Michael Chabon and Ghost of Wallace Stevens in Political Slug Fest!

Ok. Again. Not. However, I remain fascinated by the rhetorical irresponsibility that blogging makes possible.

In keeping with the literary politics of the season, the New York Times reports this morning that there’s a new book out with women writers reflecting on Hillary Clinton. The title, Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary Clinton, recalls Wallace Stevens “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Bird.” The choice apparently reflects the content of the book since Stevens’s poem is all about how perspective makes and in some sense is the object of our reflection.

I

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

Ok, I hope you have a better time making sense of this than I do with my students. After saying “This poem is about perspective” conversation mostly comes to an end and we twiddle our thumbs for fifty minutes. Nevertheless, the blackbird, and apparently Hillary, are nothing apart from how we construct them in our imaginations.

Kakutani isn’t terribly impressed, but I have to say that I find Kakutani too often follows the unacknowledged dictum of many contemporary book and movie reviewers: Slander everything unless you find it absolutely impossible not to. Finding fault too often substitutes for seriousness.

The following is from the introduction by Susan Morrison:

“On a shelf in my kitchen is a campaign button that I picked up during the 1992 presidential race. Over a photo of Hillary (bangs and headband phase—which was basically my look then, too) are the words ‘Elect Hillary’s Husband.’ Back then, the slogan produced a kind of giddy frisson: not only was the candidate just like someone I could have gone to college with—a baby boomer—but his wife was, too. And she had a job! I had only known first ladies as creaky battleaxes who sat under hairdryers and wore brooches. The thrill associated with that button feels far away now, and it’s hard to know exactly why. There’s no doubt that the rinky-dink scandals of the Clinton administration and the dismal parade of special prosecutors took the gleam off the fresh start that the Clintons brought with them to Washington. But that doesn’t quite explain how now, fifteen years later, there is not more simple exuberance at the idea that we may be about to elect our first woman president.
….
“No other politician inspires such a wide range of passionate responses, and this is particularly true among women. As I talked with women about their reactions to Hillary, some themes came up again and again. Many women were divided within themselves as to how they feel about her, and I noticed a familiar circle of guilt: these women believe they should support Hillary as a matter of solidarity. But, because they expect her to be different from (that is, better than) the average male politician, she invariably disappoints them; then they feel guilty about their ambivalence. Some feel competitive with her. Having wearily resigned themselves to the idea that ‘having it all’ is too much to hope for, they view Hillary as a rebuke: how did she manage to pull it off—or, at least, to appear to pull it off? Other women say they want to like her but are disturbed by the anti-feminist message inherent in the idea of the first woman president getting to the White House on her husband’s coattails. Then there are women, like the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who are queasy over the way Clinton’s popularity spiked only after she was perceived as a victim. When it became clear that Hillary was going to stand by her man after the Lewinsky fracas, Wasserstein wrote a disheartened Op-ed piece in the New York Times. ‘The name Hillary Rodham Clinton no longer stands for self-determination, but for the loyal, betrayed wife,’ she wrote. ‘Pity and admiration have become synonymous.’

Side note: Morrison’s text is one of many that echo Stevens’s poem. Gates’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel. A quick Google search shows 44,600 references to the phrase “Thirteen Ways of Looking.” There are, I guess 17 extra ways of looking at the prismatic Hillary Clinton. I find Wallace Stevens resilient popularity and influence on our culture a bit boggling. Maybe it’s because most of us are leading the dull lives of insurance salesman and long to release our inner poets.

Thus the popularity of blogging? Anyone can be a poet now. Everyone is.

So much for craft.

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