Dead People Rule
You Don’t Want to Know This?
On Barbara Ehrenreich (1941–2022)
A funeral scene, 1976: “When we emerged as radicals,” the eulogist observes, “there wasn’t much of a left tradition to plug into. There was a scattering of individuals and small groups . . . but they were generally dogmatic and pretty much uninterested in some of the things that were of most concern to us.” What was of concern? “We talked about ‘alienation,’ about people realizing their full potential; they said that the issue was wages. We were obsessed with the direct and personal experience of oppression (especially in the women’s movement), they said we were being ‘subjectivist.’ . . . Over here were our concerns — very humanistic and idealistic. Over there (from our point of view) was Marxism, like some kind of well-preserved but indigestible lump which only academics or sectarians would even try to swallow.”
The language — alienation, direct and personal experience, humanistic and idealistic — carbon dates the event even if you don’t know the year: this is the discourse of the New Left. The speaker was Barbara Ehrenreich, and the occasion the funeral for Harry Braverman, the former metalworker, Marxist editor, and author of the 1974 landmark account of the deskilling of work, Labor and Monopoly Capital. For Ehrenreich, the late theorist represented a precious, narrow bridge across a generational divide.
So you can begin to see the importance of Harry’s book to so many people of my political generation. It is, on the one hand, an intensely humanistic book. It’s a book written with vast respect for the everyday experience of working people — not as “production factors” or commodities of some sort — but as human beings. . . . So I could not help feeling, as I read it, that the book is in some ways a vindication of the concerns of the “new left .”
At the same time, Ehrenreich emphasized, Braverman did not merely pander to New Left predilections. “If Harry vindicates some of our concerns and questions, he also makes it clear that the way to understanding is not going to be found (as we sometimes liked to think) in consciousness raising, or revelation, or even in immediacy of personal experience,” she warned. “The book is written with grace, but it makes it clear that the road to understanding is arduous; that it winds through history; that it is open only to those who have the patience for systematic and materialistic thinking. And that’s not an easy lesson.”
The New Left as transmitted through Ehrenreich approached a new generation and issued a challenge. If we are honest, we must admit that we have only just begun to meet it.Tweet
The relation in which Ehrenreich stood to Braverman we stand to her — and what she said to mark his death forty-six years ago should now be said to mark hers, almost to the word. When we emerged as radicals, there wasn’t much of a left tradition to plug into. There was a scattering of individuals and small groups, but they were generally dogmatic and pretty much uninterested in some of the things that were of most concern to us. It’s true that the additional turn of the generational screw meant that New Left shibboleths occasionally held the position in the 2010s that economistic ones did in the 1960s, as a half-remembered and half-believed orthodoxy. But like the Old Left as transmitted through Braverman, the New Left as transmitted through Ehrenreich approached a new generation and issued a challenge. If we are honest, we must admit that we have only just begun to meet it.
At the core of Ehrenreich’s challenge, underlying its quintessentially New Left and feminist character, is a kind of tacit working existentialism. Across fifty years of books and no matter the specific subject — from her coauthored account of the global student uprising in Long March, Short Spring (1969) through her examination of the denial of death in American culture, Natural Causes (2018) — Ehrenreich argued that the self is made and remade continuously through speech and action. Individuals’ choices to speak and act with authenticity and courage, or to muck about in bad faith, sum up to the shape of our world. Ehrenreich’s specialty was to reveal her readers to themselves by showing them the other. Her humor and projection of personal vulnerability were particularly deft techniques for asking the reader to see their own position, often through identification with Ehrenreich: she beckons you to follow her into her subject, and then suddenly wheels around on you — and you are caught out.
At the heart of her most famous book, Nickel and Dimed (2001), is just this move: Ehrenreich wanted to expose the deep and persistent forms of poverty in American society, particularly in the aftermath of Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform and in the context of a supposedly classless turn-of-the-century economic boom. Rather than report the book in a conventional way, she went “undercover,” working a series of poverty-wage jobs. She plays Virgil to the reader’s Dante, taking you down into the underworld. Following her, you arrive without quite meaning to in a situation where you must contemplate your own moral balance sheet, because you’ve seen so much punishment being doled out. As she writes in her famous, ringing conclusion,
When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.
