EPILOGUE: On the Mo(u)rning

of Margaret Thatchers Passing

On the Mo(u)rning of Margaret Thatcher’s passing.

Early on, in the process of this thesis project, while I was trying to patch together my protagonist Queen Leeba, I was asked: “Is there an Antagonist?

I had to sleep on it, and as I woke up it dawned on me: “Yes, there is, and her name is Margaret Thatcher!

I went off on a tangent, a fantasy, in which Margaret Thatcher became the Hannibal the Cannibal of feminism, butchering the feminist body, skinning it, and sewing her self a power suit out of it.

She would probably have loved that.

New Statesman’s editor’s Paul Johnson quoted her as saying:

The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.[1]

And yet, undeniably, she owed her political career to generations of feminists gone before her, just as she undeniably made the road to equality and solidarity so much harder to travel for the generations (feminists and non-feminists alike) after her.

She basically road blocked it, or rather, in her lingo, privatized its infrastructure.

As Russell Brand, ever the voice of reason, remarked in his eulogy for her:

It always struck me as peculiar […] when the Spice Girls briefly championed Thatcher as an early example of girl power. I don’t see that. She is an anomaly; a product of the freak-onomy of her time. Barack Obama, interestingly, said in his statement that she had ‘broken the glass ceiling for other women’.

Only in the sense that all the women beneath her were blinded by falling shards. She is an icon of individualism, not of feminism.[2]

In keeping with the individualist credo “Anything you can do, I can do better!” Thatcher famously almost never slept. She got by on catnaps here and there, in boardrooms and taxis amongst others, staying up all night, plotting and scheming her new world order.

It makes complete sense to me: I am at my most vitriolic and mean spirited when sleep deprived.

(– Although you can wake me up for breast feeding any time!)

My Husband, who is British, does not understand my passionate resentment toward this woman. After all, I didn’t grow up in Britain, as he did, where her election was welcomed by his primary school peers with a bemused “Blimey, now we have a female prime minister, Jolly Good!” before moving along in the lunch queue singing:

In the gravy, where we can sail the seven peas…

But that was before she snatched their milk, of course…

And to me it seems she snatched so much more that that.

She stole my childhood dream, which is actually largely overlapping with Martin Luther King’s dream, and that dream which in Europe has been called the Post War Dream.

A dream of an egalitarian society, in which you don’t give as good as you get, but give what you can and get what you need. A dream of a society in which the nation state is not a warmongering father, but a protecting mother.[3]

Instead she laid the foundation to a Europe in which the welfare state and the workers unions were dismantled and groups of people on the periphery of the work market, the immigrants, the unemployed and most recently, the artists are singled out and pitted against each other in the name of competition and privatization, so that last year friends of mine who had taken to the streets in protest of the severe budget cuts to the cultural sector of the Netherlands, reported back to me with shocking accounts;

Not only of police brutality (which was expected) but of spectators along the route, “nette burgers” (meaning “good citizens”) in the respectable pedestrian precinct of the historic city of the Hague, booing the protesters from their front row seats at the sidewalk café’s along the route calling them “Links Tuig!” – Leftist Scum!

As Owen Jones preemptively wrote in The Independent, about a year ago:

Thatcher is reviled by some not just because she crushed the left, the Labour movement and the post-war social democratic settlement. It is because she did it with such enthusiasm, and showed no regret for the terrible human cost.

[…] Perhaps if a Labour government had reduced the prosperous middle-classes of the Home Counties to mass unemployment and poverty, and stockbrokers desperate to save their livelihoods had been chased by police on horseback through the City of London, they would understand the bitterness.

[…]But while Thatcher-hate is understandable, it is futile. Celebrating the prospect of her death has become an admittedly macabre substitute for the failure to defeat Thatcherism.[4]

In so many ways, 1979 became the seminal year for this thesis project. It was the Year of the Child. It was the year of Disco Demolition. And it was the year Thatcher was elected into office.

Of course it is just one year out of many, a moment in history, but when I think back to it now the transition from the 70’s into the 80’s seems to be a seismic shift in the western paradigm, and a retrograde movement away from some of the possibilities and some of the conversations that had been started in the 60’s and continued in the 70’s by, amongst others, the civil rights- and the Feminist movement.

Pretty soon this conversation was to be muffled by ridicule with slogans such as “Greed is good!” and “The nine most dangerous words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help!’”and the way was paved for Thatcherism and Reaganomics.[5]

You can argue what came first, the spunk or the egg, but Reagan and Thatcher were made in the boardroom for each other and they made it clear to the world in no uncertain terms that they would take this new romance to the bunker if needed.

I remember a poster, popular at the time when I was in my preteens and living so close to the Iron Curtain that we could see it from our house. It is a parody of the Movie poster from Gone with the Wind in which Reagan is carrying Thatcher away from a nuclear mushroom cloud behind them. The caption reads:

She promised to follow him to the end of the world,
He promised to organize it!

