Sunday, October 9, 2011

New "HUNGER" Image by WRC illustration @ the HYPOCRITE READER

Anna McConnell

Stuffing Myself with Immanence until I am Scratching a Hole to...

Wesley Ryan Clapp

The Hypocrite Reader is a monthly magazine published exclusively on the internet.
A new issue goes up on the fifteenth of each month. Each issue is built around a theme 
of conceptual essays and illustrations, based in Brooklyn, New York.
The following article comes from Issue 8: Hunger
by Anna McConnell, with illustration by WRC Illustration

bell jar draft

heavy lead draft

thin lead draft

Lead Draft Final Layout

I was laughing when I caught myself playing with my shadow. I was running, and in the long afternoon my shadow looked really good. My upper arms looked wrung out and my shoulders were hunched in that skinny way. I was in jogging stance, my forearms raised and fists balled up, and the position of everything and of the sun made my shadow reveal that she had only two half-arms. And when I caught myself, I was playing with that form--shifting my body to perfect the amputations, pausing mid-stride to cut off a leg—and I was laughing and full with triumph.
What was I doing. I should have been thinking, or at least studying the sky. So I looked at the sky. Still big. Hedges. McMansions. Thump thumpthump: sneakers smack against the concrete. The harder the thump the more calories burned per thump.
I placed myself in isolation this summer in my parents' empty house on the South Fork of Long Island in order to get serious. I was also working full-time at a clothing boutique, the kind where it is just me in a room full of mirrors and occasionally a super-anorexic 55-year-old would walk in and sneer if I deigned to ask whether she’d like to try it on. (Apparently, when she holds it out like that, one is simply supposed to go fetch and ring it up—why bother trying on five hundred dollars worth of cotton?) Anyhow. When I was not fetching, I was placed in front of my laptop, getting serious.
Thump thumpthump. Give in: walk down the hall, up the stairs, down the hall, and right up to the full-length mirror. Bend over. Slip my hands from behind my thighs and pull the meat back. Grab hold of the muffin top and yank it out of sight. Peel away the teacher’s flab. The habit becomes disgustingly obsessive—I begin to do it what, I don’t know, this is awful to admit, every fifteen minutes? Ten?
What did he once tell me?
If a woman spent half the time in front of the mirror, she could become fluent in Latin, and French, or something. Virginia Woolf?


This is not going to become an article on that-kind-of-hunger.
I am not even hungry. I’ll never be ballsy enough for anorexia; I eat; I eat just like a regular person; in fact, aside from the briefest of adolescent flings with bulimia, I probably ate far more than the average female because I was so hung up on not becoming one of those stupid anorexic types; I got off on proving my difference via stuffing my face in front of lovers.
I am not even hungry; I am not a stupid girl. I know what stupid girls look like. I had a loudly anorexic roommate in boarding school who drooled over her homepage, the Coldstone Creamery website. (Kate Moss was her desktop.) She and her anorexic posse would parade around campus trading starvation tips and gnawing dried seaweed: she was a stupid girl. We would laugh at her. I would laugh, before excusing myself to go shimmy my fingers down to heave up Diet Peach Snapple Iced Tea. Whatever. I went to college. I discovered Philosophy. Well... I met truly intelligent girls who were super into higher, intelligent things; they were beautiful, and thin, but their bodies seemed the design of the luck of the draw.
I ate, and read the assigned portions of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex from a used copy I got from a friend-of-a-friend, a well-known misogynist. I remembered his comments more than I remembered the text: he wrote ugh, ugh, hahaha ha ha ha, wtf, et cetera, in the margins. I ate, and refused to exercise because only weak girls who thought about their bodies instead of higher things did that; I continued to think about my body. I would sneak peeks of her; I would hate her; I would focus in on a single feature and feel alright—but this is precisely what the duped woman does: look in the mirror and believe she has discovered herself; even the women who believe themselves to be ugly do that. Simone Weil might have said that “a beautiful woman looking at her image in the mirror may very well believe the image is herself. An ugly woman knows better.” But how can we trust Weil on the matter? Anorexia killed the mystic!
The other Simone knows better. In her section on “The Narcissist” she writes that even the “less advantaged” experience the “ecstasy of the mirror”; “moved by the mere fact of being a thing of flesh, which is there… with a little bad faith they will also endow their generic qualities with an individual charm.” Why the bad faith? De Beauvoir explains the magic of the mirror:
It is above all in woman that the reflection allows itself to be assimilated to the self. Male beauty is a sign of transcendence, that of woman has the passivity of immanence: the latter alone is made to arrest man’s gaze and can thus be caught in the immobile trap of the mirror’s silvering; man who feels and wants himself to be activity and subjectivity does not recognize himself in his immobile image...while the woman, knowing she is and making herself object, really believes she is seeing herself in the mirror: passive and given, the reflection is a thing like herself…
The mirror’s draw moves beyond satiating mere superficiality: gazing into the mirror is gazing into one’s image to puzzle out who one is; it is—despite knowing better—being affected by the swarmy men who whisper as you scurry down the street that you have beautiful windows-to-the-soul; you go home to peer into glass and block out the bad flesh to locate that soul. De Beauvoir elucidated that sixty-odd years ago so bright, educated women like me would not fall into this full-human-being-which-means-nonstop-transcendence-and-constant-becoming-sucking trap that countless women fall into of staring at their reflections to find oneself in all their glorious immanence. And yet there I was, locking myself into the handicapped stall with the bigger mirror to study my appearance when I should have been reading The Second Sex, just to make sure that I was still there, and hating myself for it.
And here I still am. The shame of my compulsion to look into mirrors has grown over years but the shame is not enough to break the habit. Hatred feeds hatred. “Hating my body” barely kisses the surface (I can block out the thighs, the arms, the fat that suffocates the cheekbones; besides, it is difficult for me to imagine sincerely hating flesh): it is hating myself for being such a female, such a bad woman,compulsively drawn to the mirror even though I knew better. And then—burying deeper still—hating myself for hating myself during these moments of entrapment. For I know that this hatred plays the same tricks—is as intoxicating, and provides the same false and human-being-becoming-destroying sense of fullness—as the pure enthrallment of the mirror herself.
    And yet.
    There is no hunger, simply thoughts about hunger that gnaw away at the place where the mind should be: first, the desire to be hungry so I can look better; then, the desire to be full as punishment for being so stupid as to waste my life thinking about how I look; if I am full enough then perhaps the taste can block out these wasteful thoughts. Next, hating feeling full because now I will get fat and moreover I will be stuffed with silly thoughts like that I’m going to get fat; there is the guilt of feeling full because I was still duped into bad eating habits, which means weak womanhood, because I put the food to my mouth not out of hunger but because of some idea circling around what it means for me to be a woman; the hatred of feeling full because feeling full is like feeling plenitude, immanence, weighed down to the ground and unable to transcend. The desire to be light enough to transcend: the desire for hunger.
    Itchy. It feels itchy, like there are ants making an anthill out of the inside of my skull, their infinite tiny pricklish little legs tickling the tender bits of my mind. I see insects where there are none: jumping back at a nonexistent speck on the floor; nightmares of roaches tumbling onto my naked self when I turn on the shower faucet; close my eyes and there is a giant bedbug like a crest stuck on the wall in front of me. I feel like a hysterical woman; I feel like I cannot go on: voices and voices and voices breaking apart and doubling back and shouting and whimpering and apologizing and for every voice there is a new one yanking the other back from behind. They are digging a grave: scratching into the place where the mind should be a giant... deep... hole...
Hole? Like how a woman is a hole? Maybe I am just thinking like a real woman! Why are narratives so linear like a cock anyhow? I will write about it. If I cannot escape this hole then at least I can spit it out of my body by turning it into art! But wait. Aren’t I not supposed to take symbols seriously? And who am I to suppose that other women have this paralyzing, spiraling anxiety? Bad me! A woman is a person who defines herself as such—a woman is not a person desperately trying not to fall into their hole! But what about Grandma? And Grandma? And Grandma? No! You are a bad feminist for your thoughts: women are totally fine! Do not write it. Why put another weak woman out there in the world: you need to create strong women, role models to help out fools like yourself. Feminist art killed itself anyhow. That’s because women are fine. If you are not fine, do not write. What are you doing? Not writing? You are acting just like a woman: unable to finish anything that you start! Awwwww. Pity pitiless me, destined to be a weak woman just like all your forefathers and weaker still for believing such trash. Destined to be a weak woman and a bad feminist in a—what is it called—post-feminist world!


