The Power Notebooks By Katie Roiphe

Een soort 'dagboekboek' met als insteek eigen zorgen, bedenkingen over die zorgen, het leven, de rol van de vrouw, de positie van de vrouw, de tegenstrijdigheden in wat men lijkt te zijn en het gedrag dat men stelt, over macht, gepercipieerde macht en over literatuur
fijn om lezen, af en toe heldere inzichten, tegelijk ook soms niet kritisch genoeg, anderzijds ook te kritisch
wel een aanrader, eentje waarna je wat wezenloos blijft zitten kijken 1982128011 More and more unbearable with every page. Roiphe was fascinating when parsing vulnerabilities, often the self-annihilating kind, in relationships. Or, she parses hers, and gets documentary support from some choice women writers I can imagine she finds solace in: e.g., Simone de Beauvoir was garbage at love, despite her being Simone de Beauvoir—but, still, she's Simone de Beauvoir. Roiphe gets to her points clumsily, but the wandering nature of the notebooks made space for that gracelessness, so that was fine. We also hardly ever agreed—a different flavor vs. it is painful to agree with her, as with Jamison or Taddeo or Zambreno (the kinds of writers she deliberately sets herself apart from, by the way)—but it was still fascinating.

What grew more and more off-putting was Roiphe's insistence on building a defense and offense against her critics, often preemptively, and how she did so. I'm not like other girls runs through these notebooks—and she's absolutely not like other women essayists, especially those who choose to be vulnerable in writing. She's always been different. She doesn't care much about being likeable, and especially not about being relatable. She doesn't even smile in photographs, oh no. And on and on it went, her fixating on her notoriety, and always with that air of painful casualness, the kind that means to elevate her, and my irritation gave way to just being embarrassed for her. And you can't even call her out on this, or on anything, because she also has a defense and offense about that, too, and I am so tired right now.

This was incredibly fatiguing. It feels such a loss, because I was truly drawn to the premise of these notebooks: the faces we assume for private love and public polemics about love. If I overthink this, I might even say it was a bit sad, how this writing about vulnerabilities within different spheres only brought up awkward and overwrought defense mechanisms for her, defense mechanisms that just took over the book. But I think I'm done thinking about Katie Roiphe.

(Katie, if you read this, and you might, given the Internet-trawling habits you've shared, please note that I am very small and I have no money, so you can imagine the kind of stress that I am under.) 1982128011 The sort of feminist text I'm addicted to, women talking honestly about their abjection and desire. Though it never seems to land on a distinct conclusion, a lot of very compelling reflections on the power dynamics that can exist between two people, particularly between coupled men and women. Reads like a mix of I Love Dick by Chris Kraus and Why Did I Ever by Mary Robinson, both favs of mine. Often feels very astute and thorough, with a lot of insights into the paradoxical appeals and advantages of powerlessness and why we can yearn for it, the subtle forces and feelings that can push us (women, but I identify with abject women) into coupledom. 1982128011 I’ve been riding the Roiphe train for the past month. It began with my discovery of Katie’s mother, Anne Roiphe, one of the early defenders of feminism--not the men-must-cease-to-exist type, but rather a more moderate variety, where men are at least permitted in the picture. Katie seems to have shadowed her mother, though with her own flavor.

The Power Notebooks can be seen as a book on feminism, in many respects. But it has a much broader applications: the idea of power itself; more specifically, the display of power between individuals. She does recall many literary heavy weights such as Simon de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Plath, Mary McCarthy, and how they display this ferocity in public life, defending their ideas with a white-knuckled fury, yet in private, behind closed doors with their men, they show their soft underbellies. And Katie is no exception. We see throughout how Katie groups herself among these literary viragos. She opens herself up to the same public that had excoriated her when her first, and subsequent, books were unveiled to the public. She lays bare her vulnerabilities, her weaknesses, her capitulations at the feet of men. She confesses her one-night stands, her teenage sexual relationship with a rabbi, her hopping from one man’s bed to the next. In doing so, she becomes more “relatable” to the public; no longer the stern professor and public figure who budges not a whit; no, she is human, after all, subject to making mistakes, going in the wrong direction, playing “haunter” and “haunted,” sometimes simultaneously.

