My general exam defense was this morning--an hour and a half of answering questions about the essays and syllabi I submitted based on my reading lists. It was a tough hour and a half, with challenging questions asking me to expand on and clarify my exams, but I got through it, and I passed!
And now to spend a few days reading some of the things I've been putting off--Neil Gaiman's Duran Duran book, Alison Bechdel's new book, the new grit lit anthology--and then I'll start thinking about my prospectus. I plan to continue to post here as I think through my dissertation ideas, and of course I still have my Hegemonic Bulwark blog where I write about academic life in general.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
I'm having the kind of day where I wish I could do twelve things at once. One thing that has me pretty excited is receiving an email about Feminism in the Worlds of Neil Gaiman--I have chapter in the book on Who Killed Amanda Palmer? It's scheduled to print in early October, and Amazon is now reporting that it will ship in November. I'm so excited! It's the first time I'll be in a book! And amazingly, it's a book I'd actually read even if I weren't in it.
Monday, September 24, 2012
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Building on the work of Foucault, J.L. Austin, and Silvan Tomkins, Sedgwick covers a broad range of topics in this collection of essays, though they all loosely center around the notion of affect and how it is informed by scholarship on queer theory and performativity. Noting that much of queer theory has used Austin’s work on performativity to discuss gender, Sedgwick proposes “a new class of periperformative utterances who complex efficacy depends on their tangency to, as well as their difference from, the explicit performances” (5). What’s useful to my work is some of this affect discussion: for example, when Sedgwick says, “Attending to psychology and materiality at the level of affect and texture is also to enter a conceptual realm that is not shaped by lack nor by commonsensical dualities of subject versus object or of means versus ends” (21), how does this relate to the concept of intersubjective space? Further, some of her discussion of shame may be relevant, such as her quote from Michael Franz Basch: “The shame-humiliation response, when it appears, represents the failure or absence of the smile of contact, a reaction to the loss of feedback from others, indicating social isolation and signaling the need for that condition” (36). She goes on to say herself that shame makes a “double movement…toward painful individuation, toward uncontrollable relationality” (37). I think this may relate to intersubjective space, too, and how ugliness functions there.
Her discussion of the periperformative and how it relates specifically to marriage is also useful to me, as I think the marriage economy is going to be at least part of my work. Pages 71-71 in particular she discusses the interpellative nature of weddings—not only for those getting married, but for the witnesses as well, and the compulsory heterosexuality which these ceremonies work to enforce. In addition to my idea that ugliness marks those who should not be reproducing, who should not be rewarded with marriage, it’s interesting to consider what effect their proximity to the marriage economy in general—are they an Eris-like threat to order?
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
(I'm still reading while I'm plugging away at my exams. I lost almost a week between anxiety over the storm and a migraine--but I'm back at it!)
Simpson opens this work by connecting the history of the South with the larger history of the United States—particularly its textual history with regard to both government documents as well as the Protestant Bible—and concludes that “southerners, more than the generality of American citizens, have been people who live and die by the text” (17). In fact, Simpson emphasizes the literary nature of history itself, observing that “all compelling interpretations of history are verbal or rhetorical artifices resulting from an imaginative critique—a literary criticism—of the possibilities, mundane and fantastic, of history” (21). The South is such a textual region, in fact, that Simpson points out that “the African slave, having been placed in the context of a society that had been invented in the written texts energized by the dynamic idea of the sovereignty of the whit (Anglo-Saxon) democratic self, needed only to attain literacy in the language of his master (sufficient reading and writing skills in English) in order to become a Frederick Douglass and assert the presence of a black selfhood in American history” (47). Simpson links this textuality to the Enlightenment ideal of “the awareness of mind as the creating source and model of American history” (56).
