Monday, May 17, 2010

Final - Feminism - The Original Sin

Catherine Foley

Dr. Wexler

English 638

14 May 2010
The Good, The Bad, and the Innocent: Outing Milton the Feminist

Despite religion’s efforts to classify Eve’s Fall as disobedience, closer scrutiny reveals that
her choice to ignore the dictates of a patriarchal ruler should be defined as the first act o Feminism. Ever since the “second wave of feminism,” there has been a penchant to analyze the literary canon with revisionist lenses. Initially, the charged atmosphere seemed to reverberate with echoes of the radical cry from the 1960s: ”Down with the man!”. Feminists may have been taking this too literally, since the synecdoche “The man” signifies the mainstream: political bureaucracy, big business and Big Brother. This does not deny that the literary canon did not consist of and was not established by men; however, in their eagerness to bring about change, feminist critics narrowed the lens through which they evaluated the literature. The stalwart classics and their authors were summarily dismissed as a part of the patriarchal hierarchy, rather than examined for their value and content. In addition, there was no consideration given to the era or genre in which they were composed. The “man”, in the literary sense, became men. The word misogynist got bandied about, and authors were tarnished and discredited. The Salem Witch Trials had come to Academia.

One of the primary targets of feminists has been John Milton. In 1980 Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar published their work, “The Madwoman in the Attic,” and with one short phrase, “Milton, despite his undeniable misogyny,” they labeled and libeled the poet (Gilbert 814). Their reputations were erected on the skeletal remains of the former literary giants, and many feminist critics jumped on the bandwagon to condemn Milton’s treatment of Eve in his epic poem Paradise Lost. However, in their exposition of the poem, most adversarial critics gazed through a lens that was colored by their own personal agenda. The purpose of this paper is to provide a dialogical discourse between the feminist and post feminist perspectives as a refutation to the criticism of Gilbert and Gubar. In this way, Milton will be recognized as one who takes a progressive outlook and situates himself in the feminist movement well before its formal existence. I will prove that Milton paints Eve as the heroic figure in Paradise Lost, and that her heroism is attained in part by her uprising against the control of a patriarchal God.

Ironically, these same critics who so quickly condemned Milton are now being judged in reference to their analysis of his work, since it “affords a valuable perspective on the history of reading and of interpretation, and what was allowably said of this poem, or …on what was being sidestepped or silenced” (Wittreich 503). “The Madwoman in the Attic” closes with the position that women authors in the eighteenth century were to be praised for the role that they had taken in rebellion against the female stereotypes set forth by a patriarchy. However, what the authors ignore and disregard, and who have no story for them are the supporters of Milton in the seventeenth century. Milton was immensely popular with female readership during his lifetime. He was widely read by young and old, rich and poor. Often, what is lost in contemporary criticism is the audience to which Milton was immediately accessible: the early modern English readership. Barbara Lewalski, who has devoted her studies to Milton, writes that the second wave of feminism has done the world a tremendous service by helping to uncover the writings by women that were ‘lost’ or disregarded until that time. However, Gilbert and Gubar make no mention of the reaction from those who were Milton’s contemporaries. In Milton, many who stood for women’s rights found not an antagonist, but a sympathizer and a compatriot. In contradiction to the belief that women authors were completely repressed during Milton’s age, there was an active outcry of feminists in response to a pejorative pamphlet written by Joseph Swetnam. After the publication of The Araignment of Leud, idle, froward, and unconstant women by Swetnam, female writers countered by overt and explicit retaliation in print. Authors who wrote under pen names, such as Constantia Munda,, Ester Sowerman and Rachel Speght, voiced their responses in pamphlets that responded to the accusation that women were inferior to men, alluding to the creation of woman from Adam‘s rib. Milton, who never backed away from controversial issues, would have been aware of this contention, and he would have relished using his epic as a way to enter the arena of debate. Although many men may have agreed with Swetnam, Milton would have taken the route that was less traveled and refrained from custom or tradition.

Diane McColley recognizes the allure and motivation in condemning or condoning Milton in print: “One measure of the power of Milton’s poetry is that readers so often either love it or hate it, and that those who hate it nevertheless go on writing about it” (McColley 147). For centuries, the tide of acceptance and abhorrence has ebbed and flowed in shifting patterns. The work of Milton in Paradise Lost is heady, esoteric, and paradoxical. This technique is typical of the Renaissance writers who use the Bible as their paradigm. Authors intentionally include statements and ideas that are contradictory; their mission is to have the reader use powers of reason to discern “the truth” contained within (Pruitt). Without fully evaluating the sources on which Milton draws, the truth is difficult, if not impossible, to discern. Although he leans heavily on the ideology that had been previously published in his political, educational, and sociological treatises, Milton creates a pastiche from Greek and Roman myth, the Torah, the Christian Bible, his own prose, and revolutionary flights of fancy. Paradise Lost is also recognized as incorporating the views of St. Augustine, but Gilbert and Gubar find fault with this. Subsequently, they define Milton as one who is “descending from Patristic misogynists like Tertullian and St. Augustine” (Gilbert 821). They provide no clarification to indicate what part of Augustine’s theological position they are referencing. However, by pairing St. Augustine and Tertullian together, the assumption is that the reference alludes to the controversy over the source matter for creation. Here, Milton actually turns away from the theology of Tertullian and Augustine, creatio ex nihilo, and favors that of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Cambridge Platonists, creatio ex Deo (Campbell 108). Since the critique does not clarify the exact exegesis to which they refer, the reader must make an assumption in order to confirm or reject this position. The authors are remiss in not elaborating on their position.

St. Augustine does have clearly defined statements on the culpability in the Fall. The importance in St. Augustine’s interpretation of the events in the Fall stem from his theological analysis of Adam’s motivation. According to Augustine, Adam falls from his own choice, not by deception. Some have painted the deception of Eve as the worse possible scenario; however, it is the intent of Adam that condemns his action, even more than the act itself. When Adam consciously decides to disobey God‘s directive, he makes a deliberate choice to remain with Eve. Adam does not fall; he leaps. Milton uses God’s words to express his own sentiments that original sin is repairable for man, but that God remains intolerant of Satan and his cohorts: “they themselves ordained their Fall./ The first sort by their own suggestion fell /Self-tempted, self-depraved. Man falls deceived /By th‘other first: Man therefore shall find grace, The other none” (III.128-132). The defining difference between mankind and Satan exists because Satan has the intention of sinning, not through deception. Man is only forgiven for the Fall because of the deception. However, this can only relate to Eve, since she is the one deceived, and St. Augustine clearly states this premise, “Adam transgressed the law of God, not because he was deceived into believing that the lie was true, but because in obedience to a social compulsion he yielded to Eve, as husband to wife, as the only man in the world to the only woman. Adam was not deceived but the woman was deceived” (Chambers 121). Therefore, mankind is saved from eternal punishment because Adam and Eve are sentenced as a couple. “Deceive by Satan, Eve eats of the forbidden fruit in the mistaken belief that her action is right;” she saves Adam from eternal damnation, since to sin by deception is not as egregious as deliberate and premeditated disobedience (Chambers 118). In a sense, Adam is given a free ride on the Eve’s coattails, .
Eve may fall by deception, but what is clear to her is her goal: increased knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge, as Milton makes it clear from his own experiences as well as his writings, is noble and praiseworthy. As Milton’s imaginative extrapolation asserts, Eve is allowed to emerge as the savior of man and thus, mankind. However, Eve is willing to sacrifice more for the unborn generations of her progeny. She suggests to Adam that they remain celibate for their lives, and if Adam does not possess the fortitude and strength to follow through, they should commit suicide. In this way, they can deprive Sin and Death of the unlimited amount of souls they hope to conquer in the future. Thus, like God the Son, Eve offers herself as a martyr, a sacrificial lamb in order to deny Satan and his minions. In this flight of fancy, Milton makes it clear who matches his expectations of a hero. There is no escaping the basic framework of the story, Eve must “fall” and God the Son must become incarnate to redeem mankind. However, within this criteria, he portrays Eve as the most admirable character: she is nothing less than heroic.

