All entries for Friday 04 May 2007

May 04, 2007

Billy Collins: Paradelle for Susan


I remember the quick, nervous bird of your love.
I remember the quick, nervous bird of your love.
Always perched on the thinnest, highest branch.
Always perched on the thinnest, highest branch.
Thinnest love, remember the quick branch.
Always nervous, I perched on your highest bird the.

It is time for me to cross the mountain.
It is time for me to cross the mountain.
And find another shore to darken with my pain.
And find another shore to darken with my pain.
Another pain for me to darken the mountain.
And find the time, cross my shore, to with it is to.

The weather warm, the handwriting familiar.
The weather warm, the handwriting familiar.
Your letter flies from my hand into the waters below.
Your letter flies from my hand into the waters below.
The familiar waters below my warm hand.
Into handwriting your weather flies you letter the from the.

I always cross the highest letter, the thinnest bird.
Below the waters of my warm familiar pain,
Another hand to remember your handwriting.
The weather perched for me on the shore.
Quick, your nervous branch flew from love.
Darken the mountain, time and find was my into it was with to to.

NOTE: The paradelle is one of the more demanding French fixed forms, first appearing in the langue d’oc love poetry of the eleventh century. It is a poem of four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas, must be identical. The fifth and sixth lines, which traditionally resolve these stanzas, must use all the words from the preceding lines and only those words. Similarly, the final stanza must use every word from all the preceding stanzas and only those words.

For more on Collins’ joke of the paradelle see its Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradelle


Image of Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party

Follow-up to MP3 Article on Judy Chicago from The Midnight Heart

Judy Chicago

MP3 Article on Judy Chicago

See this fascinating podcast about Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.


Pierre Bourdieu on The Logic of Practice

Belief and the Body

Practical sense is a quasi-bodily involvement in the world which presupposes no representation either of the body or the world, still less of their relationship. (66)

According to Bourdieu, a feel for a game is the idea of an encounter between habitus and field, between incorporated history and an objectified history. (habitus = physical type esp. as predisposing to disease(med); characteristic appearance, manner of growth etc. of a plant or animal). Feel for the game is what gives the game a subjective sense – a meaning a raison d’etre, but also a direction, an orientation impending outcome for those who take part and therefore acknowledge what is at stake. It gives the game an objective sense; one has a sense of ‘sensible’ practices, conditions of enactment, filled with sense and rationality. It is a consensual validation and a collective belief in the game and its fetishes.

Because native membership in a field implies a feel for the game in the sense of a capacity for practical anticipation of the ‘upcoming’ future continued in the present , everything that takes place in it seems sensible full of sense and objectivity directed in a judicious direction. (66)

What about questions of the aesthete caught in the instant or the idle spectator? Bourdieu writes: “This is exactly the effect produced by the novel when, aiming to be a mirror, pure contemplation, it breaks down action into a series of snapshots, destroying the design, the intention, which, like the thread of discourse would unify the representation, and reduces the acts and actors to absurdity” (67). The field is an arbitrary social construct.

One does not embark on the game by a conscious act, one is born into the game, with the game. (67)

The vocation is to the learning of a game as the acquisition of mother-tongue is to learning a foreign language. When learning one’s own language, one is not aware of its structural rules so much. The earlier the player enters the game, the less aware they are of the associated learning: they believe in the game. “Belief is thus an inherent part of belonging to a field.” It is not the pragmatic faith interrogated by Kant, but an arbitrary acceptance of an uncertain proposition for the purpose of action. It is a practical faith that debars those who would destroy the game. You cannot live another game – “You have to be born into it”. You cannot use other game sites like science to objectify the game, because it is from here that your own beliefs are generated.

Practical belief is a state of the body rather than a state of the mind. The Doxa is the relationship of immediate adherence that is established in practice between a habitus and a field to which it is attuned; it is the pre verbal taking for granted of world that flows practical sense.

Enacted belief, instilled by childhood learning that threats the body as a living memory pad, an automaton that leads the mind unconsciously along it and as a repository for the most precious values, is the form par excellence of the blind and symbolic thought. (62)

Practical sense converted into motor schemes causes practices – it is founded on the invisibility of common sense. Bourdieu writes: “It is because agents never know completely what they are doing that what they do has more sense than they know” (69). Social order takes advantage of disposition of the body and language, to function as depositories of deferred thoughts that can be triggered off at a distance in space and time simply by re-placing the body in an overall posture which recalls associated thoughts and feelings. E.g. collective ceremonial meetings or bodily expression of emotion. Bourdoieu is adamant that: “Symbolic power works partly through the control of other people’s bodies”(69). Arms and legs are full of numb imperatives (Proust). Fundamental principles of arbitrary content of culture inscribed on the body – how you eat or sit – become unconscious.

The cunning of pedagogic reason lies precisely in the fact that it manages to extort what is essential while seeming to demand the insignificant, such as the respect for forms and forms of respect which are most visible and most ‘natural’ manifestation of respect for the established order or the concessions of politeness, which almost always contain political concessions. (69)

Bourdieu suggests that there is opposition between male and female bodies in actions such as walking, eating, stance and that thier bodies are orientated in different directions such as towards ground or upwards. Bourdieu points to the division of labour in oil gathering; the man knocks down the olives, the woman stoops to pick them up. Socialisation instils a sense of equivalences between physical space and social space and between two movements in two spaces – rising/falling, straight/bent, dominance/humility.

