Friday, October 30, 2009

so glad you came

Behind a glass wall there was that bank of recording equipment you see in pictures. In the main room, where we were, there were some mikes, a set of drums, a fridge and a sofa. I said that I was only 14 and he laughed. No, I wasn’t, he told me. I was, I said. He pushed me on to the sofa and I repeated that I was 14, and – I was pleading now, knowing I was in trouble – I was a virgin. I was at any rate young enough to think that telling him that would give him pause. No, I wasn’t, I was not 14 and I was certainly no virgin, he laughed, as he pushed up my skirt. I have no idea whether he believed what he was saying or not.

Jenny Diski on Polanski at the LRB


Cecilieaux said...

Diski's piece inspires enormous sympathy for what she went though, though I am still reluctant to draw a rule of law or philosophical conclusion from it.

My father left my mother and me when I was 9. I used to think that all men like him should be executed ... as painfully as possible. Occasionally, if I try, I can still summon up the outrage to feel the same way. But should we execute all wayward married men just because a victim of one calls abandonment what it is, a terrible thing to do to a child?

Is my awful experience -- which is certainly no rarer and no less illegal than rape -- a good basis for law or moral philosophy?

Anonymous said...







Mithridates said...

Cecileaux: I think we’re getting a little insane here. There’s a law against rape. There isn’t a law against divorcing your family and leaving your children. I don’t see how leaving a family is “no less illegal” than raping someone - it isn't illegal at all. And forgive me, but I really don't buy the comparison. Emotionally awful as it is, being abandoned isn't at all on the level of being vaginally and anally raped. I'm not speaking from experience, but I think it's safe to say this in part because children from broken homes just seem to have much better life-chances than rape victims - I'm sure there are statistics to back this up, the number of rape victims who turn out to be prostitutes, porn actresses, drug addicts, drunks, suicides, and so on. Diski isn't talking about using her experience as the basis for a law; that's not the point of her piece. If she were to ask anything, it would be that the laws already in place be enforced--that we not make an exception to the law because of this particular rapist’s achievements or famous and influential friends. Diski is putting things in perspective for us. One perspective that has been pushed on us is the ostensibly authoritative perspective of the philosopher-clown Bernard Henri-Levi and his famous and influential cosigners. Diski is providing us with another perspective - the rape-victim's, which I think is exponentially more valid than Bernard Henri-Levi.

I don't see why an article that concretizes the experience of rape for those who might think there's nothing to this Polanski case should be a cause for skepticism because it doesn't provide sufficient basis for the establishment of a law or moral philosophy - especially when that isn't what it sets out to do in the first place.

Cecilieaux said...

Someone is getting insane here, but it's not me, Mithriades.

Did I write "divorcing your family and leaving your children"? No. I wrote "left" and "abandonment." You supplied the divorce.

I much regret exposing my personal experience to the thoughtless hoi polloi. I will respond in full on my blog ( Stay tuned.

Mithridates said...

Cecileaux: I regret implying that you were insane; I take it back. I was exaggerating to express my outrage - hence my indirect phrasing. (My "we're getting a little insane here" is a fairly gentle, colloquial, slightly humorous way of saying, "I think there is a flaw in your logic that is leading you to outrageously false conclusions," which isn't the same as saying "You seriously ought to be locked up.") OK, so I apologize. Let's stop calling each other names and have an argument. I'd rather engage you in an argument than have us trade insults, though I can do that well enough if you'd like.

I think it's reasonable to assume that when someone uses the phrase "left my my mother and me" he means "divorced" or "went out one day and never came back." How is this an unreasonable assumption? The only other meaning it could have, as far as I can tell, is that he abandoned you in a more immediate sense, in, say, immediate danger - left you in the hands of wolves or murdering thieves or insurance salesmen or something. In which case, yeah, what he did was illegal. Otherwise, while I understand your anger, I don't see the illegality of abandonment, or how it compares at all to being raped.

