Happenings 1: Females, by Andrea Long Chu
Everyone is female, and everyone hates it. If this is true, then gender is simply the form that this self-loathing takes in any given case. All gender is internalized misogyny. A female is one who has eaten the loathing of another, like an amoeba that got its nucleus by swallowing its neighbor. Or, to put a finer point on it, gender is not just the misogynistic expectations a female internalizes, but also the process of internalizing itself, the self's gentle suicide in the name of someone else's desires, someone else's narcissism.
This book hearkens back to my college days, in which the environment was intensely feminist and in which theater students frequently staged "happenings", post-modern avant garde performances that many had trouble understanding. The performers did things like randomizing what happened by spinning a wheel of fortune and acting based on the result, so that the performance was never the same thing twice.
I mention this because that was the last time I heard of the extreme feminist SCUM (the society for cutting up men) and their 60s-era manifesto, until now. This book makes frequent references to a "happening" that SCUM did in the early 70s, and the thesis that all people are women.
Andrea long Chu presents as a transwoman (because this book is a self-referential happening, I don't know whether she is in reality, or whether it's part of the book's mind game. I just go with the flow). The unnumbered chapters get progressively shorter, one vignette after another that ends by stepping back, Brecht-style and saying "See that?"
I'm not sure I do. But there is a lot of food for thought about gender identity.
Happenings 2: Reconstructing Trisha Brown, by Dr. Marianne Goldberg
An unintentional by-product of inhabiting the horizontal realm were feelings of "vulnerability, sexuality, infantilism, and laziness." Brown in Primary Accumulation asserted a new realm of movement--a self-satisfying one in which the female dancer has full access to all parts of her body. She placed her hands on her breasts, or her arms between her legs, or freely let her legs fall open, all postures that are usually suppressed in public. The piece carries a subtext of a new kind of sexuality in which women have access to articulating and touching all parts of their bodies. Brown released muscular tensions that constrain and "civilize" the body's energy.
Reconstructing Trisha Brown is a partial biography of a dancer/choreographer whose 60s-70s era pieces seem consistent with "happenings" as described in Females. I received the book as a gift and, not having studied formal dance as the art and science of movement, to the extent described here, had some trouble following it.
Trisha Brown made innovative use of space and power, using fans and magnets to experiment with gravity, staging events like "Man Walking Down The Side of a Building" on the outside of an actual multistory building, and pieces requiring more than usual muscular strength from the women who performed them. Goldberg's writing as well as Brown's dance is experimental and non-linear. I found the photo essay at the end illustrating some of the works described very helpful in understanding what they were trying to do with this book (Goldberg envisioned the reader turning the book this way and that to read it as a form of dance itself).
Happenings 3: three Lives & Tender Buttons, by Gertrude Stein
VEGETABLE: What is cut. What is cut by it. What is cut by it in.
It was a cress a crescent a cross and an unequal scream, it was upslanting, it was radiant and reasonable with little ins and red.
News. News capable of glees, cut in shoes, belike under pump of wide chalk, all this combing.
This was my introduction to Gertrude Stein, who I had heard of as a concept but never read before. The three novellas making up Three Lives were not what I expected. They are straightforward, dreary, very repetitive tales of women who live and die unfulfilled. They also, it seems to me, directly contradict the book jacket blurb, which describes "the good Anna", the protagonist of the first story, as "a kindly but domineering German servant", while there is nothing domineering about her. She spends her life living for the sake of others, doing without things to save money, and then giving her savings away, again and again, to ungrateful people she barely knows.
And then the second, the longest tale of the three, was so off-puttingly racist that I almost didn't bother to finish. It uses the n-word. The protagonist is the darker of two mixed-race girls, and the whole theme is that Melanctha "has the black blood strong in her", and is therefore duller, more shiftless and less moral than the other girl, who "has the white blood strong in her" and so grows up intelligent and civilized. And of course, Melanctha is suspected, abandoned, and presumed to have the worst of motives by everyone around her, who stop associating with her "because everyone told me who you are and what you've done" without specifying who or what. Painful, racist, and not recommended.
Tender Buttons is much closer to what I'd expected from Gertrude Stein, to wit: non sequitur prose-poetic nonsense like the quoted part above. In short, a "happening".
Towards a good economy: The Entrepreneurial State, by Mariana Mazzucato
In finance, it is commonly accepted that there is a relationship between risk and return. After the financial crisis, many have rightly noted that finance has increasingly privatized the rewards of their activity while socializing the risk. This dysfunctional dynamic has also been happening in the innovation game. Risk-taking has been an increasingly
collective endeavor--with the State playing a leading role in the "open innovation" system--while the returns have been much less collectively distributed.
Mazzucato is the only book I read in February that does not count as a post-modern, structure-defying "happening". It simply sets forth the degree to which governments rightly use public resources to develop abstract and applied sciences, and how private enterprise sponges off of this publicly created technology for private profit, often at the expense of the public.
Mazzucato painstakingly proves that, especially in the United States, the tendency of big business to privatize all of their gains and socialize all of their losses has gone out of control and threatens to damage the economy considerably. One chapter shows how Apple's ipads and iphones were built from technology created by American tax dollars, yet fail to return the investment to the American public. Another chapter compares two companies that the American Government subsidized. One company, Tesla, became extremely profitable for private individuals, without crediting the government's role, and allowing public leech Elon Musk to become a godzillionaire without paying proportional taxes. The other company, Solyndra, went bankrupt, letting America eat the loss (without correspondingly gaining from Tesla's success) and leading capitalists to chant the fiction that the USA "can't pick winners". In fact, the USA picks a high number of winners, butalso takes risks that the private vulture capitalists will not. And unlike the vulture capitalists, the USA does not reap the benefits of picking winners. It only shoulders the losses.
Unsurprisingly, The Entrepreneurial State climaxes with a call to reform. I for one am sold.