Monday, March 31, 2008
Just as Shakespeare's Hamlet ritually abstains from taking his uncle's life, thus also Elesin Oba, the anti-hero of Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman, avoids taking his own. In fact, Jones comments that Elesin Oba's wish to remain in the world of the living is neurotically present from the beginning of the play; he writes, "By the end of the first section of the play the Elesin's involvement with things of this world and his evident irritation at being reminded of his coming death have sown doubts about the firmness of his will" (152).
Jones insists that just as the colonial authority Pilkings ignores the religious significance of the Yoruba people, so also does Iyaloja dimiss the significance of colonial intervention in Elesin Oba's failure to perform his own suicide. Regardless of his father's fatal pause and its significance in the Yoruba community, Jones argues that Elesin Oba is redeemed by the sacrifice of his son and the child he may have planted in his newly taken bride. "In this willing acceptance of his role, and in the promise latent in the unborn child, lie the society's hope of regeneration and of continuity" (154). Elesin Oba, on the other hand, appears to be the victim of an unyielding fate: his people blame him for the failure of the suicide ritual.
Jones' secondary focus upon the temporal relationships present within the play; that being the triad of the dead, living, and unborn; is of no consequence, and in fact betray the far more provocative and telling implications of his analysis of Elesin Oba's death, of the pause that preceeds his death. Elesin Oba, is perceived by himself to be the victim of insensitivity: the insensitivity of his own people to the role played by Pilkings in delaying his death, and the insensitivity of Pilkings to the role played by his own people in causing his death. Understood correctly, both the oppressor and the oppressed powers in this situation have cruelly juxtaposed Elesin Oba between them in this circumstance. However, I would argue that this relationship is particularly destructive for the Elesin and Iyaloja, for while she even refuses to recognize the significance of Pilkings' interference in Elesin's ritual, at least Pilkings is willing to subject the situation to his own gaze-in one case we have an particularly disturbing lack of recognition, while in the other we have a mere instance of insensitivity. I would argue that one must at least be aware in order to be insensitive, but Pilkings' seeming invisibility to Iyaloja expresses an inability to recognize power-and therefore the right to assert that power upon one's self.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Elesin's flaws as outlined by Hepburn are clearly his own and thus he is subject to his own unfortunate failure. This issue is complicated when looking at the play from the idea of hybridity. It is quite apparent that the influences on Elesin are those of the hybrid ideology of the colonial culture, just take his wife for example. Elesin's own flaws and problems although solely his, are tied almost irrevocably to his inherent hybridity within the culture. This hybridity is far from ideal and it is through this that we see the root causes of Elesin's failure as not his own flaws but those imposed on him through the colonial system.
Jones’ essay “Death and the King’s Horsemen” was not a masterpiece by any sort, but it did help clear out a lot of actions in the play that I did not understand. If there is any literary theory that would somehow connect to this piece, I think it could be somewhat (vaguely) along the lines of a psychoanalytic interpretation in a colonialist setting. Jones speaks a lot about the human condition that seems to be present in the play. Jones’ says, “By the end of the first section of the play, the Elesin’s involvement with things of this world and his evident irritation at being reminded of his coming death have sown doubts about the firmness of his will” (152). Personally, the first eighteen pages were a tough read for me. However, after reading Jones’ piece, there is noticeable situations throughout the Elesin’s dialogue in the first act where he will begins to wan. Jones then points to all of the items that the Elesin asks for before his death. The man is supposed to die very soon. Why would he ask for so much pleasures of the flesh? This all seems to become clearer.
I also wanted to read the play against Soyinka’s wishes as a post colonial piece of literature. When I originally read the play, it seemed to me that the majority of the problems were caused by Pilkings’ arrest of the Elesin. However, Jones writes, “Pilkings’s intervention does not start the weakening of the Elesin’s will and is ignored by Iyaloja as a major factor in the Elesin’s failure” (153). This takes us back to the Elesin’s personal failure of the self sacrifice. When staring death in the face, “the human will is apt to flinch” (152). This is what the Elesin does. The problems begin because of him, not because of Pilkings. Iyaloja does not even consider Pilkings as any kind of a threat, seen by her constant reference to Pilkings is “child”. This shows that Pilkings is not made to understand and that Iyaloja, as the mother of the market, would rather take her attacks towards the Elesin who understands the trouble he has caused.
As Jones makes clear in the semi-thesis that Roger expertly points out, Elesin's struggle, his goal, is to not let his people down. This is an exceptionally foreign idea to most us, being as there are elements within modern culture that frown upon patriotism and the things that go with it. Further, western society has always been pretty squeamish around the concept of suicide, even though it exists in religious forms (as seen in this play) all around the world. I would, in fact, like to compare this social structure seen in the play with that of medieval Japan, wherein a knight (samurai, bushi, horseman, etc.--insert your noun of choice--cavalier?) will commit suicide for the sake of his ruler. The world is bigger than us. Accept it.
