Friday, December 31, 2010

“Putting the Mother Back in Mother Church”: A Review of Put the Blame on Eve: What Women Must Overcome to Feel Worthy

“Putting the Mother Back in Mother Church”: A Review of Put the Blame on Eve: What Women Must Overcome to Feel Worthy, Melinda J. Rising, PhD (Larson Publications, 2010; ISBN: 978-1-936012-47-3

Put the Blame on Eve is a survey of two at-first-glance distinct histories that have actually developed on parallel tracks—Christianity and Women’s Rights, and the book is organized accordingly. The first part is a thoroughly researched and fascinating history of the creation and codification of Christianity and women’s ill treatment at the hands of the Church’s founding fathers in their historical and persistent (mis)representations of Eve, Mary Mater, and Mary Magdalene. The second part is a report on the state of women’s status in modern society using the results from focus groups and Federal government departments and other reports.
Rising’s treatment of the subject evolves from three primary sources: Joseph Campbell, Elaine Pagels, and Paul Johnson. Campbell’s work on the usurpation of the Goddess’s prevalence in early cultures by the patriarchal priest classes of various religions is perhaps best stated in his Power of Myth interviews with Bill Moyers a few years before his death. Pagels and Johnson are well known for their scholarly works on religion and history.
Rising covers a great deal of historical ground in a concise, engaging manner and isn’t afraid to interject an edgy editorial comment every now and again along the way. It’d be all but impossible in this review to cover in any kind of detail the many psychological, physiological, philosophical, and theological components that went into the suppression of the Bible’s best-known women and the distortion of such epic events as The Fall of Eden, the Virgin Birth, and the reconstitution of Mary Magdalene from chief among Jesus’ advisors to Rehabilitated Whore.
Some of the Big Bad Wolves in all of this are the Emperor Constantine, St. Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas. If we keep in mind that Constantine was controlled by his mother Helena and killed his wife in a boiling bath for accusing his first-born son of trying to seduce her (factoids that do not appear in the book) and that Augustine was a recovering sex addict (which does appear in the book), it quickly becomes clear that the founding fathers of the Church were projecting their own weaknesses onto the fairer sex. Although seen as pillars of early Church thought, both Augustine and Aquinas were far off in their conceptions of the nature of the Soul and consequently pushed forth the view that women were far inferior to men.
At the heart of it all is one word, three letters: SEX. Hence Eve as Temptress, Mary Mater as Virgin, and Mary Magdalene as Whore. These pointedly conceived and cruelly marketed roles thrust upon these women are, sadly, the obstacle course with which modern women still must contend. Regardless of their very different politics, both Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton were judged more on their looks and dress than they were on their politics, and every gesture and emotional response they make is microscopically dissected to a degree far surpassing that of their male counterparts. Although they are not referenced in the book, biologist Rachel Carson and ethologist Jane Goodall were treated abysmally by colleagues and dismissed by the press as nothing but “hysterical” women who had no business in the Sciences.
Rising takes us through the Albigensian Crusade, the Inquisition, and the global Witch Hunts, all of which did further damage to the position of women. It’s hard to remain calm reading these accounts of rampant power in the guise of Divine mandate.
Some of the more disturbing remnants of these patriarchal ploys is the continued ban on women’s ordination in the Catholic Church and the current Pope’s decision to put attempts at instating women priests on the same level as sexual abuse of children.
Rising’s recounting of the Women’s Movement from its beginnings in the mid-1800s through modern times is another excellently presented historical survey that covers the major subjects of Suffrage and birth control/abortion, and brings to light the differing philosophies that began pitting women against women in their fight for equal rights—an ongoing rift that now includes the Stay at Home Mom versus the Career Woman.
The final chapter is a “Report Card and Prognosis for the Future,” drawing on statistics and reports from various governmental departments and human services organizations. In a nutshell, progress is being made, but there is still a ways to go. The so-called Glass Ceiling and large disparities in pay for the same work between men and women are still major issues that bleed into all other areas of life.
Rising ends the book with many recommendations for continuing the fight for equal rights for women. This is the practical, hands-on portion of the book and there are plenty of important ideas.
No book is perfect, so I feel it fair to point out the following: there is one major editing error, where AIDS is spelled out as Acquired Immune Disease [instead of Deficiency] Syndrome. Also, and more importantly, it is clear by the end that this book is targeted overwhelmingly toward women. That’s kind of like preaching to the choir. Although there is so much excellent information here that women should of course read it, it is really the males of the species that would most benefit from seeing where Church, political, and sociological policies have led us all.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Music Made New: A Review of Cover Stories: A Euphictional Anthology (2010,

