Monday, March 31, 2008

Death and the King's Horseman: Jones & The Elesin's Hesitation

Elesin Oba: "My will was squelched in the spittle of an alien race; and all because I had committed this blasphemy of thought-that there might be the hand of gods in a stranger's intervention" (57).

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

Jones' Criticism and Our Culture

I'm with Roger on this piece not having really any significant thesis or any real purpose outside of a simple summary.  I will agree that, for a summary, it did do its job and explained the play quite clearly.  Criticism, however, does not seem to be the focal point of this piece, despite the fact it was in a section under that label. 

But I'd like to turn and respond to Jeremy's entry.  He writes, ". . . Elesin's strugle, his goal is not to let his people down.  This is an exceptionally foreign idea to most [of] us, being as there are elements within modern culture that frown upon patriotism and the things that go along with it."  I whole-heartedly disagree.  I think that even though we do live in an incredibly individualistic environment due to our capitalistic societal upbringing, we can make a strong connection with this idea of not wanting to let others down.  One only need to look to sports (of which I admit for the most part I am ignorant) or the family unit to see that one does not want to let down one's team or parents.  And to say that patriotism is frowned upon in America is a shock to me.  Just think of our soldiers who still continue to sign up for the army and get shipped over to Iraq... this display of patriotism is not admonished, rather those that go (and possibly return) are shown immense respect for not letting down their country and serving to bring democracy to the world.  Even those who do not agree with the war still praise those who go off to fight it for their courage and sense of duty.

So, I guess in lieu of that, I still fail to see the significance of Jones' piece.  It is not an idea outside of any cultural understanding as I believe Jeremy claims.

Jones' Book Report

For obvious reasons I chose to read Jones’ “criticism” of the play and was both disappointed and impressed at the same time. I would have to agree with both Roger and Jake in how I viewed this article and say that it is an incredibly easy to read summary of Elesin’s situation, somewhat equitable to an in depth middle school book report, but it was not much of a criticism. That is to say that a well done criticism doesn’t have to literally criticize the author, but has to contribute something useful to the academic discussion of the literature being examined. This is where Jones’ piece fell short for me, and probably most of us who read it. It doesn’t oppose Soyinka’s presentation of ritualistic suicide or offer any additional scholarly analysis of the play; it seems to merely summarize a common perception of the play and barely supports this summary with a few selected quotes. I will say, however, that the presented summary of the play is easy to comprehend and presented in a rather “user friendly” manner that allows the reader to perhaps further his or her own understanding of Elesin’s situation. While it is not a terribly written book report, Jones’ piece seems slightly less relevant to the world of academia than many of the other criticisms we have read throughout the course of this class.

Death and the King's Horseman

Although I didn't find Jones' Criticism of "Death and the King's Horseman" particularly deep or profound, there were some things I found interesting. The main thing was his idea that the failure of the suicide and the tragedy is caused mostly by the Elesin's hesitation. I thought this was interesting, and it would also complicate a seemingly cut-and-dry argument against colonization that I thought was taking place through this play. This would also support Soyinka's Author's Note before the play, which basically says this play is, in fact, a play inspired by a real-life event, not just simply a call against colonization or anything else.

Hepburn's Hybridity

In her article Hepburn seems to argue about the role of the individual in the overall community. What I will focus on from her article is her placement of blame on Elesin. Elesin's failure to commit his ritual suicide is placed solely on his own shoulders and on the supposed flaws of his person. Yet this article fails to take into account the broader aspects of hybridity and the colonial system in effect within the settings of the play. Regardless of Soyinka's own comments that this play is not a commentary on political or social issues, it is impossible to divorce the rich themes and events of the play from this context.

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 and "Death and..."

I kind of want to respond to Roger in depth about Jones’ essay, but I have to read an entire book by Carter. However, there are some things I want to say. Jones’ piece is not great, but there a lot of points in the essay that helped me determine what, exactly, was going on in the play and how the play could be read.
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.

Jones and Culture

The apparent argument brewing between Roger and Thomas over the Jones article has its merit, but something is being overlooked in it. We, as Americans of (only mostly, of course) Western European (See. Christian) descent are shocked by what we read in this play. The play itself is but one of many examples in a long line of West African literature detailing the three-sided awkwardness felt among Christian missionaries/converts, older Muslims groups, and those who still hold to the indigenous belief systems. Making up only one third of the concerned parties of the story, we will generally only identify with and understand one third of the participants.

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.

