Houellebecq, whose work is saturated with brutality, resentment and sentimentality, understood what it meant to be an incel long before the term became common. Houellebecq has always seen himself as speaking for and to such men; women figure in his novels almost exclusively as their tormentors or saviors.
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The sexual revolution of the s, widely seen as a liberation movement, is better understood as the intrusion of capitalist values into the previously sacrosanct realm of intimate life. He is a proto-incel, and his story builds to a disturbing scene in which the narrator urges him to murder a woman who has rejected him. They are victims of generational trends that Houellebecq believes have plunged the West, particularly France, into incurable misery.
This sounds like a familiar kind of reactionary pessimism. But it is not quite accurate to call Houellebecq a reactionary, since he does not believe that it is possible to return to the sexual regimes of the past — in particular, arranged marriages — which he suggests did a better job of providing mates for undesirable men.
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Instead of going backward to an earlier stage of humanity, these books push forward to a posthuman future in which human beings are replaced by a species that has abolished sexual reproduction, and so is immune to the torments of desire and loneliness. As the symbol of Free Love, she had to balance male prerogative and conventional femininity as well as control the meaning of her own universal desirability.
The sexual circulation that set such desire in motion—as represented in her poems and as enacted in the buying and selling of her books—made her acutely vulnerable to denigration as a woman. It furthermore narrowed the crucial distance between herself as a Yankee-bred bohemian and the peddling, bartering, marketing women of the Italian Village.
As we shall see, Millay tackled the intricacies of her predicament partly through a synthesis of female sexuality and the typically bohemian poetics of economy. Millay's early collections contain some of the best-known articulations of the bohemian ethos. No stranger to scarcity, Millay had been raised in a spartan New England home, and as a young professional poet kept body and soul together by writing "bread-and-butter" pieces alongside her properly "artistic" endeavors. As it happened, she was also keenly attuned to the aesthetic dimension of garret life. But even her most seemingly straightforward paeans to Village freedom are undergirded by perfect care and thrift.
Written at the highpoint of her bohemian career, "Recuerdo" spins out scenes of lighthearted romance within a kind of blueprint for resource management. We were very tired, we were very merry— We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
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It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable— But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table, We lay on the hill-top underneath the moon; And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon. We were very tired, we were very merry— We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry; And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear, From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere; And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold, And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold. We were very tired, we were very merry, We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. We hailed, "Good morrow, mother!
Arranged contiguously, "We were very tired" and "we were very merry" are conspicuously not explained by a connecting "but. If in the conventional world "merriness" produces "tiredness," in bohemia merriness is the effect of tiredness; the way to a bohemian temperament is through constant emotional expenditure. Yet the dynamic of merriment through tiredness comes back on itself: once merry, the bohemians engage in more tiring behavior described in the ensuing stanza , which leads them back to the merriness of the subsequent refrain.
Within the poem, the display of plenitude is at least as important as the management of scarcity.
While the one upholds bohemian identity, the other ensures the survival of the individual bohemian. Other details of the poem follow this basic pattern of thrift amid seeming profligacy. The speaker and her companion carelessly buy fruit "somewhere" and give it away, along with their money, to an immigrant woman whose tearful gratitude only serves to highlight their own transcendence of material need—the difference of their bohemian poverty. But again, there is a careful, even meticulous economy at work here.
The show of giving has an important ideological dimension but also serves as a refinement away from crude hoarding toward the precise measure of needs—a perfect economy of no waste. Hence, "you ate an apple and I ate a pear"—enough to sustain them and neatly designate their sexual difference and the "pagan" nature of their relationship. Again, money for such a pair has only the utility of gaining them access to further circulation, this time on the subway.
Yet this achieved synthesis of bohemian ideals and economic mastery suffers at least one moment of rupture.
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At the close of the poem, their distance from the world of needy, hoarding capitalism immigrant and bourgeois tidily established, the lovers look trustingly out over the rising sun, a scene belonging by rights to the realm of bohemian lyrical ideality. Yet here they find themselves confronted with a gaudy, "dripping. As a commentary on the bohemian project the poem describes, it signals a certain fragility at the core. Subliminal threats notwithstanding, "Recuerdo" is overwhelmingly successful as a classic bohemian idyll. The stakes get higher—and the balance more difficult—when Millay figures a more explicitly sexualized female speaker.
As with "Recuerdo," the poem begins with a bohemian rhythm of pure circulation: "As I went walking up and down to take the evening air. Yet, though it fails to put her in charge, the pattern of circulation that the line sets in motion does generate bohemian desire. I saw him lay his hand upon her torn black hair; "Little dirty Latin child, let the lady by! And everywhere I stepped there was a baby or a cat; Lord, God in Heaven, will it never be dawn?
The fruit-carts and clam-carts were ribald as a fair, Pink nets and wet shells trodden under heel She had haggled from the fruit-man of his rotting ware; I shall never get to sleep, the way I feel! He walked like a king through the filth and the clutter, Sweet to meet upon the street, why did you glance me by? But he caught the quaint Italian quip she flung him from the gutter; What can there be to cry about that I should lie and cry?
He laid his darling hand upon her little black head, I wish I were a ragged child with ear-rings in my ears! And he said she was a baggage to have said what she had said; Truly I shall be ill unless I stop these tears! She, too, is remembering, but tormentedly and against her will. The use of a double voice conveys the speaker's psychic oscillation from the bed where she lies to the details of the street, with the clear sense—which the title underscores—that this place has a magnetic hold on her.
