Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Consequences of Inarticulateness

A friend posted the link to this fascinating article , spurring me to read it after seeing many mentions on blogs and in the general press. What I am saying here implies reading Joshua Wolf Shenk's article first, so please do click on the link above before you come back and see what I have to say, if you then so choose. I had two major responses. One was that a midlife crisis, or more specifically that sense of things not working out for people despite every conceivable material or cultural advantage gas something to do with not only class but generational scenarios. The guys who went to college in the fifties did all the right things, wore the gray flannel suits, got the conventional, remunerative, socially conformist office job, had the presentable house, garage, two gas-guzzling cars, 2.5 children, but they failed to individuate themselves, failed to accept themselves despite fulfilling all the normative criteria of happiness. But I want to be Foucauldian here and only half-jokingly say an analogous scenario in the next generation. Somebody born in 1950 could 'do all the right things', smoke dope, chill out, turn on, protest against the Vietnam War, wear psychedelic t-shirts, and miss out on happiness, fail to individuate themselves aside from what was generationally expected. The inverted 'success myth' is still a 'success myth'. And there were some who fell outside entirely; if you were gay, both scenarios really had no place for you. Similarly, my generation was told it had to be more mainstream than the Sixties people and pursue Yuppieism as a cultural remedy. I do not know what the following generation was told. but it was told something. All of these are 'epistemes' and I think the sense of personal disappointment has to do with letting oneself be totally defined by 'episteme' and having no reserve of selfhood. 
The second issue is masculinity and its particular construction in the mid-twentieth century.  (I have been co-directing a fine senior work by a very promising on this subject at Lang so have been thinking about this a lot). Masculinity meant, or entailed, inarticulateness; silence about any kind of not only emotional but subjective feeling was so mandatory as to make being male both ultimate privilege and unavoidable paralysis. All this of course was heightened by the Puritan inhibitions and discomfort with anything emotional or spontaneous that characterized the white Protestant elite. (Though the name ‘Vaillant” certainly implies some French ancestry in the past). Thus the suicide of the father, in a sense occurring because he could not talk about his own pain, release it, share it, so a kind of consequence of silence ; and then the silence of the son about the father’s death, as to have a father who killed himself and to talk about it, would be an act of weakness, an exhibition of vulnerability and inadequacy that would be punished. This may be overdoing it, but that both Vaillant senior and junior were scholars and academics, which migiht be thought to make them more able to deal with feelings, maybe put more pressure on them, as they were already 'unusual' in their cohort for being so avowedly intellectual. But, notwithstanding our genuinely and laudably greater freedom from gender-based inhibition, can we look back from a sense of teleological advance, a sense that we are all metrosexuals now? Today he could go on Oprah and cry about it, but one is still unsure whether men are actually allowed to show vulnerability and to talk about their feelings, or whether there is just the discourse that men should do that, which operates without actually changing the underlying syndrome. Men, I think, still feel they cannot reveal their inner pain, and now the old citadel of inarticulateness is gone. Men are castigated for not sharing. Now it is lamented when they are silent and immovable; but they still seem week when they share. It is sad that he could not come to terms earlier with his father's suffering, but, again in a quasi-early-Foucauldian vein, I wonder if the only gain we would have today is one of discursivity, nor affect?

I do not want to be overly diagnostic about a human story with profound particularities: to be ten years old and see your father shoot himself is going to affect your future relationships. And there is something individually, almost novelistically poignant about leaving his second wife for a third and then crawling back to the second. This sort of thing may well come up irrespective of what gender or generation you are. But I thought I would offer these thoughts....

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Spring recommendations

Some recent reading recommendations

Jeremy Davies--Rose Alley (Counterpath, 2009). A hilarious, utterly original, totally self-conscious tale of making a film about the life of the seventeenth-century libertine Earl of Rochester during the height of the frenzy in 1960s Paris. Both rollicking and riveting.

Brian Lynch, The Winner of Sorrow (Dalkey Archive, 2009). A compelling, experimental novel about the troubled but oddly inspiring life of the eighteenth-century poet William Cowper. An intriguing subject and an original way of presenting it. it is nice to see a novel about a poet also manifest its own aesthetic self-consciousness.

Omar Shapli, Them (Twenty-Three, 2007). Lyric poems by a well-known experimental actor and director which focuses on the aftermath of 9/11 but also combines fresh lyric insight with its sharp angle of public commentary.

Burt Kimmelmann, Somehow, (Marsh Hawk, 2005) Poems about a daughter growing up, understanding a Gerhard Richter painting, and how the last portions of each month have a special quality that subverts our conventional ideas of time and seasonality. Kimmelman is disciplined, precise, but deeply responsive to life and feeling. A poet at the height of his craft.

Also look for Patricia Carlin's Quantum Jitters, just out from Marsh Hawk....