Joan Hepburn's analysis of "King's Horseman"

I chose to read Joan Hepburn's analysis of "Death and the King's Horseman", titled "Ritual Closure in Death and the King's Horseman."  What I found to be the most intriguing point raised in the essay was the notion of community in the play.  I hadn't really thought about how incredibly important the welfare of the community is to the characters in the play until I read this analysis.

In the play, the welfare of the community is supposed to trump the welfare of the individual.  As Hepburn herself states, " Soyinka's drama the individual will is subordinate to that of the collective.  It is the community one seeks, at all costs, to save, not one person" (180).  The collective community expects Elesin to sacrifice any selfish/individual desires and give up his life for the good of the community. 

Hepburn also gives the example of Iyaloja giving up the bride of her son to Elesin to highlight the importance of community welfare: "Yet Ivaloja consents to this marriage, which robs her son of his bride, for she hopes by her decision to better enable Elesin to perform his ritual task of benefit to the Yoruba community" (185).  The tragedy of the play emerges from the fact that Elesin doesn't commit the ritual suicide.  It is debatable who's fault this is, but it is undeniable that the tragedy originates from this point when the welfare of the community is disregarded.  

"Death and the King’s Horseman": It’s All Greek to Me

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s essay on Soyinka’s “Death and the King’s Horseman” is a very interesting read because it keeps going back to the idea that Soyinka’s play is rooted to the Greek tragedy. Gates describes the play’s structure as “classically Greek” (155) and claims the “adaptation of a historical action at a royal court was compellingly Shakespearean. This, I thought, was a great tragedy” (155).

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

"Death and the King's Horseman"

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.

Death and the King's Horseman by Eldred Durosimi Jones

I rather liked Jones’ piece on “Death and the King’s Horseman.” Besides the obvious length of the piece, which was an absolute bonus, I thought that he made a well thought out argument. His main point “this loss of honour and the sacrifice of his son make up the Elesin’s real tragedy” (154), was spot on. After our class discussion on the play, it seemed that the majority of the class agreed that in some shape or fashion, the play was about moral choices and the decisions we make. Elesin was forced to make a moral and very difficult decision. Suicide cannot be an easy decision, I imagine that it is a very painstaking and terrible ordeal; but ritualistic suicide, the kind Elesin was being asked to commit must be even more difficult. He was being forced to end his own life, with the entire community watching. But Jones would argue, and I agree, that the real tragedy is the loss of pride and face that Elesin is forced to endure. Pilkings stopped the suicide and forced Elesin to endure endless scorn from the townspeople. This is the true tragedy of the play. It does not matter if Elesin was having second thoughts about his own death, I believe that he was actually going to go through with the suicide; but his destiny was deterred by Pilkings, and Elesin’s son was forced to take his place.

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

Criticism by Eldred Durosimi Jones

The criticism is written very well. The flow of the piece follows the pattern of death, to who is supposed to die, to who actually dies. Even thought there are other aspects of the criticism that were good, i wish he would have focused more on the idea of duty. The second paragraph talks a little bit about Elesin's duty to the King as well as the people. Yet, I would rather the criticism focus more on the son. The son seemed to have a greater appreciation for the ritual, then the father. I was even shocked to see the son having no problem killing himself for the people and his king, which he was torn away from. I would ask if his being away gave him the greater sense of appreciation. The problem with thinking this is that Olunde has seems to carry the ideals of his people to Britain. This is seen just by his words to Jane about "your people." As he talks to Jane about the Capitan’s suicide he finds honor in dying for others. I would want to look closer into his character to find his true motivation of fulfilling his father duties.

Death and The King's Horseman

During class the other day I was pondering the attempted suicide by Elesion. When we were talking about it, it seems most of the class did not share my opinion of how the power was giving to the colonizer by leaving the attempted suicide out of the play. The power is given to the colonizers because he stopped an ancient ritual seemingly with little effort. Not only does this grant the white colonizers power, but by leaving the attempt out we never get to see the hesitation of Elesin. Therefore without the hesitation from Elesin, the power of the colonizer is greater because it seems the failed suicide is solely placed on Pilkings.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Code Geass-Adapting what i've learned to Anime (My God the madness is sinking in, lol)

Ok, I know everyone is not a big fan of anime. However, I've just discovered a particular new series that could tie heavily into some of our discussions thus far, particularly in regards to our recent look at Post Colonial Theory. The name of the series is Code Geass, a brand new anime from Sunrise Studio (Mobile Suit Gundam, Cowboy Bebop)