You're nibbling around the edges here. I'm not interested in having you expose your painful past, so keep it to yourself; I want to know more about why you have this particular reservation about Diski's piece. Having read some of your blog, I know that you oppose reopening the Polanski case, and while I completely disagree with your reasoning there as well, that is a separate argument. Whatever example you can come up with, it has to be analogous to Diski's. You would have to use an example of a crime that was committed, I should think, not something that was/is simply emotionally difficult. Let's say your example does involve a person who behaved in a way that is punishable by law. Well then, he should be punished by the law, no? You can't use an example involving non-criminal activity and compare it to example involving criminal activity.

To sum up: My points are that you have missed Diski's point if you think she is trying to persuade you to "draw a rule of law or philosophical conclusion" from her piece (where does she even imply this? can you provide me with a quotation that supports this?) and that your analogy is outrageously off the mark. Can you come up with another, non-personal but more accurate analogy?

--One more question: aren't awful experiences part of the reasoning that goes into establishing laws and moral philosophies?

Cecilieaux said...

I'm bringing this discussion back from my blog because resolution requires quoting Diski, whose self-exposing pornography has already been posted here.

In response to Mithriades I posted on my blog Son of Polanski or Abandonment vs. Rape referencing the various relevant sources.

Cecilieaux said...

Mithriades rensponded thusly:

Again, I think you miss the point. You write:

"My point is that, while what happened to Diski inspires sympathy (not so Diski's lurid retelling), should the feelings of someone who experienced such a thing be the chief basis on which judgment is rendered by a civilized society?"

All I ask is that you find a quotation from Diski's text in which she even suggests that her feelings should be the chief basis on which judgment should be rendered. She doesn't say this anywhere, as far as I can tell, nor is this even implied by her piece. Can't her piece be viewed as providing people with a vivid example of what it is like to be raped?

You also write:

"Or should the rule of law and the development of moral philosophy spring from a somewhat more detached, less self-interested, source?"

The rule of law and moral philosophy are two very different things. It would be more difficult for me to argue this with regard to law, but with regard to moral philosophy I think this is easy: any moral philosophy worth anything takes the feelings of others seriously into account. The reason we have moral philosophies that tell us not to be cruel to others is precisely because we all know what it feels like to suffer physical and emotional harm, no? There are aspects of every moral philosophy worth even considering that are based SOLELY on respecting and protecting the feelings of others, that have nothing to do with abstract notions of privacy, independence, or whatever.

--But again, I should emphasize that I think this has nothing to do with the reasons Diski wrote her piece.

Cecilieaux said...

To which I replied:

Mithriades, from the moment this female exposer launches into her non sequitur rape story, there's a running comparison between what she felt and what Samantha Geimer felt, as well as what her rapist said or did and what Polanski allegedly said or did -- and what fate should befall Polanski.

Also, just because some sages of the past have counseled respect for other people's feelings, it doesn't mean that the feelings themselves were the issue at stake, rather than respect for the human being -- regardless of how absurd, selfish or undeserving the feelings.

Finally, there is no doubt that the reason Diski wrote her piece is extremely similar to the reason some women strip at nightclubs.

Cecilieaux said...

Eliciting this response from Mithriades:

The law already tells us what should befall Polanski; Diski is narrating the experience of rape to remind us how horrible it is. You may know what rape is and not need descriptions of it, but people who dismiss what Polanski did, such as BHL and others, might benefit from them.

But what we've clarified is that you can't provide any textual evidence whatsoever for your claim that Diski is inviting us to establish moral principles or laws based solely on her feelings and her experience.

What is less clear for me now is why women strip. My guess is that they don't strip in order to give their audience members reasons for establishing moral principles, which is the reason you think Diski wrote her piece. You're saying that Diski is being an exhibitionist, I suppose, because she was an abuse victim who wants to tell people exactly what happened to her. She writes because she was abused, just like many strippers strip because they were abused.

