I’ve never seen the author of Tender Buttons and Three Lives look as she looks in this painting by Picabia from 1937. Her head is small, perched on wide and rounded shoulders draped in brown. Beneath the cloak, a soft blue blouse with a large brooch peeks through. On her face, a sort of “oh well” smirk on thin, taut lips.
In 1872, Susan B. Anthony cast a ballot in the presidential election in which Ulysses S. Grant would win his second term in office. Nearly half a century before women would actually get the right to vote in this country, this was of course an illegal act, and one for which Anthony was ultimately arrested and tried. She maintained her innocence, stating that it is “we, the people; not we, the white male citizens” whom the Constitution represented. Famously, she asked: “The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons?”
When I told people in New York that I was moving to Texas, the conversation pretty much always went the same way: “To Austin, I assume?” (Yes.) “Oh, well, Austin isn’t Texas. I hear people love Austin.” In fact, Austin is in Texas, as evidenced by the very name of the university at which I now work, and the fact that the capital of the state is here. From the iconic bell tower on campus, one can look upon the domed and columned capital building down below, the largest state capital in the United States (no surprise there).
At the same time I see that the academy has its ways of inuring too many of its chosen ones against a compulsion to apply their research and writing to contemporary issues that ought to demand all of our attention. Perhaps it’s that American campuses are so leafy and idyllic, allowing us to pretend that this utopic vision is but the world on a micro-scale. Or maybe it’s something more sinister, something a little closer to what O’Donnell describes: “Rigorous challenging of ideas and robust debate are essential to academia, but I believe that this battle prevents creativity and big thinking. When you know your idea will be attacked, you put forward the smallest, most defendable idea you can.”