Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Feminism - Genealogy

Feminism concerns itself in showing women as a different gender from males. In literature, women are usually portrayed as the non-significant ‘other’ that is oppressed and belittled. Feminists assert that women must not be dependent creatures who without question or doubt accept the commands of their patriarchal society. They have to take an active part in creating and determining their own lives and future. They must therefore reject many of the cultural stereotypes of women such as weak, dependent, and mindless creatures. Whereas sex is biologically determined, gender is culturally determined. All women must therefore reject the patriarchal standards of society and become persons in their own right. In essence, the central issues of feminism, are:
That men have oppressed women, allowing them little or no voice in the political, social, or economic issues of their society;
That by not giving voice and value to women's opinions, responses, and writings, men have therefore suppressed the female, defined what it means to be feminine, and thereby de-voiced, devalued, and trivialized what it means to be a woman; and that, in effect, men have made women the "nonsignificant Other."
Feminism's goal is to change this degrading view of women so that all women will realize that they are not a nonsignificant Other, but that each woman is a valuable person possessing the same privileges and rights as every man. Women, feminists declare, must define themselves and assert their own voices in the arenas of politics, society, education, and the arts. By personally committing themselves to fostering such change, feminists hope to create a society in which not only the male but also the female voice is equally valued.
According to feminist criticism, the roots of prejudice against women have long been embedded in Western culture. Such gender discrimination may have begun, say some feminists, with the biblical narrative that places the blame for the fall of humanity on Eve, not Adam. Century after century, men's voices continued to articulate and determine the social role and cultural and personal significance of women. In the late 1700s, a faint voice crying in the wilderness in opposition to such patriarchal and defaming opinions against women arose and began to be heard. Believing that women along with men should have a voice in the public arena, Mary Wollstonecraft authored A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). Women, she maintained, must stand up for their rights and not allow their male-dominated society to define what it means to be a woman. Women themselves must take the lead and articulate who they are and what role they will play in society. More importantly, they must reject the patriarchal assumption that women are inferior to men.
In 1919, the British scholar and writer Virginia Woolf laid the foundation for present-day feminist criticism in her work A Room of One's Own. In this text, Woolf declares that men have and continue to treat women as inferiors. It is the male, she asserts, who defines what it means to be female and who controls the political, economic, social, and literary structures. Agreeing with Samuel T. Coleridge, one of the foremost nine-teenth-century literary critics, that great minds possess both male and female characteristics, she hypothesizes in her text the existence of Shakeare's sister, one who is equally as gifted as a writer as Shakespeare iself. Her gender, however, prevents her from having "a room of her own." Because she is a woman, she cannot obtain an education or find profitable employment. Her innate artistic talents will therefore never flourish, for she cannot afford her own room. Woolf's symbol of the solitude and autonomy needed to seclude one's self from the world and its social constraints in order to find time to think and write. Ultimately, Shakespeare's sister dies alone without any acknowledgment of her personal genius.
With the 1949 publication of The Second Sex by the French writer Simone de Beauvoir, however, feminist interests were once again surfacing. Heralded as the foundational work of twentieth-century feminism, Beauvoir's text declares that French society (and Western societies in general) are patriarchal, controlled by males. Like Woolf before her, Beauvoir believed that the male in these societies defines what it means to be human, including, what it means to be female. Since the female is not male, Beauvoir asserted, she becomes the Other, an object whose existence is defined and interpreted by the male, the dominant being in society. Always subordinate to the male, the female finds herself a secondary or nonexistent player in the major social institutions of her culture, such as the church, government, and educational systems. Beauvoir asserts that a woman must break the bonds of her patriarchal society and define herself if she wishes to become a significant human being in her own right and defy male classification as the Other. She must ask herself, "What is a woman?" Beauvoir insists that a woman's answer must not be "mankind," for such a term once again allows men to define women. This generic label must be rejected, for it assumes that "humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him." Beauvoir insists that women see themselves as autonomous beings. Women, she maintains, must reject the societal construct that men are the subject or the absolute and that women are the Other.

