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Story of Evolution - Spring 2005 Forum

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Shoot Me, I'm the Author
Name: Brittany P
Date: 2005-04-12 17:20:31
Link to this Comment: 14527

<mytitle> The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

Brittany Pladek

Brittany Pladek


Essay #3

Shoot me, I'm the Author

What you're about to read is a paper of literary criticism. I'm telling you now. Just so you know.

Who determines genre in literature which seems to stubbornly defy categorization? When a literary work evolves from one genre to another, how should we classify it? Should we stick with the author's original intentions, or should we draw our own conclusions? Does evolution of a form necessitate a re-labeling of that form---even when it contradicts the author's stated purpose? In this paper, I'll be examining these questions through the lens of the memoirs of Herculine Babin, an eighteenth-century hermaphrodite who committed her life to paper before committing suicide at age thirty.

Herculine's narrative begins as a fairly cohesive, chronological account of her childhood. It is a "memoir" in the strictest dictionary sense: "An account of the personal experiences of an author" (American Heritage 1). Its first chapters read less like a story than a list of bulleted events; Herculine keeps her paragraphs short and her introspection minimal. While she does acknowledge her own emotions (especially the negative ones), she doesn't especially emphasize them. For example, a typical paragraph from the book's early chapters reads: "I had taken her hand, which I clasped in my own, and, unable to explain myself otherwise, for I was violently upset, I brought it to my lips" (Barbin 6-7). Here, Herculine portrays her childhood misery as factually as any other "physical" occurrence---plainly stated, sans elaboration.

However, as the narrative progresses, Herculine's narrator becomes increasingly self-aware. Her paragraphs lengthen, and her depictions of events begin to lose their "objective" feel. They grow at once less cohesive, more introspective, and more emotional. For example, on page thirty-five, she writes: "If I were to write a novel, I could... produce pages that would be as dramatic... as any that have ever been created by Alexandre Dumas or Paul Feval! ! !" (Barbin 35). Herculine's purpose for her narrative seems to have changed. Instead of a factual recording, she compares her work to fiction authors---as if her real purpose is to draw out the drama through which she's lived, not present a "factual" account. Her annoying over-usage of exclamation points (which increases as the book progresses) and penchant for emotionality bear witness to this goal.

By the end of the book, Herculine's emotional outbursts have completely overwhelmed her initial narrative cohesion. The episodes from her life appear at ever more erratic intervals between long, weepy tangents which sound, often as not, something like this: "May 30, 186: Lord! Lord! The cup of my sorrows, is it not empty, then? Must Your divine hand, then, spread out over me only to strike, only to break, this so profoundly embittered heart...etc." (Barbin 102). The book seems no longer to the reader to be "an account of the personal experiences of an author"---a memoir. Instead, Herculine's incessant teenage whining, narrative loopiness, and sudden practice of dating her entries make the end of her book read more like a diary. The book seems to have evolved from one genre to the next (or devolved, as the case may be).

So what is it, then? Memoir, diary, or both? Can we, the readers, have our cake and eat it too? More importantly---is it our right, as readers, to decide? Despite the diary-like unraveling of her book, at its end Herculine still considers it a memoir. This is obvious from the fact that she keeps addressing her readers: "May you, my readers, never know all the horror that is contained in that remark" (Barbin 110). Ok, fine. So---like any modern autobiographer or memoirist---she wants this thing published. Her beloved readers may disagree, but---

Who's to say she's wrong?

Now don't start spouting Foulcault at me. Barthes killed the author and Foulcault danced on his grave. I realize Foulcault was the one who dug Herculine out of her coffin, but by his own argument, that doesn't give him rights to decipher the book. Hell, let's even grant Barthes the basic crux of his argument: the reader decides the meaning. "A text is made of multiple writings... but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author" (Barthes 1). Right. Peachy. But we're talking about genre here. That's a whole different ballgame.

See, genre deals with intended audience. Let's say I'm Herculine Barbin, and they've slapped a Mars sign on my forehead and I'm damn pissed about it. I'm going to tell the world! So I sit in my little room and scribble out this thing, and during the five years I'm writing my life is just going down the john, and hell yes that affects my writing! So what if the last few pages of my "memoirs" read like whiny teenage poetry? So what if I use a zillion exclamation points, overdramatize everything, and beg for death every few pages? I'm still writing for an audience. The difference between a memoir and a diary is that people read memoirs. Sure, people read diaries too, but no one writes a diary just to get it published. Or they do, but that intended audience turns it into a memoir.

And Herculine definitely wants her stuff read. I mean, at the end of the book, she's addressing her audience every other page! She even accuses them in places, hoping, I guess, that they'll learn something from all her misery (or at least feel really really bad about themselves): "I tell you this, I, whom you have trod beneath your feet---that I dominate you with the full height of my immaterial, virginal nature, with my long sufferings" (Barbin 100). (Oooh, sca-ry). She's not doing it for spite, folks. Well, actually she is---but to spite someone, you have to actually engage them. Which = audience. Which = genre.


Ok, I'll admit that if this were an argument over whether something was a satire or a comedy, things wouldn't be so stupidly obvious. Although if you come up to me waving a copy Gulliver's Travels and telling me it's the "greatest romance I've ever read," I'll give you the look I give the TV whenever Bush makes a speech. (Hint: think chimpanzee). I mean, let's get real here, people! We can't just off the author totally, especially when it comes to genre, and especially when that genre is memoir! What, are we gonna dig up Herculine and explain to her why we've got a better bead on her life than she does? Turn her little skull around and say, "Yo dude, nice diary you've got here..." The one place where the author lives forever is genre, because genre isn't meaning or tone or context or any of that other English-major crap---it's who the author wanted to read her book. And, no matter what sort of crazy shit an author pulls out of her back pocket, that doesn't change. Period. End of story. Aloha.

The end.

Well... maybe just one thing more. I'm anticipating a lot of flak for this paper. (Oh no! Curse words! Sca-ry! Somebody call the AFA!) Cuz I'm sure you---yes YOU, my captive audience, Professor-who-is-reading-this---don't really wanna see it as a paper. Or disagree with it. Or think I'm cheeky. Or something. Whatever. My point is, hey, I surrender. Meaning-wise you've got me, I'm dead, I fail, bang bang. Make up whatever meaning you want to, grade me however you want to, aim your little Foulcault guns at me and laugh. You're the reader and you've got this French-dude-given right to decide if whatever the hell I'm saying makes sense. But yaknow what? I'm still the author. And I say this is a PAPER, dammit, a paper! Not a rant, not some dumb experiment in writing style, a PAPER! That's my genre, and I'm sticking to it, and if you don't like it... well...

NYAH to you! 1


1 A brief word of explanation, in case I fail completely in my objective, and the above RANT is taken seriously. I agree completely with Foulcault. Not only the meaning, but the genre of any ostensibly-literary work is up for reader interpretation. Personally I believe that the evolution of Herculine's narrative is one from memoir to diary, regardless of her intentions as to audience. Despite the fact that Herculine obviously wanted her book read, by its closing chapters, it has moved beyond the point where its author is consciously attempting to construct a narrative that will be cohesive to readers.

While I do agree with my "ranting" self in that genre often reflects the intended audience of a piece of literature, this is only true when the work remains consistently produced for reader consumption. There is no question in my mind that Herculine, in her last stages of composition, gave up trying to build a coherent memoir and simply ranted at the "poor fallen spirits" (100) who have made her life miserable. Like any angry teenage diarist, she spewed out her grievances against the world at large, without any real consideration of readers who might later discover her work and try to make sense of it. Thus it stopped being a memoir---something written with the reader in mind---and became a diary---something written at, but not for, later readers.

Another glaring flaw in the RANT'S argument is that intended audience does not always match actual audience. Far more people than Herculine intended have, via Foulcault, had access to her narrative---what then are they to make of it? They're certainly not numbered among the "unfortunate men" (Barbin 100), at whom she railed intermittently from roughly page 87 onward.

In (real!) conclusion, my basic point with this paper was to subvert my own argument through example. What you read above evolves from a paper on literary criticism into an occasionally-obscene, slang-filled rant. Though "I," as the author, have a consistent audience in mind throughout, halfway through my work I stop trying to cater my writing to that audience. This changes the nature of the genre. If I had remained polite and coherent throughout, "I" would have truly written a complete paper: not a paper that devolves into a RANT.


Sources Utilized

Barbin, Herculine and Foucault, Michael. Herculine Barbin; Being the Recently

Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite.

New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

"Memoir." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.

New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

Fictional Truths: Confession in Herculine Barbin
Name: Anne Sulli
Date: 2005-04-14 13:34:55
Link to this Comment: 14566


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The story of Herculine Barbin is difficult to classify. It seems to both evade and inhabit several genres— Is it a memoir? A diary? Autobiography? Barbin's story reads like a murder mystery, a suicide note, and a theatrical romance all at once. What perhaps links all of these categories is 'confession'—the central voice in Barbin's narrative. Barbin's project is to "unveil," to excavate her own identity. Confessional writing makes the private public; it carries the notions of secret and revelation, honesty and 'truth.' Francis Hart explains, "'Confession' is personal history that seeks to communicate or express the essential nature, the truth of the self" (4). Thus is the task—revealing 'the truth of the self'—that Barbin seems to undertake. Likewise, the reader expects a gradual disclosure of buried truth. This confessional structure is imposed and perpetuated through Barbin's own voice, the reader's participation as 'judge,' and the modern packaging of the text. Yet in spite of these components, Barbin's narrative remains fictional; a story of 'constructed' and 'remembered' fact. The act of confession—the attempt to authorize the self—fictionalizes the confessor.

That Herculine Barbin's story is meant to be 'confessional' is apparent at the outset. She opens her memoir with a bold admission: "I am twenty-five years old, and, although I am still young, I am beyond any doubt approaching the hour of my death" (1). She then launches into a series of lamentations, leaving the reader to wonder how Barbin arrived at this state of profound bereavement. By opening her memoir with a glimpse of the 'present'—the moment of narration—Barbin sets up a confessional structure. The reader expects to be carried through her personal tale, learning her secrets and following her inner thoughts to ultimately arrive at the 'end'—at the twenty-five year old Barbin's deathbed. The reader is situated as a witness who waits for 'truth' to be unveiled, not invented. We expect an intimate and truthful 'autobiography.' As the narration progresses, we can see that Barbin indeed strives to establish the facticity of her story. She is attentive to temporal 'accuracy,' for example, as the narration moves sequentially and evenly through the past, following a linear chronology. Additionally, Barbin is careful to protect the privacy of those implicated in her story, avoiding proper nouns ("Childhood in L.," and "stay in B," (121) for example). Barbin is conscious of her voice: "I am writing my personal story, a series of adventures involving names that are far too honorable for me to dare to reveal the involuntary roles that they played in it" (35).

The reader is also asked to participate in Barbin's confessional narrative. The audience plays a significant role in constructing Barbin's story, for she maintains a sense of being watched and judged throughout the narration ("Ah well! I appeal here to the judgment of my readers in time to come" (54), for example). No matter what form or genre we may recognize in Barbin's narration—diary entry, suicide note, murder mystery, or memoir, for example—it is clear that she imagines an audience who will somehow adjudicate her story. By drawing in the reader as a judge or perhaps witness, she constructs a full confessional circuit—the text connects Barbin with her confessor, the reader. She imagines her future conviction: "No matter how strict may be the sentence to which the future shall condemn me, I intend to continue my difficult task" (36). The judicial metaphor is quite fitting. Barbin will continue with her confession in spite of the harrowing 'sentence' that lies ahead.

Interestingly, the modern packaging of Barbin's story enforces its confessional and revelatory qualities. Our reading of the "memoir" is shaped by its physical presentation. Barbin's text is not isolated; it instead leans against several external voices: Michel Foucault, for example, the many voices of translation, and the medical records that immediately follow Barbin's story. We know that Foucault brings us this text, having discovered it within the archives of the French Department of Public Hygiene. Entitled, Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite, the text carries a sense of mystery and revelation before we have even opened the cover. The "discovered" memoirs—saved from eternal obscurity by Foucault—have journeyed to our hands from France, and we, a reader perhaps never intended, listen to Barbin as eavesdroppers—as accidental recipients of a great secret. The private is literally made public. Before meeting Barbin, we thus arrive at the text with an expectation, to some degree, of truth. The memoir, in fact, lies wedged between "authorizing" voices: Foucault on the one side, and official records on the other. The memoir concludes with a collection of documents that seem to corroborate the preceding account. We move from Barbin's story to a conglomeration of "evidence:" a summary of the "names, dates, and places," the medical reports, clippings from the press, and recovered letters. The confessional tone of Barbin's story is interestingly affirmed by the critical treatment and packaging of her text.

Yet in spite of such emphasis on truth and revelation, Barbin's story reads more as fiction than fact. It is important to first recognize the narrative tradition of 'confession' to which Barbin's story belongs. There are two primary systems of confession operating in Barbin's narrative—religious and legal—both of which impact Barbin's sense of 'truth.' They are institutionalized forms of confession that entail a degree of performance and ceremony ("So help me God," for instance, and "Bless me father, for I have sinned"). Both systems utilize the "confession" to correct sin or wrongdoing, acting as an instrument of control. In Barbin's story, we can indeed see how the religious and legal systems (to say nothing of the medical system) seek to rectify her dubious moral and civil status. These narratives—of truth, confession, and penance— which religious and legal systems construct, undoubtedly influence Barbin's own story. Rita Felski remarks in her essay, "On Confession," that "the 'authentic self' is very much a social product, and the attempt to assert its privileged autonomy can merely underline its profound dependence upon the cultural and ideological systems through which it is constituted . . . the act of confession can potentially exacerbate rather than alleviate problems of self identity" (2). Likewise, Barbin's own 'confession' will always be defined by the systems that police it. We can see the impact of moral ideologies, for example, in the tone of guilt and shame that her narrative adopts. There can be no 'true' confession. The stories that legal and religious systems construct help to situate Barbin's own self-representation.

Also compromising the 'truthfulness' of Barbin's story is her retrospective posture. I opened by discussing Barbin's introduction ("I am twenty-five years old . . .") as a signal of her pending confession. What this opening also indicates, however, is Barbin's skewed retrospective lens. As the memoir is virtually written upon Barbin's deathbed, her story will undoubtedly be colored by her present misery. The text becomes a space in which Barbin may account for the present—to explain why she has been miserable her whole life. She records 're-membered' fact, blending truth with fiction. Critic Gilmour explains in her work Autobiographics, "autobiography is a form in which the self is authorized," (3). yet Barbin's attempt to legitimize her present self fails.
Barbin, after all, never seems to 'confess.' Her story is halted by silences— moments when she refuses to say. We see how silence invades Barbin's relationships: her ambiguous letters home, for instance, and her relationship with Madame P. (Barbin recalls the "incredible playacting in which feelings were confessed with the most magnificent sang-froid" (1). Yet these silences also inhabit her narration, separating Barbin from the reader. Barbin, for instance, often backs away from important descriptions: "I shall not say what that night was for me!!!" (36), for example, and "I cannot say what emotions gripped me . . ." (37). The reader remains distant from Barbin throughout the story, never quite understanding the reason for her profound misery. The reader's expectation of a 'confessional' story—which Barbin encourages from the outset—is never fulfilled. Revelation is continually deferred. Barbin circles around the 'secret' yet never discloses it. This 'truthful' story, it seems, is actually a construction; Barbin's history is a story of the present.

As we analyze the temporal posture of Barbin's voice, along with the different social narratives that surround her, we understand that this 'confessional' tale is both fact and fiction. Barbin becomes an 'author' in her attempt to 'authorize' the self. Critic Gilmour notes the limitations of confession: "The very act of confessing seems almost to conspire against the one bound to tell the truth" (1). We can recognize this 'conspiracy' against Barbin. In her struggle to relay the truth of her identity, to confess, Barbin is drawn into a system of constructionism. The fictional self inevitably emerges from self-representation. Just as Barbin's story questions the notion of a 'true' sex, it also challenges writing as a tool to convey pure memory—to excavate the 'truth.'


1) Barbin, Herculine. Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century Hermaphrodite. Trans. by Richard McDougall. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

2) Felski, Rita. "On Confession." Women, Autobiography, Theory. Ed. by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

3) Gilmour, Leigh. Autobiographics: A Feminist Theory of Women's Self-Representation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.

4) Hart, Francis. "Notes for an Anatomy of Modern Autobiography," New Literary History 1. Baltimor: John Hopkins University Press, 1970.

Cal vis-a-vis Tiresias: The Evolution of a Charact
Name: Kelsey Smi
Date: 2005-04-14 23:42:36
Link to this Comment: 14576


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"Middlesex" begins with Cal saying that he was born twice, first as a girl and then as a boy. He later claims that he is like Tiresias because his gender was "first one thing and then the other (p. 3)." In connecting himself with Tiresias, Cal is indicating an evolutionary link between "Middlesex" and Ovid's "Metamophoses." This assertion implies two questions that need to be addressed: the first being 'How similar is Cal to Tiresias?'; the second, 'How are these differences significant in reference to the evolution of the storytelling process?'

The root of Cal's gender confusion occurs when he compares his own life and phenotype with that of his classmates. This proves especially problematic when his classmates develop breasts and waits patiently for her own set to exist, but none ever materialize. Instead, she gets pain in her nipples that lasts for a brief period of time before disappearing completely. Her lack of assimilation with her classmates makes her too uncomfortable to shower after gym class. The issue of menstruation proves equally problematic because it also never occurs for Cal. He resolves this issue by pretending to have cramps after his mother fervently prays for her daughter to have a period. Though faking menstruation effectively pacifies Tessie, it does nothing to resolve Cal's confusion about his sense of self.

Tiresias, by contrast, was born with a fully functional male body. Since he existed as such, he had no reason to question his sexuality or to view his body as deviating from that of other men. He existed as such until he was a young man. Then, he saw two snakes mating. Tiresias responded by hitting them both with a stick, an action that resulted in him being transformed completely into a female. He exists as such for seven years. During this time, he marries and has children.

By not imitating the general form of Tiresias's first stage of sex alteration, Cal asserts himself as a distinctly different situation in two different ways. Tiresias actually changes his sex, an action that Cal cannot imitate. Second, Tiresias goes from male to female, but Cal goes from female to a female with gender confusion. The result is that a significant deviation exists from the essential traits that define Tiresias to arrive at the ones that define Cal.

Cal's second change occurs when she visits Dr. Luce. He determines that though Cal was raised female, she is biologically male, but he lies about his findings to Cal's parents. Cal's response is to leave his former life behind and assume the appearance and lifestyle of a man to the extent that this is possible and abandons his life as if he had never been a female before.