Elesin’s tragedy is quite Greek if one were to think about it. There is an issue at hand, pleasing the gods and keeping up with customs is necessary, there is an ultimatum, and then people die in an extremely dramatic way. The play pretty much follows this pattern.
Gates describes the characterization of Elesin as classically Greek too because the play “records the reciprocal relationship between his character and his fate” (157). Essentially, Gates is saying that Elesin’s weakness is not in his lack of respect or through evil-doings, but in his complete “error of judgment” (157). Due to Elesin’s love for life and the earth, this ultimate love becomes his death when his son, hoping to save the tribe’s future fortunes, kills himself in place of his father. This becomes the death of Elesin as he commits suicide with the chains. That is the perfect Greek ending – a loved one dies because of the other loved one’s actions and then the second loved one kills themselves.
Gates even states that the “antiphonal structure of the Greek tragedy is also perhaps the most fundamental African aesthetic value, and is used as the play’s internal structuring mechanism” (161).
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Thomas and I seem to have differing opinions. Perhaps partly because of its generic title, Eldred Durosimi Jones's "Death and the King's Horseman" does not strike me as particularly profound criticism of Wole Soyinka's play of the same name. As far as I can tell, Jones's thesis is this: "The play examines the Elesin's response when the actual call for which his whole life has been a preparation, and on which the future of his people depend [sic], sounds in his ears" (Gikandi 151). In addition to the fact that "depend" does not seem to agree grammatically, this sentence is cumbersome (re: unnecessarily disrupted) and, on top of that, holds no critical value; by this latter point, I mean to say that the thesis is not argumentative, but descriptive. If this is not supposed to be the thesis, or main point, then Jones definitely "buried his lead." If it IS supposed to be the thesis, it is not a typical "academic" thesis, the kind we are used to as English majors/minors (re: argumentative).
As for the rest of Jones's essay, it is mostly a summary of the play itself, with few arguments or explanations of quotations that I can see. When Jones gives a quote, as far as I can tell/remember, he does not explain it except by using more summary of what happens AFTER the quoted passage. This over-summarizing becomes especially frustrating on page 153, where Jones gives a long quote, and then goes on to tell what happens afterward. While the information Jones DOES supply after such a quote is important to the story of the play, it does not show an especially deep connection with the text, a connection that is an essential aspect of literary/cultural criticism. Thus, while Jones offers a good summary of the play, and is able to bring the cultural beliefs/aspects of the play to the foreground, he does so with such subtlety that I cannot find any argument; to me, it seems there is (nearly) nothing but summary. I am slightly disappointed with the essay, then, because I prefer my theses/arguments to be not only developed but CLEAR.
Did anyone else have this reaction? Maybe I am alone on this one. In any case, I didn't feel like I "walked away" from this essay with any new information.
Here in lies the true tragedy that Jones argues for. The loss of the son and the loss of pride are what truly make Elesin’s life tragic. If Elesin had been permitted to commit suicide, all would have been right in the world. Elesin would have followed a time honored tradition, his son would still be alive, and Pilkings would not have been forced to take drastic measures that eventually led to an ‘innocent’ bystander’s death. I thought that Jones’ analysis of the play was interesting because he attempted to address one of the central issues of the play. He did not try and apply a literary criticism that did not make sense. His discussion of Elesin’s tragic demise was similar to what our class discussed and what our class agreed upon.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
The following summary comes from Wikipedia (but it's pretty accurate from what I've seen so far):
On August 10th, 2010, a.t.b., the Holy Empire of Britannia overpowered Japanese forces and conquered the country with their robotic weapons, the Knightmare Frames, in less than a month. Japan lost its freedom and rights and was renamed Area 11. The Japanese people, renamed as "Elevens", were forced to survive in ghettos, while Britannians lived in first-class settlements. Rebel elements persisted, however, as pockets of Japanese organizations who struggled against the Empire for the independence of Japan.
After his father, the Emperor of Britannia, did nothing to pursue the terrorists who murdered his mother and crippled his sister, the young prince named Lelouch vowed to destroy Britannia. Seven years later, living in Area 11, he encounters a mysterious girl who gives him the power of Geass. With it, he finally has the power that he needs to defeat Britannia and fulfill his two wishes: to seek revenge for his mother and to construct a world in which his beloved sister can live happily.
