Hillary Clinton: A Few of My Favorite (Recent) Things

My Favorite Photograph of Hillary Clinton Ever and Current Facebook Profile Shot:

hrc on the hill

Hillary Clinton testifies before Congress regarding the September attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. 1/23/13. Photo Credit: Linda Davidson, The Washington Post. Via.

My Favorite Homage to Clinton that Is Guaranteed to Make You Wet Your Pants But Will Also Give You Invaluable Advice for Dealing with the Mansplainers in Your Life: It’s here, and if you don’t follow that link you will never know how to raise your hands, as Hillary did on the Hill, in just the right way to convey “’What’s your point?’ and clown the mansplainer for not having an actual relevant point.”

My Favorite Local Tidbit About How Hillary Clinton Is Spending Her First Moments as a Private Citizen in, Like, a Bazillion Years: A friend announced on Facebook that her father ran into Clinton shopping at a Whole Foods this weekend. He conveyed appreciation for her work, and she said thanks. Is that not the cutest thing you’ve heard all day? Question: Was she gearing up for a Super Bowl party or getting ready to hunker down for the Golden Girls marathon that the Hallmark channel put up against the Festival of Testosterone-Fueled Violence on CBS? Discuss.

My Favorite Early Assessment of Clinton’s Legacy: This terrific piece by Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast. Despite imagining that Clinton’s civilian shopping would be at Safeway rather than Whole Foods, Tomasky offers a smart, sympathetic overview of her varied career. I especially liked what he had to say about her most recent job. Too many other assessments have given Clinton credit as a good manager of the state department and a hard-traveling global celebrity but have sniffed that her tenure lacked a singular great achievement. Tomasky points out a number of places where Clinton played a vital role during a period of unprecedented tumult, but he also notes that diplomacy isn’t what it used to be because the world isn’t what it used to be: “Diplomacy just cannot be conducted today as it was by secretaries like George Marshall and Dean Acheson. There are so many more countries, so many more issues; so many more people in the developing world trying to assert themselves and shape their own destinies as they did not back then.”

My Favorite Line from the Obama/Clinton Interview with 60 MinutesI don’t have one, really, but go watch it. It’s a hoot to watch the former rivals be all lovey-dovey and “we understand each other because we’ve been through the same stuff” and “who cares about 2016?” while Steve Kroft tries to figure out how the heck he managed to snag this unlikely interview. It’s like Scandal, without the murders and the election-rigging. And the hot inter-racial sex.

Most Amusing Attempt to Speculate About Clinton’s Future Prospects: Byron Boneparth in Slate, wondering if Clinton’s “terrible taste in typefaces” will sink her presidential chances. Knowing what a profoundly superficial people we are here in these United States, I have to admit I’m troubled that Clinton would opt for such an aggressively un-cool typeface in her letter of resignation. Poor Richard? Srsly, Hilz? Suggestion: Let whoever bought your fabulous nerd eyeglasses pick out typefaces from now on. Trivial things matter, as you well know.

Wisest Attempt to Speculate About Clinton’s Future Prospects: Gail Collins, who will (I predict and hope) one day write a brilliant authorized biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, said earlier this week,  “if the last several decades are any indication, whatever Clinton does will involve extraordinarily diligent-but-unglamorous work, coupled with occasional hair-raising disasters, which she will overcome with a steely resolve that will make the world swoon.” Collins’s last line captures beautifully the way many of us who have watched and worked and worried and thrilled and sobbed and marveled over Clinton’s journey in the last twenty years are hoping/imagining she feels as she ends one stage and contemplates the next:

No regrets. Onward and upward.

Amen. Thank you, Madame Secretary. Enjoy your well-deserved breather. Call us if you need a spa date or a ghost-writer. Or, you know, someone to organize Iowa. We want you to win there next time.

hillary 2016

Learning from Madonna

MDNA Tour, Verizon Center, Washington, DC, 9/23/12. Photo Credit: The Madwoman

Yeah, I know the whole Madonna-Is-This-Epic-Pop-Cultural-Rorschach-Test is, like, so twenty years ago, but bear with me for a minute. A week after my baptism into the High Church of Please Don’t Call Me Madge, I’ve nearly got the ear worm of “Girl Gone Wild” out of my head, but I still find myself cogitating over something I turned to the Woman Formerly Known as Goose and said in the middle of the show. I had to whisper/yell it and repeat myself several times to be heard, of course, but once she caught the drift of what I was saying, she nodded in enthusiastic agreement. So, what was my high-on-MDNA revelation?

