Showing posts with label girls. Show all posts
Showing posts with label girls. Show all posts

18.1.14

"Completely Not Me" by Jenny Lewis

"Completely Not Me" by Jenny Lewis was the end credits for "Truth or Dare," the second episode of season three of Girls, the HBO TV show about young women who supposedly are struggling to make it in a world that is too much with us (a slick reference to William Wordsworth).

17.2.13

TV Review: I Like Girls

My roommate asked me today if I liked girls. My other roommate laughed. "No," my roommate said, this time more emphatic, "the show - Girls."
"Oh. Yeah," I said, I like that show. My roommate looked at me in that way I knew demanded more context, more explanation, a sort of impromptu lit crit discussion by the kitchen sink. He said, encouraging me, "I've watched it too. It's very popular, the show. That's why I watch it."
Lena Dunham in Girls
We then proceeded to talk about Girls in a way that everyone is talking about Girls: white privilege, young up and coming white girls living in a neighborhood in Brooklyn where only a certain kind of youth inhabit - and yes, the girls have trouble paying the rent, but, hey, it's real life, yada yada yada. Is it the same as Two Broke Girls? But that show stars Kat Dennings (what is not to like?) And why is James Franco ranting about this show? Why am I ranting about this show? If you Google Girls a ka-jillion hits pop up - the show is viral. Even my Dad watches it. Just kidding. I didn't ask.

26.6.11

Are Philosophers Inspired by the Figure of the Child?

In this post, I discuss one of my favorite topics: how have thinkers, writers, and philosophers been inspired by the figure of the child?

I am stuck on this topic of the child as a figure of philosophical thought or inspiration. The question writ large is this: how can the child be both a muse and tabula rasa? In other words, how can the child be a figure of inspiration, yet at the same time, not capable of the label philosopher? The philosopher, artist, thinker, writer, goes to the child for their inspiration, but the paradox is this: the child is seldom seen as a locus of philosophical import. How can it be both? Both muse and empty of content? We call the child innocence but what we mean is empty, according to Kincaid. And i agree. The label of innocence creates a bind. A problem. Innocence maintains the status of muse but creates a problem by which the child is only able to miraculously appear through nostalgia and leaves whence she came. William Blake trumpets the child as a muse. Blake writes of a poet/piper in the introductory verse of the Songs of Innocence who is visited by a child on a cloud who commands him to write: "Piper sit thee down and write / In a book that all may read." Is the child merely an apparition for the romantic poet? Notice it is the poet and not the lofty nude boy cherub who puts words onto paper. How can it be that the child inspires the poet to write but is bereft of his own song?
I can name three famous instances where a child appears in the margins of the history of philosophy. In Plato’s Meno, Socrates employs a slave child to demonstrate to Meno that learning is recollection. Meno assures Socrates that the boy has no previous knowledge of geometry. The question is if the child has no prior knowledge of geometry can she still learn it? Socrates asks the slave boy questions. He does not supply him with answers as if his mind were an empty vessel. Socrates is notorious for asserting that we come upon the quest for knowledge at an instance of nothing. We know nothing. Nothing is a starting point. Just by the guidance of a question, the slave boy is able to come up with the solution to the problem of halving a square. Plato does not indicate the child's age. I would guess he is no older than sixteen. No younger than seven. Is it a coincidence that Socrates uses him as an example? To use a child to illustrate a philosophical point suggests something about the status of a child. In this case a slave child. To be a slave and a child at the time of Socrates was to be afforded little political privilege. Neither the child or the slave were properly thought of as citizens of the state. Philosophy is adult business. Citizen business. So to demonstrate the boy's ability to know, to recollect knowledge, as a priori to learning itself, is to present the child as exemplar, but still leaves us to question the concept of child as philosopher.
Nietzsche famously invokes the figure child in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in tandem with the lion and the camel, as the third stage in the metamorphosis of philosophical progress.
Augustine in the Confessions opens a random selection of sacred scripture whereby he is inspired by Saint Paul’s words to put on the person of Christ and rid himself of wanton desires. When the child enters the scene of philosophical history she becomes an example, as we can see in Socrates’s use of the boy, or as metaphor for something “new” and “fresh” as in Nietzsche. Or simply inspiration as in Augustine’s anecdotal story of his conversion.
For the most part children are excluded from the annals of Western Philosophy in the main along with discussions of sex, the body, and anything related to our finitude. Philosophers in the main have traditionally been more fond of loftier topics such as mind, reason, and clear and distinct ideas. Children are far from such sophisticated concepts being as they are undeveloped intellectually. While we can grant the child her own special status as philosopher who has not heard a child ask why? it is still fairly common to assume philosophy is meant for grown-ups. The long-standing view of children is that they are extensions of adults. Thomas Hobbes excludes the child as having the status of person in the Leviathan. Along with madmen and fools, the child is a brute beast, with no claim to the law or sovereignty. For Hobbes, the child is not a person. According to Phillip Aries, the concept of the child as independent from an adult only recently became adopted in the West in the nineteenth century. For centuries children were seen as diminutive versions of adults. Homunculi. The great modern revelation, it is said, is that children embody a consciousness that is temporally defined and authentic to childhood itself. How far have we come from Hobbes? But how uneasy it is for us to ask the child muse to speak her own voice. Children grow up. They become adults. And it is usually adults who provide the child's voice. The word "infant" means "without voice." The Romantic view of childhood, as seen in the Blake poems, and also with Rousseau, privileged the child as possessing a unique access to experience that becomes lost after the emergence of puberty. What Freud would later call the stage of latency, the period after infancy leading up to adolescence, becomes a period in the development of the human person infused with a new sense of interest and curiosity. Jean-Jacques Rousseau breaks the silence and places the figure of the child front and center, but he too retains a nostalgia for something lost. We vacillate, I conjecture, from positing the child as an empty slate to embodying all truths, but in each event, we are foreclosed to the child qua child.

