Harper's Magazine

by , Aug 29, 2007, 6:00 PM
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Harper's Magazine, known (since 1850!) for its provocative takes on important cultural and intellectual issues of the day, not to mention as a place for finding new writing talents and highbrow literary fiction, is, most importantly, now owned by those MacArthur Genius People. So I tend to feel like a genius just carrying it.

Indeed, this September's cover story, "The Global Warming Jackpot: McKenzie Funk on the Battle for the Melting North," sure sounds important. I know little besides Al Gore's power points on global warming, so my immediate inclination would be to make fun of the author's name. McKenzie Funk! Ha ha! Put that in your Wagnalls! Or maybe it's not an author at all, but an unsuccessful '60s British band! Ha.

Um, not only do I feel so not like a genius, but I have become Rodney Dangerfield at his most self-loathing in the presence of such dense copy. "On the first full day of the sovereignty operation,'' Funk writes in the opening paragraph, ''the Captain slowed the frigate and we sprayed the Northwest Passage with bullets.''

Well, that's quite a promising start if you are interested in a) issues of Canadian sovereignty, or b) frigates. I can't help it: my eyes start rattling around in my head, and a second attempt just makes it worse: ''Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself had made the long journey to Iqaluit, the former U.S. Military base that is now the capital of Nunavit....''

I'd love to be able to summarize the 11-page piece for you, but given the author's penchant for language like ''wielding bathymetry collected by its petroleum directorate'' I'll have to give up, and say that Mr. (or Ms.??) Mr. Funk's previous article in Harper's, '' I was a Chinese Internet Addict'' sounds like a lot more fun.

Okay, so I guess ADD-addled sub-geniuses like myself have to stick to the back or front of the book, where there are short, amusing, list-y things and excerpts and reviews. These are especially pleasing (the ''Harper's Index'' is so smart and entertaining that it has become the blueprint for far younger, trendier magazines to liven up their pages with lists of carefully aggregated random data. ''Number of goats that Chattanooga, Tennessee, has rented to roam city land and clear kudzu: 12'' is one of this month's factoids, followed by ''Number of llamas it has had to rent to guard the goats from neighborhood dogs: 2."

I also liked ''Sex and the Feminist Prude,'' as it is flagged on the cover (in the book review section it's called, ''Lust and Disgust: A short history of prudery, feminist and otherwise.''). The review discusses three just-published non-fiction books: the recently reissued ''Intercourse,'' by Andrea Dworkin; ''Girls Gone Mild : Young Women Reclaim Self -Respect and Find It's not Bad to be Good,'' by Wendy Shalit; and ''Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both,'' by Laura Sessions Stepp.

That's quite a setup for anyone interested in gender issues and sexual mores. I was interested in Shalit's book to see if she has any answers for the teenage girls who have to grow up in our hyper-sexualized, Britneyfied, and Parisized culture.

According to the Harper's reviewer, Laura Kipnis, Shalit mentions the revealing outfits, and decries "Girls Gone Wild," but her answer is: find a man to love and marry you. Same with Stepp. And it seems both Stepp and Shalit confuse feminism with sexual liberation. (They're against both.)

Reading the radical feminist Andrea Dworkin would seem to belie that notion. Dworkin thought that for women, engaging in any kind of heterosexual intercourse was ''eroticizing powerlessness and self-annihilation.'' She also compared intercourse to the great crimes of the 20th century, like Auschwitz. (Turns out Dworkin was an unorthodox-enough lesbian to have loved and married a man, but that's just one of the secrets that came out after her death.)

Kipnis is a charming writer, and her survey of the three books is fascinating.

And I guess if I brought the same sex-based interest to the cover story, I could read lines like ''our warship surged past the tour boat and arced a dramatic right turn into the fjord,'' with a whole new level of genius.


Published by: The Harper's Magazine Foundation

Frequency: Monthly

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