The body language of sexual domination and submission has provided the fundamental principles of both the body language and verbal language of social domination and submission. (72)

This is grounded in the social and sexual division of labour. The relation to the body is inseparable from habitus, language and time. Practical mimesis is the relation of identification but has nothing in common with imitation, because it is an unconscious mimesis. “The body believes in what it plays at: it weeps if it mimes grief”(73). What the body learns is not knowledge; it is one, it is the subject. The body hexis speaks directly to the motor function. Every society provides structural exercises, which lend to transmit a particular form of mastery. Its verbal products are proverbs, sayings, gnomic poems, songs and riddles. Its objects are tools, the house and the village. Its practices are games, contests of honour, gift exchanges and rites. It includes temporal disciplines – the regulating of time and/or temporal distribution. Doing things outside the proper time is suspicious. The inhabited space of the house is the site of generative schemes, imposing integration of body space with cosmic and social space. It includes the contrasting centrifugal male space and centripetal female orientation. The male relationship to the body and sexuality is sublimination. It all defines sexual identity.


Susan Bordo on The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity

Reconstructing Feminist Discourse on the Body

The body – what we eat, how we dress, the daily rituals through which we attend to the body – is a medium of culture (165).

Bordo suggests in thsi study that the body can be a metaphor for culture. Plato, Hobbes and Irigaray suggest that an imagination of body morphology has provided a blueprint for diagnosis and/or vision of social and political life. The body is not only a text of culture but also a direct practical locus of social control. Through habitual routines, culture is a “made body”, so it is beyond consciousness. Political strivings may be undermined by the life of our bodies – it is not the craving body of Plato, Augustine and Freud, but the “docile body” regulated by cultural norms of cultural life.

Foucault highlights the primacy of practice over belief. The body is controlled not be ideology but through the organisation of time, space, our daily lives; our bodies are trained, shaped and “impressed with the stamp of prevailing historical forms of selfhood/desire, masculinity/femininity”(166). Women are spending more time on the management of their bodies: this intensification is diversionary and subverting. It is the pursuit of a female ideal. Female bodies become docile bodies: “bodies whose forces and energies are habituated to external regulation, subjection, transformation, ‘improvement’”(166). Diet, make-up and dress are the central organising principles of a woman’s day. It is less socially orientated and more focused on self-modification. Inherent in this project is a feeling of lack as women never feel good enough. The preoccupation with the body is a backlash.

Bordo suggests that feminists need to develop a political discourse to combat this. This requires reconstructing the 1960s/70s feminist paradigm of the oppressors versus the oppressed, the villains versus the victims. Like Foucault, we must abandon the idea of power as being possessed by one group and levelled against another; instead it is a network of practices, institutions and technologies. Secondly, we need an analytics adequate to describe a power whose central mechanisms are not repressive but constitutive (establishing). Thirdly, we need a discourse that will account for subversion of potential rebellion i.e. political backlash – how does the subject become enmeshed in collusion with forces that sustain her own oppression?

The Body as a Text of Femininity – Hysteria, Agoraphobia and Anorexia Nervosa

There is a certain symptomatology in these conditions: loss of mobility, loss of voice, the inability to leave home, feeding others while starving oneself, taking up space and whittling down the space that one’s body takes up. The body of the sufferer is inscribed with ideological construction of femininity emblematic of the period in question – that is an ideal. Femininity is written in exaggerated terms. The body becomes a graphic text, a statement about gender.

Hysteria is an exaggeration of stereotypically feminine traits. The nineteenth century lady was supposed to have the characteristics of delicacy, dreaminess, sexual passivity, having a charming lability and a capricious emotional state. (labile = unstable, apt to slip or change). This was the norm in femininity. The symptoms of hysteria were dissociations, drifting or fogging of perception, nervous tremors, faints and anaesthesias – these were all concretisations of the feminine mystique. The term hysterical was often interchangeable with the word feminine.

Femininity has now become a standardised visual image. We learn the rules of what a ‘lady’ is through bodily discourse – images tell us what face, body shape and clothes we need to have. Agoraphobia and anorexia are parodies of the female ideal. Agoraphobia began to rise in women in the 1950s and 60s when the female ideal was asserted as being situated in the home along with babies, sex and house work. Agoraphobia parodies this ideal: “If you want me in the home, I’ll stay home with a vengeance!”

The obsession of the anorectic/anorexic is hyper-slenderness for women. (anorectal = of or relating to the anus and rectum). It is meaning that makes the body admirable. Slenderness is the citadel of contemporary and historical meaning to the anorexic. The rules governing contemporary femininity are painfully described on the anorexic’s body. The construction of femininity is a double bind that legislates contradictory ideals.
1. Culture still widely advertises domestic conceptions of femininity casting woman as the dominant emotional and physical nurturer; she must feed others not herself – it is a totally other-orientated emotional economy. Female hunger for public power, independence, and sexual gratification must be contained. This is etched on the anorexic body.
2. The woman must balance female virtues with masculine language in professional arenas: self control, determination, cool, emotional discipline, mastery etc. A modern lifestyle must include self control and mastery with the advent of health kicks and gyms. The anorexic pursues these values. E.g. The Aliens character, Ripley nicknamed by Weaver as ‘Rambolina’.

Protest and Retreat in the Same Gesture

In all the conditions mentioned, the woman’s body becomes a surface on which conventional constructions of femininity are exposed. It is a language of suffering that speaks the pathology and violence lurking at the horizon of normal femininity. Pathology is an embodied protest, not a productive one but still a protest for those who do not have the language to speak.

The hysteric has a language of protest; Anna O’s aphasia rejected the symbolic order for the “mother-tongue” – that semiotic babble of infancy. (Dianne Hunter, Catherine Clement, Helene Cixous). (aphasia = the inability to express thought in words, or liability to understand thought as expressed in the spoken or written words of others, caused by brain disease or damage). Agoraphobia is a strike against the expectations of house wifely functions like shopping, driving children to school and accompanying husbands to social events. (Robert Seidentery). Hysteria prevents the wife from having to be the caretaker of others, while anorexia is a form of unconscious female protest that indicts a culture that suppresses female hunger. Yet the gesture that expresses protest can also express retreat – does the anorexia assuage a guilt that contemporary women will lead freer, less circumscribed lives than our mothers? The anorexic protest is self defeating since the life of the body becomes an all-absorbing fetish. Muteness is not the best way to protest.

