Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gross On Urine: Urine Not Gross?

On a fairly recent episode of Fresh Air, Terry Gross and Jonathan Franzen had the following back-and-forth (they are discussing characters in Franzen's new book, Purity):
GROSS: OK, let's move to an example (laughter) of - like you said, Tom almost, like, tries to not be a man and that doesn't work. And Tom's marriage to the transgressive artist who sees herself as, you know, a feminist. She says to him at one point - and this is probably the paragraph that's gotten the most attention from your book, you know, for whatever reason, but I want to ask you about it - she says to him that he needs to stop peeing standing up because it creates too much splash on the seat of the bowl, on the bowl itself, on the floor around it, and she can't expect him to clean up every time he goes. So she's going to ask him to sit down. And she basically says if I have to sit down, then you should have to sit down, too. And honestly, I really didn't know how to interpret that because I know - I'm pretty sure that Freud used to say that women had penis envy and that they wanted to be able to stand up. And, like, outside of situations where there's, like, a really filthy bathroom, I don't (laughter) - I don't think that's really an issue for women, that women envy men like that. And so I'm kind of curious hearing how that kind of made it (laughter) - made it in and what you're going for there.
FRANZEN: Well, that has to be taken in the context of his wife's whole personality. She's an extreme person. She has sort of a borderline personality, frankly. But it also has to do with this crazy idealism of youth, where the wish is to be identical, to merge, to have nothing, no differences between them. And for her, this is a difference. So yes, she talks the talk of feminism. But what's going on there is she's desperately afraid of being abandoned, and she has this kind of crackpot youthful notion, which many young people do, that, you know, if we can totally merge our souls and be alike in everything, then I will never be abandoned. So I got an interesting email this morning from a friend in Holland who says that all Dutch mothers teach their little boys to sit down (laughter). And I was like, really? That's interesting, tells you something about Holland. And that's merely to take one dimension of that particular scene. There is Tom's response to it. And to me, the whole description of that doomed marriage is a comedy. And it is - not everyone has been in a relationship with a difficult person that they felt trapped by, but many people have. And the friends I have who have get that that's a comic chapter. It's a very dark comedy of what happens when two people get together young and have this - this notion of total sharing - no secrets, no differences. And, you know, what you do in a comic novel is you exaggerate. You put salmon in the character's pants or you have this scene where one of the people in the relationship is being really, really irrational and difficult and asking for something that nobody should ask the partner for because it's funny. And because - because it - and because it's memorable and because it tears up the surface and gets at deeper things. And yeah, maybe the Freud stuff is in there and the envy, but I don't - I don't actually think that's what is going on for Anabel. Certainly, not - not in my mind. I wasn't thinking of Freud in that. I was thinking she has - has taken a particular self-pitying version of feminism and is using it kind of to abuse her boyfriend.
GROSS: Do you think a woman would ever do that?
FRANZEN: Do I think a woman would ever do that? I certainly believe that Anabel did that.
GROSS: OK, right. (Laughter) Fair enough.
FRANZEN: She does a lot of things. You know, she does a lot of things that not very many people would do.
GROSS: My guest is Jonathan Franzen. His new novel "Purity" was published today. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
Now, I think this shows some weird kind of generational gap, because I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask a man to sit down to urinate, if the alternative is that he's going to spray urine everywhere—on the seat, on the bowl, on the floor...  I mean, Jesus!  I would say it's unreasonable not to demand a bathroom free of urine splatter.  I suppose the thing you could say is that if he's willing to clean it up every single time, so that the woman can't tell the difference, then he can stand up if he wants.  But that's unrealistic, right?  Is he really going to wipe the seat, the bowl, and the floor every time he pees?  If those are his choices, he's going to sit down to pee.

And notice that Gross cites this as an example of Franzen creating an unfair caricature of a feminist:  "Do you think a woman would ever do that?"  I hope most women would do that!  Christ!  It's totally unacceptable to be leaving drops of urine everywhere!  This isn't really about feminism, it's about basic human decency.


Post a Comment

<< Home