Adventures in Reading


Revisted Reviews: Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin

After Betty Friedan, Andrea Dworkin seems to top the list as one of the most referenced feminists. Her popularity did not prepare me in the least for what exactly her book de jour is. That is Intercourse coined as saying “all sex is rape,” is actually an intriguing literary criticism with a brief peppering of art history. Often quotes I have seen attributed to Dworkin from Intercourse were taken out of context in that it would only make sense that after Dworkin is read a conversation must occur on art’s ability (and lack of) to reflect and represent life.

Dworkin’s book begins at Tolstoy and moves through biographies of he and his wife and his literary work The Kreutzer Sonata. Dworkin’s book provides a feminist and specific sexual critique on how sexuality is represented throughout classical, fictional pieces ranging from Tennessee Williams to James Baldwin to Bram Stoker to the Bible and how these works reflect the reality of the culture they were produced in. This bundle of information is presented to the reader and then weaved together in a luxurious manner to critique present views on sexuality.

Similar to Reading Lolita in Tehran, it is not necessary that you’ve actually read any of these works. However, as with any literary criticism, it’s difficult to fully engage with Dworkin’s book (whether in agreement or disagreement) without reading the actual texts the critique is based on. Overall, it’s a brilliant piece of feminist literature that is blunt and honest and thought provoking. Whether or not you agree with everything (or anything) that Dworkin says, it’s a thought stimulating book that consistently questions the reader’s attitudes towards sex and culture.

In the original preface to Intercourse Andrea Dworkin wrote “I love the literature these men have created; but I will not live my life as if they are real and I am not,” and over the years this quote has become very important to me. I took a course in Irish literature, which was inspiring between the actual works and the passion my instructor freely shared with the students. But my feminist ideology doesn’t always intertwine well with Joyce and I even had a discussion where a friend pointed this out to me.

I love literature and whether it’s about the colonizer or the colonized I appreciate it and find it moving, but I can never completely distance myself as a reader from the perspective and cultural implications of the author and what the literature can and does represent. Most recently I read The Voyages of Dr. Dolitte by Hugh Lofting, which is a well-written and complex book that nostalgically recalls the excitement and appeal of an adventurous yet innocent age safely removed from the horror of the World Wars it was written during. I read the book and was charmed by it but cannot just read past the racism and imperialism that still lingers in even the edited version.

And I suppose that’s where the quote becomes meaningful to me: I love the literature these people have created, but I will not live my life ignoring the implications of their literature either.

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Fiction: Twilight by Stephanie Meyers

When I decided to finally pick up a copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, half of my co-workers cheered while the others half groaned. This sensationally popular young adult series has been flying off the shelf, but I confess I have had relatively little attraction to it. First, I’m not much of a fan of vampires and particularly when these mythic creatures are explored in the traditional manner. That is strong, ethereal beauty, stylish, almost immortal – too near-perfect for my taste. I have similar sentiments towards werewolves, which is why I did find Sharp Teeth such an appealing book.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself swept away by Twilight. Bella has decided to move in with her estranged stepfather in Forks, Washington. Bella’s experience at her new school is dramatic and enticing to most any reader; she is immediately popular—particularly with her male peers—and attracts the attention of the bad boy of the school Edward Culleton: who happens to be a vampire. Meyer’s vampire story is not traditional in every sense as it unfolds in a suburban, high school environment and some vampires have acquired special characteristics, dare I say superpowers, carried over from their past human life.

Bella is the normal outsider favored in contemporary novels. Though placed on the edge of peer acceptance, she is an attractive, slender, intelligent, well-read, and well-spoken teenager. Her one flaw, beautifully represented throughout the novel by Meyers, is her clumsiness. Perhaps Bella’s most endearing quality is Meyer’s quality ability to inject high-school desires into Bella believably and simultaneously pulling (even long stagnant) heartstrings of the reader.

Vampire violence itself has a sexual connotation to it through penetration, passion, and spilling blood. Twilight is not exempt from this interpretation. Repeatedly throughout the text, Edward comments on how he must control himself from “taking [Bella],” which literally refers to drinking her blood but is a barely disguised euphemism for sex. The sexual tension throughout the book is taught and is one of the more alluring and well-written tensions in the book. Likewise, at the conclusion when the traditionally virginal Bella pleads with Edward to “change” her it’s likewise a reference of offering herself to Edward.

But Bella is no longer a “virgin.” Andrea Dworkin describes in her book Intercourse, when discussing Bram Stoker’s Dracula, “The place of sex is moved to the throat; and the meaning of sex is in draining her body of all its blood.” When Bella is lured by the vampire James to the dance studio, is violently attacked, is bitten by him (though in the hand), and all while being videotaped—it’s an experience synonymous with a violent rape and at that a recorded violent rape.

The “vegetarianism” that the Culleton family has resigned themselves to, that is rather than attack humans they hunt and drink the blood of animals, is a rejection of vampirical violence and in a sense the sexual violence that accompanies it. The Culleton’s have refused the misogyny of their kind, which is an interesting parallel to Bella’s English report on the misogynistic tendencies of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

I admit, I am taken with the series and am looking forward to picking up the next book in the series Eclipse. Perhaps what I am even more impressed with though is that I would disagree with the oft heard banter that it’s a fun or fluff series: candy for the brain. An argument that too often cuts the legs out from under “children’s books” and refuses said books to be considered seriously. Though I still think roughly 50-pages could have been chopped from Twilight to make it a tighter novel, it really is a sensational book to read for pure enjoyment or literary interpretation.

Other opinions: books i done read, Necromancy Never Pays, Two-Legged Animal, and the Lit Connection.