And these children that you spit on/ As they try to change their worlds

by John Holbo on January 14, 2016

“Poor David Bowie. Barely 72 hours dead and he’s already being misremembered.”

I like the URL. “david-bowie-transgender-1970s-misappropriated?” I think probably the piece was written on a bet, and the URL reflects that.

No, seriously. The piece follows the standard template for conservative kulturkampf tu quoque. It’s by-the-numbers. But there is a purity to it.



Lyle 01.14.16 at 4:02 am

“But there is a purity to it.”

Ugh. I read the whole damn thing, and I’d say there’s more of a puerility to it.


The Temporary Name 01.14.16 at 4:23 am

A British newspaper said that 40 years ago Bowie had flown “the flag for the non-binary movement.” Which is patent nonsense, since nobody — certainly not this contrarian lad from Brixton in South London — was using the turgid phrase “non-binary” in the early 1970s.

Similarly nobody was saying Stone Age in the Stone Age, so suck it know-it-alls.


kidneystones 01.14.16 at 10:39 am

The corpse as cudgel – no wonder Jones wanted to be cremated immediately. Critique his music as you like, but by his own admission his egoism, greed, sexual appetites, drug abuse and driving ambition left little room for, you know, his progeny, as he often admitted. Asked about the best advice he’d ever received: ‘Don’t do drugs. Twas good advice, then. I wish I’d taken it. It’s still good advice.’

If we’re talking about artist as flag, or billboard, chalk him as poster boy for living life without consequences. He made it, many of his peers and many who imitated Garcia, Joplin, et al, didn’t – including Cobain. The good news is that he did come through the other side more or less with his intact. And then there are all the dead pretty young things who believed that promiscuous un-protected sex was all part of being cool. I’m sure we can all recall friends and co-workers who paid the price for that folly.

Engels is right. Jones is an excellent example of artist as capitalist entrepreneur. I see this as a positive, but as a family man he didn’t exhibit much sense.


Salem 01.14.16 at 10:44 am

The colossal differences between Bowie’s cross-dressing and modern trans activists’ illiberalism reveals a profound shift among those on the edgy, progressive side of public life: a shift from the politics of autonomy to the politics of identity.



Sam Dodsworth 01.14.16 at 11:23 am

chalk him as poster boy for living life without consequences.

He was a rich white man, yes. But I suspect that’s not what irks you about him.


P O'Neill 01.14.16 at 11:44 am

If we’re going to grade on the severely skewed Corner curve, I thought that Kevin Williamson at least managed to constructively peg Bowie into a favoured conservative slot.


kidneystones 01.14.16 at 12:00 pm

@5 It’s quite possible I did not make myself clear. I admire Jones, as I’ve written elsewhere, both because he was a talented musician, actor, writer, and entertainer – and because he managed his money and his fans so masterfully. I hope that is clear for you now.

As for what irks me – two things re: the topic. First, is the suggestion that there is anything remotely noble about using the death of an entertainer as weapon in a set of culture wars that almost certainly bored the artist in question. Second, that the commentary ignores the negative aspects the artist identified in his own personality and choices over the course of his life. As to his ‘whiteness’ I haven’t the foggiest idea how or why you could bring melanin into the discussion.

I find his admonition: ‘don’t do drugs’ simple enough to decode. But that’s me.


Bloix 01.14.16 at 2:58 pm

Also, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have opposed affirmative action.


kidneystones 01.14.16 at 10:28 pm

Alan Rickman has passed. Don’t want to add to the somber tenor too much, but Rickman’s death is, for me, at least as troubling. He’s got the voice: ‘Love the bag!’


Helen 01.15.16 at 3:38 am

Ugh, Brendan O’Neill. A “Marxist” whose “Feminism, anti-racism, trans activism and all other such movements are mere identity politics and are to be deprecated” schtick is becoming more and more fashionable. O’Neill used to be heard on the (Australian) ABC program, Counterpoint, which was reliably rightwing, despite the cries of NRO-types over here that it is a hotbed of leftists. He has even has the approval of our Rush Limbaugh figure, Andrew Bolt. Despite this, “Brocialists” all over Australia seem to be adopting this idea. Worrying about sexism or racism distracts from storming the barricades and smashing capitalism, you see. These people never seem to do any actual storming of barricades or thinking about the possible consequences if they do, but it makes them seem like Vry Srs Ppl… at least, to themselves.


js. 01.15.16 at 4:05 am

Hey, listen, they’re at least defending Bowie. Small mercies, but it’s all you can expect from a crowd that not too long back listed _Village Green Preservation Society_ as one of the greatest right-wing albums ever.


ZM 01.15.16 at 4:17 am


“Alan Rickman has passed. Don’t want to add to the somber tenor too much…”

Someone on Facebook put a clip of him reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130:

My current theory is that this is based on Anne Hathaway since he left her his second best bed as well which is equally as droll, but I’m not sure she appreciated this sonnet drollery at her expense since Cleopatra had black hair too and she is the only Shakespeare character who kills herself at the end due to not wanting people to play characters based on her: ” scald rhymers Ballad us out o’ tune: the quick comedians Extemporally will stage us…”


ZM 01.15.16 at 4:17 am


kidneystones 01.15.16 at 4:56 am

@ 12 & 13 ZM, thank you very much for this. This is far from my favorite sonnet, far too sensible, but Rickman brings it alive as few can.

Re: the Bard. I’m very much on the side of the ‘we can’t be too sure who he is/was – and which parts can be attributed to whom.’ I certainly don’t want to open that can of worms here, other than to ask whether you’ve seen ‘Anonymous?’ I didn’t care much for ending which I hope will not be revealed here, but very much enjoyed the lead-up, the acting, the sets, and the dialogue.

I’m most persuaded by the theory that he might have been Catholic, which I’m aware is the same as suggesting he might have been Irish, French, or Spanish in some circles. Should have seen the eyes pop when I mentioned this over breakfast at a conference at Oxford some years ago. The argument has gained greater currency in recent years, but 20th-21st century credit/blame for advancing this heresy most properly lies as the door of Peter Milward SJ.


js. 01.15.16 at 5:23 am

Actually, I retract @11. They only named “‘I Fought the Law’ by the Clash” as the 15th greatest conservative rock song of all time.

I have just vomited all over myself and need to leave the internets for a while.


kidneystones 01.15.16 at 7:08 am

15 Frank Zappa will help you understand how conservatives hate government. You’ll have to pay attention like for 20 minutes. Good luck!


ZM 01.15.16 at 7:17 am


“This is far from my favorite sonnet, far too sensible”

It was my favourite sonnet when I was 19 and read all Shakespeare’s sonnets but wondered how on earth anyone would think they were love poems. But I liked that one because it was spurts of laughter funny. Every now and again I wonder if Shakespeare actually intended the sonnets to be love poems for someone, then I try to imagine what sort of person they were and how extremely ironic they would have been, or else I think he just did it to write cleverer sonnets than Petrarch and not to write love poems to anyone at all. Some people say another Sonnet is about Ann Hathaway, 145, this is also ironic and annoying of the author, where the referent tells him in the second line “I hate”, then he makes such a sad face that after time passes by way of the lengthy middle of the sonnet she grudgingly adds on “not you” to end the sonnet.

No, I haven’t seen Anonymous. I don’t believe any of the theories that someone else wrote all Shakespeare’s work.

I think they found a Catholic document in Shakespeare’s English father’s ceiling rafters a few years ago. Also Hamlet makes reference to Catholic and Protestant themes, as Hamlet goes to the University where Martin Luther went when he put up his Reformation notice, but according to that Protestantism there wasn’t any such thing as ghosts so Hamlet is in a great bind. Also you see this in Ann Hathaway’s gravestone being for Ann when her birth was recorded as Agnes, this was likely since the Protestants didn’t believe in the account of the 4th Century Christian martyr Agnes as they thought it too eventful so many Agnes’ were re-titled Ann to be more Protestant and non-eventful sounding.

Re: nationality I think it is recognised that Shakespeare probably collaborated with or knew John Florio who was a great translator and responsible for many words being brought into the English language, so this explains Shakespeare’s knowledge of Continental Europe, rather than that he wasn’t English.


kidneystones 01.15.16 at 9:17 am

17 ZM, Cheers! I’ve been over some of this, but some is new. I should say that Milward raises some of the same questions re: ghosts, etc. But I’m not sure that any writer, or individual for that matter, needs to hew to closely to any creed, and I would not argue that the plays are ‘advocacy’ media for a particular creed, but were crafted with the audience’s pleasure and stimulation first in mind. So, a good twist is a good twist, irrespective of the beliefs of the author.

Florio explains the importation of words, does he also explain what seem to be the creation/recording of new English words? Or, are these issues bundled together. I don’t have this discussion often, but another naysayer complains that Shakespeare’s penmanship, what we possess, betrays few signs of practice and elegance. Also, his will contained no books. Now, that alone does not mean he possessed no books. I spend quite a bit of time looking at inventaires and in France, at least, books are normally only listed if they can be describes as assets of value. There’s ample evidence re: the book trade in Europe to suggest that any middle class person could have a large library of standard classics, much like a collection of paperbacks and hard covers today. I buy a lot of used books. New at 50 bucks, resold at 5, so I’m not persuaded that lack of books proves illiteracy. However, the lack of any valuable text is remarkable to me, simply because middle-class libraries in the 17th century often included tomes on travel, history, costume, etc, and the publishing industry highly international. Shakespeare’s public was mixed, but many/most read and read well. The lack of a single book of value seems strange (to me) and would certainly be a striking anomaly a century later. The way to check is to compare with other wills from writers/painters of the same time. Can’t see the bard making do with a collection of mass market paper backs, but maybe so. Thanks for the great comment.


ZM 01.15.16 at 9:42 am


It wasn’t so much as whether Shakespeare himself was a staunch Catholic, but that the event of the ghost in the play as performed in Elizabethan England was important, in terms of the ambivalence about the ghost and the general ambivalence of the play and character Hamlet, being that Ghosts were no longer officially believed in in Anglican England (or whatever you call it), but were sometime previously.

Maybe Shakespeare burnt all his books so no one would see his annotations. If I annotated my books because I was a great playwright and annotated with enthusiasm, but I wanted my life to remain obscure so people wouldn’t even be sure if I wrote my own plays, I would burn all the books I annotated, or else tell my long suffering wife she had better do it. And she probably would since Shakespeare likely wrote insults in the books he annotated as well as in his sonnets.


John Quiggin 01.15.16 at 10:19 am

I followed the link but stopped at “Brendan O’Neill”. Those Spiked guys really drew the short draw, jumping ship at the high water mark of right wing intellectual confidence and now hopelessly enmeshed in stupid.


kidneystones 01.15.16 at 12:12 pm

19 Thanks for this. I’d avoid the term ‘staunch’ myself. As you very likely know, there was a distinct lack of unity regarding the church, under Elizabeth. As one colleague pointed out, one of the hot topics was almost certainly the love life of Henry VIII and the sundry literary figures of mid-late 16th century. The ashes of the monasteries weren’t exactly smoking, but it would be quite wrong to assume any consensus on religious matters among the audience. And as we can see from the poetry of Donne, there’s a great deal of room in both the hidden Catholic church, and the more open Anglican church for pleasure, sport, and irreverence. I came to Eomon Duffy after I’d completed my undergraduate studies in literature, but see his work now as absolutely essential for context. I’m not sure how seriously to take your comments about ‘burning’ books to conceal my notes. But certainly this topic is addressed in ‘Anonymous.’ It’s well worth a watch. Cheers.


Lee A. Arnold 01.15.16 at 1:32 pm

ZM #19: “…but I wanted my life to remain obscure…”

I am not so sure. This views the psychology of the 16th Century through the illusory lens of modern “individualist” psychology.

But Shakespeare may NOT have thought that preserving his personal papers was in the realm of something that people tend to do, much less that it was worthwhile. It simply might not have occurred to him. Biographies were for kings and heroes, not commoners.

Note how Montaigne had to EXPLAIN what-it-is that he was writing.

Note indeed how Bowie drove our present illusion to its conclusion, its logical and emotional conclusion. Bowie drove, into tuneful music, Warhol’s dim yet prescient view of modern individualist psychology, and presented individualist image-making as a common disease, as hollow as (or substantive as) horse manure. The very next step beyond The Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”. The “money quote”:

“Like to take a cement fix, be a standing cinema,
Dress my friends up just for show,
See them as they really are.
Put a peephole in my brain, two New Pence to have a go:
I’d like to be a gallery, put you all inside my show.”


