Monthly Archives: August 2007

Ana Bundgard

In her article on the semiotics of guilt in Garro’s work, Ana Bundgard asserts that falling into guilt is transgression and rupture, a necessary evil for anyone who aspires to status as subject. By taking on the role of writer, Lelinca carries a burden of guilt that represents rupture from the paradise of the patriarchal home of her childhood. She appropriates Milton’s title to explain that his paradise, which she had hoped to rediscover, is truly lost; she can only be an object in his paradise, while in her paradise with the celluloid doll, of her own invention, she gains subject status. Although the four may be dead, as implied in Jacinto’s comments, they have achieved the “queendom” of heaven, presided over by the doll/goddess, through their subjectivity, by writing the pages/wings smudged with ink. (38)

–Marketta Laurila, “Decapitation, Castration and Creativity in Elena Garro’s Andamos huyendo Lola [We are Fleeing Lola].” En Literature and the Writer, ed. Michael Meyer. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. 19-41.

This is interesting in itself. It would also explain exactly why Reeducation did not want me to write. I should write in an unpublished journal, “writing for myself,” but I should not write for publication, especially scholarly work. Scholarly work was “meaningless overachievement” which would only provide further evidence that I was permanently damaged.

The point is that Reeducation desired us to relinquish subject status. I could not believe it because I knew the theory of Reeducation was to aid people in the achievement of the precise opposite. But Reeducation in my experience meant this. Thence the emphasis on self-help books, Al-Anon and the Twelve Steps – which also desire adherents to relinquish subject status and turn their lives and wills over to some other authority – over actual psychology, my interest in which, as we already know, was considered “intellectual snobbery.”

This form of Reeducation is, now that I think of it, reminiscent of the Reeducation which took place at a friend’s office. Workers in her unit had filed a labor complaint and the union was involved. The University sent over a therapist who explained to them that a better way to reduce stress would be to go to the mall and buy themselves nice dresses. One of them famously replied that this was like saying to the world’s most famous hunger striker, “Have a sandwich, Mr. Gandhi.”

Axé.

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Elena Garro

Cross posted at Seminario Permanente de Teoría y Crítica:

In [a book] [a critic] distinguishes between silencing, a condition imposed from outside, and silence freely chosen. She further suggests that the latter can take two forms: using silence as a weapon or breaking silence with hipocrisy. The interplay between silencing and silence . . . characterizes Elena Garro‘s life and work. After being imprisoned for her activism on behalf of the Indian peasants in Chihuahua and Morelos, taunted by the press, rejected by the left for allegedly betraying the leaders of a planned 1968 coup, and barred from publishing houses that were controlled by her powerful ex-husband Octavio Paz, Garro left Mexico for the United States in 1971. She moved on to Spain, where her Mexican passport was confiscated, and finally settled in France.

These events had a profound effect on Garro’s literary career, her attitude toward authorship, and the creation of the writer/artist protagonists of the works published after a thirteen year hiatus. Garro initially, however, remained silent in response to personal and political persecution, to misrepresentations of her words and actions, to the limitations of her broken health and to the demands of single parenting.

[When] Garro again wrote and published, she wrote of loneliness, loss, fear and persecution while denouncing the silencing of the female authorial voice and the sado-masochistic underpinnings of male-female relationships. Garro’s protagonists, as the author herself, suffer the negative consequences of female authorship and other creative activity. In these novels, Garro implicitly denounces the hypocrisy of the Latin American leftist intellectual who takes upon himself the social, political and economic privileges of the previous aristocratic elite and who represses the female narrative voice even as he claims to express alternate (more real) realities than those of official discourse. While Garro’s protagonists decry male control of authorship, and their own forced silence, they reclaim their own right to author-ity as they create a different reality. . . .

To address the problems confronting the female author/creative artist, Garro creates an alternate discourse characterized by omission, marginal perspective, ambiguity, displacement and troping. Through this discourse, Garro and her protagonists appropriate silence as they appear to submit to injuctions to [it] . . . while at the same time telling the story of the silencing of the female writer. . . .

