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Notes Towards Day 15 (Tues, Mar. 13): Metamorphosis

Anne Dalke's picture

amophrast and SYaeger "setting the scene"  with Feminist Punk Rock

Today we begin to read Middlesex together,  an immigration story,
as per An Interview with Jeffrey Eugenides:...
the book is ...about...reinventing your identity on different levels,

be that Greek to American, female to male....At the end of the novel,
I put Callie in Berlin, a little bit because the book is so much about division,
between Greeks and Turks, blacks and whites and, obviously, male and female.
It made sense that Cal would be writing from a city that is divided and
has been reunified....Reinvention of self is an enduring theme in
American literature in general....those are the things that inspired me:

metamorphosis and changing....

I. coursekeeping

* signing up for more 'scene setting,' for the remainder of the semester

* signing in, welcoming back: any relevant stories?

* reminder to keep moving around, trying out different p.o.v.'s

* I posted my responses to all your web events over break, with
lots of links back to your earlier papers (looking for evolving thinking)
and to one another's: check those out, write back to me and your classmates...

several projects w/ very specific/distinct geographic locations:
meowwalex: Be Like Others (film about Iranian transgenderism)
dchin on Iraqi female suicide bombers
(who got a comment from the author of The Banality of Suicide Terrorism)
buffalo on female genital mutilation in Africa
FrigginSushi on debates re: hot pants worn by Korean pop stars,
stepping off from bluebox's analysis of the Toronto-initiated Slutwalk

two explicitly multicultural
melal: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Chinese American motherhood/feminism)
sara: The 99 (positive, comic portrayal of Islam as a feminist project)

two located in US academic institutions:
sekang on low representation of women in STEM fields
JD's review of the history of (problematic!) feminist contributions to BMC

two explicitly questioned the usefulness of geographical bounds:
mbeale: Marilyn Waring, re-imagining feminist economics (thank you!)
rayj's "statement of intent" to make a video "not to speak about/
just speak nearby" (on limits of geographic labels….)

five of you looked @ language:
hwink on the tongue as tripartite motif in the course: sex, food and language;
pejordan on undecipherability in Stein and Spivak
michelle.lee on gendered language making women invisible;
epeck on more fluid, creative language use;
aybala on language's limits (and possibilities)

& four others explored visual representations:
SYaeger: Neil Gaiman's comic character Delirium
Colleen: Godard's film Breathless
Amophrast on feminist forms/typefaces
MC made two video papers about power

everybody: please think about how to do serious informal work-->
accessible, but researched, authorized: be more careful w/ citations,
remember that I expect a paper to have @ least three of them,
and can't imagine an excuse for not making all web citations into active links....

* I also revised the syllabus on the course homepage, and asked for comments
only got 7, am assuming silence from the rest of you means assent/indifference??
amophrast/aybala: 2 movies on 5th?
epeck: masculinity?
pejordan: problem spending only 1 day on sex work?
(no, 2: Half the Sky selections, plus Live Nude Girls…)

take a few minutes (really: just a few) to review-and-edit the plan now

DON'T FORGET! 4:30-6 p.m. TODAY, Jack Halberstam will speak in
Carpenter 21 on "Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal"

II. we'll be discussing Middlesex for (just) 3 class periods--let's get on w/ it!
go round and read the opening passage, sentence by sentence...
what do we notice? what makes sense? what doesn't?
What are we making (so far) of Middlesex?

Where are the marks of gender?
What feminist questions are arising for you?

What are the implications of this literary story for
* the current distinction between sex and gender?
* The Invention of the Heterosexual?
* feminism?
* women's institutions such as Bryn Mawr?

III. Who are Callie's literary ancestors?

Scientific studies-->

Specialized readers many have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce's
study, "Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites" ....

Cf. Joan Roughgarden, Evolution's Rainbow:
Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
the story of ecology is one of endless variation, "always poking
through social categories, spilling over the borders, fudging the
edges," eschewing "biological-based hierarchies" and
any "forced bimodality" between two sexs and two genders...
"hermaphroditism is more  common in the world than species
who maintain separate sexes in separate might
be viewed "as the original norm"

Anne Fausto-Sterling, "The five sexes: Why male and female are not enough."
The Sciences
(March-April 1993): 20-24:

if the state and the legal system have an interest in maintaining a two-party
sexual system, they are in defiance of nature. For biologically speaking,
there are many gradations running from female to male; and depending
on how one calls the shots, one can argue that along that spectrum lie
at least five sexes--and perhaps even more.

