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Intercourse

By Andrea Dworkin

This classic feminist theory tome published in 1987 explores sex, sexuality, and the constraints of patriarchy on authenticity and autonomy. Within the framework of patriarchy and male dominance, female sexuality is proscribed, defined, and on demand for male need and desire. Most of her perspective is grounded in analysis of literature, and she also pulls from historical examples such as Joan of Arc. she analyzes the ways in which women are demonized, coerced and manipulated to conform to male standards of female sexuality and satisfy male desires. For example, women are limited in describing their own sexuality and sexual needs because the only language that exists for such conversations is constructed according to male norms. Or, the impact of constant subjugation as a second-class identity leads to behaviors that are pathologized (because they contrast with the male norm) and then serve to justify women’s second-class categorization. Her examples illustrate the ways in which the personal is political, how social structures and personal attitudes create and reinforce unequal systems of power, and how sexuality is used as a tool in service of maintaining mail dominance and female subjugation.

“Intercourse” by Andrea Dworkin is a highly contested work. Its publication came at a time when pornography and sexuality deeply divided feminist thought and activism, and Dworkin makes bold and conclusive arguments in favor of the notion that sex and sexuality are tools of the patriarchy and cannot be wielded in favor of women’s autonomy while society is constrained by the framework of male dominance. Her book was also published at the tail end of second-wave feminism before third-wave intersectionality took hold, which shows in the way she constructs her arguments. Her analysis is primarily contained to heteronormative sexuality, and though one of the literary pieces she analyzes in her book talks about gay sexuality she does not discuss the potential impact on lesbian or transgender sexuality, or how male dominance reinforces subjugation in non-mainstream relationships. Similarly, she barely scratches the surface of race and how male dominance might manifest differently for different racial identities. Dworkin makes claims in definitive, sweeping statements that can be quite compelling at first, but lead to further questions and doubt upon reflection. It seems that, on the surface, all statements she makes apply to all women, which leaves little room for differentiation and autonomy among those she claims lack differentiation and autonomy from male dominance.

This book is packed with dense and comprehensive analyses, which means there is a lot of unpacking to do of Dworkin’s theories. I agreed with many of the claims she makes in her books, and I also found myself second-guessing those same claims. I can’t imagine this book would be undertaken lightly, but contemplating the ideas it contains certainly requires concerted engagement with the text. I also recommend starting with the foreword and introduction before jumping into the main content of the book (which starts and ends abruptly with analysis). Intriguing, to be sure.

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The Dirk Gently Omnibus

By Douglas Adams

Dirk Gently, private detective, offers unique investigational services. When probing unexplained circumstances, Gently finds answers in not only the highly unlikely but also the downright impossible, for whatever cannot possibly be done must therefore be impossibly done. His bills are equally holistic, including anything and everything remotely connected to his methods of detection because at the root of it all, everything is fundamentally interconnected. Though unusual in the extreme, his antics are also extraordinarily effective. When first introduced to Gently, he picks up a case concerning a salt cellar in a Grecian pot, human suggestibility to do things one is not typically wont to do, and the unexpected death of a leading tech entrepreneur. In the second installment, Gently finds himself questioning an act of God (but which god, and why), tormented by a particularly persistent eagle, tracking down potatoes, and evading his egregiously disgusting fridge. His apparent bumbling and missteps, all of which can retroactively be deemed intentional whether they were intentional in the first place or not, lead to unbelievable conclusions that neatly explain everything and justify (almost) every charge on his bills.

The Dirk Gently Omnibus contains the first two Dirk Gently stories: “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul,” both by the unparalleled Douglas Adams (the third book in the series was unfinished at the time of Adams’ death, portions of which are published in the posthumous “Salmon of Doubt”). As with all other writings from Adams, the Dirk Gently novels are rambunctious, unpredictable, and laugh-out-loud funny. I would even go so far as to say they cause ROFL. Gently approaches his cases with such an open-minded perspective that his decisions and actions seem entirely absurd, yet also completely rational. He blatantly and directly questions behaviors that go unquestioned (and therefore unexplained), which makes his statements both unusual and completely obvious. It also forces characters (and readers) to examine their reasoning and explain unquestioned behaviors. Throughout it all is a supremely healthy sense of fun. The whims and instincts that guide Gently’s investigations are narrated by light-hearted satire that pokes fun at British (and U.S.) institutions, cultural quirks, and bureaucratic nightmares without edging into a mean or cynical tone. Gently’s internal monologue, and sometimes his conversation with others, reflect this by stating those thoughts we all have that just might be better left unsaid. Except when provoked.

The Dirk Gently novels are, in my humble opinion, highly underestimated and unfortunately sidelined by the greater prominence of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” despite being more entertaining (in my humble opinion). I have read both books multiple times, and I actually recommend starting with “The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” because “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” goes through a lot of backstory and exposition that tend to cause some drag in the early parts of the story. I cannot recommend enough reading both of these books, and then doing it again. And again!

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