Saturday, December 22, 2012

Antony and Cleopatra

Remediating Cleopatra

The character Cleopatra, in William Shakespeare's “Antony and Cleopatra,” possesses a multitude of contradictions. Through constant clashes in speech and action, Shakespeare constructs a complex female character. Critic Anna Jameson refers to Cleopatra as “a brilliant antithesis—a compound of contradictions” (Quint 244). Jameson recognizes Shakespeare's “deep meaning and wonderous [sic] skill in the apparent enigma” of Cleopatra (244). Shakespeare remediates the stories of Plutarch and Genesis to give agency to his character. Through appropriation Shakespeare shapes his “literary forbears to new uses, enhancing,extending, or critiquing the meaning of the primary text” (Savu 22). Through remediation, Shakespeare emphasizes Cleopatra's sexual power, and shifts the image of the snake from a male to a female symbol of power, in order to give agency to Cleopatra in her suicide.

Shakespeare portrays Cleopatra as a sexually secure woman who employs her confidence in order to receive power. Cleopatra embodies a juxtaposition of love and lust. Enobarbus paradoxically describes Cleopatra's sexuality by his statements that “Age cannot wither her, not custom stale / Her infinite variety: other women cloy / the appetites they feed, but she makes hungry / Where most she satisfies” (II. ii. 244-7). She is portrayed as an addictive lover that causes insatiable sexual desire from her partners. Shakespeare depicts Cleopatra's sexuality so assertively to show her agency. Her domination and aggression with her lovers allows her to display dominance both in and out of the bedroom. She reminisces a tale of cross- dressing with one lover, her diver. She tells how she “drunk him to his bed, / Then put my tires and mantles on him, whilst / I wore his sword Philippan” ( II. v. 21-3). Shakespeare's description of this sexual escapade proves his desire to give Cleopatra agency. Her ability to test gender roles sexually transcends to political power. This example of Cleopatra acting like a man sexually, is crucial to exemplify her agency in all aspects of her life. She obtains her title as Queen of Egypt through her sexual power and manipulation. Julius Caesar declares her ruler because of their love affair, essentially giving her Egypt as a token of his affection. This lavish gift results in her being regarded as a “whore” as well as a “wrangling queen” by many Romans (I. i.50). This foreshadowing of Cleopatra's full autonomy will later support his allowance of her full agency in her suicide.

Another sexual element to the play is the use of snake imagery. Shakespeare reworks the story of Genesis into Cleopatra's death scene, most notably through the symbolism of the asp. While snakes are often associated with the phallus and refer to a male power, the symbolism of snakes surrounding Cleopatra reinforces the depiction of her as having both male and female power. She exhibits male power in that she has political power and female power through her sexuality. A story with a woman and a snake causes most readers to subconsciously draw on the biblical story of The Fall. Remediating Genesis, Shakespeare fashions Cleopatra as both the temptress Eve and the serpent. Eve's partnership with a serpent caused The Fall, and enslaved herself and all of humanity to a patriarchal order. Cleopatra on the other hand, freed herself from humiliation and oppression at the hands of Octavius Caesar. She is referred to as “your serpent of Egypt” by Lepidus to Antony (II. Vii. 26). Antony calls her “my serpent of old Nile” (I. v. 26). These constant associations of Cleopatra and snakes allows the two to become interchangeable. Common images of snakes, such as: a snake swallowing its tail and a snake's shedding of its skin, symbolize infinity and rebirth. The asp therefore stands both as the symbol of Cleopatra and the agent of her rebirth. Shakespeare used this imagery to tie together Cleopatra's sexual power and her message of agency in her suicide.

Cleopatra's agency and sexual power threatens the Romans. Her refusal to be immortalized as a whore by Octavius Caesar rather the a queen and descendant of Isis forces her to take her own life. She herself is theatrical to the end, though disgusted at the thought of actors portraying her and Antony as she is paraded through the streets of Rome. She imagines that “quick comedians / Extemporally will stage us” (Quint V. ii. 216-7). She believes the actors will portray Antony as a drunk and that a “squeaking Cleopatra boy” will play her “in the position of a whore” (V. ii. 220-1). Cleopatra sees suicide as an honorable end. Rather than submitting herself to the degradation planned by Octavius Caesar, Cleopatra asserts her independence in her lethal actions.

Through her death, she is reborn. Only through her death can she control her futures: her afterlife and how she will be historically remembered. The maternal image of her breastfeeding exemplifies Cleopatra's belief of becoming Antony's wife in the afterlife. The asp becomes her child; Cleopatra asks Charmian if she sees her “baby at [her] breast / that sucks the nurse asleep?” (V. ii. 306).

Again implementing the interchangeable images of Cleopatra and snake, Shakespeare reshapes the symbol of the snake swallowing its tail to give an image of Cleopatra feeding herself. Only her dying words bring the realization that she does indeed love Antony and was not his lover solely for political power. While she is being prepared and dressed by her handmaidens, she states “Methinks I hear Antony call” (V. ii. 280-1). She is not purely concerned with her death as a means to prevent her humiliation but as an action that will reconnect her with her lover. She calls out “Husband, I come!” (V. ii. 284). She looks to this union in the afterlife as a marriage. Through her death, the two lovers can now live as they wish in the afterlife. The voice given to Cleopatra by Shakespeare in her final scene counterpoints the image of the lustful queen with that of the loving wife. Her agency allows her to control her own outcome and preserve her honor. Cleopatra controlled her future and preserved her queenly virtue through her death.

Anna Jameson recognizes that “what is most astonishing in the character of Cleopatra is its antithetical construction—its consistent inconsistency” (Quint 244). While this is true in the minor details of Cleopatra's daily life, she is consistent in being a powerful and assertive woman. Shakespeare forces a reader to recognize the constant building of the contradictions in order to fully appreciate the final contradiction of Cleopatra's suicide as an act of immortality. This agency exemplified in life and the act of her death can label this work a feminist remediation. Shakespeare gave Cleopatra agency by “refashioning one's predecessors [as a] key to understanding representation in earlier media” (Bolter, Grusin 49). By reworking two previously patriarchal stories with an emphasis on Cleopatra's agency, Shakespeare is able to give a character that allies with feminist ideals. This remediation allows for Cleopatra's suicide to be viewed as the honorable end she decided for herself, rather than have decided for her.

