Cleaning Our Own House

Anyone bothering to keep half an eye open in the last 10–15 years knows that fascism has, again, come prowling around the door. Only it never really left to begin with, but for argument’s sake, let’s say there’s been a resurgence. And boy howdy, we did not see it coming.

Except, who is this “we”?

In the aftermath of the mockery of an election that took place in November 2016, one thing i have not seen very much of is white people calling other white people to task about oppression. It’s one thing to gesture at a screen, one thing to say “well, I’m not in DC!” and feel helpless, but we did hand Himself a lot of votes. White people pretty much handed an idiot the election and white women placed a platter under that dish. These were people that knew better. These were people given every advantage in education, employment, social capital who still pressed the button under that name.

I know far better than to believe that every supporter of Don the Con is a caricature of white trash. Completely intelligent, well educated, advantaged white people — my own people — turned out for the most irresponsible and dangerous candidate I have seen in my lifetime.

We need to do far, far better than we’ve been doing. We need to cut the crap, cut the white guilt. We do not need to post for a few weeks then let this subside. We do not need to throw up our hands and reblog another think piece about the death of the USA.

We need to do better. We need to clean our own house. We need to do that by looking at what we allow to happen: We need to look at how our men behave and how we co-sign that as women. We need to talk to ourselves as white people and figure out what we can do to improve and drag our “regressive” elements kicking and screaming into reality.

What we allow as white people:

Whiteness is the luxury of well-crafted illusions. As part and parcel of whiteness, we get to pretend we are part of “pure” racial and ethnic traditions (see tired St. Pat’s celebrations for one). We get to pretend that there is an endless table stocked with land, jobs, and resources and we get to sit at it (Manifest Destiny). We get to pretend we’re at once connected to a (sanitized) ethnic tradition, heirs to ideals of warriors and kings. At the same time we get to be blank slates, writing our stories afresh with each generation, each job, each move, with no one to judge us.

When the illusion is so complete, it becomes reality. White people are genuinely surprised to learn of the achievements of other ethnicities, the interiority of other races, the history, art, and passions of “others”. This is because we do not have to. We do not have to monitor a dominant group and adopt its mind into our own. We do not have to live under the stress of double consciousness — but we also lack the mental/emotional/cultural acuity that brings.

We do not have to learn, we do not have to question. We can “safely” go our entire lives unchallenged on anything. This ensures that as a whole, our intellectual and moral development stops unless individuals take it upon themselves to go beyond their comfort and learn. The problem here that that while individual white people can and do certainly make this journey, this is an “individual solution to a collective problem”. There is nothing in white culture that encourages this, and definitely nothing that demands it.

Therefore dismantling the effects of whiteness becomes, for the white person, a strange territory. This is talk of race, and race is “impolite”, don’cha know; not something white children should have to hear and not something white parents are prepared to unpack. I come from women that, while genuinely of good will to many different races, believed acknowledging that difference was rude. “Colorblindness” was a virtue while “white”, “black”, and so on were very nearly dirty words. I know I am not the only one here.

Here’s the thing, though. In my grandmother’s day, in my mother’s day, one could get away with not knowing history or discussing race because there were fewer channel to learn. It was possible, but feasible to avoid. In 2016, where many (not all, but many) people have a damned computer in their pockets, there is no more excuse. We have the tools to aggregate and search information like never before, and better synthesis new information from that. Not to mention the rest of the clear-thought toolkit: libraries, books, community events, so on and so forth. Integration, which continually stymied in large parts of the country, has still become natural to enough people. You can’t “not” know someone who is a different race than you. But as a whole, we still do not take it upon ourselves to learn.

We allow ourselves the luxury of pretending that all is ok. Racism was a nasty thing, but MLK, “I have a dream”, “contents of their character”, and bada-bing: we’re now colorless. Add Obama’s election to that list of middle class historical “refusionism”, and you have the magic words that we chant to avoid having to see the ghost at the feast. We let ourselves remain ignorant because it’s easier.

