Strictly extrapolative works of science fiction generally arrive about where the Club of Rome arrives: somewhere between the gradual extinction of human liberty and the total extinction of terrestrial life

June 11, 2013 § Leave a comment


Kerry Segrave, in “Shoplifting: A Social History”—a study frequently cited by Shteir, and which provides a more coherent and statistically richer overview subject than her own often scattered account—quotes Dr. David Reuben, writing in McCall ’s in 1970, to the effect that most amateur store thieves were married women between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-five. What they had in common, he said, was:

unhappy marriages, obesity, depression. Their sexual relationships with their husbands range from unsatisfactory to nonexistent. In effect, their lives have been drained of all emotional satisfaction… An afternoon roaming through a department store is a substitute for social relationships with other human beings.

In 1878, the Times quoted the superintendent of a department store saying, “Stealing seems to come natural to a great many women.”

These two views of women as thieves could be combined, with the assistance of time-honed free-floating misogyny, into a persistent faux-organic explanation for what was taken to be a quintessentially female crime. When Ella Castle, a wealthy American, was arrested in London on shoplifting charges, in 1896, she was examined by various physicians, with a view to a plea of kleptomania. She was released on their assessment of her condition. A Dr. Grigg testified:

She is intensely neurotic. The condition of things—a disease of the upper portion of the uterus—is a very common accompaniment of various forms of mania in women, such as melancholia, religious mania, nymphomania, and I have seen it in several cases of kleptomania. It is invariably coupled with much mental disturbance. The condition I discovered is quite sufficient to account for any form of mental vagaries which are as well known to affect a certain class of women (neurotic) with disordered menstruation.

When she got home, doctors at the Philadelphia Polyclinic agreed with the diagnosis.

The ancient belief that the womb wandered about the body causing mental distraction (thus “hysteria”) has transformed here into a mysterious “upper portion of the womb” disease. The main thing is that the wayward and inherently diseased female reproductive system is at the root of irrational and pathological behavior, which is only to be expected from women. Unstable female innards not only determine dangerous sexuality but also threaten to disrupt properly regulated commerce…

I come from the generation for whom, in the early nineteen-seventies, shoplifting became a positive virtue within the disaffected counterculture. Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book” contained handy shoplifting hints and was chained down in bookstores. Jerry Rubin, channelling Proudhon’s dictum “Property is theft,” declared in his book “Do It,” “All money represents theft… Shoplifting gets you high. Don’t buy. Steal. If you act like it’s yours no one will ask you to pay for it.” I found this to be true. Running an alternative school with almost no money in the early seventies, I made trips to a large bookstore in London, and piled up reference books and textbooks until the tower nestled under my raised chin. Then I confidently walked out of the shop. Several times. No one ever stopped me. I had no qualms.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Sasha Mademuaselle

whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong

April 11, 2013 § Leave a comment


The idea that there might be different emotional responses to rape is not popular. All rapes are equally traumatic and those who suggest otherwise are labeled rape apologists. It is unforgivable to publicly question the mythologizing of rape’s status as the ruination of all women who go through it. Camille Paglia, who has been roundly denounced for her take on rape (among other things), has said that “rape is an outrage” but that she considers the “propaganda and hysteria” around rape “equally outrageous.” I’ve never forgotten reading her Spin interview from the early ’90s in which she shared the story of an acquaintance who had been raped and found the rape counseling more alarming than helpful because of its focus on the inability to recover. “The whole system now is designed to make you feel that you are maimed and mutilated forever,” Paglia said. “It made her feel worse.”

In 1998, novelist Fay Weldon suggested that while rape is a terrible and serious crime, it is not by definition “the worst thing that could happen to a woman.” She even qualified this by adding “if you’re safe, alive, and unmarked after,” but the level of insult and recrimination she faced was staggering regardless. She’d hurt all women with her “extremely dangerous” comment, she’d made it harder for women to “come forward,” she was “talking rubbish.” I hope I may be allowed to at least say that my rapes were not the worst thing to ever happen to me. They are not even in the top five. They are not the worst thing I can conceive of happening to me, nor happening to any human being. I can, of course, imagine rapes much worse than mine, but the idea that there may be degrees of rape is not a popular one, either.

Though some feminists regard “rape equals devastation” as sacred fact, the notion that a man can ruin me with his penis strikes me as the most complete expression of vintage misogyny available. Common sense instructs us that it is far more “dangerous” to insist to young women that they will be broken by an unwanted sex act than it is to propose they might have a happy, healthy, and sexually pleasant future ahead of them in spite of a sexual assault. Weldon ventured this same conclusion when she said that “defining it as some peculiarly awful crime may even be counter-productive.”

Similarly, Germaine Greer claimed, “It is not women who have decided that rape is so heinous, but men. The only weapon that counts in rape is the penis, which is conceptualized as devastating.” When we refuse to acknowledge the possibility that a rape could be anything less than a tsunami of emotional and mental destruction for a woman, we establish a fantasy of absolute male sexual power and absolute female vulnerability. We are, in essence, honoring the timeless belief that a woman’s worth, self-respect, and ability to function within society are dictated exclusively by the sexual use of her body.  read more

ART: Lucio Fontana

Greek debt unsustainable, says Rehn, who rules out restructuring

November 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Somewhere, in some book or other, I really can’t remember which, I wrote the sentence ‘Everything passes, but nothing entirely goes away.’ Or possibly ‘Everything passes, but nothing entirely disappears.’ It had a context. I imagine it was to do with the nature of personal history, trauma or pleasure, either. It referred casually to psychoanalytic theories of the unconscious. And also commented on the banality of the ‘everything passes’ cliché. It wasn’t a sentence on its own. No sentence ought to be. I’ve been writing a daily #todaysrandomreading on Twitter recently, but the point is that it is random, and not intended to offer meaning or wisdom. I’m an aficionado of pointlessness.

Now, I keep seeing it quoted on Twitter and in blogs, in various languages, as if it belonged in the Big Book of Deathless Truths. Everything passes, but that sentence doesn’t entirely go away. I am deeply embarrassed for myself whenever I see it. While I’m pretty sure I thought about it as I wrote it in, as I say, context, it’s a cloud of airy nothing put out there on its own. Like a scrap of a torn shirt carefully washed and hung out to dry, to be clean and useless. I hate homilies.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Yagi Takaharu

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