I, Tituba

Religious Persecution in Salem

Puritans emigrated to escape religious persecution in England. Settlers in North America built communities based on their religious standards. This “New England” would be established with emphasis on humble living and studying the Bible. All members of the community were expected to conform to the Puritan’s religion ideals. This included Native Americans and slaves. These conversions happened in different ways and were taken up by many Puritans in good faith to teach their beliefs. However, in Maryse Conde’s novel, I, Tituba Black Witch of Salem, Tituba becomes an example of what happened if one did not shed their own beliefs in order to adapt to the Puritan way of life through Christianity. Many Christian women (and men) were accused of witchcraft in Salem, but Tituba was at an even greater disadvantage than the other accused. Her race, sexuality, and spirituality made her even more vulnerable to claims of witchcraft.

Tituba obtains her knowledge of the spiritual world through Mama Yaya. Mama Yaya taught her “the prayers, the rites, and the propitiatory gestures…and then she taught [her] the sacrifices” (10). Tituba’s education in herbs and nature were not accepted by Christians, beginning with Susanna Endicott. When Tituba joins John Indian at the Endicott plantation, she is first confronted with the fact that her spirituality was unacceptable. John Indian convinces her to pretend to be a Christian.

John Indian rationalizes the “conversion” and confides that although he conforms to Puritan expectations of Christianity, he does not believe them. He states the importance of Christianity in this society and that “what matters for the slave is to survive. Repeat, my angel. You don’t think that I believe in their story of the Holy Trinity? One God in three distinct persons? But it doesn’t matter. You just need to pretend. Repeat!” (25). After many refusals by Tituba, she gives in to repeat the prayers but feel that “these words meant nothing to me. They had nothing in common with what Mama Yaya had taught me (25-6). These statements by Tituba provide insight into the duality of religion in Tituba life. While keeping personal spiritual beliefs to herself, such as communicating with her mother and Mama Yaya, she must outwardly adhere to the Christian expectations of Salem.

The expectation of Tituba to conform to Christian ideals is expected also by Samuel Parris. But when he catches Tituba and John Indian having sex, his proclamation that “as long as you are under my roof you will behave as Christians. Come and say your prayers” is more of an expectation toward Puritanism than Christianity (41). This particular scene exemplifies the hypocrisy of Puritanism more fully. While the Puritan settlers follow so closely the words of the Bible, sex is frowned upon. However, Tituba and John Indian are married and yet Samuel Parris still does not approve of their lovemaking. Tituba engages freely with her sexuality, rather than suppress it, like Christians, especially Puritans were expected to do.

Her sexuality and spirituality are most intertwined when she decides to abort her pregnancy. Her knowledge of herbs makes possible the termination. She loves John Indian but rationalizes that this eventual child will be subject to oppression and slavery. Her outlook is logical rather than based on Christian ideals.

The accusations of witchcraft that sprang up and started hysteria were based on outlandish fabrications and gossip. The practices that many of the accused, including Tituba, partook in were merely their non-Christian beliefs. Whether pagan, voodoo, or relying on herbs rather than prayer, anyone not conforming to the Puritan ideals of Christianity were outcast. The spiritual zealousness of the settlers created a state of paranoia to rid their village of anyone not following their particular brand of Christianity. So in turn the exclusion and accusations that they so recently faced in their home country of England they were now inflicting on those around them. The hypocrisy of the situation makes the frenzy of witch hunting absurd. Puritans changed their roles from oppressed to oppressor and brought religious persecution to New England in the form of the witch hunt.

Wole Soyinka’s Feminist Awakening

Wole Soyinka’s Feminist Awakening

Wole Soyinka’s autobiography, Ake: the Years of Childhood, tells of a Nigerian boy’s daily life before and during World War II. His story originally focuses around his household and school, but becomes more emotionally intense as the story of his childhood progresses. This progression is not only because he is growing older, but because he has been given a political foundation from which to actively process and engage with his surroundings. He notices changes around him, specifically regarding women. Soyinka is fascinated by the unrest of the village women regarding taxes and integrates himself in the cause. Soyinka’s foundation for politics may have been laid by his father, but it is his mother’s feminist activities that seize him. The evolution presented is one of feminist awakening.

Soyinka’s assumption of privilege is not a learned trait but rather an inborn characteristic. When Tinu gets up for school, Wole “demand[s] [his] bath at the same time” and when his sister leaves with her escort he does not “watch” them go but rather “let[s] them leave” (24). The jarring vocabulary he chooses to express his superiority to his sister at the beginning of the novel gives insight to his personality. Also his defiance of submission regarding being bathed paints him as a stubborn child. This personal description of his assumptions and actions are tools used by Soyinka to establish a point of reference regarding his enlightenment.

Soyinka assumes male privilege regarding the bedroom he shares with his father. He questions what his “sister felt about it all, unable to enjoy the intimacy which I derived from my privileged position in father’s bedroom. Dipo was still a baby. Since he was a boy, I expected that he would later join me in our room; that seemed only right” (79). Soyinka believes that the division of bedrooms based on sex is logical and that the bedroom he shares with Essay is not to be accessed by women. He is offended when his sister interrupts him while he is performing his father’s morning calisthenics. Wole is appalled that “Lawanle had just come in” and feels that “the intrusion was unpardonable” (82). He goes on to describe that “I sensed, not battle, but demarcation lines being drawn, yet even these required a measure of defiance which escalated every day. I would deny it to myself, yet I knew that it was taking place” (81). Soyinka expresses the tension felt within his family by his assumption of himself as a man, when in fact he is only around (what he claims is) three years old at this time.

