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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Women's Writing: Elizabeth I et al

The works of Queen Elizabeth are without much context as presented with this week’s reading material, but luckily I’ve studied her before and can remember a great deal about her from previous classes. Elizabeth I was a truly extraordinary woman who was very aware of her precarious political position; she came into power in a period of highly volatile politics, and she did what she had to do to maintain her power against subjects who were alternately jealous of and fascinated by her.

Sometimes I like to compare her strategy of governance to a Dilbert cartoon:

Okay, I’ll admit that’s something of an awkward comparison, but it makes me laugh, and it speaks to the kind of balancing act Elizabeth was forced to perform to maintain her position: as a woman, she occupied a marginalized space within society, and had to maintain an outward image of being an object of courtship – not entirely unlike the way a lot of pop stars these days need to present an image of romantic availability to maintain their popularity, even if they happen to be committed or married in their off-stage lives. Yet at the same time she was a reigning monarch, and was expected to not only govern but ensure a successor to the throne.

Essentially, she maintained a fictional promise of marriage, always deferring or delaying actually committing herself. If she actually did marry, she lost the power she had to work so hard to maintain, while by destroying the fiction of courtship she opened herself to attack by her subjects on the excuse that she was neglecting to ensure stability for the throne. Even naming a successor would have diminished her political power, which is probably why she procrastinated until shortly before her death in naming James VI as her successor.

Her one serious suitor was the Duke of Algencon, a disfigured, dwarfish man who was, by all accounts, very dear to her. She called him her “little frog.” However, they did not meet until late in life, and nothing would come of their romance after four years of courtship (ending in 1583). I can only assume that he is the subject of her poem, "On Monsieur’s Departure."

This is, of course, all besides the fact that she transformed her court into a place for the celebration of art and literature, and the fact that it was under her rule that England took its place alongside France and Spain as a major European power. A fascinating woman, and a fascinating rule.

One poem she wrote that I’m rather fond of is entitled The Doubt of Future Foes, in case anyone feels like sampling any of her other writing. Note the way she uses gender-weighted diction in this poem.

Unfortunately, I can’t get a context for Anne Askew since most of the links seem to be down; all I’m left with is her poem itself. Looking past some of the horrible rhymes and rhythm-breaking verses in the poem, I see a woman who was presenting herself as very pious and godly during her time in Prison. Not that I’m suggesting that this was nothing more than a façade, but lacking any context I can't make any statements of certainty either way; all I'm left with is the manifest content of the work (which would be fine -- even preferable -- if I had the time to do a truly close reading of the text, but unfortunately I don't).

Jane Anger’s "Protection for Women" is much more interesting to read. Yet another gender-perspective text, the author herein attacks the stereotype of woman as corrupter by promoting the stereotype of the angelic woman, and by simultaneously attacking the nature of men much like the nature of women are often attacked by her male-author-counterparts. Women, she argues, are naturally inclined toward virtue, while men are to vice; indeed, men are unfavourably compared to the beasts of nature, which lack any kind of the malice that men so frequently show toward women, nor is there the nigh-universal desire to defile that which is good in women (she argues). Men, being filled with vice, are resentful toward women’s virtues, and want to pull women down to their level.

I found myself mildly surprised that Anger invoked Plato at one point in her argument, about mid-way through the text. I was surprised because it’s rare for such philosophers to be invoked on this side of these sorts of arguments, yet only mildly because Plato was, if anything, the first feminist; he once wrote, IIRC, that Greece was only half as great as it could be because only half its citizens were able to hold jobs, vote, and otherwise contribute to their communities to their fullest potential.

(It was his student, Aristotle, who was the misogynist. Yet Aristotle defended art, whereas Plato felt all art was valueless at best, and actively damaging to society at worst.)

Incidentally, I’m not 100% certain, but I believe I’ve read this text before in another class. At the very least, it seems quite familiar to me, but then once you’ve read a handful of these texts they tend to bleed together a lot since they cover much of the same ground. These arguments didn’t really progress much in terms of argumentative strategy over the centuries.

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 6:18 p.m.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Women's Writing: Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe

I've been sitting here, puzzling over what to write on my blog that would actually add something to the discussion that's been going on thus far in my peers' blogs (I intend to have links up in my left-hand sidebar this weekend, by the by.) To be entirely frank, I'm at a loss, here; my own thoughts seem to follow the trend already developing among the other blogs... Mainly a profound admiration for the courage of these women to be so outspoken about their beliefs (many of which flew in the face of conventional religious views of the time), a sense of surprise that they were able to find/create a literary space in which they could express themselves, and a sadness that the only space available to them was one of marginalization. I can only imagine how many other intelligent women had something to say in written word, and the natural skill to say it, but either lacked the opportunity or weren't willing to dedicate their lives to a convent (or the convent-lite communities like the Beguines).

