Farewell, Ellen Willis

Pehaps because of the (deserved) attention given the death of Ed Bradley, I hadn't noticed that my favorite radical feminist rock critic, Ellen Willis, has died. I was stunned. Some of her writing in the Village Voice in the '70s and '80s shaped my own thinking about pop culture, politics and sexuality. I didn't agree with some things she wrote -- her statement that "good writing is counterrevolutionary" is astonishingly wrong-headed (just ask Flaubert). But her stand against anti-porn feminists (while advocating a "new feminist pornography"), her unashamedly "difficult" thinking about pop music, her ability to re-state, re-think and re-frame political debates-- notably democratic secularism vs. religious freedom -- and her withering wit when it came to defending the independence of women (on issues from abortion rights to consumerism) were inspiring, to say the least. She was fearless, it seemed, yet compassionate.

A few favorite, quickly culled lines indicative of her depth and range:

"[David Boaz, of the right-wing/libertarian Cato Institute] complains of unmarried welfare mothers' 'long-term dependency' on government, as if it were unquestionably preferable that mothers be forced into long-term dependency on husbands."

"There are two kinds of sex, classical and baroque. Classical sex is romantic, profound, serious, emotional, moral, mysterious, spontaneous, abandoned, focused on a particular person, and stereotypically feminine. Baroque sex is pop, playful, funny, experimental, conscious, deliberate, amoral, anonymous, focused on sensation for sensation's sake, and stereotypically masculine. The classical mentality taken to an extreme is sentimental and finally puritanical; the baroque mentality taken to an extreme is pornographic and finally obscene. Ideally, a sexual relation ought to create a satisfying tension between the two modes (a baroque idea, particularly if the tension is ironic) or else blend them so well that the distinction disappears (a classical aspiration)."

"The devout cannot have it both ways. Pro-church arguments have made headway on the left by purporting to defend the democratic rights of the religious, but this is not really a debate about rights. Rather, what pro-church militants are demanding is exemption from challenge to, or even criticism of, their claim to a privileged role in shaping social values. With no sense of contradiction, they presume the right, even the obligation, to attack secularists' worldview while feeling entitled to unquestioned "respect," which is to say suffocating reverence, for their own beliefs. In a democracy, however, organized religion has no more right to be shielded from opposition than the state, the corporation, the labor union, the university, the media or any other institution."

"My deepest impulses are optimistic, an attitude that seems to me as spiritually necessary and proper as it is intellectually suspect."

November 10, 2006 7:54 AM |



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This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on November 10, 2006 7:54 AM.

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