All entries for December 2005

December 30, 2005

Silence and Narrative: The Early Novels of Gertrude Stein by Janice L. Doane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence is so windowful. (What Happened)

This is perhaps the most interesting of Stein’s comments and one of the most illuminating in relation to my argument for a recognition that silence can be useful and productive. The comment is remiscent of the Herbert Bayer photograph, Lonesome City Dweller , in which two silent hands are proffered to the viewer with eyes in their palms. Behind them a vista of windows fills the space. It is above all, a silent image, absent of that communicator – the face. Possibility is signified by the plenitude of windows each offering a new insight. Similarly in Stein, silence is a presence, a gesture with bountiful potential.
Doane uses these quotations to prove a change in Stein’s treatment of speaking and silence. She describes Stein’s use of silence as ‘bith a metaphoric strategy and an explicit theme’ that develops into an ‘aesthetics of silence’ (xii). I think that Doane’s definition of Stein here also applies to the Welsh women writers that I will be interrogating in my thesis.

Lonesome City Dweller by Herbert Bayer, 1932.

World Cup Prostitution and UK Tolerance Zones

'Prostitution is, in my view, as much an abuse of human rights as paedophilia. It is based on men's superior economic power, driven by demand rather than supply; it exists not because women have an inescapable need to sell their bodiesbut because a minority of men belive they have a right to sex whenever they want it. Nothing could demonstrate this more dramatically than the fact that so many punters are willing to have sex with trafficked women, not caring that they have been coerced into prostitution.

This belief isn't universal but it is widespread, as we can see from estimates that three million football fans will visit a prostitute during the World Cup in Germany next year. Forty thousand prostitutes are expected to arrive in German cities in advance of the tournament and, according to NGOs who work in the field, substantial numbers will have been trafficked.

This is a horrifying insight into a certain kind of male sexuality, but I don't find it easy to discern the difference between a football fan who has sex with a trafficked woman and one who buys it from a desperately poor mother who is dependent on crack. Do either women have a real choice?

In reality, both are victims of abuse and people who campaign for tolerance zones in this country, no matter how well intentioned, are ensuring that the abuse will continue. Many men want to have sex with children, judging by thepopularity of paedophile sites on the internet, but would anyone seriously suggest tolerance zones for paedophiles? As long as they follow through on promises to help women escape from prostitution, Home Office ministers are quite right to decalre that the Government is not in the business of colluding in the sexual exploitation of vulnerable people.'

From: Joan Smith, 'Kerb-crawlers deserve zero tolerance', The Independent , 30th December 2005, p. 29.

December 18, 2005

Research: The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust by Ernestine Schlant

Schlant’s Introduction and Discussion of Silence
(See pages 1-20 of the above book)

This book has some interesting ideas about silence which relate to my research. I am particularly interested in its ideas concerning the silences of trauma. This may relate to a chapter of my thesis that I am writing on the Welsh poet, Pascale Petit, and the silences in her poetry concerning family trauma.

Schlant opens by quoting Ise Aichinger and Jean –Francois Lyotard:

Perhaps I write because I see no better way to be silent. (1)

There are many kinds of silence and many ways to be silent … Silence … speaks and is as risky as speech. (1)

Both of these quotations appeal to me in my analysis of how Welsh women poets use ‘silence’. In both quotations, silence is treated as a paradoxical entity which implies both an absence and presence of speech.
Schlant’s actual analysis begins with a description of the Grunewald monument in Berlin to those deported from Grunewald station to die at Auschwitz. Schlant explains that the outline of human figures is cut into the walls and here she makes an important point: ‘The figures themselves are nonexistent; it is the surrounding cement that makes their absence visible’ (1). Schlant’s example links to the epigraphs for her essay in that an absence has become a presence. This is a very important concept in my research. I hope to prove that although Tillie Olsen et al have argued for the restrictive nature of silence for women writers, silence can become speech, absence can become a presence.
Schlant relates these ideas to West German literature and its approach to the trauma of the Holocaust and Schlant has some interesting points to make about the specific kind of silence utilised here:

Yet this silence is not a universal, monolithic emptiness. A great variety of narrative strategies have delineated and broken these contours, in a contradictory endeavor to keep silent about silence and simultaneously make it resonate. (1)

Schlant explains that her aim is to convince the reader of how silence can be multiple and so can the motives behind such a strategy.
At this point Schlant begins to talk specifically about the Holocaust and the denial of knowledge or silence that was needed in order for a nation to endure without destroying itself with grief and guilt. Schlant explains that her definition of the Holocaust includes not only the death and extermination of millions of people but also the mechanism put in place by the Nazis to exterminate and hunt down those considered to be sub-human. Schlant uses Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi’s term, univers concentrationnaire which refers not only to the confines of the death camps, but also to the psychological geography of a subject who is being systematically hunted down and condemned to death. Sclant’s objective is to discover the blind spots, the silences that hang over the past concentrationary universe.
Schlant defends her decision to concentrate on the silences in literature via these interesting comments on literature and silence:

Literature lays bare a people’s dreams and nightmares, its hopes and apprehensions, its moral positions and its failures. It reveals even where it is silent; its blind spots and its absences speak a language stripped of conscious agendas. (3)

Here Schlant simultaneously makes a claim for literature as a carrier of zeitgeist whilst wading into the territory of the unconscious in relation to the writer’s mind. This may seem a little muddy at first, yet we will begin to understand Schlant’s shift in perspective later when she talks of the nation and the individual. It is sufficient to say that Schlant is interested in the unspoken presence of complex visions, feelings and positions. Schlant uses Terry Eagleton’s discussion the ‘subtext’ and ‘blindness’ to explicate her thought about ‘unconsciously held assumptions’. (3)
After defining the specific type of novels to be analysed – prose fiction of West Germany written in the postwar period – Schlant begins a section entitled ‘The Different Kinds of Silence’. She writes:

Silence is not a semantic void; like any language, it is infused with narrative strategies that carry ideologies and reveal unstated assumptions. Silence is constituted by the absence of words but is therefore and simultaneously the presence of their absence. (7)

Again the paradoxical nature of silence is emphasised. (In a note, Schlant acknowledges that this point is developed from the work of Peter Haidu in ‘The Dialectic of Unspeakability’.)
Schlant notes that Hamida Bosmajian in Metaphors of Evil defines silence in two categories: one is created by ‘too much knowledge’ and the other comes from ‘a refusal to become aware’ – ‘the escape into which memory and guilt are repressed’ (7). Schlant shows that although one is ready to fit the perpetrators of the Holocaust into the first category and the victims into the second category, the relationship is actually much more complex: ‘the perpetrators kept silent because they had “too much knowledge” and [...] many victims, in an effort to survive after the Holocaust, took refuge in a “refusal to become aware to the atrocities’ (7). Schlant suggests that another comparison could be made between the ‘silence of the Holocaust and the silence about the Holocaust’ (7). The second category is the concern of Schlant’s book.
Schlant now talks of views on whether literature is an appropriate vehicle for expression and remembrance quoting Theodor Adorno who said that ‘to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’ (8). She interprets Adorno’s maxim in relation to other quotations from his work:

The question…’Does living have any meaning when men exist who beat you until your bones break?’ is also the question whether art as such should exist at all’. (8)

The so called artistic rendering of the naked physical pain of those who were beaten down with rifle butts contains however distantly, the possibility that pleasure can be squeezed from it. (8)

Schlant also quotes Michael Wyschogrod:

I firmly believe that art is not appropriate to the holocaust. Art takes the sting out of suffering…It is therefore forbidden to make fiction of the holocaust. Any attempt to transform the holocaust into art demeans the holocaust and must result in poor art. (8)

The point seems to be that there are some events that are unspeakable, over which silence must hang like a shroud or a veil. I wonder if this relates to feminist issues and to acts of transgression against women in art. Obviously, the Holocaust is a tragedy on an epic scale, yet in the same way, there is debate over whether ‘unspeakable’ acts should be expressed or veiled. I relate this to the unspeakable trauma of Pascale Petit’s poetry.
Schlant turns to Lawrence Langer who argues with the claims above. Langer asserts that literature has the potential to transport the reader into ‘the work of the grotesque, the senseless and the unimaginable, to such a degree that the possibility of aesthetic pleasure as Adorno conceives of it is intrinsically eliminated’ (8). Langer also deflects the claim that Holocaust literature would impose order on a chaos without meaning stating with implicit trust in the artist that it would depend on how the material was treated. Schlant recognises a tendency towards ‘transfiguration’ here – a desire to redefine art, humanity and the world. Schlant notes that later Adorno took back his earlier statement and wrote that ‘The enduring suffering has as much right to expression as does the tortured man to scream; therefore it may have been wrong that after Auchwitz poetry could no longer be written’ (9).
Next Schlant turns to problems of language: silence and specchlessness. She notes George Steiner’s point that the Holocaust is outside reason and speech: ‘To speak of the unspeakable is to risk the survival of language as creator and bearer of humane rational truth’ (9). Schlant is not convinced by Steiner’s desire not to contaminate language describing the resultant discourse as ‘a censored language [...] on the road to becoming as barbaric as any of the manipulated languages of totalitarian regimes’ (9).

December 01, 2005

Fair Trade

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When I was in the Chiapas, I learned a great deal about the effects of 'trade', particualrly with regard to coffee. Please go to the website above which can help you to do something about it.


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