Destiny has always been an extraordinarily seductive mindfuck. To believe that all one’s schizoid thoughts and ugly feelings weave together into some sense-making noose; that one’s minute, life-altering regrets are drowned beneath the boom of it must be; to believe that there is a guardian so that one’s excruciating anxiety is not useless suffering but is special, and makes one that special, precious little individual that one is—how divine! Destiny is immanence with reason. One need not practice active engagement with the outside world in order to become the person she wants to be because, if one believes in destiny—that is to say, if one is destined—then one already is the person one must become. Stew in your immanence! Dodge the abyss! No wonder my favorite extracurricular of early collegehood was spreading out on the chaise lounge so this boy could practice psychoanalysis. The Sisters Moirae and their spinning machine might have disappeared long ago but we always keep around some office for Destiny. Like God, Destiny is low maintenance: we can forget her when we are feeling good enough to act free but when the schizophrenia hits she is back, the explanation for why we have just spent the last eight hours inert with hysteria, door locked and shades drawn.
So Destiny has always been a good fuck, particularly for women. In de Beauvoir’s dissection of the Narcissist, the Mystic, and the Woman in Love, what ropes the three female “justifications” together is that they are all sown from the same seed: the desire that grows to belief that she is destined, which allows the woman to steep in her immanence. The Narcissist, once a child pampered with attention, realizes one day that she is just a number in an infinite line of faceless women. She falls in love with herself. Nestled in the conviction that she cannot step out of this row, she tries to become an individual nonetheless by making a character out of herself with the material at hand. “She chooses a color. ‘Green is really my color’; she has a favorite flower, perfume, musician, superstitions and fetishes that she treats with respect… Around this heroine, life goes on like a sad or marvelous novel, always somewhat strange.” The Narcissist believes ferociously in her inner life: rather than activities, she has secrets to explain who she is. The girl is a bore to be around: because she must constantly play the character that is already her in order to maintain a sense of self, “she no longer listens, she talks, and when she talks, she recites her lines.”
The Woman in Love is the most obvious example of the female who builds a nest in her immanence, putting aside the activities that once brought her pride and excitement because attaching herself to her lover is enough; what personality she once had falls away. De Beauvoir elucidates the peculiar fervor that brands womanly love:
It is the difference in their situations that is reflected in the conceptions man and woman have of love. The individual who is a subject, who is himself, endeavors to extend his grasp on the world if he has the generous inclination for transcendence: he is ambitious, he acts. But an inessential being cannot discover the absolute in the heart of his subjectivity; a being doomed to immanence could not realize himself in his acts. Closed off in the sphere of the relative, destined for the male from her earliest childhood, used to seeing him as a sovereign, with whom equality is not permitted, the woman who has not suppressed her claim to be human will dream of surpassing her being toward one of those superior beings, of becoming one, of fusing with the sovereign subject; there is no other way out for her than losing her body and soul in the one designated to her as the absolute, as the essential.
Tricking herself into playing the Woman in Love allows the girl to dodge that horrific moment of confronting one’s endless freedom; the role of the Woman in Love allows her to feel full, satiated, purposeful. Even as she immolates herself in order to become one with her lover, she can still maintain the belief that wallowing in her immanence is all that is required to make her life her own, so long as the boy-idol keeps up the lie that he still loves her for who she is, and does not tell her that she has fallen into some badly drawn shadow of his and noon is rapidly approaching:
Love is the revealer that shows up in positive and clear traits the dull negative image as empty as a blank print; the woman’s face, the curves of her body, her childhood memories, her dried tears, her dresses, her habits, her universe, everything she is, everything that belongs to her, escapes contingence and becomes necessary: she is a marvelous gift at the foot of her god’s altar.
The Mystic’s decision to lose herself to God rather than a man-boy is a wise one. God is absent; man is present. If the woman cannot maintain the lie that her man is her god—or if he is good enough to call her out on the fact that she is no longer the person he fell in love with; that it would be difficult, in fact, to even call her a person—then the woman becomes a masochist. Masochism occurs when “the consciousness of the subject turns to the ego to grasp its humiliated situation.”
    Hit me. Tie me up, I cried. He split.


