All entries for October 2006

October 26, 2006

Private and Public Wars

Writing about web page http://www.newwelshreview.com/backissue_details.asp?issueID=19&issueNumber=72

Pascale Petit, ‘Private and Public Wars’, The New Welsh Review, 72, 8-14.

In her essay, ‘Private and Public Wars’, Pascale Petit considers the difficulty in writing about subjects such as 9/11 and she notes:

If the subject is handled with imagination and flair the critics welcome it. It is permissible to publish verse containing distressing graphic images: a headless rider (Ciaran Carson); a face exploded flat into a wall (David Harsent); a bunker-ceiling hung with charred children’s hands (Robert Minhinnick); a bagful of ears emptied on the floor. (Carol Forche). (8)

New Welsh Review

Petit then thinks about the charge of self indulgence and its implication, ‘that the poet’s subject is not universal’ (8). However, Petit suggests that ‘private wars [...] are waged more than we like to admit in our first world country’ (8).

Petit considers the charge that confessional poetry ignores ‘artistry’ in favour of ‘sensational subject matter’ (10). Yet Petit identifies another purpose for poetry, ‘to communicate what it means to be human’ and she argues that, ‘most of us suffer major trauma at some point in our lives’ (10). She recalls Wilfred Owen’s famous dictum about poetry and pity.

Petit wants to discover why there is a ‘difference in status between the poetry of private and public wars’ (10). She wonders if T.S. Eliot’s call for the extinction of personality is partly a reason or whether it simply the difficulty of the task in writing about trauma that discourages poets. She also considers the view of some critics that, ‘the subject matter overpowers the craft and fails to transcend the raw pain’ (10). She also notes defensiveness about the privacy of home and the need for, ‘masks of respectability and distance’ (10). However, Petit turns to an argument first put forward by A. Alvarez that, ‘when confessional poets remove the mask they speak as society’s representative victims because their personal crises reflect a larger social and cultural breakdown’ (10).

Petit notes that, ‘in most of Africa and Latin America’, trauma is sometimes an everyday thing and Petit believes that as long as suffering exists, the poet has a responsibility to write about it (10).

Here are the poets that Petit considers to be confessional:
• Robert Lowell,
• John Berryman,
• W.D. Snodgrass,
• Plath and Sexton,
• Theodore Roethke,
• Sharon Olds,
• CK Williams,
• Charles Wright,
• and Maria Howe.
However, Petit notes that many poets dislike the category and British writers would rarely describe their poetry as confessional. There are British poets though who have confessional elements to their work and Petit suggests the following:
• individual collections by Selima Hill;
• Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters ;
• Craig Raine’s A la Recherche de Temps Perdu ;
• and Hugo Williams’ Billy’s Rain .
Different poets have reacted differently to the label. Some poets accepted it like Maraia Howe and Robert Lowell, while others resisted it such as Charles Wright who prefers the term, ‘impersonal autobiography’. Petit touches on Plath noting how that poet made ‘the personal into her own symbolic language, a new mythos’ and she regrets the fact that, ‘one of the disadvantages of confessional poetry is that its sensational content can attract too much attention so that the quality of the writing is neglected’ (11).

In contrast to critical disapproval, Petit believes that the reading public like confessional poetry because it offers, ‘full-blooded poems about feelings’ (11).

Being over-concerned with aesthetics at the cost of content could be viewed as self-indulgent – the poet writing to another poet about poems, the lifeblood squeezed out. On the other hand the aesthetic qualities of confessional poems shouldn’t be overlooked.

In order to show this, Petit briefly analyses a poem by Sharon Olds, entitled ‘The Girl’ and she points out the importance of, ‘language and rhythm coupled with […] dynamic lineation’ (11). The problem for pets like Olds is, ‘transgressing socially imposed silences’ and Petit quotes Olds who says: ‘Is there anything that shouldn’t or can’t be written about in a poem?’ (11) Petit analyses a few more Olds poems and notes that while Olds explores the violence in the personal situation of the family, her themes can extend to the world.

