Speaking of our mother’s legacies, thank you to Nona Willis Aronowitz for creating an online archive of her amazing mother’s work. Ellen Willis, for those who don’t know (and you should!), was a radical feminist, cultural critic, activist and thinker, who believed that “the purpose of community is to foster individual happiness and self-development; that the meaning of life lies in our capacity to experience and enjoy it fully; that freedom and eros are fundamentally intertwined; and that a genuine sense of responsibility to other human beings flows from the desire for connection, not subordination to family, Caesar, or God.” Word. Word. Word. And, word.
Michelle Goldberg recently had a beautiful reflection on Willis’ work over at TAP:
In a way, the tension between her utopian social vision and her wry, sober view of the world gave her work much of its energy. She tried to resolve this tension through psychoanalysis, positing human cruelty as the result of trauma, alienation, and sexual repression contained in current modes of living. That allowed her to dream of a thoroughly repaired society. Ultimately, I’m much more pessimistic about human nature than she was, which is why, unlike her, I’m a liberal rather than a radical.
The closest thing I can imagine to earthly paradise is the New York City Willis hymned at the beginning of No More Nice Girls: “the real and imagined city where feminist sexual liberationists, rootless cosmopolitan Jews, not-nice girls/boys/others [and] loudmouth exiles of all colors are an integral and conspicuous part of the landscape.” Her prose sprang from this glorious intellectual milieu, and for me it lit the way there.