All entries for January 2007
January 30, 2007
Mãe de Peixe
Mãe de Peixe is ‘a chimera of many guises which looks after fish populations’ (81). She is sometimes a caimun, other times a pirarucú or even a cobra grande depending on the tribe.
‘[H]unters and fishermen must contend with panama, a hex that prevents people from catching fish or killing game. Panema is far more serious than a temporary bout of bad luck. Unless properly treated a person can remain empanemado indefinitely. Given the importance of fish and game to the regional diet, and as a source of income in the case of fishing, rural folk are understandably concerned about avoiding panama.’ (101) Pirarucú fishermen are particularly susceptible to panama due to the huge size of the fish and this may be due to fears about the loss of such a useful species (112).
A large fish that can be as long as two metres and weigh up to 100 kilograms (20). The pirarucú is valued for its, ‘high value and savoury taste’ as well as for its ‘byproducts’. Strips of meat can be stored for months, its fifteen centimetre long can be used as a grater while its scales, the size of credit cards, can be used in woodwork too.
The Yara, ‘appears before bachelors, and young men who are about to marry. If they hear yara’s enchanting voice and linger to catch a glimpse of her, they later become ill’ (85). Yara have been spotted in waterfalls (Tarumã falls near Manaus) and in trees (the Peruvian Amazon). The Yara is often blonde.
Smith, Nigel J.H. The Enchanted Amazon Rain Forest: Stories from a Vanishing World. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1996.
In considering the oppressed indigenous peoples of the Amazon, David Maybury-Lewis recommends a macroscopic approach and he notes that this method, ‘is the only way in which one can set about examining what is happening to the peoples of Amazonia—or indeed, to minority peoples anywhere in the world today’ (127). Maybury-Lewis notes that some see the Amazonians in terms of neo-Darwinism believing that it is simply the fate of indigenous peoples to die out. Some Marxists see the Amazonians as, ‘out of step historically’, according to Maybury-Lewis, but to be in step dictates that, ‘their way of life is doomed’ (128). Maybury-Lewis disagrees with both of these views and he is adamant that the Amazonians are rather, ‘suffering from the simple ability of stronger peoples, nations, institutions to overpower weaker ones’ (128).
Differing views on indigenous peoples can be typified, says Maybuy Lewis, by the dialogue between Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda and Bartolomé de Las Casas. In a junta ordered by Charles V of Spain, Las Casas argued against Sepúlveda that Indians had souls. Maybury-Lewis notes that for men like Sepúlveda, indigenous peoples, ‘were cannibals and therefore not deserving of human compassion’ and he notes that because indigenous peoples, ‘abused the weak in their society’, their government had to be replaced by Spanish rule which supposedly did not exploit the weak in the same fashion (128). Maybury Lewis describes such excuses as ‘self-serving’ and he presents an argument against the need for an imposed Spanish rule (128).
Even if they were [cannibals], it is not obvious why the ritual eating of people should be any worse than flaying them alive, or enslaving them, or torturing them judicially, which was customary procedure in the seventeenth century. Nor is it clear why it should justify any peculiarly draconian actions against them on the part of Europeans. (128)
Similar flawed arguments supporting the usurpation of indigenous government still prevail, yet now as Maybury-Lewis notes, the desire is to ‘civilise’ Indians. Nineteenth century anthropologists used ‘the backwards peoples of the world’ as a lever for their own ‘higher rationality’ (129). Now indigenous people must make way not for rationality, but development. Maybury-Lewis argues that a second conquest is now taking place in the heart of Amazonia, its goal being Indian land. The argument for such a conquest is utilitarian and it assumes that the Indian cannot adapt and that the extraction of wealth from the land will be worth it. According to Maybury-Lewis, the Indian is often seen as, ‘a threat to nation-building’, ‘an ideological challenge’ and ‘a challenge to [a nation’s] mainstream values’ (132).
Maybury-Lewis, David. ‘Demystifying the Second Conquest’. Frontier Expansion in Amazonia. Ed. Marianne Schmink and Charles H. Wood. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1984. 127-134.