The show brought up plenty in my head from past classes and the shows regard to Britain as an oppressive power that conquers and leaves to rot reminded me of the documentaries we watched about Ireland and India suffering under the hard oppressiveness of Britain during it's imperialistic phase. The fact that Japan and it's people get a name change to Area 11 and Eleven's respectively was a real shock as to how far Britannia would go to instill its order upon the weakened and oppressed people.
History lessons aside, from what I've seen of this show so far, it is a lot of fun to watch. But, f course, some people need that particular studious reason to watch any particular program, so that's my reason for most of you. For me, Code Geass not only let me apply what I've learned in class to my favorite medium (I can't believe I just typed that), but gave me a reason to love Anime all over again.
Ladies and Gents, Code Geass can be found anywhere online, but if you want an English dubbed version, it will premiere at the end of April on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim Saturday Action Block. Check it out.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The episode involved Captain Sisko and his crew being thrown back in time by a prisoner they were taking back to Earth. They were zapped back into the time period in which Captain James Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise were still out and about in the galaxy. Turns out, they exposed the priosner a long time ago and he wants revenge. In order to stop him, Sisko and his crew need to "blend in" with the Enterprise crew and the people on the space station the Enterprise is visiting, all the while trying their best not to screw up the established time line.
The crew is shot back to the events taking place in the Original Series episode "The Trouble With Tribbles" and with the exception of spiffing up the visual on the 1960's ships, the cast of DS9 had to be superimposed into the footage in order to keep in check the fact that they were interacting around the original Enterprise crew. The best of these scenes is the finale, when Sisko breaks protocol, for unharmful fun, so he can hand the next day's duty roster over to Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise. Just like Forrest speaking with any one of the three presidents he met, it was pulled off very well, almost like an actual conversation between two generations.
If your a big fan of Star Trek, or the visual style of Forrest Gump, I highly recommend this episode "Trials and Tribulations". for your viewing pleasure.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Robert, I took him for what he told me he was, a male heterosexual. But even then, I sincerely doubted how any male hetersexual could've been with Lola, who didn't have breasts or any woman features, just dressed as such. Lola was very obviously a man. But if gender is performance, then Lola abides by that. She performed as a woman though obviously a man. Robert didn't feel like a man, presumably, until he looked like a man. And had most the body parts. He took out the breasts--I guess all women want to run around topless, I can see that, and state now that I have no problem with that. Whatsoever.
But before I disseminate into more "problems" I found with the film, I'd like to say that the treatment of Robert basied on his transgender-ness by the doctors, was pretty much messed up. The doctors, who've taken the Oath of Hypo-something, to help out all human beings at their fullest abilities (I'll try not to comment on the U.S. joke of a medical system), refuse to try to save his life. Because of some "moralistic" stance or simply business (didn't wanna lose patients). Whatever the level of disagreement, it shouldn't occur at the point where the life is sacrificed for the lifestyle.
I also found it very interesting that this was located in some rural town in Georgia, rather than some "liberal" Northeastern or West-Coast state. But I guess that explains the lack of doctors willing to save a transgender life.
Nonetheless, in summation, I found it very interesting--admittedly not something I'd willingly watch again (I don't wanna see old people making out, no matter what they are), I'd be interested in discussing it.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
The first thing that I want to say is that I do not want to be perceived as being judgmental of the people in this documentary and those that made it, especially judgmental in a negative sense. However, the task at hand places me in a situation in which I must pass judgment of some kind about what I feel, so although I am not for or against the lifestyles of the people documented, I do have some issues to bring up.
I’ll start with some of the notes I wrote as I watched the film, using these as my basis.
Early in the picture, I noticed the emphasis on social gender roles. One of the first notes I have written states:
“Bonfire Scene: The headshake thing that [Robert] does to [Max] – was this an over-done attempt at ‘masculine’ activity?”
I always have my doubts when watching television shows and documentaries, which probably stems from the over-production of “reality shows.” Like the majority of people, I question whether the actions that someone does on camera are true to their character, or whether the camera becomes an incentive for them to “act out,” for lack of a better term. In the scene, the whole group was gathered together, sending a very family-like impression to the audience. And with that family mood, Robert definitely seemed to take a dominant role in the scenario, and by acknowledging Max and then shaking his head, he has placed himself in the dominant position over Max, who was submissive to this action (in social context). All of the people documented were aware of the cameras. This action seemed a bit over the top to me. It seemed exaggerated, like a way for Robert to reassure the audience of his masculinity by using very easy to observe social keys. This immediately brings up the idea of The Other. Knowing that there is an always present (in this case highlighted by camera crew) “societal eye,” actions are taken to erase doubts of false gender.
Later in my notes:
“Gender roles: Each time Robert and Lola are shown, they are doing really gender specific (and stereotypical) actions. Robert washes his windshield while smoking, Lola bakes muffins. Does this not go against the idea of transgender or gender-roles? They have changed to be the other gender and then reinforce gender stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.”
