Stephanie Rose – Power Woman Of The Month

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 11.05.00 PM
The dreaded times where I do need to jet off to Sydney, leaving my modest, yet comfortable apartment in St Kilda, I try to get a good piece or interview in during my stay. This week I was lucky enough to sit down with a bright young star. Former Beauty Queen, model, actress, philanthropist, fashion designer, successful business owner and start up CEO of a non-for-profit mental health NGO (just to name a few)
Stephanie Rose, at the green age of only 21, is aspiring to great heights. Her lofty ambition surpasses that of your average 21 year old making her the perfect interviewee for our ‘Power Woman Of The Month’
Representing all that a modern woman should be, not only is she classically stunning, but after only 10 minutes of chatting, Stephanie exudes humility, compassion and an almost debilitating aura that gives you the warm and fuzzies. Her presence is striking; she is impeccably groomed, sophisticated and modestly dressed.

She sips a chamomile tea as she explains she doesn’t allow herself coffee after lunch time, she orders and picks at a coconut praline and reaches deep into her stylish handbag to ensure her phone is on silent before the interview commences.

“(I feel) there’s just a lack of equity in the way we as a society look at mental health issues. We don’t want to fund it, don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to see it; the reality is that it is everywhere. I’ve seen many loved ones slip through the cracks in the system, I, myself have too. “

It’s a pleasure to be chatting with you, I know you must be busy so I so much appreciate your time!

It’s my pleasure, absolutely. I’m incredibly flattered you asked to speak with me.

Having achieved so much from a such a young age, being only 21 years old, do you impress yourself as much as you impress all of us?

That is a tough question, but I think, like anyone, there are days where I am content with what I have achieved. There are other days where I feel like I need to do more and work harder…I can be quite hard on myself. It can be difficult for me to put things into perspective.
I’m lucky enough to have a strong support network; I’ve surrounded myself with some amazing people who keep me grounded.

Let’s talk a little bit about Young Women’s Mental Health Support. You offer support to young women suffering from mental illness through a list of different services; What was it that inspired you to create YWMHS?

(I feel) there’s just a lack of equity in the way we as a society look at mental health issues. We don’t want to fund it, don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to see it; the reality is that it is everywhere. I’ve seen many loved ones slip through the cracks in the system, I, myself have too.
There is also still so much stigma surrounding mental illness that people who are in dire need of services and treatment are often too ashamed to seek it.
I’m trying to create a dialogue within the community, I feel so strongly about people speaking up about their mental health issues, seeking help and being able to access the support that they deserve through a range of services. That is also why I think the support groups are such a wonderful idea; people affected with mental illness can tend to feel alienated from the rest of society, it can be so hard to identify with certain ‘groups’ of people who they feel won’t be able to understand what they are going through.
A strong sense of belonging is vital in the journey towards good mental health; people need to feel that they are not isolated.

“I feel that good mentors have an ability to organize that which they have learned across very distinct areas and apply them to their work on a day-to-day basis. “

In your endeavour to form your NGO, what has been the biggest challenge you have had to take on to date?

There are two things that have presented themselves as significant challenges to date:
The first thing would probably have to be to balancing an overflowing plate. Sleep has become a bit of a foreign concept; between studying, running a start up business and YWMHS, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find time for myself; I’m still learning how to find that perfect balance.

The second challenge would have to be the fact that YWMHS is a project that is very close to my heart. The journey from conception to where it is now has been very emotional for me; there were certain negative ‘factors’ that were the driving force behind this venture.
The last 6 months has been a roller-coaster ride, I have really come a long way; I’ve been given the chance to work with so many wonderful and inspiring people through YWMHS. I’m truly humbled by my experiences.
I’ve discovered just how resilient I am and most importantly, I have learned to forgive those who do wrong by me, without reason, acknowledgment or an apology.

What advice would you give to other young women who are experiencing something similar to what you have?

I could think of no better answer than to quote Churchill – “If you’re going through hell, keep going”

What makes a good CEO/mentor?

I feel that good mentors have an ability to organize that which they have learned across very distinct areas and apply them to their work on a day-to-day basis.

I’m learning to differentiate empathy and compassion. Being empathetic and trying to walk in the shoes of the client/mentee not only causes me to lose objectivity, but it just is not possible to feel just what he or she is feeling as I am simply not them. Being compassionate allows me to sympathize with and feel concern towards the client/mentee whilst maintaining focus and objectivity.

Lastly, I feel that purpose is vital, it should be the anchor of whatever you’re doing. Purpose, resolution and harmony. Once you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, it allows you to connect your individual actions to a larger, deeper purpose.