Nelly Arvelo-Jiménez describes the policy of indigenismo as, ‘a system of policies pertaining to indigenous peoples in which the relation of the state and Indian peoples is defined’ (105). She explains that indigenismo was in the colonial past a means to excuse the ill-treatment of indigenous peoples and the denial of their rights. Arvelo-Jiménez explains that indigenismo was, ‘the ideology that “legalized” or “normalized” the condition of domination that was introduced in order to impose a Latin or European way of life’ (105). Arvelo-Jiménez notes that such a policy is still being adopted by the Venezuelan government and she explains how the indigenous people’s rights to land and freedom have been denied by:
• missionary indigenismo which changed the education of indigenous peoples “civilising” them;
• and state indigenismo that fails to stop ‘land grabbing’.
Arvelo-Jiménez, Nelly. ‘The Politics of Cultural Survival in Venezuela: Beyond Indigenismo’. Frontier Expansion in Amazonia. Ed. Marianne Schmink and Charles H. Wood. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1984. 105-126
Born in Berlin, the capital of Prussia (14th September 1769), Alexander von Humboldt was destined to become an explorer of the Amazon. Influenced by a friendship during university with Georg Foster (who had travelled around the world with Captain Cook), Humboldt was very interested in exploration. Humboldt was initially the Assistant Inspector of mines and also conducted biological experiments. Eventually Humboldt embarked on an expedition to South and Central America arriving in the New World in 1799 (July 16th) entering the port of Cumaná.
With their microscopes they, and their respective ladies, examined lice of many varieties found in the ladies’ hair. They measured plant growth, which exceeded far anything in Europe. They heard of and then found a man suckling a child with his own milk. On their first foray inland they encountered the oil-bird, or guacharo. This cave dwelling species, slaughtered for its fat, was quite new to science. They also took advantage of a solar eclipse in late 1799. (Smith, 230)
It was in 1800 that Humboldt was to begin a proper inland expedition. Anthony Smith describes Humboldt’s encounter with ‘gymnotids’ or electric fish in Calabozo. The fish were not exactly eels but they, ‘swam in eel-like manner and possessed an eel-like smoothness’ and they could produce 600 volts. Humboldt had already experimented with electricity and was fascinated by the creatures, so he decided to proceed with an experiment:
The locals had a technique [for catching the fish] which Humboldt was to call picturesque. A large number of mules and horses were driven at speed into a marsh where the fish were known to be resting in the mud. This violent act brought them out into the water, and their electricity caused the mules and horses to leave it speedily. With bamboo sticks the Indians sent the frightened animals back again. There they lunged about, terror in their eyes. A few succumbed, falling into the water and even drowning. The others continued to thrash until the gymnotids exhausted their battery-like supply. With dry lengths of wood acting as insulators the fish were then coaxed from the water. (232)
Smith, Anthony. Explorers of the Amazon .London: Viking, 1990.
January 26, 2007
In The Huntress, Petit makes her own poem out of Juhász’ long poem, ‘The Boy Changed into a Stag Clamours at the Gate of Secrets’, but what is so special about Juhász and why does Petit use his poem in this way? Perloff suggests in this essay that at the time of writing, there are three registers for poetry: ‘the low or plain-colloquial’ (e.g. the New York poets), ‘the middle or observational-meditative’ (e.g. Confessional poets) and ‘the high or ceremonial grand’ (117). Ferenc Juhász falls into this last category, a mode designed ‘to convey the poet’s all but inexpressible and momentous experience of otherness’ (118). For Perloff, Anglo-American poets can, ‘never quite express the naked and almost unbearable passion found in Juhász’s work’ (118). In considering his collection The Boy Changed Into A Stag, Perloff suggests that Juhász, ‘has none of self-consciousness characteristic of much of our visionary poetry; it has a strange sense of inevitability, as if its maker were not so much writing a poem as uttering a cry from the heart’ (118).
Perloff now offers some thoughts on the technical aspects of Juhász’s art and suggests that the two most pertinent techniques are repetition and ‘the catalogue’. Perloff admires the way in which Juhász builds up ‘strings of nouns’ in ‘paratactic units’ (parataxis being clauses joined without conjunctions) and also enjoys Juhász’s use of anaphora (repetition for effect), internal repetition and strings of appositive phrases (i.e. phrases that refer to the same person or thing and have the same relationship to other sentence elements) (118).