Or the woman will get so crippled by the fear that she is on the verge of becoming the Woman in Love that she will flood with anxiety, thus causing her to cling to her bloated lifeboat of a boyfriend, clinging like she has never clung before, which only confirms and makes realer this fear; and so the water rises again and she clings harder and harder until the two are both sunk. Maybe. Or maybe the Woman in Love was inside of her all along. The locusts return. Destiny appears by the nightstand.
The man from the liquor store barreled into my boutique the other night with a bottle of bubbly for seduction. All women are crazy, he announced. He then enticed me with a tale about how his brainy girlfriend of four years just dumped him because, she claimed, she felt like she was becoming submissive and losing her sense of self. Weak sauce was his verdict, the relationship changed me too—that’s what relationships do. Maybe he had a point: maybe their partnership was solid and it was simply some fear of becoming submissive—of becoming just like all those other infinite, faceless women—that led her to misinterpret any sacrifices or shifts as spelling out doom. Or perhaps the insects laid their eggs inside her, too.
I linger on de Beauvoir’s “justifications” because it is shocking, sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious, how relevant The Second Sex still feels. I have been so sick and tired of hearing the sound of my voice repeat the same threadbare stories and act out the same conviction-less roles that I have been reduced to silence. I have uttered pathetic lines like I would be happy to make you a sandwich every day for the rest of my life [and have that be it] and have then punished myself by believing these words. I do not believe that I am alone. It is not necessary for me to repeat anecdotes about women I know who have acted out the Narcissist or the Woman in Love; I am sure that you, reader, can easily round up examples. Certainly, one need not be female to engage in narcissism or self-immolating love but I do believe that the soul-destroying, crazy-making extremity of these games strikes intelligent, independent girls harder than it strikes smart boys. What begins as a healthy diet plunges into that creepy-woman disease, anorexia. To find the person that one is truly in love with breaks the glass between one and the world, one finally honestly cares and loves the world unselfishly and this is a precious gift from God but it is fragile and quickly warps, plummets into a bitter suicide. An invigorating dose of self-doubt morphs into a distracting degree of self-deprecation or crippling bouts of anxiety. I believe that these days the extremity comes—perhaps consciously, perhaps not—from the sensation that whenever a woman has an ugly feeling, there is the guilt of feeling that she is a weak female, and then the double-guilt for feeling the former; the shame that accompanies this layering magnifies the initial ugly feeling and leads the woman to punish herself by wallowing in the ugliness.
    I say that I do not believe that I am alone although I have yet to speak to other women about the matter. This does not deter me from my suspicions: part of what marks shame as shame (and makes the whole mess messier) is the secrecy involved. Cockroaches, again. My college roommate and I, too jumpy to kill, used to trap a roach in a Mason jar and let it starve slowly on the living room floor. At the worst of it, there would be several jars scattered in that abandoned room—it would take one roach weeks to die. At times, one would lie inert, we would think it dead: perhaps she felt the lonesomeness of dying in a sharp searing, the stomach gnaws at herself. But mostly one continued to scrabble up and down the glass walls as one did the city streets, witnessing the hideous bellies of others. It is shameful to watch but you could not reach if you tried, and you know you look exactly the same but it does not feel like that, and so we continue: gathered together, separated by glass, twitching in our bell jars.

Final Image_Digital Colour

 I remember asking that roommate and another lady friend if they were interested in feminism. It was after a summer spent boozing with queer San Francisco anarchists in Oaxaca and for once, the shame and anxiety I felt towards my relation to being female had turned to anger; I wanted it to stay like that, and was hungry for advocates. But soon after I returned to campus my blood once again became watery and I would quake at the thought of projecting my voice; needless to say, asking about feminism felt like an embarrassing question. And they responded like it was an embarrassing question, or perhaps a dumb one. No, said the aesthete. No,said the Africanist. The gist: feminism had killed herself; there were smarter and sexier theories it had birthed; their mothers worked and they got great grades, so why would they consider feminism? Fair enough. The only self-proclaimed feminists I knew were men but most of them ended up being interested in queer theory, which sounded nice but was ten steps ahead of me and not the kind of personal, honest conversation that I sought. I felt too female, too weak, to approach the strangers that I knew called themselves feminists; I figured that they would not like me. I was probably right. I considered enrolling in a gender theory class but backed off when I heard the rumor that the renowned female professor hated most women.
    And that is why I wish I wasn’t a woman: words from my ultra-tough super-smart friend when I told her that ladies who entered my store were reduced to middle-schoolers, squealing over cashmere.
Perhaps it is the sorry plight of the privileged girl who gets thrown into a scene hung-up on intellectualism: we are too privileged to have explored the feminist bit; we, like proper intellectuals-in-training, eagerly pick apart every feeling or fleeting thought that sifts into the mind; we enjoy being spread out onto the chaise lounge so he can practice psycho-analysis. As a result, we know to scorn all the shallow and weak feminine marks that were intaglioed into our bodies some time long, long ago; scorn but have yet to erase these marks; we feel the secrecy of our shame, then we, internally, question why we scorn and are shamed and question that and question questioning questioning and question questioning questioning questioning questioning and so on and so forth until the weight of the emptiness of the hole that anxiety bores into our being is enough to make us _____________.


