Tag Archive | Love

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.

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis III

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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’.

Mme Bovary as Literary Example of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Claims

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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.

Upcoming Conference: The History of Sexuality and Translation of the Classics

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CfP: The History of Sexuality and Translation of the Classics, Durham University, 27-28 March, 2015.

This conference aims to explore the influence Classic conceptions of sexuality have had in Western society, especially in notions of prohibition and taboo. Many concepts and examples have been taken from Classic myths and philosophy by Western authors to deal with sexual issues when those were not openly accepted. In this context, translation of Classic texts worked as a means of disguise to enter a prohibited world: how did translations influenced modern and contemporary ideas on sexuality?

More information: http://centreformedicalhumanities.org/the-history-of-sexuality-and-translation-of-the-classics-cfp-durham-university-march-27-28-2015/

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.

Elisabeth Badinter, L’amour en plus (II): Rousseau, and the Nouvelle Mère

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It seems that Rousseau has really been the first creator and promotor of this new mother: the one who appears at the end of the 18th century and, even if one may acknowledge another revolution with Freud, she still pervades nowadays. Rousseau’s work Emile was literally a manual for the new mother who learnt there how to wash, feed, educate and take care of her child, it was the beginning of ‘le règne de l’enfant-roi’. The new mother was mainly the middle class woman, the plain bourgeoise, not the aristocracy or high bourgeoise neither the lowest classes but the woman whose world was the house and had no ambitions neither economic independence. The domestic space is thus this place where the new mother and the ‘new’ child inhabit, it is the sacred place of privacy where their mutual relationship took place and where the child may become a good citizen. Rousseau establishes in Emile a parallelism between the convent and the house, the noon and the mother, it is Julie, the new Heloïse one the new mothers who sanctified this new space, while the first Heloïse spent her life in a convent.

This idea is empowered along the 19th century when ‘en gouvernant l’enfant, la mère gouverne le monde. Son influence s’étend de la famille à la societé, et tous répètent que les hommes sont ce que les femmes les font’. Now she is also the governess, she should teach and educate her children at home, while the father keeps reduced to the workplace and outside the kingdom of mother and child. The aristocracy however despises this new bourgeoise mentality and aristocratic women decide to enjoy life without changing the previous attitude towards children. One of the best writers to depict this reality was Balzac who often shows the difference between la mère et la séductrice.

Another important figure in the 19th century is the family doctor: he helps the mother in all her concerns. The doctor is very present for example in Mme Bovary (especially in the form of pharmacist), or The Awakening, and his main role is to have plenty of knowledge of not only the physical state of the family members but also of their moral state becoming a primordial moralist against the adulterer.

Elisabeth Badinter, L’Amour en Plus (I): on maternal love

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In her work L’Amour en plus Badinter puts in question the authenticity of maternal love, and analyses the cultural influences which have built such a feeling. The book starts with an overview of maternity before the Enlightenment in France and ends with the 20th century. The first part of her research is focused on the 16th and 17th centuries when maternal love as known today was almost inexistent in society regardless of social status. There was no appeal for kindness, the child was mainly a nuisance which caused the common practice of abandoning the newborn with nurses. In the lower classes the child was left with a bad-paid nurse who often did not care about the child which actually died before the first year of life; among the high classes, parents use to choose the nurse more carefully, but some of them did not ask for news during the 4 years the child used to be away from home with the nurse. When the child came back, he had probably never meet his or her parents, and shortly after the child was put in a board school after which he/he was supposed to marry or enter religious or military life. Badinter insists in the main aim of the parents: getting rid of the child.