Perloff also comments on Juhász’s relationship with nature using ‘The Boy Changed into a Stag Clamours at the Gate of Secrets’ as an example:
In Juhász’s powerful myth, the Mother, an abstract, generic female figure like those of Lorca, finally loses the Prodigal Son, whose future depends on his ability to cut the knot. To be human, the poet implies, is to suffer, and accordingly, the greatest virtue one can exercise is energy—the power to survive in the marvellous but terrible world of nature. (121)
Perloff, Marjorie J. ‘Review: Poetry Chronicle:1970-71’. Contemporary Literature. Vol 14, no. 1 (winter 1973), 97-131.
January 25, 2007
Pascale Petit refers to Kuhasz in her collection, The Huntress, so I am interested in his background and poetics.
Ferenc Juhász was a Hungarian poet, born in Bia, the son of a poor bricklayer. In 1947 he moved to Budapest, where he studied Hungarian philology for a while, later earning his living as a writer and an editor. Juhász’s first works, Szárnyas csikó (1949; Winged Foal), A Sántha család (1950; The Sántha Family), and Apám (1950; Father), were heavily influenced by such classic Hungarian writers as Sándor Peto”fi and János Arany (see Hungarian literature), yet these volumes give evidence of Juhász’s poetic gifts, especially his daring use of imagery. After a period of naive revolutionary optimism, Juhász became disenchanted with the political status quo. The volume Óda a reptüléshez (1953; Ode to Flight) broke through the rigid canons of socialist realism, and his next work, A tékozló ország (1954; The Prodigal Country), a very long epic poem on the peasant revolt of 1514 led by György Dózsa, ends with a passionate hymn to freedom. From an aesthetic point of view, this work, in spite of its heterogeneous character, is an important landmark: it marks the liberation of the Hungarian poetic imagination from the tutelage of old-fashioned realism, and it is also a bold experiment in verse form, demonstrating Juhász’s “extended syllabic line.”
Juhász’s next collection, A virágok hatalma (1956; The Power of Flowers), contains some of his most mature and moving work, but it poses the threat that his visionary panbiologism
- the proliferation of natural and cosmic imagery in his work - will devour the message and destroy the “traditional” structure of the poem. In the long poem “A szarvassá változott királyfi . . .” (1955; The Boy Changed into a Stag”), Juhász adapted folk motifs used by Bé1a Bartók in Cantana Profana, creating in his poem a Bartókean synthesis of sound and image. Some years later, in József Attila sírja (1963; Eng. tr., The Grave of Attila József, 1968), Juhász appeared to have lost the balance between form and content, his theme being overgrown by functionally irrelevant clusters of metaphors. This tendency has continued in A szent tu”zözön regéi (1969; Tales of the Sacred Fire-Flood), which consists of endless variations on the theme of universal catastrophe and the ultimate devastation of nature and mankind, as well as in A halottak királya (1971; The King of Dead), where the poet returns to a more traditional verse form, but remains obsessed with death, corruption, and decay, his images and metaphors gushing forth in a monotonous, exasperating torrent of verse. His poetry has found more than one English translator, including Kenneth McRobbie (1970) and David Wevill (1970).
See: K. McRobbie, Introduction to F. Juhász, The Boy Changed into a Stag: Selected Poems (1970).
