All entries for Monday 15 March 2010
March 15, 2010
Writing about web page http://www.nmwa.org/exhibition/detail.asp?exhibitid=200
Last week, I visited the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC, where there is currently an exhibition of contemporary women’s art from Turkey titled ‘A Dream… But Not Yours’. I spent a summer in Turkey (mainly Istanbul) when I was a student, so I was interested to see the exhibition, and in visiting it, I found the quality of the films included to be particularly impressive.
Esra Sarigedik Öktem, who put the show together, has brought together some striking and fresh artwork with specific yet transnational feminist messages Canan Şenol’s film Exemplary (2009) had parallels for example with Nawal El Saadawi’s 1979 novel Woman at Point Zero.
As in El Saadawi’s fiction, Şenol’s animated narrative described a cultural situation in which the heroine never had a chance of being autonomous because of the institutions and traditions that regulate women and their bodies. Watching these women struggle in the mythical, fairy-tale stories of Şenol is extremely moving, as their desires and ambitions are rejected, broken, eradicated. What is perhaps particularly disturbing about Şenol’s commentary is that it is the mothers who force their daughters to submit to patriarachy’s norms.
Another fascinating film that featured in the exhibition is İnci Eviner’s Harem (2009), which is based on engravings by the German artist, Antoine Ignace Melling, who was invited by Sultan Selim III to produce sketches of life in Istanbul (or Constantinople as it was then known). Eviner cleverly uses the background of Melling’s Interieur d’une partie du harem du Grand Seigneur but transforms it:
Melling’s courtly vision is radically altered in Eviner’s version; the harem becomes more like a prison or mental institution than a vision of luxury. Eviner inserts animated women into Melling’s background, but rather than being engaged in domestic or courtly activities, Eviner’s figures are all dressed in a prison-like uniform and their behaviour is odd, eccentric and disturbing. One woman wields a pick-axe, reminiscent of chain gangs; another reads while conducting an imaginary orchestra; groups of women carry inert bodies, while others kiss or rhythmically thrust in sexualised movements. The sultan of Melling’s original becomes a figure dressed in a teddy bear costume, who is offered a silver sphere by one of the “inmates”. The whole effect is fascinating and of course it reminds us of the traditional Turkish miniatures. In this case, however, the harem is far from being a site of pleasure and decadence. Instead it is a place where women are driven mad by the restrictions imposed upon them.
The desire for freedom was a theme of the final film that I wanted to highlight: Nevin Aladağ’s Raise the Roof (2007). This film features a number of women on a modern cement rooftop, each listening to music on an Ipod/walkman and dancing alongside one another to a separate rhythm. The location of the film is suggestive. Why a rooftop? Were the women looking for a secluded place to express themselves? Why couldn’t they have danced in the middle of a street? What the film suggests is that the woman are able in this empty and abandoned space to be themselves in a way that would never be possible in a crowded street. The film zooms in on their legs dancing and their heels making indents in tar. Aladağ’s Stiletto is exhibited alongside Raise the Roof and features the indents that each women’s heels made. There is something very satisfying in the fact that each pattern is different: each woman danced with the others but all the time to her own beat.
In his recent study, Graphs, Maps, Trees Franco Moretti takes his analytical models ‘from three disciplines with which literary studies have had little or no interaction: graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary history’ (2007: 1-2). Moretto distances himself from academics that look to ‘French and German metaphysics’ and he commends instead the methodologies of ‘the natural and social sciences’ (2). I am going to discuss his findings in three blog entries:
Darwin’s tree was more than just a diagram. Moretti describes Darwin’s kind of mapping as creating ‘morphological diagrams, where history is systematically correlated with form’ (69). Playing on evolutionary theory, Moretti suggests that ‘divergence pervades the history of life, defining its morphospace – its space-of-forms’ (70). But the question is, how does this work for literature?
Moretti begins to consider this question by focussing on British detective fiction, where divergence was dictated by ‘the literary market’ and its ‘ruthless competition – hinging on form’ (72). British detective fiction developed through the sophisticated presentation of clues in the narrative and Moretti explores which strategies worked and which were unsuccessful. What he discovers is that the ruthless market makes ‘writers branch out in every direction’, sometimes forcing them ‘into all sorts of crazy blind alleys’ (77). Consequently, ‘divergence becomes indeed, as Darwin had seen, inseparable from extinction’ (77). If there is divergence, there must also be convergence, but Moretti is keen to note that ‘Convergence […] only arises _on the basis of previous divergence, and its power tends in fact to be directly proportional to the distance between the original branches (bicycles and internal combustion engines)’ (80).