The second part of the book focuses on the late 18th century when, due to economic and political reasons, a new discourse begins to safe newborn lives which meant to avoid foreign nurses and keep the child at home. The new nation was in need of more -and healthy – population, therefore, a lot of propaganda was made to convince fathers and mothers of the value of parenthood. This policy was based on capitalist principles: every citizen is a source of wealth, a producer, so it is necessary to reduce mortality. A new concept was created: maternal love; mothers should breast feed their own children and fathers should become their mentors. Two main discourses were built in order to change mentalities: to men it was insist on economic reasons, to women on equality and happiness, which shows that the beginning of this new fashion was no less selfish than the previous one:

‘Soyez de bonnes mères et vous serez heureuses et respectées. Rendez-vous indispensables dans la famillie et vous obtendrez droit de cité’

To make parenthood easier, a new concept of marriage and family attitudes were also necessary, it was the turn of l’amour-amitié, and the marriage for love from where having children was the happiest fruit. This discourse was supported for the enlightened idea of earthly happiness which argued that only through freedom happiness can be achieved. Therefore, marriage should be based on free choice of the spouses which became equal as they both were free. The new mother appeared, she is now responsible for the education of her child, that is, of the nation.

In this context the modern family was created; the nuclear family and the importance of intimacy which may help to built friendship among the family members was a result of political and economic interests.

The creation of the Angel of the House

The-First-Kiss-of-Love-La-Nouvelle-HeloiseJulie, ou la nouvelle Heloïse is a Rousseaunian work of 1761, a novel of these, a fictional work which aims to be witness of its author’s ideas. Rousseau is not a simple character: if it is true he is an enlightened it is also true that he had his particular ideas very different from some of his contemporaries as for example, Voltaire. Rousseau exalted reason but also feeling, criticized religious dogmatism and praised virtue to an heroic degree. Julie is an idea, a model, it is indeed a female perfection: what a woman should be. No less important is, I think, what joins the name of Julie, la nouvelle Heloïse, not very considered by its critics, as far as I know, but something I intend to insist on. Rousseau had no need to call his novel as he did, it may very well be called only Julie without implying a change in the text as it is all based on her and its aim is, as I said, to show us Julie’s perfection. But he did make a reference to the story of the medieval lovers, Heloïse and Abelard, and this fact will not leave me rest till I find why. Up to now, I consider the possibility that Rousseau, as enlightened, intended to create the woman of virtue, born in the 18th century as a reply to Heloïse, a woman of the medieval age, that is, for Rousseau, an obscure and catholic period. If Heloïse succumbed to Abelard’s seduction being, Rousseau would say, perverted and, as he actually said, dishonest – I guess for being faking her religious feelings all her life -, Julie is the new Heloïse: chastity, virtue, reason and honesty are her adjectives, which, of course, may be those of the Enlightenment according to Rousseau.

And here it is: the angel of the house. Julie has a limitless heart full of goof feelings, she  is full of virtue marrying her father’s candidate against her will and being able to love her ‘lover’ chastely; but she will also love her husband eventually being an impressive wife and mother. The text dedicates a part to describe how Julie manages the house, every single detail is in her mind, and this house is, indeed, as heaven. But all that was not enough for Rousseau, Julie dies saving her son’s life, and as her husband notes, she is la martyre de l’amour maternel. Even after her death, it is possible to feel her spiritual presence in the house, that is, as an ever present angel. Victorians will love this female expression, and we see how Victorian critics need to repetitively talk of the angel of the house, something which will die at the turn of the century with Modernism. But before that, I think Flaubert already puts in danger this glorified creation of the woman; and I think that a very interesting point. Some critics say Flaubert to be a proto modernist, some even dare to affirm he is a modernist, I do prefer the first option. One of the moments in Mme Bovary where it is possible to see this path towards Modernism is the moment of her death. Emma like Julie dies in bed, but unlike Julie the description of her body is terribly realistic – and a great piece of modern art . If Julie does not loss her perfection while dying, Emma does, indeed one can see the putrefaction of her body, her decay. Is this decay not the the end of the angel of the house and the advent of the new woman? May not the difference between the two dying bodies be the expression of one type of woman and the other?

To finish, I wish to note that if Rousseau presented a new Heloïse against Heloïse, one was real, not the other. Heloïse was a real woman with a real story, Julie did not exist: the angel of the house was a creation which filled for years and years an idea of femininity: Julie is never angry, never does wrong, never feel weak, never falls into temptations, she always wins her passions, and always remains happy.

I am definitively Heloïse.