The situation for Tiresias is distinctly different from Cal's. After living as a female for seven years, Tiresias stumbles upon another pair of mating snake. As before, she responds by bopping them. He becomes a man once more. As a consequence of the events that took place, Tiresias is asked by Zeus and Hera to declare which sex experienced more pleasure while engaging in sexual intercourse because each of them believed that it was the other gender. Tiresias confirmed that Zeus was correct in saying that females experience more pleasure. Though Tiresias was made blind by Hera, he was also given the gift of prophesy by Zeus.

Again, the situations are dissimilar for Cal and Tiresias. Tiresias experienced the actual change in gender a second time. Cal, by contrast, experiences a gender change only in the figurative sense. With blindness, also, Tiresias experiences real blindness, and Cal is blind only in the sense that he was raised lacking comprehension about why he—as a female—was unlike his classmates who did not lack the ability to go through puberty.

"Middlesex" is useful as an example of a story that evolved because Cal exemplifies a way that one character can be imitative of another, even if the traits that exist in Tiresias are not completely reproduced in Cal. The similarities that do exist provide a way of reading the story of "Middlesex," without giving away all the details of the original story. The existence of the stories validates calling the new story an evolved version of the original text, rather than a completely new story.


Determination of Self: Predetermined or Socially C
Name: Jennifer G
Date: 2005-04-15 00:02:28
Link to this Comment: 14577

<mytitle> The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

Within the story of Middlesex is the struggle for the determination of identity. A need for Cal Stephanides to come to terms with his ambiguous gender, due to the fact that he is a pseudo-hermaphrodite. Between the genetic basis for the condition that caused the pseudo-hermaphroditism and fact that Cal was raised as the wrong gender allow for room to play with the way that people develop an identity. The story is one where Eugenides is attempts to express the conflict of an individual's personality with a biologically predetermined gender; however, the world of Middlesex relies entirely on predetermined genetic traits and events.

The story begins with the notion of Cal as personality of being predetermined. The invocation of the muse in the style of the proem of Homer speaks of the mutation of the gene for 5 alpha-reductase. This sets the stage for the story by summarizing the ideas that will be portrayed throughout the book. The proem describes the traveling of the gene from Greece to the United States, instead of describing the journey of Lefty and Desdemona, as the main body of the story does, showing the importance of the gene in the determination of who Cal is.

As Cal breaks out of the proem there is another reference to the genetic component shaping the person he has become: an apology for being Homeric, which happens to be genetic. This is bringing the idea of heredity to preferences in literature which is usually considered to be a product of social background rather than encoded in the DNA. This goes on to continue the importance given to genetic influence in terms of personal identity. If traits that are do not have specific genes associated with them, then it stands that other facets of personality are determined by through genetic terms.

The idea of predetermination is furthered shown through the image of the egg sacs floating on rafts, which is constantly contrasted random assortment of genes. This idea plays out that Cal was sitting on his raft next to Chapter Eleven, waiting to be born. This idea of Cal existing as himself for eternity, waiting to be born, does not allow for the random union of egg and sperm, which allows for some of the variability in the human species. The act is even documented by Cal as being determined by the biology gods, who are acting for their own amusement and allowed the proper egg and sperm to fuse. This whole process deviates from the normal method of fertilization, though useful in the storytelling style it does not allow for a person to develop their own personality on their own but rather each people exists as themselves.

The determination of Cal's gender was completely based on predetermined factors, or rather his knowledge of the factors. As Cal grew up as Callie she never questioned her knowledge of gender. The only time she questioned it was when she had sex with Jerome, but even then the narration was vague as to whether the realization occurred at the time or whether it was insinuated when looking back on the event since Callie never remembered it again. Callie was allowed to grow up as a female and develop with social influences rather than a predetermined genetic gender. All of Cal's thought processes and patterns of behavior were inherently female based on the way he had been raised.

The real stimulus that initiates the gender change is Cal's realization that he is in fact a pseudo-hermaphrodite. It was only this knowledge of Dr. Luce's report that led to the female to male conversion. It was as though it was predetermined that Cal was male, and had been only living in the delusion that he was female. He had never truly understood what was going on and did not truly exist as himself until he was told. The story read, not as a discovery of a new aspect of a Cal, but rather a rebirth of an entirely different person, who was not quite shaped by the experiences thus far in his life. There is an attempt at the end in Cal's thoughts that he was still his mother's daughter, although now male, since he fulfills the role of a daughter. Though, this contradicts the earlier notion of Cal's that Callie still managed to reappear every so often accidentally, further implicating a complete conversion into an entirely different person.

Cal was a person who grew up without a fixed gender, and yet through managed to conform entirely to the biological gender which was determined through chromosomal activity. The purpose of the book was an odyssey to discover self, however, rather than the end being determined by the journey the end was determined based on biological findings.

Categories and Their Impact on the Ethical Treatme
Name: Austin And
Date: 2005-04-15 10:28:55
Link to this Comment: 14583


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In today's society, everything and anything is categorized. From gender to race to academic ability to physical ability - everything is labeled and classified. One of Anne's lectures was on the topic of categorization and how it is used too much in society - how it can actually lead to corrupt treatment of the people in those categories. I disagree with her opinion on this matter. Although categories can be seen as hurtful and unnecessary, in today's world they are just the opposite. Through categories, people within these groups can make themselves heard and can earn rights that may not have been available if they were just another untagged person in the crowd.

Being in a category gives many people with similarities (whether they be academic, racial, physical, gender, or otherwise) the chance to be heard - in a political realm especially. Acts cannot be passed and laws cannot be made for one individual. They can be made for groups of individuals with a similar goal, however. For example, the NAACP has made many movements toward the better and equal treatment of African Americans. This is only possible because it is a group comprised of African American citizens all working towards their equal treatment. If it were just non-categorized individuals working towards this, the goal would not be achieved as easily or efficiently.

Another example is the category of the disabled. Individuals who are not as physically or mentally capable as the rest of society have all been given this label. Some people see this tag as a disadvantage to the disabled because it can seem as if they are looked down upon by a large part of the general public. People with disabilities are still human, so why should they be labeled as something that can often be misconstrued to have a non-human connotation? Because of this, many able-bodied people believe that those who are categorized as disabled must not like this classification. This is not the case. Most disabled people embrace their category and many changes have been made in the past decade to allow them to do so.

"It is widely agreed that people with disabilities are treated unfairly in our society," begins David Wasserman in his article titled "Disability, Discrimination, and Fairness" (388). Wasserman explains how previous to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), disabled people were bypassed greatly by the civil rights revolution during the past generation of people. Congress had decided that discrimination on the basis of disability had no legal recourse, unlike discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and many other things. "The ADA is intended to provide that legal recourse," says Wasserman (388). The Americans with Disabilities Act "requires employers, transit systems and public facilities to modify their operations, procedures, and physical structures so as to make reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities" (Wasserman 388).

With the creation the ADA, disabled people now have a right to equal treatment. Employers must hire those with disabilities and provide easy and equal access to them. For example, ramps must be put into place and elevators must exist so that people with wheelchairs can enter, exit, and move around the building with the same ease as an able-bodied person. Public transportation must also provide easy access for those who are not able-bodied. Under the ADA, busses and trains, for example, need to have lifts for wheelchairs. Other types of public facilities like restaurants and restrooms are also expected to provide ramps, elevators, and other accommodations for disabled people. Had the category of "disabled" not been created and used, this act would not exist today. This change in the way society views and treats disabled people was made possible only because of the efforts of a united group of people. Individuals not united under a label would have never received such results. They would have simply been overlooked and not considered.

Many categorized groups feel the same way as the disabled, including hermaphrodites. In a documentary video called Hermaphrodites Speak! which captured the discussion among ten hermaphrodites who all met in California to share their stories, the individuals all shared that they were very happy to be categorized. They all had the desire for there to be a more worldly usage and acceptance of this tag as well. They strongly believe that with the categorization of people as hermaphrodites, more information and stories will be spread, leading to a greater knowledge within the entire society. They want hermaphrodites to be considered and accepted as a gender along with male and female. They want doctors to leave hermaphroditic babies alone and let them decide whether they want to be male, female, or hermaphrodite on their own when the time is right.

It has not been that long since the category of hermaphrodite has become more accepted. It is still certainly not accepted in a wide enough capacity, however. But these people all coming together under one label is the only way in which society can learn about hermaphrodites and the only way that hermaphrodites can gain more rights and acceptance in today's society. If they were ostracized and working as individuals, as they had been until recently and even to some extent currently, changes within society could not and would not be made. The growth that hermaphrodites are making within society is all thanks to the fact that they are starting to be - and continue hoping to be - categorized.

While there are people who don't believe in the categorization of society and feel it is only detrimental, the people within those categories take a different stand. The only way that movements can be made and acts can be passed in today's culture, society, and legal system is through the categorization of people. When similar people make a united front, so much more can be accomplished - from acts passed that force ramps and elevators to be added onto buildings to the acceptance and understanding of hermaphrodites as a gender to so many other examples. Categories provide ethical treatment of the people within those groups, and without these labels, opinions and stigmas that society holds for these different people would never change.


Hermaphrodites Speak! Videocassette. (1996)

Wasserman, David. Disability, Discrimination, and Fairness. Ed. Christine Koggel.
Canada, Broadview Press, 1999.

WHo is Herculine Barbin?
Name: Maureen En
Date: 2005-04-15 10:39:18
Link to this Comment: 14586


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Maureen England
Professor Grobstein
Biology 223
13 April, 2005

Who is Herculine Barbin?

"One is not born, but becomes a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society: it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, indeterminate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine." Simone de Beauvoir from The Second Sex

When one is faced with a biography or memoir, one expects, "Here is where I will find out who this person was." Oddly enough, in the case of the discovered incomplete memoir of Herculine Barbin, this expected outcome is just what the reader is left wondering. Who was Herculine Barbin? Was she a woman? Was he a man? Was she Herculine, Camille, or Abel? Both through Herculine's devlopment as storyteller, or author in the work and in her confusion in identifying as male or female, one can try to piece together some semblance of what, in the end, consititutes identity, and what is Herculine's "true" identity.

However, even in asking "who is Herculine Barbin the author?" one is suddenly faced with answering "what is an author?" Consequently, to ask "what is an author?" one also needs ask "what can be considered an author's work?" Here, one is faced with daunting questions that trouble even the most prominent of literary critics. New Critics, like Matthew Arnold, may argue that a work is and should be taken as independent of the author, to "see the object as in itself it really is".
(2). One cannot apply this criticism to Herculine though, as her memoir, being at its essence about her identity, should and must be examined in context to the society, religion, science, and morality of the nineteeth-century, as Herculine was undoubtedly influenced in her life by what was around her. Therefore, Herculine as an author, is dependant on external influences as her "work" is her life in the outside world. Only through Herculine's interaction with other people, with the moral and religious codes of her time, and with the gender roles set up by the political and social atmosphere around her can the reader begin to understand who Herculine is.

Contingent upon this conclusion however, is the idea that one's identity is created in relation to external notions of identity; that one is, simply because one can "identify" with this or that labeling characteristic dictated by things outside oneself. At the time she is a girl, Herculine often expresses confusion between the role society has assigned her and the role she seems to want to play, "Was I guilty, criminal, because a gross mistake had assigned me a place in the world that should not have been mine?"
(3). Similarly, Herculine is fearful of not fitting a category, of an identity which does not easily fit into a predeterminded gender, "I was devoured by the terrible sickness of the unknown."
(3R). However, right before the reader learns that Herculine commits suicide, she expresses relief in the possibility of being free from external definitions of identity, "The sight of a tomb reconciles me to life. [...] The man who was a stranger to me becomes a brother. I converse with his soul, which has been freed from its earthly chains; a captive, I devoutly pray for the moment when I shall be allowed to join him."
(3). Can "true" identity only be achieved outside of the physical world then? Or is the very notion of identity, or at least gender identity, a complete construct of the physical world?

In the subject of gender studies, various prominent critics would agree that Herculine's confusion in her identity is due to the constricting labels which external agents give to Herculine; that is to say Herculine as "woman" or "man" is a notion entirely created by society. Judith Butler argues that gender exists only in the repetition of socially created roles, "gender is a kind of persistent impersonation that passes as the real."
(4). Furthermore, she says that there is no "true" or "false" gender, since gender is itself an external performance, "If the inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is a fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems that genders can neither be true nor false, but are only produced as the truth effects of a discourse of primary and stable identity."

Butler speaks mainly of gender identity though. To go further, what if one were to think of Herculine's indentity independant of gender, which may be hard to do as her main conflict in life seemed to be with her gender identification and the ensuing actions. Simone de Beauvoir suggests that all human identity is created in relation to the external world, "An existent is nothing other than what he does; the possible does not extend beyond the real, essence does not precede existence: in pure subjectivity, the human being is not anything. He is to be measured by his acts."
(5).Here though, comes an interesting circular thought. Stepping back to Matthew Arnold and the New Criticism, which judges on what is there on the page, than mightent Beauvoir be agreeing? If indeed, a human being is as a human being does, that a human "is to be measured by his acts" than regardless of the fact that Herculine was herself writing the memoir, a reader would be able to tell Herculine's idenity though the words on the page alone. The lost pages of the memoir telling of the majority of Herculine's life as a man do not need to be found, the action does not need to be told, since Herculine's inscribed identity both as she is labeled by society and what she does, is enough to give her as "true" a identity as one can, if indeed, one agrees that idenity exists at all.

What then, or death? In terms of the act of writing and storytelling, Michel Foucault says, in his critical essay "What is an Author?", that, "it is the kinship between writing and death [...] The hero accepted an early death because his life, consecrated and magnified by death, passed into immortality; and the narrative redeemed his acceptance of death."
(6). If identity, and gender identity, exist in the physical and external realm, if a human is as he does, if gender is as society dictates, than in death, would a person cease to have an idenity? Herculine is not disconcerted by death, and so one may assume that she is not thinking along these finite terms. Clearly, in the previously stated quote of Herculine contemplating death, she is more comforted by death. Herculine has though, told her story to the world in her memoirs. She has permanently recorded her actions in life. Thus, she has become the immortal hero of her own tale. Because her writing exists, so does she, even in all her confusion.

Through all of this abstract philosophical postulation, novelist Don DeLillo seems to sum up rather clearly, "Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals."




2) Matthew Arnold, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time," The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. Vincent B. Leitch (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001) 802

3) Herculine Barbin, Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteeth-Century French Hermaphrodite, trans. Richard McDougall (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980) 54.

4) Judith Butler, "Gender Trouble," The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. Vincent B. Leitch (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001) 2489.

5) Simone de Beauvoir, "The Second Sex," The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. Vincent B. Leitch (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001) 1410.

6) Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?" The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. Vincent B. Leitch (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001) 1623.

7) Deborah Brodie, ed., Writing Changes Everything (New York City: St. Martin's Press, 1997.) 136.

The Influence of Perspective on Identity and Story
Name: Becky Hahn
Date: 2005-04-15 11:15:06
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Both Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides, and Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite compiled by Michel Foucault, tell the story of changes in the life of a hermaphrodite. Each author seems to have a goal of revealing the evolving identity of the protagonist. These identities are expressed thought varied techniques of perspective. Foucault expands the limited perspective of Herculine Barbin's memoir by adding medical reports, press releases, and other documents, as well a similar narrative story told from an outside perspective. Eugenides creates his narrative more coherently using an omniscient perspective that includes both first and third person. One perspective technique used in both stories is what has been called "backshadowing". Both stories are told from the end (of the book), so there is a constant knowledge of what is to come which creates premonition in hindsight. These perspective techniques serve not only to illuminate the identity of the protagonists, but they also play with the idea of fate, which can be emphasized due to the perspective.

Herculine Barbin began her story as we have it with a first person memoir that reads like episodes in a diary. The flowery and passionate style aims to reveal the narrator's strong emotions about herself and what she goes through during her short and tormented life. She expresses shame, terror, and passion, but never anything subtle or very introspective. With phrases such as: "My God! What remains of me then? Nothing. Cold solitude, dark isolation! Oh!" (p. 92) she tells of her despair, but reveals few details about the source of her emotions. The reader can ascertain little of her medical condition from her memoir, both because she failed to include details, and because she didn't understand herself. Foucault aimed to flesh out the story of Herculine Barbin by including the Dossier with medical and legal reports, press stories, and letters from those who knew her. Although the doctors who examined her didn't completely understand her condition, the reports do illuminate the details of her anatomy. The outside viewpoints don't reveal much about her internal identity, since no one really understood her. The story by Oscar Panizza, "A Scandal at the Convent," as well as the letters do show how others viewed her, varying from completely accepting and unsuspicious, to believing that she is the devil. Panizza's story is told from the point of view of a "we" (p. 162-163) who closely observes Herculine without being able to get into her head. This "fly on the wall" technique seems slightly more objective, but of course is not without bias. Despite its limitations, the whole of Foucault's book creates a much fuller picture of Herculine's identity than could her memoirs alone.

Jeffery Eugenides claimed to find Herculine Barbin inadequate and wrote Middlesex in part to "fill in the holes" of the story. Instead of a story in pieces, he created a coherent story told from an omniscient point of view. This omniscience serves to penetrate into Callie's consciousness much more than Herculine Barbin ever did. The story is fleshed out in time as well as within the consciousness of the protagonist, since Callie can get into the heads of her ancestors as well. This "prenatal omniscience" (p. 211) persists throughout the narrative, but after Callie's birth the perspective wanders between first person and third person.

Callie's first person is much more "straight" with the reader than Herculine. She explicitly describes her anatomy and her complex emotions, which are often themselves hybrids, such as "the happiness that attends disaster" (p. 217). She states that "everything I'll tell you is colored by the subjective experience of being part of events" (p. 217) but her subjectivity seems much more useful to the reader than that of Herculine. She doesn't seem to omit important details or simplify emotions. However solid this first person perspective feels, Eugenides does not leave it at that—he also uses third person perspective to provide a different outlook on Callie's identity.

The third person point of view is Callie looking at herself from the outside, and thereby understanding her actions and feelings beyond immediacy. When Cal, the forty-one year old man, writes about Callie in third person, he is also separating himself from his past self and reinforcing the magnitude of the transformation that he underwent. When he says "Callie couldn't imagine the things Tessie was seeing in her dreams back then. But I can." Cal emphasizes not so much the change of female to male, but the metamorphosis of growing up. By looking at herself from the outside, Callie expresses a tension between her two interwoven selves as well as her exploration of self consciousness. The varied points of view combine to create an expression of identity that, if not complete, is very complex.

