gall and gumption

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Briefly Noted

If you notice me wearing a shifty and shamefaced look it’s because I’ve been inhaling the fumes at ALDaily again. There’s something irresistible to me about that juxtaposition of actual interestingness and barking insanity; it’s like the dollar store.

Hence: is the Claremont Institute running out of ammunition for fighting the Culture Wars? The old flag is still flying above the fort, but they may be getting desperate. They appear to have found some 30-year-old ordinance (rusty, with a family of mice living in it) in the form of a very silly essay on Shakespeare, circa 1974.

In the creation of vast quantities of products whose best use is never to be used at all, the Shakespeare industry is rivaled only by the defense industry. I’m sure that by industry standards, this is not the silliest essay on Shakespeare that I could read, but it is the silliest one I ever hope to read. Here is where I draw the line. Below this I do not go.

As you can imagine the whole thing is nonstop laughs. The piece contrasts Macbeth as a moral hero (the good kind) with Camus’s Meursault and Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov (these are of course the bad kind). What is a moral hero? I don’t know. I welcome your suggestions. Also if you can think of a few examples of immoral heroes that would be nice, it would fill a gap in my education.

Raskolnikov shares with Meursault the fact that his crime leads in the end, not to a fall, but to an ascent to a higher form of consciousness, to a salvation which would not have been possible had the crime not been committed. There is moreover nothing in Raskolnikov's punishment to discourage anyone—e.g., a Lenin—who may look upon him as the prototype of the revolutionary hero.

Knowing something about the history of ideas in 19th-century Russia might have cleared this up, but apparently Jaffa chose not to go that route.

In Crime and Punishment, we see a moral consciousness resembling in decisive respects a messianic Christianity. Such reform of society as may be envisioned has nothing to do with politics, and in fact subsists upon the conviction that salvation consists in direct action—such as murdering an old woman, or a royal family. Napoleon's action in destroying the ancien régime, and replacing it with the regime of reason, executing whoever stood in the way, is the tacit model.

That highlighted sentence just might be the wrongest sentence I have ever read. Every single word is wrong, each is wrong in its own special way, and some words have sort of layers of wrong, great hair-sprouting growths of wrong sort of bulging off them.

Three protagonists are under discussion: the affectless, alienated Meursault, and Raskolnikov the “direct action revolutionary” who upon committing his only crime is tormented by guilt and, at last, redeemed by Dostoevsky’s mystical, reactionary Panslavist/Christian sentimentality. And Macbeth. And which one of these three heroes murders a royal family? Yes, oddly, the one who “feels the power of morality to the fullest extent.”

Jaffa introduces Macbeth to us in the context of a rather astonishing thesis. I’m breaking up this long paragraph into three pieces, just to call your attention to a few things. Highlighted passages are highlighted by me.

Macbeth on the other hand is a man who feels the power of morality to the fullest extent. He does so, I suggest, because he is a political man. By a political man, I understand someone who is a vital part of a political community. For Camus's hero the political community does not exist. For Dostoevsky's hero, it exists only marginally. Raskolnikov is the model for a revolutionary, whose cause is that of all humanity. His is a polity—like the City of God—that has no borders. Patriotism is not possible however in a world polity ("world polity" is an oxymoron). Patriotism is possible only if there is a connection between one's father and the political order. (In the City of God, God the Father is the father of that city.)

I could go in and try to present evidence to contradict both of the highlighted assertions, but it seems sort of futile; there’s no evidence, no argument, no work. My guess is that I am witnessing someone simultaneously misreading Aristotle and Shakespeare. These definitive statements of dubious origins are all the premises on which the whole theory of Macbeth’s virtues rests. We have no idea how Jaffa arrived at them. But having laid down these fatherless axioms, away he goes!

In Macbeth's case, patriotism has a literal meaning, as he belongs to the royal family. He murders the king, forcing the king's sons—one of whom is the confirmed heir—to flee. He becomes king—after the murder—by a process of election, but one which is limited to the royal family.

Murdering the good, popular king who has just rewarded you for your services in battle doesn’t seem patriotic to me. Does that seem patriotic to you? Is this how you want your patriots to act? No matter; we needed to understand the technicalities of royal succession in imaginary feudal Scotland. Why we find ourselves at the end of this cul-de-sac I do not know. But when we come out of it we are in yet another surprising place, unable to say how we got there either.