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

Ezra Pound Lecture

The Ezra Pound lecture by Mr. James Longenbach (forgive me if I misspelled his last name) was a pleasant surprise to me. My attention was quickly captured by Professor Hudson’s introduction of Pound and Mr. Longenbach’s subsequent facts and findings. I was most surprised to hear about Pound’s exile-esque way of life, which sort of hit a cord with me considering I just did a paper of the pros and cons of the life of an exile for my Postcolonial Literature and Theory course. What I really liked about the presentation as a whole is the possibility of placing all of Pound’s poetry into a singular volume and calling it the Artistic Biography or Ezra Pound as each poem in one way or another illustrates a key moment in his life right up until his death (as I realized with Contos 20 which I read after the lecture). What I find kind or ironic and sad is how little Pound thought of himself and his accomplishments throughout his life. While he never achieved the “Renaissance” utopia he dreamt of his entire life, he is still a revered author and one of the greatest literary minds of our age with a large list of accomplishments and places traveled, including here at Wabash. This lecture helped to instill this thought in my head and actually feel sorry for the poor guy. If only he could see today just how much of a profound affect his works have had on the literary community and English courses everywhere. All in all, it was a hell of a good time. Good work Mr. James.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Visuals of Forrest Gump and DS9

While I never got a chance to mention this in class, I still think this was a nifty thought. During my viewing of the film, I was really impressed with the way Zemeckis and his visual team meshed Tom Hanks into already established events and film. It reminded me of an episode from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine called Trials and Tribulations.

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

Southern (Un)Comfort

Can't say I've seen anything like that before. But if you remove all the variables, it's just a simple documentary I think. But at an all-male school, the variables are very important: transgender relationships, which technically end up being...heterosexual relationships. It was mind-blowing but at the same time, discomforting. My problem with it was, the main character, he (I'll take him for what he is) said that he's always been a heterosexual male. And it seems all the actions (or all the parts shown on the documentary) is supposed to reaffirm that by showing traditionally manly stuff. Guns, ribs, beer, bare chest. I think that a showing of them being transgender alone is a variable that in some way still conforms, if I may, to the usual gender roles. Lola said she (it's harder for me to say she's a she, but what the hey) now felt more like a housewife or something. My problem perhaps was (and I'm faulting this on the characters or the documentary person) that gender roles were not switched. Not even found arbitrary. What resulted was that one gender desired to be another so badly, and although crossing the line to the other side, didn't see that there was no line or any other side. Did they switch gender roles and still conform to them?
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

Gender Roles in Society... and SoCo

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.


Southern Comfort was a very interesting movie. I was very hard for me to understand what was going on at the start of the movie. We never really knew who the characters were and got vague description of their lives. With an issue as controversial as this one is I would like to know more about what thought process is going on for someone to go through with a lifestyle as they do not to mention a surgery. Along with Nick I was stumbling over my pronouns and still don’t know everyone’s sex. The biggest thing for me was how they never showed any interaction really with the world. They lived in their own bubbles and did not have much interaction. Lola was a man when she worked with the world so that she would not suffer financially because of her lifestyle. We saw that there was no social acceptance from the world of their lifestyles. The best example is Robert and his struggle to get medical attention to treat his cancer. I thought that this movie is very eye opening one and has allowed me to see a lifestyle that I might have never seen in my life time.

Southern (dis)Comfort

He came on the screen; spoke vaguely about an encounter that saddened him since its perpetrators believed they were doing the right (and Godly) thing. His mannerisms suggested that he was a gay male, reflecting on a gay-bashing incident. His significant other came on the screen also. She... I mean he... I mean: dressed in drag, his partner joined in the conversation. They kiss. He mentions how he is dying. She chimes in offering her thoughts. He reveals that he is dying of caner in his cervix. At this point the documentary experience becomes exponentially uncomfortable for many of the students in the class.

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.

An Argument Worth Having

In Joyce's A Painful Case and Jackson's Open Closet there seems to be a slight disconnect. When reading the short story the first time I really did not see any of Jackson's undertones within the text. After reading Open Closet I thought Jackson made an argument but I got the same impression that Joel did, that it was a rather weak argument that was loosely connected to the text. What was more compelling and seemed more to the point, was that Joyce was asserting that it was more possible for men and women to share relationships with people of the same sex or same attraction because otherwise there are sexual tensions. Whether this is true or not is not pertinent to Joyce's argument, but it seems Joyce is making this claim rather than proclaiming that Duffy is a homosexual.

