Monday, December 14, 2015

"Would you like anything to read?"

"Where's the fire?
Fire engine menorah arriving on the scene."

~ Michael Lipsey ~
I love everything about this picture
of my friend Michael's favorite menorah,
right down to the reflection of the row of flames,
along the edge of the counter top -- what a great touch!

But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out just in time before they turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's Aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said: "Would you like anything to read?"
from A Child's Christmas in Wales
by Dylan Thomas


If you'd like something to read amidst all the year - end household chaos, or if you're simply looking for some good holiday gifts, here are a few ideas from my recent reading, giving, and receiving:

1.Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir

& What I Hate: From A to Z

both by Roz Chast

A Brush with Greatness! Marguerite writes:
"Roz Chast signing your book. She signed your copy first!"

Can you imagine my surprise when I received the very book you see in this photo, totally unaware that Marguerite had been to a recent Roz Chast lecture, or met her afterward, or purchased a copy of Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant for me, or had it autographed -- none of that!

I have been a Roz Chast fan since forever (1980 or so)! Last year, she visited Purdue, but at a time when I was out of town. Regretfully, I felt that I had missed the chance of a lifetime -- until the moment when I discovered in my mailbox not only her latest book but her autograph!

I was overwhelmed, star - struck, and tear - struck by the kindness and generosity of this amazing present, and I had to sit right down, right then and there, and read Chast's memoir and every cartoon from cover to cover -- and then immediately order another copy to send to another friend, who I just knew would love it as much as Marguerite and I did. It's a most timely text for anyone dealing with the unpleasant realities of aging and parental issues -- which, these days, is practically every one I know, even my own dear children!

I couldn't be more thrilled that Marguerite got to meet and visit with Roz. Nor can I imagine that any gift I receive this season is going to top my very own autographed copy of Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant! Thanks again, Marguerite!

Update ~ October 2017
Great interview with Roz Chast!
And Epilogue ~ July 25, 2016

Upon re-reading recently, I was reminded of
many similarities between her situation and mine,
even though Brooklyn is so far away from rural Kansas.

Particularly this:
"From 1990 to 2001, I had not set foot in Brooklyn ONCE"
[for me it was 1991 - 2007].

Then she talks about
"the Brooklyn of people who have been left behind
by everything and everyone"

-- just like small - town mid - America!

"If you pick up a sponge and start cleaning
it will not necessarily be perceived as helpful"
as I learned the hard way a couple of years ago!

And so forth! Such a great book!

2. The Notebooks of Lazarus Long
by Robert A. Heinlein

My oldest brother Dave and I have been Heinlein fans from way back, but I didn't know about this beautifully illustrated / illuminated gift book until just a couple of months ago when Dave passed his copy on to our brother Bruce. I took an introspective hour to read through and admire it and knew that I would be ordering more copies to share with like minds.

3. Franzlations [the imaginary Kafka parables]
by Gary Barwin and Craig Conley

The perfect gift for anyone who loves Kafka, especially the parables.

A few of my favorite franzlations:

"There are more stories than could be read in a single lifetime. And even if you, dear reader, began reading, by the time you read even a fraction of them, the meanings of the previous stories would have changed. . . . Now all we need to create is more time, more memory, and a few more infinite readers like you."

"Everyone carries a TRAIN about inside of him. Sitting across the table from someone, when all is quiet, sometimes you can hear the whistle blow."

"We were SNAKES. Around us the jungle sighed. A woman offered us fruit. We ate and knew that we were not naked, nor human. She and her companion left. We remained."

"If you were walking across a barren plain and had an honest intention of walking on, then it would be a desperate matter, but you are flying, gliding and diving, SOARING and swooping, high above the plain, which, seen from above, is a tiny blot on a vast and various landscape."

4. A Cat's Little Instruction Book
by Leigh W. Rutledge

Plenty of great advice, for cats -- and humans!

Thanks Megan!

5. Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors
[for little kids]

& What The Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings
[for medium kids]

both by poet Joyce Sidman & illustrator Pamela Zagarenski

"But we still believe in the power of the words themselves. . . .
Finding phrases to match the emotion inside us still brings
an explosive, soaring joy

"See how many other hearts are burning,
burning as brightly as yours."
"When Death Comes"

6. Christmas on Jane Street: A True Story
by Billy Romp

Rural, urban, and seasonal!

7. The Flair Annual 1953
by Fleur Cowles ~ Editor

Those with a true flair for giving and receiving, might like to peruse this fabulous book given to me last summer by my friend Nikki:

For more on these last two titles,
see my current Fortnightly Blog: "A Story About a Tree"


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Mr. Pumpkin, Mr. Halloween
& Mr. Moundshroud

Some books for the long weekend:
All Hallows Eve, All Saints, All Souls

from Fears of Your Life

by Michael Bernard Loggins

A winsome, artful turn of phrase is Michael's gift. In addition to his Fears, take a look at Imaginationally: Michael's Lovable Fun of Dictionaries, where you'll find some great concepts such as

unclude ~ the act of keeping things
that you don't appreciate out of your life

foodful ~ like food but not as good,
e.g., cheese - food - products and hot dogs
(kind of like Colbert's truthiness!)

you - ness ~ what makes you special and unique
(what Czeslaw Milosz calls my - ness: "our tiny, tiny my-ness")

Book & Movie & More
The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats. . . . Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows' Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. . . .

"In old times, the first of November was New Year’s Day. The true end of summer, the cold start of winter. Not exactly happy, but, well, Happy New Year!" . . .

"Always the same but different, eh? every age, every time. Day was always over. Night was always coming. And weren't you always afraid . . . that the sun will never rise again?" . . .

"Night and day. Summer and winter, boys. Seedtime and harvest. Life and death. That's what Halloween is, all rolled up in one. Noon and midnight. Being born . . . racing through thousands of years of death each day and each night Halloween, boys, every night, every single night dark and fearful until at last you . . . could get your breath.

"And you began to live longer and have more time, and space out the deaths and put away fear, and at last have only special days in each year when you thought of night and dawn and spring and autumn and being born and being dead.

"And it all adds up. Four thousand years ago, one hundred years ago, this year, one place or another, but the celebrations all the same -- "

"The Feast of Samhain -- "
"The Time of the Dead Ones -- "
"All Souls'. All Saints'."
"The Day of the Dead."
"El Dia De Muerte."
"All Hallows'."

The boys sent their frail voices up, up through the levels of time, from all the countries, and all the ages, naming the holidays which were the same. . . . Trick or Treat!
( ~ 4, 68, 136, 138-39 ~ )

Happy Celtic New Year!
Sung by Van Morrison

P.S. See also
"Godspeed October"
"Lurking and Lingering"
"Day of the Dead"
A Year of Reading

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Not So Grand Test of Virtue

"Once again it was jolly autumn weather,
and the road was quiet, with few cars passing.
The air was like sweetbriar . . .
We two seemed the only tramps on the road."

~ from Down and Out in Paris and London (177)

Fuqua dozing and reading his Orwell

Despite the autumnal charm of Orwell's irresistible imagery, his grim account of underemployment in Paris and unemployment in London in the early 1930s is anything but jolly; and I admit to pulling out just about the only romantic sentence in the entire book for my epigraph above.