Petit notes that she is labeled a confessional poet. She states that, ‘what I appear to have written are poems about abusive parents, and an attempt to transform the harrowing material by interfusing it with Amazonian and Aztec imagery’ (13). However, Petit suggests another purpose to the poems suggesting that at the heart of her poetry is, my belief in the essential goodness of people, and a need to imaginatively recast close family relationships which challenge that belief’ (13). For example, Petit places her abusive father in the context of Amazonian tribes, ‘the cannibalistic Yanomami and the headshrinking Jivaro/Shuar’, which ‘raised ethical questions much debated by anthropologists’ (13).

Again, none of their practices were gratuitous, but possibly neurotic responses to cultural and survival demands. By placing my father in this primitive setting, I could better understand his behaviour.

Petit now relates an anecdote about how at a conference in Lithuania, a delegate stated that a poem in which Petit gradually reduces her father’s power and renders him weak and helpless, might be helpful to Lithuanians who suffered at the hands of the KGB. Although Petit writes about a specific personal experience, it extends to people in other walks of life and with different experiences.


October 24, 2006

The Welsh and the Anglo Welsh

Ned Thomas, The Welsh Extremist: Modern Welsh Politics, Literature and Society, repr. 1994 (Talybont: Y Lolfa, 1973).

This chapter made me the most angry. Thomas begins by examining, ‘the fluidity of the linguistic boundary here—both the geographical boundary and the line between individuals’ (103). He notes how many ‘Anglo-Welsh’ have learned Cymraeg, but he then suggests that writers of Cymraeg are far more ‘articulate and culturally active’ than the Anglo-Welsh (104). He suggests that English speakers do not work so often at universities in Wales and he states: ‘The English-speaking Welsh, unless they have access in some way to the Welsh culture, cannot feel the same about the place’ (104). These are huge assumptions and belying this claim is the complecent notion that the only Welsh culture is that of Cymraeg .

Assumptions

• That English speakers cannot understand Welsh culture;

If the English-speaking Welsh find serious discussion of their problems, ways of looking at themselves, expression of their aspirations, then they must find these in the press, the institutions, the literature of the centre. But do they? They will find very little about Wales, as one would expect. This forces us back on another question, which is the fundamental one: how far to they feel themselves to be Welsh at all? (105)

Who can say that the feeling of being Welsh is played out in these parts of South Wales…? (107)

• That English speakers of South Wales are complicit with capitalism;

the mystery of the new,. relatively affluent [?] working class of Western Europe, living what seems to be a life of passive alienation [!!]’ (105)

A more participant and egalitarian Britain might offer the condition in which South Wales workers could emerge from their alienation, just as they might in a Wales that had taken responsibility for its own future. (107).

• That English speakers are inferior to those who speak Cymraeg .

It seems to me that industrial South Wales has suffered a double wound—the sheer hardship of industrial life with the humiliation of the years of unemployment; and added to this the loss of the language and all that is contained in the way of spiritual resources with which to meet that suffering. There is a humiliation in losing your language as there is in the indignity of the means test, and though it may seem a secondary kind of humiliation, it can leave a mark that lasts a long time. (112)

As the educated Welsh-speakers look at the new affluent working-class of South Wales they are bound to see people who have lost a culture and gained only a higher standard of living [?!], people made particularly vulnerable to commercially fostered pseudo-values by their own rootlessness, people who have lost the dignity of a language and acquired a despised and comic dialect. (116)

This last comment makes me laugh the most because it reveals Thomas’ folly. He really believes that purity of language can shore up the problems of Welsh identity. However, for him, there is only one Welsh identity – his own: that of the speaker of Cymraeg . As far as he is concerned, the lack of Cymraeg in the South Wales Valleys brought about by the
Industrial Revolution is a terrible tragedy. Not once does he consider the gifts that were brought to Wales as result of immigration by Irish, Scots, Dutch, French and yes, even English workers! Thomas has some dubious notions about racial purity; the South Waleans are tainted and cannot possibly represent Wales. He also shows some foolish ideas about linguistic purity. The ‘Anglo-Welsh’ are left to speak “a despised and comic dialect”, yet it is exactly that dialect that makes a real intervention into the politics of Wales. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari state, to create a minor literature, one has to deterritorialize a major, vehicular, dominant language and this is what ‘Anglo-Welsh’ writers are doing and what they have been doing for years.