The writing is succinct, not a word wasted. And for those whose attentions spans lack longevity (myself included), the short paragraphs and chapters are bite-sized and wholly digestible. When I picked up The Power Notebooks, I was half-expecting a bland, erudite treatment of power, perhaps the intercontinental type involving dictators and their subordinates. I was wrong. Instead, I got part memoir, part personal essay, written in a conversational style. I became reacquainted with a host of literary stars who I had always brushed over. But this time I looked them up; I set the book down and found videos of Mary McCarthy in interviews answering her interlocutors with a quick, incisive wit; found a biography of Simon de Beauvoir; gave Proust another chance.

I truly enjoyed this book and give it 5 stars. I will continue riding the Roiphe train, at least for now.
1982128011 The Power Notebooks
Katie Roiphe
Free Press, 2020 (Paperback)
235 pages

Note: I recommend reading any book you feel called to, regardless of my opinion. Trust your reading preference and experience more than mine!

Katie Roiphe is working through a concept of power beyond the universally acknowledged form in The Power Notebooks. In her Author’s Note, Roiphe writes, “I don’t mean geopolitical power or socioeconomic power or electoral power.” Her theme focuses on the everyday, imperceptible subtleties that occur in human life, “the dynamics between people (friends, strangers, intimates) in a room.” Those are the relations that make us who we are, that give our lives meaning. They are the foundations for more significant social concepts regarding authority and control.

The foundation of Roiphe’s first-person narrative is 1) recognizing an affecting personal situation, then 2) conducting emotional and psychological work around the seemingly menial (watching her daughter’s interactions with her friends) or immense (marriage, divorce, familial addiction, work relations). The reader sits with Roiphe as she attempts to make sense of her grappling with it all. In one episode (each experience reads like a vortex for which the reader can’t look away), Roiphe divulges her ex-husband stops their moving car and demands she and their infant “Get out” (9). On the walk home, with her baby in her arms, Roiphe focuses on the picture windows of passing Brownstones (and not on the idea her partner may be an emotional terrorist), “gold orbs hanging from ceilings, bits of molding like cake icing” (10). I think of this description for days after reading it. Passages like it keep me returning to the pages.

Roiphe elects to present her tome in fragmented paragraphs and chapters, and I am instantly attracted to them. The choppy narrative reads like edited journal entries; each thought separated but neatly connected by a feeling or circumstance. I snuggled close to the idea that the author and I may have similar inner dialogues regarding external experiences. She and I use the written word to grapple with wanting comfort to be who we are and to think our thoughts about circumstances beyond our control. Our parallels keep The Power Notebooks close to my literary liking.

Katie Roiphe, culture writer and author of The Morning After, shares a timely blend of memoir, feminist investigation, and exploration of famous female writers’ lives, in a bold, essential discussion of how strong women experience their power.

Told in a series of notebook entries, Roiphe weaves her often fraught personal experiences with divorce, single motherhood, and relationships with insights into the lives and loves of famous writers such as Sylvia Plath and Simone de Beauvoir. She dissects the way she and other ordinary, powerful women have subjugated their own power time and time again, and she probes brilliantly at the tricky, uncomfortable question of why.

