Thursday, August 23, 2018
What is postfeminism? Allegedly it is the space where we can move past feminism, where feminism no longer holds appeal to women and where it can even be harmful to women. As Melissa Gira Grant writes:
The patriarchy’s figured out a way to outsource hatred of prostitution. They’re just going to have women do it for them.
Grant, who has two last names and is a former sex worker (to be specific: a prostitute, not a pimp) claims that patriarchy, an amorphous “they” not rooted in material reality, has outsourced the oppression of women to women themselves. This is an argument made by many who claim that women are the ones who cut other women in other parts of the world, who participate in forcing early marriage or abuse other women in the family. Then Grant gets more specific:
I wouldn’t advocate for a feminism that’s buttoned-up and divorced of the messiness of our real lives. Your feelings are your feelings, but you’re not going to litigate your feelings about my body. The feminist ethics that I signed up for were respect for my bodily autonomy, that my experience is my experience, and that I’m an expert in my own life.
What is postfeminism? It is a desire for control over one’s destiny. It is the hope that someday, no one will call you any names or discriminate against you based on your sex. Yet, when this individual oppression ends – the oppression against prostitutes, against trans women, against my right to choose, against me, will this have achieved female liberation?
The postfeminism of today is deeply rooted in neoliberal atomization. A single female’s experiences are just as valid as any other female’s experience. A wealthy white woman who “makes the choice” to become a prostitute – her choice is equally valid as the poor woman of colour who “makes the choice” to become a prostitute. Postfeminism promises the liberation of individual women, but not females. These individuals are fighting against “patriarchy”, a concept that is not individualized or even rooted in material manifestations. Rather, it is as amorphous as its own concept: a male slapping a woman, a man cat-calling a woman, or a man who makes a sexist remark at work is patriarchy rearing its ugly head from the aether. Yet a culture of objectification, where women are plastered up like slabs of meat for sale in phone booths, where women dance for money, where women continue to make $.70 on the dollar; this is not considered a war against women. After all – a woman may now make the individual “choice” to engage in these acts, in these careers, may make the individual “choice” not to bear children to get ahead in business. Acts of violence against my body are crimes against women – but larger systems of oppression suddenly become more complex, more bogged down in uncertainty as we must learn to understand that these systems are made up of individuals who have the capacity to make “choices”.
It astounds me that leftists who might otherwise deride the idea of free choice under a capitalist system make all sorts of room for women like Grant to write privileged accounts of the system of oppression called the “sex trade”. Broader women’s movements such as the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network might feel as though an abolitionist stance on prostitution is right and good, but, as Grant would say, they are “privileged” in that their voices are louder than hers – the voice that enjoys prostitution believes that sex work is feminist work. Indeed, the other voices aren’t heard as loudly as the abolitionists “because they’re working”. This amorphous group of women who are pleased as punch to be working as sexual objects for sale are quiet, a silent majority cowed into silence by angry groups of feminist women who claim that 90% of women want out of prostitution.
If the voice of a “queer woman who dates women in her non-sex-work life and has sex with men for work” is not heard as much as the loud majority of feminists who want an end to prostitution, this is because women who “choose” sex work, who come at it from a political perspective of “empowerment” are in the extreme minority. But the individual reigns supreme over the masses in postfeminism just as it does in neoliberalism. When a woman demands her “right to choose”, she is demanding her right. She is situating feminism in a sphere where she does not feel fettered by her sex, where she personally has the ability to pursue whatever she wants. If she is a stripper and a man touches her inappropriately, this is a battle in the war against male domination – but the very institution that shapes his thinking is not in and of itself oppressive. Male domination is boiled down to the individual, becomes a question of one human exerting his will over another’s in an unfair way. It is no longer about systems of oppression, cultures of abuse, or industries of suffering. We are boiled down once again to our individual experiences.
A single person cannot change the world because change is the prerogative of the people. There is no such thing as a mass movement of individuals – they might all be walking in the same direction, but they are checking their smartphones and turning off onto a side street the moment they are required to check their egos at the door.
Melissa Gira Grant’s views are not just dangerous because they blame women themselves for their own oppression – either as angry sex-negative feminists or individuals who just make “bad choices”. They are dangerous because they shift the blame away from male violence and domination and continue to trump the experiences of a privileged few over the many. Why won’t these leftist blogs and magazines run a counter article to this kind of perspective?* Anything else would be hypocritical. Perhaps it is simply not what leftist men want to hear: that their individual enjoyment is not the purpose of female liberation.
