Catching Up #7

  • Laura Secor explores revolutionary sex in Iran for The Nation:

    Mrs. Erami, it turns out, is one of the more dramatic products of the generational upheaval in Iranian attitudes toward sex. A conservative Muslim, she was not sympathetic, some years before her encounter with Mahdavi, when her gay son came out of the closet. Her husband threw him out of the house. When their unmarried daughter announced that she had a boyfriend, Mrs. Erami slapped her and called her a prostitute. The daughter left home that day, never to return. And so the Eramis lost both of their children over their unwillingness to accept sexual behavior that had become the norm not only globally but even within many circles inside Iran. A year later Mrs. Erami's husband died, leaving his wife entirely alone and flooded with regret. That was when she devoted herself to sex education reform, both as a teacher and as a campaigner within Iran's education ministry.

  • For n+1, Nikil Saval explains why he'd rather call Mumbai Bombay:

    The head of India's right-wing Shiv Sena group, which was founded in 1966 and based in Bombay, Thackeray would be essentially parodic if he weren't so murderous. He was until recently focused on starting an India-based rival to McDonald's, "Shiv Vada-pav," with a fried potato burger as its main attraction. And it was through his initiative that the city was renamed "Mumbai," after the city's patron goddess Mumbadevi—which, the nationalists argued, returned the city to its Hindu past. In reality, the Sena had overwritten history with a fantasy: Bombay was originally a Portuguese (Bom-baim), and then English (Bombay), trading port. The notion that it has a particularly Hindu past to return to is false.

  • In the pages of the London Review of Books, Elif Batuman lances the poststructuralist boil that is Louis Althusser's reputation by calling the bluff on all the silly things that have been said about his murder of his wife, not least those said by Althusser himself:

    In his manic periods, the philosopher compulsively seduced younger, more attractive women and brought them home to ‘show’ his wife. The actual murder took place when he was giving Hélène a ‘neck massage’ – on the front of her neck. The great Marxist pressed his thumbs ‘into the hollow at the top of Hélène’s breastbone and then, still pressing, slowly moved them both . . . up towards her ears’, squeezing so hard that he felt pain in his forearms. He noticed this pain before he noticed his wife’s glazed eyes and protruding tongue.

    In The Future Lasts a Long Time, Althusser breezes through Hélène’s monstrous childhood in less than two pages, but returns again and again to the scene of his own symbolic ‘rape’ by his mother, which occurred after he began having wet dreams, and consisted of his mother pointing at his sheets and announcing: ‘Now you are a man, my son.’ Such passages alternate with confessions, self-recriminations, Freudian self-analyses and sentences like ‘I know you are waiting for me to talk about philosophy, politics, my position within the Party, and my books,’ creating an impression of parodic egotism.

  • In the collapsing Russian economy, Keith Gessen has become a financial advisor:

    The guys I play hockey with, a number of whom are bankers, know about the crisis. ‘We could start farming,’ one of them suggested a while ago as we sat in the locker room after another loss to our rivals.

    ‘I have a balcony. We can raise a goat.’

    ‘Or mushrooms. We could grow psychedelic mushrooms.’

    ‘No, the FSB controls that market. The minute you came out with your mushrooms they’d be visiting you.’

    ‘Gentlemen!’ Our captain wanted us to get back to business. ‘There is a financial crisis. But we are also in a hockey crisis.’

    ‘We’re better off with a goat,’ the first banker continued. ‘It will give you milk – and progeny!’

  • Christine Smallwood profiles America's greatest toponymist for The Nation:

    Stewart's lyricism is fashioned from two materials: Old Testament fire and brimstone–a pervasive climate of environmental tempests and spiritual tests–and the incantations of names. The latter found their fullest expression in his most famous work, Names on the Land. Released three years before Fire, the book is a history of American place-names that retraces the paths of conquistadors, pilgrims, frontiersmen and merchants across the Lower 48. (A reissue added chapters on Alaska and Hawaii.) A ramble through the book's index reveals the land's rhythms and curiosities: Puget Sound, Pulaski, Pumly Tar, Punxsutawney, Purgatoire, Putah Creek, Putin, Puu. Toby's Creek, Todd's Corner, Togo, Tokio, Tokio River, Toledo, Tolo, Tolono, Tolstoi, Tomato Creek, Tomball, Tombstone. Bird-in-Hand, Deal, Fertility, Intercourse. Stewart was a poet, but he was a tough guy, too, like Mailer. Unlike Mailer, though, who fueled his machismo with flights of scotch, Stewart was a rugged survivalist, a social conservative who measured testosterone in miles hiked.

6 thoughts on “Catching Up #7”

  1. Yeah, oops, I just looked in my New Oxford American Dictionary, and Althusser is named in its definition of structuralism. In categorizing him or, say, Lacan, my brain always balks, as if to ask, "If he's a structuralist, then what's post-structuralism for?"

    Upon double-checking Google, I see that Althusser+structuralist finds 102,100 examples, Althusser+poststructuralist finds 83,100, and Althusser+post-structuralist finds 21,400, so maybe I'm not the only one with this problem.

  2. Afraid I'm going to bow out of this one. It really was a long time ago that I read Althusser, and I wouldn't be able to say why in any detail without reading him again, and I'm not inclined to do that, because my no-longer-informed impression of his worthlessness is still quite strong. Sorry! My memory is that I just didn't buy him; it seemed to me that he was engaged in mystification rather than thinking. I recall that I resented him for having been pro-Soviet in the 1970s, when Eastern Europe was being made miserable by that system. There seemed to be something nasty there about the distance between his theories and the real world. All horribly vague and unphilosophical, I know. Feel free to make the case for his restoration.

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