Published on Dec 6, 2015
0:35 Mars, the Bringer of War
8:13 Venus, the Bringer of Peace
17:57 Mercury, the Winged Messenger
22:33 Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
31:20 Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
41:11 Uranus, the Magician
47:08 Neptune, the Mystic
Maciej TARNOWSKI – dyrygent/conductor
Henryk WOJNAROWSKI – dyrektor chóru/choir director
Orkiestra i Chór Żeński Filharmonii Narodowej
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra & Female Choir
koncert zarejestrowano 27 listopada 2015 w sali koncertowej Filharmonii Narodowej
recorded at Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, November 27, 2015
Jordan Peterson’s 10-step process for stronger writing
07 March, 2019
- The best way to improve your thinking is to learn how to write, says Jordan Peterson.
- His 10-step process for writing an essay is time-consuming, but the benefits are worth it.
- From the granular to the macro, every facet of writing a solid essay is covered in his template.
Becoming a better writer is a means for becoming a better thinker, says Canadian professor Jordan Peterson. Arranging your thoughts on a page in a coherent fashion organizes your thinking process so you can better understand it, which translates into efficiently communicating your ideas to others. Just as Marie Kondo inspires fans to declutter their homes in order to transform their emotional and mental life, Jordan Peterson’s 10-step essay writing template is a way of empowering you to achieve mental clarity.
The introductory step qualifies the importance of essay writing. Peterson summarizes:
“The primary reason to write an essay is so that the writer can formulate and organize an informed, coherent and sophisticated set of ideas about something important.”
Actions based on thinking through consequences are more productive and less painful than those based on ignorance. Peterson believes in no better means for living an effective life than writing, which forces you to confront inconsistencies, paradoxes, and novel ideas. By rejecting substandard notions uncovered by your essays, you can choose to take action on those that matter most. Organizing your thoughts verbally, he concludes, allows you to think abstractly, granting access to higher-order cognitive processes.
2. Levels of Resolution
First, select a word; then craft a sentence; finally, sequence sentences inside of a paragraph. Peterson suggests that each paragraph consist of at least 10 sentences or 100 words. Over time such numbers are arbitrary. In literature, José Saramago’s sentences run thousands of words while Philip Roth’s later novels include numerous single-sentence paragraphs. Learn form before mastering it, Peterson writes. Strict adherence to structure is helpful.
“Rules are there for a reason. You are only allowed to break them if you are a master. If you’re not a master, don’t confuse your ignorance with creativity or style. Writing that follows the rules is easier for readers, because they know roughly what to expect. So rules are conventions.”
3. The Topic and the Reading List
Choosing a topic occurs in one of two ways: you’re assigned it (remember, this guide is for Peterson’s students) or you can list 10 topics that you’re interested in exploring and choose one. The next step is to pick your reading list for researching the topic. Peterson suggests five to 10 books per thousand words of essay. He eschews highlighting books; instead, take notes. There is evidence that writing down (and not typing) information is the best way to remember information.
4. The Outline
Peterson calls this step “the most difficult part of writing an essay.” Also, “it’s not optional.” This step is why I love the word-processing program Scrivener — my outline lives on the left side as I work on longer articles and books. Any outline could shift and transform as you research and write the essay, so being able to constantly reference the skeleton you create is the surest path to success.
One of the hardest pieces of advice to convey to new writers is to just write. Writer’s block doesn’t exist when you’re disciplined. Malcolm Gladwell discusses this point on Tim Ferriss’s podcast. Gladwell spent a decade in the Washington Post newsroom; reporters don’t have the luxury of writer’s block. The first draft is effectively thinking on the page. Success occurs during the editing process, which is why Peterson recommends not worrying about the quality of your work during the paragraph process. Just get the words onto the page. Peterson continues,
“Production (the first major step) and editing (the second) are different functions, and should be treated that way. This is because each interferes with the other. The purpose of production is to produce. The function of editing is to reduce and arrange.”
6. Editing and Arranging of Sentences Within Paragraphs
7. Re-ordering the Paragraphs
By this stage you’re examining the fluidity of the content in service of the essay as a whole. Just as you examined each individual sentence, now you look at their service to the meaning of each paragraph. From there, you investigate how the jigsaw pieces fit together to construct the puzzle.