I have been doing some research into the Hungarian poet, Ferenc Juhász, because in her collection, The Huntress, Pascale Petit writes a version of his poem ‘At the Gate of Secrets’. Juhász was born in Budapest (1928) and was awarded the highest prize in Hungarian literature. The Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature explains the background to his work
A new phase in Hungarian cultural policy was ushered in by the so-called Lukács controversy in which Lukács was castigated by Communist Party spokesmen for preferring “Western” critical realism to (Soviet) socialist realism. Although the era of enforced socialist realism was relatively short (1948-53), its adverse effects could be felt for years afterwards, and only since the early 1960s can one speak of a genuine pluralism in the cultural policy of the government. Nevertheless it was in the early 1950s that a new constellation of poetic talents emerged. These were poets of peasant origin
-Ferenc Juhász, László Nagy, István Simon, Imre Takáics, and Sándor Czóri—-who soon left behind their primitive realism or initial naive romanticism. These writers, especially Juhász and Nagy, created a syncretic imaginative style that grappled first with problems of the small community and later with those of a chaotic yet interdependent world. (“Hungarian Literature”)
The Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics goes further descriing Juhasz as one of the two great Hungraian poets (along with László Nagy (1925-78)). It describes how ‘[t]heir instinctive images go directly from impression to creation of a vision’ and commenting specifically on Juhász, it states that while ‘[h]is lyric mirrors the suffering of the troubled mind’, it also, ‘turns towards great visions, a world-view of micro- and macrocosms’ (“Hungarian Poetry”).
January 19, 2007
‘Pain and Imagining’ by Elaine Scarry
In this essay, Scarry considers the relationship between pain and imagining and she begins by defining pain. Pain is exceptional, according to Scarry, because unlike other sensory experiences, it is objectless: ‘Hearing and touch are of objects outside the boundaries of the body, as desire is desire of x, fear is fear of y, hunger is hunger for z; but pain is not “of”or “for” anything–it is itself alone’ (162). Pain then includes ‘the complete absence of referential content’ (163). Interestingly, Scarry suggests that it is precisely this absence, ‘that may give rise to imagining by first occasioning the process that eventually brings forth the dense sea of artifacts [sic] and symbols that we make and move about in’ (162). Scarry goes further stating that: ‘The only state that is as anomalous as pain is the imagination’ (162). Yet while pain is objectless, the imagination is all about the creation of objects.
Thus, while pain is like seeing or desiring but not like seeing x or desiring y, the opposite but equally extraordinary characteristic belongs to imagining. It is like the x or y that are the objects of vision or desire, but not like the felt-occurrences of seeing or desiring.
For Scarry, pain and imagining can also be thought of in terms of her phrase, ‘intentionality’. The phrase, ‘intentional state’, is a significant philosophical concept, which is explained by John R. Searle in his essay, ‘What is an Intentional State?’:
Many of our mental states are in some sense directed at objects and states of affairs in the world. If, for example, I have a belief, it must be a belief that such-and-such is the case. If I have a wish or a want, it must be a wish or a want to do something, or that something should happen or should be the case. If I have an intention, it must be an intention to do something. If I have a fear, it must be a fear of something or that something will occur. And so on, through a large number of other cases. It is this feature of directedness of our mental states that many philosophers have labelled ‘Intentionality’. Now clearly not all of our mental states are in this way directed or Intentional. For example, if I have a pain, ache, tickle, or itch, such conscious states are not in that sense directed at anything; they are not ‘about’ anything, in the way that our beliefs, fears etc. must in some sense be about something. (74)
Scarry takes this idea of intentionality and applies it to pain and the imagination, so that pain is like ‘an intentional state without an intentional object’ while imagining produces ‘an intentional object without an experienceable intentional state’ (164). Scarry then wonders whether pain could be the imagination’s intentional state or whether the imagination might be pain’s intentional object. At last, Scarry admits that ‘pain only becomes an intentional state once it is brought into relation with the objectifying power of the imagination: through that relation, pain will be transformed from a wholly passive and helpless occurrence into a self-modifying and, when most successful, self-eliminating one’ (164). Ultimately, pain and imagining are extremes of intentionality, as pain demands presence in the body and an intentional state, while imagining heightens ‘self-objectification’ and offers an escape from physical sensation. Scarry describes them as ‘framing events’ around ‘all other perceptual, somatic, and emotional events’ (165). In experiencing everyday sensations, one can verge further towards pain or towards imagining:
[I]f a thorn cuts through the skin of the woman’s finger, she feels not the thorn, but her body hurting her. If instead she experiences across the skin of her fingers not the awareness of the feel of those fingers but the feel of the fine weave of another woman’s work, or if she traces the lettering of an engraved message and becomes mindful not of events in her hands but of the form and motivating force of the signs, or if that night she experiences the intensely feelable presence of her beloved, she in each of these moments experiences the sensation of “touch” not as bodily sensations but as self-displacing, self-transforming objectification […]. (166)
The imagination allows us to conjure objects where there are none in sensational experience. Sometimes this occurs in order to eliminate discomfort felt in one’s bodily experience. Scarry gives the example of imagining a cup of water when one is thirsty. The imagination is used in other less dramatic self-modifying ways; for example, Scarry mentions the shift of gaze from a view of the countryside to the city, which, for her, represents, ‘continually exchanging one object for another, exercising control over the direction and content of touch, hearing, seeing, smell, and taste’ (168).
