Critical Trilogy

a critic's millennial journey

“Conversation” with Kate Millett


REVIVING FEMINISM: Kate MIllett and Lisa Paul Streitfeld at Pierre Menard Gallery, 05 June 2010

"Conversation" with Kate Millett; June 05, 2010 starting at 4 PM; Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge

Kate Millett in her New York City loft

When I visited Kate Millett at her New York City loft on March 2, I handed her the press release for the exhibition which stated my intention: to explode the literary canon with the revelation regarding Margaret Fuller and the sacred marriage.

Her understanding was instantaneous.  She nodded and said: “The Boston Marriage.  Henry James.”

I asked her if she would come to the gallery and speak about the Boston Marriage in conjunction with her participation in Woman in the 21st Century: Margaret Fuller and the Sacred Marriage.

And so, the Cambridge revival of the Magaret Fuller “Conversation” got underway!

Kate MIllett at home in NYC pointing to "Woman in the Nineteenth Century" on her bookshelves

Margaret Fuller's "Woman in the Nineteenth Century" on the top of Kate Millett's bookshelf

FLYING (1974) – THE SKY GODDESS

“That woman on the staircase.  All the way to New Haven I hear women’s voices.  The voices that demand all your time, though they themselves are often too busy to attend.  Or when you next run into them they’ve lost interest altogether and look upon their involvement as a phase. They are back in school, have a better job, are thinking of leaving town, need a vacation. But you mustn’t.  You must serve continuously because they think you’re no not a leader just some asshole created by publicity – a star.  So they need your name and presence whenever they need it.  And a check would be handy too. And when they have used you they denounce you.  You are a piece of shit.  You are a star.”  Flying, p. 402-403

“Come, are you taking yourself seriously as Kate Millett of Women’s Lib?  I hope not.  That media-elected leader is now my worst enemy, would have me ousted from a movement I worked in six years, long before publicity entered to mess it up.  But you are an artist.  You have other work to do.  You have a life of your own.  Your friends go to the hospital or arrive from England.  Are you a pawn?  Do you belong to the movement and not yourself?  I hope not.  Damned little good to it if I’m not my own woman first.  Who are you then?  I am all the things I am.  One of them is a woman in the movement.  What is your life about?  About change.  I think lately.  And if you change your mind?  Then I am a fool.  Who changed her mind.  But I think I won’t.”  Flying, p. 403

Wearing her “Flying” T-shirt, Kate told me during our Conversation that she had conscious knowledge of Inanna in college in the 1960s.  She declared that her reaction a real life tragedy recounted in the catalog of her sculpture retrospective:  On October 26, 1968, in Indianapolis Indianna, the starved body of a sixteen year old girl named Sylvia Likens was found in a back bedroom of Gertrude Baniszewski’s house on New York Street, the corpse covered with bruises and with the words: “I am a prostitute and proud of it” carved upon the abdomen.  Sylvia’s parents had boarded her and her younger sister Jenny Likens with Gertrude in July.  The beatings and abuse Sylvia suffered over the summer had increased so by September that the last weeks of her life were spent as a captive in the basement of the house.”

“Everything I have done since in sculpture has depended on that paragraph.  And much that I have done as a writer as well: Sexual Politics and the Basement, which is a series of meditations upon that death.  My road to Tarsus.  But it is on thing in writing, another in sculpture.  And what I have done with this holt in the figures and cages I have constructed ever since is something I would not dare to write.  To frightening.  Too deep.  Too far into the core of the self.  Fear itself…Dread of death if the death that is worse than death because it is death in life, buried alive but still alive though buried…”  p. 42, Kate Millett, Sculptor, the First 38 Years. copyright 1997, Fine Arts Gallery, University of Maryland, Catonville Maryland


WOMAN WARRIORS IN THEIR TIME:

Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845)

“We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man. Were this done, and a slight temporary fermentation allowed to subside, we should see crystallizations more pure and of more various beauty. We believe the divine energy would pervade nature to a degree unknown in the history of former ages, and that no discordant collision, but a ravishing harmony of the spheres, would ensue.
Yet, then and only then will mankind be ripe for this, when inward and outward freedom for Woman as much as for Man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession.”

Sexual Politics (1970)

“What goes largely unexamined, often even unacknowledged in our present social order is the birthright priority whereby males rule females.  Through this system a most ingenious form of “interior colonization” has been achieved.  It is one which tends to be sturdier than any form of segregation, more rigorous than class stratification, more uniform, certainly more enduring.  However muted its present appearance may be, sexual domination obtains, nevertheless, as perhaps the most pervasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power.

This is so because our society, like all other historical civilizations, is a patriarchy.”

THE GREAT RADICAL DUALISM…

‘Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But, in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.  History jeers at the attempts of physiologists to bind great original laws by the forms which flow from them. They make a rule; they say from observation what can and cannot be. In vain! Nature provides exceptions to every rule. She sends women to battle, and sets Hercules spinning; she enables women to bear immense burdens, cold, and frost; she enables the man, who feels maternal love, to nourish his infant like a mother.”

–Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century

“Because of our social circumstances, male and female are really two cultures and their life experiences are utterly different.”

–Kate Millett



Kate MIllett, September 14, 1934; 7:40 PM EDT, St. Paul Minnesota

BEYOND GENDER:

And surely, astrology knows no gender.  So, you have Kate Millett, a sexually charged (chart ruled by Mars in Leo in the Fifth House) androgynous (Sun and Pluto in a Yod apex Saturn in Aquarius) force (Uranus at 0 degrees Taurus on the ascendent at the apex of a yod formed by Moon (Sagittarius) ruling Mercury (in Libra) sextile that we are thrilled to claim in the art world:

What an energy, Kate MILLETT! You take so many initiatives, you have so much strength for action, construction and struggle! You are part of the conquerors, loyal and concerned about panache. Your vitality is such that you can achieve your objectives and release all your creativity. However, you are so proud and so unyielding that you cannot tolerate the faintest annoyance on your way: if you are vexed, you may turn into the opposite direction as a matter of reaction. Sexually, your magnetism and your energy work wonders. You are not complicated and, as long as your slightly domineering nature is respected and you are granted due admiration, all goes perfectly well. You usually have a lot of self-confidence and you believe in you. This characteristic feature may turn you into a hero with Hercules’s strength and solar charisma.

— computerized astrological analysis on astrotheme.com

Kate Millett's twin chairs with a book on Lennon between them

Linda Nochlin (Why There are no Great Woman Artists) on Kate Millett:  “What is particularly striking about Kate Millett’s persona and achievement is how little it lends itself to conventional pigeon holing.  Either you work with words or with images, or, more recently with some combination of both. But to be both an artist and a writer with equal dedication, and both a fiction writer and a nonfiction writer, a political activist and the organizer of a utopian art colony – and to be a woman and a lesbian at the same time: it’s somehow too much for the contemporary critical imagination, with its tendency to allot one talent per customer, and that rather grudgingly.  Even within a single field, it is not easy to hold together what are considered “contradictions.”

Kate MIllett showing me a new edition of "Sita"


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June 5, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

4 Comments »

  1. I worked with Millett at her farm in 2007 and began what would prove to be an extremely challenging joint venture. Together we take on an ambitious project: digitally photographing her art work (mostly silk screen images on paper) in order to create an archive of her art work as a second wave feminist artist. From I mid June through the end of October at the farm leaving only to fly back to California to take care of personal business.

    I mention only because in all of my conversations with Kate I was struck by the fact that no one has bothered or acknowledged the urgent necessity of compiling an edition of what I would call “classic second wave feminist writings,” that would include, Millett’s – “Sexual Politics,” Greer’s – “The Female Eunch,” Fireston’s – “The Dialectic of Sex” etc, etc etc. I would be interested in all comments on this subject.

    Comment by Emilie Noble | June 15, 2010 | Reply

  2. I have just started reading The Basement, after it sitting on my bookshelf for about two years, and I am blown away. Kate Millett is my new hero. Is there any way to contact her, does anyone know? Thanks.

    Comment by Julie | April 9, 2012 | Reply

  3. Love Kate Millett.

    Comment by R | August 31, 2012 | Reply

  4. I’m re-reading Sita a.t.m. Found this gem in a second hand bookshop and couldn’t leave it there. Such an honest account of a difficult relationship between two women. Now I want to re-read all her books! I love Kate Millett too! Definately one of our radical ‘mothers’ of the Second Feminist Wave. I hope her words still speak to younger feminist generations.

    Comment by Margo van der Voort | October 31, 2012 | Reply


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