Thursday, April 29, 2010
I find the second issue of their piece much more relevant and in need of examination. Particularly in some of our presentations, there is a general assumption that certain stereotypes about women, non-white races, and other subjugated groups exist because of their subjugation. However, many of these stereotypes are not grounded in “a direct encounter with its object”, also known as the text (Knapp 737). Here, they see the danger of the practice of theorizing about a subject that may not exist exactly in their framework. When I read this, I hear a call to ground theory, whether that is the original constructions, the deconstructions, the explorations, and the arguments, in the texts. If there are any “practical consequences” of such an examination of theory, it is to make sure what we theorize about is tangible in the language of a text (738).
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The “Against Theory” article was interesting, but as I began to think about how the duo of Mr. Knapp and Mr. Michaels were analyzing the use of theory, I realized they were using theory to breakdown theory. Knapp and Michaels use post-structuralist theory to breakdown critical theory in general. By using post-structuralist theory, Knapp and Michaels are deconstructing the signs of authorial and speaker’s intent by saying what is perceived by the reader or listener isn’t always what the author or speaker intended, breaking the binary of how to read texts based on authorial or speaker’s intent. They seem to be using theory, breaking the binary of intent to interpretation, to disrupt the current literary theory movement, but by the end of the article Knapp and Michaels are claiming the two are inseparable. By claiming they are inseparable, the two authors are forcing the binary of “practice and theory”, which despite objections by the duo, is essentially their final conclusion.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Blue's performance, as well, transcends a specific categorization in terms of gender. Blue's movements onstage were dance-like and almost sexual in the way. He would dance around other characters, invisible to them, as if floating and in an almost sexual manner. Sometimes before becoming involved in a scene, he could be seen off to the side or near the structure that inhabited the middle of the stage lying on the ground or crawling in an almost erotic, lustful manner. In scenes with Prospero, he would contort his body in various, but not unnatural, ways, and sometimes sensually touching Prospero while delivering the lines in a manner that was entrancing. The way Blue spoke Ariel's lines was almost like singing. His tones were very seductive and were never given in a deep, masculine manner, but also not in a completely effeminate manner. Though he is a spirit and this performance could be portraying that, the spirit came from some individual and was at least once classified as have a gender. Jamie Blue's performance blurred the lines of gender in the play, and I see it as being apt in a time where usual gender and sexuality classification binaries such as male-female, heterosexual-homosexual have become less useful.
The entire purpose of the tempest, according to Prospero at least, was to find someone for Miranda to marry. Within the context of the time the play was written, a heterosexual relationship would have been the norm. However, Shakespeare puts Stephano and Trinculo’ relationship into a comedic light. I think this is his way of subtly exposing homosexuality to his audience in a manner that would not get him censored. To bring homosexuality up in a humorous light might seem insulting, but Shakespeare does bring it up.
Monday, April 26, 2010
I have never read nor seen the play “The Tempest”. The play took place a week early for the C&T reading, but, regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed the way Dr. Cherry played Prospero. The comic undertone of most scenes companied with the obvious colonial analysis, seen in Prospero’s control over most of the characters, made for an excellent story. At no time was Prospero not in control of the entire island, even the natives Ariel and Caliban. I cannot help noticing the mystical control Prospero possesses over his daughter. Miranda had next to no freedom in the play, and even her final love seemed to be a tool of her father’s mystical control. There are no other women in the play, and the one that is, is trapped. Interestingly enough, Shakespeare takes Miranda’s lack of freedom further by making her appear, at least as portrayed in this production, as clueless and submissive. I think Shakespeare is assessing the state of women in British society at the time by using painting women in this light.
Shakespeare, being a product of his time, is not usually regarded as a feminist writer. Nor would I know exactly how he would respond to a feminist production of one of his plays, especially his swan-song, The Tempest. Wabash College, though, has taught me that an author is more than likely the least helpful source for information on a text or work of literature. This is certainly applicable to our production of The Tempest, a production where the main female character, in fact the only female character, is given strength Shakespeare may not have intended.
