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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Teh Funnay!

What if Fox News had been around throughout history?


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 7:23 PM
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English 3621: Makin, Astell, and Wollstonecraft

There’s this guy in my American Poetry class. Likes talking. A lot. Also, he seems convinced of his own genius. But he never makes any sense, and rarely either knows what he’s talking about or says anything relevant to the conversation at hand. Normally it’s just annoying, but today it was head-desk-thumpingly bad. I’m given to wonder... does he get high before coming to class? That might explain it, I suppose. I mean, I try not to be mean - when someone says something in class, I try to interpret their statements in the most favourable way possible, and unless someone really gets on my nerves (which hardly ever happens... in a classroom setting) I never shoot anybody's ideas down. But I've got my limits, and today I was sorely tempted to say some things that I probably would have regretted.

(Man, I hope I don’t sound like that. I don’t think I do… I tend to know what the hell I’m talking about most of the time, and I try to keep my comments in class relevant to whatever discussion is going on.)

Anyway. On to this week’s English 3621 readings.

On Makin:

Makin’s interesting. I know I’ve studied her before in my late ren. class, but I have to admit she never stuck out in my head before. (Maybe I missed that class or something…) Now that I’ve read her "Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen" in more depth, I’m quite impressed by her elegant rhetorical strategies – definitely one of the strongest arguments on the subject I’ve seen put forth in her time period. She covers all her bases, such as speaking about the dangerous power of tradition ("Custom, when it is inveterate, has a mighty influence") and making it clear that bad traditions should be changed, as well as presenting an echo of Plato’s own argument for the betterment of women in Greece ("Were Women thus Educated now. I am confident the advantage would be very great: The Women would have Honor and Pleasure; their Relations Profit, and the whole Nation Advantage.") One can even see the shadow of the first wave feminism of the suffragettes, when she says "Let not your Ladyships be offended, that I do not (as some have wittily done) plead for Female Preeminence. To ask too much is the way to be denied all." She’s making her demands strategically and powerfully, but trying to avoid doing so in a threatening manner lest she scare away those who would otherwise be sympathetic to her argument and, as a result, she ends up with nothing.

According to my Broadview anthology, the pedagogy of the treatise was greatly influenced by "the writings of the philosopher and educationalist Johan Amos Komensky (Comenius)." I have no idea what that means, but it sounds very insightful and important.

One specific excerpt that I wanted to comment on:

“The Papal Chair could not defend itself, but was invaded by a Woman, for her Excellency in Learning above the men of her Times; As Volateran, Sigebertus, Platina, and others, that have writ the Lives of the Roman Bishops, do declare. She is remembered likewise for this purpose by Boccasius in his Book de Claris Mulicribus.”

Neat little historical fact: Most (though not all) scholars consider the tale of "Pope Joan," who supposedly ran the church from 855-8, to be a myth. More specifically, it is believed to have been a bit of propaganda created by protestant England to make fun of the Catholics, though after a while they started believing in their own propaganda. Because, y’know, having a woman as the head of their religion is insult-worthy. Never mind that the Monarch was also the head of the protestant church of England, and thus the protestants had two women heads-of-church in a row soon after the Reformation – nothing to see here, move along, move along…

On Astell:

I think I need a bit of context on the Duchess Mazarine matter.

Of course, marriage is really something of a misnomer applied to the text – yes, she deals with marriage itself a great deal, but it seems her primary interest is more in gender relations as a whole. About one-third to one-half of the way through the text, she starts periodically broadening the focus of her argument outside the bounds of marriage, which I think betrays the ultimate goal of the text – to present and subsequently the pitfalls society sets for women, both within and without marriage.

An excerpts worthy of focused comment:

"Thus, whether it be Wit or Beauty that a Man's in Love with, there's no great hopes of a lasting Happiness; Beauty with all the helps of Art is of no long date, the more it is help'd the sooner it decays, and he who only or chiefly chose for Beauty, will in a little time find the same reason for another Choice. Nor is that sort of Wit which he prefers of a more sure tenure, or allowing it to last, it will not always please."

I’m not the romantic I was in my younger-years, but it seems to me that she’s attacking a purposefully poor vision of marrying for love and thus being dishonestly unfair to the idea… Essentially, she’s saying that marrying for love is basically marrying for an attraction to wit, which is (these days) hardly true wit at all; in other words, she’s saying that marrying for love usually isn’t, and as a result marrying for love isn’t a worthwhile goal. This is known as a straw man argument. A more honest rhetorical strategy would be to attack the idea of marriage based on actual love, rather than the false-love she turns it into. (Not that marrying for love was often viable in her day – personally, I think she would have had more success in building an argument against marriage for love through pointing out how it makes other aspects of marriage so difficult in her society when it is the only consideration.)

