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As she saw it, the most illuminating and urgent version of “the personal” is not so much “the domestic” as “the sexual”. Pleasure, she argued, is a human right. The sexual revolution must be a collective one or, as she wrote in 1967, a movement to fuse and energize “the politics of nations with the politics of our own bodies”. It was this honouring of the body and of sensory experience that led Willis to writing about rock. The music of the late 1960s and early 70s was a way for her to think about gender politics, both in the broad sense, and on a personal level. It was seeing Janis Joplin, for example, that “made me resolve, once and for all, not to get my hair straightened”.
Aug 14, 2014 / 2 notes
Aug 13, 2014
One question I’m endlessly interested in is what rebellion and radicalism look like in the 21st century — a topic I explored in a piece for The Believer about the surprising subversion of production-library music, and also in my Pitchfork coverage of Pussy Riot. I’m a feminist, and yet I often find I’m most drawn to music that I disagree with politically and that sometimes even directly affronts my presence as a listener. (Last summer, Yeezus blew my mind while Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady left me cold.) I think the great Ellen Willis said it best, when writing about the Sex Pistols in 1977: “And there lay the paradox: music that boldly and aggressively laid out what the singer wanted, loved, hated — as good rock and roll did — challenged me to do the same, and so, even when the content was anti woman, antisexual, in a sense antihuman, the form encouraged my struggle for liberation.”
Aug 13, 2014 / 10 notes
Each sentence in this collection bears the mark of a writer haunted by the notion that without a constant search for clarity on what mattered most to her, she would never realize the life — or love, or society — she hoped for. If we persist in thinking that the members of her generation deceived themselves when they believed they were beginning to see the light, we deserve every bit of darkness that is blinding us now. For those of us who would rather not get fooled again, we have these 513 pages as a guide.

The New York Times review of “The Essential Ellen Willis” is a rave!

(Although it does take a jab at our generation and era of Internet journalism, calling it “self-congratulatory clique-building and fresh outrage every hour on the hour”—which is a maddeningly cynical way to think of an exciting, creative, participatory media climate about which Mom would have been thrilled.)

Jul 25, 2014 / 12 notes
To read her cultural criticism is to see her admitting insecurity, weakness. Willis wasn’t always sure where the boundaries fell between personal and political, if those boundaries even existed. She could grant, “My commitment to heterosexual sex is very basic and I want, need love and companionship.” And she could also observe when her own politics became more sophisticated. She later footnoted her celebrated article on Dylan as a “prefeminist essay,” critiquing her reference “with aplomb if not outright endorsement to Dylan’s characteristic bohemian contempt for women.” She calls another statement in the piece “absurd.” What other writer would inspect her shedded skin with such harsh and bracing honesty?
Emily Greenhouse’s Dissent review of “The Essential Ellen Willis” is one of the most perceptive things written on the book so far, and it has now been liberated from the paywall!
Jul 18, 2014 / 15 notes
What if our politicians asked us to show our patriotism through dancing joyously, not shopping the sale racks? How about if public debates over discriminatory sodomy laws argued that anal sex should be legal not only because the opposite is homophobic but also because anal sex feels good? If we didn’t see self-denial as a moral imperative would we have more love for fellow people, more empathy? Would we be less anxious about our own spending habits? Happier?
Jun 11, 2014 / 7 notes
You can get a contact high from reading “The Essential Ellen Willis”…If you breathe deep, these essays are still capable of making you dizzy with possibility.
May 22, 2014 / 7 notes
My dream is to get, like, Taylor or Miley to tweet about Ellen Willis. Or at least Lorde.
May 15, 2014 / 7 notes
"With a tone as sharp and amusing as Ms. Willis’ writing, Ms. Aronowitz suggested that the ongoing appeal of Ms. Willis’ work is its playful ‘liberationist spirit,’ like the 1980s satire of a ‘National Family Security Act,’ which she offered up as the first reader at the party. Further interest lies in the incisiveness of her mother’s ideals: ‘Her writing was really [a] part of this larger value system that she had.’"
The “Essential Ellen Willis” party was written up in the Observer!
May 14, 2014 / 5 notes

"With a tone as sharp and amusing as Ms. Willis’ writing, Ms. Aronowitz suggested that the ongoing appeal of Ms. Willis’ work is its playful ‘liberationist spirit,’ like the 1980s satire of a ‘National Family Security Act,’ which she offered up as the first reader at the party. Further interest lies in the incisiveness of her mother’s ideals: ‘Her writing was really [a] part of this larger value system that she had.’"

The “Essential Ellen Willis” party was written up in the Observer!

The Lewinsky interview was, for network television, an extraordinary event. Drawn out by Barbara Walters’s alternately stern and sympathetic prodding, a vividly telegenic (plumpness notwithstanding) and self-possessed young woman firmly defends her sexuality and that of her former lover, who happens to be President of the United States. Despite the havoc, both national and personal, that ensued, she cannot bring herself to regret her passion, her pleasure or her boldness in pursuing the affair. She is still excited by the memory of Mr. Clinton’s ”energy” and ”sensuality.” She describes the progression from intense eye contact to first kiss as ”a dance,” the notorious thong-flashing incident as a ”subtle, flirtatious gesture” that meant ”I’m interested too. I’ll play.” She recalls her efforts to persuade the President to have intercourse. If her subtlety is in doubt, her exuberant lustiness is not. It’s easy to see why Mr. Clinton was attracted.
Did you know that Ellen Willis was OBSESSED with Monica Lewinsky? (There are many pages in “The Essential Ellen Willis” devoted to why she and her affair with Clinton were so fascinating.) Bet you a million dollars that she’d be up at dawn tomorrow buying the new Vanity Fair. She’d definitely be enjoying, and probably participating in, our retrospective look at Monicagate this week.
May 7, 2014 / 6 notes