Collusion, Resistance and the Body

Female pathology is a socially formed repression. Anorexia emerges out of conventional female practice – the diet! The Anorexic body is admired for its strength of will. The anorexic comes to hate feminine traits – does this connect to the cultural association of curvaceousness with incompetence? (Brett Silverstein). This is the way for a woman to enter a male body if not a male world.

Textuality, Praxis and the Body

(praxis = the practice or practical side of an art or science as distinct from its theoretical side; customary or accepted practice; a practical exercise). The notions of the useful body and the intelligible body are significant – the intelligible body is related to scientific, philosophic and aesthetic representations of the body. Nineteenth century women needed a feminine praxis to create a certain look: strait-lacing, minimal eating, reduced mobility – this rendered the female body unfit to perform activities outside designated space. This is the useful body responding to aestheticism’s norm. Bordo suggests that we must give attention to the useful body.


Silence and Narrative

(See ‘Introduction: Silences’ pages xi to xxvii).

Although the commentary in this book is specific to Stein, I think that it may have some relevance to my discussion of silence. I am particularly interested in obscurity as a kind of silence – this to me seems to be Doane’s argument. Doane discusses Stein’s statement that: ‘My writing is a clear as mud but mud settles and clear streams run on and disappear’. Doane also quotes Stein from Tender Buttons : ‘Why is there that sensible silence … Does silence choke speech or does it not.’ Doane provides more quotation from Stein’s essays, ‘France’ and ‘England’, and from her play What Happened .

A silence is no more than occasional. It respects understanding and salt and even a rope. (‘France’)

This comment reveals an ambiguous attitude to silence – it is ‘no more than occasional’. However, the idea of respect invigorates silence. There is space in silence for deep thought (‘understanding’), for flavour and savouring events (‘salt’) and for the contemplation of death and self-destruction (‘a rope’). All of these aspects are important in Welsh women’s poetics too.

Silence which makes silence gives that sense to all there is, silence which has light and water and vision and appetite and result and a motion and more exaggeration and no recklessness, silence which is there is not disturbed by expression. (‘France’)

Here silence is self-producing and continuous and it seems to be a more essential element of being. Silence has space for many more elements here such as sight, fulfilment, artifice and stability. It seems that silence and expression can co-exist here too.

What comes out of silence. What comes out of silence is that which having usefulness, that nature and fashion is not shown to be managed by the combination. (‘France’)

It is interesting that the initial sentence feel as if it should be a question, yet instead it is a flat statement creating the feeling that one fact is certain – something comes out of silence even if the actual product is uncertain. Usefulness is an interesting theme here. Deryn Rees-Jones writes of ‘useful’ silences in her poetics and it is clear here that silences are useful rather than repressive. There is a certain confusion in the grammatical construction and clauses of the second sentence which shows Stein constructing her silences in the sentence. What combination does she refer to? That of silence and usefulness or nature and fashion? In either case, it seems that dialogues within silence are not easy or simple.

Surely silence is sustained and the change is sudden.(‘England’)

Silence here is defined as the one eternal element of being that is broken by the rude noise of speaking. Yet, there is a certain ambiguity – what change does Stein refer to – a change from speaking to silence, from silence to speaking or changes within silence itself?

Silence is so windowful. (What Happened)

This is perhaps the most interesting of Stein’s comments and one of the most illuminating in relation to my argument for a recognition that silence can be useful and productive. The comment is remiscent of the Herbert Bayer photograph, Lonesome City Dweller , in which two silent hands are proffered to the viewer with eyes in their palms. Behind them a vista of windows fills the space. It is above all, a silent image, absent of that communicator – the face. Possibility is signified by the plenitude of windows each offering a new insight. Similarly in Stein, silence is a presence, a gesture with bountiful potential.

Doane uses these quotations to prove a change in Stein’s treatment of speaking and silence. She describes Stein’s use of silence as ‘both a metaphoric strategy and an explicit theme’ that develops into an ‘aesthetics of silence’ (xii). I think that Doane’s definition of Stein here also applies to the Welsh women writers that I will be interrogating in my thesis.


'Writing' by Toby Litt

THE POETRY REVIEW ESSAY
Poetry Review, vol. 93, no. 3, pp. 42-48

Litt suggests that the public still think that writers are Romantics, ‘still muse-haunted sensitives, victims of the descending, perhaps bestowed world’ (p. 42). (Why is Litt so hostile to the stereotyped Romantic? This is reminiscent of Carr’s comments about modernist attitudes in From My Guy to Sci-Fi where the ‘mincing Meredith’ et al are reviled by the masculinity of modernist movement.)

Litt thinks that other art-forms have shrugged off Romantic stereotypes:

[C]lassical music had Serialism, sculpture Duchamp, painting Warhol. Literature, however, despite the resolutely anti-Romantic efforts of the Dadaists, William Burroughs and the Oulipo movement, has yet to convince the public, or I would say, itself that it derives from anything other than Inspiration.

Litt suggests that the dominance of a Romantic account of composition is due to writer’s ‘desktop’ experience. Writers use the idea of being inspired for their own purposes whether that be to gain solitude or behave badly. Litt believes that writers lie to themselves.

Litt moves on to describe how cinema has portrayed the writing process. He cites Adaptation and The Shining as the best portrayals of inspiration. He mentions Dorothy Parker and The Vicious Circle as a bad example of a portrayal of inspiration, with its picturing of a waste paper basket filling up with paper.