Many critics of Milton have been discredited by scholars, since they relied on a “maneuver that first disengages the poem from the context of Milton’s prose writings with which it enjoys an elaborate and meaningful intertextuality” (Wittreich 503). For those who have an extensive knowledge of Milton and his works, there is no fair assessment that can be made of his poetry unless it is examined under the auspices of his prose. This concept stands in opposition to Gilbert and Gubar, who state: “male writers traditionally praise the simplicity of the dove, …assertiveness, aggressiveness - all characteristics of a male life of “significant action” - are “monstrous” in women precisely because “unfeminine” and therefore unsuited to a gentle life of “contemplative purity” (Gilber 819). They add to this claim later in the piece when they state that “a life of female rebellion, of ‘significant action’ is a life that must be silenced’” (Gilbert 824). However, Milton does have Eve does rebel, and she does take action. This is a noble trait that Milton has made clear in the Second Defense of the English People. Milton is highly critical of those who fail to take action when the result is an improvement of the situation at hand. Certainly for Eve to engage in an act that would bring her increased knowledge, possibly even put her into an enlightened and altered state of being, would be considered as a positive choice. To fail to act on this opportunity would be a weakness in Milton’s eyes.

When Eve thinks that she, like the serpent, will be elevated in position, it is in part because both she and Adam have already been conditioned to believe this by Raphael. The angel seems to be channeling the thoughts of Milton, who holds the belief that “all creation aspires upward through the orders of being[; c]hange is a goal and a duty. God created mankind to dwell initially on earth” (Creaser 165). This is overtly stated in the poem: ‘Not here [in heaven], till by degrees of merit raised/ They open to themselves at length the way/ Up hither, under long obedience tried, /And earth be changed to heaven, and heaven to earth” (Milton VII. 157-160). Adam and Eve expect that will eventually transcend their present state. In the theory of the Great Chain of Being, one step up, and man becomes angels; two rungs up is God. Eve believes that she will gain knowledge to make her, at the very least, an equal partner to Adam. Since Eve feels that she is not on equal footing with Adam, and she wants that changed. She desires and expects equality as a minimum; she hopes for and anticipates superiority at the best. When Milton incorporates this attitude into his epic, he hearkens back to his stance in The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Milton makes it clear that unless a partner is fit intellectually, the relationship is not idyllic. What Milton also does, simultaneously, is to make the same argument that feminists, such as Gilbert and Gubar make: when the minority or “the other” is positioned into a placement of inferiority and/or subjugation, they will desire equality and ultimately they will rebel. However, the feminists fall into the trap that many have succumbed to, “Milton’s image of the Garden of Paradise and his presentation of the State of Innocence have proved especially susceptible to unconscious distortion” (Lewalski 86).

Part of the reason that Eve partakes in the fruit is that her identity is based on her feeling that she is inferior to Adam. This attribute also exemplifies a crucial difference between Eve and Satan. Satan is horrified at the suggestion of change. This is an underlying factor in his continued degradation and degeneration throughout the text. He emerges as a paradox. who is “the poem’s most dynamic character and yet throughout shows himself to be trapped in his rigidity of pride. Indeed, much of his dramatic power comes from the conflict between his capacity for change and his insistence on fixity” (Creaser 162). In contrast, Eve gives voice to the fact that she relishes the changes she sees in nature: “All seasons and their change, all please alike” (IV. 640).

Eve may feel as though she is not on par with Adam, but Milton supports her equality through Adam’s request to God for a companion. To show that woman is the equal of man, not his inferior, Milton creates a dialogue between Adam and God. When Adam asks for a companion, Adam makes it clear that he wants an equal: “Among unequals what society /Can sort, what harmony or true delight?/ Which must be mutual, in proportion due/Given and received; but, in disparity/ The one intense, the other still remiss/ Cannot well suit with either, but soon prove/ Tedious alike: of fellowship I speak /Such as I seek, fit to participate all rational delight…(VIII. 383-391). Milton’s “Eden is an opportunity to grow in wisdom, virtue, and perfection, and normally Adam and Eve must take the initiative interpreting what happens to them and in seeking new knowledge and experience. Normally, too, they respond to a new situation by one or two false starts” (Lewalski 101). Strangely, the omnipotent God gives Eve only one chance in her direct confrontation with Satan, even though both Adam and Eve have exhibited that they seldom succeed the first time. Eve mistakes her own reflection for another entity; Adam tries to talk to the animals, and he does not understand the relationship between Eden and the universe. A misconception that his more dire circumstances is his interpretation of Eve’s dream.

