The feminist movement has fallen on hard times. Many of the intellectual leaders of the movement are abandoning the battlefield and withdrawing to the snug fastnesses of fantasy and self-gratification. Some dream of once and future Amazonian kingdoms ruled by women. Others plan to engineer their androgynous land of heart’s desire with the nightmare technology of in vitro fertilization, hormone injections, and abortion. In the flight from reality, Mary Daly is leading the advance guard in philosophy and theology. In Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (Beacon Press; Boston), she invents an entire spiritual universe of Realms and Spheres, Elementals, Principalities, and Powers. To represent this new world, she has had to create a brand new language which might be called Cutespeak. Cutespeak. contains new disciplines —Gyn/Ecology, new psychological concepts — Sado-Sublimation, and new publishing terms — a Cat/egorical Appendix (Nonchapter Thirteen) written in part by her cats. Almost any page will do to illustrate the beauties of the new tongue. This sentence is from the first page of the Preface: “The lusty women who rage and roam through the Realms of this book wield the labryses of our lustrous minds — our double-axes of divination —to defeat this obsession/ aggression.”
Daly is at her best in making up etymologies and verbal connections in which she expresses her utter and absolute contempt for those male- dominated trappings of scholarship — logic, method, and fact. Her verbal equations-gnome= dwarf (a word probably coined by Paracelsus) with the Greek gnome — are not out of place in the Realms and Spheres of the feminist universe, but sometimes the poor lady seems to confuse her world of make believe with the world of other people, and that is where the trouble lies.
Male chauvinists, if there are any left, will delight in a book which seems written to prove that, after all, women are incapable of rational discourse. Go ahead, give them Ph.D.’s. Make them professors at major universities. Treat them seriously as equals. They will still turn cute on you and start talking to their cats and prattling baby talk as if it were English. They will even try to pass off their dictionary-thumbing as profound learning. “She has seven degrees,” her cat exclaims to a pedant, “and knows your resources better than you do.”
The fact is that there are many real women doing real research and writing real books about women: psychologists like Alice S. Rossi, feminist anthropologists like Alice Schlegel, philosophers like Carol McMillan. Pure Lust is a studied affront to such women. If it is widely read-which is nearly impossible to suppose-it could create more prejudice against academic women than anything since affirmative action. cc
Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
The barest plot outline of John Updike’s latest novel, The Witches of Eastwick, gives more than a few hints of how far he has gone as a social reactionary. ‘Three attractive women in Eastwick, Rhode Island, have liberated themselves from their husbands by the unconventional means of witchcraft. The effect of their spells was to shrink their victims down to the dimensions of mementos. Updike’s first description of such a transition is worth quoting, if only because most reviewers have contented themselves with referring to the witches as divorcees:
… she had reduced dear Ozzie as he made his daily trek to work and back along Route 4 first to the size of a mere man, the armor of patriarchal protector fulling from him in the corrosive salt air of Eastwick’s maternal beauty, and then to the size of a child as his chronic needs and equally chronic acceptance of her solutions to them made him appear pitiful, manipulable ….He had become much involved with their sons’ Little League activities …. As Alexandra accepted first one and then several lovers, her cuckolded husband shrank to the dimensions and dryness of a doll…. By the time of their actual divorce her former lord and master had become mere dirt-matter in the wrong place, as her mother had briskly defined it long ago-some polychrome dust she swept up and kept in a jar as a souvenir.
Updike never makes it clear whether or not he intends us to understand this process as factor metaphor. What he does suggest is that like Tithonus, modern men have been washed, shrunk and hung out to dry by the powerful women to whom they look for love and strength.
It was clearly Updike’s intention to write a fable, almost an allegory on the liberation of women. The witches are described in the same terms used by feminist writers in portraying their heroines. There is a lesbian undercurrent which threatens, from time to time, to pull the witches under. At times, it reads like a parody of feminist fiction-the same incessant physiological references, the same obsessive allusions to feminine hygiene-but then, Updike has always dipped his pen in vital secretions. Ultimately, his attack on the Movement is not all that subtle. He goes out of his way to set up certain equations: witchcraft as liberation, witchcraft as bitchiness, even witchcraft as gossip. Yet, these liberated ladies cannot sustain themselves on the occult forces of the earth, which are celebrated with increasing ardor and frequency by radical feminists: while they are the bane of weak-willed modern men, they are all too eager to surrender their will to the first old-fashioned, dominant male that comes along.
