Tag Archive | body

Towards a Democracy of Space

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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.

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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.

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

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‘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’.

Ecriture Feminine: Text and Body in Female Writing

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‘Je parlerai de l’écriture féminine: de ce qu’elle fera. Il faut que la femme s’écrive : que la femme écrive de la femme et fasse venir les femmes à l’écriture, dont elles ont été éloignées aussi violemment qu’elles l’ont été de leurs corps’. These are Hélène Cixous’ words in her essay Le Rire de la Méduse (1975), paradigm of the French feminist movement of the 70s known as l’écriture féminine. What is at stake here is the relationship between writing and the body, or even more than that, an identification between the two. Cixous calls women to write as women, and that is, from their bodies, which means that biological sexual issues play a roll in the way of being in the world, and therefore the in the mode of expression. Cixous is Dr. in English Modernism and indeed her words remind those of Virginia Woolf in the essay “A Room of One’s Own” (1929) where Woolf affirms the book needs to be adapted to the body, which consequently implies a difference between male and female writing.

French feminism stresses the importance of language and discourse in relation to women, and especially, the body; a focus far away from radical American feminism which recurrently claims for a deconstruction of the body, instead, the French authors affirm the female body since the very beginning and note the need for a difference between men and women in order women’s characteristics to be respected and accepted. When Woolf says in her essay previously mentioned, that Jane Austen was so far (in 1929) the best female writer was due to her capacity to write as a woman for women. Austen, says Woolf, wrote about what interested her, what she knew, in her style, she did not try to write manly in order to be valued by men, that is, by the public opinion. Similarly, Cixous encourages women to write as they are, and that means, because of the female nature, to write in accordance with their bodies:

‘en s’écrivant, la femme fera retour à ce corps qu’on lui a plus que confisqué, dont a fait l’inquiétant étranger dans la place, le malade ou le mort, et qui si souvent est le mauvais compagnon, cause et lieu de inhibitions. A censurer le corps on censure du même coup le souffle, la parole […] Ecrire, acte qui non seulement ‘réalisera’ le rapport dé-censuré de la femme à sa sexualité, à son être-femme, lui rendant accès à ses propres forces ; qui lui rendra ses biens, ses plaisirs, ses organes, ses immenses territoires corporels tenus sous scellés’

These words should not surprise to those familiar with the Victorian medical discourse troubled around the female body; indeed, the mystery which traditionally (at least from Rousseau on) has surrounded the female sexuality has produced  a medical and social discourse impregnated with taboos and prohibitions as facing an alienated body, something more diabolic than the male body, which may be noted is far more simple being all its pleasure focused: ‘Que la sexualité masculine gravite autour du pénis, engendrant ce corps (anatomie politique) centralisé, sous la dictature des parties. La femme, elle, n’opère pas sur elle-même cette régionalisation au profit du couple tête-sexe, qui ne s’inscrit qu’à l’intérieur de frontières. Sa libido est cosmique, comme son inconscient est mondial’.

Differences in writing, perceptions, thought and feelings may be related to the body, or the relationship a woman establishes with it. The cyclic nature of the female body, which can be seen physically expressed through its round form, challenges indeed what can be a male vision, so it may be with writing. Cixous goes further establishing a relationship with women with their bodies not only in their writings but in their communication, and ultimately, in their form of being; thus the physical expression is something very present in the female sex whose body speaks:

‘Ecoute parler une femme dans une assemblée […] : elle ne ‘parle’ pas, elle lance dans l’air son corps tremblant, elle se lâche, elle vole, c’est tout entière qu’elle passe dans sa voix, c’est avec son corps qu’elle soutient vitalement la ‘logique’ de son discours ; sa chair dit vrai. Elle s’expose. En vérité, elle matérialise charnellement ce qu’elle pense, elle le signifie avec son corps. D’une certaine manière elle inscrit ce qu’elle dit, parce qu’elle ne refuse pas à la pulsion sa part indisciplinable et passionnée à la parole’.

The body is a text, and the text is a body, something to explore further…