Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I am no mathematician, but I see this as a Cartesian dilemma: the narrator’s life lacks the necessary balance of two cooperating planes, time and choice. As I see it, ideally a person’s life can be structured neatly as follows: infinite time running along the x-axis, infinite individual choice along the y-axis; life beginning at point (0,0), following a course staked across sundry points on quadrants I and IV, and finally reaching a definite endpoint somewhere six feet below ground. An echo heard is a small point on the graph left by a word spoken. Cause and effect exists because these two planes cooperate.
For our narrator, however, these two planes never do meet; that is to say, time passes with no regard to her decisions, and she sees no need to make decisions with regard to time. On one hand, she has no hope for the future: she will never redeem her lost youth, she will never have children, her father will never love her, and no one will ever care. But on the other hand, this gives her enormous personal freedom, basically allowing her to do whatever she wants, whether that be murdering her parents with an axe (hypothetically, thank goodness) or changing her physical appearance. She fashions these together in a meaningless philosophy: because "life will continue to be a line trickling from nowhere to nowhere, without beginning or end" (96) a person ought never to be "more than whim" (115). Essentially, nothing will change, so nothing matters; therefore, let's all do crazy stuff and see what happens.
Of course, this doesn't work out so well for her. She finds herself trapped within the indefinite bounds of a "black hole" (85), or "a yawning middle without end” (89), thus denied any form of definition. She knows instead only an asymptotic existence in which she “can expand to infinity…[or] shrivel to the size of an ant” (Section 96).
This novel is many things, but it is at least an exploration of this kind of unbounded, pointless existence. The narrator neither knows her past nor wishes to accept the pointless “And next?” future that lies ahead of her. She yearns for definition and meaning, for anything that might take her off a pointlessly winding path and give her direction. This seems clear, both textually and mathematically. The next task, then, is to determine the causes of why she was lead down that path in the first place. (See close-reading assignment.)
Monday, September 27, 2010
As an English colonist to South Africa, she has endured great hardship not only financially but also emotionally. Her situation helps attest to the weakening of the British Imperialism of the mid to late 20th Century. With other colonist like her enduring hard times and unable to not only cope with harsh financial situations but also the emotional hardships of being alone in a strange land, the influence of Britain on their colonies would indeed wane and give rise to growing independence movements in South Africa and elsewhere.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
"...the whole edifice of female governance is based on that foundation stone; chastity is their jewel, their centre piece, which they run mad to protect, and die when ravished of." (Woolf, 113)
This quote begins to get at the heart of Woolf's critique of sexism during not only her period of life, but also a period that stretches much further back. Her novel Orlando, a fictional biography of the main character by the same name, strives to illuminate the absurdity of patriarchal beliefs such as the one expressed in this passage.
Orlando is a satirical look at gender, its “norms” and expectations, that stretches 400 years. It begins with Orlando as a man in the 1600’s and ends at the beginning of the 20th century, Orlando having since been transformed into a woman. At this point in the novel, Orlando had been a woman for sometime, but she is just now realizing the extent that this will alter her life. She begins to notice new restrictions on her dress and behavior. She is required to spend large amounts of time in the morning preparing herself to be seen in public—to do otherwise would be inappropriate or even obscene.
By the time of the quote I have chosen Orlando sits on the deck of a ship heading for England. She is amazed to realize how easy life has become for her. The captain of the ship dotes on her and she understands the frenzy she can cause among the crew by exposing even her ankle. The biographer interjects my chosen passage in his/her attempt to quantify some of these feelings Orlando is experiencing. Orlando cannot flirt to her heart’s content, instead she must be careful, for to lose her chastity would be socially damning.
Looking at the quote itself, Woolf is obviously being very satirical. The meaning behind the statement is innocent enough, but the language Woolf uses to convey the biographer’s thoughts are another matter entirely. The first words “…whole edifice of female governance…” are very revealing. “Edifice” means “any large, complex system or organization,” (Webster’s) and plays on the common male belief that women are far too complex to understand. The “edifice” of “governance” begins to toy around with the complex ways in which women are expected to behave, or govern themselves. The convoluted and overtly “intellectual” language of just the beginning of this statement further compounds this notion of complexity and the redundancy begins to hint at the sarcasm of this statement.
Woolf really hammers this home, though, immediately after when this complex complexity rests on one simple thing—a stone. All that was previously difficult to understand becomes immediately understandable in a stereotypical way. “…chastity is their jewel, their centre piece…” Woolf has the biographer describe this immensely feminine thing, the notion of female chastity, in a way that all men could understand; chastity is a piece of jewelry that women yearn to protect, it is an expensive centre piece on a dinner table. Woolf uses the most absurdly feminine stereotypes to describe a feminine stereotype, obviously this isn’t meant to be taken seriously.
If it was taken seriously, though, Woolf uses the end of the sentence to make certain that no lingering doubts of her sarcasm exist. “…which they run mad to protect, and die when ravished of.” The notion that this biographer could make such a broad and all inclusive statement regarding women and their beliefs of the importance of chastity has left the realm of satire and has begun to knock on the door of absurdity. Women are being treated as, at best, as victims—as poor souls to be pitied when their chastity is stolen from them.
It can certainly be assumed that the biographer was intended to be male and that this sentence was Woolf’s stark criticism of men’s beliefs about women. It is a relentless attack on stereotypes and misconceptions, on a patriarchal belief of passivity and victimization.