One process that represents the framing elements of pain and imagining is work, which has been a synonym in Western culture both for creation and suffering: ‘The more it realizes and transforms itself in its object, the closer to the imagination, to art, to culture; the more it is unable to bring forth an object or, bringing it forth, is then cut off from its object, the more it approaches the condition of pain’ (169). Work is then ‘controlled discomfort’ (171).
This oscillation between pain and imagining is also shown in the parallels between idea of the weapon and the tool. Scarry sees two arrangements in this juxtapositions: that of a ‘pain-weapon-imagined object’ and the other of ‘work-tool-artifact [sic]’ (172). For Scarry, the weapon has, ‘an elementary place in the transformations of pain into the projected image’ (172).
[T]here are many outwardly visible indications that the image of the weapon is not just one among thousands of signs but is a sign occupying a primal place in the most original moment of transformation. Of such outward indications, perhaps the most important to recall here is the centrality of the image in the language of people in physical pain. Physical pain is not only itself resistant to language but also actively destroys language, deconstructing it into the pre-language of cries and groans. To hear those cries is to witness the shattering of language. Conversely, to be present when the person in pain rediscovers speech and so regains his powers of slef-objectification is almost to be present at the birth, or rebirth, of language. That the person in pain very typically moves through a handful of descriptive words to an “as if” construction, and an “as if” construction that has a weapon on the other side, indicates the primacy of the sign in the elementary work of projection into metaphor. To describe one’s hurt in an image of agency is to project it into an object which, though at first conceived of as moving toward the body, by its very separability from the becomes an image that can be lifted away, carrying some of the attributes of pain with it. (173)
Interestingly, in thinking about the parallels between tools and weapons, the two objects can seem often to be one and the same thing, yet as Scarry points out, the purpose for which they are used is very different: ‘If one holds the two side by side in front of the mind–a hand (as weapon) and a hand (as tool), a knife (weapon) and a knife (tool), a hammer and a hammer, an ax [sic] and an ax[sic]–it is then clear that what differentiates them is not the object itself but the surface on which they fall’ (173).
Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: the Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.
John R. Searle. ‘What Is an Intentional State?’. Mind (New Series). Vol. 88, 349 (January 1979), 74-92.
January 16, 2007
The Rights of Man and Citizen
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was designed to make everyone aware of rights and responsibilities.
1 Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.
2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
3. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.
Kristeva explains how rights are inserted into a grid of human institutions and within the scope of the nation. Thus later on the word, ‘man’, is replaced by the word, ‘citizen’.
6. Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.
The word citizen is used here significantly when the document directs us to civic responsibilities. Kristeva notes: ‘Never has democracy been more explicit, for it excludes no one—except foreigners’ (149). Natural man leads to political man which leads to political man and in fact there is some caution in dissociating natural and political man at all.
What happens to peoples without an adequate government to defend them (the Napoleonic expansion comes to minds, for instance)? What happens to peoples without a homeland (the Russians, the Poles, victims of destruction of their state; or, in more radical fashion, the Jews)? Generally speaking, how are those who are not citizens of a sovereign state to be considered? Does one belong to mankind, is one entitled to the “rights of man” when one is not a citizen? (150)
Kristeva is adamant that the French Revolution brought a call for national rights not human ones. She notes Arendt’s belief that the legacy of nationalism guaranteed the rise of Nazism in the twentieth century. For Kristeva, the composition of a world order in nation-states is barbaric, since only legal nationals are guaranteed rights. The only possible antidote to this could be what Kristeva calls the principle of human diginity: ‘Maintaining the dignity of the human being as principle and aim allows one to understand, to care for, perhaps to mollify its founderings’ (153).
