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Preview: Comments on Althouse: Have I been too kind to the late Andrea Dworkin?

Comments on Althouse: Have I been too kind to the late Andrea Dworkin?





Updated: 2017-11-24T19:20:41.214-06:00

 



Proustman,Thanks for a reasoned reply and clarific...

2005-04-21T00:11:00.000-05:00

Proustman,

Thanks for a reasoned reply and clarification. I now understand the intended irony of your comment vis-a-vis "consent". In that context it is a fair point.

At risk of appearing ungracious, I would suggest that it is always risky to debate views that one has received second hand. However confident you may be of your sources, the resulting opinion remains a product of hearsay at best. Better to go straight to the source and make your analysis from direct evidence.



w.b said:" I can only guess that it springs from a...

2005-04-20T18:05:00.000-05:00

w.b said:

" I can only guess that it springs from a personal need to condemn her post-mortem....Here's the question I would like answered. I agree with much, though not all, of your criticism of Dworkin. Yet I don't hate her while you obviously do. I wonder why that is?"

No personal need, no hate. Knew nothing of Dworkin beyond the vaguest name recognition until 3 or so days ago. I simply think several of Dworkin's highest profile and arguably most characteristic ideas (which I learned were hers from material at Reason.com, again over the last few days) are sufficiently wrong and influential that pulling them apart is a legitimate thing to do. I don't think this has anything to do with her corpse, either. It's about her ideas, which are unaffected by her being dead or alive. The ideas are what influence the living with whom we are.

As for everyone interpreting Dworkin's work their own way, my disagreement was with what I took to be a claim that she shouldn't be critiqued. From what w.b. wrote in response to me I think I must have been mistaken as to his intent. I apologize. I disagree with emphasis on focusing on living over dead, though. Level of influence matters more in my view. As does level of error.

Dismantling her truth claims is an important part of understanding why others find the truth claims compelling. So I don't think that the reasonable goal w.b. suggests is at odds with these critiques.

The words "culture's unanimous consent" was a (perhaps ineffective) analogy between the sexual intercourse she preached against and her preaching itself. She objected to intercourse because even a woman's consent wasn't really legitimate consent, and that's what I was alluding to: she preached her seed-planting ideas into the culture, and the seeds grew up to accuse many individuals of many things, and to bear other fruit that harmed many. It may have been a stretch; obviously whatever it was it didn't communicate.



I think MacKinnon tarred herself with that brush. ...

2005-04-20T01:27:00.000-05:00

I think MacKinnon tarred herself with that brush.

And she continues to do so.



Poustman said:"leeontheroad: The idea that rudenes...

2005-04-19T09:49:00.000-05:00

Poustman said:

"leeontheroad: The idea that rudeness or hatefulness, in a non-theatre setting, against a person simply because that person involuntarily belongs to a certain group, can be justified as being 'political theatre' cannot be right."

I didn't say Dworkin's "political theater" was justified (proven to be right or just or reasonable, says Webster.) In fact, quite the opposite: I said what she did was wrong. I also implied that wrong actions could have a valid point: that Dworkin did (if she did as she was said to have done, which I expect) was "an inversion of a long-standing situation," i.e., one in which women were silenced in academic settings.

Obviously, if Dworkin was giving a lecture and people attended, (all) women were no longer silenced, so I was not endorsing what I suggested were theaterical aspects of her lecture performance (or behavior, if you prefer). I can acknowledge, and obviously thought I should, the point of an intellectual forebearer, even when, as I said, I "radically diasagree with soem fo the thigns she said."

To this point: "Would treating all members of any other given group, say a racial group, in that setting be acceptable as 'political theatre'?"

Ionesco did that, but then folks knew they were in a theater.

So you suggest here one must know one is in a theater:
"Not unless the setting is agreed upon by all beforehand as being an audience participation political theatre performance"

and folks going to an Ionesco performance would have. If folks did not know what would happen when Dworkin gave a lecture, that is Dworkin's fault? Caveat Emptor!
I suspect it was all exactly as advertised.

Just for a comparative point: to such "theater" in a course-- even an elective one-- I would more strenuously object. I don't believe it does substantive harm in a voluntary lecture setting if male audience members are ignored. It is rude, however, as I said; and rudeness is suspect.

Speaking of context, I beleive Dworkin's ideas were quite a piece of the context of her times. I suspect there won't be another Dworkin; and that's a good thing.

Still, not only is w.b. reeves IMHO correct to suggest an analogy between the post-mortem Dworkin critique and Pope Formouso, I am also distressed by Cathy Young's characterization of MacKinnon as MacDworkin-- as though with Dworkin now "safely dead," one can move on to tarring McKinnon, as it were, with the "same brush" as Dworkin.



