Thursday, September 27, 2007

Katha Pollitt Reviews (and a feminist rant)

Katha Pollitt's new essay collection has got some interesting reviews in New York Times and LA Times. One essay in particular in which she talks of webstalking her ex-boyfriend after he left her for another woman. The essay is available here. (If you like the New Yorker format you can check here.) In one of her other essays she also writes of feeling inadequate and guilty of not pleasing her boyfriend adequately (sexually) and joining Marxist study groups with the sole aim of impressing him. Quite understandably her critics and admirers are aghast at what they call, such shameless display of self-abasement. "Watching a feminist I've admired my entire life dissolve into a whingeing puddle in her late 50s is painful," LA Times says.

I haven't read other essays but that webstalking essay looked pretty harmless and inconsequential to me. Occasional bouts of masochistic self-humiliation in public are good for health I think, specially when you have to live with such feminist label (and its completely unjust connotations) all your life.

Now on this topic, don't miss this breathtaking feminist diatribe/manifesto. (via)

Update: An article in Salon takes her critics to task - "Political columnist Katha Pollitt has been vilified for airing her romantic dirty laundry. What's wrong with serious women writers exposing their soft underbellies to the world?"


KUBLA KHAN said...

after reading the book tags post, i saw your list of must reads. trusting your choice, i bought 2 books of vila-matas a few days back, montano's malady and bartleby& co.
i must say one thing.....bartleby& co is not less than fantastic. a completely different and yet familar style of writing, not poetic but great. i have only managed 30 odd pages but will write about it soon. thanks anyway.
have you read the savage detectives yet? if not, do.

Alok said...

Savage Detectives is so huge man.. I was a little afraid of starting it. I am waiting for it to come in paperback :)

wow, so you have already started Montano's Malady and Bartleby... You read way too much and too fast. It takes me more than a week to read one average size book of average complexity.

I was fascinated by the idea of "literature sickness".. I don't know about the treatment of this subject in Montano yet but this "word addiction" and the resulting sense of alienation and isolation from the world of experience troubles me a lot.

KUBLA KHAN said...

I am with you here. i think addiction is the right word sometimes, but.....i think malady or an affliction is better. in a letter to his aunt, conrad once wrote....dear aunt....( not an exact quote) what w'd you want me to be.... madman or convict.
this affair with literature is a sweet disorder, an enchanting but yes, tiring sickness.
it induces a sense of as you say alienation but also dissonance, and a going away from, a turning away from the reality of experience.
one lives in two worlds simultaneously, detached as if in a daze. for weeks after reading the savage detectives, i was heart troubled.
lok....haven't you felt a nameless anguish after reading something? a pain, an insomnia, restlessness?
is not this world the same, at times meaningless.....
what are we?....
this thing called life is unredeemable without poetry and literature, but poetry without its reality from social and political roots is useless.( thats why latin american literature trumps everything)

we must carry on reading. and i like the range of your interests in reading. but i see you havent picked up middle eastern lit. yet.
have you heard of an indian writer called sasthi brata?
any way, keep rolling the stop. i value your comments and really like your blog, as always.

KUBLA KHAN said...

stop shd read as stone. i imagine us as sisyphean, not greek of course.

Ashok said...

To what degree is the greatest challenge intellectual life faces coming from personal narrative being overblown?

In earlier eras, there was epic and drama and texts centered around religious or philosophic truth.

Now we know all that stuff is a crock, so we focus on power and economics and the issues that concern us immediately. We deduce from these all too personal categories our own gods.

The real issue with Katha Pollitt isn't whether what she says is acceptable or not. It's that what she says is being taken seriously in any sense.

I guess, on that note, my conservatism extends into my style of writing. I will whine about ex's, but I always try to keep that information as abstract and general as possible, so a number of analogies can be raised. And none of my readers actually know my ex's, either, whereas I'm sure quite a few people know who Katha Pollitt is talking about.

This is the age without shame - if it can be said, and it doesn't seem to hurt anyone, then our default assumption is that whatever is said is a credit to freedom of speech in some way.

I dissent.

Alok said...

kubla: you are right. those feelings of "restlessness" and "nameless anguish" but they are unmoored without any anchor in the real world.. it is "the hovering life" as Musil calls it. it is a kind of solipsism which makes me a little afraid.

ashok: Obviously a conservative case can be made against her politics but this particular book and its reviews are not about that. it is more about the public image of a feminist (of whatever political persuasion), a strong-willed, rather unemotional woman, free from men and their tyranny and how these essays don't fit that stereotype. In fact as the salon essay says the outrage is itself hypocritical because the same thing written by a male will be praised for its ruthless honesty and courage.