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

I suppose I would like to be doing exactly what I am doing now, just on a bigger scale. I really just want to help people, hopefully I will be privileged enough to be able to continue my work with YWMHS.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 11.04.16 PM

Stephanie recently completed a course in counselling at Sydney University and is residing in Sydney’s North-West.
She can be contacted at and for business related inquiries.


Who needs feminism? Everyone.

We need feminism…

Because feminism is the radical notion that women are human. 

Because, worldwide, more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century. (source

Because nearly 1 in 4 American women between the ages of 18 and 65 has experienced domestic violence. (source

Because the U.S. State Department estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, and eighty percent of them are women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation. (source

Because girls like Malala Yousafzai deserve an education and should not be threatened with violence for pursuing one. 


Because women make up 51% of the US population, but comprise only 20% of congress. (source)

Because Hardee’s can’t seem to sell a hamburger without objectifying a woman’s body in the process. 

Because eighty percent of 10-year-old American girls say they have been on a diet, and the number one magic wish for young girls age 11-17 is to be thinner (source

Because pornography is a $57 billion industry worldwide. (source

Because in the time it took you to take a selfie with a sign declaring that the world doesn’t need feminism (about four minutes) two more American women were sexually assaulted, nearly 100 American women were abused, four women worldwide died giving birth, eight little girls were trafficked for sexual exploitation, and 6,781,920 people looked at naked women online. 


Because women need look no further than the billboards on the highways, the magazine racks in the check-out aisle, or the advertisements on TV to know that our worth in this culture is measured primarily by our appearance. 

Because 20-25% of women in college in the U.S. reported experiencing an attempted or a completed rape in college. (source

Because 70% of women in the U.S. workforce are mothers; yet we have no national paid leave child care or flex time policy. The U.S is the only major industrialized nation without paid family leave. 

Because in 2011, only 11 percent of protagonists in films were female. (source)

Because fewer investors are willing to put their money behind a woman entrepreneur than a man, even when they share the very same idea, concept, business and sales pitch. (source)

Because feminism celebrates the freedom of women to choose to enter the workforce or pursue homemaking and to make decisions that best suit the needs of themselves, their communities, and their families. Feminism does not oppose homemaking, marriage, and motherhood, but acknowledges them as among the many vocations of which women are capable. 


Because every year, complications from pregnancy and childbirth claim the lives of nearly 300,000 women worldwide and permanently disable many more. (source

Because access to contraception would dramatically improve those maternal and infant mortality rates.  (source)

Because one third of the world’s girls are married before the age of 18, and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15.   Pregnancy is consistently among the leading causes of death for girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide. (source)

Because over 135 million girls and women have undergone genital mutilation and 2 million more girls are at risk each year. (source)

Because legalistic gender roles, and the objectification and marginalization of women, harm both women and men. Feminism isn’t about hating men. Feminism is about restoring the dignity of women for the betterment of society. And so both men and women, both parents of little boys and parents of little girls, can and should be feminists. 


Because women who were raped are still asked, “What were you wearing?” 

Because I can’t count the number of times I’ve been called a whore, bitch, cunt, slut, or feminazi because of my theological or political views. 

Because feminism has given women in the U.S. access to higher education, the voting booth, contraception, and property rights, and is still so misunderstood that women themselves say they have no use for it. 


Because the message that women who are not virgins are “damaged goods”persists. 

Because the message that women are not capable or called to preach the gospelpersists. 

Because the message that women must dress to please men persists. 

Because the message that women should endure abuse persists. 

Because the message that women’s bodies are inherently problematic persists.

Because the message that women are to be “conquered and colonized” during sex persists.

Because the message that men who do housework are failures persists. 

Because the message that men must out-earn their wives to be “real men”persists. 


Because patriarchy is not God’s dream for the world

Because we are no longer bound by the Curse, but are compelled by the resurrection of Jesus Christ to build a kingdom in which the old power structures dividing Jew from Greek, male from female, and slave from free are dismantled and replaced by mutual love, submission, and grace. 

Because feminism is the radical notion that women are human – equal in value and dignity to men – and that vision has yet to be fully realized. 


This post is a response to #WomenAgainstFeminism and a contribution to the #FaithFeminisms series, which you can learn more about here. 

Dead Comedy Society – Robin Williams

Robin Williams, the frenetic standup comedian and inimitable TV and film star whose richly dramatic side won him a supporting actor Oscar for Good Will Hunting, has died, authorities and his personal representative confirmed to Mashable. He was 63.

