I have a friend—white male, born 1950—who likes to muse on what he’d do if he were young now. He’d probably sleep with boys; they’re cuter than they were. He’d care little for things; the Internet is everything. For work, he wouldn’t: he’d become an “artist.” He’d make art objects in the mode of Hirst and Koons. Big reflexive pieces with market punchlines, manufactured for sale. This would be a rebel act, pirating money from the rich (“joke’s on them” “work the system”). Then, rich, my friend could do—whatever.
This muse is supposed to be a joke, commentary on the contemporary. My friend laughs through its telling. I don’t. No, I’m gutted. It’s too true. With his blank body and bravado (and design talent, give him that), my friend could so succeed. I’ve met many a man so succeeding.
"Living in imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy, and knowing this, can make you feel 'crazy' [...]"
I bore by now of “gender,” talk tired. For this, I almost missed "The Blazing World." Were it not the only new book around one week, I wouldn’t have read it. Then, I wouldn’t have recommended it, and received such big thanks, again and again. The book, a novel, is on gender (and sex and money, race, sanity, art, fame, family...), but given it’s fiction it does this cool thing, which is show rather than tell of bodily complexity. Hype author Elena Ferrante does this too, and what a fucking relief. I get the import of discourses on performativity and income disparity and affective labor and on, but the talk does tire; repetitive vocabulary smothers force of meaning.
In "Blazing," Siri Hustvedt’s language is near-Nabokovian. Rollicking and indulgent. Like the Russian word-lush, she gently mocks discourses, like academese, press, and the “I” of a brilliant fragile ego. Her novel is framed as non-fiction, a monograph of an artist, one Harriet “Harry” Burden (1940-2004), whose life and career is told by many (through interviews, reviews, and essays) including herself; she, in her diaries, is manifold. This is an artist whose "Gesamtkunstwerk" was the public presentation of work she made under a series of “masks”—of men. She collaborated with three—a Warhol-worshipping SVA student, a queer Black performer, and an enigmatic macho star (think smarter Colen, blander Barney, handsomer Koons)—getting them to show her art to show how differently it’s received coming from different bodies. Money’s made, people betrayed, some suicide; it’s fun.
Living in imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy, and knowing this, can make you feel “crazy,” depressed, paranoid, or worse (culturally, feminine) hysterical. Because if you think about it, it’s so obvious, but dominant culture (where the money is) is like shut up, don’t be a downer. It is a downer that, of my creative peers, white boys generally make more money, gain more institutional acclaim, and work less stressed than the rest, and that “success” (fame, money) for a young woman seems to be most easily attained by putting your body first, if your body is normatively sexy. What’s not a downer, or not just a downer, is Siri Hustvedt’s take on all this. "The Blazing World" performs all this theory (and more) with fury, wit, charisma. With ambiguity. At her stories, I tone my gut, laughing.