Women We Read This Week

Nicole Pasulka’s “Wanted: Macho Men With Moustaches” in The Believer

I never spent a lot of time thinking about the cultural phenomenon of the Village People, or how such an incredibly gay group came to be embraced by mainstream America. By the time I came of age in the ’90s Bay Area, songs like “Macho Man” and “YMCA” were cheesy jokes to be ripped off during Halloweens in the Castro, nothing more.

Pasulka’s piece places the Village People within the larger spectrum of the gay rights movement, in the post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS era of hypermasculinity. Examined here, the group becomes fascinatingly paradoxical: they busted out of the gay disco scene and into mainstream American culture not by playing down their homosexuality but by heightening it. And while I never would have considered the act one of nuance or subtly, when placed within their historical context, certain ambiguities arise: to what extent were they parodying the “clone” culture, and to what extent was the act genuine?

It’s a piece that raises a lot of these kinds of questions and that avoids nice neat answers. And it makes me reconsider something that I always wrote off, never took the time to really really analyze–which makes it a pretty great piece of writing in my book. –Lauren

Lauren Elkin’s interview with Rebecca Solnit, “The Collector,” at The Daily Beast

Rebecca Solnit, writes Lauren Elkin, “intuits links between seemingly unconnected subjects…Like a chemist she adds one disparate idea to another to see how they interact.” Here the subjects are not so disparate – they include poetry, punk, and pleasure – but you still feel you’re being taken on a journey. Solnit is particularly eloquent on the ability of stories about gender, beauty, race, and power to, as Elkin puts it, “do us harm,” and about the art of nonfiction:

When I was growing up, nonfiction was not yet literature, or wasn’t taught in creative-writing programs, so I thought that poetry and fiction were over there on the throne, and nonfiction used the servants’ entrance. It was embarrassingly recently, probably about 15 years ago, that I realized that most poetry is essayistic: it’s not bound by the rules of journalism, but it is essentially nonfiction. Poetry is a philosophical and descriptive foray into the world, and it has some permission that I want to give myself sometimes, to make associative leaps, to ask the reader to work a little, to evoke as well as define. Somebody yesterday was using that phrase of Paul Klee’s, to take a line for a walk: I want to take the language on a walk. So I feel close to poets in a way, for that permission, that freedom, those explorations of what language can do.

Shannon Mattern’s “Infrastructural Tourism” at Places

In its simplest sense I think this is an essay encouraging a more nuanced understanding of the world in which we live. The focus is infrastructure – hidden but not-hidden, essential but difficult to define (“an infrastructure is a ‘relationship or an infinite regress of relationships. Never a ‘thing’,” Mattern quotes). How is it visualized, sensed, performed? How might a heightened awareness of the systems that surround and sustain us be achieved – and what purpose might this kind of literacy serve?

That last question is left largely unanswered (as Mattern puts it, “So you know where your Internet lives…now what?”), but to me the real meat of the piece is its acknowledgment of the way in which the Internet changes how we operate, particularly in relation to place(s). Whether it’s necessary to “visit” the Internet to fully explore this change I don’t know, but I like what Mattern says here:

Why “visit” the Internet? Why contemplate the intercontinental and nano-scale mechanisms through which it operates? In part because our ostensibly “wireless” networked-ness constitutes nothing less than a new human experience — as Mackenzie describes it, an experience “trending toward entanglements with things, objects, gadgets, infrastructures, and services, and imbued with indistinct sensations and practices of network-associated change. Wirelessness affects how people arrive, depart, and inhabit places, how they relate to others, and indeed, how they embody change.” What’s more, as Mackenzie argues, wirelessness constitutes a distinctive way of being — an existence somewhere between the material and immaterial, the empirical and theoretical, the place-bound and the placeless, the local and the global. To visit the sites that are producing our networked experiences is thus an attempt to understand these new entanglements, sensations and practices, these network-associated changes — this new way of being.


Rachel Aviv’s “To Write About the Button” at Poetry Foundtation

How is it that poets are always talking about lazing around, waiting? At the Ohioana Book Awards this past year, fellow panelist and poetry winner Dave Lucas, when asked about what he does to cope with writer’s block, answered “I wait.” And in this lovely Rachel Aviv story about Grace Paley’s humble career as a poet, Aviv cites this line from “Responsibility”: “It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy to hang out and / prophesy.” I envy this trust in inspiration, this un-rushing, when I feel a perpetual pressure and hurriedness to prove myself, just like I envy the confidence it takes to shrug off literary prizes, airs, recognition, and to care as much about making pies and children and protesting wars as poetry: seeing, in fact, all of these as the stuff of poetry. Paley, Aviv shows with affection and a straightforward prose that echoes its subject, privileged everyday life as much as poetry and merged the two seamlessly, writing about simple subjects without concern for literary forms or deconstruction. This is my favorite line, and one that contains a strange ironic revelation about the writing life: “She blamed it on her temperament: she was fairly happy.” — Sarah

Jonathan Lee’s interview with Nicole Aragi, “Literary Culture Clash,” on Guernica

Her webpage is “a single monochrome page consisting solely of the words ‘Aragi,’ ‘Nicole Aragi,’ and ‘queries@aragi.net.'” I envy this: to be so good at something that you don’t have to promote, publicize or seek out an audience, to be so good that you don’t have to worry about webpage design, target audience, image, social media and a thousand other things that creative people have to do today to survive. Aragi is the literary agent who discovered some of my favorite writers: Junot Díaz and Edwidge Danticat. She had a history degree and no experience as a literary agent, and she was universally rejected in her attempts to join publishing houses. Eventually she took over running a bookshop, and there met an author who introduced her to a literary agent. Aragi cultivates the kind of dying literary agent/author relationship that I think all writers dream of:

It’s really important to me that my authors get on with each other, that we all like each other. Early on, that became a factor as I built up my list. The writing had to be great, of course, but I also wanted to build up a group of people who would support each other and help each other and want to hang out. Last year I turned fifty. The authors on my list threw a surprise party for me. Walking into a room full of everyone you represent: it’s a really scary thing! One of my clients is [the artist and graphic novelist] Chris Ware, and he made me this as a present. [Aragi pulls out a box containing a beautifully made book. On the first page is a personal message signed by authors on her list.]

For Aragi, her work is her life, and the beauty of that is something I hope to find. — Alice


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *