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"Marriage is lye poured on the petri dish of the new relations of erotic sociality"

Posted by Christopher Shea  October 15, 2009 10:03 AM

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Keith Gessen, co-editor of N + 1, is certainly tetchy when his writers are criticized. Globe contributor Tom Scocca recently took a few whacks at a piece in the new issue of N+1, "On Repressive Sentimentalism," by Mark Geif (who is the other N + 1 co-editor). The article was an attack on the gay-marriage movement, from a cultural-left perspective: Gays, suggests Greif, had been making substantial progress toward constructing an alternative set of social and sexual arrangements, and habitudes, that straights might do well to imitate. So why, then, were gays now lobbying to sign up for the same-old, same-old that made straights miserable? Moreoever, perhaps straights should themselves be rethinking the value of marriage, embracing the more-adventurous, marriage-rejecting gays as "our utopian heroes."

Scocca landed a few solid punches in his initial attack, I thought, though he failed to make clear that Greif's argument is a long-standing one in the gay intellectual world. (Greif also failed to cite the countless people who have made arguments similar to his, a rather significant lapse.) Gessen, however, riposted by dismissing Scocca's comments as mere bad-faith anti-intellectualism. You can read their subsequent sparring here.

Some lingering thoughts, as we gaze upon the smoldering remains of the encounter:

1.) Greif is right that there is a downside to, and an element of self-betrayal within, the gay-rights movement's portrayal of marriage as the sine qua non of human dignity. Andrew Sullivan's paeans to the value of marriage come to mind: his valorization of monogamous gay marriage, though it has has bolstered his credibility with the mainstream (helped the brand, as it were), is often at odds, to say the least, with other ways of living that he has embraced and still seems to prize.

2.) David Foster Wallace wrote, long ago, a vigorous rebuttal of the Greif position (in the form of a rebuttal of the Rothian, Updikean view of marriage).

3.) This line of Greif's stings your Mazda5-driving, soccer-coaching blogger: "To marry is the closest adult thing to making your eyes big, your forehead rounded, and your hands into adorable little paws. Look at hubby-wubby! It is so responsible."

4.) This line of Greif's more than suggests that he is in thrall to an entirely discredited form of blank-slatism: "[T]he family, as the crucible of personality for children, seems to be the origin of violence, hierarchy, and tyranny … "

Someone needs to read some psychological research written after, say, 1975.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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