The dominating voice of feminist criticism throughout the 1980s is that of Elaine Showalter. In her text A Literature of Their Own, Showalter chronicles what she believes to be the three historical phases of evolution in female writing. The "feminine" phase (1840-1880), the "feminist" phase (1880-1920), and the "female" phase (1970-present). During the "feminine" phase, writers such as Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and George Sand accepted the prevailing social constructs of their day on the role and therefore the definition of women. Accordingly, these female authors wrote under male pseudonyms, hoping to equal the intellectual and artistic achievements of their male counterparts. During the "feminist" phase, female authors dramatized the plight of the "slighted" woman. More often than not, these authors depicted the harsh and often cruel treatment of female characters at the hands of their more powerful male creations. At present, in the "female" phase, women reject the imitation prominent during the "feminine" phase and the protest that dominated the "feminist" phase. Showalter points out that feminist critics now concern themselves with developing a peculiarly female understanding of the female experience in art, including a feminine analysis of literary forms and techniques. Such a task necessarily includes the uncovering of misogyny in male texts, a term Showalter uses to describe the male hatred of women.
Showalter asserts that female authors were consciously and therefore deliberately excluded from the literary canon by those male professors who first established the canon itself. Showalter urges that such exclusion of the female voice must stop. She thus coins the term gynocritics to refer to the process of "constructing a female framework for analysis of women's literature to develop new models based on the study of female experience, rather than to adapt to male models and theories." Showalter's term gynocriticism has now become synonymous with the study of women as writers and provides critics with four models that address the nature of women's writing and help answer some of the chief concerns of feminist criticism: the biological, the linguistic, the psychoanalytic, and the cultural. Each of Showalter's models are sequential, subsuming and developing the preceding model(s). The biological model emphasizes how the female body marks itself upon a text by providing a host of literary images and a personal, intimate tone. The linguistic model concerns itself with the need for a female discourse. This model investigates the differences between how women and men use language. It asserts that women can and do create a language peculiar to their gender and addresses the way in which this language can be utilized in their writings. The psychoanalytic model, based on an analysis of the female psyche and how such an analysis affects the writing process, emphasizes the flux and fluidity of female writing as opposed to male rigidity and structure. The cultural model investigates how the society in which female authors work and function shapes women's goals, responses, and points of view.

Believing that women are oppressed both in life and art, French feminism, typically stresses the repression of women. As a whole, French feminism is closely associated with the theoretical and practical applications of psychoanalysis. Believing that penis is power, Freud viewed women as incomplete males. All women, he thought, were envious of a male's power, as symbolized by the penis. Wanting this power, all women possess penis envy, desiring to gain the male phallus and thereby obtain power.

Fortunately for feminist criticism, Jacques Lacan rescues psychoanalysis from some of Freud's mysognistic theories. Lacan, argues that language ultimately shapes and structures our conscious and unconscious minds and thus shapes our self identity, not the phallus. He maintains that it is language that ultimately denies women the power of language and therefore the power of literature and writing. Lacan believes that the human psyche consists of three parts, or what he calls orders: the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. Each of these orders interacts with the others. From birth to six months or so, we primarily function in the Imaginary Order, a preverbal state that contains our wishes, our fantasies, and our physical images. In this state, we are basically sexless, for we are not yet capable of differentiating ourselves from our mothers. Once we successfully pass through the Oedipal crisis, we pass from a biological language to a socialized language and thus into the second of the Lacanian orders: the Symbolic Order. On entering this order, the father becomes the dominant image. At this stage of psychic development, both the male and the female fear castration by the father. For the male, fear of castration means obeying and becoming like the father, while simultaneously repressing the Imaginary Order that is most closely associated with the female body. The Imaginary Order with its pre-Oedipal male desires becomes a direct threat for the male in the third Lacanian order, the Real Order, or the actual world as perceived by the individual. Similarly for the female, entrance into the Symbolic Order means submission to law of the father. Such submission unfortunately means subservience to the male. Being socialized to a subordinated language, the female becomes a second-class citizen.

Other French feminists, such as Julia Kristeva and Helene Cixous, further develop and apply Lacan's theories to their own form of feminist criticism. Kristeva, for example, posits that the Imaginary Order is characterized by a continuous flow of fluidity or rhythm, which she calls chora. On entering the Symbolic Order, both males and females are separated from the chora and repress the feelings of fluidity and rhythm. Similar to a Freudian slip in which an unconscious thought breaks through the conscious mind, the chora can, at times, break through into the Real Order and disturb the male-dominant discourse. On the other hand, Helene Cixous chooses to explore an entirely different mode of discourse that arises from the Symbolic, not the Imaginary Order. Cixous maintains that there exists a particular kind of female writing that she calls Lecriture feminine. Characterized by fluidity, this particularly feminine discourse will, when fully explored, transform the social and cultural structures within literature.

To free themselves from definitional oppression, say feminist critics, women must analyze and challenge the established literary canon that has helped shape the images of female inferiority and subordination ingrained in our culture. Women themselves must create an atmosphere that is less oppressive by contesting the long-held patriarchal assumptions about their sex. Through a re-examination of the established literature in all fields, by validating what it means to be a woman, and by involving themselves in literary theory and its multiapproaches, women can legitimatize their responses to texts written by both males and females, their own writings, and their political, economic, and social positions in their culture.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Hélène Cixous (1937) Genealogy

A French Feminist

"Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies." 2039

- “ The Laugh of the Medusa” was published in 1975 and translated in 1976
- It became the theoretical foundation for the emergence of écriture féminine ("feminine writing").

