Archive | June 2013

Letters from Kabul

letter_ww2If there is an image one can repeatedly find in war literature and film is the reading of a letter, and if there is something especially beautiful one can remember of war literature and film is the reading of a love letter. I was wondering why one find it especially romantic, and I think again Ricoeur will give us an answer.

What characterises a war country is the difficulty of communications, one is not able to to contact the ‘outside’ world whenever one wishes to, even today, which increases the usual qualities of a love letter, mainly desire and waiting, which actually feed each other in an increasing circle of desire and waiting. The non-communication between the two worlds translates into an isolation not just for the war country but for the other one too, say, for example, Afghanistan and England. Isolation is at the end a subjective perception of being deprived of something outside your possibilities, so both the person in London and that in Kabul feel isolated regarding each other, and here comes the importance, even the magic of the letter.

The letter, in such circumstances, becomes the maximal expression of the other, of the other’s presence, acquiring a high, almost vital, importance. At the lack of the other’s body, gestures, voice, words, gaze, anything which constitutes this other, the letter means the whole of this other; it means remembrances, gestures, body, voice, gaze, and meaning. The other is displayed by the letter in the act of reading, especially when one really desires and lacks this person, so the letter as such becomes a metaphor which introduces the reader into the world of the other; thus, London is born in Kabul, whatever it does mean for the reader, every time the letter from London is read, and vice versa. Actually, one puts reality in suspense and inhabits the letter, the one who, and what, is displayed by it. But London is not just displayed in Kabul by and for the reader but it is displayed according to the properties of the one who has written it in London, the writer is completely present in a letter, especially in a love one because that is the main goal of these kind of correspondence: to embody oneself in the mind of the reader through the world displayed by the letter. A good letter, we can say, should be similar to a Barthes’ idea of the text in The Pleasure of the Text, even the body should be expressed by the words without necessity of talking about it, and it may be one of the reason why female and male letters are different, they are also sexualised letters.

That is the power of a letter fulfilling the self by embodying the desired other overcoming distance, even time. A simple letter can mark the time of a person whose source of hope, love and friendship is there: if the post arrives at 7pm, it becomes a crucial hour which one trusts knowing that the spirit is being feeder there for the next 24 hours or more. Whatever the time is between letter and letter, it works by means of hope and it brings the person forward in his or her doings because tomorrow is born from the hope of a letter.

Freud: The Secret Passion

freud-pasion-secreta-1962-psicoanalisisFor those interested in a more visual example of how Freud worked in his theories, I really recommend this film by John Huston in 1962, with an original script written by Jean-Paul Sartre. The film is faithful to the facts and of a high quality; it shows very clear Freud’s beginnings and the reaction of his society. Enjoy!

Why does Freud matter?

freud1938Freud has been highly criticised by both conservatives and liberals either for being too explicit in his discoveries or too critique in his conclusions. Nowadays it is mainly criticised to be ‘politically incorrect’ whatever it may be. Indeed his ‘sexual theories’ to say so are not precisely in agreement with what is today widely accepted: homosexuality, ‘sexual liberation’, and so on. For example, to argue that a promiscuous man is more likely to become a pedophile, or that to be homosexual is to be a narcissistic are two things one cannot openly say in the street. If we look now at the most conservative part of society, it is possible to note how neglected female hysteria is as a consequence of sexual dissatisfaction within marriage. These two ideological visions of Freud’s theories are at least high unfair.

Whatever Freud said and whatever one thinks of, Europe owes a great deal to Freud. His investigations meant a completely new world to both science and humanities, and they show the root of an important number of psychological issues; not to mention that he is the father of psychoanalysis, and of a deeper understanding of sexuality. Freud was a great observer of the human mind and behaviour, and a brave man who was not afraid of his contemporaries. He faced lots of child-abuse cases within a bourgeois society and dared to dive into the human soul.

Literary studies are as well in debt with him. I would like to synthesise how can be Freud’s theories used into the literary field:

1. Aesthetics: Psychoanalysis opened the world of dreams and, particularly, its own logic. 20th century is full of artistic examples of a dream aesthetic (Kafka, Schnitzler, Dalí, Hitchcock, Welles, Brecth, among others). Freud’s influence cannot be mislead for those who approached especially the first part of the century.

2. Characters: Psychoanalysis has enhanced the understanding of literary characters and their relationships beyond the limits of the 20th century. Specially important are the familiar relationships to be approach, in many cases, from a Freudian perspective.

3. Art: The relationship between art and the artist acquires a more existential and sexual perspective; as well as the relations between sexuality, beauty and desire.

4. Sexuality: Explorations in the field of literary representations of sexual issues are facilitate by Freud’s studies on sexual behaviour which were pioneer. A quite complete analysis of all kind of sexual experiences was openly explore by Freud.

5. Unconscious: Terms such as ‘conscious’, ‘unconscious’, ‘sub-conscious’, ‘repression’ are properly born through Freud’s practice of psychoanalysis. These concepts complete the understanding of human behaviour especially in unhealthy cases.

6. Body: Literary representations of the body can be approach metaphorically, that is, as a physical representation of the mind or illness. Freud advances further postmodern theories of the body and its relationship to the illness and the text such as those of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault.

7. Childhood: The importance of early experiences in life has result to be a key point in general psychology until now.

I think the seven points above are the most important. Generally speaking, psychoanalysis has brought a deeper understanding of the relationship body-mind, and it is not at all surpassed by any other posterior theory, it is perfectly complementary to a kind of more scientific studies. Freud deserves, as any important thinker, a high consideration.

Materiality and Corporeality: The Body in Popular Fiction and Visual Culture

“Contemplating the Male Body: From Aesthetics to Sexual Pleasure in Homosexual Literature”. Materiality and Corporeality: The Body in Popular Fiction and Visual Culture. University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, 6 June 2013.

In this paper I analyse the representations of male bodies in André Gide’s The Immoralist (1902), Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912) and D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love (1920), with a particular focus on the perception with which the perceiving subject beholds the body. The male body is often turned into a voyeuristic spectacle when it is described in elaborate detail and perceived by an attentive subject whose gaze enjoys the contemplation of the object-body. On the one hand, the bodies that are objectified in that manner become objects of aesthetic contemplation. On the other hand, however, they also become potential sources for sexual pleasure. This article investigates the ways in which perceptions of male bodies are aestheticized and/or eroticised in these texts.

From the Aesthetic to the Erotic Gaze (IV)

2007BM5740_michelangelo_david_plaster_castThe Immoralist, Death in Venice and Women in Love all share a strong presence of the visual field, which places them at the birth of a new culture in the first part of the twentieth century: the culture of vision. Detailed descriptions, especially of the human body, anticipate what will be central in the new seventh art. The pleasure of looking gains prominence as it becomes part of a new popular visual art that is much more culturally extended than painting ever was. But it is not so much in the fact of seeing where most of the pleasure is felt as it is in the object presented to the gaze: the human figure. Laura Mulvey, in her analysis of cinema, argues:

 ‘The cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking […] the conventions of mainstream film focus attention on the human form. Scale, space, stories are all anthropomorphic. Here, curiosity and the wish to look intermingle with a fascination with likeness and recognition: the human face, the human body, the relationship between the human form and its surroundings, the visible presence of the person in the world’. (‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ 4)

However, cinema was born from a new technological context that led to a new conception of art and the human being. Visual pleasure is not free of a massive superficial valorisation of aesthetics, which reduces art, and with it the human body, to mere exhibitionism. Walter Benjamin argues, in ‘The Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, that modern art has replaced the cultural value of art with exhibitionism; therefore, the work of art has no meaning in itself, but rather acquires significance insofar as it acquires a function, in this case, the function of being exhibited: “[through] the absolute emphasis on its exhibition value the work of art becomes a creation with entirely new functions, among which the one we are conscious of, the artistic function, later may be recognized as incidental” (619-20). If then, as Mulvey argues, the human body has become a source of artistic pleasure in the current epoch, it is also not free from becoming a mere instrument, and that is the danger Benjamin refers to when he says that the human figure has become the centre of a cult, since “its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order” (634).

The aesthetic value of the human being calls for a rebirth of the artistic sense in contemporary society beyond the significance of technology. The three texts here analysed express a necessary sensibility towards the human figure’s ability to arouse wonder in the reader. The gaze can only be surprised by discovering the unique and by avoiding endless mechanical reproduction. The historical moment when these novels were written is not unimportant, since they give testimony to both aesthetic and human value, reminding, as Plato’s Prophetess does, that “such a life as this, my dear Socrates, ” exclaimed the stranger Prophetess, “spent in the contemplation of the beautiful, is the life for men to live […]” (The Banquet 103).