Dr Nell Irvin Painter says, “An essential problem here is the inadequacy of white identity. Everyone loves to talk about blackness, a fascinating thing. But bring up whiteness and fewer people want to talk about it. Whiteness is on a toggle switch between “bland nothingness” and “racist hatred” (“What is Whiteness?”) Whiteness is predicated on division, as Dr. Painter points out in her op-ed and her book “The History of White People”: white vs not-white, free vs slave, ‘true’ white vs muddled ethnicities. Whiteness is terrified of those boundaries breaking. This is understandable, as they are not based on science but instead aspiration which evaporates when critical thought is applied. Other races, other ideas, other perspectives are “pollutants”. We’re not only moral infants, blinking in placid ignorance of our actions, but we are also continuously frightened — what are we letting in? Who are we letting in? Will this change us? We have no blueprint for change, so this fear is, in a perverse sense, understandable. We maintain language, a nominal culture, a religious pattern, a deep root system of economic power — and it hasn’t been challenged — or we haven’t cared to see — until now.

“Much has been written about financial hardship turning afflicted white communities into breeding grounds for white supremacist politics, but what about when dissatisfaction has little to do with economic circumstance? It’s hard to know what can be done to combat this phenomenon, but surely we have to start by taking the link between online hatred and resentment of women and the rise of neofascism seriously.” — We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white men by Abi Wilkinson

If young white men are disaffected, if they feel they lack an identity, a cause, a purpose….I have two things to say: One, welcome to the human condition. We must make our own purposes, construct our own identities. The world has always been this way, except at one point, a small percentage of you would have been gifted with that identity in terms of land or titles or something similar. But this was never the norm even for white men. You have always been in the soup with us.

My second point to tell these “disenfranchised” young men is that your answer is under your damn nose. Women, POC, LBGTQ — all manner of groups have been asking for help for generations. The internet has opened worlds of possibility for informing yourself, finding causes that need help, and pitching in. Even offline, there are problems in your communities that need fixing: children aren’t fed, schools are struggling, infrastructure needs repairing. Even on the microlevel, in your own individual towns — what precisely is stopping you from (to use a very loaded term) “manning up” and fixing what’s broken? Clean a park! Fix a car! Volunteer at a shelter! These are the sort of things people to because they are not only morally right, they give life purpose. Just because there is no red carpet doesn’t mean you are unneeded.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? Anything less than adulation is taken as hatred. Instead of saying “how can I help?” or starting a project of their own, enough of these men and their willing female compatriots would rather (again, another loaded term) “bitch” online.

And white women put up with this. Some of us even encourage it. More of us simply tolerate it as the price of privilege. We laugh at the jokes, clean up after, hide the broken bottles — we make the excuses and the choices to enable a culture of abusive masculinity because we don’t want to be so liberated that we forfeit our place at the foot of the table. At least we are at the table, so the logic goes. So white women — old and young, educated and not — make the choices necessary to preserve whiteness above justice. We do it on the sidewalk, in the bar, in the voting booth, in our homes. What do we think we’re going to get?

What we can do:

I’ve been turning these ideas over with a friend for a while. In the course of her experience as a mixed race woman, she gets to have a bird’s eye view of race. White friends and acquaintances, especially in the raw days after the election was declared, vowed to her (possibly forgetting her identities) that they “better not catch” anyone using epithets or spray painting hate signs. They’d kick ass, they would. No one better try that around them.

She made an excellent observation about how these newly-fired-up white people often put their foot in their mouth. They all think they’re going to be the ones punching the nazi, and that’s not what we need right now. The white middle class wants to be heroes but once more, that would put us at the center of the narrative.

We are not Captain America, and no one needs us to be. We need to put aside these fantasies of heroism, which are really domination with a softer boot. We do not need to go on about how we’d show “those racists” if “they” tried something. We are those racists. We benefit directly from a system that is designed to oppress anyone not white, heteronormative, cisgendered, middle class, and earning X amount a year. We benefit from the pain of our own people as well — consider all those “People of Walmart”. Poor white trash. We call our own people garbage.