First, I want to talk about the gender specific actions. Robert seems to always be smoking. In just about every scene, he has a cigarette. This isn’t necessarily an action that is exclusively masculine, but with the lifestyle of their surroundings it comes off as very masculine to me. When I see Robert smoke and hear his southern accent, I kind of think of a cowboy, and then I associate that with some character like the Marlboro man, a very masculine character. And with the smoking, Robert always seems to be leading a conversation. He is a central piece in the group, and he can assert himself at will. This is a very alpha-male type of thing (asserting oneself and leading conversation, socially speaking) and goes back to the scene of Robert placing himself in a dominant position over Max. The specific scene I wrote this note about started with Robert washing his windshield, and then went to Lola baking muffins. It was a noticeable juxtaposition. There are several of these. After these two images, Lola and Robert go on to have a conversation where Robert takes on the masculine role and Lola takes on the feminine. Their relationship seems to follow this constantly. Max and his partner are similar, but his partner’s actions are not as “submissive” or “feminine” as Lola’s. In fact, during the scene where the two are laying with each other, Max is in the submissive (“feminine”) position in terms of heteronormative signals that our society often accepts.
Second, I’ll attempt to answer my question in the note. I am honestly not completely sure with what I meant when I asked if these actions (if indeed stereotypes) go against the idea of transgender. I think what I was getting at was this: these people, before any changes occurred, felt like they were the other gender. Robert felt like a man when he was known as the girl and woman Barbara (sp?). By undergoing physical change, they live as the gender that they feel they were supposed to be, but reinforce this by using stereotypical social actions. In this light, the importance is placed on social norms. In short, Robert is male because he is doing male things. I am not sure if this even properly answers the transgender question I posed, but I think it better answers the one of gender roles. It seems that the people of this documentary, especially Robert and Lola, are reinforcing certain gender roles that others may not agree with, like the submissiveness of Lola (and thus other women) to the masculine person.
It seemed as though the person who filmed this documentary was aware of these dynamics and pursued them. To me, the scenes aforementioned were very telling of this. I’ll end this long passage with one other note of mine that caught my attention. I was confused at times in this movie, like about the sex shared between the partners, the body orientations of each, etc. But going on, there was the whole ordeal about Max and his partner wanting to help Robert with the speech about intimacy at SoCo. Robert says “Max doesn’t know anything about intimacy, only sex.” Then, when the two talk to each other to work out their differences, I believe Robert tells Max, “we [Lola and Robert] have a male-male intimacy, not female-male… like you.” This really struck me. Earlier in the film, Robert talks about never feeling like a lesbian woman when he was Barbara. He always felt like a heterosexual male. But at this moment, he acknowledges the fact that he is in a “male-male” relationship, and if not that, he experiences “male-male” intimacy, which would be homosexual from a male orientation. So, does this make Robert a homosexual male? A heterosexual female with male characteristics and/or orientation? I really don’t know, but it was something that caught my attention.
My natural response is to wonder exactly what was so uncomfortable about this particular documentary. On the surface, it seems obvious that those finding themselves uncomfortable must be homophobic. This is a valid charge. Yet, it seemed to me (and strongly because of my own experience) that the level of discomfort stemmed from our inability to "handle" the rather delicate situation. After growing up in a society that has assumed heterosexuality as the norm, addressing issues of gender-crossing and homosexuality may prove rather difficult. For example, speaking of Rob and Lola's relationship proved extremely difficult. Is Rob a he? Is Lula a she? Is someone inherently bad for having difficulty with this situation? Essentially, the documentary accomplishes a honorable goal; it encourages people to engage issues of gender identity and humanizes the struggles encountered by transgendered individuals.
Southern Comfort by Davis was an extremely powerful movie. There was a lot of information brought to a public that was not ready to fully comprehend.
There was a specific line that truly stuck with me. Robert says (something along the lines of) “my body reflects my feel. I felt like a heterosexual male, so my body had to reflect that”. Although I feel I butchered the exact quote, the message was clear. Robert, from a young age, had a connection with the traditional ideals and beliefs connected to the heterosexual male. To match this, she (at the time) changed her body to fit her traditional male beliefs. My question becomes, does this defy the norm or does this submit to it? The question may seem simple, but upon reflection, I am not sure what to believe. The idea that this women paid for the surgery that physically turned her into (what appears as) a heterosexual male is unique and amazing. However, did Robert become a male just because he believed that he can only be the way he is as a male? This kind of drifts to gender analyst, but is it not fair to say that Robert became a male because he thought that his sexual orientation and demeanor would only be accepted as a male? For me, it is difficult to say.