More in keeping with the tone of his book is this sad conclusion:

It is worth saying something about the social position of beggars, for when one has consorted with them, and found that they are ordinary human beings, one cannot help being struck by the curious attitude that society takes towards them. People seem to feel that there is some essential difference between beggars and ordinary "working" men. They are a race apart--outcasts, like criminals and prostitutes. Working men "work," beggars do not "work"; they are parasites, worthless in their very nature. It is taken for granted that a beggar does not "earn" his living, as a bricklayer or a literary critic "earns" his. He is a mere social excrescence, tolerated because we live in a humane age, but essentially despicable.

Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar's livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then, what is work? A navvy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course--but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of most patent medicines, high-minded compared with a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout--in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.

Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised?--for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except "Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it"? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately. A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honor; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.

See Chapter 31, 153 - 155
in Down and Out in Paris and London
by George Orwell (1903 - 50)
English writer and social critic

Now, compare what Orwell wrote in 1933 to Wayne Muller, writing in 1999 about the mathematical formula of the Gross Domestic Product:

For when wealth is measured only in terms of goods and services bought and sold, only those actions involving money are seen as good and useful. Anything done in time is seen as useless. . . .

This horrific paradox is the very foundation of the world's official economic policy. It is repeated a billion times a day, everywhere on earth. Actions performed with love are dismissed, while actions performed with money are honored and rewarded.

What is the true measure of the wealth of a people? The creation and preservation of beauty? A strong and healthy citizenry? An educated and compassionate leadership, ensuring justice for all? A palpable sense of civic joy? A collective sense that serving our neighbor is our highest civic good? Sadly, none of these rises to the top of our list. By current standards, the Holy Grail on the altar of civilization is the health of the economy, measured by the G.D.P. Economic growth is the measure of a life well lived, a nation well run, a civilization well built. . . .

Waste, stupidity, and evil all cost money, and are, by extension, economic goods; each feeds the machine of growth.

Today we are relearning to assign economic value to parks, endangered species, air and water quality, and even solitude and sunsets. We estimate the ratio of benefits to costs when we build roads and parks and reservoirs. But these "nonmarket" values are not reflected in overall measures of the national wealth. In fact, G.D.P. rises if we replace a park with a factory, and it rises even more if the factory happens to pollute the environment. Paying for the cleanup adds yet another monetary benefit to our total.

What have we done? How have we so disordered the value and meaning of human endeavor? . . .

How do we value these simple acts of kindness? This is what the official statistics will show: Nothing. Nothing noteworthy, nothing of any value was achieved through these actions.

Yet every time someone gets cancer, the G.D.P. goes up. Every time an infant dies, the G.D.P. rises. A drive-by shooting improves the economy by $20,750. If the victim dies, and there is a murder trial, the benefit to the economy leaps to well over $100,000. . . .

But anything that grows without money changing hands--parents who care for their children, people who voluntarily care for the sick, the dying, or the homeless, people who pray or meditate or walk in the woods--these, at best, have no value. At worst, they take away precious time and energy that could be used to grow the G.D.P.

. . . [without these] things that grow only in time, we will become more impoverished than we will ever know.

See "Why Time is Not Money," 108 - 112
in Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives
by Wayne Muller (b 1953)
Contemporary American author and community advocate

As my friend Len wrote:
"It's important to give cats access to the great books."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Paper Roses, Paper Moons, Paper Towns

Free Paper City

A few more thoughts concerning
Paper Towns by John Green
"Here's what's not beautiful about it: from here, you can't see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You can see how fake it all is. It's not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It's a paper town. I mean, look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I've lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters." (57 - 58, emphasis added)
I think Green should have pointed out here that "demented with the mania of owning things" comes straight from Walt Whitman.

I'm not sure about his conflated use of the term paper town, which he explains at some length . . .
Copyright traps have featured in mapmaking for centuries. Cartographers create fictional landmarks, streets, and municipalities and place them obscurely into their maps. If the fictional entry is found on another cartographer’s map, it becomes clear a map has been plagiarized. Copyright traps are also sometimes known as key traps, paper streets, and paper towns . . . . Although few cartographic corporations acknowledge their existence, copy-right traps remain a common feature even in contemporary maps. (235 - 236, see also 306)
. . . despite the fact that he is using it, in his title and throughout the novel, to mean something completely other than that.

I see what he's doing here; I just find it difficult to appreciate the self - serving inconsistency with which he shifts the meaning from that of a cartographic anomaly, to the shallowness of a "Paper Moon" in a cardboard sky, or the superficiality of Maria Osmond's "Paper Roses." Only imitation: "She kind of hates Orlando; she called it a paper town. Like, you know, everything so fake and flimsy. I think she just wanted a vacation from that" (108, see also 194, 227). Okay, it makes sense; it's just not how he started out.

And then there are the planned but unbuilt or unfinished sudivisions that dot the landscape surrounding Orlando (Gerry and I also saw them in Ireland the last time we were there): "Looks like Madison Estates isn't going to get built . . . A pseudovision! You will go to the pseudovisions and you will never come back" (152). Green lumps these pseudovisions into his "Paper Town" metaphor, although they signify an entirely different phenomenon -- an intended project that never materialized -- not an imaginary red herring to fool map-readers.

Also worth remembering:

1. Fear:

As soon as the car stopped, my nose and mouth were flooded with the rancid smell of death. I had to swallow back a rush of puke that rose up into the raw soreness of the back of my throat. . . .

There is no evidence that anyone has been here in a long time except for the smell, that sickly sour stench designed to keep the living from the dead. . . .

Standing before this building, I learn something about fear. I learn that it is not the idle fantasies of someone who maybe wants something important to happen to him, even if the important thing is horrible. It is not the disgust of seeing a dead stranger, and not the breathlessness of hearing a shotgun pumped outside of Becca Arrington's house. This cannot be addressed by breathing exercises. This fear bears no analogy to any fear I knew before. This is the basest of all possible emotions, the feeling that was with us before we existed, before this building existed, before the earth existed. This is the fear that made fish crawl out onto dry land and evolve lungs, the fear that teaches us to run, the fear that makes us bury our dead.

The smell leaves me seized by desperate panic ― panic not like my lungs are out of air, but like the atmosphere itself is out of air. I think maybe the reason I have spent most of my life being afraid is that I have been trying to prepare myself, to train my body for the real fear when it comes. But I am not prepared.
(139 - 141)

2. Lastness:

And all day long, it was hard not to walk around thinking about the lastness of it all: The last time I stand in a circle outside the band room in the shade of this oak tree that has protected generations of band geeks. The last time I eat pizza in the cafeteria with Ben. The last time I sit in this school scrawling an essay with a cramped hand into a blue book. The last time I glance up at the clock. . . .

And on the last day, the bad days become so difficult to recall, because one way or another, she had made a life here, just as I had. The town was paper, but the memories were not. All the things I’d done here, all the love and pity and compassion and violence and spite, kept welling up inside me . . . like my lungs were drowning in this perverse nostalgia. . . .

All along, I kept thinking, 'I will never do this again, I will never be here again, this will never be my locker again, Radar and I will never write notes in calculus again, I will never see Margo across the hall again.' This was the first time in my life that so many things would never happen again. . . .

