There’s also little review of Rupetta included here.
I’m all over that place!
There’s also little review of Rupetta included here.
I’m all over that place!
Now, first I have to say that I have a great deal of respect for Germaine. She’s difficult, noisy, articulate, passionate, awkward, intelligent and all kinds of other adjectives. She says what she thinks, even when she’s wrong. And says why she thinks what she thinks while lots of other people sit around on the sidelines sniggering into their handkerchiefs and not being courageous enough to say what they think, and risk being thought wrong.
And, to be honest, there are things about Germaine’s position that I do agree with. I’m gay, but I feel ambivalent about gay marriage.
When I think about it, my ambivalence comes down to something that is best expressed, at least for me, by reference to Virginia Woolf. Virginia once wrote, in A Room Of One’s Own, about a moment of healthy, clear-eyed doubt she experienced while crossing the lawn at some boys’ club of a university. She hesitated long enough to wonder why we (in this case, women) were so keen to join up to these men’s institutions, on their terms. Why were ‘we’ in such a hurry to be just like them, and compete on their terms for the rewards they felt were worth having. Why would we want to join the mens’ club rather than, say, form our own club, or found our own institution.
As a queer woman, I feel that we* should stop and consider why we want to join their (in this case, heterosexual’s) ludicrous institution (marriage). What’s so good about marriage?
Not much,you might say. Marriage is an institution that, particularly for women, has a poor track record. It has been used to contain, constrain and control women for centuries. Married women are the unhappiest and poorest of the four ‘gender/marital status’ identities (married men are the healthiest, happiest and wealthiest group of that set, so I guess it makes fiscal, emotional and economic sense for [gay] men to get married).
Around half of all marriages in the Western world end in divorce. Which isn’t to say marriage is not worth entering into. Many good things have an end-point, including good books, good wines, and (most) childhoods. That they end is no argument for not having them in the first instance.
Germaine writes that:
In a sane world, heterosexuals would be demanding the rationalisation of marriage or, better, its abolition. What we have instead is a strange new belief that marriage is a fundamental human right.
Which is, I think, a kind of humorous misdirection; a magician’s aside designed to distract the reader from the issues being debated. Heterosexual marriage is not about to be outlawed, and it is a right that (most) straight adults have. Not fundamental, (as in everyone has a right to get married and if they can’t find a partner somebody should be able to be sued), but a right nonetheless. A right gay people do not have in most countries or territories in the contemporary world. A right many are arguing we should have, even if we choose not to exercise that right.
Despite what Germaine sneakily tries to imply, most straight adults in the Western world, at least, do have the right to get married. And, most of the time, in most of the world, the right to choose not to marry (though, as Greer is at pains to point out, who can get married, and to whom, has changed over time).
Straight people have that choice. I believe that I should also have the right to make that choice.
Greer’s long list of the people who, at one time or another, were not able to get married is interesting. But it is no argument against awarding marriage rights to gay people in 2013. If anything, her long list of the history of proscriptions surrounding marriage is a reminder that marriage has evolved over time. That it is not a stable institution. That it is possible to change the rules now, just as it was possible to change them in the past.
Greer goes on to say that some people couldn’t afford to get married, or couldn’t find suitable partners to pledge themselves to. Presumably to prove that marriage is not now, and has not ever been, a fundamental human right. But, as I said, nobody – I think – has been saying that it is. It is, however, a right – a choice – available to most adult heterosexuals. This section of her argument is, I think, though interesting for its historical information and nicely put, yet another red herring.
Then, Greer argues that the terms of a contract of marriage are unknown. Whether the formal terms of your marriage are clear largely depends on when and where you get married, and on whether you have a pre-nup, but even if you don’t have a formal contract of marriage, the implicit contractual terms of marriage are fairly clear, and are reflected in the laws governing the dissolution of marriages in the country in which you marry.
In Australia, in particular, you can refer to the Family Law Act to get an idea of what constitutes [a breach of] a marriage contract, what your obligations are if you are contracted into a marriage, and if you want to contract out of one. I’d also point out, here, that because we are fortunate enough to have no-fault divorces available in Australia, a marriage contract can be torn up (metaphorically) by either party at any time for no reason. No breach of contract has to occur for a marriage contract to be rendered null and void. And we all know that the reason many marriages end acrimoniously is that there are, indeed, under the laws in most countries rules and laws governing such areas as:
[mutual] liability … provision for damages … [and, enforced if necessary] commitment to the ongoing needs of any children of the union
Next, Greer attacks marriage on the grounds that it is a ‘sacrament’, that:
A sacrament requires a sign; all marriage requires to become actual in the sight of God is the saying of the words in the present tense ”I take thee … ” by bride and groom, followed by consummation, that is, insertion of the penis of one party into the vagina of the other
Now, this is a combination of a religious and carnal model of marriage. As far as I am aware, most if not all of those agitating for gay marriage rights are fighting for secular marriage rights. The right to be married before the law, not (necessarily) before God. [Many in the anti-gay marriage camp do, however, often confuse the issue by insisting that marriage is, by definition, a religious institution. It is not. Or, more precisely, that is only one way to define a marriage.] Some gay and lesbian people might also be interested in fighting for the right to be married in their church but, as far as I know, this is not part of the rhetoric of the international political campaign for gay marriage rights. So this, again, is a red herring.