A preliminary Marin County coroner’s release (screenshot below) said Williams apparentlly committed suicide via asphyxia at his home near San Francisco. A statement from his longtime personal publicist also indicated that the actor had taken his own life:

“Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

SEE ALSO: Entertainers React to the Death of Robin Williams on Twitter

Authorities arrived at Williams’ home in unincorporated Tiburon, California, around noon Monday and declared him dead minutes later. A preliminary autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.

Though he enjoyed long stretches of sobriety, Williams struggled with addiction throughout his life, most recently attending rehab at the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota last month, after previously being admitted in 2006. His reps at the time said it was a precautionary measure.

“After working back-to-back projects, Robin is simply taking the opportunity to fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains extremely proud,” a spokesperson told People Magazine at the time.



Pam Dawber and Robin Williams in Season 1 of “Mork and Mindy.”




Williams most notably battled cocaine abuse during his time on Mork and Mindy, but had apparently given it up, cold turkey, in 1982 when his wife became pregnant with their first son. He has spoken candidly through the years about his time as a heavy cocaine user, and acknowledged at the time of his 2006 rehab stint that he was an alcoholic.

Williams made his name on his singular brand of delirious, frantic and candid comedy, but he also possessed a deep gravitas that won him meaty dramatic roles — and subsequent acclaim from his “serious” acting peers. Before his Oscar for Good Will Hunting (1997), Williams was nominated for supporting turns in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society and as a troubled homeless man in the 1991 film The Fisher King.



Robin Williams introduced the “Mork” character on “Happy Days” — this photo from an episode in 1978.




Born in Chicago and mostly raised in Michigan and California, Williams overcame crippling shyness when he joined his high-school drama club, and was later accepted at Julliard. Garry Marshall cast Williams as the quirky alien who visits Milwaukee in Happy Days, an appearance so popular that it gave birth to Mork and Mindy, which ran from 1978 to 1982.

From there, Williams’ career was a genre-defying diffusion of talent and influence; his range as a performer and a personality simply cannot be overstated. From the late 1970s on, his standup comedy was always at the core: his three HBO comedy specials (Off The Wall in ’78,An Evening with Robin Williams in ’82 and Robin Williams: Live at the Met in ’86) were hits, and he co-hosted the 58th Academy Awards in 1986 (with Alan Alda and Jane Fonda).


The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Robbin Williams appears on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1992.




His many appearances on late-night television quickly turned into manic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink monologues, complete with off-color jokes and jabs, spot-on impersonations, political tirades, sexual innuendoes — Williams left no stone unturned or hot-button issue untouched, often leaving behind a visibly flustered (but hugely entertained) Johnny Carson or David Letterman.

And then, the next minute you saw him, Williams was giving a quiet, deeply felt performance in Dead Poet’s Society or Awakenings.

SEE ALSO: Remembering Robin Williams: His Best Appearances on TV and Film

Though Williams’ fearsome workload never abated late in his career, he was not in production on anything at the time of his death. He did, however, have four films that were wrapped and awaiting release, including another turn as President Theodore Roosevelt in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (Dec. 19); the comedy Merry Friggin’ Christmas (Nov. 7); the drama Boulevard, opposite Bob Odenkirk; and a voice role as a dog in the live-actionAbsolutely Anything with Kate Beckinsale and Simon Pegg.

He also had a lead role in the David E. Kelly sitcom The Crazy Ones, which ran on CBS from last September until it was cancelled last spring.

His impact on popular culture was so significant that even President Obama saw fit to quickly issue a statement Monday:

Somewhere between the comedy blitzkrieg and stirring drama Williams had a dizzying succession of box-office hits, too — his everyman schtick fueled populist hits like Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Jumanji, The Birdcage and the Night at the Museum franchise, whose latest installment comes out this December.


Robin Williams And Matt Damon In 'Good Will Hunting'

Robin Williams and Matt Damon in a scene from “Good Will Hunting.”




Williams was an avid gamer — he performed during Google’s Consumer Electronics Show keynote in 2006 — a tireless philanthropist, a stalwart of may USO tours, a practicing Episcopalian, a road-cycling fanatic who owned dozens of bikes, and a personal friend to dozens of fellow comedians and actors, among them Steve Martin, John Belushi, Christopher Reeve, Billy Crystal and countless others.

For all of Williams’ professional success and acclaim, he had his share of personal struggles, addiction chief among them. His first marriage fell apart after an affair with a cocktail waitress went public, and he later married his son’s nanny, Marsha Garces, when she was pregnant with his second child. They divorced in 1988.

