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a blog by Ann Althouse

"How is it possible that a disease characterized by coughing, emaciation, relentless diarrhea, fever, and the expectoration of phlegm and blood became not only a sign of beauty, but also a fashionable disease?"

Asks Carolyn Day in "Consumptive Chic: A History of Beauty, Fashion, and Disease," reviewed by Allison Meier in "How Tuberculosis Symptoms Became Ideals of Beauty in the 19th Century/In Consumptive Chic: A History of Beauty, Fashion, and Disease, Carolyn A. Day investigates how the fatal symptoms of tuberculosis became entwined with feminine ideals in the late 18th and early 19th centuries" (Hypoallergenic).

It helped that the wasting away of tuberculosis sufferers aligned with existing ideas of attractiveness. The thinness, the ghostly pallor that brought out the veins, the rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, and red lips (really signs of a constant low-grade fever), were both the ideals of beauty for a proper lady, and the appearance of a consumptive on their deathbed. If you didn’t have the disease, you could use makeup to get the pale skin and crimson lips, and wear a dress that slumped your posture....

The perception of a medical problem as beautiful is not an isolated quirk of the Victorian age. We do it today. Look around.

I'll just quote an old post of mine, from 2004, my first year of blogging:

[O]n that subject of [John] Kerry's getting overtanned for debate purposes: Kerry, like Gore before him, seems to think it's good to be tan for a debate, a belief can be traced to Kennedy's appearance in the 1960 debate. But we know now that Kennedy's tan appearance was in fact a symptom of his Addison's Disease.

The subject of disease perceived as health is an interesting one. Here are three other examples:

1. I remember reading an essay some years ago written by a woman who had been suffering from cancer, who heard many people tell her how great she looked. They were only seeing that she had lost a lot of weight....

2. There is a terrific essay by Oliver Sacks in "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" (one of my favorite books), about a 90-year-old woman with syphillis, which she called Cupid's Disease, who enjoyed the lively, tipsy way it made her feel and did not want to be cured: "I know it's an illness but it's made me feel well."

3. In the Tennessee Williams play "The Glass Menagerie," the character Amanda makes having malaria sound fun: "I had malaria fever all that Spring ... just enough to make me restless and giddy."

Some will rob you with a six-gun/And some with an autopen.

I'm reading "Bob Dylan Fans Who Bought $600 ‘Hand-Signed’ Books With Replica Autographs Will Receive Refunds From Publisher/Fans compared notes online to realize that the books advertised as personally signed had autographs reproduced using 'autopen,' generally considered value-less in the collectors' world, even as eBay sellers were asking thousands of dollars for copies" (Variety).

The post title is adapted from a line from the Woody Guthrie song "Pretty Boy Floyd" — lyrics here — which Dylan sang sometimes.... 


The song is about Pretty Boy Floyd, a bank robber who died in 1934, and Woody Guthrie died in 1967, so the song has nothing to do with George Floyd, despite the labeling on that video. The song portrays Pretty Boy Floyd as a thief who was generous to the poor.

Here's the actual lyric:

Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

For what it's worth: The FBI named Pretty Boy Floyd "Public Enemy #1" after they killed John Dillinger, who'd been "Public Enemy #1. Three months later, the FBI shot Pretty Boy Floyd to death. The new "Public Enemy #1" was Baby Face Nelson, and he lasted about a month after that.

The term "public enemy" goes back to Roman times:

The Senate declared emperor Nero a hostis publicus in AD 68....

The words "ennemi du peuple" were extensively used during the French revolution. On 25 December 1793, Robespierre stated: "The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation; it owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death." The Law of 22 Prairial in 1794 extended the remit of the Revolutionary Tribunal to punish "enemies of the people," with some political crimes punishable by death, including "spreading false news to divide or trouble the people."

The modern use of the term was first popularized in April 1930 by Frank J. Loesch, then chairman of the Chicago Crime Commission, in an attempt to publicly denounce Al Capone and other organized crime gangsters....

The phrase was later appropriated by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, who used it to describe various notorious fugitives they were pursuing throughout the 1930s. Unlike Loesch's use of the term, the FBI's "Public Enemies" were wanted criminals and fugitives who were already charged with crimes....

"What, for his part, did Trump really think of his vice president? In one unintentionally revealing anecdote..."

"... Pence relates how he attended the musical 'Hamilton' and, at the curtain, heard one of the cast members issue a statement on behalf of the show expressing anxiety and alarm over the administration’s lack of commitment to protecting a diverse America. 'I wasn’t offended by anything he said,' Pence writes, but Trump 'was outraged — mostly as a New Yorker. "Broadway is almost like going to church," he told me.' When Pence declined to turn the episode into culture-war point-scoring, Trump 'good-naturedly' admonished him: 'You took the high road. I never take the high road.' Somehow one doubts that Trump intended that as a compliment."