As is the mention of penetration/sex. Amusing. Slightly gross. A bit confronting. Very Germaine. But not really the point. So straight marriage was/is defined for some people in terms of a spiritual sacrament and a particular sexual act. That this is one model (or two models) of historical heterosexual marriage does not preclude there being other historical, or contemporary, models. That gay people are asking that the current secular and legal model of marriage include their right to marry has little to no relationship to the sanctity or form of the religious or carnal models of marriage Greer describes here.
Greer concludes her article by saying that:
Gay and lesbian people would find it hard to believe that less than 50 years ago heterosexuals who tried to live together would find themselves summarily evicted, the locks changed and their property dumped in the street by the landlord, their deposit forfeited, because they had used the premises for an immoral purpose. We pushed as hard then for the right to remain unmarried as they are fighting now for the right to be married.
As a lesbian, I don’t find this either hard to believe or surprising, and I’m a bit surprised and insulted that Germaine thinks all gays and lesbians are so uneducated or self-involved that they would have no idea about the history of (heterosexual) sexuality. I’m well aware that it was once considered immoral, and grounds for eviction, for straight couple to cohabit and/or engage in consensual sex.
I’m also well aware that it was once considered immoral, and grounds for eviction, for a lesbian couple to cohabit and/or engage in consensual sex in my country. It isn’t now. Because THINGS CHANGE, including the moral, religious and ethical ideas that inform our ideas about love, family, commitment, and … marriage.
My feeling is that Germaine Greer would find it hard to believe that although marriage is an ancient, wobbbly, imperfect institution, which has not always been available to all the straight people who, whether or not they wished to exercise it, had a right to get married, many gay people would like to enjoy the same right to turn up their noses at it as she preserves for herself.
We, too, would like the right to marry too young, to the wrong person, and be given household appliances as gifts by relatives we never knew we had. We would like to spend hours learning to sign our ‘new’ name. Or to hyphenate our name. Or telling everyone we’ve decided not to change it all. We would like to buy real estate together, have joint accounts in which we put everything except the little bit of spending money we never tell our dear wives we have. We would like to have the right to endure Christmases at our in-laws’ homes, to have extra-marital affairs and be forgiven, or not, to undertake counselling. To get divorced, perhaps, and remarry. As many times as it takes to either find the right person, or give up. Or become ridiculous.
We cannot say we will do any better at being married than you straight folk have done. But we can’t do any worse.
And that, for now, is my two cents on the issue.
*’we’ here refers to gay people. If you’re not gay, then for the time it takes you to read this blog post, you can have the curious experience of being addressed as if you are one. Just as I, in my daily life, am constantly addressed as though I am str8.
Ray and Rosalie just forwarded me this review of Rupetta in The Tablet, a Catholic periodical. I was pretty worried about how the reviewer would respond to the quite critical portrait of (an) organised religion in the book, let alone to the oodles of lesbians romping around in the book. Turns out … nothing to worry about.
Daniel Jeffreys says the book has a heart, albeit a mechanical one
I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.
The architecture of Amsterdam is one of its most unique features. Tall, narrow houses lean forward into the streets, over streets paved with small, ochre bricks. The houses are built this way partly because, at the time many of these houses were built, their owners were taxed on the amount of street frontage they had. Because the buildings are so narrow, and the stairwells steep and narrow enough to feel like the ladder-like stairs in a boat, moving in is a challenge. Houses generally have a large beam protruding from the gable at the top of the house. A block and tackle is employed to lift furniture and crates into the upper floors.
This house features a decorated neck gable. Decorative gables are common in Amsterdam, and come in a few distinctive forms. The neck gable is most common on buildings built between the mid-1600s and the mid-1800s. Here’s another lovely example, with the decorations formed by two female figures:
What other gable styles are there? I’m so glad you asked!
Rembrandt’s astonishing painting of the anatomy lesson is temporarily housed at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. I couldn’t wait to see this painting. In fact, I’m afraid I rushed through rooms full of many of the other paintings that are temporarily housed there while the Mauritshuis is being renovated just to find it. (I did go back afterwards and spend a little time with all of the amazing loan works on display).