Yr Iaith – The Language

The Welsh Not

For Ned Thomas, the language is an essential part of a campaign for Welsh culture and Welsh language. Thomas sees the English as ‘unselfconscious’ about their language (a huge assumption!) (34). Thomas continues:

Languages are very delicate networks of historically accumulated associations, and a thought in Welsh has innumerable and untraceable [?] connections with the thought of past centuries, with the environment with the scenery even, with one’s mother and father, with their mothers and fathers, with the moral and emotional terms in which the community has discussed its differences.

A different language does not assert one’s total difference from other groups of the human race, but it registers the degree of difference that in fact exists; it is from the recognition of this that all worthwhile efforts at understanding between groups must start.

Thomas notes that Welsh identity is not so much defined by politics or institutions, because there are no such institutions that properly represent the Welsh. Rather it has been defined by Cymraeg and the literature of Cymraeg . For Thomas, Welsh identity, ‘lacks the strain of militarism and imperialism which is there in the British identity’ (36). He continues: ‘The Welsh language was not part of that imperialism, and as Welsh speakers in their own country the Welsh themselves were victims of a kind of imperialism’ (36).

The history of Cymraeg though has been one of repression:
the Act of Union of 1536
the Welsh Not and the Blue Books
Interestingly, Thomas believes that the Welsh now have to fight against ‘the sense of inferiority which centuries of official and social contempt have given many Welsh speakers’ (38).

It is rather as if the English working class had acquired a wholly different language from the upper classes and that great writers had been born into their culture and spoken for it. Welsh literature is the literature of the people not in any self-conscious way, but because Welsh writers have had no other audience but the ordinary Welsh community. (38)

What Thomas fails to recognize here is that the working classes do have a language of their own, a new recycling of English. However he does make some interesting comments on the supposed faults of Cymraeg: its dialectical nature, its slovenliness, its use of English borrowings and its uncertainty about grammatical points. Cymraeg is the minor language of a minor culture and as a consequence of this, Thomas believes that it is, ‘more favourable to the mergence and flowering of all kinds of group identities hitherto suppressed—for example, women, and linguistic and racial minorities throughout the world’ (41).


English Socialists and Welsh Nationalists

At the beginning of the chapter, Thomas complains: ‘The Welsh language community does not have defenders in England among those educated, liberal English people who sympathize with minorities everywhere, from the Nagas to the Basques’ (20). Thomas believes that the reason behind such attitudes is the image of Wales as, ‘provincial, unglamorous and comic’ (20). The English who do not have access to the language and literature of Wales fall back on stereotypes such as ‘the trousered eisteddfod druids invented in the nineteenth century’ (20).

Thomas is particularly hard on Anglo-Welsh literature and its representation of Wales:

A special kind of Anglo-Welsh literature grew up. now mercifully on the decline, which lent support to the stereotypes by presenting rich fruity characters speaking a fantastic dialect of English and spilling over with words and emotion. This is the sort of synthetic identity that always arises when a minority nation has to make its way in conditions of social dominance. The same ersatz approach to nationhood is found in the Scotland of tartan and haggis. If this is what the other cultures of Britain are like, the educated English have every reason to despise them.

I assume that here Thomas refers to novels like Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley, and he is right to note that books like these are full of emotion and sentiment. Yet there is something disquieting about his vitriol, which, I think, has everything to do with linguistic purity. Thomas despises the ‘fantastic dialect of English’ perceived by the Anglo-Welsh and sees it as the English might as a substandard version of another language rather than a language remade for the purposes of the Welsh. This is a flaw in Thomas’ commentary.

Thomas also describes a representation of the Welsh as two-faced. The first face ‘turned towards England and concerned with getting on (again like the Scots)’, while the second face turns away, ‘having to look away to survive’ (21).

Yet the Welsh literature that represents these issues and problems is under-represented, especially that in Cymraeg. Thus the issues of Wales are not represented, but as Thomas states, ‘no Welsh issue can be a major conflict in Britain because only 2½ million people are involved’ (23).

