All entries for Tuesday 01 July 2008

July 01, 2008

Views on Modern Britain

*Morley and Robins on New Britain*

How […] is Britain (and Britishness) being reshaped in the new global content? What tensions and contradictions are emerging as a consequence of Britain’s involvement in the European Union? In what ways are British culture and identity being recast as a consequence of the nation’s colonial heritage? What is the significance of the new forms of devolution, regionalism, and nationalism that are now emerging? (Morley and Robins 2001: 1)

Hall on the Influence of Empire

What happened in India, or Ireland, or Egypt, or Jamaica, or Australia or New Zealand, was for the most part irrelevant to the national story. Of course their histories were shaped by the metropolis but that was different. But was it? Or were English, Scottish, and Welsh identities shaped by that as well as by the class and gender antagonisms, the European rivalries, which were part of everyday life? (Hall 2001: 28).

Kumar on Internal Colonialism

[T]he British state was imperial in a double sense. There was the British Empire, in the well-known sense of a state with far-flung colonies. There was also Great Britain or the United Kingdom, a political entity that from several points of view could also be regarded as an empire – an ‘internal empire,’ the result of ‘internal colonialism’ (Hechter 1975). England in this view was the imperial nation that ha annexed the territories and subjugated the populations of Wales, Scotland and Ireland. (Kumar 2001: 43)

Kumar on Englishness and English Literature

Literature too was nationalized, in the sense that this period [19th century] saw the elaboration of a national tradition of literature. Put in more recent terms, this was when the ‘canon’ of English literature was established. Given the importance of literature, as compared with, say, music, in the national culture, this provided one of the most influential and long-lasting definitions of Englishness. English culture, at its deepest level, is seen as created by a series of great ‘national’ poets, dramatists and novelists. Their writing embodies values, whole ways of life, which express the aspirations of the national culture at its best and highest. It is hardly too much to say that English literature came to take on a religious function, far exceeding in importance the vapid Anglicanism that passed for national religion. (Kumar 2001: 48-49).

Kevin Davey on Northern Ireland

The challenge facing Northern Ireland is whether the subjectivities produced by the residual identifications of two counterposed communities can become reflexive ‘strangers to themselves’, the cultural precondition [Kristeva] identifies for peaceful and pluralist cohabitation with formerly abjected others. Abjection is a process of diiferentiation and exclusion that Kristeva locates in the construction of individual subjectivities. A closely related process occurs within the act of national identification and it is particularly visible in divided societies like Northern Ireland, where the internal and external menaces that threaten all identifications were externalized and expelled beyond the pale and the peace line, coalescing in abject figures like Taig and Orangeman, Planter and Terrorist. (Davey 2001: 81)

Davey, Kevin. 2001. ‘No Longer “Ourselves Alone” in Northern Ireland.’ British Cultural Studies; Geography, Nationality and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.79-96.
Hall, Catherine. 2001. ‘British Cultural Identities and the Legacy of Empire.’ 27-40.
Hechter, M. 1975. Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development, 1536-1966. London: Routledge.
Kumar, Krishan. 2001. ‘“Englishness” and English National Identity.’ 41-56.
Morley, David and Kevin Robins. 2001. ‘The National Culture in its New Global Context.’ 1-16.

John Kerrigan on Ireland and Empire

Talk of Ireland and empire raises ghosts not easily laid. It sets up an explosive paradigm. Big Island v. Little, which revisionist history is still far from defusing. (Kerrigan 1992: 238)

Kerrigan, John. 1992. ‘Ulster Ovids.’ The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland. Ed. Neil Corcoran. Bridgend: Seren, 1992. 235-269.

‘Initiations, Tempers, Seductions: Postmodern McGuckian’

Thomas Docherty offers some interesting insights into the Northern Irish poet, Medbh McGuckian, in his essay, ‘Initiations, Tempers, Seductions: Postmodern McGuckian.’ Docherty begins by discussing the seemingly pointless nature of McGuckian’s poetry, but this is not a criticism. Rather Docherty is aware that ‘[t]he verse often reads as if the language itself, a language devoid of a consciousness, were directing it’ (Docherty 1992: 191). Docherty notes that the ambiguity about language also applies to identity as ‘it is difficult to locate any single location from which the poem can be spoken’ (192). Docherty sees this ambiguity as a kind of ‘blank phenomenology’ where ‘the relation between the speaking Subject or ‘I’ and the Object of its intention is mobile or fluid’ and ‘instead of a stable “persona,” all we have is a potential of personality, a voice which cannot yet be identified’ (192). Docherty’s reading of ‘a postmodern McGuckian’ suggests that ‘her writing offers a way of breaking away from the “place-logic” which is central to the formulation of a national culture, tradition or lineage’ (192).

