Rom coms, anti-sexism law, and “the intimate event”

Anti-racism law has been constitutionally codified where anti-sexism law has not. What accounts for this distinction? I’ve been on-and-off working on a history of bros for The Awl, where my studies led me to this, from an article on Adam Sandler:

According to Frank Krutnik’s perceptive formulation, romances are intensely personal experientially (they are lived out as private affairs) and yet highly conventional in their expression (their articulation is dependent on cliches).

A short personal note– this has puzzled me for as long as I can remember. Continuing:

Correspondingly, romantic comedies tend to oscillate between a view of romance as a form of defiance and a depiction of marriage as potentially asphyxiating. Classical screwball comedies such as Bringing Up Baby (1938) solve this romantic paradox by featuring unconventional partners deviating from social norms through shared play. By contrast, later “nervous romances” such as Annie Hall (1977) are torn between a desire for the stability that conventional romance promises to provide and a loss of faith in the idealization of the couple. (Taylor pp. 39-40 in Millennial Masculinity: Men in Contemporary American Cinema, ed. Timothy Shary)

Every ideology has a contradiction and the conventional/unconventional knot is romance’s. I haven’t read her book, but C. tells me Elizabeth Povinelli has a term for this — “the intimate event,” which is neoliberal. Here’s Povinelli’s summary from an interview in e-flux:

Every time we kiss our lover goodbye within liberal worlds, we project into the world the difference between the autological subject (the recursive ideology of the subject of freedom, the subject that chooses her life), and the genealogical society (the supra-individual agency threatening to condition our choice). The intimate event is an anchor point because it seems to me to be the densest, smallest knot where the irrevocable unity of this division is expressed. What do I mean by an irrevocable unity? In the intimate event the subject says two things simultaneously. On the one hand, the subject says, “This is my love, nobody can choose it for me, I am the author of my intimacy.” Love is thereby treated as uniquely and unequivocally autological…But at the same time, the subject also thinks, feels, evaluates love in terms of its radical, unchosen quality: “Love happens, I fall in love, I hope it happens to me,” like I were struck by lightning. And the intimate event is an unavoidable anchor point.

Perhaps lawmakers and electorates disdain codifying anti-sexism law because gender is performed chiefly through romance and childrearing, both places which are supposed to be revelatory — and whose intensity and ability to make truth depend on the mythology of an unconventional interior. Romance is like a voltaic cell: conventional on the outside, personal on the inside. The revelatory effect is generated through this difference. Attempts to regulate gender can feel like an abridgement of romance, child-rearing, and other human relationships whose revelatory effect depends on a private inner cell. Lawmakers and electorates need to feel like their relationships are not gendered — that is, not conventional or genealogical — if those revelatory qualities are to remain intact.

Mid November

Flipping the switch between caring and bitterness is very easy for me only in one direction. Three weeks ago I brought Maybelline-the-cat home: I doted on her for half a month, but after I took her to a pet-showing last Saturday, which is required of the cat foster parents associated with this organization, and which was difficult for me, I began to push her away. She needs too much attention, walks on my computer keyboard while I’m writing, punctures the furniture with her claws, and tries to eat my food, which will poison her. I identify with her, both of us needy and homeless. My dad says I should adopt the cat and re-learn to love her unreservedly. But my old faults are coming back like last year’s interminable winter.

My attitude isn’t seasonal, it comes with socializing. In other words, a matter of probability. I lash out against friends, become resentful of strangers, and feel dismissive. Maybe this is a problem of gender. (In my writing group, all the men are rude and the women are obsequious.) I lull friends into a false sense of security before I turn on them, which, inevitably, I do. For now I’ve decided the solution is to be more upfront. To be rude from the start, judgemental, dismissive, whatever. Let people know what they’re getting into. The only really difficult part is the shameful crushes which, at 24, I still develop inappropriately. With men I can sweep this under the rug as a product of heterosexuality. (What an institution.) With women it’s more complicated because according to popular and art cultures a relationship between women is always the revelation of truth instead of produced systematically. And I don’t really believe any straight women, even the enlightened ones, can handle my attraction without running away.