1) If a man must possess the body of a man, then Eads became a man the moment doctors constructed a penis for him.
If this is the case, then what might his gender have been considered to be between surgeries? If men are subject to this definition of gender then certainly a woman might be too. What is the gender of a human lacking the breasts of a woman but also the genitals of a man, as might a transgendered woman who did not perform the second surgery required for a sex change. Gender, in this case, is dictated entirely by biology, viz. the physical appearance of one's body.
2) If a man must possess the body of a man at birth, then Eads is not a man and it is not possible for him to ever become one.
This belief would appear to imply that those who are born with the biological characteristics of one gender are irrevocably endowed with the thing that is that gender; hence one is essentially a man if and only if one is born a man, for only in this way would one satisfy the condition of essence of required for the being of one gender as opposed to any other. This distinction is more metaphysical (or perhaps spiritual) than physical. As arbitrary and unforgiving as it may sound, the idea of an essential gender predetermined at birth appears to be a common belief among critics of transgendered individuals.
3) If a man must simply know or believe that he is a man, then Eads became a man the moment he thought himself to be a man.
This possibility makes secondary any references to biological characteristics and also hearkens back to medieval perceptions of homosexuality in Europe, which judged that homosexuals were those individuals whose minds were of a different gender than their bodies. Accordingly, this belief system attaches gender to one's mind or beliefs of the body, and all that is required is for one to believe and maintain the belief that one is a specific gender as opposed to any other gender in order to make the distinctions relevant. This belief is problematic, for what would happen if a person were convinced that they were neither male nor female? Or perhaps a person who only temporarily entertained the idea of being transgendered? If I believe I am a man one day, but then later realize that I am in fact female later in life, did I at all change my gender? Can gender really be so subject to whim?
4) If all that is required to be a man is to simply to act as society believes a man should, then Eads became a man the moment he started to behave as one.
This distinction differs from the previous, for instead of the self dictating its own gender, the judgment is instead made by The Other and society. With this distinction, it becomes possible for me to believe that I am one gender and everyone else that I am an entirely different gender; the difference being that the gender I believe myself to be is irrelevant and instead the gender that everyone else believes me to be is relevant. This binary is also problematic, for if society determines such distinctions based upon the images, stereotypes, and myths which dictate its beliefs. It might therefore be possible for me to be judged a woman in one culture, a man in another, and perhaps something else entirely in a third context. The changing definitions of gender are also another factor, for what was once thought masculine in one time might not necessarily be considered masculine in another time.
Perhaps my analysis excludes several other possibilities which were never mentioned, but I only attempt this exercise to demonstrate my point. None of the aforementioned distinctions appear to be satisfactory to the case of Robert Eads but perhaps these points betray an ambiguity in the methods which we use to distinguish one gender from any other, or the entire idea of gender as whole.
(BTW, is it just me or is this class rife with really sad stories and films that are full of depression and almost zero positive outlook on life?)
Like others who have already posted, I was certainly uncomfortable at times watching the movie. Generally, I like to think of myself as an open-minded person too, and therefore I found the relationship between Robert and his grandson to be a touching statement on the beautiful innocence of children. Robert's grandson loves his grandfather for who he really is, and regardless of whether you agree or disagree with what Robert has done with his body, I think it's hard to deny the power of an innocent child who refuses to judge others. It is an innocent we all once had, and which disappears far too soon.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
The most interesting or intriguing part of the documentary was also the most disturbing part. As stated earlier, I found the scars very unsettling to look at but I also was very proud of the people on camera for displaying these ‘battle wounds’ openly. These ‘men’ believed that their transformation from female to male was complete or almost complete. Yet I look at them, and with their shirts off, I would be willing to call them almost horribly disfigured. They would not agree with me, they would see themselves as free from their former skin. It is strictly a matter of perception; I look at their bodies and cringe because it is not normal to me but through their eyes, they are not disfigured but rather finally ‘correct.’ This is such an interesting topic because it really boils down to what you (all individuals) believe is correct and natural. Personally, I am not against individuals who live this type of lifestyle, I just have never really dealt with or met any people like this. I find their lifestyles and personal choices different from my own and that is what I, and many other people, must learn to deal with. Once again, I am sure that there are other people who have similar views.
Southern Comfort is quite the interesting documentary. It is no March of the Penguins and is not for the faint if heart. What makes the film so interesting is that it is centering on a group of transsexual friends who have, in their minds, made the complete transformation to the gender of which they identify. Robert’s situation is especially complicated, more so than the other characters, because when he was a woman, he was married and had two children. He said he “felt like a homosexual” when he was in this marriage because he believed himself to be a man trapped in a woman’s body and expressed pregnancy as a weird situation to be in and the turning point in his life when he realized he needed to live life as a man. This complicated story weaves the complex lives that these people are living. Being transsexual is a difficult and painstakingly emotional rollercoaster of a life.