As I walked past the band room, I could hear through the walls the muffled sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance.” I kept walking. It was hot outside, but not as hot as usual. It was bearable. 'There are sidewalks most of the way home,' I thought. So I kept walking.
(227 - 228, emphasis added))

3. And to conclude:

I don't know how I look, but I know how I feel: Young. Goofy. Infinite. (254)

It is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined. I feel like this is an important idea, one of those ideas that your brain must wrap itself around slowly . . . (257)

Free Paper City ~ by Joel

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Guest Blog: HiyaKiyah

Thanks to my insightful and talented niece
for sharing her vlog on my blog!

For some heartfelt summer reading ideas,
please tune in right this instant to:
Book Recommendations by HiyaKiyah

After viewing, I was immediately inspired to order a few of Kiyah's top pics:

1. Paper Towns by John Green

When I novel begins in a band room, I'm game!

" . . . the half hour before the first bell was the the highlight of our social calendars: standing outside the side door that led into the band room and just talking. Mot of my friends were in band, and most of my free time during school was spent within twenty feet of the band room. . . . What happens in the band room stays in the band room" (11, 37).

Sounds like August to me!

"It was May fifth, but it didn't have to be. My days had a pleasant identicalness about them. I had always liked that: I liked routine. I liked being bored. I didn't want to, but I did. And so May fifth could have been any day . . ." (23 - 24).

2. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Teaching us to see others with a kinder eye and ourselves -- if not with a harsher eye -- at least as others see us:

"Gorillas are not complainers. We're dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers" (51).

" 'You could try remembering a good day,' Stella suggests. 'That's what I do when I can't sleep. . . . Memories are precious . . . They help tell us who we are' " (53).

3. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

A kinder gentler Lord of the Flies, where the kids maintain their comradery or camaraderie (you decide!) in the face of a common enemy.

And, if you're so inclined, the sequel, available now . . .

And more . . .

For additional summer fun and entertainment,
check out all of Kiyah's recent vlogs!
A couple of my favs, to get you started:
Inanimate Objects & Packing

Thanks again Kiyah!


"We were in the business of mutual entertainment,
and we were reasonably prosperous" (18).

John Green ~ Paper Towns ~ more next month . . .

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Guest Blog: Critical Mode

Photo by Tammy

“Drawing is the poet's written line, set down to see
if there be a story worth telling, a truth worth revealing.”

Irving Stone ~ The Agony and the Ecstasy

My insightful and critically astute friend Tammy wrote to share an article on the distinction between casual and critical reading from Lumostiy and to confess that for better or worse:

I never had a literature class is college or grad school. Can you imagine?! I placed out of the English courses needed for my marketing degrees, and so, moved on to required courses. I ended up taking some great electives (Spanish, the development of music in America, recitative and the development of opera), but no literature.

. . . I have always read for love and light and ideas, casually and I think also critically in terms of applying everything to living life. For months I have been feeding on Irving Stone's The Agony and The Ecstasy, taking my time - forced to take it - to chew in and savor and digest the images and lyricism and meatiness of his words. My version of critical reading is: 1) this paperback book, now post it tabbed, dog-eared, and marked by pencil and pen, 2) the same book on Audible with me listen-reviewing what I've already read with my eyes, saying the Italian names of people and places with the reader, and 3) a giant art book, The Complete Works of Michelangelo, that I perused once before I started the biographical novel and now make myself wait to look at again until Michelangelo has completed a piece in the novel."

And in November, I'm going to Florence and Rome!

Thank you for reading this note from me and knowing in your bones what it can mean to fall in love with a person or idea or with life itself through a book, in any way (I believe) we read. Enjoy with me Lumosity's "proof" -- "Researchers observed a significant shift in brain activity patterns as the PhD students went from casual to critical modes. Critical reading increased bloodflow across the brain in general, and specifically to the prefrontal cortex." -- about close reading and why it's okay to have my nose in a book and a pen in my hand.
~ Tammy

Previous Posts by Guest Blogger Tammy Sandel


Every Chocolate Flake

Heart of Hearts


Guest Poet

Strip the Willow & Cadbury Flake




Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Girl and Her Book

Portrait of Elizabeth Blaney, 1916
William McGregor Paxton, 1869 - 1941

The experience of academia from the perspective of the female student, according to modernist Virginia Woolf and contemporary critic Jane Gallop, is often modified by the body she inhabits. Despite the sixty years separating the work of these two writers, they both capture the dilemma of writing as a woman and working as a student in the male - dominated academy. Woolf, in A Room of One's Own and "Professions for Women," and Gallop, in Thinking Through the Body, discuss the inappropriate ways in which the female student's body has set her apart socially and academically from her male peers. The fictional students who come to life in Woolf's essays and the autobiographical figure who comes of age in Gallop's text exemplify the efforts of a generation of writers to present the body wholly and fairly.

The body - centered criticism of Gallop, Woolf, and a number of other writers treats the concept of how our educational experience is determined by the physical bodies we inhabit, addressing a constellation of concerns, all of which aim to acknowledge rather than censure the physical body as it affects both an author and the texts she creates. A comprehensive definition of the varied efforts to incorporate body and text would include raising the issue of sexual difference, suggesting that such difference is produced in language, refusing to accept the traditional Western separation of mind and body, attempting to refute the sense of writing as a strictly mental activity, and seeing female sexuality as something which is likely to be apparent in a woman's written text (see Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism by Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl). A body - centered theoretical approach looks for a way to tell "the story of the fate of the body in feminism," to examine "the body [as] a site of political struggle" and to bring "public discourse, knowledge, and meaning into the intimate space of love and the body" (Mulvey, Gallop).

Both Woolf and Gallop write within the belief that experience -- and the language used to describe experience -- is influenced by one's gender and by one's body. An experience they both describe is how women have been excluded as students, how they have processed this exclusion in their thinking and writing, and how such inequity might be rectified. One possibility, which they both suggest and implement, is the production of written narratives of female experience, accounts which tell the truth and refuse to suppress the perspectives of their sex. As their own works demonstrate, empowerment and embodiment are the dual rewards of a narrative tradition which neither denies nor insists upon difference. Such a discourse might enable the female student to claim her rightful place in the academy and to inhabit her own body with ease and confidence.

"The book," says Woolf, "has somehow to be adapted to the body," and the female novelist must be allowed "the free use of her limbs" (A Room of One's Own); she must be allowed to speak "the truth about her passions," and to tell the truth about her "own experiences as a body." Both the fictional and non - fictional stance of the female student in the male dominated academy are presented in Woolf's 1931 essay "Professions for Women." Here she vividly describes a writer's imaginative trance: "[F]igure to yourselves," she says, "a girl sitting with a pen in her hand . . . letting her imagination sweep unchecked." But abruptly this writer is roused from "her artist's state of unconsciousness" and thrown into "a state of the most acute and difficult distress. To speak without figure she had thought of something, something about the body, about the the passions which it was unfitting for her as a woman to say. Men, her reason told her, wold be shocked" ("Professions," 238). The dilemma of this fledgling writer is that she dare not voice her subjective experience. Woolf encourages women writers, thinkers, readers and students to utilize the power of discourse that was denied or unclaimed by their more hesitant predecessors.

