Tag Archive | Women Writers

On being a Western woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

The body in the private room in Claudine

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

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

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

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’.

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.

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…

Still Something to do

Asian-Ballet-Watercolor-Painting-360x480thIn 1928 Virginia Woolf was concerned about women, money, and writing. Her essay A Room of One’s Own is an attempt to analyze the situation of female writers through the history of literature, and to figure out why they are far less in number than men. Even if for many the reasons concerning such situation could appear clear enough, there is one particular reflection in Woolf’s thoughts far from being solved, even thought of, eighty years later she put it into words.

Among the women writers Woolf cites Jane Austen is one of the most acclaimed by her. It is not because of being better than, for example, Charlotte Brönte, but because of the mode in which she wrote, that is, completely free from male conventions. In fact, Woolf is looking for something purely feminine, a mode of being in the world as a woman, not as a woman according to a patriarchal society, which is still where we still live. “The book has somehow to be adapted to the body”, that is an interesting statement, and it shows how Woolf was thinking about the essence of being woman or man and their corresponding artistic expressions. She was not so far from Barthes’ The Semiotic Challenge or The Pleasure of the Text considering the writing as adapted to the author’s mind or physical expression; at the very least, as a living entity. This self-expression is what Woolf found in Jane Austen and not in other female writers:

“They [Jane Austen and Emily Brontë] wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue -write this, think that. They alone were deaf to the persistent voice, now grumbling, now shocked, now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but must be at them, like some too-conscientious governess, adjuring them”

It is exactly that which gives freedom to a woman to be a woman, instead of trying to put oneself within the male paradigms in order to be accepted or considered. The book should be adapted to the body, and it can be applied to other realms of the existence. That is what part of Feminism has lost: her own body. Instead of it, it has been the male body what has been defended every time some woman has tried to become a man. Part of the results from Feminism in the Twentieth Century have been to adapt the woman to a male society, instead of adapt society to the female body.

Memories of Mrs Dalloway

mrs-dallowayPeter Walsh comes back from India and decide to assist as well to Clarissa Dalloway’s party. After the popular ‘Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself’, the novel opens with a wandering for Westminster. Clarissa thinks and reminds different episodes of her life, especially those before marrying. When she comes back home at 11 o’clock she is surprised by the unexpected visit of her past lover, Peter Walsh. She knew of course he would go to her dinner party this very evening but she had not read his letter about his early visit. Of course Peter is introduced before his appearance through Clarissa’s thoughts; they were in fact in love with each other before Clarissa married Richard Dalloway, but they have not meet again since Peter leaving from England. After this short visit where Peter tells her to be in love with a very youth Indian, he starts his own wandering for London as Clarissa did before. Thirty years later he too reminds from his own perspective similar episodes of their youth and his feelings for Clarissa.

‘The compensation of growing old, Peter Walsh thought, coming out of Regent’s Park, and holding his hat in his hand, was simply this; that the passions remain strong as ever, but one has gained -at last!- the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence -the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light. A terrible confession it was, but now, at the age of fifty-three, one scarcely needed people any more, Life itself, every moment of it, every drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the sun, in Regent’s Park, was enough. Too much, indeed. A whole lifetime was too short to bring out, now that one had acquired the power, the full flavour; to extract every ounce of pleasure, every shade of meaning; which both were so much more solid than they used to be, so much less personal. It was impossible that he should ever suffer again as Clarissa had made him suffer.’

The whole book takes place in a day; a day which is important for the memories and thoughts it brings back. Clarissa refused to marry Peter, she married a MP and since then they live in Westminster. Peter Walsh has a set of affairs to keep with him, none of them durable or fruitful. But there remains still a kind of Why; why did they do not marry? Peter thought ‘How they would change the world if she married him perhaps’. It is indeed this annoying ‘perhaps’ all the time around Peter’s head. But Clarissa is not a woman of Perhaps, she is a woman of Yes; she enjoys life terribly until the point of being vitalistic. Her answer to life and events is Yes. He could be happy with Peter as she is with Richard, but probably she could not stand a doubtful man as his life finally has shown so.

And there is the city, London, this wonderful city where Clarissa and Peter walk around. London has a meaning in this novel, a very subtle one, it is not a mere scenario. Clarissa is herself in part because of London, she loves it and her thoughts are born along her paths. London brings as well memories back and the act of reflection takes most of its part in the streets. London is meaningful, is the capital of the Empire, but it is also a capital of ideas, something of course very present in the Bloomsbury Group. And Peter lives in India but he comes back and finds Clarissa there, living in the core of the City and married to a MP, she belongs to the elite. It marks Peter as an outsider, he is an adventurer and it is important to note that he went to India after Clarissa refused him. There are political readings to their relationship as well.

Virginia Woolf is an excellent narrator; she achieves to present the characters’ heads and hearts with the same shadows as one himself does. A whole day introduces the  life of the main characters by showing just the necessary. There is nothing completely sure about themselves, about their longings or desires, just as they are not completely aware of them. But we know real people and we are able to engage with them in the most human sense. Woolf is a master of human heart and she shows and hides as the heart itself does in our lives.

‘Absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness, this life’. Mrs Dalloway