In these informal musings and notes, Roiphe delves into treacherous, largely untalked about, contradictions of contemporary womanhood, going where few writers dare. The Power Notebooks is Roiphe’s most vital, thought provoking, and emotionally intimate work yet. The Power Notebooks

There are things straight women don’t get about straight guys—like old guys’ penchant for younger girls, a puzzlement that gets a workout in this book. But there are things straight guys don’t get about straight women—in particular, the addiction to a certain kind of vain, obviously weak, insecurity-fueling-anger kind of guy. Think of Fredo Corleone in Vegas, think of James Woods In CASINO, think of Eric Roberts in STAR 80 (well...dial down his youthful good looks a notch). These mama’s boys and strutters are obviously feral weasel; but show me a girl who wouldn’t walk over six Brad Pitts to get at Vincent Gallo! It’s a mystery the rest of the penis-holding race will never get over; or get.

There are similar such conundrums in THE POWER NOTEBOOKS. The narrator falls for a rich toff whom she describes as projecting the works of Venice, CA artists in a Venice, Italy castle with FELLINI’S CASANOVA playing outside. If this were not enough to get you running out of Bluebeard’s Castle, I don’t know what would; but when this dictionary-definition dilettante is handcrafting a Minecraft universe for her son, even the son is a little ooged out. So what happens next? Reader, she marries him (which leads to some chapters set in AlAnon—which she refers to as “the rooms”...never thought I’d hear that awful phrase from this writer.)

There are many Didionesque sentences and there are lists and there are things she does as a single mother with her children where some obscure dishes of food are namedropped Didionesquely; also some picturesque and posh locations, also Joanlike. And yet the Joanisms lack that prairie mama sitting atop the stagecoach with a shotgun authority that gives Didion’s sentences their ice-castle majesty.

There are other men, coyly named with a single letter. There is something in back of the stories of all these men, which is that they are rich, and seem “eligible” to the author, seem “ungettable,” seem a real catch because no one else can quite nail him...All seem narcissistic, remote in a way that makes you wonder if girls are their first choice. One poor chap is introduced with the detail that he has multiple colors of seersucker suits in his closet—to me, a laugh-out-loud horror-movie stinger. They don’t stay; but frankly—and here is one of the kickers of which Ms. Roiphe is unaware—one senses that if they did, she would grow bored, and quickly contemptuous of them. It’s live in fear or live in loathing—all good, but, self-contemplative memoirist, please learn a few things about yourself, first and foremost the role that class plays not just in the dudes you have in your queue but in the highly aristocratic-seeming writing life you have designed for yourself!