Oh, ack, again! I should read:Maybe that relations...

2005-04-19T06:29:00.000-05:00

Oh, ack, again! I should read:

Maybe that relationship you cherish is your own benighted eroticization of domination.

One thing about comments is that you tend to dash them off more quickly than a regular post, but you can go back in and edit a regular post. I'll be more careful. Sorry.



Ack... that should have read:Maybe that relationsh...

2005-04-19T06:21:00.000-05:00

Ack... that should have read:

Maybe that relationship you cherish is your our benighted eroticization of domination.

Anyway, I still think that is a brilliant challenge to women!



Cathy Young: Thanks for responding again. You ask ...

2005-04-19T06:06:00.000-05:00

Cathy Young: Thanks for responding again. You ask "What ideas of Dworkin's, specifically, do you find so 'rousing and provocative'?"

As I've written, I haven't read anything by Andrea Dworkin in over 10 years. The last thing I read was the novel "Mercy," which I thought was just terrible -- and terribly written, unlike her nonfiction. It's easier for me to remember how interesting I found "Intercourse," "Right Wing Women," "Women Hating," and "Pornography: Men Possessing Women," than it is to remember exactly which ideas in them impressed me. But I'll try.

To me the emphasis was on the disrespect shown to women more than a hatred of men. Dworkin demanded that people care about the degradation of women -- specifically in everything sexual. She challenged women not to be smug and just think that they had found a good man for themselves and to distance themselves from the suffering of other women. That is, she tried to demonstrate that the sexual domination of women was everywhere.

Maybe that relationship you think cherish is your our benighted eroticization of domination. That's really something to think about!



Sexism may be a serious matter in contemporary Ame...

2005-04-19T03:29:00.000-05:00

Sexism may be a serious matter in contemporary America, Professor Althouse, but only if we include bias against men on account of their sex in the equation. Family courts, for one, practice institutionalized sexism against men. Can you find an government body that acts out a similar bias against women?

Answer that and we can get on to defining the essential qualities that distinguish feminism from any other big-money, special interest advocacy business.



Proustman,"That post approaches the nadir of ratio...

2005-04-19T00:17:00.000-05:00

Proustman,

"That post approaches the nadir of rational discourse, w.b. Especially in the context of a discussion of Dworkin's writings."

I couldn't disagree more.

Exactly how does recognizing that everyone will assess Dworkin in light of their own experience suggest that she should be immune to criticism? This is something that would be true of any writer's work. I was seeking to put the emphasis where I believe it belongs, on the living not the dead.

I consider my view a hard nosed recognition of fact. The entire significance of Dworkin's theories lies in the appeal they had for a large number of women, including individuals such as Susie Bright who eventially broke with her. If this were not so we wouldn't be having this discussion since we probably would not know who Dworkin was.

That being the case and considering that the woman is dead, I don't quite understand the morbid desire to pillory her corpse. Surely our time would be better spent seeking to understand the appeal she held for so many women still living. After all, they are the ones we are still sharing the planet with.

Or are they wicked, psychotic, manhaters as well?

In addition, since I think I made my profound disagreement with Dworkin quite clear, I don't understand why you felt compelled to recite an indictment of her. I'm hardly her advocate. I can only guess that it springs from a personal need to condemn her post-mortem.

I'm reminded of the trial of Pope Formosus who, having been some months dead, was exhumed by and old enemy who had ascended to the Papacy as Pope Stephen. He propped Formosus' corpse in a chair in the Vatican and proceeded to put him on trial. The carcass was prosecuted, condemned, excomunicated, mutilated and then thrown into the Tiber after being dragged through the streets, thereby insuring that Formosus is remembered to this day.

It's my impression that you are in danger of sliding into the same pit in which Dworkin enmeshed herslf. Your personal antipathy for Dworkin is so profound that it is affecting your critical judgement. Or did you really mean to state the following:

"So now that she's dead, some want to draw a graceful veil over her living words, injected into the culture without the culture's unanimous consent."

Since when is the "culture's unanimous consent" required before expressing an opinion, however noxious or erroneous? Or perhaps you meant that the lack of unanimity legitimates criticism? Of course, I never argued that criticism was illegitimate so this seems hardly reasonable. Or, if you prefer, rational.

Here's the question I would like answered. I agree with much, though not all, of your criticism of Dworkin. Yet I don't hate her while you obviously do. I wonder why that is?



Prof. Althouse: Your reply is greatly appreciated....

