Archives for category: reading

This is … something: Hanya Yanagihara on Lolita.


I initially had quite a bit of trouble figuring out what Hilton Als was getting at in his review of a production of the musical version of “Sunset Boulevard.” Then, in the last paragraph, I encountered this, and it clicked:

… it takes a long time for Norma to express her masculine rage …

Apparently we are, indeed, to read Als’s line of argument literally: he truly is evaluating how well Glenn Close portrays a man in drag playing the role of Norma Desmond. And this makes sense to him as the right approach because he truly is asserting that the character’s femininity is based not on some extant model of femininity associated with, you know, women, but rather on (a particular brand of) drag, which is (his term!) sui generis.

(I’m reminded of this perplexing comment about drag that appeared in the same magazine in another context:

… it’s all about dressing up and being pretty without the baggage of gender coding.

Sure. And minstrelsy is all about dressing up and being funny without the baggage of the Triangular Trade.)

To sum up: Als’s take is that, despite the repeated casting of women in the leading role, “Sunset Boulevard” is actually about a man, mistreated by men, and played to a male audience.

OK then. Just so we’re clear.

Moving on: it seems that Mary Beard has persisted in writing and publishing articles, despite warnings and explanations. Oh, this is interesting:

… my basic premise is that our mental, cultural template for a powerful person remains resolutely male.

You think this kind of “mental, cultural template” might have something to do with Als’s characterization of Norma’s rage as “masculine”?

[W]e have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.

And Als doesn’t even like “Sunset Boulevard.” Jesus.


Pondering the hermeneutical process that landed Gone Girl on a list of feminist books.

I must admit that I am completely flummoxed by this article. The following paragraph, in particular, confuses me:

If classical Chinese poetry is going to reinvigorate English anew, though, it will need to come to terms with Ezra Pound’s Chinese, and what his translations and poetry did for poetry and translation, as well as for our understanding of China. Pound was a fascist and anti-Semite and translated from Asian poetry without knowing the language in question, so it makes sense that an uneasiness would come from both curmudgeonly specialists in Asian literature repeating the Arnold line of displeasure at his inaccuracies, as well as from Newman-like purveyors of poetic taste who’d rather deny that Pound’s contributions to English have anything to do with his representations of other cultures. Some might even imply that the discursive style into which East Asian poetry has been translated since Pound only reveals the racism behind the enterprise of translating Chinese into English (how many times was Pound mentioned, for instance, as paving the way for “Yi-Fen Chou” and Calvin Trillin’s New Yorker poem?).

I happened to run across the phrase “cultism and aesthetic compromise with the representatives of oppression” this morning; possibly relevant here.


More about memoirfrom The Guardian. I’m not sure the analysis in the piece makes its case very convincingly, but the title asserts something worth thinking about. Meanwhile, on the fictional side, I’ve just discovered Tessa Hadley; The Past has some women looking at themselves and noticing things that don’t get a whole lot of play in popular culture.

Edit: Compare this conversation.

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