Monday, September 13, 2010
With these words Orlando the woman escapes once again to her Never-Never Land beyond time and space. She lies in an English moor outside London and traverses decades and oceans alone, lying comfortably on her back. Anne McClintock might disagree, however, with the nature of Orlando’s so-called escape. Her chapter on gender and nationalism (Ch. 4 “No Longer in a Future Heaven”) describes an escape of a rather different sort, claiming that often through history, in literature as in nations, women
Haunt analysis as an elided shadow—deferred, displaced, and dis- remembered…and are thus effectively deferred to a no-where land, beyond time and place. (95)
When Orlando falls contented in her secret moor, then, it’s a bit shortsighted to consider the action a comfortable escape. Rather, she has been thrust there, like a dust mop set roughly in its place in the closet under the stairway. This is supported in the description of Orlando’s almost helter-skelter jaunt through the woods. The heather roots don’t coax her gently down, they fling her, even breaking her ankle so that she can’t rise back up. If Orlando is forced to find contentment in a place where there can be no real contentment, McClintock is justified. Her sanctuary, isolated from society as it is, is still a no-where land that can bring her nothing.
Further connection between Orlando and McClintock's text is provided, of course, by Orlando's remarkable ability to flit through time and place. I like McClintock's use of the word elide in her analysis. The term packs an underhanded implication: behind its dictionary definition, "to omit", stands the result of the omission, a slurring of something- often speech- or in Orlando's case, identity. McClintock is implying that women have not only been exiled into social no-where land, they have been denied a corporeal self they might call their own. Both an omission from society and a slurring of identity across time and place is readily visible in Orlando. As she lies fugitive in her wooded sanctuary, Orlando progresses, we might imagine by textual hints ("Tick-tock, tick-tock, so it hammered, so it beat" (183)) several years, perhaps even decades, through time; and as she does so, she significantly alters her life philosophy, insert: identity, ("I am nature's bride") unto passionate love with Shel (184). Though these events in a fictional novel are by definition quite unreal, a visible elision of Orlando the character is, according to McClintock, an everyday reality for women everywhere, and therefore something always worth a further look.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
She remembered how, as a young man, she had insisted that women must be obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely appareled. "Now I shall have to pay in my own person for those desires," she reflected; "for women are not (judging by my own short experience of the sex) obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely appareled by nature" .
Orlando then continues by listing what she must do in order to be seen as publically acceptable by men, or to be "feminine." In the quote above, she realizes that those characteristics are applied to women because of their sex and because of a man's view toward them, not because those can be called naturally feminine. At this realization she declares that she will not be a slave to such views of femininity. However, she eventually succumbs to societal pressures and she conforms to them through most of her life, besides when she begins dressing as she did when she was a man and prowling the streets of London.
However, the simple biological transformation does not change Orlando internally. She still takes comfort in nature and in her poem, "The Oak Tree," and striving to find what to do with herself. Those aspects of women seen as femininity cannot strictly be applied, and in the time at which Orlando considers them, are almost requisite for a woman. Though at one point Orlando does resist, only to fall back into the norms forced upon women. But what is argued is that these gender norms labeled as feminine or masculine are not naturally male or female, but are taught and forced on those sexes.
Even though there is a huge gap between the date of publication for Orlando, 1928 and the date of publication for the Francis article, 2007, the prospect of categorization of gender and the feminist emergence lingers during the time frames of each piece’s production. During the period in which Orlando was written, women were categorized, as Lord Chesterfield stated, “children of a larger growth”. Looking through the lens from the opposite side, men would be categorized as the parents of those children, who merely “play” with the children. The actions that followed this quote by Chesterfield state that Orlando “plopped” sugar into Chesterfield’s tea before exiting outside to the garden to be alone. The simplicity of plopping sugar and walking outside was a major action for that time period. Woman of the time were subject to such treatment and usually dealt with it but Orlando, who is far from usual, did not allow the normative, oppressive words and beliefs of Chesterfield bring her down.
Throughout the novel there is an array of actions that deal with feminism and its emergence. Woolf illustrates her main character changing sexes and then manipulating the idea of sex altogether by constantly changing from male to female by a change of clothes. There is no doubt that there was comedy in Orlando, but the feminine stand against the categorization and social norm oozes through the words of Woolf and the actions of Orlando.
Reading this quote from Orlando through the eyes of Kristie Blair and her article “Gypsies and Lesbian Desire: Vita Sackville-West, Violet Trefusis, and Virginia Woolf”, helps me see that Orlando is indeed Vita Sackville-West and the greater significance of the book to the life of Virginia Woolf. According to Blair, Vita’s grandmother was half gypsy and half aristocrat, and Vita had always been proud of her gypsy heritage. Here we have Orlando who in a former life was a young aristocrat, is now a gypsy woman returning to her former life as an aristocrat in England but with some reservations. She is afraid of the social implications of being a woman, even and aristocratic woman, in England and how they will limit her in her freedoms of expression, speech, and love. Reminding herself of these things, some faint desire for the gypsy lifestyle she was so quick to leave behind is rekindled.
The significance of this book to Woolf’s life is better explained after reading Blair’s article, and the importance of the gypsy Orlando is explained when she says “that the gypsy—and, as we shall see, the Spanish gypsy in particular—haunts texts about desire between women in the period” (Blair 142). Vita was a Spanish gypsy and casting her as Orlando who is also a gypsy is Woolf’s way of writing about their real-life love affair. Though it sounds like a stretch, it was a discrete way to write about this lesbian love affair and make it public without the immediate public backlash.