderly woman in her mid-eighties not long ago, a person who has lived in the same house in a pleasant suburban neighborhood for more than 50 years. “You must know lots of people on your street,” I said.

She is a gracious and uncomplaining person. But, she looked at me and said, “I don’t know them at all. If I fell down in the driveway, they wouldn’t come and help me up.”

Life is not a bed of roses, it’s true, and people have important things to do. But, something inside me rebels at the thought of an old person ignored. I can’t adjust to the idea. I like to think that if there were a few women at home, this would not have been true for this widow.

Neighborhoods thrive on trust, common habits and time. A non-neighborhood is a place where people may still possess common habits and trust but lack the time to forge connections. The anti-neighborhood is different. There, people have lost the social instincts. Autism becomes collective.

When people receive a basic level of social stimulation from television, it cuts into the desire for simple interactions. But, after a while, it can rob them of all neighborly intuitions. I once invited a couple who were new to our street over for dessert. They were mystified and taken aback. They had no idea what they were supposed to say, as if they were taking part in a ritual in an alien country.

Children and the old always sense something is amiss. To a normal child, it is inconceivable not to express curiosity about the people nearby.  Where is that man from? Who is that woman in the green car? Are there any children in that house?  You could never convince him that it is natural for people to just ignore each other.

Transience has always been a big challenge for the American neighborhood, but what afflicts it now far exceeds this surmountable problem. After a while, the child catches on. He picks up the habits of living among strangers.

 

 

The Vital Death

June 2, 2009

 

When the Vitalist stage of social decline sets in, money is no longer the ultimate status symbol. Energy is. To the most dynamic goes the prize. Illness and dying are notoriously non-energetic conditions. Hence the growing intolerance for what was once considered fairly normal – the slow and painful death. Suicide becomes “an end-of-life decision.”

Here’s the sad story of Rona Zelniker, who joined the growing ranks of suicides last March. When she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 60, she prepared for her self-termination with the can-do energy and efficiency of someone embarking on a trip or new job. According to the account in The Philadelphia Inquirer, she cleaned out her condo,  put it up for sale, and bought a biodegradable plastic urn for her ashes, which she placed on the kitchen counter. Her son asked for a bereavement leave from his job – before she died.

It seemed that Zelniker was completely undone by the prospect of a difficult and prolonged illness, as if she had never mentally prepared for the possibility. Apparently, one can lead a full and energetic life for six decades, but escape some of the brute facts of existence.  Guy Waterman, the famous White Mountain climber and author, was 67 in 2000. He was so defeated by the possibility of not being able to climb anymore that he ascended Mount Lafayette in February and deliberately froze to death. Here was a man steeled for the worst travails on the trail, but not the simple inevitability of age and his own physical decline.

Zelniker’s children spoke favorably of her decision, critical only that she could not be more upfront about it because of legal complications. The adult daughter of Peter and Penelope Duff, the British couple who traveled to Switzerland to commit suicide in a clinic earlier this year, similarly said they had done “a beautiful thing.” One wonders if their own children had grown ill and decided to kill themselves, they would have taken it in the same way.

This premature termination of age and suffering suits our Vitalist times. Suffering cannot be a beautiful thing when so lacking in dynamism. The Vital death is, if nothing else, a display of energy.

 

Radical Compassion

May 20, 2009

 

It is not so absurd to say, as another television star once did, that Oprah Winfrey is “one of the most important political figures of our time.”  Here is an immensely powerful woman who is in the deadly serious business of remaking America, one heart at a time.  Read on for the second part of a four-part essay on the Oprah-ization of America.

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Is Domesticity Dull?

May 18, 2009

People say the domestic life is narrow and stultifying, a prison for the intellect. Feminists have long made this claim.

I guess you could say that’s true, but only if you think human history is boring, the laws of nature are boring, love is boring, birth is boring, children are boring, personality is boring, the mind is boring, morality is boring, death is boring, male and female are boring, sex is boring, illness is boring, kisses are boring, prayers are boring, literature is boring, philosophy is boring, poetry is boring, God is boring, the seasons are boring, music is boring, trees are boring, sunlight is boring, the stars are boring, snow is boring, dew is boring. If all this is true, the home is not what it appears: a fount of ideas and truths, a university and a museum, a laboratory for the curious, a gallery of all that is human. If the home is boring, life itself is a desert.

 

 

More on Dust

May 15, 2009

Kristor writes about the foregoing entry:

With respect to dust, I am with Democritus. If anything made of dust is to be alive to its world, then in some way the dust of which it is made must do likewise. Not in the same way, of course; things are alike, but not wholly alike, or they wouldn’t be discrete.