But let's say some other horrible thing had happened to Diski. What if she had been living in war zone and she wanted to describe what she experienced? Would you call her writing lurid, etc., if she described the realities of war in detail? Or would that be evidence of desensitization as well? Part of the reason we don't really do much about horrible crimes is that we fail to imagine what these crimes are really like. What I find disturbing in your claims is this idea that when a person has something absolutely horrific happen to her, she should just keep her silence or not describe what happened to her in detail because that would offend some people's sensibilities.

What is the respect for the human being based on? Bentham, and more recently Peter Singer, and others, have argued that the basis for moral consideration is the capacity to feel. Abstract respect for the human being simply for being a human being is speciesism. We give moral consideration to beings that can feel pain. We don't give moral consideration or respect to other kinds of beings that can't feel (vegetation, for example).

One reason Diski didn't appeal "to Godwin's Law (aka Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies), namely, that the first person to call another a Nazi automatically loses the argument," is that no one called anyone a Nazi. BHL is not implying that Polanski's pursuers are Nazis in his letter. He is clearly trying to get sympathy for Polanski by stating a fact about his life. He writes:

"Seventy-six years old, a survivor of Nazism and of Stalinist persecutions in Poland, Roman Polanski risks spending the rest of his life in jail for deeds which would be beyond the statute-of-limitations in Europe."

At most, BHL is claiming that Polanski's pursuers are acting, well, like Americans, who arrest "common terrorist[s]" in the middle of the night, in total disregard of international law and its own rule of due process.

So BHL would've gotten off lightly if Diski wrote that he shouldn't call people Nazis; all he would have to do, in that case, is quote his own text and show that he isn't comparing anyone to Nazis.

Actually, BHL's letter is filled with non sequitors. Polanski's age. Polanski's past sufferings. The European statute of limitations. These are all TOTALLY irrelevant. Unlike BHL, Diski is not trying to directly influence the conduct of the law. She is giving some perspective to those who blindly support Polanski without knowing or even considering what it's like to be a young rape victim.

Cecilieaux said...

Now if you let me catch my breath for a bit, I shall compose a reply to Mithriades, bringing peace, joy and enlightenment to the world.

Don't switch channels yet.

Christine said...

MITHRIDATES, Cecilieaux, not Mithriades

Cecilieaux said...

Kristina, you say Mithridates, I say Mithiradates, let's call the whole thing off ...

Christine said...

A wise move, Che.

Cecilieaux said...

In response to Mithridates (spelling at last correct), I'd offer the following:

1. Descriptions of rape will not persuade the likes of BHL, who, much like Diski, are too enamored of the limelight and the look of their name in print.

2. I provided a veri clear description of the textual evidence that Diski is using (or more like abusing) her feelings about her rape experience to establish what Polanski deserves.

I didn't expect a literal fundamentalist here, but since you want quotes, but here are a few:

"Doubtless Geimer (and Geimer’s mother) had got herself into the situation where rape could happen, as I had. Perhaps she had responded, had even consented to oral sex with Polanski. He then penetrated her and asked when she last had her period. When she wasn’t sure, or was too embarrassed to say, he sodomised her, just in case. Was that thoughtful? Let’s still call it rape-rape and not worry too much about Polanski’s present sleeping arrangements."

Diski goes from identifying with Geimer, lathering the identification with pointless clinical detail, all too conclude that Polanski's incarceration is a trivial thing that does not even deserve a thought.

She goes from her feeling of identification to a statement of hierarchical value (none). That she doesn't say "hang all rapists by the balls" is merely a function of the fact that she has already wasted too much space detailing exactly what organs went where and which fluid were flowing when at the time of her rape, which no one even knew until she chose to parade it in front of anyone.

(continued below ...)

Cecilieaux said...

3. Women choose to work as strippers usually because they have few means of earning a similar living doing something else and -- important link to Diski -- because they are narcissistic.