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Top 10 books about the British in India
1. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1900)
If you ask any Indian writer which English book about India has meant most to them, the chances are they will say Kim. Yet it is an odd choice, this rambling story about an Irish vagabond orphan who is taken up by the British secret service and conscripted into the Great Game of repelling Russian influence in the Himalayas. But then Kim is a very odd book weaving together Buddhism and espionage, the colourful life of the bazaar and the Grand Trunk Road. Because it doesn’t exactly lead anywhere, it goes everywhere. It’s a children’s classic for grown-ups who are wide awake enough to get it.
2. White Mughals by William Dalrymple(2003)
Before the memsahibs came, lonely British officers consoled themselves with their Indian bibis. Some they abused and then deserted, but others they married and raised families with in those easy-going early days before the Raj got its name. Dalrymple tells in irresistible detail the saddest story of James Kirkpatrick, the British Resident in Hyderabad who built the most magnificent of all residencies there, and the enchanting Khair un-Nissa. He overcomes every obstacle to marry her, even converting to Islam. Then he dies when she is still only 19, leaving her to be taken up and then dumped by another British officer.
3. Up the Country by Emily Eden (1867)
If Jane Austen had gone to India, these are the letters home she might have written. Emily Eden was the sister of George Auckland, probably the worst governor general of the lot. She was as gay, witty and caustic as he was stiff and prickly. Her travels across northern India not only provide a seemingly innocent but remarkably acute commentary on life at the top but also a rueful record of her brother’s disastrous policy in Afghanistan.
How did a few thousand British troops hold down a subcontinent of 200 million people? In his superb short history of the Indian army, Philip Mason, himself a longstanding officer in the elite Indian civil service, evokes the threads of loyalty that bound the British and the sepoys together until the threads snapped in 1857, and even after that brutal rupture were sewn up again, so that the British influence lingers on in the far larger army that independent India deploys today.
A plate from Curry and Rice (1860) Photograph: PR
The subtitle of this delightful book of sketches is “The Ingredients of Social Life at ‘Our Station’ in India”. Captain Atkinson describes with a delicious wry touch the ramshackle routine in the backwoods of British India in the 1850s: the innocent young subaltern, the disillusioned old major with his Indian family, the mangy pack of hounds they hunt with and the even mangier cattle in the bazaar, the cigar-chomping padre, and the servants fussing around their sweating masters. Atkinson’s illustrations are as charming and piquant as his prose.
For the British, there was no more traumatic event in the entire 19th century than the Great Mutiny. The European officers were cut down by their own men whose loyalty they had trusted, and their women and children were butchered in what looks like a variety of ethnic cleansing. This savage ingratitude for the supposed blessings of British rule provoked a retaliation on a far greater scale, which shocked public opinion “at home” as much as the mutiny itself. Hibbert’s book is the best short account of those terrible months.
The massacre of the entire British garrison and their families at Cawnpore was the most shocking single episode in the Mutiny (vengeful British troops yelled “Remember Cawnpore” as they plunged in their bayonets). The perpetrators were made to lick up the blood of their victims before being slaughtered in their turn. There have been dozens of novels written about the Mutiny, but only Farrell’s Cawnpore approaches the condition of art.
8. Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett(1944)
The legendary white hunter Jim Corbett became famous first for killing the man-eating leopards and tigers who were preying on villagers in the hills of northern India. Later he became equally famous for his efforts to conserve their habitat and the national tiger reserve is today called Jim Corbett Park. This enthralling account of big-game hunting can safely be enjoyed by the most sensitive reader because it is about taking life only in order to preserve it.
I had misremembered Forster’s celebrated book as a rather prim and joyless novel against imperialism. When I came back to it years later, I found it luscious and funny. Of course the British are absurd and don’t understand India or the Indians, and Dr Aziz and Cyril Fielding cannot truly be friends until the Raj is over and done with. But when Forster toys with his characters, he toys so gently that they never cease to breathe.