Adam is not the only one who suffers from confusion. Adam clarifies statements that Raphael has misunderstood. When Raphael suggests that Adam is only attracted by Eve’s beauty, Adam is quick to correct this false impression. An inconsistency has been pointed out by Mary Wollstonecraft, where she first condemns Milton for having Eve say, “ My author and Disposer, what thou bidst/ Unargued I obey, so God ordains; God is thy law, thou mine; to know no more/ Is Woman’s happiest knowledge and her praise,” and then citing the speech of Adam that is quoted above. (Wollstonecraft 587). However, the difference of the Eve who makes the statement cited, and the Eve who longs for intellectual equality and takes agency to have this occur have undergone a growth period. Wollstonecraft is right in this inconsistency, but she fails to take into account that Eve, though born a woman is but a newborn. The reader sees the growth of Eve throughout the text. Her development is the epitome of bildungsroman. To borrow Gilbert and Gubar’s allusion, she has been seeing “through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now [she knows] in part; but then shall [she] know even as also [she is] known (I Corinthians 13:12). At the moment when Eve decides to eat of the fruit, she has looked into the looking glass clearly. She has come to terms with her own sense of identity, and she sees herself as strong and capable. She thinks ahead to the consequences and devises a plan of action. Milton does not feel he created a monster when Eve eats the apple. This is supported by William Empson, when he quotes E.M.W. Tillyard with the insight that “if Milton had been in the Garden, he would have eaten the apple at once and written a pamphlet to prove that it was his duty”( Empson 172).

However, what is just as important as what she does is to whom is Eve, according to Milton, being rebellious. This God has been suggested by authors such as William Empson in Milton’s God and Michael Bryson in Tyranny in Heaven. In the latter work, Bryson suggests that Milton’s ‘great task-master’ is not a figure of unconditional love, but is, rather, a maker of demands, a setter of standards, a white-gloved inspector looking for dust in the corners of his creatures’ souls. Such a God must be dealt with, accounted for, and struggled with, but he is not a figure who inspires love, loyalty, or even admiration. A God imagined as a ‘task-master is to be feared” (Bryson 12).
This is reminiscent of the portrait that Gilbert and Gubar paint of Milton. They suggest that he is dogmatic and relentless in his willingness to subjugate women. God, however, carries no such gender discrimination. Milton paints a very different image of prelapsarian Eden than most artists. Rather than draw an image of Adam and Eve at the moment of the Fall, Milton shows them as industrious, working side by side. Both are required to perform certain tasks each day in order to keep the vegetation trimmed. There is an irony to this scenario: God seems to put artificial constraints on everything and everyone. Nothing seems to be able to grow to its own maximum potential without violating the perimeters/parameters that God has ordained. It has been questioned how Satan is able to violate the defenses God has put into place, and the question of predestination or actually adhering to God’s plan, rather than rebelling against it, is the main factor in the actions that take place in the Garden. Leon Howard makes a connection between the principals in the scenario:
The summary of this analysis of the operation of the efficient cause in the major argument of Paradise Lost is by no means complete, but sufficient to show that each of the characters in the drama of man’s first disobedience occupies a role of deception set forth in Milton’s conception of that cause as set forth in his Art of Logic. God is the remote first cause, who moves so mysterious way that human reason can find a force for teaching only in those more approximate causes with which he works. Adam, impelled by a deficience of nature within him, was the principal cause of “all our woe.” Eve provided the occasion of his first disobedience. And Satan was the instrument by which the catastrophe was brought about (Howard).