In works such as Germaine Greer's Kissing the Rod, the legacy of these forerunners, known and unknown, is being restored. Greer introduces this anthology with the observation that "we are at the beginning of a long process of literary archaeology," seeking to recover the buried legacy of those early practitioners of the craft who left behind a written record of their experience.

from "The Preface to Divine Songs and Meditacions" ~ 1653
by An Collins
When Clouds of Melancholy over-cast
My heart, sustaining heavinesse therby,
But long that sad condicion would not last
For soon the Spring of Light would blessedly
Send forth a beam, for helps discovery,
Then dark discomforts would give place to joy,
Which not the World could give or quite destroy.

So sorrow serv’d but as springing raine
To ripen fruits, indowments of the minde,
VVho thereby did abillitie attaine
To send forth flowers, of so rare a kinde,
VVhich wither not by force of Sun or VVinde:
Retaining vertue in their operacions,
Which are the matter of those Meditacions.
The editors of Kissing the Rod (including my dear friend Jes Medoff) convey a hope that it will be possible to read the collection "on the train or in any other of the short intervals of time that are all most women get to themselves." Thus has Virginia Woolf's advice been taken to heart: "The book has somehow to be adapted to the body, and at a venture one would say that women's books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men, and framed so that they do not need long hours of steady and uninterrupted work. For interruptions there will always be" (Woolf, 81).

The Housemaid, 1910
William McGregor Paxton, 1869 - 1941

Friday, May 22, 2015

Try to See It, Try to Feel It:
The Body in the Text ~ Part 2

Visual and Other Pleasures
Laura Mulvey
Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989
xvi + 201 pp.

. . . continued from previous post . . .

It is at the juncture of psychoanalytic criticism and art
that Gallop's text meets Mulvey's . . .

The shared concerns of Thinking Through the Body and Visual and Other Pleasures include placing a feminist emphasis on image, discourse, and representation; searching for a politically, strategically, and theoretically correct feminist poetics; attending to the mechanics and raw materials of popular culture -- in conjunction with rethinking a few more canonical texts; evaluating the many real and potential ramifications of the sexism, sexology, sexuality, sexual pleasure, sexual difference, and sexual politics which infiltrate these various texts; representing the embodiment of the subject in history; and allowing the body of lived experience to speak for itself. Both authors relay on a strain of personal narrative to unify the varied essays in their collections. Mulvey, however, is not as autobiographically candid as Gallop. Mulvey refers to her "long and painful struggle with writing," especially in the first person, with a hesitancy that seems never to have inhibited Gallop (Mulvey viii). It is understandable then that whereas Gallop is taken with the pleasure of the textual body, Mulvey prefers to focus on other pleasures, particularly the visual pleasure of the body.

Looking at a chapter from Roland Barthes' Pleasure of the Text called "Representation," Gallop notes his assertion that the erotic relation to the text, the pleasure of the text, is different from representation, but he, of course, recognizes that pleasure is often representated. It is noteworthy that this is one of the few places in Pleasure of the Text where Barthes mentions other media besides writing. His formulation implies that the relation of representation works the same for the book, the screen, and the picture. Barthes defines representation as a case in which something remains totally inside (151).

Mulvey, like Freud, chooses to view art as a riddle. Reminiscent perhaps of her film Riddles of the Sphinx, the cover of Visual and Other Pleasures features a representation (by Ingres) of Oedipus and the Sphinx. This quintessential of all riddles serves as the binding, the enclosing, motif of Mulvey's text. like Gallop, Mulvey believes that the force which an object (this could be a body or a painting) exerts over a subject is located in the subject's powerful desire to understand the experience of attraction. This premise explains not only the power of the Sphinx and her riddles but also the satisfaction of visual apprehension: "Curiosity describes a desire to know something secret so strongly that it is experienced like a drive. It is a source of danger and pleasure and knowledge. Its pleasure is derived from the fulfillment of a desire to know, either by seeing with one's own eyes or through the intellectual exercise of puzzle or riddle solving" (x). The parallel Mulvey draws between the iconography of the Sphinx and the mythology of femininity is that of the bodily enigma: "the enigma of the feminine under patriarchy," "the enigma of sexual difference" (x), and the "overvaluation of virility under patriarchy" (40). The relation between feminism and psychoanalysis is played out in repeated visual and narrative attempts to read the rebus, solve the riddle, interpret the dream, piece together the puzzle, and finally to understand the mystery of sexual difference.

I say that the motif of the Sphinx, which is also, of course, the motif of Oedipus, encloses Mulvey's text because in the final essay she attempts to go "Beyond the Riddles of the Sphinx," beyond her own earlier work, and beyond the introductory picture which captures Oedipus in a stance of danger, standing before the Sphinx, seeking knowledge. In this depiction, Oedipus is the one who bears the gaze, the eyes of the Sphinx remain hidden by shadow; in fact only her breasts are clearly visible, catching the same ray of sun that highlights the figure of Oedipus (earlier in the book, Mulvey discusses the "recurrent emphasis throughout the films [of J. L. Godard] on images of the female breasts" 54 - 55).
In exploring the core of the Oedipus story -- the conflict between the Sphinx and Oedipus, the conflicts between Oedipus and his parents -- Mulvey hints at the remote possibility that things could have turned out differently, that the unspoken history of women may indeed contain an overlooked mythology: "Thy misty, forgotten epochs of time and mythology in which things might have been other for women return as a ghostly presence" (182). However, her structural analysis does not go as far beyond the predictable and familiar Oedipus as the reader would hope. Although she convinces that "The significance of the act of telling and of narrational patterns in the Oedipus story confirms the importance, dismissed by structuralism, of narrative in myth" (194), she allows the truth hidden in those forgotten mists of time to remain undisturbed after all. Instead of reading the mother's body, Mulvey sticks to a disappointingly traditional reading of the "desire for and fear of a violent father," a reading which, although it does suggest an antidote to the misogyny of the myth, leaves even the ghostly presence of female potential bereft of the power to haunt:
"Looking at the Oedipal myth in detail it is remarkable to what extent it is about father / son relations and how marginal the feminine is to the story. Even though the incest theme can suggest a residual memory of ritual and inheritance that pre - date the fully fledged patriarchal order, desire for the mother is more significant as a symptom of father / son rivalry" (199)
The "enigma of the feminine under patriarchy" is subsumed in this conclusion that the solution to the riddle of the mother can be found ultimately in the father, that the enigma of sexual difference is a stand 0 off of sexual sameness. She leaves the Sphinx and her riddle "still waiting for a 'beyond'" (200). Though women should not be forced to stand behind the phallus, moving beyond the Sphinx is one boundary which they must choose to cross for themselves. Mulvey does not intend to go there for them.

Leading up to this rather inconclusive finale are the five distinct sections of Visual and Other Pleasure. Part I: "Iconoclasm," contains, most importantly, a re-placement of Mulvey's well - known and influential "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." In the essay she analyzes two contradictory ways in which cinema satisfies "a primordial wish for pleasurable looking": first, by "using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight"; second, by identifying "through narcissism and the constitution of the ego" with the image seen (18). Also, pertinent to Gallop's study of domination in the work of Sade, is the connection between sadism and narrative which Mulvey draws here: "Sadism demands a story, depends on making something happen, forcing a change in another person, a battle of will and strength, victory / defeat, all occurring in a linear time with a beginning and an end" (22). "Narrative Cinema" stands here in the broader historical context of several other iconoclastic gestures which characterize Mulvey's approach to unsettling feminine passivity and protesting the "narrow destiny . . . the physical confines of the way women are seen and the way they fit into society" (3). The other essays set forth classic patterns of oppression and identify the male fears, fantasies, and irrelevancies with which women's collective efforts to counter those patterns have been met.