Kristeva comes to a view on the kind of society that should emerge from the Declaration. It would be one that balances the rights and duties of citizens and non-citizens. She also demands an ethics based on education and psychoanalysis that would ‘reveal, discuss, and spread a concept of human dignity, wrested from the euphoria of classic humanists and laden with the alienations, dramas and dead ends of our condition as speaking beings’ (154).
Foreigners During the Revolution
1. Universal Brotherhood and the Birth of Nationalism
By 1790, Guy-Jean-Baptiste Target announced a proposal in the National Assembly of France for foreigners to be naturalized after five years. It was approved by the Assembly immediately. New societies for foreigners began to emerge in France and there were new newspapers catering for foreigners. Unfortunately as the nature of government began to change, the authorities began to be suspicious about foreigners who might be spies or plotters. They were also blamed for the economic crisis. “Hospitality certificates” and “civic examination” were invented and two parties emerged with different attitudes towards foreigners. Dantonists wanted peace but were anti-foreigners, while Hébertists desired war against Europe but supported immigrant patriots. Clubs for foreigners were banned and Robespiere’s Report on the Principles of the Revolution (1793) blamed foreigners for everything. In events that followed, the Terror brought about the arrest of the Hébertists and Hébert’s cosmopolitan ideas condemned many to death. Nationalism was the safest ideology to embrace. All foreigners, ‘were excluded from public service and public rights’ (161).
2. Anarcharsis Clootz: The “Speaker of Mankind” Against the Word “Foreigner”
Clootz was born in the Rhineland of Dutch origin and educated by Jesuits, but in 1790 he proposed to the National Assembly that the Declaration would be supported by the entire world. Allied with the Girondists, he believed in ‘expanding the rights of man to include foreign peoples, who would thus rise against their tyrants under the aegis of France’ (161). When the Terror began to emerge, Clootz did not take action against foreigners and continued to expound his ideas about a universal republic. He even deconstructed the term, foreigner. Clootz was accused of being a foreigner, incapable of feeling patriotism, and eventually, he was arrested and guillotined on March 20th 1794.
3. Thomas Paine: The “Citizen of the World” Wants to Save the King
Thomas Paine was key figure during the American Revolution. His Common Sense attacked the aristocracy and crown of England and demanded independence. Paine visited France during its revolution and answered Burke’s criticisms of the French (Reflection Upon the Revolution in France) with his own Rights of Man. Paine beli4eved in a social and democratic form of government and education and he displayed great idealism concerning human beings and the French Revolution. Paine was supported by English nonconformists like Mary Wollstonecraft and Nicholas de Bonneville in France.
Interestingly, although Paine was anti-monarchists, he also pleaded the case of the French king and was against his execution. However, Marat referred to the fact that Paine came from a Quaker family and suggested that his religious principles had clouded his judgement. After the execution of the Girondists, Paine was also arrested but eluded the guillotine.
The Nephew with Hegel: Culture as Strangeness
Kristeva begins:’ When in its dialectical motion, the world of the Spirit becomes foreign to itself, Hegel deems that two parts of the spiritual world start facing each other: actuality and pure consciousness’ (144). It is a process, ‘constituted by culture (Bildung)—political, economic, social, intellectual …—as estrangement of the natural being’ (144). In this strangeness, ‘individuality becomes stable only by giving up the self fro the universal: that is the role of Myself the philosopher’ (144). Hegel thinks of estrangement in a number of ways:
• the self-estrangement of the French monarchy ‘where language becomes alienated in turn as a pure appearance in order to seek an empty power’ (145);
• and the distraught utterance as representative of cultural estrangement which creates pure self-consciousness.
Kristeva writes how ‘Culture in Hegel’s sense, in its scission and essential strangeness, proceeds by way of disunion and contradiction, which it unifies in its wrenching discourse’ (146). Kristeva sees this kind of culture as prevailing particularly in France.