Katha Pollitt is a well-known poet (and a good one, I have to admit), but she’s even better known as a professional Marxist and radical feminist (check out her Yuletide 2003 column for The Nation for a sample of her views). Katha is most famous for her boast that she refused to allow her daughter to display an American flag in the window of their Manhattan apartment after Sept. 11, 2001. That’s Marxism for you: The terrorist attacks were All Our Fault. Elsewhere in her voluminous writings, Katha condemns marriage as oppressive, etc.,etc., etc.
Then, a few months later, on July 22, 2002, Katha published a personal essay in The New Yorker that became an instant cult classic (it’s not to my knowledge posted on the Internet, but it’s well worth hunting down in a library). In the essay, titled “Learning to Drive,” Katha confessed that her live-in “lover” of some years, an art-history professor also of the Marxist persuasion, had dumped her unceremoniously so as to move in with one of several other women with whom he had been playing around. (“Lover” is the way intellectuals and other arty types refer to their main squeeze–although this particular “lover” lacked one of the essential attributes of a lover, unalloyed devotion to his beloved.) Some readers of Katha’s essay felt sorry for her, while others, well, snickered.
The essay contained inadvertently hilarious revelations about the way intellectuals make love. Wrote Katha: “That was another accusation my lover flung at me the day he left: ‘You bought The Joy of Sex but you just put it in a drawer!'” You know the Joy of Sex. That’s the book with the drawings of guys with beards and gals with hair under their arms having a good time.
So unintentionally parodistic was Katha’s essay that The New York Observer ran a list of quotations and invited readers to guess which ones came from “Learning to Drive” and which ones came from a Saturday Night Live sketch titled “My Lover” and starring Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch as an amorous academic couple. I myself couldn’t decide who was the drearier, Katha Pollitt or a guy who would want me to read The Joy of Sex.
Now, fans of “Learning to Drive” will be happy to know that Katha is back in The New Yorker, in the Jan. 19 issue, with a sequel, “Webstalker,” in which she reveals that she spent many months after the breakup hunting down information about her “lover” and his new love on the Internet. (A better title for the essay might be “Learning to Hard-Drive.”) In this new confessional enterprise (which, like its predecessor, is not on the Internet but is well worth the $3.95 newsstand price), Katha informs us that the “lover” and his new babe have since gotten married. Married?? How un-Marxist! How bourgeois! We also learn his favorite come-on line to chicks back in the days when he was shacking with Katha: Katha “accepted his need for other women.”
Katha’s new essay is brutally honest in every way but one: the illustration, which shows the lovely back of a glamorous babe who couldn’t be older than 30 hunched over her computer. Poor Katha (I discovered after doing a bit of my own webstalking) was born in 1949, so she’s actually more like 54 or 55.