In Part II: "Melodrama," Mulvey offers a fascinating definition of the genre, explaining first the political climate which would encourage its popularity:
"The workings of patriarchy, and the mould of feminine unconscious it produces, have left women largely without a voice, gagged and deprived of outlets (of a kind supplied, for instance, either by male art or popular culture) in spite of the crucial social and ideological functions women are called on to perform. In the absence of any coherent culture of oppression, a simple fact of recognition has aesthetic and political importance" (39).
Mulvey's study of melodrama starts with an investigation of its aesthetic form and its ideological function. She draws on this art, and its veneration of familial relations, to illustrate her thesis that sexual differences must be softened in the interest of family life: "The phallocentric, misogynist fantasies of patriarchal culture are . . . in contradiction with the ideology of the family" (40). she also identifies the contradictory nature of melodrama, which can be attributed to the lived experiences on which it is founded and to an established practice of providing films "of contradiction,not of reconciliation" for the female audience, stories which carry the weight of society's unconscious laws (43).

In two essays, "Notes on Sirk and Melodrama" and "Melodrama Inside and Outside the Home," she chooses Douglas Sirk's classic All That Heaven Allows (1955) to exemplify the melodrama's formal and ideological tendencies. Jane Wyman portrays the forty - year old widow, Cary, who longs to choose her young gardener Ron (Rock Hudson) over her aging suitor Harvey, the preferred choice of the socially acceptable Country Club set. Working through her "female desires and frustrations" (42) she transgresses the class barriers and sexual taboos of small - town propriety and must fly in the face of the protestations of her grown children, who would rather have her pick impotence over virility, thereby renouncing her own sexuality and the drives which are embarrassingly (for them) unrelated to her reproductive function. As this brief plot summary suggests, "the melodrama [draws] its source material from unease and contradiction within the very icon of American life, the home, and its sacred figure, the mother" (64). It comes as no surprise either that this is a genre devised to assuage a female audience who have been gagged and left without a voice. It is not only through language that these contradictions finally gain some limited expression, but through language that they have been so successfully suppressed. Mulvey explains the parallel between Sirk's ironic emphasis on women and passion, the family and the home, and the earlier silent melodramatic productions: " . . . the early melodrama's language of signs relates it to the language of the unconscious. the drama gives visibility to material that evades conscious articulation" (73).

In addition to these excellent and provocative discussions of Sirk's productions and the mythologies and aesthetics of melodrama, she also looks at the images of women and sexuality in a selection of films by Jean - Luc Godard, whom she credits "More than any other single film - maker [with showing] up the exploitation of woman as an image in consumer society" (50). Again, this essay considers the visual representation of the female image in political terms. If a woman's contribution to society is measured only according to her sex appeal, if she is of interest only through her sexuality, then what of the woman whose contribution, whose function, is removed from the pervasive centrality of sexuality? Mulvey explains "woman's place in the social and economic order where sexual difference is a matter of division of labour": "The invisible women in factories, homes, schools, hospitals, are formless and unrepresentable" (55). Without form and without image because their roles do not immediately reflect an aspect of their sexual function. Using the imagery of sculpture, Mulvey describes Godard's "consciousness of image as a cultural product . . . [which] gives him access to levels of meaning that the image of woman has acquired in history like the grime on an ancient monument" (55). She notes also the ways in which even his "acute and rigorous" perception fails her expectations, and the contradictions which are still apparent in his depiction of the female form as a sexual signifier. She concludes this section on the social rationalization fo sex roles with a reference to the motif which unifies this collection:
"The social sphere of the family provides a ready - made dramatis personae of characters whose relations are by very definition overdetermined and overlaid with tension and contradiction, destined to act out Oedipal drama, generational conflict, sibling rivalry, the containment and repression of sexuality. The family is the socially accepted road to respectable normality, an icon of conformity, and at one and the same time, the source of deviance, psychosis and despair" (74).
The setting for the familial melodrama is, of course, the home, that private realm where "the text of muteness if produced" (74).

Mulvey extends the juxtaposition of interior / exterior to inform the attempted transformation of experience into theory which she presents in Part III: "On the Margins." This engrossing section is devoted entirely to one essay, co-written with Peter Wollen, on the artists and artistic subjects "Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti," whose work "focuses particular questions about art and politics -- feminist politics, in the contemporary sense, as well as classic revolutionary politics" (83). The historical context and the stimulus for the work of both women is the Mexican revolution and renaissance. Mulvey weaves a readable and informative account of the artistic agenda adhered to by those whose creativity developed and was exercised within these political and cultural movements. Modotti was a photographer, capturing the social life of the marketplace, documenting the political action in the street; Kahlo was a painter of idiosyncratic self - portraits who employed the visual vocabulary of traditional Mexican Catholic art. Mulvey says that "on the one hand Frida Kahlo's work concentrates primarily on the personal, the world of the interior, while Modotti's looks outward to the exterior world" (85).

Modotti & Kahlo

Incapacitated by a tragic accident which damaged her spine, Kahlo lived the greater part of her life and even "painted from her bed, the most private part of the private world of the home" (91). Mulvey ascribes the direction of Kahlo's art to her pain, disability, and enforced confinement: "Her use of metaphor and iconography is the means that enables her to give concrete form, in art, to interior experience. . . . her painting was a form of therapy, a way of coping with pain, warding off despair and regaining control over the image of her crushed and broken body" (92, 102). Though the historical and thematic bases for comparing Kahlo with Modotti are quite strong enough, Mulvey insists on a forced connection between Kahlo's disastrous, crippling accident and the "accident of beauty" to which Modotti was born. Not only does this strained analogy belittle the cruel burdens of Kahlo's misfortune, it also makes Modotti the unwitting victim of that time - worn sexist caricature, the woman who, god help her, is too beautiful for her own good.

Mulvey's pronouncement -- "Beauty is another form of accident, one that is prized rather than feared. Yet it is one which can bring with it its own burdens" (103) -- is simply too reminiscent of the advertisements whose contrite fashion models pleads, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful." Surely Modotti did not suffer "from the inscription of beauty on her body by others" (105) to the same degree that Kahlo did from the fateful accident which crippled her for life, leaving her unable to walk or bear children. Modotti herself said that "'I could ot possibly see what "prettiness" had to do with the revolutionary movement'" (102), an outlook which makes Mulvey's inept analogy seem an exceptionally contrary disservice to her subject.

However, Mulvey's assessment of Modotti's evolution from photographic model for Edward Weston (famous photographer of the female nude) to a photographer in her own right is good. Modotti worked primarily in Mexico and Germany, selecting "subject matter to reflect her political commitment" (100). Yet she did not want to put photography in the service of journalism or mass media. Mulvey finds in her creations a quality similar to that of "folk art of popular urban art": "Modotti's background had trained her to see a photograph as an art object, to be looked at in its own right, with its own intrinsic value, rather than as one component of a wider mosaic" (1010). What makes this chapter especially satisfying are the visuals which accompany it, two of Modotti's photographs and two of Kahlo's self - portraits. It is unfortunate though that Mulvey neglects to include one of Weston's portrayals of Modotti's legendary beauty.