The perspective technique used in both stories is a viewpoint from the end (or at least a point near the end of the novel) that affects how the whole story is told. Both Herculine and Cal narrate with an awareness of what is to come. Herculine is of course writing before her suicide, yet it is probable that she is planning or at least thinking about ending her life. Cal narrates as a forty-one year old man looking back at the transformations of his life, so we know from the beginning how Callie is going to end up. This type of perspective adds coherency and meaning to episodes that were probably very confusing and random while they were happening. The technique called backshadowing, or premonition in hindsight, is prevalent in both stories. Herculine often writes of premonitions: "Was it an omen of the dark and menacing future that awaited me?" (p. 14). At this point in the story, she should not have known about here dark future, yet the perspective lets the reader know right away what will happen. Cal uses the same technique when writing about his father Milton: "His procrastination would have disastrous effects, if you believe in that sort of thing, which, some days, when the Greek blood is running high, I do." (p. 196).

The way in which everything is put together from the end by the narrator makes the whole stories seem much more fated than they really are. Random, catastrophic stories are presented as continuous in hindsight. With Herculine, her fate seems to be no only predicted, but somewhat self-imposed, since she says "The die had been cast. I submitted to my fate." (p. 114). Due to her physical condition and her attraction to women, she believes that her life is doomed to constant suffering. Cal makes her story into a fated Greek drama/tragedy from her perspective at the end of the novel. He recounts each event in his life and the lives of his ancestors as leading up to who he is today. He makes it seem like the relationships of his grandparents and parents were fated, which fated him into being a hermaphrodite. However, Cal never describes his life as doomed to failure like Herculine does. Despite being fated to be a hermaphrodite and transform from female to male, he still believes that he has some agency in determining his future.

The identities of both Herculine Barbin and Callie Stephanides are expressed through the varied points of view that their stories are told from. Both stories are based on memoir, but also include outside perspectives (whether other people in the case of Herculine Barbin, or Cal the forty-one year old man in the case of Middlesex) to provide a more balanced look at the characters. The technique of backshadowing not only emphasizes the relationship between the present and the retrospective selves, but also makes the stories seem more fated. Their life stories are transformed into a romantic tragedy and a Greek drama/tragedy through this perspective technique.

Perceptions and Perspectives: Herculine Barbin's I
Name: Lauren Tom
Date: 2005-04-15 12:27:41
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While both Middlesex and Herculine Barbin tell the stories of hermaphrodites transitioning from female to male, the styles in which the stories are told go to opposite extremes. Because Jeffrey Eugenides wrote Middlesex after reading Herculine's story, the development of Cal's story shows influences of perceived weaknesses in Herculine Barbin. Herculine's story is intensely emotional, focusing on the internal pressures that led her to change from female to male, a change in which she eventually fails. Middlesex reverses these elements. Cal's omniscience as a narrator and his ability to go into the minds of people regardless of whether he as a character could know their thoughts give the story an external focus, showing the way in which Cal/lie was created. Where Herculine fails to create a new life as a male, Cal succeeds. However, because Cal succeeds in living in a world defined by male/female gender stereotypes, he loses Herculine's ability to remove himself that perspective and view gender from the outside.

Because Herculine Barbin is told solely from Herculine's perspective, her internal pressures to recreate herself as male are represented as strongest. Despite being in a situation where she could have hidden her status as a hermaphrodite and lived happily with the woman she loved, Herculine puts herself in a situation where she must reveal her gender. Even before there is the threat of exposure, she describes her relationship with Sara by saying, "The future was dark! Sooner or later I would have to break with a kind of life that was no longer mine.... That was enough to cloud a mind more solid than my own." (Foucault 52). Herculine sees happiness as something ominous, believing that it can only be followed by tragedy. In this way, she imposes her own mental state of depression on the events around her. The "cloud" that afflicts her perception of the situation is her own, leading her to view her present happiness as foreshadowing some future doom.

Pushed by her depression, Herculine acts to bring about this doom, sending her life down the grim path of separation from her love, failure to reenter society as a man, and eventually suicide. Her memoir can be read as a defense of her choice to live as a male, by retelling her life as a tragedy. In tragedies, the hero is forced into a terrible disaster by powers that cannot be denied. Herculine reinforces this image when remembering her transition to male. "But what is the use of laments, regrets? I submitted to my destiny, I fulfilled – courageously, I believe – the painful duties of my situation." (Foucault 85). This description paints Herculine's gender switch as inevitable, by putting "destiny" in a place of ultimate power over her. Perhaps the change would have happened eventually, in a time period that only allowed acceptance of "the medical diagnosis of the true sex" (Foucault ix), but every step that Herculine takes to recreate herself as male is taken of her own will. She later imposes the theory of a tragedy on her life to remove blame for her misfortune from her own actions.

Where Herculine's actions are influenced by her internal experiences, Cal's actions are influenced equally strongly by external experiences. Despite a societal pressure to remain as a female so as not to disrupt the status quo that his parents reinforce, Cal makes the decision to run away from his old life and recreate himself as male. This decision comes from the influence of the progression of dictionary entries culminating in the cross-reference to "monster" and from Dr. Luce's medical report defining Cal as female. Before making his decision, Cal himself does not seem to have any strong feelings about being of a particular gender. "As I looked, I didn't take sides. I understood both the urgency of the man and the pleasure of the woman." (Eugenides 435). Because he does not see himself as one particular gender, Cal is easily swayed by Luce's report declaring him biologically male. He knows that Luce's interpretation of Callie as female is because of the lies Cal told while trying to appear normal. Since Cal views Luce's diagnosis as untrustworthy, he is inclined to believe the printed word of the dictionary defining him as a monster. His decision to become male is an attempt to distance himself from the monstrous by denying what he perceives as falsehoods about his gender. His choice to define himself by the biological "truth" of his gender parallels the thinking of Herculine's age, when biology trumped personal choice.

By removing himself entirely from his previous life as Callie, Cal is able to succeed where Herculine failed. He recreates himself as male, gets a good job, and finds a woman who accepts him. Because Eugenides saw that Herculine is unable to live in a world where she must become male, he created Cal in such a way that he could live and succeed as male. Cal transforms into a male at puberty, a time when all adolescents' bodies change. Whether male or female, younger people adapt to change more easily than their elders. Herculine does not become male until she is considerably older than fourteen, and the ties from her life as a female prevent her from fully reforming her identity. Cal leaves his ties to his former life behind and ends up with other hermaphrodites, in an environment particularly conducive to redefining himself and his gender. He is able to remove himself entirely from his female life, and become entirely male.

Despite Cal's success in life as compared to Herculine, there is a literary area in which Herculine is more successful than Cal. The perceptions of gender in each story are defined clearly as male and female, but while Cal switches from one gender to the other, rather than creating a new gender identity based on his status as a hermaphrodite, Herculine refuses categorization by viewing herself as a different gender depending on her point of view. Eugenides addresses the issue of gender when discussing the Stephanides' reaction to Cal as a male. "My family found that, contrary to popular opinion, gender was not all that important. My change from girl to boy was far less dramatic than the distance anybody travels from infancy to adulthood." (Eugenides 520). While this message allows for the existence of an identity apart from gender, it does not remove gender identity from the male and female boxes. The fact that Cal views his transition as crossing a line between two genders reaffirms the notion that the line exists, and he chooses to live as male rather than as a person apart from gender. Herculine, by contrast, views herself as male when discussing females and female when discussing males. She goes from the extreme of "Men! I have not soiled my lips with your false oaths" (Foucault 99), in which she takes a female role to denounce men, to "I can read [woman's] heart like an open book" (Foucault 107), taking a male role to view women from an outside perspective. In each case, she removes herself from the gender she addresses, associating at times with both genders, and at times with neither. Though labeled as male in her society, Herculine does not seem to identify with one gender more than the other.

Herculine may fail to live in the world as a male, but Cal's success in that arena is balanced by his failure to transcend the male and female gender identities as Herculine does. By creating a character that could go on to live as male, Eugenides removes the hermaphrodite's ability to lie between genders. Cal's story is so focused on the outside world that his character absorbs the male/female perspective that the world employs, losing Herculine's ability, through her more internalized, emotional story, to view gender from the outside. Cal's success comes through conforming to the standards his society sets for gender, while Herculine's failure is through her inability to do so.


1) Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002.

2) Foucault, Michel. Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. Trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

Herculine Barbin and Middlesex
Name: Eleanor Ca
Date: 2005-04-15 13:38:54
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That Jeffrey Eugenides makes mention of Herculine Barbin in Middlesex makes it practically impossible that he had not read Herculine Barbin. That Cal, in Middlesex, claims that it was reading Herculine Barbin (Alexina Barbin's memoirs, discovered and published by Foucault) ((1)Eugenides, page 19) that inspired him to write his own memoir of his life, suggests that Herculine Barbin did indeed have an influence on the writing of Middlesex ((1)Eugenides, page 19). One must imagine that Eugenides had an awareness of the story presented in Herculine Barbin and of what made that particular hermaphrodite's story "unsatisfactory reading" ((1)Eugenides, page 19), when he was writing Middlesex. One would find it difficult to argue that Middlesex wasn't in any way influenced by Herculine Barbin. One might wonder, however, how Eugenides has made Middlesex a story that makes more satisfying reading. Alexina and Callie (the pseudo-hermaphroditic "heroes" of Herculine Barbin and Middlesex, respectively) both, while living as women, have close relationships with other women who they love. Both discover that they are not like the women they love and ultimately live in the world as men. Both are allowed the possibility of living as women. The contexts of their lives are quite different, however, and more interestingly, the ways in which they deal with their differences and with the transition from male to female are quite different. These similarities and differences in the stories told in these two books can illuminate an aspect of the evolution of stories.

Cal makes it clear in Middlesex that he does not find the story of Alexina Barbin useful to him as a hermaphrodite who was, like Alexina, raised female before learning of his condition and beginning life as a man. If Cal's story is a response to Alexina's story, the differences may be intended to separate it from Alexina's. However, one might also imagine that it was because Alexina's story was so foreign to Cal that Cal found his/her story so unsatisfying.

Keeping in mind that Cal is a fictional character, one must imagine that Eugenides either found the story of Herculine Barbin unbelievable, then wrote Cal's story as one that he could more easily accept, or that he wished to look at a similar story in a way he simply found more interesting. He certainly did not create the same family or educational background for his character. He did not allow his character the emotional exclamations that Alexina indulged in her memoir, but created Cal with a fairly even-headed narration. He did make Cal a character who was raised female, who had some misgivings about her body, who developed a close sexual relationship with a girl, and who upon discovering her condition decided to live as a man, just like Alexina Barbin did. These similarities in basic plot points suggest that Eugenides did in fact wish to make a similar story more interesting and perhaps more believable.

Other differences between Middlesex and Herculine Barbin, however, are so large that one may find it difficult to view Middlesex as an "improvement" of Herculine Barbin. One cannot deny that there is a lot in Middlesex that was not seen in the other hermaphrodite story, simply in terms of plot points. Middlesex begins with the story of Cal's family, not the story of a pseudo-hermaphrodite at all. It is the story of Cal's grandparents escape from Turkey and of their incest. It is the story of Cal's parents lives in Detroit. Cal claims that he is telling the story of how he came to be. Cal is born (as Calliope, and called Callie), almost halfway through the book. One must imagine that the events of Cal's life are the ones that lead up to Cal's being who he is, but the story of the family presents a context for the life of Cal.

When Callie finds out that she is a pseudo-hermaphrodite, the two plots diverge beyond where they have in the past. Callie simply decides that she is a boy and while she is told that she is a girl and can live as a girl, she knows that she is a boy. Alexina Barbin, in her knowledge of her situation, knew that she was not living her "true gender", but was told by a priest that she might become a nun and presumably avoid the difficulties of beginning life as a man, as well as avoiding scandal. ((2)Herculine Barbin, page 62). When Alexina Barbin decided to live as a man it was after trying as long as possible to live the life she so loved, loving Sara, and struggling with the "truth" of her differences from other women. She eventually killed herself, perhaps because he was lonely. Normal life did not appear to be a reality, though he did know great kindness in his time. One who reads the memoir must wonder what happened to him that made him so very sad, one conclusion that pops out is the difficulty of his condition, his different genitalia.

It may be important that Cal gets through the hermaphrodite thing and goes on to have a happy life. It is definitely important that Cal does not moan and exclaim all over but presents his pseudo-hermaphroditism as simply a fact of his life rather than as this awful think that has befallen him. A story that does not present being a hermaphrodite as a horrible tragedy is almost certainly a more interesting, useful story for a hermaphrodite to read. Because the character of Cal is a pseudo-hermaphrodite and is the narrator of Middlesex, this story can be viewed as his improvement of Herculine Barbin.
It could be said that Herculine Barbin had many characteristics that did not work which Eugenides "selected against" and some that were interesting which were used in a new story. This is of course not a true "improvement" (as biological evolution does not work towards the better, neither does this evolution), though it creates a story that works better for some people.

Both are interesting stories, and Herculine Barbin has a special value as a memoir. The way that the two stories relate and differ from each other makes them more interesting when both are read with awareness of the two stories. As ideas go, Middlesex may have some that could be said to have "evolved" from different presentations in Herculine Barbin. As a new story, however, Middlesex also has a great deal of value.


1. Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002

2. Barbin. Herculine Barbin: being the recently discovered memoirs of a nineteenth- century French hermaphrodite (originally Herculine Barbin, dite Alexina B. 1978). Introduced by Michel Foucault. Trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Random House, Inc. 1980.

Evolution of Literature
Name: Alexandra
Date: 2005-04-15 15:11:49
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Alexandra Mnuskin
Story of Evolution-Paper #3
April 14, 2005

Evolution of Literature

Can the story of evolution be useful for understanding literature? Is there a common thread that somehow ties the two together? Like the process of evolution itself, all literature, be it the story of evolution or a fictional story, is ever changing. It builds on the existing stories, sometimes refuting, often reinventing but always drawing on literary predecessors. This paper will explore the possibility of this link between the stories of evolution and the literal tradition dealing with male pseudo-hermaphroditism.

Ernst Mayr's What Evolution Is, is without question a scientific text. It is a concise, fairly understandable summation of Darwin's famous idea and the many years worth of genetic research that we now know supports his brilliant theory of natural selection. As Mayr himself states in the preface, the book is intended for three distinct groups. Firstly it is meant for those who are aware of evolution but want to understand it better, secondly for those who accept it but doubt whether Darwinian evolution is the correct story and finally for creationists who do not believe it, but who may want to know more about it. Despite the arrogance of his writing style, there is really very little to quibble with in the technical aspect of the book. Mayr accomplishes precisely what he set out to, namely to lay before the reader the facts behind the theory of evolution.

As of this moment, the scientific community has not yet acknowledged that there is an equally accurate scientific theory to account for the diversity of species. It seems that for now, Darwin's theory still stands. What then is the purpose of Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea? Certainly it is not to present to the dilettante a succinct version of the theory, for we already have Mayr and works like his to accomplish this.
Dennett's novel presents nothing new in the technical aspect of the theory; his goal is rather to use that theory and build upon it an entirely new set of questions. These new questions go beyond the factual information of Mayr's text, but look at the implications that these facts have on our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. As Dennett points out, "one of Darwin's most fundamental contributions is showing us a new way to make sense of 'why' questions" (Dennett, 1995, p.25). He suggests this "universal acid" is not only capable of answering the apparent questions of diversity but is likewise capable of shedding light on such intangible and volatile questions as purpose, reason, ethics and God. The imagined becomes the possible and as Dennett himself puts it "we now have a much better sense of what a Darwinian algorithm is than Darwin ever dreamt of "(p. 521).

It is this same process of reinventing a story that is apparent in literature. The memoirs of Herculine Barbin, published by Michel Foucault and the novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides deal with much the same topic, the experience of a male pseudo hermaphrodite. Herculine's memoirs, being the personal account of a nineteenth century hermaphrodite are much like Mayr's text in that they presents the clear facts. These facts are of course greatly colored by Herculine's ever-present laments, they may not be as explicit as the medical reports published along with them, yet they are unquestionably the actual experiences of an actual hermaphrodite.

What is striking about the memoir is that it completely fails to explore the climactic set up at the beginning of Herculine's tale. She/he starts her work with foreshadowing some traumatic event. "I have suffered much, and I have suffered alone! Alone!...Not a living creature was to share in this immense sorrow that seized me when I left my childhood, at that age when everything is beautiful, because everything is young and bright with the future" (Barbin, 1980, p. 3) . Yet, despite the factual nature of the story, the climax is never really felt. When Herculine discovers that she is a hermaphrodite she reacts almost coolly. Certainly it is not her physical state and sexual identity that throws her into such states of emotional upheaval. Although she relates in chronological order, the story of her life, she fails to truly explore the implications of being a pseudo-hermaphrodite, to shed light on how her physical state reflects on her perception of herself. In this sense, the memoir is not dissimilar to Mayr's text. It too presents the facts of the matter, but lacks that second step, the implications that these facts have on a larger scale.

It is these lack of the implications of hemaphroditism that Eugenides so laments in Herculine Barbin's memoir. He writes that Foucault "shows her memoirs, writes an essay about it and then you have the report of the doctors and all those things... as an expression of what it is like to be a hermaphrodite, from the inside, Herculine Barbin's memoir is quite disappointing. She just tends to go into this moaning, talking about how misfortunate she is and... it's sad... she didn't have enough self-awareness to be able to understand what was going on. In a way she was pre-psychological in her knowledge of her self. And when I read that book I didn't get any information about someone with such a condition"(Moorhem, 2003).

In Middlesex therefore, Eugenides sets out to show not only the factual life of the hermaphrodite, but also the implications that Callie's situation has on both herself and those surrounding her. Cal may be perceived as an unreliable narrator, because he describes events that he could not have possibly experienced. His style however, is highly significant, mimicking exactly what Eugenides attempts in the novel. He bridges the conscious and accurate facts and the imagined or unconscious intuition that makes Cal the person he is. In the end, his hemaphroditism is not really a larger part of himself than the experience of adolescence, the history of his family and the history of Detroit itself. In Cal all of these things are present at the same time, "the wind swept over the crusted snow into my Byzantine face, which was the face of my grandmother and of the American girl I had once been" (Eugenides, 2003, p. 529). Like Dennett's "universal acid", Eugenides plays with the volatile idea of hemaphroditism, taking it beyond the merely clinical, but exploring it in it's relation to the self.

This evolution of literature can perhaps be likened to the process of evolution itself. At first there exist only model builders, creatures that, like the works of Mayr and Barbin, are able to make sense of actual, unambiguous facts. With the progress of evolution however, we see the emergence of story-tellers, equipped with a neo-cortex that can create stories out of facts, stories that are not apparent to the naked eye. It is precisely this way that Eugenides creates his novel: "I work with situations, characters, certain situations and characters that appeal to me. And then, I try to imagine them and write the story that seems to flow from them"( Moorhem, 2003). Both Eugenides and Dennett therefore, are the story-tellers of the literary evolution, taking the initial concrete idea and building upon it to create new and often intangible truths.

