Sunday, January 28, 2007

Syllogistic Progressions

On the first day of one of my classes, we were discussing an article, which was a good article. It worked to connect the thinking of John D’Emilio and the emergence of queer identity with a broader understanding of how people in the United States and Western world come to understand themselves and their communities post-Enlightenment. It is a useful article and in a very important journal.

At the same time, while we were discussing it in class, it seemed to me that it is an article that relies on a syllogistic progression that leaves the reader at the end with few alternatives to move forward progressive or revolutionary thinking. There are a lot of these sorts of analyses in academic journals and in progressive/radical writing. They leave me, and other readers, in short, depressed.

In Katie King’s class, Katie insisted that we recoil from “debunking critiques.” At first, this was a paralyzing notion for me. What is there to do other than debunk and argument? Turns out, there is a lot to do. There is an entire new way to think about ideas and to discuss them. I can’t even being to articulate how appreciative I am to have had Katie’s insistence that we not embrace debunking critiques AND to have the other tools for thinking about intellectual work. It is from that class and Katie’s thinking, that I was able to think about this particular article and others that I have read and their syllogistic progressions.

In logic, a syllogism is a deductive argument. A syllogistic progression is a progression by wish syllogism are strung together and the final conclusion is reached. I reached this word to describe this phenomena, by way of reading the introduction to Sangeeta Ray’s book, En-Gendering India, in which she uses the term “aporia” which means, in rhetoric, the expression of a simulated or real doubt, as about where to begin or what to do or say. I’m not interested in introducing an aporia into the arguments made in this particular article or in any others. I don’t doubt them. I am convinced by them.

What I do question is the system of writing using these syllogistic progressions for exactly the place where it leaves the audience. I think that there is a particular academic style of interpreting history to describe our conditions today that vexes intervention or change. That is what I am interested in eschewing for my own writing. I want to find ways to structure arguments, analysis, and history, that doesn’t leave a space at the end where the reader feels sated, intellectually, but impotent politically. I think that the key in doing that is in resisting both debunking critiques and also syllogistic progressions.

Though, quite possibly, I have created one of my own, here, as I don’t have an example of the alternative. This may be my own syllogism.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It's the Anniversary of the Birth of Virginia Woolf

For many years I took this day off as a holiday. Not today, but still it seems to be quite a propitious day.

This from The Writer’s Almanac:

It's the birthday of the novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf, (books by this author) born Virginia Stephen in London (1882). She never went to school, but her father chose books for her to read from his own library. Her brothers all went to the best universities, and she wrote letters to them about her reading. She was only allowed to move out of her family home after her father's death, when she was 22. She moved into a house with her brothers and sister, and instead of writing letters about what she'd been reading, she began to write literary criticism for the Times Literary Supplement, and she became one of the most accomplished literary critics of the era.
Woolf believed that the problem with 19th-century literature was that novelists had focused entirely on the clothing people wore and the food they ate and the things they did. She believed that the most mysterious and essential aspects of human beings were not their possessions or their habits, but their interior emotions and thoughts.
She considered her first few novels failures, but then in 1922, she began to read the work of Marcel Proust, who had just died that year. She wrote to a friend, "Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out the sentence. Oh if I could write like that!" Later that summer, she wrote in her diary, "There's no doubt in my mind, that I have found out how to begin (at 40) to say something in my own voice."
Woolf's next book was her first masterpiece: Mrs. Dalloway (1925) about all the thoughts that pass through the mind of a middle-aged woman on the day she gives a party. Woolf went on to write many more novels, including To the Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (1931), but she was also one of the greatest essayists of her generation. In her long essay about women and literature, A Room of One's Own (1929), she wrote: "So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery."

In Memory of Tillie Olsen

Tillie Lerner Olsen
Author, Feminist, Activist
January 14, 1912 - January 1, 2007

From Yonnondio From the Thirties by Tillie Olsen

The whistles always woke Mazie. They pierced into her sleep like some gutteral-voiced metal beast, tearing at her; breathing a terror. During the day if the whistle blew, she knew it meant death--somebody’s poppa or brother, perhaps her own--in that fearsome place below the ground, the mind.