His sense of entitlement is challenged first by Lawanle and then by his mother. Soyinka felt that “Lawanle’s words had merely increased the unease which was lately surreptitiously transmitted to me-those sentences that began on mother’s tongue, but were never completed. The fleeting disapproval of some privilege extended to me by Essay” (83). Wole continues to test his parent’s limits and finds “Essay’s bedroom door somehow got mysteriously locked and the key was missing. I grew restless, and it seemed the normal order of things” (81). Wild Christian moves Wole to the communal sleeping mat in order for her son to understand his “place” in the hierarchical order of the family. This move is necessary because Wole needs to identify himself as a child in the family; not view himself as privileged.

Essay agrees with the Wild Christian’s change of sleeping arrangements, as Essay and Wild Christian have an egalitarian marriage. As the novel progresses much insight is given to their relationship. The support each other in their endeavors and Wild Christian often seeks Essay’s advice regarding her political activities. For example, “she and Essay would discuss her tactics on the immediate problem and a further strategy for resolving it definitively in favour of the victimized women” (186). Wild Christian’s independence and intolerance of injustice gives Wole a strong female role model. The relationship between his parents also institutes the importance of equality in him.

Wole begins to tag along to his mother’s meetings of The Group. Wild Christian’s interest in helping the women of her community becomes ingrained in her son. He helps by educating some of the pupils who come to attend these meetings. His statement that “I accidentally became a proud teacher at those pre-meeting sessions” expresses his intellectual and emotional growth (181). His integration with these women helps him form political opinions outside the ones Essay and his friends discuss. At The Group he hears about feminist concerns regarding “hygiene, community development, [and] self-help programmes,” but most specifically their problems with the Tax Officers (180-1). Soyinka built relationships with the women pupils and “saw them waylaid by the adana, forced to disgorge a portion of their merchandise at the gates of Abeokuta, after carrying them an inhuman distance” (184). By seeing firsthand the effects of the taxation on the women he sees the true burdens they face.

What begins for Wole as an “immediate outrage against my own prize pupils” changes when he learns they “could no longer come early to their lessons because of the taxman’s harassment” (184). He personally relates to the situation at hand rather than analyzing it from a distance as he does in discussions with his father. Wole makes “up [his] mind that when [he grows] up, no khakied official [is] going to extract one penny in tax from [his] hard-earned salary” (184). Based on the women’s problems with the taxman, he makes his own personal decision regarding taxes.

The consciousness-raising of The Group intensifies when Kemberi questions Mrs. Ransome-Kuti about the tax collections. Kemberi asks:

“What are we going to do about it? You said, teach them ABC; we have been doing that. And we also said to them, give your children a clean home, and strain every bone in your body to give them a good education. And they have been doing that. It is because of these children that they refuse to sit at home, waiting for some idle drunkard of a husband to learn the same lesson. After all, the women of Egbaland are not unaccustomed to hard work…Now these same women are telling us that they can no longer come here freely. The streets of Egba are blocked by the very people against whom we have tried to give them protection. Tax! Tax on what? What is left after the woman has fed children, put school uniform on his back and paid his school fees? Just what are they taxing?”(183). The passionate outrage of the women as a result of this speech is the point of Soyinka’s feminist awakening. His subsequent excitement results in his immersion in what becomes the Egba Women’s Union. He along with the women of The Group are moved by the speech. This political activism by Kemberi is internalized by Wole and he becomes more interested in their concerns regarding taxation.

Wole experiences the Women’s Movement closely because Wild Christian’s shop becomes The Group’s headquarters. He relishes his time spent at the shop and later is given the role of “Special Courier, moving swiftly between Igbein and Ake, the shop” (198). Soyinka embeds himself in the action. By being so closely exposed to the goings on of The Group he sees the continued need for their meetings. His exposure to the women’s needs raises his awareness of the particular problems that plague the women around him. Aside from the lessons at the meetings the problem of taxation is especially cumbersome. Wole internalizes the women’s struggle and fully includes himself in The Group.

The women eventually march to the palace to make their demands. As a bystander / member of The Group, Soyinka experiences the situation from the side of the women. The Balogun “decide[s] to assert his manhood authority” to the crowd of women (212). His sexist demands of “Go on, go home and mind your kitchens and feed your children. What do you know about the running of state affairs? Not pay tax indeed! What you need is a good kick on your idle rumps” is met with obvious disapproval by the women, but it is through Wole’s description of the events that his passion for the matter at hand is felt (212). The glee with which he describes Beere’s response and the Balogun’s fall shows his bias to the situation at hand. He does not side with the Balogun merely because they are of the same sex, but instead he supports the injustice of taxation on the women.

The baby’s birth at the palace is a metaphor for the ongoing struggle of women. Soyinka claims that “nothing could have happened of such a profound propitiousness as the birth of the child-and a female!” (217). The fact that the child is a girl makes the birth all the more triumphant to the women gathered. Soyinka can barely contain his excitement that “it was nearly my first chance to watch a live birth” (217). Although he was chased off from watching the birth and the excitement died down at the palace, Soyinka was still engaged in the Women’s Movement, albeit with a much calmer demeanor.

In conversations with Daodu, Soyinka is able to apply the oppression faced by the women to the oppression of Nigeria as a whole. The conversations he has with Essay and Daodu establish a discourse on the different types of oppression. Daodu emphasizes the importance of awareness to Wole. He tells him that “ you must take an interest? Don’t just stick your nose in that dead book you are reading” (228). Daodu doesn’t want Wole to sit back and watch events unfold, but to take actions himself.

The book’s ending emphasizes the intellectual growth of Wole. While learning to not accept any forms of oppression by the government, Wole adheres to the acceptable oppression of youth. He accepts his role in the hierarchy of his family, with his parents and elders being his superiors.

