#11 - Valerie: A True Memoir

The SPIDER Symposion: in-depth discussion of specific Ellison stories and works.

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P.A. Berman
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Postby P.A. Berman » Wed Apr 27, 2005 9:50 am

AlexKrislov wrote:I reject that. I reject it firmly, absolutely, completely. I think it's addlepated.

You're entitled to that opinion. I think yours is facile and lacks insight. So we're even.

It's like reading Oliver Twist and shrieking at Dickens for the anti-semitism implied by Fagin.

No, it's not, because we're talking about the culture of 100 years ago. Are you saying the culture of the 1970s was such that it warrants a vastly different reading from the one that many of us hold?

Can we look back at Fagin and note that the portrayal is questionable? Sure. Do we condemn Dickens as a writer for that? No.

I did not condemn Harlan as a writer. How many times do I have to say that before it gets through to you? Did you read my comments in the other threads about how much I love Harlan's stuff? And my esteem for him as a person of integrity and talent? Why must you and Harlan see this as an attack on him instead of an attack on the piece? I also attacked the choice of whomever decided to put it in the Essential Ellisons. That choice baffles me.

And, with that as my bedrock, I still say that you're condemning Valerie not for what it is, but for what it isn't.

Yes, I am. I'm attacking it because it isn't reflective or insightful. I think those are valid criticisms.

Like Valerie or hate it, it's a work of its time. Its appearance in an anthology 30 years later no more changes its original context than the new edition of the Complete Dickens changes the context in which Dickens created Fagin.

I think this is a specious comparison and it doesn't warrant much more debunking than I've already given it.

I don't know. I don't care. And it doesn't matter anyway. ~Jack Kerouac

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Ezra Lb.
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Postby Ezra Lb. » Wed Apr 27, 2005 9:57 am

Well Brian and Alex hath stolen mine thunder. Bravo gentlemen at least somebody understands.

The only thing I can add is a possible explanation for why the pictures where included. Just speculation you understand. I have no more special insight into the author's motivation than anyone else.

Consider it a variation on Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Note that in this case him is used advisedly.

On the chance that this might seem rather mysterious to the female type humans in our merry little band here let me spell it out. Perhaps Mr Ellison is saying to his fellow male type heterosexual audience something along the lines of, Look at this beautiful woman and tell me how YOU would have seen through her and NOT been manipulated by her when she snuggled up against YOU and said everything YOU wanted to hear.

Just a possibility.

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Postby David Loftus » Wed Apr 27, 2005 10:57 am

I'm glad rich chose this piece because he didn't like it. I'm glad a lot of other people don't like it. And I'm glad you all spoke up about that. I'm just as glad that Akojen in particular as well as a few others have offered some defenses. This kind of spirited discussion is what this board really can and should support. It's difficult to be critical of a writer's work when: A) you are basically a fan, B) you know that other fans are likely to jump on you for not being uncritical, even just this once, and C) you know the author him- or herself is apt to be listening in.

Here and elsewhere, Harlan may come across at times as thin-skinned; it's the flip side of the sensitivity that makes him such a great gadfly on behalf of the weak and oppressed. But those of you who are parents, consider how calm you would remain if strangers were talking loudly in public about the failings of your children. Looked at from that perspective, it's something of an act of courage (or masochism) that Harlan keeps coming back here for more. (But honestly, how many of YOU could stay away if you knew people were talking about you?)

Many of you have overshot your position in this thread (what else is new, right?), and gotten close to maligning your fellow Webderlanders and/or our patron author, but so far we seem to be holding it together short of a full-out flamefest that will really hurt somebody or lead to the silencing of a voice. I applaud you all.

Because I've been injured in these woods several times in the past few months and am still feeling a bit tender, and because I'm VERY busy with a new project that's just getting launched, I don't know whether I want to reread "Valerie," let alone get deep into the spirited discussion.

But let me just say:

1) I'm not all that fond of "Valerie" as a piece of writing or as a story.

2) However, this series was written as a fairly up-to-the-minute serial with cliffhangers, which accounts for some of its mannerisms and datedness.

3) I think the author was well aware at the time of writing how badly he comes off in it, that he was a very willing victim at the time, and that my sense of Valerie from the telling is that she is not a malevolent or evil person, but nevertheless a dangerous one. Very thoughtless and self-centered in a light-hearted, kinda sexy way that many highly attractive people can be. Let the buyer beware . . . and on this occasion, Harlan is one who was not.

4) I'm not wild about its inclusion in _Essential_. I think a case can be made for it as a period piece, both in the life of the writer and the era in the nation's history (it's a funny coincidence that I've been spending the past few days thinking deeply about a "period piece" from roughly the same era, the wonderful series "American Dreams" that may be getting the ax from NBC this week after three fine seasons), but in any case Harlan has made it clear that the inclusion was not HIS choice or doing.

5) I picked up no misogyny from either the writing or the photo. I'm uncomfortable about the inclusion of the photo, but not because it has bare tits: I'm sure Valerie was very proud of them at the time and not shy about showing them off to other people. I would be just as uncomfortable if it were a fully clothed shot; PAB's remarks about respecting a person's privacy or family, especially given the stated concern which gave rise to a pseudonym, are germane here.