Mulvey ends her comparison of the two artists with an anecdote of extratextual appearance and "dressing anxiety" (to borrow Gallop's phrase) Frida Kahlo, painter of idiosyncratic self - portraits, is well remembered for the extravagant jewelry and native costumes with which she adorned her body while photographer Tina Modotti goes down in history as one of the first women in Mexico to wear blue jeans! Certainly these are appropriate talismans by which to recall the respective embodiments of "poiesis" by two women who questioned the body's "place in representation and the woman artist's relation to the woman's body in representation" (85).

In Part IV: "Avant - Garde" Mulvey asks the Sphinx "What would art and literature within an ideology that did not oppress women be like?" (111). She quotes from Luce Irigaray, who expresses the anticipation with which we all await the answer: "'What I desire and what I am waiting for, is what men will do and say if their sexuality gets freed from the empire of phallocentrism'" (128). Reviewing some early feminist films and the work of a number of contemporary photographers, both female and male, Mulvey questions the assumptions of patriarchal ideology, the insistence of power relations, the creation of a dominant art and literature, the political difference between the avant - garde and the popular, and the inescapability of gender difference in the formation of culture. She concludes, in Part V: "Boundaries," that "once anatomy is no longer destiny, women's oppression and exploitation can become contingent rather than necessary" (165).

Mulvey's Visual and Other Pleasures, like Jane Gallop's Thinking Through the Body, radically explores what it is in our culture which "raises the masculine to the universal human, beyond gender, so that the feminine alone must bear the burden of sexual difference (Gallop 163). These are exciting texts, which articulate from subjective experience how the reality of the body is all too often suppressed or masked or incorrectly expressed. Both Gallop and Mulvey ground writing in the erotic body, creating a discourse that is noting if not embodied, a comprehensive poiesis which readily explicates the political and psychological implications of their stance. With unmistakable jouissance, these works set forth a feminist theory whish is inspiring in its current applicability and more than a plaisir for the reader who apprehends the text with aggressive engagement.

Thinking Through the Body
Jane Gallop
New York: Columbia UP, 1988
180 pp.

Gallop explains the "suitability" of the cover photograph for Thinking Through the Body, a photograph of a child being born: a doctor's gloved hand grasps the infant's newly emerging head, a monitoring device rests on the abdomen of the mother -- whose face is not visible, and two attendants swathed in masks and shower caps stand nearby. Gallop says, "I chose a photograph that shows the head in the midst of the body. . . . I wanted . . . an image of the body . . . that was not already neatly placed, that might still have some power to disturb. . . . I like the entanglement, the difficulty in sorting out one body from another. . . . Of course, that uncanny little head is surrounded by body for but a brief pause in an irrepressible progress. Things will soon be sorted out into their proper categories: mother, baby, doctor, nurse" (8).
~ See Previous Post ~ Part 1 ~

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Try to See It, Try to Feel It:
The Body in the Text ~ Part 1

Thinking Through the Body
Jane Gallop
New York: Columbia UP, 1988
180 pp.

Throwback Book Review from my Lit Crit Days

Feminist politics and psychoanalytic theory are two indicators, determiners even, of both the cultural and the textual fate of the body. The politics of the personal has become the primary mechanism for bridging the gap between public and private life, for healing the chasm of the mind / body split. Such a stance acknowledges the potential for ill - being in this time - honored division and fosters reunion through the energetic juxtaposition of psychoanalysis and politics, politics and art, representation and psychoanalysis. These two texts, by Jane Gallop and Laura Mulvey, seek to establish the political reality of the body in narrative, the body in art, the body in film. Thinking Through the Body and Visual and Other Pleasures share a documentary quality, in so far as each is a sort of tribute to the evolution of feminist theory. Gallop's work is a "collection of essays, written over a decade from the mid - seventies to the mid - eighties" (3); and Mulvey's is a compilation of articles "written between 1971 and 1986, a fifteen - year period that saw the Women's Movement broaden out from a political organisation into a more general framework of feminism" (vii). While Mulvey, in her developmental history of film, feminism, and the avant - garde aesthetic, is committed to telling "The story of the fate of the body in feminism . . . the body [as] a site of political struggle (xii), Gallop commits herself to bringing "public discourse, knowledge, and meaning into the intimate space of love and the body" (3).

Writing through the body is Gallop's technique, as her various chapter titles and subtitles suggest: "The Anal Body, " "The Student Body," "The Female Body," and -- more specifically -- "Lip Service," "Fingernails," and "The Prick of the Object." Through thought - provoking manipulation of the body's synechdochical appearance in the text, Gallop attempts to solve that most inscrutable of puzzles, "The Bodily Enigma," a phrase she attributes to Roland Barthes. Looking at the body as signifier and "the signifier as enigma," Gallop opens "the physical envelope" of the body to reveal the connection between critical thinking and "our bodily givens" (13). She says that because of writers such as Freud, Barthes, and Sade who "were all doing critical thinking connected to the body . . . I dared make connections between my work and 'my memories, my sexuality, my dreams.'" In this opening chapter, she looks at Barthes' treatment (in Sade, Fourier, and Loyola) of Sade's 120 Days in Sodom. Both men have produced texts which reveal, ultimately, the fragmentation and inconsistency of the body, the body's enigmatic subordination to the mind and to the world of "man-made meaning." Embodies but not contained -- this is the physical reality of the subject, confronting the abstract notion of the disembodies consciousness, challenging and defying "the rational categories that would contain and dominate it" (18).

There are two more essays on Sade in Thinking Through the Body, and three more on Barthes. Grounded in Barthes' The Pleasure of the Text, "The Perverse Body" is an excellent discussion of moralism and political responsibility. Gallop's essay explores passions, politics, and pleasure. She distinguishes the politics of pleasure from the pleasure of politics, insisting that the two must necessarily play off of each other in a sort of ideological jouissance. She locates the common ground between Barthes' project and feminism, and seeks to ascertain the politically correct feminist position for one who who only read but in fact takes "great pleasure" in Barthes' atopical and sexually neutral texts. Although Barthes "is an author who never talks about sexual difference, who never sexually differentiates his erotic objects when he describes them," she finds The Pleasure of the Text to be "potentially friendly to feminism" and convincingly reduces "the scandal of its atopicality by subordinating [her] pleasure to some feminist idea" (157, 106, 109).