Works Cited
Dennet, D. (1995). Darwin's Dangerous Idea. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Eugenides, J. (2002). Middlesex. New York: Picador.
Foucault, M. ed. (1980) Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a
Nineteenth Century French Hemaphrodite. New York: Pantheon Books
Mayr, E. (2001). What Evolution Is. New York: Perseus Books Group.
Moorhem, B. (2003). The Novel as a Mental Picture of its Era: interview with

Weaving Stories
Name: Haley Brug
Date: 2005-04-15 15:49:15
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A story can be fashioned out of almost anything, much like a makeshift costume. Everywhere, a story is taking place every day and at every minute, even if they are not all recorded. "Literary influence is like genetics," Jeffrey Eugenides said in his interview with Jonathan Safran Foer for Bomb Magazine. He described the borrowing of "fireworks" from those who came before. If literature is indeed a game of genetics, an almost pseudo-biological process, Eugenides has borrowed "fireworks" from a rich literary history, a history rooted both in fact and in fiction. An analysis of the characters, the emotions, and the scenes that appear in his novel Middlesex is more than enough to prove that Eugenides has achieved a delicate weaving of stories and voices from the past.

One of the most central voices among them is Camille or Herculine Barbin, a nineteenth-century French pseudo-hermaphrodite. Like Cal/Callie, Camille was raised as a girl only to discover that she was biologically male. Eugenides borrows quite a bit from Herculine's memoirs. What is most striking is the relationship between Camille and Sara, the literary ancestors of Eugenides' Callie and the Obscure Object. Not only are the emotions and circumstances of these first intense love affairs similar in style and in wording, but they also strongly echo each other.

One scene and it's subsequent scenes in particular are direct mirrors of Herculine Barbin, down to the underlying emotions. This is the scene in which an intimate relationship begins for the first time. "Often I would wake up in the middle of the night," Camille writes in her memoirs. "Then I would slip stealthily up to my friend, promising myself that I would not disturb her angelic sleep: but could I contemplate that sweet face without drawing my lips close to it?" (48). Callie's first intimate encounter with the Obscure Object also takes place in the secrecy of the darkness, and it begins innocently enough. Callie first watches the Object as she sleeps. "I waited ten or so minutes, just to be safe. Then, as though tossing in my sleep, I rolled over so that I was looking at the Object." (Eugenides, 382).

Camille and Callie's feelings for their lovers are also mirrors of each other. Both couples start out as best friends and confidantes, while Camille and Callie secretly dream of something more. When Sara and the Obscure Object let them know of their importance in their lives, they are wild with joy. "'For Heaven's sake, Camille,' she said to me. 'What's the matter with you? Don't you really have any confidence in your friend any more? Aren't you the one whom I love most in the world?'" (50). Similarly, when the Obscure Object tells Callie that she is her best friend, Callie is secretly joyful. "I pretend to be engrossed in the magazine. Inside, however, I'm bursting with happiness. I'm erupting with joy." (Eugenides, 350).

The circumstances of both relationships, the difference of night and day, the secrecy, guilt and shame, are also comparable. Camille is aware that there will be serious repercussions if anyone is to find out about their intimacy. "I occupied an excessively delicate post, one of trust. And yet I was betraying them." (54). Camille and Callie suffer and bear the terrible weight of their secrets. Callie reports in a like manner, "I was wondering what would happen if someone discovered what we were doing." (383).

Camille's voice may have ultimately become a part of Callie and influenced her first relationship, but Eugenides was careful to listen to other voices as well. He decided to borrow from the more recent past for a less central role. His character Doctor Luce is based on the real-life Dr. John Money, who was at the eye of a storm concerning the "nature versus nurture" theory, and whose medical methods were somewhat questionable. Money was a "thin, delicate child raised in an atmosphere of strict religious observance" (Colapinto). In his early 20's, Money rebelled against his religious faith and became a self-titled doctor of sexology. Eugenides writes Luce as a man of a corresponding background. "A sheltered child once, from a reserved Presbyterian home, Luce was now liberated, free of antisexualism." (419).

There are still more comparisons to be found. Money became famous after the so-called John/Joan case, in which he changed an anonymous baby boy named John into a girl named Joan, who was raised alongside her twin brother. What followed after that first surgery was a medical case highly publicized as a success. It wasn't until later, and some would say too late, that many found out the truth about Money and his methods. The twins of his famous twin case were subjected to much of the same things that Callie is subjected to in Middlesex. "'Dr. Money would ask me, 'Do you ever dream of having sex with women?' Kevin recalls. And the same with Joan. "Do you think about this? About that?" (Colapinto). In a companion scene, Luce asks Callie if she is attracted to men or women. "In a straightforward voice Luce asked from the darkness, 'Which one turns you on?'" (419).

Money's methods also included forcing the twins and other patients to watch pornography in order to get a sense of themselves as boys and girls. In Middlesex, Luce uses the same method. "There was also the diagnostic tool of pornography" (418). Money and Luce both wanted to use the children to further their standing in the medical field and to prove their theories, at the children's expense. The twins-and Callie, were the ultimate experiments, something Eugenides was clear in pointing out.

Eugenides borrowed large parts of his tale from fact, but he also found a way to include his and Cal/Callie's cultural heritage by weaving in significant parts of Greek mythology. He describes the Minotaur in a pivotal scene with Cal/Callie's grandparents, and Cal/Callie often refers to himself as characters from the myths. For example, he most often refers to himself as Tiresias, the Greek who lived both as man and woman. So much of Greek mythology is fitting for Eugenides' tale, and he is a master at slipping the myths into his narrative.

"Influence isn't just a matter of copying someone," Eugenides told his interviewer. "Being influenced is largely a process of self-discovery." Eugenides combined and blended these stories and probably many others into the story of Cal/Callie. In Middlesex, literary ancestors have evolved into something new and, in some aspects, improved for this century. Cal/Callie's story is a story for our time, a modern narration which has taken on a new level of emotional maturity and life. It's lessons, drawn from all these different sources, are important to us and will continue to be to future generations. That is Jeffrey Eugenides' achievement, a story with plenty of "fireworks".


Barbin, Herculine. Herculine Barbin. Trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Random House,

Colapinto, John. "The True Story of John/Joan". The Rolling Stone. 11 Dec. 1997.

Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. "Jeffrey Eugenides". Bomb Magazine. 14 Nov. 2002

Evolution in the Rails
Name: Tonda Shim
Date: 2005-04-15 16:00:48
Link to this Comment: 14598

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"At this same train station my grandparents had arrived a half century earlier. Lefty and Desdemona, one time only, had revealed their secret here to Sourmelina; and now their son, who never learned it, was pulling in behind the station, also secretly" (Eugenides, 502). Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex not only tracks the sexual evolution of Cal(lie), the male pseudo-hermaphrodite raised as a girl only to find out when he hits puberty that he has a Y-chromosome; but he also tracks the evolution of a city – of Detroit. Detroit was not built to be the capitol of crime, poverty, and murder that it is today. Detroit was built to be the city of the rich. The large houses were beautifully constructed with the greatest of care, and the old storefronts, now covered in graffiti with all windows broken in, have very high class architecture, showing a certain forgotten grandeur that only Detroit can allow. It is not like Philadelphia, with its connected townhouses and still vibrant city attractions. The houses were built for the elite – amazingly spacious with intricate design and architecture which are now frightening to drive by, much less live in. As Eugenides pointed out, the White Flight in the sixties and seventies did a number on the city, and its school system is now one of the worst in the country, yet still not allowing outside programs like Teach for America in its bounds. But one of the biggest monuments to this decay – one of the most striking aspects about Detroit – is the Michigan Central Station off of Michigan Avenue in the heart of Downtown.

Called Grand Trunk Station in Middlesex, the description in the book can point to only one station in the metro-Detroit area, and that is the Michigan Central Station (through which the Grand Trunk Railroad Line ran). From the ornate architecture to the sparkling stone floors, Michigan Central was the epitome of what was then a first-class city. As Eugenides points out, it was the cities attempt to rival New York – which is a feat in itself of any city. And this $15 million investment did more than its task in its day:

"Its base was a mammoth marble neoclassical museum, complete with Corinthian pillars and carved entablature. From this temple rose a thirteen-story office building...Telephones in a hundred shipping offices ringing away, still a relatively new sound; and merchandise being sent east and west; passengers arriving and departing, having coffee in the Palm Court or getting their shoes shined, the wing tips of banking, the cap toes of parts supply, the saddle shoes of rum-running... Grand Trunk, with its vaulted ceilings of Guastavino tilework, its chandeliers, its floors of Welsh quarry stone. There was a six-chair barbershop, where civic leaders were mummified in hot towels; and bathtubs for rent; and elevator banks lit by translucent egg-shaped marble lamps." (Eugenides, 83)

Eugenides provides the perfect description for this hub of travel, money, and commerce, opened in January, 1914 – just in time for the Stephanides to arrive safe from Bithynios, their secret in tact. As late as the fifties and early sixties the city was bustling with families shopping at Hudsons or one of the other many shops along Woodward Avenue at Christmas time, or comfortably strolling through one of the cities many parks. Sadly for those who've witnessed it, Detroit did not stay this way. By the sixties we see the race riots, which my own grandparents and father witnessed from their house in Detroit. The splendor of the big city was quickly fading, and with it went all the dreams of a high-class metropolis. With the White Flight came an extinction in the city of the upper-class, who had left for the quieter, safer suburbs surrounding the city. And with this extinction came the impregnation of our beautiful French Detroit (say it in French and it sounds much more elegant) with an entirely new species: poverty and despair.

The train station in times of old was a symbol of all that Detroit represented: wealth, wheels, and a constant moving forward. Comparing pictures from then and now is startling and inescapably depressing. The "half a hubcap" (Eugenides, 80) of the city is still visible in modern maps of Detroit ((5)), but the photos provided by the myriad of articles or enthusiasts on the web distinctly show that the city is no longer the great city Judge Woodward, or any of the city's many other forefathers, intended it to be (see (3) or (4)). When the last train pulled out of Michigan Central Station in downtown Detroit in 1988 (2), Detroit had already lost its wealthy and was in the midst of a terrible depression because of the slowly progressing loss of its wheels. It was a dangerous place for Asians of any sort, but especially the Japanese, because of the success of foreign cars crowding the Detroit-based Fords, Cadillacs, General Motors, and Chrystlers out of the market. And when these plants faltered, all Detroit's hopes and dreams boarded that last train, and left the city forever.

"For the past 14 years Michigan Central Depot has been considered for use as a monastery, a casino, a shopping mall, an athletic club, and a fish hatchery" (4). Those who live in, work in, or even pass through the city know well what kind of shape Detroit is in now. The graffiti covering once breathtaking architecture, the toothless homeless people in dirty, ripped jackets knocking on your car window for money at stoplights, and the quickness of running from your car (which you hope to God stays where you parked it) to your destination and back again. Driving down Woodward Avenue, you can't help but glance over at the old 18-story Station with a pit in your stomach. "Growing up in are put on close relations with entropy" (Eugenides, 517); it's true, and it's heartbreaking. The Detroit Michigan Central Station; where Lefty and Desdemona exposed their secret in the height of its elegance and success, and Father Mike led Milton through abandoned terminals and eventually to his death over the Ambassador bridge (where 19-year-olds now daily trek over to Canada for alcohol), holds a significant place in the lives of the characters of Middlesex. It is a place where weaknesses are revealed, and where insecurity lies. And that place lies dormant, for now. Still structurally sound, Detroit is now thinking of making this historical monument the home of the police headquarters, and filling many of the never-used floors with offices and the 36th District Court, among other things. This new transformation could signal positive progression for the city, which hasn't even dreamed of such advancement for years. But for now, the forgotten meme is hidden under the lush plantation which has grown to cover the once bustling tracks beneath the station, and Cal's history is guarded by its walls, echoing the architecture of his ancestors, with no one left to let it out.


1) Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. Picador® Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York New York: 2002.

2)Ferensten, Tim. Ferensten Photos: Michigan Central Railroad Station, Information and pictures of MCS, then and now

3)Kohrman, David. Forgotten Detroit, A website with tons of photos of Detroit past and present, with a beautiful comparison of the train station 1913 to 2003

4)Palm, Kristin. "Ruins of a Golden Age." Metropolis Magazine May 2002, An interesting article about the original elite Detroit and what now stands in its place

5)Yahoo Maps, Map of Downtown Detroit - See the half hubcap?

The Role of Ovid's Metamorphoses in Middlesex
Name: Lauren Zim
Date: 2005-04-15 16:20:35
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Jeffery Eugenides' Middlesex tells the story of a Cal, a Greek American male pseudo-hermaphrodite. Like its main character, the novel is a hybrid of different cultural influences; it is simultaneously a multi-generational family saga, and a unique coming of age story, a blend of tragedy, comic, and epic. Middlesex is saturated with an immense assortment of literary allusions, and repeatedly evokes Classical literature, both thematically and stylistically. Eugenides draws much inspiration from Ovid's poem the Metamorphoses, another story dealing with transformations. This paper seeks to explore the ways in which Eugenides superimposes the modern stories of genetics and evolution on Ovid's Classical stories of transformation, with particular attention to the story of the God Hermaphroditus, as well as the implications of Eugenides' blend of Classical and modern styles of storytelling.

The Metamorphoses is an amalgam of different myths from different sources, which Ovid retells in innovative ways, and unites by their shared theme of transformation into one long connected poem. Similarly, Middlesex is a melting pot of different literary influences. In an interview regarding Middlesex, Eugenides remarks: "Since it's about genetics, I thought the book should be a novelistic genome; that is, it should contain some of the oldest traits of writing and storytelling." In this respect, it is not just the content of Eugenides' book that is about transformations, but the novel itself strives to transform traditional literary styles by placing them within the framework of the modern concept of genetics.

Both Middlesex and the Metamorphoses are hybrids composed of diverse elements. Furthermore, both authors write about bodily changes, while instituting literary changes. Ovid opens his poem as follows:
My intention is to tell of bodies changed
To different forms; the gods, who made the changes
Will help me—or I hope so—with a poem
That runs from the world's beginning to our own days (Ovid I 1-4).
Ovid is here playfully mimicking his predecessors Homer and Virgil. Ovid does not sing "of arms and of man" like Virgil, nor does he sing of "the man of twists of turns/ driven again of course once he had plundered/ the hollowed halls of Troy." Ovid's epic is not especially concerned with the usual subjects of epic: war, empire, or a journey home; instead, Ovid is concerned with change. Similarly, Eugenides uses the theme of metamorphosis to transform the Classical epic into a modern American epic. Cal remarks to his audience: "Sing now, O Muse, of the recessive mutation on my fifth chromosome! Sing how it bloomed two and a half centuries ago on the slopes of Mount Olympus, ...Sorry if I get a little Homeric at times. That's genetic too" (Middlesex, 4). Like Ovid, Eugenides utilizes a playful imitation and innovation of the epic style in order to tell a story of bodily transformations.

In addition to imitating Ovid stylistically, Eugenides directly alludes to many of the myths mentioned in the Metamorphoses. The story of the God Hermaphroditus is an obvious predecessor to Middlesex. In book IV of the Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the story of how the youthful God Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, spurned the advances of the water nymph Salmacis. While Hermaphroditus swam in her sacred fountain, Salmacis was so fervent to become one with him that she merged with him physically, thus producing one being with both male and female characteristics. Like Cal, Hermaphroditus began his life clearly identifying himself as a member of one gender, then at adolescence experienced a bodily transformation that changed him into something in between male and female.

Eugenides directly references the story of Hermaphroditus, towards the end of the novel, when Cal makes his living exhibiting his body at a nightclub. Cal submerges his naked body into a tank of blue water, while paying customers ogle at his unique genitalia. Cal is openly marketed as the God Hermaphroditus, and the blue tank is a purposeful evocation of Salmacis' sacred fountain. Eugenides however, expands upon the archetypal figure Hermaphroditus to reveal elements latent in Ovid's rendition of the story.

Through Eugenides' retelling, the story of Hermaphroditus can be interpreted as a traditional coming of age story. Ovid describes the youth Hermaphroditus as follows:
Fifteen years old, he left his native mountains,
Left Ida, for the new delights, to wander
In unknown lands, to look at unknown rivers,
His eagerness making it very little trouble (Ovid IV, 294-297).
Hermaphroditus and Cal are about the same age when they leave home in search of the unknown. Both Cal's and Hermaphroditus' journey parallels the universal journey of sexual discover taken by every adolescent. This has the effect of normalizing hermaphrodites, so that they do not seem like monsters, but ordinary adolescents. During his interview, Eugenides explains, "I used a hermaphrodite not to tell the story of a freak or someone unlike the rest of us, but as a correlative for the sexual confusion and confusion of identity that everyone goes through in adolescence." With the support of Classical allusions, Eugenides successfully manages to portray Callie as an average midwestern thirteen-year-old girl, whose transformation is as frightening and bewildering as that of any teenager.

Middlesex also evokes Ovid's description of the union of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus by utilizing the same biological metaphor. Ovid writes:
And the two bodies seemed to merge together,
Once face, one form. As when a twig is grafted
On parent stock, both knit, mature together,
So these two joined in close embrace, no longer
Two beings, and no longer man and woman
But neither and yet, both (Ovid IV, 371-376).
Obviously, Eugenides takes a different route from Ovid in that he provides a scientific explanation for why Cal's body is made the way it is, rather than a mythical. Eugenides, however, does remain faithful to Ovid's metaphor in which he describes the blend of male and female as a plant. During Cal's early adolescence, he repeatedly refers to his genitalia as a "crocus." "I'd feel a thaw between my legs, the soil growing moist, a rich peaty aroma rising, and then — while I pretended to memorize Latin verbs — the sudden, squirming life in the warm earth beneath my skirt" (Middlesex, 330). Eugenides builds upon the plant comparison first created by Ovid, but within the context of a story that is told scientifically.

Finally, Eugenides is able to provide his readers with a psychological explanation as to why a being with both male and female components fascinates us. Cal attempts to explain why customers at the nightclub pay money for a glimpse of his genitalia:
Viewers got to see strange things, uncommon bodies, but much of the appeal was the transport involved. Looking through their portholes, the customers were watching real bodies do the things bodies sometimes did in dreams. There were male customers, married heterosexual men, who sometimes dreamed of making loved to men who possessed penises, not male penises, but thin, tapered feminized stalks, the like the stamens of flowers, clitorises that had elongated tremendously from abundant desire. . . There is no way to tell what percentage of the population dreams such dreams of sexual transmogrification (Middlesex, 486).
We know that the archetypal figure Hermaphroditus is intriguing to us, but Ovid is not able to elucidate why a being possessing attributes of both sexes should be a source of fascination. With the perspective of a postmodern writer, Eugenides is able to offer a psychological explanation as to why hermaphrodites captivate us. During interview, Eugenides explains that Middlesex begins with a traditional epic storytelling style, but gradually evolves into "a more deeply psychological, more modern novel." This psychological perspective illuminates underlying meanings in Ovid's text.

