A Psychocritical Analysis of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Black Door with Snow

Georgia O’Keeffe is well known for her paintings of zoomed-in, detailed flowers. Often these paintings are compared to vaginas, which would lead towards an easy analysis for a psychocritical analysis of the artist and her work. However, this paper will present a psychocritical analysis on O’Keeffe’s Black Door with Snow, which was created in 1955, using the concepts of the Neo-Freudian Karen Danielsen Horney. This painting enables the viewers to have a male perspective and better understand the concept of “womb envy,” thus enabling us to see the Western social and cultural constructs of male psyche.

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Georgia O’Keeffe is shown here.

Horney, who lived from 16 September 1885 until 4 December 1952, was a German Neo-Freudian. This Neo-Freudian discipline was formed by Alfred Adler and Horney together, although Horney is often overlooked. She practiced in the United States of America later on in her career and presented theories which questioned Freud’s theories. Horney, one of the first psychiatrists who was female, founded the feminist psychology in response to Freud’s patriarchal theory and disagreed with Freud, arguing that differences in psychology among men and women occur because of society and culture instead of biology.

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Here is a photograph of Karen Danielsen Horney.

Horney believed that sex and aggression were not the main ingredients in creating personality. Horney disagreed with Freud’s concept of “penis envy,” arguing that Freud only figured that women were jealous of male power in the world. Neurotic women might desire to have penises, but Horney introduces the idea of “womb envy”—that men are envious of women’s ability to bear children. Additionally, she argues that men are envious of women because women are able to “fulfill” their role in society by simply “being,” since women can become pregnant and give birth. In contrast, men must look externally to satisfy their need to be productive, and men think they must achieve manhood through the ability to provide and succeed. The focus on the male sexual organ was puzzling to Horney. For her, men were envious of pregnancy, nursing, and motherhood, which led to men making claims of superiority in other areas of life, specifically the workforce. Therefore, by reformulating Freudian thought, Horney presents a more humanist perspective on the human psyche, emphasizing on social and cultural differences.

Black-Door

Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Door with Snow, 1955.

Black Door with Snow is beautifully painted with neutral colors. The sharp diagonal lines in the painting add drama to the piece. A deeply tan wall stands bare and unadorned, and in the top left hand corner, we see a glimpse of a grey sky. Perhaps we, the viewers, are walking towards the house, looking to the opening from the side rather from directly in the front. This wall is both protective as well as inviting, drawing the viewers towards the entrance of the black doorframe. What stands out on this austere exterior are the snowflakes. As a female artist of New Mexico, it seems strange that she chose to depict snow. These snowflakes do not appear to be real snow but rather dabs of abstraction. Instead, they look more like falling white flowers or tissues from an unknown source. Interestingly, the snowflakes on or close to the ground are not white but rather a pink shade, which are next to the orange-red of the stones before the door.

This painting could be representative of womb envy, or the envious feelings that men feel towards women’s ability to create life. The tan wall looks almost like smooth skin, perhaps both sides of the legs spreading open for the black entrance, becoming symbolic of the vagina. Because we do not see the entrance directly but from an angle, perhaps we are experiencing the male gaze and perspective. Men, for Horney, experience womb envy, yet patriarchal society has many misconceptions and taboos about female anatomy. We see a sharp binary between the white—of the snowflakes—and the black—of the doorframe/vagina. In our Western patriarchal society, men and women are often seen as binaries, thus suggesting the black as women (represented by the female anatomy) and white as men (represented by a whole instead of a part, as with the women here). This is not a sexual depiction, and there are no phallic symbols here. Instead, although men may enter the vagina during sexual intercourse and be a part of the woman, this is only momentarily. Men never truly experience what is like to have a vagina or give birth. Just as the snowflakes stay out of the house so do men stay separated from women biologically because men lack vaginas and cannot experience pregnancy and birth. As a result, tension arises from this lacking, which is portrayed through the strong diagonal lines. Because women have their roles biologically assigned internally, men feel the need to search for purpose externally, reinforced by the painting of the snow remaining on the outside.

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Western women can be labeled derogatorily based on their anatomy, and female anatomy is sometimes considered ugly or less developed in Western society. The splotches of color before the doorframe are pink, orange, and red, which could be connected with menstruation. A woman’s monthly bleeding occurs when the lining of the uterus or womb is shed. The menstrual blood passes through the cervix and out of the body through the vagina. On heavier days, the color is more red, while on lighter days, the color is pink. Sometimes menstrual fluid, which is often referred to as blood, is sometimes a darker color, black or brown, which means that the blood is flowing out of the body at a slower rate. This change in color is normal. However, menstrual fluids can sometimes be orange, which means that the bright red menstrual blood becomes mixed with fluids from the cervix; as a result of this mixture, the menstrual blood appears orange with red streaks, and this color can be associated with infections and should be inspected by a doctor.

Although men may experience womb envy, they may not actually fully comprehend the responsibilities and associations that happen with having female anatomy. Additionally, men are commonly disgusted with the mere mention of menstruation, let alone the actual fact that it occurs naturally with most women. The orange splotches could represent a disease—here meaning the widespread problems with Western men and how they talk about and try to control female bodies. Something here is strange: How do we account for the pink snowflakes on the ground? Perhaps these pink spots are representative of men, who may still have womb envy, but are tolerant and even understanding of female anatomy and its natural processes. Rather than dismissing women and their problems with menstruation, men can potentially be sympathetic with biological differences and what occurs naturally, even if men do not have vaginas. If sympathy is possible, this tolerance can be extended to other areas of gender inequality, presenting a societal construct that can be changed rather than a biological stagnation.

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One for All, and All for One: Animal Communication and Unity in “The Story of the White Pet”

“The Story of the White Pet, Performed by Mrs. MacTavish” was one tale collected by John Francis Campbell to document Scottish oral traditions. This tale follows the genre elements of many fairy tales: the action progresses quickly, the story ends optimistically, certain lines are repeated, and an omniscient, third-person narrator tells the story.

John Francis Campbell

Although this tale does follow some traits of a fairy tale, it also differs from the genre. Fairy tale characters are often not developed; however, in this tale, the humans are the flat characters, while the more complicated characters are the farm animals. By portraying the animals as both peaceful creatures and violent protectors, MacTavish brings two conflicting modes of description alongside one another. Therefore, this paradoxical portrayal suggests that the animals are more developed characters because they communicate effectively, therefore outsmarting the humans by uniting together.

PEACEFUL OR VIOLENT
The animals are sometimes peaceful or violent, which reveals the importance of both traits when protecting the group. To save their lives, the animals run away from the farmer who wants to “kill [them] for Christmas” (303) rather than attacking him. Also, instead of fighting each other, they are peaceful and “went forward” (304) as a group, since the cat does not try to eat the birds, and the dog does not attack the cat.

Although the animals are sometimes peaceful, we also discover that they can be violent protectors. When one of the thieves “returned to look in to see if he could perceive if anyone at all was in the house” (305), the animals attack him to protect their home and themselves. Therefore, the animals are peaceful, in order to unite when escaping from the farmer, or violent, in order to protect their group and safe location.

THE PARADOX
The paradox—the animals being both peaceable and violent—is shown by the before and after events of the thief returning for the money. The animals act violently towards the thief who returns, but he is not harmed seriously. Although he is neither wounded nor killed, the worst damage is psychological because the thief believes that the animals were humans, vaguely describing each as “a man,” “a big black man,” or “a big man” (305).

However, the readers know that these fierce warriors were just animals all along because we first learn how the animals protect the group and then read the thief’s explanation of what happened. The tale ends, “[The thieves] did not return to seek their lot of money; and the White Pet and his comrades got it to themselves; and it kept them peaceably as long as they lived” (305). The word it seems to refer to the money. The animals keep the money among themselves amiably, perhaps because this newly-acquired money would have no value to any of the animals, since they would not use it anyways.

Because MacTavish emphasizes the word peaceably in the concluding line, it is possible that the thieves, unlike the animals, would not have kept the money peaceably among themselves. Therefore, the animals are more developed characters because we learn what was of true importance to these creatures: communicating with each other in order to stay alive and to protect the group.

OUTSMARTING HUMANS
Since the animals communicate effectively with one another, they are able to outwit the humans. The animals’ repetitious dialogue (e.g., “Where art thou going” [303–304] is repeated five times) follows the fairy tale tradition. However, the repetitious dialogue also emphasizes the fact that the animals are able to outwit the humans. Leaving separately would have been more advantageous to each animal because if the farmer caught and killed one, perhaps the farmer, having satisfied his appetite, would not chase the others. Additionally, the animals speak honestly, such as when each animal straightforwardly explains that “they were going to kill me” (304). In contrast, the thief exaggerates, saying that a man “thrust ten knives into my hand” (305).

In actuality, the cat struck the man with her claws, but if the claws had been knives, the thief would have been more seriously injured. Furthermore, the thief describes the sounds, such as “GREE-AS-ICH-E” (305), that he hears to the thieves. Although humans do not understand animal language, the animals are able to communicate so they understand each other, regardless of being different species. Since the animals communicate well as a group, they outsmart the thieves who do not support each other.

UNITY
Because of effective communication, these seemingly simple animals are able to unite together, unlike the humans. The animals speak respectfully to each other; for example, they use the words hail, art, and thou (304). Since these sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent animals elevate each other by their language use, they recognize the significance of all creatures, thus creating a stronger, more cohesive unit. One animal is not better than the other, even if the bull is larger than the cat, or the goose can fly while the dog can only run. By using respectful language, the animals are able to unite their abilities to protect their camaraderie. Another example of the animals using language to band together occurs when the animals come to the house, they say in one shout “GAIRE” (304)—meaning laughter in Gaelic—to scare and defeat the group of thieves. Only one thief, instead of the entire group of thieves, returns to the house later to retrieve the money. If all the thieves had gone, perhaps the animals would have lost. However, the animals are united from start to finish because they use respectful and unified language to create a cohesive group.

CONCLUSION
The animals, paradoxically peaceful and violent, are better communicators and more developed characters than the humans. Since these animals are able to communicate effectively with one another, they are able to outmaneuver the humans.

Additionally, by uniting as a team of animals that supports and protects each other, they create their own happily ever after, free from human domination. When we see animals consolidate over humans, we as the readers understand that we do not have to be like the human characters but that we should strive to be like the animals, who establish a cordial group because of their communication.

A Conscious Decision: Justifying Racism in Seventeenth Century Virginia

During the early 1600s, whites and free blacks coexisted somewhat peacefully on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Liberty and freedom for white and free black colonists in this era were based on the ownership of property. A free black man’s economic status included his possession of land, livestock, and slaves and determined his interactions with white neighbors and businessmen.

