Monday, September 20, 2010


Welcome to the third and final session of the Salon Reading Club for Jonathan Franzen's novel "Freedom." Last week, we took the discussion up through Page 382, and now it's time to consider the book's conclusion.

[. . .]

I'm a little ambivalent about the ending of "Freedom." While it was definitely satisfying to see Walter and Patty reunited, part of me thinks it's not very realistic. But perhaps that's the point; if those characters had done what most divorced couples do and kept moving on to new lives, they'd be exercising the American-style freedom about which Franzen is clearly so ambivalent.

[. . .]

What did you think of the way Franzen depicts the political climate of the mid-2000s? Walter's road trip with Lalitha to promote Free Space is a Magical Hysteria Tour of the endemic rage of the period, which Walter regards as "loony," even though it is, in a fashion, a reflection of the repressed anger he's been nursing since his boyhood in the motel. There's a strong sense that Americans have been making their politics carry an emotional load displaced from their personal lives -- it's a lot less destabilizing to rant on the Internet about Dick Cheney or Bill Clinton than to get into it with your spouse and parents, let alone your own messed-up self -- to the detriment of public life.

[. . .]

In fact, the whole little neighborhood drama about the cats and the songbirds at the end deftly encapsulates the themes of the book: Walter is right, but in the wrong way. Linda is a monster, but taking her cat to the pound only makes him one, too. But, again, I'm not sure I'm optimistic enough to believe in Patty's solution -- even if I'd like to. (Laura Miller, Road trips, political rage and catnapping,” Salon, 18 Sept. 2010)


Freedom, apparently, is something we pursue until the point where we can chase down what we really want -- rapprochement -- under our terms. All this early consideration of the rape, as if it were a "rosebud" moment, when what it was was a vehicle to leave parents behind you -- justifiably -- so that you can explore / be carried along the currents of the times that move / accompany your adulthood, and rejoin your heritage later as an encounter between one who has experienced and lived and those who have been kept back. Patty doesn't only find her way back into old patterns; she pins down as much as possible both parents on points that have always concerned her. With neither of them is there much potential for an enlarged conversation -- which is just fine if the point is to momentarily enjoy your ability to stand before them undaunted, witness their fainting back and retreating, and thereafter without complication just savor their ties to old assured ways and old strengths before admitting you're -- alas -- confined to always be one of them, intent as you are now to merge back into them.

To this particular contemporary reader, the book feels like (I experienced it as) an accurate account of the last 20 years of liberaldom. A good stretch at first of other-daunting, hells-bells, frontier-like freedom -- ethical households multiplying out of nowhere in run-down neighborhoods -- experienced as without doubt, as pushed forward, as is any first opening of a frontier ("Good neighbors"). Then, Iraq, and terrible self-damning experiences of guilt for voting in a near unified swath of Democratic politicians who supported the war, of seeming as oil-stained as any ol' coarse Republican ("Mountaintop," "Bad News"). Rescue, with Obama -- dramatic re-imagination of image -- ("Fiend of Washington") but troubles still with the economy, with the first couple years, especially, where no one was really confident that the sorts of people who were most going to go under had crystallized (first struggles between Walter, alone, and Linda). And then at the end some sights of a gradual awakening to a realization that a certain class of liberals were going to do okay, to the sense that a certain, specific kind of target was desired, and that you actually have more freedom than you think to move about, to err, and, apparently, to be arrogant (Walter's soul-saving, other-diminishing tirade; then more confidently Patty's expertly managed sequence of pseudo-kindness to Linda, sudden total abandonment of her, and signed, departing "gift" of a cat-balking, bird-turd enclosure), because your central concern for self-abnegating rapprochement over freedom, your overall willingness to cooperate in favoring the downing of emerging age-designated targets -- even if not always with fervor or without regret -- has been repeatedly noticed and unerringly proven to ensure you aren't one of them, and that the way ahead will shortly be guaranteed for you and as gratifyingly delimited, denatured, and era-defining (other drama-obfuscating) as is a settled-upon war (Tea-baggers vs. the Obama-loyal; mangy cats vs. implacable birds).

Walter is a monster for steeling himself to kill the cat, but he sees and recollects Bobby's individuality, and through it, Linda and her family's own personhoods. Patty "maturely" desists in attacking her daughter's blog postings, choosing instead to restrain her true response to it, to her, and just support her enthusiastically with bland, unfocussed praise. To me, our near last sight of Walter was our last glance of something maybe opening up, before a terminus that sealed down everything that might otherwise have been challenged and pithily grown.

