Saturday, July 28, 2007

No bouncing involved: On old ideas, invalid arguments, and the definition of "long-term"

I haven't read Wendy Shalit's latest book, Girls Gone Mild. But I've heard about it. And, really, after reading the press, I think I might have to try it. A book subtitled "Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad to Be Good" can't be too dangerous. Or can it?

Over at The Nation, Nona Willis-Aronowitz has a few choice words to say about Shalit and her book: "Shalit's so-called 'rebels' amid our 'pornified' culture may be technically raging against the mainstream," she writes, "but they are surely just repackaging age-old ideas as defiance.... Most retro about the call for modesty is that it once again implies that women's actions are somehow responsible for men's."
Is this a bad thing? The suggestion seems to be that "repackaging age-old ideas as defiance" is something we should all avoid doing--something that automatically invalidates the argument being made. And yet, is the age of the idea really what is at stake here? We can't write things off just because they are old. I certainly hope that a hundred or a thousand years from now feminists won't be spurned because the idea that women should be allowed to vote is, well, so "retro."
It is also important to note that the same criterion applies to new ideas as well as to old ones. Given that we shouldn't reject ideas simply because they are old, we ought naturally to treat new ones in the same way: with careful consideration, not off-the-cuff rejection. The age of an idea never determines its validity when used as the premise of an argument.
A couple of other things I noticed about Willis-Aronowitz's review:

(1) She writes: "Feminism has not finished its job; a version of nonmushy, nonmarital sex that makes women feel good about themselves is still hard to achieve."

Of course, it could be that feminism simply hasn't finished its job. But then again, maybe its failure is due to the fact that "nonmushy, nonmarital sex" really doesn't make "women feel good about themselves."

(2) Finally, "[P]lenty of young women walk the tightrope between . . . two extremes. They bounce between thrilling flings, masochistic indefinable affairs and long-term fulfilling relationships without, as modesty advocates claim, sacrificing their self-respect."

Maybe I'm old-fashioned and out of the loop, but I didn't know that "long-term fulfilling relationships" were something that one could, as Willis-Aronowitz puts it, "bounce between." I think it perfectly possible to bounce between those "thrilling flings" and "masochistic indefinable affairs" she describes; but, "long-term fulfilling relationships?" Aren't those the kind of relationships where, you know, you commit yourself for a long time--no bouncing involved?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Fine Art Friday: "Guernica"

Pablo Picasso's Guernica (1937)

This is the painting with which we began our World History class this summer. Now, I'm not crazy about Picasso, but the story behind this piece fascinated me. Yesterday, I finished an essay for the class in which we were supposed to talk about the responses that three different historical figures might have had to the painting. At the beginning of the essay, I rehearse a little bit of the Guernica's history:

On April 26, 1937, Germany bombed a small village in Spain: a village called Guernica. It was the height of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and Germany, one of General Franco's allies, had arranged the bombing as a practice maneuver. Isolated from the mainstream of the battle, Guernica provided Germany with the chance to flex its developing military muscle without the risk of heavy losses. The raid lasted for three hours. Guernica was decimated. And the casualties were civilians—men, women, and children who had little, if anything, to do with the political knavery of the angry world around them.

At about the same time, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso was in search of a fresh subject for a recently commissioned painting. He read the account of the German bombing in the newspaper and, revolted by this war waged against innocents, he began a piece that he would later call Guernica. The painting's angular lines and sparse color scheme portray the horror of defenseless beings caught between the shadows of a jagged, polygonal darkness and the searing heat of artificial and natural light . . . Guernica reaches into the soul of the modern world, unveiling its hidden agonies and its sordid guilt.

You can view a larger image by clicking on the picture I posted above.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Manalive! (again)

Chesterton. Enough said. (But I did find some quotes for you.)

On justice:
"It is really true that human beings might often get some sort of domestic justice where just now they can only get legal injustice--oh, I am a lawyer, too, and I know that as well. It is true that there's too much official and indirect power. Often and often the thing a whole nation can't settle is just the thing a family could settle. Scores of young criminals have been fined and sent to jail when they ought to have been thrashed and sent to bed."

(p. 48)

On marriage:
"What, gentlemen, is now the ethical position of marriage? Have we outlived it?"

"Outlived it?" broke out Moon. "Why, nobody's even survived it! Look at all the people married since Adam and Eve--and all as dead as mutton."

"This is no doubt an interpellation joc'lar in its character," said Dr. Pym frigidly. "I cannot tell what may be Mr. Moon's matured and ethical view of marriage--"

"I can tell," said Michael savagely, out of the gloom; "marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline."
(p. 112)

On living:
"I am going to hold a pistol to the head of Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him. Only to bring him to life. I begin to see a new meaning in being the skeleton at the feast."

"You can scarcely be called a skeleton," said Dr. Eames, smiling.

