Some Readings/Wmagazine is the New Family Bible (Weil, Sontag, Jacobs)

by on Nov.26, 2012

super linda

(Hi. wrote this some weeks back.)

Wmagazine is the New Family Bible

/a fairy tale

It was good timing that our New Yorker prescription ran out and not so long after the magazine W took its place and started circulation within our home (wife went on an obsessed internet survey-binge and amassed some free stuff: tea, soaps, lady things, Martha Stewart’s magazine and W). The first issue was some kind of super-size-me-up binder full of mid-evil pixiegoth housewifery, featuring among other awesome things, Super Linda.

O dread

Our daughter, at 5, now comes home from school, asks for a snack (“I just want candy”) and hangs out in the sun room, flipping through the magazine. One of the twins was reading it the other night while watching Jeopardy (or maybe it was The Rifleman). It should be said though (mom) that other than that first issue (which has mysteriously disappeared, boys will be boys will be girls etc.) there is not much in terms of visible nipple-crotch-ass nudity going on.

Is this a good influence? Parenting is hard. Last night I laid in bed reading an article in the latest issue about these socialite women of old (and new) and the phenomenon of the “walker”, typically a handsome gay man that you acquire and tote around town, take to parties etc. Like an accessory.  I don’t know why but this filled me with a strange joy.

There’s something freeing in the deadness and complete art-ness of these shoots, the parading uselessness of nameless bodies made secondary in relation to their named accessories, bodies suspended in air, draped across beds, speared and hung like cattle on the fire. They are not, obviously, trying to be “role models”, they are not symbols or responsible, they have no words, they have no inside stuff, they are hardly even human, there is no arch of realization, potential, and so, it seems, everything, for a moment, is possible, inhabitable.

To be toted around town.

Actually, flipping though, you immediately notice the more conservative shoots, those images that manage in just a posture, a certain lean, a gaze of the eyes, light falling on cheek bones, the arrangement of male and female bodies (however subtle (actually subtlety might be the trademark here, at any rate, their “aliveness”)) to completely convey established gender roles, the all to familiar narrative of personhood, who’s on top, who’s on bottom, who’s buying the steak and who’s eating who.

That everyone has a fucking story. It’s not just (insert whatever) but tells a story, a story of becoming, overcoming. The index of diseases that make up all talent shows, held up like props only to be discarded, overcome: I was blind but now I see. I was abused, but now I sing. A powerful story. The same story. A story familiar in its build to that moment, dramaturgy of one final burst of vitality: and release.

A story that says: you are only any good as a story. Be the fucking story. Transcend something.

Now my daughter is taking a bath and is lying about the soap which she can’t have used because its high up on a shelf and…: What does it mean, this dismissal of surfaces, of things that have no inside, no story,  this hatred of body, skin, the passive, useless, too obvious?

It bothers me about feminism, when the strive is to overcome “object” and become “subject”, become whole, complete, accepted or valid, with perspective, the exclusivity of voice, when it is subjects that continually fuck objects over to reinforce their one-ness, completeness. Shouldn’t we instead find better, and more, ways of not being subjects? Breaking up?

simone weil (i think)

I’ve been reading Simone Weil lately and one thing that I love about her is how dramatic she is, how painfully, at times, little she thinks of herself. This is a spirituality I can relate to. At one point she relates a dream in which Jesus straight up abandons her. I find this comforting, this doubt, this adolescent willingness (over the top) to sacrifice. This youthful outrage over injustices. The shit you go through as a teenager, coming to terms with how fucked up, and unfair, and sadistic, the world is. This stuff that you’re suppose to grow out of. You’re not really suppose to follow in Jesus footsteps and self-destruct, that’s just a story. He destructed so you don’t have to: don’t waste your potential. Your not really suppose to pretend to be someone else, cross lines of class and gender, fakery. It’s not healthy to feel that you and the world is connected, that your affliction has some larger meaning. Don’t be a martyr, drama-queen. This drama is tempered down, of course, in the forewords to Simone Weil, to highlight more respectable traits like intelligence, courage, faith etc. She wasn’t just… just…

One awesome letter is the Letter to Maurice Schuman, in which she is trying to sell the idea of a front-line super nurse army:

It would be a very mobile organization and should in principle be always at the points of greatest danger, to give ‘first aid’ during battles.”

A courage not inflamed by the impulse to kill, but capable of supporting, at the point of greatest danger, the prolonged spectacle of wounds and agony”

At one point she seems to be almost pimping these nurses out for the greater good:

Besides caring for the wounded, the members of this feminine corps would be able to perform all sorts of other services. At critical moments, when there is too much to be done, it would be natural for officers and N.C.O.’s to make use of them for any task except the handling of weapons: for liaisons, rallying-points, transmission of orders. At such times, assuming that they retained their sang-froid, their sex would be a positive asset for these tasks.”

Is it bad form to here imagine an army of Super Lindas?


Another book I found (in one of those discarded library bins) and read lately is Susan Sontag’s “Illness as Metaphor” (from 70 s omething) which I enjoyed immensely, not for its position (against) but for its anecdotes (and as a history, or speculation) of disease in literature, the romanticizing of disease, particularly TB and cancer. Here is a parade of pale diseased poets competing in who’s worst off. Regardless of her position, Sontag can’t help getting caught up in the seductive language of disease:

“TB is disintegration, febrilization, dematerialization: it is a disease of liquids–the body turning to phlegm and mucus and sputum and, finally, blood–and of air, of the need for better air.”