Early in the show, there’s an incredibly dark sequence in which Our Lady of Pop becomes a gun-toting gal on a rampage. It runs through three songs, the aforementioned “Girl Gone Wild,” “Revolver,” and “Gang Bang.” There’s a lot of shooting and a lot of blood, much of it projected in high-definition on the screen at the back of the stage. “Gang Bang” is an especially creepy and powerful song about a scorned woman shooting an ex-lover in the head. The refrain is a gleeful, “Bang Bang, shot you dead, shot my lover in the head.” It was riveting, but I don’t think my companion and I were alone in finding the spectacle both discomfiting and difficult to read. However, as “Gang Bang” transitions to a snippet of “Papa Don’t Preach,” the girls with guns scene gives way to four soldiers wearing camouflage pants and masks that seem both vaguely tribal and eerily reminiscent of the hoods worn by tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The soldiers surround Madonna, who is lying on the stage singing, wrap her in chains, hoist her above their heads, and march with her body to the back of the stage. Images of fire and implements of torture flicker on the screen. As she sings “Hung Up,” Madonna, accompanied, by the soldiers, walks across a wire suspended above the floor. They appear to be walking through fire. I realized in that moment that we weren’t being forced merely to revel in gratuitous violence for its own sake. The evocations of Abu Ghraib somberly recontextualized and geopoliticized the cartoonish violence of the earlier, Tarantino-esque scene and made its consequences starkly real. (Or, you know, as real as anything can be in the surreal spectacle of Madonna.) It was then that I turned to WFKG and said, “You know, I would despair of our species if it weren’t for popular culture. Our political system is so broken, so utterly incapable of addressing with any real thought or feeling the urgencies of our time. Popular culture at least tries, at least sometimes.” (Here is a link to a vid of the whole MDNA show. The scenes referred to in this paragraph are in the first 25 minutes.)

I wasn’t just thinking of Madonna, of course, though I do hereby declare that the mind-boggling multimedia extravaganza of “Nobody Knows Me” is the most compelling meditation on representation, violence, and non-identity the twenty-first century has produced. Even without the swastikas. (That “Nobody Knows Me” link is a pretty decent concert vid. Click on it to see if you agree with me or think my claims are proof that I’ve gone MADonna.) I’m also thinking of our old pal Bruce Springsteen, who’s been brooding on the painful gap between American ideals and American realities for decades and fighting off despair through rousing calls to consciousness, compassion, and engagement. It would never have occurred to me to compare these two artists, so deeply different in so many ways, but WFKG and I trooped down to Nationals Park to see Bruce for the eleventy-billionth time just a week before we saw Madonna, so the passion of the Boss’s live performance was fresh in my mind as I found myself caught up in the frenzy of “Like a Prayer” and “Celebration” that concludes the MDNA show. For all their differences, both Madonna and Springsteen demand that their audiences look into the darkness of their own and their country’s souls — but then lift us up into light, dance, a space in which we can see one another’s faces, move and sing together. It isn’t just a party, though it is that. It is a moment of shared agency and, perhaps, a shot at collective redemption. (Bruce, Madonna, and the Post-Catholic Allure of Redemption. Discuss.)

I’ve always been a sucker for the gospel of popular music, particularly in live performance. It’s also fascinating to me, though, that in this moment when our politics seems so stunningly dysfunctional we see evidence throughout popular culture of serious efforts to grapple with many of the intractable problems our leaders are barely able to acknowledge much less address. What am I talking about? Everything from The Hunger Games to Homeland, from the brand new Revolution to the salacious yet smart Scandal. These are all fundamentally dystopian stories of an America dying or destroyed by some combination of corruption, conspiracy, and neglect, but they are also stories of characters struggling to be decent in conditions of profound moral ambiguity and battling to reclaim power — literally in the case of Revolution, in which the rebels are trying to get the lights turned back on after a 15-year power outage. (Given the multi-day power outages we regularly experience in the Washington, DC area, this show feels entirely and excruciatingly apt to me. I imagine I am about two derechos away from being willing to kill to obtain one of those little amulet/flash drive thingies if it would help me to defeat the tyrant thugs of Pepco.)