Litt states: ‘The history of writing is in many departments, that of a descent.’ He mentions The Moronic Inferno by Martin Amis which traces a descent of subject. Amis’ assertion that the protagonists of literature have descended from gods to kings to generals to fabulous lovers (all superhuman) to ordinary people is useful to Litt, because he can compare this with the descent in inspiration: ‘from God plain-and-simple to the God-inspired poet to the thing-inspired poet (Nature, Woman, Beauty), to the self inspired poet, all the way to the non-existent poet’.

Litt is concerned by the argument that if Milton had not existed Paradise Lost would still have existed. He argues that writers are capable of having an engaged relationship with the zeitgeist – a two way relationship.

Litt criticises Graham Swift’s likening of the writing process to wiping the dust off an inscrption or gravestone. Litt thinks that writers lie to avoid what he calls ‘the Great Terror’ i.e. the blank page. He quotes Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Philosophy of Composition’, which suggests that the true processes of writing are a dirty secret and that bad must come before good. He states: ‘writing is rewriting’ and suggests that each cancellation is an act of self-cancellation.

How do bad writers become good? Alexander Pope knew the answer: “I believe that no one qualification is so likely to make a good writer, as the power of rejecting his own thoughts, and it must be this (if anything) that can give me the chance to be one.” […]’

Accordinf to Litt, each small erasure teaches the writer something about language.

And so all writers write their way out of the primeval sludge and stodge of bad words with which they all began, by crossing their bad selves out. […] Writing, to define it, is a continuous process of self-criticism motivated by aesthetic self-disgust, self hate. Hate powers. Hate is the motor force.

According to Litt’s argument, all writers are on their way to greatness, but some are slower than others. To Litt, writers are ideas, or at least the idea that some day they may be a writer.

Litt now moves on to the idea of the writer as a performed self. He uses the analogy of writing-as-jazz.

The genius of improvisation is dependent upon hours of practice; the eight bars of God-kissing couldn’t exist without the woodshed. Charlie Parker didn’t play bum notes. He had good and bad nights, sessions, but he never failed to be Parker. To write, really to write, is equivalent to having achieved an unmistakable tone on the piano- like Art Tatum, like Thelonius Monk – the piano, an instrument that any fool can get chopsticks out of.

Litt thinks that the question to be asked is not “where does your inspiration come from?” but “how did you come to own these words?”. The public’s view of inspiration suggests that writing must be beyond a single person. Inspiration is a good explanation otherwise the poet must have cheated or had help.

Litt suggests that Romanticism allows the writer to be free to concentrate on the written rather than the writing. They can be absent from their own process.

I don’t believe, though, that the great writers of the past were ever faux-naif – not about their workings, nor their work, nor their world. (I don’t mean Heaney, Larkin, Carver, Frost, Hemmingway, Lawrence, Hardy, Dickens; I mean Beckett, Celan, Joyce, Rilke, Proust, James, Browning, Flaubert.) They did what they did at a point of necessary awareness and hence difficulty.


Muriel Rukeyser: 'Myth'


Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the
roads. He smelled a familiar smell. It was
the Sphinx Oedipus said, “I want to ask one question.
Why didn’t I recognize my mother?” “You gave the
wrong answer,” said the Sphinx “But that was what
made everything possible,” said Oedipus “No,” she said.
“When I asked, What walks on four legs in the morning,
two at noon, and three in the evening, you answered,
Man You didn’t say anything about woman.”
“When you say Man,” said Oedipus, “you include women
too. Everyone knows that.” She said, “That’s what
you think.”

Nerys Williams on 'Worrying an Old Song?’

We have only to consider the artifice of early Welsh language writing or the experimental poetry of the early twentieth century to understand that our fascination with the anecdotal or the personal is a recent phenomenon. Wordsworth’s preface to the Lyrical Ballads made it explicit that his programme for poetry was a revolution from orchestrated conceits. It seems highly, ironic then, that Wordsworth’s ambition has been diluted to what is by now a dominant impression of the lyric as an anodyne confessionalism. (60)


‘A Place Without Boundaries’ by Kirsti Bohata

Planet, the Welsh Internationalist, ed. John Barnie, no. 145 Feb/March 2001). (77 –82).

Bohata begins her essay not by thinking about Wales, but by making a direct comparison between black and Welsh writing:

For the African-American writers of the 1920s’ Harlem Renaissance, the issue of how they positioned their work in relation to their colour or “race” was enormously significant. Is a black writer just a writer who happened to be black, or a black man or woman who just happens to write? And of course, it is not simply a matter for the author, but also for the reader […]. These are questions that have great relevance in Wales, where Welsh writing in English is often confined to a similar kind of cultural and critical ghetto. (77)

Bohata describes Christopher Meredith’s frustration and the lack of definition of Welsh writing due to ‘a lack of confidence in defining what constitutes Welsh literature in the English language, beyond subject matter which focuses on Wales’. (77) Yet Bohata notes that this conundrum is to some extent created by the Welsh themselves since, ‘the obsession of the Welsh themselves with cultural identity reflects a self-consciousness which is the inevitable result of cultural insecurity […] while Welsh authors might rightly feel limited by critical expectations of, and responses to their work, the experience of being part of a cultural (and linguistic) minority threatened by a dominant majority is hardly unique within Europe, let alone the rest of the world’ (77). Returning again though to the example of Meredith, Bohara is adamant that because his work is concerned with ‘historical fracture, dislocation, cultural eclecticism, bilingualism, memory and identity’, he offers ‘much to say that is relevant to Wales and it is this grounding in a very specific cultural and historical location that allows and suggests illuminating comparisons with other, similar cultural situations and human experiences’ (77-78).

The cacophony that is the multiplicity of Welsh voices, of “languages”, of worldviews, is increasingly being embraced as central to contemporary Welsh identity. Rather than searching for “one voice” that will unify us, artists and commentators alike are beginning to see that the multiple inheritances of Wales, the differences and diversity contained within its borders, are a great source of strength, vitality and creativity. (82)


The Ethics of Alterity by Thomas Docherty pp. 140 – 148

POSTMODERN LITERARY THEORY: AN ANTHOLOGY. ED. NIALL LUCY. OXFORD: BLACKWELL, 2000.