Williams also had an ugly falling out with Disney following Aladdin, which the actor agreed to do on the cheap out of gratitude for the success of the Touchstone-produced Good Morning, Vietnam. Williams only asked that the Genie character be played down in marketing and that his voice never be imitated — Disney reneged on both stipulations (they buried the hatchet in 2009).

He leaves behind three grown children: His oldest son, Zachary Pym, 31, with his first wife Valerie Velardi; and 25-year-old Zelda Rae and 22-year-old Cody Alan, with his second wife Marsha Garces. His third wife, Susan Schneider, released a statement Monday via New York Times writer Dave Itzkoff:

Marin County sheriff’s statement


Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 7.06.11 PM

Screenshot of the Marin County coroner’s report on Robin Williams.




Reactions and latest updates


Finding hope in a cynical world.

These past two weeks have been riddled with news that could douse the flame of even the brightest of spirits.

The relentless bombing of Gaza, the cycle of prejudice and violence that is drawing more and more of the world into its maw, the death spiral of Ukraine and the rise of a muscular Russian militarism that almost certainly played a role in the downing of a civilian airliner, the murder of Eric Garner in New York—his last words “I can’t breathe” seem to speak for all people of color who struggle with militarized policing.

Our world is an ugly one, and its darkest impulses seem to rise newly invigorated from the ashes of each successive tragedy as a monster with a thousand faces, many of them sporting Cheshire grins as they spout the latest trends in memetic prejudice. In the wake of the downing of MH17 we’ve been treated not only to the terrifying spectres a plane crash always summons, but also to the unfortunate reality that some of our fellow leftists seem more interested in providing ideological cover for Russian militarism as a stick in the eye of American militarism (which was as depressing as watching something similar happen with regard to Venezuela).

Times like this are tailor-made for nihilism and bespoke oblivion. Why have hope or optimism when events conspire to make a mockery of it all? Why fight for a better world when the winds of change seem to cheat us at every turn? How can we change the world even as we struggle to battle the puppet-master demons of ideological dogmatism?

For the Night is Dark, And Full of Hope

Rebecca Solnit is perhaps the left’s most eloquent tribune for hope, in all of its unknowing glory. In a 2009 essay about Virginia Woolf’s strange optimism, she explained why it is precisely our lack of knowledge about the future that should give us comfort in difficult times. “The future is dark,” wrote Woolf in a private journal, “which is the best thing the future can be, I think.” Solnit is positively in love with the line, because it succinctly conveys the pregnancy of unknown tomorrows.

Pessimism and cynicism make a claim upon the future that defy reason. As Solnit puts it so well,

“Despair is a form of certainty, certainty that the future will be a lot like the present or will decline from it; despair is a confident memory of the future, in [writer Laurence] Gonzales’ resonant phrase.”

The unknown is activism’s medium. We dare to imagine the unthinkable. These are not confident designs about what the future will be, but rather our hopes given form, turning them into cynosures that guide us through the troubled waters of the present. We do not preach the comfortable triumphalism of progress that pretends the future makes itself. That would be trulynaive. What we believe, instead, is that the future is uncertain and thus we have a chance at shaping it for the better. Rather than confident proclamations about what tomorrow holds, we, at our best, celebrate the possibility of what it might one day hold, what it could be.

Through the open seam of that uncertainty, we can drive a movement.

Politics, goes the old saw, is the “art of the possible,” but feminism has always imagined something grander for itself—much as every liberation movement of the last two centuries has, as our collective imagination aspired to heavens beyond the grasp of our ancestors. Feminist movements have aspired to the unimaginable, to the impossible, to the unthinkable.

We did not allow ourselves to be bowed by the staggering terrors of our present. We knew that somewhere in the shadows of tomorrow lurked the elusive source of our hopes. We had faith that our labours would, one day, bear the fruit our children deserve. Time and again, this is what has moved us. The darkness of the future yet concealed stars that were just waiting to shine.

The Wages of Cynicism

It seems cheap to say that we need to have hope simply because of that basic human limitation of not knowing what the future holds. It may be, in Solnit’s words, “too early to tell” whether we have truly succeeded or failed in our efforts.  But that feels, in its way, deeply unsatisfying. When measured against the damage done by the U.S. Supreme Court to the promise of democracy for women and people of color, does that darkness really portend anything other than yet more pain?

My answer to that is that relinquishing the future to our fevered nightmares is less an acceptance of reality than an unwitting effort at shaping it.

Cynicism is the greatest enemy we face in our struggles, even above and beyond the terrors of oppression, because it robs us of the energy we need to actually change our circumstances.