–Marketta Laurila, “Decapitation, Castration and Creativity in Elena Garro’s Andamos huyendo Lola [We are Fleeing Lola].” In Literature and the Writer, ed. Michael Meyer. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. 19-41. Section quoted is from 19-21.

Axé.

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Jena, LA

Mychal Bell is being sentenced in Jena September 20th. Color of Change is organizing a rally in support of him that day (the text of their e-mail follows). I cannot go because Thursday is a major teaching day for me, but I would otherwise. It seems they expect many people to be coming in from out of state, but I think the best impact would be made by locals. Here is the essential part of Color of Change‘s mail:

As you know, the 20th is a pivotal day for Mychal Bell. Should District Attorney Reed Walters have his way, Mychal will be sentenced to 22 years in prison. It is also a critical day for the growing movement to ensure that justice is served for the Jena 6. Our presence in Jena–in large numbers–will help focus media attention on the situation in Jena, escalate pressure on Louisiana’s public officials, and most importantly, show the families of the Jena 6, especially Mychal Bell and his parents, that we stand with them in the face of this injustice.

Can you join us?

http://colorofchange.org/jena/rsvp.html

This is not the first time supporters have come to Jena to make their voices heard. On July 31st, with only a few days to prepare, 300 people from across the country rallied at the Jena Courthouse. We delivered a petition signed by 43,000 ColorOfChange.org members to the District Attorney demanding that he drop the charges against the Jena 6. It was a powerful day that made it clear that the Jena 6 and their families won’t have to fight on their own. Since then, our numbers have almost doubled, media attention to the case has grown, and we have an even bigger opportunity to make a profound impact.

If you can possibly take the day off, I recommend the trip.

Axé.

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Jane Gallop

This gossip is ten years old, but I only recently learned it – through Oso Raro.

“The experience that matters to me most — it’s why I’m an academic — is this enormous pleasure and intensity of working and thinking with people,” she says in an interview here. “And to me that’s pleasurable, it’s sexy, it’s very close.”

Ms. Gallop believes that her brand of teaching came to be viewed as harassment, in part, because of the split she sees between “power feminists,” like herself, who are pro-sex, and “victim feminists” who are not. That split, she argues has helped lead to the perversion of the definition of sexual harassment on campuses, which used to be about sexism but has come to be about anything that’s sexual.

“The investigation revealed that I did not in fact respect the boundary between the sexual and the intellectual, between the professional and the personal,” she writes in her book. “It was as if the university, seeing what kind of relations I did have with students, felt that I must be in some way guilty and was able, through this wrinkle in the policy, to find me slightly guilty of sexual harassment.

She continues: “I was construed as a sexual harasser because I sexualize the atmosphere in which I work.”

Ms. Gallop details some of her most intimate sexual feelings and experiences in this latest book and in her earlier works. She earned her Ph.D. in French at Cornell University in 1976. Her dissertation was on the works of the Marquis de Sade, whose writings include graphic sexual descriptions of rape and torture. In her 1988 book, Thinking Through the Body, Ms. Gallop writes that Sade’s texts “moved me to masturbate.” In Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment, she recounts when she first had sex with a woman, when on separate occasions she slept with two male professors on her dissertation committee, and when she first began sleeping with her own students as an assistant professor.

You can read the entire article right here. What do you think of Gallop’s arguments? I find them very poor, and I think the “power feminist” vs. “victim feminist” distinction is entirely bogus – as are the terms themselves. I further submit that it is not natural to want to sleep with someone just because you are working closely with them. I think it is a patriarchally conditioned response. Ask my female students who have slept with their male supervisors. They say, “Well, yes, I just had to feel I had some power over him in some way, and thus gain some sort of feeling of personal power in this discipline. If the whole field were not so hierarchically arranged and so male oriented I would feel differently, but it is as it is and I feel as I do.” And indeed, one of my main disagreements with academic women’s and gender studies experts has to do with the complex ways in which many of them try to relabel gross submission to patriarchal hierarchies, and complicity with these, as “feminist.” (My favorite instance of this is the earnest argument, “I am taking the oppressive side here because it is the self-protective thing to do, and what is self-protective, is feminist.”)