A polemicist who is always driving easily wounded post-me-too Millennial white girls (grads, let us say, of Bennington and above) to madness, Roiphe is also a superb writer generally—her book on the deaths of great authors, THE VIOLET HOUR, is magnificent. And there are great moments here—particularly about her mother and about the outpouring of hate that fell down on her after her Harper’s article on the “Shitty Men In Media” list. Were I her shrink, might I say that these matters cut closer to her bone than those dumbass seersucker’d men? 1982128011 Don’t worry. I rage read this one so you don’t have to. Katie Roiphe has long been a person of controversy - or as the book jacket likes to call it - a “cultural lightning rod”. Roiphe first ruffled feathers with her book The Morning After in the mid-90s which essentially argued that college and date rape statistics had been inflated to encourage fear in young women and that things like catcalling, jokes in poor taste, and unwanted touching weren’t sexual harassment as feminists would have you believe, but rather “everyday experiences”. Which is, arguably, a true statement. But one does not dismiss the other. Sexual harassment IS an “everyday experience”, that doesn’t mean we soften the definition, Katie. Later in 2018, Roiphe published an essay at the height of the #metoo movement, against the so-called whisper network in Hollywood. She states that she was excited these men were being spotlighted for their terribleness, but also says that women’s eagerness in the takedown of these men scared other women who didn’t believe it was quite a big deal. Yes, she’s one of those ‘feminists’ who seems to believe that if women weren’t so uncontrollably angry about such issues, she’d like them more. She argues that the “Shitty Media Men” list is no better than if we compiled a secret list of Muslims who might commit acts of terror… Ok, Katie. Reading these essays and books of Roiphe’s, its easy to see her as inciting argument for arguments sake and The Power Notebooks fairs no better other than it is a slightly more veiled rendition of the exact same arguments. Instead of blatantly saying that some women aren’t raped, just regretful the next morning; she pulls personal history and says “see, I experienced this too and I feel differently.” One such passage in the book is Roiphe’s retelling of an assault that occurred when she was fifteen. She prefers to call it an affair with a 30-something rabbi; but with the age of consent what it is, and we being sensible people, we’ll call it what it is: rape. Roiphe so adamantly recoils at the idea of being a victim and being powerless that she’s instead comfortable arguing that her teenage body held power over this man: desire, lust, the trope of the forbidden fruit. She argues both sides of the coin throughout this collection, never arriving at an answer and instead indecisively rambling through two hundred pages. At times, it seems Roiphe knows her writing will alienate (something this book is being marketed as foregoing is doing away with Roiphe’s controversial opinions), and as a precursor, alienates herself from her opinions. She writes that the Katie Roiphe in these pages is a fictional character who provides a better medium for these discussions than the flesh and bone Katie Roiphe. This is the worst part of this entire collection: Katie Roiphe doesn’t know what she wants or perhaps what she wants to be. On one page, Roiphe tells us she hates to see women “performing weakness” (ie being vulnerable, telling the truth about their insecurities or failings, being human). She sees it as women dragging themselves down to appease men (Katie Roiphe is very much stuck on the male gaze.) On the next, she is laying her failings and discretions on the page; AND angry when a psychiatrist points them out. Flip to another page and Roiphe is arguing that abuse is far too harsh a word for what goes on between many married couples, and the next she’s outlining the mechanics of the abuse perpetrated against her. I could go on and on and on about what’s wrong with this book and why you shouldn’t read it, but I’m tired of thinking about it now. Here is what I will say for the book: Roiphe tears down lots of incredible female authors, using their quotes to make her points about female weakness or women using ‘seductive power’ over a man, etc. Because she quotes them all, she must keep a record of each reference in the last few pages. If anything, buy this book to get access to that list of titles and read those women instead. 1982128011 A memoir about love, divorce, marriage, family, and historical figures told in very short essays. Compelling.

1982128011 Mensen schijnen erg kwaad te worden om de dingen die Katie Roiphe zegt, maar hier raken ze zaken waar ik zelf ook graag geregeld over nadenk: (seksuele) macht, ongelijkwaardige relaties. Ze komt tot die gedachten door het werk en het leven van grote (veelal vrouwelijke) schrijvers en door haar eigen relaties. Het zijn echt notities, dat maakt de stukken soms wat springerig, er een echte essaybundel van maken had mij beter bevallen denk ik, maar alsnog zeer de moeite waard. 1982128011 This is a great collection of vignettes on women and power - the need to seem relatable, the differences in how we show up publicly and privately. Roiphe looks at it from the lens of women writers who showed up powerfully in public and in their writing, but sometimes seemed to prefer the opposite in their love lives. She also takes a personal turn, even as she decries the seeming imperative for women writers to show vulnerability and weakness. It's like she took her last book In Praise of Messy Lives (which was uneven) and developed the thesis a whole lot more.

A cliche, but I felt the book was written for me. I was familiar with the writers she references (Simone de Beauvior, Jean Rhys, etc). I also found the content relatable to me specifically as someone who self-deprecates and worries about being likeable even though I'm pretty tough and am often incensed by the double standard. Also I've followed Roiphe since I read The Morning After in high school (I credit her and Paglia with instilling in me a more skeptical and critical attitude towards political and social agendas), and I see her evolution as a person mirroring mine - even though she's a famous academic and I'm a middle manager. I once leaned towards being a provocateur, and I mellowed out but you can never kill that contrarian instinct. Avoid if you want feminist platitudes in the vein of last year's popular and idiotic Trick Mirror. I recommend if you like to be challenged. 1982128011


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