This should be a longer post, a post that delves deeply into the kind of cultural work I see these shows and performances as doing, a post that explains eloquently and in great detail what we learn not only from Madonna but from any pop cultural text that challenges us to think, feel, act, and connect. This longer post would wrestle with the important question of whether my investment in such stories is not proof that I suffer from what Lauren Berlant in her latest book terms cruel optimism, an attachment to objects — “food, or a kind of love[,] . . . a fantasy of the good life, or a political project” — that “actively impede the aim” that brought me to them initially. It’s entirely possible that I do suffer from cruel optimism. It’s also possible I would rather have cruel optimism than no optimism at all. Because given the choice between dog-paddling and drowning, I would choose dog-paddling every time. Happily.

Sadly, however, it’s also true that it’s Sunday evening. I have work to do. And the new seasons of The Good Wife and Homeland begin in less than an hour. What are you watching? What are you listening to? What kind of work is it doing, and why does it matter? What have you learned and from whom have you learned it?

Peace out, Madpeople at your Laptops, and remember: Don’t be cruel.

Mad Glances

Pedestrian tunnel in Terminal 1, O’Hare International Airport, 9/21/12.
Photo Credit: The Madwoman

Not to worry, darlings. I’m not dead and I haven’t been fired for nursing while teaching. (Of course, if I’d been nursing while teaching, you’d have heard about it — through the Vatican’s Miracle Investigation Unit.) Just busy. I was in the space-agey tunnel in O’Hare’s Terminal 1 on Friday returning from a whirlwind trip to Nebraska for a big-wiggish lecture I was invited to give on my old pal Willa Cather. Hey, it even made the newspaper, though I can’t say the earnest young reporter caught all the nuances of my analysis of Cather’s late life and early afterlife within the context of the post-WWII Lavender Scare. As I said when I posted the article to the Book of Faces, “If you tell a kid reporter that Willa Cather was ‘a tough broad,’ it’s going to show up in the paper the next morning. You were a kid reporter once. You know these things.” So true.

Anyhoo, I seem to be getting quoted in lots of newspapers lately. Because I have the good fortune to know a lot of tough and wonderful broads. Yes, I am a lucky woman. Some day I will get around to blogging the extraordinary news of a possible new photograph of Emily Dickinson and the searing yet brave story of my former teacher Susan Gubar’s experience of ovarian cancer. In the meantime, you follow those links like the dutiful little do-bees I know you are. You need to know these things.

Also: Mitt Romney will never be president, but he looks to have a solid future as a figure of speech. Historiann explains.

Speaking of tough broads, the Woman Formerly Known as Goose is taking me to see Madonna tonight. Because there’s more to life than rock and roll (but happy birthday, Boss). And apparently there’s more to life than course prep. Later, lovelies. I’ve got to go tone up my biceps to get ready for this evening. Wouldn’t want to disappoint the buffest middle-aged babe in show business. Peace out, material people.

Photo Credit: Chad Batka, New York Times

Sheroes and Fools

I sincerely hope this is the most disgusting thing you read all day ever in your life if you live to be ten thousand years old. It’s a report in the print edition of this morning’s Washington Post by Ed O’Keefe:

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — No matter what her opponent might think, Tammy Duckworth insists she doesn’t talk much about Iraq anymore.

Duckworth, the Democrat challenging Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), lost her legs in a 2004 helicopter accident during the Iraq war. She uses both a wheelchair and prosthetic limbs when speaking with voters.

“Most people are familiar” with her injuries, she said in a recent interview. “I don’t talk about what happened in Iraq much, unless people ask.”

Her opponent, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), said last month that “all she talks about” are her war injuries.

“Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about,” Walsh said.

The comments quickly drew national attention and swift condemnation from veterans groups. Duckworth reaped the political rewards.

“We saw a tenfold increase in Web traffic and volunteers and $50 donations from the whole country, because it really went viral,” Duckworth said. Most of the donations came from fellow veterans.

Duckworth said that if Iraq comes up with voters, it’s because “they ask the ‘Why are you doing this?’ questions.”