Both Ovid and Eugenides sing of changes, and in doing so, reinvent the epic motif. Eugenides does not merely reuse the metamorphosis stories as told by Ovid; rather, he develops the theme of transformation within the context of the modern story of genetics. Middlesex is an evolved story in that it begins with a Classical approach to story telling, but eventually develops psychological levels not present in the original Ovid. Furthermore, Eugenides utilizes Classical reverberations to make his story a universal one, so that Cal's is the story of every teenager, rather than of an abnormality.

Ovid, Metamorphoses. (Rolfe Humphries Trans.) Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1955. 118-125.

Jeffery Eugenides Has it Both Ways, an interview with Dave Weich.

Homer. The Odyssey. (Fagles, Robert Trans.). New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
Virgil. The Aeneid. (Mandelbaum, Allen Trans.). New York: Bantam Dell, 1971.

The Usefulness of Stories
Name: Ghazal Ze
Date: 2005-04-15 17:10:48
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The two women resembled each other in that they did not resemble women at all. As the biographer, I should note that this odd pair spent the 3rd Tuesday of every month at the corner booth of the café on West 32nd and Middlesex. From her memoirs, the older of the pair can be thought to be quite dramatic, overtly so. Much more is known about the younger woman. Her family history can be mapped back centuries, to one salacious act that resulted in one mutation in one gene rendering the poor woman not a poor woman at all.

Under the obtrusive eye of the media, the so-dubbed odd pair has had to relocate to four different locations over the course of 16 months, alternating days of the week, and with the younger of the pair occasionally appearing as a young man or both women dressed in men's attire, as two men, quite convincingly—often allowing a moment's respite from a fishbowl existence, and yet arousing suspicion at the same time, for, why not just meet in private? the answer to which is, of course, that one would rather believe he has the same privilege as any law-abiding citizen to enjoy public amusements, than to concede that alas, he does not—or perhaps it is a sign that a glimmer of hope exists within this odd pair that the public eye will eventually tire and no longer possess the will to strain in hopes of catching a glimpse of them.

The most interesting thing to concretely come about from the pseudo-clandestine rendezvous of the odd pair is that the speculation about the two women is so divided. Scholars of the Alexina school of thought hold that the all speculation with regard to the younger woman is inherently faulty, as no actual memoirs exist to support them. Whereas the older woman's memoirs do exist, the scholars purport that the resulting speculation is far more reliable. Scholars of the Calliope school of thought conversely hold that while no memoirs exist to support speculation regarding the younger woman, nearly every detail that led to her conception and consequent existence can be filled in by extensive research conducted by other biographers. Since details are known to such great detail, Calliope scholars find it easy, if not natural, to assign words to the younger woman with a fair amount of speculated accuracy. While the older woman has provided memoirs in which she presents her take on her world, scholars find that far less is known about her, perhaps due to the nature of the memoir. Which school of thought, then, is more applicable?

Before I delve into further speculation, I'd like to mention a few words about the younger woman of the pair. Having been so thoroughly studied, she has effectually become mythical, fictional, even. One landmark in the case study of the odd pair was the publishing of a seemingly autobiographical recollection, from the vantage point of the younger woman. One Dr. Jeffrey Eugenopoulos was behind the hoax, which had been elaborately conducted, with the help of the younger woman (who apparently was in need of financial support) that had nearly the entire scholarly community fooled. It was soon pointed out, however, that the writing, although rich and consistent in voice, was a work of speculation, itself, for only a God's eye view could have produced such a recollection. Regardless of the authenticity of such a document, its usefulness cannot be denied. Dissention between the schools of thought arises primarily through the comparison of this document with the true, living memoirs of the older woman. The hotly debated topic—which document is more useful?

For the biographer, a memoir, however poorly written, provides an opening inside the head of the subject. There is a great joy in where this opening may lead, for an incomplete work is an unsolved puzzle. As for the memoir-less half of the pair, the puzzle is nearly complete; the mystery has been already solved. Now, since we are not all biographers, there is no denying the uproar that Dr. Eugenopoulos' work caused within the general public. It became quite clear to me that Dr. Eugenopoulos had, essentially, beaten me to the punch. Within the scholarly community, the concocted document is meaningless, but as a writer of non-fiction, I had forgotten the salience of a good story. Further, I began to question the usefulness of my own work—what good was all my research, the hours I spent deciphering letters, notes, memoirs and artifacts, if one Dr. Eugenopoulos could, in one fell swoop, replicate my work?

To this, I have painstakingly arrived at two answers, neither of which is completely satisfactory. First, as the biographer, I am seeking truths—actual truths—in order to paint a fuller, less incomplete picture of our world and its inhabitants. Second, it is with these truths that I uncover, that people like Dr. Eugenopoulos can create rich and elaborate stories. The question we began with—which document, fact or fiction, memoir, or story, is more useful—must, therefore, be changed, since it can be argued that stories provide multiple uses and varying degrees of utility for different people. Instead, one may find it more meaningful to ask what makes a story useful, and, additionally, if stories evolve in the manner of organisms, toward more fit units. If we have learned anything today, it is not to apply terms such as useful, or worse, "more useful" to stories, as the "fitness" of one such story is not something determined by Darwinian evolution or Mendelian genetics, but it is something completely subjective which follows its own rules of survival all together.


Eugenides, Jeffrey. MiddleSex. Picador, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 2002

Foucault, Michel. Herculine Barbin. Pantheon Books: Random House, Inc., New York. 1980

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando: A biography. A Harvest Book, Harcourt, Inc. 1956

The Species of Truth: Tracing the Genealogy of a P
Name: Carolyn Da
Date: 2005-04-15 17:21:32
Link to this Comment: 14609


The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip

"Truth is one species of good, and not, as is usually supposed, a category distinct from good, and co-ordinate with it."
(What William James Said...)

In order to exist in the world that we call reality, a Truth married a Non-Truth. The result of this consecrated union-a funny thing to call a ritual which mixes bloodlines and dilutes genetics through diversity- was a long and hardy line of Truths. Generation upon generation of children were born and, though the blue-or perhaps it was golden or silver; it certainly couldn't have been red and mortal like ours-blood of their Truth predecessors dispersed through the gene pool, the family proudly carried the name of Truth. Like any family history, the evolution of the Truths is a multifaceted story. It is full of intricacies and complexities, a supernova of people, voices, words, and spirits that are continually folding in on themselves while expanding outwards. We could tell many different stories about the lives of the Truths, indeed their stories bleed together making it hard to uncover the truth inside the story of a Truth. It would be interesting to chronicle several of these tales. This story, however, must have a focus. Why? Simply because we are working under the imposition of a strict page limit imposed by the Authoritys-who, by the way, have their own agenda in this tale because they would like us to believe they are related to the Truths (be warned!)-who requested the information. This particular Authority is also a Professor and has asked us to trace the genealogy of Truth. This is impossible, as I am sure they are aware, to do in four measly pages. So, Authority will have to be content with a focused history of one member of their tribe. The person I have picked is child named Psychology.

A man was born who would become the father of Psychology. I say man though perhaps I should say Man. Remember, if you will, that this was the beginning of the 19th Century and a Woman had yet to marry a Truth. Woman had tried to connive their way into nuptials but their attempts had, thus far, but rebuffed and chastised. At this point the Truth family was blocked from them. They could have their dalliances but nothing concrete would become of any of any relationships (well, at least not for another few years) between Woman and Truth. At this point in time, the blood of Man and the blood of Truth were essentially the same thing. It was into this reality that the father of Psychology was born.

People can carry many names and the same thing can be said of positions. As such, the father of Psychology has been called many things. To some he is Wilhelm Wundt, or perhaps even Gustav Fechner. Others may call him Alexander Bain. For our purposes, we will use the alias of William James.

William James was the son of Henry James Sr. and Mary James (who can also be called Physiology and Philosophy). As a child, he was well cared for and loved. There were few familial conflicts and those which arose were and mainly about James' future. James' parents, particularly his father, wanted him to continue the family tradition of studying science. He wanted James to pursue a practical career. James, however, wanted to be a painter and, although he was later convinced otherwise, he had talent. James acquiesced to his father and went to Harvard to study chemistry.

Beside from his parents' insistence that he become a Professional, James had a few other problems. "William suffered from neurasthenia and a host of ailments, including weak vision, digestive disorders, and a severe depression that brought about thoughts of suicide... He suffered panic attacks and even hallucinations that left him mentally crippled"(Pajares). James' poor health is not an uncommon occurrence in the Psychology family, it comes from their relationship to Irony. Many of his relatives, Freud, Galton, and Goddard, were mad as loons. James' symptoms usually manifested themselves when he was unhappy. Learning chemistry at Harvard was not a fulfilling career for him, so while he was studying, we was constantly anxious and ill. While he continued medical school, his illness persisted. In fact, the only time he was truly relieved of his anxious tendencies was when he married his wife, a beautiful woman who soon bore him a child, Psychology.

With the blood of the Truths ruining through his veins, Psychology grew into a strong child and lives now as a successful adult. With his successful entrance into the world and also because of fears of rambling on (well past four pages) if I launch into a new segment of this genealogy, I must begin to draw this tale to a close. This ends this abbreviated telling of the birth of Psychology.

Under constraints, we do what we must. So, I have chosen to tell-or perhaps butcher would be a better term for I only mention Psychology in three sentences- this story of Truth by talking about Psychology. There were many tales that I could have told, but I chose Psychology. I must, now reveal my own agenda in this exercise. I am a Student (and not just any student, but a relative of Psychology as well) and, as such, I am required to be subservient to Authority. If a Professor demands Truth and I must oblige. As a Student, I take what freedom I can. I fight the battles I believe I can win or the ones I can not afford to lose. Someday I hope to claim a new name for myself but, at this time, I remain a Student. As such, I have tried to follow the rules of Authority while simultaneously skirting around them. At the end of the day, perhaps the only story of Truth we have read on this escapade is one which suggests that concurrently reading William James and Virginia Woolfe-a plan also devised by the Authoritys- inspires college undergraduates, namely me, to write overly verbose and awkwardly constructed essays. Like Orlando, I have been plagued by my writing. "Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good night and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them..." (p. 82). Thankfully, unlike Orlando, I have no underlying aspirations and desired to be published (at least none that I will admit), and so I do not need to fear the wrath of critics and scathing merriment of a mocking public. You and Authority are my only judge (and here I will admit that, by including these statements, I am making a subverted plea for lenience). This, admittedly, does not excuse this four page conceit (in both senses of the word, and maybe others that I may not be aware of). For this, perhaps we should thank the Authoritys for their rules and limitations which I have stretched to the best of my abilities. My part of this essay must end here.


The Species of Truth: Tracing the Genealogy of a P
Name: Carolyn Da
Date: 2005-04-15 17:22:16
Link to this Comment: 14610


The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip

"Truth is one species of good, and not, as is usually supposed, a category distinct from good, and co-ordinate with it."
(What William James Said...)

In order to exist in the world that we call reality, a Truth married a Non-Truth. The result of this consecrated union-a funny thing to call a ritual which mixes bloodlines and dilutes genetics through diversity- was a long and hardy line of Truths. Generation upon generation of children were born and, though the blue-or perhaps it was golden or silver; it certainly couldn't have been red and mortal like ours-blood of their Truth predecessors dispersed through the gene pool, the family proudly carried the name of Truth. Like any family history, the evolution of the Truths is a multifaceted story. It is full of intricacies and complexities, a supernova of people, voices, words, and spirits that are continually folding in on themselves while expanding outwards. We could tell many different stories about the lives of the Truths, indeed their stories bleed together making it hard to uncover the truth inside the story of a Truth. It would be interesting to chronicle several of these tales. This story, however, must have a focus. Why? Simply because we are working under the imposition of a strict page limit imposed by the Authoritys-who, by the way, have their own agenda in this tale because they would like us to believe they are related to the Truths (be warned!)-who requested the information. This particular Authority is also a Professor and has asked us to trace the genealogy of Truth. This is impossible, as I am sure they are aware, to do in four measly pages. So, Authority will have to be content with a focused history of one member of their tribe. The person I have picked is child named Psychology.

A man was born who would become the father of Psychology. I say man though perhaps I should say Man. Remember, if you will, that this was the beginning of the 19th Century and a Woman had yet to marry a Truth. Woman had tried to connive their way into nuptials but their attempts had, thus far, but rebuffed and chastised. At this point the Truth family was blocked from them. They could have their dalliances but nothing concrete would become of any of any relationships (well, at least not for another few years) between Woman and Truth. At this point in time, the blood of Man and the blood of Truth were essentially the same thing. It was into this reality that the father of Psychology was born.

People can carry many names and the same thing can be said of positions. As such, the father of Psychology has been called many things. To some he is Wilhelm Wundt, or perhaps even Gustav Fechner. Others may call him Alexander Bain. For our purposes, we will use the alias of William James.

William James was the son of Henry James Sr. and Mary James (who can also be called Physiology and Philosophy). As a child, he was well cared for and loved. There were few familial conflicts and those which arose were and mainly about James' future. James' parents, particularly his father, wanted him to continue the family tradition of studying science. He wanted James to pursue a practical career. James, however, wanted to be a painter and, although he was later convinced otherwise, he had talent. James acquiesced to his father and went to Harvard to study chemistry.

Beside from his parents' insistence that he become a Professional, James had a few other problems. "William suffered from neurasthenia and a host of ailments, including weak vision, digestive disorders, and a severe depression that brought about thoughts of suicide... He suffered panic attacks and even hallucinations that left him mentally crippled"(Pajares). James' poor health is not an uncommon occurrence in the Psychology family, it comes from their relationship to Irony. Many of his relatives, Freud, Galton, and Goddard, were mad as loons. James' symptoms usually manifested themselves when he was unhappy. Learning chemistry at Harvard was not a fulfilling career for him, so while he was studying, we was constantly anxious and ill. While he continued medical school, his illness persisted. In fact, the only time he was truly relieved of his anxious tendencies was when he married his wife, a beautiful woman who soon bore him a child, Psychology.

With the blood of the Truths ruining through his veins, Psychology grew into a strong child and lives now as a successful adult. With his successful entrance into the world and also because of fears of rambling on (well past four pages) if I launch into a new segment of this genealogy, I must begin to draw this tale to a close. This ends this abbreviated telling of the birth of Psychology.

Under constraints, we do what we must. So, I have chosen to tell-or perhaps butcher would be a better term for I only mention Psychology in three sentences- this story of Truth by talking about Psychology. There were many tales that I could have told, but I chose Psychology. I must, now reveal my own agenda in this exercise. I am a Student (and not just any student, but a relative of Psychology as well) and, as such, I am required to be subservient to Authority. If a Professor demands Truth and I must oblige. As a Student, I take what freedom I can. I fight the battles I believe I can win or the ones I can not afford to lose. Someday I hope to claim a new name for myself but, at this time, I remain a Student. As such, I have tried to follow the rules of Authority while simultaneously skirting around them. At the end of the day, perhaps the only story of Truth we have read on this escapade is one which suggests that concurrently reading William James and Virginia Woolfe-a plan also devised by the Authoritys- inspires college undergraduates, namely me, to write overly verbose and awkwardly constructed essays. Like Orlando, I have been plagued by my writing. "Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good night and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them..." (p. 82). Thankfully, unlike Orlando, I have no underlying aspirations and desired to be published (at least none that I will admit), and so I do not need to fear the wrath of critics and scathing merriment of a mocking public. You and Authority are my only judge (and here I will admit that, by including these statements, I am making a subverted plea for lenience). This, admittedly, does not excuse this four page conceit (in both senses of the word, and maybe others that I may not be aware of). For this, perhaps we should thank the Authoritys for their rules and limitations which I have stretched to the best of my abilities. My part of this essay must end here.


Hunt, Morton. "The Psychologist Malgré Lui: William James". From The Story of Psychology. Date of Access: 4/14/05.

Pajares, Frank. "Biography, Chronology, and Photographs of William James". Emory University, 2002. Date of Access: 4/14/05.

"What William James Said...". Date of Access: 4/14/05.

Wikipedia. "William James". Date of Access: 4/14/05.

Woolfe, Virginia. Orlando. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1956.

The Implications of Dichotomy in Middlesex, Hercul
Name: Kate Shine
Date: 2005-04-16 20:42:16
Link to this Comment: 14621


The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
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It is hard to describe oneself on a fundamental level without referring to some kind of dichotomy. I might say I am liberal, a westerner, an intellectual, or that I tell circular as opposed to linear stories. For some reason placing oneself in the middle or outside the realm of one of these dichotomies is often viewed as unacceptable, or at least less than optimal. Sometimes it is linguistically impossible, as in the case of definitively gendered articles and pronouns. We are defined by what we are not as much as by what we are. What is underlying these dualist categories, and why do they arise and persist?

Sex identification is perhaps the original and most rigid human dichotomy, and many see sexual hermaphroditism as the most grotesque of all aberrations from civilized human nature. In Middlesex, a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, the main character Cal looks up "hermaphrodite" in the dictionary and it advises her to "See synonyms at MONSTER."(1) (430) It is further the case that in modern western societies any permutation of one's singular sex identity whether voluntary or not has been viewed not only as disgusting but stigmatized as morally reprehensible. We see this stigma expressed in Herculine Barbin, the memoirs of a nineteenth-century hermaphrodite. When Barbin is reflecting on changing her official status from male to female s/he worries, "Didn't this abrupt change...offend all the laws of conventional behavior?" (2) (79)

But it is apparent that these laws of conventional behavior do not adequately encompass all persons or perspectives. Further on in his/her memoirs Barbin protests, "Doesn't the truth sometimes go beyond all imaginary conceptions...? Have the Metamorphoses of Ovid gone further?" (2) (87) Barbin's lover also notes in him/her the desire to escape from category when she reportedly tells Barbin, " are thirsty for a free, independent existence, which I cannot give you." (2) (80) In a similar vein in Middlesex Cal rallies against theories of category and sexual assignment when s/he states,"But it's not as simple as that. I don't fit into any of these theories" (1) (479)

Could we not learn something from a sexually or culturally hermaphroditic perspective that we could not learn while locked into a rigidly dichotomous category? In Plato's Symposium Aristophanes philosophizes that all humans were hermaphroditic before the gods separated them, and that this separation is the root of human suffering. (3) In fact, in Greek myths hermaphrodites often had special prophetic abilities. And when speaking of his novel Middlesex Eugenides wonders, "Why is a hermaphrodite not the narrator of every novel? It's the most flexible and omniscient voice. Every novelist has to have a hermaphroditic imagination..." (4) Alongside all of the degrading associations linked to hermaphroditism, there is definitely a sense present in the world that hermaphrodites have a special kind of "sight" that lends itself to storytelling ability.

