Archive | July 2014

On being a Western woman

1

I have tried and tried to keep my thoughts on the Gaza conflict away from this blog which I intend to be dealing only with literature and my daily work. My political opinions are quite simple, and my political knowledge no more than a kind of “coffee-comments”, moreover I do not like to mix up issues, but after arguing and arguing on FB about the conflict, and see a mass European reaction against Israel, I have decided to write from the most PhD-linked perspective I could find: from a Western woman perspective.

Feminism and radical-feminism stand for women’s sexual liberation and women rights; Western women fought for years and years to win the right to vote, to study, to have a degree, and a professional career; Western women fought as well to write and to be heard, to have a voice in politics, and a place in social organizations. Jane Austen wrote in her house’s living room because it was not usual for a woman to have a room of her own’s at the late 18th C. But she was not the only one, we, Europeans and North-Americans have a great collection of female writers: Wollstonecraft, Shelley, the Brontë, Woolf, Richardson, Arendt, Wharton, Lee, Colette, de Beauvoir, Browning, Dinesen, Pardo Bazán, and much much more. My wonder is to read and listen contemporary feminist writers claiming against Israel and supporting countries where terrorists govern or did govern. Is not Israel defending our rights? Our Western women rights? Being political ignorant, I am based on my daily life experiences; I know I can interact normally with men and women from Israel: our social “non-spoken rules” are shared. I know European and American Jewish men and women can be great intellectuals and academics such as Hanna Arendt or Cixous, Freud or Benjamin, and they have conformed the Western thought. I know I can go from London to Tel-Aviv and my life would change only in its context but not essentially: I would do my PhD, fight for my professional career, have friends, go out, have the same hobbies, dress the same clothes and discuss openly about Woolf, love relationships or where to get mascara at the best price. And I know I would not be burned alive in a Christian church. Do I support Israel? Yes, I do. I do not support Israel because I want Palestines to die, I do support Israel for coherence with my daily life. The death of civilian palestines is terrible and heartbroken, but we have to take decisions, and this imperfect world, and our imperfect lives impel us to take difficult decisions; if I have to choose, I think in what I believe, in my life and in my potential children’s life, and I have to choose Israel.

Most of European media hide information, no one talks for example of Hamas insistence on Palestine population to stay where Israel will attack, that is to remain in military objects because terrorist weapons intended to be used to destroy Israel are hidden within schools and hospitals; only BBC – still occasionally – and a Catalan channel, 8tv – the same media group to which the newspaper La Vanguardia belongs – have openly talked standing for Israel, and clearly talking about Hamas and ISIS intentions regarding Europe. Some years ago, the UK and Spain were victims of terrorist attacks, now Europe and America are again in alert, no one talks about my right to wake up in the morning and go to work traveling in the tube with total safety. The British government warned some weeks ago about the number of “British” citizens who have joined ISIS in Iraq and declared to kill unfaithful till the very end. One of these britons has the following profile: born in the UK, student of medicine in London; alarming. What does it tell me? We, Europeans, have given them the right of education, the right to dispose of a doctor, the right to built mosques, the right to live their religion, the right to European passports; still I wonder, what is my right in their countries? Béatrice Didier wrote in her book Le journal intime that Talibans does not allow women to look themselves in the mirror, it is the total alienation and negation of the subject, as some of the clothes muslim women are forced to wear.

So, because I am a Western free woman who wants the life Western women – and also men –  has granted for me to be enjoyed as well for the ones to come in a wonderful land with its own traditions, history, faults and victories, I do stand for Israel as a democratic country which I see as an ally of the Western values. And thanks to this values this blog can exist.

For those who speak Spanish: (The interviewed speaks in Spanish)

http://www.8tv.cat/8aldia/videos/gabriel-ben-tasgal-es-pensen-que-el-conflicte-es-per-terres-pero-el-conflicte-es-religios/

The body in the private room in Claudine

desch

Colette (1873-1954) was a French writer belonging to Modernism and one of the most sexual liberal writers of the early 20th C. Her life and her work show her bisexuality, promiscuity and all kind of sexual experiences. Her collection of books known as Claudine – Claudine à l’école, Claudine à Paris, Claudine en ménage, Claudine s’en va – explain the life of Claudine since her adolescence until her divorce. The first of the books takes place in a boarding school where Claudine’s tendency to homosexuality is suggested through her friendship with Luce and where she observes the homoerotic relationship between two teachers of the school. The second book takes place in Paris and describes her new home and the arousing her own erotic consciousness: her body is described in detail with a strong repetitive presence of the mirror, and her room and sense of intimate space appear simultaneously being as well highly described. Claudine’s room is important because is the place where she dreams and where she describes and touches her body; living in a bourgeois house, her room has place for a bath, so all the toilet is done there conforming a very private and personal area. In Paris Claudine falls in love with her uncle, twenty years older than her whom she marries to at the end of the novel. This second book shows a certain degree of plenitude, Claudine does not feel herself alienated with her domestic space neither with her body. She experiences her desires at the same time that a sense of belonging accommodates her in her bedroom.

One of the characteristics attributed to Colette is her willingness to write about the female body and desire as she did. The description of sexual acts from the female point of view was terribly innovative in the 1900, as well homoerotic desire among women. Considering the Victorian context, Colette dared to express through some of her heroines the distasteful sensations of being with lovers or husbands showing female dissatisfaction with her intimate relationships with men and satisfaction being with women suggesting a different sexuality and different requirements among sexes: “Il m’y serre, si tendu que j’entends trembler ses muscles. Tout vetu il m’y embrace, m’y maintient – mon Dieu, qu’attend-il donc pour se déshabiller, lui aussi? – et sa bouche et ses mains m’y retiennent, sans que son corps me touche, depuis ma révolte tresaillante jusqu’à mon contentment affolé, jusqu’àu honteux gémissement de volupté que j’aurais voulu retenir par orgueil. Après, seulement auprès, il jette ses habits comme j’ai feat des miens, et il rit, impitoyable, pour vexer Claudine stupéfaite et humiliée”.

Once married, Claudine starts feeling alienated in her husband’s house: “Pour rentrer! Je n’ai donc pas de demeure? Non! J’habite ici chez un monsieur, un monsieur que j’aime, soit, mais j’habite chez un monsieur! Hélas! Claudine, plante arrachée de sa terre […] Où rentrer? En moi”. The loss of her own room contributes to her feeling of no-belonging, and her husband’s possession of her body probably contributes to this strangeness. Thus Claudine’s remembrances about her friendship with Luce reappear now longing for physical and emotional fulfillment with her regretting her previous despise. It may appear clear that if Claudine does not feel her intimacy in her marital room is due to her impossibility to communicate with her husband, therefore she feels urge to seek outside.

On Crime and Madness: Adultery in Woyzeck

“On Crime and Madness: Adultery in Woyzeck”, Theatralia. Revista de Poética del Teatro XVI. 2014, 227-235.

With this article I aim to introduce the topic of adultery in Georg Büchner’s work with a focus on female sexuality, and the relationship between sex, murder and madness. Adultery appears as a final trigger for madness and murder, which is seen as a substitute for the sexual act between the spouses, especially from the husband’s perspective, when the wife’s adulterous relationship with her lover avoids sexual contact with her legitimate husband. Behind that, the social context where the story develops is especially important for the author’s social critique of German politics in the 1830s under the kingship of Prince Metternich.

Béatrice Didier on L’écriture-femme: Female Writers and their Texts

6a014e5fb9e8aa970c015435753ea7970cKateChopinSidonieGabrielleColette

‘L’écriture féminine est une écriture du Dedans : l’intérieur du corps, l’intérieur de la maison’; this is a statement which very well exemplifies Didier’s thoughts on female writing in her book L’écriture-femme, a brief but very interesting selection of female writers since the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The book is lovely written and very reccomendable for its analysis of the works of a few authors. Didier approaches her analysis from that which makes singular a female writing in contrast to a male writing; in this context, she outlines writing and text characteristics usually belonging to women writers – she repeatedly warns against dangerous generalizations but insists on a set of particular details usually found in female writings. At the end of the book she calls for a mutual enrichment between male and female authors learning from what they can teach to each other being her critique directed towards the historical Western general exclusion of female approaches to the text and over-valorization of what is masculine. For female writers to be awarded there is no need to write like men but to accept how  – and what – they write.

Historically, being women more confined to their domestic spaces, they wrote about what was inside the house, about topics talked mostly among women, and issues they were concerned about, and they have done it differently than men. Yet in the 20th C. there are big differences between Virginia Woolf and Ford Madox Ford being they both recognized Modernist and cultivated writers. Henry James and Edith Wharton are another example of fellow contemporaries who read each other, and still an attentive reader can draw a line from Jane Austen to Emily Brontë finishing in Wharton, so different from James’s narrative, style and approach to reality. Didier, Cixous did, relates female writing to the female body, but also to women’s relationship with the house and maternity: ‘Le désir d’écrire, aussi fondamental peut-être que le désir d’enfanter et qui probablement répond à la même pulsion, ne pouvait être utilisé de la même façon par la société. Si l’enfantement apparaissait comme la condition même de la survie de tout groupe humain et par conséquent devait être organisé dans une structure sociale, le désir d’écrire, lui, semblait au contraire marginal, subversif, à tout le moins inutile’. Therefore, creation and pro-creation going hand by hand, and indeed, it is not till Modernism that most women wrote and wrote subversive literature. According to Didier, psychoanalysis may have pushed these women to write due to its assertion that differences on identities were important: ‘La véritable conquête de l’écriture féminine moderne aura été peut-être, aidée là encore par tout un courant de pensée issu à la foi de la psychanalyse et de l’existensialisme, d’inscrire différemment l’identité dans le texte’.

Some of the characteristics Didier attributes to female writing are its orality: being women the ones who repeated tales inside the house, they transmitted oral particularities to the written text: ‘une écriture telle que le flux de la parole s’y retrouve, avec ses soubresauts, ses ruptures et ses cris’. Another characteristic is the temporal perception strongly marked by women’s biological cycles: ‘Il est possible aussi que la femme ressente le temps autrement que ne le fait l’homme, puisque son rythme biologique est spécifique. Temps cyclique, toujours recommencé, mais, avec ses ruptures, sa monotonie et ses discontinuités’. And finally the body makes another big difference: ‘‘La présence de la personne et du sujet impose immanquablement la présence du corps dans le texte. Et il est bien évident que c’est peut-être le seul point sur lequel la spécificité soit absolument incontestable, absolue. Si l’écriture féminine apparaît comme neuve et révolutionnaire, c’est dans la mesure où elle est écriture du corps féminin’.

The body is undeniable, and marks a very visible difference and one may say it makes physical the two previous points: voice and biological temporality. But the female also feels different from the male one, and experiences sexuality in another way – being of course, at the same time, different for every single person – so that it may affect the writing. It explains again the boom of female writers, so to say, after Freud, writing not only in a very particular way but of their bodies: the female body, so under control during the 19th C., is put into paper by women- men did it before – at the turn of the century: ‘Monde de sensations jusque-là inexplorées et qui supposeraient, pour etre exprimées, une autre langue’.

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis III

ricoeur3SIGMUND FREUD

According to Ricoeur, Freud approaches man as desire before he can be word, that is, man speaks in order to express her desire, which reinforces Ricoeur’s theory of the semantics of desire when approaching psychoanalytical hermeneutics: the word is born from human desire, therefore semantics before being anything else are desire. However, we cannot forget Freud’s Beyond the pleasure principle where he states that death is stronger than the libido, how then does man balance his death impulse? Freud says: trough the union with another human being, that is, trough Eros desire is born in the relationship with another person different than myself, and only this union overcomes the death impulse. However, Ricoeur, far from happy, with this explanation gives to the death impulse another sense: creativity; the death impulse in man leads him no to destruction but to symbolical creation: ‘La pulsion de mort soit représentée par une fonction aussi considérable qui n’a rien à voir avec la destructivité, mais au contraire avec la symbolisation ludique, avec la création esthétique et finalement avec l’épreuve de réalité elle-même’. In this context it is interesting the blur border between destruction and creativity, a very postmodern topic, is not deconstructionism a way to create again from the ashes?

The transformation of death into aesthetic creation – what Ricoeur calls symbolization – is the expression of man’s dissatisfaction; if Eros is a constant in human life, creation is what aims to satiate the insatiable desire, the insatiable Eros, so that the death impulse does not long for destruction but improvement: ‘Si l’homme pouvait être satisfait, il serait privé de quelque chose de plus important que le plaisir et qui est la contrepartie de l’insatisfaction, la symbolisation. Le désir donne à parler en tant que demande insatiable. La sémantique du désir, dont nous parlons sans cesse ici, est solidaire de ce report de la satisfaction, de cette médiatisation sans fin du plaisir’.

Ricoeur’s arguments regarding the death impulse resemble those on the concept of sublimation where he again puts the emphasis on the need for creation. It seems that the French philosopher gives a big importance to man’s  creative self-fulfillment rather than to repressed sexuality. Men would solve their inner conflicts through symbolization being the artist the touchstone of this expression: ‘L’artiste comme le névrosé, se détourne de la réalité, parce qu’il ne peut satisfaire à l’exigence de renoncement pulsionnel et transpose sur le plan du fantasme et du jeu ses désirs érotiques et ambitieux. Mais, per ses dons particuliers, il trouve un chemin de retour du monde fantasmatique vers la réalité : il crée une réalité nouvelle, l’ouvre d’art, où il devient effectivement le héros, le roi, le créateur qu’il a désiré être, sans avoir besoin de faire le détour d’une transformation effective du monde’.

The female body as scapegoat in The Crucible or The Salem Trials

232883_2_preview

The Old Vic Theatre at London is hosting till the 13th of September Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (1952). As I am working on a chapter on Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) I am becoming familiar with the New England society in the 17th C, which easily brings to mind the Salem’s trials where some of Hawthorne’s ancestors participated. Thus I felt full of curiosity for Miller’s play, and I really recommend this representation at the Old Vic, it was excellent, a wonderful adaptation with great actors and a very moving acting. The play runs for 3 hours and a half but time flies in such a touching piece of work whose main virtue, I think, is the lack of action and the great dialogues full of feeling and at some points also comical. Hope, anxiety, pity, love or fear are some of the feelings the actors achieved to raise among the public, it is a cathartic piece of work in the Aristotelian sense; behind that, the aesthetics are very well chosen, it is beautiful to see the mise en scène and the whole atmosphere, I wish also to point out that the play has been faithfully adapted, it is not a modern and free adaptation but really settled in the 17th C Massachusetts which helps you to be there.

So, as has been suggested above, The Crucible deals with the Salem witch trials in the Puritan community. To sum up the facts: a group of girl teenagers from the Puritan community go out a night in the woods afterwards one of them is afflicted by some unknown malady, and as it was proper of the place and time, they suspect she has been possessed or gone into some kind of witchcraft. One of the girls starts to think and talk about spirits in the woods and panic arouses: all the girls who were in the woods start to behave as if possessed, which is, after Freud, a hysteric outburst. We may say now with Freud and Foucault that the discourse of the community is so powerful that the girls end up believing they have been victims of witchcraft and one falls after the other: collective hysteria. So, the interesting point is that these teenagers -and I think this age matters here as the introduction to womanhood, sexuality- start to accuse of witchcraft to almost every single woman of the community, that is, puritan mothers and wives. And that is the point I wanted to arrive at: teenagers belonging to a society with a terrific control over sexuality and the female body accuse women of being witches; women is what they are becoming, so a possible interpretation of the situation is the young girls’ sense of alienation with their own bodies and upcoming sexuality. Of course they are unconscious of it, but they are unclosed within the puritan discourse which demands of them to negate the experience of their puberty till, it may be said, it appears taking another form, that is, in the form of possession because this word belongs to the same discourse, so they are familiar with it, and it does not only belong to the same discourse, it is the evil part of the discourse, so is their bursting sexuality.

The situation goes completely out of control, and any woman is arbitrary accused of witchcraft by the girls. The trial is looking for witches, that is, women, so they are the scapegoat of a neurotic discourse, and I dare say, in this case it is a patriarchal one: women were the victims of the discourse, they were seen as dangerous, dangerously powerful, in the puritan context, they have a dangerous sexuality, they attract men to sin. That can be seen as the male control of the female body because they were scared of its power of seduction, and the girls in a sort of reaction against their own future bodies attack women as looking themselves in a mirror.   

What I find most interesting here is the relationship between the text or discourse, and the body in this particular context; there are more to say about it but maybe in another moment.

If you wish to see the play: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2014/the-crucible/

Mme Bovary as Literary Example of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Claims

npg_npg_1237_larges640x480-1

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), mother of Mary Shelley, was a feminist author who wrote in 1792,  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, an exhaustive critique of women’s education in her time, and their consequent place in society. To a contemporary reader, Wollstonecraft’s feminism may be similar to Christian or conservative feminism: she bases women’s right to education on its importance to be a good female Christian, that is mostly, to be a good wife and daughter, and, simultaneously, she exalts the virtue of chastity. Wollstonecraft’s text gives to the reader a good insight of what might be going on in genre relationships at the end of the 18th C. The author repeatedly shows her distress with the position women were left to: objects of desire. The lack of intellectual education was the cause, according to the author, of adultery and debauchery in marriage and within the family, affecting the whole of society. Women’s education taught them to be superficial limiting themselves to elegance and in being worshipped by men, or, and that is the dangerous point for Wollstonecraft, by seducers: ‘The sensualist, indeed, has been the most dangerous of tyrants, and women have been duped by their lovers, as princes by their ministers, whilst dreaming that they reigned over them’.

Understanding is placed as touchstone of domestic virtue and social freedom, while mere female slaves will never really understand their duties becoming thus completely vulnerable and morally weak. Wollstonecraft claims that her contemporary females obeyed without understanding, and, mostly were flattered by their husbands-to-be which supposed that once passion finished, the wife may be in need of another flatterer. If there is an author Wollstonecraft attacks is, easily to imagine, Rousseau who created the ‘angel of the house’ which pervaded the whole 19th C and beyond. Rousseau related knowledge with evil, therefore women should not need the reasons but the aims they were intended to achieved. Wollstonecraft’s reply is: ‘The great misfortune is this, that they both acquire manners before morals, and knowledge of life before they have from reflection any acquaintance with the grand ideal outline of human nature. The consequence is natural. Satisfied with common nature, they become a prey to prejudices, and taking all their opinions on credit, they blindly submit to authority. So that if they have any sense, it is a kind of instinctive glance that catches proportions, and decides with respect to manners, but fails when arguments are to be pursued below the surface, or opinions analyzed’.

Women, follows the author, only learn to imagine and dream with romantic and passionate love; they are taught how to please and expect a perpetual worship from their husbands for the rest of their marriages without any need for intellectual affinities or friendship. The relationship between imagination and adultery, as well as the exaltation of feelings in women brings close the figure of Mme Bovary, especially in this comment: ‘I own it frequently happens, that women who have fostered a romantic unnatural delicacy of feeling, waste their lives in imagining how happy they should have been with a husband who could love them with a fervid affection every day, and all day. But they might as well pine as single, and would not be a jot more unhappy with a bad husband than longing for a good one’. Mme Bovary is a work from 1856, and it is the work of adultery par excellence as the obsessive nightmare of the bourgeoisie. Flaubert describes a situation and a character which Wollstonecraft warned against more than half a century earlier.

Another treat of Emma Bovary is her fetichism and need for consumption, consumption to improve her body, her appearance once she is completely led astray by her multiple affairs. Emma’s debt can be seen as an unlimited desire for physical self which is fed by an unstoppable need for being desired. Wollstonecraft argues women were enslaved to their bodies because they were made weak since childhood paying not enough attention to their health, this situation endured her subjection: ‘Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adore its prison’.

Wollstonecraft finally relates the private with the public sphere, a very Victorian idea: the good inside makes the good outside. The notion of Victorian privacy was crucial (and still is, just look for example to the American relationship between politics and private life) to a welfare state, and here are already some thoughts on that: ‘Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers – in a word, better citizens’.

The author also criticizes the difference in what is expected from men and women: while women are insisted in being chaste, men are forgiven for their lust. Mme Bovary could only die, as it does Anna Karenina or Effi Briest, but there is no a bit of social critique to their lovers. However, as Tolstoi exemplifies in his book The Kreutzer Sonata, male promiscuity affects as much as female the wellbeing of marriage; being women the only bearers of the fault was of course naturally unfair but the conclusion of the whole system of thought Bourgeoisie society depended on.