The Female Body of Punk

My new piece in Public Books, “The Female Body of Punk.”

The movement that had acquired definite shape in London and New York City by the end of 1975 was given its name by the American fanzine Punk.Cofounder Legs McNeil explains that the name for the magazine—and soon, the movement—was an act of reclamation. “On TV, if you watched cop shows … when the cops finally catch the mass murderer, they’d say, ‘you dirty Punk.’ It was what your teachers would call you. It meant that you were the lowest. All of us drop-outs and fuck-ups got together and started a movement.”

“Punk” was, then, like “queer,” a strategic reclamation of a slur. One wonders now, however, how aware the founders of Punk and of punk were of the specifically sexualized, feminized history of the term. A “punk” was originally a derogatory term for a female prostitute; in Measure for Measure, Lucio warns Vincentio, “She may be a Puncke: for many of them, are neither Maid, Widow, nor Wife.” By the end of the 17th century, the term had been adapted to mean “a boy or young man kept by an older man as a (typically passive) sexual partner,” and later “a man who is made use of as a sexual partner by another man, esp. by force or coercion”…

Wolves at the Door

My new piece on Public Books.

December 1, 2015 — In the past month we’ve seen two different versions of the same phobic imaginative scenario. In it, a precious and vulnerable space, a space that must be protected, is invaded by an imposter, one in disguise, one who takes advantage of liberal sentimentality to enter under false pretenses and do terrible harm. According to the logic of the scene, the invading agent would, under normal circumstances, have been prevented from entering, but circumstances have arisen that allow him to hide his features, to pose as someone else, to sneak past the barriers….

When Dickens is a Distraction

My new piece in the Chronicle: Has imaginative literature become (again) a scandalous “guilty pleasure” to “read when nobody’s watching”?

About Elly, About Jane

My new piece “About Elly, About Jane,” about the Jane-Austenian subtext of Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly.

If About Elly reimagines Antonioni’s film, it also offers – somewhat like Amy Heckerling’s Clueless – a loose retelling of Jane Austen’s great novel Emma

How To Tell If You Are a Mitford Sister

Forgot to link to this piece of mine in The Toast.

You are known as Queen of the Teasers. Even as a young girl, your wit is likened to a barbed hook hidden within the feathers of a fishing lure. You enjoy composing cruel poems to make your sisters cry. A favorite insult: “You look like the eldest and ugliest of the Bronte sisters today.”

Your closest companion is a pet lamb named Miranda that you bring with you to church and to bed. You write a poem about her that includes the rhyme “Me-ran-der/ Soon to the butcher I must hand her.”

After an emergency appendectomy, you sell your sister your appendix in a bottle, for one pound. It soon smells so much that Nanny must wash it down the loo.

You are legendarily beautiful. When your incredibly wealthy fiancé introduces you to his mother, he declares, “And she can cook, Mummy,” to which she replies faintly, “I’ve never heard of such a thing. It’s too clever.” But in reality, you can make nothing other than fried eggs.

Pistols at Down: on Touché: The Duel in Literature

My review in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

FEW SOCIAL PRACTICES now seem more antiquated than the formal duel by swords or pistols. The so-called “judicial duel” became widely practiced in Europe in the early Middle Ages, influenced by Homeric and other Classical accounts of single combat, and survived more or less intact for centuries. Over the same span, duels appeared endlessly in stories, paintings, poems, and novels. Duels seem “particularly hospitable to literature,” John Leigh proposes in his lucid and thorough new study, because they are “self-contained dramas”; “the most deliberate, self-conscious of acts,” the “ritualized combat” of a duel stipulates a consistent pattern of word and deed….

Smashing things up in John Boorman’s 1987 *Hope and Glory*

We watched John Boorman’s wonderful 1987 Hope and Glory, which I somehow had never managed to see. Based on Boorman’s experiences as a kid during the Blitz in London, it’s about 8 y.o Bill Rowan and his family, mostly told from Bill’s POV. Dad goes off to war in 1939, leaving mom at home with Bill and his younger and older sister, dodging bombs & shrapnel, constantly having to wake up in the middle of the night to cower in the bomb shelter, but managing to have quite a lot of fun.

Pauline Kael commented of the film, “It’s hard to believe that a great comedy could be made of the Blitz but John Boorman has done it.” It’s filled with amazingly vivid, funny depictions of the young kids running riot amid the rubble of their neighborhood. A group of the younger boys, unsupervised, form a gang dedicated to smashing whatever has been left undestroyed. This scene shows Bill’s induction (he has to utter the phrase, “Bugger off you bloody sod”).  At 3:10 in this clip the cherubic gang leader tells Bill, “OK, you’re in… Let’s smash things up!” Cut to joyful jazz music as they go nuts in the incredibly dangerous-looking ruins of a house they’ve adopted as headquarters. Talk about free-range kids. (Kael observes of the film, “the war has its horrors, but it also destroys much of what the genteel poor like Grace Rowan (Sarah Miles) have barely been able to acknowledge they wanted destroyed.”)

In its representation of anarchic kids’ exuberant destruction, this reminds me of the incredible Holloween scene in Meet Me in St. Louis. Also of Deputy and the other rock-throwing “hideous small boys,” who “don’t have an object,” in The Mystery of Edwin Drood:

Durdles and Jasper …are also addressed by some half-dozen other hideous small boys—whether twopenny lodgers or followers or hangers-on of such, who knows!—who, as if attracted by some carrion-scent of Deputy in the air, start into the moonlight, as vultures might gather in the desert, and instantly fall to stoning him and one another.

‘Stop, you young brutes,’ cries Jasper angrily, ‘and let us go by!’

This remonstrance being received with yells and flying stones, according to a custom of late years comfortably established among the police regulations of our English communities, where Christians are stoned on all sides, as if the days of Saint Stephen were revived, Durdles remarks of the young savages, with some point, that ‘they haven’t got an object,’ and leads the way down the lane.

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