It was the Raj Quartet that made Scott’s name, but I prefer the coda to the series. Staying On describes the intolerable Tusker, the retired Indian army officer who has made a financial horlicks by staying on in a small hill town after independence, and his long-suffering wife Lucy, who see their old world shrinking as the new India rises around them, literally so in the shape of the ghastly Shiraz hotel. Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson were perfect in the TV version, but the book is a joy and makes an elegiac farewell to the Raj.
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Summary of SULA
The Bottom is a mostly black neighborhood in Ohio. A white farmer promised freedom and a piece of Bottom land to his slave if he would perform some very difficult chores. When the slave completed the work, he asked the farmer to keep his end of the bargain. Freedom was easy, the farmer had no objection to that, but he didn't want to give up any land, so he told the slave that he was very sorry that he had to give him valley land. He had hoped to give him a piece of the bottom land. The slave blinked and said he thought valley land was bottom land. The master said, "Oh no! See those hills? That's bottom land; rich and fertile."
Shadrack, a resident of the Bottom, fought in World War I. He returns a shattered man, unable to accept the complexities of the world. He lives on the outskirts of town, attempting to create order in his life. One of his methods involves compartmentalizing his fear of death in a ritual he invents and names National Suicide Day. The town is at first wary of him and his ritual, then, over time, unthinkingly accepts him.
Meanwhile, the families of the children Nel and Sula are contrasted. Nel is the product of a family that believes deeply in social conventions; hers is a stable home, though some might characterize it as rigid. Nel is uncertain of the conventional life her mother Helene wants for her; these doubts are hammered home when she meets Rochelle, her grandmother who'd worked as a prostitute, the only unconventional woman in her family line. Sula's family is very different: she lives with her grandmother Eva and her mother Hannah both of whom are seen by the town as eccentric and loose. Their house also serves as a home for three informally adopted boys and a steady stream of boarders.
Despite their differences, Sula and Nel become fiercely attached to each other during adolescence. However, a traumatic accident changes everything. One day, Sula playfully swings a neighborhood boy, Chicken Little, around by his hands. When she loses her grip, the boy falls into a nearby river and drowns. They never tell anyone about the accident even though they did not intend to harm the boy. The two girls begin to grow apart.
One day, while Sula's mother Hannah tries to light a fire outside, her dress catches fire. Eva, Hannah's mother, sees this happening from the upstairs window and jumps out into the garden to try and save her daughter's life. An ambulance comes, but Hannah dies en route to the hospital, and her mother is injured as well. The incident solidifies Eva's concern for her granddaughter Sula, as afterwards she remembers seeing Sula standing on the porch watching her mother burn. Other residents of the Bottom suggest perhaps Sula was stunned by the incident, but Eva believes she stood and watch because she was "interested".
After high school, Nel chooses to marry and settles into the conventional role of wife and mother. Sula follows a wildly divergent path and lives a life of fierce independence and total disregard for social conventions. Shortly after Nel's wedding, Sula leaves the Bottom for a period of 10 years. She has many affairs, some, it is rumored, with white men. However, she finds people following the same boring routines elsewhere, so she returns to the Bottom and to Nel.
Upon her return, the town regards Sula as the very personification of evil for her blatant disregard of social conventions. Their hatred in part rests upon Sula's interracial relationships, but is crystallized when Sula has an affair with Nel's husband, Jude, who subsequently abandons Nel. Ironically, the community's labeling of Sula as evil actually improves their own lives. Her presence in the community gives them the impetus to live harmoniously with one another. Nel breaks off her friendship with Sula. Just before Sula dies in 1940, they achieve a half-hearted reconciliation. With Sula's death, the harmony that had reigned in the town quickly dissolves. Sula died a lonely death, when her body was found, the black community did not care and let the white people take care her funeral. Nel never remarries and the Bottom slowly dissolves after Sula's death, becoming a different place. Nel meets Eva in 1965 in a home for old people, where Eva tells Nel that she knew about her and Sula drowning Chicken Little. After visiting the Peaces' grave, Nel cries out for Sula, admitting that she had blamed her misery on her instead of Jude.
