Review: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions”

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a letter from the author to her friend’s newly-born child, as she grows up a woman. It’s on feminism and is straight-forward, but not narrow-minded enough not to use examples of what they mean.

I dig the rhythm of the short book, which is apparent from the start:

Dear Ijeawele, What joy. And what lovely names: Chizalum Adaora. She is so beautiful. Only a week old and she already looks curious about the world. What a magnificent thing you have done, bringing a human being into the world. ‘Congratulations’ feels too slight. Your note made me cry. You know how I get foolishly emotional sometimes. Please know that I take your charge – how to raise her feminist – very seriously. And I understand what you mean by not always knowing what the feminist response to situations should be. For me, feminism is always contextual. I don’t have a set-in-stone rule; the closest I have to a formula are my two ‘Feminist Tools’ and I want to share them with you as a starting point. The first is your premise, the solid unbending belief that you start off with. What is your premise? Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only’. Not ‘as long as’. I matter equally. Full stop. The second tool is a question: can you reverse X and get the same results?

Yeah, the examples are resourceful:

For example: many people believe that a woman’s feminist response to a husband’s infidelity should be to leave. But I think staying can also be a feminist choice, depending on the context. If Chudi sleeps with another woman and you forgive him, would the same be true if you slept with another man? If the answer is yes, then your choosing to forgive him can be a feminist choice because it is not shaped by a gender inequality. Sadly, the reality in most marriages is that the answer to that question would often be no, and the reason would be gender-based – that absurd idea of ‘men will be men’, which means having a much lower standard for men.

I love how utterly simplistic the author can be, when it just seems that she’s freakingly fed up with what muck; here’s an example where the word “please” is brilliant:

Please reject the idea that motherhood and work are mutually exclusive.

Also, on mentioning the child’s father:

And please reject the language of help. Chudi is not ‘helping’ you by caring for his child. He is doing what he should.

And never say that Chudi is ‘babysitting’ – people who babysit are people for whom the baby is not a primary responsibility.

Another ace of a sentence:

The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.

Even though the author is curt, this is a good thing; even the slightly longer explanations that are in-place are quite curt:

Do you remember how we laughed and laughed at an atrociously written piece about me some years ago? The writer had accused me of being ‘angry’, as though ‘being angry’ were something to be ashamed of. Of course I am angry. I am angry about racism. I am angry about sexism. But I recently came to the realization that I am angrier about sexism than I am about racism. Because in my anger about sexism, I often feel lonely. Because I love, and live among, many people who easily acknowledge race injustice but not gender injustice. I cannot tell you how often people I care about – men and women – have expected me to make a case for sexism, to ‘prove’ it, as it were, while never having the same expectation for racism. (Obviously, in the wider world, too many people are still expected to ‘prove’ racism, but not in my close circle.) I cannot tell you how often people I care about have dismissed or diminished sexist situations.

Also, another good example:

When Hillary Clinton was running for president of the United States, the first descriptor on her Twitter account was ‘Wife’. The first descriptor on the Twitter account of Bill Clinton, her husband, is ‘Founder’, not ‘Husband’.

Teach her to reject likeability. Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.

On rejecting idiocies from men on trying (perhaps inadvertently, which does not matter in the slightest) to shame women because of the female anatomy:

And speaking of shame – never, ever link sexuality and shame. Or nakedness and shame. Do not ever make ‘virginity’ a focus. Every conversation about virginity becomes a conversation about shame. Teach her to reject the linking of shame and female biology. Why were we raised to speak in low tones about periods? To be filled with shame if our menstrual blood happened to stain our skirt? Periods are nothing to be ashamed of. Periods are normal and natural, and the human species would not be here if periods did not exist. I remember a man who said a period was like shit. Well, sacred shit, I told him, because you wouldn’t be here if periods didn’t happen.

I think this letter is missing a section on make-up, and how it transforms women, of which many use make-up. I’d liked to have read a whole bit on that, actually.

Overall, a quick, short punch that can sometimes suffer a bit due to its curtness, but as a whole, it’s a very often-needed punch to make one think.

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Movies I've watched recently:

  • T2 Trainspotting (2017) - IMDb 6/10

    2017-02-22 22:58
    * * * * * *

    This is more a film, I think, which is about aging and repeating your past than anything else. Sure, the characters are older, but I cringe a lot as Boyle has chosen to have them repeat some of their "fave lines" from the first film, 21 years later, for no apparent reason. The slow parts move best, for example, where Renton visits his father, despite that one being sappy. The "new girl", basically a Renton, doesn't bring much to the table. However, Robbie Carlyle steals the show; where Ewen Bremner's "Spud" previously did, by being a comedic maestro with his movements and druggy cadence, he is now converted into a caricature of himself - and yes, I am aware that druggies who have been on dope for more than two decades tend to turn into caricatures in more ways than one - while Begbie offers more. A lot more. Carlyle's acting is so strong that even Begbie's most obvious characteristics - e.g. as displayed where his son stands up against him by wanting to go to college to learn hotel management instead of joining his dad in a life of crime - turn interesting. He's a tour de force. Still, while this film is interesting and entertaining, it is too much of a parody of itself to become a truly interesting introspective. And the plot turn at the end was really a bit too tell-tale and boring to me.

