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In his book Varieties of Religious Experience, William James wrote about the power the irrational holds over the rational:

If you have intuitions at all, they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. Your whole subconscious life, your impulses, your faiths, your needs, your divinations, have prepared the premises, of which your consciousness now feels the weight of the result; and something in you absolutely knows that that result must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.

So what do you do as a rational, intellectual person who is fighting a group that is in the grips of their intuition? How do you combat the power that holds? It doesn’t make sense to right the irrational with the rational. You can explain to, say, a Trump supporter very coolly that his economic policy would have disastrous ramifications, or that his foreign policy approach could very well lead us into decades of conflict, but if he’s caught up in a nationalistic fever, especially one that is being used to shore up a fractured sense of self, you will only antagonize and never sway. More… “The Shlomo Sand (Inter)view”

Jessa Crispin is editor and founder of Bookslut.com. She currently resides in Chicago.
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There was an older man at a dinner party, relaying the history of his marriages. His first one, he told us, was a disaster. He was too young, she was too young. It lasted only a few years and then it ended angrily. He thought he’d never remarry, but then he decided he wanted to have a child. He married another woman, who turned out not to want children, but, he assured us, he eventually “wore her down.”

There are all sorts of struggles that take place within a marriage. Conflicting desires create situations without the possibility of compromise and so one partner tries to overpower the other’s will. Wives do this as well as husbands. But there was something about the way the story was told that caused the women at the table to immediately exchange worried looks and inhale deeply at the words “wore her down.” He wanted a child, but for that he needed a woman’s body. He procured a woman’s body, and when that body was not compliant, he forced compliance through manipulation and control. The man was a writer, and so I am making the assumption that he told this story with a particular intention and that that intention could be analyzed. I understand that this is probably unfair.

More… “No Giggling Ghost”

Jessa Crispin is editor and founder of Bookslut.com. She currently resides in Chicago.
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The internet is saying farewell to Bookslut after 14 years. We dug back into our archives to find you lovely readers some gems from Jessa Crispin’s time here at the Smart Set.

Leave James Joyce Alone!

[W]hen scholars and biographers complain about the gatekeepers to the estate, especially when those are family members, what do they expect? Biographers may claim noble and spotless intentions, but for the most part they deal in gossip. Stephen saw the people who raised him reduced to cartoon figures. He watched as the biographer of his very troubled aunt, who had recurring periods of madness and spent most of her life in an institution, hailed as not schizophrenic but merely artistic and damaged by her father’s sexual love for her. His grandfather was called a liar and a cheat. His parents, private figures both, faced a scrutiny they did not deserve. Stephen’s father, Joyce’s son, was called a worthless layabout for never really having a career, and his mother was called mad. If I were Stephen, I would have started to burn documents, too.

I’ll admit it: when it comes to murder, I’m a sexist.

“Think,” I told them. “What would cause a 12-year-old girl to wipe out her entire family? What would cause her sister, when pushed, to say they all got what they deserved?”

As we retread the book carefully, with this question as a lens, I started to feel that maybe I was betraying the book, taking it off in a direction it did not necessarily want to go. I was imposing my own agenda on the novel, using it to prove that, while it’s almost accepted wisdom that adolescent boys are rage-filled thunder gods, ready to wreak death and destruction upon any around them, a girl must have a pretty good reason to lash out. Maybe instead I should have felt it was natural for a 12-year-old girl to poison the sugar.

Walk Like a Man

We stopped freaking out about the “Oh my god, women want to wear pants!” thing a really long time ago. Women wandered into the traditionally masculine realms of self-expression and ambition and now it’s just normal.

Not so with masculinity. It is still as rigid and well defended as ever, despite a few David Bowies or Johnny Depps in the mix. Just look at last year’s total freaking meltdown about a J. Crew catalog that carried a photo of a woman painting her young son’s toenails. . . . When a girl is boyish, or even claims she’d rather be a boy, it’s cute. She’s a tomboy. When a boy is girlish, wanting to wear dresses or try on some makeup, it’s a mental disorder and needs an immediate medical intervention.

Book Report

This is where the action is, after all, the public libraries. And by action I mean bloodletting. It’s perhaps the most vulnerable segment of the American Library Association, dependent on city and state budgets rather than the universities and corporations that find their funding elsewhere. And each year, thousands of the PLA’s 11,000 members descend on a city to set the agenda for the year to come, to commiserate and strategize. And to network for employment, for the more recent victims of the cutbacks.

Secure in the knowledge that libraries are now permanently fucked, I expected to walk in to find a mournful scene. Maybe candlelight vigils for state funding, a designated mourner wailing over grants for arts programs? I was donned in black. I was ready to blend in.

