Not Saussure

October 30, 2006

Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book.

Filed under: Bloody Yanks, Books, Politics — notsaussure @ 2:20 pm

… as Job 31:35 was so fond of remarking.

In a controversy touched on by Tim Worstall over the weekend, the US Congressional Elections have taken a turn that’s bizarre even by their standards.

It all seems to have started when Senator George Allen, a Republican senator from Virginia who’s by all accounts a bit of an oaf, sent a press release to The Drudge Report complaining about the literary work of his Democrat opponent, Jim Webb, who’s written novels based on his wartime experiences in Vietnam. Senator Allen warns

· Some of Webb’s writings are very disturbing for a candidate hoping to represent the families of Virginians in the U.S. Senate.

· Many excellent books about the United States military and wartime service accomplish their purposes, and even win awards, without systematically demeaning women, and without dehumanizing women, men and even children.

· Webb’s novels disturbingly and consistently — indeed, almost uniformly — portray women as servile, subordinate, inept, incompetent, promiscuous, perverted, or some combination of these. In novel after novel, Webb assigns his female characters base, negative characteristics. In thousands of pages of fiction penned by Webb, there are few if any strong, admirable women or positive female role models.

Why does Jim Webb refuse to portray women in a respectful, positive light, whether in his non-fiction concerning their role in the military, or in his provocative novels? How can women trust him to represent their views in the Senate when chauvinistic attitudes and sexually exploitive references run throughout his fiction and non-fiction writings?

and reproduces a series of extracts to support his lit crit, including one, by now notorious, extract from Webb’s 2001 novel Lost Soldiers in which, as Tim describes it, Webb describes a

man kissing the penis of his baby (note, baby, not ‘young son’ nor fellatio). It takes place in Vietnam and as Radley has shown in that piece and others it is a common cultural practice and nothing at all to do with sex

The Democrats, not to be outdone, promptly put out a press release of their own,

Brothels, sex kittens, pedophilia? We’re not talking about the House Leadership covering up the Mark Foley scandal, we’re talking about what Mrs. Cheney, Newt Gingrich and other GOP conservatives write about. Here is a sampling of what some of the GOP’s best and brightest write about in their novels:

and the story rumbles on. What’s caused particular ire, it seems, is the inclusion of the novel Sisters, which Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, published in 1981 (yes, 25 years ago), which Webb apparently referred in a radio interview,

“I mean we can go and read Lynne Cheney’s lesbian love scenes if you want to, you know, get graphic on stuff,”

Mrs Cheney is — to my mind completely justifiably — annoyed that when she went on TV thinking she was going to be publicising a children’s book she’s just published, Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America …, found herself answering questions about hot girl-on-girl action; CNN reports,

Lynne Cheney responded Friday: “Jim Webb is full of baloney. I have never written anything sexually explicit.” (Watch Lynne Cheney defend her novel, criticize Webb — 10:18)

Still, it’s an ill wind; second hand copies of Sisters are going for anything between $700 and $1,000 on Amazon, while the more parsimonious may wish to download the complete book for free as a .pdf. I’ve had a quick look at it, and I can see why Mrs Cheney’s embarrassed; not because of the sex scenes — only an American could find them offensive — but because the book’s, errm, pretty dire. CNN tells us that she

convinced the publisher not to reissue the book in 2004 during the presidential election. Her attorney told the media at the time that Cheney “did not think the book was her best work.”

thus demonstrating a true literary stylist’s grasp of the figure litotes.

Honestly, though; what of earthly relevance is it that a politician’s wife has written a rather embarrassingly bad book some 25 years ago? Are American women not supposed to publish something without their husband’s approval, or what? Of all the things for which one could criticise Dick Cheney, his wife’s books are about the last thing you’d think of. This, I take it, is why George Allen started the bunfight in the first place — put your opponent on the back foot by coming up with some loony criticism of him to which feels forced to respond, and then he’s not attacking your record. Senator Allen must be delighted at the way the Democrats took the bait; it must have been beyond his wildest dreams that it would end up with them criticising not Dick Cheney’s policies but his wife’s 25-year-old novel.

In any case, it can hardly be as dire as Embrace The Serpent, a disarmingly moronic thriller published by Marilyn Quayle and her sister while her husband, J Danforth, was President Bush the Elder’s vice president. Dan Quayle, it will be remembered, was generally regarded as pretty cerebrally challenged and prone to goofy statements; with hindsight, he looks to have been a rehearsal for President Bush the Younger. Defending his remarks about Mrs Quayle’s novel in his very funny study of her husband, Imperial Caddy: The Rise of Dan Quayle in America and the Decline and Fall of Practically Everything Else, Joe Queenan explained that

what’s really unnerving is the fact that the wife of the vice president of the United States isn’t aware that the Soviet Union has — how shall I put this? — sort of collapsed. Which makes a thriller about a Soviet takeover of Cuba seem sort of — how shall I put this? — dumb.

though he went on to remark that ‘the publisher probably figured that most readers buying a book co-written by a person named Quayle would have been disappointed if it wasn’t stupid.’


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3 Comments »

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