“The focus of Cixous's discourse is écriture féminine ("feminine writing"), a project begun in the middle 1970s when Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Catherine Clément, among others, began reading texts in the particular contexts of women's experience” Source

Ecriture feminine is not only a possibility for female writers, rather, she believes it can also be employed by men. Just as women often lapse into masculine writing, Cixous believes that men can also tap into feminine writing

Primary Influence

Cixous's The Laugh of the Medusa Critiqued Against Showalter's Essay Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness. SOURCE

- Greek Mythology

- Cixous is influenced by Freud theory of sexual difference (having or lacking a penis)

- Lacans theory of the stages of the psyche (The imaginary, the symbolic, the real)

“Cixous owes a lot to Derrida, namely his analysis of binary thinking characteristic for logocentrism (Derrida's term), and also his concept of differance. Cixous often invents neologisms, and phallocentrism is one. Another one is the verb that is translated into English as "to hierarchize" and I use this word my text too.” SOURCE

Other Influences

- Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex

Sunday, August 07, 2005

De Beauvoir Revisited

Beauvoir declares that the western societies are patriarchal, controlled by males. She believed that the male in these societies defines what it means to be human, including, therefore, what it means to be female. Since the female is not male, Beauvoir asserts, she becomes the Other, an object whose existence is defined and interpreted by the male, the dominant being in the society. She is always subordinate to the male and finds herself a secondary or nonexistent player in the major institutions of her culture, such as the church, government, and educational systems. Beauvoir asserts that a woman must break the bonds of her patriarchal society and define herself if she wishes to become a significant human being in her right and defy male classification as the Other. She must ask herself what a woman is, and the answer must not be MANKIND, for such a term once again allows men to define women. Beauvoir insists that women see themselves as autonomous beings. Women, she maintains, must reject the societal construct that men are the subject or the absolute and women are the Other.

I find these ideas old fashioned not applicable to our current societies in which men and women have the same role and positions in all fields of life and major institutions. Therefore, what she is asserting is not exactly accurate at the present time. I find that Beauvoir herself classifies women and asks them to be the Other not the Patriarchal society. Even she doesn’t want women to belong to MANKIND in order to be the Other. What do you think?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Mulvey and Post-modern Women

Women erotic portrayal on magazines’ front pages, pictures of fashion supermodels, women celebrities and singers, make me feel that it is not the patriarchal society that displays women as sexual objects , on the contrary, it is women’s choice to be displayed this way. We are no long living in a patriarchal society in which men dictate their decisions on women. If women desire to be displayed otherwise, maybe the whole image of women will change. Far way from the cinema, when I see female students in campus as well as women in the street, I say it is not the phallocentric society that made them look this way. It is their own choice to display themselves as erotic objects for the male. It is their own liking and free will to dress, walk and talk in an erotic way not for the purpose of seducing men, but to feel contented with themselves and to have that sense of appreciating their beauty and body. This of course appeals to the “scopophilia” of men as part of their sensual pleasures, but it is not MAN'S will.

To add more, I don’t like the idea of identifying men and women by means of having or not having a penis. It is really shameful to be identified as human beings by our sexual organs whose behavior is subject to their basic instincts. This distinction applies to males and females of animals, and there is a great difference between a man or a woman on one hand and a male or female on the other. We as a race have been elevated in our creation to be something more than animals. We have our beliefs, principles, and the ability to control ourselves which make us different.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Lacanian Textual Analysis

Experiment Two
Micro-Lesson Plan

- To apply Lacan’s ideas on Robinson’s “ Miniver Cheevy”

Miniver Cheevy
Edwin Arlington Robinson

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would send him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam's neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing:
He missed the medieval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.


1. Before reading the text, the teacher should explain to his students the biography of Edwin Arlington Robinson, and to provide them with an access to his childhood, ideas, and major themes.
2. After reading the poem closely in groups, students should answer the following questions.

* Explain the fragmentation (divided self) of Miniver Cheevy

* Capture whatever hint in the text that shows Miniver’s desire to return to the imaginary.

* Explain the symbols of lack in Miniver’s Psyche and link it to Edwin Arlington Robinson if possible.

* What are the elements of the “Real” in Miniver’s character?

* Highlight the brief moments of joy or terror or desire that arise from the deep unconscious of Miniver cheevy to remind him of the time of perfect wholeness.