Sunday, June 3, 2018
Contrapuntal Reading or Analysis
By looking at a novel contrapuntally, we take into account intertwined histories and perspectives. Specifically, contrapuntal analysis, developed by Edward W. Said, is used in interpreting colonial texts, considering the perspectives of both the colonizer and the colonized. This approach is not only helpful but also necessary in making important connections in a novel. If one does not read with the right background, one may miss the weight behind the presence of Antigua in Mansfield Park, Australia in Great Expectations, or India in Vanity Fair. Interpreting contrapuntally is interpreting different perspectives simultaneously and seeing how the text interacts with itself as well as with historical or biographical contexts. It is reading with "awareness both of the metropolitan history that is narrated and of those other histories against which (and together with which) the dominating discourse acts" (Said 51). Since what isn't said may be as important as what is said, it is important to read with an understanding of small plot lines, or even phrases. Contrapuntal reading means reading a text "with an understanding of what is involved when an author shows, for instance, that a colonial sugar plantation is seen as important to the process of maintaining a particular style of life in England" (Said 66). Contrapuntal reading takes in both accounts of an issue; it addresses both the perspective of imperialism and the resistance to it.
As the Empire thought it its duty to civilize the barbarians of conquered and colonized territory, the British immediately "othered" these people as inferior and in need of British assistance to show them the way. Because certain people were different, they required ruling, supervision, order. As politicians successfully stereotyped and "othered" the colonized, the British at home had no other knowledge or agency to know otherwise. They "othered" the people of these places as well. And so did the geniuses of the time--including Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, William Thackeray, and Rudyard Kipling. Born in ignorance, the civilizing mission bred and spread ignorance throughout the motherland. The ignorance as well as the traces of imperialism found in the texts of this time provide an accurate gage with which to judge society. Contrapuntal reading necessitates a vision in which imperialism and literature are viewed simultaneously.
Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen: Summary and Critical Analysis
Anthem for Doomed Youth, as the title suggests, is a poem about the waste of many young men in the First World War. The word ‘anthem’ in the title, unlike a national anthem that glorifies a country, is ironical, for there is just the opposite of glory in the absurd death of younger people shooting each other for nothing. The youth in the poem is doomed less by other (which the poem doesn’t mention) than by his own decision to join the war.
The poem reminds us of the sonnet that Mr. Brooke wrote to glorify war and England in that jingoistic manner; Owen has used the same sonnet form (that was originally used to express love) to demystify the conventional glorification of war, by exposing the meanness and absurdity of dying in the battle. The poem is written in the form of a sonnet. The poem as a whole is about how to conduct the funeral of a certain (or any) soldier who has died in war.
The first eight line stanza (octet) describes how the guns and rifles, bursting bombs and the bugles will take the place of church bells, choirs of religious hymns, prayers, voices of people mourning and wailing, and the calling from the sad countryside. In the second six line stanza (sestet), he replaces more conventional objects and activities in mourning and funeral by more abstract and symbolic things back at home. The first stanza is full of images of war that will do the mourning, so that no human sympathy and ritual is necessary, because this is not natural and meaningful death. The second stanza is more devastating in its irony.
The octave begins with a rhetorical question. “What passing-bells for these who died as cattle?” The soldiers die like cows; their death doesn’t evoke much sorrow. The persona is not actually so apathetic; the viewpoint is ironic that of the indiffere4nt people who stay in the protection of home and never know that war is horrible and disgusting. The rhetorical assertion that no bells may be rung in the name of these soldiers is not so much about the manner of their dying but the little value that the society attaches to their death. So at the deeper level, the poem also reads like a direct invective scorn expressed by someone exasperated by war and senseless killing of the young. If a man dies, the bell is rung at the church but when the cattle die, we don’t ring the bell in the church. When a soldier dies, in situations like the World Wars, there is no much value attached to the death of mere soldiers.
By using the fixed form of the sonnet, Owen gains compression and a close interweaving of symbols. The structure depends, not only on the sonnet form but also on a pattern of echoing sounds from the very first line to the last, and upon Owen’s careful organization of groups of symbols and of two contrasting themes – in the octave the mockery of doomed youth, and in the sestet the silent personal grief which is the acceptable response to immense tragedy. The symbols in the octave suggest cacophony and the visual images in the sestet suggest silence. The poem is unified throughout by a complex pattern of alliteration and assonance. Deposited its complex structure, this sonnet achieves an effect of impressive simplicity in theme.