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Dust and Its Implications

May 15, 2009

 

Dust is pervasive. Wherever you are, dust is silently gathering, a fleck of everything, fragments of nothing, the particulate manifestation of the truth that all things are disintegrating.

Ordinary household dust is rarely considered a subject worthy of consideration. We live in a superficial world. Perhaps we’re secretly dumbfounded by some of the most commonplace things. We just don’t know what to make of them. We’re holding out for explanations that never appear.

One of the most interesting things about dust is its imperviousness to scientific progress. The scientist in his lab may have the illusion of progress. The duster knows this: nature only progresses so much. The world is never cured of dust and no human habitat is without it.

The earliest materialist philosophers may have been sent on their first chain of speculations by the visible clouds of tiny particles they observed while sitting in a room. From there, they may have leapt with intuitive brilliance – before there were any microscopes to confirm their suspicions – to the conclusion that all things are particulate.

Our senses deceive us, said Democritus, the early Greek philosopher who logically inferred the presence of infinitesimal particles, or atoms, in all matter. “By convention, sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, color is color; but in truth there are only atoms and the void.” Even thought is atomistic. Our bodies are composed of thinking atoms. So Democritus thought.

Perhaps it is not crude after all to find philosophical implications in something so common. We can never dismiss a thing solely on the basis of its size. Our thoughts would be the least important things if size was paramount as they take up no space and weigh nothing. They are materially non-existent.

The smallness of dust allows it universal entry. No door or closed vent keeps it away. It gathers on tables and floors, books and computers, under the beds and in the drawers, a powdery fog. Cumulatively it is against order, cleanliness and the efficient operation of machines. Secretly, it teems with hideous and ravenous life, the microscopic household fauna we would starve if we could. We embrace, and particles rise from our clothes and arms.

There is no beauty, not the slightest grandeur, no redeeming charm to dust. And, yet for those of us who have spent a portion of our lives removing dust from rooms, the dust cloth may be, like the microscope to the bacteriologist or the telescope to the astronomer, one essential tool of  our enlightenment.

The Old Testament contains many references to dust, reminders for the most part of life’s brevity. According to Genesis our origins were particulate. 

       “And, the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground,
       and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became
       a living soul.” (Gen 2:7)
     
Cries Job:

    “And wilt thou bring me into dust again?
     Hast thou not poured me out as milk
     And curdled me like cheese?” (Job 10:9)

We were dust and we will be dust again. Viewed in this way, dust becomes companionate. So inert and inanimate, and yet so filled with intimations of one aspect of our own nature.

The inanimate animates us. It fills us with hope. Out of the very ephemera of dust, the idea of eternity rises. Dust draws into sharp relief all that is non-dust.

 

A Voice of Sanity

May 13, 2009

 

The Internet is a wild and untamed jungle, but it contains small gardens of peace and sanity, of order and delight. There are many homemaking blogs, but none excels that of Lydia Sherman, a woman who was raised in the Alaska outback and later became an American housewife. Don’t be deceived by the homey crafts and Victorian posters displayed on Lydia’s site. Here is a woman of universal wisdom and insight. She is typical of the seasoned woman of yesteryear who had already raised her children and whose sole purpose in life was to convey the essential truths to the young. These women served as ballast, keeping an entire culture from sinking. Tomorrow belongs to the Lydia Shermans. We will recapture the truths that never die.

 

What is work?

May 11, 2009

A group of executives gathered for a meeting in the offices of a West Coast software company. The participants included one female vice president for marketing, beautifully coiffed and dressed in a silk suit. As soon as the meeting began, she took out her note pad and began writing. She appeared thoroughly engaged.

From over her shoulder, another participant glimpsed at the words on her page. They did not appear relevant:
 
       Pick up Elsie’s invitations
       Dry cleaners
       Party favors
       Chicken cutlets
       Dentist, 4 p.m.
    
The vice president was writing a mother’s shopping and errand list. According to a friend who related this incident, this woman was present in body, not in spirit. She was similar in function to those buxom carved figureheads on the prow of sailing vessels, leading the way through turbulent seas with beauty and an unvarying smile.

 

More On Careers

May 6, 2009

 

Mike Berman, one of the perceptive commenters from Lawrence Auster’s View From the Right, writes about The Finest Occupations :

You bring up a subject here which has consumed me since I can remember. Coming from a poor family, one of my early memories was the marshals coming to our door to put us on the street and my promise to myself that I would never let this humiliation happen to me.

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The Finest Occupations

May 5, 2009

There is an inherent good in all work. What is it?  

 

 

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