Cynicism is what individuates us, isolating us from one another, stilling our political action. It is what drives down voter turnout, keeps us away from protests, makes us all too eager for fatal compromise rather than meaningful change. Cynicism in the face of our challenges constitutes the final victory of our society’s myriad terrors, for it surrenders the independence and brightness of our imaginations to the brutal logic of the present.

This, at last, is what is rotting liberal democracy from within: a sirensong that seduces us into thinking that our political participation, the very lifeblood of the system, is a waste of time. Radicals and leftists manifest their own variants of this, of course, which take the shape of withering declamations of hope itself: every supposed political victory, they say, is merely a Trojan horse of fatal compromises. Every “reform” begets newer, more sophisticated oppression. There is no escape. Nevermind that this sort of cynicism is a perfect fit with the aspirations of the privileged, who need to monopolise the levers of political influence and control and find useful allies in radicals who demand we voluntarily abscond from democratic engagement.

Here, the activists are prisoners of their lofty aspirations, scorning the long and winding staircase that we must ascend to reach our dreams.

Neither the political-apathetic nor the embittered radical puritan offers a real solution to our problems. They merely attempt to discipline the future into a knowable shape, to tame the terror by making it predictable.

Instead of embracing the uncertainty we face, we see it as validation of our worst fears, especially when it feels like the world is collapsing around us.

Though the Heavens Fall

An old Latin legal phrase beloved of jurists and popularly misquoted or misspoken in the U.S. is some variant of fiat justitia ruat caelum, “let justice be done though the heavens fall.” In mainstream use, it is interpreted to mean that justice, as defined by the speaker, must be done regardless of its consequences. In other words, even if the carriage of justice makes the heavens fall, it must be done. This has always struck me as unforgivable arrogance, to say nothing of enabling the “ends justify the means” mentality that has lead us to tragedy so many times in the past.

The interpretation I prefer, very different from the arrogant mainstream meaning, is exemplified by an admittedly unusual source: Samara, a character in Mass Effect 2 and 3. Samara, an alien justicar who lives by a rigid code of ethics and laws, righting wrongs across the galaxy, is found, in the third game, investigating an interstellar monastery that has fallen eerily silent. Her own offspring, she fears, could be the cause. She carries out this investigation in the midst of a galactic invasion, knowing that what transpired at the monastery may well be related, and demand a response. It is, she says, “my responsibility, and it is one that cannot be abandoned, even as our galaxy crumbles.”

Therein, for me, lies the better, more humble truth behind fiat justitia ruat caelum: We do not make the heavens fall, but justice remains our responsibility even if it does. Perhaps most especially so. All around the world, the heavens do seem to have opened up and crumbled to earth. Tragedy after tragedy plays out on our streets, in bombed out hospitals, at 32,000 feet, in austere courtrooms.

But that is all the more reason for us to not abandon our responsibility to dream and fight for the forgotten futures that these tragedies threaten to rob from us. What we as activists bring is that hope in the midst of the heavens’ collapse, to those who seek shelter amid the gloom.

Our memory of the future must be gloriously uncertain, hazy, and chaotic; out of that disordered cyclone comes hope. It is that thought of the glorious darkness before us that must sustain us.

Even as our world crumbles.

Insel – Mina Loy

You could probably count on one hand the number of novels that have taken up great platonic male-female friendships as their theme. The republication of Mina Loy’s Insel, by Melville House Publishing’s Neversink Library this past May, is a refreshing, challenging, and brilliant addition to this intimate pantheon.

Loy’s only novel, Insel is the portrait of a starving German surrealist, as told by his patron and friend, Mrs. Jones. Mrs. Jones is the quasi-fictional avatar of Loy herself; Insel, a loose construction drawn from Loy’s strange and euphoric friendship with the German painter Richard Oelze.

A luminary of transatlantic modernisms, Mina Loy worked across as many media as she did cities. Her itinerant artistic career occupied the capitals of the turn of the century’s avant-gardes: from Futurist Florence to Dada New York to Surrealist Paris — with cameos in Weimar Berlin and Freud’s Vienna, among many other places, in between. Insel’s republication, which includes a thoughtful and contextualizing introduction, afterword, and appendices, marks another occasion: to remark on Loy’s indisputable relevance to literary history, and literature’s futures.

Until recently, her reputation as a poet eclipsed greater critical recognition of her plural, sustained, and collaborative practices as a painter, actor, designer, playwright, inventor, and novelist. Then, as still now, her activities as an author and theorist were plagued by the neglect attending women writers, especially those working in experimental modes.

Revisionist histories of modernism’s legacy have since challenged understandings of Loy as a minor, peripheral figure. The republication of her out-of-print written works in the last two decades, along with growing recognition of her visual art, have illuminated her work as a central creative collaborator, contributor, and critic of the pre and postwar art-worlds.