“That’s when I tell the story about Iraq and that’s when I say, ‘Look, I should be dead and I’m not,’ ” she said. “And I have that to live up to. I’m not a parent, I’ve not been blessed with kids, so I can’t say I’m doing this for my kids’ futures. I’m doing this because a bunch of heroes saved my life one day and I owe them. It’s hard to explain that to folks who don’t understand the military and the bond you have with your buddies, but I have to do more with my life and live up to that.”

Please, lord, make it stop. Please tell us we’ve finally hit the bottom of what passes for political discourse in this country when a non-veteran has the indecency to comment on the nature of heroism or question the right of a veteran to speak of her experience and her grievous wounds. We can’t sink any lower than this, can we? Oh, wait. Of course we can. Pardon your Madwoman while she bangs her head against the retina display screen of her shiny new Laptop.

I’m doing this because a bunch of heroes saved my life one day and I owe them.

Tammy Duckworth, you are a hero, and we hope you send Joe Walsh and his foul mouth packing come November. He is a disgrace to the office he holds.

Meantime, Mad People with your Laptops, click here to help Tammy win. Congress needs Dems and sheroes, and with Duckworth you get both.

Here’s a linkable piece by Ed O’Keefe on the Walsh/Duckworth race. (Dear WaPo: Please explain the logic of your paywall. I want to bring eyeballs to your dying enterprise, but you make it really hard and utterly baffling. Yours sincerely, The Last WaPo Reader on Earth.)

Also, Dana Milbank points out that this campaign only feels nastier than others because this time around Dems, from the president on down, “are employing the same harsh tactics that have been used against them for so long, with so much success. They have ceased their traditional response of assuming the fetal position when attacked, and Obama’s campaign is giving as good as it gets — and then some.”

He’s right, but I think I’ll spend the rest of the political season paddling quietly away in a Swift Boat to some peaceful land without newspapers, Interwebz, or large-screen teevees.

Yeah, right. Well, I am going to the beach for a week. Catch up with you soon, kids. Keep the faith, and may you too have a chance to step away from the Laptop for a spell and enjoy the last fleeting moments of this scorching summer. Peace out.

M. Wuerker, Politico

Bustin’ a Move with the SOS

Your Madwoman has a new Laptop, a sweet, snazzy little number with display so pretty it makes her eyes smile. How happy does this back-to-school gift from the taxpayers of Turtle Country make me? Why, very nearly as happy as global goddess Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to have been last night in Pretoria, South Africa. Watch this video. It’ll put a grin on your face for the evening, even if you don’t have retina display on your laptop and even if you’re planning to hunker down and face those syllabi tonight instead of zoning out to another four hours of #NBCFail. You go, Hillz. If ever a girl deserved to cut loose and get down, it’s you. Peace out.

Madwomen in the City


Karen Ball as Emily Dickinson in Emily & Sue: A Love Story in 5 Scenes and 4 Seizures, Fresh Fruit Festival, NYC. Photo by Martha Nell Smith, 7/26/12.

Road trip! The woman known on Roxie’s World  as Goose has spent her career studying the complex, intimate, generative relationship between Emily Dickinson and her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Dickinson. (See, for example, this co-edited collection of letters beloved by Sisters of Sappho everywhere.) So, when you need an English prof to supply some steamy historical context for a cool, queer, one-woman play that dramatizes Dickinson’s passion for the girl next door, Goose is the gal you call to be the scholar on your talk-back. The play, Emily & Sue: A Love Story in 5 Scenes and 4 Seizures, was written by Carolyn Gage and Merry Gangemi and ran for two nights at New York’s Fresh Fruit Festival. Karen Ball plays Dickinson as the fierce, even volcanic, poet who said of the woman who inspired and edited her, “With the exception of Shakespeare you have told me of more knowledge than any one living.” The 30-minute monologue, which is composed entirely out of lines from Dickinson’s poems and letters, pushes hard against the myths of Dickinson as a dotty, white-clad, virgin recluse. Ball wears black for the role, and her dancer’s clothes call attention to the strong corporeality of a sexy woman who dreams of spending “Wild Nights” moored in the port of her beloved’s body. Her voice is strong and commanding, even in expressing the pain and vulnerability Dickinson at times experienced in relation to Sue. The seizures in the play’s title refer to the claim in Lyndall Gordon’s Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds that Dickinson may have suffered from epilepsy. The claim has been controversial in Dickinson studies. The play hedges its bets on this point by projecting the seizures as jumpy videos on a screen at the rear of the stage. The “seizures” thus come across as metaphors for moments of heightened or fractured consciousness, when the poet’s brain crackles with perception. (One such moment is captured in the photo above.)

