inessential by Brent Simmons


Some random book recommendations...

I just finished two books over the weekend.

The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom was a surprise best-seller in the '80s. The thesis is that the university is not supposed to be relevant, it's not supposed to be subjected to the whims of postmodernism, historicity, and radical politics -- it should be an arena of true academic freedom, where literature and philosophy are actually read and taught and discussed rather than deconstructed or taught merely as a type of history.

At first glance, this thesis may sound reactionary, as if it's just another smart guy who's found yet another way to belittle the interests of minorities. But the book is anything but that -- it's more truly radical than just about anything I've ever read.

It's not an easy read -- there's a lot about Socrates, Heidegger, Freud, Rousseau, and the '60s in there. But for the thinking reader, the book has the power to profoundly influence how one thinks. Read it.

Much shorter and more fun is Susie Bright's Sexwise, subtitled "America's Favorite X-Rated Intellectual Does Dan Quayle, Catharine MacKinnon, Stephen King, Camille Paglia, Nicholson Baker, Madonna, the Black Panthers and the GOP."

It's a collection of short essays, written in Bright's charming and direct voice. In true pragmatic American fashion, the erotic imagination is for Bright not just type of art or, well, a turn-on -- it's a means to power. The prescription is not to wear low-cut blouses and thereby get men to do what you want -- it's to take charge of one's erotic life. Bright says that even in this day and age, even with the feminist and sexual revolutions, women are still denied this male prerogative. Not completely, not 100%, but there's still so far to go.

I especially enjoyed when she rips into anti-porn queens Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. MacKinnon helped craft a Canadian law that banned importing literature that's "degrading to women" -- pornography, essentially. The irony is that a book by Dworkin, MacKinnon's anti-porn comrade-in-arms, was denied entry into Canada as a result of this law. Poetic justice.

Last night I started Experience by Martin Amis, a memoir. I'm only a couple dozen pages into it, so there isn't much to say yet -- except that, as always, reading Amis' prose is a total joy. For sheer surface pleasure there are few writers to recommend over Amis.

In Amis' hands, English isn't just a language anymore, it's a drug, it's cocaine, it goes straight to the brain's pleasure center and applies direct current.