8. Generating a New Outline
Many writers believe they’re done once the second draft is tight. Peterson disagrees. After you’ve read through the latter draft, he recommends writing yet another outline. Importantly, do not look back at the essay while doing so. This Jedi mind trick on yourself has utility; you’re making yourself remember what’s most important about the argument you’ve constructed. This will help you eliminate repetitive or unnecessary arguments as well as strengthen the most pertinent points.
“If you force yourself to reconstruct your argument from memory, you will likely improve it. Generally, when you remember something, you simplify it, while retaining most of what is important. Thus, your memory can serve as a filter, removing what is useless and preserving and organizing what is vital. What you are doing now is distilling what you have written to its essence.”
After a few days, if you “really want to take it to the next level,” return to your latest draft to investigate every sentence, every paragraph, and the outline. The space of days will separate what you think you wrote from what you actually wrote. In a more toned-down version of this, I write a draft of every article, edit it at least twice, yet never publish until the next morning. That way I have allowed a night of sleep to pass before blasting it into cyberspace. My favorite time to do this is between 5–7 a.m., after the cats are fed and the caffeine is circulating.
10. References and Bibliography
Peterson saves citations for last. Of course, you’ve been saving your sources as you collect information — another great feature in Scrivener. Citing sources also offers one last opportunity to read the quality of the work and ensure that you’ve properly captured the information you’ve collected. With that, your essay is complete.
March 28, 2019 (theonion.com)
HEAVEN—Speaking with obvious nostalgia regarding the “raw and gritty” quality of his experiences in decades past, God the Almighty Creator confirmed Thursday that Heaven was “way cooler” in the 1970s. “Sure, there was a lot of more crime and corruption, but man, Heaven in those days felt way more authentic,” said the Supreme Being of Paradise of the decadent, seedy era, explaining that while admittedly dangerous, he found himself yearning for a time when the Place of Eternal Rest had porn theaters everywhere and “the cops wouldn’t hassle you for no damn reason.” “Everything seemed more vital, more immediate, more alive, if that makes sense. And I don’t mean to be a name-dropper, but c’mon. Joplin, Hendrix, Jim Morrison, they’d all just arrived and were really starting to find their voices. At the same time, we didn’t think of it as anything special; it was just where we hung out. I mean, you didn’t have to be rich to live here back then. You just had to want it bad enough. Sure, you’d see a lot of junkie angels just strung out on dirty clouds. But now it’s just so sanitized. I kind of feel sorry for the young kids showing up in Heaven now since it’s all become places like Olive Garden and M&M’s World.” God, as He has historically done when asked the question, refused to answer whether Hell might be the cooler option now.
March 28, 2019 (theonion.com)
CAMBRIDGE, MA—Warning that nothing was more dangerous than focusing on yesterday’s mistakes instead of being present right here and right now, self-actualized historians at Harvard University urged Americans not to get all hung up on the past. “Now more than ever, we must remember: A society that dwells on what it did 200 years ago is basically trapping itself inside its own head, when it could reach its full potential by simply saying, ‘Hey, whatever happened, happened,’ and making the decision to live for today,” said Dr. Andrew Gordon, cautioning society against relitigating the Crusades, fixating on the actions of Nazi Germany, or preoccupying themselves with the horrors of slavery, since life is going on all around us and won’t wait until you’re ready for it. “I used to harp on how Japan’s rapid late-19th-century industrialization affected attitudes towards underclass Meiji women, which still cause dark rifts in their culture all these decades later. But I can’t change any of that, so what’s the point? Global leaders and citizens alike need to realize you can’t keep your head in a bad place all day. Bad things happened, sure, but bad things happen to everyone. There are a million sides to every story, so come on—let’s begin writing our story.” Dr. Gordon’s new historical interpretation was challenged by traditional historians, who continue to urge Americans to obsess over every wrong thing they’ve ever done, each instance of which demonstrates our helplessness against a bleak future that we are and have always been incapable of changing.
By Sam Whiting March 19, 2019 (SFChronicle.com)
Ralph Metzner, who specialized in the study of psychedelic drugs, was also an academic dean at the California Institute of Integral Studies.Photo: California Institute of Integral Studies
Ralph Metzner, a German-born and Harvard-trained psychologist who veered into the world of altered consciousness and psychedelics on his way to a longtime position as professor and academic dean at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, has died. He was 82.
