26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2002
"Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant" by Andrea Dworkin was kind of a surprising little book. I wanted it because I wanted to know more about Dworkin's career and politics, and I learned some about each from this, but obliquely, like through a scrim. The writing feels like it's been done from a distance, almost, which I guess most memoirs are, but when she's writing about the stories of women who were
raped or prostituted, the gloves come off, the profanity is on and she is harsh, tough and up-close.
She's harsh, politically, too. She has very definite positions and seems to believe that if you don't think like her, you're in most ways a hypocrite. She is very negative about the national organization of NOW, but positive about local chapters and organizers. She does at one point concede that some of the people who don't want to abolish pornography on free-speech grounds aren't all evil, but that's as close as she gets to
empathy for those on the left who are working, but not in tandem with her. I had read in a gender issues text at one time an essay that she co-wrote with Catherine A. MacKinnon - they wanted to get pornography outlawed on civil rights precedent - but this was pretty "naked" in comparison with that persuasive writing.
The title comes from the idea that she feels heartbreak all the time because of the women she meets who have been hurt by men and by women who would rather please men than help their sisters. She does seem very raw and disappointed with the world. A quote on the back of the book reads, "We should all treat
Andrea Dworkin like a national treasure for caring enough to engage our passions - wherever upon the political or social spectrum they may fall." This was written by Deirdre Bair, who wrote a good biography I've read about Simone de Beauvoir. I think I would agree; I know that Dworkin has done important work to raise the awareness about women's issues, particularly pornography, in her lifetime. Even if you disagree, I think having a considered opinion is better than just following the status quo. With Dworkin around, the latter won't be an option.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2002
Andrea Dworkin's tell-all this is not. That's hardly surprising, given that Dworkin is one of the most maligned women in the world, and any details she shares about her life are likely to be met with suspicion at best. What is disappointing is that the book is presented as a memoir and is not. It is a series of episodic, highly selective anecdotes, presented in roughly chronological order but confusing as to subjective and objective significance. Somewhere in the puzzle there is a truly heartbreaking story--that of a brilliant, courageous, talented woman set on wrong turns early and with malice aforethought by a society that could only recognize intelligence in a woman as perversity and perversity as sexual. Even growing up in Camden, New Jersey, Dworkin's gifts were recognized by her teachers, but women teachers resented her and male teachers tried to seduce her. Dworkin's refusal to conform closed the usual paths of resistance to seduction: female chastity and lack of adventurousness. She went in the opposite extreme, experimenting sexually at an early age, valuing her independence but remaining essentially gullible, loving books and the male model of the social outcast, while at the same time picking up few practical skills. It never was spelled out to her that male bohemians survived because on the one hand, they didn't have to worry about rape, number two, no one would expect them to sell their bodies, and number three, they often knew how to use others to their advantage. By the time Dworkin began to figure it out, she had been through prostitution, several rapes, an abusive marriage, and sexual degradation by doctors in the Women's House of Detention in New York, which her testimony (as an antiwar prisoner) helped to bring down. She also had been through serious drug use and the political self-indulgence of much of the sixties, considering all authority, anywhere, as bad, thus refusing a young woman the authority and the help from authority that would allow her to take charge of her life.
Feminism did, and with a lot of help from her friends, Dworkin not only survived but transcended her background to become an original and tough-minded feminist writer. This is the most inspiring part of her story and reflects most positively upon radical feminism--now a smear word, but originally a way for women who had been left-wing radicals to distance themselves from the misogynism of the left while maintaining a progressive vision. Unfortunately, radical feminism quickly ran up against the same walls as sixties radicalism, fracturing into the exploration of consciousness and lifestyles on the one hand and on the other, a movement against sexual violence that accomplished certain positive goals while remaining self-divided politically. It was the latter which threw Andrea Dworkin into prominence, her imaginative verbal fury and personal anguish an unforgettable diversion from the difficult legal and social details of institutionalizing anti-rape politics, but too often a diversion to help in translating pain into practice. Reading between the lines, it is easy to see how her own best qualities played a role in making Dworkin the feminist equivalent of the "cool teacher": the magnetic, sympathetic personality of huge learning whose attractive extremism and lack of common sense threatens to overpower the young as they start living their own lives. Feminism is a young movement; feminists are by definition in need of mentors. Reading "Heartbreak," the overwhelming lack in Dworkin does not come across as being one of courage, social conscience, or integrity, but of even the most basic mentoring skills, however skinlessly keen her attention to others: it's an attention that is focused on her own sensitivity, her own attentiveness, her own compassion. Others are her mentors--Judith Malina, Grace Paley, Muriel Rukeyser, Huey Newton, and would-be Ginsberg and Goodman--but Dworkin overwhelms rather than guiding. Her ideals may be on the side of the angels; her self-absorption, however, verges on megalomania.