Thomas now proceeds to challenge some Welsh stereotypes. The first is of pettiness, that the issues of concern to the Welsh are petty in the prospect of a world picture. However, Thomas states: ‘People subject to petty oppression do nurse petty grievances’ (25). He denies any belief in ‘irreducible national categories’ and he admits that, ‘Britain in her world role has offered generations of educated Welsh scope for their talents and a freer atmosphere in some respects than was tolerated by the Non-conformist sects at home’ (26). However, Thomas is adamant that: ‘People must be given enough power to negotiate with other groups and to set their own priorities’ (28). Wales is provincial in its own way and does not have the same economic drive as England, but it cannot continue to exist in ‘a picturesque and geographical sense’ only (30).

For Thomas, young Welsh have two choices:
1. To give in to the demands of capitalism and desert their home and culture;
2. Or (the better choice according to Thomas) to stay in Wales.
Thomas relies on the rather false proposition that if the young Welsh leave Wales, the culture will collapse. In any case, Thomas concludes in a sympathetic note: ‘So we salute the Czechs and the Anguilans and the Bretons and the Basques—there are degrees of oppression far worse than we know’ (31).


The Welsh Extremist (1973)

Ned Thomas, The Welsh Extremist: Modern Welsh Politics, Literature and Society, repr. 1994 (Talybont: Y Lolfa, 1973).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/wales/walesonair/media_re-named/video/protests?size=4×3&bgc=C0C0C0&nbram=1&bbram=1

Thomas begins the first chapter, ‘The Welsh Extremist’, with a comparison:

I had grown up with the word extremist almost constantly in my newspaper—Kenya, Cyprus, Malaya, Adan; very often the word changed to terrorist and then one day the word would disappear and the head of a new independent state would arrive in England to meet the Queen. (9)

Thomas begins by thinking about extremism abroad and he notes this definition of that state: ‘ Extremist put them all beyond the pale, or rather asserted that they had put themselves outside the community of reasonable men’(9). This word, says Thomas, was also used about the Welsh (and we must remember that he is writing in the 1970s when the Free Wales Army were burning down English homes in Wales etc.). Thomas describes the rise of Welsh Nationalism and how when he returned to Wales, ritual sparring had been superseded by, ‘total politics as I had observed it in years of living in Spain and the Soviet Union, politics in which the control of institutions was all-important, politics which made people conceal their allegiance lest they suffer in their jobs, or else use their jobs in a political way’ (10).

Wales’ politics are supposedly different from England’s situation. For Thomas, England is ‘a technologically mature, socially humane society, held up with minor variations by both the Conservative and Labour parties’ (10-11) while Wales is ‘a country where the unemployment remains well above average, and where the more or less static population figures conceal the fact that in every generation the young and talented have to leave to find a job, while their places are taken by retired people moving to the coastal resorts; people who may come from any part of Britain and have no identification with the local community’ (11). This anxiety about outsiders coming in seems rather old-fashioned in today’s climate of globalisation, yet for Thomas and for writers like R.S. Thomas it was a serious concern. This is something that Wales has had to reconcile within itself.

Thomas describes the corruption of Welsh tradition and he notes that the Welsh do not feel themselves to be British: ‘If they could be made to feel British and not Welsh, if they could believe the changes were being forced on them in the name of a better and juster society, they would not need to feel disgruntled’ (12). For Thomas, the most passionate protest about the state of Wales has been in the language of Welsh, which I will refer to henceforth in its Welsh name, Cymraeg. Literature plays an important part because, ‘it holds up the ideal of a civilized and humane society, which is an ideal for people in other places’ (13). Thomas wonders whether a ‘small community […] can go on existing in these islands’ (13). It is for this cause that Welsh people protest and it is this cause that creates extremism. Thomas makes a comparison again at this point:

When it is negro[dodgy terminology here] violence in the United States we see the conflict in terms if historical cause and socio-economic pattern; the same in Northern Ireland. So far in Wales we have been talking as if there were a handful of people practising or advocating violence who constituted a wholly isolated current of thought, and no general social significance. (15)

Thomas describes the case of two men, who before the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, blew themselves up when trying to lay an explosive charge at government offices in Abergele. Thomas describes how the new story was suppressed and many had sympathy with the story because it symbolised something about the state of Wales. This is one aspect of what Thomas would think of as the Cymraeg community, yet there are as many attitudes within its as there are people. Violence is one option open to protesters, but Thomas suggests that civil disobedience is more fruitful and worth while.