Metzner wrote more than 20 books, most prominently “The Psychedelic Experience,” which he co-wrote with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert to start a revolution when it was published in 1964, three years before the Summer of Love. His most recent book was “Searching for the Philosophers’ Stone: Encounters with Mystics, Scientists and Healers” published two months before Metzner died of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a degenerative lung disease for which there is no cure.
He died March 14 at his home in Sonoma.
Metzner had as deep an interest in the topic of death and dying as he did in psychoactive substances, and he used his own terminal illness as an example of how to do it right. After Metzner entered hospice care, two weeks before his death, he held regular meetings with his editor regarding three of his books in the pipeline.
He finished sorting out his library of books into 44 boxes to be shipped to Purdue University, where it will be named the Ralph Metzner Library.
The night before he died, and just as he was going to sleep, he told his wife, Cathy Coleman, “I feel like I am going to die tonight. I want to die. I am ready to die.” But he did not die that night. The next night, after she told him that his library had been packed and shipped, and that project complete, he then laid down to sleep, with Coleman at his side, and did not stir again.
“Ralph was all about awareness and personal growth right up until the end,” Coleman said. “In his last days he was especially open-hearted and tender, and expressed gratitude for everything, for each small favor.”
Metzner was born in Berlin on May 18, 1936. His father was a publisher, and his mother an emigrant from Scotland. During World War II, the family fled to the German countryside. His mother later took her three sons to Scotland while Berlin was being rebuilt.
Metzner attended Queen’s College at Oxford University before advancing to graduate school at Harvard University in 1958. In the psychology program, he became the research assistant to Leary and Alpert (Ram Dass), which involved personal research on LSD and psilocybin. Among their clinical experiments was the Concord State Prison Project in which they took psilocybin with inmates.
“It was all about awareness for what they had done, and healing trauma,” Coleman said.
Metzner became editor of the Psychedelic Review scholarly journal, and after publication of “The Psychedelic Experience,” he had a national reputation. It followed him to California, where he became part of a meditative community called the School of Actualism near San Diego.
In 1975, Metzner was hired as a professor at what was then called the California Institute of Asian Studies in San Francisco. It had no full-time faculty and fewer than 100 students in a campus that was always on the move. A few years later he was named Dean.
Metzner wrote the accreditation document and oversaw a name change to the California Institute of Integral Studies, and a move from the Mission to a vacant Catholic school on Ashbury Street just off Haight. By the time he stepped down as dean, in 1989, the student body had grown to 500 students. (The school now has 1,500 graduate students, 75 full-time faculty and a building that it owns on Mission Street.)
“Ralph was a pioneer in psychedelic research, and was a highly accomplished and productive scholar in all fields of psychology,” said Robert McDermott, president emeritus of the California Institute of Integral Studies. “Not every faculty member is known outside the school, but Ralph was. He had a wide reputation and was distinguished and admired.”
In 1988, just before he stepped down as dean, Metzner married Coleman, who had taken seven classes from him, and was by then dean of students. Their wedding ceremony was in the American Indian tradition atop Mount Tamalpais one hot July day in 1988, with 200 guests as witness.
Metzner and Coleman were both interested in astrology and ecology, and continued to actively research psychedelics. They soon formed the Green Earth Foundation, an education and publishing nonprofit that released “Allies for Awakening,” a manifesto of psychoactive substances, published in 2015.
Metzner had long since retired from academia, but he never retired from researching and writing about drugs, and spreading the word through his lectures.
“Ralph was a true investigator at heart,” said Dr. Charles Grob, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. “In the field of psychedelic research studies, he was involved at the very beginning, and he worked at it up until the end. Much of what I learned from him I have been able to apply in my own research, and the same with my colleagues. He was a skilled and dedicated teacher, and highly respected in our field.”
Among the hallucinogens he explored were ayahuasca, psilocybin, LSD, 5-MeO-DMT, San Pedro, MDMA and MDA. He was open to peyote, though nobody brought any to his wedding.
“Native Americans regard the peyote ceremony as religious, medicinal and psychotherapeutic,” he once told Chronicle religion writer Don Lattin. “It’s an integrated, holistic approach, and a genuine religious experience.”
But his drug use was never recreational.
“Ralph took his work very seriously, and yet he could be funny, with a dry wit,” Coleman said. “He was always working on some new process at his desk.”