Link: Road trips, political rage and cat-nappings

Sunday, September 19, 2010


The Democrats, as usual, are still fighting the internecine party battles of the '90s. While Jerry Brown struggles with the 1992 presidential primaries out in California, Bill Clinton is attacking a prominent liberal critic and defending his legacy of triangulation.

At a joint appearance with former British prime minister and warmonger Tony Blair, Clinton complained about MSNBC's Rachel Maddow (without naming her) for, basically, telling the truth about his presidency. (Alex Pareene, “Bill Clinton peeved that Rachel Maddow called him a Republican,” Salon, 14 Sept. 2010)


I foremost think of Republicans as emotionally-neutered individuals. Subdued blues; nothing bright, pink, and affecting. As such, Maddows and Obama (and Jon Stewart / Colbert) feel more Republican to me than do either of the Clintons. Take a look at who they begat: bright, spunky, welcoming Chelsea: the Democratic essence stirs in them. Too bad they had their reign when they could only reign, Republican-light.

Link: Bill Clinton peeved that Rachel Maddow called him a Republican (Salon)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hillary Clinton

The thing that had a radicalizing impact on me began after [Hillary lost in] Iowa. Because there was this pile-on, and to me it was mind-bending. It was coming often from people on the left. It was like something they had been keeping inside as they bit their tongues and covered this woman who had the gall to be the front-runner and the "inevitable" candidate, which was the word that they threw out there. And finally she had shown weakness, and they were just going nuts.

[. . .]

Eventually I became a lot more aware of the ways in which not only Hillary but also her supporters were being talked about. I became increasingly sensitive to the scorn directed at her, and it built and built as she continued to fight, and it drove me nuts. Because I thought her continuing to fight was awesome and hilarious. I thought it was completely redefining how we view women and our expectations for them in public and political life. She would not comply. She would not give in. She would not do what the pundits wanted her to do, what her opponents wanted her to do, what reporters were insisting that she do, what everyone was telling her was the smart thing to do or, in one case, the classy thing to do. She just kept going. (Rebecca Traister, quoted in Curtis Sittenfield, “Big Girls Don't Cry’: The election that changed everything for women,” Salon, 12 Sept. 2010)


HRC WAS way better than Obama, guys. Only she reminded people of their swarming, intentful mothers, so they looked away, moved apart, and voted in the more denatured, affectless Obama. She WAS brutally treated during the campaign; reporters could barely look at her, and looked away as soon as excuse was given. Credit is due Rebecca for noticing this; discredit, or considerable suspicion, for not being drawn to her from the start.

@Patrick McAvoy-Halston

Patrick: "HRC WAS way better than Obama, guys."

Strange that you direct this comment at "guys." So there weren't any female Obama supporters, is that it?

Patrick: "Only she reminded people of their swarming, intentful mothers, so they looked away, moved apart, and voted in the more denatured, affectless Obama."

Okay, let me ask you: Are you joking? Is this some sort of satire? If not, then I am amazed at your ability to psychoanalyze an entire voting bloc. I'm even more amazed at your extra-sensory powers in detecting that hundreds of thousands of voters have "swarming" and "intentful" mothers! (I didn't realize the primaries were decided by honeybee larvae.)

Patrick: "She WAS brutally treated during the campaign;"

"Brutally"? Really? Which part was brutal-est? Was there anything much more brutal than the later claim that Obama "pals around with terrorists"?

I think it's really cute how people want to claim Obama supporters were "BRUTAL!" to Hillary. But when Obama supporters point out that it works both ways, suddenly people are saying, "Oh, she's just feisty!" and "She paid him the respect of giving him a good, hard fight!"

I also vividly recall Obama getting raked over the coals because the pastor at his old church was obnoxious. But that wasn't brutal, that was fair, right? So let's see: If people are critical of Hillary, they're being "brutal," (practically woman batterers, if you want to get clinical about it) but if people are critical of Obama, it's peachy. Got it.

Patrick: "...reporters could barely look at her, and looked away as soon as excuse was given."

Now, again, this has to be satire, right? Because I am pretty sure that people looked at Hillary Clinton on an ongoing basis, very intently.