  • Medicinen (2014) - IMDb 1/10

    2016-12-12 19:00

    A car crash where your newborn child dies would be a less hurtful experience than watching this film. I'm kidding, but there is some truth lodged in that statement. This film is very "inspired" by "The Devil Wears Prada". By this I mean Nutley and his writer cohorts have concocted a story about an abhorrent person - played by Bergström, despite many doubts on my site as to what "playing" could be, according to herself - who starts ingesting a medicine that seems to change her life. Naturally, this medicine is a sugar pill. The medicine is also the only thing which is sweet about this film. The script is so poorly written that any, and I repeat, _any_ breathing thing - or dead - could easily excrete something which would improve and best this depressing piece of scatological experience, which all should avoid at all costs. Actually, I could go on forever about how bad everything from the direction to casting, acting, the soundtrack and segues are, but I will not. I refuse to. This is on par with Nutley-Bergström's "Angel", which also marked a new milestone in the string of eulogies to Swedish cinema that seems to be their goal. I'm angry to know the couple seem to use films as an excuse to a) go abroad and senselessly film scenes that have none or very little function for a film and b) have Bergström cry and copulate. Don't see this, even for "fun", which was why I saw it. I will never, ever see this film again, and I hope Bergström-Nutley never, ever make another film, write one nor act in one for the sake of humanity.

  • Yakuza Apocalypse (2015) - IMDb 4/10

    2016-11-26 17:10
    * * * *

    This film stretches beyond a regular action film and even really dips into the true meaning of the word apocalypse, but that's the most positive thing about it. Miike has been taking some major leads from Shakespeare, considering he lived a few hundred years ago, this film is truly not very original. Having said that, it's missing in atmosphere. It doesn't pace well and lost me a bit after 30 minutes and did not win the loss back. Having been Shakespearian before that, this film segues into being laughable and filled with fight (as most films by Miike are). Not recommendable to anyone who doesn't want to dabble in martial arts action-cum-half-assed weird dreaming, having fallen asleep with "Macbeth" on your face.

  • Bridget Jones's Baby (2016) - IMDb 1/10

    2016-11-20 21:22

    David Foster Wallace once used the term "hellaciously unfunny" about something, which is a term clearly applicable for this clownboat. Not only is this a film that overflows with prejudice and crap, be it sexistic, nationalistic or racistic, but it's completely barren where jokes should be. I liked the first film. I didn't like the second film, but this one I really loathe. It shouldn't have been made.

  • I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016) - IMDb 4/10

    2016-08-29 09:24
    * * * *

    This film is succinctly different from most others that are about serial killers in the sense that it's using silence and music well. Apart from that, this is a b-movie in several ways: apart from the two main actors, there's not much to use. The plot is quite simple, but at times I - a serial killer fan, so to speak - drifted away because the film didn't entice me more; the flow of the film feels contrived, making me feeling something that's very different to what often comes naturally when seeing works of directors such as Terrence Malick, Woody Allen and Richard Linklater. Also, the name-dropping of serial killers and such is more effect-seeking than anything else, more about trying to spook the viewer than create solid characters. Still, as a low-budget film, it works in creating a kind of solemn street-life atmosphere, the kind that came natural to director John Cassavetes, that very few high-budget films have. All in all this is not a particularly well-made film, but it's memorable.


Review: Jun’ichiro Tanizaki – “In Praise of Shadows”

This book was originally published in 1933, first translated to English in 1977. It’s widely considered to be a nifty monograph on Japanese aesthetics and contains paragraphs that at first may seem bizarre and navel-gazing, like this one, on the toilet:

Every time I am shown to an old, dimly lit, and, I would add, impeccably clean toilet in a Nara or Kyoto temple, I am impressed with the singular virtues of Japanese architecture. The parlor may have its charms, but the Japanese toilet is truly a place of spiritual repose. It always stands apart from the main building, at the end of a corridor, in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss. No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden. The novelist Natsume Sôseki counted his morning trips to the toilet a great pleasure, “a physiological delight” he called it. And surely there could be no better place to savor this pleasure than a Japanese toilet where, surrounded by tranquil walls and finely grained wood, one looks out upon blue skies and green leaves.