A Modern Ifigenia

Teresa de la Parra sans frame

Teresa de la Parra’s work Ifigenia (Venezuela, 1924) tells the unfortunate story of a young woman who sees all her dreams perish in the dull reality of the 1920s Caracas society. The book is a large one and a lot of topics, all the same interesting, may be identified. Aware that other readers may find some other themes than those here presented, I will limit myself to the following ones:

Ifigenia is a Venezuelan high society girl who has spent almost all her life in Paris with her father; she attends a French boarding school and enjoys all Parisian pleasures which by the date are totally subject to the modernist fashion: art noveau, Channel and Vogue conform her parisian life and she does not attempt to give up her daily life. But Ifigenia’s father dies and she is forced to go back to Caracas out of pure necessity where she expects to inherit her father’s fortune. Unfortunately, thinks are very different for Ifigenia, and once she arrives at Caracas, at her grandma’s house, she encounters  an old fashioned society and principles: her grandma and aunt have strict plans of marrying Ifigenia with a proper man who does not stand for parisian modes and fashions; European airs are totally out of place in the American country. Ifigenia is not the first work to show this fear of European contamination, Henry James pursues this topic in most of his works, Edith Warthon’s character, Countess Oleska, is to blame for her liberal european ideas, even Tolstoi puts himself out of ‘Europe’ and criticises moral degeneration in the continent. Thus, Ifigenia is left alone in most of the occasions to enjoy her parisian dresses and haircuts, most of them found in Vogue, which became a fashion magazine for the New Woman.

Ifigenia is also a work full of Romantic ideas about love; apart from the multiple literary references to couples such as Tristan and Isolda, Romeo and Juliet, etc. Ifigenia herself experiences a romantic passion for Gabriel, the man she will not marry because he is a divorced man, and society would not accept it. Ifigenia is not ready to abandon her family for her love and she finally marries her family’s match, César, a man with a complete tyrannical character who puts an end to all her parisian customs. It is very impressive the use of romantic discourse in such a late work, however, the influence of Romanticism in the 20th century is notably and is one of the pillars for breaking with bourgeoise rules in the 19th century and defending a marriage for love trying to avoid any kind of sense of duty. Another influence in Ifigenia is sentimental deism and the importance of feelings and nature. In this sense, it is remarkable Gabriel’s love letter to Ifigenia asking her to escape with him; the discourse is full of deistic ideas such as the exaltation of real feelings upon moral and social conventions, and the importance of nature as a divine setting.

Ifigenia finally marries César, and hence  her mane which refers back to Ifigenia’s sacrifice to save the Greek boat in its way home. She sacrifices herself, and her love, for her family marrying a man she does not love and who does not love her. There is a strong sense of not only spiritual but also physical renounce in her last words after the wedding which embrace the whole sexual experience in a terrible act of female submission.

The Drowned Man: A Voyeur Experience

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Punchdrunk Theatre Company has dared to submerge the audience in a Gothic-Surrealist atmosphere like in its very well called Immerse Theatre. Temple Studios, a large and high old building, is the chosen place where the adaptation of the gloomy Büchner’s work, Woyzeck, is taking place in the city of London.

            The spectator is introduced to the dark scenario wearing a white mask which allows him to differentiate between the public and the actors. Immediately he finds himself locked in a metallic lift where his journey to an unknown world of sex, violence and despair begins. The spectacle is distributed among different floors and spaces where darkness and bright colours are intertwined to create a high tension experience behind different musical tonalities which make of the journey a very sensorial one. Indeed, the play is based on effects, dancing, body expressions rather than on narration.

            Every character has his own story and the spectator is left to follow the destiny whomever he wishes running through corridors, scales, and sandy or wet grounds. The adultery story of Woyzech takes now place in some uncanny Hollywood studios where young actors die mysteriously and relationships are unreliable. Immersed in the life of the characters, the spectator becomes a voyeur completely ignored by the actors; he can touch all kind of structures and decoration, open drawers, read letters, observe closely the reactions of the characters being always unnoticed.

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-drowned-man-a-hollywood-fable