Uncomfortable yet? Good. We should be. Now what?

Many white people are aggrieved about the election, many are galvanized. This is a good start. But we need to learn how to do this for more than a few news cycles. We have to learn.

We have to not just pay lip service to learning. We have to dismantle whiteness outside and inside of ourselves. We have to understand the million little ways we are protected simply because of how we’re born, and how we subconsciously cleave to those roles.

We already know how to do this, we have been told over and over. Here’s a starting point from Mikki Kendall at xojane.com. You can find similar lists all over and they are all going to share certain points: read, speak out, examine yourself. Use the tools at your disposal and find more voices. Do not let your critique of whiteness begin and end with me. I’d like to add to their ideas. I don’t want to erase or duplicate the work of these other writers so take it upon yourself to read more widely than my article.

We have to take books off the shelves, subscribe to blogs, follow feeds that have POC authors. But we have to not talk back for a fortnight. Two weeks — keep your own counsel as you read and absorb, before you think of approaching a writer of color. This is to ensure that you have time to find your legs in the discourse, understand the basics, and avoid asking those writers to educate you — this is a self-driven process.

We have to talk openly amongst ourselves first, and not at other groups. We are not here to collect antiracist merit badges. We have to be honest about whiteness and how it affects us, and we have to share that with our own first.

We have to examine our motivations when we take actions — especially when we take actions. This is essential if anyone is going to take up the label of anti-racist, anti-sexist, etc. Political progressiveness is no guard against racism, sexism, or other forms of oppression. To subscribe to a theory is one thing, but how you embody (or do not) is another. If you subscribe to progressive politics, what are your principles and how can you use them on a daily basis to improve your corner of the world?

We have to sensibly decide what we can share, whether it’s money, time, or both, and give regularly. But quietly. Again, we are not here for merit badges. Sharing valuable resources is simply a moral good, even if it’s kicking 5 bucks to a writer that opened up your mind. Likes and RT’s are cheap, but time and money are, well, time and money.

Whether or not our country can come to its senses in the next few weeks, I have no idea. Regardless, we’re going to have to change how we operate as a country, and what we do with the vast amounts of social capital at our disposal. We can be better than we are.

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What makes good sex writing?

sex writing featured image

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Let’s get a little intimate and talk about sex writing…..

There are plenty of guides to writing erotica, and there are plenty about the mechanics of sex blogging (but start with Hey Epiphora and Dangerous Lilly), but what about the details of sex writing?

How do you describe the ultimate in subjective experiences?  And of course, how can you make it fun to read and relatable?

 

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the Purecast!

Hey, I’m podcasting!  Here’s the first in hopefully many “episodes” of the Purecast!
 

Taking control of your day and being actively creative is hard work!  We all struggle with it at times, but there are some things you can do to deal.  (As inspired by Infomagical)
  • Use your tech like you would have 20 years ago – close things, turn them off, relegate them to tools.
  • Clean your desk at the end of the day – this gives closure and a sense of ease the next morning.
  • Write it down – making your own priorities and recording them helps you focus.  Also, recording your accomplishments makes you feel, well, accomplished!

Writing in the Real World: Theory and Academic Language

book-856151_640The internet has provided an excellent array of sources for learning about theories, as well as many platforms in which to write about them.  This is not just for the ivory tower any more.  But how can you successfully communicate your knowledge, your questions, your analyses in this medium? Most importantly, how can you avoid sounding like a jackass and alienating your audience?

You have to plan ahead…

  • Know your audience

Who will you be writing for?  Are these your peers?  Can you say for certain that they have all had similar educations and backgrounds to you? Are these people more advanced in your field than you are?  Are they just starting?  Is this not even an academic setting?

