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Notes Towards Day 25 (Tues, Apr. 17): Re-reading and Re-writing Superman?

Anne Dalke's picture

(wo)m'n setting the scene?

I. Coursekeeping
for today, move into a different seat,
alternate those with computers and those without,
make sure that we can all see, and so listen to, one another,
and access this page so all can see it, too...

for Thursday, to "bring it home," please read 3 things:
the two BMC chapters (pp. 105-133) in Helen Horowitz's 1984 book, 
Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women’s College From
their Nineteenth-Century Beginnngs to the 1930s
  (in our password protected file)

Alissa Quart's 2008 New York Times Magazine essay, When Girls Will Be Boys

aybala's first webevent, on The Inside: History of women at Bryn Mawr

II. weekend musings about past/present/future conversations
are you noticing our visitors? (welcome to respond or not....)
two long responses to bluebox's webevent about SlutWalk
to dear.abby's post about sex work: Because She Matters
to pejordan's post about women in politics: the Democrats' war on women in Obama
to meowwalex's post: Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spiritualities

sara kicked off the most provocative thread this weekend, by saying,
Bell Hooks makes it very clear that all forms of violence, including certain
forms of violent language, are damaging ...However, I found her own language
and aggressive politics were violent ...I feel that any form of "revolutionary"
politics requires a "violence" of the mind; one that requires a significant
alteration of thinking...This change in thinking is radical- it asks a person to
fight against their social conditioning and everything they have internalized;
to reassess how they see the world and the identities they have come to
align themselves with. I'm curious as to whether this violence of the
mind is useful and productive
.... perhaps activism needs to make
people uncomfortable to a certain extent...? I worry that using this as a
method to create change is dangerous and can promote other forms of violence.

S.Yeager: I agree that violence of the mind, and causng discomfort is sometimes
necesarry for change or progress to occur [but] I'm not sure that using forceful or
assertive language is opposite to the idea of language being open.  I might even
... say that a reluctance to use forceful language ... can hold people back....
there are times when such speech is the best way to convey one's feelings. 
To me, being able to access a variety of tonality is a liberating thing,
thus makng language more open.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about the significance of making
a statement versus asking a question. Personally, I feel more comfortable
questioning ... because I never feel fully certain about what I am saying.
Will I offend anyone? Do I really know what I'm talking about? Am I making
a fool of myself? ...the biggest reason for my tendency to question is because
it is much more interesting! If life consisted of statements would change
come about? How would we learn?

I think there is merit in both forms... I feel much more comfortable asking
questions in this my other classes I need to prove a point rather than explore
a topic.  I think if both forms were valued equally, there would be a steady flow of
statement making and question asking.  Statements would lead to questions which
would lead to other statements and other questions and so on and so forth. 

I'm much more a questioner than statement-maker, but I also...need to make
statements... statements that are open to questoining...that don't assume what we
say is some kind of decided fact...the exercise of statement making can be constructive,
when it is done in a space that recognizes that none of what we say is eternal or final,
and maybe we would have been more comfortable with that exercise if we had made
that known and clear from the outset.

[relevant to Serendip postings?!]

III. Not unrelatedly! on Thursday we began talking about masculinity
with help from photographs by Adi Nes (designed to subvert the stereotype of the
masculine Israeli man), and an essay by Michael Kimmel in which
"the single most evident marker of manhood is the willingness to fight."

Other markers include the "relentless testing" of "not being like women,"
the careful scrutiny of other men, a "chronic  sense of personal inadequacy,”
"the defense against the perceived  threat of humiliation in the eyes of other men,"
or, in sum, the "contradictory experience of social and individual power" in which
men, who are in power as a group, do not feel powerful as individuals.

pejordan on the relevance of these topics for this class: I think that the word
"feminist" automatically pits women against men, and ...we should try to include
rights for men who are being discriminated against as well..."feminism" ...implies
that there are only two genders....maybe we need to expand the scope of the
word ... the word needs a radical change.

meowwalex on their relevance to contemporary religious scandals: centered around
important men ... previously considered as ideal models for what a good religious man
is...centered around the notion that homosexuality is a behavior that is wrong, and
that no strong, religious man could identify as gay.

S. Yeager: the Catholic sex scandal is about pedophilia, not homosexuality.

sekang: I'm sorry that I can't answer to your question "Why is it that being gay
makes you less of a man in the eyes of so many?" I do definitely belive that
today's society constructed an idea of being making gay makes a man less
of a man, but I'm not sure why.

bluebox: I think that society sees a homosexual man as less of a man because
so much of masculinity is defined in relation to a couple, there is a
masculinity/femininity quota that must be filled....

[Kimmel gives us another answer....?]

IV. today we turn to a "graphic" rendition of some of these questions,
Chris Ware's 2000 graphic novel about the "smartest kid on earth,"
which re-writes the script of superman into a failed super-hero...

Some history of  "masculinity" as a category in Gender Studies,
from Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism (1997):

Since feminist critics have argued convincingly that gender differences
are constructed differences, the reasoning goes, shouldn't that mean
stereotypical masculinity is as constructed--
and as deforming--as stereotypical femininity
? The result is a new way
of examining texts, as a way of looking at 'masculinity' as a product of patriarchy
that is potentially as damaging to those subjected to it as is 'femininity.' '
Gender theory does not see men as simply perpetrators of sexual oppression,
but as themselves victims of it....

gender studies ... is an expansion of feminist criticism that genuinely recognizes
the discursive, constructed nature of patriarchal gender norms, a necessary step
if we are ever to realign oppressive gender politics....