Simpson’s focus is primarily on the Agrarian understanding of the Southern Renascence; he has two chapters on Faulkner, one on Allen Tate, and a couple on Robert Penn Warren. In his occasional jabs at the growing ubiquity of theory and multiculturalism, it seems a bit dated now—especially the odd epilogue titled “A Personal Fable: Living with Indians,” in which he details several generations of his family and the surprising revelation that he has Cherokee blood in his family. I think the purpose of this epilogue was to emphasize the Faulkner truism that the past is never past, but it seemed an odd way to end the text. Just before the fable is his chapter on Walker Percy, where he finally discusses an author who asks, “What happens when you find yourself in the second half of the twentieth century with all this history behind you? And then you have to figure out how to live in the here and now?” (197). Interestingly, Simpson ties Percy’s South back to Tate’s South, one in which the South is the last real Europe. However, he also hears warning bells in Percy’s work, as he sees that Percy “brings to the relationship between Is and Was the sense—intimated in Warren and Tate, yet more strongly intimated in Percy than in either—not only that this relationship is losing its meaning in the South but that this loss symbolizes the general loss in Western civilization” (206).
Oddly enough, I finished this the same day that I looked over the brand new Grit Lit anthology which recently arrived in the mail, and I’m curious what Simpson would make of it. Certainly, it draws upon the kind of multicultural work which Simpson was so suspicious of (even expanding its boundaries-would Simpson consider Missouri part of the South?). There’s a different kind of historical inheritance in that collection—more the kind of Red Neck Manifesto inheritance than the Quentin Compson kind of inheritance that more monolithic understandings of southern literature seem to only be able to see. What happens when our inheritances are class-based, or race-based, or money-based? Those are different kinds of ghosts than Quentin’s, and yet we act as though all ghosts are the same.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Despite the fact that I'm knee-deep in exam-writing (and full of hurricane anxiety), I'm still reading to finish up my lists. This book in particular is coming in quite handy. However, because I'm focusing on exam writing, this summary is not up to my usual standards of summaries--I just wanted primarily to get the significant quotes recorded.
Right now, I'm at 28 days before the essays are due!
Right now, I'm at 28 days before the essays are due!
Kreyling’s book is “a consideration of the ways and means by which southernness has come into being and been sustained there, along with the attempt to measure how and why the meaning of the term has changed over time” (169). He relies upon Benedict Anderson’s concepts of nationhood in order to explain how the South understands itself. Unlike Patricia Yaeger’s later work, in this work he says that this text is “not a counternarrative that seeks to dynamite the rails on which the official narrative runs; rather, it is a metanarrative, touching upon crucial moments when and where the official narrative is made or problematically directed” (ix).
In his discussion of the Agrarians and the formation of the southern canon and southern studies which put Quentin Compson and Faulkner at the center, he notes that putting Quentin at the center is the result of “the legion of white males who have assumed responsibility for inventing a style for thinking of the South.” I’m particularly interested in his discussion of feminist responses:
Feminist critics are not unanimous on an alternative to the Quentin thesis. Some, like Carol S. Manning, might he called moderates: Manning points out the defects in the Quentin position but wants to preserve the status quo long enough to modify it for the admission of southern women's fiction (Manning i-i2). A little to the left are critics like Susan V. Donaldson and Anne Goodwyn Jones, who would like to modify the meaning of "history" in the prevailing southern formula (usually along lines of Foucaultien "genealogy") and, thus, run southern women's history into the mainstream at an angle” (Donaldson i77ff).
He goes on:
More extreme is the position of southern lesbian critic Mal, Segrest, who would have community admit neither men nor their history: "For there have always been Southern women who knew that they did not want to join the white men in Mississippi for anything; who have known that WE did not lose the war" (Segrest 29-3o; emphasis in original). Segrest's view represents the most radical denial of the Quentin thesis, and it is not merely a matter of polemic. Her reading of the figure of the spinster (like Jones's reading of the southern-woman-as-author, but more radically) breaks the hold of the consensus in thematic literary readings: "The other terrible absence in male-dominated fictions is the absence of female community, or even its possibility. In all the stories I described [Ahsalom, Absalom!, "A Rose for Emily," "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe," and "Good Country People"[, the spinster was ;clone, set apart from both amen and married women. The small-town communities within the fictions showed complete lack of support for female self-identification. Without either respect for female solitude or the presence of female community', of course spinsters were seen as freaks (Segrest 35).
