Erin Clune, the feistiest blogger in Madison, goes off very satisfyingly on William Giraldi, who wrote in the Baffler about drinking away his paternity leave while his wife took care of their kid. Not in a “why am I such a worthless loser” kind of way. More of a “paternity leave is a scam because being a dad isn’t actually any work” kind of a way. Given his feelings, he doesn’t quite get why paternity leave exists, but he’s pretty sure it’s a scam, perpetrated by, you know, this kind of person:
I instantly pictured a phalanx of ultra-modern men parading down Commonwealth Avenue, jabbing placards that read “It’s My Seed, So Give Me Leave,” or some such slogan.
But never fear — William Giraldi is not one of those men! He is a real man. He knows what it’s all about. In another reflection on new fatherhood, he writes:
My best friend, a Boston story writer, married an Irish Catholic woman from Connecticut with two siblings, an older and younger brother, neither of whom she adored, and so now the diaper work and up-all-night obligations get split down the middle. Furthermore, his bride aspires to be a novelist of all things. His hair has gone grayer, and all those short stories canistered in his cranium stay in his cranium. I, on the other hand, married an Asian woman born in Taiwan who has an identical twin and three other siblings—two of them younger, adored brothers she tended to daily—and although she’s an artist with an aptitude that astonishes me— Katie crafted the mobiles above Ethan’s crib; they rotate and revolve with a perfection that would have impressed Johannes Kepler himself—all she ever wanted to be was a mother.
A novelist of all things! Didn’t she get the memo from her vagina that she wasn’t supposed to make art anymore? Or, if she did, that it should be for kids only? I’ll bet her novel totally sucks compared to Katie’s awesome mobiles. I’ll bet Kepler would not have been impressed with her novel at all. Taiwan, man, that’s where women are women. Which reminds me of an even more charming turn in this essay:
The birthing staff at Beth Israel: Nurse Linda and Nurse Sara, seraphs the both of them; Doctor Yum—Doctor Yummy—the preternaturally beautiful doctor on call (because our own preternaturally beautiful doctor was in Greece on a date (Ethan arrived two weeks early); and one other nurse who entered stage left rather late in the act.
Yep — Giraldi takes a little break to note the hotness of the Asian woman who’s in the process of delivering his child.
But what do I know? I’m a feminist and an academic. Giraldi doesn’t have much use for my kind. Here he goes again, in the Virginia Quarterly review complaining about smelly English professors and their theories:
These are politicizers who marshal literature in the name of an ideological agenda, who deface great books and rather prefer bad books because they bolster grievances born of their epidermis or gender or sexuality, or of the nation’s economy, or of cultural history, or of whatever manner of apprehension is currently in vogue.
But not William Giraldi! He is not one of those smelly people. He has no ideology, or if he does, he manfully wrestles it into submission because he is interested only in beauty. Of books, of Asian ob/gyns, whatever. That bit above is followed by many many paragraphs of complaint, which I can’t quite bring myself to reproduce. But you can read it yourself, or just cut and paste a few dozen randomly chosen sentences from any book about “political correctness” or “tenured radicals” written between 1990 and 1995, and you’ll get the general idea.
What really bugs Giraldi is that academics, in his view, can’t write.
But all too often you’ll be assailed by such shibboleths as historicize, canonicity, disciplinization, relationality, individuated, aggressivity, supererogatory, ethicalization, and verticality before you are mugged by talk of affective labor, gendered schema, sociably minded animism, the rhetorical orientation of a socially responsive and practical pedagogy, historical phenomenology of literariness, associationist psychology, hermeneutic procedures, the autonominization of art, an idiolect of personal affection, the hierarchy of munificent genius, and textual transactions, and then you’ll be insulted by such quotidian clichés as speak volumes, love-hate relationship, the long haul, short shrift, mixed feelings, and playing dumb. Why the needless redundancy “binding together”? Have you ever tried to bind something apart?
No, but then again, I’ve never encountered a cliché that wasn’t quotidian, either. As for “bound together,” it’s good enough for the Bible, which suggests that no man put asunder what God has etc. (“Joined together” is a more common rendering, but you can’t join things apart either.) All this stuff about quotidian cliché is a bit rich, anyway, from a guy who called somebody’s second novel a “sophomore effort.”
Those technical terms, well, some of them I know what they mean: “affective labor” is a real thing which as far as I know has no other short name, and “canonicity” means “the condition of being canonical” — would Giraldi really prefer “canonicalness”? “Idiolect” is a handsome and useful word too.
But I don’t think Giraldi cares that much whether a word is handsome, or expresses a piece of meaning precisely and swiftly, because here’s the thing: William Giraldi is a terrible, terrible writer. Some special, willful deafness to the music of English is needed to have written “epidermis” in that first paragraph above. Giraldi mentions “the significant struggle every good writer goes through in order to arrive at le mot juste,” but his own struggle always seems to end with a word he can admire himself for having typed. It is not the same thing. Again and again, until it kinds of hurts to read, he goes for the cheap ornament. His wife doesn’t make mobiles, she “crafts” them. His friend’s stories aren’t in his head, they’re in his “cranium.” It is not an apprehension that’s in vogue, or even a kind of apprehension, but a manner of apprehension. In that book review I mentioned, he refers to the title of the book, I kid you not, as its “moniker.” Better a hundred “gendered schemas” than launching a paragraph with “There has been much recent parley, in these pages and elsewhere…”
Reading Giraldi’s prose feels like sitting in an extra-fancy bathroom, with black and white tiles and gold trim everywhere and a fur-lined toilet, and no windows, into which someone has just sprayed a perfume whose label identifies it as “woodland fresh.” Or like listening to William F. Buckley on an off day. Or like listening to William F. Buckley on an off day in that bathroom.
Giraldi closes his book review with a reminder of “the moral obligation to write well, to choose self-assertion over mere self-expression, to raise words above the enervated ruck and make the world anew.” (So that’s what’s wrong with my ruck — it’s enervated!)
Look, I’m on board. But you have to actually do it, not make gaudy gestures in the direction of doing it. He should have looked at his essays with a slow cold eye and thrown out everything that did no work. It takes time and it’s not fun and it doesn’t help you settle your scores. But writing well requires it. Maybe that’s how he should have spent his paternity leave.