22.8.10

Is It a Good Idea to Do the Traditional Date?

Rule #1: don't read weird shit on a first date.
Wow. Times have changed.
A recent New York Times article quoted an 1860 personals ad, of a man in want of a wife:
“The advertiser, a successful young business man of good education, polite manners and agreeable address, having recently amassed a fortune and safely invested the same, wishes to meet with a young lady or widow."
A woman in want of a husband read:
“A young lady, rather good looking, and of good address, desires the acquaintance of a gentleman of wealth (none other need apply), with a view to matrimony.”
Wow. Very direct. No co-habitation. No confusion about which gender holds the bank account and which gender wants the bank account. And no confusion about gender either.

And that was for straight people.

In 1860 gay men were not posting personals in the New York Times. Maybe they were getting hot and heavy on the battlefield, but I am sure the documentation for that is somewhere buried deep in the Civil War record books. I'm not sure what they were doing, but read this article from BNAP and email me.

Anyway. I digress.
Today things are not so simple. We live in tough economic times but people want their contacts to be sexy, not frugal. Whether you are gay, straight, queer, bi, transgendered, or curious, dating is a messy game. At least in 1860 you knew what you were getting into: eventual matrimony. In 2010, it's anyone's guess what our motives really are. First of all, you have to stop to think, who really dates anymore anyway? When you just want a date, the whole scene can be a bit tricky. Who pays what? Do you hold the door open? What is the modicum of respect required? Do you kiss on a first date? Do you make out? Do you go all the way? How specific are you supposed to be? How vague?

Is it all about getting into each other's pants?
While men may think only with their nether regions, women think with their nether regions too. Getting into each other's pants is somewhere on the horizon, but the rules of engagement are not always so clear. If you're a single parent, you tend to be blackballed more than if you were married. Plenty of guys go on dating sites and eliminate 99 percent of the dating pool. I knew a guy who was in his 50s and he would only date blond-hair blue-eyed intelligent women in the 18-30 range. Guys tend to look down on girls "who put out" but do not expect girls to judge their promiscuous desires. Gay guys are branded as promiscuous (or are they?), skipping the dating scene altogether, and heading for the bedroom. Or the broom closet. But this is all changing, it seems. More guys are getting into the dating scene. I'm not sure if it is a victory of the far right, but sexual liberation and "free love" seem to be losing out, and monogamy and paying for the meal seem to be cashing in.

While Justin Templet over at the Maroon wrote an amusing piece on the possible benefits of shacking up on the first date, most people, gay and straight, tend to consider sex on a first date as a good ride, but a death knell to a future relationship.

Fuck revolution. And getting stoned. It seems we may be going back to the 1860s after all.

What's a guy to do? I was born in the wrong century, I guess. Or decade.

So, I decided to post a personal ad the other day and try this whole dating thing to see what it was really all about. I didn't even know gay men COULD date. I thought all we did was sit around and watch True Blood. Or the Big C. Or watch that damn Liza Minelli concert re-run on Showtime.

