January 6, 2016

2016 Feminism: Something To Do, Somewhere To Go?

My friend Wolfgang Müller gave me a present for the New Year, the novella The Life of a Good-for-Nothing - or more beautifully in German: Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts - written by Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff in 1826, the early times of Romanticism. Wolfgang thought it was a good read for somebody who tries to do her best at everything, haha! It's true, I'm a huge fan of The Right To Be Lazy, but in practice I keep busy doing things, and even in times I had no job, mysteriously, things got busier. I guess it's our 24/7 time, that Jonathan Crary was talking about. Aus dem Leben eines Taugennichts is about a guy who got kicked out by his father because he didn't get any work done at the farm when sleeping in too late. So he decides to travel the world, more exactly in direction Italy "wo die Pommeranzen wachsen" (where the oranges grow). He's the kind of person who can have a lot of happy thoughts just because of a pretty view. It also helps that he's not too smart and mostly has no clue about what is happening to him, and that kind of saves him from having a lot on his mind. Most of the time he can't speak the local language anyway so something might be going on but he never works out exactly what. The story is naïve, free of any cynicism - which is nice to read in the 21st century. It reminds me of that scene in the film Youth by Paolo Sorrentino that I saw on Sunday, where Miss Universe puts a condescending actor on his place by saying that she appreciates irony but when irony is drenched in poison, it reveals frustration. Our frustrated century!

I was reading another short story these days (I'm starting 2016 in a very slow mode) in a feminist magazine Persona I bought on an art book market. The story is in English but with a German title. It isn't explained why this is so, but some things, like the title above, just sound better in German, that's a fact. Frau mit viel Zeit (Woman with a lot of time) by Eva Kenny is about a woman who has many embodiments, one of them is the fashion magazine editor lying in the bath in an Upper West Side apartment, smoking a cigarette with the dry hand whereas the other one is on top of substantial pubic hair. "Fantasizers of the simple life: didn't you think you would be able to touch your job or even sense it as a tangible thing, near the tip of your tongue?" It's true that a job never feels like being on the tip of your tongue, almost escaping you, but rather as an all-invasive something. I had never thought about it really, but there's something about women and being busy, starting already at school, busy learning: "Looking busy becomes a way of inhabiting feminism, as one costume amongst others." Eva Kenny refers to the iconography of the busy woman in 1970s movies trying to counterpoint the 1950s bored housewife "drinking and pilling her way through restless afternoons and evenings. Having something to do and somewhere to go became the aesthetic of feminism as well as its reality." 

I'm feeling a little aimless at the beginning of 2016, but I could also formulate it as feeling open for unexpected things to happen, a "Freiraum" or, less directed towards a future, a nice immediacy. Let Eichendorff's hero speak: “'So I’m a good-for-nothing, eh?' I retorted. 'All right, then. I’ll go off and seek my fortune.' The idea was indeed very much to my liking. In autumn and winter the yellowhammer used to sing a lament outside our window: 'Farmer, please hire me! Farmer, please hire me!' But a short time ago I had seen him sitting proudly on top of the tree, singing his merry springtime song: “Farmer, keep your work!” – and this had given me the idea of making for the open road."

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