I guess what I'm saying is that this portion of her argument seems somewhat intellectually dishonest.

On Wollstonecraft:

I’ve read excerpts of her "Vindication" text before, but never dealt with her in any great depth. Unfortunately, since I’ve only managed to get about a third through the text and I'm now a tired, tired badger, it seems this will remain the case for now. Suffice to say, I don’t really feel equipped to say much about her.

Sorry.


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 1:24 AM
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Another Mention on Cavendish

I woke up this morning with a cough and a sore throat, so it seems that the illness that's been hanging around these parts lately finally got around to descending 'pon poor little old me. I was hoping it would pass me by. Ah, well.

I thought it might be interesting, given some of the things that were mentioned about Margaret Cavendish both on the blogs and in class, to reproduce here her letter to Oxford and Cambridge, which prefaced her Philosophical and Physical Opnions:

* * *

Most famously learned,

I here present the sum of my works, not that I think wise schoolmen, and industrious, laborious students should value my book for any worth, but to receive it without scorn, for the good encouragement of our sex, lest in time we should grow irrational as idiots, by the dejectedness of our spirits, through the careless neglects, and despisements of the masculine sex to the effeminate, thinking it impossible we should have either learning or understanding, wit or judgement, as if we had not rational souls as well as men, and we out of a custom of dejectedness think so too, which makes us quit all industry towards profitable knowledge being employed only in low, and petty employments, which takes away not only our abilities towards arts, but higher capacities in speculations, so as we are become like worms that only live in the dull earth of ignorance, winding ourselves sometimes out, by the help of some refreshing rain of good educations which seldom is given us; for we are kept like birds in cages to hop up and down in our houses, not suffered to fly abroad to see the several changes of fortune, and the various humors, ordained and created by nature; thus wanting the experiences of nature, we must needs want the understanding and knowledge and so consequently prudence, and invention of men: thus by an opinion, which I hope is but an erroneous one in men, we are shut out of all power, and authority by reason we are never employed either in civil nor marital affairs, our counsels are despised and laughed at, the best of our actions are trodden down with score, by the over-weaning conceit men have of themselves and through a despisement of us.

But I considering with myself, that if a right judgement, and a true understanding, and a respectful civility live anywhere, it must be in learned universities, where nature is best known, where truth is oftenest found, where civility is most practised, and if I find not a resentment here, I am very confident I shall find it nowhere, neither shall I think I deserve it, if you approve not of me, but if I deserve not praise, I am sure to receive so much courtship from this sage society, as to bury me in silence; thus I may have a quiet grave, since not worthy a famous memory; but to lie entombed under the dust of an university will be honour enough for me, and more than if I were worshipped by the vulgar as a deity. Wherefore if your wisdoms cannot give me the bays, let your charity strew me with cypress; and who knows but after my honourable burial, I may have a glorious resurrection in following ages, since time brings strange and unusual things to pass, I mean unusual to men, though not in nature: and I hope this action of mine, is not unnatural, though unusual for a woman to present a book to the university, nor impudence, for the action is honest, although it seem vainglorious, but if it be, I am to be pardoned, since there is little difference between man and beast, but what ambition and glory makes.


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 7:01 PM
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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

ENGL 3621: Margaret Cavendish

I’ve studied her before, but mostly I focused on her “Orations of Diverse Sorts” (of which this week's readings include those pertaining to gender issues). She had a very strong vision of what an author should be, one that she was constantly struggling to realize. She’s probably my favourite later renaissance writer. Samuel Pepys actually dismissed her as insane, so you know she must have really been on to something.

Cavendish was among the most prolific writers of her time (and certainly of her similarly-gendered peers). Cavendish wrote a total of fourteen works on a broad selection of topics: scientific and philosophical treatises, science fiction, a biography, an autobiography, essays, letters, poetry, "orations", and several plays. Given the obstacles to publication she faced by virtue of being born a woman, this is a very remarkable achievement. It was pretty clear that she enjoyed writing for its own sake; in her preface to "Orations of Diverse Sorts, Accommodated to Diverse Places," she wrote, "I have endeavoured in this book to express perfect orators, that speak perfect orations, as to cause their auditors to act, or believe, according to the orator’s opinion, judgment, design, or desire." Such writing exercises, by definition, are primarily to provide the author in question an opportunity to write on various topics.

