Archive | March 2013

Conference: Nineteenth- Century Aetiologies, Exoticism, and Multimodal Aesthetics

“Uncanny Aesthetics in Kafka’s America or The Man who Disappeared”. Nineteenth- Century Aetiologies, Exoticism, and Multimodal Aesthetics Conference, Liverpool University, Liverpool, 2 April 2013.

This paper analyses the aesthetic creation of the Uncanny in the narrative of Kafka, especially in his novel Amerika, first published in 1927. The paper argues how the Uncanny can be perceived through the descriptions the main character does of the closed spaces or buildings which appear in the novel. The subjective perception of Karl Rossmann is linked to his unconscious and indicates a presence of the ‘unintentional return’ of a threat, in this case the threat of being expelled once and again which justifies his endless wanderings in America.

 

The Human Beast in Thérèse Raquin

thereseA Zola’s novel hardly leaves anyone indifferent; he is the artist par excellence of the darkest human side. It is not just in his topics and characters, it is in his narrative style as well where Zola depicts brutality in a very brutal way: without judgement. There is no the slightest moral voice in his work to relief the reader of the tragedy, instead, the reader is trapped in a hopeless world completely alone without finding an accomplice in the narrator. That is what makes Zola especially terrible, his objective display of the human beast.

Such a thing as a ‘good character’ is impossible to find in Thérèse Raquinthere are just evil and less-evil characters  in the Parisian novel. No one is free or innocent, all of them are accomplices in some way or another of the murder of Camille, even Camille himself. All the characters present in the novel are especially concern with themselves, their own interests, which lead them to cause unfair situations in an endless chain of guilty. Surviving is the main objective for each one until the only possible way to do so is suicide. Death freed Thérèse and Laurent of their crime remorses after months of mutual hate and misbehaviour. Camille, Madame Raquin, Thérèse and Laurent are all victims and guilty; even secondary characters can be accused of selfishness looking just for self-satisfaction. The characters’ descriptions and the atmosphere of the novel is quite animalistic. The word ‘animal’ to design desires or feelings is used repeatedly for Thérèse and Laurent and it is full of animal similes which refer to their bodies as well. Sexuality between the lovers is mainly aggressive and even masochistic, it is just of an instinctual kind.

The adulterous affair between Thérèse and Laurent corresponds actually to that of Rougemont’s theory in The Love in the Western World. After committing the crime killing Camille, Thérèse’s husband, Laurent and Thérèse cannot feel attract to each other any more. Moreover, they will progressively hate each other after their marriage, which was the goal killing Camille, until ending in death. Indeed, the adulterous affair is exciting because of the obstacle, it is the romantic love which is thrilling and such a thrill is possible due to the obstacle, in this case, the husband. Passion was possible for the lovers because of their consciousness of braking the rule and their passion needed always an obstacle, otherwise, it dies. No passion lasts forever and there is no passion in marriage actually after a certain time. Marriage is not properly the place for sexual passion, this one should be found outside ‘conformity’. The problem then with passion is that neither every obstacle lasts forever, so death is the last solution and, Rougemont would say, the lover’s most secret desire. Death is the only obstacle which remains forever and which feds lover’s ‘love’. Thérèse and Laurent can just kill themselves because they have discovered that marriage’s happiness was a mirage, they needed Camille to find the passion. And actually the only scene of relief in the whole novel is at the very end, when they decide to commit suicide:

‘Suddenly Thérèse and Laurent burst into tears, and in a final breakdown fell into each other’s arms, as weak children. Something gentle and tender seemed to awaken in their breast. They wept and said nothing, thinking of the sink of filth in which they had been living and would go on living if they were cowardly enough to remain alive. And then, as they remembered the past, they felt so weary and sick of themselves that an immense longing for rest an oblivion came over them. They exchanged one last look, a look of gratitude in the presence of the knife and the glass of poison. Thérèse took the glass, drank half of it, and gave it to Laurent, who finished it in one gulp. It was as quick as lightning. They fell on each other, struck down instantly, and at last found consolation in death.’

Memories of Mrs Dalloway

mrs-dallowayPeter Walsh comes back from India and decide to assist as well to Clarissa Dalloway’s party. After the popular ‘Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself’, the novel opens with a wandering for Westminster. Clarissa thinks and reminds different episodes of her life, especially those before marrying. When she comes back home at 11 o’clock she is surprised by the unexpected visit of her past lover, Peter Walsh. She knew of course he would go to her dinner party this very evening but she had not read his letter about his early visit. Of course Peter is introduced before his appearance through Clarissa’s thoughts; they were in fact in love with each other before Clarissa married Richard Dalloway, but they have not meet again since Peter leaving from England. After this short visit where Peter tells her to be in love with a very youth Indian, he starts his own wandering for London as Clarissa did before. Thirty years later he too reminds from his own perspective similar episodes of their youth and his feelings for Clarissa.

‘The compensation of growing old, Peter Walsh thought, coming out of Regent’s Park, and holding his hat in his hand, was simply this; that the passions remain strong as ever, but one has gained -at last!- the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence -the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light. A terrible confession it was, but now, at the age of fifty-three, one scarcely needed people any more, Life itself, every moment of it, every drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the sun, in Regent’s Park, was enough. Too much, indeed. A whole lifetime was too short to bring out, now that one had acquired the power, the full flavour; to extract every ounce of pleasure, every shade of meaning; which both were so much more solid than they used to be, so much less personal. It was impossible that he should ever suffer again as Clarissa had made him suffer.’

The whole book takes place in a day; a day which is important for the memories and thoughts it brings back. Clarissa refused to marry Peter, she married a MP and since then they live in Westminster. Peter Walsh has a set of affairs to keep with him, none of them durable or fruitful. But there remains still a kind of Why; why did they do not marry? Peter thought ‘How they would change the world if she married him perhaps’. It is indeed this annoying ‘perhaps’ all the time around Peter’s head. But Clarissa is not a woman of Perhaps, she is a woman of Yes; she enjoys life terribly until the point of being vitalistic. Her answer to life and events is Yes. He could be happy with Peter as she is with Richard, but probably she could not stand a doubtful man as his life finally has shown so.

And there is the city, London, this wonderful city where Clarissa and Peter walk around. London has a meaning in this novel, a very subtle one, it is not a mere scenario. Clarissa is herself in part because of London, she loves it and her thoughts are born along her paths. London brings as well memories back and the act of reflection takes most of its part in the streets. London is meaningful, is the capital of the Empire, but it is also a capital of ideas, something of course very present in the Bloomsbury Group. And Peter lives in India but he comes back and finds Clarissa there, living in the core of the City and married to a MP, she belongs to the elite. It marks Peter as an outsider, he is an adventurer and it is important to note that he went to India after Clarissa refused him. There are political readings to their relationship as well.

Virginia Woolf is an excellent narrator; she achieves to present the characters’ heads and hearts with the same shadows as one himself does. A whole day introduces the  life of the main characters by showing just the necessary. There is nothing completely sure about themselves, about their longings or desires, just as they are not completely aware of them. But we know real people and we are able to engage with them in the most human sense. Woolf is a master of human heart and she shows and hides as the heart itself does in our lives.

‘Absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness, this life’. Mrs Dalloway

“Ulysses”: An European Blasphemy

A Nude Boy on a Beach 1878 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925 Joyce’s Ulysses (1914-1921) of course can be read and interpreted from many points of view; it can be seen detail by detail or globally; it can be analysed stylistically or in content, and so on, there are almost 1 000 pages to find some point of interest. My purpose here is to focus on a chapter -‘Nausicaa’-, especially on two scenes, and from there to propose a whole reading of the book.

In ‘Nausicaa’, Gredy meets Leopold on the beach and they have a sexual encounter. It takes place next to a Catholic church where a retreat is taking place. So, the two parallel scenes are a sexual intercourse out of marriage (have in mind it was written before the 20’s) and a spiritual retreat in a Church. Gredy wears blue clothes as well as the representation of the Virgin Mary in the Church. The structure in which it is presented clearly introduces a parallelism between these two women. To suggest that Gredy could be or is similar to the Virgin while she is “fornicating” is quite a provocative thought whose aim seems clearly to be an act of blasphemy, or to look for scandal.

The second scene, which I see as related to the one above, shows Leopold alone after the intercourse writing in the sand ‘AM.A’. Writing in the sand recalls a biblical scene, it is Christ who writes in the sand after helping the adulterous from the Pharisees. It should be noted that both men write in the sand after an adulterous act has take place; so Joyce seems to be presenting here another parallelism, the act of Leopold writing in the sand is purposively put on the novel. Moreover, Leopold writes ‘AM.A’, which can be read as ‘I am I’; that is one of the expressions Christ says to introduce himself to the apostles: ‘I am I’. If you take these two scenes, you have an identification between Gredy and the Virgin, and Leopold and Christ, in other words, you have a sexual act between the Virgin and Christ. It is blasphemy what Joyce was looking for.

Behind it, Classical mythology follows the same curse. The novel is called “Ulysses” and every chapter corresponds to a chapter of Homer’s “Ulysses”. Leopold is not just identified with Christ but also with Ulysses, and her wife Molly is identified with Penelope. Leopold and Molly present the vices which correspond to Ulysses’ and Penelope’s virtues.

Joyce is mocking the two great pillars of European tradition and he knows perfectly, due to his education of which there is no doubt, what is he doing. Homer’s “Ulysses”, moreover, was took as a Pagan example of Christianity during the Middle Ages, which makes the link even clearer. Joyce is contesting the whole Western tradition, I would say, going back even to the Old Testament as Leopold Bloom is Jewish (don’t forget that Christ is Jewish).

The whole novel is what I would call, not a religious blasphemy but more than that, an European one as Joyce destroys everything which has been proclaimed as the Western culture.

Upcoming Conference On the Epistolary Genre

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Yours Sincerely: The Rise and Fall of the Letter
28-29 June 2013
Manchester, United Kingdom
The tradition of communication through correspondence can be traced far back in the annals of ancient history, but the rise of technology is daily changing the face and format of the letter. This conference will explore forms of correspondence as they have evolved from simple letters between friends and literary personalities and their shared experiences to revelations, through correspondence, of scientists, statesmen and celebrities. It will also look at the language used in the traditional letter, the email, the text message and the tweet as well as the constant change and development in this form of dialogue from the past and into the future, examining related fields and the letter in its historical and literary contexts. Papers are sought from all disciplines, including but not limited to literature, history, anthropology, psychology, philosophy and other social sciences and arts. Proposals are sought for 20 minute papers. Possible themes may include (but are not limited to):
The changing language of digital correspondence
Victorian women writers
Challenges of editing letters
Evidential value for biographers, historians
19th century letter writers
20th century letter writers
21st century letter writers
Use of letters as a device in fiction
The epistolary novel
The lasting value of digital correspondence as an archival or primary source
The future of letter writing
Abstracts of 250-300 words (for a 20 min paper) should be sent via email to librarian@theportico.org.uk or assistant.librarian@theportico.org.uk by 1st April 2013.
Selected papers may be invited for inclusion in an academic collection of essays following the conference.
An exhibition surrounding the theme of the conference will run from 11th June to the 26th of July at The Portico Library and will tie in with Quarry Bank Mill’s ‘Best Wishes’ exhibition which begins in April and extends to the rest of 2013.

Physical Consciousness in “Women in Love”

ron-edwards-exhibition-man-on-bucking-horseEven if Women in Love (1920) by D.H. Lawrence explicitly shows the problems between two heterosexual couples -Gerald and Gudrun; Birkin and Ursula-, it is nonetheless concern with masculinity depicting both the male body and the relationships between men. The focus on the male body is probably due to Lawrence’s misogyny and homosexuality (properly maybe bisexuality). Lawrence’s opinion of women is clearly expressed in his fictional works as well as in his essays such as Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922).

The male body appears especially as a source of power and strength; its physical characteristics are linked to one of the male goals which is the domination of the woman both physically and intellectually. This perspective towards the male body shows Lawrence’s ideas about the human sources of energy, which are mainly two: the one coming from the upper part of the body (sympathetic and intellectual energy), and the one coming from the lower part of the body (sensual and vitalistic). The second one includes as well the sexual desire and energy, in fact, sex means for Lawrence energy and the sexual act acquires a strong energetic significance beyond the fact of reproduction or the sense of pleasure.

The male body refers in Women in Love to animalistic and primitive conceptions. It is significant that scenes where the man shows his body or his physical strength or aims of domination, contain often animals establishing images between the man and the animal in a purely physical way. Moreover, it is this biological aspect which attracts women, especially Gudrun, to men. There is a first instinctual and biological attraction of the sexes, the man as a male and the woman as a female is what first constitutes the love relationship. Gudrun is consciously attracted by Gerald in the scene where he dominates the horse, which implicitly shows a parallelism in his later attempts to dominate Gudrun:

‘Gudrun was as if numbed in her mind by the sense of indomitable soft weight of the man, bearing down into the living body of the horse: the strong, indomitable thighs of the blond man clenching the palpitating body of the mare into pure control; a sort of soft white magnetic domination from the loins and thighs and calves, enclosing and encompassing the mare heavily into unutterable subordination, soft blood-subordination, terrible’.

She also perceives the manly attitude of the mine’s workers who, belonging to a lower social class, are free from cultural conventions and gentleness behaving properly as men. (According to Lawrence, culture has completely feminise men killing their innate vitalistic attitude).

The sexual act is mainly described through images of power and strength and the woman’s submission to them (it is supposed that women like it; it is not a forced submission). The word ‘energy’ is often used to express sexual experiences, as well as ‘dark flood of electric passion’, ‘rich new circuit’ or “new current of passional electric energy’; this energy comes mainly form the man’s body which, in a warm overcomes the woman’s passivity:

‘She closed her hands over the full, rounded body of his loins, as he stopped over her, she seemed to touch the quick of the mystery of darkness that was bodily him (…) the marvellous fullness of immediate gratification, overwhelming, out flooding from the source of the deepest life-force, the darkest, deepest, strangest life-source of the human body, at the back and base of the loins (…) She had thought there was no source deeper than the phallic source. And now, behold, from the smitten rock of the man’s body, from the strange marvellous flanks and thighs, deeper, further into mystery than the phallic source, came the floods of ineffable darkness and ineffable riches’.

In contrast, there are no such descriptions concerning the woman’s body; the woman is just a man’s recipient, which could be seen according to her  sexual function, nonetheless appealing to an exaggerating passivity. Lawrence sees the woman as the ‘place’ where the man comes back after his active daily life. He needs her to fulfil himself and to accomplish this mission women mustn’t be intellectual. The intellectual woman means death for both herself and the man. The woman’s self-consciousness is dangerous as Eve became dangerous through the temptation of the knowledge. Women must remain in a purely sensual state and never attempt to reach what should be just for men. The intellectual women in Women in Love, Gudrun and Hermione, are destructive and they tend to kill men in their love affairs. Gerald does not achieve to submit Gudrun as he does with the horse, and even if Gudrun is first fascinated by his manliness she finally acquires a stronger self-consciousness and choses her artistic career. Instead of her sister, Ursula, who accepts Birkin ideas of genre-relationships.

Lawrence is very extremely and critique regarding female positions. There is no middle point between an instinctual and biological attraction and the intellectual female world. He does not consider that both options are possible in a woman. However, the female fulfiment seems likely to be in the fusion of these two realities as they allow a complete sensual and sexual life experimented in the totality of the ‘being woman’ in the most biological sense, and a self-awareness which brings understanding and control of any experience and the self, and not necessarily destruction as far as one is able to avoid it.