Because the fear of feminine weakness is not satisfied gnawing away at one’s own mind but chomps down the rest of the world. I meet a great girl who is smart and confident and then I catch a glimpse of her legs: they are grossly skinny; she is weak; she is a liar. I find out that a friend I desperately admire has suffered from an eating disorder, or has been wiped out by a boy: instead of acting like a friend, I feel disgusted and betrayed; I run away. If a girl’s legs are just right and seems like just the kind of girl I would want to hang around, then I assume that she would not understand me and would hate me, so I keep my distance. I am distrustful of most men for the regular reasons but mostly I am jealous because they can cook and be weak and vain without it all burning a hole in their head.
Books will be devoured, too. One time after fleeing from a masochistic relationship with the false prophet I did what I tend to do when I am tired of how it always ends: I tried to love Him. I buried myself in Simone Weil and was truly blown away by the passion of her writing and the truth behind her ideas but when I discovered that she had starved herself to death (and it could not matter how complex or noble were her motives), her words suddenly lost all value. Simply another weak female with the weak female disease rambling in her soapbox diaries. Even de Beauvoir was unable to escape unscathed. I read The Mandarins and suddenly all her liberating theory seemed like a pretty lie; there she was getting old as Sartre went out and fucked younger women and she has to go all the way to the U.S. to sleep with a scummy jazz musician just so she can prove her theory is right and she is free and equal and all that but the whole time she hates it and feels old and sad and pathetic.
Fed up with women who come off as having transcended the hellish bodiliness of the female but clearly have not, I turned towards Mary Gaitskill, who once slipped the word soul into an interview before correcting herself, claiming that soul was too big of a word for her.  Her Two Girls, Fat and Thin is chock-full of vivid descriptions of the two protagonists mistaking their bodies for their beings and being nauseatingly female. There is Justine, who at eleven begins to learn that the sex of her body grants her access to participate in the outside world:
Sometimes glamorous older boys would follow [Justine and her posse] saying ‘I’d like to pet your pussy’ and other dirty things; this was exciting, like the poem about the crucified man, only it made her feel queasier as it was real and in public. It was horrible to be in front of people having the same feeling that she had while masturbating and thinking about torture. She was sure that Edie and Pam didn’t have feelings like that; probably they didn’t even masturbate. They blushed and giggled and said ‘You guys better stop it’ but they swung their purses and arched their backs, their eyes half-closed and their lips set in lewd, malicious smiles. Justine would imitate them, and when she did, sometimes a door would open and she’d step into a world where it was really very chic to walk around in public with wet underpants, giggling while strange boys in leather jackets and pointed shoes called you a slut. The world of Justine alone under the covers with her own smells, her fingers stuck in her wet crotch, was now the world of the mall filled with fat, ugly people walking around eating and staring. It was a huge world without boundaries; the clothes and record and ice cream stores seemed like cardboard houses she could knock down, the waddling mothers and pimple-faced loners like dazed pedestrians she was passing on a motorcycle.
And there is fat Dotty who feels fullness and the truth of herself by being swallowed in the hatred of her body, which she finds in the mirror:
I went into the bathroom and turned on the light and took off my shirt to stare at and hate my body. There were pimples on my chest and I welcomed them, wishing they were boils or scars, anything to more fully degrade this body... I had the fleeting thought that my roommate could come home at any minute, and I hoped she would so that I could display the truth of how loathsome I was and feel her contempt as well as my own.
The passion with which I first hated Gaitskill’s novel was of the variety that I generally reserve for those closest to me. I jumped up and down, screeching at the boyfriend who had recommended it that the book was trash, utter trash, before he quieted me by asking why I insisted on using that peculiar word, trash?
Trash: to be thrown in the dump and not looked back on. Trash: un-ironically low-brow; undeserving of serious attention. Trash: all of my weaknesses and markedly feminine qualities that I have tried desperately to bury because if I am a woman living in an age that has supposedly surpassed feminism and I know better than to fall into traps and am still having weak thoughts that I pin to my femaleness then I must be weak and I must not utter these thoughts out loud for they are undeserving: trash.
I do not want this piece of writing to be unapproachable. I do not want a reader’s reaction to be, this-is-a-touchy-subject-that-I-cannot-understand, so-I-will-approach-it-like-a-train-wreck, with distance. At the same time, I am so fed up of so many contemporary female writers—with females in general, myself included—who fear coming off as untouchable, and so hide their weaknesses or broach them (in their writings, with their friends) from a safe, face-saving distance (employing the very-past tense and/or cutting a weighty line with self-deprecation are two popular methods of creating distance).
It is for this reason that I would like to end with a nod to Mary Gaitskill, who is the first reputable contemporary female author that I have come across who enters into the brutal, painstakingly female psychologies of her subjects and refuses to leave. Her Two Girls, Fat and Thin mimics The Second Sex in this regard: following her women from childhood to adulthood; and the women do not get to cast off all their ugly feelings just because they learn that these feelings are ugly and weak. There is no distance: reading Gaitskill is unbearable; it makes a girl explode.
There is no space to breathe.
Trash: what could that become, creating trash with words?

Copyright © 2011 Hypocrite Reader. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

New "Emily Post" WRC illustration @ the HYPOCRITE READER

Charlotte Krontiris

Genuine Society

Wesley Ryan Clapp


The Hypocrite Reader is a monthly magazine published exclusively on the internet.
A new issue goes up on the fifteenth of each month. Each issue is built around a theme.
The following article comes from Issue 5 : Realism, by Charlotte Krontiris with illustration by WRC Illustration