Briefly, The Tempest is Shakespeare’s last known full work; it falls into the genre of a Romantic play, that is a sprawling journey with a story arc to match that of his comedies, usually ending in marriage and resolution of an otherwise convoluted plot. The Tempest certainly does have a convoluted plot and also ends in marriage, or at least the promising of marriage. Prospero, the main character, was driven from his Dukedom of Milan by his brother. He ended up on an island and plotted revenge through the aid of his sorcery for twelve years before divine circumstance allowed him to actually follow through with it. His revenge is a complicated one, so I won’t focus on it specifically, but what is important is that Prospero could be read as an angry character, overwhelmed with a desire to set the world right again by regaining his Dukedom.
One of the main players and assistants in his revenge is his young daughter Miranda. When reading the text, she can be seen as another pawn in his game. He sets her up to marry Ferdinand, heir to Naples and thus establishes a dynasty for his name. Wabash’s production, though, makes her out to be a much more forceful character. Their relationship is very close, and Miranda has power over her father. This is most evident in the opening scene when she criticizes the storm her father is making. She uses words such as “beg” and “plead” to get him to stop. When reading the text, she was a much more passive character, but Wabash plays these lines like commands instead. She is given power over the most powerful character in the play.
Also, her love for Ferdinand is played not like a strategic maneuver, but instead as true love. Miranda was only three years old when she first arrived at the island, and because of that doesn’t know what other men look like. The play is a positive discovery of mankind in her regard. She refers to the world in very positive terms, “What a brave new world!” is her most famous quote. In the Wabash production she helps Ferdinand carry the burdens her father has set on him, she is a force to be reckoned with, not just a passive female as may have been the intention. She is stubborn and intent on pursuing her own happiness, not a happiness set upon her by anyone else.
After reading the Tempest last year in C&T, I like most of my classmates, recognized Prospero’s oppressive nature to be a central theme. However, upon seeing the great performance here at Wabash, these themes were brought to life and offered up a fresh perspective into this topic. Watching the play with post-colonial theory in mind, I could not help but notice the similar, yet very different characteristics and portrayals of Ariel and Caliban. Both natives of the island, Ariel and Caliban have been ‘colonized’ by Prospero, as they remain oppressed by his magic. Still, this colonization comes to light through Ariel and Caliban’s submissive and opposing relationship with Prospero. In debt to his gratitude, Ariel who represents a figure of beauty must remain enslaved to Prospero. But what struck me about Ariel is that while a slave, he remains swift, graceful, and dreamlike. Presumably, we know nothing about what degree of education or language Ariel possess, however, he is able to coarse people to sleep with song. At first glance, Ariel appears to be the abiding and passive servant to Prospero’s oppression. Caliban on the other hand, represents the apathetic and rebellious outcome of Prospero’s colonization. Simply looking at the dress of the two should in a way signify the distinct ‘otherness’ of the two slaves. Dressed in rags, Caliban lives in the ground and walks and talks in the most unfashionable of ways. Ariel serves for a purpose to Prospero, but Caliban seems to represent a mere child-like figure. Basically saying stay out of my way, Prospero designates Caliban to complete the most basic and mundane of tasks. Like that of a child, Caliban also lacks any sense of self-control. This is evident throughout his interactions with Miranda and his obsessive desire to constantly drink wine. In other words, both Ariel and Caliban are natives of the same land and remain disillusioned by Prospero’s magic. However, their submissive attitudes remain at opposing ends, which is demonstrated through Prospero’s colonization and treatment of both.