Southern Comfort and Social Lapses

Southern Comfort failed to convey its more broad elements and in doing so created a film that I could not connect to. With the improper introduction to characters and the lack of information, the entire film just seemed to be a small section of society that, with the majority of the story taking place on a secluded farm, did not connect itself to society as a whole. Perhaps this plays into the overall aims of the film but if there had been greater connections to the social groups outside of Robert's "chosen family," certain elements of the film may have been conveyed more adequately. Another portion of the film I found problematic, was Robert's statement, made during the SoCo speech, in which the transgendered people's situation was likened to that of blacks in terms of suppression and mistreatment in America. Very few elements can tie the the two groups together and I found it a gross exaggeration in attempting to link the position of transgendered people to that of formerly enslaved Africans in America. This fails to take into account factual historical elements and actually swayed me even further from the argument the film was trying to make.

Southern Comfort: Pronouns and Transsexuals

As someone who is no stranger to the LGBT community, I nonetheless have had minimal exposure to transsexuals.  What this movie impressed upon me the most was that when I went to talk about the film to my friends I was getting my pronouns all mixed up as I talked about the characters.  I was using both he and she or his and her in the same sentence talking about the same person.  I realize if I had just seen these characters in the movie without knowing that they had sexual reassignment surgery, I would have had no problem using the proper pronoun (the pronoun they would have everyone use); however, throwing this knowledge into the mix makes it complicated and I rightfully do not understand why.  It is almost as if we are socially ill-equipped to talk about these individuals with an understanding of who they used to be.  That's incredibly paradoxical, however, because they would want us to identify them as they are now without regarding who they once were, and I believe we feel the urge to do just the opposite.  I think that's an interesting problem and probably says more about us than I can divine at this moment.


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.

Southern Comfort

After spending the first 15 to 20 minutes of the movie trying to figure out the ins and outs of each characters sexuality, gender etc. I was about ready to give up on the movie. It seemed I spent more time working things out in my head than watching the action on screen. Maybe that's a problem with me, or maybe it's a problem with the film, that's not for me to decide. To me, one of the saving graces of the movie to me was the portrayal of the relationship between Robert and his two families, and the differences between the two. The idea of a "real" family struck me as being something that Robert clinged to towards the end of his life. His relationship with his adopted family seemed to be forged out of their common circumstances, obviously, as they lived in a place where their lifestyle is not thought very highly of. While I think this family was very important to Robert, it can't completely replace his biological family. This could be seen when his mom and dad came to visit, along with his son and grandson. Robert had not seen his family in a while, but you could still tell that the bonds were there. I don't think that this takes anything away from Maxwell, Lola, Cas or any of Roberts adopted family members. These relationships, though, were what I took away from the film as the most important things in the movie, even moreso than the social restrictions placed upon Robert or the actual story of Robert. Obviously these things are intertwined, but the two types of family found in the film struck me as being a very powerful idea.

Common Sense (Painful Case)

I agree with Jeremy’s and Joel’s sentiments on the relationships between men and women and the possibility that they can be friends without a strong need for the relationship to be sexual. I found Joyce’s comments within the story on this matter to be a bit strange, “Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse” (P.94) It is perfectly logical for sex to not be a driving factor in creating a long lasting relationship and friendship, no matter what the gender circumstances may be. That’s just common freaking sense. Unless one of the two in the relationship is a sex-aholic, in that case you might have a problem. I’m telling you, the more I read these authors thoughts on life, the universe and everything; it makes me very happy to have not lived back in their day and age, for the sake of sanity.

Southern Comfort: The Male/Female Binary

I will use Robert Eads in order to demonstrate a number of complications which arise from a dogmatic male/female binary and the other possibilities which such a binary excludes:

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.

Southern Sadness

My God, Southern Comfort was sometimes a real pain to watch. I don’t mean this in a bad way (if anyone wants to live their lives as a different gender, that is their call and I’ve go no such right to pass judgment, let it be). It’s just a very sad story to hear and watch. This family of sex changed individuals not only living in the South of all places, but gathering around their cancer stricken father figure and friend was more of a torment to them than any of them may have been letting on. It only makes their way of life that much harder of a struggle to endure. It was even crueler to hear that no one wanted to help Robert because of his/her sexual orientation. The world can be a cruel place, no doubt, but this just makes me want to stay away from the south as much as possible on account of its sheer cruelty to anything and everything that is the slightest bit different from their mindsets. It just sickens me.

(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?)

