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A woman who will love my ironies

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  • A woman who will love my ironies

    Notice only men go into it. Why? Simple: women don't have to.
    They know there's nothing there and can live with that knowledge,
    but men must find out for sure.

    Camille Paglia, HoL, p.357

    There was a longer discussion about a feminist approach of of Leaves in the thread that is called "Is there *REALLY* anything to "figure out" about this book?", and fearful said towards the end of one of his replies:

    And, again […] a feminist reading of of Leaves is still to be undertaken. The depiction of women in the book is both under-examined and inherently problematic, it seems to me.
    This is what I am trying to start with this thread: an examination of women in HoL, of their roles, their functions, their characterisations - and also (but not necessarily) to relate this to a feminist reading and make a comparison to the respective male roles and principles in the book. Before I do so I will start with some general comments. If you are interested in this topic I recommend to re-read the thread named above from this point, because it shows some very symptomatic things. What I think is most noticeable in this thread is the fact that the discussion got to a very emotional if not aggressive point. I think this is due to the fact that there are some very negative prejudices and stereotype ideas about feminism, which in fact have little to do with a serious theory built on feminism. Even those who support the idea of equal rights (and equal chances for that matter) often have wrong and sometimes na´ve notions of what they think a feminist approach is. Let me name some, some of them inspired by statements found in that thread:
    • The author is a feminist, hence it is useful to apply a feminist reading.
    • If an author explicitly develops female themes a feminist reading is appropriate.
    • If the main focus is on women themes a feminist reading is appropriate.
    • A feminist reading is useful if the topic of the work deals with discrimination of women.
    • The female protagonists play "interesting" roles, hence they deserve to be examined more properly.
    • Feminist reading is only useful if it contributes to what the basics of a text is about.
    • It is the writer's responsibility to create tough and strong female characters.
    Talking about literature from a feminine/feminist point of view can lead to a better understanding what feminist reading really is. For that reason we could include some female theorists, such as Cixous (whom John mentioned), Kristeva, Butler, and of course, because she is in the book (p. 357 f), Camille Paglia. Since I cannot couch it better I'd like to quote John who explains his idea of a feminist theory:

    Originally posted by John B.
    Writers certainly do create the world(s) of their works, but they are not themselves self-created. They are products of and, when writing their works, more or less aware of, cultural attitudes. Whatever the particulars of feminist theories […], they all begin from that basic premise. Shakespeare didn't read Cixous, no, but his plays depict a wide variety of not only male-female interactions but--gasp--presumings, via characterizations, of how women think. […]
    Here is the whole post.

    Just to be clear, this is not intended to make a base flattery of feminism or women in HoL. Critical and polemic thoughts are very welcome, as well as about feminism as satire. Because the Paglia-Interview is a satire (each of the interviews are ironic, or not?). But what makes me yawn are smug superficial standard opinions. It would be fun to hear something more inventive than that.

    Is Magda a feminist? Well every somewhat intelligent woman is a feminist, if not explicitly then in action, no? I do not have too much knowledge of feminist theorists. When fearful wrote the thing above I somehow had the feeling that this was addressed especially at me because I am the only woman here who has created two or three verbose essays about her ideas. Where are the other ones? As far as I can see there are some very clever ladies on the red side. But perhaps "they know there's nothing there and can live with that knowledge, but men must find out for sure." I did not pick up fearful's thought because, to be frank: someone brings up feminism and a woman is there to serve that topic - feminism is the kitchen of today. There were in fact other things that interested me more. And why now? Just for fun. Or to start something new. Or because there are some open questions about the women in HoL and I expect "feminism" to be a good answering tool. Because I have some concrete questions, but those have to wait until next time. Feel free to comment on anything you like in the meantime.
    Last edited by Magda; 12-07-2010, 08:03 AM.

  • #2
    You thanked me for my Ulysses thread; I want to thank you for this.

    I'm thinking through some things regarding Pelafina in this vein, specifically her version of the maternal and how that's complicated by her madness. I'm by no means versed in feminist theory, so much of what I say will arise from my reading of the letters and what Johnny and Walden have to say about her.

    We'll see how that goes.


    • #3
      Thanks in return John. Alas, it will take some time until I will be able to post more than only sketchy thoughts. Heaps of work to do (started a new job, hurray!) and lots of pages to read. I would be glad to see you here again, though.


      • #4
        I want to bump this thread, even though I have no (time right now for a) developed post. But hey: Who doesn't have time for a provocation?