In studying this breaking away, Docherty notes that McGuckian is often concerned with ‘initiation rites’ and ‘transgressions of borders or boundaries’ (193). These are not geographical borders but ‘symbolic borders, such as the boundary between infancy and adulthood; the border between an Edenic garden and a secular world’ (193). (Later Docherty writes of McGuckian’s focus on ‘puberty, a shift from infancy into adulthood, from “non-speaking” (infans) into a voice’ and he notes how her poetry often forms around ‘a mythic moment of a beginning or birthing’ overlapping pregnancy with ‘the mythical; biblical beginning in the fall from grace’ (194).)

McGuckian rejects ‘the kind of explicit or mythic politics found in other contemporary Irish poets’ and instead she adopts ‘a “French-born” idea, le temps perdu’ which is complemented by ‘a governing figure of “seduction” or temp-tation’ (193). Docherty summarises:

A postmodern sublime lies available here. We have the necessity of a transgression, the idea of a breakthrough across some threshold of perception, together with the recalcitrance which the transgression provokes: this is the pleasurable pain of interpretation in McGuckian. It is like the seduction of a letter unread, a letter which remains tantalisingly visible or within its envelope; but the tearing open of the envelope reveals that the letter is not there after all: what we thought was a meaningful missive turns out to be a pattern on the envelope. (200)

The play on temp is extended when Docherty notes ‘the linguistic slippage between “tempt” and “temporal”’ in McGuckian’s poems (201). This creates another aspect in which poetry becomes ‘a call to a critical historicism: not just an awareness of time past, but an awareness that one must “disappoint” the history or narrative seemingly determined by time past: time past must be misplaced, perdu’ (204).

Most of all though, McGuckian’s poetry is characterised by seduction, which Docherty describes as ‘taken in a sense close to that proposed by Baudrillard: it is not simply a sexual event; rather, it describes a state of relation between powers or forces, and one which explicitly excludes production. Production here would mean the end of seduction’ (205). In focussing on seduction as an ongoing, endless process, McGuckian ‘questions the modern belief of availability in identity’ (206).

This rejection of certainty is described by Docherty as ‘a turn towards nomadism. towards a chosen ground, which is, strictly speaking nowhere in particular’ (207). McGuckian is then ‘[a]lways in flight’ and her poems ‘are never foxed in historical time or geographical space: their meaning is always untimely, never present-to-themselves, and hence never “available”’ (207). In adopting this poetics, Docherty suggests that McGuckian is more like the nineteenth-century decadents or the twentieth-century surrealists than Irish poets. This outward looking set of influences also concords with McGuckian’s linguistic strategy in which she combats her Anglo-Saxon words against those of other idioms: Malaysian, African languages, Polish, Spanish and Persian. Using this kind of language ‘suggest[s] an alienation in McGuckian’s own relation to her language’ and ‘[t]here is no single governing Logos, no monotheology of Truth here, no originary language’ (208). McGuckian ‘does not live between English and Gaelic, but between English and the languages of Europe, Asia, Africa’ (208).

Such linguistic instability smacks of surrealism according to Docherty, yet McGuckian tends more towards the superreal than the surreal. Recalling Baudrillard’s theory of the postmodern simulacrum, Docherty wonders whether McGuckian ‘can question the very principle of reality itself by its parodic duplication’ (209).

Reality in her writing constantly slips away , leaving a reader to puzzle where she or he stands. Her sentences meander from éstrangeté to bizarrerie, dislocating metaphor and being ‘easily carried away’ in this language which is dictated by no consciousness, and leaving a reader stranded in flight from multivalent realities. (209)

Docherty Thomas. 1992. ‘Initiations, Tempers, Seductions: Postmodern McGuckian.’ The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland. Ed. Neil Corcoran. Bridgend: Seren, 1992. 191-211.

Frances Ferguson on ‘Rape and the Rise of the Novel’

ReaderIn ‘Rape and the Rise of the Novel,’ Frances Ferguson has some interesting things to say about the discourses of ‘truth’ and ‘fiction’ especially in cases where the testimony of the rapist is pitted against that of the one (often the woman) who was raped. The demands of the courtroom create a conundrum, a catch-22 that disenfranchises women forcing them to remain in a rape script that renders them powerless.

Even as the political and fictional logic establishes the woman’s truthfulness, the link between her truthfulness and her powerlessness itself comes to function as an inevitably self contradictory formula. It thus imposes a limiting term on the very capacity for subversion or compensation that political reform and visionary fiction might hope to provide. Were a woman to become powerful, she would lose the weakness that is the very condition of the strength of her testimony. That is, her very lack of power guarantees her truthfulness; her not counting makes her words count. The question of authentic testimony about rape thus approaches something of a paradox of statutory rape in which the possibility of radical self-contradiction is defined as the easiest case, the most determinate and determinable reality (Ferguson 1989 :97).