Blazing World, however, was new to me, and amused me a great deal. Within this work is contained a number of her favourite issues. For example, note the method she uses to distinguish fancy from reason:

"by fancy a voluntary creation or production of the mind, both being effects, or rather actions of the rational part of matter, of which, as that is a more profitable and useful study than this, so it is also more laborious and difficult, and requires sometimes the help of fancy to recreate the mind and withdraw it from its more serious contemplations."

IIRC, She was actually one of the few writers of her time to have a highly positive view of 'fancy', which was considered to be a lower function of the mind. For an example of contrast, Jonson was pretty much the opposite of Cavendish on this point (in fact, he was Cavendish’s opposite in many, many ways). Her poem, "I Language Want" makes quite explicit her thoughts on the art/reason vs. nature/fancy debate, wherein she likens education (Jonson’s point of pride) to lace and glitter, whereas fancy and imagination provide the soul of art. In the concluding lines of the poem, she writes:

"Be just, let fancy have the upper place,
And then my verses may perchance find grace.
If flattering language and all the passions rule,
Then sense, I fear, will be a mere dull fool."


Additionally, in Burning World she speaks about the limited opportunities afforded to her as a woman:

"as ambitious as ever any of my sex was, is or can be, which makes that though I cannot be Henry the Fifth or Charles the Second, yet I endeavour to be Margaret the First, and although I have neither power, time nor occasion to conquer the world as Alexander and Caesar did, yet rather than not to be mistress of one, since fortune and the fates would give me none, I have made a world of my own, for which nobody, I hope, will blame me, since it is in everyone's power to do the like."

I had to laugh out loud, though, when I came upon her self-insertion character. The way she handles it... Well, I'm tempted to call it a very early example of a Mary-Sue character:

'But,' said they, 'there's a lady, the Duchess of Newcastle, which although she is not one of the most learned, eloquent, witty and ingenious, yet she is a plain and rational writer, for the principle of her writings is sense and reason and she will, without question, be ready to do you all the service she can.'

Sure, Dante did the whole self-insertion character, too... But that was decidedly different in tone. The way Cavendish did it is more reminiscent of poorly-written Star Trek fanfics.

(Incidentally, I find it notable that the Empress and Mary-Sue are united in the creation of a divine text, which as has already been established was one of the few "safe" avenues for women writers of the era.)

Surprisingly (or not, depending on your perspective), near the end of the narrative she even includes an official endorsement of fanfics:

"And if any should like the world I have made, and be willing to be my subjects, they may imagine themselves such, and they are such-I mean in their minds, fancies or imaginations."

...though not without some restrictions:

"But yet let them have a care not to prove unjust usurpers and to rob me of mine, for concerning the philosophical world, I am Empress of it myself, and as for the Blazing World, it having an Empress already who rules it with great wisdom and conduct, which Empress is my dear Platonic friend, I shall never prove so unjust, treacherous and unworthy to her as to disturb her government, much less to depose her from her imperial throne for the sake of any other, but rather choose to create another world for another friend."

Kind of reminds me of J.K. Rowling’s whole approach, actually.

(I kid because I love, really.)

For my thoughts on the other writers we’re studying this week, you’ll have to look at my (soon to come) comments on the other English 3621 course blogs.


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 11:05 PM
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Monday, October 10, 2005

Because You Know You've Always Wondered

A photoshop contest asks the age-old question, "What if Anime people were real?"

Wonder no more! Rather, follow this link.

It's weird... The images are, well, *wrong*. But not so wrong that my brain rejects them outright. They're just barely wrong enough to disturb me on some deep, subconscious level... as if their greatest offense is being nearly normal.

Go there and you'll know what I'm talking about.


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 3:16 PM
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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Web Page Ready

My web page on Aemelia Lanyer can be found here.


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 1:07 PM
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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Chinese Star Wars

This link has been floating around my bookmarks for a while now. I think it's about time I share it with my readers -- whomever they may be.

(I still haven't seen Episodes 2 or 3, owing to my utter disgust of Episode 1, yet I find that page hilarious. Then again, perhaps there's a causality there that I'm missing.)


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 10:45 PM
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ENGL 3621: Fantomina The moral of Fantomina (unge...
Superman Returns The teaser trailer for the new S...
ENGL 3621: Concerning Frances Burney... ...and N...
English 3621: Essay Just finished my essay; sinc...
Okay, I'm Big Enough to Admit It. I was wrong. T...
Teh Funnay! What if Fox News had been around thro...
English 3621: Makin, Astell, and Wollstonecraft ...
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