The Women also reminded me of a recent reading in C&T, this one by feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir. In The Second Sex, she talked about how the efforts of women to attain equality were hampered by class and racial differences between women. It was impossible to forge a "women's" movement because upper-class women identified more closely with upper-class men than with lower-class women. This was evident in the play, as well. Even without a single male actor on stage (except for Jim Amidon's introduction and the stage-hands), the class distinctions that separate women were very apparent. The main characters are all quite wealthy—most in fact have money independent of their husbands'. On the other hand, most of the supporting characters are poor, usually acting in some serving capacity to their wealthier employers. These two classes rarely interact on an even level (one exception being where Lucy talks about her love life with the Countess).The only woman who defies this class-split is Crystal, who is not only the most vile character in the play (I don't believe I'll ever look at Dr. Benedicks the same way again), but is often ridiculed as "common" by the upper-class characters. They despise her for breaching their class barriers as much as for her lecherous behavior.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
As much as I liked and appreciated Sloop’s lecture and article, I could not help but wonder “so what?” Sloop gathers discourse, but does not form an opinion on the material that he collects, which, for me, leaves many questions unanswered. Going into the Caster Semenya I had many thoughts about who defines gender, even in athletic settings, but when leaving the lecture, as informational as it was, I had the same questions. I think the reason that the group was never able to discuss the “What Lips These Lips Have Kissed” article is testament to the unanswered questions the group had. In the academic medium, opinion, from the critical theory we in English 397 have studied, seems to be imperative and obligatory, yet Sloop offers none. I have tried to consider reasons objectivity being advantageous, but critical theory class has taught me to be critical. And so, I suppose I fail to see the importance of objectifying the discourse, so, any input to enlighten my ignorance would be greatly appreciated.
Dr. Sloop’s lecture on Caster Semenya and the notion of gender was a topic filled with much insight and understanding. As an avid sports fan, I found this topic particularly interesting as it provided a look into sports that I was previously unfamiliar with. Currently studying the discourse surrounding Caster Semenya, Dr. Sloop labeled this time as a “moment in time where gender is being done and undone.” For some reason, this struck me with great interest and stuck with me throughout his lecture. Dr. Sloop is a discourse analysis, where in Semenya’s case, looks at the communication that is created by winning a certain track and field medal. But in looking at this discourse, I feel that Dr. Sloop missed one American sport worthy of similar discussion. Women’s professional bodybuilding is something that I am quite unfamiliar with. But having listened to Dr. Sloop both in class and during the lecture, I could not help but draw simple comparisons. At face value, we have women here in America trying to create a physique like that of a man. On the contrary, Caster Semenya has had to fight to defend her sexuality as a woman on all fronts. When looking at Semenya, Dr. Sloop studied three specific discourses: sex and gender, hermaphrodite, and masculinity. Each piece of discourse placed Semenya in a specific category through interpretations of specific signifiers. Still, as researched by Dr. Sloop, these signifiers remained somewhat consistent in examining Caster’s tall-boyish physique, her deep voice, and overall manly appearance. However, it is these exact signifiers that I feel apply directly to professional women bodybuilders. For instance, in the magazine photo of Semenya, she clearly defines herself as a female. Still, despite her dress and beautification, many critics challenge this by examining her physical stature and physique. But I would like to ask these critics to look at the latest muscle magazine that shows the physique of any professional women’s bodybuilder. In both cases we have women challenging stereotypical roles of gender, however, for professional bodybuilders they consciously choose to do so. While for Caster, she must suffer from biological imperfections. So I guess my question for Dr. Sloop would be to ask, why not first look on a domestic level for similar scenarios? The women’s sport of professional bodybuilding seems to encompass many of the same themes found within the discourse surrounding Semenya. Personally, I feel like there is a lack of discourse surrounding women’s bodybuilding and that something could be said for this. Why is it socially acceptable for American women to challenge roles of gender, while Semenya and others must face the scrutiny of cultures worldwide?
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Caster is a controversial icon because she COULD look like a woman (as the magazine Sloop showed us) but chooses not to. She could potentially adhere to what is considered pretty for her sex, but instead obscures the line of what we consider to be a physically perceived sex. I think if she were incapable of the "transformation" of sex-transferrence, this would not be an issue. A woman who is homely and also resembles a man would not be criticized because she can look no other way. While Caster may or may not fit into that category, she is expected by hegemonic culture to do the best she can in appropriating her look to fit their neat binaries of sexual appearance.