Other than the problem of runaway slaves and indentured servants, whites and free blacks interacted without discrimination through trading, selling land, and appealing to the courts. For a brief period of early colonial-American history, friendships, business associations, and consensual sexual relationships provide evidence of the relatively amiable reciprocities and expected egalitarianism among whites and free blacks.

Nevertheless, white colonists changed their perspective of African Americans after the decreased use of indentured servants, the dramatic influx of slave importation, the illegal use of black headrights, and Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion. Unlike most Anglo-Americans, seventeenth-century Virginians did not adopt slavery because they were fundamentally racist; however, they invented a ideology of racism as a means of justifying hierarchical societies and slavery.

PRIVATE PROPERTY

Before racism became widely accepted among white colonists, free blacks were often respected members of Virginian society due to their ownership of land.

Because free blacks created their own communities on their own land, the family was necessary for providing “an opportunity to become fully human”; as a result, free black families and communities were allowed greater safety and dreams of the future.[1] Property made all the difference. If a man controlled his own land, then he could govern himself, thus confirming his individuality and providing legal and social identity.[2] Owning private property showed that a man was a citizen who could participate in voting and trading.

In Virginia, an individual’s social status and personal wealth were interconnected, since economic success became possible through land ownership,[3] and over time, competing against the elite planters became more difficult for both poor whites and free blacks.[4] Land ownership equaled liberty, and when African Americans lost the accessibility to owning land, they also lost the rights of free citizens. Free blacks during the early 1600s, nonetheless, could never have imagined an inimical future where their great-grandchildren would become slaves and the buying land would be prevented.

INDENTURED SERVANTS

The dire need for labor in the New World, which evolved from the widespread use of indentured servants to the enslavement of Africans, helped lead the eventual acceptance of racism. Flattered away by great promises, many English citizens were recruited by propagandists who erroneously depicted the colonies as “a land of milk and honey” where “food shall drop into their mouths.”[5] The property owner would pay for the passage of an English colonizer to come to the New World. In return, the indentured servants would work voluntarily between five and seven years for their new masters. Since indentured servants were considered valuable property, they lacked many personal rights or freedoms, and they suffered similar experiences to slaves, such as being bought, sold, beaten, or subjected to sexual exploitation.[6]

However, indentured servants could look forward to their freedom at the end of their term of service, unlike slaves whose “condition became perpetual.”[7] Because of the great demand for labor, the colonists were more than willing to hand their money over, even if that meant paying for the passage of indentured servants and eventually, the purchase of slaves.[8] Ultimately, great Virginian planters used indentured servants as “an initial solution to an acute problem of obtaining a labor supply.”[9] Nevertheless, the great planters turned to slavery in order to fulfill their needed requirement for able working hands.

Since harvesting tobacco was labor intensive, the Virginian elite brought “a steady supply of black slaves” to colonies, thus reshaping the economy and race relations.[10] Free blacks like Anthony Johnson who first lived in the West Indies developed working skills that were marketable in a predominately white society. In the early 1600s, many slaves lived on plantations in the West Indies before arriving in the American colonies. As a result, African Americans were able to learn English, which enabled them to communicate with neighbors and potential business partners. Since they learned English before arriving in the American colonies, highly skilled free blacks were able to “adopt appropriate forms of behavior” and “adapt to unfamiliar, changing social environment.”[11]

However, at the end of the seventeenth century, the relationship between whites and blacks eventually evolved into racial prejudices due to this mass importation of slaves directly from Africa. The transition from servants to slaves transpired between 1680 and 1720, occurring mainly in the Chesapeake colonies.[12] This immigration transformation impacted the population growth of African slaves, which altered social and economic relationships.[13]

THE INCREASE OF SLAVE IMPORTATION

Two major changes resulted from the increase of slave importation: the training of slaves and the creation of debilitating slave laws. First, because the indentured servants could not supply the colonial demand for labor, Virginian planters eventually used black slaves as their main labor source.[14] At first this resulted in the imported slaves performing unskilled labor, while the white indentured servants continued performing skilled crafts.[15] As the production of tobacco grew, an increased demand for skilled and unskilled labor continued, as well; ultimately, white servants trained in special skills ended up costing more than “the training of slaves to take over the skilled jobs of the plantation.”[16]

Second, a black majority in the colonies emerged after the large immigration of Africans from their native lands. This made white colonists, particularly the local gentry, highly anxious, since they constantly feared amalgamation and especially rebellion. They decided to create laws and strengthen pre-existing legal codes in order to control the growing slave population. Planters went so far as to restrict the legal rights of blacks, which included their right to buy property.[17] As a result, Virginian colonists began to validate slavery in their minds in order to justify the specific slave laws.

HEADRIGHTS

The Virginian elite limited the growth of both poor farmers and indentured servants and enabled their own expansion of land and wealth by unlawfully using black headrights. At the end of the designated time of service, indentured servants were entitled to freedom dues, such as clothes and other fundamental goods, in order to help provide an independent beginning. Even though many indentured servants assumed free land would be included when they signed their legal contracts, indentured servants, in actuality, did not receive land because the headright went to the person who paid for the indentured servant’s passage to America.[18]

However, the great Virginian planters did not merely use the headrights of indentured servants; these men illegally used the headrights of African Americans, as well. When the trade of indentured servants started to decline, many great planters used black headrights so they could add land to their massive estates or lease the land to poor farmers.[19]

During the 1660s, the great planters claimed 95,000 acres on almost two thousand black headrights. The use of black headrights resulted in slavery becoming “both … permanent [and] self-perpetuating.” [20] Using black headrights were technically illegal, since the headright system was supposed to promote white colonial subjects expansion to the American colonies. In 1699 the Virginian elite stopped stealing black headrights because of the British desired to “eliminate fraud in land transactions” and to stop “class competition in Virginia.”[21]

Two main consequences resulted from the elite’s use of black headright system: first, the Virginian elite acquired huge estates, which lessoned the amount of land readily available for poor farmers, and second, slavery became unquestionably permanent.[22] As a result, the lower class, who grew increasingly angry about the unavailability of land and the policies of corrupt colonial leaders, eventually decided rebellion was the best option to try to secure their rights of possessing land.

BACON’S REBELLION

One example of a colonial-American rebellion is Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion, which reveals the frustrations and fears of Virginian’s lower class. To many poor colonial farmers, Governor Berkeley was seen as a friend to the Indians, since he would not permit anyone to hurt the Indians in order for trade relations to develop; Berkely’s stance, nevertheless, interfered with the colonists’ hunger for more land.[23] While the poor colonists could not move onto the Indian’s lands, the wealthy continued to steal land by using black headrights. The public poll tax, which burdened the poor, created huge discontent among colonists.[24]

Nathaniel Bacon was a successful planter who desired change and despised Berkeley’s unjust dominion. Bacon believed that the Indians should be completely removed from Virginia, taxes should be reduced, and the ruling elite should be stopped. Supported by “small farmers, landless men, indentured servants, and even some Africans,” Bacon decided revolution was the best choice.[25] Blacks and whites rose together in 1676 with Nathaniel Bacon to rebel against Governor Berkeley in Jamestown, Virginia. After burning Jamestown to the ground, Bacon, who died shortly thereafter, ruled Virginia for a brief time. When England warships arrived and restored order, they ended the rebellion of the lower class, oppressing them and ensuring more land to the ruling elite.[26]

What happened after Bacon’s Rebellion indicates the true feelings of the colonists. English commissioners representing the crown (Colonel Francis Moryson, Colonel Herbert Jeffreys, and Sir Berry) originally came to Virginia to offer pardons to the rebels and replace Governor Berkeley with Colonel Jefferys. Instead, they found Berkeley “restoring law and order in his own way” by stealing properties and dispersing the land among his elite friends and himself.[27] Although the commissioners gathered complaints from Virginian citizens of Governor Berkeley’s mistreatment of the rebels and his suppression of the rebellion, the commissioners did not explain in their reports the reason why Virginians rebelled.[28] Virginian complaints against local taxation included first, “how high the taxes were without benefiting the people at large” and second, “the manner of taxation appeared to benefit the people with property—the tobacco planters.”[29]

Essentially, poor colonists, both white and black, held recalcitrant attitudes towards the elites’ suppressive hand in gathering high taxation without proper usage of the funding to help those less fortunate. Since these complaints were not included in the commissioners’ reports, the poor Virginian farmers’ voices continued to be suppressed, even after rebellion. Fearing another uprising, the Virginian politicians reduced taxes, allowed small farmers to expand upon Indian land, and hastened the replacement of indentured servants with slaves, who had even less freedoms to express dissent than poor farmers did.[30]

IN CONCLUSION

As Anthony S. Parent, Jr., associate professor of history at Wake Forest University, stated, “Black and white laborers ran away together, muddied racial lines by consensual sexual relationships, and were comrades-in-arms in Bacon’s Rebellion.”[31] Free African Americans could not have anticipated the fall of their commercial interactions among white colonists and the diminution of their free black community.

After the rebellion lead by Nathaniel Bacon, the Virginian elite feared the union of poor African Americans and poor white laborers rebelling in order to overthrow the privileged few. In the end, “the expanding plantation system in Virginia,” which resulted from the fraudulent use of black headrights to accumulate land and the huge influx of slave importation, eventually “undermined the position of free [black] planters.”[32] Unequal hierarchies, which ranged from the wealthy plantation owner and culminated with the tobacco-harvesting slave, definitively shaped Virginian society. Racism became a conscious decision of the Virginian elites for their great wealth and power to continue unthreatened.


Footnotes

[1] T. H. Breen and Stephen Innes, “Myne Owne Ground”: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, 1640-1676 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 83.

[2] Ibid, 17.

[3] Ibid, 47.

[4] Ibid, 114.

[5] Ibid, 60.

[6] Ibid, 62 & 64.

[7] Anthony S. Parent, Jr., Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1600-1740 (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 43.

[8] Abbot Emerson Smith, “New Light on some of America’s ‘First’ Families,” The Journal of Economic History 2 (1942), 40.

[9] David W. Galenson, “The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An Economic Analysis,” The Journal of Economic History 44 (1984), 9.

[10] Breen and Innes, 114.

[11] Breen and Innes, 112.

[12] Aaron S. Fogleman, “From Slaves, Convicts, and Servants to Free Passengers: The Transformation of Immigration in the Era of American Revolution,” The Journal of American History 85, no. 1 (1998), 48.

[13] Ibid, 59.

[14] Galenson, 10.

[15] Ibid, 11-12.

[16] Ibid, 12.

[17] Fogleman, 50.

[18] Breen and Innes, 60-61.

[19] Parent, 44.

[20] Ibid, 44.

[21] Ibid, 45.

[22] Ibid, 54.

[23] Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012), 102.

[24] Thomas J. Wertenbaker, The Shaping of Colonial Virginia (New York: Russell & Russell, 1958), 139.

[25] Foner, 103.

[26] Ibid, 103.

[27] Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery —American Freedom (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1975), 272.