Okay, no, I am convinced you're kidding. Sorry for missing it up till now. (Xrandadu Hutman, response to post)

@Xrandadu Hutman

No, not satire. When they (the press) could switch from talking to Hillary to talking to Obama, they seemed relieved. They did almost enough (though not enough: note the SNL skits which played on the press's strange aversion to Hillary) to save face, but it WAS as if they were risking close contact / involvement with some toxic medusa. They engaged with her scrunched up in a grimace, bracing themselves to the first touch of her affect. Obama was cool, smoke in hand. For all the talk of charisma, it was his sparing absence which drew "us" to him.

Palin you can bond to, have carry around her like a pistol in her holster, because you'll be killing baby seals and runt liberals, not bonding with her in some cuddled global village. The first sense we have that she's turning to make us into one of her sprats, we'll turn her into our first lady, permanently ensconced as secondary to Obama. There is a sense, perhaps, that she's settling into that position right now. Can Obama master his uppity (Palin) wife, like he did his previous mistress?

That Salon gave Hillary support, speaks FOR Salon.

Link: “Big Girls Don’t Cry: The election that changed everything for women (Salon)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Liberal "crazies"

(Hofstadter pointed out that the left is certainly not free of this mind-set, and so Dick Cheney and Halliburton have often served as the designated superhumanly competent malefactors for the other side, as in the 9/11 "Truth" movement.)

[. . .]

Is it any wonder, then, that a growing number of Americans insist on believing that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim? This fantasy is the last piece needed to make an imaginary international Islamic conspiracy fit the formula for political paranoia laid out by Hofstadter 46 years ago. (Laura Miller, “The paranoid style in American punditry,” Salon, 15 Sept. 2010)

liberal crazies

The thing to be careful of is equating the crackpots--the "extremes" on both the right and the left. If they're on the right, they are those of such psychic fragility that they cannot stand when society changes or grows too much, so when it does they cannot but come untethered. If they're on the left, then they're those of such psychic healthiness that they can see that the next period of American political life will largely be about coating ongoing economic disparities and war in a way Obama-liberals can well live with, feel right about; and are hardly in the mood to cooperate with this evil. Both will scream and screech, only one will register madness, while the other, fair alarm; but to Obama-liberals they'll both neatly be grouped within the same arising wave of loonies-emerging.

Also, if you're a liberal who is coming to understand that s/he is going to be of the ones who'll actually prosper under Obama, one who still gets, is in sync with, his "style," his age, then its pretty easy for you to remain becalmed and rational. What emotional agitation you do feel can safely be expressed, manifested through the rest of us, so you don't have to be at all troubled by it.

Link: The paranoid style in American punditry (Salon)

What do the weak exist for?

When the Jon Meachams and Mika Brzezinskis work up the courage to condemn the people who have done and are continuing to do this for the "blood they have on their hands," then their purported outrage and beliefs can be viewed as sincere. But they don't do that and won't do that. Righteous anger at those who spill blood is reserved only for hated foreigners (Osama bin Laden) and for the marginalized and powerless who haven't actually spilled any blood (the Koran-burning Pastor and WikiLeaks). That's why this Pastor circus has received so much media attention: it's a cheap, petty and easy way for people with enormous amounts of blood on their own hands to show what Good, Caring People they are by pretending that they hate those who cause it to be spilled. (Glenn Greenwald, “The Pastor and Cheap, Selective Concern for Blood-letting,” Salon, 10 Sept. 3010)

What do the weak exist for, except to be trod upon?

It's a matter of aesthetics. Both sides want slaughter; one side is just better at using the other to make their own execution seem clean, matter-of-course. Obama was elected, so that slaughter could continue, but in a way that would enable many liberals to join in and comfortably settle into.

I personally think we're near past the point where pointing out a prejudice against the weak and ready deference to the strong, could be shame-inducing: too strong to mind would come the sense of forthcoming reward. That beating up the weak is just good right now might explain why we might soon experience a period where the weak are beat upon, just 'cause. A stretch of untethered free-fall we use to consolidate our understanding of the essential motivator behind our attacks, before we clothe it again in more overtly righteous -- but not especially essential -- cover. The weak exist to be savaged; the strong, to be served: how can such essential simplicity / coherency be anything other than right?

Link: The Pastor and Cheap, Selective Concern for Blood-letting (Salon)

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