Docherty argues that postmodern texts conjure characters whose selfhood is defined by difference: ‘Postmodern characterization […] advances an attack on the notion of identity, or of an essential Selfhood which is not traduced by a temporal dimension which threatens the Self with heterogeneity.’ (140). Such characters are not only different from others but from their putative selves. Previously characters were ‘present-to-themselves’ and reified as ‘en-soi’, while postmodern characters always dramatize their own ‘absence’ from themselves’. (140)

Docherty considers the incoherence of postmodern characters as character traits are contradicted, proper names used inconsistently, genders confused, humans and objects synthesised etc. The notion of representation is in the balance.

An existentialist philosophical tradition has produced a postmodern characterization that suggests a discrepancy between the character who acts and the character who watches themselves acting – a temporal distance between agency and the self consciousness regarding that same agency. Docherty uses the example of John Barth’s ‘Menelaiad’ and he suggests that the consciousness of Menalaus is out of step with the voice of Menalaus and the actions he has supposedly performed. This produces décalage or self-difference and consequently, Menalaus is never fully present in a conventional manner. Docherty quotes the character of Menalaus on time and he suggests that his character is the epitomy of Heideggerian Dasein – a being endlessly deferred, endlessly seeming otherwise and repeating itself in different figurations.

While previous narratives were based on a dichotomy between appearance and reality and encompassed a movement from mystification to enlightenment to revelation as truth, postmodern narratives represent a movement from homogeneity of character to heterogeneity. Such texts prefer an engagement with otherness. The self is related to forking paths of narrative and an excess or surplus of narrative.

In this economy of difference, Dasein enables the character who constantly escapes the fixity of identity by existing in and through the temporal predicament whereby the assumed or desired totality of the self is endlessly ‘dispositioned’, always a ‘being there’, as opposed to a being here, a being present to itself. Docherty finally gestures towards Kristeva’s idea of a subject in process as another alternative manifestation of this kind of character.


Simulations by Jean Baudrillard

BAUDRILLARD, JEAN, SIMULATIONS, TRANSLATED BY PAUL FOSS ET AL, (NEW YORK: SEMIOTEXT INC., 1983).

The Precession of Simulacra

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth – it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true. -Ecclesiastes

Baudrillard begins by mentioning the Borges tale of cartographers who map out a territory only to have it ruined as the Empire falls. He states: ‘Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of the territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal’ (2). The territory no longer precedes the map nor survives it, but the map precedes the territory. The precession of simulcra dictates that the map engenders the territory. It is no longer abstraction: ‘For it is the difference which forms the poetry of the map and the charm of the territory, the magic of the concept and the charm of the real’ (3). This representational imagery, which culminates in the cartographer’s project for an ideal co-extensivity between the map and the territory, disappears with simulation. Its operation is nuclear and genetic i.e. has its origin is reality but it develops independently of reality. The real is now produced from miniaturised units, from matrices, memory banks and command models – with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times. It no longer has to be rational since it is no longer enveloped by an imaginary (i.e. the imagined real). Baudrillard states: “It is hyperreal, the product of combinatory models in hyperspace without atmosphere” (3).

The Divine Irreference to Images

To dissimulate is to feign not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t.(5)

To simulate is not the same thing as to feign. E.g. the person who feigns illness can go to bed and pretend, but the person who simulates illness produces some of the symptoms. Feigning or dissimulation leaves the reality principle in tact, because it is only masking reality. Simulation threatens the difference between true and false, between the real and the imagination. Medicine loses its meaning if any illness can be simulated, since it only knows how to treat ‘true’ illnesses.

Religious simulation reveals fears about what becomes of divinity when it reveals itself in icons in relation to whether the supreme authority is simply incarnated in images as a visible theology or whether it is volatilised into simulacra which alone deploy their pomp and power of fascination, the visible machinery of icons instead of the pure, intelligible notion of God. This is the particular fear of the iconoclasts. (iconoclast = a destroyer of images; a person opposed to image-worship esp. those in the Eastern church from the 8c; a person who attacks traditional or established beliefs). Their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the images concealed nothing at all. The iconolators did not realise the true meaning of the icons. (iconolator = an image-worshipper).

Thus perhaps at stake has always been the murderous capacity of images, murderers of the real, murderers of their own model as the Byzantine icons could murder the divine identity. (10)

All of Western faith was engaged in a wager on representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could exchange for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange – God. But if God can be simulated then the whole system becomes weightless. The latter starts from the principle that the sign and the real are equivalent. Conversely, simulation starts from the utopia of this principle of equivalence, from the radical negation of the sign as value, from the sign as reversion and death sentence of every reference. (negation = the act of saying no; denial; a negative proposition; something that is opposite (of a positive state); a thing characterised by the absence of characteristics).

Whereas representation tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation as itself a simulacrum. (11)

At this point Buadrillard outlines the successive phases of the image:
1. it is a reflection of a basic reality – a good appearance of the order of sacrament.
2. it masks and perverts a basic reality –an evil appearance of the order of malefice.
3. it masks the absence of a basic reality – it is playing at being an appearance of the order of sorcery.
4. it bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum – it is no longer in the order of appearance at all, but of simulation.

The transition from signs that dissimulate something, to signs that dissimulate that there is nothing, marks a turning point. The first implies a theology of truth and secrecy, while the second inaugurates an age of simulacra in which there is no God to recognise his own, no judgement to sort right from wrong etc.

When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. (12)

There is a proliferation of myths about the origin and signs of reality, of second hand truth, objectivity and authenticity. There is an escalation of the true and lived experience, a resurrection of the figurative where object and substance have disappeared. Baudrillard states: ‘This is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us – a strategy of the real, neo-real and hyperreal whose universal double is a strategy of deterrence’ (13).