        I just want to make a claim here to spark conversation and then, once the dust settles from Finals Week, return with some actual, you know, readings of textual evidence. And a caveat from the get-go: A whole lot of discussion of feminism is meta-discussion, as you know; it's usually phrased as something like, "Just whose notion(s) of the feminine are we discussing here?" I know that what follows (and the discussion that I hope will follow it) cannot help but dredge up that question; but as I said above, all I have time for right now is a provocation:

        Pelafina's letters to Johnny exhibit, if I may be permitted something like an oxymoron, a masculinized maternal impulse. For what it's worth, this may provide a bit of tangentially-related context for where my thinking is headed.
        Last edited by John B.; 12-07-2010, 04:34 AM.


        • #5
          Thanks for bumping this. I did not forget it and I started to prepare something on Karen and good old "love". "Whose notion": actually my question. But not only whose notion of women, but also - as least as important: whose notion of art?


          • #6
            I just read the thread you linked to, John. The point for you here is androgynity, am I right? Do you also have Paglia in mind? Because I skimmed a bit in her Sexual Personae (ush, what a book, I'm not sure whether I like it), and what's written there sounds extremely .


            • #7
              The great question that has never been answered,
              and which I have not yet been able to answer,
              despite my thirty years of research into the
              feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?”

              Siegmund Freud

              This thing is easier said than done, especially since there are new things are going on on this board. Sorry for wordiness.

              Anyhow. Let's start with Nele Bemong's article Exploration #6: elaborating the idea of the uncanny (das Unheimliche, HoL page 28) as the suppressed (Freud) Bemong concludes that the maze exists because it represents Navidson's personal loss and Karen's trauma. Here we come to a neo-Freudianic interpretation, combined with sort of a feminist approach: the maze represents the womb and the vagina – to Navidson it is the loss of the mother (a place of anxiety and desire at the same time), for Karen the experience of sexual abuse (an expression of repression and silence).

              That kind of stuff is actually not what I was interested in when I started this thread (phew, too much Freud).

              What is interesting for me is the part were Bemong via Verhaege and Lacan speaks of passivity as a trait of the female.

              Bemong (bold: my emphasis):

              Freud discovered that this repulsive material is always a passive trauma, characterised by lack of desire - in Freud's theory, passive equals feminine. "To be more accurate: passivity became a substitute signifier for femininity because even Freud could not find the right words for it. In other words, the traumatic Real, for which there is no signifier in the Symbolic, is femininity. Freud had discovered the lack in the Symbolic system: there is no signifier for The Woman." (Verhaeghe 1999 (a): 39) The implication of this Lacanian reading is that the labyrinth expresses femininity - that which is without signifier. With this line of reasoning, we have reached Freud's theory of desire and urge or drive. That it is precisely the passive feminine that constitutes the Real (that should be repressed) in of Leaves, is expressed in the work itself.
              "Stop drilling holes" (Karen)
              In this context the following quote distils the dichotomy of the male desire and the female "void", HoL, page 30

              Karen refuses the knowledge. A reluctant Eve who prefers tangerines to apples. "I don't care," [sic!] she tells Navidson. "Stop drilling holes in my walls".
              Who is drilling holes? In Exploration #5, page 437, there is a horizontal shape of a screw (haha) or spiral staircase. I think passivity is a concrete fact in the book: it is there in the shape of Karen as the most passive character (and perhaps passive stereotype/archetype) in HoL. My point is not that if she had been active, she could have joined the group of explorers or whatever one might expect from a "strong" woman, like those blockbuster token heroines. Pelafina is an active figure even if she is not able to leave her nut . Being in the middle of all events and present on many pages Karen is almost invisible and at the end of the story it is almost impossible to say anything about her in the first place: who is she, which kind of interests does she have, is she funny? – and I'm sure this has nothing to do with general flaws in character descriptions:

              "Sie ist ein Model und sie sieht gut aus" (Kraftwerk)
              Karen is a former model (sure: Hollywood, models, careerists) and now a desperate wife. Her professional ability is to make the best of being looked at – a passive trait. It has been said several times that this is probably deliberately opposed to Navidson's profession who as the photographer plays the active, looking role. But what's going on in her mind? She does not reveal much of herself. We suppose that she had a traumatic past, but that's left unclear. (More about that possibly later.)

