Turkeys and other fouls

by Yule Heibel on November 30, 2003

Where have I been the past few days? Up a turkey? Not really, but somehow the all-enveloping fog of …something… has been similar to being in the empty pod of an eviscerated creature. Came across this — Minding the body: stress & self-sacrifice can lead to chronic & serious illness, which seemed rather obvious, but coming from an establishment source, I suppose it means more. Maybe it gets attention because it’s coming from a man, who says it affects him (and his sons: the buzz-acronym ADHD is used!). If it came from a woman, it would probably be filed under “uninteresting psychosomatics.” One of my sisters caught Lyme Disease about 10 or 15 years ago, and her doctors told her for years that she was imagining things. Bruce at The River pointed to this book, The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think For Themselves by Curtis White. Much to read, with Bruce’s additional link to these pages on Center for Book Culture where most of the book is available. I haven’t read it all myself, but of course Bruce’s teaser about this appealing to Adorno fans got me interested…
And speaking of Teddy… In one of White’s essay’s, he sums up Adorno’s idea of the Dialectic of Enlightenment as consisting

substantially of the movement between the universal and the particular. In art, the universal is the Law of Genre, a “collective bindingness.” On the other side, the particular (or the individual and subjective) represents the theoretically boundless world of human possibility and play (which Adorno attempts to capture through the word “spontaneity”).

The Law of Genre relates specifically to portraiture or landscape or history painting, for example. There are rules that have to be internalised and followed, if a work is to be recognised as an achievement within a specific genre. Truly innovative work manages to interrupt or even break open those laws however: suddenly, the genre of history painting, until then seemingly forever dependent on the heroic, Classical male nude, is disrupted by the appearance of a hero dressed in contemporary clothes. Instead of a Hercules or a Jupiter, we see a Napoleon, say. Or instead of an idealised nude, we see a photomontaged modern representation. Get it? Well, never mind, it’s a 19th century art thing, but you can get the general idea, yes? If you haven’t done so already, come with me now to visit a couple of recent posts, by Shelley on BurningBird and by Misbehaving.net, especially this one, too, because the comments they generated, too gross to ignore, are relevant to this exploration of the particular and the universal. Now back to the Adorno-related quote: let’s substitute “female-centered collective” for “art” for a moment, and note that here, too, there is a Law of Genre, namely gender codes, a collective bindingness. And let’s assume for a moment that “human possibility and play” — also known as what Adorno called “spontaneity” — is the critical particular that sets itself against the binding — nay, blinding! — universal of gender expectations. Play, ok? Spontaneity, right? Which might involve women getting together and talking about things they care about, in a quest both to play within the stultifying Law of Genre as well as to put it into question. But what happens when that happens? Some types of men come along and tell the women what to do: get back into the Genre boundaries, girls, here are the rules, these are the laws, this (according to the Laws) is what matters, this is how the game is played, and we don’t want your way of playing messing up those nice lines we’ve drawn in the sand. And girls, whatever you do, don’t play seriously. Play nice. And stop paying attention to yourselves, to your game, ’cause it’s our game that matters. Because of course, when the men play, it’s called avant-gardism and innovation and it’s celebrated as another way to move the particular forward and make it all even more terrifically universal. But it’s always the male-controlled particular that’s advocated, it’s that particular which is allowed to modify the universal or collective bindingness. The female particular is brushed off as …well, as too particular. So tedious. So …male-bashing: this latter epithet is supposed to be the kiss of death, the ne plus ultra, but it’s really the final reveal of the man who has nothing left to say, sort of like a sad codpiece covering …nothing very much. If you’ve been reading anything on this site, you’ll know that I don’t get too excited about technology (it’s not my sandbox), and that I feel an almost visceral distrust of the rabid stupidity I sense encapsulated in Culture Industry, which Adorno relentlessly dissected. White, in this essay, sums up Adorno’s critique as follows:

The most powerful and sinister gambit of what Adorno calls “administered society” is to promise the freedom of individuality while simultaneously prohibiting it. For example, consumers have been promised the “freedom of the open road” by automakers for the last half century, but with each passing year the realization of that freedom becomes more unlikely for all the familiar reasons (not least of which is the perverse insistence of other ‘individuals’ to use the same roads promised for your freedom).

Because I agree implicitly with the critique of “administered society,” I haven’t paid attention to the launching of a blog devoted to women getting ahead who did not endeavour to crap on the administered society’s head. And, as I said, technology isn’t my sandbox. But when I read some of the retorts being shot at Misbehaving’s authors by some of the male commentors, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Who needs a glass ceiling with a “cheering section” made up of men like this? Some men clearly can’t let go of their castration anxieties, and they’ll try to make sure you never even get out of the basement. They will continue to have their version of play, and their triumphs they’ll continue to call avant-gardism. They will allow women to work with them; they will allow women to live with them. But they seemingly cannot allow themselves to let a woman play with them because they can’t not be the centre of attention: they’ll tell you it’s the wrong game, it’s stupid, it’s male-bashing, and if all of that doesn’t work, they’ll build a bigger sandbox for themselves and ignore you totally. In that sense these men are half-people, incapable of playing fully, half-men who cannot love, and who cannot move the world forward. Regardless of what they do, they are part of the “administered world,” shackled to the Law of Genre. And this proves that the feminist project is about liberating women and men — god knows some of these guys need it.


Joel December 1, 2003 at 4:53 pm

This comment got lengthy, so I posted it to my own blog. The subject is Violence against Men.

Anonymous December 2, 2003 at 10:43 am

Great post, Yule. I was thinking of you when I made the reference to Adorno. Glad you came by, got it, and added your thoughful reflections. It’s instances like this that make blogging worthwhile — the conversation. Or, as I’ve said to my wife, it’s like having a lot of smart friends that you wouldn’t otherwise get to meet.

Yule Heibel December 3, 2003 at 2:18 am

Thanks Bruce, and sorry I didn’t leave a comment on your site … I’ve just been too strung out with too many things lately, I don’t know. It’s as though my brain is melting. Too too too much to do.

Joel, I did get over to your blog and left a comment; interesting response.

Maybe my head will fix itself in a day or so…? (I’ve developed an interesting psychosomatic tic — well, either psychosomatic or I have a brain tumor — with the back of my head feeling as though it’s gone to sleep. this has been going on for a few days now. Coupled with a numbness in my arm — which started first — I’m thinking stage 7 cancer or maybe a pinched nerve. Hey, I’m not immune to hypochondria… Crazy like everyone else.)

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