I just heard the news this morning, on my way to the Farmer's Market. I just started reading her this year after hearing this interview on the BBC and reading several other articles related to the release of No Time Like the Present:


The topic of the interview is 'what happens after the revolution' and it seemed an appropriate topic for her work and the time of her life.

She says, "We have been free for only 18 years. Not even a generation," and says that even the free world still struggles with the problems that plague South Africa.

NPR broadcast a short tribute this morning, cherry-picking extensively from her 1991 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

Nadine Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, and in her Nobel address she said human beings devised writing to explore why we are here,

"Since humans became self-regarding they have sought, as well, explanations for the common phenomena of procreation, death, the cycle of seasons, the earth, sea, wind and stars, sun and moon, plenty and disaster," said Gordimer. "The oral story-tellers," she said, "began to feel out and formulate these mysteries, using the elements of daily life ... to make stories."

"Writers themselves don't analyze what they do," she said, "to analyze would be to look down while crossing a canyon on a tightrope."

Gordimer noted that, "Some of us have seen our books lie for years unread in our own countries, banned, and we have gone on writing." But she cited Flaubert, Strindberg, Chinua Achebe and Salman Rushdie more than herself.

"There is a paradox," she added. "In retaining this integrity, the writer sometimes must risk both the state's indictment of treason, and the liberation forces' complaint of lack of blind commitment. The writer is of service to humankind only insofar as the writer uses the word even against his or her own loyalties."


To get the full impact of the speech, her fierce intelligence, complex style, and zealous devotion to the Word you should read it, in its original, here:


The writer is of service to humankind only insofar as the writer uses the word even against his or her own loyalties, trusts the state of being, as it is revealed, to hold somewhere in its complexity filaments of the cord of truth, able to be bound together, here and there, in art: trusts the state of being to yield somewhere fragmentary phrases of truth, which is the final word of words, never changed by our stumbling efforts to spell it out and write it down, never changed by lies, by semantic sophistry, by the dirtying of the word for the purposes of racism, sexism, prejudice, domination, the glorification of destruction, the curses and the praise-songs.

I can barely begin to articulate what her work has meant to me, suffice to say I think of her as a close relative in my family tree of influence. I wrote this in response to The Golden Notebook and I think it is as true today as the day I wrote it:

One of the themes she repeats is that sense, not just of destiny, or service, but sacred trust as an artist... in her case a writer who wants to give up writing, (as I have since last autumn) because she is too sad about the state of the world, is suffering from the breakdown of meaning as language is abused to the ends of violence and oppression, (even within the party she once believed in), and the knowledge that it cannot win her the love she craves.

She has her own tag if you want to see any more:

Review of Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America by Alison Pearlman:


I'm just mad I didn't write it first. Likewise, there was an essay earlier this week on femivores that almost but not quite goes where this needs to go:


One of the things that deeply concerns me about our food (and/or green) movements, is that it's become so much about consumer lifestyles that it cannot get the broad base support needed to enact genuine social & political change.
"...give all for love... but this love must not be that of ... schoolboys and German ladies....

[in Paris] I saw you, with all your knowledge and your imagination and all your literary reputation, living in bondage worse than a servant. You have persuaded yourself that all you need is to express your feelings and ideas in books. You existed like a ghost that whispers to the living its plans and desires, no longer able to realize them itself....

I tried to make you understand that you should not confine your life to books and reveries. You have pleaded the liberty of woman in a masculine and frank style. Live and act, as you write."

- Polish dissident & poet Adam Mickiewicz to Margaret Fuller, Spring, 1847.
I'm about half way through the 2nd volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography, which closely matches the material in The Golden Notebook, which I finally read last year. I still haven't written about reading The Golden Notebook... in some ways it hit too close to home. How could I respond or even address what she had already written so perfectly. The book is not for everyone, I find I cannot recommend it, and yet... there is a reason I think it resonates so deeply with the readers it does find. For me, I keep repeating, "This is the 1950s and so little has changed!"

Read more... )
I think I may have mentioned a conversation I had a few weeks (months!) ago with workcrush in which he's asked, "Who are your people?"

I suspect that's a question that will take a lifetime to answer, because lacking blood affiliations outside my natal family, it's always changing. I suspect the same is true for people with blood-ties, but that is another topic for another time.

But last night I went to a reading by Terry Tempest Williams and as she reading (making me feel like she was both looking and speaking directly at me) I realized that I was among my people. Not just the elderly, environmental, lesbians that packed the crowd (okay, so most of them were probably not lesbians, but the typical late-middle aged readers that attend these things as they no longer have the obligations of blood-ties, parents having died, children having grown...) but Williams herself who was telling me about what it was like to be a woman and a writer.

It was the strangest mirror, at once a moment of recognition, and a kind of mystery that someone else had arrived at the same place without ever having encountered one another before. That she is an essayist, comes from a religious family (Mormon, but whatever), and is passionately dedicated to the West are also points of contact... but mostly it was the way she described her compulsion.