Like Roger said in his blog, I am a pretty open person to homosexuality, race, equal rights (for women and African-Americans), and consider myself to be very supportive of these cultures and their struggle for pulling themselves out of the “second-class citizen” rut they are put in every day. The problem here is, I was completely confused about one thing – how do these people have sex? If these two people in this relationship have each switched genders, then would the woman who is now a man (Partner A) perform penetration on the man who is now a woman (Partner B) or does Partner B, who may still have a penis as some transsexuals do not cut off their penis and get a reconstructed vagina, penetrate Partner A who may still have a vagina (because it was mentioned that it is harder for a woman to become a man because of the high cost of the surgery)? This completely blew my mind and just confused me. Max and his partner said they have spiritual sex but that was never really made clear and it really just confused me even more? I am not asking for an instructional pamphlet or video, I really just want to know who has what and if they can even use it. I hope this paragraph didn’t confuse anyone, and if it did, welcome to the club.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Furthermore, Jackson's article appropriately addresses the confusing and abundant food and apetite metaphors which appear throughout "A Painful Case," such as that of the rotten apple, the bile beans, and the arrowroot biscuits. I was not satisfied with the theoretical structure which becomes the climax and mainstay of Jackson's argument: that of the opened closet. Jackson's argument depends upon equating Duffy's state of mind one shared by his author: that of James Joyce himself. Not only is Jackson's evidence sparse and insufficient, but this justification is ultimately irrelevant to his argument and it could very well proceed without it, applying exclusively to the model of the repressed homosexual created in the fictitious Mr. Duffy alone.
I do not find Jackson's description of the opened closet to be particularly compelling either. Mr. Duffy's behavior insists upon an individual who refrains from sexual contact with either gender, but none of his behavior is indicative of a man who guards a secret while at the same time announcing it to the entire public. Consider the behavior of Mrs. Sinico, was she not ignorant of Mr. Duffy's sexuality in her own attempts at intimacy with Mr. Duffy? Does the rest of Mr. Duffy's behavior not depict the evasive actions of a man who is keeping a guarded secret? I know not where Jackson intends to procure evidence of Mr. Duffy's hidden sexuality "passing into public consciousness." Without appropriating Mr. Duffy with Joyce, Jackson's argument falls short of anything conclusive.
I selected this particular poem because of Bradley & Cooper's direct reference to the male gender and its implied significance as a symbol of the dominant and pervasive institution of heterosexuality. The first stanza begins:
Men I defy, allure, estrange,
Prostrate, make bond or free:
Soft as the stream beneath the plane
To you I sing my love's refrain;
Between us is no thought of pain,
Contained within the first string of verbs are a variety of implications for the Bradley & Cooper's particular relationship to heterosexuality. To defy is to issue a challenge, an attempt to sieze or resist power in a relationship. To allure is to attract or tempt, to manipulate desire or promises of possession. To estrange is to turn away or alienate the affections of others, to make them hostile or unfriendly. Then to prostrate is force another into a position of submission or humility, while bondage and freedom equate to servitude and emancipation.
Bradley & Cooper's mention of defiance and prostration are obvious references to power, for heterosociality is traditionally patriarchal in structure, yet Bradley & Cooper's use of power are for the purposes of subversion; they do not wish to be free from this power dynamic, but to reverse the traditional 'passive' role forced upon women in heterosocial relationships and instead defer this role to men: matriarchy.
Allurement and estrangement are the second pair of opposites to appear in the first stanza, and this implies the deliberate act of manipulating the opposite gender and its desire to possess and control the other. This is significant because while the previous binary suggested what essentially amounted to a role reversal among men and women, this second binary of allurement/estrangement implies that Edith & Cooper intend not to reverse their genders and become copies of men, but to maintain their gender, their feminine identity, and its defining characteristics as the opposites of me in order to alienate and manipulate the other gender. This plays upon a significant and often primordial fear often manifested in mythology and fairy tales: that of the female seductress who uses her gender to control and manipulate men, ultimately in an attempt to facilitate their destruction. Edith & Cooper instead appear to use this archetype as a declaration of independence and identity.