These things having been said, I have far closer relationships with my students than many faculty out of state are comfortable having. Students here are ready and willing to treat you as a friend or a family member, all while maintaining boundaries which are comfortable for everyone and do not impinge on the assigning of grades. I quickly realized that it was fine and even good. My own education might have been better had I actually known the professors. And the only time I have had a problem with a student – about a grade, because we liked each other and I still failed her because, well, she failed the course – it was someone not from here, who made assumptions someone from here would not.

I suppose the bottom line there is, my students and I can handle knowing each other as people, and do not mind. And indeed, it is through work we have bonded. But given the amount of irrationality that sex injects into any situation and the power dynamics which inhere in both sex and school for most Americans and quite a few people of other nationalities as well, I would not trust the average person on an American university campus to handle romantic relationships with their students, their professors or their dissertation committees in any way I would call healthy. You. can. find. other. people. And my money says Gallop and her academic lovers did not really fall in love over books like Paolo and Francesca. My bet is that they just could not find, or did not believe they could find anyone else.

Now, I did once have an affair with a graduate student in another discipline. He was foreign and only slightly younger than I, and he had never heard of sexual harrassment policies. I said, we cannot do this, you are not in my department but I could be called in as an outside reader of your dissertation, or you could decide you want to take my theory class. He said, but I believe in private life. I can handle having one sort of relationship with you on campus and another elsewhere; there is no cognitive dissonance involved in that for me. This turned out to be true, and we did not end up working together or having to work together, and it is not a good parallel to the situations Gallop discusses since the relationship did not arise from intellectual collaboration. And there are exceptions to every rule, but still we both took a chance. I suspect that the university’s policies on sexual harassment would have protected each of us more than they would have harmed us had anything untoward happened.

For example, I also had a romance with a faculty member in another discipline, with whom I was not and would not be required to work. It went badly, and I would have left sooner had I not become afraid of the workplace harrassment which it had become evident would ensue, and which did in fact ensue when at last I left. Partly because we were in unrelated units I did not realize this amounted to sexual harrassment until the university itself said you know, we have policies and procedures we can invoke to stop this. A light went on in my feeble brain and I said: Of course! Sexual harrassment is harrassment precisely because it engulfs and disempowers you, so that you have no name for what is happening and thus remain vulnerable to it!

Then I had a colleague who believed in feminist “transgression” and made a good career writing about it, but enacted it in practice by making out with her male colleagues, in their wives’ presence, at faculty retreats. Nobody said a thing and I think this was because her behavior fit patriarchal expectations so well that, while somewhat remarkable, it was not ultimately problematic. There was also a female acolyte of Derrida, a professor where I went to graduate school. She and her boyfriend liked threesomes with women and would entice bisexual graduate students to join them. These students were fascinated and flattered at the beginning but then discovered – as one of them said later – that the professor and her boyfriend were “on a seduce and destroy mission.” They probably justify all of this by citing Gallop but I find that attitude dilettantish and self-serving. And the behavior is hardly transgressive.

Axé.

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Two-Headed Post

FIRST HEAD

And the theme of this weekend is, it seems, Against Artificial Limits. Now I am in a restaurant in a town not my own, because there is a café in this town I had been eyeing as a good writing cafe. I finally decided to try it out, and the experiment failed. Although it looks beautiful and funky, the café is full of prissy, pampered teenagers and bourgeois senior citizens. I knew this would be a danger and I was prepared to face it, but I was not at all prepared for a $3.50 cappuccino in a paper cup. A paper cup! No china cups available! I paid for it but pushed it back at the barista – you drink it then, I will neither return to this cafe nor recommend it – and left, not before receiving a dinner invitation from a shoe shine man, of course. I this town I am officially beautiful.