Stereotypes, Institutions, and the Observer: My reactions to Dr. Sloop's lecture and discussion on Caster Semenya
Dr. Sloop opened up to me what many observers—intelligent and knowledgeable in their own rights—were doing by basing their judgments of Semenya by her visual attributes: they don’t realize they attempt to define gender. When Dr. Sloop said, “We are all performing drag now,” it made me see that even in your own sweat and grit often seen on the track, with the race on most competitors and fans’ minds, judgments are made subconsciously about gender. A casual observer can note fairly quickly any difference in their perceived stereotypes of gender, especially if such differences are radical. I think that was part of Dr. Sloop’s point: identity change, whatever it is, is always radical to someone. As he said in his discussion, if the definition of male & female goes far enough, then we all can be considered unisex/intersex in some way. Semenya’s particular case involving the polarizing IAAF—done not necessarily out of malice or ill will—shows that such stereotypes reflect in many of the institutions we take for granted today.
As for Wabash as one of those institutions…I’ll let someone else write about that.
In fact, it seems like the last thing Sloop tries to do is get an accurate reading of the feelings of the American public. Giving a quote from "Robert Knight, director of the rightwing Culture and Family Institute" hardly gives his readers an objective standpoint (2). Of course Robert Knight will find this activity threatening! Wasn't it just a few years ago that James Dobson of Focus on the Family felt threatened by Spongebob Squarpants for the same reason? None of these views are representative of my views or the views of the vast majority of Americans. The closest thing he gets to a "poll" would be the 100 or so letters he samples from the Post-Dispatch controversy (16). Of course, any statistician knows that voluntary response bias makes these results entirely unreliable. Whenever you give a "sample" the option to respond, there is an overwhelming tendency for those with highly negative opinions to respond. Those readers of the Dispatch who have neutral or positive feelings will rarely take the time to express their opinions. Thus, when Sloop says, "Post-Dispatch readers understand or interpret the photograph [of a married gay couple kissing] as immoral," I find it strange that he does not qualify these statements as merely examples—and highly unreliable ones at that (18).
Much of what Sloop argues is undoubtedly accurate, but I would have liked this article far better had he been more careful to qualify his statements. Perhaps he could have said that queer public kissing is disruptive to some people, or to a certain segment of society. It may have made his article sound less impressive, but I think it would have made it more accurate.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The word "indigenous" was unmentionable. Yet some of the buildings, dating from the colonial period, were impressive - the Cathedral; the Opera House; stone memorials of a past to which few, if any, of us had contributed though, since I was of Indian extraction, I suffered the ironic knowledge that my forefathers had anointed the foundations of the state with a good deal of their blood (16).Desiderio plainly states how the establishment of the city negatively effected the indigenous peoples. Stating that the foundations were "anointed. . .with a good deal of their[Indian] blood," Desiderio conjures images and scenarios of explorers and settlers wantonly killing confused "savages" for land, entire villages struck dead by viruses and diseases from lack of immunity, and forced Indian labor in constructing that same Cathedral on Opera house described as being so "impressive." It is all the more condemning to think of the chief religious structure and meeting place and the nexus of entertainment for the city as being built as a result of many innocent deaths. By indicating that indigenous is an unmentionable word, one can see that this is because of either guilt because of the settlers slaughtering of the natives or because of fear of the Indians, either for retaliation or from misunderstandings originating from the very first days of contact. Desiderio himself is a product of colonialism. His mother was forced to seel her body to survive in white culture and his father was an unknown white man. The effects of his "disinheritance" coalesce in what keeps him safe from the machines of Dr. Hoffman. Could he not realize his disadvantage and see how his own people were treated, yet not being one with those people, he wouldn't have had the sardonic and indifferent attitude that helped him become the savior of the city.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
The People on the River: Post-colonialism and Angela Carter's "The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman"
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Carter’s language surrounding the gallery in the peep show exhibiting “a man and a woman conducting sexual congress” seem to remark on the suppressed sexual freedoms/hampered desires of humans due the fear to deviate from the social norm. The hegemonic, heterosexual majority oppresses others’ sexual freedom by adhering to and normalizing the belief that all human relationship’s foremost concern is passing on their genetic material. Desiderio pities this copulating couple commenting that they “were not so much erotic as pathetic, poor palmers of desire who never budged as much as an inch on their endless pilgrimage.” Palmer, referring to a medieval, Christian pilgrim who wore palm leaves as proof of a visit to the Holy Land denotes that religion is one of the main components of that hegemony. It is an oppression which limits the possibility of sexual exploration as a morally or socially valid means of establishing an identity. The man in this couple seems to the one most without an identity. The woman, is fulfilling the role of sexual exhibitionist therefore she openly displays her delight in orgasm, but the man’s is hidden within woman’s neck. This seems to suggest that males are more oppressed than females in not only exposing their bodies, but in adhering to the heterosexual norm. I attribute this to the fact that male homosexuality is more heavily ridiculed than female homosexuality. The less resistance that female homosexuals are subjected to is due to the trend of females as the preferred sexual objects. This beneficial (though unjust) prejudice has allowed women to be more graciously accepted as homosexuals than men.