Segrest's critique fractures the ideal of community by alleging that representations of it have been unreflectingly male As I have argued just above, Simpson's reading of Roberts could fall under this indictment. If Segrest's image of community is as narrow from the feminist side as any might he from the male, it is nevertheless provocative. In her "fable" of becoming it southern writer, exclusion from "the community" is double. She dates her initiation to the moment when she spied, from it distance, the black children who were integrating her school in the Alabama of George Wallace: "I have it tremendous flash of empathy, of identification, with their vulnerability and their aloneness inside that circle of force Ithe white males of the Alabama Highway I'atroll. Their separation is mine" (Segrest, 20). Segrest, establishing another ideological center, uses the vocabulary of the former center-race and community identification-to make herself it southern (woman) writer. Extending and "outing" Lillian Smith's deconstruction of the southern imaginary, Segrest links southern women writers in shared consciousness of exclusion from it constructed center.
What the Quentin-based canon formation leads to is blindness to the kinds of female community which exist in the work of southern women writers, and the kinds of women who are estranged from these communities. I particularly like Kreyling’s observation that while Flannery O’Connor’s comment on the centrality of Faulkner to southern studies originally referred to him as the “Dixie Limited,” her comment was quickly changed to be understood as the “Dixie Special.”
If one looks at the work of southern women’s writing, one sees different kinds of commentaries on not only community, but the work of race within these communities:
Eli:abeth Jane Harrison reads the "other" narrative as a version of the more familiar pastoral. Her reading of recent fiction by southern women,
black and white, arrives at it kind of utopian community: "Despite difficulties in overcoming the harriers to sex and race equality, female friendship and cooperative communities become an important part of the new southern garden for these women authors" (Harrison i4-15). Harrison's guide is Nina Auerhach's Communities of Women: An Idea in Fiction (tg78), it work that is both about utopian communities of women in fiction and the product of the author's own personal experience of "a model community of women Ithe Radcliff Institute and its Fellows] who gave a local habitation to the Utopias I read about" ("Acknowledgments," n.p.). Female textual utopias exist, for Auerbach, in it ghostly relationship with the male, public community of history: "The communities of women which have haunted our literary imagination from the beginning are emblems of female self-sufficiency which create their own corporate reality, evoking both wishes and fears" (5). These wishes and fears are sexual, political, social, and historical; they are "voiced" in a "code" that, unlike the male code, is "a whispered and it fleeting thing, more it buried language than a rallying cry" (y). For it lesbian critic like Segrest, burial is deep and the code sexually complex. For critics like Donaldson, Manning, and Jones the "silenced" voices are still audible in the Quentinian din.
As Segrest suggests in her memory of identifying with the black children who integrated her school, experiences of racial exclusion may serve as metaphors of sexual exclusion. The historical trajectory of African-American women's writing, from the slave narratives of the nineteenth century to their "recovery" by Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker, suggests a common cause. The household, sexual politics of slavery produced in the community of women, across racial boundaries, a lively code, open to many and sometimes contradictory meanings. As Harriet Beecher Stowe would have it in Uncle Tom's Cabin, black and white women-though unequal- conununi- cated in the channel of domestic management and sentiment. Chloe and her mistress bond against Mr. Shelby's purely economic decision to sell Tom and Eli:a and her son. Eli:a Harris and Mrs. Bird openly conspire to circumvent the public code-the Fugitive Slave Law thematically presented as a male language. In texts by African-American women who were slaves, Harriet Jacobs being the most prominent example, conversation within sexual territory but across the racial barrier is more subtle. Sometimes, in Jacobs'. narrative, the lines hold, and sometimes they Freak down.
Solid or breakable, conversation in overlapping racial and sexual channels is vital to an understanding of the African-American woman's image of community as well as to the white southern woman's imagined community. The classic of the first half of this century, Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching (;od (1y37), is almost universally acknowledged as an encoded text on the formation of an African-American woman's community evolving from heterosexual, social dependence on black men into a very strong community of women that, according to Marjorie Pryse, "recreates the tradition of female friendship and shared understanding and heals the lingering impact of separation imposed by slavery and sexism" (t 5). Rather than attempt to occupy the discourse of history, from which black American women have been excluded even more thoroughly than white women, African-American women writers (with Hurston as the twentieth-century leader) have unearthed the buried languages of African-American folk traditions and community (2-4). The result, for its late in the century, is that in African-American women's writing, history is nearly abolished. Alice Walker's The Color Purple (1982) is the most famous text in which "black history becomes firmly rooted in the network of female friendship" (Pryse 20) and, thereby is removed from male control.
Kreyling’s analysis of Smith’s Oral History does a good job of showing how this novel exemplifies these differences. For example, he observes that, “Dory is horn at the center of it community the male literally cannot register because that community is in its very constitution beyond his "history." (loc 1775-6) Also, “Oral History signifies on traditional images of the origin and nature of southern community in history, even as it pleads for a redefinition of community in the woman's register.”
Kreyling’s discussion of race in this work is quite interesting. He says that, “bypassing of the traditional reading of the tragedy of race in the southern narrative and suggests that it might always have been, as Welty', feminine eye had seen in Delta Wedding, it learned pattern of male imitation, not an essential tragedy of the community as it living whole.” Even more importantly is his observation that “Lillian Smith, before Fried Green Tomatoes, and Dorothy Allison in Bastard out of Carolina ( 1092) since, have used the same coupling of sexual abuse with racial terrorism to stigmatize the male community.” He also looks at the centrality of women’s lives to history; in Jill McCorkle’s work, for example, “pregnancy and birth are shown to be at the center of the process of identity making. Men are irrelevant after impregnation.”
Ultimately, he concludes that
What is powerful in the fiction of contemporary white southern women is their common, if not concerted, challenge to the Quentin thesis. It is not that the prevailing literary historical and critical apparatus is or must he, in all instances, totally dismembered but rather that it must be seen as man-made, the product not only of a time and a social condition (though that would he had enough When the assertions are of "transcendent" meaning) but of gender too. Through the heyday of "modern" southern writing, from the 1920s, of the renaissance, through various announcements of its end, to the prophecy of a second rebirth by those who look to the African-American male writer as savior rather than propagandist, the canon has been presented as essentially linked to an ideal of southern community conceived in history but transcending the materialism of historical circumstances. The emergence of southern women's writing, however, makes that literary orthodoxy seem partial, at best. What is emerging in southern literature, to confound the critical attempts of traditional defenders to extend the hegemony of renaissance ideology, is a body of work by white women writers that calls up "forgotten" meanings of precursor texts and proposes a new configuration of southern "community." The more defenders try to stretch the Quentin thesis to fit historical/social change, the more the thesis thins at its weakest seams.
Ironically, after all of this, Kreyling then spent two chapters discussing Faulkner—although his discussion of Faulkner is one in which he identifies Faulkner as suffering from an anxiety of his own influence.
Monday, August 13, 2012
I went to school this morning and got my three questions--they're daunting, but they're good questions. I've now got six weeks to write an essay in response to each of the three questions. Then, my committee has two weeks to read and review them, and I defend them on Monday, October 13, at 10:00am (I had to schedule the time and place before I could get my questions!). So it begins...
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Jones looks at the work of seven white women writing before WWII who “all criticize the ideal of southern womanhood point by point in similar ways, and by means of similar imagery, plotting, characterization, and narrative points of view.” Importantly, she observes that
the ideal of southern womanhood that informed these women’s lives and fictions not only often conflicted with their actual human needs but also contained its own internal ambiguities and contradictions. When the image exhorts both intelligence and submission, both bravery and fragility, conflict seems inevitable. (xii)
As Jones observes “that ideal did not serve only as a norm for individual behavior[,] it became also a central symbol in the South’s idea of itself” (xii), she provides an important reason for the study of women in this literature: “in the American South woman represented as well [man’s] ambivalent feelings about social class, race, and national identity” (5). Further, she points out that for traditional southern womanhood, itself more a personification than a human possibility, “efforts to join person and personification, to make self into symbol, must fail because the idea of southern womanhood specifically denies the self” (4). While acknowledging the similarities between traditional southern womanhood and the Victorian lady or American True Womanhood, she points out important differences:
the southern lady is at the core of a region’s self-definition; the identity of the South is contingent in part upon the persistence of its tradition of the lady. Secondly, and perhaps for that reason, the ideal of southern womanhood seems to have lasted longer than other ideas….in a third divergence…southern womanhood has from the beginning been inextricably linked to racial attitudes….finally, the very image itself seems, if not radically different from, at least an extreme version of the nineteenth century lady….And the class—aristocratic—that the image of the lady represents receives a stronger emphasis in the South than elsewhere. (4-5)
Significant to my work is her quote from Robert Afton Holland, a clergyman at the University o the South, who in 1909 said that, “once outside the home, woman become a horrific animal, acquiring ‘bigger hands, bigger feet, higher cheek bones, lanker limbs, flatter chests, hook noses, lips thin and tight” (20).