At one point she said, "As a writer, I am aware that every time I pick up my pencil I betray someone; my decision is to be true to myself." And that rang true enough to write it down.

The whole evening was eerie that way. I don't know quite what to make of it. Among other things she has had the career I dream about, and some of the awards to which I aspire. But perhaps most interesting is that in a family tree stuffed with British grandmothers, it was like I had found an American aunt or mother. So rare.

Afterwards when we queued for her to sign books it turned out she knew almost everyone in the audience. So when it was my turn she said, "I don't believe we've met before, how did you hear about this?" I told her about an interview I'd heard on a radio show and we chatted briefly before she asked, "What's your passion?"

"I'm a Woman of the Word, like you," I said.

She laughed and then signed my book, "For you, Sarah. Voice. Courage. Faith." It's probably how she signed everyone's books that evening, but it felt like a special benison, just for me.
Essayist and activist Terry Tempest Williams will be speaking at Tattered Cover Lodo June 14 @ 7:30. I will be attending. You are welcome to join me.

Here is a 2011 interview:


Her meditations on politics, family, the American West, and what she calls 'sacred rage' have always resonated strongly with me.

Related Jana Richman's The Last Cowgirl:


Both radically changed my thinking about the American West and the place of women (& religion) in it.

"I don't think civil discourse is enough... how do we really find a more meaningful conversation? It's not enough to get a smile from your enemy. What I want to know is what you're really thinking, what you're really feeling, and how did you come to that knowledge?" - Terry Tempest Williams
From the conclusion of J. Christopher Herold's 1958 biography Mistress to an Age:

Byron, shortly after his first meeting with Germaine, wrote to a friend, "She thinks like a man, but alas! she feels like a woman." The "alas!" is gratuitous. It was her feeling like a woman, her passionate feminine exaltation and emotion, which communicated its power to her male rationality. There is scarcely any disparaging judgment passed on her by her contemporaries that has not a large element of truth in it: she was supremely egotistic, domineering, histrionic; she was superficial and self-contradictory in her thought; she tended to confuse politics with personal feelings; she exalted, at the same time, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, rationalism and mysticism, aristocracy and equality, utilitarianism and enthusiasm, sobriety and intoxication. The defects of her character, however, were by no means unique to her, though the power of her personality magnified them; and the inconsistencies of her thought have been misunderstood. What made her unique is that she sought essentially moderate goals by the most passionate means. Rarely was love more exalted than by her: yet the goal was not the agonizing passion she knew, but the quiet happiness that eluded her. In politics and literature she never pursued extremes but always saw herself as a mediator, as a channel of communication: "The circulation of ideas is, of all kinds of commerce, the one whose benefits are the most certain" --- thus she declared in one of her last writings, her noble essay on "The Spirit of Translation." The circulator of ideas would defeat his own purpose if the ideas he circulates were consistent. Germaine was well aware that she often praised ideas springing from radically opposed principles. But she never ceased to believe that rational men, no matter how opposed in principle, can always agree peacefully on a vast area of ideas and measures, provided they remain free from fanaticism, which sees only the irreconcilable principles, and provided they are inspired by enthusiasm, which alone can vivify the spirit. Freedom, to her, was above all the right of the human spirit to progress; enthusiasm fed it, and fanaticism killed it. In a world where conciliation becomes increasingly difficult because of a fanaticism which is blind to the rational area of agreement and mesmerized by the opposition of principles, in a world where enthusiasm is usurped by fanaticism and where it has been lost by reason, Madame de Staël's passionate defense of moderation has only gained in relevance.
I just found a Pride & Prejudice boardbook, which I bought, not because I think it's appropriate for children, but because it was so clever. Designed as a counting primer it works like this:

1 english village
2 rich gentlemen (Bingley & Darcy)
3 houses (Longbourn, Netherfield, Pemberley)
4 marriage proposals (Mr Collins & Lizzy; Mr. Darcy & Lizzy - 1st time; Mr. Darcy & Lizzy - 2nd time; Mr. Bingley & Jane)
5 sisters (Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, Lydia)
6 horses (?)
7 soldiers in uniform
8 musicians (FIIIIIIVE golden riiiiiings!)
9 fancy gowns

and then.... this one just kills me...

10,000 pounds a year!

I love it. They capture the whole plot in a children's counting book.
At The Independent

The question remains when Mrs. Gaskell will get her due... not only for creating the Brontë legend, but brilliantly bridging the divide between Austen's sense and the Brontë's sensibility. A somewhat hyperbolic and nicely written article, complete with blurbs on Brontës from contemporary authors. Also, this new film adaptation of Wuthering looks brilliant and brutal.