“God damn that blowhorn,” she heard her father mutter. Creak of him getting out of bed. The door closed, with yellow light from the kerosene lamp making a long crack on the floor. Clatter of dishes. Her mother’s tired, grimy voice.

“What’ll ya have? Coffee and eggs? There aint no bacon.”

“Dont bother with anything. Havent time. I gotta stop by Kvaternicks and get the kid. he’s starting work today.”

“What’re they going to give him?”

“Little of everything at first, I guess, trap, throw switches. Maybe timberin.”

“Well, he’ll be starting one punch ahead of the old man. Chris began as a breaker boy.” (Behind both stolid faces the claw of a buried thought--and maybe finish like him, buried under slaty roof that the company hadn’t bothered to timber.)

“He’s thirteen, aint he?” asked Anna.

“I guess. Nearer to fourteen.”

Continued at Woman-Stirred

Leonard Woolf by Victoria Glendinning

Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Leonard Woolf has been widely anticipated and widely reviewed. I was excited to get it as a holiday gift and dive into it on my trip last week. An online companion, Ellen Moody, has written persuasively about the Woolf biography on her blog and I agree with many of her assessments. Glendinning does a marvelous job of synthesizing a great deal of information and recounts of Leonard Woolf. While I was reading the book, one of the things that interested me was the process the Glendinning must have used to assemble and write this biography as I am interested in writing a biography of my own at some point. Leonard Woolf wrote his own five volume biography and he was a voluminous letter writer. So there is an extraordinary amount of information to read and synthesize into a book.

What she does most deftly, however, is not found in the amount of information available to her, but in how she handles the information to write about the things that fascinate us about Leonard: his relationship with Virginian and particularly the sexuality component of their marriage. I found Glendinning’s analysis of the early part of the Woolf marriage very compelling and believable. In addition, I felt like she really captured the nature of their devotion to one another and the realities of long marriages and the impact of dailiness and consistency. So while there may have been others that fueled each of their emotional and passionate needs at different times there was a constancy to the two of them and their marriage, sexuality aside, that was significant to each person’s creativity and productivity. One of the things that charmed me about Leonard was his sense of productivity. Glendinning reports that he tracked everything - what money they spent, how many words each of them wrote per day, the household duties, the garden. I love this sort of reportage in daily life. It is in this vein, however, that I did find two areas that I wished Glendinning had written more about or probed further. Ellen and others have written about how clear sighted Glendinning is about Leonard’s sexuality activity in Ceylon and in debunking the myth that he was a virgin when he married Virginia and that they had a completely asexual marriage. Where I felt Glendinning didn’t bring the same clear-sightedness was to her assessments of the relationship between Leonard and Lytton Strachey. Now, a significant portion of their letters have apparently been lost, but Leonard and Lytton had an extraordinarily close relationship while at college and in their early adulthood. Lytton was rakish, and I mean that without any judgments simply with the meaning of indifferent to moral restraints, and it seems to me from the duration and intensity of their friendship that there was a sexual element. By that do I mean that they were lovers? I don’t know. It does seems to me though that there was a sexual chemistry that given their age and Lytton’s other experiences would have been explored in some ways, even if it resulted in Leonard saying, this isn’t for me. Glendinning comes close to saying that, but I felt while reading this part of the book that she refrained from saying it. I am not sure if the cultural homophobia prevented her from seeing it more clearly or if she felt like there was inadequate documentation or if it was something else, but her analysis of the relationship between Lytton and Leonard did not feel as clear-eyed and insightful as her analysis of the relationship between Leonard and Virginia.

In a similar vein, I was surprised by her accounts of the relationship between Vita and Virginia which I felt suffered from a similar motion of looking away from the sexuality and the sexual relationship between them. Glendinning has written a biography of Vita Sackville-West and I think I have it on my shelf somewhere. (Oh, how I wish I had the time and discipline to enter all of these books into LibraryThing!) I want to hunt it up and read it and see how she talks about the relationship in that biography as there is an argument to be made that the relationship between Vita and Virginia is somewhat tangential to the Leonard Woolf biography. Nonetheless, it is that area where I do feel Glendinning missed the mark slightly for me. I look forward to comparing it with the Vita biography when I am able to read that.

