What Do We Get to Bring with Us and What Do We Leave Behind?

It seems that the Nashville blogosphere is abuzz with discussions about what you can use and what must be left behind.  It’s very interesting.  I have some thoughts.  Of course.

I think a lot about this with Heidegger and Nietzsche and, frankly, my spiritual beliefs.  For those of you who need a brief refresher, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Nietzsche yakked on about man and superman and the Nazis took a lot of his philosophy and twisted it to their own ends.  Heidegger, another philosopher, influenced by Nietzsche directly benefited from and supported the Nazis.  And the Nazis, as well as other racists, have no problem co-opting beliefs similar to mine in order to justify their fuck-tardedness.

Can you separate Nietzsche from the Nazis?  I believe you can.  His philosophies don’t inevitably lead one to Nazi philosophy and he didn’t have anything personally to do with Nazi-ism.  People who try to taint Nietzsche with Nazi-ism are, at best, somewhat unsophisticated in their thinking about such matters.

My beliefs?  Well, lots of people believe what they believe even though racist hateful idiots also believe those things, so I’m not too worried about it.  But I also don’t go running out to get runes that are closely associated with white power tattooed on me.

Heidegger, though?  I’m troubled by that.  I know the idea is that his ideas are good and useful and regardless of what kind of a son of a bitch he was, we shouldn’t have to give up the benefits of his work.  But the man supported the Third Reich and benefited from the disappearance of his Jewish colleagues.  Can his good ideas remain untainted by his evil ones?

I don’t know.  I’m uneasy with that.

On the one hand, as a rabble-rousing feminist, I refuse to accept that anything should be off limits to me.  There are no ideas, no signs, no symbols, no words that I can’t use if I want to, because I control myself.  On the other hand, I believe that objects, like people, have inherited, accumulated luck.

So, let’s take the swastika.  Yes, it’s true that, for thousands of years, it was a symbol of good luck or good fortune.  Still, I would argue that the magnitude of evil associated with that symbol has thus tainted the symbol with such bad fortune that, regardless of the intent of the person displaying it, the recent history of the symbol prevents it from being a token of good fortune.

That all being said, we turn to Chris Wage’s discussion of the Mammy paraphernalia you can purchase, if you like, down at Charlie Daniels’s shop downtown.  The discussion turns into whether the Mammy merchandise is inherently racist and, oddly, roughly half the comments argue that it’s not–that an object doesn’t have any inherent meaning; the meaning comes from what the viewer brings to it.

I disagree with this philosophically both because I don’t believe that things exist ahistorically and because, sweet Jesus, if you can’t look at a Mammy figure and tell that that’s racist, I just don’t even know what to say to you.  Some of the commenters are arguing that, because some black people collect the figures, they must not be negative.

But the way I see it, it’s like being called a bitch in my family.  The kinds of things that get you labelled a bitch vary widely from standing up for yourself, calling people on it when they hurt you, refusing to put everyone else’s needs ahead of yours, rebuffing the advances of some asshole uncle, to being manipulative or evil or cruel just for fun.  Some of the traits that get you labelled a bitch are really terrible traits to have.

But many of the traits are not.  And so, I feel this impulse to try to reimagine "Bitch" in order to feel good about the qualities that a Bitch has that I also have that are, in a non-fucked up situation, admirable qualities to have.

But I shouldn’t have been called a Bitch in the first place.  And fuck you if you think that because I’m doing some tentative, delicate work to reimagine that word, it makes it okay for you to use it against me and expect me to just take it.

I think the same thing is clearly true for Mammy.  Many of her qualities are not negative–she’s life-giving and life-sustaining, she’s nurturing and loving and takes care of children, even those who aren’t her own.  But the negative qualities she has really suck–she likes being in servitude to whites, she’s a-sexual, she looks inhuman, and so on.

And so I can see why some black folks, who view her as a wholly negative figure, might feel like it’s time to figure out how to pay homage to the good things she represents.  Again, this is tentative, delicate work to reimagine a figure that has been and continues to be used as a grievous insult about the proper place of African Americans in our culture.

And here’s the deal.  I think a lot of people think that this figure can be non-racist because there’s no deliberate intent to harm.  And it’s true that the worst kind of racism is when you deliberately attempt to harm someone because of their race.  But it’s also racist to do something–like produce or sell these figures–without any consideration of how that affects the people being portrayed. 

Everyone is free to do what he or she wants, but you can’t expect to do what you want and not be judged for it.

I think.

Because, then, I turn to the Music City Oracle who is taking the Amply-Gifted Kleinheider to task and I think, what the hell?

This continues a disturbing trend by Kleinheider of making use of sources from the lunatic fringe, either without comment or with favorable comment. In addition to anarchists, Kleinheider has made use of anti-Semites and Nazi war criminals.

The charitable view is that Kleinheider’s pathological hatred of all things Bush impairs his judgment in choosing allies. The less charitable view is somewhat darker. Because he appears to be a reasonably nice guy, we will choose to take the charitable view unless further evidence requires otherwise. Nonetheless, it can be wished that he would be more careful.

"In addition to anarchists"?  Good lord, Sacco and Vanzetti are dead.  Are we still afraid of Red Emma?  I thought I was all for clinging to the past, but trying to claim that being an anarchist is as bad as being an anti-Semite or a Nazi war criminal strikes me as a gross inability to get over 1917.

Next, let’s turn to the other two accusations–Kleinheider makes use of anti-Semites and Nazi war criminals–for if one wants to hold Kleinheider responsible for every possible implication of the choices he makes, one opens himself up to similar scrutiny. 

