January 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
January 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
I was lookingat my last blog about Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” In it I write reiterate Woolf’s arguement for economic independence as the prerequisite for gender equality. I think at this point in time we can all agree that women are “economically liberated,” but I think I was misleading, because at present men and women aren’t economic equals. Yes, women are no longer the “protected sex,” (although we still can’t be drafted) but despite the changing gender roles in the workplace and elsewhere, women are currently paid less than men in comparable positions.
January 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
In her essay Woolf presents the thesis that there are so fewer high quality female writers than male writers because in their creative pursuits women have had to overcome not only the self-doubts encountered in the creative process and criticism from reviewers and readers, but also the doubt cast from the centuries of belittlement of women and disparagement of their endeavors imposed in a patriarchal society. She says that women of her time must pave the way so future women don’t hear “the bishops and the deans, the doctors and the professors, the patriarchs and the pedagogues all shouting warning and advice.” The overarching direction of the essay is, of course, towards a room of one’s own as means to and result of financial and intellectual equality. I found “a room of one’s own” to stand as a three-fold metaphor, firstly as a sanctuary from discouragement, which is necessary for writing.
A room of one’s own next stands as economic independence. Woolf leads us along her thought process showing that once a woman has economic independence, she can no longer be made inferior to men. And once this is accomplished, she no longer needs male society’s approval and no longer resents men. And once this is accomplished she can reach the third incarnation of a room of one’s own, freedom of the mind. Now that she doesn’t need men’s approval she can present her own views and opinions, and now that she doesn’t resent men her thoughts and writing will be free of the anger and bitterness that sours and dates work.
Woolf uses the character Mrs. Behn, a middle class writer who supported herself through the profit from her writing to present her argument concerning the importance of economic freedom to a woman. She writes that the fact that Mrs. Behn “had to work on equal terms with men” was more important than anything she actually wrote, because she earned her financially equality though her own writing. This brings to mind a parallel scene from Julie Taymor’s movie “Frida,” about the life of the artist Frida Kahlo. In the scene Frida approaches the famous artist Diego Rivera with some of her paintings and asks him to tell her if she is any good. When Diego begins to reply that it doesn’t matter, if she is truly an artist she will paint no matter what, Frida cuts him off, saying she’s not just trying to amuse herself, she has to earn money for her family so if she’s no good she’ll do something else. Woolf’s statement, “money dignifies what if frivolous if unpaid for,” stands true to her belief that it is though economic independence that women will find equality.
Woolf’s predictions on the course of equality for women are eerily accurate. “…In a hundred years… women will have ceased to be the protected sex…they will take part in all the activities and exertions that were once denied them. The nursemaid will heave coal. The shop-woman will drive an engine.” Looking at my reading, I see all the fictional writers within these books have a room of their own in which to write—their “sanctuary from discouragement.” In “On the Road” Sal paradise has his room in his aunt’s house in New Jersey, and in “Love in the Time of Cholera” Florentino Ariza has his room in his mother’s house on the Street of Windows. Interestingly enough, each male writer gains access to their rooms through their female guardians. Perhaps we see in this reversal the branches of Woolf’s early thoughts on the necessity of feminist economics.
January 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
Frida Kahlo struggled with physical infirmary for most of her life. At six she contracted polio, and at 18 she got into a near fatal trolley accident. For the next period of her life she was confined to her four-poster bed with a mirrored top, trapped in plaster body casts. Forced by her suffering to confront her own image and identity, she painted what may be the most famous self-portraits in history. Through her images Kahlo created an autobiography detailing her quest to understand both herself and her world. It is a mixture of dark knowledge and jubilant passion that one sees looking into the deep-set eyes of her self portraits, the dry ground she lies upon, or the scattered Mexican talismans lying nearby. Her paintings explore revolution, westernization, industrialization, tradition, bloodlines, love, freedom, death, and disaster, with a frank lack of discretion that catches us off guard no matter how many times we see them her paintings.
