Tag Archive | Literary Research

Pleasure and Power: Nussbaum on Butler

Edvard Munch - puberty (1895)

Martha Nussbaum in her article “The Professor of Parody” (1999) gives an explanation of contemporary American feminist discourse focused on the example of Judith Butler’s work. Nussbaum’s critique focuses on three main issues: Butler’s complicated narrative, her lack of originality on the analysed topics and the conclusions she withdraws from them, and her passivity concerning social and political changes. Due to my research topic I will focus on the former and the latter arguments.

Nussbaum infers from the obscurity found in Butler’s texts a lack of honesty which may consist in complicating simple statements and arguments in an aim to disguise them under a high intellectual value ‘since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought’ (1999: 4). Indeed, Nussbaum refers back to Socrates’ defense of clarity and simplicity in philosophical thought, claiming against sophists and rhetoricians whose ‘manipulative methods showed only disrespect [for the soul]’ (1999: 5). Therefore, Nussbaum suggests ideological purposes in Butler’s text, however, she does not consider the possibility of these texts as being an expression of an unconscious meaning, instead she stands easily for a lack of meaning, a simple reproduction of issues, mentioned by previous authors, in a confusing verbosity (1999: 4-5).

The third point of Nussbaum’s critique regarding Butler’s passivity is interesting insofar it relates to Foucault’s questioning the repeatedly use of our supposed repression in contemporary discourses. According to Nussbaum, Butler’s texts are so theoretical and symbolic that they ignore the real and material situation of women who are victims of social and political injustices being unable to help them (1999: 12). Nussbaum suggests Butler’s arguments to be ‘focus narcissistically on personal self’, while there exists other feminist scripts concerned in ‘building laws and institutions, without much concern on how a woman displays her own body and its gendered nature’ (1999: 13). But Butler, argues Nussbaum, finds pleasure living within the same structures which oppress her, belonging to them insofar they are the conditions for her being, as for its victims: ‘I cannot escape the humiliating structures without ceasing to be, so the best I can do is mock, and use the language of subordination stingingly’ (1999: 10).

However, Butler’s attitude can also be understood as a need to keep this structures alive in order to generate oppression and hence her own discourse. This conclusion may arise a polemical and ethical question concerning the academia, its economic sources, and its scope of influence outside itself which mostly refers back to sexual politics, as Nussbaum implicitly points out through her whole article. In Foucauldian terms, there would be a need either to create repression or sustain it in order to justify new discourses on the body. In this context, Nussbaum’s claims on Butler’s passivity would remain insufficient, as Butler’s discourse does not only avoid change but it stands against it as its only possible existence is within these structures in a masochistic relationship; hence, the question arises, is she constructing a masochistic body? This relationship between body, pleasure and power, may logically support patriarchal social and family organizations as a source of pleasure for women, which shows a high cynicism and contradictions in Butler’s texts. In fact, Nussbaum mentions feminist theorists’ comfortable positions ‘in safety of their campuses, remaining on the symbolic level’ instead of ‘work in changing the law, or feeding the hungry’ (1999: 13).

On the Psychic Home

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Roger Kennedy develops the concept of ‘psychic home’ from a psychoanalytical perspective in his book The Psychic Home (2014) whose theory may feel complemented with that of Jung and Heidegger’s approach to dwelling, as well as providing an interesting relationship between the importance of the bourgeois interior and the emergence of psychoanalysis. Kennedy argues that it is a human need to have a sense of home: ‘We need to feel at home in the world – it makes us feel secure, it provides the base from which we can explore’ (2014: 12). This sense of home is found inside the human being, it belongs to his interiority being extremely related to the physical construction of the house. This strong relationship is expressed through a continuous interaction between the inside and the outside: the psychic house is fed trough the physical space, while the physical interior becomes yearning and expression of the psychic house.

