Friday, October 30, 2009

Stereotypes - good or bad?

According to Representation, "Stereotyping reduces people to a few simple, essential characteristics, which are represented as fixed by Nature." We apparently make sense of our world by classifying and categorizing everything, including people. Stereotyping, I feel, is a huge factor that leads into racism. When we stereotype people based on their race, it leads to prejudices, and that opens the door to a racial society. If we were to live in a post-racial society, do you think stereotypes would still exist, and to what degree? How can we prevent the linking of stereotypes with race, ethnicity, and gender in a negative sense? Will our society ever develop that far?

I feel the way we stereotype people is influenced by how and where we were brought up. For example, for someone who has lived in a majority Caucasian society their entire lives, and then if they were brought to my home town of Fairfax, VA, I'm sure they would be in for a huge shock because of the cultural diversity. The way they would respond to it, however, could be in one of two ways: 1) embracing the change and accepting others, or 2) decide how to approach different people while subconsciously thinking about the stereotypes they have for different people in their minds. As our country diversifies, I hope more people will be leaning towards the first scenario, and hopefully we can get future generations' minds to think not in color, but in character.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Minority Becoming Majority

After reading about "the other" Chapter 4 from Representations, I was reminded of a discussion our class had in an AP Government class back in high school. Today's society is constantly in flux, and as America becomes more of a melting pot and immigrants continue to enter, it is likely that soon the minority ethnicities together will become the majority. Previously, we tended to look at the minority as "the other", while Caucasian values and traditions remained dominant in society. Now, however, times are changing. What does this mean for future generations' perception of "the other"? Bringing in The Abolition of the English Department, what will this mean for future English classes? If the minority becomes Caucasian culture, will this put pressure on schools to focus on literature that has been created worldwide? Or will the "cannon" still be in use despite its outdated, less relevant, and (possibly then) more unrelatable context?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Our English Department

We had an interesting discussion in class yesterday discussing, off of The Abolition of the English Department, how the works English departments address don't always speak to the true cultural identity of those they educate. I got the sense that a lot of us felt that though fluency in the Classics is important, traditional English departments could be more inclusive and realistic in consideration of students' life experience in the works that they teach. If you were in a focus group for the GWU English Department spearheading an effort in this direction, what suggestions would you have? Or do you think such an effort is unnecessary, that the presented cannon should remain as it is and that there are no cultural consequences for its focus, or unrealistic, that the tradition is too embedded to change?
We also spoke about how steps towards a more culturally comprehensive and realistic cannon have occurred of late to positive results. What would you suggest for furthering these efforts?
Think back to reading Freud and Marx, but look forward to reading Henry Louis Gates and reflect on the recently approached bell hooks, and chew on that for a bit....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fairy Tales

In her work Kochinnenako in Academe: Three Approaches to Interpreting a Keres Indian Tale. Paula Gunn Allen illustrates how a Native American tale reveals much about its culture of origin, its gender relations especially, and those of cultures that become its audience. I believe the fairy, tall, etc. tales of a culture have unique and meaningful interactions with the actual lives of people in that culture. For example, when I was a young girl my brother and mother told me jokingly about how there's a leprechaun with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The next time I saw a rainbow, fearless me took it upon myself to follow that rainbow (in where I could interpret its end was). So, dear readers, can you think of instances where the fantasy of our culture's tales interacted with the reality of your lives? What does this say about how fantasy is constructed through real experiences, or how conversely fantasy may shape actual events? Or are they all just kiddie stories that we've outgrown?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Flying Backward

Yesterday Professor Fisher asked us to wrap our heads around the question: Why are we doing this? Why even read the Norton Anthology? Why criticize literature? 

If progress does not exist, what are we doing here? 

"Our great human adventure is the evolution of consciousness. We are in this life to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain." 

Tom Robbins (Wild Ducks Flying Backward)

Might the "evolution of consciousness" over time, regardless of what it evolves into, be progress in itself? Is it possible that the building of human ideas over time represents a type of progress by default? 

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Hollywood "Image"

As we talked about in class, Laura Mulvey dealt with the notion of a patriarchal Hollywood. She address that fact that back in the 50s and 60s, women were seen as objects and judged on their to-be-looked-at-ness. She also states that women functioned as either an erotic object for the characters within the story or for the spectator. Here are some classic images from the 50s and 60s that really express what Mulvey was talking about. While these women both had leading roles they were still portrayed as objects to be looked at.