A couple of quick bits of business, and we’re off.

1. Euphiction is a new genre wherein authors create “literary covers” of songs. Although many writers have probably been doing this very thing for years, it is formalized by name in this anthology for the first time.
2. I edited the stories by N. Pendleton that appear in this collection. I can take no credit for the success of the stories, or the immense talent of their author. I merely cleaned up the edges… he did all the work.

This excellent collection¬—“100 stories, 10 authors, 1 new genre” (plus an intro by Mike Dawson and an Afterword by Sean P. Murray¬) hints at the future of the short story. Longer, but just as visually rich, as flash fiction, these euphicational stories seek to reproduce the compressed narrative structure of the songs on which they were based.

They read quickly and make a wide arc from ‘80s genre homage and fun-poking to deep, dark, and seedy. Most of the authors offer a microcosm of the larger variety, showing off their dexterity and range, as a good band will in a 10-cut album. Others know their strengths and stick to their time signature and key throughout their 10 tales. Either way, the variety of Voices and Perspectives across the 100 stories is impressive.

Each author is provided a space for “Liner Notes,” revealing the source material (in most cases; some authors were denied copyright for titles or other use, which is unfortunate), their relationship to it, and their reasons for undertaking the project. To their credit, all of the authors bring a humor and lightness to their Liner Notes; if this is the face of the new generation of short story writers, the field is in capable, humble hands.

Some of my favorite stories were Simon Neil’s “A Present,” about a train of Muslims heading from India to Pakistan; Derrek Carriveau’s “Papillon,” concerning a teenage wedding; Christian A. Dumais’ “You Know I’d Never Leave You” about a man who births a baby and “A Hundred Fireflies Outside,” which de- and reconstructs teen slasher/romance flicks (an important piece due to its representing the partial face of post-postmodern literature); “Killing the Past,” “Let Your Mouth Tell the Story,” and “Quarters,” all by A. C. Noia; “Infinity,” “Beauty,” “Wildness” and “Home,” all by Derek Handley; “Listen, It Won’t Rain When I Die,” by Matt Gamble; and N. Pendleton’s “Untitled Track 006—Genre Unknown” and “Untitled Track 009—Genre Unknown,” the latter of which is a reworked excerpt from a (hopefully) forthcoming novel that will set new parameters for what fiction can and should be in the twenty-first century [and just because I’m editing said novel doesn’t make this statement any less true].

As I mentioned in the opening, the creation of Art from other Art is not a new endeavor—in my writing classes I use visual art and film soundtracks as prompts, and poets often pay homage to other poets and poems in their work. I also collaborated recently with a visual artist, writing a series of poems based on her highly symbolic and abstract paintings—some of which were originally inspired by pieces of music or poems (which may also have been inspired by works other works of art), so we have a continuum here that opens up endless possibilities and exciting new realms grounded in older traditions.

At least one author in Cover Stories, Derrek Carriveau, mentions a similar situation. Jack London’s short story “Martin Eden” provides the title to a Twilight Singers song on Blackberry Belle, which in turn influenced the author to write some stories. Other writers also mention writing to music in the past, and Matt Gamble confesses to scrapping his original artist/album when the stories were finished and seeking out a better “fit” for them.

Keeping in mind this situating of the writer in a much larger continuum of Art, Cover Stories provides several things: a new genre; a fertile field of inspiration from which other artists—painters, musicians, other writers—can draw inspiration; and several hours of excellent reading.

How many books can say as much?