Saturday, February 28, 2009

Michiko Kakutani gets Holocaust book all wrong

First, I want to say I love Kakutani: she's always so perceptive, so incisive. So I was surprised to read her review last week of Jonathan Littell's new novel (newly translated from the French, that is) The Kindly Ones in the Times last week:

"The novel’s gushing fans, however, seem to have mistaken perversity for daring, pretension for ambition, an odious stunt for contrarian cleverness. Willfully sensationalistic and deliberately repellent, “The Kindly Ones” — the title is a reference to the Furies, otherwise known in Greek mythology as the Eumenides — is an overstuffed suitcase of a book, consisting of an endless succession of scenes in which Jews are tortured, mutilated, shot, gassed or stuffed in ovens, intercut with an equally endless succession of scenes chronicling the narrator’s incestuous and sadomasochistic fantasies."

"An endless succession of scenes in which Jews are tortured, mutilated, shot, gassed or stuffed in ovens"--isn't that a description of much of the horrors Jews suffered in the Holocaust? Sounds like Kakutani doesn't want to read about that.

I have a review of the book coming out in The Forward next week. I write about how much of recent contemporary Holocaust fiction does not touch upon the reality of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust because it's as if readers don't want to read about it-they've been exposed to it enough, they want tellings of the Holocaust that are infused with hope, hence the likes of recent Hollywood film offerings. It's surprising that Kakutani falls into this camp.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Chicago Tribune op-ed today

The Tribune published my op-ed on imagery of women breast-feeding, which grew out of a blog post from last week.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Thoughts on Octo-Mom vs Tot-Mom

I'm reminded of a quote I read a while ago in the New York Times, by Susan J. Douglas, author of The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women. She said, 'We have a long history in this culture of mother blame. Media images of the 'bad mother' serve to police all mothers. We still have a virgin-whore binary in American pop culture, and this governs motherhood as well." This virgin-whore binary can be seen in the polar opposite archetypes of the two stories that are captivating us right now.

Ironically, Nadya Suleman seems to have been trying to approach some idealized notion of the "good mother," of the mother who sacrifices all for her many children. But she took this idea too far, and it backfired on her. Suleman eerily has been trying to physically and psychically emulate Angelina Jolie, who herself has successfully co-opted the "good mother" image, adopting children of different races and ethnicities, one African, two Asian, so that she has become an uber-mother, which has changed her image from the punk girl who in 2000 kissed her brother at the Academy Awards and wore the blood of Billy Bob Thorton around her neck, making her more popular with the masses, especially women, than she was before she projected this image.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Our 'Recent' Obsession with Motherhood--Octo-Mom vs the Tot-Mom

Something struck me in the five days I recuperated from my C-section two weeks ago, lying prostrate on the hospital bed, breast-feeding at all hours of the day and night, and trapped before a beautiful flat-screen TV that only played a few channels.

The cable TV talking-heads seemed obsessed with just two big stories (besides playing footage of Obama and the state of the economy), two stories that captivated the emotions and the schadenfreude of the nation, both stories about mothers, each with their own cable-given nickname: Nadya Suleman, the Octo-Mom, or the octuplets story, and the Tot-Mom, Casey Marie Anthony, who allegedly killed her own daughter, Caylee.

Every nightly Nancy Grace show was about the Tot-Mom, Grace's voice wreaking with anguish and disgust that this mother, whom we all know is guilty, Grace came right out and said, would kill her own daughter. Of course, this represents the worst image or archetype of a mother: a mother who shows no remorse for killing her daughter, who seems to want to steal the limelight away from images of her beautiful doe-eyed toddler, who wants to the shine spotlight on her own young self.

But then the complete polar opposite--the Octo-Mom, is just as universally reviled. Here's a woman who would not contemplate aborting a fetus, instead bringing eight embryos to term (OK, she only thought she was carrying seven) and yet this very pro-life decision is universally scorned. Most of my women friends comment on the selfishness of her decision, that taxpayers have to foot the bill for the health-care of her premature infants, though in another light, one could her view as purely self-less, thinking only of her children, though no one thinks of her in this way. She professes to want to be this uber-mother, who takes time to be with each of her 14 children each day, to think only of their needs--just today she said on TV that she hasn't had sex in eight years, and won't have a boyfriends till her youngest (all 8 of them) is 18. Sounds like a mother who is thinking of her children's needs not her own, right? But I'm sure this statement will be scorned, too, and it surely does come off as sounding strange, off-the-deep-end. But these two opposite archetypes of motherhood that are captivating the nation say something about the imagery of motherhood in America today, and the balancing act we moms find ourselves in, the predicament of how much do we devote to our children while also fulfilling ourselves, not losing ourselves. Here are two women, opposites in their approach to mothering (yes, one is allegedly a killer, which is obviously far from the norm) but both seem to have lost themselves, and their hold on reality, in their path towards or during motherhood. In a way, I feel for both of them.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Selma Hayek's Heroic Breastfeeding

I just gave birth to my third child, a girl, last Tuesday, so my days are a blur of breastfeeding and baby care-taking. This story of Selma Hayek breast-feeding a starving baby in Sierra Leone struck a personal and political chord. What's interesting is that Facebook just a few weeks ago banned all photos of women breast-feeding, which prompted thousands of women to send in shots of themselves breast-feeding their babies as a protest. (Surely the fact that the video of Hayek breastfeeding this infant is being downloaded by the thousands and is being shown on TV is partly due to the commercial beauty and sex appeal of Hayek; the women uploading their personal pics to Facebook are, let us say, not as 'airbrushed'.) Hayek mentions in the Time article that she wanted to combat the perception in Africa on the part of men that women who are breast-feeding cannot be sexual. It seems this cultural bias in Africa is not so far off from cultural perceptions here in the U.S. which prompted the Facebook ban--a perception that the female breast is per se sexual, and cannot have a function apart from its sexual one, the female breast as existing only for male sexual arousal. It's an ingrained notion, in all cultures, a partriarchal conceit, that women cannot be multi-functional, maternal and sexual at the same time, a bundle of amazing contradictions in the same body, in the same breast.

Yet I will not be posting any pictures of myself breastfeeding baby Maya to my Facebook page anytime soon.