Kennedy differentiates between the interior home and the domestic space: the first one been approached as a given entity, while the second one belongs to a particular historical context. Indeed Histoire de la Vie Privée shows a complete development of domestic space being its high moment found from the French Revolution onwards, especially during the bourgeoisie. This differentiation is important to oppose traditional feminist critique as it shows how the sense of home may be set apart from the material relationship to the house, in other words, feminism fails to differentiate the relationship between the woman and her inner home from that of the material house, and that may be due to its general materialistic approach. However, following Kennedy, the history of the inner home is that of the human being: the value of home belongs to him, as Heidegger says ‘to be is to dwell’ (147); but the historical development and expression of this interiority is subjected to change, and to the materiality of the world. Thus, bourgeois domestic space should be approached from its particular context, as expression of both human interiority and social interactions. This relationship is what can lead to a conflict which is experienced by the adulteress as a central figure in part of the bourgeois novel.

Kennedy establishes the relationship between the development of domestic space and psychoanalysis based on the idea that, in fact, psychoanalysis somehow belongs to the home’s interiority, and to the inner space both psychically and physically (2014: 20): it belongs to the subject who inhabits the house. Thus the psychic home finds a strong correlation with domestic space in the bourgeoisie which is highly concerned with the cultivation of the inner space in both metaphorical and literal meanings:

 ‘One could say that the older notion of the interior as the spiritual and inner nature of the soul became, in Freud, wedded to the emerging notion of the double nature of the interior as site of dream and material reality to create a new notion of private life and of the human subject. The psychoanalytical interior, or what I shall put forward as the notion of a psychic home, becomes a revolutionary account of the human subject, one that challenged bourgeois domesticity while providing a comfortable space for exploration of its conflicts’.                                                                                             (2014: 24)

 Indeed, psychoanalysis is the product as well as the end of the proper bourgeoisie or Victorian domesticity and its core values. Kennedy approaches the discipline as a result of the strong sense of interiority domestic space brought to the individual who was not freed from inner conflicts, but far from that, those were actually caused by the same domesticity. One can then suggest with Kennedy how psychoanalysis was born from the negative side of domesticity: its conflicts; therefore, being the new discipline a cure but nonetheless also a challenge for Victorian values; the end of the restricted and disciplined sexuality, and the beginning of new experiences of the body.

The Hysterical Discourse of Gender Studies

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Surprisingly enough Gender Studies theories have very particular allies: the Victorians. What do these two apparently distant groups have in common? A shared enemy: Freud, and a shared belief: the sexless child. Ironies of history, never better said, it results that these two extremes touch each other in what can be called a fear of the sexual, that is, of the body in its most visible and basic part: as a sexualized entity. The Victorian belief that children were sexless, and that sex did appear as a process of culmination into the adult life, was shown in practices such as for example dressing boys and girls in the same fashion being boys actually dressed as girls (with contemporary eyes). This vision involved a granted naiveté regarding both children and sexuality something demolished with the apparition of Freud’s analysis. The strong Victorian reaction against Freud can only be understood with a complete understanding and awareness of this society, their domesticity and family organization. The earthquake Freud meant is totally comprehensible: he ended with the sexless child myth, therefore, with the supposed innocence of children.

Foucault really had reasons to entitle the first chapter of his History of Sexuality “We Victorians”; this assertion is so real that even those who think be liberating society in the most radical form from old beliefs are trapped in those same beliefs, and that is the case with the so called Gender Studies. What they put into question today is the existence of sex, logically, it may mean the existence of the body because sex is inherent to the body in normal human beings, that is, in exception of rare biological cases. This ideology implies that the human being is born without sex, that is, the body is not a sexualized body, therefore, children are sexless. How should a baby or little child be referred to? I ignore it, maybe ‘it’ like the rest of the pets and objects. What should one do with ‘its’ sexual organs? Or, how should they be interpreted is another riddle. So the big question is: what do we do with the body? Because the body is there from the very beginning, and as far as I know, there is no being without body. But Gender Studies got further than the Victorians and claimed that there is no innate sex because it may not be in accordance with the sexual orientation, therefore it is  better not o treat little children as girls or boys but -I guess- like nothing. Can we disassociate a body from its sex? Are we not sexual beings relating to each other in a sexualized form even outside men/women love relationships? Of course Freud is not welcomed in Gender Studies, instead he is seen as a leader of the patriarchal society for labeling male bodies under the name of ‘man’, and female bodies under that of ‘woman’.