We love you, Bookslut. You will be dearly missed. •

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.
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When It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us was published in 1996, the book was met with the kind of response that a serious nonfiction writer dreams about. The ideas presented in the book became the topic of conversation across the land, politicians and commentators felt obligated to respond to it, it won awards, including a Grammy for its audio book edition, and it became so ubiquitous, both in sales numbers and in impact, that it started to become heavily parodied.

Any writer would be thrilled. Moved, even. And yet this particular writer also has to watch while someone else, taking credit for her work, takes all of the credit.

Hillary Rodham Clinton may have won the title page and the cover image (and the Grammy), but at best she was just one of many voices filtered through the actual writer. It Takes a Village… More…

“Out of sync with their time, yet deeply, longingly feminine, neither knew how to be a woman.” I have been fussing over this sentence from Susan Hertog’s biography of two remarkable writers, Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson, for weeks now. Hertog is obviously not referring to how West and Thompson felt about themselves. She is instead raining down judgment from above. First came my kneejerk feminist response: Both women had unhappy marriages and serious ambivalence regarding motherhood, but when male writers disappear on their children or marry the wrong people, we don’t say they have failed as men. Then came my psychoanalytic parsing of the text, trying to glean Hertog’s particular issues with mothering and career and how they might skew her conclusions. Did Hertog’s mother miss important childhood milestones in her daughter’s life because she was working? None of my business, but it’s my typical irrational response… More…

Since the age of the Druids, bees have been a symbol of wisdom. The Greeks and the Celts used the symbolism as well, as did cultures in India and Egypt, Sumerian mythology, and Christianity. Bees were the symbols of sun gods, earth goddesses, and the Virgin Mary. In the Jewish story, Deborah — whose name means “bee” — was a prophet who saved her city from invaders. In English, Welsh, Irish, Greek, and assorted other languages, the word “bee” is caught up by sound or by root with the word for “to live” or “alive.” Even Charles Darwin was scared of the knowledge to be found in the bee hive, afraid their cooperative, altruistic lives could disprove his theory of evolution, perched as it was on that vicious idea of survival of the fittest.

Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience by Stephen S…. More…

Every year when the Orange Prize announces its longlist, or its shortlist, or its jury members, or an anniversary, or is mentioned in the press, people start to write long opinion pieces about the sad state of women’s fiction. This year’s award will be announced next week, and we’ve been enduring months of such complaints. Women’s fiction is too domestic, too small scale, too dreary, too often about rape or abuse. It’s not ambitious enough, not universal, not epic. Let’s leave behind whether or not it’s fair — after all, we do not saddle men’s books with the responsibility of being representative of their half of the species. Let’s also leave behind the fact that most of the people complaining about the state of women’s fiction seem not to have read very much, or at least not much outside the territory of books with cover art that could… More…

There have been Sundays, in bed, in a hotel room, hungover or not, wherein my prospects for getting out of bed seem slim, what with the television right there, and the remote control so near my head. Despite hundreds of channels and the free HBO — generally just showing something directed by Ron Howard over and over and over again — I will stop on Joel Osteen or Rick Warren or some other reprehensible creature in a mega church of some sort. On those Sundays, it’s hard to feel the repulsion I usually have for such views. It’s the perfect hair and the shiny, shiny teeth. These men are always telling me that God has plans for me. “Oh, Joel Osteen,” I say out loud to the television. “Tell me what those plans are.”

Meaning in Life and Why It Matters by… More…

I didn’t understand the fuss. Sure, the redesign of Berlin’s Neues Museum — unveiled last October — seemed awfully nice; the place was finally fixed its World War II-era damage. But for all the queues that wind around the museum and the sell-out exhibitions, most of the fuss centered on one Egyptian bust. The Nefertiti bust looked pretty enough on the museum’s website and in the news stories, but I didn’t think it seemed like anything worth standing around for hours to see.

Art as Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property by Margaret M. Miles. 440 pages. Cambridge University Press. $32.99 (new in paperback).

Or so I thought. When I finally got around to seeing it, the 3,500-year-old bust seemed to glow with its own light. Like all powerful religious and royal artwork, it inspires an… More…

In the past year I’ve reviewed books on what I thought were diverse topics: the philosophy of time, neurobiology, writing, happiness, mental illness. It turns out they were all about the same subject: how to live. Many of the books thought they had it all figured out. The problem is cell phones! No, wait, it’s our ambition! All we need are fish oils and Vitamin D! Or a hug, how about a hug? And I can’t even count how many of them included the words “money does not make a person happy.” The world does seem to be reordering itself — with or without our permission — and everyone is trying to make sense of it, from philosophers to scientists, theologians to poets.

The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy by Franco Berardi. 192 pages. Semiotext(e). $14.95.

I… More…