For now, however, I am wrapping up the first volume of Eleanor Roosevelt’s biography, which is equally stunning but in very different ways. Leonard Woolf and Eleanor Roosevelt were contemporaries, however, and there are useful comparisons in reading the two sequentially.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ethel by Tema Nason

On the first travel day for vacation I read Ethel by Tema Nason. It is a fictionalized autobiography of Ethel Rosenberg, who is one of of the historical figures about whom I regularly obsess. Overall, it’s a good book. The accounts of the trial and the days leading up to the Rosenberg’s executions seem particularly accurate and compelling. Through reminisces, Nason writes about Ethel’s life from high school and up to the point of being charged with conspiracy to commit treason. I was particularly interested in reading about her early work with organizing a union in conjunction with some of the garment workers in New York City. Also reading this fictionalized account of what Ethel was thinking about in regards to her sons was interesting. Robert Meeropol, who founded and directs the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which provides assistance to children of political prisoners, has written a book about his experiences both as a young child and as an adult in trying to understand what happened to his parents. His memoir is fantastic. This book is engrossing and a good read, but I wish that it had explored Ethel’s thoughts and feelings about the trial further and taken a stand on her guilt or innocence and her sense of her husband’s guilt or innocence. It was written prior to 1995, when significance new documents about the trial were made available, however. Next up in this vein is this interesting book, Secret Agents. It will take until the summer before I’m able to read it, however.

Commentary at WomensEnews

I love Women’s ENews, but this commentary just irks me. I thought that the women’s movement learned during the 1970s that attacks on lesbians and attempts to distance women’s rights from struggles for gay and lesbian rights, just hurt us all. Apparently not. More of the same arguments are being made below. I’d write a responsive commentary, but I have a cold and just feel annoyed by the whole thing.

ERA Has Nothing to Do With Same-Sex Marriage
Run Date: 01/17/07
By Idella Moore
WeNews commentator
Opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment have for decades depicted it as a proxy case for same-sex marriage. Idella Moore calls it a 30-year case of propaganda and says recent court cases have caught perpetrators coming and going.

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Last month Maryland's Court of Appeals agreed to review lower court Judge Brooke Murdock's ruling that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violated the state's Equal Rights Amendment, adopted in 1972.

Letter to the Washington Blade

Democracy in action
Re: “Why I like Mike” (op-ed by Julie Enszer, Jan. 12)
Julie got it almost right: Gravel’s National Initiative would add direct democracy, but it doesn’t replace representative democracy, which would stay the same. The Swiss (who’ve had national ballot initiatives since 1848) call this “co-determination”  — works for couples, too!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Letter to the Southern Voice Editor

This is a fabulous letter to Southern Voice about my column there Stop Using Sex as a Weapon.

Foley, Haggard not victims of gay ‘sex panic’
Re “Stop using sex as a weapon” (viewpoint by Julie Enszer, Dec. 8):
Enszer uses a lot of big words (Note to self: Look up metonymy) to mask a weak argument that completely misses the point. Foley, Haggard, etc. weren’t busted for being gay (or bi or whatever) but for their hypocrisy, not practicing what they (literally, in Haggard’s case) preach. It wouldn’t have mattered if Haggard (like Jim Bakker and others before him) had patronized a female prostitute and Foley had solicited sex with underage female pages. Neither man was able to live up to the ideals he espoused and put down other people for not living up to. Incidentally, she never backs up her claim that the political strategy she calls “sex panic...always damages our community.” It seems to have done more good than harm in the midterm elections.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Why I like Mike (Gay)
Looking beyond easy answers for the Democratic nominee who truly backs gay equality.

By JULIE ENSZERFriday, January 12, 2007
IT’S AN ODD political year for the Democrats. More Democrats are declaring that they are not going to run for the Democratic presidential nomination than are. Media outlets are confounded and, without records of many more potential candidates to analyze (and with the two current “frontrunners” having scant records of their own), they are focusing prospective voters on questions of identity. Would you elect a woman president? Would you elect a black president?

