Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November's books

Damn,  three-fer.

#21 The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
#22, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem
#23, Writing s Woman's Life by Carolyn Heilbrun

The Prince is a fascinating, cynical, eyes-wide-open look at politics and the people who use them. I read it in a comparative literature class,and found it both practical and disturbing... like The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Machiavelli wrote it during the rule of the Medici family in Florence.

One of the objections to The Prince is that Machiavelli advocates immoral actions; in fact, he advises princes who would succeed to be ruthless and to be practical rather than good (one of the things I always admired about Louis XIV in my study of him). The work is not based, however, on political theory or the "should" school of action, it comes from Machiavelli's direct observation and experience of successful rulers. He is obviously aware of classical works on the subject, like Aristotle's Politics, but suggests those classical treatises do not apply to the modern Renaissance world.

One can certainly disagree with Machiavelli about the "proper" actions to be taken by a prince who wants to be "succesful," and even the definition of successful. What cannot be disputed is that Machiavelli is, sadly, on target in most of his thinking.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions was one of the first nonfiction books I read that could be called feminist. I was working and living in NYC. Why did it take so long? Good questions, because it was immediately clear that I am a  feminist. Still and despite the bad press for using that word in this modern 21st century world.

"Knowledge that is not accessible is not helpful": this is Steinem on academic jargon. I want to have a t-shirt with this emblazoned on it!

Steinem is one of the most intelligent and far-seeing of the feminists who changed the way we think about women (a little). Her book is personal but profound using everyday prose to detail the ways in which she observed misogyny and anti-women actions in the 1970s and 1980s. As a young woman, I found it profoundly eye-opening about the realities of my life, the daily interactions going on around and to me.

Steinem never shows off. She simply speaks in a straightforward style that anyone can understand, even if you do not agree with what she says. There is no hiding, no colonizing, no appropriation of resources. Which of course makes her dangerous, not only to misogynists but to the feminists who wish to control the argument, rather than include all women, all men, all persons in the movement toward true gender equity.

Writing a Woman's Life is a non-fiction book by Carolyn Heilbrun, and it was probably the first book I read in a feminist grad class. A small book, it rocked my world as a writer, a future academic, and a woman. Heilbrun addresses the myth of women, specifically women writers who actually lived, by interrogating the ways in which male biographers and female autobiographers construct those lives.

In other words, how they turn fact into fiction/myth that suits the general stereotypes about women as artists, writers, creators (outside of maternity), and individual actors of their own reality. It is not a pretty book, and like most feminist writers of the 1980s, Heilbrun (like Steinem) sees the room for vast change and the need for it now. Both women wanted to educate a generation of women--mine--about how to be truthful about their own, life experiences even if those life experiences did not conform to social mores.

So... three writers who do a bit of "Emperor's New Clothes" revelating. No wonder I am interested in them, then and again now.

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