Now after seeing these images I would like to pose a question. Has Hollywood changed, or is it still the patriarchal society praising women on their to-be-looked-at-ness, rather than their talent. While women are being cast for more than just a pretty face it is still apparent that they are being used for their looks just as much as they were back in the 50s and 60s. Do you believe this to be true, or do you feel Hollywood really has changed its ways.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Language of Man

"...rendering of the frustration experienced under the phallocentric order. It gets us nearer to the root of our oppression, it brings closer an articulation of the problem, it faces us with the ultimate challenge: how to fight the unconscious structure like a language (formed critically at the moment of arrival of language) while still caught within the language of the patriarchy?"
Does this quote from Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" remind anyone of anything...The discussion of earlier days about language and how it became a way to change and influence and affect more simple cultures. Although those talks spoke to the written language, think about what it means in this context of male and female form and impression. We have a language, a language that was developed many years ago and has continued to change since that time. Who has shaped that language? Who has shaped the connotations of the words of the language? Simply, man.
Not at all difficult to conclude, however, it can be bothersome, we say man meaning the human race. Why doesn't the word woman imply the human race? It's just a word that is part of the language. Is 'woman' less than 'man?' Today we say no, but what do we practice and what do we truly see? In some other languages (obviously not all since I have no knowledge of every single language in the world), like French, for example, passive objects have a feminine structure. Not strange, it's just a language, but why are not a majority of the passive objects with a masculine structure? This does not mean anything...does it?
What are you thoughts? Does language, its structure, its usage, its connotations help shape the views of its users? Is language the language of men (patriarchal)? Why do you think so?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stream of Consciousness

Id, ego, and superego. The three words most associated with Sigmund Freud and his theories on human nature and human psychology. Although the reading does not include specific works on this theory, it is always something a reader thinks of when speaking of Freud.
Why is it we can't ever read something for what it is without taking knowledge of the outside world and putting it into the thought process? Why is it that some people are incapable of making decisions that are good for all, rather than just themselves? Why is it that some people appear to disregard human emotions when choosing one path over another? The reading barely touches on Freud's theories of the id, ego, and superego, yet my thoughts, when reading those two sentences in "Fetishism" got my mind wandering to what his other works spoke of and how they are being implied in this one.
I invite members and readers of this blog to take the following quiz. It isn't scientific, obviously, but it appears to have a good grasp of what it means to be "ruled" more by your id, ego, or superego and how that affects your decision making. The answer that appears, what do you think? Do you agree? Tying it back to this blog, how do you think the more dominant part of you affects your critical analysis of readings? Does being more in tune with your superego make you more of a structuralist critical reader or does being more in tune with you id make you disregard the authors intentions and replace them with your own?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Theme

As you all know by now, Freud never looks just at the surface. For him, everything stems from something else or has a deeper meaning. Freud believed that dreams could not be directly translated but that their meaning was buried beneath what we remember. Our mind censors everything so our unconscious must warp and distort the meaning of information to allow us to “view” it in a dream. Because of this, Freud argues we must dig deep and try to extract the meaning underneath the obvious.

Freud also believes that everything stems from our past, our roots. You are who you are today because of how your parents raised you.

The question I pose to you is, do you agree with Freud on this? Are dreams our subconscious fulfilling desires or are they just random bursts of stimuli that our brain weaves into a story? Are we who we are today because of what our parents did, or did we shape our own destiny?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bragging rights

I love the way Sharon Olds simultaneously demystifies and heroicizes pregnancy and childbirth in this poem. She is one of my favorite poets, and I think Woolf would have appreciated her.

The Language of the Brag

I have wanted excellence in the knife-throw
I have wanted to use my exceptionally strong and accurate arms
and my straight posture and quick electric muscles
to achieve something at the center of a crowd,
the blade piercing the bark deep,
the haft slowly and heavily vibrating like the cock.

I have wanted some epic use for my excellent body,
some heroism, some American achievement
beyond the ordinary for my extraordinary self,
magnetic and tensile, I have stood by the sandlot
and watched the boys play.

I have wanted courage, I have thought about fire
and the crossing of waterfalls, I have dragged around

my belly big with cowardice and safety,
my stool black with iron pills,
my huge breasts oozing mucus,
my legs swelling, my hands swelling,
my face swelling and darkening, my hair
falling out, my inner sex
stabbed again and again with terrible pain like a knife.
I have lain down.