Soyinka’s involvement with his mother’s activities gives him knowledge of a world he would not have known had he stayed in his father’s metaphorical bedroom. His assumption of privilege may have led him to believe, as the Germans etc., that oppression was acceptable. The action of moving Wole to the communal mat was an action for a greater good. Because of her feminist consciousness, Wild Christian allows her son to see the world through a more compassionate and feminist lens. Soyinka’s feminist awakening is emphasized by how he chooses to describe himself at the beginning of his autobiography. Without the points of reference about his stubborn childhood, his intellectual growth has no comparison. His involvement in the social and political revolution in Ake gives him firsthand experience with oppressive forces. Soyinka is now equipped with the knowledge of sexist and economic forms of oppression. His immersion into the problems and the fights against them, gives him the background and experience to fight other forms of oppression.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Progression of Student to Teacher in the Post-Civil War South and in Charles Chesnutt’s “The Bouquet”

The denial of formal education for slaves forced their stories to survive purely in oral form. These stories were “[m]ore than a mere description of the circumstances that they found themselves in,” and “always had survival and a quest for power as major themes (Perlstein). These oral stories were not without meaning; on the contrary, they were full of lessons. These themes are obviously in response to their lived realities. While “African folktales were entertaining to the enslaver, [ ]they were also a source of information and strategy for the enslaved” (Monaghan). The tales of Brer Rabbit “[t]hough one of the smallest and weakest animals in the forest, [he] was also one of the swiftest. He could outsmart the bigger and stronger animals by using his wit” (Monaghan). The passing of these stories from one generation to the next allowed the “listeners / students” to become the “tellers / teachers.”

It was a rarity for slaves to be taught by a “loving mistress” or for them to try to obtain knowledge via their own means. One of the most interesting points in Frederic Douglass’ biography is that he bribed children to teach him to write. Once this decision was out of the hands of white slave owners and in the hands and hearts of the newly freed former slaves their true desires became known. To use Georgia as an example, “[l]egislation passed in 1829 had made it a crime to teach slaves to read, and legislation and white attitudes discouraged literacy within Georgia's small free black community. Yet when schools for freedpeople opened in early 1865, they were crowded to overflowing. Within a year of black freedom, at least 8,000 former slaves were attending schools in Georgia; eight years later, black schools struggled to contain nearly 20,000 students”(Butchart). This education enabled a previously only oral history to become a written one.

Chesnutt’s writing embodies the transition of the student becoming the teacher in his short story The Bouquet. Mrs. Myrover, as an invalid, represents old regime—physically paralyzed but still alive / present. She (and the pre-Civil war South) “were “too old, and had suffered too deeply from war, in body and mind and estate, ever to reconcile herself to the changed order of things following the return of peace; and, with an unsound yet perfectly explainable logic, she visited some of her displeasure upon those who had profited most, though passively, by her losses” (Chesnutt 281). Though not monetarily, blacks could now receive an invaluable profit—an education. The receipt of this education was not free and “was not Northern charity, for the total cost of the Bureau, seventeen million dollars, was more than covered by a heavy tax on cotton, which by 1869 had yielded over sixty-eight million dollars” (Morison 18-20). Therefore, the Negros had prepaid for their education with their work in, and any job related to cotton, which would encompass almost the entire South.

In Chesnutt’s story the roses are a metaphor of Sophy’s knowledge. Sophy’s right to an education equals “the first buds of spring, and, when these appeared, [Sophy] had awaited impatiently their gradual unfolding. But not until her teacher’s death had they become full-blown roses” (Chesnutt 282). Miss Myover’s death transitions Sophy from the role of student /listener to the role of teacher / teller. Sophy embodies not only the ability for a Black voice to be heard, but a Black woman’s voice. This voice is now educated in the written word and will be able to make her voice heard in not only oral, but now written story. Sophy represents the hope of education as advancement of blacks and women. “[T]eachers…might be said rather to represent the new order of thing in which labor was in time to become honorable, and men were, after a somewhat longer time, to depend, for their place in society, upon themselves rather than upon their ancestors” (Chesnutt 270). Miss Myrover job search represents all non-White, males. As “Miss Myrover looked over the field of employment, never very wide for women in the South, and found it occupied. The only available position she could be supposed prepared to fill, and which she could take without distinct loss of caste, was that of a teacher, and there was no vacancy except in one of the colored schools. Even teaching was a doubtful experiment; it was not what she would have preferred, but it was the best that could be done” (Chesnutt 272). After being taught by Miss Myrover, Sophy will have the skills to obtain a job, also.

Both Sophy and Miss Myrover are representatives of a hopeful new generation. While “Sophy’s mother was a poor widow, who went out washing and scrubbing for a living,” Mrs. Myrover is a racist invalid (Chesnutt 275). Both of the women have recognized the power of education and the change it can bring to their worlds. Sophy’s feelings toward Miss Myrover are described as “devotion,” “admiration,” and “worship” because “to Sophy her beauty was almost divine—who had come to teach her” (Chesnutt 275-6). Miss Myover’s beauty does not lie in her features but in her actions. Sophy is grateful for the teaching and Miss Myover’s is merely the vessel. Miss Myrover also experienced the joy of teaching: “And though she was a woman of sentiment and capable of deep feeling, her training had been such that she hardly expected to find in those of darker hue than herself the same susceptibility—varying in degree, perhaps, but yet the same in kind—that gave to her own life the alternations of feeling that made it most worth living” (Chesnutt 278-9).

Sophy now has the ability to “write her own story.” after reading the cemetery sign “thanks to Miss Myrover’s painstaking instruction, could read this sign very distinctly. In fact, she had often read it before. For Sophy was a child who loved beauty, in a blind, groping sort of way, and sometimes stood by the fence of the cemetery and looked through at the green mounds and shaded walks and blooming flowers within, and wished that she might walk among them” Sophy’s stories will be identifiable to a new audience and generation like “the African in slavery, the Brer Rabbit tales became a source of identity. The African, in his lowly condition, felt a certain kinship to the rabbit (Monaghan).

Just as Sophy was the natural receptacle of knowledge from Miss Myrover, so too would Sophy educate the masses. She is the ancestor of the Harlem Renaissance and rap. She is the voice of the previously unheard. She is writing her story with black ink on a white page.

Annotated Bibliography

Chesnutt, Charles. The Wife of His Youth.

Palmer, R. Roderick, (1957). Colonial Statues and Present Day Obstacles Restricting Negro Education. In The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 26, No. 4. pp. 525–529.

