Kate Millett’s Tedious Madness

 

http://theothermccain.com/2014/09/01/kate-milletts-tedious-madness/

 

“[A] disinterested examination of our system of sexual relationship must point out that the situation between the sexes now, and throughout history, is . . . a relationship of dominance and subordinance. What goes largely unexamined, often even unacknowledged (yet is institutionalized nonetheless) in our social order, is the birthright priority whereby males rule females. . . .
“This is so because our society, like all other historical civilizations, is a patriarchy.”effe
— Kate MillettSexual Politics (1970)

Kate Millett is a good prose stylist and also a sadistic perverted psychopath. On the latter subject, I will accept the testimony of Millett’s younger sister, Mallory Millett:

In the 1970’s I was alarmed to hear that my big sister, Kate Millett, who had serious mental health issues which had agonized my family and her friends for many years, was organizing a group called The Mental Patients’ Project in order to claim that the psychiatric community and society were “oppressing” people and “stigmatizing them with labels such as psychotic, bi-polar, schizophrenic, borderline personalities,” etc and unconstitutionally imprisoning them in hospitals thereby violating their civil rights. We, as a family, had struggled for years with Kate’s issues, many times attempting to hospitalize her so she could obtain the serious help she so obviously obviously needed. She was a brutal sadist, a violent bully at whose hands everyone about her suffered. Throughout my childhood I was menaced and immeasurably traumatized . . .
At one point, in 1973, I found myself alone with her in an apartment in Berkeley, California where she did not allow me to sleep for five days as she raged at the world and menaced me physically. . . .
And, speaking of the affected innocent victims: later, she wrote a book about her lesbian lover at that time. Sita was the title. This woman committed suicide in response to Kate’s “homage.” . . .

You really should read the whole thing. I had known that Kate Millett was a bisexual weirdo, but until somebody called my attention to this firsthand account by her sister, I hadn’t previously realized what a certified raving lunatic she was.

Psychosis and feminism are, often enough, two words that describe the same phenomenon. Shulamith Firestone was a paranoid schizophrenic, Women’s Studies professor Lisa Johnson is afflicted with borderline personality disorder, and if I had a nickel for every feminist who had ever lamented her “struggle” with chronic depression, I’d certainly have more than the price of a carton of cigarettes.

The difference between mental illness and feminist theory is . . . nuanced. Was anyone surprised when the eminent “male feminist,” Professor Hugo Schwarz, was revealed to be dangerous psychotic? It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that Women’s Studies majors are all demented freaks who, if they couldn’t afford to go to college, would be in psychiatric hospitals, where their deranged babbling about “gender roles,” “patriarchy” and “heteronormativity” would earn them a daily dose of Thorazine, rather than a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Despite her mental illness, however, Kate Millett writes good prose, and I think this is a factor that should not be overlooked. Like many another high-functioning psychotic, Millett is intelligent. She once taught English at the college level, and Sexual Politics was an adaptation of her Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia University. Smart and well-educated, Millett published Sexual Politics when she was 36. Her prose has a mature quality that is absent in Firestone’s zany The Dialectic of Sex, published when Firestone was 22.

Millett begins her book with a clever trick: She excerpts and subjects to literary criticism sex scenes from three novels — Henry Miller’s Sexus(1965), Norman Mailer’s An American Dream (1964) and Jean Genet’sThe Thief’s Journal (1964) — by authors who were then fashionable.Henry Miller‘s writing was so pornographic that his books were often banned in the U.S. prior to the 1960s; Sexus was published in Paris in 1949 and not published in the U.S. until 16 years later. Norman Mailer, of course, soared to fame when his first novel, The Naked and the Dead, became a bestseller in 1948, when he was just 25. He never quite replicated that success in fiction; although his subsequent novels sold well, they were less critically acclaimed, and Mailer’s reputation as a writer was mostly based on his works of journalism and non-fiction. He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Armies of the Night, his non-fiction account of a 1967 anti-war march, and his 1980 Pulitzer winner The Executioner’s Song, was about the life of murderer Gary Gilmore. As forJean Genet, he was a notorious French degenerate who gained fame after Jean-Paul Sartre made him the subject of a 1952 book, Saint Genet.

The scene Millett quotes from Miller’s Sexus involves the protagonist sexually assaulting the wife of his friend. The scene she quotes from Mailer involves a murderer sodomizing his German maid. The scene she quotes from Genet involves a transvestite prostitute and his/her pimp.

In each case, Millett highlights through her criticism the aspect of power— male supremacy — in the sexual context. These “notions of power and ascendancy,” Millett says, demonstrate that sex does not “take place in a vacuum,” but rather is “a charged microcosm of the variety of attitudes and values to which culture subscribes.” This is both true and highly problematic. Obviously, it is true that our attitudes and behaviors about sex are influenced by culture. But where Millett is headed with this argument — the purpose of her nearly 400-page book — is toward the claim that there are no meaningful natural differences between men and women, that the associations male/masculine and female/feminine areartificial, and that anything which can be labeled “male supremacy” is therefore inherently political in nature.

Let it not be said that Millett was unable to marshal any evidence on behalf of her argument. Anyone may order Sexual Politics from Amazonand examine her argument and her evidence. The problems with Millett’s book arise mainly from three causes:

  1. Her fundamentally anti-social attitude. Millett’s purposes are admittedly revolutionary. She aims to destroy the existing society, and all its patriarchal “values and attitudes,” without any regard for the personal happiness of anyone who is content with life in this society, having successfully adapted to “our system of sexual relationship.” This contempt for the lives of other people is characteristic of a sociopathic personality. Her sister’s revelation of Kate Millett’s domineering and sadistic behaviors are quite relevant to our understanding of Millett’s motivations.
  2. Her tendentious selectivity of evidence. Of course, every radical argument suffers from this flaw. If your aim is to overthrow The System in a democratic polity where electoral governance and the Rule of Law have the effect of continually ratifying The System, your argument for revolution must necessarily be based on unusual evidence. You must ignore, or subject to scorn and ridicule as “reactionary,” every argument made by defenders of The System. Despite her early acknowledgement (page 25) that a patriarchal social order was characteristic not just of America in 1970, but of “all other historical civilizations,” Millett deliberately rejects all evidence that such a social order is natural or inevitable.
  3. Her substitution of rhetorical gestures for actual logic.  As I say, Millett’s prose is quite good and, like many intellectuals, she seems to believe that her ability to express an argument in stylish prose is proof that her argument must be true. The fact that other intellectuals, equally articulate, hold opposing views, is a problem Millett evades by accusing her antagonists of prejudice. Her fluency in exposition is, for Millett, a camouflage used to conceal extraordinary leaps of logic. She asserts a startling premise, based on evidence that is negligible or controversial or at least unusual, and then continues her argument as if the premise were a proven fact. One finds, for example, that Millett spends 19 pages (108-127) discussing Friedrich Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), and finds nothing amiss with treating the co-author of The Communist Manifesto as an objective analyst. When Engels’ name recurs on page 169, it is in the context of Millett’s analysis of the failure of the Bolsheviks’ attempt to abolish the family in the Soviet Union. Millett cites the criticism of Leon Trotsky as an authority on “the Stalinist regression” in this matter, without bothering to explain why Trotsky might have blamed this failure on Stalin personally, rather than on the hopeless impracticality of the Bolshevik ideal.

Also, generally, Sexual Politics is boring. Her hammering of the same points becomes repetitive to the point of tedium.

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