Monday, January 29, 2018
Tampa by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There is very little true innocence left in the world. And what little there is Celeste Price has sexualized it.
How much less disturbing we find relationships between grown women and young boys than those between men and underage girls. Our culture sends a message to men that any time you have the option to have sex with an attractive woman, you have to take it. But for women, you always have to “guard yourself against it.”
Christopher Anderson, the executive director of the New York organization MaleSurvivor, said, “Any time a boy has a sexual interaction with a woman it cannot be talked about as though it was a negative thing without the man sacrificing his masculinity, especially amongst his peer group.” Maggie Shipstead, writing in the New Republic, said, “Tampa' is a product of the double standard it criticizes: with the genders reversed but the raunchy content preserved, 'Tampa' would never have been published — at least not by HarperCollins.”
This is a book about insatiable perversion rooted in a fear of death. Thats all sex is really. An attempt to avoid the inevitable.
But there is also something we find rather fearful about female sexuality.
Toward the end of the book as Celeste is meeting with her soon to be ex husband for the last time she says this, “At this point his eyes moved down to my clasped hands. He seemed to be anxiously waiting for me to remove them, like my vagina was a mouth ready to confess to all sorts of atrocities and I was merely gripping it shut in order to silence it’s cries.”
This idea of the vagina as being a mouth isn’t a new one, and this passage perfectly encapsulates the "vagina dentata" fears found in most cultures throughout the world. These myths expressed the threat that sexual intercourse posed for men who, although entering triumphantly, always leave diminished. In her book Sexual Personae, Camille Paglia wrote: "The toothed vagina is no sexist hallucination: every penis is made less in every vagina, just as mankind, male and female, is devoured by mother nature." The female vagina can even be seen as an abyss out of which all human life emerges from the powerful nowhere of our mothers bodies.
In an article for Alternet about the inherent ambiguities that female sexuality has posed for men throughout millennia, Eric Berkowitz wrote, “In primitive societies, men regarded women with the same dread they felt toward the natural world. Early humankind was at perennial war with nature, the forces of which were lethal as well as incomprehensible. The core of the natural world was the female womb, from which newborn human life emerged in a gush of blood.”
Sex brings us into contact with oblivion. Which brings us back to the idea of sex and death as being intimately intertwined.
Slavoj Zizek, Slovenian philosopher, has suggested that desire is always focused on loss and thus has an intimate relationship with Freud’s idea of the death drive. “Death drive is not the kind of Buddhist striving for annihilation people mistakenly believe. No. Death drive is almost the opposite. Death drive is the dimension of the undead, of living dead, of something which remains alive even after it is dead. And it’s, in a way, immortal in its deadness itself. It goes on, insists. You can not destroy it. The more you cut it, the more it insists, it goes on.” Which also plays into the male dread of female sexuality as being insatiable.
But this is also a book about how beauty can be a kind of mask that hides the worst kind of evil and about how maybe it’s time we stop believing the myth about how all women are the nurturing sex from which comes all civilized behavior.
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The human race has a long history of hurting the ones we love, and one of the first questions anyone asks upon hearing about some of the most heinous crimes such as the ones John Douglas has had to deal with throughout most of his tenure is, “What kind of person could have done such a thing?” As painful as the answer to that question might sometimes be, the answer is any one of us.
“Crime,” the author says, “is a moral problem.” And I guess maybe it is. And the solution he recommends, combined with his experience, is love. Perhaps this sounds a little too simplistic, but it also gets right to the heart of a lot of these issues.
As much as this book is a memoir of a career in law enforcement it’s also a memoir of American culture. America being the serial killer capital of the world. There are numerous speculative reasons for the large number of American serial killers and this book serves as an extension to those reasons highlighting societies larger problems.
Durkheim said that criminality was a response to larger societal issues, in other words if there is something wrong within our society crime is a response to that. Durkheim’s theory is that since crime is found in all societies, it must be performing necessary functions otherwise it would disappear in an advanced society.
Kevin Haggerty, a professor of sociology and criminology, has examined the cultural and historical context of serial killing and found that, “serial killing is a distinctly modern phenomenon one that is intimately tied to a broader social and historical setting which includes the rise of a society of strangers, the development of mass media, and cultural frameworks of denigration and marginalisation.”
“In antiquity killing sequentially may have been something that someone did, today a serial killer is something someone can be.”
But why are we so fascinated with the people who commit these sensational crimes?
David Schmid, cultural studies professor, has a theory about why people find serial killers so entertaining, “People both fear and admire criminals, he says, because they live outside the bounds of laws and social conventions.” In other words they walk the places in our minds that we are afraid to go.
True-crime narratives represent the human condition writ large: ordinary people operating at the terrifying extremes of those instincts and emotions. In this vein, every case becomes its own morality play, complete with heroes, villains, and victims. And we must never forget about the victims, lest they become a footnote in someone else’s history.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a nihilists version of Its a Wonderful Life, where my generations George Bailey plays the lonely God who, in his frustration and impotence, creates a devil to act out his fantasies. But what's more interesting to me about this book is the theme of castration. Castration, or more importantly the fear of castration, has a pretty big role to play in this story. In the metaphorical sense, castration anxiety refers to the idea of feeling or being insignificant; there is a need to keep ones self from being dominated: whether it be by society or in a relationship. Seen from this perspective we can see the narrator spending the entire length of the novel trying to determine how to have a normal relationship with a member of the opposite sex. And failing to do so. Or perhaps this is just the anxiety talking.
Friday, January 5, 2018
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book symbolizes the idea of what's known in philosophy as the problem of identity.
Lacan claimed that the formation and reassurance of the self depends on the construction of an Other through imagery, beginning with a double as seen in the mirror. The androids, perform a doubling function similar to the mirror image of the self, but they do this on a social, not individual, scale. Therefore, human anxiety about androids expresses uncertainty about human identity and society.
Identity is a fluid concept, shifting and changing depending on ones environment and any attempt to apply the concept of identity to persons leads to a paradox. The most natural explanation of this is that the concept is unsuited to persons, that it cannot be legitimately applied to them, so a person is not the sort of thing that has an identity in space or through time.
The sense of self is itself an evolutionary artifact, which saved time in the circumstances it evolved for. But the sense of self breaks down when considering some events such as memory loss, split personality disorder, brain damage, brainwashing, and various thought experiments.
We simply do not exist.
But there is also this notion of empathy as being the defining feature of humanity that runs throughout the course of this narrative that I found interesting.
Empathy is what makes us human, and is the crux on which the authors metaphysical reflection on the meaning of life hangs. Each character in the novel must deal with what it means to be empathetic and whether that allows someone to be valued as a living thing. Conversely, this also means that the less empathetic one is, the less human they become.