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a blog by Ann Althouse

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"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.

"The government had a high-profile witness on its side with the author Stephen King, who testified that the merger would be especially harmful..."

"... to writers who are just starting out, and took a contrary position to his own publisher, Scribner, which is part of Simon & Schuster. On Monday night, Mr. King said in an email interview that he was 'delighted with the outcome.' 'Further consolidation would have caused slow but steady damage to writers, readers, independent booksellers, and small publishing companies,' he said. 'Publishing should be more focused on cultural growth and literary achievement and less on corporate balance sheets.'...  The Justice Department’s focus on author earnings, rather than harm to consumers, marked a shift in how the government applies antitrust law. Antitrust policy has largely been guided for decades by an effort to prevent large corporations from imposing higher costs on consumers, rather than focusing on the impact a monopoly might have on workers, suppliers or competitors.... 'The Biden administration wants to be aggressive to protect the overall market, and not necessarily to just protect consumers,' said Eleanor M. Fox, an antitrust expert at N.Y.U. School of Law...."

From "Judge Blocks a Merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster/The government’s case blocked the merger of two of the United States’ largest publishers and reflected a more aggressive approach to curbing consolidation. It was closely watched by the publishing industry" (NYT).

"People of no ethical background for you are easy prey, and they’re your line of business—patronizers, snobs and highbrows, whoever they think they are."

"But you understand them as geometrical bodies, with solid angles and planes, and you know how to make them see wonderful things, and you can make music that drives them mad. You’ve got the character of Saturn and the spirit of Venus. Passion and desire, you give it to them under the counter. Your guidelines are simple, and you rule nothing out. Strip yourself bare and dance the sword dance, buck naked inside of a canvas tent, fenced in, where the town royalty, the top brass and leading citizens, bald as eggs throw their money down, sometimes their entire bankroll."

From Chapter 47 of Bob Dylan's "Philosophy of Modern Song." 

That's Bob, talking about — what songs did you think he was going to talk about? — "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves."

In the song the men of the town would lay their money down. But for Bob, they throw it down, those bastards. And they're all bald. As eggs. But they are understood as geometrical bodies, with solid angles and planes. You try doing that with an egg. Bob, he's a genius. He's like Picasso. He sees the angles and planes in what, for you, is ovoid.

Bob Dylan's "The Philosophy of Modern Song" is out today.

Here. I've put it in my Kindle.

Also out today, Quentin Tarantino's "Cinema Speculation." I just put that in my Kindle too.

Is that too much pop culture to read all at once?  I guess I did not think so. Better to read whatever Genius 1/Genius 2 have to say about songs/movies than the last gasps of politicos hankering for next week's elections.

It's too late for October surprises. It's November — remember.

"Season 9 was the year that I was sober the whole way through. And guess which season I got nominated for best actor?"

"I was like, ‘That should tell me something.'... I didn't know how to stop.... If the police came over to my house and said, 'If you drink tonight, we're going to take you to jail,' I'd start packing. I couldn't stop because the disease and the addiction is progressive. So it gets worse and worse as you grow older."

Said Matthew Perry, quoted in "Matthew Perry 'Nearly Died' When His Colon Burst Due to Opioid Addiction 'The doctors told my family that I had a 2 percent chance to live,' the Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing author says."

The other "Friends" actors were, he says, "like penguins. Penguins, in nature, when one is sick, or when one is very injured, the other penguins surround it and prop it up. They walk around it until that penguin can walk on its own. That's kind of what the cast did for me." That sounds like something a character on the show would say.

"Then I went on musing about why it was thought better and higher to love one's country than one's county, or town, or village, or house."

"Perhaps because it was larger. But then it would be still better to love one's continent, and best of all to love one's planet."

Wrote Rose Macaulay, in "The Towers of Trebizond" (1958).

I ran into that quote because — as you see in the previous post — I looked up "muse" in the OED. 

This is a novel about some English people traveling in Turkey.

A Turkish feminist doctor attracted to Anglicanism acts as a foil to the main characters. On the way, they meet magicians, Turkish policemen and juvenile British travel-writers, and observe the BBC and Billy Graham on tour. Aunt Dot proposes to emancipate the women of Turkey by converting them to Anglicanism and popularising the bathing hat....

The first sentence in the book is "'Take my camel, dear,' said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass."

Aunt Dot — AKA Dorothea ffoulkes-Corbett — is, according to the Turkish feminist doctor, "a woman of dreams. Mad dreams, dreams of crazy, impossible things. And they aren't all of conversion to the Church, oh no. Nor all of the liberation of women, oh no. Her eyes are on far mountains, always some far peak where she will go. She looks so firm and practical, that nice face, so fair and plump and shrewd, but look in her eyes, you will sometimes catch a strange gleam.

And there's one of those lower-case double-f  English surnames. If you want to delve into that strange question of capitalization, let me recommend "That’s all, ffoulkes!" (Grammarphobia). 

I won't quote all the history and explanation, just 2 things at the end about novels.

First, in the 1853 novel, Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell, there's a Mr. ffoulkes, who  “looked down upon capital letters and said they belonged to lately invented families.” He met a Mrs. ffaringdon and —  “owing to her two little ffs” — married her.