Rameses or Rose Coloured Resurrection

In 1971, the Phillipino government decided to return the few dozen Tasaday discovered deep in the jungle. The natives decomposed on contact with the modern world like mummies in the open air. For ethnology (ethnology = cultural anthropology; the science concerned with varieties of the human race)to live, its object must die. The object revenges itself by dying for having been discovered and defies by its death the science that wants to take hold of it. All sciences are doomed by the evanescence of its object in the very process of its apprehension, and by the pitiless reversal this dead object exerts on it. Baudrillard states: ‘In any case, the logical evolution of science is to distance itself even further from its object until it dispenses with it entirely: its autonomy evermore fantastical in reaching its pure form’(14-15).

The Indian is driven back into the ghetto, becoming a simulation model for the Indians before ethnology. They are posthumous savages – frozen, cryogenised, protected to death i.e. a referential simulacra. Another example is that of the open museum exhibition. In this, we all become specimens ‘under the sign of dead differences, and of the resurrection of differences’ (16).

Nothing changes when society breaks the mirror of madness – abolishes asylums, gives speech back to the mad – nor when science seems to break the mirror of its objectivity – effacing itself before its object – and to bow down before differences. As ethnology breaks down, an anti-ethnology tries to inject fictional difference and Savagery everywhere. The ‘real’ world is in fact savage itself, that is to say devastated by difference and death.

Baudrillard points to the example of Rameses II’s mummy and he suggests that human beings need a visible past, a visible continuum, a visible myth of origin to reassure us as to our ends, since ultimately we have never believed in them. He writes: ‘We too live in a universe everywhere strangely similar to the original – here things are duplicated by their own scenario. But this double does not mean, as in folklore, the imminence of death – they are already purged of death, and even better than in life; more smiling, more authentic, in light of their model, like the faces in funeral parlours’ (23).

Hyperreal and the Imaginary

Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled order of simulation. It is supposed to be an imaginary world but in fact it is a simulation of real America. Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the ‘real’ America, just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, which is carceral. Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real. Baudrillard writes: ‘It is no longer a question of false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle’ (25).

It is meant to be an infantile world in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere in the real world and to conceal the fact that childishness is everywhere, particularly amongst those adults who go there to act as a child in order to foster illusions as to their real childishness.

Political Incantation

The Watergate scandal is similar to Disney Land but here it is protecting the reality of Capitalism. The scandal reinjects Capitalism with new meaning/’reality’, because whether the subject defends the morality of the government or whether like the Washington Post journalists, the subject criticises its morality, both discourses suggest that there is a true ‘morality’. Watergate is not a scandal – it is the cruelty of Capital that is scandalous. Baudrillard writes: ‘Capital doesn’t give a damn about the contract which is imputed to it – it is a monstrous, unprincipled undertaking’ (29).

Moebius Spiralling Negativity

Watergate was a trap set by the system to catch its adversaries. All the hypotheses of manipulation are reversible in an endless whirligig, since as Baudrillard confirms, ‘manipulation is a floating causality where positivity and negativity engender and overlap with one another, where there is no longer any active or passive. It is by putting an arbitrary stop to this revolving causality that a principle of political reality can be saved. It is by the simulation of a conventional, restricted perspective field, where the premises and consequences of any act or event are calculable, that a political credibility can be maintained’ (31).

At this point, Baudrillard turns to Berlinguer’s declaration: “We mustn’t be frightened of seeing the communists seize power in Italy”, which according to Bauddrillard, means a number of things simultaneously:
1. that there is nothing to fear since the communists won’t change the capitalist mechanism,
2. that there is no risk of their ever coming to power (since they don’t want to) and even if they did have power, it would only be by proxy,
3. that in fact genuine power no longer exists,
4. that personally Berlinguer is not afraid of the communists coming to power,
5. that Berlinguer is afraid of the communists coming to power (psychoanalysis).
All of the above are simultaneously true. This proves the impossibility of a determinate position of power.

There is a whole range of operational negativity, which tries to regenerate a moribund principle by simulated scandal, phantasm, murder – a sort of hormonal treatment by negativity and crisis.

It is always a question of proving the real by the imaginary, proving truth by scandal, proving the law by transgression, proving work by the strike, proving the system by crisis and capital by revolution, as for that matter proving ethnology by the dispossession of its object – without counting:
- proving theatre by anti-theatre
- proving art by anti-art
- proving pedagogy by anti-pedagogy
- proving psychiatry by anti-psychiatry
etc.etc. (36)

Buadrillard concludes: ‘Everything is metamorphosed into its inverse in order to be perpetuated in its purged form. Every form of power, every situation speaks of itself by denial, in order to attempt escape, by simulation of death, its real agony’ (37).


THE POETRY REVIEW ESSAY – ‘Women and Tradition’ by Jan Montefiore

Poetry Review , vol. 94, no. 2, pp. 58 -68

Montefiore begins by quoting Adrienne Rich’s ‘Diving into the Wreck’ about her quest into oceanic depths in search of something lost which Montefiore posits as her unconscious self or a vanished collective of history. Montefiore recognises that Rich considers herself doing something ‘lonely, difficult and dangerous’.

‘Snapshots of a Daughter in Law’ is mentioned because Rich rages against the inherent flawed nature of a marginalized women’s poetry so that potential geniuses like Dickenson become gifted amateurs or poets are ‘seared by their own frustration and fury’. Tradition is thought of as an obstacle to such women.

Montefiore mentions John Donne’s notion of ‘masculine persuasive force’ and considers this to be an epitomy of the ‘damaging presumption of the great tradition of English poetry’. She quotes from Feminism and Poetry to repeat the point that women have a paradoxical relationship to tradition, since as readers and writers they belong, yet as women they are excluded through misinterpretation or simple omission. Montefiore laments the lack of women writers in her education. (Montefiore is not convinced that men’s portrayals of women are a major problem to women writers, but she is certain that lack of time, space, communication with peers or publication are factors.)