While the individual chapters have analyses and observations on specific authors, works, and characters which I find useful, Jones’s remarks in her conclusion are the most useful for my project. For example, she observes that,
In contrast to symbolizing beauty as purity and fragility, as the southern lady should, these protagonists have dark eyebrows and strong bodies. Probably because their values—free intelligence, aloneness, self-assertion—are traditionally masculine, the physical appearance of the protagonists is often atypical, even androgynous. Edna, Scarlett, Katharine, Beulah, Hagar, and Gabriella are all described as striking but not beautiful: they have “character.” On the other hand, to Oliver, Virginia appeared fragile and delicate, her skin like magnolia blossoms. Moreover, many characters feel and express their sexuality, from the adolescent Claire’s emerging sensuousness, responding to the dancing in the streets, to Calixta’s full adult pleasure in the act of sex. (354)
Further, she points out that “traditional images of beauty of the southern female are, in almost every work, scorned or ignored. Beginning by discarding the fragility of the skin like magnolias and eyes like violets, these women writers are inventing through imagery their own definitions of southern womanhood” (362). In Jones’s consideration, the heart of the conflicts expressed in these works is a fundamental tension between realism and romanticism. Romanticism, a familiar mode, allows the author to “substitute for material reality a dream that is, paradoxically, more ‘realistic’ than objective reality. This is, in fact, what these writers do when they dream up characters who are neither beautiful nor fragile, conventionally good nor powerless” (359). While these authors grew up with romanticism as the primary mode of their society, “because the realist depicts the actual daily experience of ordinary persons, realism would have appealed as the literary method for debunking the ideal of the southern lady. It would thus serve as a corrective for the entire society of the South, in exposing the romantic illusion of the marble lady” (359). Realism “reveals the ugliness, the injustice, and the sordidness of society, which romanticism can pass over” (358).
It occurs to me that Jones’s observations circle around Sonnet 130—that the physical appearance of Shakespeare’s mistress is what attracts the speaker—it makes her corporeal, rather than ethereal. It may be in part that we want characters we can relate to. It may be that flaws make someone more attractive, more interesting—in the whole “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” Tolstoy way.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Hobson traces what he calls the “rage to explain” which he sees as a constant in writings by those from the American South since before the Civil War. According to Hobson, “the Southerner, more than other Americans, has felt he had something to explain, to justify, defend, or to affirm” (3). Interestingly, he observes that not only do they often feel that they need to defend the South’s inferior status, but that many take pride, “a sense of distinction, of superiority, stemming from this inferior status. The Southerner, that is to say, wears his heritage of failure and defeat as his badge of honor” (12). Hobson breaks up the authors in his analysis into three large historical groups: antebellum writers, those writing “after Appomattox,” and those writing during and since the Civil Rights era. Those writing before the Civil War were generally defending the Southern way of life—specifically, a way of life centered around race-based slavery. After the Civil War, writers defended the southern way of life they saw destroyed by the War and particularly by Reconstruction, and many mythologized the lost way of life. However, there were some, like George Washington Cable, whose work began to be critical of the South, especially in its racial policies. By the twentieth century, writers became much more proscriptive in their work, culminating in the work of the 1920s and 1930s, which saw the publication of I’ll Take My Stand by the Vanderbilt-based Agrarians as well as the sociology-based work of writers such as Howard Odum at the University of North Carolina. According to Hobson, the Agrarians saw the South’s major problem as one of public relations, while the North Carolina school writers were more concerned with addressing the problems of the South such as poverty, disease, and racism. By the Civil Rights era, writers either tried to explain the myth of the South, or encourage the South to give up segregation. By Hobson’s writing, in the wake of the Civil Rights era, the mythic South had given way to the progressive “Sun Belt,” and writers were now “focusing on the picturesque, on the South as cultural museum of charms and oddities.