I geared up my writing chops and fired out a résumé of sorts:
A gentleman with aspirations for collegiate studies (but no employment) seeks like-minded chap to eat an ice cream in Times Square and check out that new Angelina Jolie flick.

22.1.10

The Problem of the "Innocent Child" (Thanks, James R. Kincaid)


Shirly Temple 
image credit: movieactors
The notion of the “innocent child” is a powerful narrative in the West, so much so, we forget it is even a narrative to begin with. The Romantic child (boy or girl) historically has been around since the Greeks, immortalized by Sappho and also the Greek epigramists. This image of the child, unmediated and innocent is typical of the poetry of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and William Wordsworth’s child of spontaneous, overflowing emotion in the “Prelude” but also, the image, at least partly, of Thomas Mann’s Tadzio in Death in Venice and Nietzsche’s Romantic depiction of the child as the pure child and bringer of a new philosophy in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But, it was Jean Jacques Rousseau who made the claim that the child exists a priori in a state of innocence “in nature” which in time, through puberty, is corrupted a posteriori by the mediating forces of “society.” Rousseau famously advised nannies to allow children to wear loose-fitting clothes (or no clothes at all) so they would not be constricted by anything other than their unmediated innocence. Rousseau wrote controversially that children are not inflicted with Original Sin but are born innately innocent and pure. He made the then radical claim that Original Sin is an erroneous doctrine. Taint is not inherent on the soul of a newborn, but, the soul becomes corrupted by a misguided society. For Rousseau, the innate innocence of the child must be preserved through careful education. Education is what maintains innocence along with the child’s developing consciousness. For Rousseau, then, there is a general suspicion of nurture. In Rousseau’s Romantic (and I use this word purposefully, and critically) political vision, the good state is inscribed within a social contract that works to protect and preserve the inherent goodness of children.  It is an unguided introduction to society that corrupts the child and separates it from nature, thus distancing the child from an original innocence, its true and unfettered state.
One of my favorite cultural critics who explored further the idea of innate innocence is James Kincaid. He wrote a book called  Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting. In this book he argues once "adults" name the child innocent, such naming empties the child of a meaningful signifier. "Innocence," then, becomes a metaphor for an empty container, a blank face, devoid of substance which can be filled in by the adult’s desires. The innocent child is the “present” child — the ubiquitous Shirley Temple — who by being shed of experience, of sexuality, is in fact made to be molested. It seems in the West we are at odds with the binary of erotic/innocence. We cannot seem to reconcile ourselves with this strange pairing. Kincaid argues that the very construct of "innocence" is paradoxically warped to mean "protection" against experience but also, simultaneously, a disavowal of the child as inherently erotic. He uses some great examples from popular culture: the Home Alone kid: both cute, cunning, but utterly innocent. Shirley Temple, of course. Jean Bennet Ramsey. Poor thing. She was made both to be erotic and innocent. You can't have your cake and eat it too, kids.
I guess we could blame it on our Judeo-Christian heritage but, it does not take long to look into "recent" history: just look at the Genesis account of Adam and Eve (or at least how it has been interpreted). We were once innocent, until some dame messed things up for us. We were happy naked and in union with God. We got knowledge and now we're screwed. Seen from the view of the Fall, we've been trying to get back to the garden ever since (thanks Joni Mitchell). What a perfect scapegoat is the child (and the woman). They look kinda cute: a perfect face to throw all of our hopes and insipid wishes for innocence on them - poor, innocent creatures! So what has been created as a sort of compromise?! Well, adolescence of course. At first we were happy with merely the child/adult dyad, with the emphasis on the adult. It could be argued that the only truly human being in the West for thousands of years was the blue-eyed, blond hair man. The child? Not even considered as subject. The supposed invention of the child, as distinct from the adult, apparently is an eighteenth century invention that did not exist even as recent as the Middle Ages, according to the cultural historian Philip Ariès in his book, Centuries of Childhood. So, we go ahead and create the child three hundred years ago and then, to add insult to injury, create the adolescent. An even further blurring of the lines. It is no wonder that we are wee bit confused. But, that is fodder for another discussion.
The Good Son: the duality is brought out ad absurdam in the film, The Good Son (1993) also starring the kid from Home Alone, in a complete role reversal. From cutesy kid to serial killer. Mark, a boy of about nine or ten, played by Elijah Wood is sent to stay with his Uncle and Aunt in Maine after the death of his mother.  He quickly learns that his cousin Henry (Culkin) is in fact evil. He shoots dogs, wears a spooky paper-maché mask, drowns his brother, almost kills his sister, and attempts to push his mother over a dangerous precipice.  The movie, with cute child actors to boot, is almost certainly playing on the innocence/experience duality, the virtuous, innocent boy versus the abject opposite, an evil child, with no apparent explanation to why he does the cruelty he does — and why, no one, except Mark, Elijah Wood’s character, realizes his evilness. It is as if the child has to be either completely one or the other: any venture into the gray is taboo.
    Mark, the good child, is all-knowing and incredibly intuitive.  When his mother dies in the first scene, he is literally committed to the belief that she will not leave him, and, almost immediately, transfers the mother image to his aunt, as if he knows this must be the case.  We do not agree with his logic, perhaps, but we cheer his innocent intuition and allow it to endear him to ourselves, thus creating a convenient matrix to explain the Mother/Aunt Son/Nephew bonding.
    The evil child is also all-knowing and incredibly intuitive, but he uses his “gifts” to curse, convince people to fly, smoke cigarettes (the epitome of evil?) — and we are made to revel in this only as a ploy to convince us that he really ought to die!  Both boys, consequently, are inverses of each other: Culkin is blonde, blue-eyed and light, the other, Wood, is brown-haired, blue-eyed and darker complexion. In the movie’s final scene, as James Kincaid brilliantly observed (and I am ashamed to say I have capitalized on his argument), the mother dangles both boys from a Maine precipice in the hopes of saving both children, ostensibly her sons.  Her strength is not enough to hoist both children up, so she has to let one of them go to save the other or risk losing both.  What would you do?  Do you destroy the good child or the evil child?  As James Kincaid notes, audiences cheered when she destroyed the evil child (159-60) and we thought nothing of it, deeply satisfied she did the deed. It is as if the film is stating not quite subtly, we can now wash our hands of the problem once and for all.  We have saved the good child from obliteration and we somehow seem sated by this fact.