One of these was a personal growth process he branded Alchemical Divination. He developed a curriculum and taught it at retreats in Petaluma, New Mexico and Switzerland. It was a weeklong commitment, and those who persevered would earn a certificate of completion. He also maintained a private psychotherapy practice with an office in San Rafael.
In his 60s, Metzner decided he did not have enough to occupy his mind and took up jazz piano. He’d had exposure as a child in Berlin and took to it quickly. He ended up recording an album of original material, “Bardo Blues and Other Songs of Liberation,” on the Green Earth Foundation label.
“He never stopped,” Coleman said. “He had an insatiable curiosity about the mysteries of life. Nothing was too strange for Ralph.”
Two days before he died, a copy of Simcha Paull Raphael’s “Jewish Views of the Afterlife” arrived with Metzner’s endorsement on the back cover. It seemed to be a sign he was headed for the afterlife, said Coleman.
Metzner was predeceased by a son, Ari Metzner, killed in a childhood bicycle accident. Survivors include his wife and daughter, Sophia Metzner, both of Sonoma, and stepson, Elias Jacobson, of Boston.
Plans for a public memorial are pending.
Memorial contributions can be made to the American Civil Liberties Union, Union of Concerned Scientists, National Park Foundation and California Institute of Integral Studies-Center for Psychedelic Therapy and Research. Designated checks can be sent to: Cathy Coleman, P.O. Box 1202, Glen Ellen, CA 95443-9321.
Bacteria “talk” to each other, sending chemical information to coordinate attacks. What if we could listen to what they were saying? Nanophysicist Fatima AlZahra’a Alatraktchi invented a tool to spy on bacterial chatter and translate their secret communication into human language. Her work could pave the way for early diagnosis of disease — before we even get sick.
This talk was presented to a local audience at TEDxAarhus, an independent event. TED’s editors chose to feature it for you.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Fatima AlZahra’a Alatraktchi · Nanophysicist, entrepreneur
Fatima AlZahra’a Alatraktchi invented a method to spy on the social behavior and communication of bacteria.
By Maria Popova (brainpickings.org)
Georgia O’Keeffe (November 15, 1887–March 6, 1986), celebrated as America’s first great female artist, was a woman of strong opinions on art, life, and setting priorities and an uncommon gift for committing to words what she committed to canvas. But some of her most revelatory insights on art and the creative experience were shared in a series of letters to writer Sherwood Anderson, who had befriended legendary photographer Alfred Stieglitz — O’Keeffe’s husband and her correspondent in volumes of passionate love letters. Encountering O’Keeffe’s art in the early 1920s had inspired Anderson to pick up the paintbrush for the first time and begin painting himself. Meanwhile, the two developed an epistolary fellowship around their shared ideas about art and their amicable intellectual disagreements. (Only three years later, Anderson would come to articulate his own unforgettable wisdom on art in a letter to his son, very likely influenced by O’Keeffe and their creative rapport.)
Found in Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letters (public library) — an altogether unputdownable out-of-print volume released in 1987, a year after O’Keeffe’s death, to mark her centennial — the letters stand as a sublime paean to the kind of creative integrity that rises above public opinion and blazes with crystalline clarity of conviction. At the same time, one can’t help but wonder how O’Keeffe’s art — how her sanity — might have suffered had she lived in our present era of perpetual sprinting on the social-media hamster wheel of public opinion.
On August 1, 1923, she writes to Anderson:
This morning I saw an envelope on the table Stieglitz addressed to you—I’ve wanted so often to write you—two things in particular to tell you—but I do not write—I do not write to anyone—maybe I do not like telling myself to people—and writing means that.
First I wanted to tell you—way back in the winter that I liked your “Many Marriages”—and that what others have said about it amused me much—I realize when I hear others speak of it that I do not seem to read the way they do—I seem to—like—or discard—for no particular reason excepting that it is inevitable at the moment.—At the time I read it I saw no particular reason why I should write you that I liked it—because I do not consider my liking—or disliking of any particular consequence to anyone but myself—And knowing you were trying to work I felt that opinions on what was past for you would probably be like just so much rubbish—in your way for the clear thing ahead—And when I think of you—I think of you rather often—it is always with the wish—a real wish—that the work is going well—that nothing interferes —
I think of you often because the few times you came to us were fine—like fine days in the mountains—fine to remember—clear sparkling and lots of air—fine air.