I can’t be the only person wondering when will we elect an openly lesbian or gay president? No one is asking that question. We’re still obsessed with parsing the difference between a marriage and a civil union. In absence of the openly gay candidate, however, I’m looking for candidates who will open a more progressive dialogue on our issues in 2008.

That’s how I came to meet Mike Gravel. Gravel (pronounced Gra-VELL) was a senator from Alaska from 1969 until 1981. Since that time he’s been working on a project he calls The National Initiative, a campaign to bring direct democracy to the United States through initiatives at the federal level.
Read the full column here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

My Birthday

I do love Linda Pastan’s work. So it feels appropriate that The Writer’s Almanac has one of her poems today - as though just for me, for my birthday.

I Married You 

I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naive ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.

I was charmed too 
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity —
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen.
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Totems of Organization and Placidness

There are always some things in my life that are signs that I am organized and placid. When I have a day that does not have enough solitude and enough time to attend to these things, I know why I feel unbalanced and at loose ends. The totems for me are: a. dishes all loaded into the dishwasher, b. papers organized and filed, c. a clear and attainable list for the following day.

Today, after a full day at home, I’ve made progress toward that end. The dishes are in the dishwasher, which seems to go a long way. I have my papers organized into three piles, but I am not filed and caught up. I have a clear plan for tomorrow. So two out of three isn’t bad.

While I work to be organized and placid, here is a lovely poem from Rukeyser, thanks to Ellen Moody.


by Muriel Rukeyser

The world is full of loss; bring, wind, my love
My home is where we make our meeting-place
And love whatever I shall touch and read
Within that face

Lift, wind, my exile from my eyes;
Peace to look, life to listen and confess,
Freedom to find to find to find
That nakedness.

(1944, "Beast in View")

From Muriel Rukeyser: A Reader.

The message of this poem, of course, is one which undoes my three totems. The poem tells us that what we seek is not an organized kitchen or an organized life. The poem tells us not to seek placidness, but the “Freedom to find to find to find/That nakedness.” Nakedness, which I must believe is not contained in plastic file folders or clean dishes or realistic lists.

The sense of smell

I’m staying at home today with a complete sense of abandon. There are things that I should be doing, but I am going to write. I owe two poems to my buddy in the poetry challenge and I have good and meaty notes in my journal but I haven’t sat down to write them because it does involve delving in, not only to the language but to the experience. I’m going to do that today. In addition, I’m going to do some submissions and some organizing and editing of my work. I also have a review to finish and I’d like to spend part of the afternoon reading. These are all good things. This is what the school vacation is supposed to be about.

I put on my favorite sweatshirt this morning sitting down to do my email and it smelled. Not of food or smoke or the outdoors, the things that my clothes usually smell of, but from sweat. I realized that I put it on after I worked out with my Army-captain-friend yesterday. I hadn’t picked it up since then, but apparently I am working out enough that I work up a stink and enough of a stink that it transfers to my clothes. I find this delightful. It’s odd, I realize, but it is somehow validating about the work outs. Certainly, my muscles are sore and I feel the effects of working out, but smelling it this morning was wonderful. Amid my writing, I’ll do a load of laundry, but for now, I’m sneaking into the bedroom periodically to smell this sweat of my labor. This lingering testament to the time in the gym.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Lady Madame Julie the Subversive of Bumswick by the Hole
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


I was hoping to watch American Masters on PBS tonight about Annie Liebovitz. I’m very curious about how they talk about Liebovitz’s relationship with Sontag, but, alas, the showing is on at 10 p.m. -- the same time as Medium. Now i hate to reveal how completely shallow I am, but I love Medium and it is the first new episode in a number of weeks, so I’m very tempted to watch that. In addition, as I’ve written before, I can never remain awake past 10:40 p.m. and the Liebovitz piece is on until 11:30 p.m. so I’ll miss half of it. I’m tempted to spend my forty minutes watching Medium. This is the extent of my deep thoughts on this break from school. It’s almost depressing.