You cannot finish the passage without imagining the versions of such relationships in which you are enmeshed, as exploited or exploiter, and the justifications and accommodations you have negotiated to make these relationships morally workable for yourself.
With Ehrenreich, you cannot count on safe passage. Look at yourself, she always asks the reader; what do you see there? This procedure, which linked social critique to the ethics of the self and the politics of authenticity, allowed Ehrenreich to bottle the magic of the New Left in her writing. Some of the libidinal and political force that ripped through college campuses and consciousness-raising circles is encapsulated in her pages, and it was still available for us decades later when we needed it — the basic source of her tremendous standing among young socialists. To rework historically specific political experiences into ideas durable enough to be transferred to the next generation is among the highest possible achievements of a radical intellectual.
Ehrenreich was born Barbara Alexander to white working-class Montanan parents. Her father, Benjamin, was a copper miner and a committed atheist and trade unionist who relatively late in life pursued a metallurgy PhD and attained a corporate job. Her mother, Isabelle, was a housewife, a 1960s civil rights activist, and an anxious arrival in the middle class. Benjamin was, she writes in her 2014 semi-memoir Living with a Wild God, brilliant, distant, and a drunk; Isabelle was resentful and depressive. The family’s experience of upward mobility, continued by Ehrenreich’s trajectory to Reed College and then to Rockefeller University for a PhD in cell biology, was quintessential to the baby boom generation (although, born in 1941, she was slightly too old to count as a member) and central to her intellectual biography. Still, it took her a decade of radicalization in the New Left to fully confront its significance. Indeed, later in life she often gave somewhat pat accounts of her own radicalization: she recalled a labmate saying to her, “Damn, Barbara, they’re going to draft me! Let’s write a letter to the president”; she had her first child at a public clinic where she was the only white patient and where the doctor induced labor so he could go home. “I was enraged. The experience made me a feminist.”
But even before the antiwar movement and women’s liberation really got a hold of her, Ehrenreich was vibrating with existential energies. “How did I come to be a radical?” she asked in a 1966 letter. “It all started in the winter of 1965. I didn’t start thinking about class struggle & internal contradictions of capitalism, I didn’t have time. Where were you then? Yeah! Where was my father? And where was I? (In a 5th-floor slum apartment, waiting for someone who wasn’t coming back.)” She found her work environment in the lab detestable, a regime of “petty apparatchiks” she compared to Stalinism. When called to participate in the structures of authority of professional science, she refused, which led more or less directly to the end of her biology career. On graduating, she boasted that she had not “left a neutral acquaintance behind me.” Instead of a science job, she went to work for New York’s budget office, which gave her a view of the city’s once-vaunted municipal health services disintegrating under the pressure of deepening fiscal crisis. “The system is irrational, inhumane, and probably irremediable,” she wrote in a letter. It was around this time, at the height of the student movement in the last years of the 1960s, that she began writing.
From the city, Ehrenreich moved on to a job doing research and writing for the radical Health Policy Advisory Center (Health/PAC), where she and her then-husband (and colleague) John coauthored another book, The American Health Empire (1970); then to a professorship at SUNY Old Westbury. Although she was appointed in the health sciences — an apparent regression toward the academic track — the most significant consequence for Ehrenreich was a course on women and health that she co-taught with Deirdre English, which led to a productive writing partnership between the two. She lasted only a few years in that job anyway, describing it in one moment as “essentially a pig role.” By the mid-1970s, she had quit and was becoming a fixture on the socialist-feminist lecture circuit.
Ehrenreich never acceded comfortably to her position in the middle class — a discomfort that enabled her, eventually, to theorize that class so skillfully. But in a deeper, more existential way, Ehrenreich was profoundly resistant to settling too deeply into any position or identity, class or otherwise. Her feminist radicalization informed this permanent unease, of course: she was not the only woman in the 1960s and ’70s to discover that the happy smiles of matrimony and motherhood sometimes concealed a torture chamber. At an even more essential level, Ehrenreich seemed to believe that there is no one person inside any of us, even biologically speaking: ruminating on her scientific training, she came to recognize the immune system as a kind of internal symbiont, a shadow entity within the body that has some purposes of its own. She maintained this resistance all through her life. In the foreword to Living with a Wild God, she writes, “I will never write an autobiography, nor am I sure, after all these years, that there is even one coherent ‘self’ or ‘voice’ to serve as narrator.”