I took refuge in this nice restaurant which I did not know also functioned as a café, and now I am drinking cappuccino from a china cup. So something worked out, although I do not think that in this very restaurant-like atmosphere I could sit and work for hours as one can in the more library-like atmosphere of a café.

The conclusion I draw from all of this is, once again, is that it takes a great deal of ingenuity and creativity to try to make do up here in the country, and one’s best efforts often fail. Ultimately it less economical than simply going to town, although this would not appear to be the case. To try to be sensible and stay up here merely cuts off my energy flow and carves into my work time.

SECOND HEAD

In any case, I am at it again, which is why I am trying to find a comfortable work environment. At it means, at finishing one of these articles on a topic too close to my father’s subfield for my comfort level. And the problem is not the subfield or my father, it is that Reeducation thought it should be a problem.

In those days it seemed I was being constantly informed that my survival depended upon being someone other than myself. This was what was so utterly frustrating about that whole period. “Write, but suppress your thoughts and develop ours,” said one and all. Had I read Three Guineas then, I might have known that some were only asking for “adultery of the brain,” and I could have taken them less seriously. “Write, but without confidence,” said others. “Never drop an idea, because you may never get another.” I would have done well to realize that they were giving this urgently concerned advice not because they had seen me on some precipice I was unaware of (as I deduced from their tone) but because they wanted to give this urgently concerned advice to some listener. And there I was, gagging on their words.

***

I spent a long time being embarrassed about having become so blocked. Then I deconstructed Reeducation for having been so destructive, and the block mostly lifted. I really have nothing new to say on these matters. But I ran away to the cafés today to write because in my house, because of the topic I am working on, I could not shake the images of red wine flowing and my father’s booming voice. It was too hard to get the sentences out from under all of that.

Before Reeducation I fought those images off by saying, that is a field in which many people work, and you are there for your reasons, not for someone else’s. Reeducation, however, said I could not have such a mature attitude. That would be “denial.” The shadows must grow. They were real, not anything else, said Reeducation, until the shadows engulfed and choked me.

That is all over now of course and long ago, and yet I still get embarrassed when I struggle over writings in this particular subfield. Especially now, it would seem I should be able to just get it done in a businesslike manner. But it is still hard. And so I was thinking this morning, perhaps instead of being embarrassed and impatient about it, I should consider it a good thing not to want to walk into those shadows.

That then leads to an interesting conclusion: perhaps it is not that I must remove these shadows from myself, or power through them as one does through a tropical storm, shifting into four wheel drive on shell roads. Perhaps it is instead that I must rescue the work from them, for I have set the work in shadow. Perhaps wine does not always flow around this work as voices boom and men sit up late in patios, debating poetics and Allende. Perhaps the work also stands in daylight, amid pungent country smells, or in surf grape-blue and diamond-clear.

Axé.

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J’ai faim. J’ai soif. Le monde vieillit et je ne l’accompagne pas.

MOSTLY MUSIC

Now it is the weekend, so we will sing. This is Julio Jaramillo on Interrogación and it is a beautiful performance. I would like to see the movie from which it comes. Here Jaramillo’s band wins dinner on the house in Cali, Colombia for their singing – a dinner they really need, too.

MOSTLY PROFESSORS

Speaking of dinner and metonymically related matters, I have socialized with a certain type of colleague today and I think I prefer the students. Do people forty and over normally stop eating and begin to think of retirement? I had already felt alienated at thirty, when it turned out that many professors my age were interested primarily in acquiring suburban houses and watching sports on wide screen televisions. When at forty they began to discuss retirement, I felt newly foreign.

