Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Bad Review By Twit

Martha Nussbaum, a liberal legal scholar, has written a book on gay stuff. David Tubbs, a conservative think-tanker and teacher at a college you've never heard of, thinks it is no good. No surprise there.

What does surprise us is just how badly put together Tubbs's review is. Time and blood pressure do not permit us to run through the whole thing, but here is a sample paragraph:
... Nussbaum writes that the politics of disgust has been used "for a long time" in opposing gay rights. But that view cannot be right. The most prominent initiative in the gay rights movement thus far relates to same-sex marriage, and it made inroads only in the 1990s. Before then, no one needed a broad strategy to oppose gay rights, because there was no national movement to oppose. (The AIDS outbreak in the 1980s led to demands for greater medical resources, but not to national demands for "marriage equality.") In fact, for most of the 20th century, gay rights and the gay lifestyle were rarely discussed in public because it was considered unseemly or vulgar to talk about intimate life there. Such strictures applied to everyone, as Rochelle Gurstein has shown in her remarkable book The Repeal of Reticence (1996).
What? This is a bit like suggesting that Al Sharpton started the civil-rights movement. Or like saying that there were no gay people in the world before I met my old neighbor Bobby and his friend Jim. Or any other stupid and historically-ignorant thing that you want to say.

It seems to us that Tubbs is willfully foreshortening the movement for gay rights, which by any reasonable account was already underway by the time of the Stonewall riots in 1969. The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were both creatures of the 1950s, and in 1962 the state of Illinois had decriminalized gay sex. What Tubbs would like readers to forget, apparently, is that the gay rights movement began not with the present bid for marriage equality, but with something far more fundamental: the hope that gay people could socialize without being assaulted, and have sex without committing a crime. And it seems that he would like us to forget the early opposition to this, including famously Anita Bryant's career-ending crusade in the later 1970s.

The sentences beginning "in fact ..." are worse than nonsense. They are a distraction. Yes indeed, people used to be more reticent about discussing their sex lives, and Tubbs hopes that his readers, once reminded of this fact, will be moved to nostalgic resentment of the present over-disclosing era. Fair enough, but irrelevant. Because in private, people did indeed talk about their sex lives, and the evidence for that is ample -- if it weren't true, none of the key Modernists -- think Joyce, Lawrence, Hemingway -- would have had anything to work with. The first half of the 20th century was largely devoted to asserting a public (and printed) place for language that had previously been kept private (and spoken). But so what? This has -- here's the point -- nothing to do with gay rights. Or at any rate, not directly.

The rest of the review is just as shoddy. Tubbs, who has degrees from Penn State and Princeton, is probably a reasonably smart guy. And that is what makes us so angry. Writing in the American Spectator, he is pretty clearly trying to please his ideological comrades, rather than to actually think through the matters at stake in Nussbaum's book.

None of this, by the way, should be taken as an endorsement of Martha Nussbaum. We haven't read her book, and don't expect to. For all we know, she might be the new Voltaire -- or the next Bulwer-Lytton. It doesn't matter to us one way or the other. All we ask is that a reviewer, even one hurrying to reveal her folly to the world, not make such a fool of himself.


Anonymous said...

Point of fact for Mr. Tubbs: Lutherans Concerned, an organization working for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church and congregations, was founded in 1974.

-Tim F.

Father Anonymous said...

And Integrity was founded by an Episcopalian the same year. The Roman Catholic organization, Dignity, dates back to 1969.

Again, the important thing about these dates is that by the time the organizations started, there was already a conversation about the need for equal rights, both inside and outside the church.

Mark Christianson said...

Tubbs also undermines his own suggestion by playing with the politics of discust he dismisses. He applies a supposed reticence to speak of "intimate life" to speaking of gay rights or the existence of gay and lesbian people (not to thier sex lives) as an unseemly or vulgar topic. In other words, the politics of disgust has been firmly in place for a long time, and this he essentially says even while attempting to deny it.

He also says that people opposing "the gay agenda" (I think I hear a dog whistle) "have not been nasty or vicious." Come again? Not nasty or vicious? Maybe some aren't, but really. If that's the case, I really don't want to be around when someone does get nasty and vicious.

Anonymous said...

Martha Nussbaum is one of my favorite philosophers and completely rocks. And, having read your blog for a few months now, I have a sneaking suspicion you would like her.

-- Anna

Anonymous said...

"All the stuff THEY don't"???
Who are "They"?
Why not just call yourself a lutheran pastor and skip the Piepkornian/pseudo-catholic crap?

Father Anonymous said...

@Anna: I know she's "important," and she sounds interesting. But where to start? Is there a "Martha Nussbaum reader" for the use of the chronically lazy?

Anonymous said...

Try her takedown of Judith Butler's feminist poseuring in place of wrestling with actual, messy social justice. (She also goes after Butler's gassy writing style.)


Her book "Sex and Social Justice" is a collection of essays. I also have her book "Upheavals of Thought," but it is a doorstop and I never finished it, in part because the durn internet is so distracting. And I'm also chronically lazy.

-- Anna