Gurus & Good Old Boys • 28 November 2007

Let me say at the beginning that I feel you might want to disregard this if you do not want to be put off.

Well ok. Here you are.

Sometimes a new reader will mistake me for a man, and send an email that’s a bit mis-pitched. I like that.

Is it because I don’t dissimulate? (Though really: there’s feminine “maybe” and “I feel” backpedaling all over my prose, in a good honest way. And I am always soft… unless someone gets overly declarative.) The excessive analyticalness? Am I… turgid? Actually I suspect it’s just the odd references to music or books that are not for women.

What business does a female have with Norman Mailer, Ian Curtis, Bob Dylan, Henry Miller, (and for godsakes this masculine legacy of yoga practice)?

Apropo off all this: A friend sent a train of thought past me the other day, a train she didn’t intend for us to condense into an argument or a statement about the way things are: When do good old boys and gurus get conflated? Is full-on hero worship ever a useful part of practice?

But as I was saying. Some recent man-art mentioned here: Bob Dylan biopic. Henry Miller Library. Norman Mailer obits. Yeah, all of that is some serious hero worship. Good old boys erecting gurus. And at the same time defining lineages–who gets to claim them and who gets left out. All examples of appreciation that's really more like appropriation.

The Dylan movie is a total drag in this regard. I know you were trying, Todd Haines, but you failed. I walked out thinking: every editorial decision was made with “What Would Bob Think?” on your mind. Even your effort to smuggle in a woman’s subjectivity to the heart of the work can’t save you from the hypermasculinity that guru-erection entails. I walked out saying: Bob is for me, but this is not for me.

That's because, for example, Haines cannot resist re-appropriating the collective male in-joke that is Martin Scorcese’s interviews with Joan Baez. Joan, who mothered and made Bob and then got left in the dirt the second he was a little larger than she, said some unfortunately weepy and submissive things to Scorcese, who then edited and amped them to make Bob look like a big, ladykilling hero. Haines seizes it and re-makes a fictional version: that Bob, what a cock. Women artists fall before him, swooning “He was so much better at expressing my thoughts than me.”

I walked out of the Henry Miller Memorial Library, in Big Sur, feeling I'd just witnessed the same kind of man-on-man hagiography. Miller is for me, but I can do without the creepy little hipster-clerks who want to own him. Voyeurism is bad enough, but voyerism post-mortem? The library’s centerpiece is a bookstore that in addition to offering Miller’s works, showcases all the things that appreciators decided “go” with his lineage. The beats, the transcendentalists. (And oh, the Russian masters. Easy, guys.) No women. No women authors.

I get it. Miller’s all about transcendent, male self-discovery. The appreciator-curators’ erotica selection, set alongside the Sexus trilogy? Not Anais Nin’s short stories—which were enough to make me blush and cover when I first read them on a public bus traversing rural Taiwan (though other passengers wouldn’t exactly be able to read over my shoulder)—but the creepy, not-really-sexy Marquis de Sade. Wouldn’t want to let the girls in.

Let me go on. All the appreciations of Norman Mailer, that violent, condescending hack? Yeah, brilliant guy I want in my personal canon. But please, let us not perfunctorily praise great men without an eye to who they held down. Follow my link of two weeks ago and check it out: that’s all he really is, and he is all of that. Most memorials glossed this in erecting uncomplicated “greatness.”

Anyway. This is one place that gurus and good old boys flow together: in the appreciation cults. In how memorializations create in-groups, and who you put in those groups, and in what you leave out.

Beta boys, god love you. You started out Say Anything but died derivative in High Fidelity: you wanted the brainy strong girl when you were fresh and ballsy, but ended up fantasizing for a fan.

Why not love it when women find their voices? You won't stop knowing who you are if girls get in with the gurus too. Or even if we become them.