Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Concluding Reflection

Last week in class we finished  Ethnic Studies Theory, which included Langston Hughes and Gloria Anzaldúa;   Post-Colonial Theory, which included Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Benedict Anderson. We ended with a discussion on Cyborgs and Posthumans. For my review of the final exam, I did a lot of rereading and tried to synthesize the main salient parts and tie them into the overlapping theories. I practiced verbalizing some of what I knew and testing my memory with a 2 hour study session with  classmate Janice Reams last night, which was very fruitful. Thus my anxiety for the final exam is lessened and has been replaced by a more compelling feeling, so I know I am relatively ready for the final exam.
I would have liked to read more material in greater depth but am satisfied with my effort. This course has opened up a lot of new knowledge and interests  for me. Although the philosophical discourse has been more challenging than reading literature, I am gratified that I put a lot of time and effort into the learning process. During the first summer session I look forward to taking a Shakespeare course, and during the final six weeks I am looking forward to taking a Pop-Culture course with Dr. Wexler as the instructor again, and from what I understand, some of the major theory and criticism we have learned this spring semester will be a part of the course, so I will be forced to retain a lot of what I have learned already. In conclusion, I hope I feel content after finishing the final exam several hours from now.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Analysis #7: Ethnicity Studies and Post-Colonial Theory

Ethnic Studies to a large extent is a by-product of western imperialism and thereby intertwined with Post-Colonial Theory and Criticism. Langston Hughes (1902-1967) the prominent Harlem Renaissance writer and critic tries to reconcile the predicament for the African-American, while Gloria Anzaldúa expounds and pleads for, while crying out in anger and compassion, the causes for the Mexican-American, Lesbian, and Feminist. Although Edward W. Said (1935-2003) is a post-colonialist theorist who discusses the cultural domination of the Occident over Orient convincingly, he also broaches on his own experience in that “the life as a Arab Palestinian in the West, particularly in America, is disheartening” (Leitch). Lastly, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (b. 1942), a self-proclaimed “gadfly” post-colonialist theorist, deconstructionist, and feminine Marxist (Leitch 2110), in addition to expounding on those issues, relates a poignant story of suicide in colonial North Calcutta India in 1926, the same city where Spivak is from. 
Hughes not only wants respect and appreciation by white American for the Negro but also respect and appreciation by the Negro for the Negro. He is critical that the Negro writer’s and musician’s audience is predominantly white. In “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” an essay written in 1926 (Leitch 1192-1196), he laments that the only Negro who is not self-conscious of his race are the “low down folks” who don’t care if they are like white folks or anybody else” (1193). Hughes rails that the Cotton Club in Harlem is catered to whites, their employees are white, while the jazz musicians and   blues singers are Negro. However, the last few lines of  his 1925 poem, “I, Too,” reflects Hughes’ hopes, aspirations, and predictions “Besides, / They’ll see how beautiful I am / And be ashamed  / I, too, am America” (Baym 2266, 15-18).  It is apparent that Hughes was a forerunner to the Civil Rights Movement a couple of decades later.
Gloria Anzaldúa difficult but high achieving life is a testament to hard work ethic, determination, and talent. She is an advocate for racial harmony, particularly, for Mexican-Americans, and equality for women and gays in a racist United States. Similar to Hughes, she admonishes not only the whites but her own people too, the Mexican-American, and the machismos men who degrade Chicano women.  Her writing style in “Borderlands/La Frontera” is poetically moving (Leitch 2098-2109). It reflects her self-consciously and  embodied  “longings, critical consciousness, and contradictions” (Leitch 2095).  La Mestiza is in a constant state of  "nepantilism, and Aztec word meaning torn apart” (2099), torn apart from two cultures. This condition is similar to the condition of the protagonist in David Dabydeen’s, The Intended, who is a brown Guyanese Asian Indian hybrid who has an extended family consisting of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. He relocates to England as a teenager and his conflicts and ambivalence are emblematic of the post-modern dilemma of racial and ethnic disharmony, in a large part brought upon by Western imperialism.