[28] Brent Tarter, “Bacon’s Rebellion, the Grievances of the People, and the Political Culture of Seventeenth-Century Virginia,” Virginia Magazine Of History & Biography 119, no. 1 (2011): 1- 41. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 16, 2012).

[29] Tarter, 1- 41.

[30] Foner, 103.

[31] Parent, 43.

[32] Breen and Innes, 114.

Global Beauty Standards?

Original, unaltered photograph of artist.

Esther Honig, a freelance journalist based out of Kansas City, sent an unaltered photograph of herself to more than 40 Photoshop aficionados around the world. “Make me beautiful,” she said, hoping to bring to light how standards of beauty differ across various cultures.

The project, titled Before & After, originally came to Honig while she was working as a social media manager for a small startup. Her boss introduced her to Fiverr, an international freelancing website where anyone can hire freelancers from around the globe to complete almost any task imaginable. While browsing the site, Honig realized the prevalence of those offering Photoshop skills. “It immediately occurred to me that in this pool of workers, each individual likely had an aesthetic preference particular to their own culture,” Honig told BuzzFeed. Thus, the idea for Before & After was born.

Working with freelancers in over 25 countries, Honig expected that the images would differ from country to country, but was herself caught off guard by just how drastically some of the images were altered. “Seeing some jobs for the first time made me shriek… Other times images, like the one from Morocco, took my breath away because they were far more insightful than I could have expected,” Honig said.

To be sure, the images Honig has collected so far are interesting as individual images, a unique portrait of the standards of beauty in each country. However, when taken in totality, the project becomes much more striking, an interesting launching point into a global conversation about unattainable beauty standards around the world. “What I’ve learned from the project is this: Photoshop [may] allow us to achieve our unobtainable standards of beauty, but when we compare those standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all the more illusive.”

Below are the photographs that Honig has collected thus far. Note: Some countries have multiple images from different artists. Honig continues her project on her website.

Argentina

Argentina

Esther Honig

Australia

Australia

Esther Honig

Bangladesh

Esther Honig

Chile

Chile

Esther Honig

Germany

Germany

Esther Honig

Greece

Greece

Esther Honig

India

Esther Honig

Indonesia

Indonesia

Esther Honig

Israel

Israel

Esther Honig

Italy

Italy

Esther Honig

Kenya

Kenya

Esther Honig

Morocco

Morocco

Esther Honig

Pakistan

Pakistan

Esther Honig

Philippines

Esther Honig

Romania

Romania

Esther Honig

Serbia

Serbia

Esther Honig

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Esther Honig

U.K.

U.K.

Esther Honig

Ukraine

Ukraine

Esther Honig

USA

Esther Honig

Vietnam

Vietnam

Esther Honig

Venezuela

Venezuela

 

Code Name Verity

The Beginning

My dear friend found a book called Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. When I asked her to describe it, she explained that doing so would be a bit difficult. A whole lot happens, including codes, spies, intrigue, friendship, strong female characters, and so on. The setting is World War II. I’m a little obsessed with 1940s and learning about what happened in history then. In my head, a little noise went DING! DING! DING! YOU HAVE A WINNER. I was sold.

What’s It About?

“When ‘Verity’ is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.  They’ll get the truth out of her.  But it won’t be what they expect. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that reveals just how far true friends will go to save each other. The bondage of war will never be as strong as the bonds forged by the unforgettable friendship in this extraordinary tale of fortitude in the face of the ultimate evil” (http://www.elizabethwein.com/code-name-verity).

Awards

  • UK Literary Association Award Winner
  • Edgar Award Winner
  • Printz Honor Book
  • Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book
  • Shortlisted for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book
  • Shortlisted for the Scottish Children’s Book Award
  • Catalyst Book Award Winner (East Lanarkshire County Council, Scotland)

Favorite Quotes

There are some pretty amazing quotes in the book. I couldn’t pick just one. These gems listed below include what I found when I googled for quotes from Code Name Verity:

My favoritestiest quote of all

This astonishing tale of friendship and truth will take wing and soar into your heart. ~quoted by Laurie Halse Anderson, New York Times best-selling author

Yay

I don’t even know where to start. There are so many great things about this book, and I don’t want to give away too much. The writing is great. As shown from the quotes above, she has some stellar lines. The author’s allusions and references from history and literature are fun, too (Shakespeare, Peter Pan, French literature, German literature, etc.). Characterization is top notch and would past the Bechdel Test (for more information, see http://www.feministfrequency.com/2009/12/the-bechdel-test-for-women-in-movies/). Let’s just say . . . So. Much. Sass.  🙂 The two main characters have a great relationship that will melt your heart. And I don’t want to give anything else away other than that. You’ll just have to read it to find out. Sometimes it’s hard to find interesting female characters in YA. TANGENT: This book really shouldn’t be labeled as YA because it’s great for adults and older teens, and there are also mature themes (e.g., concentration camps, torture, some language, etc.).

Nay

YOU WILL CRY. Or maybe not . . . if you are a soulless, pathetic, heartless little creature from the black lagoon. And the whole “crying” part doesn’t even have to be a “nay.” But you will have feelings (unless you are  . . . well, what I mentioned above.) But don’t NOT read it if you think that it’s like a super duper depressing book. There is so much humor and witty dialogue. So think of it more as a combination of laughter and tears. Bring some tissues, yet be prepared to stifle your laughter if you happen to be at work, and you need to be quiet, and you read something funny and have to bite your tongue off. Speaking of work, I am allowed to read or to work on projects when I have downtime. My book, which was borrowed from the library, has the cover of two female hands bond together with rope/twine/cords (?). Some of my coworkers asked if I were reading a BDSM novel, and I quickly responded that I was not. So I feel like the cover of this book does not represent the book very accurately. Of course, this cover art has absolutely nothing to do with the content and quality of the writing (and the author probably had no real say in the cover anyways). I guess there are other covers (as shown above in the first picture of all the different books covers).

A few of the topics/ideas covered in Code Name Verity. Originally from bibliophilemystery.blogspot.com

Gray

Also, several of the characters have “real names” and then “code names” or several different code names. It’s not impossible to remember, but it’s important to keep in mind who is who and who is doing what when. Maybe it’s just me; it’s probably just me. But I don’t know a whole lot about planes or types of planes or military jargon. Sometimes I would wonder what they were talking about. So . . . I made list of some of the planes listed and military references made throughout the book. 🙂 Enjoy. It’s pretty cool.

RAF Special Duties Cap Badge

 

Citroen Rosalie

The Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber used by RAF Coastal Command.

Two Spitfire FVB in flight

This is the Do-217 aircraft manufactured by Dornier for the German Luftwaffe in WWII.

RAF Lysander WWII

De Havilland DH-80A Puss Moth aircraft

Conclusion

Basically, read this book. It will change your life. I hope you have a beautiful day. xoxo, the bbb blogger

“What’s Missing in Miss America’s Response”

The Miss America 2014 Top 15 Semi-Finalists (Picture Originally from http://www.pageantprofessors.com)

A Tale of Two Debates

Last week, social media exploded after the Miss America Pageant. Users complained either how terrible feminists were or how terrible Miss America’s answer was. But what was actually said?

Miss Nevada was asked the following question:

Recently Time Magazine said 19% of U.S. undergraduate women are victims of sexual assault in college. Why has such a horrific epidemic been swept under the rug for so long, and what can colleges do to combat this? [1]

Miss Nevada Nia Sanche replied with this statement:

I believe some colleges may potentially be afraid of having a bad reputation, and that would be a reason that it could be swept under the rug because they don’t want it to come out into the public, but I think more awareness is very important so women can learn how to protect themselves. Myself as a fourth degree black belt, I learned from a young age that you need to be confident and being able to defend yourself, and I think that’s something we should start to implement for a lot of women. [2]

Miss Nevada Nia Sanche (Picture originally from http://www.dailymail.co.uk.)


6 Things to Consider

There were various, emotional responses to what Miss Nevada Nia Sanche said. Some people supported and defended her, while others were outraged. Social media exploded with countless posts and comments based on Sanche’s two sentences. Here are six things to consider:

1. Under Pressure

During question time of the Miss America Pageant, perhaps the contestants feel pressured or put on the spot. They get nervous, they say stupid things, or they don’t think their argument all the way through.

Additionally, these women are probably not members of the debate team; they don’t have the time to go into the depth needed for these issues. Would you ever hear “I defend this position because of Reasons A, B, and C. Oh, and here are Counterarguments 1, 2, and 3 and all the reasons why those ideas are indubitably incorrect”? Probably not.

2. Money, Money, Money—Isn’t Funny

Self-defense is a good thing. Martial arts would be great for all women to take. But it’s expensive. Who is going to pay for self-defense classes?

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “About half of all rape victims are in the lowest third of income distribution; half are in the upper two-thirds.[3] Working class women, including single mothers and women with lower income, would need child care, compensation for the hours missed from work, or both. However, even if free classes were provided on a weekend or later in the evenings, who would pay for those classes? And how would attendance be enforced?

Providing self-defense classes on college campuses are a complex issue. Even if a class is offered, some students may not be able to afford the additional costs to take the class. The costs for student loans, textbooks, food, car insurance, gas, and ever-increasing tuition take a huge chunk out of a student’s pocket. Also, the student may not have the time to take the credits, especially if the student is trying to graduate early.

Could universities and colleges all provide free self-defense classes? Sanche stated she had a fourth degree black belt—something that takes great skill but also a lot of time. How effective would one self-defense class be? Would there need to be a series of free classes?

Just stating that women need self-defense leads to more questions and issues that would need to be resolved. It is not a simple solution.

And change can happen. Unfortunately, rape occurs. But all of us can work on decreasing those numbers. Educating men and women can affect change.

3. Women Are Human, Too

The “that raped woman is someone’s mother, sister, daughter” technique isn’t working.

Obama is reported to have said, “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace and free from the fear of domestic violence.”[4] Because of this statement, Obama was criticized for using the “Father-Knows-Best,” outdated rhetoric. Many people, including our president, have used this language. That needs to change.

Some women are sisters. Some women are mothers. Some women are daughters. But all women are human. Because we are human, both men and women should be treated respectfully.

Bernini, “Il Ratto di Proserpina” (“The Rape of Proserpina”)

4. Change: An Education

Many Twitter users were furious with Sanche’s response, claiming that she encouraged rape culture or was telling men that it was okay to rape. Others responded that rape has occurred since the beginning of time and will continue to occur, following the “boys will be boys” mentality.

But can’t we still push for men not to rape? People are often confused about what counts as rape or when it is okay. In America, we are obsessed with sex, but never really want to talk about it. Parents need to be better at communicating with children, both male and female, about sex and rape. There ought to be more open discussion in schools and colleges about rape.