Except that I am reading voraciously for my Pandora to Cassandra project and cleaning and checking things off of my master checklist, which I just love, so all in all it isn’t bad. Today, I ordered the photographs that I am going to use for my Valentine’s Day cards. I just need to find some great red paper and then I’ll be ready to make those. I also have sifted through our financial life and have a list to work on tomorrow to know how we will make it through this year on my limited income in conjunction with school. My stack of 3x5 cards keeps growing and shrinking each day with new ideas and tasks completed. I’ve also been reading blogs, always a delight, especially with Google Reader. I can tell that I’m going to be swamped by too many blogs in my reader by mid-March, but for now it is a delight.

So it is a half hour before I have to make my high-brow/low-brow decision. I’m going to read and perhaps even fall asleep before ten.

Tillie Olsen Obituary from the NY Times

Tillie Olsen, Feminist Writer, Dies at 94

Published: January 3, 2007
Tillie Olsen, whose short stories, books and essays lent a heartfelt voice to the struggles of women and working-class people, died on Monday in Oakland, Calif. She was 94.
Ms. Olsen died after being in declining health for years, her daughter Laurie Olsen said.
A daughter of immigrants and a working mother starved for time to write, Ms. Olsen drew from her personal experiences to create a small but influential body of work. Her first published book, “Tell Me a Riddle” (1961), contained a short story, “I Stand Here Ironing,” in which the narrator painfully recounts her difficult relationship with her daughter and the frustrations of motherhood and poverty.
At the time of the book’s publication Ms. Olsen was heralded by critics as a short story writer of immense talent. The title story was made into a film in 1980 starring Melvyn Douglas and Lila Kedrova.
Ms. Olsen returned to issues of feminism and social struggle throughout her work, publishing a nonfiction book, “Silences,” in 1978, an examination of the impediments that writers face because of sex, race or social class. Reviewing the book in The New York Times Book Review, Margaret Atwood attributed Ms. Olsen’s relatively small output to her full life as a wife and mother, a “grueling obstacle course” experienced by many writers.
“It begins with an account, first drafted in 1962, of her own long, circumstantially enforced silence,” Ms. Atwood wrote. “She did not write for a very simple reason: A day has 24 hours. For 20 years she had no time, no energy and none of the money that would have bought both.”
Tillie Lerner was born on Jan. 14, 1912, on a tenant farm in Nebraska. She was the second of six children born to Samuel and Ida Lerner, Jewish immigrants from Russia, socialists whose political and social beliefs heavily influenced Ms. Olsen. Her father, a paperhanger and painter by trade, was the state secretary of the Nebraska Socialist Party.
After completing 11th grade, Ms. Olsen dropped out of high school. She immediately took on working-class jobs, including stints as a waitress, a hotel maid, a packinghouse worker, a secretary and a factory worker.
It was during the Depression that Ms. Olsen began work as an activist for social and labor causes, joining the Young Communist League and organizing packinghouse workers in Kansas and Nebraska. She contracted pleurisy and tuberculosis working in a factory, and while recovering, began to write her first book, “Yonnondio: From the Thirties.”
In 1933 she moved to San Francisco, where she would live for more than 70 years, and resumed her pro-labor activities. During the 1934 San Francisco general strike, she was arrested, and promptly chronicled the strike in The New Republic and The Partisan Review.
During the strike she met a fellow protester named Jack Olsen, whom she later married. They reared four daughters, Karla, Julie, Kathie and Laurie. Mr. Olsen died in 1989.
In addition to her four daughters, Ms. Olsen is survived by a sister, Vicky Bergman, of Pembroke Pines, Fla.; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Ms. Olsen received numerous awards, including a Ford Foundation grant in 1959, the first year it was awarded; a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975; and a citation for Distinguished Contribution to American Literature from the American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1976.
Beginning in the early 1970s, she was an adviser to the Feminist Press. At her suggestion the press began reprinting feminist classics that had been lost, starting with “Life in the Iron Mills” by Rebecca Harding Davis. Over the years, Ms. Olsen recommended many of the books the Feminist Press reprinted.
She also occasionally worked as a teacher in the 1960s and ’70s, at Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

La Shana Tova

A good year
A year of fulfilling obligations
A year of working to make the world a better place
A year of blessings
A year with naches – some happiness, some contentment
A year with some love to keep*

*phrase borrowed from J. California Cooper