But one questions what exactly it is about hermaphroditism that enables this unique sight. Are hermaphrodites escaping the dichotomy or somehow encompassing both sides of it? The answer seems to be the latter, because even the term intersexual (preferred by many hermaphrodites today) is a category which defines itself in relation to the already established sexes. The sexual dichotomy pervades our culture so fully that it does not seem conceivable that one would ever truly be able to escape it, but only to first accept its premises and then blend them together once again.

What underlies this persistent cultural phenomenon of dualistic categorization may actually be what is referred to as a Hegelian dialectic, first described by the German philosopher Hegel. Under this system of inquiry one must first develop a thesis, then a counterthesis, and from the combination of these two theses create a synthesis which advances beyond both. Applying this principle to a Judeo-Christian perspective it would seem that God created the thesis in man, from which he produced a counter thesis in woman. Thus we would naturally consider the hermaphrodite to be the synthesis of both.

Even though this perspective of the Hegelian dialectic in relation to sex is often imperfect, it is somehow inescapable in many cultures, even those before Hegel and outside the Western tradition. The is because the human mind bases thought on language, and without some kind of initial word or definition to categorize and separate a concept from everything else no concept can exist. However, there are some important and interesting distinctions between dialectics among cultures which reveal their constructed and imperfect nature.

Physical sexual dimorphism has resulted in definitions of cultural dichotomy in all known cultures, but which sex is defined as the initial "thesis" or truer sex can vary. Since in the Judeo-Christian tradition the male category is the initial thesis, the characteristics that are defined and associated with this category are clearer than those of the female category, which by definition encompasses everything that is not male. This fact may give a female perspective more freedom (although historically it has not resulted in better treatment for females).

This male "thesis" can be seen in cultural treatment of male vs. female homosexuality. One distinctly gets the sense that in this culture that a male who has sex with men is somehow less masculine and more aberrant than a female who has sex with women is abnormal and unfeminine. This is reflected in the fact that many more scientific papers in America are written trying to make biological sense of male homosexuality than female homosexuality, about which there are virtually none. In Aztec culture, however, the roles seem to be reversed. In the Aztec creation story a woman, "Coatlique," is impregnated by a knife and gives birth to all men.(5) And fitting with the model of the antithesis, it is also known that male homosexuality was well-tolerated in Aztec culture, and considered a normal behavior between warriors. (6)

These observations of creation stories in relation to treatment of homosexuality are not definitive, of course, but do suggest that the definitions of things "masculine" and "feminine" in different cultures may depend largely on the initial decision of what exactly defined male or female, and which term was defined first. This type of boxing in, of defining something by what it is not, is a characteristic of all dichotomies which is an awesome and sometimes arbitrary force in language and culture. In the words of Nietzsche, "It is powerful who made the names of things into law, and among the powerful it is the greatest artists in abstraction who created the categories." (7)

Dialectics are a natural and useful way for humans to describe their world of experience. However, opposing categories often create a sense of separation and impermeability which is not characteristic of reality. Many times experience is best described in a way that looks beyond or ranges within the defined dichotomies. This explains why hermaphrodites- sexual, political, and otherwise- make excellent storytellers, and why great storytellers do their best to adopt a hermaphroditic perspective.


1) Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002.

2) Barbin, Herculine. Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. New York: Pantheon Books, 1838.

3)The Greeks: Hedonism. Moore's Metaphysics website

4) "Diddlesex." Underground Literary Alliance Website by Michael Jackman

5) "Aztec Creation Story." website.

6)"A Dilemma Judaism Prefers to Ignore." Hagshama website, 2003. by Sharona Fredericko

7)Biology 223 Discussion Notes: "A Further Exploration of Kinds,
Whence They Arise, Wherefore They Are Useful (And How They Can Be Misused....?)"

The Context of Usefulness
Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2005-04-17 14:57:32
Link to this Comment: 14634


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The Context of Usefulness

The "usefulness" of a text is a property that can be redefined time and time again. It depends on the intentions of both author and reader, the experience the reader brings to the text, and, most importantly, the context in which the text is read. All of these variables work independently of each other and therefore, when combined, numerous "uses" can be discovered for a single text. Because of its diverse and complex plot Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex is one such text that can be interpreted as being "useful" in several different areas. Having read Middlesex twice and coming away with two very different uses for the novel each time, I can conclude that my interpretation of the "usefulness" of the text was changed not by intentions or experience, but by the context in which I was reading it.
Jonathan Culler, in his book on literary theory, claims, "meaning is determined by context" (67), yet he continues on to say, "meaning is context bound, context is boundless" (67). Because context knows know bounds and context determines meaning, it can therefore be assumed that meaning is also boundless. Examining the transformation of Callie into Cal under the lenses of the two contexts in which I read this novel supplies me with two diverse uses for the text. Correlating the terms "usefulness" and "meaning", and then analyzing Middlesex in terms of the different contexts in which I read the text provides an explanation for the two very different uses- escapism and exploration- I took away from it.
My first reading of Middlesex in the fall of 2003 stemmed from my desire to return to the pleasure I find in reading. I needed a relief from the monotony of the academic drivel I had been reading, and therefore the context in which I would read Middlesex was set. The story of Middlesex piqued my interest because it was so unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was looking for a book that would take me outside myself and into the mind of a character from whom I differed so greatly that it would be nearly impossible for me readily identify with her. Calliope Stephanides immediately filled that role, and from the very first words of the book, "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, [...] and then again, as a teenage boy" (Eugenides 3) I was invited into the mind of a character in whose life I could not see my own.
The context of "pleasure reading" in which I embarked to read Middlesex immediately provided a direction to the story and determined which elements I would find most "useful" for my purpose. I wished to escape into the life of Callie/Cal and therefore I focused on the means of her transformation. I followed the gene in its travels from a village in Europe to Detroit and its expression in the DNA of Lefty, Desdemona, Milton and Tessie. Because of my desire to lose myself in the lives of these characters I placed a higher value on the journey Callie takes in becoming Cal instead of other themes such as sexuality or the use of Greek mythology. I focused on the differences between my life and Callie's as a means of transporting myself out of my dorm room and into the world of the Stephanides family. Callie claims that throughout her life she had left her "body in order to occupy others" (Eugenides 3), and it was the extent to which Middlesex allowed me to follow in Callie's footsteps and go beyond myself that determined the "usefulness" of the story to me.
Reading Middlesex for this class has altered the context so that I am no longer reading for the pleasure of escaping, but instead for the purpose of examining issues of gender and sexuality. In reading Middlesex as a means of escape, I chose not to focus on what exactly it was that I understood about the text, but instead I let the story of Callie wash over me without stopping to question the rationale. The experience of Middlesex, however, has changed within the context of this class because of our focus on the evolution of gender and sexual identity. I was forced to leave behind the pleasure of escape I had already found in Middlesex, and concentrate my attentions on the creation and expression of the genetic mutation.
Meaning, in a text, claims Culler, is "simultaneously an experience of a subject and a property of a text. It is both what we understand and what in the text we try to understand" (67). With the change of context came the necessity of acting on the novel rather than passively accepting it. In order to experience Middlesex in a way that would be beneficial to the class I had to actively pursue Callie's mutation and the mental and physical implications it had on her. Rather than simply accept the text for what it appeared to be, I had to read more closely and aggressively search for meaning in the text. Sentences such as "Everything comes out of an egg" (Eugenidies 198), or "my genitals have been the most significant thing that ever happened to me," (Eugenidies 401) meant nothing to me in my first reading. In a class focused on the nuances of gender and sexuality, however, these types of statements necessitate careful consideration so that they can be understood within the context of the classroom.
The classroom setting in which I read Middlesex for the second time changed the "usefulness" of the text from a means of escape to a lens through which I could examine gender identity and the role of sexuality in its creation. Trying to use Middlesex as means of escape in the context of the classroom was useless because the experience was of such a personal nature that it could not be translated to others. In the classroom Callie's transformation into Cal was important because of the way her gender switch served as a model against which we could compare the later texts of Herculine Barbin and Orlando.
The very nature of "usefulness" as determined by the context in which a text is read can vary along lines of experience and intention of both author and reader. Reading Middlesex in the context of escapism provided a "use" for the text in that it transported me out of myself and into the life of a character whose experiences were beyond my own. The first time I read Middlesex the "usefulness" of Callie's story relied not on its ability to be applied to my life, but in the ways it took me away from my dorm room and into a new family lineage. Altering the context for my second reading of Middlesex allowed me to find a different "use" for the text. I placed a greater emphasis on issues of gender and sexuality rather than the themes of the text that allowed me to escape. Understand the idea of the "usefulness" of a text as being dependent on the context in which it is read. Changing the context of Middlesex allows for new experiences and meanings, and therefore new "uses".

Culler, Jonathan. Literary Theory. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997.
Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. Pan Books Limited: New York, 2002.

Spiral Staircases and Cylindrical Pools: The Implo
Name: Michael He
Date: 2005-04-18 12:39:08
Link to this Comment: 14668

<mytitle> The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

In modern German psychology, there is a concept called the gestalt which is useful for this discussion. In it, human beings are viewed as open systems in active interaction with their environment. People naturally organize their perceptions according to certain patterns, which have similar structural properties that influence concepts across the spectrum of human thought (Wikipedia 1). It is essential to use this term when discussing "circular" and "linear" structures of thought, since these seemingly simple terms will come to represent their own individual gestalts, encapsulating multiple binary concepts subsumed and ordered under their respective structuring principles. The author Virginia Woolf provides an ideal springboard to expound upon this, since her novels attempt to encapsulate a fusion of the two structures into a singular, universal gestalt, or structuring principle. In many of her novels, particularly Orlando for the sake of this discussion, the goal of this is a synthesis between two different kinds of minds, the rational masculine and the subjective feminine, to produce the harmonized androgynous. This process is created through the synthesis of two different conceptions of time, the linear historical and circular subjective. Finally, the entire new gestalt is illustrated by how the dialectic of circles and lines combine to synthesize a cylinder, a spatial idea which symbolizes how the new androgynous mind articulates itself through time which respectively, as Kant has said, is merely the form of inner sense . Because Woolf's forte is the mind and not the chronicles of realism, actions of the androgynous individual, or how one should express this mind through space, are not discussed. Both space and time are a priori notions (one can only perceive of unfilled space rather than a total absence of space, just as one cannot perceive of something without a place in time), and thus are inherently subjective. So it can be assumed that by forming the androgynous subjective mind, one consequently creates androgynous actions. In other words, this new syntheses Woolf suggests is achieved not merely by adopting actions of androgynous tolerance, but more deeply by perceiving the gendered structures of our mental perception, which extend logically to our notions of time, and fusing them to create an androgynous gestalt.

In Woolf's A Room of One's Own, she calls for the necessity of the "unity of mind" (Room 145), where the mind became androgynous and balanced between both genders. According to the Scholar Nancy Topping Bazin, Woolf thought the masculine mind was mental, rational, and scientific, and knew through apartness, while the female mind was religious and poetic, knowing in terms of togetherness (Bazin 3). The greatest writers were the ones who could harmonize these two types of intelligence, and balance them in their respective expression in prose. Woolf termed the expression of the masculine principle, in terms of narrative, as the shifting element, or the elements of plot that moved forward in linear time. The female principle was the solid, or elements of consciousness that looped back upon each other in the arbitrary space of subjective time. She saw each novel as a moment where both opposites were held in balance. (22-3). This extended to characterization, as well; her novels contained characters who were simultaneously real people and symbolic entities; she tried to balance the world of details (masculine vision of the progressing evanescent) with the world of abstractions (the feminine vision of the circular eternal) (24-6). Though, as was the case with Orlando as a narrator, she tended to favor the feminine principles over the masculine, harshly criticizing the "realist" movement in literature and attempting to get at "Structure something lasting that we can know, something solid", that fixes and makes permanent, something that resonates in all people with a Platonic circularity (Bazin 29).

Another way of putting this is found in Woolf's idea of the "design" of her books, or the combination of narrative and characterization, where Woolf visualized "reality" as a permanent shape which exists beneath the constant movement and change inherent in life." (Bazin 16). This reality was the platonic essence of the soul processed by the conscious mind, the "moments of being" that people experience where they see this greater structure, this psychic fabric which underlies their entire existence. In short, this "reality" is an internal one; it is solid, unchanging, religious, feminine, rooted in connection rather than separation. It is conveyed in Orlando as the narrator's unchanging personality which exists among the external changes of history, and the expectations and realities of gender. Symbolically, it is the "...pool where things dwell in darkness so deep that what they are we scarcely know...[where] her mind became like a forest in which things moved; lights and shadows changed, one thing became another....[and] she forgot the time..." ( 323). Though the image only appears after Orlando becomes a woman, the image is not an exclusively feminine one. This is because the pool is really in the shape of a cylinder, not a circle, since the pool possesses depth. A cylinder is constructed theoretically by placing lines, the horizontal radius and the vertical height, inside a circle. It is through this structuring principle of linearity that the circle can contain depth, and though it does not contain any visible lines in its final articulation, theoretically it could not exist without them. The pool still contains principles of external, historical progression – movement and change – but this exists outside of objective and inside of subjective time. Yet the result is neither a historical, shifting line of objective time nor a solid, self-referential circle of subjectivity. Instead, it is both; it is the fusion, in time, of the principles of linearity and circularity that Woolf seeks explicitly in the mind. One can see this fusion retrospectively, by looking at how Orlando conceived of time before she was able to encapsulate both genders.

Before, as a man, Orlando employed the masculine structure of linearity in regards to internal time; he visualizes his internal emotions as "mounting up the spiral stairway into his brain--which was a roomy one" (16). A spiral is essentially a circle with a twisting line intersecting it vertically. Unlike the pool, here the line exists tangibly, and is actually the vehicle by which progress is made. Yet still, the feminine nature lurks in the image, untapped, as the line still operates inside the realm of the circle. Thus, we have seen how shifting, linear, historical, masculine time is fused with solid, circular, feminine, stream of consciousness time throughout the novels expression. This new conception of time allots for, or perhaps is caused by, a newly androgynous mind. The book ends with "The twelfth stroke of midnight" (329), a particular articulation of historical time, but Orlando is not bound by this notion of external, progressive, masculine time. A few pages earlier, "inside the darkness" (327) she sees multiple images from past times, existing inside her psyche with both a sense of progress afforded by the reference of the continually chiming clock, and also the sense of circularity afforded by their rush of simultaneity. She says, " see in the pool of the mind now Shakespeare, now a girl in Russian trousers, now a toy boat on the Serpentine, and then the Atlantic itself, where it storms in great waves past Cape Horn" (327). Her ability to juggle both gendered notions of time speaks to her larger ability to fuse together both gendered parts of her mind.

This quest for a harmonious mind, however, is not unique to Woolf. Eastern philosophy associates yin as the masculine and yang as the feminine principle, and eastern medicine believes that balancing these two opposing forces is the key to good health. Western science has established the notion that the left brain functions as a feminine emotional story-teller, while the right brain functions as a masculine analytic and scientific processor. Jung thought that the self was "a point midway between the conscious and unconscious" (Jung 219) where there is a reconciliation of opposites, which he termed the animus and the anima. This movement towards the fusion of male and female, circular and straight constructs of thinking is so prevalent across philosophy for thousands of years that one should hesitate I think to call it an evolving concept. The notion pervades even iconography, with the symbols for men and women containing both circles and a combination of straight lines.

Rather, to borrow another of Woolf's ideas, I think it is a "tunneling" concept, in that different cultures and value systems and structures of thought all find their own ways of articulating what is an essential element of the human psyche, this drive for integration of opposites. Perhaps the proof of this comes from biological origins. Studies have shown that the product of deep meditation and prayer is a greater harmonization between the left and right brain functions, resulting in an excess of alpha-waves (ABC 1). This makes sense given that the desire for such balance underscores many religious and literary philosophies, both activities that seek to transcend the disorder and meaningless of life. Also, recent psychological studies have argued that when manic-depressive patients experience mania, the blood flow is predominantly to their left brain, and when they experience depression, it is to their right brain (ABC 1). The right brain is famously associated with the analytical, unemotional, "masculine" nature while the left is associated with the affective, emotional, "feminine" nature of thought. Thus, it is no surprise that Woolf and other manic-depressives have associated mania with the maternal and depression with the paternal (Bazin 6).

In depression, life seems transitory and disconnected; in mania, life feels eternal and connected. The straight line and circle principles come into play yet again. As in her fiction, Woolf's life was both transitory (ever changing) and whole (never changing) (Bazin 21). It appears that in this case, the duality between male and female does have biological origins, but those of cognition, not those of gender. This is as much an articulation of masculine science as it is of feminine literature; the rigid lines between genders are ultimately imploded, and the reader is left with a spiral formation of time which has no linear progress or circular self-referentiality. Instead, it has a continual ascension into new rational experiences that are always founded upon and encapsulated in the emotional self.

Bibliography: "C.G Jung, Two Essays on Analytic Psychology, Trans. R.F C. Hull. Collected Works of C.G Jung VII (New York, 1953). P.219

Kant, Immanuel. Transcendental Aesthetic, translated by Norman Kemp Smith. Critique of Pure Reason (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1965), pp. 65-91.

Bazin, Nancy Topping, 1934- Virginia Woolf and the Androgynous Vision. New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press [1973]

(ABC 1):

(Wiki 1):

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando. New York, NY: Harcourt books, 1928.

Herculine Barbin's Influence on Middlesex
Name: Nada Ali
Date: 2005-04-18 15:56:23
Link to this Comment: 14682


The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
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On Serendip


Herculine Barbin and Middlesex are books about pseudo-hermaphrodites that had female childhoods and male adulthood. At birth, they were registered as females but upon adolescence came to the realization that they were biologically and physiologically male. However both books are different in many respects. For starters, Herculine Barbin is a memoir that was found by Michel Foucault in the archives of the French Department of Public Hygiene. It was written in the nineteenth century after Herculine or Camille was reclassified as a male. Middlesex, on the other hand, is a novel written by Jeffrey Eugenides, as the narration of a pseudo-hermaphrodite living into the twenty-first century. It is a story of Cal/Callie's transformation explored through the roots of her Greek American family, their passage to America, their successes and failure and their genetic choices. However, while these books are very different, it is obvious that Eugenides is influenced by the memoirs of Herculine Barbin. This paper will attempt to look at the similarities between the two books, while illustrating their differences and understanding why Eugenides chose to write Middlesex in the way that he did in light of what he had read in Herculine Barbin.