Second, there's this, from “A Slice of Life,” P. G. Wodehouse (1926):

“Sir Jasper Finch-Farrowmere?” said Wilfred.

“ffinch-ffarrowmere,” corrected the visitor, his sensitive ear detecting the capitals.

The NYT has a few excerpts from Bob Dylan's forthcoming book “The Philosophy of Modern Song."

The first paragraph of the NYT article is: 

The title of Bob Dylan’s latest book, “The Philosophy of Modern Song,” is, in a sense, misleading. A collection of brief essays on 65 songs (and one poem), it is less a rigorous study of craft than a series of rhapsodic observations on what gives great songs their power to fascinate us.

Who's writing that? The article has the byline Bob Dylan, so you might be deceived into thinking that's Bob using the third person for fun and calling his own title "misleading." But after the first 6 paragraphs, you'll see the named of the NYT writer Ben Sisario. 

Only after that point are we reading Bob Dylan, in what are excerpts from the book, which is, apparently, what he wants to say about this and that song and not a treatise on "philosophy." 

The use of "philosophy" calls to mind "The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again." It's not really philosophy.

It sounds a bit like the narrative parts of Bob's old "Theme Time" radio show. I will definitely read this book when it comes out on November 1st. You can buy it here (and by using that link make a contribution to this blog).

Click on the link to the NYT article to read much more from Bob and to listen to some audio. For example, from the essay on "Strangers in the Night":

Intruders, oddballs, kooks, and villains, in this gloomy lifeless dark, fight for space. Two rootless alienated people, withdrawn and isolated, opened the door to each other, said Aloha, Howdy, How you doing, and Good Evening. How could you have known that the smooching and petting, eros and adoration was just one break down mambo hustle away — one far sided google eyed look and a lusty leer — that ever since then, that moment of truth, you’ve been steamed up, head over heels, each other’s hearts’ desire. Sweethearts and honeys right from the beginning. Right from the inaugural sidelong sneak peek, the origin — the starting point. Now you’re yoked together, one flesh in perpetuity — into the vast eternity — immortalized.

"[T]he 'Lebensborn' program — meaning wellspring or fountain of life... created in 1935... provided luxurious accommodations for unwed, pregnant women."

"Part of the program’s attraction was that unwed pregnant girls could give birth in secret. In 1939, about 58 percent of the mothers-to-be who applied to the program were unwed... by 1940, that number had swelled to 70 percent. Often, the homes were converted estates decorated by Himmler himself, using the highest quality loot confiscated from Jewish homes after their owners had been killed or sent to camps. Girls who were already pregnant or willing to be impregnated by SS officers had to prove their Aryan lineage going back three generations and pass inspections that included measuring the size of their heads and the length of their teeth. Once accepted, they were pampered by nurses and staff who served them delicacies at mealtimes and provided a recreational diet rich in Nazi propaganda...."

From "A new novel tells the story of Nazi birthing farms" by Kathleen Parker (WaP).

The new novel is "Cradles of the Reich" by Jennifer Coburn.

Here's the article in the Holocaust Encyclopedia about the Lebensborn program.

I found that as I was looking for photographs showing how a place "decorated by Himmler" would look. Here's a propaganda photograph with a caption that translated into "Everything for the healthy child":

 
 
From the Holocaust Encyclopedia article:
Himmler had hoped that the program would become the wellspring of future generations of Nazi Germany’s racial elite. However, Lebensborn disappointed these expectations. Although the program’s homes claimed to uphold the highest standards of modern medicine, serious complaints about the quality of medical care emerged....
Himmler had estimated that 100,000 “biologically valuable” German women obtained abortions illegally each year, despite increased penalties. However, only around 7,000 children were born into the Lebensborn homes during the program’s nine-year-long existence. 
Lebensborn ultimately fostered many more kidnapped foreign children, although the precise numbers are difficult to establish. The legacy of the Lebensborn program includes broken homes and devastated parents. It also left a generation of children forced to contend with identity crises as well as the social disapproval that often accompanied their association with a Nazi eugenics program.

I'm not going to read the new novel. I'd rather read nonfiction on this topic, but I would like to read a novel set in the near future that envisions a similar program in America, addressing the problem of declining birth and acknowledging that outlawing abortion won't work.

Of course, the racial aspect of the story would need to be changed, but how much? We'd have some sort of ideology of "diversity" or racial balancing, and it would be interesting to depict various American leaders attempting to work that out and needing to worry that what they are doing is like Lebensborn. Like Lebensborn. 

It would also be interesting to show American leaders attempting to draw in young American women through architecture and interior decoration... displayed on TikTok and Facebook. The novel could be very funny if you got just the right sort of obtuseness as the old try to imagine what these young women today want.

Offers of great food and a wonderful health care system would be part of the draw. More things to go wrong in this novel's twists and turns.

I could write this novel, but it will remain forever on my shelf labeled "Unwritten Books."

"People of no ethical background for you are easy prey, and they’re your line of business—patronizers, snobs and highbrows, whoever they think they are.""[T]he 'Lebensborn' program — meaning wellspring or fountain of life... created in 1935... provided luxurious accommodations for unwed, pregnant women."

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