It used to scare the living daylight out of me.

So, the incentive for this thesis project, in part, was spawned by the urge to get even with that fear and the feeling of being bullied into compliance. Also, it bothered me that my younger classmates did not want to identify with the feminist movement, because in their vocabulary, the term Feminist had become attached to the term Killjoy.

So, I labeled myself the Feminist Killjoy and went on to preach the joys of Feminism.

And Motherhood. And Art. And Disco.

In that sense, this thesis is not an attempt at alternative his/herstory writing, but of revisiting and reexamining some of the legacy that was handed to us from the 2nd wave of feminism from the 70’s, because although some of it seems quaint and dated now, there is some really good and useful stuff in there.

There is also a whole lot of lovin’ in there. Because, contrary to what you might have been told, feminism is not about hating men. It’s about loving women. And men. And children. And everyone in-between. And that does not make it sentimental and sappy, on the contrary.

It does make it clear, however, why Thatcher hated it so much. As Russell Brand dryly notes:

When I awoke today on LA time my phone was full of impertinent digital eulogies. It’d be disingenuous to omit that there were a fair number of ding-dong-style celebratory messages amidst the pensive reflections on the end of an era. Interestingly, one mate of mine, a proper leftie, in his heyday all Red Wedge and right-on punch-ups, was melancholy. “I thought I’d be overjoyed, but really it’s just … another one bites the dust …” This demonstrates, I suppose, that if you opposed Thatcher’s ideas it was likely because of their lack of compassion, which is really just a word for love. If love is something you cherish, it is hard to glean much joy from death, even in one’s enemies.[6]

Even so, I couldn’t but feel a brief elation, when I learned of her death. A hope that she, now that she was gone, could also be forgotten, that her legacy could rust in peace, along with her.

So I made her a banner and I hung it above my protest chic camp. Protest is a position of hope. It hopes to some day make itself redundant. So, I hope that some day we won’t need to point out the legacy of feminism anymore because it has made it-self redundant, or self-explanatory.

But, until that day, I have tried to reinvent it for myself and for you, my reader, and for anybody else who might be interested.

So I looked at it and thought: “If I am to hand this down to the next generation, my son’s and daughter’s generation, what does it need?” And I thought: “It needs a beat, a heart beat and a disco beat.”

It needs a future, a future feminism and it needs a space. It needs a space, a liminal space, like a tent, so it can move and move through and be moved through.

A space for mothering and a space in the art world for mothering, because without mothers there will be no next generation of feminists or anybody else.

And without art there will be no future anymore and we will all just be living in the past.

This morning, as I was unloading the Mothernism tent in my now empty studio (empty, but for a ton of stuff), I had a little cry, as I was eating a heart shaped Mom’s Heart special Mother’s Day edition from Dunkin Donuts, while at the same time reading on my cell phone digital edition of the NY Times about the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh.[7]

Motherly love, so sweet and yet so raw: You see, a Mom’s Heart is not only covered in pink glazing and heart shaped sprinkles it is also filled to the brim with the sweetest custard you have ever tasted, and as this saccharine goo overflowed and spilled into every cavity of every taste-bud I never knew I had and filled it to the brim with some obscene bliss, another mother cried out in another part of the world, holding on to the pictures of her two children who had been working in the garment factories on the fourth and the fifth floor of what was now just a giant pile of rubble, calling out to them, to the sky and to the world at large and to the void in front of her:

Today, I’m here! But you haven’t come back![8]

I am here! I am here and you are not! Why are you not here?

And in the beautifully raw spring morning light, like that pouring into my now empty studio (empty but for a ton of stuff), that was too much to bear, and I had to have a little cry.[9]

It was a cry of exhaustion, I guess. The exhaustion of a project nearing its completion, and at the same time the realization that it can never be completed. The closer I get to the Mother, the closer to infinity.

It’s like the world is too large these days, for motherly love, and yet too small. Like there is no space for this type of attachment in the digital age.

And in the time/space collapse of the here and now and the there and now, it felt so exhausting that her kids had to die, there, so that that I could sit here and have my donut and eat it too, after dropping my kids off at school, where they will hopefully know what to do if an armed lunatic enters the building after the terrifying un-announced lockdown drill they had to endure last week, and me briefly entertaining the question, as I waved goodbye to them, if the security guard was armed, and I if it would make me feel safer either way, because these are the kind of bullshit questions we have to entertain these days, because there is no outside to the vernacular of capitalism.

(Thanks, in parts, to Thatcherism and Reaganomics)

My interest in The Mother, in part stems from a defiance to give in to this vernacular, to challenge it. Because, even when you try to squeeze her into a donut, the mother lets you do that, yet she is uncontainable, she runneth over…

Her self-sacrifice is a transgression, it breaks the primordial taboo of capitalism, because in capitalism, there is no greater God than you, and your infinite individual needs.

So, I set out to locate the Mother-shaped hole in contemporary art and discourse…

And, I doing so, I went looking for the girl-in-the-mother and the mother in the girl.