Even before she identified and named the “professional-managerial class” (PMC), Ehrenreich was transmitting outward her own existential unease in the lifeworld of middle-class women that she had entered. Her coauthored writings with English on women’s health, women’s work, and women’s knowledge — Witches, Midwives, and Nurses (1972), Complaints and Disorders (1973), and For Her Own Good (1978) — advanced an argument that patriarchy rested in part on men’s monopolization of health science and suppression and denial of women’s knowledge. Anticipating the more recent rediscovery of the related arguments of their contemporary Silvia Federici, Ehrenreich and English were widely read in the feminist movement, with an effect that we could literally call “sensational.” “Dear sisters,” wrote one nursing student to Ehrenreich and English, “I just finished the pamphlet Witches, Midwives, and Nurses. It fills me with such rage my body is quivering and my stomach hurts.”
When Ehrenreich did eventually turn head-on to the subject of the PMC in the mid-’70s, she sought to produce the same effect for her fellow travelers on the white New Left, so many of whom shared her approximate background of postwar upward mobility. That theorization, published in a pair of articles coauthored with John (also a former scientist and a hospital union organizer) in the journal Radical America, proved her most enduring intellectual legacy. The Ehrenreichs’ writings on the PMC gave a conjunctural account of the failure of its collective project and at the same time produced historical and conceptual resources with which to think about class and politics in the United States more generally.
The point was that middle-class radicals had to engage in struggle from where they stood already.Tweet
Reflecting on the 1969 disintegration of Students for a Democratic Society, the Ehrenreichs argued that SDS’s social origin held the conceptual key to the New Left’s setbacks and its possible future. Within SDS, opposed factions had squared off over the question of the class position of the students and young professionals who made up the group’s base. Some argued that they were petit bourgeois and therefore had to commit a kind of social suicide in order to succeed in organizing the proletariat, the real potential force for revolution — cutting their hair, shaving their beards, quitting dope, and getting factory jobs. Others argued that this was far too narrow a definition of proletarian: Were students not in fact the leading edge of a new working class, since they would become the professionals who operated the giant firms that were the engines of American capitalism?
The Ehrenreichs took something from each of these positions but rejected both emphatically. The student rebellion’s roots, they argued, lay in the rapid postwar expansion of the middle class. This, however, had occurred within a sociological pattern established in the early 20th century with the rise of “monopoly capitalism”: the still relatively new phenomenon of an economy organized in coordinated markets consolidated under the control of large-scale bureaucratic corporations. This phase of capitalism had nearly buried the 19th-century middle class of small property holders (the real petite bourgeoisie), but it also birthed a new middle class defined not by ownership but by credentialed expertise. The PMC was born wrong, a contradiction from the start. In their job functions as social workers, teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, managers, engineers, and entertainers, the members of this new middle class maintained social control over the proletariat. At the same time, lacking productive property of their own, they also sold their labor-power to capital, and this made them ultimately subject to the same pressures as other workers: deskilling, the weakening of their collective economic power, the degradation of the meaning of their work. The student uprising of the 1960s had attempted to resist these phenomena, but it failed because of its inability to surmount the accumulated distrust between the PMC and the working class.
This thesis led to a challenging political conclusion. It was no use for members of the middle class to disavow their own real histories and make themselves over, no matter how earnestly. Nor was the strategic complacency of the “new working class” thesis acceptable. Each of these positions represented a psychologically comfortable (if sometimes physically uncomfortable) retreat to one side or the other of the PMC’s constitutive contradiction. What was necessary, however, was to confront that contradiction and resolve it. “The way out does not lie in falling back on romantic visions of the historical mission of the working class, manifested in efforts to expunge ‘petty bourgeois’ — i.e., PMC — ideology from the left,” they wrote. “The relationship between the PMC and the working class is complementary; neither class has a ‘pure’ ideology, uninfluenced by the other, or by the capitalist class.” At the same time, the antagonism between the PMC and the working class “cannot be wished away in the name of anti-capitalist unity — any more, for example, than the antagonism between men and women, or between black and white can be.” If PMC radicals followed the temptation to engage in “guilty self-effacement,” they would “simply perpetuate the class roles forged in capitalist society.” Pretending to be someone else would not work, nor would a rote invocation of one’s own position. The point was that middle-class radicals had to engage in struggle from where they stood already.