Reading Ovid


The thing about those Greeks and Romans is that
at least mythologically,

they could get mad. if the man broke your heart, if he
fucked your sister speechless

then real true hell broke loose:
“You know that stew you just ate for dinner, honey?–

It was your son.”
That’s Ovid for you.

Food diaries

I collect food diaries as part of an ongoing project. I’d like to treat them as paraliterary texts, as Phillip Lejeune did for regular diaries.

Here’s Kick Kennedy’s food account in a letter to JFK, dated February 6, 1945. I’ll provide the full letter for context.

Dearest Family:

Lots of chatter the other night at Margaret B’s with Walter Monokton who is very keen on Daddy and wanted to hear all the news. He seems very nice and is a tremendous booster of Daddy’s. Mr. W. was there and as friendly as ever but there is no doubt about it he is an extraordinary man. I wish I could say more but I am sure that they censor all my letters and I know that they censor all the ones from you. Walter Monokton was also a great friend of Mrs. Bruce’s husband so I was very interested in hearing about him for the first time. Margaret B. was  terribly nice and as of yesterday I am now running the program at her Club. Much more interesting and much better. Raymond Guest and someone called Col. George Atwood were also there. The letter is heed of Air Transport Command so rather a good person to sit next to and get to know. Funnily enough he is a partner with Mr. Timmins (from Canada) in civilian life.

Lady A loved the picture of Joe but rather disagreed with the religious doctrine on the other side of the card. I think there are quite a few people over here who would like one so could you please send me about ten.

Last night one was expected for dinner and we ended up six. The cook hadn’t left yet and didn’t seem to mind so all is well. I gave them a delicious meal of soup, macaroni, brussels sprouts and a very tired apple pie. All was well.

The Duch is fine and I am having dinner with them tonight. He goes off to Burma the end of the month. Please don’t worry about me because I certainly am well taken care of and Billy always seems quite near.

The old girl here (over 70) came in the other morning with a rather sad expression. “M’lady, I have something rather bad to tell you.” “What?” says I optimistically. “When I was ironing your nylons I burnt the foot off.” Rather calmly I had to tell you that the one thing nylons can’t stand is heat, poor things.

That’s about all the news.

Love to all from


Almost as trivial as twitter.

What is tenderness?

Sometimes before I blog professionally I like to come here to remind myself of the kind of writing I can do when I’m not trying to be authoritative. Authority on the internet makes me want to crack wise and self-deprecate. Whereas self-writing, here where it is public but not publicized (that is, intimate) makes me want to be tender. Similarly, the paranoia of diary-writing becomes joyful to me when I write online; maybe because there’s less expectation of close reading. This ambiguity reminds me of Anne Carson’s gloss on Bellerophon in Iliad 6:

and Proitos sent him to Lykia and bestowed on him a written text that would kill him for he wrote many life-destroying things on a folded tablet and bid him show it to Anteia’s father so that he might be destroyed. (6.168-170)

What are the “life-destroying things” (thumophthora) on the folded tablet?…[Bellerophon] is unwitting victim of the sign the carries. First his own beauty, gift of the gods, seduces Anteia, unknown to him. Then the folded tablet, bestowed by Proitos, writes the order of his death, and he does not read it. (Eros the Bittersweet, p. 103)

But my mind alters the myth; I misremember it every time as a wax tablet Bellerophon cannot read because he carries it openly on his forehead. Self-writing is like that. If you read it too closely you’ll decipher the “thumophthora” (elsewhere translated as “heartbreaking things”), you’ll become aware, evade the Chimera that beauty-struck Anteia has left for you, you won’t get your heart broken by life destroying things.

Bellerophon chose to remain tender.

What is tenderness? Tenderness is a subject position some people experience more than others. Queers are tender so often it makes them angry (and isn’t that a strange equivalence?). Tenderness is the feeling you have for your favorite childhood outfit which was secretly hideous.

What to call ourselves

I never know what to call my career. The caption to my articles reads “Johannah King-Slutzky is an essayist and blogger” which is more honest than calling myself a “reporter” or “journalist” — actually I have no understanding, disdain even, for people who want to be those things — but really that’s me closing my eyes and whistling. Anyway, I thought this digression in Elon Green’s annotation of “If He Hollers Let Him Go,” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, was a useful distinction.

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It’s true, I would never hound somebody, except maybe in my personal life.