In "Beyond the Jouissance Principle" she summarizes Barthes' definition of jouissance as "shocking, ego-disruptive, and in conflict with the canons of culture" (121), comparing and contrasting it with plaisir. The essentially disruptive nature of jouissance is similar to the the disorderly quality of what Gallop sees as "truly sexy" in the work of the Maruis de Sade: " . . . the little details that exceed the vast enterprise of categorization and systematization characteristicof the libertine philosopher. It is those details in Sade that are truly sexy, which is to say disorderly and disconcerting" (48). Oddly though, Gallop's focus in "the Student Body" is on the "persistence of classification by age group" in Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom (45). Rather than analyze the disorienting details that sting, prick, and exceed order, she dwells on those which actually compose categories and systems -- how many girls there are, how many boys, how old the masters are, and how old the students, in what order (boy, girl, boy, girl, etc.) the various sodomies have progressed, and so forth. Her academic numerology and compulsive figuring is not as much fun as it should be. In the book's introduction, she recalls being asked ten years ago "how a feminist could work on Sade" and confesses that "I was unable to give a coherent or convincing answer" (2). Unfortunately, neither "The Student Body" nor "Sade, Mothers, and Other Women" offers the long - awaited answer to that question. Nowhere does she manage to convince as succintly as Angela Carter does in The Sadeian Woman exactly why Sade's work is, or should be, of particular significance to women -- "because of his refusal to see female sexuality in relation to its reproductive function," because he "offers an absolutely sexualised view of the word . . . [treating] the facts of female sexuality not as a a moral dilemma but as a political reality." Carter concludes that "He was unusual in his period for claiming rights of free sexuality for women, and in installing women as beings of power in his imaginary worlds. This sets him apart from all other pornographers at all times and most other writers of his period" (Carter 1, 27, 36). Though Gallop's text outlines an efficacious politics, she fails to convey the extent to which Sade portrays the relation of discourse to sexual inequality and politics.

As a female role model, Gallop takes Adrienne Rich, who asks "women to enter the realm of critical thought and knowledge without becoming disembodies spirit, universal man" (7); and from Rich, Gallop gleans the concept of thinking through the body. Gallop reads Rich's Of Woman Born and Barthes' Roland Barthes par roland barthes as two texts which blur the boundary between public and private by combining theory and autobiography. She explains that her reliance on the established foundations of Barthes' French post - structuralism and Rich's American feminism was crucial to the creation of the present text, which she calls a "retrospective volume" of essays" "I found myself adding autobiographical bits, not only, I hope, because I tend toward exhibitionism but, more important, because at times I think through autobiography: that is to say, the chain of associations that I am pursuing in my reading passes through things that happened to me" (4). Rich's challenge to eschew disembodiment is not only the one taken up by Gallop but the one which she offers to the reader as well. In order to conjoin our lives and our knowledge, to think through our bodies, Gallop requests that we read, as she has written, through the body. And the body we are asked to read through first is Gallop's very own.

Although at one point she questions Rich's attempt to raise "'the blood on the tampon' . . . to the level of theory" (53), she herself stops to recall a time ("a semester between my course work and work on my dissertation") when she was in the habit of growing her fingernails long, painting them "blood red," and the "unwittingly [digging them] into the fleshy portion of my thumb." Quite inexplicably, she connects the unconsciousness of this mannerism, as well as the deliberation with which she grew and decorated her nails, to the fact that she was at that time "reading Lacan's Ecrits from cover to cover" (148). Thinking Through the Body is peppered with enough of these intimate anecdotes to more than pique the reader, voyeuristically or otherwise. Each essay opens or concludes with an explanatory history of its inception and development. This format provides the setting necessary for the inclusion of what Gallop affectionately terms "autobiographical bits."

Some of the essays are asides from the dissertation, one is a scrapped chapter, others were originally read as conference papers; one, "Snatches of Conversation," was written when she was "just out of graduate school, unemployed and broke, living back home with my parents. I wrote this paper in my adolescent bedroom, trying to block out both my literal and my intellectual parents in order to to think" (88). Several years later, compiling the present collection and unable to find her original unedited version, she "recalled having given it to a man I was, in those days, trying to seduce. I got up the nerve to phone; he still had his copy" (87). Cumulatively, these explanatory narratives detail an evolutionary history of Gallop's sexuality and academic maturation process which is indeed at times decidedly exhibitionistic. She follows the precedent of her own Reading Lacan, a book about thinking through the mind, in which she includes for the reader's benefit documentation of her personal history in and out of therapy.

In addition to the fingernail episode, we are treated to the knowledge that whereas Rousseau's Julie moved Gallop to tears, the works of Sade moved her to masturbate; that during her mid - twenties she had a series of affairs with unavailable men, all of whom were thirty - six year old (more numerology!); and that she has dedicated published texts to three of her close friends from graduate school. I am not convinced, even with due respect to the given contexts, that Gallop has successfully raised these revelations to the level of theory (unless it is that of the affective fallacy). Not startling in themselves, they seem at first misplaced in a book of critical theory, displaced as it were from some other more appropriate text.

For example, she introduces the essay "Why Does Freud Giggle When Women Leave the Room?" with a preface called "The Triangle of the Base" which explains that the article "had its origin in my relation to two men who were centrally important to me in graduate school" (310. One of these, her dissertation director Jeffry Mehlman, she acknowledges as a source for the paper. To the other, Alex Argyros, she attributes the idea for the title ("Why Goes Freud Giggle"), yet she concludes that he has been suppressed: "There is no mention of Argyros in the present text" (32). By virtue of not being mentioned, then, his name appears (and this happens to him again in a later chapter, see pages 89 - 90). Ambiguously enough, she elaborates upon his presence in the very next paragraph: "Argyros had been a student with me in graduate school; Mehlman was also his dissertation director. Argyros and I had lived together as best friends and lovers. Structurally, Argyros was my brother, Mehlman our father" (32). Why does this seem like exhibitionism? Can that lone word, Structurally, possibly raise to the level of theory the description of this "triangle" of acquaintances? Perhaps so.

Gallop aligns her role as daughter with her struggle as a feminist thinker, taking both a Lacanian and a Freudian view of her "desire to speak from the father's place . . . to be textually alone with the father" (21, 32). Nor does she fail to explain that the struggle is more than historical, ideological, or metaphoric: "This is not a commentary on the real men Mehlman and Argyros -- both of whom took me quite seriously as a scholar, neither of whom seemed to want me to leave the room -- but upon a structure which threatened to exclude me despite my having gotten myself into the room, despite any man's intentions toward me" (32, emphasis added). Comprehending the stance of the female student in the male dominated academy, she says of her own position in this structure that "I looked in at a homoerotic world . . . trying to imagine being an academic speaker as a woman (71, emphasis Gallop's). She arrives by way of her autobiographical triangle at one of the root problems of feminist theory; and from this point she expands upon both the negative Oedipus complex (the boy's desire to murder his mother and marry his father) and the familiar Oedipus as it was played out first in her own experience, then in her reading of Freud's inability to think or laugh through the female body.

Looking at Freud's favorite "famillionairely" joke as a case in point, Gallop identifies the "analogical gratification" and "homological acquistion" inherent to the Freudian joking process, then extends these factors to the myth / fantasy of heterosexuality -- which exists, like the joke, "in an economy of homology, analogy" (34, 37). These thoughts conclude an especially strong two - part chapter on Freud, entitled, appropriately, "The Anal Body." In the first essay, "The Seduction of an Analogy," Gallop reads Freud as a literary text, looking "not so much [at] his knowledge of subjectivity as [at] the imprint of his own subjectivity upon his pursuit of knowledge" (5). Like Barthes and Rich, Freud manages to combine theory and life story, memories, dreams, and intimacies, particularly in his historical novel concerning the life of Moses. Gallop compares this fiction to"all those points throughout his work where Freud notes that his writing resembles a work of the imagination" (6). The themes of seduction and analogy introduced in this essay likewise sustain "Why Does Freud Giggle When Women Leave the Room?" The clarity with which she explicates Freud can be attributed to an approach that she claims is inevitable; she later asserts that "every psychoanalytic critic writes in an identification with Freud" (136). Certainly any reader in search of psychoanalytic enlightenment will appreciate the proficiency with which she writes and thinks through those two fathers, Freud and Lacan, and reads through Barthes (the uncle of "Textual pleasure and its wilder cousin textual ecstasy" 106). Although she begins Chapter 5 ("the Body Politic") lamenting her lack of proficiency in French, she opens up The Law of the Fathers with the sill of a true translator, presenting the complexities of these often ambiguous texts as absolutely accessible.