Such a maneuver could only proceed through the radicalization of professionals within the situation of their own working lives; from their dissatisfaction with their own class subordination, rebellion could arise. This sort of eruption had just happened in the ’60s and ’70s. Since, the Ehrenreichs argued, it had structural roots in the proletarianizing pressures on the PMC, there was no reason to believe it would not happen again. And the next time, if organized in class terms, such a rebellion could aim to break the tools of social control that the PMC had been tasked with operating, bringing the middle class into alignment with the working class and ultimately abolishing the distinction between the two. Driving capitalist authority from the school, the clinic, the welfare office, the courts, the press, the university, and the culture industry would mean snapping the bands that locked the capitalist class and the working class in a relationship of hegemony.
This project would require something of its professional-class participants, however. The twoness of the professional, as both worker and expert, could not be sidestepped through a mere act of decision. It does not matter if you decide that you have an inner truck driver if you have not lived the life of a truck driver; this is a laughable form of escapism unworthy of the historical materialist tradition. Rather, the contradiction can only be resolved if it is met head-on. While this is a collective political process involving struggles inside professional workplaces over the terms, conditions, products, and purposes of professional labor, it cannot be carried out unless individuals are prepared to look at themselves and acknowledge the specific positions they occupy in society. It’s uncomfortable to do that. After all, the concrete form of the PMC’s contradiction, for each of us, is a set of compromises we have made: little bargains struck every day with the authority structure whose positions we are asked to fill and whose agenda we are asked to carry out in return for status and material comforts. Each person then has to initiate a kind of internal combat: on one side, the aspirations they hold for the meaning of their work and the dignified and autonomous lives they hope to lead around that work; on the other side, what Ehrenreich eventually called their “fear of falling”: the anxiety that meaning and autonomy are not worth the risks of defiance, which might strip professionals of what little they have and land them in the class below. They have to stage this struggle until it fills them with rage and makes their bodies quiver and their stomachs hurt. There is no shortcut.
Later on, elaborating her analysis in 1989’s Fear of Falling, Ehrenreich decried the way middle-class people seemed unable to recognize working-class people in their individuality, instead seeing them as “aliens . . . as projections of inner fear” — their own fear of falling. This misapprehension flowed directly from the failure to confront the contradiction. Professionals hid from themselves, self-protectively conceiving of themselves as abstract, anonymized beings who were not enmeshed in painful accommodations in which they conformed in exchange for security. She asked, “Is there a way to ‘re-embody’ the middle class’s impersonal mode of discourse, so that it no longer serves to conceal the individual and variable speaker?”
Nickel and Dimed, her masterpiece, took this challenge literally. Although her deliberate social descent might superficially appear similar to Trotskyists’ and Maoists’ “industrialization” into factories in the 1970s, Ehrenreich’s purpose was altogether different — journalistic and literary rather than evangelizing. (Indeed, she mocks herself for her admirable but ineffective proclivity to suggest to coworkers at various jobs that they go on strike.) Nickel and Dimed beckons readers to come look, then to see themselves looking. “You don’t want to know this? Well, it’s not something I would have chosen to dwell on myself,” she writes of her experience cleaning up shit. “But the different kinds of stains require different cleaning approaches.” The scene is an exercise in vulnerability that asks you if you are capable of the same.
It’s frightening to come out from behind the mask and be seen with all the ugliness of a lifetime of complicated choices on full display. Even Ehrenreich’s less expressly political books — The Hearts of Men (1983), Dancing in the Streets (2007), Blood Rites (1997), Living with a Wild God, Natural Causes — are all about the question of release from obligation, compromise, and conformity, and the forms such release might take: abandonment of love; violence; collective joy; mystical or ecstatic experience; death itself. It is a risky endeavor, in other words. It might make you alien to yourself. You might quite naturally wish to avoid shame about what will be seen, and to preempt the dread that the internal structure of your self will not endure. “Always bear in mind that primal fear of dissolution,” Ehrenreich admonished in her brilliant introduction to Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies. Despite the fear, exposure of the self is the only way to cease one’s compliance, and therefore the necessary first step of radical politics for middle-class people. Working-class people, after all, have to make choices that are no less complicated. They simply have worse masks to hide behind.