5. Understanding What Counts as Rape

When does rape occur? Rape occurs if a male physically holds down a woman and forces her to have sex with him or if a man forces any type of non-consensual sexual relations. It still counts as rape even if any of the following occurs:

  • He spent a lot of money on her.
  • He is so turned on he thinks he can’t stop.
  • She previously had sexual intercourse with other men.
  • She is stoned or drunk.
  • She has any mental disabilities.
  • She lets him touch her above the waist.
  • She is going to and changes her mind.
  • She has supposedly led him on.
  • The man is sexually stimulated.
  • They have dated for a long time.
  • They are engaged.
  • They are married. [5]

Mad Men, “The Mountain King” (Season 2 / Episode 12) After repeatedly saying no, Joan is raped by her fiancé.

6. The Facts

Rape is not an issue about whether it’s good or it’s bad. But many people don’t realize that rape is not just physical assaults. Rape involves additional issues, such as the mentality about, objectification of, and violence against women. Rape is about power and control, not love and understanding.

But rape doesn’t always occur when a woman is attacked on her way home from work. There’s date rape, and if a woman is unconscious, knowing martial arts isn’t going to help her.

Often, the survivor of rape culture knows the rapist, whether it is a boyfriend, husband, lover, coworker, family member, etc. For example, “Of female rape or sexual assault victims in 2010, 25 percent were assaulted by a stranger, 48 percent by friends or acquaintances, and 17 percent were intimate partners.”[6] Approximately two-thirds of rape survivors know their rapist. Survivors are often manipulated and must deal with scarring emotional trauma.

The age of raped survivors varies. Of course, rape on campus is a huge problem. But rape survivors include underage women: “5% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12; 29% are age 12-17; 44% are under age 18; 80% are under age 30; ages 12-34 are the highest risk years.” [7]

Rape isn’t always reported: “The FBI estimates that only 46% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police. U.S. Justice Department statistics are even lower, with only 26% of all rapes or attempted rapes being reported to law enforcement officials.”[8]These hard facts are horrible but true.


 So What’s Missing?

What’s missing from Miss America’s response—and the responses of many social media users—is that we need more education, more encouragement for survivors, more prevention, more access for recovery, more understanding, more open communication, and more opportunities to fight this terrible injustice. Being sensitive of the struggles that these women suffer is vital for communication to happen.

People often trivialize rape culture. They don’t understand it—they don’t even try. Pause before a statement is blurred by frustration or ignorance. Some of us may not be able to empathize entirely with what’s it’s like to be a rape survivor. But we can and must try to understand.

Let’s talk together, listening and opening our hearts without judgment and hate. Make survivors feel like they are heard by recognizing rape culture as a complex, emotional experience that real humans suffer.

Let’s talk to survivors, not tell them what to do.

Let’s talk.


For More Information:

Listed originally on http://www.feminist.com, the following websites list valid statistics about abused women:

 

Footnotes:

[1](See http://www.ijreview.com/2014/06/145792-feminists-spew-scorn-miss-usa-pageant-winner-self-defense-stance/)

[2](See http://www.ijreview.com/2014/06/145792-feminists-spew-scorn-miss-usa-pageant-winner-self-defense-stance/)

[3](See more facts and statistics athttp://www.feminist.com/antiviolence/facts.html.)

[4](See http://www.salon.com/2013/02/13/stop_calling_us_wives_and_moms/.)

[5](See http://www.fearus.org.)

[6](See more facts and statistics athttp://www.feminist.com/antiviolence/facts.html.)

[7](See more facts and statistics athttp://www.feminist.com/antiviolence/facts.html.)

[8](See more facts and statistics athttp://www.feminist.com/antiviolence/facts.html.)

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/instant-celebrity/

Text as a Social Force: Cultural Criticism

Thomas Hart Benton, “Hollywood”

Introduction

Text has been a part of human creation for hundreds of years. People have used art and literature to express themselves and the human condition. But the text is also a social force. Cultural criticism has changed the way readers view literature and art. Art is not merely used for entertainment or artistic expression.

Early critics include Hegel, Arnold, and Marx, while later social critics include Marx, Williams, Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin, and Foucault. From Hegel to Foucault, art and texts reflect, reify, or alter social structures.

Hegel

Hegel focuses on how an idea finds meaning in relationship to others. Hegel believed “an individuals entity’s meaning rests not in itself but in the relationship of that thing to other things within an all-encompassing, ever changing whole” (Leitch 536). Hegel uses the idea of the dialectic, “which entails the confrontation of any thesis with its opposite (antithesis), and the resultant synthesis of the two through a process of ‘overcoming’” (Leitch 537).

There are two conflicts then a compromise; then there are two more conflicts and another compromise. This process continues onward. His theory stresses movement and change rather than equilibrium and motionlessness. Hegel provides the example of the Master and the Slave, a relationship full of constant tension.

Through the relationship of the lord and the bondsman, there exists two opposite modes of consciousness: “one is the independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or to be for another” (Hegel 544).

Hegel shows that “the reciprocity of dependence” is seen in “characterizing human relationships: ‘They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another’” (Leitch 538). In “Lectures on Fine Art,” Hegel believes that “a work of art is a product of human activity,” a process of “conscious production” that can “be known and expounded, and learnt and pursued by others” (Hegel 547).

Yet “the work of art stands higher than any natural product which has not made this journey through the spirit” (Hegel 549). Being a historicist critic, Hegel considers art occurring in different stages: symbolic, classical, and romantic.

How literature changes consequently changes how we think about things, considering phenomenology or our experience with the world. Art becomes key to understanding wisdom, whether that be scientific, religious, or philosophical wisdom, not in a subservient way but in a way that art shapes culture, and culture shapes those structures.

This concept influences the text. Readers can look at a text and consider how the author resolves conflicts in his characters. It is key to understand that art bypasses how things appear, looking straight at the form of actual things. This process shapes how we perceive the form or do not adhere to actual form. Readers can see this process influence how we consider social structures.

What is government is a complex question; but readers can get various answers of the function or purpose of government through art and literature, which also shapes our interpretation of how our own government is functioning.

Because “[m]eaning and truth are never fixed because they are always in process” (Leitch 537), readers who search for answers in literature and the world around them will never find a fixed truth or specific meaning. Thus new interpretations or readings are considered permissible.

Arnold

On one hand, Arnold emphasizes that we see the object as in itself as it really is; on the other hand, literature, for Arnold, is the highest aspiration of a culture and society. These conflicting points are Hegelian in nature. For Arnold, literature is used to create a moral society.

When he asks for a criticism of life, look for cultural criticism—not just disinterested examination but a cultural criticism that enters in to a critique and evaluates when it is necessary to condemn the inadequate values of a culture. Arnold ends up engaging in political intervention of a literary sort. In fact, literature does present ideals and moral principles for us to consider.

Arnold states in Culture and Anarchy, “[M]any amongst us rely upon our religious organisations to save us. I have called religion a yet more important manifestation of human nature than poetry, because it has worked on a broader scale for perfection, and with greater masses of men. But the idea of beauty and of a human nature perfect on all its sides, which is the dominant idea of poetry, is a true and invaluable idea” (Arnold 720).

Since religion fails, poetry becomes the new religion, shaping social structures. Because poetry becomes the new religion, more focus is placed on thought than on adherence or obedience to rules. In religion, preachers tell you what to think and how to act; in contrast, literature becomes much more interpretive. Yet, at the same time, Arnold really emphasizes the importance of a critic. The critical becomes ultimately higher than the creative.

For example, Arnold writes in The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, “But criticism, real criticism, is essentially the exercise of this very quality. It obeys an instinct prompting it to try to know the best that is known and thought in the world, irrespectively of practice, politics, and everything of the kind; and to value knowledge and thought as they approach this best, without intrusion of any other considerations whatever” (Arnold 702).

So the critic is still important, in Arnold’s perspective. Morality becomes based on this stew of ideas rather than a clear right or wrong. The critic turns to ideas, where the poet emerges from, thus going back to poetry as a new religion to turn to new ideas. Therefore, the poet needs an intellectual and spiritual atmosphere.

Marx

Marx is a social critic, providing ways to perceive the social sphere in which we all live. Marx’s theories are does not provide direct literary interpretation but is used by later critics. Marx introduces concepts such as base and superstructure. Marx becomes Hegel’s most famous disciple, since Marx “adopts both the vision of struggle and the dream of an end to strife” (Leitch 537).

For Hegel, thoughts lead to how you live; however, for Marx, how you live your life leads to your thoughts within society. In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx continues the Hegelian dialectic, highlighting “the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production” (Marx 663).

But what distinguishes Marxism from Hegelian philosophy is “that it is not only a political, economic, and social theory but also a form of practice in all these domains” (Habib 36). For example, in “The German Ideology,” Marx writes in contrast to Hegelian philosophy “which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven” (Marx 656). Because, unlike Hegelian beliefs, “we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, though of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh,” Marx sets out “from real active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process” (Marx 656).

Marx tried to find causes and solutions in the structure of society.

  1. His first “objection to capitalism was that one particular class owned the means of economic production” (Habib 36).
  2. His second objection is concerned with this unjust relationship, “the oppression and exploitation of the working classes” (Habib 36).
  3. His third objection is concerned with “the imperialistic nature of the bourgeois enterprise: in order to perpetuate itself, capitalism must spread” (Habib 36).
  4. Finally, Marx is concerned with the idea that “capitalism reduces all human relationships to . . . self-interest, and egotistical calculation” (Habib 36).

Marx set out the explanation of the base and the superstructure. The base (r the forces of productions such as the relations of property and the division of labor) and superstructure, (artistic, religious, and political thinking and culture) is very important.

These two concepts greatly influence later critics. But what importance does Marx have to do with literature? Leitch highlights how a literary reader would ask questions not answered specifically in the text:

What roles do writers, critics, and intellectuals play? Do they illuminate for workers the nature of capitalist exploitation, or do they act at the service of those who already and best understand their true circumstances? Should writers be free to state the social and political facts as they see them, or must the goal of working-class revolution always shape their work—an if so, who sets the limits? (Leitch 649)

To these questions, Marx could reply with the following: “the answers will come only when the contradictions within capitalism produce them” (Leitch 640). Marx truly has changed how we see the world as well as how we interpret art and literature as seen in Marxism.

Benjamin

Benjamin is considered a Marxist critic because of his analysis of the principle of mediation and consciousness. There is a distinction of Marxism versus Marx, the man. Marx is a dialectical materialist, meaning he focuses on history.

The dialectical method occurs when two sides come into confrontation and wrestle with each other, which leads to a new thesis. When a new thesis emerges, another antithesis emerges, too. But Marxists saw the antithesis as consumer culture, and Benjamin believed, “Modern works are reproduced for mass consumption” (Habib 34). In other words, the principle of mediation “establishes relationships between the two levels of Marxist dialectic, between the base and the superstructure, between the relations of production and the work of art” (Richter 1202).