Initially, my interest in the comparative analysis of Herculine Barbin and Middlesex was sparked by an interview in which Eugenides claims that the memoirs did not capture the essence of what it is like to be a pseudo-hermaphrodite. He says, "but as an expression of what it is like to be a hermaphrodite, from the inside, Herculine Barbin's memoir is quite disappointing. She just tends to go into this moaning, talking about how misfortunate she is and... it's sad. You can go and read it, but she didn't have enough self-awareness to be able to understand what was going on. In a way she was pre-psychological in her knowledge of her self. And when I read that book I didn't get any information about someone with such a condition." (Moorhem, Bram V) Hence Eugenides was very familiar with Herculine Barbin and in writing Middlesex chose not to be emotionally explicit about how Callie felt when she became Cal.

Instead, Callie's transformation into Cal was not an event that Eugenides attributed dramatic emotions to. Instead Callie's transformation is viewed in light of a strange acceptance of fate lacking in the melodrama that is present in Herculine Barbin. For example, when Callie finds out that she is biologically a boy, she does not indulge in self-pity and instead chooses to run away from home in order to avoid the operation that will supposedly restore her social gender identity. She writes in her note to her parents that "I am not a girl. I'm a boy. That's what I found out today. So I'm going where no one knows me...Please don't worry about me. I will be all right."(Eugenides. Pg. 439) Here, Callie is not melodramatic but rather composed. While she makes a drastic decision, her emotions do not take the spotlight and reality away from her situation.

Camille, on the other hand, was extremely melodramatic and in the process compromised the message that Eugenides was trying to make in Middlesex. Eugenides did not want emotion to gloss over the actual experience that Callie underwent. Camille, with the use of dramatic language and indulgent self pity, diverted the attention of the reader away from the issues of gender in society, alienation and hermaphrodites. For example, Camille says, after learning of her condition, "Oh! How I craved the sleep of the tomb then, that final refuge of human nature. Why, then, Lord have You prolonged until now an existence that is useless to everybody and so crushing for myself? That is one of the mysteries which it is not for man to fathom." (Barbin. Pg. 110) This is exactly what Eugenides was avoiding. Camille, mesmerized by her own emotions was unable to convey any information about the condition and its implications in society. However to be fair to Camille, it is important to keep in mind the time period in which this memoir was written and the intention behind it. Perhaps it was a tool that Camille used to vent her emotions, as many people do in the form of diary writing. However Eugenides had something to learn from the shortcomings of her/his excessive use of melodramatic language. He was able to use this information to make his book more compelling on the issues of gender and sexuality.

Striking similarities between Herculine Barbin and Middle Sex also suggest the influence of the French memoir on Eugenides novel. For example, Callie's relationship with the Obscure Object is reminiscent of Camille's relationship with Sara. Both relationships were silent yet passionate at the same time. Both the Obscure Object and Sara were defining relationships for the main characters and foreshadowed their sexual preference and inevitably in some sense their future gender. One is obliged however, to point out that this does not mean that heterosexuality is somehow the only natural indication of the biological gender that one actually is but rather in the case of these two books, it was used as a tool of foreshadowing their future course. In some ways, it can be argued that Eugenides subscribed to a box that claims that gender can be detriment of sexual preference.

Another interesting similarity that is apparent is the use of locker room type imagery to describe the experience of feeling out of place and not developing physically. In many ways, the two characters felt different, physically and mentally when put in a situation that exposed or concerned their respective bodies. For example, Camille says, "At that age, when all a woman's graces unfold, I had neither that free and easy bearing nor the well rounded limbs that reveal youth in full bloom." (Barbin. Pg. 26) In addition Camille did not feel comfortable bathing in the ocean with the other girls because she felt conscious of her appearance. Similarly, Callie begins to wonder at the age of twelve why she isn't developing physically like the other girls and throws a tantrum because she doesn't need a bra. Callie says while watching other girls in their bathing suits, "I looked down at my body. There is was, as usual: the flat chest, the nothing hips, the forked mosquito-bitten legs."( Eugenides. Pg. 283) This very difference made Callie conscious of herself especially during gym period, where the locker room was a showcase of hierarchy based on nudity. Callie and Camille, both showed reservations about their body. Whether or not this was a product of their condition or a universal adolescent fear, Eugenides uses it in a similar way that Barbin does. Essentially, as a feeling of inadequacy, loneliness and not belonging in a situation that exposed them to an unforgiving world in some sense.

To a lesser degree of similarity, the use of science and biology in both books reflects a more complicated connection. For example, the use of biological metaphors is evident in both texts but in varying degrees. Camille refers to biology when she says, "Science, furthermore, does not have the gift of miracles, and even less does it have the gift of prophecy."(Barbin. Pg. 35) While biological metaphors were far richer and frequent in Middlesex, it is important to note that Eugenides may have wanted to shed further light upon genetic determinism after feeling the lack of it in Herculine Barbin. However given the power of its use in whatever small way in the memoir, Eugenides perhaps, understood the power of the biological context. For example, Cal says, "until the biology Gods knew this was their time, this was what they'd been waiting for...the gene is about to meet its twin."(Eugenides. Pg. 211) This example among many, illustrated Eugenides usage of biological metaphors to show the role of genetics and more forcefully put forth questions of gender and sexuality.

While, Eugenides is very critical of Herculine Barbin's writing style, Middlesex has been heavily influenced by it. In this case the influence is not only in the form of similarities but in the form of shaping the eventual course of writing that Eugenides employs. He was able to write Middlesex in a way that took into consideration what he found lacking in Herculine Barbin. While Herculine Barbin looks upon his/her transformation as a source of anxiety and pain, Eugenides gives his character strength that reflects the entirety of life's experiences rather than drowning us in melodrama and sadness. This is precisely why Cal is a more believable character, when in fact Barbin is the real story. After all Cal says, "my change from girl to boy was far less dramatic than the distance anybody travels from infancy to adulthood." (Eugenides. Pg. 520) This captures the message Eugenides was trying to convey by rejecting the emotional and melodramatic Herculine Barbin. Regardless, however, its influence on Middlesex is undeniable and discernible. Eugenides was able to use Herculine Barbin to both improve the delivery of his message and capture the role of other elements of transformation, both in gender and adolescence without diminishing or glossing over the importance of both.

Herculine Barbin. Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. Intro. Michel Foucault. Trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Jeffrey Eugenides. Middlesex. New York: St. Martin's, 2002.

Moorhem, Bram V. "An Interview with Jeffrey Eugenides." Updated 2003. . Cited 8 April 2005.




The Enigma of the Incest Taboo
Name: Anjali Vai
Date: 2005-04-18 20:42:14
Link to this Comment: 14699

<mytitle> The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

In Middlesex, Lefty and Desdemona fall in love as young adults after having been inseparable throughout childhood.

"Desdemona had always loved her brother as only a sister growing up on a mountain could love a brother ... Early on, the emotional sympathy she'd felt with Lefty had been so absolute that she'd sometimes forgotten they were separate people. As kids they'd scrabbled down the terraced mountainside like a four-legged, two-headed creature." (1)

They get married after being forced to flee from their home in Turkey, settle down in Detroit, have a child, and spend the rest of their lives happily married. Interestingly enough, although this can be a common scenario in fiction (two people who grew up together falling in love as adults), it is not at all common in real life. Although incest does occur in human society more often than it occurs in other animals (with a frequency of about 1%) (6) it rarely occurs in quite that manner.

Generally, when a brother and sister (or father and daughter, or mother and son) fall in love and get married, it occurs after they have spent most of their lives apart from each other. In particular, this kind of incest only occurs after the brother and sister have spent their childhoods separated from each other (in the case of sibling incest), or the child has spent its childhood away from the parent (in the case of parent/child incest).(6)

When incest occurs between family members who have never been separated in such a way, it generally takes the form of sexual abuse. It is rarely consensual, and is not a feature of a happy family (such as Lefty and Desdemona's) but of a severely dysfunctional one. Such incest is usually initiated by a family member who was himself abandoned and mistreated and physically abused in childhood (in the majority of cases the father or older brother), and often causes later serious psychological problems in the victim. (6)

There are of course exceptions. For instance, in Roman Egypt sibling marriage was quite common, accepted, and presumably consensual. (4)(9)Until the Middle Ages, the Zoroastrians practiced marriage between close-kin (xvélxvét) as a way of getting into Heaven and erasing mortal sin. (4)(9)However, the fact remains that incest is rare throughout the animal kingdom and remains a near-universal taboo in human societies.

The biological benefit of such a taboo is obvious. The benefits of sexual reproduction over asexual reproduction are erased by inbreeding. Inbreeding narrows the gene pool, reducing variety and therefore survival rates in a population. As it occurs between people with very similar genotypes, inbreeding can also cause the expression of harmful recessive mutations which might otherwise not have been expressed (such as Callie's 5-alpha reductase deficiency, in Middlesex). The progeny of incestuous relationships therefore have a higher mortality rate than normal. (5)

The incest taboo therefore helps prevent the negative effects of inbreeding, which are together called inbreeding depression. However, just as Desdemona in Middlesex was not aware of these negative effects, it is too much to expect that the incest taboo was purposely created due to some universal human awareness of inbreeding depression. It is especially too much to expect when one considers that incest (and particularly sexual abuse) is far more common in humans than in other animals, (6)to whom we cannot attribute such awareness.

So if the incest taboo does not arise from a conscious awareness of incest's negative effects, then where does it come from? Edward Westermarck developed a theory in the late 19th and early 20th century that tried to answer this question. He claimed that close contact with a person during childhood automatically creates an aversion towards sexual relations with them later in life. The incest taboo therefore does not act as a restraint against something which humans are naturally inclined to do in the first place. Rather,

"Generally speaking, there is a remarkable absence of erotic feelings between persons living very closely together from childhood. Nay more, in this, as in many other cases, sexual indifference is combined with the positive feeling of aversion when the act is thought of." (p. 80, 3)

He then goes further to say, "aversions which are generally felt readily lead to moral disapproval and prohibitory customs and laws," (p.84, 3) in an attempt to explain how the incest taboo could follow from such an aversion.

The tendency to develop such an aversion would be hereditary, and is paralleled in other animal species by their own inbreeding avoidance behavior. It would be an evolutionarily favourable trait since in general the people that we grow up with as children happen to also be close relatives. As a result, it would be a fairly safe guard against inbreeding. This sexual aversion would not be restricted to close relatives, though, but generalized towards anyone with whom one was in sufficiently close contact during childhood.

The fact that this sexual aversion can develop even towards non-relatives has been used to show that it actually exists as a factor in inbreeding avoidance, and not just as a by-product of the incest taboo. There is generally no taboo against marrying non-relatives that one has known since childhood. However, if one has grown up closely associated with these people, an aversion towards sexual contact with them will likely still develop.

There are two well-researched cases that demonstrate this phenomenon: one in Taiwan, and the other in Israel. In Taiwan, there was an old practice of arranged marriage where the sim-pua, or little bride, was raised in her future husband's household from a very young age. She and her future husband were raised almost like brother and sister, until the time when they had to abruptly become husband and wife as adults. There was no taboo against this sudden change in their relationship, of course. Rather, it was demanded of them. And it was often met with reluctance. The success of such marriages was significantly less than the success of other Taiwanese arranged marriages in which the future bride and groom met in adolescence. Marital success decreased proportionately with the decreasing age at which the girl met her future husband, beginning at ten and becoming especially low if they met when she was below the age of three. (8)

A more dramatic example was of children brought up in Israeli kibbutzim. Children brought up in the same peer group of the same kibbutzim, though unrelated to one another, were around each other as children more than they were around even their own parents. They did everything together from a very young age. And although they were not discouraged from marrying, very few who were raised together in such a way did. They claimed that they saw each other as siblings and could not think of each other in any other way. Those few who did marry had often first met sometime after the first six years of their life. In the cases where the two had met before the age of six, they had not been in continuous contact during that time. (2)

All of this implies that there is a critical period, sometime between infancy and the age of six or ten, during which time biological imprinting takes place which causes a later sexual aversion towards a person. Such imprinting would generally take place upon close relatives and prevent later inbreeding.

What of the incest taboo, then? Westermarck claimed that this sexual aversion resulted in the incest taboo. However, the connection between the two is still controversial. For instance, as I just described, such sexual aversion is not limited to close relatives. It is generalized towards anyone with whom one has been in close contact during childhood. The incest taboo, on the other hand, is far more specific, prohibiting sexual relations with close relatives in particular. If it is just a conscious manifestation of our innate aversion, why would there be this difference between the two? Perhaps we simply interpret our aversion as being directed towards relatives, since generally it is only directed towards relatives or ones whom we consider like relatives. As that is our personal interpretation of the aversion, the taboo becomes the same. (9)

But then, one might ask, why would one need a taboo against something which people are not inclined to do in the first place? We have a natural aversion towards starving to death, yet no one finds it morally repugnant when someone doesn't eat. Perhaps we need the taboo because there are cases where the sexual aversion does not develop properly, and further reinforcement in the form of a taboo is necessary to prevent incest. But in that case, how can you say that the incest taboo is a conscious manifestation of the sexual aversion? It may simply be a reinforcement, rather, which has co-evolved with this innate aversion.

Would such co-evolution be logical, though? Can cultural evolution parallel biological evolution in such an almost magically convenient fashion? The biological characteristic and the cultural taboo serve the same purpose: to prevent inbreeding. And yet while biological characteristics can be counted on to be hereditary, cultural evolution is a far more messy and unpredictable matter. The incest taboo is universal without having been genetically inherited, a mystery which would be conveniently solved if we could only say for sure that genetically inherited aversion has caused it.

These issues have not been resolved. The incest taboo remains something of a mystery. Much more is known about the development of sexual aversion towards childhood associations than about the incest taboo itself. It is fairly certain, though, to return to Middlesex, that in real life Lefty and Desdemona would either never have fallen in love or would not have remained so happily married. They grew up inseparable as children, and not in a dysfunctional family (so far as we know), so they would have developed a natural sexual aversion towards each other in adolescence. Such is fiction, though, and their love story is still a beautiful one. And it serves to conveniently maneuver the recessive genes for 5-alpha reductase deficiency syndrome into position so that Callie can turn out a hermaphrodite. Fiction is allowed to go places and tell stories that real life with its limitations cannot.


1) Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. (2002) Picador: New York, New York. (pp. 24-25)

2) Shepher, Joseph. Incest: A Biosocial View. (1983) Academic Press, Inc: New York, New York. (pp. 52-62, absence of intermarriage in the Israeli kibbutzim)

3) Westermarck, Edward. A Short History of Marriage. (1926) The Macmillan Company: New York, New York. (pp. 80-84)

from Wolf, Arthur P. and Durham, William H. Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo: the state of knowledge at the turn of the century. (2005) Stanford University Press: Stanford, California.

4) Bateson, Patrick. "Inbreeding Avoidance and the Incest Taboos"

5) Bittles, Alan H. "Genetic Aspects of Inbreeding and Incest"

6) Erickson, Mark T. "Evolutionary Thought and the Current Clinical Understanding of Incest"

7) Wolf, Arthur P. "Explaining the Westermarck Effect, or, What Did Natural Selection Select For?"

8) Scheidel, Walter. "Ancient Egyptian Sibling Marriage and the Westermarck Effect"

9) Sesardic, Neven. "From Genes to Incest Taboos: The Crucial Step"

What is a Genderless Mind?
Name: Liz Patere
Date: 2005-04-18 20:51:34
Link to this Comment: 14701


The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
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Modern fiction seems to show favoritism towards an androgynous mind. Certainly Woolf in a Room of One's Own mentions states explicitly that a genderless mind is the best for an author (1). However, does this mean that a mind must lose it special character to form some neutral ground, or does it simply mean that a mind that does not fit into conventional societal beliefs and is in a sense pseudo-hermaphroditic? In either case this gender must be the result of free will or conscious choice to craft oneself.

It is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible for a person to see outside their own perspective. Therefore when an author writes from perspectives of characters of multiple genders and backgrounds believability, not diversity between characters' inner thoughts becomes the most important feature. This is especially true because most novels only focus on the internal state of one character. Authors often have a similar style throughout all their writing, meaning that authors themselves will rarely change thought pattern or style to accommodate different genders. Many of these characteristics may not even be conscious. Therefore it is important to have a mind that can believably male or female, in other words a genderless mind.

There are two possible theories about how a genderless mind could function. The first states that a genderless mind may emerge from the disappearance of the characteristics that distinguish male and female. It generates a defined and narrow third category, a middle ground. The second theory is a pseudo-hermaphroditic mind, which emerges from the mixing of stereotypes. The nature of the characters may still reflect the nature of the author. As with pseudo-hermaphrodites, there are multiple combinations of characteristics that can generate an intermediate, all varying degrees of male and female-ness. It may even contain new qualities as a result from the mixing in the same way that the pseudo-hermaphrodite contains some male organs, some female organs and some organs that have a new intermediate state. The mind does not have both characteristics simultaneously. This is because some stereotypes would contradict each other. This mind arises from the free will to follow either one's personality and socialization or to break with that a shape the mind they wish.

I am inclined to favor the second option. The first option seems forced, whereas the second option seems as though it could arise more easily. There are many people that do not fit the gender stereotypes, for example tomboys as noted as such because they do not fit the stereotype of girl. However, the child is still a female and likely has some stereotypically female characteristics also. Perhaps growing up with a "male" perspective in a female body also generates some new ideas that would not arise if the stereotypes of mind and body blended. Getting rid of that which distinguishes us would be difficult, if not impossible and would create a very neutral dry literary style. For example if arrogance and aggression are seen as masculine characteristics, one would have to remove all traces of them from their writing. This would make for characters that lack dimension. The stereotypes of gender often represent personality qualities and without them some of the personality of the character is lost.

The notions of gender roles and stereotypes that exist in society are primarily socialized; the genderless mind arises from circumstances where a person has the free will to shape who they want to be. Looking at books like Herculean Barbin (2), written from the perspective of an individual without a conventional gender, there is stereotypically feminine style. That is to say, it has a very meandering, overly flourished, woe-is–me writing style. Her female upbringing is one clear explanation for this. Woolf, who lived in at the time when women's roles were first changing, shows a much more gender neutral style. Being both a very intelligent mind and existing during this time of change, suggests that a combination of her free will, personality and environment, allowed her to escape the stereotypically feminine writing style (3). Both of these authors suggest that societal conventions more so than actual sex can influence the style. The birth of free will, like the birth of the hermaphrodite is a rare event that breaks with the societal conventions.