In my favorite section of Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich rages at a boss on behalf of a young coworker, Holly, who is pregnant, unwell, and has just hurt her ankle on the job cleaning a client’s house. Ehrenreich suggests they take action, but her coworkers demur that their boss needs them. Ehrenreich fantasizes about exerting some authority by telling them that she has a PhD. Instead she says, “He’ll take anyone who can manage to show up sober at 7:30 in the morning.” Holly replies no, they all had to pass a test.
“The test,” I practically yell, “is BULLSHIT! Anyone can pass that test!” It is an inexcusable outburst . First, because it’s insulting, especially to Holly and the brittle sense of professionalism that keeps her going through sickness and injury. For all I know the test was a challenge to her at the level of basic literacy.
Later, having lost the argument with Holly, Ehrenreich decides to go after the boss again anyway and manages to win Holly one day off with pay, although she recognizes that her coworkers will hate her now. Ehrenreich keeps the mask on here: nothing is really on the line for her except an ethical principle; nothing of herself was vulnerable. She can win a small victory on Holly’s behalf, but her anonymity, her nonpresence in the life she is only half-living, makes it impossible for her to help Holly win that victory for herself. (From this problem, which Ehrenreich immediately recognized, it is easy to derive the purpose of one of her late-career efforts, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, which funds and supports working-class and poor people to produce narrative about their own situations.)
Ehrenreich’s work has always acknowledged that power operates at the intimate level, which is part of what makes it difficult to resist. To engage in political struggle is not only frightening, it is painful, because power is not just out there: it is also a voice in your own head — projection, inner fear. This is a distinctively feminist insight and not by coincidence. The concept of the PMC was developed in the heart of the socialist-feminist movement, of which Ehrenreich was a leading thinker. (The first time she tried out the idea in public as far as I can tell was at the landmark 1975 Socialist Feminist Conference in Yellow Springs, Ohio.) It took her only a single conceptual step to move from her work on women’s health and medical knowledge to her theorization of the PMC, because in each case the proximate question was the enactment of social control by experts. “The forces which have atomized working class life and promoted cultural/material dependence on the capitalist class are the same forces which have served to perpetuate the subjugation of women,” wrote Ehrenreich in her classic essay “What Is Socialist Feminism?” Denouncing “mechanical Marxists,” she argued instead, “We cannot understand class struggle as something confined to issues of wages and hours, or confined only to workplace issues. Class struggle occurs in every arena where the interests of classes conflict, and that includes education, health, art, music, etc. We aim to transform not only the ownership of the means of production, but the totality of social existence.”
Another way to understand Ehrenreich’s achievement, then, is to grasp that she reworked socialist politics around a feminist core so thoroughly that they cannot be separated again — although some still try. Even after the New Left’s defeat, this fusion nonetheless allowed intellectual preparation for a darker future. In her introduction to Male Fantasies (a book about the roots of Nazism in gendered violence), Ehrenreich writes,
If the fascist fantasy . . . springs from the dread that (perhaps) lies in the hearts of all men, a dread of engulfment by the “other,” which is the mother, the sea, or even the moist embrace of love . . . if so, then we are in deep trouble. But even as I say that, I am reminded that we who are women are already in deep trouble. As Theweleit says, the point of understanding fascism is not only “because it might ‘return again’,” but because it is already implicit in the daily relationships of men and women.
It has to be admitted that, in a world of abortion bans, incels, Proud Boys, groomer panics, and repression of trans people, the warning seems prescient.
In more recent years, we have seen bizarre efforts to appropriate Ehrenreich’s work by critics on the left (and occasionally the far right) who are hostile to the ideologies of second wave feminism and the New Left, the two fundamental elements of her analysis. At a superficial level, her work presumably accommodates this sort of misuse because she criticized middle-class mores and cared about social class when few did. But this is paper-thin: there is more than one way to care about class, and Ehrenreich’s criticism of the PMC always maintained that it was undergoing a process of economic disintegration that made it a potential contributor to working-class liberation — a far cry from crude and sometimes illiterate efforts to reduce her to a simple critic of woke liberalism. A perverse mechanism can be observed here: thinkers, writers, and activists who are without fail themselves members of the PMC have taken hold of Ehrenreich’s concept and attempted to transform it, promoting their own class as a primary antagonist while avoiding reckoning with their own position. This particular appropriation of the concept is never accompanied by an acknowledgment of the conceptual transformation that has taken place: a pretense is unfailingly kept up that the theory is continuous with Ehrenreich’s, even as it is reworked into something she explicitly and repeatedly opposed.