After a characteristically evocative note about Stieglitz’s health that spring had rendered him “just a little heap of misery—sleepless—with eyes—ears—nose—arm—feet—ankles—intestines—all taking their turn at deviling him,” O’Keeffe expresses deep gratitude for the very thing that led Virginia Woolf to term letter writing “the humane art”—the soul-salving power of a letter sent by one human being to another:
You can see why I appreciated your letters—maybe more than he did—because of what they gave him—I don’t remember now what you wrote—I only remember that they made me feel that you feel something of what I know he is—that it means much to you in your life—adds much to your life—and a real love for him seemed to have grown from it
And in his misery he was very sad—and I guess I had grown pretty sad and forlorn feeling too—so your voice was kind to hear out of faraway and I want to tell you that it meant much—Thanks
Aware of misfortune’s one-way mirror of hindsight, she adds, “I can only write you this now because things are better.”
O’Keeffe and Anderson continue their correspondence and in another letter sent a month later, she defies her self-professed distaste for “telling [herself] to people” and instead divulging — with the exhilarating intensity of expression that both her art and her letters to loved ones emanate — a magnificent glimpse of her inner life and creative spirit. She considers the role of form in art and the experience from which art stems:
I feel that a real living form is the result of the individual’s effort to create the living thing out of the adventure of his spirit into the unknown—where it has experienced something—felt something—it has not understood—and from that experience comes the desire to make the unknown—known. By unknown—I mean the thing that means so much to the person that wants to put it down—clarify something he feels but does not clearly understand—sometimes he partially knows why—sometimes he doesn’t—sometimes it is all working in the dark—but a working that must be done—Making the unknown—known—in terms of one’s medium is all-absorbing—if you stop to think of the form—as form you are lost—The artist’s form must be inevitable—You mustn’t even think you won’t succeed—Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant—there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing—and keeping the unknown always beyond you—catching crystallizing your simpler clearer version of life—only to see it turn stale compared to what you vaguely feel ahead—that you must always keep working to grasp—the form must take care of its self if you can keep your vision clear.
In a remark of extraordinary humility and wisdom, especially in the hindsight of both O’Keeffe’s present status in the canon of art and Anderson’s in that of literature, she considers the feebleness of any present metric of success against a creator’s ultimate significance for posterity:
You and I don’t know whether our vision is clear in relation to our time or not—No matter what failure or success we may have—we will not know—But we can keep our integrity—according to our own sense of balance with the world and that creates our form—
In a sentiment that calls to mind Maurice Sendak’s famous dissent with a common classification of his work — “I don’t write for children. I write — and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’” — O’Keeffe adds:
What others have called form has nothing to do with our form—I want to create my own and I can’t do anything else—if I stop to think of what others—authorities or the public—or anyone—would say of my form I’d not be able to do anything.
I can never show what I am working on without being stopped—whether it is liked or disliked I am affected in the same way—sort of paralyzed—.
All of Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letters is a treat for eye and spirit alike. Complement this particular bit with Anna Deavere Smith on how to stop letting others define us and Rilke on why external interference in the artist’s private experience poisons the art.
Published on Dec 5, 2014
The Story of Mushkil Gusha from World Tales collected by Idries Shah. Published 1979 by Octagon Press.
Note from Michael Kelly:
Yes, Andrea Dworkin.
I never in a million years thought I would read, let alone enjoy, anything about Dworken’s work, but this piece is by Lauren Oyler, not Dworkin, and Oyler has what Dworkin rejected, namely the ability to reach out to the reader with an interesting sense of history and context.
Some of her beliefs have fallen out of fashion, but her writing remains a model for enacting politics on the page.
Apologies to Andrea Dworkin, who did not like book critics and who, fourteen years after her death, from myocarditis, at fifty-eight, is being subjected to a round of us again. “I have never written for a cowardly or passive or stupid reader, the precise characteristics of most reviewers,” she wrote in the preface to the second edition of “Intercourse,” the work that presented her alienating theory of heterosexual sex as a violation, “a use and an abuse simultaneously,” and “the key to women’s lower human status,” among other descriptions. “Overeducated but functionally illiterate, members of a gang, a pack, who do their drive-by shootings in print,” reviewers seemed to deny her the authority of her personal experience of rape, prostitution, and domestic violence, which they did not understand, and to wave aside the literary criticism in the book, which they also did not understand. “I will check back in a decade to see what you all think,” she wrote in a scathing letter to the Times, in 1987, responding to its pan of the first edition of “Intercourse.” “In the meantime, I suggest you examine your ethics to see how you managed to avoid discussing anything real or even vaguely intelligent about my work and the political questions it raises.”