Thumbnail Sketches

Lead Draft Final

1, Introducing Emily Post

“And how would you like a good sock in the nose, you old meat-axe?”
-Dorothy Parker on Etiquette
It is probably unkind to introduce an author by quoting her cleverest critic. But as our author is a redoubtable lady, I think it is not too cruel to bring her to your attention by way of Dorothy Parker.
The author in question is Emily Post, grande dame of American manners and author of Etiquette (1922), the definitive volume on how we all ought to behave. Nowadays Post is remembered mostly as the founder of the Emily Post Institute, which publishes books like the ominously titled “Excuse Me, But I Was Next...” and offers seminars to businesses on “corporate civility.” She also makes the rounds as a punch-line to unfunny jokes on TV shows and in movies (“I'm sorry, I guess I skipped the Emily Post chapter about how to introduce your mother to a hooker!”). Though a few earnest souls continue to take Emily Post seriously, most people do not take her at all, for her preoccupations appear essentially irrelevant to modern life. Who in the age of the internet needs to read 61 pages of instructions on how to write a letter?
Of course, some would argue that human beings were never in need of a 61-page manual on letter-writing, not even when the mail came twice a day. Dorothy Parker thought so. In 1927, she wrote a blistering review of Etiquette for the New Yorker, in which she made clear just how intrusive and absurd she found Post’s rules. “Emily Post’s Etiquette is out again, this time in a new and an enlarged edition, and so the question of what to do with my evenings has been all fixed up for me,” she begins. “I am going in for a course of study at the knee of Mrs. Post. Maybe some time in the misty future, I shall be Asked Out, and I shall be ready.”
Parker takes her reader through Etiquette’s highlights—its most didactic maxims, its most tedious tropes, its most offensive pretensions. In a book with “all the force and the application of a morality play,” you better believe there is a lot to cover. Though Parker is pained by the book’s bad prose (“the author’s invention plucks at the coverlet”), she is more disgusted by its snobbery. The people that Emily Post puts forth as examples of Best Society appall Parker. They move through life with “freezing politeness,” disparaging as “white trash” those who are a shade too friendly, too open, or too unpracticed in life’s refinements. Parker finds such refinement nauseating, animated by a repellent kind of class-awareness. “I know of no character in the literature of the last quarter century who is such a complete pain in the neck,” she says of one of Etiquette’s exemplars; after one particularly trying chapter, she imagines offering the “old meat-axe” a “good sock in the nose.”
Perhaps Parker could forgive a snob—she is a bit snobbish herself, sometimes—but what she cannot forgive is a conformist. There lies the heart of her argument withEtiquette: that it urges upon us all a kind of stultifying conformity. Parker, firecracker that she is, wants to talk freely and spiritedly about “life, sex, literature, the drama,” but such exchanges are not possible in Emily Post’s world. Instead, writes Parker, “those who are entirely, impeccably right, would seem to arrive at a point of exquisite dullness.” Conversation, confined to “safe topics,” hovers in an awful limbo. “You talk of something you have been doing or thinking about,” instructs Post. “Not at all a bad plan is to ask advice: ‘We want to motor through the South. Do you know about the roads?’ Or, ‘I’m thinking of buying a radio. Which make do you think is best?’” Did God create Dorothy Parker to talk like this? She thinks not.
I may not dispute Mrs. Post. If she says that is the way you should talk, then, indubitably, that is the way you should talk. But...there is no force great enough ever to make me say, “I’m thinking of buying a radio.”

2, What is wrong with Emily Post?

Etiquette was first published in 1922, when Emily Post was 50 years old. It was an instant best-seller and has been in print ever since: popular lore says that during World War II, it was the book GI’s requested most frequently as reading material. (Which report throws my assumptions about military life into some confusion.) Post handily converted her popularity into an etiquette-themed media empire. Over the next forty years, she was constantly engaged in revisions of the original book, a spin-off radio show, a daily column, and her eponymous Institute. By the time of her death in 1960, Etiquette had been revised ten times and was in its 89th printing.
And yet for decades, her readers have echoed Dorothy Parker’s lament. Does there indeed exist a force—a requirement of good manners or simple sociability—that can compel any of us to participate in a conversation about buying a new radio? Are such tedious niceties really necessary to social life? Post’s Etiquette is full of nitpicking rules about the kind of situations that we are accustomed to navigate on our own. We operate by instinct, by private judgment, by past experience, and rarely do we look for an explicit doctrine to guide us. Why do we need Emily Post to tell us, for example, how to make introductions between strangers? (“In introducing a gentleman to a lady, you may ask Mr. Smith if he has met Mrs. Jones, but you must not ask Mrs. Jones if she has met Mr. Smith!”) How to sign a letter to a friend? (“‘Yours in haste’ or ‘Hastily yours’ is not bad form, but is rather carelessly rude.”) She even tutors us in our cutlery. (“Have Silver That Shines Or None.”)
Few critics of Etiquette have asked the question, Why might I need these rules? Instead they tend to ask, What kind of a meat-axe is Emily Post, that she wrote such rules in the first place? Answers to this question abound. Modern readers of Post, such as Elizabeth Kolbert (also writing in the New Yorker), have been only too pleased to look for answers in Emily Post’s private life.1 The daughter of a prominent architect and a coal heiress, “Emily” was a “great beauty,” “slender and tall...with pale skin, dark hair, and a thin nose.” She moved comfortably but not intimately in New York’s Best Society. The signal fact of her life, according to this interpretation, was her divorce in 1906 from her husband of thirteen years. Edwin Post, the rascal, had permitted his affairs with chorus girls and actresses to become fodder for the newspapers. After demurely standing by her man through the worst of the scandal, “Emily” filed for divorce and lived the rest of her life, Kolbert notes, in contented celibacy.
Critics of Etiquette fashion all sorts of psychological explanations out of this history. Reviewing a recent biography for the New York Times, one writer discerned in Post “a suffocating, overbearing obsessive.” Post’s passion for a rule-bound society is traced variously to her status as a perpetual outsider in Best Society; her disgust for her husband, who was hopelessly undisciplined; and the trauma of her very public divorce. All of these experiences were profoundly destabilizing for Post’s sense of herself, and for her social position. She longed, allegedly, for a society that was so regimented, so well-ordered, that the scandal of her marriage would have been impossible; and of this kingdom, she wished to be queen. “The key,” writes Kolbert, “was conformity. This was a lesson that Post herself had clearly internalized...She learned the rules, and she followed them.”
Others have taken a less biographical approach to the question, What was wrong with Emily Post? Wylie Sypher, a writer and scholar who was a contemporary of Dorothy Parker, viewed Emily Post as part of an ill-fated subculture in the early 20th century that aspired to a more traditional, conservative society. (Sypher elevated Post considerably by comparing her mission with T.S. Eliot’s, but dealt her a bad blow when he called her writing “unrefined.” Perhaps he was referring to her fervid application of the exclamation point!) Etiquette, in this analysis, was an attempt to resurrect the norms of a more conservative time by extremely detailed instruction. Sypher termed this excessive rule-making a “cyborg art,” or the art of turning people into social automatons. He argued that Post intended to codify social life so completely that all social actors could simply follow her script, “entirely automated,” and perform her prescribed rituals with a minimum of engagement. The perfect gentleman for “Mrs. Post,” Sypher claimed, was “l’homme machine.” (“Mrs. Post” would have disputed with him on principle: “Never interlard your conversation with foreign words or phrases when you can possibly translate them into English.”)
Sypher comes the closest to explaining what so alarms Post’s critics about her vision of etiquette. Dorothy Parker and her intellectual heirs see etiquette as an instrument by which a great many individuals are taught to do and say and be the same, inane thing. Spontaneity and creativity have no place in this society. Individuality has no place, for we are all striving to become reproductions of one another, to repress our own particular interests and desires until we have mastered the performance of a generic Lady or Gentleman. Our conversations proceed by rote, expressing nothing of our true selves—“I’m thinking of buying a radio, which make do you think best?” We become interchangeable, and what is worse, exquisitely dull. Kolbert notes that Post had nothing “penetrating to say, even in private, on the major issues of her day.” Who would want to live in such a world, where we are not permitted to think or speak about things that really matter? Who would think it worth living by these rules, if it means we can never really be ourselves? Such a world might be comfortable in its own way, but it must eventually become unbearably unreal.