2005-04-18T22:44:00.000-05:00

Prof. Althouse:

Your reply is greatly appreciated. I have to say that I don't quite understand how you can separate Dworkin's "passion about harms done to women" from her demonization of men and male sexuality, since the two are so interwoven.

I think Brian Courts makes an excellent point: if you're opposed to race-based affirmative action, you don't praise a racist bigot who shares that opposition.

To take another example: If you're concerned with the plight of the Palestinians, surely you don't offer qualified praise for a pro-Palestinian writer (even a recently deceased one!) whose writings are filled with anti-Semitic vitriol.

So why is anti-male venom seen differently? Because men are "the ones in power"?

Finally, I'd like to ask you a question, and please believe me that I'm not asking it in a snide or sarcastic spirit. What ideas of Dworkin's, specifically, do you find so "rousing and provocative"?



All I know of Dworkin is that I had to read an ess...

2005-04-18T20:10:00.000-05:00

All I know of Dworkin is that I had to read an essay of hers for my junior year of high school, for AP Language and Composition.

I recall being actually disturbed to read it. The things said (at least in this essay) made her seem quite clearly completely out of touch with reality. As it was also probably the only example of feminist literature (as feminist literature) I've ever read, I think her writings did (and do) a great disservice to feminism.

And therefore I think even limited praise of her is a mistake. It's not wrong mind you, just not what I would call a wise decision.



w.b. reeves: "Andrea Dworkin's truth was her own,...

2005-04-18T18:29:00.000-05:00

w.b. reeves: "Andrea Dworkin's truth was her own, for each of us to accept or reject according to our own experience."

That post approaches the nadir of rational discourse, w.b. Especially in the context of a discussion of Dworkin's writings.

Dworkin published her thoughts and ideas, which disqualifies her or anyone from claiming exempt status from having ideas refuted. It may be that private and unshared worlds of thought may not have to agree with reality at all to be somehow 'true'. But once you publicize these ideas they take on that burden. And become fair game for those who think they fail to bear it.

Furthermore, she believed she was making truth claims. Once you publish ideas, and claim that they represent reality itself, you can't get away with this kind of anti-thought, that 'this is my truth, you accept or reject it according to your own experience.'

Publishing is at least as dominating and oppressive an action as loving, committed, procreative sexual intercourse. It says 'this is' about the reality we all share. Odd that so many who cry 'paternalism' fail to see that they themselves are planting seeds and dictating growth by their writings.

Dworkin claimed "her truth" as universal truth. She claimed that *her* experiences trumped the experiences of others, and her interpretation of reality was Right, all others, Wrong. And grossly, wickedly, horribly Wrong.

So now that she's dead, some want to draw a graceful veil over her living words, injected into the culture without the culture's unanimous consent. Her words, which accuse individual human beings of terrible crimes they did not commit. Her words, which tar other individual human beings with the label of 'victims' for things they deeply cherish.

Too kind, indeed.



I'm certainly no expert on Andrea Dworkin having o...

2005-04-18T17:47:00.000-05:00

I'm certainly no expert on Andrea Dworkin having only read "Right Wing Women" but you didn't have to read her to be aware of her popular impact. Having grown up in the radicalizing atmosphere of the late sixties, early seventies I was aware of the groundswell of grassroots feminism wherein ideas, theories and manifestos germinated and proliferated in profusion. Perhaps this is why I didn't find much that was attributed to Dworkin to be particularly original. It seemed to me that I had been exposed to most of her ideas in embryo as they gestated among the uncited rank and file.

Finally, I took time to read her. I don't think it can be denied that she was a skillful and passionate writer. Still, "Right Wing Women" struck me as profoundly wrong headed and since its argument was bound up with all the strands of her arguments about patriarchy and heterosexuality I concluded that she was off track there as well.

After all this time I still recall (albeit a bit hazily) the two passages that informed my judgement. In the first she was outlining the inherent oppressive and brutal character of male/female sex. In an aside she chose to emphasize "...particularly deep thrusting.." I remember thinking 'How seriously can we take someone who thinks they can micromanage the individual sexual behavior of billions of human beings? How seriously can we take the opinions someone who evidently believes, with absolute certainty, that she can define the essence of such intimate acts for all people in all circumstances?' I kept reading though.

Which brings me to my second recollection. Dworkin described her confrontation with what she regarded as blatant anti-Semitism amongst right-wingers at a conference in Texas. The anti-Semitism consisted of conference attendees not being shy about asking her if she was Jewish.

Being a native southerner with many friends who hale from the north east, I'm aware that questioning people about their religion is not a common practice there. However, the case in the southern states is precisely opposite. It would be unusual if, upon making an acquaintence, people didn't inquire about church attendance, etc. Evidently Dworkin had no notion of this.