The Dickinson striding and prowling the stage in Emily & Sue is the Dickinson brought into public consciousness by a line of painstaking biographical and textual scholarship focused on sex and gender that goes all the way back to Rebecca Patterson’s The Riddle of Emily Dickinson, published in 1951. It’s good to see that forceful, fascinating figure brought to life in a taut production that does justice to both the intensity and the complexity of a relationship that endured for close to forty years. If Emily & Sue comes to your neck of the woods, you should see it. It will banish the timid ghost of the gingerbread-bearing Belle of Amherst from your memory banks forever.

And remind you that, before she had a Laptop, The Madwoman perhaps made do with a quill pen for recording her dazzling, divine sense.

I’ve Gotta Be Me-Ish

Does the world need a new blog? Probably not, but I do.

I’ve been hanging out for the past six and a half years in a quirky little corner of the blogosphere known as Roxie’s World, where I wrote, with great delight and satisfaction, in the voice of a bossy, opinionated wire-haired fox terrier. Why? Oh, heck, I don’t know. Why not? It started out as a lark, but I got hooked on the fun of imagining a world and bringing readers into it with me. As a scholar of American culture and writing, I was also fascinated with blogging as a social and literary form. Doing it taught me a lot about reading, writing, and the work of criticism in the 21st century.

Old dog bloggers never die — They just have longer telecommutes is the joke I came up with as a way to explain how the actual dog who inspired my blog would continue to be the narrator and presiding genius of Roxie’s World after her death. The embodied Roxie ceased to be on the penultimate day of 2009, and, true to the joke, the blog went on. It could, theoretically, keep right on going, but lately I’ve begun to feel that the experiment has run its course and perhaps it is time to make a change. I’ve found myself interested in the possibility of beginning again, taking on a new “supposed person,” as Emily Dickinson termed the identities produced through verbal performance.

So here we are. Welcome to the new blog, not quite the same as the old blog but not all that different either. If you’ve been running with the pack over in Roxie’s World for the last little while, you should feel right at home here. You can expect to encounter commentary on a similar, eclectic mix of subjects from a familiar perspective: queer, feminist, critter-affirming, with a tone that moves between and among irreverence, optimism, and righteous indignation, with occasional unapologetic lapses into sentimentality. I’ll write about higher education, middle age, new media, politics, queer stuff, books I read or teach, the stuff I watch on TV. I will rail about Excellence Without Money (which is still ™RW Enterprises LLC) and wax rhapsodic on college women’s basketball. I’ll offer glimpses of life with my new companion terrier, Ruby, and my companion human of 28+ years, the woman known on Roxie’s World as Goose. There’ll be jokes, recipes, pictures I take. Maybe even pictures I draw.

Like, you know, that one there on the left. (Pathetic, I know, but this is the kind of thing that happens when a girl gets a stylus to go with her iPad soon after finishing up Alison Bechdel’s latest book, which you should totes read, by the way.)

The idea of the Madwoman with a Laptop (ML for short!) came to me a couple of years ago when I was writing a short piece on academic feminist blogging for a collection Claire Potter (aka Tenured Radical) put together for The Journal of Women’s History. The figure was useful for thinking through questions about gender, literary history, and pseudonymity that were at the heart of that essay. It was also a satisfying way to pay tribute to the enduring influence of two of my most important teachers and mentors, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, whose monumental work of feminist criticism, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, remains a standard in the field.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize the Madwoman with a Laptop would also be a kick-a$$ framework for a blog, but no one has ever accused me of being quick to change. I am after all an academic and thus an incrementalist at heart. I also felt great loyalty and attachment to the beloved critter who made me a dog person as well as a blogger. Ready or not, however, I’m changing now. I hope you’ll come along for the ride and take a glimpse at the world through the Madwoman’s eyes. Who knows what you will see and what we might be together? Stay tuned, my pretties.

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