Saturday, July 31, 2010

24, July 2010 List

The following is a list of all the books I read in July 2010. I did book reviews for some of them (which will be noted in the list) and the rest I did not. If there is a book on this list that I did not review but that interests you, I will do a review upon request.

To send in requests for reviews email me the title of the text you want reviewed to:

1. Johnson, Allan G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2005. Print. (Reviewed 7-22-10)

2. Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. Print.

3. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 1997. Print.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

22. "The Gender Knot" by Allan G. Johnson

Johnson, Allan G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2005. Print.
243 Pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

The Gender Knot was required reading for one of my classes when I was an undergraduate. I remember not liking it then but thought I would give it another try. This time around, I disliked it even more than I did the first time.

When contemplating where the world “is” in terms of gender equality, Johnson writes, “Where we are is stuck. Where we are is lost. Where we are is deep inside an oppressive gender legacy, faced with the knowledge that what gender is about is tied to a great deal of suffering and injustice. But we don’t know what to do with the knowledge, and it binds us in a knot of fear, anger, and pain , of blame, defensiveness, guilt and denial” (4). Most of this text is riddled with empty claims that lack research or evidence to support those claims. This would be one of those claims. Here he fails to acknowledge the many strides feminists have made in educating the public about gender issues, the wide range of policies and laws that have been written to create a more gender neutral society, and the integrative work being done by third wave feminists. We are neither “stuck,” nor “lost.”

Johnson defines patriarchy as “a kind of society, and a society is more than a collection of people. As such, ‘patriarchy’ doesn’t refer to me or any other man or collection of men, but to a kind of society in which men and women participate. . . . A society is patriarchal to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered. It is also organized around an obsession with control and involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women” (5). This might possibly be a decent definition that I could work with as an instructor, but Johnson fails to acknowledge any other possible definition of the term, limiting the scope of his argument. He makes no mention of the root of the term (pater—meaning “rule of the father”) and makes defining patriarchy seem more cut and dry than it really is.

In the first chapter, Johnson works to break down these three parts of patriarchy, and in his section on male identification he writes about the traditional marriage in which the husband goes to work and the wife stays home and does the domestic work. Despite his inability to recognize changing marital structures among heterosexuals (things have changed since 1950!) he goes on to write, “Since women generally don’t have wives, they find it harder to identify with and prosper within this male-identified model” (7). Hold up! Say that again, please: “Since women generally don’t have wives…” (7). This was the point where I started to believe this book was utter crap. Yes, on page seven. Johnson’s text is exclusively for heterosexuals stuck in 1950’s American culture. It fails to acknowledge the work being done by third wave feminists on intersecting and fluid identities, on the instability of gender identity, and on the ways we can restructure relationships. When working to contextualize his work in the first chapter, he fails to recognize the way lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and transsexual individuals are affected by patriarchy. He sets up femininity and masculinity in a very strict, stable binary: Masculinity is this and only this; femininity is that and only that.

Johnson writes that women in power are automatically at risk of being raped: “To a rapist, the most powerful woman in the land is first and foremost a woman—and this more than anything else culturally marks her as a potential victim” (23). I am absolutely offended by this statement for SO MANY REASONS. I feel like I could write a book just debunking this ill-informed perspective. First, ALL women are at risk to become potential victims no matter how much power they supposedly have and so are men. Second, this sort of logic works to dissuade women from wanting any kind of power and recognition on the basis of fear thus further oppressing them. Third, this claim is fear-based and not evidence-based. He presents no statistics or research to support what he’s writing.

In conclusion, I would never use this book in the classroom, EVER.

I can’t decide what I want to do with it: trash or compost fodder? To the compost it goes. *rip*

0 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: TRASHED

Sunday, July 11, 2010

21. "Beneath the Wheel" by Herman Hesse

Hesse, Herman. Beneath the Wheel. New York: Farrar, Strous, and Giroux, 1968.
Translated by Michael Roloff
187 pages

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

The first book I read by Herman Hesse was Siddhartha. I read that book when I was sixteen and it changed my life. Beneath the Wheel hasn’t been as life-altering, but it is a novel that has an uncanny parallel to some of the decisions I’m making and issues I’m struggling with in my own life. Herman you rascal, you’ve done it again.

Herman Hesse (1877-1962) was a novelist, a poet, and a painter. Originally from Germany, his work frequently explores an individual’s search for self-knowledge, authenticity, and spirituality. He struggled with depression most of his life which he illustrates in Beneath the Wheel.

Beneath the Wheel was Hesse’s second novel and was originally published in 1906. It closely parallels parts of Hesse’s own life, making it a semi-autobiographical work. The novel is about Hans Giebenrath, a young, and vastly intelligent man. The story begins with Hans in the thick of studying for an important state examination. He feels pressure from every part of his community save one—Flaig, the shoemaker. When asked about Hans the school principle states, “Just look at him. He’s the veritable incarnation of intellect” (Hesse 8).

Hesse creates a contrast between academia and creativity. For the sake of the novel, academia seems to represent logic, intellect, ambition, and discipline to the detriment of creativity, spirituality, emotion, and instinct. The biggest struggle Hans deals with is learning to balance all of these parts of himself in a way that will make him happy. Pressured by friends, teachers, and his father, he suffers from constant headaches and various other health issues.

At the Maulbronn Academy, Hans meets Herman Heilner, a sensitive, and creative boy. Heilner is described as a genius who resists all of the academy’s attempts at molding the young man. Constantly in trouble with the Headmaster, Heilner’s creativity flourishes despite the school’s attempts to squelch it. Hesse writes,

“Teachers dread nothing so much as unusual characteristics in precocious boys during the initial stages of adolescence. A certain streak of genius makes an ominous impression on them, for there exists a deep gulf between genius and the teaching profession. . . . A schoolmaster will prefer to have a couple of dumbheads in his class than a single genius, and if you regard it objectively, he is of course right. His task is not to produce extravagant intellects but good Latinists, arithmeticians and sober decent folk. The question of who suffers more acutely at the other’s hands—the teacher at the boys, or vice versa—who is more of a tyrant, more of a tormentor, and who profanes parts of the other’s soul, student or teacher, is something you cannot examine without remembering your own youth in anger and shame” (99-100).

Heilner is expelled leaving Hans friendless and alone at the academy with no emotional outlet or social support--not even from his teachers.

Beneath the Wheel is an exploration of humans’ duality. Hans craves the solitude of being in nature and going fishing but another part of him thirsts for knowledge and finds great pride in his academic success. The novel explores Hans’ attempts at balancing his life’s ambitions which is something I am grappling with in my own life right now. Academia consumes lives. It is highly competitive, highly demanding, and not very nurturing as is seen in the examples of Hans’ experiences at the Maulbronn Academy. You either keep up with the pack or are crushed beneath the wheel.

4.5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP