Tag Archive | Art

Towards a Democracy of Space

city-kids

Contemporary theories on space make an emphasis on its lack of stability and perpetual becoming opposing classical theories of space such as those of Heidegger and Bachelard. Human Geography is a postmodern school on space which generally includes feminist, psychoanalytic, ecological, marxist or postcolonial approaches, among others. Besides their theoretical differences, there is an overall share idea based on new fluent and unstable spaces which do not guarantee a refugee from a speedy world. In opposition to the classical dichotomy time/space, postmodernism totally intertwines one with the other annulling binary oppositions such as: space-time  still/movement  emotion/reason  female/masculine  being/becoming, etc. Feminist geography especially criticizes these dichotomies claiming that woman is aligned to space, and so to domestic space, and argues that spaces have been traditionally defined by the white bourgeois male in opposition to an Other (female, black, low-class, etc.).

These new approaches to space argue that space is not one but multiple, and they are not defined by fixed characteristics but by a multiplicity of interrelationships which configure space: the strong mix of ethnical groups in big cities is an example of the total presence of the other which is not other anymore. Ethnical, national, and gender boundaries tend to disappear, at least in space – even if, I think, invisible boundaries do exist in these same multiple spaces. However, it is true that the strong delimited boundaries of the 18th and 19th centuries are totally put into question: the other is host at home; nevertheless, we cannot deny that home has become uncanny (terrorism by Muslim British citizens is an example of invisible boundary and the existence of the other for both sides).

Feminism also relates boundless space with a new configuration of the family however it does not specify. Body and space are totally interrelated: the body is our first place and the most basic tool to establish relations of measure. If domestic space is meant to change in terms of boundaries, then the body will be conformed to another sexual morality than the classical one: bourgeois domestic space – which is still our predominant – belonged to an idea of space; the question is to know until what extend a new concept of space will – or is – conform a new concept of family.

The question of free spaces  is not resolved at all: feminism insists on defining female spaces: who owns the public and the private space in Western societies? This issue is related to the body: if men are predominant in the work space, for example, will they adjust policies to maternity? Will the space of capitalism leave room for the female body? Or rather this one should adapt itself to the market demands? The same might be said of class, race and religion. The configuration of spaces is then of high importance because it reflects the intentions of the powerful: the ones who build the space configure a particular society in terms of inclusion and exclusion. It is important to fight for a democracy of space build among all different groups inhabiting a town, or a city, even a company or a house. The space should be based, not in ‘powerful interests’ such as capitalist, neither the one white middle-class man -even if that is disappearing in favor of the bank world – but for all those involved in a particular space. Spaces should be adapted to the body and to emotional needs, and reflect a human and popular appropriation of that space.

D.H. Lawrence and Schiele on Eroticism/Pornography: a Modernist Debate.

egon-schiele-zurueckgelehnte-frau-08910

Last week Dr Gemma Blackshaw presented her paper “The Modernist Offence: Egon Schiele and the Naked Female Body” at the Freud Museum complementing the current exhibition “Schiele: The Radical Nude” at The Courtauld Gallery. Schiele was an Austrian modernist painter in Vienna around the 1910s and 1920s. His portraits and paintings are focused on naked female bodies with particular depictions of the genital organ which led him to big troubles with the Austrian law being accused of indecency and immorality. Vienna was a very important focus of intellectuality at the turn of the century, and also the most important producer of illegal pornographic photography of Europe together with Budapest (which also belonged to the Austro-Hungary empire).

Schiele’s arrest opened the debate around the difference between pornography and art; his supporters argued that Schiele did produce art, and he himself justified it emphasizing that the paintings were not intended to arouse the public. The same dilemma took place for D.H. Lawrence whose novels were sanctioned around the same time in the UK for being too explicit in descriptions of the sexual act. Lawrence in fact wrote an essay entitled “Pornography and Obscenity” (1929) stating the difference between art and pornography of what he was accused for Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). In the 1929 essay, Lawrence accuses Victorian morality of being pornographic in its obsession with negating sex and keep it aside because for Lawrence pornography consists on insulting sex and make it dirty, exactly what the Victorian puritans did, according to him. Lawrence understands sex as something mystical, sacred, the negation of which means a human negation, and, even worst, sex becomes then something to make fun of, to parody because it is kept secret. It is in this context – in the context of the forbidden – that pornography can exist. Indeed, secrecy is pornography, says Lawrence, and that might explain the strong pornographic sense of all 19th C. literature as far as it insists in avoiding it: the sexual obsession under-lives in bourgeois texts.

Eroticism, for both Lawrence and Schiele exists in the realm of art: it is an aestheticism of sexuality, so to say. According to this simple definition, the difference between pornography and eroticism is not found in the content but in the attitude towards the content both from the author and the public. The writer and the painter here had in common their views on the mysticism of sex, and hence its relation to human spirituality and need to represent it without falling into pornography. This attitude towards sex is common in Modernism, and probably Freud influenced on it: sexuality became a topic, and a very present element of the human being.

Faire l’amour, ou la cuisine

nti_arc_988021_large

Michel de Certeau (1925-1986) in his two volumes work L’invention du Quotidien (1980) widely explores a range of topics such as the relationship between space and discourse, psychoanalysis, semantics, the body, etc. Indeed, the first volume does look like a miscellaneous where order is difficult to follow from chapter to chapter. The second volume however is far more focused on the activities of inhabiting and cooking as the two most characteristic human activities, belonging to everyday life.

Certeau dedicates extensive pages to the activity of cooking stressing its importance configuring domestic space, a sense of belonging to a particular family, and to tradition. He acknowledges the importance of this repetitive but creative activity which has traditionally belonged to women and has been disregarded, in a similar way Bachelard talks on the ‘wax civilization’ referring to housekeeping work, and its importance on keeping alive memories and an habitable space. Certeau’s poetic text on cooking is worthwhile to consider:

‘Pourquoi être si désireuse et si inquiète d’inscrire dans les gestes et dans les mots une même fidélité aux femmes de mon linage ? […] Peut-être est-ce cela même que je cherche dans mes bonheurs culinaires : la restitution, au travers des gestes, des saveurs et des compositions, d’une légende muette, comme si, à force de l’habiter avec mon corps et mes mains, je devais parvenir à en restaurer l’alchimie, à en mériter le secret de la langue, comme si, de ce piétinement obstiné sur cette terre mère, devait un jour me revenir la vérité de la parole’ (1994: 217).

Certeau, in a certain Barthesian way, establishes the semantics of space, gestures, and the body, also of cooking: ‘légende muette’ where the whole ritual of choosing, buying, preparing and configuring the ailments in a particular way was impregnated by narrativity. The kitchen is the place where this ritual takes place; it is a feminine place on which the whole of the home is sustained: the old hearth of the house was the fire which both cooked and warmth up, all the space (which at the beginning used to be conformed by one single room) was articulated around the fire.

Fire is what might bring together cooking and love – explored in some way also by Bachelard in La psychanalyse du feu (1937). Certeau notes the function of the mouth and the hands in eating and sexuality: ‘Nous mangeons avec notre bouche, orifice corporel dont les parties (lèvres, langue, dents, muqueuses intérieurs) et les fonctions (gouter, toucher, lécher, caresser, effleurer, saliver, mâcher, avaler) interviennent au premier chef dans la relation amoureuse’ (1994: 276). Moreover cooking has always been a tool of seduction, a good dinner – with wine included – is a kind of activation of the unconscious analogies eat and sex have in common, as well as the table and the bed:

‘La nappe est aussi, déjà, le drap du lit ; ses taches de vin, de fuit font penser à d’autres marques. L’odeur accentuée de la nourriture chaude, la proximité du corps de votre invité(e), son parfum éveillent l’odorat, stimulent ses perceptions et ses associations, vous font imaginer d’autres odeurs séductrices, parfums secrets du corps dénudé, devenant enfin tout proche. L’invité rêve, il songe, il espère déjà’ (1994: 279).

Erotic and love language is full of culinary metaphors: ‘L’échange amoureux transforme par instants le partenaire en comestible délectable […] le « dévore du regard, de caresses », le « mage de baisers ». L’aveu des amants séparés reste dans le même registre : « Tu me manques, j’ai faim de toi, je voudrais te manger »’ (1994: 277). Naturally, Certeau reminds of Manet’s painting where this relationship is strongly insinuated:

manet-sniadanie-na-trawie-dorsay

The naked bodies and the food in a picnic evokes the image of the bed – also the semi-reclined position of one of the men relates to a laying down with a naked woman in front of him. The depiction of the food suggests they just have eaten, the food is slightly untidy suggesting relax, as well as relax of the body. The viewer is left to end the narrative.

Narratives of Domesticity

dearfriends3-e1267041511778

It is commonly forgotten that the bourgeoisie was not born in France, neither in England, but in the Netherlands; it was not born in the 19th C. but as early as the 17th C., but as usual small countries and ‘rare’ languages fall in oblivion. Witold Rybczynski, a Scottish architect living currently in Canada, has a wonderful book which just fall in my hands some days ago: Home: A Short History of an Idea (1986). This book is a little jewel written by a humanist architect, what can be called a mini version of Philippe Ariès huge work.

Rybczynski approaches the idea of home historically, since its birth until nowadays. The concept of home different from that of house was born in the bourgeoisie, as such, it conforms the values of the former which, clearly, remain until today. The author has a wide knowledge on history and the arts, and he continuously provides artistic and literary examples of his statements. The one I wish to focus on in here is his comparison between 17th C Dutch paintings and Jane Austen narratives.

Rybcznski shows the first representations of domestic space in Dutch paintings to exemplify the first idea of domesticity and privacy, arguing how ‘there was one place, however, where the seventeenth-century domestic interior evolved in a way that was arguably unique, and that can be described as having been, at the very last, exemplary […] In short, at a time when the other states of Europe remained primarily rural […] the Netherlands was rapidly becoming a nation of townspeople. Burghers by historical tradition, the Dutch were bourgeois by inclination’. However, the Dutch 17th C has not left bourgeois literature as has done the 19th C in other European countries, instead it left pictorial representations of domestic space:

p-1894_41

The above painting by de Witte in 1660 is not only a domestic painting but it also contains the bourgeois topic per excellence: adultery. One can carefully see a man hidden in the bed of whom Rybcznski introduces an explanation, hence a narrative, and a domestic narrative. This painting is thought of as domestic space, wanting to englobe the whole of the home in the depiction of several rooms. The woman playing the piano with half-open curtains, the daylight suggesting a non-orthodox hour for intimacies as the owner of the house might be working, the clothes untidily left on the chair: all that narrates a story. Like him, and other contemporary painters, Jane Austen, a century later, ‘single-handedly invented, and brought to perfection, what could be called the domestic genre of novel-writing, the literary equivalent to the seventeenth-century Dutch school of interior painting’. This comparison between painting and writing is very interesting, and they show the same social and class frames in two different moments and times. This historical difference confirms domesticity as bourgeois topic: Austen belonged to the late 18th C. new English bourgeoisie, the concept of home landed to Enlgand, which was also heir of Dutch tastes in interior design.

Austen scenes are typically feminine; women present the whole narrative perspective, it is a world conformed indoors and managed by women and their topics. Love and marriage, as well as real estate, are favorite talks in the drawing or tea room (and it might be reminded that the so tea British tradition came from the Netherlands in the 17th C.). As Rybcznski says, Austen’s plots are simple, no big tragedies or dramas are told, but she has become a national figure, why? Apart from Austen’s deep insights in the human heart, it is indeed a sense of domesticity what her texts bring out: home sweet home, the British nostalgia for quiet familiar and well-being scenes.

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/