When we speak of patriotism we presume a people descended from a common ancestor.

As the joke goes, “We who, white man?” What does “descended from a common ancestor” even mean? I mean, when someone says it in the late 20th century, what does it mean? Science has us all descended from a common ancestor. But I doubt that that is what was meant here. It does become clear that Jaffa’s notion of patriotism is tribal.

The children of Israel are those descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are the original fathers, the founding fathers. In the most patriotic speech in American history, Abraham Lincoln began by saying, "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation...." Now the United States, like other modern nation-states, is not a polity in the original sense of the political: the law of the Constitution makes fellow citizens of those of different ethnicities. The unity of the human race, as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, in Lincoln's poetic evocation, replaces the particular ancestors of ancient polities with the nature which is the universal ancestor of all human beings. Macbeth as he comes into sight is above all a citizen. As such, he shares responsibility for the commonwealth and, as a citizen-soldier, labors in its service. He feels keenly the honor that accompanies his heroic deeds. In serving the country by serving the king, he is keenly aware of the greatness of the honor that accompanies the person of the king. His ambition is therefore, in its origin, a by-product of his virtue.

There is a gap between these two highlighted sentences and I am afraid I cannot suggest anything reasonable that would fill it. Is Macbeth a citizen in the pre-Gettysburg sense, or in the post-Gettysburg sense? If he’s a citizen in the pre-Gettysburg sense, then what does that make all of us folks who can never be “above all a citizen” because we don’t have a cousin who is a king? I guess we are just the dog’s dinner.

As it happens, the speech is useless in this discussion. Well, not quite useless, since Lincoln’s idea of citizenship does one useful thing; it refutes Jaffa’s whole thesis about the public citizen Macbeth versus the private and therefore marginal citizens Raskolnikov and Meursault. There’s no indication that Jaffa ever notices this, either. But that’s OK, he’s got the apples and he’s got the oranges and by God, he’s going to compare them. The project works better if you, like Jaffa, ignore about 500 years of actual history and a corresponding body of literature that, since the time of Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s contemporary and friend, thought that serious dramatic and fictional works could be about ordinary people.

Why don’t these large facts matter? Does ignoring them produce any kind of net yield in terms of insight or understanding? Is this a fair question to ask? I think so.

After roping in Lincoln, Aristotle, Plato, the Declaration of Independence, John Locke to this project, after invoking the Moral Order and the Moral Universe (violated, inevitably, and inevitably restored), after bringing in all this heavy artillery, what exactly do we know? What insights into Macbeth’s character have we gained? We learn that Lady Macbeth, “evil personified,” made him do it.

At the beginning, Macbeth's strength, such as it is, lies in the clarity with which he views the moral order and understands his place within it. But his will is not equal to his reason, and her will, aided and abetted by her conjugal power, sweeps away the reason that is in him.

What we have learned, in other words, is just who wears the pants in the Macbeth house. And other than the fact that between breakfast and bedtime his wife can talk him into committing multiple murders, he is a deeply moral man.

As the drama proceeds, he loses the doubt and hesitation he possessed before, and becomes ever more resolute in acting out the multiplying demands of tyranny. Yet even as he loses all restraint, and all conscience, he is punished by his awareness of the goodness of the life he has foresworn. The crown is not, as Lady Macbeth had supposed, an avenue to felicity but to damnation, in this world no less than in the next.

But it’s not the crown that is driving them both bonkers: it’s the guilt, which is on such a dreadful scale that it even gets through their willing self-deception. They aren’t sitting there in the castle singing “I’m only a bird in a gilded cage.” Macbeth is seeing ghosts of his victims, and Lady Macbeth is seeing imaginary, indelible bloodstains on her hands. Moreover, they haven’t exactly been discreet in all of this; everyone knows what they have done, and the jig is up.

And anyway why should “a man who feels the power of morality to the fullest extent” believe for one second that the avenue to felicity is to make himself king by murdering a bunch of perfectly innocent people? Where, except in the bizarre parallel universe of academic literary criticism, would such a proposition be met with anything but ridicule?

I’m going to pause here and say something that may shock you. I don’t think Macbeth is a very nice person. I think Shakespeare was quite content for Macbeth to be a bad person whose specious goodness (war offers opportunity for just this kind of on-the-spot heroism, which is part of its appeal) crumples under the combination of ambition, self-deceit, fecklessness and cowardice that constitutes his everyday character.