Ferguson concludes that there have been three treatments of the history of rape:
1. there has been the determination of truthteller by gender – man or woman;
2. there has been a fictitious certainty defining rape in formal terms that involve possibility of self-contradiction;
3. and there has been competition between the story and the narrator, reality and the telling of it.

Ferguson suggests that the questions raised above appear in some of the pioneering examples of the novel form. She mentions Pamela (1740) by Samuel Richardson, but mainly focuses on Richardson’s Clarissa comparing the novel with Ovid’s tale of Philomela. [For more info on Richardson see: ].

While the metamorphic account of rape (Philomela) gives the shape of a memory to the story of an unspeakable act (the story of the rape of the Levite’s wife), Richardson rewrites the rape story to create the psychological novel. The novel is psychological, moreover, not because it is about the plausibility of its characters but because it insists upon the importance of psychology as the ongoing possibility of the contradiction between what one must mean and what one wants to mean. […] Clarissa becomes a psychological novel, then, not just in representing the ambiguity of forms and the struggles inherent in interpretation. In adapting the spirit of Lovelacean stipulation that nonconsent can be consent, Clarissa answers Lovelace not just by refusing her retroactive consent to the act of rape but by living the stipulated contradiction that his act and his construction of it have made it visible. Stipulation, trying to put a limit to ambiguity by defining the understanding of a term or a situation, is potentially infinite. (Ferguson 1989: 109)

Ferguson, Frances. 1989. ‘Rape and the Rise of the Novel.’ Misogyny, Misandry and Misanthropy. Ed. R. Howard Bloch and Frances Ferguson. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press. 88 – 112.

Tanya Modleski on Representing Rape in Harlequin Romances

The novels [Harlequin Romances] perpetuate ideological confusion about male sexuality and male violence, while insisting that there is no problem (they are very “different”). The rapist mentality – the intention to dominate, “humiliate and degrade,” which as Susan Brownmiller shows, is often disguised as sexual desire – is turned into its opposite- sexual desire disguised as the intention to dominate and hurt. The message is the same one parents sometimes give to girls who are singled out for mistreatment by a bully: “he really has a crush on you.” This belief is of course an enormously difficult one to sustain in real life, and romantic literature performs a crucial function in assuring us that although some men may actually enjoy inflicting pain on women, there are also “bullies” whose meanness is nothing more than the overflow of their love or the measure of their resistance to our extraordinary charms. (Modleski 1982: 34-35)

Modleski, Tanya. 2008 (1982). Loving with a Vengeance: Mass Produced Fantasies for Women. London: Routledge.

‘Introduction: Rereading Rape’ by Lynn A. Higgins and Brenda R. Silver (p. 1–11)

Higgins and Silver begin their introduction by recalling Beckett’s question, ‘What does it matter who is speaking?,’ a question imbedded in postmodern questioning of identity. However, for Higgins and Silver the question of who is speaking is very important when one is speaking about sexual violence and its representations in literature, since as they state, ‘the politics and aesthetics of rape are one’ (1).

Higgins and Silver are adamant that their project is not only in the imagination, but in the world: a world where ‘rape cultures’ are accepted and remain unquestioned. What Higgins and Silver find most worrying and intriguing is the ‘obsessive inscription – and an obsessive erasure – of sexual violence against women’ (2). In opposition to this erasure, ‘[f]eminist modes of “reading” rape and its cultural manifestations, displacements, and transformations of what amounts to an insidious cultural myth’ (2).

Part of this feminist project involves highlighting the fact that representations of rape in art and literature often contain the same assumptions and prejudices that are seen all too often in the courtroom. Higgins and Silver suggest that ‘representations of rape after the event are almost always framed by a masculine perspective premised on men’s fantasies about female sexuality and their fears about false accusation, as well as their codified access top and possession of women’s bodies’ (2). The onus is on the woman to prove her own innocence in the courtroom and often in literature.

Unsurprisingly then, rape often appears in literature as ‘an absence or a gap that is both product and source of textual anxiety, contradiction, or censorship’ (3). Higgins and Silver add that it can also be represented via a kind of ventriloquism where accepted platitudes surrounding rape are repeated, rather than more authentic and thoughtful explanations being offered. This needs to be challenged, because what is at stake is the very nature of gender relations. As Higgins and Silver intimate, ‘rape and rapability are central to the very construction of gender identity and […] our subjectivity and sense of ourselves as sexual beings are inextricably enmeshed in representations’ (3).