Altogether this chapter is a mixture of good and bad aspects of Welsh political writing: good in its socialist outlook and its awareness of other minor cultures; but bad in its fear of outsiders and its feeling of insecurity where Welsh traditions are concerned. The bad aspect emerges in later chapters, particularly in the section on the ‘Anglo-Welsh’ (a term that I dislike intensely).


October 23, 2006

Comments on the Cambridge Poetry Festival on Secret Mint Blog

Writing about web page http://secretmint.blogspot.com/

See the entry ‘Leslie Scalapino & Elizabeth James report from Cambridge Poetry Festival’. The link is above on Secret Mint Blog, posted Thursday October 19th 2006.


October 19, 2006

After the Gender Seminar on Rape

The seminar yesterday was extremely interesting and I think that it worked well as there were women from Law, Sociology, Literature etc. Rape and sexual violence are such important issues, so it was good to be discussing such things.

The number of convictions in rape cases is pathetic. See these news stories at the BBC and The Guardian :
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/5278722.stm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1795257,00.html

The BBC news story tells us that only 6% of reported rapes in Britain result in convictions. Joanna Bourke’s story in The Guardian notes the following:

In Britain today there is considerable scepticism expressed towards women who accuse men of rape. In fact, false accusations are less common in rape than in other criminal cases. But any woman with a slightly adventurous history, or hailing from a powerless group, is normally right to think that making a complaint is not worthwhile.

This is obviously terrible, but even worse is the fact that feminists in the UK and US are complicit with the idea that rape is the victim’s own fault. The point of the Mardorossian essay that we read is that feminists trying to theorize rape concentrate too much on the victim and not on the perpetrator. E.g. the feminist idea that there is a “gender script” that occurs when one encounters a rapist and that if one were to subvert that gender script in a combative way, one might not be raped. This obviously extremely dubious as Mardorossian points out.

At the end of her essay Mardorossian points to language as a way in which feminists can work against sexual violence – reevaluating words like ‘victim’ and reinvesting them with meaning. I think that this is already being done by women writers like Pascale Petit whose poems can be found at the links below:

http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/pascalepetitpoems.html#p1
http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/pascalepetitpoems.html#p4


After the Gender Seminar on Rape

The seminar yesterday was extremely interesting and I think that it worked well as there were women from Law, Sociology, Literature etc. Rape and sexual violence are such important issues, so it was good to be discussing such things.

The number of convictions of rapists in Britain is pathetic. See these news stories at the BBC and Guardian:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/5278722.stm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1795257,00.html

The BBC news story tells us that only 6% of reported rapes in Britain result in convictions. Joanna Bourke’s story in The Guardian notes the following:

In Britain today there is considerable scepticism expressed towards women who accuse men of rape. In fact, false accusations are less common in rape than in other criminal cases. But any woman with a slightly adventurous history, or hailing from a powerless group, is normally right to think that making a complaint is not worthwhile.

This is obviously terrible, but even worse is the fact that feminists in the UK and US are complicit with ideas about rape being the woman’s own fault. The point of the Mardorossian essay that we read is that feminists trying to theorize rape concentrate too much on the victim and not on the perpetrator. E.g. the feminist idea that there is a “gender script” that occurs when one encounters a rapist and that if one were to subvert that gender script in a combative way, one might not be raped. This obviously extremely dubious as Mardorossian points out.

At the end of her essay Mardorossian point to language as away in which feminists can work against sexual violence – reevaluating words like ‘victim’ and reinvesting them with meaning. I think that this is already being done by women writers like Pascale Petit whose poems can be found at the links below:

http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/pascalepetitpoems.html#p1
http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/pascalepetitpoems.html#p4


This Week's Gender Seminar: Carine M. Mardorossian, 'Toward a New Feminist Theory of Rape'

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/gender/readinggroup/

Corinne Mardossian

In her essay Mardorossian suggests that feminist theorists, ‘ignore the topic of rape in favour of more ambivalent expressions of male domination such as pornography and sexual harassment’ and she adds: ‘Rape has become academia’s undertheorized and apparently untheorizable issue’ (743). Mardorossian seeks to understand this phenomenon and seeks to find an alternative feminist theory that addresses these problems i.e. that ‘does not accept existing premises and established “truths” but problematizes them by asking alternative questions and offering different conceptions’ (745).

