Lucy and Todd

Posts Tagged ‘mimi’

Five of the Best (plus one more)

In Recent Articles on March 3, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Mimi was inspired by a lot of great feminist books – as was my heroine Mimi herself. One of the books she may have read was, nepotistically, my mother’s sparklingly witty Thinking About Women. But Mimi was probably more influenced by the biologically-oriented The Story of V, in which Catherine Blackledge explains that the penis is an organ geared towards satisfying the female, not the male. Mimi interprets this to mean that our porn-ridden, globally-warmed disaster area of a society has totally misconstrued human sexuality, by thinking of sex mainly in terms of what men want, which is such a bore. Mimi points out to her new love, Harrison Hanafan, as they drink coffee on the roof of his Manhattan penthouse, that in nature it’s female pleasure that really matters. Even female fruit flies insist on orgasms!

Elizabeth Gould Davis’s The First Sex, Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove’s The Wise Wound, Valerie Solanas’s superb (but also meandering and wacko) S.C.U.M. Manifesto, and the embarrassingly named The Great Cosmic Mother, by Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor, all contributed to Mimi’s understanding of matriarchal prehistory, as did Marija Gimbutas’s absorbing The Language of the Goddess. An archaeologist, Gimbutas examines the female-oriented arts and symbolism that flourished in European ‘goddess’ or mother-worshipping cultures for over a hundred thousand years. Patriarchal tribes upset this tranquility in favour of the type of society which now dominates, fixated on power, property, violence, misogyny, and catastrophic attitudes toward nature. Things went downhill fast after metallurgy was used to make weapons, and horses were tamed. (Poor horses – it wasn’t their fault.)

Without such books to read, Mimi would have had nothing to harangue Harrison about. He’s charmed.

Mimi is now out in paperback (Bloomsbury, £7.99). Join the Odalisque Revolution today!

LE

(A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Telegraph, March 2, 2014)

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Peter Burnett on MIMI

In Reviews of Our Books on October 4, 2013 at 10:04 am

The novelist, Peter Burnett, published this review of MIMI on his blog, epicvolumes.peterburnett.info. It includes a great rant on the formula followed by most book reviews these days (in PB’s opinion):

The world is a misogynist tizzy, not because it dislikes women, but because men simply want it all their own way. Men want to make war, and they want to make money.  And when they make all that money, these men decide that the most fun thing to spend it on — is war. The agenda is completed and while mankind moves to adjourn, Lucy Ellmann appears with MIMI. Like mysterious lights out of the darkness of the unknown, Lucy Ellmann’s book will astound you from page one, and if you’re not prepared for it, you may end up wondering why there are not more novels like this. The point is perhaps made too clearly for lovers of obfuscation to see — but this is a womanifesto with a mission to change the world.

As unreal as they may appear at the time, Lucy Ellmann’s ideas nevertheless form tangible plans which must be acted upon, and that is what makes the novel MIMI different from virtually every other one out there. THAT is an achievement. Mankind is about to be woken up from a five millennial sleep — and what has disturbed their slumber is MIMI.

As a film enthusiast, I enjoy when literature hits cinema head on, as it does in MIMI. Film and books meeting like this isn’t an important collision, but these are all cultural referents, and as an armchair semiotician, I know they have something to say. The protagonist in MIMI is a plastic surgeon, and although these guys do appear in the novels of our age, their real dramatic and comedic home is in the movies — and there are plenty movie moments in MIMI.

Yes — plastic surgery has long been a staple of the horror genre — the best being Eyes Without a Face (1960) — but ‘women’s films’ such as Ash Wednesday (1973) and Once is not Enough (1975) have made virtue of it — as did Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) which had Peter Lorre playing surgeon Dr Herman Einstein — and Seconds (1966), which apparently frightened Beach Boys composer Brian Wilson so much that he didn’t return to a cinema at all, until he braved the gates in 1982 and saw E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

The value of plastic surgery as both unfortunate fact of life and metaphor will not be lost on you — and lovers of the novel form, too, will see that it’s all change in MIMI. It’s possible that some may read MIMI and think that ‘nothing is happening’ — but then they will realise WHAT A GOOD TIME THEY ARE HAVING. I had an AMAZING time reading MIMI, and little of this was predicated on the traditionals of story telling — it was based on the jokes which are OMG good and the accumulations of ideas, words and scenery which make for a constantly shifting reading experience.  The back stories are the best thing about it, and the American childhood evoked is heartbreakingly true.