Perlstein, Joshua. From Remus to Rap: A History in Theory and Practice of the African-American Storytelling Tradition

Morison, Samuel Eliot and Henry Steele Commager, The Growth of the American Republic (2 vols.: New York: 1942) II, pp. 18-20.

Monaghan, E. J. (2005). Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America. Boston: University of Massachusetts Press.

Webber, Thomas. (1978). Deep Like Rivers: Education in the Slave Quarter Community 1831-1865. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Woodson, C.G. (1915). The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861: A History of the Education of the Colored People of the United States from the Beginning of Slavery to the Civil War. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Butchart, Ronald E. Freedmen's Education during Reconstruction. The New Georgia Encyclopedia.

15th Amendment United states Constitution

The 15th amendment, ratified February 3, 1870 states that “. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Time's Arrow

A Soul's Schism

Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow can essentially be classified as a novel about the Holocaust, yet Amis’s style sets it apart from other novels within this genre. Told backwards, the story begins with a Nazi doctor’s death and proceeds towards his birth. Amis employs an unnamed narrator to accompany his main character, Tod / Odilo / John / Hamilton. This alter ego is aware of Tod, but Tod is not aware of him. Through this narrator and the disjointed form of the novel, Amis applies his ergodic style by forcing the reader to become an active participant in the story. The reader’s relation to the confused narrator ensures continuation of reading. This style allows the reader to experience Tod’s guilt-driven abortions, the narrator’s confusion, and the schism between the two identities. This separation within the main character serves as Amis's commentary of the moral and ethical detachment required by Nazi doctors in order to cope with the atrocities they inflicted.

The guilt of the main character presents itself most notably in his outlook toward babies. He has a healthy marriage and normal outlook toward children in his youth, but after his work as a Nazi doctor, his outlook towards children drastically changes. He dreams of a baby who “wields incredible power” yet despite the power it wields, the baby is weeping. Perhaps it weeps because of the sinister reversal—the new and desperate responsibilities that power brings” (45). The baby represents the future to Tod. This baby will grow up knowing what atrocities he has performed and because “the baby is more like a bomb” it must be detonated (i.e. aborted) (46). Whenever any of the main character’s “lady friends” becomes pregnant, “a rectangular placenta and a baby about half an inch long with a heart but no face [is] implanted with the aid of the forceps and speculum”(91). Because of the backward action of the novel, his actions are actually those of abortions. The narrator concludes “that these are the bomb babies of Tod Friendly’s dreams. It adds up. The babies, so to speak, are helplessly powerful. This is the power they wield: the mortal importance of no one knowing they are there” (91). This acknowledgement confirms Tod’s guilt regarding his actions as a Nazi doctor with his desire to prevent any continuation of his life via a child.

While Tod is determined to prevent any of his children from being born, a separate identity is “born” within him. The narrator says that “I’m like the baby taken from the toilet. I have a heart but I don’t have a face: I don’t have any eyes to cry. Nobody knows I’m here” (92). Amis repeats the aborted baby's description for the narrator to emphasize the blurred, intermingled perceptions of death and life present throughout the story. The narrator has no power over Tod but acknowledges himself as an extension. He knows that “into Tod’s mind, of course, I cannot see. But I am the hidden sharer of his body” (55). Tod does not acknowledge this other identity. Any acknowledgment on Tod's behalf would require personal introspection and acceptance of the horrors he has committed. The narrator believes Tod’s “isolation is complete. Because he doesn’t know I’m here” (14). Amis’s use of the narrator makes the reader question if he is Tod’s subconscious or if Tod suffers from a form of dementia, possibly schizophrenia. The narrator, however, identifies himself as Tod’s soul. The conversations with Irene “put it best—she certainly puts it most often—when she tells Tod that he has no soul. I used to take it personally, and I was wretched at first” (53). The narrator’s personal offense to Irene’s accusation of Tod having no soul most thoroughly outlines the schism of Tod and the narrator. Tod’s personality is itself soulless, while the unacknowledged narrator identifies himself as Tod’s soul. This separation gives readers an understanding of how Tod handles his guilt by compartmentalization and repression.

The narrator exists as a way for Tod to separate himself from his actions and also to protect him. The narrator’s responsibility in preventing Tod from killing himself is first addressed by the narrator with “suicide isn’t an option, is it. Not in this world. Once you’re here, once you’re on board, you can’t get off. You can’t get out” (25). The narrator becomes even more sure of the fact that suicide is not an option as the story progresses. There is no longer the questioning undertone in regards to killing oneself when the narrator states that “you can’t end yourself, not here. I am familiar with the idea of suicide. Once life is running, though, you can’t end it. You’re not at liberty to do that” (88). The narrator controls the fact that Tod cannot end his life. Amis suggests with this inability of Tod to commit suicide, that Tod does acknowledge morality. No matter his agency over other human life, Tod draws the line with taking his own.

The schism between the main character and the narrator allows Tod to proceed with his unethical life. He closes off all emotion and morals, forcing the narrator to make sense of the actions. The narrator's confusion allows for an ergodic experience on the part of the reader. The narrator supplies pieces of a puzzle that both he and readers try to discern along the way. One of Tod’s weekly nightmares involves “this enormous figure in the white coat, his black boots straddling many acres. Somewhere down there, between his legs, the line of souls. I wish I had the power, just power enough to avert my eyes. Please, don’t show me the babies…” (39). Neither the narrator nor the reader can look away, while both question who the figure is. Later in the story, readers are given the answer when it is revealed that “John Young, who daily straddles a storm of souls, which kick up in the wind like leaves” (91). The story's unraveling and slow dispersal of clues joins the narrator and the reader on a voyage of discovery encouraging acceptance of the fact that the whole truth is not constantly revealed. The reader must work alongside the narrator to understand the story of Tod’s life out

The ergodic style Amis incorporates in Time’s Arrow allows the reader to experience more personally the actions and emotions of a Nazi doctor. Amis does not give the reader the information of Tod being a Nazi doctor at the beginning of the story because this would obviously bias the reader. Amis’s telling of Tod’s life before and after his time spent at the camps and his use of a narrator, instead of the doctor himself enables a reader to experience the story with a more open mind than if he would have told the story chronologically and from a different point of view. The form, sequencing, and point of view of the narrator, allow the reader to actively experience Tod’s guilt, the narrator’s confusion and the schism between the two.