A thought, inspired by the Twilight references, is the possibility of Wuthering Heights functioning as a working text on love as a curse. To an extent all the Brontë's work could be read this way.
I'm a few years late to this party, but thought the release of his latest book Level Up might be a chance to catch up on the work of noted graphic novelist (what's the correct phrase to use here) Gene Luen Yang. American Born Chinese is a mesh of three different narratives about the experience of growing up Asian American. Yang phrases it first through the Monkey King myth, then a school yard narrative, and then a kind of racist sitcom with a bucktoothed 'cousin' who comes to visit each year from China. The overall message is not only the brutality of cultural assimilation, but also the uneasy truce of where you come from and what comes before. Perhaps most moving is the mandate... as though it is from the gods... to be yourself, even if it's not particularly impressive or cool. The Monkey King, even after mastering incredible fighting forms, remains a monkey.

American Born Chinese )

Doris Lessing )
It's a Wednesday, which is officially my exhaustion day. Today's tidbit of wonder and awe was this review of a book involving the correspondence between Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem. I came to Arendt via Mary McCarthy and am not yet well read in her work, but this review also touches on the Frankfurt School, which has come up repeatedly in my reading the past few years. The book is in German, but the review is in English. Not only is it an excellent read on a subject that interests me, it's a really damn-well written review:


I keep thinking this type of thing needs its own tag, but I'm afraid to call it what it is. So I am filing it under 'books.'
Today's Susan B. Anthony post turned out pretty well, even if I'm not sure I'm hitting the right notes for the intended audience:


There's a lot I wanted to include, but decided to leave out. The heartbreaking compromise of the 15th amendment is a nasty piece of work on both sides and I was surprised how little its talked about in subsequent hagiographies: inside or outside children's literature. The fact that the 14th amendment is now a matter of controversy due to immigration law disturbs me, and I suspect we will be hearing a lot about both 14th & 15th in years to come. (As both immigration and prison suffrage I have predicted to be two of the hot button issues of the 21C. Or to make it a more blanket affair: who is and isn't a citizen, who does and doesn't qualify for public recognition, participation in benefits, enfranchisement in the political process, etc.)

As for SBA - one of the scholars said something a long the lines of "In another time she would have been a Stoic, a Calvinist, a Puritan, but in her time she had to be a Reformer: and a feminist, at that."

It was one of those duck and cover moments for me: guilty as accused. But what that makes someone with these inclinations in this day and age, remains to be seen.
At Letter Blocks in honor of her birthday today: How I came to love Jane Austen and why her work still matters.


See my 'austen' tag for more on the topic, though I suspect there's more Austen hidden in the archives that I haven't, yet, rediscovered or tagged:

I've finally read Fay Weldon's controversial What Makes Women Happy and I rather liked it. Aunt Fay weighs in on moral reasoning with her trademark wicked wry (rye!) and wit. The last chapters on 'Saints & Sinners' were particularly moving:

Death, bereavement, loneliness and shame: these are the four horses of the modern apocalypse. They circle our new reality, now we are people of the city and not the cave. Their riders, the horsemen, are a fearful lot: they are called despair, depression, isolation and self-doubt. But being so fearful they are easily unhorsed and its simple enough to get out of there way. It's just not nice to find them champing the grasses in your back garden. You need to do something.

What follows is a pragmatic guide to surviving inevitable mortal decay and moral contagion. If being good makes you happy and being happy makes you good a little solipsistic roll in the hay will not go amiss.

Read more... )
The NYTimes Book Review has a review of Fay Weldon's Chalcot Crescent today. I haven't read it, yet, but I do know that the review (and reviewer) are a little behind in keeping up. Crescent was published in 2009, her latest, Kehua! came out this past August.

Read more... )
Today is the anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the United States. Even though I knew about women's suffrage, it surprised me to learn that this right was only 90 years old. My grandmother was older than the right to vote! When I consider the relatively short period it's been with us, I feel a little more forgiving about the progress that's been made.

Tangentially related, Deborah Tannen's 'He Said, She Said' and, of course, poetry and Puritans! )
This post from [personal profile] fengi is about the repeal of a 1951 law in 1974 making it legal for women to work as bartenders. You've come a long way, baby!


Also, re: the veil issue, I thought this column by The Nation's Katha Pollitt might straddle the divide nicely. I'm with Nussbaum all the way---what the hell do I care what people wear on their heads or whether they cover their faces, I wouldn't want people telling me what I could and couldn't wear, especially if it had spiritual significance---but was surprised to find this stance made many of you uncomfortable. So here's Ms. Pollitt on the issue:


Btw, along with her topical essays, I've just discovered Ms. Pollitt's poetry, and like it very much. It reminds me a little of Stephen Dobyns. And since I'm in the middle of a new poem for the crabapple cycle, I was very pleased for her to describe the Tree of Knowledge as a crabapple.

Oh, yes, and here is her follow-up to that wretched Atlantic 'End of Men' article I decided was not worthy of my comment. My response is pretty much, "What she said." (Except Pollitt says it better that I could.):




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