Yeh — I like that — ‘a reading experience’ — because that’s what it is.  To tell of a tale, MIMI is the story of one man’s five month love sabbatical, but as a book it ends up changing the world — you’re watching a cat lick its paws for page after page, movies, amazing revelations, grotesques, guignols and the satirising of Manhattanites and their bodily obsessions — and it ends up changing the world, it really does.

As for the extras — the varied Appendix tucked away at the rear of MIMI, you don’t have to read these if you don’t want to. The extras in MIMI are in fact there to be got or not, and they provide a function that books (what we call THE BOOK) has lost — the surprise factor.  We are so used to films, which can end at any point, the audience does not know when — and this is something difficult to replicate in a book, which we have to pare down to the last page.  Oh yes readers — you strip away the story of a book like an orange, an artichoke, the last slices of cheese — and you know as well as I there has to be at least one book (THIS IS IT!) which demonstrates the fact.  MIMI is that book indeed, and it concludes 68 pages before it ends — another fine achievement.

When I’d finished MIMI, I decided to check out the reviews. You know what I mean — Telegraph, NY Times, Guardian — and I was pretty fairly surprised at the lack of passion or interest that I found. It’s true that the reviewers representing these and other institutions get through a lot of books in their literary day — but I felt cheated — for what MIMI demands is passion — change — and feeling. The reviewers liked the book, and made a few noises to that effect, but MIMI is the sort of book that should encourage you to take to the streets, shouting. It is after all, NEW.

Now you may not have noticed this and you may not care either, but when it comes to fiction, the book reviews follow the same tendency. An average 1,000 words review is always approached thus:

0-150 — The life of the author to date. Other books they have written. Observations on the oeuvre.

151-650 — Précis for Lazy Lumps. PRESENT EXAMPLE: “The narrator of Mimi is Harrison Hanafan, a New York plastic surgeon who blah blah blah blah.”

651-800 — A great book reviewer will deliver up to three examples of the author’s writing in this section.

801-900 — The equivalent of the porn “money shot”. This is where the reviewer will say what they think (Not what they FEEL!)

901-1000 — General Rant About Other Stuff on the Reviewer’s Mind

I’m screwed however — and this is the rub. I am publishing this review on a self-hosted website and not in a paper of weighty repute.  I am not an institution, but at least, the fact of my self-publishing this review allows me to tell you how MIMI made me feel — and it made me feel GREAT. Hence I have used plenty of CAPITALISATION in my review — because MIMI even made me feel warm and important — and that’s impressive, because I am a man. It may make women feel even better.

Thing is bub, is that readers prefer to FEEL rather than THINK. If you listen to what readers say this becomes apparent, but it doesn’t work for reviewers, who must present an intellectual façade. Thus a reviewer can’t be happy or frustrated with a work of fiction, but must place it in an intellectual context, offering comparison and critiques that are not normally relevant to readers (but may be FASCINATING to other reviewers).

In these newspapers, which are primarily now websites anyway, writers therefore give description, critical analysis, and an evaluation on the quality, meaning, and significance of a book.   Reviews focus on a book’s purpose, content, and authority — and if the book has no purpose, content, and authority, reviewers actually ASSIGN purpose, content, and authority.  Reviews in this form are no use in the context of MIMI.  What Lucy Ellmann’s MIMI demands is feeling, and change, and any intellectual assessment otherwise is doomed to failure.

So — if there is one thing that MIMI by Lucy Ellmann has taught us, it’s that it’s best to tell everybody how you feel. MIMI is a book which requires devotion and full immersion from the reader. MIMI demands of you no less a feat that you complete the reading of it and then immediately set out to change the world.

What has been missed — I FEEL — is how different MIMI is from everything else that’s been published in the last while-or-so — how funny it is, and how it has the potential to effect this world change that it proposes.