Macbeth makes beautiful arguments against doing these terrible deeds but then he caves in and does them anyhow. I do not see how that can be considered good. I do not see how a person who acts that way can be considered moral. But people frequently confuse the impressiveness of Shakespeare’s language with actual morality. He’s not a particularly moral writer. He is a purveyor of sensational emotions. The momentum of emotion may take Shakespeare to a place that incidentally happens to be moral, as in, say, Coriolanus, but it is just as likely to lead him someplace like Hamlet.

As a portrait of a very bad man, Macbeth is great, but there’s more morality in one line of Chaucer, even in a story about chickens and a fox: “O false mordrour, lurkynge in thy den!” than there is from one end of Macbeth to the other.

As for me, I like my heroes to have some gumption. You want to talk about citizens? Michael Kohlhaas is a citizen. Try talking him into or out of anything! His actions and choices have dreadful consequences, but when he embarks on his bloody quest it is with a cool and full acceptance of the reasons for those actions and of the responsibility for the consequences, up to and including his own death by hanging. But he is only a horse dealer, not a member of the aristocracy. And he wages war not to get something he isn’t entitled, but to reclaim something that was absolutely his that was taken away from him. By Jaffa’s theory, the worthless Junker von Tronka is the better man, because he is a member of an elite that is inherently (literally!) morally superior.

Jaffa’s ideas on Macbeth don’t travel; they fall apart if you think about any literature that he doesn’t mention. And they fall apart if you think about 400 or so years of history (English Civil War, Enlightenment, French Revolution, 19th century novelists in two continents, two World Wars, Russian Revolution, etc.) between Shakespeare’s time and ours – and even in Shakespeare’s time the feudal world was basically a memory thanks to among others the Tudor kings -- and what all that history might have to say about what makes a citizen and what makes a morally interesting person.

I want you to notice the incoherence, the inability to make a good joint between two ideas or even to sustain attention to one. I want you to notice the total inability to handle any kind of evidence. I want you to notice the promiscuous use of fanciful, unexamined, unexplained, pseudo-philosophical general assertions that do not bear up under the most casual scrutiny. Notice, too, all that busy deductive activity and the utter banality of the resulting conclusions.

It is the sort of academic literary criticism that was written by stars of the field before postmodernism and multicultural criticism swept through. This is what the culture warriors at the Claremont Institute are nostalgic for. This is the good old days. I still run into people who, however jaded they are with the current state of literary study, say that the awfulness of New Criticism was worse. This makes as much sense as thinking that Napoleon established the regime of reason. There is a difference between what people say they are going to do and what they actually do. Sometimes I suspect that all these folks read is the brochures. They listened to hacks asserting their own hipness—not by anything so backward as actually producing interesting work, mind you—but by simply repeating that New Criticism was so last year! If there was ever a man of straw, the New Criticism was it. This essay is not bad because of New Criticism; it’s bad because its author can’t think. If he’d become a deconstructionist or a New Historicist or a multiculturalist or a Lacanian the results would be the same.

These strange historical judgments occur in a sort of special happy place where judgments are not disturbed by facts and where you expect that any criticism will only be a matter of polite professional form and where all premises and assumptions, no matter how silly and vacuous and improbable, are sacred.

This is a piece of writing that does not want to be questioned. You and I, my small but select readers, are assumed to be as stupid and as fantastic a creature as Jaffa’s Lenin, who gets the idea for the Bolshevik Revolution from reading Dostoevsky. No interesting vistas, no interesting unknowns appear. Call attention to its deficiencies and you will be told that all this is theoretical in a way to which the claims of logic, relevance to known facts and to actual human experience do not apply. Again, I ask: if you trade away these basic measures of competence and intellectual honesty, what can you get in return that will be worth it? And how will you measure what you get?

I do not call your attention to these things for their own sakes, or to show off my own cleverness. You may be wondering why I bother with this old relic of an essay. Surely even I, extremely small potato that I am, have bigger fish to fry. I certainly ought to at least be looking for bigger fish. Professor Jaffa is still alive, and this essay, which dates back to 1974, is really what I called it – a piece of very early-vintage culture war ordinance that has been re-enlisted so to speak.