3, Emily Post comes to bat

And what has Emily Post to say to this? As I said at the beginning, she was a redoubtable lady, doing battle with Parker and her ilk from the time Etiquette first appeared. Indeed, given the volume of criticism about Emily Post and Etiquette, surprisingly little of it responds to Post’s own claims. She was acutely aware of the charges lodged against her, and she argued strenuously against them. In the 1937 edition of Etiquette, the one I own, she makes her case clearly, passionately, and repeatedly; one cannot help thinking that her critics, in addition to disagreeing with her, have also misunderstood her, or at any rate read her carelessly. There is certainly a case to make against Etiquette—it is a large and slow-moving target for anyone on the hunt—but it has not been well made.
But that is not our business here; we have spent enough time with the critics. Let us sit instead for a moment, as Dorothy Parker never really did, at the knee of Mrs. Post. What sort of instrument does she imagine etiquette to be?
In the first place, we must dismiss this mistaken notion about etiquette, that it asks us to pretend to be someone we are not. The critique offered by Parker et al suggests that to be a lady or a gentleman, one must adopt a set of generic gestures, small talk, and other such habits of presentation, which have no basis in our real selves. This is not any kind of etiquette that Post would recognize. She has no interest in pretense. If she has one principle to rule all others, it is the principle of authenticity. It is almost a crusade with her to make what is “real” the rule of social life: real silver (“in the great dining room, all the silver should be real!”); real flowers (though in wintertime “porcelain ones may take their place—unless there is a lunch or dinner party”); real boots (“all leather must be real leather”); real lace (otherwise it is not “the ideal dress”); real shirt-studs (pearls are the only “real ones”); real names (“never a nick-name”); even real faces (“painted faces [never] look like ‘real’ complexions”). By Post’s lights, an imitation of a grand thing is much worse than offering, cheerfully and unapologetically, what is really ours.2
If this rule is true for our belongings, it is doubly true for our selves. Post insists that well-mannered people be as authentic as their silver. Indeed, the single most important thing to understand about good manners is that they are never, ever a matter of appearances. “A gentleman’s manners are an integral part of him and are the same whether in his dressing–room or in a ballroom,” instructs Post. “He whose manners are only put on in company is a veneered gentleman, not a real one.” To master etiquette and meet with social success, one must be actuated by the best “qualities of mind and heart,” not by ambition or obsequy. The proper denizen of Best Society is not a cyborg but, in Post’s own words, “a real person.”

Final Digital Colour

What is a “real” person? What makes for authentic self-presentation? Drawing on Dorothy Parker’s words, we might think of an authentic person as someone who freely expresses her thoughts and feelings. If she thinks someone is an old meat-axe, she says so; if she has no interest in making boring small talk, she doesn’t. Her ideas and her reactions, her desires and her dispositions, are transparent to the society in which she moves. This is not the kind of authenticity that Emily Post has in mind. She is less concerned with the transparency of one’s personality than with transparency of character. Virtues and vices—this is the currency she deals in. (No wonder Parker was disgusted.) In “The True Meaning of Etiquette,” the very first chapter the book, Post defines good manners as “the code of instinctive decency, ethical integrity, self-respect and loyalty.” Rules matter only as handmaidens to the genuine expression of real virtue:
Etiquette, if it is to be of more than trifling use, must go far beyond the mere mechanical rules of procedure or the equally automatic precepts of conventional behavior. Actually etiquette is most deeply concerned with every phase of ethical impulse or judgment and with every choice or expression of taste, since what one is, is of far greater importance than what one appears to be.
“The importance of what one is”—this is not the province of a cyborg, the concern of the exquisitely dull. It is the concern of a moralist.
And Emily Post is, at heart, a moral writer. Her project is to figure out how the virtues that adhere in us are best expressed in social life. Decency, integrity, self-respect, loyalty; kindness, courtesy, graciousness, humor. How do these qualities, if we have really got them, lead us to act in all the messy situations that make up a social experience? What, for example, is the truly gracious way to respond to a guest who is an hour late to dinner? What is the really loyal thing to say to a friend who is buying an ugly dress? How can we deal courteously with a boorish companion? How can we encounter, with integrity, a person we dislike? How do we show true kindness to someone who is grieving?
For Post, social life is a daily test of character. Its episodes may be trivial taken one by one, but together they comprise the most significant opportunity we have to be kind, to be decent, to exercise whatever qualities of mind and heart we would like to think we possess. It is the science of etiquette to make the most of this opportunity.