“…Aoi was only nine years old, I thought there would be a long period of betrothal but everyone assured me she had reached puberty and offered me visual proof if I did not believe them. So I abandoned the last vestiges of my shore-folk squeamishness and Nao-Kurai fixed the date of my wedding for a few weeks ahead.” (81)
This excerpt from Angela Carters “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman” explores the institution of marriage and its adoption in two opposing cultures. Here, the river people offer Desiderio a wife named Aoi, who is merely nine years old. Ignoring her young age and intellectual maturity, the river people regard Aoi’s physical stature as the necessary means for marriage. With this, readers sense the oppression that is felt by women throughout the novel, as men here are responsible for organizing all marriage proceedings. Somewhat doubtful and shocked by the idea, Desiderio states that, “she was only nine years old” and thought that “there would be a long period of betrothal.” Once again Desiderio acknowledges the immaturity of Aoi, however, he questions this by imaging a long period of engagement. Desiderio recognizes her young age, and naturally believed in a “long period” of development. Still, these doubts are laid to rest as Desiderio is reassured of Aoi’s physical maturity with the threat of “visual proof.” Ultimately, Desiderio “abandoned” what little doubt was left to accept and set the date of his wedding. Finally signifying the tension between two combining cultures and the institution of marriage.
Desiderio undergoes a similar experience, yet in many ways opposite to what we understand and experience in normal life. While we are used to looking in mirrors and often times judging something about ourselves based on the reflection, Desiderio never had seen a complete reflection of himself because the Minister broke all the mirrors around him “because of the lawless images they were disseminating” (12). Desiderio had grown not to judge himself because the only reflections he could see were fragments of his physical self; in other words, the broken mirrors left our hero with a broken picture of himself he had learned to disregard.
When Desiderio encounters complete, whole mirrors filled with the sexually desiring eyes of the Acrobats of Desire, he succumbs to the agony of judgment. Never before viewing himself wholly, he now sees “eighteen and sometimes twenty-seven and, at one time, thirty-six brilliant eyes” repeated by the mirror’s own reflections (117). He compares his judgment not to his own experiences, but to the judgment of Saint Sebastian because he, unlike the modern reader, has no experience judging himself from a mirror’s reflection. Unlike the students who expect to judge appearance when they see their reflections, Desiderio expects nothing from his own experiences (for he has none with unbroken mirrors) and instead assumes condemnation like Saint Sebastian. “Stuck through with the visible barbed beams from brown, translucent eyes”, Desiderio becomes paralyzed temporarily before the Acrobats’ rape (117).