Still, the short monograph pulls you in, letting you get into the contents and kind of made me think of stuff at home in an existentialistic way. Further on the toilet:

As I have said there are certain prerequisites: a degree of dimness, absolute cleanliness, and quiet so complete one can hear the hum of a mosquito. I love to listen from such a toilet to the sound of softly falling rain, especially if it is a toilet of the Kantô region, with its long, narrow windows at floor level; there one can listen with such a sense of intimacy to the raindrops falling from the leaves and the trees, seeping into the earth as they wash over the base of a stone lantern and freshen the moss about the stepping stones. And the toilet is the perfect place to listen to the chirping of insects or the song of the birds, to view the moon, or to enjoy any of those poignant moments that mark the change of the seasons. Here, I suspect, is where haiku poets over the ages have come by a great many of their ideas. Indeed one could with some justice claim that of all the elements of Japanese architecture, the toilet is the most aesthetic. Our forebears, making poetry of everything in their lives, transformed what by rights should be the most unsanitary room in the house into a place of unsurpassed elegance, replete with fond associations with the beauties of nature. Compared to Westerners, who regard the toilet as utterly unclean and avoid even the mention of it in polite conversation, we are far more sensible and certainly in better taste. The Japanese toilet is, I must admit, a bit inconvenient to get to in the middle of the night, set apart from the main building as it is; and in winter there is always a danger that one might catch cold. But as the poet Saitô Ryoku has said, “elegance is frigid.” Better that the place be as chilly as the out-of-doors; the steamy heat of a Western-style toilet in a hotel is the most unpleasant.

The author questions the basic ideas of what “we” dislike:

One reason we hate to go to the dentist is the scream of his drill; but the excessive glitter of glass and metal is equally intimidating.

The praises of materialistic things are quite interesting:

Darkness is an indispensable element of the beauty of lacquerware. […] I know few greater pleasures than holding a lacquer soup bowl in my hands, feeling upon my palms the weight of the liquid and its mild warmth. The sensation is something like that of holding a plump newborn baby. […] It has been said of Japanese food that it is a cuisine to be looked at rather than eaten. I would go further and say that it is to be meditated upon, a kind of silent music evoked by the combination of lacquerware and the light of a candle flickering in the dark.

Also, on the older trend of blackening teeth:

One thinks of the practice of blackening the teeth. Might it not have been an attempt to push everything except the face into the dark?

However, the “we” and “they” devolves into sheer nationalism and racism at times:

Yamamoto Sanehiko, president of the Kaizô publishing house, told me of something that happened when he escorted Dr. Einstein on a trip to Kyoto. As the train neared Ishiyama, Einstein looked out the window and remarked, “Now that is terribly wasteful.” When asked what he meant, Einstein pointed to an electric lamp burning in broad daylight. “Einstein is a Jew, and so he is probably very careful about such things”—this was Yamamoto’s interpretation. But the truth of the matter is that Japan wastes more electric light than any Western country except America.

That’s just sad. Even though Jun?ichir? Tanizaki quotes another person above, it’s not good, rational or anything other than demagogy. Furthermore:

The Japanese quite aside, I cannot believe that Westerners, however much they may prefer light, can be other than appalled at the heat, and I have no doubt they would see immediately the improvement in turning down the lights.

All in all, it’s like reading a well-written monograph with bits of “Mein Kampf” in it, which ultimately brings this down. The fact that it’s written in 1933 does not excuse anything.

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My saved links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Coop Bagarmossen strikes

Det tog några veckor och jidder, men Coop Bagarmossen levererade – bokstavligen – våra nya bestick. Plus en bisarr blomma med ett förlåt-oss-kort, trots att det var Coops huvudkontor som fuckat upp. Det är att ta ansvar, alltså.

Äntligen nya bestick. Så fint. Trots Jamie Olivers pervomin på förpackningen.

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The past week in pictures

A colleague who had been on vacation had his working desk refurbished.

Ordered the wondrous William Schaff’s famous From Black Sheep Boys to Bill Collectors, seemingly an epic photographical frame – including a custom-made twelve-inch vinyl by Jason Molina! Yowza.

I finished reading Laurence Rees’ absolutely astonishingly collated and written new book, named The Holocaust: A New History, which is a bit of a misnomer to me. The book is 5/5, that’s what I give it in grades.

As I now cannot take reading about atrocities, I’m instead reading a biography of Jeremy Brett, named Bending The Willow. So far, two thirds into the book, it’s remarkably well-written, on a hero who is to me the one true Sherlock Holmes. His mental illness is detailed in a human and loving way. Brett seems to have been a gentleman and gentle man, to paraphrase Brett somewhat (when speaking of a different matter, in character).

Blanck Mass‘ new album, World Eater, is highly recommended. Ambient, electronic noise and electrical rattlings abound: it’s experimentally made and very good. Just hear the two first tracks (ambient and noisy plane-ride through distorted synths, respectively) and you’ll get the gist. You can listen some here:

My colleague Michael helped this shot by parlaying the oddity and extreme fear that some single-person rooms in our new company digs give off.

Saw Nightmare On Elm Street for the first time in ages. Wow. Pretty funny. I only jumped once, when basically nothing happened.

Yesterday Mia and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. Cheers to us! Or rather, cheers to Mia for still, somehow, putting up with me! We ate, we walked, we shopped two more copies of Morrissey’s only venture into the fictional literary world…

Anyway… Some more Twin Peaks fan stuff reminds me that it’s only two months until the new season is premiered. My fucking God. It’s really happening.

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