6) The essay IS a bit vengeful, mean-spirited, and falls short of a mark that I think Jon, for example, suggests it could have hit (although please remember that it was an deadline column written for an "alternative" paper -- I don't think anyone's pointed out the relevance of the point of publication to the choice of subject and approach yet), but I think Harlan did have a good reason or two for attempting it in the first place.

There's lots I could say in response to specific remarks by rich and other hard-liners in this thread, but I don't know if I have the energy.

Thanks again for participating, though . . . everyone. Seems like the problem children (i.e., "Valerie") always get more attention than the quiet jewels (i.e, "The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie").


Postby rich » Wed Apr 27, 2005 1:25 pm

David Loftus wrote:...please remember that it was an deadline column written for an "alternative" paper -- I don't think anyone's pointed out the relevance of the point of publication to the choice of subject and approach yet

Actually, David, that's a very good point and one that I seemed to have lost in my initial reaction to the piece. I still think Jon's and Jim's criticisms are the most valid, but if we take into account the tenor of the paper (so to speak) it appeared in, it's easier to see how something that's not quite Ellisonian made it to the light of day.

By the way, I still think the "serial" aspect of it and how that makes it better is still bullshit, but an "alternative paper" would print something like this, photos and all, precisely because it is an alternative paper. If we think about it, would we have the same reaction to the piece if Harlan Ellison had a blog and Valerie was one of the entries? I think so, but it's hard to say at this point.

(Again, let me make clear, I still think the piece sucks, but David's point of this first being in an alternative paper, not the usual weekly newspaper column or even a "regular" magazine column, does give the essay some leeway. I think. Unless Jon or Jim convince me differently. Which they might, because apparently I'm losing what little backbone I have and they're so goddamn insightful. Damn them.)

Perhaps in the 75 year retrospective of The Essential Ellison, this can be pointed out.

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Postby akojen » Wed Apr 27, 2005 2:02 pm

One small clarification:
PAB wrote:
Also, comparing Valerie to a rapist is completely specious and yes, kind of offensive. Valerie did NOT RAPE Harlan. She stole his credit cards, which makes her a thief, and used him, which makes her a jerk, but she didn't rape him.

I didn't mean to imply that Valerie was a rapist. She was clearly a hustler. My mistake was using the specifics of my circumstance.

That was simply the moment in my life when I felt most betrayed, used, hurt and weak. The anger isn't about the act itself. It's more along the lines of "How could I be so fucking blind?" Someone hit a soft spot, and I suddenly realized I wasn't as tough or as savvy as I thought.

I was mad, and the situation was hard to discuss. But I did, because that person was still out there, still on the prowl. And because of my actions, a couple of people avoided the situation I walked into with a "tra la la."

And that's how "Valerie" touches me.


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P.A. Berman
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Postby P.A. Berman » Wed Apr 27, 2005 3:48 pm

akojen wrote:That was simply the moment in my life when I felt most betrayed, used, hurt and weak. The anger isn't about the act itself. It's more along the lines of "How could I be so fucking blind?" Someone hit a soft spot, and I suddenly realized I wasn't as tough or as savvy as I thought.

I understand your feelings better than I wish I did, although a rape victim should never feel that it's her fault, that she should have done something differently. However, I think your sentiments are more appropriate for the narrator of Harlan's essay-- should have known better, how could I be so blind? An exploration of that would have been much more interesting that what we did get, imo.


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Yelena Virago
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Postby Yelena Virago » Wed Apr 27, 2005 5:50 pm

I guess that means I fall into the same group as Alex and Jim, and the others, re: taking the piece for what it is, in the context of the times (since it is very clearly dated as being in the 60s-70s, with all *that* entails), and not really disliking it all that much.

I, too, have seen my fair share of the the good little sociopath (by which I mean real sociopaths, like Valerie, and others of the same stripe, from both genders, and all age groups), who get further ahead in the world at large than I do, with my zero-tolerance bullshit policy. (Which is giving me an ulcer, so it's not always a good thing, this persistent moral insistence upon Standing Up For What is Right. Or, hell, even Standing Up for One's Self. But I've had a bad week thus far with respect to sociopaths, so my judgement may be clouded.)

So, that said, I think I do understand the tone and the context of the essay, and I really don't see it as a revenge piece at all. But I'm just hopelessly paraphrasing my agreement of the others, who said it much better and earlier than I did. :)

As for Harlan being thin-skinned, it seems to me that accusation would be more justly-rendered, if it were levelled at more than one Webderland denizen. But I wouldn't want to seem condescending by pointing that out.


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Jim Davis
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Postby Jim Davis » Wed Apr 27, 2005 11:23 pm

Wrapping up some odds and ends:

Alex and David: You're right about considering "Valerie"'s origin as a weekly column in an alternative paper; though it doesn't make "Valerie" a better read, it does explain, a little, why Harlan wrote it the way he did.