Out of the fray emerged the idea that she believed all sex was rape, which, along with her frizzy hair, dumpy overalls, and uncompromising positions on sex work and sadomasochism, came to epitomize radical feminist hostility throughout the nineteen-eighties and nineties. Dworkin was widely regarded as sexless and “anti-sex,” feminism’s image problem incarnate, hated by various denominations of liberals and—except when she was campaigning against pornography—conservatives alike. Though she tempered her contempt for establishment stupidity with a naughtily blunt sense of humor and a deep-down belief that people could examine their ethics and change, her reputation always preceded her work, and she knew it. Foregrounding her shrewdness as a reader—or her pathos as a human being—didn’t much help. While she was working on “Intercourse,” one colleague told her to include a “prechewed” introduction “to explain what the book said,” which she did, sardonically. Others advised her to use a pseudonym.
A new anthology of Dworkin’s writing, “Last Days at Hot Slit” (Semiotext(e)), edited by Johanna Fateman and Amy Scholder, suggests that the drastic, fringe ideas she promoted, despite the personal and professional consequences, might seem less threatening today. It’s also an opportunity to reassess her style. The collection brings together writing from Dworkin’s major books, including extracts from her two novels, “Ice & Fire” (1986) and “Mercy” (1990), as well as one from “My Suicide,” a twenty-four-thousand-word unpublished autobiographical essay from 1999, which Dworkin’s longtime partner, John Stoltenberg, a gay man and an activist, found on her computer after she died. Dworkin was a lucid, scarily persuasive writer, and much of this material reflects her argument, in “Pornography: Men Possessing Women,” that “Everything in life is a part of it. Nothing is off in its own corner, isolated from the rest.” The anthology is as much an account of Dworkin’s life as it is a presentation of her work; her project was to show how misogyny and violence against women were, like women themselves, “real,” a favorite word, and from an early age she offered up her own experiences as evidence. When she was a freshman at Bennington College, she was arrested at a protest against the Vietnam War and taken to jail, where she was subjected to a brutal pelvic exam that left her bleeding and traumatized; at the urging of Grace Paley, a fellow-protester whom Dworkin looked up in the phone book afterward, she reported her story to the newspapers, prompting a grand-jury hearing. The jail was eventually shut down.
Between this galvanizing incident—which shamed her parents back in New Jersey—and the publication of “Woman Hating,” nearly ten years later, Dworkin worked as a prostitute, moved to Amsterdam to write about the anarchist movement Provo, and married an activist, who violently abused her. She left the marriage, crediting her escape to a feminist, and vowed to “become a real writer and . . . use everything I knew to help women.” The process of writing “Woman Hating” showed her just how much she knew; experiences like hers, with “male dominance in sex or rape in marriage,” weren’t yet “part of feminism” in the early nineteen-seventies. Perhaps anticipating the mocking, vitriolic dismissal she would encounter throughout her life, Dworkin sets out her intentions in the very first sentence, with her trademark clarity and purpose: “This book is an action, a political action where revolution is the goal.” What’s more, it certainly was not “academic horseshit.”
The latter claim is correct; the former, for those appraising Dworkin, may have been a little too convincing. What’s so exciting to watch, reading “Last Days,” is not her political trajectory but the way her style crystallized around her beliefs. Dworkin saw being a writer as “a sacred trust,” which many of her peers had violated for money, and inextricable from that dedication was her love of texts and her faith in their power. Even as she acknowledged that she worked “with a broken tool, a language which is sexist and discriminatory to its core,” she aimed to “write a prose more terrifying than rape, more abject than torture, more insistent and destabilizing than battery, more desolate than prostitution,more invasive than incest, more filled with threat and aggression than pornography.” Her sentences barrel forward, strong-arming the reader with unlikely pauses or abrupt images; they force “you to breathe where I do, instead of letting you discover your own natural breath.”