* Look for any link between the desire of Miniver and the desire of the Edwin Robinson himself.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

In Search for Meaning

1. Marx : Superstructures (law, cultural institutions, religion, schools and literature) directly reflect the base ( production) (that is controlled by the dominant class – bourgeois). Therefore;
2. The base is superior to the superstructures; any change in the base is paralleled by a change in the superstructures. (the relation is economic)
3. Gramsci: the relation is not economic but hegemonic-the dominant class ( the base- Bourgeois) establishes and maintains hegemony over other classes by virtue of its organic intellectuals or by force when consent fails. Therefore;
4. What is the use of literature (part of the superstructures) if it propagates the ideas of the dominant class?
5. Allthusser: (The relation is ideological) Superstructures (Ideological State Apparatuses ) reproduces the relations of production (base). This means
6. The superstructure can and does influence the base . (the opposite of Marx and answers my question about Gramsci WHY DO THEY WRITE LITERATURE?)
7. In other words literature and superstructures influence the base not the opposite.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Critique of Gramsci's The Formation of the Intellectuals

Gramsci ,the Marxist reformer, takes Marxism to another different direction from the path of traditional ideologists. He calls for the domination of the culture’s ideology “hegemony” rather than the domination of the ruling party. Hegemony is the collective “spontaneous consent given by the great masses of population to general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group.” (1143) And “The intellectuals are the dominant group’s deputies exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government” (Ibid). My point of critique is that consent has to coexist, in Gramsci’s article, with the coercive force of the state against “those groups who don’t consent either actively or passively” (ibid). To him, dominance requires both coercion and consent; coercion “when consent fails”. On one hand, this might look as a democratic shift from the traditional Marxist ideology that emphasizes the rule of the party as the one and only dominant power. But on the other hand, and despite my respect to his reformative attitudes, I find that he is still “dominated” by the question of power; the power of the institution over people. This time Gramsci handles the power question in a cleverer Machiavellian way than the way of his traditional comrades. To explain what I mean, I’ll quote Machiavelli himself in this concern:

You must know there are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second…… it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures, and that one without the other is not durable. A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves.” (The Prince chapter XVIII)

Machiavelli, here, instructs his prince how to maintain his power over people and explains to him the same strategy previously explained by Gramsci of consent and force. Gaining consent, according to Gramsci, is the function of Intellectuals (who are supposed to play the part of the fox) through their articulations, and the Party has to play the role of the lion.

My second point of critique is that I can’t figure out what is the relation of this article to literature and critical theory.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Is it a Call for Culture or Anarchy ?

The Compulsory Education Act in 1870 in the Victorian England led to the emergence of a new generation of newly educated middle class people. These people believed in modern civilization and wanted to be part of the growing empire. They had their own ambitions of a better life among a never changing conservative society. At that time, reading and writing was a privilege of the elite like Tennyson, Arnold, Browning …etc., that is not supposed to be practiced by the so called “Philistines”, referring to the new rising middle class generation. Therefore, Arnold considers them the enemies of culture and the reason behind anarchy.

Arnold, assumes himself very well cultured, and accordingly; “perfect” ,as he sees the function of culture, not only in terms of gaining knowledge, but also in doing good “ it is not merely the scientific passion for pure knowledge, but also the moral and social passion for doing good”827. But he is not doing any good to himself nor to anyone else by reflecting such discriminative thoughts against his people and using offensive terminology that doesn’t show the reality of things.
I was really astonished when I checked the meaning of the word “Philistines” in the American Heritage Dictionary and it showed like this:
a. A smug, ignorant, especially middle-class person who is regarded as being indifferent or antagonistic to artistic and cultural values. b. The one who lacks knowledge in a specific area.” If Arnold uses the word in this sense, it means that he is promoting hatred and discrimination, rather than making religion “to prevail” or “ perfecting himself”, by the name of culture. I was really offended when I read this article and I do believe that good intention and objectives should be approached and achieved by good means. And I see that Arnold is not doing so.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Structural Analysis of De Man’s Essay “Semiology and Rhetoric”

Form and content

Unwitting assumption of critical theories

Outside VS inside
Extrinsic VS intrinsic
(Formalism, structuralism, historicism) VS deconstruction
Outside reference VS no outside reference
(author, period, history, reader or culture) VS text
Shell VS kernel

Even if the metaphor has been reversed, theories are still entangled in the same polarity of the same metaphor:

Content --------> outside
form --------> inside

Content --------> inside
form --------> outside



Syntagmatic VS Paradigmatic
Superior VS inferior
Conveys meaning VS cannot convey meaning
Main VS subordinate
Suspends logic VS logical

PART THREE (Conclusion)


Metonymy of metaphor --------->rhetoricizes grammar

Power of rhetoric ---------> discernable grammatical system

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Death of the Author and the Hypertext

Building on our in class discussion regarding the death of the author and the hyper text, check this interesting essay that discuses the same question. (you have to download it first)