Paula: Harlan did admit his true feelings for Valerie in the piece: "In a way, I believe I was in love with Valerie." Even though his relationship with her was composed mostly of a series of casual hook-ups, it clearly meant a lot more than that to him.

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Postby cookie » Wed Apr 27, 2005 11:47 pm

I don't see the "misogyny" in Harlan's writing. I don't think he hates women any more than he hates men. There are freaks of both genders.

I took "Valerie" to be just one man's tirade about his own life, not as a warning to men that all women are....(fill in the blank).

Naked picture misogynistic? Naw. IMO, "pornography" isn't inherently anti-woman anyway.

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Jon Stover
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Postby Jon Stover » Thu Apr 28, 2005 10:09 pm

Of course, may I note that the most humourous development in the past few days is the number of people who didn't participate in this discussion who are nonetheless expressing their camaraderie with Harlan on the Pavillion re: "Valerie."

Let me point to that qualifier -- "who didn't participate in this discussion" -- before anyone who did post here thinks I'm poking 'em at this late date. Igor humps? I'll show you Igor humps!

Cheers, Jon

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Steve Evil
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Postby Steve Evil » Thu Apr 28, 2005 11:49 pm

I know it's late in the game, but I gotta pipe in.
It's nice to see this isn't just an ass-kissing session, but this is crazy.
Come on people!

At issue,

1) Harlan Ellison was wronged by a woman.

2) So he wrote about it,

3) And published a picture.

Now he is Misogynistic and the piece is "Vile". You'd think it was <i>Mien Kampf</i>the way you guys were going on about it.

Sothe piece is vengefull. Great! What's wrong with a little vengence? Why should the one who fucked you over get away scott free? Getting a story written about you is a very light punishment for violating someone's trust and manipulating their emotions.

And it wasn't even that harsh, no it really wasn't. A lovely lady walks into his life, he falls for her, she steals his credit cards, and he feels dumb about it. That's it. That's the sum total of his vitriol. God knows if someone of HE's word skills really wanted to be mean spirited, spitefull, or nasty, he could have hung her from the ceiling and flayed her alive. How many essays have you read where he tears a strip of someone who's run afoul of him (think "I don't think we're in Kansas Toto", or the intro to "City on the Edge of Forever" or anything from "Harlan Ellison's Watching"). Does Valerie get a fraction of that kind of tongue lashing? Hardly.

We've all had periods in our lives where we've opened up to others and got burned for it. That's what the piece is about. I rather appreciated it.

As for the picture? Delightful.


Postby rich » Fri Apr 29, 2005 8:30 am

I guess I should've looked in here first before I posted on the Pavilion.

Steve E.,
Just for the record, everyone, and I do mean everyone, that had some bad things to say about the essay made it clear that they thought the piece was NOT misogynistic. I'm the only one that brought up that term.

And, for the record (again, but this one will be a 78 ), I've been swayed by the evidence presented by the others on here that the essay is a lot of things, but misogynistic it's not. So that now means that NO ONE that has posted in this thread thinks the essay is misogynistic. I think no one. David P. made a cryptic remark earlier, but hasn't said much since.

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Postby Jan » Fri Apr 29, 2005 11:00 am

Harlan's message in the Pavillion should be quoted here:


I give up.

Previously, without incident, I had entered two comments onto the "Valerie" thread. Just wrote'm and hit SUBMIT and there they were, right in the flow.

Yesterday, moved by the intensity of the chat, I spent two hours writing a very long post discussing process and intent, the inherent fallacy of post hoc ergo proctor hoc, and considerations of in situ analysis, especially as it related to the "Valerie" essay. Added much background minutiae. Labored over it. Thought it was pretty good stuff. When it was done, I hit SUBMIT...

And it vanished.

Never to return, never to be found. Gone.


I give up.

Wearily, yr. pal, Harlan

[I'm posting some advice on how to avoid this into the meta thread.]

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P.A. Berman
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Postby P.A. Berman » Fri Apr 29, 2005 7:13 pm

Jim Davis wrote:Paula: Harlan did admit his true feelings for Valerie in the piece: "In a way, I believe I was in love with Valerie." Even though his relationship with her was composed mostly of a series of casual hook-ups, it clearly meant a lot more than that to him.

In this case, love wasn't nothin' but sex misspelled. You can't love someone you don't know at all. There are other names for that feeling, but love ain't one of 'em. Of course, this is just based on what I read in the essay; his real feelings could be different, of course.



Postby rich » Fri Apr 29, 2005 8:44 pm

Yeah, I think PAB is right. "In a way...". Well, he's the writer. What "way" was he in love with her? And how does that square with "I can't recall all the specifics of disenchantment, but attrition set in..."

I don't doubt the emotion and honesty behind the "In a way..." statement, but it's also a form of laziness on the writer's part. Some of this may have to do with the paper that the essays first appeared in, it being an alternative paper and more susceptible to cranking something out in a white-hot moment without the usual deliberation and painstaking accuracy that takes time and that one would usually see, but it still is a lazy way of getting around an explanation. It's like someone describing a character as "looking like Cary Grant" as opposed to actually describing the character.

(I swear I do like Harlan Ellison's writing. Just not this one.)

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