Though her novel is set in the same cafes and flats of the 1930s Paris where it was composed, it was not published before Loy’s death in 1966. Insel did not first appear until 1991, at which point it was rightly compared to Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood (1936) and Andre Breton’s Nadja (1928). Like the acclaimed novels of her contemporaries, Loy’s novel is a byzantine maze of references and allusions to the Parisian surrealist scene, rendered in Latinate, often baroque, prose. Even the simplest of her sentences shines — “At length we arrived at the gleaming water bearing so lightly its lazy barges with their drag of dancing diamonds.”

The book hovers, electrically, at the borders of a Künstlerroman, roman  à clef, and modernist prose-poem; its generic indecipherability feels intuitively appealing, given its subject is the inchoate, eclectic form of Insel himself, whose work she at one point describes as “too surrealistic for the surrealists.”

If the novel had a plot it would be Mrs. Jones/Loy’s obsessive and repetitious record of her attempts to capture in words her friend Insel: because is not so much a man as he is a specter, and not so much specter as he is pure light. Given that Insel is, literally and metaphorically, a phosphorescent “man-of-light”, Loy might have had an easier time photographing the sun. But perhaps it is with respect to these ambitions that Insel is, in the end, a love story: the story of Loy’s passionate affair with aureate, visionary language.

While she originally sets out to write a biography of Insel’s life as a starving artist , her efforts are soon derailed by the intensity of his psychic energy, not to mention his basic material needs. She finds his desolate, diaphanous, and manipulative genius totally hypnotizing. This intense power that his aura holds over the sympathies of Mrs. Jones is both the source of the novel’s inspiration, and the impetus for its insistent digressions.

As in “the confusion of uneasy dreams,” the “leaking” of Insel’s surrealist consciousness into Mrs. Jones’ own gives rise to a series of psychic power plays that constitute what would be called the novel’s action. From their encounters emerges a painstaking, at times cryptic, detailing of their relationship’s subtly shifting fields of power.

Its climax (which does not seem like a spoiler when the story is so much in the service of the prose) is simultaneously its denouement: the novel closes with Mrs Jones departure for America and with Insel’s bittersweet goodbye. “Thanks for everything,” he tells her. The story’s energy turns on this refracted recognition of the other: the electrically comatose Insel finally recognizes Mrs. Jones as a fascinating subject in and of herself. But what are we to make of a novel constituted by this moment of recognition — in which a woman sees herself as a man sees her?

For its reversal of the traditional gender roles of the muse-patron dynamic, the novel has been read as a feminist work. It’s worth wondering, though, whether the flipping of polarities around an already problematic axis is little more than a trick or perhaps, even, a game.

Loy’s other feminist works often took the form of pointed satires, directed at the Futurist’s machismo, the misogyny of the Dada-ists, the exclusionary intellectual practices of the modernists, and other artistic communities. She openly identified as a feminist, often remarking on her liminal position as a non-male artist making rigorously experimental work. But her attitudes, as expressed through her more polemical writings, such as the “Feminist Manifesto,” and “Aphorisms on Futurism,” can seem contradictory, and at times, outright offensive or outdated.

In “Feminist Manifesto,” enclosed in an unpublished 1914 letter to a friend, Loy put into dialogue the cultural opposition of masculine impersonality to feminine personality, public invisibility to private visibility. The polemical dialogue borrows from futurism its aggressive fusillade form and typeset but also, at times disturbingly and perhaps unconsciously, its eugenicist, and violent ideals. Traces of these ideas do not disappear in later works like Insel, where her patronizing descriptions of black sex workers remain outwardly racist. In the “Manifesto” she calls, in part provocatively, “for the unconditional surgical destruction of virginity through-out the female population at puberty–.”

It’s hard to know what to do with these positions. Loy, for her part, seems to have wanted to distance herself from some, writing of the manifesto: “There is no truth—anywhere.” But some of her non-truths are historically persistent problems: they can’t just be written off as unfortunate “products of her time,” or fictional constructions.

Some of her provocations, insinuations  and views could and did rub against those of her contemporaries’, and even against her own; they still do rub against our own. The hope is that this friction is productive. For this reason it might be useful to read Loy not for her sympathetic political agenda but for her poetic and polemical plasticity: her ability to produce new forms — for thinking, as thinking, instead of thought.