Although he provides a road map that makes an argument for the complicity of God as an active participant in the events that unfold, the point is that Eve takes agency in her attempt to excel and find fulfillment, thus she should be praised. Needless to say, the first cause in the epic is Milton, and it is ultimately Milton who makes the decision about how he fills in the gaps of the creation story he relates. He chooses to make Eve as the hero. Richard Ohmann claims that devising a canon of literature always entails a “struggle for dominance” based on “cultural hegemony” (Ohmann 1880). To exclude Milton from serious and impartial consideration is to privilege some works over others as a emblem of power, rather than discernment. Milton, who consistently addressed the insidious dangers of tyranny would be amused to see that he is, through his work, still embroiled in the same battle.

Works Cited

Cambell, Gordon. Milton and the Manuscript of De Docterina Christiana. New York:

Oxford UP, 2007.

Chambers, A.B. “The Falls of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost.” New Essays on Paradise Lost.

Ed. Thomas Kranidas. Berkeley: U of California P, 1971. 118-131.

Creaser, John. “‘Fear of change‘: Closed Minds and Open Forms in Milton.” Milton Quarterly

42.3 (2008): 161-182.

Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. “The Madwoman in the Attic.” Literary Theory: An

Second Edition. Malden: Blackwell, 2004.

Howard, Leon. “’ The Invention’ of Milton’s ‘Great Argument’: A Study of the Logic of ‘God’s

Ways to Men.’” Huntington Library Quarterly 9.2 (Feb 1946):149-173. Web. JSTOR. 16 May


Lewalski, Barbara Kiefer. “Innocence and Experience in Milton’s Eden.” New Essays on

Paradise Lost
. Ed. Thomas Kranidas. Berkeley: U of California P, 1971. 86-117.

Kolodny, Annette. “Dancing Through the Minefield.” Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. The Norton

Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton, 2001. 2146-2165

McColley, Diane Kelsey. Milton’s Eve. Ed. Timothy C. Miller. Westport: Greenwood, 1997.


Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Gordon Teskey. New York: Norton, 2005

Ohmann, Richard. “Shaping of a Canon: U.S. Fiction, 1960-1975.” Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. The

Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.
New York: Norton, 2001. 1880-1887.

Pruitt, Kristin A. Gender and the Power of Relationship: “united as one individual soul” in

Paradise Lost. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 2003.

Wittreich, Joseph A. “Critiquing the Feminist Critique.” Paradise Lost. Ed. Gordon Teskey.

New York: Norton, 2005.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Preview: The Elephant Man Cometh

This week's post is very different, since the object is to blog about my participation/contribution to the upcoming presentation. The first item that I would like to address is the group itself. Each member of our group brought an attitude of responsibility, cooperation, and enthusiasm to each meeting. We met during class time, but we also met an hour before class for three weeks. One thing was obvious throughout each meeting: this group understood how to work effectively. There were no egos, and every time we met, we brainstormed easily and consistently. In addition, we all did our homework. Each of us worked to secure the movie, so that we could watch it. Larry even bought the play,read it, referenced it during our meetings to help us understand the nuances of difference, and brought it to our Friday night meeting in case there was any way that it could be used. We had arranged to meet the week before, but I needed to cancel, due to an obligation at work that came up unexpectedly.
We met on Friday night before the presentation, and I opened up my home for the occasion. I also brought different videos, as did Tiffany, although I felt very confident about the video that I had previously mentioned to the group. I would rather not mention the video title, since I think the element of surprise will make our presentation more effective.
We all brainstormed, bouncing ideas off each other, inspiring each other. The finished product is a collaborative effort. I know that I am supposed to defend my participation, but I don't feel comfortable singling myself out, since our strength came from the cooperative environment. Many ideas were presented, and many fell by the wayside, but everyone just accepted what was good for the final product.
Early in our meetings, I offered to look up New Historicism, and I ran copies for each of us. However, the readings that we did, as well as our prior knowledge of theory, helped us to decide the direction. I will say that Dylan was our resident theory expert, but we all read in order to try to contribute.
When we watched the videos at my home: we re-watched key scenes that we had all decided were most appropriate for our purposes, compared the videos for continuity, and set up our last meeting. Of course, I don't know how well the presentation will be received, but we left feeling good about the ideas we approved. We decided that we wanted to go back to simplicity and purity of content. We feel that the videos are strong, and the way that we are presenting them seems as though it adds to comprehension and retention of the material.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Madwoman in the Garden - The Irony of the Beginnings of a Final