You could call this a masculine way of writing, if you believe in that kind of distinction. It’s almost like revenge, a contradiction of her rejection of mere “equality”: “there is no freedom or justice in exchanging the female role for the male role.” In her preface to the second edition of “Intercourse,” Dworkin describes the book’s style in terms of domination, using the same phrases that she applies to intercourse itself. Of the male authors she analyzes, she writes, “I use them; I cut and slice into them in order to exhibit them.” The exhibition is affecting. Though the book is organized by broad themes—“Repulsion,” “Stigma,” “Possession”—Dworkin is most at home in the specific, when she’s conducting extensive close readings in the mode of an old-school literary critic. For those who associate her with a pungent misandry, it can be a surprise to find that her scorn, insofar as it exists, is grounded in considered surveys of Bram Stoker, Kōbō Abe, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, among others. In a chapter on virginity, she turns to D. H. Lawrence, for whom “virginity was ‘her perfect tenderness in the body.’ ” Then, in a little more than a page—which includes three block quotes—she compares his attitude, unfavorably, with that of Sophie Tolstoy, before bringing in a dash of Calvino to prove that, “in the male frame, virginity is a state of passive waiting or vulnerability . . . she counts when the man, through sex, brings her to life.” It is Lawrence’s ideal “phallic reality” that leads her to one of the book’s central questions: “To what extent does intercourse depend on the inferiority of women?”
Reading Dworkin, I often find myself trying to contort into agreement, although ignoring what she said in favor of what you’d like her to have said is exactly what she asked people not to do. At the time she was writing, her injunctions to read her and take her seriously, and her exasperated efforts to clarify her intentions, were directed more at her detractors; now her defenders might be reminded to pay closer attention to the text. Ariel Levy, a writer for this magazine, in her introduction to the twentieth-anniversary edition of “Intercourse,” points out that the discomfort in reading Dworkin is that, “if you accept what she’s saying, suddenly you have to question everything: the way you dress, the way you write, your favorite movies, your sense of humor, and yes, the way you fuck.”
If male domination determines everything, even our language, believing Dworkin requires being as hopeful as she was: she wanted nothing less than a total reimagining of the world, a pursuit that even she engaged in only sometimes, with varying degrees of specificity. Her numbered lists for addressing rape, which she believed was a prerequisite for insuring the freedom of women, comprise a rigorous program of simple definitions and actionable recommendations; her suggestions for overhauling intercourse—which to her was not necessarily rape, though she said that rape is the prevailing model for intercourse, and the relentlessness of her thinking leaves few options not to interpret her that way—are mostly vague or absurd. When she says that men will have to “give up their precious erections,” it makes sense metaphorically—men should “renounce their phallocentric personalities, and the privileges and powers given to them at birth.” But she also seems to mean it literally, which without mandated surgical intervention is just not going to happen. She writes admiringly and at length about Victoria Woodhull’s materialist “female-first model of intercourse,” but although she insists that this is “not some silly role reversal,” it’s hard to see how requiring the woman to be “the controlling and dominating partner, the one whose desire determined the event,” is particularly different from what she calls the hollow swap of “equality.”
The baroque logic of Dworkin’s arguments is usually balanced by the straightforward conviction that she gave them on the page. For Dworkin, “the favorite conceit of male culture” was to replicate “in its values and methodology the sexual reductionism of the male. . . . Everything is split apart: intellect from feeling and/or imagination; act from consequence; symbol from reality; mind from body.” Dworkin’s style worked against this; her best writing employs a precisely layered mode of argumentation in which no part can be separated from the rest. Her prose has a swift, natural fluidity that reveals a holistic view of humanity; on a single page she brings together close readings of novels, historiography, etymology, political crusading, and philosophical meditations that themselves would be at home in a (great) novel. In “Last Days at Hot Slit,” the selection from “Intercourse” includes a beautiful delineation of free will that builds to an optimistic demand that men more considerately exercise theirs:
There has always been a peculiar irrationality to all the biological arguments that supposedly predetermine the inferior social status of women. Bulls mount cows and baboons do whatever; but human females do not have estrus or go into heat. . . . Only humans face the often complicated reality of having potential and having to make choices based on having potential. . . . We have possibilities, and we make up meanings as we go along. The meanings we create or learn do not exist only in our heads, in ineffable ideas. Our meanings also exist in our bodies—what we are, what we do, what we physically feel, what we physically know; and there is no personal psychology that is separate from what the body has learned about life. Yet when we look at the human condition, including the condition of women, we act as if we are driven by biology or some metaphysically absolute dogma. We refuse to recognize our possibilities because we refuse to honor the potential humans have, including human women, to make choices. Men too make choices. When will they choose not to despise us?