In a fragment appended to the novel called “The Visitation of Insel,” that may or may not be the book’s final ending, Loy herself gives the best working explanation of the novel’s necessarily provisional project. “Now I was engaged with a kind of surrealist man,” she writes, “Constructing, demolishing him kaleidoscopically, hoping to demonstrate how he ‘worked.’” To construct a ghost is always also to dissolve him.

Maybe just as Loy was haunted in her lifetime by Oelze/Insel’s ghostly visitations so too will the legacy of her literary celebrity. If so, this would be a good thing.

50 shades of doing nothing for women.

At the height of the moronic craze over Fifty Shades of Grey, I happened upon a newscast showing a “lifestyle” story in which a camera crew had marauded into the home of a painfully white-bread couple from some nook of New England. According to the missus, their sagging sex life had just been buttressed by her embrace of the Fifty Shades trilogy, and the prevailing mood of this piece, I recall, was one of willing but abject exploitation. As the wife read aloud her favorite lines from one of the bookssentences, as you know, of such galactic ineptitude it was hard to believe a primate could have written themthe husband sat beside her on the sofa, blinking at the camera with a look of the most shell-shocked capitulation. It was unclear whether or not the wife had acquired the battery-operated sex utensils employed in the trilogy, but it couldn’t have been clearer that her porcine husband was being put through a nightly, ghastly regimen of sexual aerobics, a regimen for which he was neither physically nor emotionally suited. He was a cardiac catastrophe in waiting, someone who’d been perfectly content to pass his evenings with TV and pizza. But then along came these blasted books and wrecked his American right to glut and sloth.

With their drooling enthusiasm for Fifty Shades, millions of dreamy-hearted women have chaperoned a cultural phenomenonone that amply shows how far taste can be removed from hungerjust as millions of frail-headed men have made Tom Clancy a household name, Clancy’s bestsellers being a breed of poli-sci porn for gruff guys. The numbers Eva Illouz reveals in her new book on this cultural phenom, Hard-Core Romance, are shocking to those of us who can’t quite comprehend how these things happen: The Fifty Shades trilogy has sold in excess of 40 million copies globally, 32 million of which were purchased right here in our America. Illouz writes that “more than ten million copies were sold in the United States in a period of six weeks … and the first volume set the record as the fastest-selling paperback of all time, surpassing even the Harry Potter series.” A great many women indeed have been living it up while dumbing it down, titillated by a charlatan amorist who goes by the nom de plume of E.L. James. I’m made distinctly queasy by uttering that sacral American surname when referring to this empress of inanity, so let’s use her real name, Erika Leonard. She who has done so much to help debase our culture should stand revealed.

This is probably the spot to say that for the sake of this assignment I made a good faith effort to read these books at my city library, but I wasn’t self-punishing enough actually to finish them and had to stop the agony halfway into the second volume. Dreck of this stupendous caliber has a particular advantage over literature in that one doesn’t have to read all of it to surmise, accurately and eternally, that it is all uniformly awful and awfully uniformromance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn. It’s pointless to spend much time impugning these books as writing because they really aren’t meant to be considered as actual writing, the same way a Twinkie wasn’t meant to be considered as actual food. Books ejaculated this easily have the inverse effect of being extremely difficult to read. Leonard’s creations are the cartoonishly erotic suppurations of a hamstrung, not terribly bright adult trying to navigate a midlife crisis, and you get the feeling that the sentences arrived on the page as if by osmosis, unaided by even a sub-literate serf.

Eva Illouz is an academic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who’s authored a book titled Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery, so she’s accustomed to writing intelligently about the bathetic and bromidic and brain dead. A bacterial bestseller such as Fifty Shades would appear a worthy target of study for a sociologist, except that it isn’t. John Ashbery once quipped that “the worse your art is, the easier it is to talk about,” which might help explain why many of Illouz’s conclusions are so obvious, and also why her study is so abbreviated, a scant 80 pages. There simply isn’t much to say about Erika Leonard’s eighth-grade gurglings, about books this derivative and reductive, wholly barren of a single idea or sophisticated psychological insight.

Illouz contends that Hard-Core Romance “was written with respect and suspicion for popular cultural forms,” and although her grammar means to say respect for and suspicion of, you might yourself begin to suspect that she harbors too much of the former and not nearly enough of the latter. She does admit that when she first picked up Fifty Shades of Grey, “I was speechless. It contained some of the worst writing I have ever seen and a plot that made my toenails curl.” As for analysis that performs the tremendous feat of being both obvious and untrue, here’s a sample:

Fifty Shades of Grey represents the ultimate triumph of a female point of view in culture, preoccupied with love and sexuality, with emotions, with the possibility (or impossibility) of forming enduring loving bonds with a man, and with the intertwining of pain and pleasure in romantic and sexual relationships.