1.  A "Semite" is a person of any one of a number of Middle Eastern ethnicities that share a common linguistic heritage.  Palestinians, for example, are a Semitic people.  Is the Music City Oracle accusing Kleinheider of hating Middle Easterners or is he trying to insinuate that, if one quotes an anti-Zionist, one is tainted by that to the point where one can be accused of hating all Jewish people? If so, come out and call Kleinheider a Jew-hater.  Don’t obfuscate.   

2.  So, Kleinheider quotes Goering.  Goering was something of an expert on getting people to act in ways they wouldn’t otherwise act.  So, when Music City Oracle says, "Moore is right in stating that the lack of further comment on these excerpts implies tacit approval," all I can think is, Dear God, don’t these people have reading comprehension?  He’s not quoting Goering because he approves of what Goering stood for.  He’s quoting Goering because Goering is, at that moment, speaking honestly about how people in power manipulate the masses AND (the fact that I have to spell this out for folks flabbergasts me) implicit in choosing this quote is a comparison between how we’ve been manipulated into a war we otherwise wouldn’t want and how the German people were manipulated into a war they otherwise wouldn’t have wanted.

He’s not implying that such is the right thing to do.  He’s implying it’s an effective strategy and that, by using it or, in the case of some of our more enthusiastic right-wing neighbors here in the blogberhood, you are using Nazi-endorsed tactics. 

I’m embarrassed that war-supporters didn’t have the sense to be offended by the suggestion.  And to come back and try to say, "Calling me a Nazi makes you a Nazi" is utterly lame.

God, so where are we? 

I’m writing a fucking book here and I need to come to some kind of conclusion. 

Okay, my point is that I honestly don’t know when a word or object or whatever ends up being freed from its own history.  I don’t know why it’s okay to let a bad past taint some things to the point where it’s best that most of us just leave it alone and why other things with bad pasts get picked up, cleaned off, and put back into circulation.

But there you go.  Sometimes that’s just how it works.

Eh, that ending kind of bit, but I doubt most folks have made it this far anyway.  Boogers!  Fuck me!  Dog poop!  See.  No one even noticed that I’m just randomly cussing now.  Oh well, they can’t all be winners.  Shit, and I wanted to work some Ginsberg in here somehow–

I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Do You Ever Worry That You’re Being Subliminally Influenced?

I’m sorry to send y’all over to Salon.com, but I can’t figure out how to grab the advertisement I want to talk about. Still, I think you can see it on the main page without having to sit through one of their ads.

We’re looking at this strange Evian ad over on the left.

It opens with a cave that seems to suggest a woman’s bent leg. The Evian bottle juts towards the “crotch” and then “Return to Purity” pops up. The next scene is a big mountain range with a cloud formation shaped like an “X”. The final scene is a naked woman innocently making a snow angel with her knee bent in a way to suggest the shape of the cave at the beginning.

Is Evian trying to promise my subconscious that it can restore my virginity?

If that is the case, do I have to put the bottle in my cooter or just drink a lot of the water? And is being pure as snow and frigid, too, really a great goal to assume your customers might have?

I don’t know. But it’s weird.

And, it doesn’t make me thirsty. It does, however, make me a little curious about whether you can use an Evian bottle as a sex toy. But that may be just me.

Thanks to the incredible smarts of the Wayward Boy Scout, here are the images for you to peruse.





Is Phillis Wheatley an Early Queen of Subtle Snark?

Okay, check this out.  Phillis Wheatley was born in roughly 1750 and died in 1784.  She wrote the following poem:

On Being Brought from Africa to America

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too.
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

I’m not going to get into the sincerity of Wheatley’s religious beliefs.  It’s hard to read that opening line now days and really believe that she believed that to be true.  But let’s assume it was.

The whole poem then is about how great God is and how great being Christian is and how, when Christian Negroes die, they’re going to go to heaven right along with the white folks.

That’s  where I think there’s a little snark going on.  The early part of the poem is directed upwards towards God and the last part of the poem casts an eye out to the injustice around her.–"You, who hate us so much, gave us the tools to be your equals in heaven."

As they say on The Simpsons, ha ha.

Sigh, Dorothy W. Sigh, Virginia Woolf

Dorothy W. is writing about Virgina Woolf today and it’s such a good post.  Not just because of the cool stuff from Woolf that she quotes, but how Dorothy has just the right tone, like one of the Ghosts of Christmas, like she’s got her arm around us and is whispering to us as we watch Woolf work, even though these are but shadows of what was.  God, it’s just so nice, her ability to make Woolf so immediate.

Go read.  Good stuff.



Ha, I was just about to publish this when something struck me.  You know what the thing about good literature and good talking about literature is?  It’s like a map.  The author sketches out the shape and scope of the map and then everyone comes along and adds his or her own knowledge of the landscape to it.

I don’t know what it’s a map to, though.  Ourselves, I guess.


I really wanted to write something that would soothe me to write about it, but everything is just on my nerves.  I’m mad that the dog won’t go to the bathroom, but instead just stands out there and sniffs.  I’m annoyed that I didn’t get to the park once this weekend.  We’re out of milk.  I can’t find the bread and other things are not where I left them.  And I feel like a dumbass.

Like some kind of existential dumbass, like I’m the pastor in that joke where the other two pastors walk on the water to the shore and I’m just so sure I’m as holy as them that I get out of the boat and step onto the lake only to sink like a brick, because, of course, they were using stepping stones.  Of course they were.  They aren’t any better than me, and were I not continually at the mercy of my own insecurities, I probably could have figured that out.

What can you do?

I, for one, am going to take the advice of the Professor’s friends from the Church of God.  Pray and move.

Just keep moving.