I can’t overlook the importance of this final factor. Changing the world is something that we aspire to when young, and in capturing this enthusiasm, and presenting it simply, MIMI has achieved something vital that is lost in the general slow, cud-like consumption of books ‘n’ films. Stamp your feet — do a Howard Beale and rant that you are ‘mad as hell’ — because a modest novel like MIMI has told you how simple it is to perfect our world.

The answer is weirdly Obama-esque, in a punning sense at least — because it’s all about CHANGE. I’ll leave you to read the book yourself and find out how easy it is going to be.

(PB, Oct. 3, 2013)

“Feminism and Family” (Edinburgh Book Festival Debate)

In Recent Articles on August 21, 2013 at 5:16 pm

(What follows is a slightly extended version of LE’s speech at the debate on Aug. 20, 2013, at which Alan Bissett also spoke. Chaired by Kate Mosse.)

‘Marriage,’ Stevenson wrote, ‘is an institution recognized by the police.’

The home was originally constructed to protect and perpetuate the species. Birds do it. Bees do it. Caring for offspring is considered by most creatures their most important task, often coming before self-preservation. Think of salmon painfully jumping up waterfalls, or mother bears risking all for their cubs. But in our society domesticity and motherhood have been downgraded to the lowliest of pursuits. We are all supposed to neglect our children now in favor of work, work, work. The kids are offloaded onto childminders, who are ill-trained and ill-paid. Or grandparents, who have to  give up their retirements to provide free childcare. Women get their little maternity leave, men even shorter paternity leave, and then you’re on your own.

In the patriarchal system, founded on war, domesticity is denigrated, while bombs and guns are revered: in other words, anything that can DESTROY a home is okay.

Women earn less but spend more, on clothes for work, and all the cosmetics, beauty treatments, gym membership and plastic surgery they’re supposed to buy into in order to appeal to men. But do men appeal to women? There used to be an understanding that men would pay for stuff, because women had less money. Men used to pay for the drinks at least. Sometimes with a string attached. Now women have to pretend they’re above needing men’s money. But the thing is, they do need it and they deserve it. Being a woman is so expensive. Men should pay for everything. They own the world, they made it the mess it is, they should pay!

How about Nigella Lawson, refusing to take any of Saatchi’s cash? What was all that about? Okay, she has her own money, but why not take his as well? What sort of example does that set? Saatchi owes her big-time, after all those years of alleged temper tantrums. After all those cupcakes, and picnics on planes!

Men are really very little help to women anymore. They don’t support them financially. Their contribution to pregnancy is ludicrous. Okay, fathers sometimes change nappies and handle the barbecue. Big deal. Women are forced to become single parents, because men are so lazy or unfeeling or violent or insolvent. Men seem to have NO responsibilities, while women have them all. And then single mothers get demonized by the government, and men form hooligan gangs called Fathers4Justice. There’s no ‘justice’ in any of it.

We have all been persuaded that work will save us, that women must infiltrate the workforce. But doing two jobs, at home and at work, hasn’t helped women’s status one bit, it’s just made them more exhausted and more compliant. Why should women have to work so hard anyway? In prehistory, so-called because it predates the history of patriarchy, people worked a three to four-hour day, leaving plenty of leisure time. Prehistoric women had time to invent agriculture, astronomy, medicine, spirituality and the arts. Now we just slog for men in dead-end jobs and head home to do the washing-up.

Working-class women have always worked, that’s nothing new, and where did it get them? It’s slavery. Women don’t get to do anything the way they want, and have to look pleasant about it at the same time! Where are the advantages, where are the thrills, what’s in it for the woman as she hoovers and yells at the kids and sorts out the bills, while the man’s upstairs watching his requisite five hours of porn or football or curling and skittles?