Raskolnikov and Meursault are the heroes of two “Undergraduate Bibles.” That’s what we called the inevitable collection of the same well-thumbed paperbacks that you found in college dorm rooms and apartments in the late 1970/early 1980s. The full list included works by Vonnegut, Pynchon, Hesse, Salinger, Camus, Sartre, and basically one book by Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment. Jaffa’s essay is an attack on the literature of existentialism, of escape and rebellion, and, indirectly, on the vogue it enjoyed among college students at the time.

Certainly I had read those books (except Pynchon; cannot read Pynchon, prose makes me gag, and I could never take myself seriously enough to “get” Hesse. It just seemed fearfully dull) but I outgrew them by the end of my freshman year. The smartest people at Creative Studies were not terribly interested in these books; and I was following those people because they knew about stuff I didn’t know about. I did not get my morals corrupted by Dostoevsky and Camus. I got my morals corrupted by D.H. Lawrence and Tolstoy. It’s not my literary taste that’s under attack here.

While I was writing the dissertation, I found that Wallace Stevens’ poetry really attracted this sort of thing; modernism in general did. Modernism in poetry was a change in the motive, the idiom, the techniques and the subject matter. Now, it seems to me that explaining this change and its historic causes and implications to students and readers and making it actually mean something to them could keep a person quite occupied enough. But no. That was work for mere English teachers. And they yearned to be so much more than English teachers. Physicists, possibly. Or theologians. Modernism had to be a transformation of the very material and functioning of the universe. You often came across these imaginary Non-Governmental Organizations like the Moral Order (violated, inevitably, and just as inevitably, restored), and once a writer proved the existence of these entities (usually, merely mentioning them was sufficient proof), he’d go steaming away producing these sort of Rube Goldberg deductive structures from them while you were still wondering when the existence of this thing became as settled as Newton’s Laws. By day, mild-mannered English Professor… By night, prognosticator of metaphysical cataclysm!

Postmodernism did nothing to dispel this mood of fantasy and grandiosity. There was the same sense of the whole thing taking place in some sort of parallel Alice in Wonderland universe (possibly that Moral Universe), a special, happy place in which there is no accountability to logic, coherence, or evidence. In fact the messianic claims got even more manic and hyperinflated. The main difference was optimism: for the postmodernists the Breaking of the Vessels opened up some great opportunities in shard derivatives. And you kept hearing that postmodern criticism was the highest and most important form of literary activity, this was where the culture was going. Of course you primarily heard this from postmodernists. The only people who took these revolutionary fantasies at their face value, other than the postmodernists themselves, were people like – well, people who manage to believe that Napoleon caused the French Revolution and established the rule of godless reason.

Here, again, how were you to prove that all this activity and prophesying was doing any good? The whole profession had immunized itself against criticism; it had intellectually deregulated itself, and everybody was going to get rich.

At the very least, all this fabulousness should have produced some enthusiastic, passionate, productive, sharp English majors, right? OK, how about just people who came out of English departments more interested in literature, and interested in more literature, than when they went in?

No? Well. Who could have imagined?


Monday, March 17, 2008

Regular Programming Will Resume Momentarily


I have dug myself into a deep hole with a piece I’m writing. I believe I’m seeing the exit though. Half of the task, it seems, is explaining to myself why I'm bothering with it.

In the meantime here are two things I read that I thought you might as well read too.

The first, via Metafilter, is John Ruskin writing everything you need to know about the pathetic fallacy. Really, this is the last word. Until you think up something. If you do, bring it back here.

The second is Athenae’s commentary on today’s bailout of Bear Stearns by JP Morgan and the Federal Reserve. If you don’t know what that's about, well, this is a good place to start.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

If It's Too Good To Be True...

OK this is funny.

The day after the publishing world reeled from revelations of yet another faked memoir, this one from a supposed mixed-race former drug-running foster child from South-Central Los Angeles who turned out to have been raised by her white biological family in Sherman Oaks, those involved with the book's publication tried to explain how they fell for the deception.

Others debated whether the book world's credulous ways are in dire need of an overhaul.

Credulous, they call it?

There must be a stronger word than “credulous” for the desire to be deceived.

Jones/Seltzer, who claimed to be half Native American and often lapses in the book into the inner-city black vernacular of "hoods," "homies" and "ima make sure," is part of a long tradition of white artists impersonating or borrowing the voices and experiences of racial minorities, experts said.

Said black L.A. novelist Gary Phillips, "We know if it were a black girl, that's not exotic, that's just another story from the hood. That's not sexy. There is no movie."