This means the base, or means of production, conditions the superstructure, or art; consequently, art is changing in the current production mode. For Benjamin, there is the possibility of “art for the masses,” the aura, or “spiritual quality, a relic of human attachment to ritual and magic . . . is simultaneously beginning to disappear” (1202–3).

While tradition and aura are smashed under mechanical reproduction, reproducibility is valued instead through exhibition for mass experience. This current production mode changes consciousness or perception of the masses, which result in producing new concepts.

The first concept is the “brush[ing] aside of outmoded concepts, such as creativity and genius” (1233), which leads to processing data in the Fascist sense. Benjamin views the aestheticization of politics that serves the Fascists negatively.

His second concept focuses on the politicization of art that serves the communists, which marries the capacity of art for analysis and the capacity to meet the broad public in order for the masses to think and do critical analysis of conditions in which they live.

This idea does not fall under a Marxist mode—rather than people rallying together and raising their rakes, people would be expressing themselves. Yet for Benjamin, “Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art” (1244). Additionally, Benjamin considers distraction versus concentration, which reflects on the consciousness of the masses.

Because “the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator,” someone “who concentrates before a work is absorbed by it,” while “the distracted mass absorbs the work of art” (1247). Benjamin claims, “The public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one” (1248). Therefore, Benjamin believes consciousness changes because the medium or delivery mechanism changes. This is a Marxist claim: understanding the world is determined by consciousness, which changes through materialism or history.

For example, one consequence of the alienation of labor is the human separation from body; the human then becomes a slave to labor. This reduces man to animal functions, or as Marx explains, “the human becomes the animal” (403). What previously separated the human from the animal was consciousness.

Ultimately, Marx argues, “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” (409). Consequently, “the proletarianization of art progressively dehumanizes both participants and spectators” (1203).

Benjamin’s influential ideas shape our view of art—what it means for the masses and what it can mean for us today. We, the viewers of artwork or the readers of a particular text, can determine to be a conscious examiner, not an absent-minded viewer.

Williams

Considering Benjamin’s interpretation of art and the influence of the base and superstructure is helpful in considering Williams’s argument. Williams uses the Marxist theory to see a literary sphere.

Williams sees that culture, like civilization, has a dual sense of achieving and developing. Culture besom a process, or something in flux. Language becomes a tool of productive practices. For Marx, the methods of production focus on gears and factories. But what if language was as productive for as metal or iron or steel? What if language makes things happen?

Language would not work by itself any more than factories work by themselves. Language becomes as much of a tool as a machine is because language does not just mirror reality but becomes a tool for human agency. Williams consider the base, or the means of production and class relationships, as well as the superstructure, or the ideological, including politics, religion, education, and family.

Williams dos not believe that the base and superstructure are homogenous. He sees the mediation between the base and superstructure. The relationship of the base and superstructure is a dynamic one: “We have to revalue ‘superstructure’ towards a related range of cultural practices, and away from a reflected, reproduced or specifically dependent content” as well as “we have to revalue ‘the base’ away from the notion of a fixed economic or technological abstraction, and towards the specific activities of men in real social and economic relationships, contain fundamental contradictions and variations and therefore always in a state of dynamic process” (Williams 1426).

The relationship is more than simple reproduction. This is not just a depersonalized system because we want to include people in this—intension is crucial. How are human decisions influencing the totality. It is not a trapped, soulless system, but rather it is made up of humans.

For Williams, it is as much about the reader as it is about the writer. Conversations written about literature in addition to political interventions are both meant to change the world. The political institution means that you are doing your work to change the world. There is a flux in this influence.

Rules that are so accepted become natural and dominant, even if it is not necessarily how society actually is; this idea introduces hegemony. With hegemony, rules so complete seem inevitable but invisible. Thus, hegemony becomes total. But where is the opposition?

Hegemony is a bunch of ideas. When we think about ideas, we realize that ideas are never wholly dominant, since ideas, like languages, are processes of growth. Throughout various periods, from the Renaissance to the Romantic period, ideas are contested and contrasted.

Thus, we see residual and emergent conflicts emerge. People are included in this process of what is fading and what is emerging, thus intention is crucial to how our human decisions influence the totality that is not trapped to a soulless system.

For instance, Williams writes, “Intention, the notion of intention, restores the key question, or rather the key emphasis” because although “it is true than any society is a complex whole of such practices, it is also true that any society has a specific organization, a specific structure, and that the principles of this organization and structure can be seen as directly related to certain social intentions, intentions by which we define the society” (Williams 1427).

This system is made up of people and human choices. Literature includes the notations of people scribbling upon the margins of dominant cultural context. We continue to see this today not just about ideas but also about media and new forms of art.

For example, film is probably still emergent and now dominant while perhaps reading could be considered residual. People are not writing epic poems but create epic films.

Horkheimer and Adorno

Horkheimer and Adorno suggest that society produces literature often upon consumer demand. Critics, including Adorno, Horkheimer, and Benjamin considered Hegel and Marx “in attempting to revive the ‘negative dialectics’ or negative, revolutionary potential of Hegelian Marxist thought” by opposing “the bourgeois positivism which had risen to predominance in reaction against Hegel’s philosophy, and insisted, following Hegel, that consciousness in all of its cultural modes is active in creating the world” (Habib 34).

Literature becomes dictated by the publishing house and editors rather than literature becoming an instrument to express what the muses have inspired the author to transcribe down for others to read. Literature is a way to reveal realities of a society, through the base and superstructures of a society, as seen in the analysis by Williams.

While Hegel suggests conflict and the form of things helps us learn to understand better, Arnold desires literature to raise society. Horkheimer and Adorno would argue hat literature is a product of society, suggesting the proof of societal existence and influence. Humans become consumers rather than readers of literature.

Horkheimer and Adorno argue,

Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association. No independent thinking must be expected from the audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure . . ., but by signals. Any logical connection calling for mental effort is painstakingly avoided (Horkheimer and Adorno 1116).

Literature—both high and low literature—is produced and used to pacify the masses. For example, Horkheimer and Adorno write, “[I]f a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely adapted for a film sound track in the same way as a Tolstoy is garbled in a film script: then the claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more than hot air” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1112).

Instead of realizing the terribleness of their situation, they will be too busy reading or watching or being entertained with whatever consumer product is considered the next big thing.

Foucault

Adorno addresses not multiple but manifest reason. He addresses Modern work that is calculating, spreading technological control toe very aspect of our lives. Similarly, Foucault does the same thing by considering the subtle power influence over everything. Reason does not just control but puts the productivity in power.

Foucault suggests the quest for truth is neither completely disinterested nor an isolated discovery. Truth becomes part of a network, suggesting the encouragement of questions to be asked. The Panopticon, or the all-seeing tower, becomes an important metaphor about discipline and punishment of the invisibility of power to its all-seeing power.

This example of the Panopticon “is the disciplinary form at its most extreme, the model in which are concentrated all the coercive technologies of behavior” (Foucault 1490). When speaking of the establishment of power relations, Foucault writes, “The modeling of the body procedures a knowledge of the individual, the apprenticeship of the techniques incudes modes of behavior and the acquisition of skills in extricable linked with the establishment of power relations” (Foucault 1491).

There is a shift in the basis of power from Marx to Foucault. For Marxists, economics is the foundation that is determinant of everything else in culture. For Foucault, economics has no priority; there is no single discourse exists among human. Therefore, we go from a base and superstructure model to discourse as a basis of everything.

Foucault thought about prisons, sexual activity, schools, religion (including the confessional), medicine, and politics, expanding what could be included in discourse. Literature could become another discourse. Literature does not necessarily become a separate aesthetic realm, for Foucault.

For example, in Nancy Armstrong’s lecture here at Brigham Young University about the bio-politics in Jane Eyre, she provided a Focaultian reading by examining ways the forces teach women to be women, such as through church sermons, but discourses (such as literature) assert certain subjectivity to train gender.

Another example could be seen in Wuthering Heights. In this novel, the reader learns about Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s untamed passions in a straight-laced, Victorian world. This strict society contrasts to a book about passions. Paradoxically, the book does not talk about the encouragement of such behavior but talks about of what we think about being repressed, sexually in this instance, in a particular society.

Therefore, with Foucault’s analysis of discourse, the subject of the novel can fit into the discussion of discourse. It is not just an intellectual field of power that shapes subjectivity. Readers see that literature shapes we are; therefore, we see literature not just as artistic expression or entertainment but also as a social or political work.

Conclusion

Cultural criticism is an exciting way to look at literature and art as a social force. Hegel’s concept of the dialectic has influenced criticism. Of course, Marx and Hegel differed: “Marx was a materialist in the sense that he believed, unlike Hegel, that what drives historical change are the material realities of the economic base of society. . . , rather than the ideological superstructure. . . of politics, law, philosophy, religion, and art that is built upon the economic base” (Richter 1199).

However, both Hegel and Marx believed in dialectical oppositions that occur in society. Marxism and Marx’s theory has been a dialectical relationship: “[Marxism] has always striven to modify, extend, and adapt [Marx’s canon] to changing circumstances rather than treating it as definitive and complete” (Habib 37). Therefore, Marxist critics continue this dialecticism.

Other critics, such as Arnold and Williams, could view evolutions that occur—the change of poetry as the new religion for Arnold and the interchanges that occur between the base and superstructure for Williams.

For Benjamin, Adorno, and Horkheimer, they “saw modern mass culture as regimented and reduced to a commercial dimension; and they saw art as embodying a unique, critical distance for this social and political world” (Habib 34). Foucault’s emphasis on the plurality of discourse could lead to the question: what new discourses could the future hold?

Richter argues, “Marxist theory and the application of Marxist theory out literature have taken a dizzying variety of forms, depending, among other things, on how the literary text is positioned relative to material reality and to ideology” (Richter 1199– 1200).

These cultural criticisms and theories have changed the way readers see the world and consider their lives within the societal structures they are born into. One can wonder what new insights and theories will continue to be influenced by these early theorists.

 

~ Works Cited:

Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Arnold, Matthew. The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Habib, M. A. R. Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History. Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Lectures on Fine Art.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Phenomenology of Spirit.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. “Dialectic of Enlightenment.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Marx, Karl. “The German Ideology.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Williams, Raymond. “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

The Author

Expressive Theory

Expressive theory, which exploded from the 1700s into the 1800s, “stressed the relationship between the work of the art and the artist, particularly the special faculties of mind and soul that the artist brings to the act of creation” (Richter 2). Perhaps social change impacted the shift from rhetorical criticism to expressive criticism. The explosion of the printing press and the reading of the masses contributed to this shift to expressive theory. Less-educated people who now had access to literature unknown to this class before made the matter of taste of the upmost importance to theorists.