In both his epic poems, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, John Milton is portrayed by feminist critics to be a misogynist. However, when the character of Eve is taken in light of Milton's major themes throughout his life, the importance of intellectual growth, the importance of liberty over license, and the refusal to assimilate traditional values and norms because they are custom, a different interpretation of Eve's character emerges. In her role as the domestic goddess who maintains the beauty of the nuptial bower while carefully pruning the flora and fauna, Eve does match the "angel" image described bySusan Gilbert and Susan Gubar in "The Madwoman in the Attic." Similarly, in her role as the temptress who seduces Adam not only with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but also with his refusal to give up the sexual pleasure he has enjoyed with her, she is reduced to the "monster."
However, scrutiny of her character shows more than this one-dimensional impression. Milton deviates from traditional religious texts to offer a portrait of a woman who has not had the time to mature into the self-sacrificing and resourcefully brave heroine of his poem. By referencing the beliefs that Milton freely expresses in his prose, where he is unrestricted by the need to re-tell an existing story, it is possible to see that Milton had deliberately painted a positive image of the defamed and maligned feminine role.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Internationality of the Subversion of Women

Some of the readings from last week were familiar, but others were new and different for me. All of them were interesting, but they had a much different feel, a detachment from relevance, since they were read only in relationship to each other and to refresh or glean information. This week, as I read Woman Warrior for the first time, the readings suddenly were grounded by looking at their relationship to literature. The theory and concepts, which had been abstracts, take on true meaning when there is an identity with which to ground them.
I was intrigued by the title of the book, and I thought I had no pre-coneived notions of the subject matter. However, as I started reading, I was quite surprised at the concepts. Of course, it morphs into something very different in subsequent sections. The words of Andalzua kept resonating through my reading. Not even the words, but the emotions to the situation. As a native to the United States, it is difficult to comprehend the culture shock of trying to maintain the familiar - home, family, traditions - while simultaneously trying to incorporate and be accepted into new traditions, language, economics, and laws.
Because of the Asian references and the repeated reference to foot binding, I think that I was immediately reminded of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, as well as Memoirs of a Geisha. However, different cultures have their ways of suppressing women through dress and the ideals of beauty and modesty. Whether they are laced in a corset or shrouded in a burkah or bound at the feet, the message is the same: women are expected to maintain constructed and imposed ideas of what is acceptable for them. Conversely, men are often allowed to adapt to more modern attire while simultaneously demanding "tradition" from their female counterparts. Through all of this, women have been split in their reactions. At times, there are strong alliances and support systems that have emerged, sometimes in spite of the threat of physical and emotional punishment and/or isolation. At other times, this has served as the impetus to alienate women from each other, as opposing camps are set up to subvert or support the system. However, there has also been men who have emerged as ardent and vocal supporters of the lifting of gender boundaries.
In A Thousand Splended Suns, Khaled Hosseini is so impassioned about presenting the case of the plight of the Muslim woman that it is difficult to remember that it is written by a man. The sensitivity with which he notates the actions, thoughts, and emotions of his fictional characters has such authenticity and depth that the reader cannot help but to internalize their plight. There has, for quite a while, been a camaraderie between those who are identified by their "otherness." However, this unity between the disenfranchised or the fringe of mainstream and "the other" does little to change the social dynamics in most of the world. The target keeps shifting, and it almost seems as if we have a need to define ourselves by our reflection of our ideals as well as our identity formed by our separation from "the other."
While our country touts the successes it has made in thinking it has broken the glass ceiling because women now make up more of the work force, or a gay relationship is featured in movies and television, we stop to pat ourselves on the back and bask in the glow of self-congratulations, while little has really changed. If living in a global economy has really changed the way the world in a positive way, has united us, then why do we worry more about being called Ms. instead of Miss or using the term administrative assistant instead of secretary, rather than focusing on a 13-year old who is stoned by 50 men in front of 1,000 witnesses in Somalia for being raped by 3 men. Partisan politics in our own country have closed us off to what a person has to say instead of what his party affiliation is. We fight our own small battles, and take baby steps forward, only to remain paralyzed to take that giant leap. So, what is the solution? I wish I knew. What I do know is the power of the written word, no longer just in diaries and journals and encoded fiction, but in the blatant dissemination of information. Truth and Knowledge are Power, to borrow a concept that is predominant in the theory of Foucault. However, this idea are also inherent and explicitly stated in Andalsua's theory. As long as we subscribe to "predefined concepts that exist as unquestionable, unchallengeable," then we are susceptible to fall prey to travesties of injustice, to the hegemony that allows cultural norms to override an inherent moral base that constitutes ethical treatment of the individual.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rivkin and Ryan and Verse - Oh My!