              Karen goes into the maze to meet Navidson there. She literary has to face her fear to be able to find Navidson and to overcome the gap between him and her that had been insurmountable before. But the reason for going into the maze is to come to him, not to herself. Actually he is inside herself (perhaps an embryo situation), because Exploration #5 is "embraced" by Karen: the last sentence on page 417 is split up to make room for Navidson and continues on page 522 and ends with holding him in her automatic arms: a double mother image, Mary holding her dead son (PietÓ) - like a baby. But nothing of her own encounter with fear/trauma/self is visible. When the maze opens behind her back (page 522), and when she enters it, one can see her from the outside – the camera does not follow her into the maze – while the men always have been accompanied by close-by cameras or eye witnesses; the reader can follow men's subjective perspectives. Consequently, inside the maze (Chapter XX, page 488) Karen is far away, visible only through her light – her figure remains invisible in the dark, from Navidson's point of view. In the course of the narrative she goes through the maze like a dog would do. What does she understand of the maze? In her interview film "What Some Have Thought" she goes out and asks others what the maze might be, but no word about what she thinks about the maze. As to her, there is no subjective angle. "Some things" is a film about Navidson, it is he and not she who is in focus again.

              "Love!" (Barbarella)
              Now this latter film tells perhaps something about an active trait of hers: Care and love, the ability to see; we already had this before: Navidson being exposed by her light (*) in the maze. Navidson writes his long (love) letter to her, confessing the truth behind Delial. It concerns his perspective, his guilt and shame, he writes "an asshole again that leave his wife and children", but at the same time it means to open up and speak. Personal confessions often contain an unspoken appeal to be helped out, and this is what Karen does. Because if Exploration #5 describes the encounter face-to-face in the end (epiphany), as I understand it, it also means that Karen does not only "see" Navidson, it also means that she gives him back the face he lost.

              So why do women not go into the maze? Why is Karen described as such a passive character? Why is she "outside"? I think there are several reasons, one of them becoming more obvious with Camille Paglia in mind. And probably also when John has posted his insights into Pelafina.
              Last edited by Magda; 01-14-2011, 12:05 AM.


              • #8
                Speaking about Love I highly recommend this thread about Nietzsche and Heidegger because it contains some essential thoughts about "care" and about conventions, and some witty ideas that will be helpful when the discussion might come to Paglia.

                But now I like to quote from a post g@rp wrote a long time ago in the French forums, in a thread called "Rhizome sweet home", where he developed some charming and little sentimental thoughts. I post it here because I see it in a connection with Karen being the "star" and because later it will cast a light on what the maze might be good for. Thanks to g@rp for authorising the translation.

                For me, the first images of war that I was confronted with, those who "marked" me, were in black and white, they were mute but horrifyingly talkative. (Even if today, on the tv-screen, the colour has replaced the gritty grey, this fact remains terribly present.)

                In the NR, colour = love - see the footage shot by Karen in comparison to those of Navy […]

                What is it that saves Navy? What will erase the horror (black & white)? Love (colors, light). In this context "Imagine. In Your Dreams" makes sense. A world without war. Imagine HOL the people…


                What? of Leaves is a trivial "peace and love"?
                No, it's worse.
                A warning. At least as it concerns the Navidson Record.

                Record: Is not it also "remember"?

                In HoL we have a duty of reading (this is also something Claro [the French translator] gently let slide into our ear canal); is it not also a duty to remember? Yes, but what about the spiral staircase?
                What is it more than the path leading deep into us, through layers and layers of prejudice, violence, horror and accumulated horror, to see the gleam of hope, love, that may guide us, the fire that was hidden under the ashes ...!

                We can all do it, “It’s Easy”; Navy would be astonished. Knowledge provided, we do can explore. And there we will find the exit … with all respect to Sartre. And we can again behold the yellow stars, the true ones, the ones that glow in the sky that pass over us, transforming us from the past through our own snail-shell until we find true north. I always heard the sentence "the truth comes out of the pit…" (which would explain the 0), and I used to add laughingly: "…entirely naked". Isn’t it Navy’s clothes that reappear in front of himself? "Truth transcends the story.”

                [Here comes a good part of self irony in the tone of “What? Speaking of love in the year 2003?”]

                […] even if our dreams become reality (no war), even if we finally open our eyes to what surrounds us, we must remain alert (and God knows that MZD was right; unfortunately enough news are there to prove it). The growl disappears here, to then reappear elsewhere. Re-read the last paragraph of The Navidson Record on page 528, and if you're still in doubt, bear in mind that “love [is not solace it] is light” (it would be one of the citations identified by Zampan˛? One of... Simone Weil? [the French philosopher and mystic]) and tell me frankly how you read this “street lamp” that “flickers”…
                Last edited by Magda; 01-13-2011, 11:58 PM.