First Mardorossian interrogates postmodern feminist analysis and she notes the resistance to using women’s experience as grist for their studies so, ‘instead of justifying out critical discourse through an appeal to women’s rape experiences, fro example, we should examine what the category encompasses in different spaces and times and investigate its relation to other areas of women’s lives in the public sphere’ (746). Postmodernists have studied ‘victimization’ using this model, but not ‘rape’.

Sexual violence is discussed more in analysis of cinematic texts. For example feminist critics have shown how the film industry perpetuates ‘an ideology of rape’ (powerless women, violent men etc.). Yet how does this relate to rape in the real world?

Mardorossian thinks that the theorization of rape by postmodernist feminists is inadequate and that in fact they have a great deal in common with ‘backlashers’ in their treatment of rape. To show this, she focuses on Sharon Marcus and Wendy Brown. Postmodernist approaches to rape have apparently ‘regressive implications’ (747).

Mardorossian thinks that the lack in postmodern feminism originates from ‘the general (re)turn to interiority that animates cultural theory today (of which Judith Butler is the most prominent example’ (747). According to Mardorossian, the resulting discourse, ‘reduces antirape politics to a psychic dimension’ (747). Mardossian is aware of the pitfalls in ‘speculating about traumatic experiences’, but she will not deny the ‘reality’ of rape.

Conservative writers dominate writings on rape in the US, Mardorossian tell us. These feminists ‘downplay the severity of the problem of rape by blaming the high incidence of rape in the United States on the warped and unnecessarily alarmist representations of “radical” feminism’ (748). Victims are represented as brainwashed and passive. Camille Paglia is reconciled to gender-wars of which rape is simply a part. Katie Roiphie criticises feminist campaigning against date-rape as promoting a Victorian version of femininity. Mardorossian wonders why this kind of writing is so popular in the public sphere.

Mardorossian notes that this writing, though it is bad in an academic sense, is still theory and even rape victims are attracted to it. Not that there is some hidden truth to be found here, but, ‘these conservative critics have succeeded in dislodging rape from the issue orientated and experiential perspective that have circumscribed its examination’ (750). Like postmodern feminists, these women question the authenticity of women’s experiences. The focus is not on experience, but on discourse. What kind of discourse then creates such theorizing?

Power versus victims feminisms are part of the problem here, according to Mardorossian, who cites Feminists Theorize the Political ed. Butler and Scott. Sharon Marcus writes about rape here, but her conclusions seem rather anti-feminist, since she finds that feminist discourse is partly to blame for the high rape incidence. There is an implication here that women misname so-called ‘rape experiences’. Marcus also thinks that feminism presents women as already raped and rapeable. Marcus believes that there is a ‘rape script’ of male power and female victims. Mardorossian summarises:

In other words, it is up to the women to recognize that her assailant does not simply have the power to rape but that his power is created by the extent to which she succumbs to the social scripts efforts to secure her participation. Marcus sees each individual rape as comprising various stages such as verbal threats and other forms of action and harassment, and argues that the time and space between these threats and rape constitute ‘the gap in which women can try to intervene, overpower and deflect the threatened action’. Thus, she takes the very notion that feminists use to describe “rape culture” and applies it to an individual rape tout court . Women need to identify the various parts of their interaction with the to-be rapist as stages within a continuum.

The conclusion is that women are raped because of their non-combative response to a gender script. Women have different psychological make-ups, different relations to a gendered script etc. They do sometimes blame themselves, but this is a coping mechanism. Marcus’ conclusion suggests that through their lack of strategy, women have already written themselves into being victims and it lacks focus on the rapist. Marcus’ conclusions all-in-all are highly dubious.

Mardorossian notes that there is never much focus on the perpetrators of rape. Supposedly, women should know better than to let themselves be raped. This is evident in many psychological studies, including one by Lamb (1996)

Here Mardorossian turns to her experience of working amongst rape victims and she claims that not only are the women all very different, but that also their ways of fighting back are also very different. Mardorossian states: ‘A model like Marcus’s therefore downplays the “materiality of gender” and ignores that social inscriptions-that is, our physical situatedness in time and space, in history and culture-do not simply evaporate because we are made aware of them’ (755). Such postmodern feminism forgets about the materiality of the body.