The final binary is perhaps the most interesting: that of freedom and servitude. The enslave men alone would imply a desire for a complete and self-perpetuating role reversal: a matriarchy that enforces itself in the same sense that patriarchy continues to exist in contemporary heterosociality. However, the prospect of freedom is also mentioned; Edith & Cooper not only entertain the notion that the opposite gender is entirely without power and susceptible to their manipulation and whims, but also that men too might be freed from this relationship: that both genders need not exist in conflict, one always subserviant to another. While seemingly contradictory at first glance, the potential for freedom implies the creation of a new dynamic and relationship between the sexes, and nothing less of a possible revolution in heterosociality. The poem itself is far from explicit, but these are the implications that might be drawn from the verse of Edith & Cooper's 'Maids, not to you my mind doth change.'
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Admittedly, I struggle at times with reading deeper within a text. That being said though, I still can't see the blatant, repressed homosexual in James Duffy that Jackson sees. Jackson says, "Duffy's social isolation is not fundamentally due to his neuroticism, but rather his neuroticism arises from his necessary isolation and his need to distance himself from the homophobia of the patriarchy" (336). I don't agree with this interpretation. I see Duffy as a neurotic, obsessive-compulsive figure, and this is what causes his loneliness in the world. I fail to see how Jackson finds this "need to distance himself."
For me, Duffy lives by an uber-strict moral and societal code, and that is why he can't allow himself to act on his attraction to Mrs. Sinico. It is their age difference, not his homosexuality, which forces him to reject her. I think Duffy is romantically attracted to Mrs. Sinico, but he knows that society will disapprove of the age difference between the two of them. Duffy is unable to brush away what society thinks, and thus must reject Mrs. Sinico and his only real chance at true happiness. Duffy is neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, and uptight, but I don't see how these characteristics necessarily point to his being a homosexual, as Jackson believes.
This poem is full of analogies to various parts of the female genitalia (the vagina itself and clitoris) and expresses one key point that Hall addresses in the Queer Theory chapter of his book – sexuality is not just physical, but emotional as well. First, the poem makes numerous references to the vagina, which consist of a nod to the clitoris, a part of the vagina that is often called a “pearl,” there is a comparison to a flower, “A face flowered for heart’s ease,” and the poem mentions the proverbial “lips” of the vagina. These subtle references to the vagina not only reveal the sexual feelings that the onlooker is feeling towards the girl, but also show how delicate they view her to be, like a flower. In regards to Hall’s point, it is as if the viewer of the young girl not only has the physical attraction, which is made quite obvious, but also an emotional love, “From her tempestuous heart. Such and our souls so knit.” This also proves that this connection between the two shapes their life and knowing it could be viewed in a harsh way (for being unorthodox to the heterosexual way of life), the girl is viewed from afar/in hiding, “Seen through faint forest-tree,” which goes back to Hall’s point about social attitudes changing. At this time, same-sex relationships were frowned upon, which is why they may never meet until after death, “The work begun Will be to heaven’s conception done, If she come to it.”
The use of floral imagery within Michael Field's poetry is extremely significant, especially in Unbossoming. Floral imagery is often associated with the female genitalia and thus fits directly into the lesbian connotations of the poetry. The only actual flower directly mentioned in the poem is the iris which is pictured to the left. This flower is clearly similar to the female genitalia and is often portrayed in paintings and art work as a mixture of the flower and a vagina. This appreciation of the female anatomy clearly surpasses the bounds of a simple physical admiration and merges with the natural and spiritual. The fertility of the woman as presented through the "brimful of seeds" within the flower, suggests a connection between the womb and the natural world but this is contrasted as "the summer of fragrance and sighs is dead," showing the inability of the two women lovers to reproduce, despite the fertility of the flower. There is a profound connection as well, between the woman and the mythical and classical mother earth theme within these poems. Immense feminine passion can be seen as the speakers "breast is rent" and the "harvest secret" is an almost direct reference to the reaping of the female subject's sexual fruit. The scene set is one of ripe and fervent floral/vaginal imagery which connects to the appreciation and femininity of the writers.
The final four verses also intrigued me: "And if care frets ye come to me/As fresh as nymph from stream or tree,/And with your soft vitality/My weary bosom fill." The fact that the nymph comes from nature (stream or tree) suggests that she is away from society and its artificiality and norms. The nymph (I assume she represents the poet's lover) allows the poet to escape the stress that society causes her on account of her sexual orientation. The poet is thus, for a short time at least, escape into nature with her nymph, where they can practice their love free from the judgment and criticism born from society.
I misplaced my Michael Field’s sheet, so I found another poem by Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper, entitled “…And On my Eyes, Dark Sleep Tonight”.