I have lain down and sweated and shaken
and passed blood and feces and water and slowly alone in the center of a circle I have
passed the new person out
and they have lifted the new person free of the act
and wiped the new person free of that
language of blood like praise all over the body.

I have done what you wanted to do, Walt Whitman,
Allen Ginsburg, I have done this thing,
I and other women this exceptional
act with exceptional heroic body,
this giving birth, this glistening verb,
and I am putting my proud American boast
right here with the others.

Sharon Olds

Ok, I'll stop posting and do actual homework now.

On the English translation of The Second Sex

I was wondering if anyone else noticed this in the Norton: "First published in France as Le Deuxieme Sexe (1949), The Second Sex (1952) was published in the United States in an incomplete and notriously inaccurate translation by a zoologist, H. M. Parshley, whose enthusiasm far exceeded his grasp of either philosophy or feminism."

More on this here:

Is it overreacting to conclude that this is proof that even the most popular and influential woman writers and philosophers continue to be neglected by scholars? I tried to find the new translation discussed in the Book Forum article, but it doesn't seem to be on Amazon.

Gender Subversion

I thought of this poster during our class discussion today. I first saw it at my friend's house (it's on her bathroom wall). I wanted to reference it in class, but I didn't have enough of it memorized to do a good job, so I'm glad we have this blog.

I find reading this poster really moving, even cathartic. I think it does a good job of illustrating Woolf's argument about androgyny in contemporary terms. The E-Z-Bake Oven line evokes de Beauvoir's allusion to achieving fulfillment from homemaking-- for boys and for girls, just not for all of them.

I found the poster on CrimethInc., an anarchist website/collective. You can buy a print there, too.

Whose Girls?

Of my hundreds of faithful readers, there are only a few of you who know my feelings about Animal Collective--namely that I can't seem to understand what all the fuss is about. However, that lack of understanding is probably a topic for another day. All I'd like to do right now is to post a sample of the lyrics to "My Girls," one of their more satisfying cuts, followed by an audio clip of the song. Knowing what I know about their left-leaning politics and such, it would seem that the band would try to avoid essentialisms and endorsements of materialism. However, "My Girls," arguably, seems to rely pretty heavily on stock gender stereotypes (the titular girls are their--the masculine vocalists'--girls), and I wonder if it's possible not to care about social status but yet to want a house. Finally, what's up with the romantic conception of "adobe slats"?


"My Girls":

There isn't much that I feel I need
A solid soul and the blood I bleed
But with a little girl, and by my spouse,
I only want a proper house

I don't care for fancy things
Or to take part in the freshest wave,
But to provide for mine who ask
I will, with heart, on my father's grave

On my father's grave
(On your father's grave)

I don't mean to seem like I care about material things,
Like a social status,
I just want
Four walls and adobe slats
For my girls

My Girls - Animal Collective

Friday, October 2, 2009

Food for Thought

Marx's theory of commodity fetishism is undeniably a bit hard to understand and come to terms with... especially when you consider Marx argues we aren't even aware of our fetishism culture. So it makes me wonder - Do we live for commodities? Why do you think Marx argues that we are able to recognize fetishism in previous cultures, but not in our own? Is this a fair assessment of ourselves? While I do think he has some valid points, his arguments undeniably leave me a bit uneasy.

Below is a link to a short video clip that discusses the Dali Lama, Barbie and commodity fetishism:

In the video, the speaker argues that fetishism is rampant in America. In fact, he argues that in a way, it is a defining characteristic of the "American Dream". Is it? Do we place to much emphasis on commodities? Or is this guy just blurting out useless rhetoric? What does it mean that we send Barbie to China despite all of our ideological differences and anger over human rights issues and such? While it is undoubtably hard to take the speaker serious, it does make me wonder why we are so seemingly willing to place economics over humanity (as the speaker argues in the clip). I guess another question I would ask is this.... Is Marx fair in describing "fetishism" in terms of a religion? Religion seems to imply we have faith in these commodities or that they are some how mystical or powerful, yet are they? Is it fair to talk about this theory of fetishism in terms of religious sentiments? In sending Barbie to China, do we believe that eventually are western ideas and principles will travel with her? Is Barbie, as a commodity, that powerful? Is this just another demonstration of our unwavering faith in commodities?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Umbrellas