The two instances are significant, I think, in that they illustrate that the source of her greatest strength was also the source of her greatest frailty. As her passion grew directly out of her personal experience so did her misjudgements. She didn't see that, while we inhabit systems of social, sexual and political constructions,we do not experience them in identical fashion. Individual experience is not interchangeble, no where less so than in the intimate depths of the human psyche.

I don't agree with those who say this failing defines her as insane . Damaged surely. Disturbed? Almost certainly. All of which is finally beside the point. Andrea Dworkin's truth was her own, for each of us to accept or reject according to our own experience.

What's worthy of thought and discussion is not why so many reject her theories but why her words, her experience, have resonated with so many.

No, I don't think you were too kind.



Similar to what mossback said above, "We don't liv...

2005-04-18T17:32:00.000-05:00

Similar to what mossback said above, "We don't live throughout history and around the world, we live where we live and when we live."

While I understand that there is indeed some powerful benefit to referring to groups of persons, especially when dealing with widespread social issues, I think this approach, however common and even intuitive, has its limits.

Referring to 'men' and 'women' in the context of groups of oppressors and oppressed seems, possibly more than any other generalization, to forget that in the end only *indivuals* ever actually suffer (or experience) anything. Even when large numbers of persons go through the same experience, they each suffer as individuals. Since we are not collective beings, we do not have any particular 'collective' experience, just common experiences which each of us go through uniquely.

Therefore I am always at least a little itchy beneath the waves of rhetoric about 'men', 'women', or racial or ethnic or any other groups. It has been pointed out elsewhere that considering white, middle-classed women as oppressed *in general* is dubious. How much more *all* women? Even the subset of women who have had sex with men . If a given individual woman was/is oppressed, that demands redress. But because one, or many, or even millions, of women have been or are being oppressed does not mean that all, or even most, women are oppressed.

Similarly with the advantages of being male, or the common sins of males. If a given individual has an advantage or does something reprehensible, he (or she) has it or does it. Not all he's or she's.

Ann said that 'sexism is a serious matter'. Absolutely, as are most 'ism's which refer to denying given persons their full humanity. But the point is that only individuals deny or are denied. When groups are referred to in general it dishonors both the victims and those who are innocent. Claims that *all* of a given group are victims, or guilty, or innocent, are the problem. And that, whether it was theatre, rhetorical device, or the product of emotional scarring, was what Dworkin actually said. How else can you judge a writer?

synova, (and perhaps rhesa) what was Dworkin right about? Besides commonplace things that a host of others knew and pointed out before and after her.

tara, the point (which brian courts partially covered already) is that Dworkin is vilified for the very things that were the essence of her work: ideas. She is also vilified for how she presented them. Her ideas themselves, and how she expressed them, were both hateful to many individual human beings, considered alone or as a group that happened to have commonalities (men).

leeontheroad: The idea that rudeness or hatefulness, in a non-theatre setting, against a person simply because that person involuntarily belongs to a certain group, can be justified as being 'political theatre' cannot be right. Would treating all members of any other given group, say a racial group, in that setting be acceptable as 'political theatre'? Not unless the setting is agreed upon by all beforehand as being an audience participation political theatre performance.

And Ann, the comments by leeontheroad's which I single out above may have been well put, but they are still untenable.

And now I must go and remove the many planks from my own eyes.



Ann: I'm sorry I just don't have the heart to poin...

2005-04-18T15:02:00.000-05:00

Ann: I'm sorry I just don't have the heart to point out the shortcomings of the woman's work. She just died!

Me: Bravo. If only Christopher Hitchens had the same hesitation before he wrote about Bob Hope, Pope JPII, ...

And Ann, I must have missed the memo where Cal became your editor in chief, but I do hope you kick him to the curb quick.



Leeontheroad. Thanks. That was well put.

2005-04-18T14:45:00.000-05:00

Leeontheroad. Thanks. That was well put.



Cal: What I wrote wasn't "knee jerk" -- it was car...

2005-04-18T14:42:00.000-05:00

Cal: What I wrote wasn't "knee jerk" -- it was carefully considered and exactly what I wanted to say. I often write about someone who just died, but most deaths I ignore. I want what I choose, and some recently departed I would speak ill of. Depends on the person and what they meant to me.



>Calls of "inappropriateness" are>a time-honored w...

2005-04-18T14:18:00.000-05:00

>Calls of "inappropriateness" are
>a time-honored way to censor and
>oppress unpopular speech.

You mean, say, claiming that it's "inappropriate" to find merit in a particular author's work because that author holds extreme views you find upsetting?