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Fausto-Sterling’s primary claim is that “labeling someone a man or a woman is a social decision. We may use scientific knowledge to help us make the decision, but only our beliefs about gender—not science—can define our sex. Furthermore, our believes about gender affect what kinds of knowledge scientists produce about sex in the first place.” Rather, she claims that “Our bodies are too complex to provide clear-cut answers about sexual difference. The more we look for a simple physical basis for ‘sex,’ the more it becomes clear that ‘sex’ is not a purely physical category. What bodily signals and functions we define as male or female come already entangled in our ideas about gender.” She notes that it wasn’t until the 1970s that sex and gender were posited as separate categories by sexologists, while second-wave feminists argued that gender differences were primarily the result of social institutions “designed to perpetuate gender inequality.” However, because feminists left the physical differences of sex unquestioned, they left open the possibilities of “hardwired” differences between the sexes.
Importantly, Fausto-Sterling claims that
Truths about human sexuality created by scholars in general and by biologists in particular are one component of political, social, and moral struggles about our cultures and economies. At the same time, components of our political, social, and moral struggles become, quite literally, embodied, incorporated into our very physiological being. (location 129)
More specifically, she acknowledges that “Understanding how race and gender work—together and independently—helps us learn more about how the social becomes embodied.” And it is this process of the social becoming embodied in which I am interested. In particular, Fausto-Sterling points to the lack of data collection on the “normal distribution of genital anatomy,” which demonstrates that “from the viewpoint of medical practitioners, progress in the handling of intersexuality involves maintaining the normal. Accordingly, there ought to be only two boxes: male and female.”
Fausto-Sterling observes that a similarly policed binary exists in general understandings of sexuality—one is either inherently heterosexual, or inherently a lesbian. Further, even using the Kinsey scale, which acknowledges a more continuum-like understanding of sexual-object desire, is still a linear, two-dimensional scale. She does acknowledge the existence of more complicated scales, such as that by Fritz Klein (which uses seven variables: sexual attraction, sexual behavior, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, self-identification, hetero/homo lifestyle along with a time scale). Further, the work of feminist and gay theorists which revealed the social constructed nature of sexuality encouraged the idea that sexual expression was not biologically grounded. Responding to Halperin’s claim that “sexuality is not a somatic fact, it is a cultural effect,” Fausto-Sterling instead posits that “sexuality is a somatic fact created by a cultural effect.” Comparing Butler’s idea that the body is completely constructed through discourse with that of Grosz, who thinks there are some biological processes which “precede meaning,” Fausto-Sterling posits that “we need the concept of the psyche, a place where two-way translations between the mind and the body take place.”
Working against this is a deeply entrenched commitment to the idea of only two, discrete sexes: “Reconceptualizing the category of ‘sex’ challenges cherished aspects of European and American social organization.” Fausto-Sterling gives a detailed account of the development of our understanding of sex and sexuality, primarily in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and shows in painstaking detail how political events and cultural norms of the times shaped scientific inquiry and understanding. Ultimately, she does denounce her earlier proposed five-sex model, but instead advocates for a much more nuanced understanding of sex, gender, and sexuality, one which takes the idea of systemic interaction into much greater account. Using a really useful example of the evolution of smiling as one which begins as a somatically neutral, muscularly simple action to one which, over the course of maturation and interaction, becomes a much more emotionally-connected and muscularly complex action, Fausto-Sterling argues that sex, gender, and sexuality need to be analyzed as similarly systems-oriented behaviors.