SECOND THAT EMOTION
Jackson Lears’s splendid review of Martin Jay’s book Songs of Experience [“Keeping It Real,” June 12] demonstrates the absurdity of Richard Rorty’s dogma that there is no experience unmediated by language. This logocentric proposition–which Rorty shares with many French thinkers–is unsupported by evidence. Infant researchers and developmental psychologists demonstrated the existence of pre-verbal experience experimentally in the 1980s, while psychoanalysts like Erich Fromm and R.D. Laing wrote persuasively in the 1960s about emotional experience inexpressible in language.
Lears is also amply justified in lamenting the eclipse of E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams. Their current neglect speaks volumes about the intellectual avant-garde, whose verbal pyrotechnics impress other academics but bear almost no relationship to the lived experience and daily struggles of the masses. He should also be commended for posing the obvious question of whether there is some elusive link between (1) the poststructuralist courtship of violent death and the postmodern mass media’s incessant simulations of it; and (2) the avant-garde’s pursuit of shattering epiphanies and the popular culture of apocalypse. If the Rapture crowd and the avant-garde are brothers under the skin, it may be because popular “culture” and the academy are both inflected with necrophilia, which Fromm defined as a (largely unconscious) attraction to death and decay, and a corresponding aversion or hostility to life. Necrophilia in this sense is not a sexual perversion but a more encompassing and diffuse passion that may or may not seek an overtly sexual expression. Fromm contrasted the necrophilous orientation of late modern (and early postmodern) culture with the predominantly biophilous (life-loving) orientation he hoped to encourage through a renaissance of socialist humanism. Indeed, Fromm coined the term biophilia a full decade before E.O. Wilson took it up (without proper acknowledgment).
MOTHERS: OVERWORKED, UNDERPAID
Oak Park, Calif.
Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner’s “The Motherhood Manifesto” [May 22] hit close to home for my wife and me. As first-time parents, we took advantage of California’s paid family leave. It requires employees first to use any accrued vacation and sick time and then to take one state-mandated week, unpaid, before benefits (about 40 percent of pay) kick in. So parents who may need paid sick time later in the year must take it unpaid. And with the vacation time gone, any downtime must wait until the following year.