At forty-five, people began to lose their appetites. This to me was the most irritating experience yet. There are so many ways in which we are asked to limit our lives, so many sacrifices one must make to be a professor. It is my feeling that we can and should at least eat. When I was younger I watched my weight, but when I became a professor – the job being far more demanding physically than graduate school – it burned so much energy that I began to eat rather like a working man. White beans, stuffed turkey wings, peas, potato salad, green salad, rolls, I needed it all for my strength and so as not to slide out of my clothes.

MOSTLY MEN

I still did not eat as much as an actual man, because men were still thirty years old and packing it away like teenagers. Fifteen years later, however, they became senior citizens in several ways and started ordering half portions, or wanting to share things in restaurants. I hate this because it makes me feel invaded – I cannot have what I want, but must negotiate what I might share – and because it leaves me starving and lightheaded. If I do not know them well and they start to suggest this plan with the waiter already there I have sometimes handed over my own credit card and said “I will have the X.”

Sometimes I speculate that men who do this are keeping several households. People assure me this is not the case, and say that these new habits are a natural result of “aging.” They say I need to get used to the idea of being old. But I am bored walking slowly, discussing “limits,” and eating “meals” the size of first courses. I have been known to call my parents, who are well over eighty, for the sole purpose of having a conversation with people more youthful than some I know of my own age.

MOSTLY FLESH

Does the modern body really spoil so quickly? Or is it merely professordom which takes its toll? I think it is a local phenomenon, as even doctors exclaim: beyond forty with no cancer or heart disease, how remarkable! But if it is a national one, I will either move abroad or become a systematic cradle-robber. To lighten my mood, I have taken the quiz “Which of the Greek gods are you?” chez Unsane. I am Apollo.

Axé.

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Tao Te Ching

I

Do you get a huge rush when you realize, in the text you are composing, that the next paragraph will be your last? Is this moment thrilling to you because you are now about to see the work go through its penultimate metamorphosis, break free from the stone from which it has been carved, and leap up, still shaking off dew and swirling in its robes, to settle into its final shape? I do. I have just felt the rush, and seen the act. I am going to watch it happen to two more texts this very week.

II

Much advice is given on optimizing productivity, and I give the same advice myself. I have also said that this advice does not work for actual block. In that situation the standard advice can even exacerbate the block, because it obscures the issue at hand. You have to find the source of block and remove it, before the standard advice can apply. Mine came from Reeducation, and it made me dissociative, as was explained to me later. Things improved as I slowly dismantled Reeducation, but concentration never came easily until I realized I must pull Reeducation out by the root. After that the difficulty of things returned to what I would call a sane level.

There is one other issue that the standard, good, practical advice on concentration and productivity does not always address squarely enough, in my view: you have to make the work yours. I do not always do this, because I am thinking “practically” or “strategically.” I have graduate students who constantly try to think in terms of what would be desirable to others, and never what would be desirable to them. It does not help their work, and in the worst cases it leads directly to block. I point these things out and offer other avenues for planning, but I have been known to fall into the same trap, albeit more subtly.

III

I liked this post by Sage for the quotations from the Tao Te Ching, which are relevant to the theme of concentration. My anti-meditative, anti-rational Reeducators did not understand that concentration is not at all the same as drudgery, or as obsession, but has much more to do with presence.

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
The Tao doesn’t take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.

Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.

*

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

Do you want to improve the world?
It can’t be done.
The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.
If you never expect results,
You will never be disappointed.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.

*

Have but don’t possess,
act but don’t expect.
The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

IV

I like these words, which transport me as if by magic home to Pacific headlands and away from these steamy inland plantations. I really like them as reminders to stand aside as you write and let the work speak. I note, however, that they were also an instrument of torture in Reeducation, where they exalted passivity and submission to authority.

I consider that a terrible misreading. I also suspect that some of the advice in the Tao Te Ching may have been written for imperious princes. Privileged readers,  people used to giving orders and having them obeyed, may need this lesson more than, or in a different way from, those who actually need to struggle.

Axé.

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