Friday, October 5, 2012

Vagina: A New Biography

Photograph of Naomi Wolf by David Shankbone
Katha Pollitt is adding her name to the list of “conscientious objectors” to Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New BiographyIn a review in The Nation (“No Carnations Please, We’re Goddesses," October 1, 2012), she writes, “The vagina may be built to withstand multiple childbirths, but apparently even a joke at its expense can shut women down: Wolf says she couldn’t write for six months after a male friend celebrated her book deal with a festive dinner featuring vagina-shaped pasta (‘cuntini’) followed by salmon. It was the salmon that really did her in. Well, at least it wasn’t fish tacos. Or clams.” Pollitt also goes after Wolf on the facile equating of “female confidence”(deriving from a well orgasmed vagina) and “creativity.” “I dunno,” Pollitt says,”—the virgins- and-celebates team has some pretty heavy hitters: Jane Austen, Emily Dickenson, the Brontes, Forence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Virginia Woolf…There’s something to be said for sublimation, as Freud observed.” Pollitt has her fingers, as it were, on the role of hyperbole in dehumanizing sexuality. It’s as if Woolf had picked up the virus hosted by macho male intellectuals that equates the encounters of famous philanderers like Pushkin, Hugo and Updike with their productivity. In her critique of Wolf, Pollitt is inadvertently championing the solitary males counterparts of the woman writers she cites, Proust and Kafka. And then there is the question of the vagina itself. Is Wolf a dualist? By writing a book entitled Vagina: A New Biography, she undermines neuroscience’s hard won mind/body connection.

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