Despite spending nearly half of her life confined to bed, she became a Mexican cultural icon; her persona as much a part of her mystique as her art is. According to the bare bone details of her life Kahlo could easily be categorized as the cliché female stereotype in the art world: victimized, suffering, eccentric to the point of destruction. But what keeps Frida’s face plastered on posters, umbrellas, lighters, tote bags, murals, museum walls, the walls of Madonna’s mansion, and in the ephemeral crawl space of our minds and hearts is her ability to paint the dreadful beasts that lurk in our souls, worshipping them as a thing of beauty. She dares us to grasp the horns of the devil and look him right in the eye, explaining to us with delicate brush strokes that this is the only way to the goddess-like passion and vibrancy she embodied, and towards which we nervously tread, grappling for truth.
*If you like Frida Kahlo’s work I recommend reading “Frida Kahlo: Painting Her Own Reality. I provides a short but complete biography and nice reproductions of her paintings. I found my copy at a MOMA museum store in JFK but you can buy it on amazon.
January 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’ve always taken the Beats personally. I can’t read Beat writing without weighing my own life against their dogma. This has resulted in a way too invested love/hate relationship with the Beats, literary figures from over half a century ago at this point in time, whose ideas and lifestyle, if not their writing, is seriously dated by now.
My investment probably has something to do with the fact that I can’t read about Kerouac without relating to him, and his propensity towards “ both spiritual panic attacks and arias of ecstasy.” David Gates describes the Beats prime audience as “late adolescent idealists who aspire to become holy degenerates,” and I fit the bill in that sickening way that makes self-identified non-conformists squirm.
Gates’ article on the Beats describes them as the Romantics of the 20th century, both literary movements attempting the “direct expression of inner states of feeling” in their work. This comparison also holds true in my feelings towards each movement: I appreciate Beat and Romantic writing, but it’s their philosophy I love. But strangely it’s only the Beats by who I feel judged, maybe because the Romantics are safely sealed away in the passage of years and their academic prestige. Or maybe it’s the difference between the Romantic medium of choice, the poem, and that of the Beats, the novel. So much of Beat dialogue is devoted to doctrine and Beat description is of glamorized nights out.
With their combination of dogmatic preaching and estrangement from respected literature, the Beats are preserved as the cool radicals, the “holy degenerates,” forever taunting us to join them, unaware of how times have changed to where even if our hearts were in it, we’d be hard pressed to figure out how. What in the 40’s and 50’s was radical and bohemian—dirt poor road trips, weed, Levis, open relationships, free form music and writing—is now assimilated into main stream culture. Perhaps this phenomenon adds to my resentment: the impression that I’ve been left with something cheap, diluted, a knock-off from a previous generation. For me, “On the Road” must rest in glorified nostalgia. In their time the Beats worshipped each other’s mumbling whispers of genius, but for me to join their ranks in this reverence is now impossible.
The part of “On the Road” I found most poignant came in a paragraph that crossed from the second to last page to the last, as Sal waves from the back of a Cadillac to Dean, who is forlorn in his overcoat in the harsh winter of a New York street. His maniac rambling and shivering energy that Sal worshipped as mad passion is glorious in the hazy night of On the Road, but looking in after putting the book down proves Dean an uncertain hero. In this ending I got the impression of Sal finally seeing Dean ruined by reality, certain not to withstand the future. There’s a sense of guilt in writing off Dean as a relic of a era long past, because I can read in this ending Kerouac’s sadness in watching this fate fade in over 50 years ago.
I think it’s best for us not to write off the Beat’s and their philosophy, especially as another generation whose issues of identity seem wrapped up in catastrophes too big for their remediation. As quoted in Gilbert Millstein original review of On the Road, the Beats are distinguished in their “will to believe even in the face of an inability to do so in conventional terms.” The Beats best teaching might be to tell us to find whatever beat-up, haphazard, idealistic, disillusioned, transcendent belief works for us right now.