It's Diski's narcissism that's on desplay in her piece. Just look at it. She goes from

"Possibly, there are other rapists on the run in Europe and America who are not ingenious film-makers and are therefore not being pursued, and if so, that is certainly unfair; though I’m inclined to think that they should be pursued rather than Polanski released from his responsibilities (apparently, he is still in default of $500,000 of the settlement he agreed to pay Samantha Geimer)."

Possibly a good ending for her piece ... to this:

"In 1961 I was raped by an American in London. I was 14, a year older than the girl Polanski gave half a Quaalude and champagne to, then had oral, vaginal and anal sex with. In defence of Polanski, various people have pointed out Geimer was a teenage model and was doing a photo-shoot her mother had fixed up with Polanski, who said he wanted to take the pictures for Vogue."

This is a prurient non sequitur if I have ever read one, and it is only aimed at introducing her own story. Because to Diski the whole point is to talk about me, me, me.

This is known clinically as narcissism.

If Diski is entitled to regale us with TMI about her rape simply because she was a year older in 1961 than Geimer was in 1977 and they both were rape, what astonishing coincidences are open to everyone else?

Shall LRB publish my piece if I recount my defecations and bursts of flatulence at age 14 in reference to similar experiences by Beavis and Butthead at approximate ages?

What is the justification for this? That modern 21st century readers of LRB online lack the ability, after everything that has happened in the last century, to imagine grisly crimes?

Yes? And how much will you pay me for that nice bridge in Brooklyn?

4. One does not have to call someone a Nazi to fall afoul of Godwin's rule of nazi analogies. BHL and company fell afoul of it by attempting to draw sympathy for Polanski by the mere fact that he was alive at the time and in the place to which one Adolf Hitler dispatched troops in 1939.

Polanski was 12 years old and believed he was a Catholic when Hitler, also a Catholic at that age, committed suicide. How many 77-year-olds have a claim to leniency based on this set of coincidences?

We're entering the world of Diski's Coincidence Zone, if one can't dismiss BHL on grounds that bringing up Nazis is absurd.

5. My point is that one cannot draw a rule of law or philosophical conclusion from Diski's coincidental experience.

The reason is that precisely the rule of law and philosophical principles are involved.

Should Polanski have been arrested? Should he go to jail? Is he guilty? Guilty of what? Why?

I don't see that Dinski's public self-abuse answered any of these questions of law and philosophy. yet she felt perfectly justified in concluding that, on the basis of her experience and its alleged similarities to Geimer's, Polanski's incarceration is not worthy of much consideration, that is to say, it should be allowed.

I rest my case.

Cecilieaux said...

One more thing. Christine obviously knows my Argentine background. Else, why call me "che"?

So. Why is it that when Anglos lose an argument with me, they immediately turn the discussion to my ethnicity?

Buncha racists!

Mithridates said...

I'll make a couple of points (my numbering doesn't correspond with Cecilieaux's):
1. Diski asks:
"What is it like to be 13, a wannabe movie star (nearly all 13-year-olds are), in the presence of a powerful movie director in the house of a famous movie star (Jack Nicholson), being given a powerful drug and alcohol and then invited to give the great man a blow job or make yourself available for cunnilingus?"
Her approach to answering this question is to provide her own experience of getting raped. Now, as for the question of judgment: I think her piece is better thought of as a sort of wake-up call than as the basis of our judgment of Polanski. She explicitly says that she's putting aside all legal issues. Her piece might be an extremely peripheral factor in our assessment of Polanski, but really it would only serve as a text that set us in the right direction. We could never say, obviously, that Polanski should go to jail because of the way Diski felt when she was raped.
2. I don't see all the lewdness or shamelessly graphic language that you see. I know this is subjective but let's just take a look.
You say "she has already wasted too much space detailing exactly what organs went where and which fluid were flowing when at the time of her rape, which no one even knew until she chose to parade it in front of anyone."
Diski mentions organs and fluids in a couple of sentences and that's all. I don't see any parading. Even you seem uncertain because you sometimes call her language clinical and sometimes call it porngraphic, and liken Diski’s supposed narcissism to a stripper’s supposed narcissism. Titillating and clinical? I'm confused.