Southern Comfort

What most struck a chord in my heart is the idea of a person building up a family from scratch. Robert Eads speaks of his brothers that he has met, made family by common experience. While I have no experience myself with being a transsexual, I have engaged in a sort of "family-building." Being an only child in a single-parent household, I grew to think of my closest friends as siblings and, over time, began to think of a very concerned and helpful teacher in the light of a father figure. For someone, man or woman, who feels very much different and alone in the world, this is a very therapeutic process to go through. Also, it is a very effective means to actually constructing an emotional support structure that otherwise would not exist in one's life. Upon coming to college, I learned that a similar process occurs in assimilating oneself into a fraternity, as I experienced old family-building feelings all over again. However, to return to the documentary itself, these families are built upon the knowledge of ostracism. Robert and his friends were outcasts for being what they felt they needed to become, and I was an outcast for very different reasons. Either way, this connection made the film that much more poignant for me. Oddly enough, I also lost my constructed "father figure" to cancer quite recently. In a way, this is almost exactly like those who looked up to Robert Eads losing him to cancer. Both families lost their leaders.

Joyce & the Open Closet

This is in direct response to a concept mentioned in Joel's post but otherwise ignored--that being the impossibility of friendship between men and women. I feel that this idea, in and of itself, has grown far outdated and must be reworked in consideration of modern views of egalitarianism. As a heterosexual man, I have never had any difficulty keeping relationships with women on a strictly friendly level. Truthfully, when considering compatibilities in friendship, why would gender come into play? As I said before, with modern society turning from socially constructed ideas of what it means to act male or female, friendships based entirely upon common interests can form quite easily. While there might always be unforeseen tensions or changes in the natures of relationships, it is my belief that a man and woman can be friends without ever having to worry with sexual contact.

The grandson in Southern Comfort

For me, the most intriguing aspect of the movie was the relationship between Robert and his little grandson. Clearly, the grandson only knows of Robert as his grandfather, and is not yet capable of comprehending who Robert really is. It would be interesting to see if the grandson's memory/love for Robert will change once he's old enough to fully realize who his grandfather really was.

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.

Southern Comfort

There were a lot of interesting facets to the documentary Southern Comfort, and there were also many ambiguities. It appears that there are many transsexual people that are oppressed by contemporary society. However, having a sex-change operation is a personal decision that any individual realizes will single them out within America's contemporary society. There were many mentions of parents throughout the documentary, and it appears that there are some parent/child relationships within the documentary that should be critiqued. It is interesting that through some articles read during class, we learn that in the homosexual community, many "couples" are revered as being conforming to heterosexual culture. However, one is able to notice that within the transsexual community seen within Southern Comfort, that relationship is exalted. One can see this when the two men are arguing about who is the most intamate, not sexual. Here is the idea of actually having a relationship that mirrors contemporary society's ideal of "marriage," not exalted by much of the homosexual community. It appears that within the transsexual community, love and "marriage" is what the people are actually looking for, and by doing so, somewhat conforming to heterosexual contemporary society. It is also interesting to note this idea further when almost every couple within the documentary are having relations with a person of the opposite sex who has also had a sex-change operation. This is another form of the transsexual community's conforming to heterosexual, contemporary society within America.

"A Painful Case" by James Joyce

I think that Joel’s blog was pretty much spot on with his description of Jackson’s shortcomings. After I finished Jackson’s analysis, I believed it to be lacking and incomplete. It seemed as though her argument could have been pushed farther or could have used more evidence. I am not satisfied with her statements about the “Open Closet” because I was not thoroughly convinced that Duffy’s character was in the closet. Jackson states “Duffy must remain at some distance from his voice since he cannot risk the consequences of its full, uncloseted presence without being vulnerable to detection” (340). The issue I have with this statement is that I am not sure how true it is. After reading the story I was under the impression that Duffy did not disclose his sexual presence because no one ever bothered to ask. He never participated in hetero or homosexual sex which would leave his sexual preference, to people looking at him from the outside, ambiguous. Without ever participating in a sexual act, people assume that he is hetero, which is what Mrs. Sinico does. Mrs. Sinico obviously was incorrect but her assumption was not unfounded. Generally speaking, without some kind of indicator, people assume that other people are hetero. That is what Mrs. Sinico did; she assumed that he was hetero because Duffy never offered an indicator to his sexual preference. But once Mrs. Sinico attempted to move the relationship towards a physical relationship, Duffy instantly backed away and it was made very clear, to the reader, that Duffy was homosexual. I do not think that Duffy openly hid his sexual presence but rather, he did not flaunt it and went about his everyday life.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Southern Comfort

It has been a full 24 hours since we finished seeing the documentary Southern Comfort and I find myself still speechless. Trying to describe the movie to friends and classmates is extremely difficult. To say that the movie was different is an understatement; I would venture to say that the movie was unsettling in certain parts. Anytime that the “males” would show the scares from their operations, I found myself averting my gaze or trying not to look directly at the scars on their chests. I know that I was not the only one who was slightly bothered by these pictures. There were other gentlemen in the class who were expressing the same stupefied looks. In general I think this movie was very shocking and disturbing and I have to believe that some of the other guys would agree with me in some shape or form. However, this does not mean that the movie is without merit and it was certainly very interesting.

