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Notes Towards Day 17 (Tues, Mar. 20): Finding Ariadne's Thread

Anne Dalke's picture

pejordan: "setting the scene" with Defying Gravity

more discussion of the "If I Were a Boy" remix w/ R.Kelly
--> beyond lyrics & language to questions of behavior?

more also on Pussy Riot, plus Colbert's spin on Limbaugh on contraception....

...What can I do with Ariadne's thread?

I. coursekeeping

* mbeale--welcome back from Ghana!....also:
need to get you on the
list of sign-ups
epeck and dchin will "set" Thursday's "scene"

* signing in
* going outside policies/procedures/practices??

* for Thursday, work your way through Kate Bornstein's
The Gender Workbook
(now available in Bookshop;
Jimmy Corrigan's in also!)

we will do some of the exercises together in class
(I'm thinking "The Ten-Minute Gender Outlaw Exercise," p. 32,
and "The First Gender Performance Workshop," 225f.) --
but you should also do a considerable subset of these on your own:
come to class having completed, in particular, @ least,
"Your Gender Aptitude," Sections I-VI (pp. 2-16) and
"The Big Exam," Parts 1-4 (pp. 47-58).

II. our Sunday night e-conversation included lots of further
reflections about your own (biological/cultural) "gendering,"
some questions about the necessity of the process--
why do we have to keep putting everyone into boxes?
--and also thoughts about multiple ways to read
aybala50: Is Cal's intersex body being presented
as a crime of unmoral or sinful behavior?
epeck: Cal's body IS a genetic result of incest and
is definitely framed as a sort of cosmic punishment....
bluebox: I think it was a comedy...Cal's story
is just his life, there’s no overt moral to it.
FrigginSushi: sex can never determine your gender...
Dr. Luce is basing his diagnostics off of gender stereotypes...
Callie's hermaphoditism not so important to her.
michelle.lee: I felt almost helpless at some points of the novel [and the film Tomboy]
sekang: choice or inborn nature? hide her true gender....?
abyala50: Middlesex is a great example of the forcing of individuals
into categories, whether it be gender, sex, sexual orientation etc.
meowwalex: there is a transition around puberty, where you begin to
care about what others think is a stark contrast from the ease of childhood.

III. get into small groups to talk through some of these possibilities,
figure out what use/sense we can make out of this story

some possibilities:
* sex & gender are governed by fate: the deus ex machina

* they comprise an Easter tale, of sudden re-birth
--mbeale's reaction to this possibility? = about cruxifixion?

--Tiresias (the intersex seer) as a prototype for Christ:
And I Tiresias have foresuffered all/
Enacted on this same divan or bed"
(T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, ll. 243-244).

--"When you travel like I did, vague about destination and
with an open-ended itinerary, a holy-seeming openness
takes over your character. It's the reason the first
philosophers were peripatetic. Christ, too"

--"I think my narrator as a Christ Pantocrator... a dominant
intelligence screening  over, was the image that I had
in my mind....
" (3 a.m. interview)

* as a Greek myth, but re-told from the inside, by the "monster" (pp. 430-2):

The Simultaneous Fertilization had occurred in the early morning hours of March 24, 1923, in separate, vertical bedrooms, after a night out at the theater. My grandfather...had splurged on four tickets to The Minotaur....A momentous night, this, for all involved....I want to record the positions...and the circumstances...and the direct cause (a play about a hybrid monster)....

There is was, monster, in black and white, in a battered dictionary in a great city library....Here was a book that contained the collected knowledge of the past while giving evidence of present social conditions....The synonym was official, authoritative; it was the verdict that the culture gave on a person like her. Monster. That was what she was....For a second Callie saw herself that way. As a lumbering, shaggy creature pausing at the edge of woods. As a humped convolvulus rearing its dragon's head from an icy lake....the synonym pursued her....Webster's Dictionary kept calling after her, Monster, Monster!"

* as a story about the future, where gender "doesn't matter"
(remember talking about this with reference to Jessy's reading of
The Book of Salt:
the feminist position that gender isn't important?)

Zora: "we're what's next" (490).
Cal: My bodily metamorphosis was a small 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. In most ways I remained the person I'd always been


Let's get into groups of 3-4 --
how would you prefer to do this? randomized or self-selected?--
to talk about what kind of story this is, what contribution
it is making to y/our study of gender and sexuality.

What genre? (comedy? tragedy? something else?)
What have you learned from it about gender?

And what's the relationship between genre and gender; 
or, do you read this novel as fulfilling or altering a script?
As being about inalterability or change?
Cal escapes Dr. Luce's "administrative control."
Does he escape society's?

(why transgender is the hotter topic in gender studies than intersex is....)

"Five minutes old, and already the themes of my life - chance and sex - announce themselves" (p. 216)....

Cal: I suspect that Chapter Eleven's transformation was caused in no small part by that day...when his life was decided by lottery....Chapter Eleven...was trying to escape what he had dimly perceived...the possibility that not only his draft number was decided by lottery, but that everything was (317-318).

Cf. p. 273, where Callie says "The architecture of Middlesex was an attempt to rediscover pure origins."

On the one hand, the emergence of "the crocus" is one of many images of biological evolution that fill the novel:

Georgia O'Keefe, "Abstraction Blue," from Kara Meister's Website

At the end of this wounded, dishonest season, as the first crocuses appeared, returning from their winter in the underworld, Calliope Stephanides...also felt something stirring in the soil of her being (320).

For that spring, while the crocuses bloomed, while the headmistress checked on the daffodil bulbs in the flower beds, Calliope, too, felt something budding....A kind of crocus itself, just before flowering. A pink stem pushing up through dark new moss....I'd feel a thaw between my legs, the soil growing moist, a rich, peaty aroma rising, and then...the sudden, squirming life in the warm earth beneath my skirt. To the touch, the crocus sometimes felt soft and slippery, like the flesh of a worm. At other times it was as hard as a root (330).