What really stands out in Diski's description is the sense of her fear at the time, and her pain. Her narration of the door locking, the rapist saying she could scream all she wanted and no one would hear - these are vivid and chilling details that help the reader have some idea of her fear, of the horrid feeling of helplessness.
Actually, Diski could have used much more explicit language. I think we should say that Polanski “fucked Geimer in her ass” in order to get away from the vaguely decadent word “sodomized.” There are ethical reasons for choosing more descriptive, more pungent and foul language for this act in this context.
Diski writes:
"he just carried on, refusing to stop, repeating that I was no virgin and paying no attention when I told him it hurt."
"Carried on?" I like Diski's piece, but this is a genuine example of British understatement. Carried on? Christ, this could just as easily describe him moving furniture or talking too much. Can't you think, almost immediately, of more graphic language? And "Told him it hurt" could just as easily have been a description of burning labia or the feeling of her bladder getting stabbed--but it isn't anything even remotely as graphic as this. This is extremely TAME, my friend. Diski, if anything, is showing extraordinary restraint in her descriptions. (My guess is you won't want to read her piece on menstruation.)
3. In fairness to Polanski, his experiences under the Nazis shouldn't be talked about so dismissively. You write about "the mere fact that he was alive at the time and in the place to which one Adolf Hitler dispatched troops in 1939." Polanski actually suffered. But as you and Diski would agree, this should have nothing to do with his rape case.

(continued below)

Mithridates said...

4. You are misusing the word "coincidence," and so attribute things to Diski that can't be attributed to her. Diski never once talks about coincidences. A coincidence, as I understand it, is a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time or place apparently by chance. You latch onto this word and go completely off-track because of it. I also think you unfairly trivialize her piece when you make the joke about flatulence and Beavis and Butthead. It's a joke, so I don't want to put too much pressure on it, but it still unfairly trivializes Diski's piece.
Diski is saying (or implying) that her experiences were similar to Geimer's, not coincidental. Nor does she say that they are exact or interchangeable. And the stories are similar in a way that matters: girls of comparable ages raped by older men. If anything, Diski's story is much milder: she wasn't drugged or given alcohol or sodomized or forced to perform (or have performed on her) oral sex, and, bad as it was, she does say that it wasn't the worst experience of her life.
5. One last question: do you see no role for narrative in letting people know what horrible experiences are like? What if a veteran was reading about wounded vets and decided to write about similar wounds that he received, in order to give his readers some perspective? And what if he really described the horrors of war? Would you say that LRB readers have a basic idea of what getting a limb torn off is like, so they should be spared the gory details?

Helen DeWitt said...

The Washingon Post has a piece today on 'Precious' and the more common outcomes for girls who are abused in their early teens. It seems to me that it is the norm for such victims to be silenced, and that it is a good thing that Diski brought to a public forum her experience of being subjected to sexual violence at that age. If the piece struck a commenter as exhibitionist, I take this to highlight, precisely, the fact that such victims are rarely in a position to bring their experience to a public forum.

Cecilieaux said...

Mithridates, I take it by your silence regarding several of my many unanswered points that you agree with them.

That disposed of, I see that we are coming to agreement on some of your newer points.

For example, I agree with your contention that "Her piece might be an extremely peripheral factor in our assessment of Polanski" and "We could never say, obviously, that Polanski should go to jail because of the way Diski felt when she was raped."

The second was my original point and the first grew out of explaining precisely how tangential Jenny Diski's experience is to the Polanski case.

We still have some differences in perspective concerning the gratuitousness of Diski's language in a publication about books.