Eugenides joins Roughgarden and Fausto-Sterling
in shifting the way the story of gender identity is told....

He has other literary ancestors, including multiple Greek myths-->
Like Tiresias, I was first one thing and then another....

From OVID: METAMORPHOSES, BOOK III, richly illustrated by famous artists
in European history
--Tiresas: The Transexual Blind Prophet

...In all creation
Nothing endures, all is in endless flux....
Nothing retains its form; new shapes from old
Nature, the great inventor, ceaselessly
Contrives. In all creation, be assured,
There is no death--no death, but only change
And innovation....
...the earth and all therein, the sky
And all thereunder change and change again,
We too ourselves, who of this world are part,
Not only flesh and blood but pilgrim souls....
(1-8 A.C.E.)

(Eugenides again:) I want to get it down for good: this roller-coaster
ride of a single gene through time. Sing now, O muse, of the recessive
mutation on my fifth chromosome!...Sing how it passed down
through nine generations....Sorry if I get a little Homeric at times.
That's genetic, too.

In his 3 a.m. interview about the novel, Eugenides observes that,
in contrast to the way hermaphrodites have appeared in literature --
miserable creatures like Tiresias for instance -- I wanted to write
about a real person with a real condition....Originally, I worked
the Memoirs of Herculine Barbin, published by Michel
Foucault in the late seventies....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....

Escher's "Metamorphosis" @ InSite narrator is determined by her genes,
she has this genetic
mutation there's no escaping of. But the mutation does not make her
who she is, does not determine everything about her life.
There is still a great amount of free will and possibility in her life,
and that's one of the things the book is strongly determined in.

At least one (local) critic took issue with this free range of identity.
From Bethany Schneider's 9/02 Newsday review of Middlesex:
Race, sex, nationality - all are rewriteable, reinventable.....
But unfortunately the book is uncoordinated - it feels like a teenager,
like it needed to grow up a bit before it was allowed to live in the world
on its own. The breadth of plot and time and characters is only awkwardly
handled by the first person narration of Cal....In addition to the problem
of historical knowledge, Eugenides' denies his main character any interiority
regarding the problem of gender identification. Cal insists that s/he has
no deep psychological sense of her complex gender identity.

Cal lacks, in other words, the "persistent self" figured
in (another source text (George Eliot's Middlemarch):

He had two selves within him apparently, and they must learn to
accommodate each other and bear reciprocal impediments. Strange,
that some of us, with quick alternate vision, see beyond our infatuations,
and even while we rave on the heights, behold the wide plain where
our persistent self pauses and awaits us.
(Eliot, Middlemarch, Chapter 15)

* How random, how "determined," is Cal's gender identity? Cf. the
(medicalized) story of Katie Dalke's "disorder of sexual development"

Cal begins his story with Uncle Pete's explanation that
under the microscope, sperm carrying male chromosomes had been
observed to swim faster than those carrying female chromosomes...
to have a girl baby, a couple should have "have sexual congress
twenty-four hours prior to ovulation." That way, the swift male sperm
would rush in and die off. The female sperm, sluggish but more reliable,
would arrive just as the egg dropped....

Meanwhile, in the greenroom to the world, I waited...The timing of the
thing had to be just so in order for me to become the person I am.
Delay the act by an hour and you change the gene selection....An
infinite number of possible selves crowded the threshold, me among
them but with no guaranteed ticket....

...influenced, but not determined....

There are, of course, multiple ways to interpret Eugenides'
21st century revision of Eliot's 19th century novel, ancient Greek myths....

In Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, Jonathan Culler asks us to
note above all the complexity and diversity of literature...the possibility of
fictionally exceeding what has previously been thought and written.
Literature is a paradoxical institution because to create literature is to write
according to existing formulas....but it is also to flout those conventions,
to go beyond institution that lives by exposing and criticizing
its own limits.... "cultural capital"...But literature cannot be
reduced to this conservative social function...literature is the noise of
culture as well as its information. It is an entropic force...

Keep on reading--try to get through Book 3 for Thursday...