The limits of a human life — our narrow view on the world, our limited ability to know ourselves and one another, our mortality — were sources of meaning and pleasure for her.Tweet
To see the PMC as an enemy of some kind rather than a contested terrain is respectable if you go the 1970s Trotskyist route and get a job as a truck driver, or if you were a truck driver already. It is not, however, if you keep your job as a film studies professor. That would be quite precisely what Sartre called mauvaise foi: “Bad faith is not restricted to denying the qualities which I possess, to not seeing the being which I am. It attempts also to constitute myself as being what I am not,” he writes in Being and Nothingness.
Yet it is not difficult to see how this bad faith is of useful service. What it allows, of course, is self-concealment, exactly what Ehrenreich spent so much of her life warning against. To find middle-class habits irritating is surely common across every class. But hatred of the PMC is an attribute unique to those of its own members who are psychically unable to meet Ehrenreich’s challenge; who will not locate themselves as individuals seeing and speaking from a specific historical and social context; and who imagine the working class as an abstract and static category — a projection, we might say — rather than a galaxy of complex individuals. Beneath all that, if we could dig down, we might venture to find self-disgust: the PMC’s essential contradiction in an unprocessed form. Ehrenreich demonstrated that the reason not to show yourself, or even look at yourself, is shame about what will be seen. The simultaneous appropriation and destruction of Ehrenreich’s idea is born of an attempt to avert this shame. Sartre again: “The one to whom the lie is told and the one who lies are one and the same person, which means that I must know in my capacity as deceiver the truth which is hidden from me in my capacity as the one deceived. Better yet I must know the truth very exactly in order to conceal it more carefully.” Bad faith, Sartre says, is like falling asleep and dreaming, and it is as difficult to escape as it is to waken oneself.
While PMC bad faith, which comforts its participants by allowing them to disavow their own identity, is unpleasant and at times destructive, I think Ehrenreich — a Marxist where Sartre was not yet at the time of Being and Nothingness — would hasten to remind us that the impulse contains a kernel of something sympathetic and even capable of recuperation. The shame at its heart is after all an awareness of the wrongness of class society and an anxiety about how to relate to that wrongness, with all its self-implicating dimensions; above all, I think, it is an anxiety that one is alone in the face of that wrongness. Hence the projection of a dematerialized, generic working-class other, such a likelier force of emancipation than the complicated real one. Still, it is not possible to rest in such anxiety, and so it generates political impulses continuously. Even a vulgarized and truncated version of PMC self-loathing, therefore, may sometimes offer a place from which one can always begin again politically, as I think has indeed happened in the past decade.
Here we arrive at the simplest and most profound of Ehrenreich’s insights. The limits of a human life — our narrow view on the world, our limited ability to know ourselves and one another, our mortality — were sources of meaning and pleasure for her. “Agency is not concentrated in humans or their gods or favorite animals,” she wrote in Natural Causes. “It is dispersed throughout the universe, right down to the smallest imaginable scale.” Thought itself, she argued, is a process of internal conflict between elements of the mind. The fearful desire to seal up all the cracks of the self, to imagine oneself as autochthonous and monolithic, is eminently human, but it never works. Where it inevitably stops, politics starts, and the wild possibility of freedom.
“Attend to how your mind moves as you read,” she wrote in her introduction to Male Fantasies, “how you will sometimes be made aware of yourself reading.” At some moments in the book ahead, she promised, the fascist fantasy would invert before the reader.
The dams break. Curiosity swims upstream and turns around, surprising itself. Desire streams forth through the channels of the imagination. Barriers — between women and men, the “high” and the “low” — crumble in the face of this new energy. This is what the fascist held himself in horror of, and what he saw in communism, in female sexuality — a joyous commingling, as disorderly as life. In this fantasy, the body expands, in its senses, its imaginative reach, to fill the earth. And we are at last able to rejoice in the softness and the permeability of the world around us, rather than holding ourselves back in lonely dread. This is the fantasy that makes us, both men and women, human — and makes us, sometimes, revolutionaries in the cause of life.