It begins with Diski attempt to portray herself as a Brit prole with her "piss off" to the man who had not yet become her rapist. Is she a regular Eliza Doolittle, this Diski, if so, what is she doing reviewing books?

Then she tells us somewhere near the beginning that Polanski inflicted "oral, vaginal and anal sex" on Geimer. In case we haven't gotten the point, or have somehow forgotten that Diski has her mind on rape, she concludes her essay by telling us that Geimer "had even consented to oral sex with Polanski. He then penetrated her and asked when she last had her period. When she wasn’t sure, or was too embarrassed to say, he sodomised her, just in case."

Right out of the manual of the Department of Piss Off Redundancy Department.

Somewhere in the middle of this, in case we've missed that she's writing about being shamed into sexual servicing (aka, just to be redundant, rape-rape) she has to plunge into speculation that Geimer might have been "invited to give the great man a blow job or make yourself available for cunnilingus."

And, of course, since this is a narcissistic piece about Diski, we have to learn that "I was a virgin," she was "feeling mostly sore inside" and "I had been penetrated." Her state of virginity is TMI (indeed her own rape is) and the description of feelings after the facts and actions during are redundantly obvious to anyone who has been told of the birds and the bees.

But noooo, Mithridates, there no "shamelessly graphic language" here. None at all. We all use such language with all our maiden aunts, at tea with the bishop, and at the Yale faculty lounge, right?

Regarding the word "coincidence," I didn't misuse it. Rather, you misread its context.

I didn't say Diski's age coincided with Geimer. I wondered facetiously how she could construe her having been raped at 14 in London by an unknown American in 1961 as being even remotely related to the much more public rape of Geimer in 1977 at age 13, raped by a world renown figure.

Diski was obviously attempting to manufacture a coincidence as an excuse to talk about herself.

Added to your insertion of the word "divorce" where none existed to your mishandling of the coincidence point amounts to two misreading strikes for two of your rhetorical swings so far. One more and you're out. (NB: baseball image.)

Finally, ss to your genuinely interesting final question concerning narrative and personal confession, I am of the opinion that English language culture has gone overboard with self-exposure.

The Swedish Academy members were right in saying that American literature has become "too narrow." It's navel gazing that has become gratuitous, meaningless and derivative enough that it no longer even shocks. And the Brits are shameless imitators.

We've gone from Yankee reserve to unending bathos before the mirror. Maybe 50 years ago Burroughs and Plath shocked our socks off with their tales of exploring their quite brilliantly insane edges. But that's been done.

Cecilieaux said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cecilieaux said...

Regarding "Precious," the Post piece made precisely my point. The movie depicts a false happy ending.

Is this new? Not anyone who is familiar with the phenomenon of obesity and teenage pregnancy in the black community -- information that has been widely available to whites at least since Daniel Patrick Moynihan's statement of the obvious in the 1965 work "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action."

Narratives of rape are a dime a dozen going back to the Bible (remember Tamar?). This is why there are shield laws, statutory rape laws and so on. One more blabbermouth won't change anything.

The same can be said about the copious literature of slavery and discrimination and continuing socioeconomic oppression of African Americans.

Rape and racism and oppression don't happen because people don't know how bad they are. They happen because people don't want to do anything about them: some people enjoy being perpetrators, others enjoy being voyeurs.

There's no need to raise consciousness. There's only the need to change the individual, national and international will.

This week the FAO gathered in rome to address financial-crisis-caused famine afflicting 1,02 billion people. They had great banquets in Rome to talk about the distress and ended up offering nothing.

That's the state of the world.

Cecilieaux said...


I often get confused with the English version of Greek and Roman names because I did not learn them in English.

Happy, che?

Helen DeWitt said...

This is a difficult time for various reasons, so I can't engage with comments in the way that, in some cases, I think I ought to. I'm turning off Comments for the time being; I've turned on the trackback feature, so those who want to follow the discussion on participants' own blogs can easily do so.