4, “What is the purpose of this rule?”

In a way, Post’s insistence on the authenticity of good manners only makesEtiquette stranger. For Parker, Kolbert, and Sypher are right about one thing: the book is chock full of rules. Post may airily dismiss these precepts as “trifling,” but she wrote almost 900 pages of them all the same. Why do true kindness and integrity require such instruction? Are lessons on restaurant etiquette and dating manners really the best way to cultivate these qualities?
To understand the connection between Post’s mission and her many rules, we had better have a further look at the rules themselves. Post’s critics have painted her as obsessive, prescriptive, and arbitrary in her doctrines, but this is not the case. As for her being obsessive, Post’s detractors do not acknowledge the many kinds of social interactions for which Post gives no guide at all. Etiquette distinguishes strictly between private and public spheres, and while Post has much to say about our public conduct, she has nothing to say about what we do in private. How intimate friends should behave towards each other; how brothers and sisters, or parents and children should behave, she remarks not at all. (In-laws are fair game, and considerable space is devoted to their keeping.) Marriage itself is beyond her compass. She says nothing of the relationship between husband and wife, except that it is a “no one’s affair but [their] own.” To share private details of a marriage is “unspeakable.”
If Post has nothing to say about these private spaces, it is because she thinks we are licensed to talk and act as we please in them. Life, sex, literature, the drama, the major issues of the day: dig in! Presumably the only reason that privacy matters, anyway, is that something of real, personal interest is going on in private life. It would not be so wrong for a husband to share his wife’s confidences if his wife had not been saying something pretty interesting to begin with.
Even in public spaces, Post’s approach is more nuanced than she is credited with. Some social situations she regards essentially as rituals: introductions, for examples, or weddings. For these scenarios, Post gives explicit rules for what she calls “the unending details,” so that things will proceed “with ease and smoothness.” Here rules maintain the sort of order and peace that everyone is anxious for at “ceremonial functions.”
But most of social life is not ceremonial, as Post is well aware. Going out to dinner or the movies with friends, hosting guests for a weekend, dating: these are parts of social life with which etiquette is intimately concerned, and yet for which it is impossible to make strict rules. For such fluid situations, Post does not prescribe so much as she exhorts us to use our common sense. And if we attend to her actual advice, we will find that for the most part it is not only unobjectionable but helpful. Consider, for example, the suggestion made to “certain middle-aged men as well as women,” who grumble at the theater or at concerts when new arrivals try to take their seats:
It is quite true that having to gather up opera glasses, program, bag, and stand while each person on a long aisle goes out and comes back separately after every act, can be far from pleasurable. But if one hasn’t sufficient self-control not only to seem but to be amiable about whatever annoyances one encounters, one should at least take enough trouble to avoid the obvious annoyances or else stay at home. As an example of the obvious, why not take pains to get seats away from an aisle instead of on it?
Is this the voice of “freezing politeness” that set Dorothy Parker a-shuddering? It is hard to imagine a more benign recommendation than that we should avoid situations that make us snipish. Indeed, though Post’s advice is sometimes dated, it is never stupid. To a debutante at her first party, Post says, “On no account force yourself to laugh. Nothing is flatter than laughter that is lacking in mirth.” To someone writing a letter: “Be chary of underscoring and postscripts.” To one suffering an awkward pause in conversation: “Do not snatch at it. Let it go for a little while. Conversation is not a race that must be continued at a break-neck pace lest the prize be lost.” To an unhappy guest: “No matter how much the hours or food or arrangements may upset you, you must appear blissfully content.” (In the next section, she takes pity and advises him to escape the party: “You May Send Yourself A Telegram.”)
We may object to some of these rules. Indeed, the modern reader will probably find the passages on courtship amusing (“How far may a girl run after a man? Cat-like, she may do a little stalking!”). This is only to say that Emily Post lived in the early 20th century, and we live in the early 21st century. But even where we disagree with Post, her basic thoughtfulness is undeniable. Her stipulation that “if the cake is very soft and sticky or filled with cream, small forks must be laid on the tea table” is rather touching. Even that old rule about introductions, by which we are forbidden to ask Mrs. Jones if she has met Mr. Smith before, sets me thinking.
And this is precisely the point of Etiquette—to set us thinking, all the time, about the meaning of the things we do and say. Good manners for Emily Post are never mindless. They are never simple acts of obedience. She despises any understanding of etiquette that treats social life like “a sum in arithmetic.” Etiquette, she makes clear, is the product of a constant, critical engagement with our social surroundings. No precepts, even Post’s own, should escape our scrutiny. “What is the purpose of this rule?” she prods us. “Does it help to make life pleasanter? Does it make the social machinery run more smoothly? Does it add to beauty? Is it essential to the code of good taste or to ethics?” Dorothy Parker read Etiquette as a “morality play,” but it lacks a glib ending. Emily Post ultimately commends us to our own judgment. “The best rule is your innate good sense—and sensibility.”