Edward Said (1935-2003) a Christian Palestinian Arab, who migrated to America as a teenager, expounds on mostly the Occident’s cultural hegemony over the Orient, in particular the Middle East. The Occident predominantly includes France and England prior to World War II, and in America post-World War II.  He points out that the Orient “were shot through with doctrines of European superiority, various kinds of racism, imperialism, and the like, dogmatic views” (1872). He does a skillful job in his Introduction to Orientalism in articulating “a better understanding of the way cultural domination has operated” (1887). Said “has been celebrated and honored, in addition to being “vilified as an anti-Semite”; however, he explains “For anyone to deny the horrendous experience of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust is unacceptable. We don’t want anybody’s history of suffering to go unrecorded and unacknowledged. On the other hand, there’s a great difference between acknowledging Jewish oppression and using that as a cover for the oppression of another people” (Edward Said Online 9). I would have to read in greater depth Edward Said’s discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and other sources to comment with more knowledge. However, there is a wide disparity regarding the origin of the Palestinian refugee  situation, whether they were “encouraged by Arab leaders to flee at the onset of the 1948 War,” when Israel and Jordon were created by the United Nations, or “chased out or expelled by the actions of the Haganah, Lehi and Irgun” (5-7). Nevertheless, according to Wikipedia.org “many Israeli’s nowadays believe that the Palestinians true intentions are to conquer the Palestine region entirely and that their official claims are only temporary strategy.  As proof to their claims, they note the rise of the Hamas, which has called for the takeover of all parts of Israel, incitement against Israel made in Palestinian schools’ textbooks and to the Palestinian political violence made against Israeli civilians within the green Line borders” (5-7). 
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak  maintains that “subtext of the palimpsestic narrative of imperialism be recognized as ‘subjugated knowledge’”(2115). It seems that she disagrees with the imperialist British prohibition of the Hindu widow-sacrifice (Suttee) ritual upon her husband’s death and the predominant hegemony upon her native country India by imperialism. In conclusion, she relates to the suicide of the revolutionary Indian teenager, Bhubaneswari Bhaduri, who hanged herself because she could not go through with a political assassination. Spivak regrets that the victim’s eldest’s sister’s progeny is immersed in a successful career in the global economy in a U.S. based transnational company. Spivak, a Marxist, quotes V.I. Lenin: ‘“For Europe, the time when the new capitalism definitely superseded the old can be established with fair precision: it was the beginning of the twentieth century…With the boom at the end of the nineteenth century and the crisis of 1900-03...cartels become one of the foundations of the whole economic life. Capitalism has been transformed into Imperialism.”’ Thus Spivak concludes her seeming lament with, “Today’s program of global financialization carries on that relay. Bhubaneswari had fought for national liberation. Her great-grandniece works for the New Empire” (2125). One last point to make: although these writers and theorists justifiably criticize the Occident’s imperialism and the damage it has done to the post-colonial world, they predominantly acknowledge—albeit, with ambivalence—that their intellectual careers and skills as writers and critical theorists are a function in large part due to the Occident’s excellent educational system.
Works Cited
Baym, Nina, Ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. New York: W.W. 
      Norton & Company, 2008. Print
Dabydeen, David. The Intended. Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2005.Print
“Edward Said” en.wikipedia.org. Wikipedia, pages 1-17, 8 May 2011. Print
Leitch, Vincent B. Ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York:
     W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Analysis #6: Feminism and Gender Studies