The Goddess Ligeia

October turns readers to stories of mystery, horror, and suspense.  Poe has spun many tales but my favorite is "Ligeia."  I loved reading this short story for the first time in a college American Literature class.  It is perfect for the season.

Poe gives a marriage true immortality in his short story “Ligeia.” Even death does not part these two. Ligeia’s husband loves her so intensely that his love is a form of worship. After her death, she lives on in his heart and mind. He continues his worship of her, builds her a shrine, and provides her with a human body to be reborn into. This parallels the underlying theme of idolatry throughout the story. The narrator’s love for his wife is so powerful that it enables Ligeia to be reborn, similar to the ancient Egyptian cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Ligeia’s previous lives have brought her a vast array of knowledge. Both this knowledge and physical beauty have a “strangeness” that her husband cannot place. He dwells instead on adoring descriptions of her perfection. In amazement of Ligeia’s immense learning, the narrator declares:

“I said her knowledge was such as I have never known in woman—but where breathes the man who has traversed, and successful, all the wide areas of moral, physical, and mathematical science? I saw not then what I now clearly perceive, that the acquisitions of Ligeia were gigantic, were astounding; yet I was sufficiently aware of her infinite supremacy to resign myself, with a child-like confidence, to her guidance through the chaotic world of metaphysical investigation at which I was most busily occupied during the earlier years of our marriage. With how vast a triumph—with how vivid a delight—with how much of all that is ethereal in hope—did I feel, as she bent over me in studies but little sought—but less known—that delicious vista by slow degrees expanding before me, down whose long, gorgeous, and all untrodden path, I might at length pass onward to the goal of a wisdom too divinely precious not to be forbidden.”

The narrator has submitted himself to his wife’s dominant intelligence; he takes on the role of student, with Ligeia as his teacher. She has directed his studies to “metaphysical investigations” in order to expand his mind toward her intentions. He feels in her an underlying knowledge of a concept unknown to him, but can’t conceive of this concept himself. Not only is she a smart woman, but she is smarter than any men the narrator knows. Ligeia has ensured her immortality by making the narrator love her so fully and deeply. She has subconsciously laid the plans for her rebirth within his mind, but he is not aware.

Along with the narrator’s worship of Ligeia’s knowledge and beauty, Poe interweaves idolatrous imagery of the Hebrews and Egyptians. These cultures / religions are those most commonly linked with the concept of idolatry. Reflecting upon the beauty of Ligeia’s nose the narrator muses, “nowhere but in the graceful medallions of the Hebrew had I beheld a similar perfection.” This brings to mind the image of the golden calf, made from the Hebrews’ melted earrings, and is probably the most widely recognized symbol of idolatry. Ancient Egyptians also practiced idol worship. The narrator’s believes that “the wan and the misty-winged Ashtophet of idolatrous Egypt, presided, as they tell, over marriages ill-omened, then most surely she presided over mine.” Not only is their love idolatrous but the narrator believes it is being presided over by his own invented goddess. His imagination has produced a hybrid between Ashtoreth, the goddess of love and fertility and Tophet, a synonym for hell. He blames this creature for his loss of Ligeia. This submission to an imagined goddess is comparable to his worship of his own wife as a goddess.

With the parallels of the narrator’s love for Ligeia and Egyptian idol worship established, the occurrences after her death continue down these same paths. The belief of the divine and the afterlife was ingrained in Ancient Egyptian culture. After Ligeia’s death, the narrator never stops thinking about her and calls out her name to conjure up her image. She becomes a god-like figure and, unbeknownst to him, his continued worship is necessary for her rebirth. He chants for her; “I would call aloud upon her name” and wishes her back from the dead so he “could restore her to the pathway she had abandoned…ah could it be forever?” This calling of her name is similar to religious chanting.

The narrator’s worship, even after her death, results in both an internal and an external shrine for Ligeia. He tells of his internalized love “when Ligeia’s beauty passed into my spirit, there dwelling as in a shrine.” The narrator remarries and actually builds Ligeia a physical shrine. He believes this bridal chamber containing religious and ritualistic artifacts is for him and his new wife, Rowena. The room’s ominous descriptions, “huge censer”, “gigantic sarcophagi”, “grotesque specimens”, “bedlam patterns”, and “ghastly forms” invoke dread and horror. The tapestry of “arabesque”/ Egyptian figures having sex draped over the floor, ottomans, bed, canopy and curtains, is comparable to hieroglyphics. These figures portray the physical act necessary for birth. Ligeia coming in and out of life in Rowena’s body at timed intervals is comparable to a common birth. The sarcophagi were stone tombs used by the Egyptians to place their mummified dead. Rowena’s enshroudment in linen is similar to the Egyptian wrapping of the body. When Rowena falls ill, the narrator still only thinks of Ligeia, his “one only and supremely beloved.” He has provided all the necessary tools, complete with a human vessel, to allow Ligeia to be reborn.

All of the unconscious preparations by the narrator for Ligeia’s rebirth are presented by him as acts from a marriage of reciprocated love. The fact that we only hear Ligeia speak through the narrator leaves reason to believe he may have exaggerated her love for him. His obsession for her may have produced an imagined equally intense love for him in return. Ligeia herself may have exaggerated her love to ensure his devotion even on her death bed:

“…in a bosom such as hers, love would have reigned no ordinary passion. But in death only was I fully impressed with the strength of her affection. For long hours, detaining my hand, would she pour out before me the overflowing of a heart whose more that passionate salvation amounted to idolatry.”

She is not truly professing her love, but instead, begging for him to fulfill the role she needs him to play. Her portrayed fear of death shows her ability to deceive. She has done this before, hence the ancient beauty and immense knowledge, so she knows what will happen. Her dramatics are merely a ploy to ensure the narrator’s love for her will continue after her death, ensuring her resurrection. Her repetition of the Joseph Glanvill quote also affirms this idea that her will is what will bring her back from the dead, not her love. Her final words were “Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.” Her will and the preparations by the narrator together make the rebirth possible.