One suspects this is what happens to a brilliant person encouraged to be a mediocrity, and Dworkin's most stunning case in this book is not against pornography or pedophilia (her charge against most male mentors) or even Bill Clinton: it's against high school. The book is worth reading and buying for that. It's heartbreaking, but not quite as Andrea Dworkin intended: it's heartbreaking for the portrait of a near-genius who knows the truth about herself, grieves for it every day, and yet cannot quite escape being a caricature.
21 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2002
I've never read anything by Dworkin before, so I was quite amazed by this collection of memoir essays. In each, Andrea Dworkin relays memories that helped shape her politics, her life, her intensity. For me, the book came alive and turned electric like Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" did, where ultimately it caused my eyes to become more open to social politics. Dworkin's memoir shows that sometimes tiny events can cause one to change, and sometimes the change is almost imperceptible until later reflection. It's amazing to see how a voracious reader and a zealous advocate began.
27 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2002
I was kind of psyched to read Heartbreak. I'd come to AD because of research I had done on hate speech and pornography; she coauthored anti-pornography legislation with Catherine McKinnon. Then I thought, well, someone so famous and yet seemingly crazy (consensual sex is rape, penetration is violence, etc--) must have something interesting going on.... Her longwinded denunciations of heterosexual men and sex elsewhere contrast with her own life as she tells it here. Yes, she has horror stories about rape, but also 'glory stories' about bedding famous artists and teachers she worshipped.
Frankly, this book reads well in parts -- there are some evocative stories, and Dworkin has a convert's zeal -- but the bulk is painfully bad. It's the kind of thing you should tell your therapist -- who gets paid to listen to your evasions and half-truths. Google "doubts about dworkin" for a Guardian article on Dworkin's rape accusation (Dworkin backs away a little from this in Heartbreak.)
I spend my life reading books I don't agree with, trying to tease out the fair bits from the rhetoric. Realizing that I could have deep, irrational reasons for not liking her (and that this would perhaps be a Dworkin fan's first response), I worked doubly hard to read with sympathy. I gave her every free pass in the book: I trusted blindly every statistic and every second-hand story, down to the last detail. Any construction of the facts that could resolve apparent errors of logic or reasoning I gave her.
In the end, my efforts were a failure. Dworkin has gone off the deep end into paranoid delusion, hurting those she claims to help with her own neurosis and need for self-display. It verges into a hatred that is unclearly focused on both herself and others. There is no stance or opinion in this book coherent enough to agree or disagree with.
If you want to read a book that truthfully confronts the nature of rape and violence from a first person perspective, you should read Aftermath, by Susan Brison. To read Dworkin's book is perhaps only -- for both women and men -- to self-flagellate for a few hours before returning to Planet Earth. Where we are then sadly free again to ignore the real problems that Dworkin only dances past -- rape, sexual violence, and the misogynistic discourses that surround and fill our society.
6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2002
This book is many ways the opposite of one of Dworkin's critical feminist works. Whereas the latter are compelling, this is quite boring (in the sense of nothing new); where they are seamlessly convincing, this is self-conscious (like an exercise in good writing). Also, readers of the radical political texts, might be disturbed by the sensibility here--impersonal sex seems more often a cool thing, than a sexist thing, and there is a kind loudness or unconvinging extremeness in the reportage (Bennington is little more than a brothel and high school teachers are like gods). This is unfortunate, because it might make some readers (not this one, I don't think) question her feminist texts as overstated or too extreme.
13 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2002
Andrea Dworkin is one of the most controversial feminists of her generation and writes here about the people and ideas which influenced her political awareness. Chapters recount a bookworm childhood in Delaware, early activist years, and her growing disillusionment with the feminist movement's struggles. Heartbreak is a very personal, warm story by a well-known figure.