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.

A Tranny Mess

First off, my title is a play on the transsexual theme of the documentary and is a catchphrase from the winner of a recent reality show. If you got it, then congrats to you, because not only is it appropriate (and hilarious if you think about it), but it helps lighten the mood a little bit because we all know there were some “Awkward Turtle” moments in that classroom.

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

Southern (Un?)Comfort

It is difficult, at first, to understand what this documentary (Southern Comfort) is about; in context, though, it makes sense that it is about transsexuality/homosexuality/etc., because we are talking about queery theory in class right now. Nonetheless, I identify the opening comments of the film—about the KKK (e.g., "They probably feel like they did the right thing.")—with issues of race, so the sudden (perceived) "shift" into the realm of transsexuality is jarring. That the film opens in this way is indicative of its complex nature, as it carefully connects race intolerance with gender/sexuality intolerance, forming a cohesive overall argument against intolerance in general. At this point, I would like to preface my remaining comments with the following. I like to think of myself as an open person when it comes to sex/gender and sexuality (not to mention race, class, etc.). Henceforth, I do not mean for anything in this post to be offensive/negative, and any perceived negativity arises merely from my own social position and my lack of knowledge about the subject(s) at hand, a disconnect between the "politically correct" terms and attitudes and my own limited knowledge/understanding.

One of the stereotypes I often hear about homosexuals is that they are atheists, that they have a hard time integrating into the world of religion (and, in support of this societal assessment/reading, I happen to know at least one homosexual who IS atheist). Interestingly, one of the first things I notice about the main "character" of this film (Robert, I believe) is that he is always wearing a large cross necklace, a religious symbol. His son wears one as well. I realize that Robert is not homosexual, but I think the same worry applies here: It seems homosexual men and women worry about the religious condemnation of both homosexuality and general immorality and, thus, it makes sense that they would "steer clear" of religion or be wary of it. I definitely sympathize with this cautious view, as most of the religions that I have ever encountered have harshly condemned homosexuality, among other characteristics, and turned it into a crime against God and the world.

What is interesting in the film, then, is how unashamed Robert is of his sex/gender and sexuality, how comfortable he is with it. With this notion, one can see the complexity of sex, gender, and sexuality in the minds and psychological underpinnings of men and women. In the most fundamental ways, sex, gender, and even sexuality are the results of biological innateness (there is actually more proof that sexuality is a biological factor than there is that it is a choice, according to Dr. Bankart's human sexual behavior class). However, there are cultural/environmental factors that help to shape these characteristics in all living beings—which one might recognize by remembering the term "homophobia," which describes one of the very concepts that lead people to socialize/construct one being as "gay" and another as "straight." With these thoughts in mind, one can see Robert as a complex example of how sex, gender, and sexuality come into being. it seems Robert saw his biological gender (female) as a child and realized (through his own experiences as well as his perception of his own biology) that it was wrong; in all seriousness, he IS a man, and always has been. This is a fascinating notion, and if anyone is interested in learning more, I would encourage him/her to read more about it (unfortunately, Dr. Bankart will no longer be teaching his sexuality class, so taking it is not an option). There is much more I could say about the film, but this post is getting long, so I will wrap it up. Simply put, it is refreshing to see that Robert does not worry about what other people think, about the homophobia that is rampant in the world; he is just another man in the world, another RELIGIOUS man. He is comfortable enough that he can partake in religion, despite his situation and social location as a transsexual. In this way, he is able to transcend intolerance and live out the rest of his life as a man first, then, perhaps, a transsexual.

Michael Field

Why the name Michael Field. It was the only way two women who were madly in love could publish their work. Its not often we see two lesbian women writing poems together about their love interest and how they felt about each other. During ancient Greek times it would have been see as ok for these two women to express themselves how ever they felt. In today’s society it is not as easily accepted because of social norms that have been constructed through out our past. I would have to do some research to find out exactly what the social norms were during the time that Katherine and Edith were writing these poems. Both of the poems are written in my interpretation from a male to a female. If one was to read both “A Girl” and “My Darling” before reading a biography about Michael Field it would be hard to figure out.

Joyce's "A Painful Case" & Jackson's "Open Closet in Dubliners"

In his "Open Closet in Dubliners," Jackson correctly diagnoses Mr. Duffy and his explanations satisfactorily account for the vast majority of Mr. Duffy's behavior in "A Painful Case." Duffy's own entry into his diary is the most convincing piece of evidence for Jackson's case, that being Mr. Duffy is in fact a repressed homosexual; he quotes, "Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse." The second part of this statement applies directly to Mr. Duffy's final encounter with Mrs. Sinico, yet it is secondary in nature to the first statement which Jackson applies to Mr. Duffy himself, which depicts Mr. Duffy's problematic relationship with an increasingly homophobic society.