The narrator’s choice of a fair second wife to contrast the dark first wife implies dark conquering light. The resurrection of Ligeia conquers Rowena’s mortality is therefore evil and unnatural. This dark-haired imagery and the ability to be reborn are references to the Egyptians. Poe makes Ligeia a reincarnated goddess. The narrator worships her to the point of idolatry. She has lived many lives before and it is assumed that she will lead many more. She just needs to keep making men fall deeply in love with her. Ligeia is the worshipped goddess, the powerful, immortal female, just as in ancient Egypt. This story only gives us a brief glimpse into her long lifespan. It would be interesting to know if the narrator plays a recurrent role in her life or if he has a short, mortal scene. Is this an immortal love or simply an immortal goddess? The narrator will soon find out if his love is reciprocated: either she will find another lover to keep, leaving him dead, or she will find another lover to bring about his rebirth.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ever Expanding Margins of Sex, Regulation and Social Control

Last night I saw a new Svedka vodka commercial that reminded me of this review I wrote for a class titled "Love for Sale:  Intimate Labors and the Commodification of Care." It was by far one of my favorites at University of Georgia.  I've mentally revisted the subject each time I see these commercials as well as upon hearing the great fanfare surrounding the paranormal or S&M literary boom.  I find it interesting that there is such opposition to homosexual sex yet marginal sex is being embraced.  One need look no further than the sales figures of the "Twilight" series, the "Fifty Shades" series or Margaret Atwood's "Maddadam" series.  In a constantly changing world, who will be in charge of regulating sex when multitudes of previously unknown possibilities  present themselves?

Ever Expanding Margins

In chapter seven of Phoenix and Oerton’s book, "Transgressive and Digital Sex: margins, edges, and limitless victims," attention is drawn to the ever expanding margins of sex and sexuality. Beginning with what they refer to as “edgy” sex (bestiality, necrophilia, and vampire sex), they draw attention to new frontiers in digital sex. Oftentimes, in “regard to digital sex, these concerns often get collapsed onto issues of where to draw the lines around what might be deemed ‘child’ pornography” (170). Phoenix and Oerton provoke further thought to encompass a changing technological landscape.

When looking to apply the labels of “victims” and “perpetrators” we now need to look beyond “real” humans to “non-human[s], sub-human[s], and post-human[s]” (172). It is not too far of a stretch to think of future parameters on sex with robots. While a robot is not a “real” human, they may mimic one quite well. If incorporated with complex decision making software, it could be argued that the robot can give “consent” for sex. Or for that matter be programmed to “sexually attack”. Robots could therefore be labeled as “victims” or “perpetrators.”

Applying the above photo to this piece, one can see a possible future with endless new options regarding sex and sexuality. While the first picture states a possible stem cell baby boom, one imagines a future of sex outside of reproductive purposes. The middle picture is all women (“real” and robotic) and can lead one to think of new sexualities added to the spectrum, i.e. lesbian robots, hermaphroditic robots, post-humanist lesbians, etc.  The final photo can be applied to the discourse of plastic surgery and feminism. The topic may be expanded into discrimination of women who have plastic surgery because they may not fit in to what may become a new binary of “woman” or “robot.”

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mommy Wars (version ’08)

The "Mommy War" goes into full combat mode every year or so.  Ms Magazine ran this article in April. Anne Marie Slaughter's article in Atlantic magazine is only the latest missile launched in the war between, and against, mothers. I have several other pieces and angles I plan to tie into my take on this, but I will start with the following: a paper I wrote on the subject in December of 2008.