We’ve tried doing everything the male way, and it’s brought life on earth to its knees. So I don’t think feminism’s dead. But I think it’s in its infancy. Young women act like the word ‘feminism’ is naughty, like ‘socialism’ or ‘asylum seeker’. Feminism Lite makes it all seem friendly and apolitical. But sexism really can’t be separated from every other kind of hideous injustice: racism, anti-semitism and homophobia, capitalism, sadism, the despoiling of the earth, the mistreatment of animals, genocide. They are all of a piece, the stuff of brutes. And we have to do something about it – urgently. We can’t just sit around on our plump little incomes, or not so plump, and let men wreck everything.

I’ve seen enough misogyny for a lifetime. I baulk when I hear about unequal pay and unfair housework rotas and twitter rudeness. I can’t take any more wife beating and family annihilations – when men kill their whole families, in the ultimate form of punishment within the domestic sphere.

I’m sick of porn, sick of page 3, and nit-picking about the different ‘types’ of rape. I’m sick of the obsession with looks and the self-mutilation that comes with it. I’m sick of watching women ruin their ankles in high heels on cobbled streets to please men who ignore, discard and undervalue them. I’m sick of children not being able to play outdoors. I’m sick of the way women are treated in the arts too, and in the literary world, where male writers are still considered the Real Thing.

I’ve simply had it with men’s disrespect for women. It’s obscene, it’s shameful, and it’s ruinous for human civilisation and the natural world. I’m no longer trying to understand it, I’ve had it! Judges saying little girls asked for it when exploited by 40-year-old men. Men throwing acid in women’s faces. The threats made against Criado-Perez, for getting Jane Austen’s head on a banknote. Or the way Marion Bartoli was treated, for daring to win Wimbledon.

While writing Mimi, I compiled scrapbooks. Cuttings from newspapers, just from one year, 2011, on rapes and murders of women. Another on family annihilation. Another on war. Torture. Gun rampages. One on all the non-violent forms of sexism. I needed two books to cover all the murders!

Let me describe a little utopia:

Living by a lake is a thriving and contented community. They base their family life on women and women’s sexual pleasure. All money and property are handed down the female line, and women never marry. At puberty, girls are given their own bedrooms and there they conduct their love lives. Sex is only consensual, and male partners arrive at night and leave by the morning. Men make no claims on women, and any offspring are brought up by the mother’s extended family.

The women are not ashamed of their sexuality, no big issue is made of virginity, and no one denigrates women for having several partners, or for having children by different men. The women in this community enjoy a rare freedom of action, being in complete control of their sexual and procreative lives. And … everybody’s happy.

The thing is, this isn’t made up. This utopia exists. It is the way things are run in the Mosuo culture, which was featured in the Guardian today (Aug. 20, 2013). 40 or 50,000 people still live this way. As an anthropologist points out on Wikipedia, the Mosuo traditions challenge a lot of handy assumptions we have in the West about family life:

1, that marriage is a universal institution
2, that marital harmony profoundly affects the stability of children
and 3, that parents who have multiple partners jeopardize their kids’ development.

Not so. Unmarried parents living in a misogynistic culture may well jeopardize their kids’ sense of stability and security, whatever they do – but Mosuo parents do not.

One of the last matrilineal societies in the world, the Mosuo system fits right in with the simple solution I offer in Mimi.

As I said before, it’s time men did something to help us. Women have done enough. We’re tired. We want to put our feet up. We don’t want to take out the trash, only to be treated like trash ourselves, like witches and bitches. Why can’t men do something? I’m sure there are a lot of men out there who are equally sick of women getting raped and murdered, men who don’t like sex slavery and don’t approve of the capitalist usurpation of every last resource. Men who would rather not have to worry about their lovers and sisters and mothers and daughters coming to harm through misogynistic acts. A lot of men want a happy home!

(We can deal with the less amenable ones later. And Fathers4Justice.)

Here’s what I think we should do. Men have run the world with money. So give women the money. If each man gave his money to one or more women, wealth would eventually lie in female hands. I think this is the only way for women to get both the respect and the down-time they deserve. I call it the Odalisque Revolution, because it will allow women to relax, to become centers, beacons even, of pleasure-seeking. And once women own all the land, all the houses, all the schools and hospitals and offices, it will become unthinkable to violate them.

Wouldn’t it be a great joke on the male death wish if we could accomplish this peaceful revolution behind the scenes, merely by moving money around?