Women everywhere, I hope, will be irked to learn that Fifty Shades“represents the ultimate triumph” of their point of view, and yet we’d have trouble contending that the white middle-class women who made Fifty Shades a commercial godsend were not “preoccupied with love and sexuality.”

If Illouz’s analysis caters to stereotype it’s because Erika Leonard is incapable of an imaginative grasp divorced from stereotype, incapable of apprehensions unpolluted by platitude and cliché. Christian Grey, priapic and untamable, a roué for whom commitment is kryptonite, soon breaks beneath the loving gaze of Anastasia Steele, who on one page flaunts her freight of insecurities and her self-esteem starvation, her readiness to be dragooned, and on the next page is pleased to be assertive, bossy, modern. The books are fantastical precisely because they promise that venery leads to values, thrall to authoritybecause they are blithely convinced that both ways is the only way to have it. The trilogy’s assembly-line asininity is really a fomentation of the worst that can be believed about both sexes. Romance novelsparochial by definition, ecumenical in ambitionteach a scurvy lesson: enslavement to the passions is a ticket to happiness.

At least people are reading. You’ve no doubt heard that before. But we don’t say of the diabetic obese, At least people are eating.

Illouz discloses more staggering numbers: Romance novels are a billion-dollar-a-year industry and make up 46 percent of all mass-market paperbacks sold in America; the publishing company Harlequin claims that half of its customers buys 30 of its novelsevery month; it also claims to sellmore than four books per second. How did the pabulum of Fifty Shades manage to rise above such a mind-stinging preponderance of crap? Illouz knows it’s impossible to provide a surefire answer to any book this rabidly popular, but she has a theory:

Fifty Shades of Grey became a worldwide bestseller because the Internet made it easily accessible, because it resonated with a long tradition of romance, because BDSM [bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism], the book’s focus, resolved symbolically many of the conundrums of the romantic condition, and finally, because its effect is performative, changing sexual and romantic practices while speaking about them.

That’s probably as close as we’ll ever get to determining a cause for the untethered success of Fifty Shades, though the explanation is itself reductive, since the devil knows how many romance novels mulishly adhere to those very criteria. You might recall that Fifty Shades originated on a “fan fiction” Web site devoted to those other crimes against language, the Twilight books.

The critic Katie Roiphe, in a smart piece on Fifty Shades for Newsweek, asserted that what is

most alarming about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena, what gives it its true edge of desperation, and end-of-the-world ambience, is that millions of otherwise intelligent women are willing to tolerate prose on this level. If you are willing to slog through sentences like … “My world is crumbling around me into a sterile pile of ashes, all my hopes and dreams cruelly dashed,” you must really, really, want to get to the submissive sex scene.

The pairing “otherwise intelligent” is up for debate, since some of us find it inconceivable that intelligent readers would participate in the abnegating of their minds and the debauching of English just to feel some twitching in their trousers. But if you were among those who found the books not even a smidgen sexy, that’s because they aren’t. In her 1972 essay “Seduction and Betrayal,” Elizabeth Hardwick, sapient as ever, was clear about this: “Sex can no longer be the germ, the seed of fiction. Sex is an episode, most properly conveyed in an episodic manner, quickly, often ironically.” Put another way: Sex is sexy when it’s suggested, furtive, and not when all the moving parts are acrobatically swung before us.

People apparently want this orgy of reduction, this puerile simplifying of Eros. And what’s wrong with some empty entertainment to kick-start the sleepy genitalia? Nothing, unless you believe that a nation’s reading habits have something potent to say about that nation’s character. Tell me the books you read and I’ll tell you who you are; tell me you read no books and I’ll tell you there is no you. What does our battening on Fifty Shades tell us about ourselves then? Illouz rightly tags the trilogy a species of self-help, and if that’s true, and if you consider how lucrative the self-help racket is in our land, then what the commercial coup of Fifty Shades reveals about us is this: We’re an infirm, ineffectual tribe still stuck in some sort of larval stage. Do I really expect Americans to sit down with Adam Bede or Clarissa after all the professional and domestic hurly-burly of their day? Do I expect them to appreciate the sexually terroristic satires of Sade, or the erogenous verse of Sappho and Catullus, or Nicholson Baker’s comical romp Vox? Pardon me, but yes I do.

At least people are reading. You’ve no doubt heard that before. But we don’t say of the diabetic obese, At least people are eating. Anyway, we can expect a resurgence of the Fifty Shades evangelism when the film version is released next year, when middle-class ladies everywhere tug their porcine beaus off the sofa and put them through another 90 minutes of torture.