Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thinking Through Intercourse

In May 2007, I posted a piece inspired by Robert Olen Butler's Severance. Here's the link to my entry Voices of the Beheaded

Now I've read his latest Intercourse, published by Chronicle Books in 2008. I am so pleased that his work continues to inspire me.

Today I post a short piece of intercourse that is my own imagination engaged in a little Olen Butleresque playfulness, spinning a flash piece that is a complete knock-off of the award-winning writer's ideas. Cheers to R.O.B. He's given us another juicy collection. Before reading Intercourse, I wondered if he could pull it off what he did with Severance. He does. For those of us who tend to get a bit lazy and say things like, "there are no words to describe...", Robert Olen Butler finds the words. He gives us all of the threads of words that are going through a person's head during such moments of heightened emotion such as losing one's head or enjoying orgasmic sex. His collection of stories in Intercourse spans history and reveals what is going through lovers' heads during the act, a decent collection of all things indecent. It's a joy to read.
Here's my addition, two lovers I've chosen to explore in the way Robert Olen Butler does.

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe 300 and some years old
Old Father Gander 300 and some years old

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe
Please come in--watch your step around Buzzy's skates, Clara's headless horsemen, and Davy's X Box--I've warned them about tidying up I've given them broth without any bread I've punished them, pet them, and put them to bed You go on and lie upon that Sponge Bob sleeping bag I've spread over the carpet because I'd hate to have to remove our stains but you can remove your own square pants (I hope) and You can relieve me and fill me fill my gaping womb satisfy my desire for more and more children I have an insatiable urge to multiply to give birth to go through these exhausting motions again and again and again my pussy ripped open again and again to push forth new life because I want and want and want to die and let live to rip and let live to give and let live. It is not your seed or more children I want but without an infant to suckle my milkfull moonboobs and a feeding schedule orbiting my body I am a lonely planet; even if They want to put my picture on the cover of Good Shoekeeping and they have they recently interviewed me regarding my steel-toe approach to discipline and my straight lace approach to teaching my infants to read The twins, Mitch and Max, are already through War and Peace, and they're only 24 months old! And they say I don't know what to do. Hah! I know what to do with you I can fit your square pants in my round hole because I am older than Methuselah and menopause means nothing to me

Father Gander
The old nursery rhyme never mentioned me by name, but I'm the one I'm taking credit and responsibility I've spilled seed and can keep spilling Who do you think pays for the mortgage on the shoe Whose investment banker brother got us out of a pinch when we nearly defaulted on the loans because the twins needed reading glasses and Bessie needed braces Rico needed his own wheels and Guy needed golf clubs? The guys at the office wonder how I even find the time to embrace with these late-night hours I pull They don't seem to understand what a no-nonsense organized woman you are They don't seem to understand that your prayers to the Divine Mother are always answered and your ovaries have an endless supply of eggs My colleague, Father Christmas, has been trying to get his old lady pregnant for centuries They've even tried the high octane fertility clinic--those classy health care cafes that are popping up on every corner like Starbucks these days But he kept shooting blanks and then she started giving birth not to children but to elves. I love every one of our wee ones and I intend to send them all to college too because I intend to make one thousand dollars for every last sperm I spill to honor every last tiny one, even if the poor fellow never had a chance to penetrate The Egg

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Book Review of I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies by Nick Smith

Alfred Kinsey’s work elevated the conversation about sex. Timothy Leary’s work elevated the conversation about drugs. Now, Nick Smith gives us his thorough study of apologies, a work that promises to elevate the conversation about what it means to say “I’m sorry.”

I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies exposes how contemporary gestures of contrition demand our critical attention. Smith, who teaches Philosophy at the University of New Hampshire, examines the significance of various forms of regret. From collective apologies for the holocaust to a pet owner’s apology for forgetting to fill his dog’s bowl, all remorse receives scrutiny. Smith writes with the learning and patience of a benevolent professor. His message persuades a reader that today’s public and private apologies are playing fast and loose with morality.

Smith wants to move the conversation beyond what he regards as the juvenile exchange of “I’m sorry.” “No you’re not.” His book challenges readers to consider the moral force, or lack thereof, behind any act of contrition. His purpose is to guide a reader through an exercise that assures her moral sensibility will grow more sophisticated upon confronting the meanings of apologies. Smith leads us on a journey through a quagmire of questions. For example, who--precisely--is responsible for the 2006 Abu Ghraib torture scandal, and what would be the most suitable redress to those who were injured?

I realized the full urgency of Smith’s work when considering blame, redress, and emotions. Smith illuminates the contemporary practice of blaming corporations for wrongs when culpability lies with individuals and their complex social associations. Blaming an automobile manufacturer for a death caused by an SUV that rolled over, or blaming a television network for one commentator’s sexist comments, appear to be comparable to X throwing a rock that injures Y and Y asking the rock to apologize? Corporations, like rocks, cannot be held morally accountable for injuring someone. Can throwing money at the loss of human life or dignity restore moral decency? These are some more issues that Smith’s work helps us approach with clearer thinking.

I Was Wrong also gives a reader a fresh perspective from which to read the newspaper. All the lip service people pay to newsworthy remorse reveals a glaring shortcoming—most apologies fail to address moral culpability. For instance, a recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune reported the misdemeanor of a City council candidate John Hartley. Two women complained Hartley was masturbating and urinating into a cup inside his truck while parked in front of their house. The paper reported “an apologetic mailer [in which] Hartley admitted he had to ‘take a leak’ but denied he was masturbating.” Hartley’s apology rivals an excuse a potty trainee might give when nature calls. The news article simply relates that Hartley said the voters will decide whether or not they accept his apology. Beyond the question of whether the apology will be accepted, Smith’s work encourages one to wonder to what degree the candidate’s apology contributed to the dropping of an indecent-exposure charge.

Another example from the local news here was a story about Chinese Americans rallying outside CNN’s Hollywood office to demand the firing of Jack Cafferty for calling China’s goods “junk” and its leaders “a bunch of goons and thugs.” The article reports how China “snubbed an apology from CNN over the remarks, which Cafferty said were in reference to China’s government, not its people.” This snubbed apology raises all kinds of problematic issues discussed in Smith’s book. First, for CNN to apologize for remarks made by one commentator raises questions about whether a collective can or should apologize for one person’s remarks. In this situation, CNN’s apology looks that much more suspicious when Cafferty further tries to justify the target of his comments. This is a clear case in which an apology is only making matters worse.

Anyone who has a moral debt to pay, or is owed a moral reckoning will want to read this book and embrace its wisdom. As Smith suggests, the work of a satisfying apology for many injuries and injustices in the world could take lifetimes to fulfill. Those committed to moral justice will want to begin this tremendous work with I Was Wrong.