"The Body Politic," a two - part chapter which pays "Lip Service" to Luce Irigaray (guess which lips) and examines "The Perverse Body" as found in Roland Barthes, opens with an autobiographical segment entitled "Dressing Anxiety." Here Gallop describes the clothes she wore to what she considered the first truly "prestigious" conference in which she participated: "spike heels, seamed hose, a fitted black forties dress and a large lack hat" (91 - 92). The theory behind this description? The poetics of the body as it is mediated through textuality and how to stylize the body as it is apprehended poetically and rendered politically. "Poetics of the body" is a dichotomous concept; the word body signifies self while poetics signifies other. Body is familiar and feminine, the Mother; poetics suggests detachment and masculinity, the "Name - of - the - Father" (93). A poetics of the body yields only expression while "poiesis," the term Gallop prefers, is the creation of the body. Metaphor is poiesis, psychoanalysis is poiesis, and experience is -- or should be -- poiesis.

Satisfied with her creation -- her poiesis -- of the body, Gallop says of her "sartorial" appearance: "The fit between the papaer and the look, the text and the performance, was articulated unconsciously, and it worked" (92, emphasis added). Eventually, with one modification, this is the same conclusion drawn by the reader who muses over the inclusion of such personal and personalized bits of "masturbatory guilt" (91) and "snatches" of detail from the private life of Jane Gallop. The fit between the text and the performance, between the critical theory and the intimate details, between the knowledge and the life -- whether it is exhibition or information, its articulation is unequivocally conscious, and it works.

Strains of seduction and analogy penetrate Gallop's mode of creating and, once again, thinking the body. Drawn to "the imaginary impression of female analogy" articulated by Luce Irigaray's This Sex Which Is Not One, Gallop claims to have "immediately felt the seduction of anatomical reference" (93, emphasis added). In "Lip Service," Gallop explores the dilemma of anatomical referentiality -- the body itself, the woman in herself, female sexuality in itself, the thing itself, we women ourselves. In what register do these configurations exist? If the pronouns are reflexive, are the bodies referential? Gallop fears that it may be provincial and backward to read referentially, and she locates in American feminist literary criticism an embarrassing inability to imagine a poetics of the body, finding instead "a naive reduction of literature to an image of the real word" (93).

Given the problematic juxtaposition, described above of body / poetics, such a resistance is understandable; Gallop calls it the acute "tension between a feminist investment in the referential body and an aspiration to poetics" (95). The practical assimilation of these terms requires the founding of a new poetic order, "the poiesis of a new body," such as the one created in the language of Irigaray (96). In Irigaray's presentation of anatomical signifiers, Gallop sees the potential for a "a real, unmediated body available outside the symbolic order" (93). If the body is not only spoken about but also speaks, if it reads and writes as well as being read and written, then it is the body of a poetic, speaking subject. Thus, "entry into the poetic order is itself made possible through the stickiest of dealings with some extratextual body" (94).

Of particular interest to Gallop is Irigaray's emphasis on the female genital lips, her "vulvomorphic logic" which stands in marked contrast to the received wisdom of the phallomorphic logic governing modern and post - modern writing. Irigaray posits a "referential illusion" which names the sex that is not one but two, not singular but plural, and implies the possible coexistence of modernist poetics with a signifier that is inherently multiple yet unmistakably referential (95). This metaphor for female sexuality supersedes the modernist insistence upon the nonreferentiality of language and is consistent with comtemporary culture's aspirations to plurality. Gallop concludes this discussion insisting on the political, as well as the feminist, efficacy of developing a poetics of the body which is complexly referential rather than nonreferential.

In addition to looking at the "serious" work of theorists like Luce Irigaray, Eugenie Lemoine - Luccioni (in "Phallus / Penis: Same Difference"), and Annie Leclerc (in "The Other Woman"), Gallop also considers two women writers of "popular" appeal who were "rewriting the body in the mid - seventies": Shere Hite and Nancy Friday (7). Strangely enough, in "Snatches of Conversation," she has brought together The Hite Report and My Secret Garden, products of the "public female discourse on women's sexuality," with a novel of the eighteenth century, Denis Diderot's Les Bijoux indiscrets (72). What unites the three texts, as Gallop aptly illustrates, is their shared "conviction that sense can be make from women's eroticism: and their common fantasy of "bringing woman's hidden powers into the open where they might be harnessed" (72). Gallop explains that upon its initial publication, nearly half of "Snatches" was deleted by editors who found it "too much about sex rather than language" (87). But happily, in this, her own retrospective collection, she has been able to include the unexpurgated version, thoroughly original and illuminating, complete with lesbian fantasies, pop sexology, and seductive analogy. A pleasant and pleasurable surprise, this essay rests on the deconstructive underpinning that the sexual body is emphatically real, "textual, mediated, interpretable" (90).

The final chapter of Gallop's book, "Carnal Knowledge," comprises three explorations of the embodied subject's appearance in art. "A Good Lay" legitimates Freud's role as art critic; "The Prick of the Object" determines, with Barhtes' help, the sexual element of art and photogrpahy; and "The Other Woman" looks closely at a series of artistic depictions of women writing (plates of the prints in question are included: one by Mary Cassatt and three Vermeers). The entire chapter concerns itself with the psychoanalytic criticism of art. Gallop describes what could be called the jouissance, the ecstatic and erotic engagement, of the viewer's encounter with the "forbidden, powerful, desiring, and embarrassing" quality of artistic subject matter (138). What is "truly sexy" about this exchange is not contained within the subject's perception of the object but is instead characteristic of her authentic encounter with the object's power" (141). to understand why these encounters are so disorderly and disruptive (so truly sexy) requires an "erotic and aggressive engagement" (146).

It is at this juncture of psychoanalytic criticism and art that Jane Gallop's Thinking Through the Body meets Laura Mulvey's Visual and Other Pleasures. In explanation of her own theoretical stance, Gallop says: "To face a work of art, or any other sort of object, with the identity of psychoanalytic critic, is to offset one's sense of uncertainty, ignorance, and insufficient understanding with the authority of a body of knowledge, a history of connoisseurship that traces back to Freud's knowledge" (136). While Gallop professes her possible illegitimacy, her lay status, as an art critic, Mulvey, expert film theorist and critic of artistic practice, explains in her foreword that "These problems [the question of the woman's body in the realm of representation] clled out for the vocabulary and the concepts of psychoanalysis" (xii - xiii). As accessible as Gallop's are Mulvey's applications of psychoanalytic theory, her renderings of Freud, Lacan, and Kristeva. Like Gallop, Mulvey questions the appropriateness of placing women beyond pleasure, beyond jouissance, beyond the phallus.

. . . to be continued on next post . . .

Visual and Other Pleasures
Laura Mulvey
Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989
xvi + 201 pp.