"That comes of being so much at the feast," answered the massive youth. "No skeleton can keep his figure if he is always dining out; but that is not quite what I meant. What I meant is that . . . the skull and the crossbones, the memento mori. It isn't only meant to remind us of a future life, but to remind us of a present life, too. With our weak spirits we should grow old in eternity, if we were not kept young by death. Providence has to cut immortality into lengths for us, as nurses cut the bread and butter into fingers."
(p. 74)

Picture books

I have a fondness for children's books--picture books, to be exact. Earlier this summer I bought two new ones: A Seed Is Sleepy and Today and Today.

In A Seed Is Sleepy author Dianna Aston and illustrator Sylvia Long provide young naturalists with a beginner's guide to seeds. The illustrations are detailed and neatly captioned. Each page describes and portrays an interesting variety of the different sorts of seeds, the plants that produce them, and how they spread and germinate. Readers learn that "ninety percent of the plants on Earth are flowering plants" and discover that "a parachute of fine, silky hairs can take a dandelion seed 100 miles from its parent plant"; some seeds are very old, too:
The oldest known seed to sprout came from an extinct date palm tree. After it was unearthed from a long-ago king's mountaintop palace in Israel, a scientist planted it. Four weeks later, it sprouted!

Today and Today is an illustrated collection of haiku written by the eighteenth-century Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa. G. Brian Karas, the illustrator, selected translations of Issa's poetry and then matched them with his superb, gentle depictions of the 22 haiku. Peaceful, but a little somber. Good for a mellow day and the child (or grown-up) who has a taste for beautiful words.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

This time around

I hadn't expected to go this time around. Though the summer trek northwards to the Qualls' Nest has always been a joyful routine--a sacred part of the year's quotidian liturgy--this year I signed up for summer session, and signed away my vacation. Or at least that's what I thought I had done.

Last week I resolutely prepared myself for six days of an empty house. I laid out the books I would read and plotted the few school projects that needed completing. I tried not to think about the missed days of reading out loud, the laughter, the swimming and companionship. This was, after all, my own choice. I would be stoic.

So, then, when we started dreaming, I was surprised. I was surprised and delighted. If my brother would stay behind two days, if I could get Friday off work, if Dad said "yes," if my car could really make it, if we changed the oil and rotated the tires, if we brought the cell phone, could follow directions, could be back by Monday. If, then there was nothing to stop us. My brother thought he could manage two days, so long as I let him drive; Friday was cleared; Dad said "yes;" we thought my car could make it, so we had the oil changed and the tires rotated; we brought the cell phone; we followed directions; I swore we would be back by Monday. There was nothing to stop us.

We left early Friday morning, and arrived at one in the afternoon. We made very good time, the two of us. And so we went swimming with the cousins. One brought a book and we read, and I kept falling asleep (3 o'clock is an early rising time). On Saturday, the girls had a tea party without tea: fresh garlic bread and cucumbers, rosemary and olive oil crackers, Havarti cheese, deviled eggs, Pepperidge Farm cookies. On Sunday my cousin and I got up at 7:30 and swam in the river, before the other girls were awake. It was like swimming in mint and our legs ached, so we swam faster. On Sunday, also, we sang together.

We worried together, too. On Friday one of the cousins was hospitalized. They ran tests and it was meningitis, but they didn't know what was causing it. So we worried together, those of us who were left at the Qualls' Nest, and carried on. Because that was all we could do.

On Sunday, my brother and I drove home--unwillingly, my cousin protested. "Just skip, just once," she pleaded. And then we laughed at each other, because we are so alike, and because neither of us would ever skip. She's doing medical research at her university this summer, applying to medical school; I'm working and studying at mine. Driving home along the Columbia River, we saw telephone poles smoldering by the side of the road and small fires on the train tracks.

My cousin is still in the hospital, but soon, we hope, she'll be flying home. I'm back to work and the last two weeks of summer session. I didn't miss the family reunion after all, the pattern veered but remained unbroken.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Math 105

It is easy to see how it might be frustrating for her. It's July, when all reasonable students are taking their holidays; it's Math 105, only 105 (this should be easy); and here we are, 19 B.A.s who haven't done arithmetic of any kind in years. Sometimes it's laughable, really; at other times it is downright painful. How much do we not know?

But if it's frustrating, she doesn't show it. Instead, she pushes us forward: a term of math in four weeks. She explains things. Again and again and again. And again. She asks provocative questions, teaches us games, tells us stories about her husband and her chickens. She doesn't mind if we get the answers wrong. "I know you are all bright, intelligent human beings," she says. Well, maybe. "And I know that you're good at what you do. And I know that what you do usually isn't math. I know that you're B.A.s."

"But it's only four weeks," she says. "And then it'll be over."

So we press on, laughing with each other, sometimes groaning with each other, remembering, with each other, that four weeks is not so very long after all.