Donald A. Coffin 01.15.16 at 6:48 pm

@15: I wonder what the National Review folks thought/think of “London Calling.”


The Temporary Name 01.15.16 at 6:56 pm


oldster 01.15.16 at 10:04 pm

@13–weird, I think Rickman got the last line of that sonnet wrong.

He says, “as any she belied with false compare,” but he puts no stress on “she” and pronounces the vowel as a short schwa, then stresses “belied”.

That’s the right way to speak the line, *if* you think that “she” is the subject of “belied”. But it’s not the subject of “belied”. The syntax goes, “I think my love is as rare as any other woman (“any she”) who has been misrepresented (“belied”) by a false comparison.”

So “she” should be emphatic, with a strong clear long-ee sound, and a distinct pause before “belied”.

Rickman says it as though he thought the syntax was, “I think my love is as rare as anyone else whom my love misrepresented by a false comparison.”

Oh well. I shouldn’t say the dead speak ill.


Dean C. Rowan 01.15.16 at 10:55 pm

@oldster #25: Utterly correct! Perhaps the ambiguous syntax is intentional, but the innocent reading must be what you suggest. “My love is as special as any other woman whose features have been poetically exaggerated.” The irony in this reading is rich: on one account, “my love” isn’t special at all. But further, what makes her special and “rare” is precisely the impotence of poetic figuration to depict her faithfully.


js. 01.15.16 at 11:44 pm

TTN @24: Well, that seems OK. I guess I’m even sort of glad that they like the Clash while having some awareness of what the Clash were about. But “I Fought the Law” (in any version) is a great conservative rock song like I am the reincarnation of William Fucking Buckley.


Anderson 01.16.16 at 2:02 am

The author of that article is blissfully oblivious to the fact that Mick Jones is (1) still alive and (2) probably able to kick his fucking ass.


Lyle 01.16.16 at 4:41 am

William Fucking Buckley is now my new band name.


MikeN 01.17.16 at 12:03 pm

@24 : Rod Dreher!

He had a post up about Bowie, mourning his passing but saying how much it really it affected his son, who was shut in his room playing Bowie songs on his guitar, listening to the songs non-stop- this from a guy whose entire Ben-Op schtick is the need for small (o)orthodox Christians to isolate themselves from the corruption of the surrounding culture.

Some of his liberal commenters pointed out that he had put up approximately 342 posts denouncing Caitlyn Jenner as the final nail in the coffin of Christian America, and maybe s/he was a minor blip on the cultural scene whereas Bowie had been the major force for bringing transgenderism/androgyny/fluid sexual identity into the mainstream of pop music.

His basic reply was to denounce these liberals for falling for the stereotype of conservative Christians being stern moralistic types unable to let their hair down and have a little fun.


ZM 01.17.16 at 12:10 pm

oldster and Dean C Rowan,

“That’s the right way to speak the line, *if* you think that “she” is the subject of “belied”. But it’s not the subject of “belied”. The syntax goes, “I think my love is as rare as any other woman (“any she”) who has been misrepresented (“belied”) by a false comparison.”

It depends how you want to read the Sonnet whether you want to emphasise “she” in that way. English didn’t have any grammar in Shakespeare’s day, at the grammar schools they just learnt Latin grammar. And in Latin poetry the grammar is you can put the words in just about any sort of arrangements for some reason.

If you read Sonnet 130 by itself as a stand alone poem, you might want to read the line as Shakespeare saying the woman is as fair as any other belied by false compare.

But I think Alan Rickman’s reading makes sense more in the context of the Sonnets as a whole.

Sonnet 130 is a stand out sonnet, but it is the next sonnet after sonnet 129 where he is rueing his affair with the young man who most of the sonnets are about.

The majority of the sonnets are about this young man and are very flattering about his appearance “shall i compare thee to a Summer’s day” etc etc — the opposite of the realism of sonnet 130 — with the sonnets starting with Shakespeare telling this man who didn’t want to have children he should have children for a whole 14 Sonnets in a row, one reason being if the man didn’t have children then in the future people would think Shakespeare was just infatuated in his middle age with the young man he couldn’t be so good looking as Shakespeare writes, but if the man had children then they and their offspring would demonstrate the man’s good looks so people wouldn’t think Shakespeare was just infatuated.