My analysis concerns how feminist theorists such as Simone de Beauvoir, Susan Bordo, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, critique (or would critique) key female writers such as Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson, Kate Chopin, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A commonality among the theorists maintains that we  have lived and are still living, perhaps to a lesser degree, in a patriarchal western civilization where female writers over the last two hundred years have written under duress, as have females in general, to the point of getting sick mentally and  physically with anorexia (starving oneself to be thin), hysteria (nervousness and depression), and agoraphobia (the fear of open and public places). They discourse on how female authors and their female characters confront this unenviable circumstance.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) wrote The Second Sex (1949) remarkably “in the absence of any organized feminist movement” (Leitch 1261). Indeed, the “Introduction” to her book articulates feminist tenets decades before they became popular with contemporary feminists. She [sardonically] quotes ‘ “The female is a female by virtue of lack of qualities,’  said Aristotle;  ‘we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness. And St. Thomas for his part pronounced woman to be an ‘imperfect man,’ an ‘incidental’ being. This is symbolized in Genesis where Eve is depicted as made from what Bossuet called ‘a supernumerary bone’ of Adam” (Beauvoir 3). This independent, rebellious, and articulate defiance continues and progresses with the contemporary discourse of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Susan Bordo, and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
The consequences of women’s second class status is articulated by Bardo, who “follows other contemporary feminists (such as Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar) in noting that women over the last two hundred years are more prone than men to suffer from a number of illnesses that occupy an ill-defined terrain between the physical and the psychological” (Leitch 2254). She relates that Victorian novels did not depict women eating because it was “taboo” which serves as a “suppression of female sexuality” (2254).  Now in the twenty-first century “women, feminists included, are starving themselves to death in our culture” (2254). Gilbert and Gubar, (born 1936 and 1944 respectively) in their Madwoman in the Attic (1979) “famously make evident the high costs women writers pay for success. The madwoman in the attic (a reference to Bertha, Rochester’s hidden first wife, in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre) stands for everything the woman writer must try to repress—though never with complete success—in order to write books acceptable by male standards.  
Actually, although I have not read the book recently, my recollection is that the character, Jane Eyre, is an admirable one, with independence, courage, modesty, and intelligence. Perhaps Gilbert and Gubar take issue with the character Bertha Mason Rochester—who is violently insane and kept on the third floor—as a gratuitous female author’s appeasement to the patriarchal order. Bronte’s Bertha recalls Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s (1860-1935) short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper” (1892) whose main character is having treatment for postpartum depression, which “was not widely understood” at the time (Baym 1682).  The female protagonist has been told to eat, rest, sleep, and do without any external stimulation, including company, her baby, reading, exercise, and especially writing. Her husband, who is a doctor, knows what is best for her. It is not surprising that his treatment for her induces his wife/patient into a psychosis manifested by her hallucinating over the women in the yellow wallpaper in her room.
Gilman’s had real life battles with depression and her treating doctor was “Silas Weir Mitchell (1829-1914), a noted American physician, novelist, and specialist in nerve disorders, popularized the ‘rest cure’ in the management of hysteria, nervous breakdowns, disorders” (Baym 1688). Gilman’s short story, and in particular her female character’s husband John’s instructions—of course, a proxy for Dr. Mitchell—was assuredly a protest against medical treatment at the time for the “delicate and fragile female mind,” by the patriarchal society. Gilbert and Gubar  note Emily Dickinsin’s observations of ‘ “ infection in the sentence’ which suggests Dickinson’s recognition that literary texts are coercive, imprisoning, fever-inducing; that, since all literature usurps a reader’s interiority, it is an invasion of privacy” (Leitch 1931).  Undoubtedly, Dickinson incurred psychosomatic disorders and her artistry was not acknowledged in her lifetime. However, an English contemporary, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was, indeed, taken seriously across the Atlantic Ocean. 
Her poem, “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,” (1852) is an indictment against slavery, miscegnational rape of female African American slaves, while “Aurora Leigh” (1857) underscores and advocates the cause of female artists’ intelligence, creativity, and independence. These messages were very bold for a female writer to make in this patriarchal world, and indeed she was a forerunner to the feminist movement; albeit, it certainly helped that her husband was Robert Browning, a major English poet during the Victorian Age, a favorable support that Emily Dickinson did not enjoy. Neither did the American writer Kate Chopin (1850-1904) enjoy male support when she wrote the novel The Awakening (1899) and the short story “Desiree’s Baby” (1893), both speaking “radically to issues of gender, sexuality, and the American family” (Baym 1602).  These extremely courageous, controversial pieces brought on much hostility and ostracizing towards Chopin, however, certainly, absolute high accolades by contemporary feminist/gender theorists. Gilbert and Gubor (as others) are most appreciate of the  perseverance of  “nineteenth-century women [who] overcame their ‘anxiety of  authorship,’ repudiated debilitating patriarchal prescriptions” (Leitch 1938). 
Works Cited
Baym, Nina, Ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. New York: W.W. 
      Norton & Company, 2008. Print
Beauvoir, de Simone. The Second Sex. Marxist.org/…/Introduction.htm. Web 19 April
     2011. Print
Leitch, Vincent B. Ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York:
     W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Reflection: Feminism and Gender Studies