Montefiore points out that this has all changed; Carol Ann Duffy at A-level, Mary Shelly in place of Keats. Women’s poetry has a place in a series of intertwined traditions. E.g. Aemilia Lanier and Mary Sidney in medieval poetry. However, Montefiore suggests that the changes made in the canon are not that relevant to contemporary woman poets. The question is: how have woman poets situated themselves in relation to their available tradition? Montefiore makes the following suggestions:

1. Woman poets reinvent the past. E.g. Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Casablanca’.

2. Storytelling is significant. Montefiore mentions Stevie Smith, Liz Lochhead and Anne Sexton in Feminism and Poetry. But political reinterpretations can deflect but not alter traditional meanings. Reinterpreted folk-tale or myth has famously become a feature of feminist poetry. Montefiore is a little critical here of Carol Ann Duffy.

3. The invocation of the rhetoric of domesticity is highlighted with gestures towards the tradition of Dickenson, Barrett Browning, Plath and Clarke.


THE POETRY REVIEW ESSAY – ‘Women and Tradition’ by Jan Montefiore

Poetry Review , vol. 94, no. 2, pp. 58 -68

Montefiore begins by quoting Adrienne Rich’s ‘Diving into the Wreck’ about her quest into oceanic depths in search of something lost which Montefiore posits as her unconscious self or a vanished collective of history. Montefiore recognises that Rich considers herself doing something ‘lonely, difficult and dangerous’.

‘Snapshots of a Daughter in Law’ is mentioned because Rich rages against the inherent flawed nature of a marginalized women’s poetry so that potential geniuses like Dickenson become gifted amateurs or poets are ‘seared by their own frustration and fury’. Tradition is thought of as an obstacle to such women.

Montefiore mentions John Donne’s notion of ‘masculine persuasive force’ and considers this to be an epitomy of the ‘damaging presumption of the great tradition of English poetry’. She quotes from Feminism and Poetry to repeat the point that women have a paradoxical relationship to tradition, since as readers and writers they belong, yet as women they are excluded through misinterpretation or simple omission. Montefiore laments the lack of women writers in her education. (Montefiore is not convinced that men’s portrayals of women are a major problem to women writers, but she is certain that lack of time, space, communication with peers or publication are factors.)

Montefiore points out that this has all changed; Carol Ann Duffy at A-level, Mary Shelly in place of Keats. Women’s poetry has a place in a series of intertwined traditions. E.g. Aemilia Lanier and Mary Sidney in medieval poetry. However, Montefiore suggests that the changes made in the canon are not that relevant to contemporary woman poets. The question is: how have woman poets situated themselves in relation to their available tradition? Montefiore makes the following suggestions:

1. Woman poets reinvent the past. E.g. Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Casablanca’.

2. Storytelling is significant. Montefiore mentions Stevie Smith, Liz Lochhead and Anne Sexton in Feminism and Poetry. But political reinterpretations can deflect but not alter traditional meanings. Reinterpreted folk-tale or myth has famously become a feature of feminist poetry. Montefiore is a little critical here of Carol Ann Duffy.

3. The invocation of the rhetoric of domesticity is highlighted with gestures towards the tradition of Dickenson, Barrett Browning, Plath and Clarke.


Notes from the 16th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf

I have typed up my notes from a few papers that I saw at the conference.

Carol Dell’ Amico, California State University
‘The bounds of sympathy: Mrs Dalloway and Mcewan’s Saturday

Dell’ Amico defines Mrs Dalloway and Saturday as flâneur novels and using Glissant’s The Poetics of Relation describes these books as ‘texts of errantries. The protagonists are global wanders that consolidate their root identity through wandering. Thus Joyce’s Ulysses becomes a novel of Irish independence. There are relational root identities: groups, polarities etc. The flâneur leaves home in order to find selfhood.

Dell’ Amico discusses the ironic shipping out of English identity in Mrs Dalloway and points out that it relies on many stereotypes of English life: different classes and ethnicities. A relation is set up between the self and other selves, nations and other nations.

In Saturday, the central character of Henry Perowne is rather like Clarissa Dalloway, while his double in the piece – the working class Baxter – becomes a Septimus Smith type figure. In this book, the relationship between self and nation are problematised: how should one respond to other nations? Mcewan describes Perowne walking through a fish market and imagining the howls of anguish that would be heard if fish could express their suffering. Here is the question of moral sympathy and how to extend it to fish, foxes and Jihadists?

Interestingly, both books present reactions to a world crisis: the Armenian crisis in Clarissa Dalloway’s case and the attack on the World Trade Centre in that of Henry Perwone.
Dell’Amico heer brings in the example of when Clarissa Dalloway thinks of (what now is known to be) the Armenian genocide. Can Clarissa care about more than the local and personal?

And people would say, ‘Clarissa Dalloway is spoilt’. She cared much more for her roses than for the Armenians. Hunted out of existence, maimed, frozen, the victims of cruelty and injustice (she had heard Richard say so over and over again) – no she couldn’t feel nothing for the Albanians, or was it the Armenians? But she loved her roses (didn’t that help the Armenians?) – the only flowers she could bear to see cut.

Here Dell’ Amico brings in Saul Bellow’s Herzog and its notions of suffering. She notes the courtroom scene in which Moses watches the abusers and the abused and is overwhelmed with empathy for their distress. Are there limits to one’s ability to eradicate suffering? Becoming a sponge for suffering certainly results in paralysis and madness in this novel.