Mommy Wars: Give Up the Battle
    There is a war being fought in our country. A war among mothers, with each side firmly believing that their way is the "right" way. Stay-at-home mothers and working mothers are facing off in what Nina Darnton dubbed the "The Mommy Wars." In her Newsweek article written almost twenty years ago, Darnton gave a name to this feud among mothers. These women have motherhood in common, but their views on their roles as mothers strongly divide them.
This division of mothers is represented in recent literature. A book search on Google for the "Mommy Wars" turns up 1,094 hits. Two of my favorites are Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner and The Wall between Women written by Beth Brykman. In Mommy Wars, Steiner "commissioned twenty-six outspoken mothers to write about their lives, their families, and the choices that have worked for them. The result is a frank, surprising, and utterly refreshing look at American motherhood" (Steiner, front flap). While Steiner's book is essays of mothers defending their choices, Brykman's Wall addresses the conflicts without any bias. She makes the point that "women today struggle to make difficult choices involving their children and their careers—why do they simultaneously criticize, undermine, and point fingers at one another?" (Brykman, back cover) Rather than choosing a side, this book addresses the issue that contemporary motherhood is challenging. In this book she offers solutions, specifically modification of marriage to instill coparenting.
    These books each address the conflict between stay-at-home and employed mothers. A Google search for books about stay-at-home moms results in 2,440 hits. "Bye-Bye Boardroom" by Rachel Hamman and "The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide" by Melissa Stanton are sources of information for stay-at-home mothers to maximize their roles. "The Comeback" by Emma Gilbey Keller and "Back on the Career Track" by Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin are just two of the 1,276 Google hits for working moms. Each of these books defends the decision it stands for in a non accusatory way. These books are used by mothers as sources of information and as support for their choice of motherhood role.
Stay-at-home mothers believe they are the best caregivers for their children and are willing to sacrifice their careers in order to fully immerse themselves into the role of being a mother. Working mothers choose to shake off traditional gender roles in order to define themselves outside of motherhood. These "wars" have produced a large amount of literature in the last decade with each side aggressively defending their position. With such extreme ends of the motherhood spectrum being expressed, one has to wonder if there is possibility of compromise. In other words: "Can this war be won"?
    Some mothers choose to stay home simply because they want to. Others "become Stay-at-Home moms because circumstances require it—such as when quality childcare options aren't available, or too much of the household's income goes toward the cost of daycare, or both parents' jobs are so demanding that neither is home much for the kids" (Stanton 3). Stay-at-home mothers enjoy the opportunity of being totally in charge of their children. The aspect of "quality time" is usually mentioned as the most fulfilling aspect of being a stay-at-home mother. On the contrary, being solely identified as a mother can be depressing to a woman who feels she has other qualities to define her. Working mothers view stay-at-home mothers as women who have "said 'uncle' to patriarchy, spent too much time fondling Tupperware, and because she didn't work was a poor role model for her kids, especially her daughters" (Douglas 203). The loss of identity and income are two cons stay-at-home mothers face. A stay-at-home mother is also financially dependent on someone to sustain her lifestyle. These sacrifices stay-at-home mothers willingly make.
    Working mothers, also, may work simply because they want to. "Employed women savor having an identity beyond a mother, being independent by receiving compensation for their labors, and interacting with adults on a highly intellectual level" (Brykman 43). These mothers have worked hard to get where they are in their careers. After achieving so much, they find it difficult to step entirely out of the career they have built. Stay-at-home mothers view the careerist mother as someone who "neglect[s] her kids, [is] too stressed out when she [is] with them, and deserve[s] whatever guilt she fe[els]" (Douglas 203 ). The most frequent complaint of working mothers is balance between their work and their family. This stress may complicate a working mother's life, but it is not enough for her to sacrifice her choice to work.
    Both types of mothers have opinions about their own choices and the other side's choices regarding motherhood and in many cases their ideas do not coincide. However, one thing that they all agree on: guilt. Almost every mother has feelings of guilt regarding her choice of mothering. Stay-at-home mothers wonder if they are being good role models for their children, especially girls, while working mothers feel guilty for putting their children in daycare instead of being the primary care provider. Each mother internally doubts themselves. Should I spend more time with my children? Is quality time really better than unlimited access to me? How do I tell my daughter she can choose anything for a career when I have taken the traditional route? How do I show my sons that women are capable of more than domestic duties? Each type of mother wants the best for her children, yet when writing up their personal "pros and cons" list, sees and equal amount in each column.
    Betty Friedan raised stay-at-home women's conciousness with and caused women to seek employment outside the home with The Feminine Mystique. Friedan addressed the lack of fulfilment in women's lives and jumpstarted the women's movement currently labeled second wave feminism. Almost forty-five years later, Leslie Bennetts revisits the topic with fresh insight in The Feminine Mistake. Some of Bennetts' arguments for why it is untrue that mothers should stay home with their children are: difficulty returning to the workforce, divorce, death of a spouse, and financial insecurity. While Friedan raised conciousness to "the problem with no name," Bennetts takes the next step with showing how to make enlightenment work as motivation.
Just as many of the critiques of "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan were in regards to her focus on white, middle to upper class women, so to can the same critiques be applied to "the mommy wars." Some mothers do not have the luxury of choice to stay home or not. Many mothers have to work (i.e. single mothers, low-income households, etc). Some of these women may say that they wish to stay home with their children, which may be the true reason, but may actually be the desire for the financial security that comes with the ability to have a choice.
    I agree with Bennetts because…and I believe that mothers who work outside of the home will bring attention to the needs of corporate provided daycare and flextime. They will also close the pay gap . So many brilliant women have dropped out of the workforce in order to become stay-at-home mothers only to find it difficult to rejoin the ranks of the working class after taking so much time off. The loss of bonuses, raises, and continued learning while they were not employed works against women. This loss of financial footing in the corporate world may lead some women to simply continue to stay-at-home, ensuring the patriarchal cycle of men being paid more because they do not leave jobs to become stay-at-home fathers.
I believe that in order to attain equality among the sexes that parenting roles and responsibilities have to be equally divided. The traditional roles of father as breadwinner and mother at home have to be eradicated. The biggest obstacle to achieving this new system of parenting will be the fathers. They have not had to make sacrifices while climbing the career ladder and they happily handed over child rearing duties to their wife, whether she wanted them or not. If the job of parenting was equally divided, then the playing field would be level for each parent to pursue their career without one making a sacrifice for the other.
If more egalitarian parenting roles became the norm, women wouldn't be so divided over which type of mothering is the "right" kind. Instead of arguing with other mothers over which way is the "right" way, mothers should band together to fix the problems they share. United we can make more companies recognize the need for "flex time" so both parents can be there for their children and achieve career success. The role of "mother" and "father" should be no different than "parent." Each can contribute both inside and outside the home equally. Women can achieve much more banded together rather than divided against one another. As long as the battle lines remain drawn the focus will be on who is right rather than solving the problems that are plaguing all mothers.
Which brings me to a large missing piece of a puzzle in this "war": the father. Why are women told that they can't "have it all" but men are never told this? Because it is culturally acceptable for a man to "opt out" of fatherhood, either physically or just emotionally. What seems to be really fueling the fire for this war is the role of the father. Stay-at-home mothers are generally financially supported by their children's father. This financial dependence puts the power in the hands of a man. On the other hand, the working mom complaining of not being able to juggle two full time jobs gives power to the man by not making him assume any responsibility in regards to the children. Just as not every woman needs to be a mother, not every mother needs to be the primary caregiver. If a man and woman both work all day, why is the woman responsible for the "second shift" work when they return home? The fact is that many men still believe in the traditional gender roles that make it harder for working women to achieve equality both inside and outside the home.
The most notable exception to these arguments would be single mothers. By not fitting into the patriarchal ideal of a household run by a mother and father, these women are the most affected by low pay and adequate child care. While the argument is currently being heard from voices with privledge, those without are being excluded from the forum. Just as critics blasted Betty Friedan for not including women outside of middle-class, White, America, the mommy wars are focusing on the same narrow spectrum of people almost fifty years later.



Works Cited
Bennets, Leslie. The Feminine Mistake. Voice/Hyperion. New York: 2007.
Brykman, Beth. The Wall Between Women. Prometheus. Amherst: 2006
Darnton, Nina. Newsweek June 4,1990.
Douglas, Susan. The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Undermined All Women. Simon and Shuster: 2005.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. Norton. New York: 1983.
Steiner, Leslie Morgan. The Mommy Wars. Random House. New York: 2006.