As a result, theorists considered the importance of taste; while theorists “examined the inner experience of readers, [theorists] found that the faculties behind good taste, the capacities that made ideal readers—delicate imagination, good sense, wide experience—were the same as those that made the best poets” (Richter 7). The creative faculties, therefore, of the poet could be studied, understood, and theorized about in expressive theories. Kant, Coleridge, and Shelley all fall under the label of poet-centered theory, while both modern theorists, Bloom and Foucault, put the author in question. Yet all these theorists consider, whether implicitly or explicitly, the importance of the author, thus defining the author in various ways and changing our idea of literature in the process.

Kant, Coleridge, and Shelley all focus on the cult of the artist. There was a big shift from the “out there” (the world) to the “in here” (the mind). When talking about poetry, there was less worry about how accurately art represents the world and more focus on how a particular poem reveals the way the mind perceives beauty and the way that imagination inspires genius. Kant emphasizes the work itself—that beauty is a unique kind of judgment, which does not necessarily serve the ends of truth or goodness. Beauty, for Kant, is a value, and work has value, whether or not for a moral purpose or a truthful purpose. Beauty itself is good enough. Kant focuses on what goes on in the mind of the writer. Kant takes an epistemic turn by moving into the mind to understand literature; for example, Kant argues, “Genius is the inborn predisposition of the mind . . . through which nature gives the rule to art” (Leitch 445).

Kant

Kant believes the poet is important because the poet creates beauty.For Kant, “the genius (the creative artist) highlights freedom above all else,” and “[t]he genius has a natural gift, a talent, which enables the production of exemplary and original beautiful works in the absence of any preexisting formula or rule for that production” (Leitch 410). Kant focuses on a theory of knowledge by trying to understand the sources and limits of human knowledge. Kant is not content that knowledge is completely subjective, believing that we humans are wired for thinking (i.e., cause and effect, similarities and differences, etc.).

In the Critique of Judgment, Kant analyzes three categories (truth, goodness, and beauty), but Kant does not focus on the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty but rather our mind’s way of apprehending truth, how the mind perceives morals, and how the mind perceives beauty. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant believes that aesthetics, judgment, and poetry turn out to be really the keystone of our knowledge. Judgment, which includes our imagination and aesthetic sense, is the mediator between pure reason and practical reason, that is it mediates between knowledge and action by being both reason and sensory.

Aesthetics bring the will and truth together—but in a practical way. Kant’s point is that poetry fills in the gap or mediates between truth and goodness. Kant goes beyond art and literature into bigger questions, arguing that all things being equal, acting is the law for everyone

If we believe in absolute truth, then we are Kantians. But what is absolute truth? An absolute truth is true whether or not we agree, and it is true independent of anything we do, think, or say. Kant raises the questions of beauty. Are there universal judgments or relative judgments of beauty? Something beautiful may feel like a subjective universal. Beauty is complicated because it is partly in the mind and partly in the things themselves. The judgment of taste or beauty is not logical but aesthetic.

The judgment of beauty occurs in the mind, yet it feels universal. Beauty serves a purposive purposelessness—something seems like it has a purpose but does not think that it serves no purpose at all other than to be beautiful. Kant’s thoughts lead to the aesthetics movement or the art for art’s sake era of writers like Oscar Wilde. Kant’s thoughts also lead to the idea that art is its own reward, or you do not need to pay for art; this leads to artists, the creative geniuses, who starve in attics—alienated, unappreciated, and alone. While Kant believes “[t]he experience of beauty tells us that the mind and world fit,” yet Kant also argues that “[t]he sublime, in contrast, shows us a misfit between mind and world” (Letich 409).

When we sense the sublime, our imagination strives to progress, and our imagination tries to grasp infinity, but our reason tries to embrace and enclose in a system that we can control. The sublime is infinity versus totality. Yet we cannot comprehend the vastness of its space. Despite this inadequacy within us, we still have the concept of infinity even if there is no experience with infinity. The sublime happens in our head—mind, soul, spirit. The sublime is an effect of our thinking and perception, not an attribute of the world out there. Even the ability to think proves that the mind has a power surpassing any standard sense. As Kant says, “Thus sublimity is not contained in anything in nature, but only in our mind” (Leitch 440). As a result, the sublime is the clearest evidence that Kant is moving into the mind (of the author as genius).

Perhaps Kant’s real purpose of art or literature is for pleasure. Language and form contribute to the reader’s pleasure of something. Maybe when reading a play, the reader will stop to consider a particular passage that seems to freeze in its tracks; this passage may not forward the plot, but the reader doesn’t care because of the beauty that pleases. It may be out of context but the reader pays attention and listens. These passages can be so great but have nothing to do with the play; therefore, the passages of beauty have no purpose (nothing political, dogmatic, plot-wise, etc.) other than to be pleasing. Some people argue that a poet is just trying to make money, but passages like these, full of beauty, suggest that writing is a good thing that brings about goodness, truth, and beauty.

Coleridge

Coleridge focuses on the creation of something beautiful out there, emphasizing the active mind of the artist, like Kant. Coleridge believes in primary imagination, secondary imagination, and fancy. While primary imagination is the mind’s ability to perceive, secondary imagination coexists with the will or what we draw on to create memories from our reality (the creative/artistic). In other words, the poet’s own mind is primary imagination, while the poetic genius is the secondary imagination.

Therefore, we go into the mind not just the form on the page. Imagination effects literature. Past literature, following strict rules like iambic pentameter and heroic couplets, could be following primary imagination, while the Romantic poets followed perhaps more of a secondary imagination, following what his or her mind tells him or her to do (or following the will of what the poet’s genius or the poet’s mind tells him or her to do).

On the other hand, fancy is basically a combination of preexisting things fused together; you do not animate them or bring them to life but reorganize them in space and time. Consequently, fancy is not as creative as imagination: “Coleridge’s theory of the primary and secondary imagination honors the creative capacity of persons while remaining steadfast to the primacy of God; even more, Coleridge implies that each re-creative act that a poet performs is an act of worship” (Leitch 582).

How we perceive the world makes realities, even if it is plural realities. As we become aware of multiple perceptions and possibilities, we choose the life we live in. We choose a world of eternal possibilities, and other realities can always impinge the integrated whole, big picture. Someone can change his or her view, switching to remake reality. Imagination also becomes a choice. And the author has a super imagination connected with genius. When defining the author, Coleridge asks, “What is poetry? is so nearly the same question with, what is a poet? that the answer to the one is involved in the solution of the other” (Leitch 590).

The author has a super imagination, and when connected with literature, the author’s imagination enhances the literature, making it more pleasurable for the reader. Coleridge questions the coherence or unity of the text; therefore, the organic whole becomes the basis of good literature for Coleridge. A reader can analyze a play if it is anachronistic. The play may seem like a mess, but the reader can look for underlying unity. Through incongruity, the text makes itself aware and becomes an organic work of art. The reader has to work to pull the context of the play together through analysis and synthesis, intellectually separating the distinguishable parts but then restoring the parts to unity.

The first purpose of poetry is the beauty and pleasure we get from it and then connect it with the whole and its parts. As the reader reconciles apparent opposites or paradoxes, there becomes an active cooperation between the text and the reader, suggesting that the text is something organic and alive.

Shelley

Shelley, like Coleridge, also emphasizes the nature of art, or the imagination, while looking at the principles of the mind. While Kant focuses on the mind and how poetry is the go-between of goodness and pleasure, and Coleridge discusses how poetry is in the mind of the author in regards to imagination, Shelley believes that the poet is the unacknowledged legislator to the world (of morals and of mankind) (Leitch 613).

Because the poet is inspired, poetry has the power to inspire others and improve the world. The poet can become like a poet-prophet. Shelley is outraged that poets starve in attics unappreciated. For Shelley, “[p]oetry acts in another diviner manner” through the mind’s “a thousand unapprehend combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar” (596). Language is not just cognitive; language communicates entire ranges of what it means to be human, including emotions and our highest ideas, our morality, and our spirituality.

Poetry gives delight and is an instrument of moral improvement; thus, poetry becomes more efficacious than moral philosophy. Poetry is the driving force of culture and the history of human experience and thought. Through the creation of poetry, “a poet participates in the divine nature” (600), since “[p]oetry is indeed something divine” (609). Poetry has divine sources with divine effects, but the poets are inspired: it is not just poetry, but it is the poets themselves who are inspired and then translate benefits for all. For Shelley, “[p]oetry is the record of the best and happiest moment of the happiest and best minds” (610) of the poet, since “[a] Poet, as he is the author to others of the highest wisdom, pleasure, virtue, and glory, so he ought personally to be the happiest, the best, the wisest, and the most illustrious of men” (611).

Poets enhance beauty, reconcile contradictions, and recreate the world. By shifting to the poet, Shelley emphasized the ultimate conditions of poetry that exist in the mind and in the imagination, which is more than just the ability to clone images of realities and is more than reason (imagination is cognitive and emotional, moral and religious, and richer, therefore, than mere reason alone). This all comes down to the poet. Kant shifted into the mind, Coleridge shifted into the mind through analyzing imagination, and Shelley shifted into the mind through analyzing morals.

Foucault & Bloom

Foucault and Bloom are both interested in the history of the poet. Bloom believes the poet struggles with his or her precursors, thus experiencing an anxiety of influence, yet Bloom even admits that his precursors are Nietzsche and Freud. As Bloom explains, “[p]oetic history . . . is held to be indistinguishable from poetic influence, since strong poets make that history by misreading one another, so as to clear imaginative spaces for themselves” (Leitch 1651).

This perspective of the author is useful for the way we read literature—that is to read every text as a response to all the previous literature or to see how many traces of earlier literature that are there so that you can see a struggle between the text and a previous text for precedence. The reader can then work out the strategy of the battle, explaining how this text changed from the earlier text.

In contrast, Foucault focuses on how discourse changes and evolves while defining the author-function. For Barthes, the birth of the reader comes from the death of the author, making it possible for different readers and a multiplicity of readings; yet, for Foucault, the author-function provides an array of possibilities constrained by the author, reduced down to singularity, suggesting an ideological construct, not a natural construct. Foucault summarizes the functions of the author as the following:

[T]he author-function is [first] tied to the legal and institutional systems that circumscribe, determine, and articulate the realm of discourses; [second,] it does not operate in a uniform manner in all discourses, at all times, and in any given culture; [third,] it is not defined by the spontaneous attribution of a text to its creator, but through a series of precise and complex procedures; [finally,] it does not refer . . . to an actual individual insofar as it simultaneously gives rise to a variety of egos and to a series of subjective positions that individuals of any class may come to occupy. (Leitch 1485)

This author-function occurs within the discursive system, thus revealing mechanics of discourse in the absence of the author. It is not an individual over a text or group of texts but rather a function that the author serves to established systems: “The concept author . . . is an organizing device, permitting us to group certain texts together” (Leitch 1470).