Is there an alternative narrative? I wonder, is there a narrative out there that does not fall into this duality Rousseau set up for us so long ago? Is there a way out? In the present narrative, the child is discarded (like the Wild Child of Averyon) or is the child beatified (the child of innocence)? Kincaid suggests at the end of his book that to free ourselves from the current narrative we must free ourselves from suspicion, from repression, from nonsensical legalities and the like that threaten to blind us from the child qua child. Stay tuned. Peace.

14.11.09

A Journal & Rant: "On the Uses and Misuses of Age"

"Age doesn't matter, but dammit I look old" is what my friend Suzy Q. said to me last night.
Evelyn Couch : I can't even look at my own vagina!
Evelyn Couch said it best: "I can't even look at my own vagina!" 

My grandmother looked in the mirror one morning on her 92nd birthday and shrieked, "Who is that woman? It's not me."

On the playground of life it is like Freaky Friday: Young kids want to be adults; adults prefer to act like kids. The age divide splits us from baby, to toddler, child, school kid, pre-adolescent, tween, teen, young adult, young person, 20-something, 30-something, "Over the Hill," old, octogenarian, centenarian, dead. In the middle ages you were rudely a child, a man or geriatric. 3 stages of life. Now, the stages grew to 9 thanks to Erikson, now up to 30 thanks to Super Mario Brothers.

By increasing the stages of age, the strictures are enforced. The subtlety in development is painstakingly tracked. By 30 you must have acquired maturity. If not, you lie.

Middle age women are smart: they don't reveal their age.

Gay men lie.

Straight men don't care. Unless were talking about controlled substances.

Kids lie to get alcohol or cigs. But they expect adults to uphold integrity.

An online buddy asked me if it was ethical to lie about age on a personal ad.

It is apparently a controversial topic.

If you're 25 on a personal ad, in real life your true age is probably anywhere in the range from 21 - 29.

But if you are 30 on an ad you are actually more likely to be 40. If you're really 17 you are most likely going to say you're 18. If you are telling the truth, you're either desperate, or taking what you can get.

A bouncer asked for my ID and after looking at it said, "Hey, you look 23 and still in college, but when you opened your mouth and started talking, I knew you were 30 and working"

The face (or body) says one thing while our words says another. Our age belies our wisdom while our wisdom never depends on age.

The youth Benjamin Button dies forgetting what he learned as an old man. Rip Van Winkle wakes up and literally times has flown by. If it is true that "every day a little death" then all of us should feel a lot more humble.
image credit: Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) © Universal Pictures