Thursday, August 4, 2022

Reading 8

Ted Hughes, "Your Paris," Birthday Letters: Poems

An extreme lingering resentment toward his wife Sylvia Plath in this recounting of their visit to Paris. Having been a member of the RAF and exposed to a war-torn Paris, he saw Sylvia's "gushy burblings" of delight over the city as a superficial, American understanding of place. She saw Paris as the city of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Picasso, the life of the artist expat, whereas he could still sight the pockmarks of bullet holes in historical buildings.

Kudos to Ted for laying bare his feelings, there's a bravery to that, but he does sound like he was a bad man, indeed, and there are several stories, not recorded in his poems, mind, alleging physical as well as emotional and violent abuse of his wife.

This poem was written some thirty years after the death of Sylvia Plath, and yet all this seething anger.

Alice Munro, "Memorial," Something I've Been Meaning To Tell You: Stories

For two nights, three days, Eileen goes to stay with her sister June and June's husband Ewart. The latter are rich because Ewart was born into wealth. He doesn't have a proper job but involves himself in various projects. His latest is creating a Japanese garden complete with a miniature waterfall. June and Ewart's house is tidy and well-organized and the couple are the kind of sociable people that everyone who likes. They even maintain these niceties in the midst of grief, which Eileen feels is shallow and phony, especially now, because the occasion for Eileen's visit is the death of one of seven of the couple's children. She wakes up to a June and Ewart doing business as usual, Ewart with his gardening and June making phone calls in a pleasant, non-grieving voice for the memorial service that will be held for their deceased son, Douglas, who is one of four boys June and Ewart had adopted from India who, less than a week ago, died in a car accident where he was carpooling with some other children his age.

The night of the memorial, Eileen gets drunk, but as drunk and as bitter is she is that night, she holds her tongue. She's bitter about a lot of things. She thinks the couple's calmness is phony, and the memorial service, that's phony too. They read a passage from the Qur'an in honor of their son Douglas, not because Douglas was Muslim, but because June and Eileen are Unitarians and they want to share how broadminded and liberal they are, Eileen thinks.

On the same night as the service, Eileen wakes up, feeling a bit hungover. She gets a drink of water in the kitchen, sees a light on in the garage, and wanders out to see Ewart watering his garden, and this just after it had rained that night. She calls him stupid. He says regardless, the plants have just been put in the ground, they need a lot of water. Then Eileen and Ewart awkwardly move toward one another, embrace, and moments later they are having intercourse in the reclined driver's side of Ewart and June's family car.

Eileen knows that compared to her sister, Eileen is the messy one, the divorced one, the one whose life is more outwardly disordered, and men like Ewart can rationalize and keep mum about an affair like this because they can lie to themselves and say it was a wild aberration from their normal life, the introduction of a radical in an otherwise stable equation. Eileen's personality becomes his excuse to cheat.

The next day comes, Eileen is packing, June will take her to the airport. Eileen takes her rumpled soiled sweater she was wearing the night before and stuffs it into the bottom of her bag before June comes into the room. June says she wishes Eileen could stay longer. Then she sits down on the bed and begins to explain, in a composed voice but with shaky hands, the logistics of how her son had actually crawled from the car that ran off the road and how the car was angled and rolled over and crushed him. I can't picture exactly how it happened, though, she says, can you? Eileen says she can't. She hugs her sister and tries to comfort her, in this final moment they will have together for a considerably long time.

Silvia Federici, "Capital and the Left," The Patriarchy of the Wage

This essay was originally published in the 1970s, when there appeared to be a burgeoning Leftist movement in the United States. Federici, an American herself (Italian-American), is here militating against this mainstream Left who wanted to exclude homemakers from the Leftist movement because they were not paid workers. In citation after citation, Federici does a fair job of showing that this was the consensus opinion among the movement. And yet for all that, the essay seems quaint. There's no need anymore for this infighting among so-called Leftists about wages for housework, and for two reasons, one more dire than the other. First the dire reason. While there are liberals in U.S. politics, there are no Leftists, not with any political power, there aren't, which in the U.S. would mean a broad coalition of people with Leftist values holding political office. The second reason the essay is not terribly applicable in its argument anymore is that I'd imagine that those people who would espouse Leftist beliefs would likely agree with her about wages for housework or the equivalent of, maybe in the form of a subsidy given to households in which there is one or more dependent, or perhaps more simply, containing more than one person. Maybe many of these people would agree but suppose they didn't, it wouldn't matter anymore, because a person with Leftist beliefs, even one person holding political office with Leftist beliefs, really doesn't matter, because there's only power in political coalitions.

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