...most of the other girls in my grade began to undergo their own transformations...behind our teacher's back, in our desks, we are flying through time....Nature is making its preparations. Deadlines encoded in the species are met. Only somehow, so that she's the only one who takes in the true extent of the metamorphoses around her....(285-286). locker rooms....The swampiness, the nudity bring back original conditions....On I the fantastic underwater life all around me. Sea anemonies sprouted from between my classmates' legs....Higher up, their breasts bobed like jellyfish, softly pulsing, tipped with stinging pink. Everything was waving in the current, feeding on microscopic plankton, growing bigger by the minute (295-297).

In the basement bathroom was a time frame I felt much more comfortable with...the slow, evolutionary progress of the earth, of its plant and animal life forming out of the generative, primeval mud. The faucets dripped with the slow, inexorable movement of time (328).

I lifted my face up out of the water and so was unaware of the eyes studying my mollusk....The surface of the sea is a mirror, reflecting divergent evoltuionary paths. Up above, the creatures of air; down below, those of water. One planet, containing two worlds (484).

Cal's story is a story of his emergence from an amorphous/amphibious state--

The adolescent ego is hazy thing, amorphous, cloudlike. It wasn't difficult to pour my identity into different vessels....I was able to take whatever form was demanded of me. I only wanted to know the dimensions (434).

But a kind of swish, like a frog kicking off from a muddy bank. My heart, that amphibian, moving that moment between two elements; one, excitement; the other, fear (265). what? What is the "solution" that his life represents? the early seventies...everybody wanted to go unisex....But then another thing happened. It was called evolutionary biology. Under its sway, the sexes were separated again....Men and women, tired of being the same, want to be different again....My life exists at the center of this debate. I am, in a sense, its solution....I don't fit into any of these theories....In the twentieth century, genetics brought the Ancient Greek notion of fate into our very cells. This new century we've just begun has found something will is making a comeback. Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind (478-479).

What is the function of consciousness--and of its lack--in the novel?
On the one hand....

The mind self-edits. The mind airbrushes. It's a different thing to be inside a body than outside. From outside, you can look, inspect, compare. From inside there is no comparison....Outside had ended. There was nowhere to go that wouldn't be me (387, 473).

Under...sedation Tessie withdrew into an inner core of herself, a kind of viewing platform from which she could observe her anxiety....There was a place halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness where Tessie did her best thinking (465)

Cf. Chapter 15 from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch:
some of us, with quick alternate vision, see beyond our infatuations, and...
behold the wide plain where our persistent self pauses and awaits us.

Yet living "unconsciously" may open us to new possibilities:

Lefty was confronting the possibility that consciousness was a biological accident...he'd always believed in the soul, in a force of personality that survived death. But as his mind continued to waver, to short-circuit, he finally arrived at the cold-eyed conclusion, so at odds with his youthful cheerfulness, that the brain was just an organ like any other and that when it failed he would be no more....the hard disk of his memory slowly began to be erased, beginning with the most recent information and proceeding backward.... (263).

Had she had all her wits, Desdemona could not possibly have fathomed what I was saying, but in her senility she somehow accommodated the information. She lived now amid memories and dreams, and in this state the old village stories grew near again....he eyes had gone dreamy. She was smiling. And then she said, "My spoon was right"


One of the things Cal acquires, in the course of the evolution of his mind,
is the ability to transform chance into pattern, the horrific into the positive,
to use a disintegrating universe to contruct a new one:

Grow up in Detroit and you understand the way of all things. Early on, you are put on close relations with entropy (517).

In my family, the funeral meats have always furnished the wedding tables. My grandmother agreed to marry my grandfather because she never thought she'd live to see the wedding. And my grandmother blessed my parents' marriage, after vigorously plotting against it, only because she didn't think Milton would survive to the end of the week (195).

"We're not going on vacation. There's a war!" (360)

Cal is sometimes embarrassed to admit that disaster can have positive effects:

Which leads me to a terrible confession...while the sun set melodramatically over a death that wasn't in the script, I felt a wave of pure happiness....I had the obscure Object in my arms (339).

Shameful as it is to say, the riots were the best thing that ever happened to us. Overnight we went from being a family desperately trying to stay in the middle class to one with hopes of sneaking least the upper-middle (252).

Does his insistant upward "turn" ever bother you?

(If so,) you might think of this as a generic innnovation:
Cal presents the comedic as a deliberate
re-writing of his ancestral genre, tragedy:

... strange infants born in the village...every few generations...always met with tragic ends (117)

A real Greek might end of this tragic note. But an American is inclined to stay out just in time....before...the common tragedies of American life...[which] do not fit into this singular and uncommon record (511-512).

Silently Tessie inserted the links, tragedy in one sleeve, comedy in the other...under the influence of those two-sided accessories, what happened next took on contrasting tones....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....But...there was a comic aspect to events that day, too....even a brand of harsh satire in my parents' quest itself, because it typified the American belief that everything can be solved....All this comedy, however, is retrospective (426).

It is based on the possibility of there always being an alternative, a choice.
"Comedy is tragedy plus time" (Carol Burnett).

"America..was about something that had happened for two minutes four
hundred years ago, instead of everything that....was happening now! (p. 298).

"I stood in the door...thinking about what was next" (last line of the novel).

last, not least:
Chapter 11 is a chapter of the United States' Bankruptcy Code,
which permits reorganization under the bankruptcy laws of the United States....
Why does Cal use this term to name his brother?