Well, I said I believe there are men who’d like to do something to change the sexist culture we’re all stuck in. Yet not one has written to me since the book came out in February, asking for his Mea Culpa Declaration to be stamped, which would allow him to join the Odalisque Revolution. This surprises me somewhat. Where are the men who truly want to help women, and humanity? Where are the heroic men who will save us? All they have to do is sign this:

THE MEA CULPA DECLARATION

I, the undersigned, confess to having, consciously or not, overtly or not, been part of a worldwide terrorist conspiracy that has constrained women’s lives through centuries of violence, repression, distress, and discouragement.

I recognize that this treatment of women has been a ploy in a power game, the result of male cowardice, stupidity, perversity, and corruption; and that the status of men has been artificially exalted by it.

I acknowledge that vast numbers of women have been unfairly treated throughout the period of male rule. I therefore apologize for any tyrannical behavior of my own, and that of other men, and pledge to do my utmost to prevent such injuries, insults, and injustices from occurring ever again.

I apologize for stubborn male resistance over the centuries to women’s ideas, thoughts, decisions, and remarks—in the home, at work, in business, in the arts, in education, and in government. In light of this loss of female input over centuries, I now agree to abide by the decisions women make, without resorting to mindless criticisms, meaningless reflex contradictions, and senseless derision, no matter how wacko or whimsical the ideas expressed by women may seem to me to be.

I renounce male power and privilege, on the grounds that they were unsportingly won. I wish to relinquish all remaining economic, social, and political advantages I may have obtained either as a mere consequence of being male, or because of my active participation (now regretted) in misogynist acts of terror.

In aid of this, I have transferred and/or will transfer, and will continue to transfer, my financial resources to a woman or women, with no strings attached.

By such means, I hope to foster a more humane environment, in which women are less likely to be mistreated and maligned.

It is my hope that the hand-over of power and property to women will ultimately lead to a transformation of society, benefiting people, animals, and the natural world, as well as insuring a future for human culture, and the preservation and continuation of artistic endeavors.

I believe in the pleasure principle, and therefore renounce the male work ethic, an indecency imposed by men who wished to profit from subjugation. I hereby attest the inalienable right of all creatures to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Name:

Date:

***

Enough tweaking of the sexist hierarchy here and there, enough promises of equality. Equality just won’t do it anymore. It doesn’t work. What we need is female supremacy. The only answer to male domination is ZERO TOLERANCE.

(copyright: LE)

Magnum Oh Puss

In Reviews of Our Books on June 28, 2013 at 11:39 am

Mimi — reviewed by Suzy Romer 25.5.13

There is a fire in this book but that´s not what makes it incendiary. There are doctors in this book but that´s not what makes it healing. There is a glorious love story at the centre of this novel but that´s not why there should be a copy under every woman´s pillow. There is sex (good!) and violence (bad!) depicted as they should be, but that´s not why men should read this book just before bedtime.  This is a roaring beast of a text which prods us and shakes us out of our media-induced TORPOR of fake modernity ( or modernist fakery?). It takes us on an emotional adventure of epic proportions and then invites us to take arms against a sea of terrorists (the mad, bad old men) by giving women lots of money and sex. Sound crazy? You bet your ass it´s crazy but you´ll love it.

Our narrator is Harrison Hanafan, a plastic surgeon who LITERALLY falls head over heels for the angel-faced Mimi, one of the great literary creations of the century. She is a professional speech writer and coach and has opinions on everything which are as refreshing as they are extreme and thought-provoking. “Mimi on power suits: Power suits don´t work. Power works,” (p.95) or, on another occasion,“Quilts are stitched with loathing. That´s what´s good about ´em!”(p85) Harrison is more or less over his newly ex-girlfriend Gertrude although she has not entirely finished with him. We are treated to delicious dollops of juicy information about her rich, pretentious and ultimately hollow life. I want to read the full numbered list of reasons she bugged Harrison! My favourite is no.224: “Gertrude likes to come across all scatterbrained and laid-back, like she was just some simple goose girl who leaves things to chance. Like hell.” One of her most despicable moments is as an influencial arts administrator who ignores Harrison´s sister in favour of good-looking male artists. All the arts grants go to them while Bee Hanafan, a talented sculptor, is obliged to cross the Atlantic to end up in Canterbury in order to make a living. In his solitude, Harrison meets Bubbles the cat who befriends him and teaches him the essential aspects of love and affection so that Mimi can build on firm foundations. To my joy, Mimi has the wisdom that Anita Loos (Red Haired Woman, The Women) and Dorothy Whipple (Someone at a Distance) among others have tried so hard to impart to us. Many men are not invincible when it comes to sex and a momentary weakness with a determined rival should not necessarily be condemned unconditionally by the woman at the cost of love and sexual partnership.