Foucault “questions and examines the concept of authorship and, in insights that were taken up by the New Historicism, argued that analysis of literary texts could not be restricted to these texts themselves or to their author’s psychology and background; rather, the larger contexts and cultural conventions in which texts were produced needed to be considered” (Habib 151). This influences how we look at literature. When we read, we look for boundaries or how power of reading reflects what this discourse controls or tries to transgress.

The reader is not interested in the author or who he or she is. Rather, the reader is interested in how things articulate within the discursive system (i.e., is the text resisting the system, or is the text following established norms?). As a result, reading becomes more practical by how you group texts; it is no longer the genius of the author. The author has multiple functions, thus expanding the reader experience through various discourses into something more accessible, global, or multicultural.

The reader analyzes the text in different ways by seeing literature in a network, being influenced in a thousand different directions. Literature is immersed, not transcendent. As a result, the idea of the author is diminished if the reader reduces the author to a series of cultural influences.

Wrapping It Up

In conclusion, for Bloom and Foucault, there is less emphasis on the enlightened, genius poet, which contrasts greatly to Kant, Coleridge, and Shelly. There is less emphasis on genius and more emphasis on influence for Bloom and Foucault; poetry, therefore, could be seen as more accessible and more able to influence culture, in some ways, than what the Romantics suggested of an exceedingly brilliant poet speaking down to mere mortals.

Our understanding of what the author is changes what literature should do. Early theorists perhaps would argue that the author-genius is inspired and consequently bestows morals (like with Shelley) and absolute truth (like with Kant) through poetry and literature.

For the modern theorists, by struggling with wanting to be different or how the author is influenced, this makes literature become less influenced and less on a pedestal, and success of literature is not based then on whether the poet can change the world. The early theorists all talked about how the poet influences through the poet’s genius, while the later theorists focused on how the poet is influenced. Although the earlier theorists emphasized that the reader should be inspired (maybe through the sublime or beauty) as well as brought up higher (Shelley), the later theorists would focus more on the individualistic nature of the modern experience.

Works Cited

  • Bloom, Harold. “The Anxiety of Influence.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Biographia Literaria. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Kant, Immanuel. Critique of the Power of Judgment. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Habib, M. A. R. Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History. Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.
  • Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.
  • Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Defence of Poetry, or Remarks Suggested by an Essay Entitled “The Four Ages of Poetry”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Creative Fiction: “Entrepó”

Entrepó

Last summer of the Year of the Revolution
The First Unit split into three: the sapphire hearts, the ruby stars, the emerald diamonds; the Second Unit argued about whether sapphires and rubies would join
The Third Unit didn’t care
I was part of the Third Unit,
Yet at the time, I knew nothing

Politics meant nothing to me, and talking heads sounded like voodoo magic gone wrong
It’s not that I didn’t care—I just didn’t know, I just wasn’t aware of my surroundings
All I cared about was my surgery, a little preoccupied, I guess you could say
That summer everything would change
I was born different, and, finally, I would fit in with other kids my age
I couldn’t go away from class because, well, my parents didn’t think that I would fit in
I’d be made fun of, pushed, teased, tricked out of a normal adolescent’s experience
If the surgery went well, they said, I could go with the other students to class
Homeschool would no longer be an option
Okay, I said to them. I can do this, I said.

The surgery experimental and expensive—I was a lucky one, my parents told me
The requirements included connections and being over the age of fifteen—I was that plus an additional four months due to paperwork and payments and under-the-table negotiations
I wasn’t really aware about that either until later

Never before had I been allowed to play with kids my age
Nor had I been allowed really go outside alone without either parent by my side
I could walk fine and learned how to read through hard work, but it had happened through blood, sweat, tears
And learned about all sorts of history
Like pop star music hits and movie quotes and listened to everything I could get my hands on
I wanted to be prepared to fit in as much as the other kids once the surgery happened
One day I heard there would be a live performance of a play I had partly read a few years ago, downtown the night before my surgery

A famous name blurred by, I think it came from the TV, yet I just couldn’t figure out his name
Was it foreign? I hadn’t heard of it before, but I knew that I needed to go see this play, even if I hadn’t completely finished reading it. . . At least I kinda knew what it was about
What if the other students would go to this performance?
I needed to go, to fit in, to be cultured
To hear the words from Mr. K— D——

I wasn’t to go, especially never alone, I was told
It was too dangerous, they claimed
Being alone at that time of night at this time of year was especially unsafe
I would enjoy it more after the surgery, and the family could all go; my parents lovingly informed me that the Glasmere’s party was that evening, couldn’t I remember that, silly me

Because I wasn’t allowed to go outside, I asked if they could pick up some books for me, from the library since we weren’t able to purchase books that weren’t used–too expensive
Especially maps, like of old places and such, at the library nowadays
I had asked the maid to pick up a book about bus maps and descriptions of the city
The maid, in her little distant voice, placed her tiny hands in mine and promised to do so
“Ah vill geet vou deese boooks. Vut vill Ah dhell vour pahrents, vough?”
They would worry, of course, about “reading” so much before surgery and thinking too much and worrying too much about the world instead of focusing on preparing for surgery
I thought she had caught onto my plan
But no worries–I told her that reading helped to distract me and not to bother my parents with the silly things I wanted to read from the special library collection
Feeling those pages were liberation in my hands, freedom for my heart
Hours were spent in my room, hiding these treasure troves under my pillows
Pouring my soul into my liberty, my social salvation

The last performance of the show was the night before my surgery
My parents, fortunately, were to be guests elsewhere and asked,
“Are you sure you can be alone for a night without us both by your side”–they feared my fate without knowing my schemes
My dreams of running away were a silent whisper in my mind
The car was ready, the dinner prepared beforehand, and all was set according to plan
Kisses were shared, good-byes were said
Off they dashed into the world as I was left to remain alone in my room
But I had planned every moment as to not to be missed
As soon as I could no longer hear the car’s vroooooooom, I began my journey, which started in the opposite direction
I would turn three lefts at the corner, then one right at the last
The bus would arrived every ten minutes

Right on time
People chattered around me, their voices blending and blurring together as we collectively scrambled onto the steps
My careful steps were guided and safe
As I took my seat on my first bus ride alone

The bus stopped right in front of the theatre so I waited patiently, listening for The Charleston’s Theatre to ring through the air
Stepped off, found the line, bought my ticket, through the doors, showed my seat
All happened without a problem to bog mind, to distract my clarity
My stomach fluttered and quivering thoughts trembled in my mind of being caught in my act of escape
But no one mumbled in my ear to leave, and no one grabbed my arm in accusation
I merely sat in my seat when the curtains rustled
Voices of a chorus of men and women rung in my ears
Sweet, odd music–melodiously sad and melancholy–echoed through the theatre
Describing the fate of the hero at stake
He would do despicable things, but why would he do those acts?
Someone muttered behind me on my right how this was suppose to be Director Kaffkav’s best work yet
Another person on my left perhaps two rows back sighed and muttered about the beauty of the costumes, while the person beside me turned to me, her voice creaking like a frog’s old croak, saying how shocked she was that the staging was so bare

I said nothing, focusing on the lyrical words the performers spoke
These actors could play their voices as if they were instruments
Gentle yet strong; sometimes passionate but controlled

My favorite voice to listen to was the main actor, Gulioni Voce
His voice rung like sturdy, silver bells through the hall
Surprised—no ringing tinge of Italian when he spoke English translation of this Greek tragedy
My blood curled when I heard the prophet’s prophecy
My hair stood on end when Voce’s chilling cry sounded when he found the body of his role’s wife
My stomach churned when the despair of his voice sounded as he gouged out his eyes
The woman next to me muttered how startling the gold the pins looked in contrast to the black set that enshrined the actor
No man, no woman, no one is fortunate
Until they are dead
The echoes of those words chilled me to my very core

Even after the play ended
And the audience clapped
Those words resonated, as if bouncing back and forth inside my empty mind
All the way home
As I sat silently on the bus ride home, unable to look out the window and see the actors exiting the theatre to sign autographs or the audience’s plastered smiles or to see the red carpet rolled out, like blood spilling into the flowing waters of the Nile

I wanted to be Moses of the Old Testament—let my people go, let my Oedipus go
To the pharaoh of Egypt, to the writer of the Greek tragedy
Oedipus would never have done that, would never have gouged out his eyes, no matter how terrible the crime—sight was a gift from god, and no one should take that away
Sighing, I leaned my head to the left, resting my head against the hard rail, but I just couldn’t believe that the writer would or could ever write something as terrible as that
I guess I should have finished reading the play before I went to go see it live
That way I wouldn’t have been so surprised by the ending
I didn’t know—I didn’t know that would end that way
My head suddenly jerked forward, mid-thought

A screech of the breaks sounded, and I couldn’t feel the bus moving anymore
Why had we stopped?
The bus was silent, so I guess I was the last one, although the ride had not been very long, and a voice sprung to life, I guess it sounded like it was coming out of little, square box near my right ear
“All passengers off, please. Now, please. Ma’am, that would be you.”
But it was early
This wasn’t my stop. I was waiting for number 520, not 430
None of my protests helped
The bus driver escorted me down the steps.

Apparently, this bus stopped at number 430 after 10:00 p.m.
No, it wouldn’t go any further
Yes, yes, yes. Cut through the park, honey. You can use your cane to follow the fence rails. On the other side of the park, yes, yes, bus 520, that’s right, will be the bus stop you need.

His words still echo in my ears: yes, yes, yes . . .
His job was done. He wanted me off. He wanted to go home
But so did I.
So I did the only thing I could do—I started my journey across the park

Although my life is in constant darkness, I learned to be able to feel darkness, or heavy darkness, I guess you could call it
Of course, it was dark outside, but the shrouded trees felt like a blasphemous shrine, like the ones Catholics use, or maybe not, I read about it once in a book
Like dark magic or Satan worship or something I can’t quite remember the name of, you know, how certain words like that can just leave your brain in a moment
The park, I was completely unfamiliar with
The path, it was unknown

The fence, it rambled tap, tap, tap as my cane hit each bar as I walked
Alone, utterly alone, and lost—the fence ended, and I was left at a fork in the park’s pathway
As far as I could tell, at this point in time, no one was around me
Alone, utterly alone, and lost

“Hey, tootsie. You a red or a blue? You sure as hell better not be one of ’em greens’.”

A voice erupted behind me—I dropped my cane

“Who said that?” I mumbled under my breath. No one answered. Then I said it again, louder. Then again, even louder. The fourth time I said it, my voice came out in a shuddering scream.

But nobody answered my query
Yet I could hear, like bats flapping their wings in a cave, several bodies begin swish, swish with their clothing, you know how it rubs against your legs, and they came, circling me, and I didn’t know which way to turn, you know when you feel disoriented and don’t know right form left or up or down

I think I tripped, maybe over my cane I had dropped and tried desperately to feel out with my feet, but maybe it was one of the boys he started jeering near my ear and my heart jumped and a stumbled over a root or something or maybe it was a foot, I really don’t know

“I don’t see no red or no greenie or no even blue mark on ’er. What’d’e do?” The voice whined, like a sick dog in the heat.

