Literature Lesson: Sherwood Anderson’s “The Other Woman”

This is the best story I’ve read so far in the collection, and it’s no surprise because Sherwood Anderson is a genius. A titan of American literature, he captures the feeling of Americanness like nobody else.

In the story, a man trapped in a sexless marriage with an infantilized frigid woman is obsessing over a single time in the past when he had good sex. Nothing much happens in the story. It doesn’t narrate events but transmits the descent into obsessive madness of a sexually frustrated man.

Prudery and miserable, sexless marriages are a subject that’s ever-present in Sherwood Anderson’s work. I don’t know anybody who captures better than he does the supremely American drama of trying to reason away physiology and always failing at the task.

Today, we deprive ourselves of sex in a much more literal way than in Anderson’s times. Anybody can have as much sexual intercourse of any sort as they can get but accepting human physiology is still taboo to the point where we can’t even say the word “woman” anymore. (See my earlier post with a quote from “Lancet.”) As we boringly and repetitively celebrate the variety of sexual acts and partners we can enjoy, we fail to notice that we are even more pathetic than Anderson’s character. Nobody is forced into loveless marriages anymore but we are being obligated to deny reality, reason, and truth to service the sexual hangups of a handful of entitled guys.

Anderson’s character would have been shunned by his professional and social circle if he’d ditched the frigid rich girl and chosen the sexy cashier instead. And today he’d get shunned by his professional and social circle if he said “women don’t have penises.” How is that any better?

Bodies with Vaginas

Remember back when it wasn’t OK to objectify women and reduce us to body parts? Seemed silly and unimportant back then but now that it’s gone, I miss it.

It’s almost always women who get humiliated this way. And always to please a bunch of angry, entitled men.

Learned Nothing

AOC is to the Right what Trump was to the Left. They are doing everything they can to get her elected president in a few years. This will give them an excuse to experience daily paroxysms of sweet outrage to cover for the fact that they’ve given up on anything resembling political engagement.

The amount of boosting and enthusiastic free coverage this woman gets from the Right is totally Trump’s empty podium in the first campaign that MSNBC broadcast for an hour because even a possibility that Trump would appear was more valuable than any actual appearance or even action by anybody else on the planet.

Which One Is Passive-Aggressive?

I honestly find the suggested column to be a lot more annoying.

“In case it’s helpful” is condescending.

“I know you are busy” does sound very passive aggressive. “Of course you are too busy to pay attention to an insignificant little person like me. . .” Oh, get off it already and say what you want.

“How about we try doing…” is the way I speak to my five-year-old.

Does anybody here prefer the right-hand column? Is it a gender thing? Is the “good” column supposed to sound more “feminine”?

My Personal Boom

Contrary to what everybody feared, my research career didn’t take a hit as a result of me becoming a department Chair. Just the opposite, I’ve never had such an intense calendar of publications and speaking engagements as I do now.

This isn’t due to any particular spike in industriousness and productivity on my part. It’s simply that becoming Chair coincided with the moment when people in my field realized that I exist and started inviting me to participate in projects (edited volumes, monographic issues, etc). Only this week, I received two invitations: one from Canada and one from Spain. This is on top of the three obligations I have already undertaken. (I’m not even talking about invitations to conference sessions because I don’t consider going to conferences to be part of a serious research agenda. It’s simple, unadulterated fun and that’s that). I also have three public appearances just this month.

Academic life is weird. You toil and toil in obscurity, building up your name tiny bit by tiny bit, never knowing if it’s ever going to work. And then one day BOOM! and suddenly you’ve been noticed and everybody wants a piece of you.

I’m not going to lie. It feels damn good. And also, I have realized that you don’t need to be at a fancy university for this to happen. I was so sure you did that I almost left this haven of relative non-wokeness.

There are so many myths about academic life, it’s crazy. Maybe I’ll write a post about it.

Class Matters

Our COVID apparatchik at work sent me a really pissy email that I had been in touch with somebody COVID-positive and have to leave campus immediately.

I was really surprised because I’d been in contact with this guy throughout my own COVID and the tone of his communications with me had been completely different. It was basically the difference between “please don’t worry, your majesty, we’ll make sure your life isn’t disrupted by this mishap” and “get the fuck outta here, you stupid trash.”

So I called him on the phone. It’s an internal campus phone. He sees my name and title on the screen. And again, it’s weird, because his tone with me from the start of the conversation was the usual “and how may I be of help, you fragile vessel of extreme amazingness?” Like he hadn’t just sent me a curt, imperious, very pissy and really confusing email.

I asked him what’s up and guess what? The pissy email had been sent to me by mistake. The real addressee was the Dean

the Provost

the Chair of Biology

a woman who works in the cafeteria.

Call me hopelessly naive but I honestly couldn’t have imagined that they have different email templates based on a person’s social class. I don’t know how to explain this but I’ve never received an email at work worded like that one. I do not inhabit a reality where anybody thinks it’s OK to talk to me like that. And I don’t hear anybody addressing anybody else like that, so I didn’t really even know it existed.

I’m now wondering how many gradations of the template there are. Does an untenured instructor get a larger dose of pissiness than I do but smaller than the cafeteria worker? Does the Dean get a more obsequious email than I got? But less obsequious than the Provost?

Another weird thing was that the instructions in the email were very confusing. I’m no stranger to reading complex texts but this one was too much even for me. Among other things, it said that I needed to get tested immediately but make sure I don’t get tested before day 6 of the 8-day quarantine or day 8 of the 10-day quarantine and that length depends on when I get tested. Again, I was in a similar situation to this woman’s a few months ago, and there was nothing like this. It’s like they are trying to confuse people on purpose and make them feel stupid, is what I’m saying.