Or, to put it another way, "Great stuff! If only it was happening to a white person.


The publishers interviewed in this piece suggest that fact-checking is what's needed. I would like to suggest that it's not facts but judgment that needs to be checked. Starting with Seltzer's creative writing school and working all the way up to Michiko Kakutani at the NY Times. Kakutani allows as how the book sounds a bit "novelistic" at times. When you hear someone refer to a nonfiction book as “novelistic” what pops into your head? Sons and Lovers? Anna Karenina? The Sound and the Fury? No, they aren’t novelistic, they are actual novels. The word “novelistic” means only one thing: sounds like bad fiction. And judging from every quotation and her approving commentary, Kakutani found this OK.

So the reason why I am so mean and cranky is because in my view, nonfiction that sounds like bad fiction is bad fiction. The difference between bad fiction and good fiction might seem to have no bearing on one fraudulent nonfiction book, but if you know what good fiction is, if you are alive at all to what makes it good, then it’s a lot harder to be taken in by bad fiction – or by bad fiction that claims to be true.

This is what you get when the audience (starting with the creative writing school) and the critics know what they want. When you know what you want, in that business, someone will give it to you. So you get from Seltzer this sort of mini-holocaust in South Central L.A. in the 1980s, black people blowing each other off the streets. And you get the spunky kids. And the brave unsung Big Mom. The psychodrama of the frozen heart unfreezing, the happy ending in a rose-covered cottage in Oregon where our heroine quietly and firmly keeps her demons under control, thanking God . And all this happening to a white girl! Which pushes all sorts of buttons – I don’t even know where those buttons are and I don’t want to know, frankly.

Here’s a sample, if you like. It has a shooting in it, with many authentic details. I mean, I suppose they are authentic.

It’s not so much the desire to believe these dubious facts that so strikes me, although that does, too: wouldn’t a little white girl selling drugs on a street corner in South Central be a little conspicuous? And everybody in the story who might have corroborated it is dead, funny how that worked out. What bothers me is the desire to believe that this is what a lived and experienced life sounds like. The writing is clumsy, the feelings are inauthentic and simplistic, the characterization is crude—if that sample is anything to go by. And it “leaks.” What do I mean “leaks”? I mean that the writing is unable to sustain the world of the book, it does not persuade you on its own. To resolve, for example, the apparent contradiction between what Kakutani calls Jones/Seltzer’s “colorful, streetwise argot” (colorful, streetwise argot?) and the special mix of psychobabble and sentimentality, of violence and pap, we have to keep referring to external facts that are not fully realized in the story; that is, we have to keep remembering, “She did go to college; that must be where she learned these ideas.”

This sort of “leak” is a really elementary failure of fiction. But it is not apparent to people who cannot distinguish bad fiction from good fiction, or bad fiction from the truth.
Piece of bad fiction goes out claiming to be true. How much truth is involved at any stage in this whole silly history? The measure is that in order to sell the supposed truth, the author has to push a fiction into the world—a fiction that her audience embraces because they already believe it about the world. They expect books to reaffirm that the fictions they persist in believing about reality and about literature are the truth. Does truth then exist? Yes Read Sons and Lovers, a work of fiction, and you know from the first page that every word of it is true.

Monday, March 03, 2008

No Singing the Body Electric For You, Missy!

Via the harumphingly contrarian AL Daily, Jessa Crispin of Bookslut (edgy! Says Leslie) opens her Smart Set review of several books on women’s fashion with some rather dazzling footwork.

Quick: How do you tell if a woman in a movie is supposed to be intelligent? First off, she’d probably be brunette, but past that. Glasses, yes. Little to no makeup. Her hair is probably in a ponytail. Clothes she probably bought at the Gap in a size too big. You know she’s the smart one because she thinks about more important things than her appearance.

It’s a stereotype, yes, but it’s constantly reinforced by intelligent women who should know better. Germaine Greer rallied women to taste their own menstrual blood in The Female Eunuch and then attacked fellow feminist writer Suzanne Moore by stating that “so much lipstick must rot the brain.” Feminists must reject the male gaze and use those ten seconds it takes to apply lip gloss to bring down the patriarchy. (Why sensible feminists have not figured out how to band together and write press releases to disassociate ourselves from the crazy women who pretend to speak for us, I’ll never understand.) [emphasis and bewilderment mine –kp]

Hah! You thought it was the movie studios and writers that perpetuated the stereotypes, didn’t you? You’ll have to get up much earlier than that, girls. It’s intelligent women who reinforce the stereotype of the frumpy ill-dressed brainy woman by dressing like frumpy ill-dressed women who think about more important things than their appearances. How intelligent is that, Ms. Smarty Baggy Pants? Snap!