Reading Marx makes me feel incredibly small. To entertain the thought that material conditions create our consciousness invades so much of what I would like to uphold as true about ourselves as human beings. I take comfort in my own individuality which I tuck neatly away from the outside world, and to sustain the contradiction that it in fact may be the outside world that mediates one's thoughts greatly robs one of a certain power to create his own individuality. It is as if even if you love to create--paint, for example-- the world can only paint on you, and whatever paintings you may produce are only reflections of your surroundings, not reflections of some deep beauty held hidden within. To me, Marx digests a great dream into a solid truth: that we are not the unfettered painters of our lives, rather life paints us in as merely part of some colossal canvas.

Which is why I was surprised to feel oddly lifted after reading "Letter from Friedrich Engels to Joseph Bloch." It seems that in this short letter, Engels wants to communicate something very large about the individual. "History," he says, "is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each again has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of paralelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant" (788). At first glance I found this both deeply true and massively disheartening. Is there anything organic about the individual or is everything we are just the product of some other condition? How is it ever possible to feel valuable if we are only a reaction to our world? How would an individual be able to transcend this and make the world react to him?

Engles continues: "For which each individual willed is obstructed by everyone else and what emerges is something that no-one willed" (788). Just when I thought my state of mind could not plummet anymore, I read this line, and felt more inane than ever before. It's as if we are insects, and there is no individual, only what we are as a group, the product of which nobody is directing. Together we could be becoming something unwanted, even dangerous, at this very moment, and we'd have no way of preventing this because we have no way of controlling what together we will be, since nobody wills this process.

"Individual wills do not attain what they want but are merged into a collective mean, a common resultant" (788). It is true that Marxism dismisses the role of the individual in the traditional sense, however; here Engels communicates that the individual does have a role, an important one to boot. What I gathered from the end of the letter is that Engels builds into the conclusion that ultimately we cannot determine that individual wills are worth nothing, because each must be something in order to contribute to a common resultant.

I began to ponder the notion that this really may be quite illuminating. It opens an entirely new possibility: the prospect that individual wills could collect themselves into something beautiful. It may be too idealistic to believe, as I so want to, that individuality is a dominant force. Yet individual wills can still augment history as long as they braid themselves together. Is there a way for individual wills to somehow instinctively direct themselves into an ultimately valuable purpose or something infinitely inspiring? The photo of those umbrellas in Spain certainly affirms the existence of that rare chance... Alone they are but products of the material conditions which created them, but together they achieve some strange transcendence, and if nothing else, attain a permanent grace in their image, captured for eternity.

On a Seven Day Diary

Oh I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
and ate and talked and went to sleep.
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
from work and ate and slept.
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
and ate and fucked and went to sleep.
Then it was Saturday, Saturday, Saturday!
Love must be the reason for the week!
We went shopping! I saw clouds!
The children explained everything!
I could talk about the main thing!
What did I drink on Saturday night
that lost the first, best half of Sunday?
The last half wasn’t worth this “word.”
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
from work and ate and went to sleep,
refreshed but tired by the weekend.

—Alan Dugan

I thought of this poem when I read the excerpt from Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Marx and Engels write, "the fact that labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind" (p. 767 in the Norton). This gets into some complicated territory: the territory of telling people what they feel. We discussed what a generalization this claim is in our last class, and though some persuasive points were made, I think it's easy for all of us to think of people we know whose labor does not belong to their essential being. It's fair, at least, to say that the speaker of this poem's labor doesn't belong to his essential being. It's also fair to say that Barbara Ehrenreich didn't feel affirmed, happy, and physically or mentally stronger after a shift at any of her jobs in Nickel and Dimed. So what is it that makes people so reluctant to take Marx & Engel's critique seriously?

And as for the poem, the speaker hardly has any time to do fulfilling activities. On Saturday he goes shopping, spends time with his family, and drinks too much. Except for the middle one, they aren't what most of us would consider quality time. And one more thing, on Saturday, the speaker finds he can talk about "the main thing!" What is that? What does it mean that he can talk about it only on a free day?

Does Saturday make the rest of the week worth it? Do we need the rest of the week in order to feel the pleasure of Saturday? Are labour hour laws enough, or does the workplace itself have to change in order for us to be fulfilled?