On fashion:

“Indeed, the romanticizing of TB is the first widespread example of that distinctively modern activity, promoting the self as an image.”

“TB is often imagined as a disease of poverty and deprivation–of thin garments, thin bodies, unheated rooms, poor hygiene, inadequate food.”

“Twentieth-century women’s fashions (with their cult of thinness) are the last stronghold of the metaphors associated with the romanticizing of TB in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.”

I’m particularly hooked on this narrative tying fashion and disease, or fashion in writing, the image, it’s uselessness, its deadness, and the romanticizing of the dead, it’s catchy-trendy-ness where image metaphor disease spreads. The artist as diseased, starving, possessed etc.

On capitalism (I like this a lot), sorry):

“Early capitalism assumes the necessity of regulated spending, saving, accounting, discipline–an economy that depends on the rational limitation of desire. TB is described in images that sum up the negative behavior of nineteenth-century homo economicus: consumption; wasting; squandering of vitality. Advanced capitalism requires expansion, speculation, the creation of new needs (the problem of satisfaction and dissatisfaction); buying on credit; mobility–an economy that depends on the irrational indulgence of desire. Cancer is described in images that sum up the negative behavior of twentieth-century homo economicus: abnormal growth; repression of energy, that is, refusal to consume or spend.”


No conclusions but it seems to have something to do with illnesses that aren’t overcome, that don’t lead to clarity, the blind staying blind, your dad who died and now you can’t sing, Simone Weil enlisting for the Spanish civil war only to burn herself prematurely in a trivial camping accident, and this, bulbous, tumor-spilling, M. Jacobs Cashmere Coat (headgear not included):

not to forget, la crasia gloves


The night before or the night before the night before the election I couldn’t sleep and so in that state of early insomnia/anxiety translated a couple of poems from a rather pathetic swedish modernist poem from the 1940s (Erik Lindegren, Mannen Utan Vag), some lines from which seems fitting here: 


the disease leaves its place under the microscope
tired of watching shrunken pupils

the suffering rootless strikes up its whitewashed eye
only to be crushed under the children’s fleeing feet

but the jester speaks with thunder and the one for death
prepared braids a barbed-wire-wreath in his hair

4 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes Göransson

    Lindegren might actually be very relevant to Teemu’s post that I posted yesterday. Lindegren is part of this vein of Swedish poetry – surealistish, elevated diction, visionary… kitsch – that the ‘rearguardism’ of concrete poetry and “nyenkelheten” cleans out of Swedish poetry in the 1960s (with some notable exceptions such as Öijer and Lars Noren’s early poetry).
    Part of the problem with these folks (Paul Andersson is another example) is exactly that they are “drama-queens”. They are also “fashion-victims” who “romanticized” disease in the Baudelairean way. (Andersson died of cancer after a life as heroic-addict and prostitute.)
    I tend to like early Sontag, but more for her choices in subject matter than what she says (happenings, Artaud, Jack Smith etc). After a while she seems to have become such a moralist/puritan – for example her denouncement of photography. But the iconophobia is there from the start.


  2. Kim

    i love oijer, or at least i used to, haven’t read him in so long. he sort of disturbs that line between the written and spoken word, the way the poems seem to possess him… performance like image seems to threaten the stability of the written word

    lindegren is just image on image on image, strangely numbing (pornographic?), i think even he called that poem pathetic, wanting to give the pathetic a structured form… i like these old angsty poems


  3. Johannes

    Öijer translated some of his own classic 1975 (?) collection C/O Night for Action, Yes a few years ago:

    I know most of my Swedish poetry friends think he’s an embarrassment but I think he’s a very influential poet and I still occassionally read some of those 1970s books.


  4. James Pate

    Great post. I think you really get at the strangeness of Weil, a strangeness that is so often taken away by critics who want to make her a dour saint, an emblem of 20th century suffering, a token of authenticity in an inauthentic time. But I’ve always thought she had a secret kinship with Genet: both create highly personal religious systems, both have a medieval mindset (you can almost hear the Gregorian chant in the background when you read them), both infuse the material earthly world with sublimity (as opposed to setting up the usual this-world-that-world binary), both are non-humanists. In fact, the quotes you have in the letters about front line nursing from Weil could well have been written, with only a little tweaking, by Genet. Maybe all great ethicists become aesthetes.

    As for Sontag, I go back and forth. I agree with what Johannes says about her puritan sensibility. In her later essays, her favorite word is “serious.” But a lot of her favorite artists and writers are mine too: from Smith to Godard to Artaud to Fassbinder to Sebald to Nietzsche. Yet her constant pining for a golden age of Art, her constant need for an ever-vigilant hierarchy (in her review of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz she goes out of her way to argue how it wasn’t really a TV show, but a movie — as if no work of art would touch a TV set with a ten foot pole)…I find that sensibility to be incredibly claustrophobic.

    But I like the way you discuss her here. I keep on meaning to write a post about Sontag, the parts of her work I like, the parts I don’t…