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.

Heterosociality in Bradley & Cooper's 'Maids, not to you my mind doth change'

Because Bradley & Cooper where able to openly express poetry depicting an idealized and homosexual relationships under the a masculine pen name, it might be worthwhile to analyze the depiction lesbianism in relation to heterosexuality as it appears in one specific poem, 'Maids, not to you my mind doth change.'

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,
Peril, satiety.

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

Joyce "Painful Case" and Jackson's "Open Closet in Dubliners"

After reading both James Joyce's short story "Painful Case" and Roberta Jackson's subsequent essay "Open Closet in Dubliners," I find myself in disagreement Jackson's analysis of the story. I believe she stretches too far in trying to prove that the story has an underlying homosexual undertone.

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.

“A Girl” Analysis - Catchy Title, Huh?

Before I even begin this mini-explication about Michael Field’s poem “A Girl” I need to express how weird it is that Edith Cooper and her aunt, Katherine Bradley, had a lesbian relationship. The lesbian part has no bearing on my opinion about this relationship. I swear I saw this on “Maury” a few weeks ago right after the “Baby Mama Drama Paternity Test Extravaganza.”

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 Ripe Floral Love

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.

Queen Dawn in Michael Field's "My Darling"

As I was going through this poem, for some reason the phrase "Queen Dawn" stuck out to me.  Surely there is a reason why these authors refer to dawn this way.  We know that the author is really two women in love with one another, so given that perhaps they wanted to conjure the image of a powerful, indeed the most powerful, woman they could with this poem.  What I find really  interesting is that when I think of dawn, I think of the sun as a masculine entity (one of action, heat, excessive power) while the earth traditionally may be thought of as a more feminine one.  For example, I think back to Plato's Symposium when he refers to the Children of the Sun who are represented by two male homosexual lovers joined into one entity and two conjoined female lovers as the Children of the Earth.  Here, however, they are feminizing a commonly-accepted masculine symbol.  This feminization plays with traditional roles in society and surely reflects their female homosexual relationship.

My Darling

After we talked about the "Michael Field" poems in class yesterday, I felt like the poem I wanted to investigate a little bit further was "My Darling." This poem, the first time I read it, seemed like any other antiquated love poem that I've read in any number of classes in my life. However, the idea of this poem being written by an incestuous lesbian couple under a pen name in the late 19th century is one that causes more of my attention to be drawn to it. It is interesting that the very first word of the poem is Atthis, a female character found in Greek mythology, but after that there are no more indicators that the poem is written to a certain gender of person. Of course, the use of the word "darling" adds to the ambiguity in the poem. This is because the word "darling" is used by both sexes to describe a person of the opposite sex, or in this case, the same sex. It can be used as a romantic term or a less meaningful word based in the context in which it is seen. The fact that this poem was seen, in its time, as a poem from a man to a woman says a lot about the society in which the writers lived. This shows the idea that homosexuality has been a thing that has had to be hidden in the past for writers, or people in general, to have the success which they deserve for all of their talents. On a side note, I thought it was interesting that the term "Queen Dawn" was used in the poem. It would be very interesting to me to hear what an ecofeminist would think about this term in the context of this poem.

'Maids, not to you my mind doth change'

For me, the most powerful section of this poem comes at the end of the third section: "Between us is no thought of pain,/Peril, satiety." Knowing the history of the two women/lovers behind the Michael Field name and the society in which they lived, I believe that these two verses could refer to the torment and uneasiness they lived with when they were out in society. The poet feels safe when she is with her lover. Together, they provide a sanctuary for each other which protects them from the homophobia of greater society during their time.

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.


At the outset, "Unbosoming" in its entirety can be looked upon as a fierce declaration of romantic love for one human being by another. This is, of course, keeping in mind the genders of both poets writing under the name of Michael Field. The ferocity of the tone of the poem could stem from the inborn fear of discovery of the poets' lesbianism, given the age in which it was written. This, however, is not the entirety of the poem's hidden charms. Like many artists and authors of a similar cut of cloth, the use of floral images becomes allegory for the vagina. Ideas of swelling and/or pollination of a kind would similarly evoke images of arousal and intercourse. The repeated and flagrant use of the naturalist floral images within this particular poem only adds to the aforementioned sense of ferocity within it. Apparently, despite the fear and the uncertainty of day-to-day life faced by these brave women of a by-gone era, they still desired each other with a passion that cannot be readily described but as vicious.