Why are the characters at the centre of Mrs Dalloway and Saturday bearers of limited sympathy? Is because as in Herzog , to feel unbounded sympathy is untenable? In spite of their limits, Clarissa Dalloway and Henry Perowne are open to be being touched, to being sympathetic yet this remains within the limits of the local and personal. This however is a way of reforming the world even if it is in a local, personal sense.

Jocelyn Slovak
‘Ethel Smyth: Insider or Outsider’

This paper focuses on Dame Ethyl Smyth – composer, musician and suffragist – whom Woolf regarded in an ambivalent manner. I found this paper interesting in relation to my own, because Slovak presents an account by Woolf about Smyth that admires how Smyth ‘loses self-consciousness completely’. As I argue in my paper, to be unconscious of the scrutiny of others is a state much desired by Woolf. Interestingly, Woolf also stated that she loathed egotism and this is the source of her ambivalence about Smyth.

Sophie Blanch, University of Sussex
‘Woolf, writing, wit: pushing back the boundaries of the serious’

Blanch writes this paper to bring out the playfulness and pleasure in Woolf that is often ignored. Humour can be an inflammatory device that performs transformations. Humour is dangerous and laughter is a refusal.

Woolf thought that to have one’s character as a mouthpiece for one’s views would create a distortion and cause weakness. One should be an artist rather than a performer, a butterfly rather than a gadfly. However, many comic techniques performed transformational gender play.

Blanch gives a number of examples. Rose Macauley’s Dangerous Ages in which humour and dislocation coexists in a middle aged lady’s perception of ‘twinkling irony’. In Elizabeth Bowen’s short story, ‘Daffodils’, a spinster school teacher fears being laughed at and The Heat of the Day considers women laughing at other women. Blanch concludes that there is a doubleness between the comic and the serious here that allows the writers to damn certain kinds of behaviour obliquely.

Blanch concludes by noting Woolf’s reaction to Laycock’s study of humour, Frenzied Fictions. In a study (essay or book?), ‘Loud Laughter’ (1918), Woolf admires the tangled rubbish of the music hall because it has something to do with human nature. She also admires the wit of Stern, Swift and Dorothy Osbourne.

My notes run out here, but I was rather interested in this paper in relation to my own work, because I think that farce is an important part of Mrs Dalloway and Jean Rhys’ Good Morning Midnight . The authors encourage identification with the heroine via a stream of consciousness, yet then that heroine is deflated. Perhaps I need to bring out this farcical element in writing on these books.


Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions by Judith Butler

(in Gender Trouble (New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 1990). pp. 416 – 422).

Drag Artist

The redescription of intrapsychic processes in terms of the surface politics of the body implies a corollary redescription of gender as the disciplinary production of the figures of fantasy through the play of presence and absence on the body’s surface, the construction of the gendered body through a series of exclusions and denials, signifying absences. (p. 416)

In this extract, Butler asks what initiates the body as text, what power or law generates fantasy. She describes how, ‘words, acts, gesture and desire produce the effect of an internal core or substance, but produce this on the surface of the body, through the play of signifying absences that suggest but never reveal, the organizing principle of identity as a cause’ (p. 416). For Butler these ‘enactments’ must be performative because ‘the identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means’ (p. 416). Butler’s logic works as follows.

The gendered body is performative
THUS
It has no ontological status apart from the acts that constitute its reality
THUS
Reality is fabricated as an interior essence
THUS
This interiority is an effect and function of:
1. a public and social discourse.
2. the public regulation of fantasy through the body surface.
3. gender border control that differentiates between inner and outer.
4. the ‘integrity’ of the subject.

Her conclusion is that, ‘acts and gestures articulated and enacted desires create the illusion of an interior and organising gender core, an illusion discursively maintained for the purposes of the regulation of sexuality within the obligatory frame of reproductive heterosexuality’ (p. 416). If gender is fabricated, then genders cannot be true or false but only produced. Impersonation as one of the key fabricating mechanisms through which social construction of gender takes place. The drag artist subverts the expressive model of gender and the notion of a true gender identity. Butler quotes Esther Newton who states that impersonation is a double inversion that might be outside male, inside female and inside male, outside female. Butler pauses then to consider the parody of a primary gender identity via drag, crossdressing, butch/femme identities. Feminists have seen drag as degrading to women and butch/femme identities have been seen as confirming gender sex stereotypes.

For Butler, drag has three contingent dimensions of significant corporeality:
1. anatomical sex
2. gender identity
3. gender performance
Butler suggests that, ‘ n imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of drag itself – as well as its contingency ’ (p. 418) [Butler’s italics]. Butler quotes Jameson on pastiche: the imitation that mocks the notion of an original. Pastiche is here a blank parody that has lost its humour.

As fro the body, it has become a boundary and gender is a construction with a tacit agreement to perform. Social drama requires gender to be a repeated act and for Butler this is the only thing that holds conventional gender together – repetition.

FEMINIST THEORY AND THE BODY, ED. BY JANET PRICE AND MARGRIT SHILDRICK (EDINBURGH: EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1999).


Eavan Boland: 'Irish Poetry'

for Michael Hartnett


We always knew there was no Orpheus in Ireland.
No music stored at the doors of hell.
No god to make it.
No wild beasts to weep and lie down to it.

But I remember an evening when the sky
was underworld-dark at four.

When ice had seized every part of the city
and we sat talking -
the air making a wreath for our cups of tea.

And you began to speak of our own gods.
Our heartbroken pantheon:

No Attic light for them and no Herodotus.
But thin rain and dogfish and the stopgap
of the sharp cliffs
they spent their winters on.

And the pitch-black Atlantic night.
And how the sound
of a bird’s wing in a lost language sounded.

You made the noise for me.
Made it again.
Until I could see the flight of it: suddenly

the silvery, lithe rivers of your south-west
lay down in silence.

And the savage acres no one could predict
were all at ease, soothed and quiet and

listening to you, as I was. As if to music, as if to peace.

...

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