Having explored the evolution of a particular genre, Moretti turns to mapping a specific literary technique: free indirect style. Moretti suggests that free indirect style has a ‘composite nature’ which ‘made it “click” with that other strange formation which is the process of modern socialization: by leaving the individual voice a certain amount of freedom, while permeating it with the impersonal stance of the narrator. And the result was the genesis of an unprecedented “third voice”, intermediate and almost neutral in tone between character and narrator: the composed, slightly resigned voice of the well-socialized individual, of which Austen’s heroines – these young women who speak of themselves, in the third person, as if from the outside – are such stunning examples’ (82).
Moretti maps various branches and streams of free indirect speech in international fiction, such as British and Irish modernism and Latin American dictator novels. Moretti notices though that one convergence that was not possible is that of free indirect speech with dialogism. Interestingly, in response to this fact, Moretti comments that ‘Culture is not the realm of ubiquitous “hybridity”: it, too, has barriers, its impossible limits’ (85).
Overall, in mapping British detective fiction, or the use of free indirect style in international literature, what Moretti is suggesting is a different way for academics to analyze the novel. Ultimately, he asks us to ‘Take a form, follow it from space to space, and study the reasons for its transformation’ (90).
Moretti, Franco (2007) Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London and New York: Verso.
In his recent study, Graphs, Maps, Trees Franco Moretti takes his analytical models ‘from three disciplines with which literary studies have had little or no interaction: graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary history’ (2007: 1-2). Moretti distances himself from academics that look to ‘French and German metaphysics’ and he commends instead the methodologies of ‘the natural and social sciences’ (2). I am going to discuss his findings in three blog entries:
In this section, Moretti focuses on Mary Mitford’s Our Village (1824-1832) which is based on a town in Berkshire called Three Mile Cross. Moretti makes a map of volume one of Our Village and shows that geographically the town is in the centre of a concentric pattern of events which spiral out into the surrounding countryside. The narrative space of the book circles around the village always returning to the centre.
Moretti explains that the first time he discovered this shape was in mapping Our Village and he had never encountered it before. In thinking about the concentric pattern of Our Village, Moretti suggests that the space reflects ‘the older, “centred” viewpoint of an unenclosed village’ (39).
Other texts that engage with the village as the centre of human society also show a concentric pattern like the one in Our Village. Moretti points us to Walter Christaller’s study Central Places in Southern Germany , where the centre is the target settlement which provides the most specialized services and trading. Around this target settlement grows a ‘market region’ and it is encircled by smaller versions of the largest, central town. Moretti maps this concentration of services and trade in Our Village too, noting that the characters have to make more and more journeys to urban centres to access their specialised services and shops.
Like John Galt’s Annals of the Parish (1821), Our Village represents simple, everyday life occasionally punctuated by surprises and remarkable events emerging from the urban centres. This contact with the urban and the national becomes more sinister though in Berthold Auerbach’s Black Village Stories (1843-1853), where outside interference in village life becomes oppressive and regulatory. Moretti concludes: ‘In their animosity towards national centralization, village stories diverge sharply from the provincial novels with which they are often confused, and are if anything, much closer to regional novels’ (52).
Out of these debates on these village stories, Moretti begins to think that his maps are not so much geographical, as they are diagrammatic. These diagrams map the object of the characters’ desires in some instances. For example, Moretti analyzed the Parisian novel and found that the young male protagonists all lived on the opposite side of the Seine to their lovers. The diagrams, however, can also map forces. Moretti explains that this involves ‘[d]educing from the form of an object the forces that have been at work; this is the most elegant definition ever of what literary sociology should be’ (57). Consequently, Moretti finds that in the Our Village stories from in and around 1828, the map of narrative space becomes less concentric, and Moretti suggests that this change is due to historical unrest at the time reflected in the 1830 Peasant Uprisings. The narrative space of the British novel can no longer be concentric, because such village idylls were being killed by industrialization. According to Moretti, Elizabeth Gaskell’s portrayal of rural life in Cranford (began serialization in 1851) ‘is Madame Tussaud’s idea of a village story’ (63).
While these insights may not be exactly new, it is fascinating to look at literature with Moretti’s approach and what is offered here is certainly a fascinating view of international writing and the space of narrative. The comparison of Mitford with Christaller, Galt and Auerbach is very convincing, and the chapter on ‘Maps’ does offer a new mode of reading literature through the ‘matrix of relations’ that makes up the social fabric of the novel (54).
Moretti, Franco (2007) Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London and New York: Verso.