"A Girl"

For someone who doesn't know the true identities of the pen-name Michael Field, the poem "A Girl" would most likely assume this is simply a poem about a man admiring a woman's beauty. But knowing that these are actually two lesbian poets makes it possible to notice homosexual and pro-woman tendencies in the poem. First of all, the girl is described as "lucent of all lovely mysteries." I took this to mean she was clear and free of mystery, which would suggest it is two women, and since they are both women, there are no "mysteries" and they fully understand each other. Also, the imagery of the poem seems to focus on nature ("a face flowered," "faint forest trees," "aspen-leaflets"). Nature has always been tied to ideas of fertility and, therefore, women, so by using nature images, Field again praises women. Also, the use of the words "heaven's conception" in the second-to-last line reminded me of the account of Mary's Immaculate Conception in the Bible (a conception without a man), which would also go along with this theme. Even though the "conception" here doesn't necessarily refer to the conception of a child, the connotations are still strong for me.

Michael Field

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.

Michael Field's Maids

“Maids, not to you my mind doth change”, is a strong example of how the bond of a homosexual couple can overcome all despite the difficulties involved. In looking back on some of the key principles of Gay/Queer/Lesbian analysis, this poem reflects several, to be more precise, the first, third and fifth principles detailing sexuality’s connection to social existence, the differing attitudes between men and women surrounding sexuality, and social attitudes about sexuality differing significantly across cultures, classes, etc. From the start of the first stanza, it is clear that the nararrator has no real interest in men, to the point she defies their advances. Her sexual loyalty is to her maid, despite the mentioning of several negatives of such a relationship (pain and peril to name a few). She will be faithful despite the consequences and the odd looks from others. To her, the relationship is obviously not the most blessed upon by the public. To them it’s wrong, but to her, all she has to say is “Oh well…”

(Female) Homosexuality and Secrecy in Michael Field's "Unbosoming"

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

Michael Field's "My Darling"

After our brief discussion of "My Darling" in class, I felt compelled to discuss the poem a little bit more. Bernard and I found it extremely funny and strange that so many people thought that the name 'Atthis' was a misspelling and took the word to mean 'At this.' Viewing the name in this context completely changes the meaning of the poem. Without the name 'Atthis,' there is no concrete way to determine the sex of the person being described in the poem. I just spent a few minutes looking up 'Atthis' on the Internet and all of my results indicated that 'Atthis' is a female. Many of the websites and sources stated that, before her death, 'Atthis' gave her name to the city of Attica. With the sex of the person known, the poem has a completely different feeling rather than that of a poem where the person's sex is ambiguous and unknown. Without knowing that two female's wrote this poem, I would have undoubtedly believed that this poem was written by a man. But knowing what we know about the true authors of this poem, I find it impossible to forget this. Every time I read this poem, I cannot think about a man talking to a woman but rather a woman (or two women) talking to another woman. When people first read this poem, I am sure they thought that it was a man talking to a woman, which was obviously the desired intent of Bradley and Cooper, but I believe that most of this class will find it hard to divorce themselves from this knowledge. Am I the only one who is having this problem? Maybe yes, maybe no. I think the most interesting part of this poem, besides the authors and the name 'Atthis' is the use of the word 'darling.' This is not a completely masculine or feminine word. It can be used to describe either gender. A man can say it to a woman and a woman can say it to a man. It is not an indicator of sex which is why I think Bradley and Cooper picked this word. By using this ambiguous word they could write this poem under the pretense of hetero or homosexuality.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bordo and the Male Model

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?

There Will Be Blood

Over spring break I had the opportunity to watch the Oscar winning movie There Will Be Blood. For those of you who have seen the movie this will be abundantly clear and for those of you who have not I will not spoil it for you. The movie itself, staged in the early years of the oil boom in the western portion of the United States, is steeped in imagery and symbolism. A very poignant critique of the often discussed "American Dream," exists within the overarching context of the movie, which gives this movie an apt social commentary on American roots. It also concentrates heavily on gender based criticism of this period in American history. The movie centers around masculine characters with very little if almost nonexistent female roles. While this might seem to be a gender biased male movie with just this information, it is subverted in a very Deconstructionist method, in that the male characters, thriving on and being rewarded for their hyper masculine behavior, are eventually overcome and destroyed by it. Another interesting aspect of the movie is the soundtrack which is entirely orchestral and creates throughout the movie, even in unnecessary scenes, a profound sense of tension that plays into the tension of the movie's commentary on societal issues.