This has been another mind-expanding week where we read and discussed a lot of illuminating discourse on feminism and gender studies. The theorists are Simone Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Susan Bordo, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.  Beauvoir address feminine issues in general, and she is, in fact, a precursor to the others. Foucault and Butler concentrate on gender issues regarding sexuality, while Bordo, Gilbert, and Gubar mainly focus on female writers’ issues. I plan to write my analysis primarily on the female writers’ issues.
During class Dr. Wexler showed us a film clip from the original Pink Panther showing a seductive, sensual female singer entertaining her audience, then the ensuing discussion revolving around: “Who has the power? How is power represented in this scene?”  This elicited responses incorporating Foucault’s “History of Sexuality,” and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s “The Master-Slave Dialectic.” Opinions varied; my response was that the males hold the power because she depends on the predominantly male audience to become enthralled and attracted to her. Simone de Beauvoir might say the singer has the quality of “alterity”—the other—while Hegel may give her the slave characteristics of the master-slave relationship. However, it is still rather subjective, and thus one should be flexible in his or her opinion. From my personal experience, the women with whom I have been attracted to predominantly hold the majority of the power. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Analysis #5 Poststructuralism and Postmodernism

My analysis on Postsructuralism and Postmodernism revolves around the 2000 uncut version of the horror film, American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron, who also wrote the screenplay along with Guinevere Turner. The setting of the movie transpires in New York City during the 1980s. Patrick Bateman, the yuppie lead character and protagonist (if I may use the word protagonist) from the outset proclaims “There is an idea of Patrick Bateman but only an abstraction, no real me” (American Psycho). Later, he answers his fiancée, “Negative, I want to fit in,” when she prods him “Why don’t you quit your job?”  When I try to put this film in the postmodernistic perspective a couple of its tenants come to mind: There is no ultimate truth, and, there is no self without the word.  The French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1890) “focused on the human experience of freedom and responsibility in a godless universe. For Sartre, ‘existence is prior to essence’: because the world and human nature possess no fixed meaning, human beings are responsible for their own choices and actions” (Leitch 1196).  But is Patrick Bateman fully responsible for his murderous actions, or perhaps, partially, a victim of a cultural psychosis inflicted by the Postmodernistic Society?
Someone once said of contemporary society, “To the extent that they allow bureaucracies and entertainment to define and distract them, they live unauthentic lives.” Surely, Bateman exemplifies this by his unauthentic value system. His murderous rage ignites even over seeing better looking business cards of his yuppie colleagues, and over another colleague’s ability to get coveted reservations at an esteemed restaurant while Bateman cannot. Jean Baudrillard observes that “In consumer society, natural needs or desires have been buried under, if not totally eliminated by desires stimulated by cultural discourses (advertising, media, and the rest), which tell us what we want” (Leitch 1554).  Bateman’s true needs to murder and dissect women (predominantly) most likely stem from displaced anger brought about by his fantasy environment with no discernible outlets to sublimate his psychoses.
One might argue that his bizarre sexual activity and acts of murder reflect reality. However, these acts are cultivated through the mass media of film. He watches porno films, which include sadism-masochism, and the horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, whence he formulates his wants and techniques of kinky sex and murder. Mary Harron, the film’s director, comments that “Patrick Bateman learns how to kill and have sadist-masochistic sex (and positions) through his videos" (American Psycho  BluRay DVD).  Along these lines, Baudrillard feels “sexual desire is no longer a response to a person whom we meet and know face-to-face. Rather, sexual desire is stimulated by images promulgated by the media, and we strive to make our bodies to fit those images” (Leitch 1554). Bateman even makes his body fit by doing calisthenics to these videos. This brings us to the question: Does Kant’s ideals of reason and rationalism from the Enlightenment still prevail in our Postrucuralist and Modernistic Society?
Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky discuss this during their 1971 debate. (Foucault Chomsky Debate YouTube).  For the most part, Foucault believes that the coercive forces inherent in our society—government, corporate, educational, military—make it very difficult for humanity to maintain reason on a large scale. However, and more optimistically, Chomsky believes that “people’s creative powers to produce reasonable things will overcome the progressive structures of repression” (YouTube). Foucault interjects that even “Psychiatry, which is supposed to help people, is actually part of the power structure used in the judicial system” (YouTube). He goes on to say that Mao Zedong, the first communist revolutionary leader of China, had said that “Human nature is different between the proletariat and bourgeoisie” (YouTube). Chomsky reflects the more positive side in human nature bringing up his own civil disobedience concerning the Vietnam War. We may consider Chomsky a de facto proxy for Jürgen Habermas in this debate, who understands very well the arguments of the postmodernists and agrees that “the Enlightenment project of basing authority on reason has gone awry…we must strive to fully reintegrate the discourses of modern science, art, and politics … Enlightenment ideals gives people in post-Enlightenment societies a lever with which to move their less-than-perfect societies toward a better future” (Leitch 1569).
 Perhaps Baudrillard’s Disneyland metaphor captures most trenchantly our world and the American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman's world with these words: “Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but the order of the hyperreal [models of a real without origin or reality (Leitch 1557)] and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle” (Leitch 1565).