Baboons do whatever! But, elsewhere, only splitting hairs can justify the generalizations to which she sacrifices possibility. The next paragraph begins with the assertion that, because of our position, women cannot make the same choices as men: “Being female in this world is having been robbed of the potential for human choice by men who love to hate us.” If that’s true, one wonders how she managed to live the way she did: married to a gay man, writing genre-bending feminist polemics. In Dworkin’s conception, objectification is more or less inevitable but can never be reclaimed as empowerment or chosen, unlike what many third-wave and contemporary feminists might believe.
It’s not squeamish to say that some of her arguments are not simply uncomfortable but offensive, almost strategically so. She compares violence against women to the Holocaust, with women who value heterosexuality being “collaborators” and pornography akin to Goebbels’s anti-Jewish propaganda; the difference, she notes, is that “the Jews didn’t do it to themselves and they didn’t orgasm. . . . Of course, neither do women; not in life.” In an essay on Nicole Brown Simpson, she juxtaposes violence against women and spousal abuse with racist police brutality and then performs a similar sort of childish qualification to imply that, actually, one of these is worse: “On the same day the police who beat Rodney G. King were acquitted in Simi Valley, a white husband who had raped, beaten, and tortured his wife, also white, was acquitted of marital rape in South Carolina. . . . There were no riots afterward.” These hyperbolic comparisons sap the power from her painstaking explanations elsewhere of the uniqueness of women’s position and the way it “intersects” with class and race. Departing from reality to emphasize women’s place in it—splitting, against her own instruction, a symbol from its context—only makes her thinking seem lost.
After Dworkin’s death, Gloria Steinem, a longtime friend, likened her to “an Old Testament prophet.” The comparison still rings true, and not only because, as Steinem had it, Dworkin “was always warning about what was about to happen.” Dworkin’s positions have also formed a set of principles that feminists approach as a general guide but rarely find appropriate to adopt as hard-core devotees. In the reconsiderations of Dworkin that have proliferated in the past couple of years, since Donald Trump was elected and #MeToo made it fashionable to express skepticism or hatred of men, a positive, if qualified, consensus has coalesced around her work. Fateman, describing the excitement she felt when she discovered Dworkin at eighteen and saw “patriarchy with the skin peeled back,” followed by her dutiful disagreement with Dworkin in the years afterward, now calls herself a “different kind of loyalist.” In “Good and Mad,” Rebecca Traister’s 2018 assessment of women’s anger, Traister laments that Dworkin wasn’t around to see #MeToo—but she also notes that Dworkin was “wrong” about a lot. Contemporary essays praising second-wave strategies like militant celibacy and political lesbianism invoke Dworkin implicitly, even as their authors shy away from occupying her staunch positions. “I won’t be swearing off sex anytime soon,” Nona Willis Aronowitz writes, in a Timeseditorial titled “Don’t Let Sex Distract You from the Revolution,” “but as I battle this latest iteration of private and public misogyny, I’ll be channeling the focused rage of the celibates.”
These sentiments, which sever intellect from feeling or mind from body, are decidedly not Dworkinesque, and the ease with which we’ve pulled out what is useful or prophetic about her work suggests that we’re still not reading her writing the way she would read it: closely, actively. Her weaknesses are congruent with her vision of the world’s totalizing interconnectedness; they flow from her awareness of the trade-offs—beyond precious erections—that revolution might require. Dworkin sacrificed her comfort, her reputation, and to some extent herself for her writing. What she never gave up was style. She called on culture to serve politics, but understood that political writing need not sound like it was written by a politician.
Since the second wave, “questioning everything” has become a prominent mode of feminist critique, as has a willingness to consider culture in political texts and politics in, say, book reviews. But, without the sort of rigor that Dworkin brought to both, neither strategy is particularly effective. When she writes, in “My Life as a Writer,” of having “to give up Baudelaire for Clausewitz,” she’s referring to a choice she made in “Intercourse,” but there she doesn’t abandon the canon; she merely sacrifices an uncritical reverence for it. This is not much of a loss at all. “The very fact that I usurp their place—make them my characters—lessens the unexamined authority that goes not with their art but with their gender,” she wrote, of the male authors she studied. “I love the literature these men created; but I will not live my life as if they are real and I am not.” ♦