This genderless person, is then, the person who defies his/her socialization and creates a new place for themselves that is some intermediate between the two. This new perspective is confusing to people, similarly to the way intersex individuals are confusing to people. They try to place them in a conventional box; however, with prompting they could place the individual in either box. As we saw in the movie Hermaphrodites Speak! (4), some individuals had a masculine appearance and others a feminine appearance yet none of them were male or female. The individuals spoke about how people tried to place them into conventional boxes. As with these hermaphrodites, the confusing nature of something new in the writing style allows individuals to place the characters in either box. This allows the author to generate more diverse believable characters.

The genderless mind, is not really genderless; instead it is the mind that defies societal conventions of gender roles and mixes the characteristics of the two genders. This mind is new and perhaps a bit confusing to a reader, which allows the author to freely adopt the roles of male and female. When something defies conventional societal boxes, often individuals still want to put it in a box; however, authors have more power to affect the box that it is placed in. It is very similar to the hermaphrodite body, in the way that it confuses people and in the way that it requires specific circumstances to arise.

1) Virginia Woolf. A Room of One's Own. 1929
2) Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. Intro. Michel Foucault. Trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Pantheon, 1980
3) Virginia Woolf. Orlando: A Biography. 1928; rpt. New York: Harvest.
4) Intersex Society of North America. Hermaphrodites Speak!. 1996

A Pilgrimate to the End of Story Telling
Name: Arshiya Ur
Date: 2005-04-20 03:13:51
Link to this Comment: 14745


The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip

The human brain, they say, is bipartite, which means it consists of two distinct parts. The lower module or the "frog brain" is responsible for the unconscious in the body: metabolism, reflexes, contractions, dilations and excitations. The frog brain continuously receives stimuli from the body's outside environment and responds via numerous unconscious physiological signals. However, in order to respond intellectually or emotionally, the frog brain channels the stimulus to the neocortex or the upper module of the brain. The neocortex is responsible for all the internal experience i.e. the origin of the self-conscious processes. It is the story teller, the part of the brain that creates stories that are a manifestation of one's internal experience. The frog brain-neocortex model of the brain is pictorially represented as the following:




The existential gap is the disconnection that exists between the functioning of the frog brain and neocortex. The gap represents the disharmony, the lying and hypocrisy that occurs because the frog brain is not accurately representing the outside world. This existential gap prevents us from perceiving the outside world as algorithmic. This disconnection fools our neocortex or self-conscious from viewing the world as a purposeless, chaotic struggle of forces.


A Pilgrimage to the End of Storytelling

My neocortex is my story teller. It is that part of my brain that can clarify why I am scared of only Haplophillus subterraneous centipedes. Only my neocortex can explain why paprika reminds me of my paternal grandmother and how I have inherited more than just my father's genes. The stories that my neocortex spins are birthed from the inherent dichotomy that is present between its own ideas about the world and the frog brain's algorithmic understanding of the world. So, stories will continue to be created as long as I have an internal experience, as long as my neocortex is awake, as long as there is an existential gap. But where do stories die? What does the end of story telling look like?

If the birthplace of story telling is internal experience, then surely the end of story telling is the end of internal experience. Traditional Buddhist and Hindu philosophy identifies this state of no internal experience as enlightenment.

Siddhartha's ("he who has reached the goal") journey to enlightenment began with a search to find an escape the inevitability of pain and suffering in the lives of human beings. He looked for an answer by first studying with religious men and then following a life of asceticism but having failed to find resolution and finally pursued the Middle Path. One day, seated beneath a Peepul Tree, Siddhartha became deeply absorbed in meditation. He reflected on his experience of life and became determined to penetrate its truth. He finally attained enlightenment and became the "awakened one", the Buddha.
For the next 45 years of his life, the Buddha taught many disciples who became the Arahants or the "noble ones" who attained enlightenment for themselves. At the core of his understand were the 4 Noble Truths: (i) all living beings suffer (ii) the origin of this suffering is ignorance – the doctrine that "all duality is an illusion" and we suffer because we make distinctions between things that do not exist in reality. (iii) cessation from suffering can be attained (iv) there is a path that leads to release from suffering – the Eight-Fold Path is intended as a guide to enlightenment: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right concentration and right ecstasy. The Buddha promoted the concept of the anatman, the idea that a person has no actual self. He described enlightenment as the wisdom of emptiness, the wisdom that arises from the experience of all phenomena being empty of independent existence.

Recently, people have come to understand that Buddhist philosophy rests on creating an "enlightened" brain state wherein electrical activity is significantly altered from the normal. Scientists studying the mind in a state of enlightenment claim that a disconnection in the activity of the lobes of the brain is essential for the attainment of enlightenment. In the human brain, the neocortex or our self-conscious which is designed to give meaning to give a sense of meaning to perceptions registered as important, and continuously create stories is seen as being chronically overactive. However, neuroscience has shown that in deep meditation or prayer, this lobe of the brain is temporarily blocked from neurological input. Those who meditate seem to be able to induce a process of transformation in the lobes that permanently changes their function to a natural level, where physical boundaries and stimulus from the outside is perceived but unnatural over activity ceases. If what neuroscience tells us is true, then attaining enlightenment is the process of getting rid of the existential gap by slowing down or even shutting off the neocortex. In an enlightened state, the frog brain or the unconscious is the predominant part. One is hyperaware of the external environment and senses a oneness with the outside world. In other words, enlightenment is a state where one has stopped thinking and is only experiencing. So, essentially enlightenment means shutting off an internal experience. And a lack of internal experience is the closest that one can come to the end of story telling.

Emergence is the current way of making sense of the world as it exists today and has existed so far. It is an undirected, unintentional engaging of entities that become parts of larger entities which in turn become parts of even larger entities. Over time, the emergent process develops entities that create a stream of generative stories that are born from an effort to ask questions and wonder about the processes of the world and the process itself. In an emergent state, one is a active entity in a long-standing exploration of possibilities.

But, emergence creates a problem for the human mind and the nature of knowing. The effects of emergent production, namely stories are insecure and unreliable. Answers, deductions, inferences are always vulnerable stories. Each story is refutable and each story is revisable. The inherent insecurity of emergent state of the mind is what induces one to produce and reproduce stories. The indeterminacy and uncertainty is what causes one to engage in the ceaseless process of creating stories about how we got here, who we are and where we will go.

So if enlightenment is closing down the neocortex, emergence is keeping it alive. If enlightenment is reducing of the existential gap, emergence is maintaining it. If enlightenment is the process of getting it right, emergence is the exploration of getting it less wrong. And lastly, if enlightenment signals the end of stories, then emergence is the continuous state of recycling, recreating, and revising of stories.

Having been born into a Hindu family, the goal of enlightenment has never been too far removed. My religion as always instructed me that enlightenment is the state of highest consciousness. However, if what enlightenment is is ceasing the mind's activity, it is the state of least consciousness. I understand that the Buddha and those who have attained enlightenment are in a state where they are most connected to their mind and spirit. I also understand that enlightenment is a oneness of the world. I know that enlightenment can provide the utmost sense of peace and inner security. But I think that I would rather be emergent, in a state of endless, nonsensical story telling.


Bhikshu, K. The Message of the Buddha . – Last accessed 4/18/05

Buddhism. Infoplease - Last accessed 4/18/05

Dalke, A (2004). Where do stories come from? Emergence, Surplus Meaning, and the Last Word. The TriCo Language Seminar Series Fall 2004. (from Serendip)

Grobstein, P (2004). Emerging Emergence, A Report on Progress: From the Active Inanimate to MModels to SStories to Agency. (from Serendip)

Opitz, C (2004). Enlightenment and the Brain . Living in Joy – Last accessed 4/18/05

(The ideas expressed in this paper owe a heavy debt to the philosophy and story-telling styles of Anne Dalke and Paul Grobstein, but they cannot, of course be help responsible for errors in my interpretations.)

Middlesex's Usefulness
Name: Britt Frem
Date: 2005-05-11 17:18:03
Link to this Comment: 15120


The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
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On Serendip

"I knew right then that I had to stay in San Francisco for a while. Fate or luck had brought me here and I had to take from it what I needed." –Cal Stephanides

My introduction to this course was a beautiful but then-undecipherable quotation from Middlesex which appeared on the class syllabus:

"And so a strange new possibility is arising.
Compromised, indefinite, sketchy, but not entirely
Obliterated: free will is making a comeback.
Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind."

Despite my having finished the epic novel many weeks ago, the ideas (or shall I say memes?) it populated my head with are still thriving. I even feel able to comment on the passage above. To put into action my belief that novels are most valuable if they give you some idea to apply in your own life, let me explain the utility I found in Middlesex. The overriding message is this: life is a mesh of chance and choice. Free will may be making a comeback, but the largest events in life—our births, deaths, genes, even loves—will never become completely malleable. The best that humans can do is to use the situation they were put into for whatever means they can. It is only when humans want to change their situation but are incapable of doing anything more that a story becomes tragic.

The stories from Middlesex are laden with chance events which later prove fateful in the life of the Stephanides family. In fact, it is precisely because of these "as though decreed" moments that Cal finds himself so obsessed with telling his family's story. Cal describes her birth as one with "no guaranteed ticket" because "the timing of it had to be just so..." With hindsight, the random events leading up to Cal's birth give it the appearance of intention. The little girl at church, for example, "seems to have existed for the sole purpose of changing [Tessie's] mind" about trying to have a baby girl. The girl did have that effect, but her actions were not motivated, nor did anyone or anything put the girl in that position to affect Tessie. It just happened that way. And consequently, Cal with the 5-Alpha-Reductase Deficiency was born.

Death is treated in a similar way. Milton joins the Navy in 1944 to get over and get back at Tessie. He made the choice to go. Once he began training, though, he realizes what a fool he had been: people were dying from accidents already, and the fighting hadn't yet begun. Then, Milton is assigned the signalman position for the upcoming invasion—a position with an average lifetime of thirty-eight seconds. Eugeniedes writes "Somewhere out over the water was the bullet that would end his life. " What bad luck. Milton, however, was already "doing his best to prevent injury. " He had taken an admissions test to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and—sure enough—he is admitted. Eugenides explains the event fatalistically: he gives the Greek dues ex machina credit. I, however, see this story as yet another example of someone taking advantage of an unfortunate situation they were put into. In Milton's case, he took the test, did well, and left the war zone. He saved his own life.

Sometimes that just isn't possible. Biology prevents it from being so. Lefty's story of slow, descending death could be called a tale of tragedy. One day when Callie and her mute grandfather, Lefty, are taking a stroll around Grosse Pointe, Lefty comes to the pathetic conclusion that "consciousness was a biological accident" and "the brain was just an organ like any other... when it failed he would be no more." His health continuously deteriorates, as does his mind. Not long after, he has another stroke and dies. No one wanted it so, but no one could do anything to save him—the story is truly tragic.

Another tragic story is the story of Milton's death (not his almost-death in the Pacific ocean, but his real one in a river). Longing to get his daughter back, Milton accepts a deal with a mysterious kidnapper and sets a briefcase containing twenty-five thousand dollars in the trashcan marked with an X. But Milton in is for a shock: the man who appears to collect the ransom is none other than his jealous brother-in-law, Father Mike. Naturally, Milton becomes furious with Father Mike and a car chase scene appropriately follows. While speeding over a bridge, both drivers fail to notice the stopped vehicles in front of them, and Milton's car flies off the bridge and into the water. The narrator, Cal, once again becomes omniscient and shares with the reader Milton's last thoughts about his life:

"Milton began to cry...It was the sound of a bear, wounded or dying.... He was crying not because he was about to die but because I, Calliope, was still gone, because he had failed to save me, because he had done everything he could to get me back and still I was missing."

The passage reminds the reader of an earlier thought Milton had when preparing to visit Callie's doctor:

"Milton came face-to-face with the essence of tragedy, which is something determined before you're born, something you can't escape or do anything about, no matter how hard you try."

It was right that Milton spent his final moments bawling, for his life had come to a tragic ending. He had tried so hard to get his daughter back, but he couldn't do anything more.

Cal later claims that as Americans, she and Tessie had to keep upbeat and always tried to joke about Milton's timely death—he left before even worse tragedies came round. For the time being, Cal and Tessie's optimism is the best kind of coping strategy. It's the most useful action they can perform given the situation they're in. After visiting her grandma, though, Cal gets another view on the role of tragedy in lives.

She realizes that with the kind of grandmother she has (one who has been moping in her bed for ten years), she may never hold the American-style optimism that "life is about the pursuit of happiness." In the end, it is this battle against despair which everyone must lose in order to "say goodbye."

Although Cal is mainly referring to death when she talks about loosing struggles against despair, the same philosophy could be applied to any problem. Humans cope with their difficulties by whatever means they can. But when their power to change their situation disappears, they feel they are living a tragedy. Perhaps, though, it is these final tragedies that allow people to move on and say "adios" to that part of their life. In that way, then, tragedies become useful—and perhaps, even, less tragic.


Eugenides, Jefferey. "Middlesex."

The American Immigrant Experience and Middlesex
Name: Ivelina Yo
Date: 2005-05-16 17:47:03
Link to this Comment: 15200


The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
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There are two images of America in a foreigner¡¯s eyes: one is connected to the land of opportunities and the other one is far more negative and skeptical, it would be even fair to say aggressively hateful. Both represent a certain aspect of the national identity, but it is very hard to justify them. Everybody has heard about the American Dream and it is a fairly straight forward idea, while the second image creates far more controversy being a product of the world¡¯s judgment for the most powerful nation at the moment. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is a novel about a family whose three generations of members face an immense amount of drama, a novel about the vastness of human experiences that anybody could relate to. Among all the issues interwoven in the plot of the novel there is the one about moving to America and adapting to American society and life, and transforming and eventually losing ones national identity and heritage.

In his novel, Eugenides concentrates on the image of the United States as an opportunity, a new fresh start in life.... He uses this as a recurring motif in the lives of his characters all of which go through some kind of metamorphoses that is crucial and life-altering.: starting with the transformation of Lefty and Desdemona from brother and sister to husband and wife, going through Milton and Tessie and the overnight change from ¡°a family desperately trying to stay in the middle class to one with hopes of sneaking into the upper, or at least the upper-middle¡±, and finally with Callie becoming cal (p 252). The one who ultimately fulfills the American dream is Milton, yet all the makeovers that the three generations of Stephanides go through are positive and beneficial. This confirms the utopic view of America as the land of opportunities that many people in the near past couple of decades had built and clung to. One of the most vivid images the author uses to convey the idea of the ultimate change America brings, however, is the ford English school melting pot: men jumping in wearing their poor immigrant clothes and jumping out americanized - deodorized, with diligently brushed teeth and in blue woolen trousers and jackets. Men who had no future, who came in the country as poor immigrants and overnight became American citizens with decent jobs who were not much different from their ¡°American ¡°fellow brothers except for their accents.

The melting pot, however, inevitably brings out the issue of lost identity - an issue very relevant in a country like the United States. After all these men come out of the melting pot marching under the sound of the ¡°Yankee Doodle¡±, waving American flags, and celebrating their new selves. They leave behind their national identities and convert to the ¡°American style of life¡±. Eugenides remarks on that through Jimmy Zizmo¡¯s reaction to the show - ¡°What propaganda¡±, but yet leaves it hanging since the character himself is portrayed generally negatively: a smuggler of alcohol, a rather too simple man with eastern European manners and temperament.

At the same time, however, Eugenides hints numerous times that one¡¯s identity will haunt him or her. Firstly, he uses extensively Greek words, references to Greek meals and traditions and ethnic history. Furthermore, the author portrays his characters as tightly connected to their identities: Desdemona remains Greek, preserving the culture and traditions of her original ethnicity - she is the very incarnation of patriarchal Greek spirit and culture; and Milton who although extremely americanized, ultimately becomes a merchant whose business revolves around his national heritage - Greek cuisine. Cal, however, despite his extensive knowledge and interest in Greek culture has totally lost the connection with his roots - he is as American as can be. The resemblance between cal and the author himself in this aspect is notable and that also goes back to the viewpoint the novel shows - a limited American-limited perspective trying to picture the lives of immigrants.

Nevertheless, Eugenides definitely touches upon a lot of main points that present a more negative image of America. As an immigrant in the US myself, I see discrimination here to be a huge problem. Yet, what is most fascinating is the American mentality of being politically correct and its extensive daily uses. I believe (and all of the international people I have met here agree) that the United States of America is THE most racist, sexist and discriminatory country and that the PC attitude is just a mask, hypocrisy and pretentiousness. Jeffrey Eugenides acknowledges the problem in a few occasions in the book starting with Desdemona¡¯s experience in the nation of Islam and minister Fard/Jimmy Zizmo¡¯s lecturing. This is actually an example of counter discrimination or an attempt to deal with discrimination depending on the point of view. Eugenides shows the problem through a more contemporary aspect through Milton and Tessie: ¡°we were ready to accept the negroes. We weren't prejudiced against them. We wanted to include them in our society if they would only act normal¡± (240). Needless to say, this demonstrates hypocrisy and racist attitude. Furthermore, Marius Grimes¡¯ character is a particularly harsh and obvious accusation of discrimination. Eugenides adds a very negative trait in the character of Milton by picturing his strong dislike for Marius which has no evident just ¡°pc¡± question, which can be easily explained with the fact that Eugenides is born and raised and received his education in the us and does not see pc the way many international people, including myself, do. The second image of the US that I was discussing is a compilation of observations and prejudices by non Americans. Most of these refer to particular traits of American life or aspects of the American society. Middlesex refers to only a very few of them - the ones that are very widely publicly discussed like discrimination and counter discrimination, loss of cultural heredity/americanization and unhealthy life style (American food vs. the Mediterranean diet).

The novel, however hardly addresses any cultural shock that lefty and des go through and how they deal with it. one can see hints like Desdemona¡¯s astonishment when she sees the black ghettos or try to read between the lines and see the isolation she and lefty live in - communicating only with Sour Melina and Jimmy as consequences of the shock they experience. I believe that the limitations in the book as far as assessing what immigrants go through when they first arrive in the us are mainly due to the fact that the author, being American, has never experienced them and could not possibly relate or imagine the vastness of the ¡°American experience¡±.

I am not being judgmental because I understand that it is impossible to notice things about one¡¯s society when that is all you have seen and have no basis for comparison or evaluation. Yet, thinking back, I expected to have seen more issues that I myself experienced as an immigrant in the novel. nevertheless, being what it is - an epic story of three generations of Greek immigrants in America, the book is interesting, engaging , powerful, deeply analytical and multilayered and most importantly addresses numerous issues from one¡¯s life that are usually overlooked or taken for granted.

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