Juliana's views on such things as sin and the "Motherhood of God," particularly, struck me as quite radical even in many parts of the Christian world today, and thus my admiration for her courage in speaking/writing them should be emphasized. Regardless, both women display profound understandings of their spiritual texts, and while I'm not 100% in agreement with their particular exegeses (but then I'm never in 100% agreement with anybody on that topic), they are nevertheless quite impressive.

One other thing I would like to add... From going over the readings this week, I got the sense that Julian of Norwich had a great deal of respect and authority... At least from within a very tiny sub-culture that grew up around her, among people seeking her out for advice, etc. Kempe's own texts even make references to meeting Julian of Norwich as an authority in spiritual matters. The idea of such a feminine religious subculture existing even within the overwhelmingly patriarchal Christian world of the 1400's... well, I don't want to devalue its meaning, because I think it is quite meaningful indeed, but I have to describe my reaction to the idea as "amusement."

Seriously, though, I mean that in a good way.

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 1:39 a.m.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Writing by Women: de Pizan

Initially, I intended to provide more commentary... However, I had a near-sleepless night last night and I'm finding it very hard to be productive. Thus, I'll restrict my comments on the current reading materials to de Pizan.

Apparently, she is considered to be the first professional writer in Europe, thanks to records of her being commissioned. I find this very interesting, definitely impressive, and possibly even exciting, that a woman holds that honour.

Most of the reading materials provided involved The Book of the City of Ladies, which is a classic and oft-imitated treatise on gender issues of the time.

These sorts of debates tended to rage endlessly, based as it was largely on biblical passages (cherry-picked to prop up the respective arguments) and anecdotal data. Since the very idea of empiricism was still several centuries away, the most powerful tool available to those debating was logic. Such logic, as used by de Pizan and her fellow defenders of womanhood, tended to follow similar patterns… such as the following:

-God created only that which is good,
-God created women,
-Ergo, women are that which is good.

Here, de Pizan uses a basic logical syllogism to implicitly set up the authority of the Bible/God against that of Male-writers-against-women, reminding everyone that it is the work of God which has the greater authority. This is actually a tactic often used in such treatises; another example would be Rachel Speght’s Muzzle for Melastomus. ( de Pizan, of course, deserves credit for being the first to do so… Indeed, the first woman to defend women by pen and ink. This sort of debate tactic is inevitable, since the Bible was one of the few sources of evidence available to women, and which other readers might hold in high regard.

Of course, de Pizan’s view is inescapably, troublingly essentialist when placed against more modern views of gender (e.g., "As for sewing, truly has God desired that this be natural for women, for it is an occupation necessary for divine service and for the benefit of every reasonable creature.") This, however, is hardly a fair thing to do to her writing, since this is really proto-proto-feminism – a Mesozoic view of the issue, if you will. It must be taken in the context of the state of the world at the time.

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 10:58 p.m.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

I'm Back Again, Again.

That was a pretty long hiatus. Exceptionally long. Neglectfully long, even.

I have no defence, save that I was really enjoying myself, and I really needed the relaxation. All summer long, I was up to my eyeballs in geek. I played RPGs, video games, card games, and board games of many different types. I read a lot... Not a whole lot of highbrow reading, mind -- the only novel I read would be "Flowers for Algernon" -- but I read a number of RPG books, and more comic books than I can really count.

We're talking a LOT of comic books of all sorts. And damn it, I even enjoyed the crappy ones.

I also did some productive stuff, too. I wrote quite a bit, for example. I also did some drawings and other artistic-related stuff, which is extremely rare for me... I hardly ever get a chance to put pencil to paper (or e-pencil to compupaper, as the case may be) these days, mostly owing to a full schedule but also largely owing to a lack of motivation. Of course, a lot of my art-related efforts involved trying to teach myself to use layers to colour things with photoshop so I don't feel like I wasted my money in buying a copy, so much of the stuff I did was just putting colour to old drawings and such. The single new drawing I did completely from scratch is the following pic of Shinigami, all grimacey and ninjarific.

I also coloured an older pic of his crimefighting partner, Bolt.

And here's a pic I did, intended originally to be put on a t-shirt, many years ago... It's something of a "comic cover"-like design.

And there were a number of others, but you get the idea.

However, all good things must come to an end. So, too, must my summer geek-out. Furthermore, one of my courses this term requires me to use my blog in the way it was originally intended -- as a place to comment upon course-related literature -- so once again this blog will frequently see content related to an English undergraduate's thoughts on literature by women. Which is, really, a far sight better than the complete lack of content it's been getting for the past four months.

Don't worry, though... I'm not leaving my geekitude behind completely. I don't think I could even if I tried, frankly. So I'll still be occasionally commenting on world politics, movies, superheroes, and whatever catches my eye at the moment.

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 10:16 p.m.


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