Private Matters: In Defense Of The Personal Life

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9780201409734: Private Matters: In Defense Of The Personal Life
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In this eloquent and reflective book, Janna Malamud Smith traces a modern history of privacy, revealing how our inner and outer lives are nurtured by this fragile virtue.Today we enjoy more privacy than ever before, yet the encroachment of the media, computer data gathering, and electronic surveillance in our lives undermines our sense that we have any privacy at all. Smith argues that having a say in when and how we watch one another is key to ongoing debates about freedom. Our ideal of individual liberty—a person who is free to make choices about her own life—is not possible without the protection of privacy.Yet privacy can be used for the wrong reasons. The same condition that sustains intimacy, creativity, and freedom can also be invoked as an abusive kind of secrecy. to explore this paradox Smith looks at privacy refracted through various prisms: the bedroom, the psychiatrist's couch, the biographer's quest for information, the presidency and presidential families, the news media, women and their bodies. We see the supple quality of privacy as we look at its role in everyday life; we see how essential it is to our capacity to love and create and think—to our humanity.Combining the emotional sensitivity of a psychotherapist with the insights of a literary writer, Janna Malamud Smith offers a compelling portrait of one of the most precious aspects of life. Her book shows us that, indeed, privacy matters.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Lucid historical, literary, psychoanalytic, and (occasionally) personal perspectives on the vexing topic of privacy. In Smith's view, privacy--whether as solitude, anonymity, reserve, or intimacy--both strengthens public life and invites its own violation. As the daughter of the famous (and famously reserved) writer Bernard Malamud, she sought anonymity in the unliterary profession of psychotherapy, building up plenty of personal insights from both experiences. Now her intelligent book analyzes some famous collisions between the public and the private in Western life. Her best example is the tawdry newspaper-media frenzy over the adultery trial in 1875 of the ``gospel of love'' preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. The event inspired a groundbreaking Harvard Law Review article in 1890 on the right to privacy, which criticized the media for violating that right. Smith spends a chapter on the relationship between literary estates and biography, using as her prime illustration the ultra-reticent Henry James and his highly pertinent novella The Aspern Papers. James himself, despite his efforts to destroy all materials regarding his personal life, became the subject of a probing five-volume biography. (After her father's death, Smith and her mother had to decide how much of Malamud's literary estate to make available to researchers, a matter she touches on in her prologue.) Her most moving case history is the narrative of ex-slave Harriet Jacobs, whose bondage precluded a private life until her escape. More contemporary topics include the pros and cons of Oprah's ``psychic muckraking'' and Clinton's need to expose himself, selectively, to his electorate. Through the examples of Clinton, Henry James, and Henry Ward Beecher, among others, Smith intelligently outlines privacy's ticklish significance. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Booklist:

Where Alderman and Kennedy's Right to Privacy (1991) addressed the legal background of the "right" to privacy and current violations, therapist Smith, daughter of the late novelist Bernard Malamud, offers a wide-ranging analysis of privacy's role--positive and, sometimes, negative--in individuals' construction and expansion of their humanness. Reminding readers that the modern concept of privacy is a relatively recent historical phenomenon, linked to but not coterminous with individualism's rise, Smith examines the complex, even contradictory sources of the wish for privacy (shame, inhibition, self-protection, control, exhibitionism, shyness, guilt), the in-the-family crimes privacy can cloak, and the vital personal purposes that privacy (which, Alan Westin suggested, includes solitude, anonymity, reserve, and intimacy) often serves. Familiar figures (Freud, the Reverend Henry Beecher, Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson, Bill Clinton, Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey, and Smith's author-father) play notable roles in Smith's probing meditation on why human beings need particular kinds of privacy and on our contemporary ambivalence about privacy and surveillance. Insightful and provocative. Mary Carroll

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9781580051071: Private Matters: In Defense of the Personal Life

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ISBN 10:  1580051073 ISBN 13:  9781580051071
Publisher: Seal Press, 2003
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