You have to interrogate yourself frequently when you write about heavy things like theory.  Even if you are in (say) a graduate classroom, not everyone there may have a mental storehouse similar to yours.  Will they understand what you are talking about?  Can you count on them to have at least a “cocktail party knowledge” of the subject you are taking on?  Or do you have to lay some groundwork before you can take them along on your theorizing?

For your writing to be effective, you must make it understandable to the largest portion of your audience that you can manage.  Do not get bogged down in buzzwords, jargon, or overly complex sentences.  By the same token, don’t fear the long sentence – when it is needed.

You cannot know for certain what every other person knows, nor can you run yourself ragged trying to imagine every counterargument and shore up all holes.  But you have to get a thumbnail picture, a profile, of who will be reading or listening to your work.  This will help you modify your language and sentence structure to not alientate your audience.  Guess if you must!  This is more than most academics are taught to do.

  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

When we are wrestling with theory, or any abstraction, it is tempting to run off at the pen.  But we must resist.  Condense your thought to the smallest, most plainspoken form.  Try to consciously revisit the groundwork I mentioned above as you explain The Complicated Thing.

Make sure your audience can readily understand the relationship between that groundwork and the theory – the foundation and the building.  After reading your text – will they be able to explain what they just read to others?

This recursiveness will also help people retain the information you are communicating.  Don’t simply repeat – reiterate.  Be creative with your stock of phrases and sentence/paragraph structure.

When you are not writing, read as widely as you can and look at how other people say things.  This is not to encourage plagarism but instead to help you furnish your mind.  Skilled writing does not magically appear, but instead grows after practice.  It bears fruit when nourished with the rich soil from other gardens.

  • Make outlines for everything

Imagine you are going on a road trip to somewhere you’ve never been, and you’ve been dreaming about it for a long time.  You’re taking a group of friends who also have not been there.  You are all going to stay for a while.  You know where you want to end up, but you have no idea how to get there or precisely what you would need on the way.  Wouldn’t you get a map and make a packing list?

Writing about theory is the same way.  You have the idea for your destination, but you have to get there first.  And you have to coordinate multiple peoples’ needs as they join you.

You need an outline. You can’t just start driving and expect everyone to be able to follow you the entire way.  This is simple consideration for your audience, and it helps you organize your thoughts as well.

At its heart, the outline is simply a list of arguments you want to make and points you want to prove in service of your position.  You put your thesis at the top (the main point you’re trying to make) and the steps you need to take to get there go below it.

Don’t worry about starting with the introduction or even writing everything in order.  If you’re using software, you can literally jump around from bullet to bullet and write the piece as it comes.  Worry about structure when you go to edit – this does not have to be perfect right away.  It just has to be written!

 

 

Hamlet Challenge

I decided to try my hand at translating Hamlet’s soliloquy for fun….I tried to make it sound like Hammie was from 21st c Jersey.  I don’t think I should quit my day job 😉  Here’s what a real actor can do with it!

Jesus….Do I keep living? Should I stop? You gotta ask yourself these questions.  Is it better to keep going, to get up and face the bullshit of everyone around you, the obstacles, the sheer random crap that happens – should you fight back against that? Would that make it stop?  I mean, if I ended it, if I closed my eyes forever…If I said no to the pain, the problems that we all face….This is something I should want.  God, if I could just have the balls to kill myself. If I could “sleep” forever like some old poem. That’s it. If I slept like that, if I left the world behind, what would I see? What if something of me, of my personality survives? Think about that for a moment. What if?  I mean, ok, that’s scary shit. Those kind of thoughts are what make us so het up about living as long as we can!  Why else do we stand to have the snot kicked out of them by life? Why do we stand being fucked over, why do we stand heartbreak, injustice, asshole politicians….why do we put up with all of this if we’re not trying to hold onto something? All it takes is one well-placed blade and we can be away from all that crazy.