It is obvious then that the project is significant and admirable, but how are Higgins and Silver to go about creating it? The critics reply that there must be an ‘unravelling’ of ‘cultural texts that have obsessively made rape so pervasive and so invisible a theme – made it “unreadable”’ (3). To combat this, one must adopt a tactic of ‘listening not only to who speaks and in what circumstances, but who does not speak and why’ (3). Theirs is a strategy of recuperation as they ‘listen for stories that differ from the master(’s) story’, as they ‘recuperate what has too often been left out; the physical violation and the women who find ways to speak it’ (3).

To sum up, Higgens and Silver endorse the following tenets in creating the collection, Rape and Representation:
1. that the essays will focus on women representing themselves searching for ‘breakthroughs’ whereby ‘rape gets represented in spite of its suppression’ (4);
2. and that in the essays, it will be recognised that rape is a bodily violation contradicting its reframing as ‘a metaphor or a symbol or represented rhetorically as titillation, persuasion, ravishment, seduction, or desire (poetic, narrative, courtly, military)’ (4).
There are a number of other challenges recognised by Higgens and Silver in the list of questions below:

Do women who write of rape – and until recently, especially among white women in the Anglo-American tradition recently, these have been few in number – find a way out of the representational double binds confronting those women who attempt to escape their entrapment in the patriarchal story? Do women of colour within the United States or “third world” women, who have addressed the taboo subject more often and more openly, offer subversive perspectives? It is also necessary to recognize the disturbing fault lines that appear within men’s texts and to ask what role male authors play in uncovering the structures that brutalize women’s bodies and erase their subjectivity. Do these texts reveal traces of masculine sexual anxiety or guilt? And are even male authors who recognize their complicity in the violence of the gender system ultimately caught in its powerful meshes? (4-5)

Higgens and Silver don’t answer these questions now, but they outline the five sections of the book in detail.
1. Prior Violence. This section goes back to some the earliest stories about rape in Western culture and it studies the legacy left by such tales in our culture.
2. The Rhetoric of Elision. Here the focus is ‘the scene of elision in male texts about rape’ and there is discussion of male authors’ (von Kleist, Hardy, Forster) ambivalence about the violence in the text (5).
3. Writing the Victim. This section questions to what extent literary texts (Shakespeare’s Lucrece, Yambo Ouloguem’s Le Devoir de violence, Soni Labou Tansi’s La Vie et demie, various novels by Clarice Lispector) contribute to ‘social and narrative acts of victimization’ (6).
4. Framing Institutions. The analysis here ‘shifts the emphasis from writing the victim to the institutional discourses in which rape occurs’ e.g. ‘Medieval legal codes and judicial practice […]; Renaissance political structures and the heroic ethos of courtly love […]; slavery and its legacy – racism – including their enactment in lynching’ (6). The critics seek to undermine each frame in which sexual violence is naturalised.
5. Unthinking the Metaphor. To conclude, the final essays focus on ‘aesthetic categories’ whether that be the Western lyric tradition or the multiple narratives of postmodernism.

Higgens, Lynn A. and Brenda R. Silver. 1991.‘Introduction: Rereading Rape’. Rape and Representation. Ed. Lynn A. Higgens and Brenda R. Silver. New York: Columbia University Press. 1-11.

Further Reading
Armstrong, Nancy and Leonard Tennenhouse eds. 1989. The Violence of Representation: Literature and the History of Violence. New York: Routledge.
Castle, Terry. 1982. Clarissa’s Ciphers: Meaning and Disruption in Richardson’s “Clarissa”. Ithica: Cornell University Press.
de Lauretis, Teresa. 1987. ‘The Violence of Rhetoric: Considerations on Representation and Gender’. 1987. Technologies and Gender: Essays on Theory, Film and Fiction. Bloomington and Indianopolis: Indiana University Press. 31-50.
Estrich, Susan. 1987. Real Rape. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Ferguson, Frances. 1987. ‘Rape and the Rise of the Novel.’ Representations 20: 88-112.
Froula, Christine. 1986. ‘The Daughter’s Seduction: Sexual Violence and Literary History.’ Signs 11: 621-644.
Herman, Dianne. 1984. ‘The Rape Culture.’ Women: a Feminist Perspective. Ed. Jo Freeman. Palo Alto, Calif.: Mayfield. (no page numbers given).
Herrera-Sobek, Maria. 1987. ‘The Politics of Rape; Sexual Transgression in Chicana Fiction.’ Americas Review 15: 171-181.
Kappeler, Susan. 1986. The Pornography of Representation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Mackinnon, Cathrine. 1983. ‘Feminism Marxism and the State: Towards Feminist Jurisprudence.’ Signs 8: 635-658.
Modleski, Tania. ‘Rape versus Mans/ laughter: Blackmail.’ The Women who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. New York: Menthuen, 1988. (no page numbers given).
Reeves Sanday, Peggy. 1986. ‘Rape and the Silencing of the Feminine.’ Rape. Ed. Sylvana Tomaselli and Roy Porter. Oxford: Blackwell.


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