What is it about this painting? First of all, it’s a beautifully executed work. The way the actors are all suspended between light and dark, movement and stillness, attention and distraction moves me. The solemnity of the work is clear, but the dynamism of the composition works against that solemnity. Although a dissection might seem macabre, I also read in this work the thrill of discovery, or learning, of the experience of seeing into things that have up until then been mysteries.
Rembrandt completed this painting, on commission, when he was quite young. About 25 years old. It was an important commission, and an important work in terms of establishing his reputation. The work is flawed (more of that later) but courageous, full of the drive for a fresh way of seeing that makes a painter’s reputation, even now.
Commissioned group portraits of anatomy lessons had been done before. Looking at those earlier portraits reveals something of Rembrandt’s fresh approach. Dutch painters of the time were distinctly different from their pan-European peers. Calvinist Protestantism meant that their range of subject matter was subtly unique. They were, as a society, focused on a practical, modest and socially conservative way of life. But at the same time were on the way to becoming the energetic and highly successful world traders in luxury textiles, spices, flowers and other plants. Art had a central role in Dutch society as a way of demonstrating wealth and beautifying both public and private spaces, and yet the church discouraged artists from concentrating on the subjects familiar to, for example, French and Italian painters of the same period: particularly religious and mythological narrative paintings, and religious iconography. Instead, the Dutch painters of the period focused on still lifes, landscapes*, and portraits. Commemorative group portraits, for which each sitter paid a fee) were a common occurrence. Each of the physicians in this painting would have paid to be included in it. The painting commemorates the anatomy lesson partly because the lessons were rare and valuable experiences: they occurred once a year, and were performed using the body of an executed criminal who would, afterwards, be given a full Christian burial. Any member of the public could attend the lesson, which was held in the weigh house in Amsterdam Square, for fee. Prominent Amsterdam citizens, including burghers, council members, and intellectuals, vied for a place.
Previous anatomy lesson portraits show all of the students, and the dissector, lined up against a dark background, their features disappearing into dense fields of darkness. The body being dissected disappears visually, or is absent altogether. But is also luminous, almost incandescent. The body is, of course, that of a criminal: Aris Kindt (his real name was Adriann Adriannszoon. Kindt is an alias), an armed robber who was executed by hanging. Kindt was hung for stealing a gentleman’s cloak. The date of the painting’s commencement can be dated fairly precisely because of the presence of this particular body: Kindt was executed in January, 1632 (sources disagree on the exact date. The 16th and 31st are the most cited dates). Kindt’s face is partially shaded, perhaps a reflection of both the dark-face of a man who has been strangled to death, and an example of Rembrandt’s ongoing experiments with umbria mortis. Kindt was the same age as Rembrandt – a young thief, whose life was cut short. I wonder, looking at this painting of revered and largely older gentlemen, whether Rembrandt might have felt that connection.
The painting is not technically or historically perfect, and perhaps was never intended to be. It is a work of art, and only incidentally a historical record. Some curious choices are reflected in the composition and technique. For one, an anatomy lesson at the time traditionally began with the Y-incision that opens the chest. Here, the anatomist has begun with a dissection of the subject’s left arm. In fact, it is highly unlikely that Tulp would himself have performed the dissection. His role was as more of a narrator, conductor, lecturer. A Preparator would have done the work itself, while Tulp stood to the side, instructing the Preparator and speaking to the wide audience about the details of what the opening up of the body revealed about the human body.
Aris Kindt’s hands had been cut off prior to his execution. Perhaps as a reflection of this, the right hand of the body, in particular, is quite distinct in colour and texture to that of the rest of the body.
This early painting by Rembrandt is an impressive work not just because of how well it is executed, but because of the departure it represents from earlier models and styles. Here, Rembrandt shows us his potential by demonstrating his ability to see something familiar – a familiar subject – in a new way. To re-envisage the old forms, and re-present them to the viewers’ eye in an altered-but-familiar shape. Here, I think, Rembrandt inhabits the Poundian dictum to Make it New, with grim grace, attentiveness and bravado.
*The word ‘landscape’ enters English as a result of the popularity of Dutch landscape painting, which were (and are) called landschap paintings in Dutch.
I’m going to write a whole slew of really LONG posts soon. In fact, I have drafts of about six on my hard drive, but while I have intermittent internet access it’s a bit challenging. I promise. Really. Coming soon, blog posts on: Frans Hals Museum, The Anatomy Lesson of Nicolaes Tulp, polders, gables and cornices, and more. Much more.
In the meantime, here’s two views I’ve been gazing at a lot lately, while I contemplate life, the universe, and everything.
First, the view from La Place, the cafe on the fifth floor of the V&D in Haarlem. That’s St Bavo’s – the gorgeous big church
Second, the view from the kitchen window of my temporary home in Athony Fokkerlaan, Haarlem-Noord, complete with a fresh sprinkling of one of my favourite things: snow.
Bianca Giaever says: “I asked a six year old what my movie should be about, and this is what he told me.”