While an encounter with the object of her desire is a psychologically obvious fixation, the event is overwhelmingly defined by its setting. What is the significance of MacDougal Street? The chaos which at first seems to emanate from the lovesick mind of the speaker is, on closer inspection, an objective chaos of the street itself. Dirty children, squatting women, babies, cats, pink nets, rotting fruit, filth, clutter—MacDougal Street is rank with sensuality.
More specifically, it is an overflowing market of female sexuality. Not simply "slovenly and fat," the "squatting" women of the stoops are implicated in a grotesque fertility by virtue of the teeming babies and cats surrounding them. The central sexual figure is the child, appropriately called a "baggage," both saucy child and wanton woman.
Apart from her seeming flirtation with the loved man, this child brings the market explicitly into play as she "haggl[es] from the fruitman of his rotting ware. Yet given her poverty and her bartering skill, we must also assume that she is engaged in a routine struggle to feed herself. The poem works very hard to make the separation: she is "shy" and susceptible to nervous illness; her affective life is safely privatized within parentheses, just as her experience is itself recalled from within a domestic seclusion, and her fullest embodiment comes in the form of a wish to be a cool corpse, separated by death and rich fabrics from poverty and desire.
But where the equally privileged man "walked like a king" through MacDougal Street, casual and condescending in his interactions, the female speaker moves in an agitated horror of contamination. When the speaker expresses the direct wish to be "a ragged child with ear-rings in [her] ears," it is with the assurance that such an identification is ridiculously far-fetched. And yet, the child is the speaker's most direct link to MacDougal Street; though a "dirty, Latin child," she is clearly the speaker's sexual surrogate.
Her multiple marks of class, ethnic, and generational difference serve to render the identification safe, but they also represent a fantasy- albeit a highly ambivalent one—of sexual freedom without sexual consequences. A child, she is more gamine than woman, whatever the content of her "quips. Where the speaker is condemned to waiting for the loved man to do more than "glance [her] by" out of fear of her own descent into MacDougal Street sexuality, the girl's relation to him is uncomplicated by either implications for her identity or consequences for her actions.
As we have seen, the "shawl-covered" immigrant "mother" of "Recuerdo" served to enhance the transcendent status of that poem's lovers. But the sexualized women of "MacDougal Street" have only a precariously inoculatory effect for this speaker and the quality of her relation to her love object. Though the public Free Lover is ultimately saved by her middleclass "American" aesthetic sensibility, the poem is unsparing in its depiction of the dangers she perceives herself as negotiating. For the bohemian speaker, the women of MacDougal Street raise the specter that taking to the streets—parading her desire, writing Free Love poetry, being the very national icon of Free Love—will reduce her to the level of "pink nets and wet shells trodden under heel.
Millay, "God's World" The management of Free Love, emblematic and otherwise, spills over into Millay's nature poetry, which has as important a place in her larger New Womanly strategy as the poetry of explicitly interpersonal content. While the love poems themselves focus predominantly on the outward shape of love, the nature poems enact various of its psychosexual dimensions.
Millay's many love poems trace themes of sexual desire, ephemeral passion, and amorous adventure for its own sake. They issue from a voice which is sometimes suffering, sometimes haughty and heartless—yet, as critics from Edmund Wilson to contemporary feminist Jan Montefiore have pointed out, Millay's lover voice was nearly always suggestive of a perfectly integrated, self-possessed speaker. Even those poems that thematized despair and loss imparted the sense of love and its sorrows as a personal experience for the woman speaker, an enhancement of her individuality, rather than an event generated out of her interaction with a significant Other.
The speaker's identity was that of a lover—more in spite of than because of the presence of a loved one.
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Montefiore makes this point, citing Wilson's remark that "when [Millay] came to write about her lovers, she gave them so little individuality that it was usually, in any given case, impossible to tell which man she was writing about" apparently a sore point. The culturally new possibility of an actively desiring woman did not necessarily imply a radical conceptual revision of female sexuality as a whole. In fact, as we shall see in chapter 2, the scientific discovery of women as sexual beings was often presented alongside the discovery of a biological foundation for female passivity or for early marriage.
The contradictions of this modern sexuality intersect in complex and even widely divergent ways with Millay's other central imperative as a woman writer, that of attaining literary authority.
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Millay's nature poetry frequently stages the threatened loss of self conventionally associated with the "woman in love. And yet, even this threat is a nominal one. Working within the Romantic tradition of transcendence and the sublime, Millay transforms a classically feminine psychological posture of self-abnegation into an achievement of literary authority. The speaker depicts herself as a vulnerable woman in a desolate place in fear of being "raped" by Beauty. I I had forgotten how the frogs must sound After a year of silence, else I think I should not so have ventured forth alone At dusk upon this unfrequented road.
II I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk Between me and the crying of the frogs? Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass, That am a timid woman, on her way From one house to another! Of course, this threat is only sometimes abstract: in its alternate incarnation it is strikingly mundane and specific. While an aesthetic response to the croaking of frogs is arguably well within the bounds of poetic convention, the sense of acute physical imperilment expressed by the speaker seems jarringly disproportionate.
But it would seem that this impression is rendered intentionally.
To the extent that her responses diverge from the expected, the speaker has demonstrated the singular acuteness of her sensibility—and the singular personal risk to which it subjects her. The specifically womanly fear she experiences in passing through "savage Beauty" on her way from "one house to another" testifies simultaneously to her artistry and her femininity—with the remarkable outcome that artistry and femininity come to seem mutually interdependent. In fact, certain of her formulations suggest a Utopian synthesis of sexuality and poetic vision.