Women in Dark Times: an explosive kind of feminism

Frances Wilson in The Telegraph:

Rose_3013439aJacqueline Rose has been taking us into what Joseph Conrad called “the dark places of the earth” for the past 30 years. In The Haunting of Sylvia Plath she explored the pathology around the darkest woman of them all and in Women in Dark Times, a combination of psychoanalytic interpretation, political manifesto and personal reflection, Rose shines a light on those others who have taught her how “to think differently”: the revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg, murdered by government henchmen in 1919, the iconic Marilyn Monroe, possibly murdered in 1962, and the German-Jewish painter Charlotte Salomon, who died, five months pregnant, in Auschwitz. She also honours the tragic lives of Shafilea Ahmed, Heshu Yones and Fadime Sahindal, victims of so-called “honour” killings, and celebrates the work of the contemporary artists Esther Shalev-Gerz, Yael Bartana and Therese Oulton. An unpredictable group, you might think, but unpredictability is their point and the mark, Rose suggests, of their individual genius – as Eve Arnold said of photographing Monroe: “It was the unpredictable in herself that she used.” Nothing in these pages is predictable, least of all the journey we take. Rose, a professor of English at the University of London, begins in early 20th-century Germany, motors through Fifties Hollywood, crosses to Sweden, 2001, detours around the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in 2011 and 2013, pauses at Chester Crown Court in 2012 and terminates inside the London gallery where Oulton’s work – which “turns the world inside out” – is currently being displayed.

Rosa Luxemburg, the tiny Polish Jew who walked with a limp, is the glue that binds the book together: “I want to affect people like a clap of thunder,” she writes to her lover, “to inflame their minds not by speechifying but with the breadth of my vision, the strength of my conviction, and the power of my expression.” Luxemburg, says Rose, still has a lot to teach us, but for many readers the most compelling figure will be Marilyn Monroe. Why are women so drawn to her story? Rose does not argue that Monroe was a feminist, but that she had “something urgent to say to feminism today”. Written across her face and body were the desires of America; Monroe represented capitalism to itself. “I don’t look on myself as a commodity,” she said in her last interview, “but I’m sure a lot of people have.” Her beauty was the foil of her country’s moral decay, and she knew it.

More here.