Gender Studies and Victorians seem to share a fear of the sexual body, which is actually, the only proper body. The sense of alienation in one’s body comes quickly to mind: the repression of one’s sexuality since the very beginning. By repression I mean the negation of sexuality even in its idea or theoretical approach, that living with the foreign: my body as different of me, a very uncanny experience in Freudian terms: being not at home with myself. Hysteria is not far from this feeling. Is it possible that radical feminism, in its negation of innate sexuality, be an enlarged branch of Victorian thought in its opposite form? Are radical feminism’s conclusions a neurotic outbreak of a puritan approach to the body outspreading in radical solutions? Is there a relationship between a refused maternity and the fear of heterosexual sexual relationships? Ultimately, does not radical feminism annihilate the sexual body, especially, the sexual female body  introducing theories which demand a deconstruction of the innate sexual body as if terrified by it?

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

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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’.

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’.

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis II

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Ricoeur argues how the dream is a kind of discourse which needs to be translated into another discourse to find out the latent meaning the dream-image encloses; the dream is here understood as ‘désir en images’, hence the Ricoeur’s choice ‘semantics of desire’ for a psychoanalytical hermeneutics.  So two different discourses are working together to interpret a whole hide meaning, a process called ‘travail de rêve’: the dream belongs to the meaning discourse, while the act of suppression to that of power, that is, in a psychoanalytical interpretation there is always a dialectics of manifested image meaning and the will to suppressed it; to put it into speech is to overcome the discourse of power -understood as resistance to be pronounced. The dream image contains in itself this dialectic as the image is indeed a revelation and a disguise of the same meaning. The mask is what better symbolizes the dream: it reveals and conceals simultaneously, and, I think, this revealing and concealing is an essential part of the erotic -in opposition to the porno-, so the link between the dream and desire may be found in this mode of appearance, something which is revealed and concealed.

‘Le rapport du caché à montrer dans le déguisement requiert donc une déformation, ou une défiguration, qui ne peut être énoncée que comme un compromis de forces’. It follows the role played by censure to which Ricoeur gives its importance. Censure is what causes this distortion, this will to disguise, to show it in other words, in this case through another discourse, that of the image: ‘d’une part, la censure se manifeste au niveau d’un texte auquel elle inflige des blancs, des substitutions de mots, des expressions atténuées, des allusions, des artifices de mise en pages, les nouvelles suspectes ou subversives se déplaçant et se cachant dans des entrefilets anodins ; d’autre part, la censure est l’espressione d’un pouvoir, plus précisément d’un pouvoir politique, lequel s’exerce contre l’opposition en la frappant dans son droit d’expression ; dans l’idée de censure les deux systèmes de langage sont si étroitement mêlés qu’il faut dire tour à tour que la censure n’altère un texte que lorsqu’elle réprime une force et qu’elle ne réprime un force interdite qu’en perturbant son expression’. Ricoeur goes on affirming that Freud’s originality resides in the fact of seeing the unconscious as the place where both sense and suppression take place. That is what makes possible to translate the unconscious into the conscious through their common structure which is the capacity of representation.

Regarding sublimation, Ricoeur critiques the fact that the work of art is the expression of a sexual energy which may express the author’s conflicts; he instead argues that sublimation is of a dialectic character as well, allowing thus to observe a return to a primitive area, which may correspond to the unconscious conflict, and a going forward in the production of meaning of the work itself, hence resolving the conflict: ‘l’œuvre d’art est en avance sur l’artiste lui-même : c’est un symbole prospectif de la synthèse personnelle et de l’avenir de l’homme, plutôt qu’un symptôme régressif de ses conflits non résolus […] Le sens véritable de la sublimation ne serait-il pas de promouvoir des significations nouvelles en mobilisant des énergies anciennes d’abord investies dans des figures archaïques ?’ This production of new meaning remains Ricoeur’s theory in The Rule of Metaphor, where metaphor displays a new world of significance, and very well relates to the need for resolution through a creative act.

CfChapters: Evil Women and Mean Girls

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Texas Tech University is editing a book dedicated to historical representations of the female evilness from an interdisciplinary perspective. This book aims to explore topics such as the relationship between evil and female sexuality, female villains, or any association of evil with women and how have they historically differed from those of men.