From "Mike Pence highlights his heroic hour, and sidesteps the rest/In his memoir, 'So Help Me God,' the former vice president writes of his outrage at the Capitol invasion but is generally soft on President Trump" (WaPo).

Here's my blog post from the time. I was mainly concerned that Mike Pence was put in physical danger.

"[T]hat the book contains only four songs performed by women... is both grim and astounding...."

Writes Amanda Petrusich in"A Response to Bob Dylan’s 'Philosophy of Modern Song' There was something missing from the bard’s recent book"(The New Yorker).

Is it? Grim and astounding? Is it astounding because you'd think, in this day and age, that any informed writer would know you have to gender-balance your lists of favored works of art? That Bob Dylan didn't is a little astounding, but why is it grim? I think it's kind of encouraging that Bob didn't think he had to do that, and it can be a little grim to see other people's lists and suspect that's what they did.

In the book, Bob talks about women a lot, because the songs written about men tend to be about women — from the man's point of view. Why shouldn't Bob take the man's point of view? You want him appropriating what women think? He does that in his songs — "She's got everything she needs..." — but he's being the man who's imagining — maybe wrongly — what the woman is thinking.

Petrusich writes:

Even if it were possible to hotfoot around the lack of women (and it is hard to find a way to understand the void as satirical), his essay on Johnnie Taylor’s “Cheaper to Keep Her” is peppered with odd, doddering declarations: a married couple with no children is “not a family. . . . They are just two friends; friends with benefits and insurance coverage but just friends nonetheless.”

He goes on to argue for polygamy, and wonders if a “downtrodden woman with no future, battered around by the whims of a cruel society” would be “better off as one of a rich man’s wives—taken care of properly, rather than friendless on the street depending on government stamps?” Is this a joke? Does it matter?

Petrusich goes on to make a list of songs by women which theoretically could have been written about. But she doesn't write them up in any way, so her list doesn't balance Dylan's book. It's just a list of songs she thinks might have been good to write about instead of the one's Dylan chose.

I've been watching the new season of "The Crown," and I read recaps of the episodes at a blog where they often criticize the show for depicting some historical events but not others — e.g., the tampon conversation but not the attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne. But "The Crown" is a work of art and the artists chose what they chose. If you were writing your own show... well, who cares? You don't have your own show. You're naming things that could have been chosen, but without the task of actually making the work of art. 

To paraphrase Bob: You're not an artist.

"You describe growing up under Soviet occupation, being trained to revere the Soviets, rat out your neighbors, to obey."

"It was indoctrinated into you to obey and revere an occupier. And this, you say in the essay’s conclusion, familiarized you with being controlled, with being with someone controlling. 'My marriage was a sort of occupation,' you write. Looking at what’s happening in our country and around the world, do you think about the connection between shame and defensiveness and occupation and politics?"

That's a question the NYT interviewer, Rhonda Garelick, asks Paulina Porizkova in "Paulina Porizkova Doesn’t Call Her Book a Memoir/The model and author spoke about writing 'No Filter: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful.'"

Porizkova's husband was the rock star Ric Ocasek.

That question was absurdly difficult! And Porizkova doesn't really try to answer it. 

Garelick persists: "But you made that political connection in your essay — between the occupying army and Ric."

Fair enough. Porizkova blows it all off. She was jet lagged and under time pressure when she wrote that — "My marriage was a sort of occupation."

Either say it and defend it or don't speak. The dead Ocasek cannot speak. Or do beautiful women have a special privilege to make aggressive analogies?

Some pages of Bob Dylan's "Philosophy of Modern Song" are photos like this with a couple sentences isolated from the text.

I find that pretty amusing. You can buy the book here. I have the audiobook and the Kindle text, so I'm usually out walking around listening. I like Bob's voice, reading, and the various actors who read some of it are good too. I intersperse that reading with playing the songs. Here's a Spotify playlist of the songs. I have the Kindle so I can find quotes to blog, but in this case, I need the Kindle so I can see the illustrations, and then I also need the Kindle so I can contextualized those captions.

Here, in this case, it's:

She says look here mister lovey-dovey, you’re too extravagant, you’re high on drugs. I gave you money, but you gambled it away, now get lost. You say wait a minute now. Why are you being so combative? You’re way off target. Don’t be so small minded, you’re being goofy. I thought we had a love pact, why do you want to shun me and leave me marooned. What’s wrong with you anyway? I’m telling you, let’s be amiable, and if you’re not, I’m going to wrap this relationship up and terminate it. You’re asking her for money. She says money is the root of all evil, now take a hike. You try to appeal to her sensual side but she’s not having it. She’s got another man, which infuriates you no end. 