Irony is another important device in this poem. It is a terrible irony that men are dying as cattle. It is ironical that sympathy seems to have dried up, and men are patient about the death of the thousands of soldiers. Amidst these terrible ironies, the poet suggests ironically how we, as typical war lovers, conduct the funeral. Since the soldier loves to glorify the gun, it is perhaps his wish that the beloved guns sing the hymns after his death. The church is not as important as the bombs that will do the prayers. The second stanza is even more devastating in its irony. The poet has replaced not only the normal religious rituals; he has also supplied new materials for the funeral program. These metaphorical symbolic materials like the sad voice, the mourning, the pale expressions, patient minds and brightness of the eyes will no longer come to use, because they had been used to conduct the funeral of the soldier the very day he had decided to leave normal life and chosen to go to the battlefield and die! When the poet remembers today, he feels that the shining in the eyes or sad girls who said goodbye to the foolish soldiers was the funeral candle for them that very day! This idea of leaving funeral is certainly exaggerated, but it is also very true because the decision to go to kill your brothers is well high a departure for death. So the poet says that the funeral in human terms had been done and therefore it is no longer necessary now. Their death was a foregone conclusion, nothing shocking; that is why the people are patient. What is left now is for the guns and bombs to perform (or celebrate) the funeral of the soldiers who die as cattle.
The poem is remarkable for its sound symbolism. The sounds of the guns and rifles are echoed by the words like monstrous, anger, stuttering, rifle, rapid, rattle, patter hasty orisons, demented, and the like, all of which contain sounds like /r/ /d/ /t/, etc. The alliteration imitates the sound of the bullets blowing in the battlefield. In the sestet there is no sound of war but a vast funeral service for the dead soldiers. The poet asserts that there is no need for candles. The candles are replaced by the glimmering tears in the eyes of beloveds. Their glimmering tears become the candles for the funeral services. The flowers come from the tenderness of patient minds. A drawing of curtain symbolizes the darkness or the passing of the sun. The sestet concerns with different insight. It pictures the melancholy state of the mind of the beloved who thinks of her dead lover. She sees her fate caste with darkness.
Cultural materialism (cultural studies)
Cultural materialism in literary theory and cultural studies traces its origin to the work of the left-wing literary critic Raymond Williams. Cultural materialism makes analysis based in critical theory, in the tradition of the Frankfurt School.
It emerged as a theoretical movement in the early 1980s along with new historicism, an American approach to early modern literature, with which it shares much common ground. The term was coined by Williams, who used it to describe a theoretical blending of leftist culturalism and Marxist analysis. Cultural materialists deal with specific historical documents and attempt to analyze and recreate the zeitgeist of a particular moment in history.
Williams viewed culture as a "productive process", part of the means of production, and cultural materialism often identifies what he called "residual", "emergent" and "oppositional" cultural elements. Following in the tradition of Herbert Marcuse, Antonio Gramsci and others, cultural materialists extend the class-based analysis of traditional Marxism (Neo-Marxism) by means of an additional focus on the marginalized.
Cultural materialists analyze the processes by which hegemonic forces in society appropriate canonical and historically important texts, such as Shakespeare and Austen, and utilize them in an attempt to validate or inscribe certain values on the cultural imaginary. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, authors of Political Shakespeare, have had considerable influence in the development of this movement and their book is considered to be a seminal text. They have identified four defining characteristics of cultural materialism as a theoretical device:
Historical contextClose textual analysisPolitical commitmentTheoretical method
Cultural materialists seek to draw attention to the processes being employed by contemporary power structures, such as the church, the state or the academy, to disseminate ideology. To do this they explore a text’s historical context and its political implications, and then through close textual analysis note the dominant hegemonic position. They identify possibilities for the rejection and/or subversion of that position. British critic Graham Holderness defines cultural materialism as a "politicized form of historiography".
Through its insistence on the importance of an engagement with issues of gender, sexuality, race and class, cultural materialism has had a significant impact on the field of literary studies, especially in Britain. Cultural materialists have found the area of Renaissance studies particularly receptive to this type of analysis. Traditional humanistreadings often eschewed consideration of the oppressed and marginalized in textual readings, whereas cultural materialists routinely consider such groups in their engagement with literary texts, thus opening new avenues of approach to issues of representation in the field of literary criticism.
Cultural materialism (cultural studies) Cultural materialism in literary theory and cultural studies traces its origin to the work of...
Top 10 books about the British in India 1. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1900) If you ask any Indian writer which English book about India ha...