You know, I’d say that this entire Derek Walcott thing has left a bad taste in my mouth

…But then, some pervert might interpret it as a come-on. 

*haw haw*

As evil_fizz recently pointed out – most people are aware of Walcott’s reputation as, well, someone who doesn’t respect certain boundaries with women. As most of the recent defenses of Walcott attest, it isn’t that anyone is denying that improprities have occurred – instead, people are saying that we should have a different standard for Walcott than we do for other people. 

I am sympathetic to Ruth Padel, Walcott’s rival for the Professor of Poetry post at Oxford, who had to resign after it was alleged that she engaged in a “smear-campaign” that forced Walcott to withdraw his nomination for the post. I think she was being careless when she talked to the media, but what does it say about our priorities when Walcott only recently saw his inappropriate conduct affect his career, whereas women like Padel are automatically reduced to the status of evil trolls when they discuss information that’s already in the public domain? 

As a young female journalist and aspiring novelist, I am routinely warned to never, EVER criticize men like Walcott. If I want to have a writing career, I am told, I need to shut up and smile and allow the Great Men of Letters to bask in their Greatness. Perhaps then they’ll let me sit in their laps, or something. 

More importantly, we are taught to believe that certain men who Live the Life of the Mind can and should get away with demeaning women. Tom Wolfe can call young college women “sluts,” Derek Walcott can be the sort of man whom female undergraduates are explicitly warned against and not be the worse for wear, and so on. Not harassing or demeaning women is already seen as a tough business for your average man, but a man whose “brain is the size of a planet” cannot be held responsible as they are too distracted by their own brilliance to act as responsible residents of this sinful firmament – hell, poor guy was only thinking deep thoughts on Daniel Defoe when he accidentally stumbled into your pants, lady. 

Odd how these excuses are only extended to men wherein their conduct with women is concerned. If Walcott was prone to picking fellow academics’ pockets or abusing his cat, would we be even having this discussion? 

Continue reading “You know, I’d say that this entire Derek Walcott thing has left a bad taste in my mouth”

Camille Jekyll and Camille Hyde

Unsuspectingly, I opened up Salon.com this morning, completely forgetting that it’s CAMILLE PAGLIA DAY. In the words of Princess Leia, the foul stench should have clued me in, but I was still on my first cup of coffee, so I can therefore be forgiven (maybe).

I suppose the reason why I devote so much of my time to Paglia has something to do with the fact that I’ve always wanted to like her. She’s fearless and energetic, she uses big words and concepts without putting her readers into boredom-induced comas, she has a sense of humour, and she is as interested in Britney Spears as she is in Derrida – which is something that a lot of people in her position simply would not admit (because they’re giant, insufferable snobs, that is). Camille is someone whom I should like, which is why I feel all the more bitter when reading her Salon columns these days. There is so much in there that I would like to hitch my wagon to, but alas.

I’m not going to link to the piece itself, but here is the best and worst of that column:

To this day, I have more rapport with campus infrastructure staffers (maintenance, security) than I do with other professors or, for that matter, writers.

AHAHAHAHAHAHA! OK, I never worked campus security or maintenance, but I was a barista while an undergrad, and did work for the English Department after graduation – making photocopies and posters and such – and so I just have to ask, what does she talk about with us peons? Does she praise the Herculean masculine virility of campus security? Does she generously point maintenance staff to that one paragraph in Sexual Personae that deals with the most efficient way of unclogging drainage pipes?… Don’t get me wrong, the idea that a plumber can’t have a meaningful conversation with a professor is pretty stupid, but what the hell is up with the faux street-cred? Beat your chest much?

“Oh, I totally know some ordinary people! We even hang out! Iz awsum!”

On the other hand, she writes something like this:

My point is simply that the love life of everyone I’ve known from my baby-boom generation and afterward is a chess board ruled by shadowy forces that long predate puberty. Erotic choices yearningly follow or rebelliously diverge from a cast list imprinted on us in childhood. Changing the template may be virtually impossible. Self-knowledge is the most that we can hope for. But for that we need poetry and art — not the rigid, sterile political ideology that still paralyzes gender studies.

… And I couldn’t agree more. Politics are crucial, but they do not contain the answer to everything. For example, working for the Duke English Environment, I felt like I was in a genuinely supportive environment, but I also quickly realized that an English PhD was not what I wanted from life. There were many reasons for this decision, but one of those reasons had to do with how much of the work always seemed to tie in with politics – from conferences to papers to publications. I don’t think I could handle it. I’d probably wind up at a conference, twenty years down the road, ripping the pearls from my neck and screaming “I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE BLOODY PROTO-FEMINISM EXHIBITED IN CHAPTER SIXTEEN! DEAR GOD, WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE ART?” And it would not be pretty.

And the line about “shadowy forces” is simply beautiful.

Dammit, Camille, you’re just doing this to confuse me, aren’t you?