But no other man could step into your shoes, no other man can swap places with you. No other man would pinch-hit when it comes to her. How could it happen? I get it, she’s not in love with you anyway, she is in love with the almighty dollar. Now you’ve learnt your lesson, and you see it clear. Used to be you only associated with extraordinary people, now they’re all a dime a dozen, but you have to keep it in perspective. There’s always someone better than you, and there’s always someone better than him. You want to do things well. You know you can do things, but it’s hard to do them well. You don’t know what your problem is. The best things in life are free, but you prefer the worst. Maybe that’s your problem.

Now, what song is he talking about? 

See how he's inhabiting the main character in the song and paraphrasing the lyrics, but he's making the main character "you." He's giving this ridiculous person his say.

I propose a party game based on Bob Dylan's philosophy of song. Prior to the event, get your group to agree on a list of songs that everyone knows. Then, when it's your turn, you do a little monologue as the character in the song, not using the lyrics to the song, but restating the character's circumstances and feelings. Play it like charades, but with talking.

So, what's the song? The best things in life are free, but you prefer the worst. That's hilarious.

Quentin Tarantino's alternative reading of the Body Snatchers movies.

From his new book, "Cinema Speculation" (boldface added):

[T]he Pod People transformation is closer to a rebirth than a murder. You’re reborn as straight intellect, with a complete possession of your past and your abilities, but unburdened by messy human emotions. You also possess a complete fidelity to your fellow beings and a total commitment to the survival of your species. Are they inhuman? Of course, they’re vegetables. But the movies try to present their lack of humanity (they don’t have a sense of humor, they’re unmoved when a dog is hit by a car) as evidence of some deep-seated sinisterness. That’s a rather species-centric point of view. As human beings it may be our emotions that make us human, but it’s a stretch to say it’s what makes us great. Along with those positive emotions—love, joy, happiness, amusement—come negative emotions—hate, selfishness, racism, depression, violence, and rage....

Imagine in the fifties, when the [first "Body Snatchers"] film was made, that instead of some little town in Northern California (Santa Mira) that the aliens took root in, it was a horribly racist, segregated Ku Klux Klan stronghold in the heart of Mississippi.

Within weeks the color lines would disappear. Blacks and whites would be working together (in genuine brotherhood) towards a common goal. And humanity would be represented by one of the racist Kluxers whose investigative gaze notices formerly like-minded white folks seemingly enter into a conspiracy with some members of the county’s black community. Now picture his hysterical reaction to it (“Those people are coming after me! They’re not human! You’re next! You’re next!”).

"Writers, or at least most of us, are specific types of monsters. We have the hubris to think we have something to say, that someone might read our work...."

"My older sister’s reply the last time I asked her about books: 'I just read Facebook now.' Most books don’t succeed either in terms of sales or critical unanimity. Most writers don’t earn a living wage from their writing. Tenure-track appointments (I teach college writing) are rare as unicorns. But being a writer is not a sentence handed down, it’s a choice I’ve made. I love other writers and do not want to root against them (some of my closest friends, et cetera), but there’s a desperation inherent in the state of publishing that sometimes makes this difficult...."

From "The Unbearable Envy of the Published Author" by Lynn Steger Strong (NYT).

"There’s no philosophy, not really, in 'The Philosophy of Modern Song.'"

Writes Dwight Garner in "Bob Dylan Breaks Down 66 Classic Tunes in His New Book/'The Philosophy of Modern Song' offers commentaries on a range of music, written in the singer’s unmistakable lyrical style" (NYT)

I'm reading the book, and I've been asking myself, as I go, where's the philosophy? My working answer is the reader has to put together the philosophy. Dylan is providing a lot of raw material, but can't you see what he's saying?

You know there's a philosophy, but you don't know what it is, do you?

Mr. Garner writes:

These riffs, which he flicks like tarot cards through a distant cactus, sound a lot like his own song lyrics....

Much of the book is Dylan paraphrasing lyrics from songs, and it's only subtly obvious that Dylan's words are better, deeper, more mysterious. What I'm seeing is that for every song — or almost every song — he heightens the inward emotional structure of the main character in the song.

But Garner gets weary (book reviewers do get weary):

The tone becomes repetitive. In a lot of the cases, you could switch Dylan’s commentaries around, apply them to different songs and not know the difference....

But that's why there's a philosophy to be extracted by the reader. He's looking at different songs and seeing the same thing. 

He suggests that the Who’s “My Generation” is sung from the perspective of an 80-year-old man in a nursing home, that Ricky Nelson and not Elvis was the true ambassador of rock ’n’ roll and that Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House” is about a pedophile mass murderer. There’s an analysis of Bing Crosby’s version of Yale’s “Whiffenpoof Song.” Sometimes you only hope he’s kidding.

Is this where it is? Sorry, I need to hand in my ticket and go watch the geek.