At a glance, the poem seems like a typical love poem. However, knowing the poem is written by two women changes everything. The poets speak of wanting sleep, in order to dream about the “pleasure that day denies” (line 4). This shows the authors bowing to traditional norm standards. The authors feel that they cannot communicate their love because lesbianism is not accepted in late 19th century England. This is why they discuss the dream as a tool for carrying out their desires (“O bring the lips I could not take” (line 5)). Because of the social attitudes of the time, the authors write their poem in the form of a dream in order to live a separate longing that reality is not able to allow. This is because only in a dream can societal calls for normality be silenced and the author/dreamer may create their own reality. This is why the authors do not wish to wake from their slumber (stanza 3). When the day comes, not only does the sun shine upon them, but also the societal norms they are forced to live in day in and day out. The 11th line mentions the Greek mythology figure Phaon. Phaon was an ugly boat ferry that crossed Aphrodite into Asia Minor. Once she made it, she offered Phaon a box of oils. After applying the oils to his face, Phaon changed from a hideous man to one of the most handsome. This can also represent the two authors. They are aware that their lesbianism is not accepted. However, if they are able to change their image or shift their gender they be accepted in society. Nevertheless, they may only dream, as they silence their ability to speak as a lesbian couple.
Reading Michael Field's "Unbosoming," I notice that the word "its" in line 12 is ambiguous. On the one hand, it could be referring to the narrator's "breast" (line 11); on the other hand, it could refer to the "[quivering] bloom" mentioned in line 9, which is the bloom of the "iris" (line 3). If one uses the former definition of "its," the result is that the "burden and strain" are on the "contents" of the woman's breast, one of the very cores of her sexuality (i.e., the woman is quite literally carrying in front of her the burden of her socially unacceptable secret: she is homosexual). If one uses the second definition of "its," the result is that the BLOOM'S contents PUT "burden and strain" on the woman's breast. The difference is subtle, but it changes the poem significantly, suggesting that the bloom itself has "great content," and the woman's breast does not (necessarily).
Paradoxically, these two approaches take the reader, in two different ways, to (nearly) the same place/conclusion: (homosexuality) the love that the woman carries is oftentimes a burden. One can regard this burden as being feminine, no matter which reading of the word "its" one uses (and here, I do not mean to invoke the social construct that homosexuals, even men, are feminine/effeminate). On the one hand, the burden comes directly from a woman's body; on the other hand, it comes from a flower, which denotes a degree of gentleness, and perhaps even fragility, that one often associates with women (especially, given the historical context of female oppression). Society often sees women as the weaker sex, and, therefore, the passive, measly flower becomes a symbol for women. In the context of this poem, however, the words "seeds," "flowered," "push," "riot," "squeeze," "clip," "bloom," and "zephyr" (among others) show the iris as a symbol for fertility, reproduction, and other concepts associated more closely and consciously with women than men. The iris, then, is a sex symbol for love between two women. As for the title of the poem, it reminds one of deconstructionist analysis in that the poem is subverting notions about relations between women, and it is also a way of disclosing and, thus, releasing (from her chest) the narrator's secret. Using our Donald Hall reading on queer theory, we can apply many of the key principles to this poem, especially the 2nd, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th principles (Hall 236-243).
Finally, it is also interesting to me that one never really finds out what is inside the "heart" of the "bloom." The bloom/iris, thus, becomes a "McGuffin" (for those of you who have studied Hitchcock); ultimately, it does not matter what is in the bloom, because the real issue comes in the final 6 lines of the poem (the issue of secrecy/fear in the context of homosexuality).
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Bordo writes on the image and structure of the male model. She makes a claim about the power of the model using specific poses. A certain “faceoff” pose almost challenges the viewer, saying “I am confident and strong in this picture and I will not look away”. Because of this, the advertisement seems tough, and built of grit and determination. It is also interesting how these outfits sell based on their image. As I check myself, I am currently wearing American Eagle pants. When I check American Eagle’s website for advertisements, I see the same pictures Bordo describes in her work. The men are not massive, but are in athletic shape and I can honestly say (in a heterosexual way) that the image just conveys sex. This leads me to believe why, exactly, did I buy these pair of jeans? Did I think they would be comfortable, or was there a more subliminal reason, such as I would appear better to women in them?
The “bigorexia” discussed is also amusing. Bordo says that the disease is a “product of a culture that doesn’t know when to stop”. Indeed, that is true. It almost seems as an answer to the portrayal of female actresses on the screen. Women try their best to look similar to figures on the screen. The same exact thing can be said about men. There are men that will work out six or seven times a week and completely overwork their body to an unhealthy degree. This can also be attributed to images displayed to our culture. When the movie 300 arrived in theatres, many men rushed to the gyms in order to sculpt themselves as Gerard Butler. The same thing happens when a Brad Pitt movie makes its way to the shelves. Men constantly believe that only that specific look can help them attract women, and they will push themselves to look that way. For example, have you ever noticed how many people are in the weight room right before Spring Break?