This poem by May Swenson, entitled "Women" is such a deliciously simple yet insightful commentary on the willingness of women to be subjected to domination. The irony of the word pedestal, with the traditional concept of putting a woman on a pedestal, removed and untouchable, pure and chaste is convoluted to be something that men mount, not just in sexual positioning, but in a domination. The implication that women should be "sweet, painted, and wooden" brings in images of The Stepford Wives.

Women Or they
should be should be
pedestals little horses
moving those wooden
pedestals sweet
moving oldfashioned
to the painted
motions rocking
of men horses

the gladdest things in the toyroom

The feelingly
pegs and then
of their unfeelingly
ears To be
so familiar joyfully
and dear ridden
to the trusting rockingly
fists ridden until
To be chafed the restored

egos dismount and the legs stride away

Immobile willing
sweetlipped to be set
sturdy into motion
and smiling Women
women should be
should always pedestals
be waiting to men

Another of her poems uses the phallic image of the knife and the feminine symbol of blood to reference the menstrual cycle. Again, she has the idea of the mastery of the male persona in the knife, and the woman is the wound. However, this also could be applied to the ideas of "the other" set forth in post-colonialism. In the exploitation of the indigenous populations, the willingness of the oppressed to accommodate the oppressor is contrasted with the interloper insinuating the blame for any sufferings on the victim, the disgust and aversion to looking at the damage that is a by-product of the action, and a failure to accept any culpability, which is all relevant to domination by a "civilized" force.


Stop bleeding said the knife
I would if I could said the cut.
Stop bleeding you make me messy with the blood.
I'm sorry said the cut.
Stop or I will sink in farther said the knife.
Don't said the cut.
The knife did not say it couldn't help it but
it sank in farther.
If only you didn't bleed said the knife I wouldn't
have to do this.
I know said the cut I bleed too easily I hate
that I can't help it I wish I were a knife like
you and didn't have to bleed.
Well meanwhile stop bleeding will you said the knife.
Yes you are a mess and sinking in deeper said the cut I
will have to stop.
Have you stopped by now said the knife.
I've almost stopped I think.
Why must you bleed in the first place said the knife.
For the same reason maybe that you must do what you
must do said the cut.
I can't stand bleeding said the knife and sank in farther.
I hate it too said the cut I know it isn't you it's
me you're lucky to be a knife you ought to be glad about that.
Too many cuts around said the knife they're
messy I don't know how they stand themselves.
They don't said the cut.
You're bleeding again.
No I've stopped said the cut see you are coming out now the
blood is drying it will rub off you'll be shiny again and clean.
If only cuts wouldn't bleed so much said the knife coming
out a little.
But then knives might become dull said the cut.
Aren't you still bleeding a little said the knife.
I hope not said the cut.
I feel you are just a little.
Maybe just a little but I can stop now.
I feel a little wetness still said the knife sinking in a
little but then coming out a little.
Just a little maybe just enough said the cut.
That's enough now stop now do you feel better now said the knife.
I feel I have to bleed to feel I think said the cut.
I don't I don't have to feel said the knife drying now
becoming shiny.
May Swenson

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Survival of the Fittest in the American Jungle