“No mark means no side, right’e’o?” Another voice jumped out across the other side.

“No. What are you saying. No mark means ain’t mean no side. No mark means she one- ’em, don’t cha ’member, you’d be shitin’, fools. She one ’em. She a thirdy. She bets she’s one ’em purdy, thirdy, uppedys.”

The voice lurked like seeping black spit bursting from a tar pit
Then I felt a kick, and I was already on the ground, but my face landed in the gritty sand, and the sand rubbed my face raw, and he kicked again and then I felt more feet kicking me and a rumbling chant emerged in the back throttle of their voices “dirty thirdy, dirty thirdy” because I was part of the Third Unit

Please—Stop—Please—No, I’m—Please—

They did not hear my cries, and the more I said, the more they hurt me, and finally, someone kicked me in the mouth, and I felt warm blood spurt out on my face as two or three guys grabbed my legs and dragged me, like a dead, worthless deer you move out of the road, to a nearby tree, I guess more hidden from the path, even though I scratched and clawed and tried to scream but someone gagged me and someone grabbed my head and someone tied a hard cloth across my mouth

Hot, weathered rope burned across my hands and as they tied me to the tree like a wounded puppy being punished, and they tore my pretty white tights as they ripped and tore with their fingers and whatever they could grab and they hurt me, deeper, deeper, inside, they tore and I tried to fight I did, but I grew tired and melted and hurt as they climbed, as if conquered, on top of me, one, two, three, four, five. . .

They climbed on top of me and tried to climb me like a tree, each digging, tearing into my aching, bleeding body

The stabbing thrusts and jabs began to slow, tears and blood stained my face, and the mutterings “dirty thirdy,” after they threw something at my face and spat on my mangled flesh, began to fade in the cooling evening of the darkness
I had never felt darkness as I did that night
Salty, painful tears sprawled down from my silent eyes as I wished in the fragrantless stillness that I had never disobeyed my parent’s advice, that I had stayed home, that I had never gone outside alone

Because I never, ever in my life had felt alone as I did in this moment
I was left on the ground, like a tied up calf about to be sacrificed on an alter

When a voice emerged across my left side, I jolted and convulsed, but a hushing sound. . .
A girl’s hand touched my face as she loosened my gag, and I could feel another boy’s hands as he cut the ties from my hands

“Why’re ya oot ’night? Don’t cha know. . . ’night were da raids? Ya don’t have yar star or emerald on?”

“Oh, oh, oh, oh, Emelily. . . she one a ’em. Can’t cha see? She’d be a thirdy!”

I breathed in and out and tried to calm myself. My aching back made it difficult to sit up, but my mouth and hands were free.

“Yes, I’m from the third district,” I whispered. “But I’m blind. Do you see my cane? Please, please hand that to me. Yes, that’s it, yes. Please, can you help me get home?”

The young boy and girl were silent for a moment.

“Please,” I begged in my quietest tone. “I don’t care what side you’re on. And you shouldn’t care what side I’m on. We’re the same, can’t you see that? I know I can’t see, but you two are good, aren’t you?”

The two sat in silence for a few more moments. The girl then decided that her brother and she would help me home. But we would have to be fast. I realize now that they could have been killed if they were seen helping me. I pray to God that they weren’t.
When I told the little boy and girl my address, the little girl pinned a star to my chest. I was now one of them.

The little boy with soft, gentle hands delicately held my hand, and the girl, several inches taller than the other child, carefully wrapped her arms around me to give me support
We walked as quickly as I was able to, given that, although nothing felt broken, my back hurt to move or to be touched, and my ankle was twisted

The three of us, creatures lurking through the night, hide in the shadows and behind trees, avoiding other groups storming through the park, attacking passerbys, and those muffled screams sent shivers through my body

No police sirens were heard—no justice would be served this night
The attackers were the judges, their parents the jury, these two children, my saviors

The girl whispered in my ear when we had exited the park. My home was just a block or two away from the park. The streets were hushed, the houses silent.
No cars zoomed by in a rush to make curfew, and I knew my parents would not be home for hours still.

The Third District went to sleep at 8 p.m. during the workdays, unless it was a Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday, because the Third District never worked—of course, unless you counted shuffling cards and enjoying hors d’oeuvres

The little boy and girl helped me enter the back gate of the house, holding my broken body somehow with their unexplainable strength
My bedroom was on the first floor of the flat, the window on the side, and I had left the screen down on purpose so I could sneak in after the play had finished
I whispered good-bye to the children, but I couldn’t tell if they had already scrambled away, back to the park to save other strangers like they had saved me
I closed the window and locked it

After I felt my way to the door and opened the bathroom door, I turned the water on and stepped in while pulling my filthy clothes off; while the water ran, I scrubbed the mix of blood and dirt off.
I was glad I couldn’t look in the mirror. Never before had I felt such shame, such guilt.
I let the water run. I just sat, empty and hollow and naked, in the bare tub.

“Oh, Julia! You are up! Did you hear the news? Last night, the Ruby stars, that’s what they’re calling them now, they attacked several people in the park last night. Your father and I will need to move soon. That nonsense! So close to our flat! It’s unheard of. Those people. . . well, indeed, they’ve never ventured so close to the Third Unit before in all my life. Can you hear that, Julia! Never before have I ever seen this trag—”

“Nor have I, mother. I have never seen before, you know that,” I interrupted.

My mother paused. I could hear her shuffling papers, and something was sizzling on the stove. She knew I wasn’t suppose to eat breakfast. But there she was, making eggs or bacons or toast for me, and I wasn’t suppose to eat.

“Oh, Julia! Don’t be so sensitive. You know today you will be able to see! Your surgery is
just in a few hours! I know I should have stayed home last night. Oh, you know. To be with you. I should have known you’d be more nervous than you’ve been letting on. But that party, oh the dresses and the food, it was all just so divine.”

“No.”

“No, what? What’s wrong now?” My mother’s tone pinched and twisted like knives stabbing me in my throbbing lower back.

“I’m not going. I can’t go today. I’ve decided I don’t wan the surgery.”

My mother’s voice shook, “And when was this decided? It’s already been paid for. The arrangements are made, Julia. Don’t be silly, Julia. You’re being selfish, Julia. You’re just sacred, that’s normal, it’s perfectly normal, in fact, but think how long you’ve been waiting for this, Julia. You’ve always wanted this.”

She had no clue. She had no clue what had happened to me. She was blissfully unaware. She was just as blind as I was. She couldn’t see her own daughter.

I didn’t answer her. I just walked into my room. Shame burned in my face, but I locked the door because I couldn’t bear to hear her any more. I couldn’t listen to the words she would ask if she saw the tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t bear the shame any longer. I turned the lock on the door and that was that.

I would not go to the surgery—it didn’t matter how long my mother begged, encouraged, threatened, yelled, cried.
I didn’t open my door, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think, but all I knew was that I would never ever see the world that had done this to me. Nor could I ever see the faces of my parents if they ever learned what had happen to me, that I had disobeyed them, that I had

I have just hid in my room, writing my experience in poetry (I do have a computer and taught myself how to type), right now as I do, I know that it’s not very good, and sometimes I forget commas and periods and misspel words and maybe the grammar are sometimes wrong, and that there’s no rhyme scheme, no great story, no great tragic hero, yet it feels like a Greek tragedy to me, and my lines ramble on and on just as my thoughts do

This is my story, my experience. I will read and reread it from beginning to end. No man, no woman, no one—not even this young, naïve blind girl—are fortunate until they are dead

I am Oedipus. I am blind.

 

~ Some Explanation:

Entrepó, as used here in the title, in Greek means to turn to confusion, to put to shame, or to recoil in shame. Recently, I read in the news about a horrific event that happened; a man raped a blind woman. I wanted to analyze the idea of reader’s response in this story/poem (is it arrogant to make up the term “storem”?) set in the unspecified future (perhaps something like this could happen even tomorrow) set in a revolutionary and restless time with a young, blind girl, who is a reader of the special library’s books written in brail. Sometime, not mentioned here in the story, this blind girl read Oedipus.

How would a blind reader respond to the text and then a performance of that the Greek tragedy, Oedipus? Oedipus is a complicated play, and I am not sure if this play would fit into the requirements of Johnson’s intense morality, even though Oedipus is punished severely at the end. Perhaps the Greek tragedy, following the Horacian principles, does entertain, by shocking readers, and instructs, by showing readers what not to do.

Yet this young girl does not know how to respond to the play. The audience members are supposed to represent various interpretive communities, such as what Fish proposes, shown here through their (undeniably rude) running commentary throughout the play; the audience each has his or her own bias, yet this does assist the blind girl in shaping her perspective, since she selects which comments she values, which is revealed in this story through what comments she remembers and writes down.

Even though the girl can hear the audience’s responses, the blind girl still does not know how to respond to her experience. Yes, she read the play. Yes, she watched the play. But her underlying question is why anyone would ever make themselves blind—removing one’s sight, when receiving sight is the very thing she has longed for her entire life.

It is not until the unexpected happens that the blind girl’s perspective changes: the bus stops, she becomes lost, she is attacked and maliciously raped by a gang. The naïve girl is not completely aware of what has happened, but she knows it is something so serious and terrible that she cannot tell her parents. She feels like she has ignored her parents’ counsel (she was not to leave home), just as Oedipus ignored the prophecy of Tiresias. As a result, the blind girl feels inexorable shame, just as Oedipus felt shame.

Rather than plunging long, golden pins into her eyes as Oedipus does, the blind girl refuses to have the surgery performed to restore her eyesight, choosing a life of darkness to never see the light of the world where people did these terrible things to her. She opts to read from the safety of her home and in the darkness of never seeing the shame in her parents eyes as reflect in the shame of her own heart.

One claim Iser makes is that every time the reader reads a text, there is the possibility of discovering new perspectives from each reader. Yet, because of this traumatic experience, the blind girl continues to read and reread the play. Now, she is caught in a trap, like a mouse caught in a spinning wheel. I would like to believe that my character will one day, hopefully soon, reach out for help.

Although her relationship with her parents is strained, perhaps she will confess what has happened to the maid or to some other trusted adult. Just as sharing stories with other readers brings out different perspectives, I believe that through telling her rape story to others, she will gain new perspectives as people tell their stories, or their perspectives, to her.

Before she is able to share her story with others, she feels like she must write down her story, in poetic form, because that’s what the great Greek tragedians did. By writing her story, she shares it, even if it is only with herself. Her writing is full of errors, but it is supposed to be flawed.

Please leave any comments or questions below!!!  🙂