More information here: http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/56763

D.H. Lawrence, the Arts and the Body

In his critique to the Victorian and bourgeoise society, Lawrence expressed, as he does in many of his novels, his concerns on how the materiality and authenticity of life and experience was left behind for an intellectual approached to human relationships, and hence, for a repudiation of the body. This last one was central to the author, so he tried to find the proper body’s language, a language which allowed him to express the body, a part of the human being, according to him, so repudiated by the bourgeoisie: ‘That is the real pivot of all bourgeois consciousness in all countries: fear and hate of the instinctive, intuitional, procreative body in a man or woman’ (‘Introduction to these Paintings’).

Interestingly for a reader of the 21st century, and related to Lawrence’s ideas on Bourgeoisie, is his attitude towards sexuality. Lawrence accused his ancestors of having kept secret the whole matter of sex, therefore, causing a sort of masturbating society, a practice he detests as it impedes sexual communion and exchange of energy, and, he says, is focused on the activity of the intellect and not of the body: ‘The greatest of all lies in the modern world is the lie of purity and the dirty little secret. The grey ones left over from the nineteenth century are the embodiment of this lie’ (‘Pornography and Obscenity’).

If, says Lawrence, the novel does not know how to represent the body, neither does painting, especially English 19th century painting, which having no idea how to deal with such an element, its landscapes do not include the human form: ‘the English have delighted in landscape, and have succeeded in it well. It is a form of escape for them, from the actual human body they so hate and fear’ (‘Introduction to these Paintings). However, a homage is left to Cézanne the only painter who really tried to represent living matter but who, due to his bourgeoise class, merely failed:

‘Cézanne felt it in paint, when he felt for the apple. Suddenly he felt the tyranny of mind, the white, worn-out arrogance of the spirit, the mental consciousness, the enclosed ego in its sky-blue heaven self-painted. He felt the sky-blue prison. And a great conflict started inside him. He was dominated by his old mental consciousness, but he wanted terribly to escape the domination. He wanted to express what he suddenly, convulsedly knew: the existence of matter. He terribly wanted to paint the real existence of the body, to make it artistically palpable’ (‘Introduction to these Paintings’).

According to Lawrence, Cézanne represented a living apple, far from the man’s perspective, instead the apple has a proper life of its own, a proper way to relate with reality which escapes from men’s perspective. It is a true apple because it expresses relativeness, it is Cézanne’s apple.

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What I did not know is that Lawrence himself has some paintings which indeed express relationships among bodies:

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His intention to express materiality in his writings is seen in his paintings which focus on the body and one easily see, for example, Gerald’s description in Women in Love, for example.

The Paintings of D. H. Lawrence by Lawrence, D. H.

Between the House and the Hut: An Erotic Approach of Space in Lady Chatterley’s Lover

“Between the House and the Hut: An Erotic Approach of Space in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” The Poetics of Space in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Culture. University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, 29 May 2014.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) is a novel mainly structured around two main spaces: Lady Chatterley’s domestic space, and her lover’s hut in the woods. These spaces articulate Lady Chatterley’s desire and sense of femininity making them highly erotic. In her domestic space Connie Chatterley lives with her impotent husband, almost always secluded in her room. Connie finds an emotional and sexual distance from her husband, which is also expressed through the magnificent architecture of the mansion. However, her relationship with Oliver Mellors, and their sexual encounters in the hut, gives her the human and emotional contact she desires. She finds her realization as a woman in the primitive: the hut in the woods. According to Gaston Bachelard, the hut is a symbol of primitiveness which gives us a high sense of protection and refuge far from the civilized and crowded houses. I argue that the hut embodies Lady Chatterley’s longing for intimacy, her refugee and sense of primitiveness where she meets again with her sexual being: the most primitive sense of femininity. Hence, body and space correlate with each other empowering the image of the hut through sexuality: Lady Chatterley inhabits the hut as well as she is inhabited by Mellors, a fact that leads from the origin of habitation to the origin of human life. In this context I will analyse the dialectics of desire in Lady Chatterley established around the domestic space and the hut.