5, An argument for rules

But good sense, unfortunately, is not always innate. Sometimes we meet with situations that surpass our sensibility, or that stump our judgment. Social life is so very complicated. It is complex, with feedback loops and chains of effect that we cannot possibly intuit, and opaque, full of people about whom we know almost or actually nothing. Naming virtues for social life is simple enough (Post herself tosses off definitions with an easy athleticism), but in this dark, confusing world, it is sometimes hard to see how we translate these impulses into real action. Where does loyalty cross into adulation, or into prejudice? When does humor amuse, and when does it insult? What is the line between kindness and condescension? Sometimes we know the answers to these questions, but in many encounters we honestly do not. Good intentions so easily miss their targets. This is the strange truth at the heart of Etiquette: that even as we strive to engage in social life as authentically as we can, with all our qualities of mind and heart, such engagement never comes naturally. Being “a real person” is not at all intuitive.
And yet our impulses count for nothing if we do not know how to express them fluently. Loyalty does not consist in loyal intentions, but in loyal actions. Likewise the desire to be funny is worthless if we do not actually know how to make people laugh. What are we to do, then, when we don’t know what to do? How can we bridge impulse and action, to give our baffled yearnings for loyalty and humor, courtesy and integrity, some outward reality? Post’s answer is simple, but marvelous: “Practice.” The expression of courtesy can be learned, and an impulse for integrity can be trained. “A few rare persons are born with quick perception and innate kindness,” she says (in a chapter she gloriously titles, “What We Contribute to the Beauty of Living”), “but in greatest measure tact, like most of the social graces, is the result of training.”
Rules and precepts offer such training, by channeling our inept intentions into concrete actions. Some rules make us more sensitive to the implications of behavior we would otherwise overlook, as with Post’s counsel against signing a letter “Yours in haste.” In the same way, she advises against introducing one person to another as “my friend,” for it “implies that the other person is not.” These sorts of transgressions are minor, but they are Emily Post’s bread and butter. A lifetime’s worth of insulting introductions will leave some stain on a man’s soul. At other times, the rules of etiquette help us make sense of situations that utterly stymie us, when we feel helpless to find expression for our good impulses. In a section about writing letters of condolence, Post gives beautiful, lucid rules for one such impossible task:
Don’t dwell on the details of illness or the manner of death; don’t quote endlessly from the poets and the Scriptures. Remember that eyes filmed with tears and an aching heart cannot follow rhetorical lengths of writing. The more nearly a note can express a hand-clasp, a thought of sympathy, above all, a genuine love or appreciation of the one who has gone, the greater comfort it brings.
We are accustomed to think of rules as that which confine us, or bind us, or prevent somehow the free movement of our thoughts and actions. But for Emily Post, the opposite is true. She considers that we are already pretty badly handicapped when it comes to social life, both by the obscurity of other people and by the complexity of our relations with them. We cannot live freely and easily as ourselves—kind, courteous, what-have-you—because we don’t know what kindness really looks like among these strangers, or what our courtesy should do. We are confined in an awful state of suspense: does this mean to other people what it means to me? Did she interpret that gesture correctly? Did he take my comment the wrong way? Was that an insult? Was that supposed to be a joke? Between two strangers at a dinner party, these questions will cause some frostiness; between a woman and her mother-in-law, they will cause something much worse.
For Emily Post, the rules of etiquette offer relief from our natural limitations. By putting order on our interactions with the world and providing stable pathways from intention to action, etiquette frees us to interact meaningfully and genuinely with other people. When Dorothy Parker thought of making small talk about radios, she was oppressed by the prospect of insincerity and intolerable boredom. But for Emily Post, the same prompt offers something much more hopeful: the gentle beginnings of a conversation, by which we might bring ourselves out into the great, messy unknown of a social life: “I’m thinking of buying a radio...” 

1 This piece, like most recent articles on Emily Post, was occasioned by Laura Claridge’s 2008 biography, Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners.
2 Silver, pearls, flowers in the wintertime—is etiquette for the wealthy alone? The answer is a complicated “no.” While Emily Post was undoubtedly a snob, and while much of Etiquette (particularly earlier editions) assumes a wealthy audience, the book advocates norms of gentility that transcend class. For Post, good manners create a meeting ground for people from different backgrounds. Class issues are complexly woven through the book, however, and worth exploring in their own right.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lead Draft Type for "Whale of a Tale" Illustrations

Thanks A Million to all who came out last week to make the screening debut of "Mooning Over Earth" such a fabulous and fun success!!! Thank You Thank You Thank You :)

Olivia Obin, Michelle Yun, Natalie Mertz, and I are currently seeking fine art film competitions to showcase and further the piece. Anyone have any suggestions?

Below are the hand drafted type diagrams for a new collection of illustrated whales. Also included is a sneak-peak preview of one of the finals.

See The Entire collection, "A Whale Of A Tale," Live on my Website Now ;)


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Official "MOONING OVER EARTH" Trailer 2011

The Official "Mooning Over Earth" Trailer 2011 from Olivia Obin on Vimeo.

Im so excited to present the official trailer for our soon to be screened film "Mooning Over Earth." The directorial baby of Miss Olivia Obin, the film is an amalgamation of four individual shorts that run from 5-10 mins in length that can be viewed individually or together as a whole. Separated thematically by the four elements; Earth, Water, Wind, and Fire, we are proud to present a visual feast of zest, costumes, puppetry, stop motion animation, colour, dance, life, and death, all created through recycled and natural materials made by incredible artists.

Please Join us Thursday July 14th, for a special screening and after party in NYC! Please E-mail Me at to reserve your tickets!
Thanks :) 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Jonathan Beer @ Flowers Gallery, Chelsea, NYC

White Atelier I
oil on panel, 14"x24"
Jonathan Beer

WRC Illustration is taking a little break from Mexico and visiting the United States for the month of July.
And my calendar is already filled with more events than I can attend!

Right off the bat,  I attended an open reception on June 23rd for the
New York Academy of Art 5th Annual Summer Exhibition at Flowers Gallery in Chelsea. The work was super, a lot of human form and figure, a lot of beautiful craftsmanship. The whole collection was part paint, part pencil, part instillation, part big, part small, and part FRESH!

Featured in the show was a friend and colleague from SVA, Jonathan Beer.
He is currently taking masters classes at the New York Academy of Art, and had two pieces shown alongside new work by more than 50 established and emerging artists. The show selection was juried by Matthew Flowers, Carter Foster, and Julie Heffernan. Former jurists include Eric Fischl, Jenny Saville, Will Cotton,  and David Salle.

The work will be up till August 6th, SO GO and SEE IT.
You won't be disappointed!!!