Monday, October 09, 2017

a free woman

Hugh Kenner defined the stoic attitude in terms that the historian of Greek philosophy might dispute, or at least modify, but that I find definitionally elegant: “the stoic is one who considers, with neither panic nor indifference, that the field of possibilities available to him is large perhaps, or small perhaps, but closed.”  
It strikes me that I can discern a sort of feminist stoic style in the work of certain twentieth century artists: Christina Stead, Nina Berberova, and Elizabeth Hardwick come to mind. They are feminist in having a strong self-consciousness of themselves as women, and, more extensively, of having an idea of the destinies allotted to women in societies filled with destructive male power; they are stoic, however, in having a certain dryness of perception with regard to the sentimental education by which female collaboration is extracted.  In other words, they, too often for some tastes, sacrifice the bonds of solidarity to the distance required by intelligence. Sometimes this distance asserts itself by denying any feminism at all, as happens in the case of Christina Stead.  
I’ve been reading Nina Berberova’s great autobiography, The italics are mine – the French translation is, I do the underlining – and thinking how tough this woman was. Here  literary career, as far as the metropoles of publishing are concerned, occurred when she was eighty, when her stories and novellas and autobiography came out.
She lived the life of a “free woman”, in Doris Lessing’s phrase. There’s a subtle tonal shift from liberated woman – for to be liberated is to be the subject of emancipation, to be freed – to undergo that passive tense – while Berberova, and Lessing, thought of themselves as existing outside of that passive tense. They were in privileged positions – but the privilege was internal. Certainly that was the case with Berberova, who endured starvation in Soviet Russia, and crushing poverty in Paris, and the Nazi occupation, all without questioning her joy in energy, her own energy.
I’m going to write about her again.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

a visit to the Musee de l'homme

It looked like Adam would like La Musee de l’homme.

Adam likes mummies. He horrified some of his classmates in room 5 in Santa Monica by bringing a book about “buried treasure” to share day that had a chapter on Pompeii with photographs of various lava encrusted victims – a dog, a child, three people. As well, this book had pictures of mummies excavated from a site in South Egypt, in the desert. It was quickly decided among Adam and his friends that mummification follows lack of water.  Dehydration, variously pronounced.
So in Paris, we went to the Egyptian section of the Louvre and Adam saw his first real live mummy. Adam knows that mummy’s are dead. He knows that they are only alive in cartoons and movies that “aren’t real.” However, he knows this fact like an uncertain atheist knows that God is dead. It is a fact that could spring a leak. This makes mummies all the more fascinating.
When we looked on the site for the Museum of Mankind, it bragged that the Museum held more than sixty mummies. It had pictures. Leathery bodies. Leathery faces in that decayed agony, toothless mouths gaping, hands up, as though in a scream, that Adam finds scary and interesting. It is partly bluff, Adam’s way of not “being a baby”. Baby has becomes, somewhere, an insult. This makes me sad, and I reason with him, but there’s no reasoning a boy on the brink of five out of the supposed insult of acting younger than he is.
We got on the bus at Hotel de Ville, and we went to the back so that we could all three sit, and Adam could look at the various buildings rushing by in the October gloom. There’s the Louvre. There’s the obelisk. See the tower? The Eiffel tower he immediately recognizes. It was a flattening day, though, and everything looked smaller and meaner. Until we got off at Trocadero and the Eiffel tower decided to stretch up, up, before our eyes. Up, then, to the Musee, with A. and I thinking, a crepe would be nice right now.
I liked the Museum as soon as we entered the main exhibition space. There was a satisfactory number of skulls – even a superfluity of them. The skulls of chimpanzees. The skulls of Neandrathals. The skull ladder that leads up to Homo Sapiens. I’ve read enough Stephen Gould to know that the ladder image is wrong, but the Museum of Mankind, with its beginnings in the 19th century, hasn’t quite shaken that off. The mummies on the ground were few – but the one on display had also been on display in Adam’s book of mummies. It was disinterred in Peru and shipped here who knows how many years ago. The hands, with long fingers, cradle the face, as though in woe. We, with our living skeletons, bring the memento mori to the skeletons, and to this gray remains of a face. Who really know if the mummy’s owner really did die in horror – in some scene of sacrifice of the kind conjured up by century’s of orientalism.
We went through the first and second floor, marveling, Adam coursing ahead of us like an unleashed dog, on the trail of the next skeleton, the next fossil. As the broad humanid sweep narrows to modern times, one can’t help feeling some decrease in the grandeur of it all. Electricity and plastic may be nice, but they are exhibited, here, as parts of the way human being change their environment. And that change seems, well, trivializing, as compared to cave paintings and mysterious migrations.
Then we ate, with the Tower bulging outside the window. It was good! Tart, sandwhich, salad. Cheap for museum grub. Then we paused, A. and I. The feeling of having walked a long way, although we really hadn’t.

On the way out, we bought things for Adam, including a kit we later regretted, which consisted of a sandy ball in which some shark teeth were embedded. To get them out, you had to file away on the ball. This morning, we are still finding sandy dust around the apartment. Plus, two supposed shark teeth float in the glass we usually use for rinsing in the bathroom.   

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...