Ellmann´s style and thematic material is pleasingly familiar from previous books – she is sweet and shocking at turns, there are lots of lists, there are enough words in italics, there are unpredictable catastrophes, and a love-hate relationship with society – but in Mimi there is a melding of championed themes which come together in exquisite harmony (definitely more Shostokovich than Mozart), an appropriate metaphor for a book which is punctuated by musical extracts which have significance for Harrison. For this reader at least, this book is her magnum opus.

This book made me write all over the margins (it´s my own copy). At first I wrote as if I  were making university notes for an essay. As the book went on, however, I started using my most beautiful handwriting to decorate the margins and added drawings to illustrate the text, much as members of religious orders were inspired to do centuries ago. There is something that primitive about the impact of this book. Reading it as a woman of 37 (who knows Persephone and Virago), I cannot understand why I have never read anything so immediate and stirring before now. Ellmann applies common sense and logic to many aspects of modern life and comes up with terrifying and thrilling facts all over the place. She addresses simple questions I have never even formulated before. These range from the seemingly frivolous to the deeply disturbing. Why is liking cushions a gender issue? What do I reply to someone who says “You´re not one of those feminists are you”? Why have I always undervalued the ability to sew and make jam? Why am I frightened to walk home alone at night? Why do I regularly cry when I hear national and international news about men, women and children being abused and killed? Ellmann identifies enough everyday misogyny in myriad aspects of modern life (pop music, advertising, fashion, the “beauty” industry, porn) to knock any so-called post-feminists off their high horses.

There are very dark moments in this book (I won´t be going back to Canterbury soon) but after identifying the problems, she reminds us of the positive presence and achievements of women throughout the ages. There are so many symbols (egg, moon, heart, butterfly) which I have always loved but now they have been re-identified as symbols of womanhood and femininity, a set of “girl guides”, as it were, to navigate the male universe I´ve grown up in and accepted for so long. Ellmann rescues the traditions of quilt-making and jam production, everyday cooking, cleaning and the creation of coziness and peace from their scorned corners and gives them the credit and praise they deserve. She also reclaims great sex for women and reminds us of the importance and potential of pleasure for everyone if we could just wipe out the stereotypical norms of the media and porn industry.

If only Harrison had given his speech at my graduation ceremony where the female speaker lamented contemporary society and said that “problems like drug use and homosexuality will not go away” (enough said?). Harrison demands respect and money for women on a world level so that they can use their new status and power to save and rebuild the world. He argues convincingly that his proposals are no less strange than leaving the world in the hands of the men who are exploiting and destroying it for their own ends. The book finishes with a real call to action, a revolution of values and actions with plausible benefits and tremendous possibilities. I may have to brush up on my pre-history to learn about the full benefits of matriarchies before I cut out and send off my membership form.

I have given this book permanent residency on my bedside table. Initially, this was while I read it from beginning to end. Now, it is staying on as a general reference work and moment of solace from my future bedtime reads which won´t always provide the blast of fresh air which this book does. My suggestions for future editions is to include a system of chapter numbers and verses for quick reference use, maybe an index, and a few more blank pages at the end for one´s own lists.

“Who made world history? Not the most reasonable people, the madmen. So if painting is the mirror of a time, it must be mad to have the true image of what a time is.”
Max Ernst,on Monitor, BBC, 1961

(copyright: Suzy Romer)