Dworkin defined a fringe of feminism, as someone o...

2005-04-18T12:52:00.000-05:00

Dworkin defined a fringe of feminism, as someone or a group always will. That there is a spectrum of feminisms today is in part the result of Dworkin and so many others. Acknowledging our intellectual forebearers (-fathers and -mothers) helps to ground us historically and also, thus, to define our own viewpoints.

I disagree radically with some of the things Dworkin said (and I read relatively little), but, moreover, ways she appeared to say them. For example, she is famous (I don't know how accurately, as she's even in death a favorite target) for refusing to call on men who attended campus lectures-- to the point of utter, brash rudeness. That was political theater-- especially because she was a woman. The theater helps us to know what is wrong, to see it, feel it and, also, we hope, to see that it is an inversion of a long-standing situation.

Rest in peace, Andrea: perhaps you will now be able to do so.

And, Professor, thanks for bringing it up.



"I'm sorry I just don't have the heart to point ou...

2005-04-18T12:42:00.000-05:00

"I'm sorry I just don't have the heart to point out the shortcomings of the woman's work."

At least you admit you were lazy about it and performing the typical societally demanded knee-jerk response in praising the recently dead in spite of their obvious and well-known failings.

Sort of like how everyone avoids bringing up the embarassing fact that the recently dead Pope did more to harm the Church (by covering for child molesting priests and their protectors).

If you're going to defend your factually incomplete adulation of Dworkin by copping to the "be nice to dead people" argument, while simultaneously defending your own laziness in addressing the "whole picture," then you've got zero intellectual credibility.

Zero. Calls of "inappropriateness" are a time-honored way to censor and oppress unpopular speech.

"If you can't say somthing nice..." right?

Well, I'd rather you said nothing at all.



It does matter, Brian, because your use of we mean...

2005-04-18T12:14:00.000-05:00

It does matter, Brian, because your use of we means you speak for someone other than yourself.

No, Rhesa, it doesn’t mean that at all. I said “We shouldn’t even have to tolerate…” It was a mere statement of opinion. Like if I said “We (i.e. society) shouldn’t even have to tolerate child molesters.” That statement does not mean I am speaking for society – it is merely expressing my view of what society shouldn’t tolerate. There is a clear difference.

As to the second part – I didn’t mean to imply that you had honored her. The debate was about Professor Althouse “honoring” her even in a qualified or limited way. I was simply restating my objection to doing so.



It does matter, Brian, because your use of we mean...

2005-04-18T11:33:00.000-05:00

It does matter, Brian, because your use of we means you speak for someone other than yourself.

No it doesn’t, but as I said, it certainly doesn’t mean it is right to honor a hateful bigoted lunatic for her help in some cause simply because you are sympathetic to it.

I don't think I honored her anywhere in my previous comments. I'm pointing out, however, that since you and I have different views of her doesn't mean neither of us are incorrect. But I don't see it as a "disservice to legitimate discourse" because as we're doing here now, it allows us to discuss why Dworkin's work was so inflammatory for some people.



The road to censorship was paved with Dworkin's go...

2005-04-18T11:14:00.000-05:00

The road to censorship was paved with Dworkin's good intentions. She was, in part, responsible for the banning of books written by several friends of mine. I have trouble forgiving that.



Several years ago, I read a letter written by Dwor...

2005-04-18T09:01:00.000-05:00

Several years ago, I read a letter written by Dworkin about how she'd been raped twice as a teenager. As I'm reading up about this, it seems that Dworkin also claims to have been raped again in 1999 - a claim that apparently hasn't been given much credence. But is it possible that she was in fact a teenage rape victim or was she making up this story?



Dworkin never called all sex rape.I believe Cathy ...

2005-04-18T01:59:00.000-05:00

Dworkin never called all sex rape.

I believe Cathy Young adequately addressed in her comment this “she didn’t say all sex is rape” quibble.

I can't remember all the times I've been told that just I should just forget that insert_author's_name_here is a misogynist/anti-semite I should just let myself appreciate the genius of their work...

There is a big difference between appreciating a work of art created by someone whose views on a particular issue are ignorant, and honoring someone for their efforts in a cause which was wholly based on, and intimately tied to, those ignorant views. If some author hates women or blacks or gays but writes a great book, I can enjoy the book with no thought to the personally abhorrent opinions of whoever wrote it. Just as if Dworkin had painted a masterpiece I would graciously acknowledge its aesthetic beauty without concern for her craziness in other areas of her life. However, in Dworkin’s case, we are certainly not talking about appreciating something unrelated to the objectionable views in question.