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August 29, 2011

Reading Update: Just Disembodied Kids

I was explaining Just Kids to a friend today and she asked me if Patti Smith was a feminist. I immediately said no, although Smith might perhaps espouse feminism if you asked her directly. There's none of it in her work, though, and none of it in this book. Instead, there's her patent desire for boys, and to be a boy, both.

Until the book came out, I was a Patti Smith fan, but I had never delved into her life and wasn't aware of her association with Robert Mapplethorpe. But reading the book made the connection between Johnny in the hallway and Mapplethorpe's delicious hustlers. It all made sense. I'm not a connoisseur of her work, but I'm noticing now that she only becomes physical in the world when she's embodying a boy figure, like in "Birdland," or "Land." Her girl-bodies are all abortive, like in "Kimberly," or "Redondo Beach."

Her physicality is borrowed. And in the book, she has to be herself, so she's not physically present. She expresses no desire, no press or pressure, no sex, no gender. She's a mind wandering through a very physically enacted world, full of drag queens and drug addicts and street hustlers -- all of whom perform and live through their bodies. For most of the book she doesn't drink or do drugs, doesn't seem to experience the sex she has, goes for long periods without sex, goes for long periods without food, fails to describe the hunger she claims she felt, and finally admits to prudishness and alienation around the transgressive physicality of Mapplethorpe's photographs.

All the men she describes have physical descriptions and auras. The women only have resumes. Although she mentions many women who affected her life, reading the book is like reading a life led by a floating mind in an all-male camp.

So it meant something completely different to me than she likely intended when I saw her disclaim a "female artist" or "woman artist" identity in an interview on Youtube from 1998. Aside from my contemptuous "Way to throw all other women artists under the bus" response, I also thought: of course you don't see yourself as a woman artist. In the arts, do you see yourself as a woman at all?

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Comments

Feminism has nothing to do with liking men or not, it has to do with wanting equal rights for women!

And yes, Patti Smith is absolutely a feminist.

I can see why you'd be annoyed, but Smith lives in a world that massively values and valorises men over women. It's not nice and it's not feminist, but it does make complete sense.

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