While Updike may have meant no more than a satire on feminists, it is just as much an attack on women themselves. There is a bitterness, a foulness, a nastiness in his treatment of all the major female characters in the novel. His hostility seems as much inspired by misogyny as it is by a spirit of social criticism. His ordinary women are no less revolting than his feminist witches: one of them is a brutal parody of Phyllis Schlafly’s American woman: the bright and perky cheerleader who has aged gracelessly into a shrill crusader for moral decency. Her husband finally beats her to death with a poker, just to shut her up. No manner of womanhood will please the disenchanted male.
A psychoanalyst might speculate on Updike’s development. For years he has been writing novels which celebrate the pleasures and virtues of swinging. Their “message” might have been taken from the ”Playboy Philosophy” Now he appears to have fallen out of love not only with adultery but with the sex itself. His.is an easy mistake. All too many men buy the feminist claim that they and they alone represent women. In reality, the feminists represent women to the same extent that Ms. Ferraro represents American motherhood.
Updike is still the master salesman. He has brought off a sort of coup by palming off an antifeminist jeremiad as a sensitive modern novel. As a work of fiction, it is hardly successful. None of the characters receives more development than a guest star on the Love Boat. As a tale, it is not worth the waste of an evening. Worse, it is disfigured by Updike’s usual brand of fine writing-the pretty set pieces of description which make most creative• writing teachers drool but inspire average readers to tum the pages quickly. Updike exhibits all the usual tendencies of the burnt-out novelist who has bright ideas for essays but has exhausted his ability to reinvent the world. Economic pressures often compel them to tum their essays into novels which leave the impression of being written for the sake of writing. The result is a book to be read only for the sake of reading. cc
Power, many people believe, is some thing that can always be quantified. It can be, when it is a question of things like hand tools and solar bodies. But it is far from being the case when it comes to human relationships. For millennia the power play between the sexes has proceeded without remission. It seems that men have the upper hand in all things that can be measured. Women, at least a vocal minority, feel repressed, and are demanding what they perceive to be their due the freedom to enter politics or fly on the space shuttle. But while these women are vying for what they think is equal power, they are busy losing that intangible force that they have held over men from the start. Since the universe tends toward a state of equilibrium, gains always entail losses. As women achieve the physical, they lose something of the metaphysical. Their true power is given up for trap pings. And this is the state of affairs Louis Auchincloss outlines in The Book Class (Houghton Mifflin; Boston).
Auchincloss’s slender novel accurately reflects the manners of our historical moment. It is both far. and deep-sighted. He probes the meager ideas that occupy our current sociocultural scene with honesty and clarity. The Book Class poses an unequivocal question: How did it happen that women, who have accumulated such moral and material profits from the four millennia of Western civilization, are now engaged in squandering their assets and investments? Why do they endorse the feminist manifesto: We want it all — no matter what the price. It’s feasible, and let’s do it!
But is it feasible? After they succeed in destroying or subjugating the male sex, who will be the next to face the feminist fury? Children? Animnals? Maybe plants? An absurd suggestion, but hardly more absurd than the rabidity of feminist dialectics and rhetoric. Which make it clear that someone/something must be I, next. Mr. Auchincloss’s novel is an apt compendium of these forebodings. cc
Recently, while visiting an affluent suburb (one of those neighborhoods where all of the inhabitants seem to be urban professionals, even those in designer diapers),we picked up a copy of Livia, which is the second novel in Lawrence Durrell’s The Avignon Quintet of which Sebastian or Ruling Passions (Viking Press; New York),his most recent novel, is the fourth. The clerk at the bookstore was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, Top Siders, and Ray Ban sunglasses on the obligatory string that is usually associated with ancient librarians. As the clerk rang up Livia he could not help exclaiming: “Awwwright! Let’s hear it for Lawrence Durrell! There’s a picture of him and Henry Miller. In bed. Two old men. Reading something-I don’t know what. It’s so … Nice!” We felt a pinch of pity for the young man behind the counter: he obviously imagined that he knew the essence of something. We felt more sorrow for Durrell, who is simply misunderstood by clerks and critics alike. Nowadays, his novels receive little more than a nod of acknowledgment from reviewers whose only qualification is that they once read, they seem to remember, Justine . .. or did they only see the movie?
Durrell creates systems. Any reader coming to Sebastian without the preceding books will find himself among dramatis personae who are acting in ways that are unusual by most standards, but which are consistent with their character. No part of Durrell’s work can be understood in isolation: the whole of his creation must first be assimilated. Durrell is a dangerous writer. His works do not belong in the hands of fools or children. They have an unearned reputation for being somehow pornographic. They should be reserved for the strong-hearted few who can face such a challenge and learn to enjoy one of the few writers who is truly a novelist in the grandest sense of the word. cc