In The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, there are many strong elements of feminism. A particular scene that stands out is when Desiderio and Albertina get lost in Nebulous Time and meat the centaurs. The centaurs are baffled by the appearance of these “two legged” horses. This almost innocent curiosity causes them leads one to stick three fingers in Albertina’s vagina. They are surprised by her animated response which, for some reason, encouraged the entire male herd to penetrate her one by one in a scene of horrific rape. They were entirely unaware of what they were doing, but their actions seemed purely natural. The females took care of Desiderio, however, his experience was one of great physical pleasure. They didn’t harm him. The females simply caressed his sensitive parts putting him in physical ecstasy right where Albertina had suffered so traumatically. Desiderio interestingly points out that it is the centaur belief that it is the fate of women to experience constant suffering. All of the women in the House of Anonymity experience a similar fate. The women are caged as beasts used only for the most abstract sexual pleasures. One woman stands in the cage as a full human, meaning she doesn’t have the animal parts that others do, but she is covered with fresh wounds. This is an explicit statement of the sexual abuse women face by the brutality of man. This idea is further exposed in the peep-show. Women are only used to serve men’s sexual desires and fantasies. There is no sign of love or equality, just lust. We see the effects that this lust has on men through Desiderio. He constantly tries to have sex with Albertina and after being rejected so many times he strikes the woman that he loves with all his soul, thus further demonstrating the power of love and lust. This probably also shows the physical difference that leads to man’s abuse of women’s sexual roles. Angel Carter appears to be exploiting this idea throughout the premise of her novel.
Postcolonial Reading of Angela Carter's "River People" in "The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman"
The presence of the Jesuits on the island was a one sided deal. The Indians were “sweet-natured and eager to please” and this would only lead to one thing, oppressor and the oppressed relationship between the natives and the Jesuits. A common term in postcolonial studies is “the other”, which refers to the unfamiliar or unexplainable. In this quote, Carter writes “the Jesuits decided the Indians had not a single soul…” The word that stands out in this excerpt is “decided”. The Jesuits had no idea of the native’s beliefs or ideals about live or the after-life. They simply “decided” the Indians were soul-less beings and as a result killed off many of them. The Jesuits looked at the Indians as a group of unfamiliar beings, the simple dichotomy in the names Jesuits and Indians shows the separation between the two groups and this separation between the two lead to the demise of the original river people and the begin of a hybrid group of people whose entire beings are built upon European presence.
“These tattoos were designed as a whole and covered the back and both arms down as far as the forearms; and the middle of the chest, the upper abdomen and the throat and face were all left bare on the males though the womenfolk were tattooed all over, even their faces, in order to cause them more suffering, for they believed that women were born only to suffer” (172).
The tattoos were the way the males in the centaur society put the women in their place. The tattoos represented the traditional woman roles in the society, and by noting the pain that the tattoos caused we know that the women were meant to suffer. This coupled with the gruesome rape of Albertina and Desiderio’s pleasure allowed by the centaurs further advances the notion that the centaurs were a male-based society. What is interesting is that Carter writes this male-based society as very animalistic. The centaur is half man half beast, and the only events that occur around the centaurs are sexual or painful in nature. By making the interaction with these half-men be very instinctual Carter seems to be almost poking fun at traditional manliness by taking the nature of men to an extreme to show their oppressive ways.
Duffy’s association with the Irish Socialist Party was Duffy’s way of getting involved in the political world. The socialists would have advocated massive social and governmental reforms. Duffy being apart of this group makes sense because if he were a closeted gay man he would affiliate himself with a party that would seek the greatest amount of social change, considering the negative opinion of gays at this point in time. The fact that he discontinued attending meetings because the workers were too concerned with their wages instead of social issues is evidence of his hope for change.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
An individual reading this passage describing the centaur civilization in Carter’s book could easily do so with a feminist analysis. The fact that it is a male-dominated society is explicit even though the evidence is just this small passage. The male centaurs are tattooed to enhance their aesthetic beauty while the females are tattooed excessively to cause extra pain because suffering is the “woman’s place” in society. Also, by making such a harsh distinction between male and female, the female is put into the group of “the other” because “they believed that women were born to suffer”. They are distinguished physically by their tattoos and their genders roles are distinguished by the relative amount of pain their tattoos cause.