Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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July 22, 2008
marching on alone, beyond '68

To pick up on a previous post:

If we pulled out the most attention-grabbing   (for us)   individual sentence in that AtC   (before we tossed it onto the recycling pile),   here   (for our future wondering-about)   is what we found to be the most impactful extended passage:
Since I hated sectarianism, had a questioning nature and problems with authority, and tended to speak up whenever I saw sexism, I was not well-suited to life in a disciplined, top-down organization.

Within a few years, I was expelled for a long list of ideological crimes. My husband left me at that point, and I was politically isolated, a single mother with a one-year old baby.

I have many thoughts on that experience but they are too complicated to go into here.

The writer is Meredith     Tax. The topic there is her time during the early-mid 1970s in the October League/Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist).

Her full essay, entitled "A Parable of Women's Liberation," is here and here.

Not too dissimilarly, another former October Leaguer succintified their experience therein like so:
Between my father and the Catholic Church, I was well prepared for the authoritarian hierarchy of the OL/CP(ML).

We paused longest at Tax's very last remark, in the above bit, about the many aspects of the larger '68 story that, in her opinion, are "too complicated to go into here." The narrative for her and others, it seems, has to include -- or doesn't even meaningfully begin until -- the years after 1968. And the story runs or connects up to threads that run in many different directions at once.

[From another viewpoint:

What's so interesting about complicatedness? Rather, does it not feel wonderful on some level, at '68 anniversary time, to reduce the whole story to a single soundbite and a flashing mental image of un étudiant [m] with dashing Gallic fashion sense, spray-painting an insouciant slogan on a wall, maybe frozen in high contrast like Banksy's "Flower Chucker"?

Cognitively, on at least one level, this is very satisfying, because it matches what would look good on a quick "round the world in 60 seconds" television news summary -- or maybe on a webpage that we were skimming past.

Maybe everybody's experience of all anniversaries and memory formation/retrieval will function this way someday? Maybe development of this kind of soundbite brain will be a formula for one kind of practical success in the coming century.

Or, from another viewpoint: The above soundbite+image is worthy, but only as a utopian starting point precursor perhaps to a more complicated, longer-term project.

Or, from yet another viewpoint: No, it's worthy in its own right, for its own sake. Why shouldn't it be enough, as it is? How elitist to think otherwise!

From yet another viewpoint: enough already!]

Tax's contribution was part of a larger section of articles in the magazine under the heading, "Women Remember 1968." The section was one of the few efforts we saw, among many '68 retro pieces published so far this year, that included women's voices.

Miriam Ching Yoon Louie's contribution alluded to connections to, among other things   (connections useful for those of us obsessives who like to look things up),   the Third    World    Liberation    Front    Strike, and the Kwangju massacre.

Meanwhile, the issue of Radical Philosophy on the stands at the same   ('68 anniversary)   time included
[along with a Kristin Ross piece that began with the perfect line,
The problem with the past is that it is unpredictible.]
        an essay by Lynne Segal . . .
[the Guardian:
[Segal's] is a biography worthy of being set to music and sung by Gloria Gaynor.]

subtitled . . .
[and what is its title? hint here]

     "Women '68ers, marching on alone," the first several paragraphs of which appear here.

Among the connective threads in Segal's essay is the name of Joan Bird.

Google Books has Bird's June 1970 statement, "I Joined the Panthers," as part of P. Foner's The Black Panthers Speak. Otherwise, there seems to be not much other than scattered info about Bird (a.k.a. "Byrd"?) in the current on-line informational regime: an account of the police brutality she experienced; Time's story on Victor Rabinowitz's clever method of making her astronomical bail; a mention of how she was outside the delivery room when Tupac Shakur was born; etc.

Segal also mentions the Redstockings group, and the    late    great    Ellen    Willis.

This latter mention gives TiR the opportunity/flimsy excuse here to attempt to clear out a few more links from it's nevertheless ever-expanding Notebook of Pointlessness that hovers behind this blog, or under it like an iceberg does its tip.

Last fall, we finally managed to locate a copy of the second issue of the journal Situations, and were delighted to find in it Willis' essay, "Escape from Freedom: What's the Matter with Tom Frank (and the Lefties Who Love Him)?" The essay is on-line here (.pdf).

Movements that encourage us to fulfill our desires are bound to arouse conflicting emotions, to intensify people's yearnings for freedom and pleasure, but also their anxiety and guilt about such primal rebellion. An outpouring of social experiment and innovation liberates creative energies, but also rage -- at oppression, at losses of status and privilege, at the sources of anxiety and confusion.

Cultural radical demands immediately question and disrupt existing social institutions, yet building democratic alternatives is a long-term affair: this leaves painful gaps in which men and women don't know how to behave with each other, in which marriage can no longer provide a stable environment for children but it's not clear what to do instead. Is it really surprising that cultural revolution should cause conflict?

. . .

Of course, many people who are drawn to the hedonistic world of mass culture may at the same time feel guilty of repelled; which is to say that on such matters Americans are ambivalent. . . .

[T]he political conversation on these issues has for 30 years been dominated by an aggressive, radical right-wing insurgency . . . . Its potent secret weapon has been the guilt and anxiety about desire that inform the character of Americans regardless of ideology. . . .

[I]nformal social norms and pressures . . . far more than government action, dictate what people feel free to do, say, or even think. . . .

In letting loose the genie of desire in the service of profit, consumer culture unleashes forces that can't reliably be controlled. . . .

Freedom, as recoded by the Reagan right . . . meant license to express rage. . . . pleasure in aggression was encouraged, including uninhibited bashing of black people, poor people, criminals, deviants, and liberals. . . .

[L]eftists' refusal to take on the culture war has more to do with their own conservative impulses than with any rational strategy for a progressive revival.

Willis' piece was pretty much the most surprising and original response to Frank's much-discussed book that we saw (including our own deliberately oblique    ones). However   (as usual),   we couldn't think of anything substantive to say here that absolutely needed to be said about it, or was nearly as intelligent or insightful as what Willis wrote.

We'd only note that her comment about our individual or societal "pleasure in aggression"   (or joy in rage? or rage for chaos?)    is something that we have and probably will repeatedly return to ponder in the future, given recent    history.

However, some great discussion of Willis' piece   (by individuals such as Alice Echols and Katha Pollitt)   is here.