Meanwhile the sensible feminists (among whom the writer places herself, natch) haven’t banded together to write press releases to disassociate themselves from the freaky fringe. They haven’t “figured it out.” In nearly 40 years. Doesn’t seem very sensible to me, I mean, if they really feel they should do it. Well, as my mother says, people do what they want to do in life. Possibly some of them think that there are more important things to think about. They may not know better. I’m sure I don’t.

She doesn’t like Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine’s book What Not to Wear, for its concentration on what the fashion mags used to call “figure flaws.” Says Crispin, “If I tried to dress to hide all the parts of my body I have ever been self-conscious about, the only thing left to wear would be a hazmat suit.” Being unself-conscious about one’s body is not an option, then?

The piece, unfortunately, tends to support the stereotype of the feminist as humor-impaired, savagely cranky, and judgmental on all sorts of picayune points of personal style. Or, possibly, Crispin is 15. The world is full of people who don’t get it, and she listens to the scandalous things they say to her, takes mortal offense in the quiet of her own mind, and doesn’t say a word, just adding to her vast inner reserves of vinegary contempt. (Look, I don't know this person personally, but I do know something about tone. The weird thing about writing is thaht people often don't know what they are doing, what they sound like.)

Though once upon a time, she confesses gamely, she had a bout of annoyingness: “I used to be a humorless feminist, too, complete with shaved head and my father’s combat boots. Then I discovered Charles David heels and got over it.” This piece suggests that high heels can do a lot of things for a girl, but clearly they can’t give you a sense of humor. (By the way, I like high heels too and own a couple pairs. But I’m not sure I know how to walk in them. Is there some way to walk in them that you don’t feel with every step that you are pounding on the ball of your foot with a hammer?)

High heels notwithstanding, the edgy fashion-conscious feminist must draw the line somewhere.

The line is three inches of cleavage: Crispin quotes approvingly Guardian writer Hadley Freeman’s declaration “Show me a woman with a good three inches of cleavage on display, and I’ll show you a woman who, rightly or wrongly, has little faith in her powers of conversation.”

How do they know, these two? Did they ask any of the cleavage-sporting women? Is it just assumed that such a woman lacks the discretion to have her own competent judgment about what she wears? Has someone taken a survey? Is it not possible to have faith in your powers of conversation and faith in the beauty of your body? Or in your clothes, even if they are baggy and you wear glasses? This question is much better left in the hands of the author of The Meaning of Sunglasses. Perhaps that is how one arrives at these subtle, mysterious, Gnostic judgments of other people’s inner lives; by studying handbags and sunglasses and lipstick.

I don’t think I’m very sensible and I have never called myself a feminist. I could call myself a feminist—some people feel it’s important to do so, but I’ve never been able to call myself anything and make it stick. There are always these awkward bits that don’t fit. Existential anxiety is a vocation, people!

But I did read The Female Eunuch, when I was about 13 or 14. I came across it on one of my afternoon prowls through my mother's bookshelves. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I came across it on several prowls. I did not read it cover to cover. I read it, of course, for the naughty bits. But that was a lot of the book. I did not take the infamous menstrual blood taste test, but I was already resigned to failing all sorts of social tests. The spirit of the lesson was that women didn’t have to regard their own bodies, or their sexuality, as dirty and shameful. And in that spirit I easily convinced myself that if my body was mine to enjoy I didn’t need to prove this to anybody other than me. I could step right over the test and go to the important part which was liking my physical being. Heavy stuff for a middle-class Jamaican teenage girl of those days, but it seemed perfectly reasonable. So I filed it away mentally. In Jamaica there were many experiences from books that you just had to file away; they belonged to the class of experiences you could only have if you moved abroad, like daffodils and snow.

I believe I am indebted to Germaine Greer (and possibly Bertrand Russell—who I read avidly at about the same time for his ideas and his language) for one addition to the sum of my enduring pleasures in life. Had I not read either of them, I might not ever have discovered, alone in a little cove on Buck Island, the difference between swimming and swimming nekkid.

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