Sinclair and PETA - I could post a video of a celebrity showing the practices of corporations in their bid to produce maximum profit at minimal expenditure, but like the images expressed in The Jungle, they are difficult to take. Of course, the novel extends beyond the cruelty to animals. Sinclair uses the animals as a parallel to highlight the exploitation of the worker and the futility in trying to capture the American Dream. However, although the dynamics of Sinclair's novel were published during a period of limited media coverage, they still resonate as loudly today as during Sinclair's lifetime.
The early 1900s saw waves of immigrants who came with hope and innocence, both of which were systematically destroyed during a desperate struggle to survive. However, where are the safeguards one hundred years later that prevent this mercenary approach to the workforce that is the backbone of any corporation? True, there are child labor laws to protect the children; there are minimum wage laws to "guarantee" a supposed living wage; there is OSHA to watch out for violations that endanger the life and health of workers. However, the reality is that backroom deals are still made, there are ways to skirt the laws, such as paying under the table, there are expensive court fights that take too much time and money for the average worker to prove his case. So, as miners die in explosions, farm workers drop dead in strawberry fields from the exposure to lethal pesticides, and government bailouts protect the companies that are "too big to fail" while the homeowner is forced to abandon an upside down mortgage, one wonders what loyalty is owed to the Kings of the Jungle, the Captains of Industry? Is Sinclair correct when he points suggests that these problems are endemic and inherent in a capitalistic society. Sadly, although there are companies with a conscience, who treat employees well, until the American public is willing to stand up and use its power both in the voting booth and the boycott of products that exploit animals and workers, Sinclair will be as relevant in the next hundred years as he is today.
I am also reminded of one of my favorite short stories, "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison. Although the point of this "new wave" science fiction is to alert society to the dangers of technology, it is also a warning of the exploitation of the worker in the name of efficiency and profit. The opening of the story really says it all, and I feel no need to elaborate with commentary, since its clarity and poetry suffice.
          The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly,
but as machines, with their bodies. Others--as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers,
and office-holders--serve the state chiefly with their heads;
and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as
likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God.
A very few--as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the
great sense, and men ---serve the state with their consciences
also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and
they are commonly treated as enemies by it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wicked Karl Marx is Off to See the Wizard

I will admit that I am a huge fan of the show Wicked. Actually, I saw it five times, and seriously considered a sixth. So, it seems natural that as I read the ideas of Marxism and his theory that the illusion of the ruling class is created by the intellectual elite of the ruling class; however, eventually a schism of hostility erupts. I immediately thought of the Wizard of Oz, with the Wizard behind the curtain pulling all the strings. I thought of how the people and the Wizard were like one. Both seemed synonymous in their interests and outlook, and that made the people eager to have a "strong personality" with incredible power as their protector. However, when one looked behind the curtain, there was a resounding hostility that a charlatan had been hiding behind smoke and mirrors and actually usurping the credit that belonged to the people. Unfortunately, there seems to block on importing that scene.

However, I was also reminded of the scene from Wicked, where Glinda is presented as Eva Peron. Someone else chose to make the connection for me, so I am presenting their video work.
The idea that a ruler to further his own power, prestige, and economic interests is not new. Nor is it new that the interests of the general populace must appear to be the focal point of the representative is also not new. It was interesting to read the book, which is even more graphic than the play, where the manipulation of a public figure by forces that remain behind the scenes and appear to represent the common man are historically almost stereotypical and trite. The fact that the reality mirrors the fiction is not surprising.

The main concept that the video highlights is that Glinda always emerges from the heights to mingle with the people she is "one of." She is adored by them, put on a pedestal, but never really on their level, except when she chooses to drop in. The idea of a bubble, something that is ephemeral and reflective. Therefore, like many ideologies of government, it reflects what is around it, even though it is not really the composition of the object. In addition, it will soon burst and disappear, only to be replaced by the next optically pleasing illusion.

Although Baum's book can be looked at as a classic struggle of good vs evil, the political ramifications assessed by adults. Obviously, as supported by Marx, in order to understand the literature more fully, one most understand the political influences that were in place or in flux at the time of writing the work.