"I was so angry and just irritated at seeing man after man — you know, typically, male politicians — grandstanding about abortion."

Said Gabrielle Blair, quoted in "Gabrielle Blair Would Like a Word With Men/After 16 years of making a name for herself as a blogger and home decor expert, Design Mom has written her manifesto — about reproductive health" by Kase Wickman (NYT).

The NYT article seems to be a reaction to the fact that a book Blair created out of a 64-post-long Twitter thread has debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times’s paperback nonfiction best-seller list.

Here's the Twitter thread, and here's the book: “Ejaculate Responsibly: A Whole New Way to Think About Abortion.” 

Now, my readers may be saying tough luck for Althouse. She could have written a book called "Don't Be a Splooge Stooge," but Blair got to the best-seller list first. Of all my unwritten books, that's the one I'm least sad about not devoting a year of my life to.

Blair's point isn't exactly the same as mine. I was responding to the argument that men — because they don't have the right to choose to end a pregnancy — shouldn't have to pay child support for children they didn't want. I said both men and women have a right to decide what happens within their own body, and, anatomically, for men, the right ends when he ejaculates. You need to exercise care and control while you can. You can't extend your power into the sovereign domain of the woman's body, and, if your child is born, it deserves the economic support of both of its parents.

Blair addresses opponents of abortion. She's mad at abortion opponents who are male and who go after women for failing to adequately guard their body from pregnancy. Men need to focus on what men can do, which is to insure that they never impregnate a woman. If you had to never impregnate a woman, you could, she says. Read the book — or the Twitter thread — to see her advice in full. In short: Unless you want to create a new life — or unless you've had a vasectomy — you should never ejaculate into a woman's vagina.

She does not address the one circumstance that led to my "splooge stooge" series: The woman retrieves a used condom from the trash and uses it to impregnate herself.

By the way, Blair has 6 children. The first tweet in her "ejaculate responsibly" series is:

I’m a mother of six, and a Mormon. I have a good understanding of arguments surrounding abortion, religious and otherwise. I've been listening to men grandstand about women's reproductive rights, and I'm convinced men actually have zero interest in stopping abortion. Here's why….

Why is she "convinced men actually have zero interest in stopping abortion"? Because they keep ejaculating into women's vaginas!

What should male abortion opponents do?

Stop protesting at clinics. Stop shaming women. Stop trying to overturn abortion laws. If you actually care about reducing or eliminating the number of abortions in our country, simply HOLD MEN RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS.

It gets really intense and punitive. I was just saying men owe child support. Blair says:

What if there was a real and immediate consequence for men who cause an unwanted pregnancy? What kind of consequence would make sense? Should it be as harsh, painful, nauseating, scarring, expensive, risky, and life-altering… as forcing a woman to go through a 9-month unwanted pregnancy?

In my experience, men really like their testicles. If irresponsible ejaculations were putting their balls at risk, they would stop being irresponsible. Does castration seem like a cruel and unusual punishment? Definitely.

It's a thought experiment.

But is it worse than forcing 500,000 women a year to puke daily for months, gain 40 pounds, and then rip their bodies apart in childbirth? Is a handful of castrations worse than women dying during forced pregnancy & childbirth?

Put a castration law on the books, implement the law, let the media tell the story, and in 3 months or less, tada! abortions will have virtually disappeared.

This argument also works as a cure for all sorts of misbehavior. The government could cut off the hands of thieves and execute tax evaders. But, obviously, Blair isn't really coming after you with pruning shears.

Can’t wrap your head around a physical punishment for men? Even though you seem to be more than fine with physical punishments for women?

The "punishments for women" come from nature. We're the ones with the self-punishing anatomy (if you want to characterize pregnancy and childbirth as punishment).

Okay. Then how about this prevention idea: At the onset of puberty, all males in the U.S. could be required by law to get a vasectomy.

Reverse your vasectomy if and when you decide you want to be a father. There's your right to choose. I mean it would be if you were choosing the vasectomy, but Blair envisions forced vasectomy.

Again, it's a thought experiment. Blair is trying to come up with ideas that lie within the power of men, to give something for men to do instead of trying to control women. Men can get a vasectomy. But she wants to express anger and outrage at men for directing their efforts at the things women do to their bodies, so she's jacking up the aggression and visualizing cutting off men's testicles and forcing vasectomies on little boys.

And there is a market for this book, so some people are finding these visualizations interesting, funny, or exciting.

Some will rob you with a six-gun/And some with an autopen."What, for his part, did Trump really think of his vice president? In one unintentionally revealing anecdote...""[T]hat the book contains only four songs performed by women... is both grim and astounding...."Some pages of Bob Dylan's "Philosophy of Modern Song" are photos like this with a couple sentences isolated from the text.

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