For Mardorossian, one cannot make women’s behaviour and psyche the site of theorizing about rape, because that makes rape woman’s problem. Rape is the only crime where the victim’s response is so linked to the victim’s behaviour. Mardorossian notes that ironically in focussing so closely on women’s psyches, feminists ‘replicate modern techniques of power’ and the subject in history and culture is displaced (757). Thus is created ‘panopticism, an interiorized and individualized system if surveillance by which every woman becomes her own overseer’ (757). It is women’s lack of reflection then that cause their rape.

What Mardorossian takes issue with is Brown’s use of a Nietzschean model of ressentiment as a means to define the feminist struggle. _Ressentiment is:
*an effect of domination that renders impotence;
*a substitute for power, action, power, self-affirmation.
Feminists have a supposed ‘thwarted “will to power” that leads to vengefulness’ (760). Mardorossian complains that while the Nietzsche applies the term to individual character, Brown applies it to a movement and she sees this as a sign of interiority in postmodern feminism.

Brown also sees a ‘homology’ between ‘confession’ and ‘speak-outs against sexual violence’ (763). Mardorossian notes that confession is quite different to ‘speaking out against a transgression committed by an agent exterior to oneself’ (763). Why is feminism once again reproducing ‘the reactionary beliefs that rape is a reflection on the victim’s identity’ (764)? For Mardorossian, speak out can help women to examine the terms in which they are represented, it denaturalizes the equivalence of sexual violence and loss and it can be a kind of collective speech.

Mardorossian writes how ‘feminism is now irremediably associated with what I call victimology’ (766). Mardorossian want to intervene in the representation of rape victims and she wants to ‘assess the climate that could make such a portrayal of feminism so popular’ (766). How do feminists from the 70s now represent victimhood?

Mardorossian notes that while in the 70s, being a victim meant being ‘a determined and angry (although not a pathologically resentful) agent of change’ (767). Yet since then there seems to be a divide between being a victim and being an active agent. Mardorossian blames the media for portraying women as victims and for questioning that routinely takes place about ‘real’ and ‘fake’ victims. Angry feminists are supposedly not real victims.

Post-modern feminists fuse ‘victimization[...] with passivity (768). However, when seen in a certain manner, passivity itself can be active if it is a state that enables the woman to survive. In the past, victims of violence used their experience to build a better society, yet Mardorossian thinks that now we have returned to a Victorian state of affairs where privileged women know best how to help victims understand their own experience.

Mardorossian’s answer to the problems dealt with offers these solutions:
*‘to reconceptualize and reappropriate the word victimization and its meaning’;
*‘to resist the facile opposition between passivity and agency’;(771)
*‘to become more alert to the ways in which the source of women’s powerlessness is constantly located within victims themselves rather than in the institutional, physical, and cultural practices that are deployed around them’;
*‘to theorize and reconceptualize the meanings of categories such as “victim” and “experience” rather than merely criticize their use’
*‘to identify the ways in which women are no longer “silent” but are in fact encouraged to speak (out) through numerous yet non-politicized channels controlled by the liberal and bureaucratic state’(772).


October 12, 2006

Charles Bernstein: ‘On Theatricality’ (199–207)

Charles Bernstein: ‘On Theatricality’ (199-207)

In Content’s Dream , as before.

‘One of the reasons the conditions of film as a medium are so much more intrinsically satisfying is that they effectively defeat this theatricalization of the presence by the mechanic otherness of the projected world; watching a movie, I remain outside the time and place of what I see; and what I see is always framed , a mediation/ conditioning intrinsic to the medium itself’. (199)


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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)


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Feel free to leave a comment on this blog, but I want to let readers know that I only accept comments that are linked to a valid homepage, e-mail or blog. I don’t accept anonymous comments. If a conversation is going to work, I want to know who it is that I’m talking to. If you really have a good reason for remaining anonymous, drop me a line instead by e-mail.

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  • Yes, you're right it does make you think and I know what he means. I also like the fact that it's su… by Sue on this entry
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