Works Cited

American Psycho. Dir. Mary Harron Perf.Christian Bale, William Dafoe, Jared Leto, JoshLucas, Samantha 
     Mathis, Matt Ross, Bill Sage, Chloe Sevigny, Cara Seymour, Justin Theroux, Guinevere Turner, and  
     Reese Witherspoon. Lionsgate, 2000. Blu-ray DVD. Film.

Leitch, Vincent B. Ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York:
     W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Foucault Chomsky Debate. YouTube. 1971. Web. 22 Apr. 2011.                                                             

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reflection: Poststructuralism and Postmodernism Part 2

As a follow up of Dr. Wexler’s clips on American Psycho I watched the full version on Blue Ray DVD last night, and I have to admit it was kind of disturbing.  Then I watched it again with the director’s commentary, and her relaxed soothing voice put me more at ease. I also watched the Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky debate again, also, as a follow up to Dr. Wexler’s clip. I know about Noam Chomsky’s great contribution to linguistics through English 302: Introduction to Modern Grammar, which I took last semester. So I plan to incorporate all of this material in my analysis for Poststructuralism and Postmodernism, which I plan to tackle tomorrow morning when I am more rested and my mind is fresh. In addition, I will bring up Disneyland briefly and discuss Jean Baudrillard’s,  “The Precession of Simulcra,” which I find fascinating. So I look forward to the assignment and then reading about Feminism and Gender Studies

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reflection: Poststructuralism and Postmodernism

            I’m off from work next week so I took some time this weekend to reread Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author,” primarily because it is mentioned a few times by the Poststucturalists and Postmodernists, which make Barthe’s work at the cusp between Reader Response and the Postmodern/Poststructuralst. I also reread last week’s theorists’ work of Jean Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, and Jean Baudrillard, all of whom I wrote notes about and therefore have a better handle of, and, consequently, may refer to them in my analysis #5 for  next week.  I had purchased the DVD The Matrix a month ago because it has been mentioned several times by students and Dr. Wexler as being pertinent to some of our readings and discussions, and I will most likely watch it tonight so I can relate it perhaps to my next analysis. Last week I also bought the American Psycho DVD and plan to watch it tomorrow night if I’ve progressed satisfactorily in my reading—if not I will watch it later in the week—as I believe Dr. Wexler will be referring to certain segments of its clips in class this Tuesday.
            I look forward to reading this week’s theorists, especially Jacques Derrida, whom I believe piggybacks on Barthes.  Tomorrow and Tuesday, I will read the required works, so, hopefully, it will be fresh in my mind for class Tuesday.
Last week, I appreciated Dr. Wexler injecting a quote from Elie Wiesel”s biographical novel, Night, from one of the concentration camp inmates, said after watching a Jewish teenage inmate die slowly from a rope put around his neck by the Nazis. When a fellow inmate asked the other inmate “Where is God?” the other inmate answered “He just died,” which metaphorically, as Dr. Wexler noted, represented the end of the Modern Period.  A couple of students took issue with this statement because “five million other people were also killed by the Nazis.”  This is tragic and true of course; however, from my observations, it seems in vogue to marginalize the Jewish Holocaust and Israel’s right to exist.  I mention this as a Jew because I see and have seen anti-Semitism everywhere, overtly, indirectly, and latent.  
As a high school teacher, I recently had purchased forty-five Night novels from special funding at my school for my students to read, which I should be getting in a week. Last month I took about eighty-five students to the Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles, where the Jewish Holocaust and other Genocides were represented in their exhibitions. Perhaps by reading Night and experiencing the museum, a few prejudiced and angry adolescents’ minds will go through a reformation and see things clearer.