Who would go through this, and prolong it, if they weren’t trying to stay one step ahead of that darkness. It’s like a whole other place…the idea of whatever comes after. That big door, that blank screen. No one who goes in ever comes out. This scares me. I get why people would want to take the garbage they get here than bet it all on some unknown.  Guess that makes us cowards, huh? Any time some jackass gets up and talks a big deal, he’s always got the thought of that door in him, somewhere. That fear makes us start things and never finish, it makes us afraid to do things. Why race to the grave?
Hey – there’s Ophelia….
Babe…say a prayer for me, ok?

10 Short Medieval Poems Everyone Should Read

Interesting Literature

Looking for some great short medieval poems which are easy to read? Look no further than this, our latest post…

Medieval poetry can be a daunting field to dip into (to mix our metaphors terribly). Although Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Dante’s Divine Comedy are masterpieces and essential reading, perhaps the best route into medieval poetry – as with any poetry – is to start small. What follows is our pick of the best short medieval poems written in English.

They are all presented in the original Middle English, because here at Interesting Literature we believe that that’s the best way to read the poems. This does mean that several words/phrases need glossing, so we’ve done this briefly before each poem. All of these poems were written (or at least written down) some time during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: our source for them is the excellent Penguin book of Medieval…

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This One’s for the Poor Schmucks at MLA

PAN KISSES KAFKA

Hey guys! No baby yet. But here for your reading pleasure is my very last article for the Internetz before I become a parent and my only concerns are poop, puke and drool (and whatever the baby produces). It’s on my “data set” (I use the term LIGHTLY) from my MLA Cost Project, and the figures that result will not surprise you in the least. Let’s hope that by next year, I will hear of exactly NO stories of first-round interviews getting rescinded because a candidate doesn’t want to (or can’t) attend a big annual $1000 nametag promenade shitshow. Here’s a taste:

By forcing universities to undergo a transparent and uniform process—which sometimes involved dropping one’s CV to participating departments on-site and being called for an interview cold!—the conference interview valiantly fought the country-club style of academic hiring. But times, friends, they have a-changed. Sure, it’s 2015 and we’ve still got…

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Place

Cummings, Calvino, Wilde, Camus…

I’ve noticed a pattern in my reading and writing.  I keep referring to male authors, thinking about their works, and drawing inspiration from them.  Most of my grad school writing was about Cummings, some Camus, and also a lot of 19th century male writers (because of institutional sexism in forming the western canon).

Why, do I keep devoting so much time to male authors?  Why do I find my voice in men?  Why have I devoted so much time to studying men, thinking about men, male writing, male ideas.  Why do I find life in men’s words?

**********??????????????????

I’ve also been interested in the idea of mise-en-abyme for a long time.  This term originates in heraldry, with “en abyme” referring to the specific placement of a small shield in a larger shield.  Now it has grown beyond its original context to mean the presence of any object/process that is self-referential, embedded in a larger object/process.

I think the reason for this fixation is that I worry so much about place.  I have anxieties about overstepping it, not identifying it.  But I also have genuine questions about it – what is my place in our larger context, our culture?  What is the place of my generation?  What is the larger narrative, and how do we fit in?  Where do we belong?

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“It is this meta-narrative function of mise en abyme which interests me when considering its uses in medieval art – that is to say the ways in which the use of the device contributes to a viewer’s reception of the narrative context in which it occurs.”  Stuart Whatling, “Medieval mise-en-abyme”

So if we can unite these two ideas, I have a bunch of dead white men whose work I like and a fusty old literary term that reminds me of some recurring ideas.  Small details remind me of larger things, coloring how I look at them, as Whatling says up there.  I’m always looking for clues to the “abyme”.  I’m looking for clues to a pattern of authors, a pattern that may only exist in my head.  Humans love to look at chaos and try to make sense of it.  I am no different.

In poetry, I’m concerned with the manufacture of meaning.  How do symbols work, how does iconography change?  What is it that triggers memes and tropes?  What is the point of poetry, what is the point of any of this?

Mythology - Devil, talking with authorI look to the past for meanings.  I look to art.  I look to old books, old poems.  I look to nature, wanting to tunnel into the forest floor and  find out what’s hidden at the roots.  What is my place in this abyss?