My search has been documented in the form of these letters, open letters from a fictional mother to a fictional daughter, but off course also from myself to my own daughter, or perhaps more accurately, from the girl I was to the woman she will become.

To that girl, the girl I was, 1979 was also a seminal year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It (roughly) marks the beginning of her self-identification as a feminist as well as an artist…with drawings of ponies for her classmates. Unicorns and Rainbows and Minotaur’s and Pegasus’…Butterflies and Moonbeams and Fairy Tales. Fantasy stuff.

That girl is still in there, I guess, and I guess there is a lot of her in Queen Leeba. I unleashed her for this project, to see if she could ripen and if she could carry it.

The weight and the joy of the criticality of the world of academia.

When I’m sad, she comes to me
And a thousand smiles she gives to me free.
It’s alright, it’s alright, its alright, she says.
Take anything you want from me. Anything.

I think there is a song in that.[10]

Love,

Lise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Elgot, Jessica: Huffington Post UK April 8th 2013:
Margeret Thatcher Dead: Was the Iron Lady a Feminist?
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/04/08/margaret-thatcher-feminist_n_3036864.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

[2] Brand, Russell: ‘I always felt sorry for her children' The Guardian, Comment is Free, Tuesday April 9th 2013. 

http://m.guardiannews.com/politics/2013/apr/09/russell-brand-margaret-thatcher

[3] I know it’s pathetic, and I know that you are going to ask: “do you have to?” But yes, I have to, have to, have to quote the most pathetic (and therefore one of the greatest) British bands, Pink Floyd, at their most pathetic, from that most pathetic album of theirs, The Final Cut, that cut where Roger Waters wails:

Should we shout
should we scream
What happened to the post war dream?

-Oh Maggie, Maggie, what did we do?

Because this actually describes the feeling most accurately, and perhaps it also underscores that sometimes the pathetic is the perfect antidote to apathy?

[4] Jones, Owen: Not All Socialists Want To Dance On Margaret Thatcher’s Grave, I Want Her To Go On And On,
The Independent, Sunday 16th September 2012: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/not-all-socialists-want-to-dance-on-margaret-thatchers-grave-i-want-her-to-go-on-and-on-8143089.html

[5] Which is the reason why we are now given all this stuff for free. Not because, as it used to be, the society is you, but because the product is you. Which is great, right? Because we all want free stuff… except the free stuff we get now is not the stuff we need, like education and health care and affordable housing. No, that stuff is really expensive, because it is actually valuable. So what we get for free is Facebook and Groupons.

[6] Russell Brand on Margeret Thatcher: I always Felt Sorry for her Children, The Guardian, Comment is Free, Tuesday April 9th 2013 

http://m.guardiannews.com/politics/2013/apr/09/russell-brand-margaret-thatcher

[7] CELEBRATE MOM IN SWEET WAYS AT DUNKIN’ DONUTS THIS MAY:

Dunkin’ Donuts also has a Mom’s Heart Donut, a heart-shaped donut filled with Bavarian Kreme, topped with strawberry icing and festive heart-shaped sprinkles. The Mom’s Heart Donut is available at participating Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants nationwide for a limited time.

http://news.dunkindonuts.com/Press-Releases/CELEBRATE-MOM-IN-SWEET-WAYS-AT-DUNKIN-DONUTS-THIS-MAY-ec.aspx

[8] Yardley, Jim: Tears and Rage as Hopes Fade in Bangladesh in the New York Times, April 29th 2013 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/world/asia/owner-of-collapsed-building-arrested-in-bangladesh.html

[9] I still cry as I am reading this back to myself: I cry at my own writing, because I don’t yet understand the mechanics of it. Like crying in empty stairwells or in front of a mirror. It a narcissist pursuit, but as Ettinger points out:

This is a “neither pathological nor obnoxious” narcissistic investment, necessary for the development of psychic life and for artistic creativity.

[10] Of course there is! Jimi Hendrix Little Wing from Axis Bold as Love, MCA, 1967.

Hendrix spoke to a Swedish journalist about the song in January 1968, saying

Well, that was one song on there we did a lot of sound on, you know. We put the guitar through the Leslie speaker of an organ, and it sounds like jelly bread, you know… It’s based on a very, very simple American Indian style, you know, very simple. I got the idea like, when we was in Monterey, and I just happened to…just looking at everything around. So I figured that I take everything I see around and put it maybe in the form of a girl maybe, something like that, you know, and call it ‘Little Wing’, in other words, just fly away. Everybody really flying and they’s really in a nice mood, like the police and everybody was really great out there.

So I just took all these things and put them in one very, very small little matchbox, you know, into a girl and then do it. It was very simple, you know. That’s one of the very few ones I like.

Much like me with Queen Leeba.

Shapiro, Harry & Caesar Glebbeek: Jimi Hendrix, Electric Gypsy. New York, NY: St. Marin’s Press 1990.