As you see, the woman in 130 is more likely to have belied with false compare this young man Shakespeare wrote all the other previous sonnets about, rather than another woman, since she is upset about Shakespeare’s affair with the man, not a woman .

Of course, that is the reading in terms of the plot. However, sonnet 130 is one of several very good sonnets scattered though other sonnets which are more oriented to plot development — so as a stand alone sonnet, 130 it is best read in the manner oldster suggests. I presume Shakespeare wrote some very good sonnets with anthologies in mind, thinking they would be read without the context of the sonnets as a whole plot.

This is the sort of thing that makes me think the sonnets can’t be real love poems as they are too ironic and clever, and it is very difficult to think who would enjoy receiving these Sonnets if they were real love poems. Sometime I have tried to imagine Shakespeare reading them as love poems to an extremely ironic man and an extremely ironic woman who both enjoy receiving them, but really these very ironic people I imagine are too ironic to be real I think, so its more likely the sonnets are just meant to be clever and are not love poems.

Shakespeare has a few lines about how he hasn’t kept up with modern trends in poetry in the sonnets, but I think this is a feint — writing more than a hundred very ironic explicitly homosexual sonnets would have been pretty modern at the time I think. This is why the English translation for Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time, comes from a sonnet about the man — “in remembrance of things past”, and Proust was thought to be modern even hundreds of years after Shakespeare wrote his sonnets.

Even David Bowie was thought to be modern decades after Proust and a very long time after Shakespeare.

Shakespeare claims that the man he writes about in the majority of the sonnets got another writer writing poems about him — but if that was true there should be another lot of poems all about this young man by someone else, but I have never heard of any other poems about this man at all, and instead people now wonder who he was, despite from what Shakespeare wrote he sounded quite talked about, especially after he got stabbed. People know the gossip about Shakespeare’s daughter Judith having a husband who had an affair which was a great scandal — if anything like what happened in the sonnets really happened it would have been a great scandal I’m sure and there should be records. Shakespeare even writes several sonnets saying he was in disgrace and an outcast, but I never heard of Shakespeare being in disgrace and an outcast either, just like I never heard of another poet writing about this young man.

So either the sonnets are just meant to be clever , or else they really are very ironic love sonnets over a time span of about 3 years to a young man who was probably an actor who played woman’s roles as Shakespeare says he took after his mother in his looks, and then the man cheated on Shakespeare quite a bit, and then he got stabbed and was on his death bed for a while, and then another poet started writing about him so he had two poets writing about him.

Then Shakespeare writes some apologetic love sonnets to a woman. But they are ironic too, like Sonnet 130 after the one about his affair. After this there are several Sonnets trying to placate her for some time with compliments — even complimenting her about how her sad eyes like she is mourning become her, then saying how she wounds him with her eyes and how he might wound her with his tongue , which he does by going on a bit in the next sonnet about how both of them lie about their age and getting older and then he criticises her looks again for a sonnet, and after that he goes on to accuse her of flirting with other men and then he writes a sonnet about her chasing after another man like a housewife chasing after a hen.

So I think Alan Rickman was right in his reading if you think about the Sonnets as a whole, but sonnet 130 is a much nicer sonnet taken out of the context of the ironic sonnets plot and read in the manner oldster suggests like it would be in an anthology.


Dean C. Rowan 01.17.16 at 6:19 pm

@ZM #30: I left an escape hatch in my comment, my remark that ambiguity might be intentional. Your approach–reading 130 in the context of the sonnets immediately surrounding it–has been taken by Helen Vendler, and I think she nevertheless argues for oldster’s reading of the line. But your argument has some compelling force. This brings to mind two new considerations for me. First, I’d love to know how Stanley Fish would have read the sonnet(s) around the time he was steeped in his reader-response theory of literary reception, largely with respect to Milton. He’d have had a field day with “as any she belied with false compare.” Second, this goes to show why I don’t like to hear recitations of poems. Rickman has to choose one way or the other, but when I read silently either and both can be at play. I prefer the play.


oldster 01.17.16 at 8:05 pm

@ZM–thanks for those thoughts.

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