[For example, male studies] reveal the the real anxiety behind the surface story
of Oedipus, "a vulnerable man caught in the middle of a story that he has indeed
helped create but cannot control--caught, as it were, with his pants down, his
fallacies exposed, his repressive efforts showed for the ineffectual cover-up they are..."

But: are his fallacies particularly MALE?
Is "maleness" the category that counts here?
Or does using it as an analytic category just mystify?

[Cf. Chris Ware's "Corrigenoa"-->
LONELY: The permanent state of being for all humans,
despite any efforts to the contrary...can be soothed

or subdued...but cannot be solved.]

Robert Hunt, "Oedipus," Alter Ego

(Jimmy Corrigan doll, for sale)

A la Oedipus, this is very much a generational story:
key to Jimmy's current account is his
grandfather's abusive father & longed-for, absent mother;
cf. contemporary story about absent father, overpresent mother
(w/ lots of repetition: broken leg, horses, black women;
beginning/ending w/ mom's trysts --> "loves" her=fails w/ all women).

It is also very much a "genre" story.
So one way to start getting @ these questions
might be to think together again about "genres"
and their relation to "genders."

GENS: A clan or sect; any aggregation of families.

GENRE: Kind; sort; style (of literary work).

GENDER: Kind, sort, class (of people).

What genre is Jimmy Corrigan?
Is there any relation--if so, what is it?--
between his genre and his gender?
Between his genre-and-gender,
and the generic predilections and
gender positions of his (presumed) readers?

(if not, how do we read it....?)

Exam. Begin.
1. You are a. male. b. female.
If b, you may stop. Put down our booklet. All others continue.

[if male --> miserable, unhappy, suicidal, avoiding]

Metaphor: A tight fitting suit of metal, generally tin,
which entirely encloses the wearer, both impeding free movement
and preventing emotional expression and/or social contact. [??]

Are men more visual/less readerly? Need it laid out?
(cf. Japan, where ALL like comics?)


Reading instructions:
not equipped to sustain successful linguistic relation w/ pictographic theater
principles and rules intuitive
entirely novel form of imaginative drama
paramount end of aesthetics--> represent rich experience
comic strip highest achievement! --> from cave paintings
look to whenever stimulation/pageantry/distraction/solace is needed
resonance--> empathetic vs. profiteers from business of life

Another "generic" possibility:
Is this graphic novel an "apology" or an "apologue"?
(Is the genre itself self-deprecating?)
Is it speaking in defense or to teach (offensively)?
Do you think we're supposed to be confused (like Jimmy)?

[Fr. apologie, L. apologia, Gr. defence, a speech in defence, f. away, off + - speaking.]
The pleading off from a charge or imputation, whether expressed, implied,
or only conceived as possible;  defence of a person, or vindication of an institution,
etc., from accusation or aspersion.

Cf. [a. Fr. apologue, ad. L. apologus, a. Gr. account, story, fable, f. off + speech.]
An allegorical story intended to convey a useful lesson; a moral fable.

My Notes, from Gus Stadler's Fall '04 lecture:

problems w/ discussing straight masculinity:
so pervasively present, orients so much of our understanding of the world
appears not different, so harder to analyze
related to Michael Warner's ideas about crafting the self
emotional range: bleak and bleaker

a few framing issues and concerns:
graphic novels (Maus) boom genre, new category
first written, published as comic book, in installments
addressing conventions of superhero comic book:
what is its relation to this tradition?

"Smartest Kind of Earth" satiric re: heroic rhetoric
what is its relation to superhero tradition?
what is it doing to that conventional form?
(tape of Chris Ware accepting an award:
"you can see I'm not very good @ this...why i should stay home...")
packaging of book: sense of humility, self-deprecation
paper bound apologue, whole book act of apology
(vs. allegory: lesson, moral, fable--
what is the moral of the fable?)
inevitable mess that you make when you try to say "I am"
average guy...who is extraordinary
escapism: death of superhero, own escape

nature of putting on a mask
what is Jimmy looking for? to project self onto?
what is he actually in search of?
something Oedipal going on here?
looking to rearrange relation with women?
search for identity: self reflecting, rarely speaking
very passive: active arrival w/ father
identity: no father figure
what keeps him from embracing his dad?
what are obstacles to realizing identity?
grandfather, "it's too late"
36 years old
fantasies; not going to be realized: too much history
bears the burden of a deeper past
what type of father would tell him who he's slept with?
what makes the medium of comics important?
could be done as a novel, film?

angle that comics allow indication of masculinity?
process differently if you see images instead of reading?
(clauses, qualifiers, deferrals, submissive)
self-deprecating: don't take it seriously
genre itself self-deprecating: ironic tension between form and content
bring gender into discussion: is that a gendered gesture of performance?
association of comic books: expectations: tragic, sad
unmasculated man in hero's spot
very confusing: what is happening
disconcerting: how to read, not a logical layout
makes reader feels as lost as Jimmy is

male character is not masculine
categories of comic book characters:
predetermined play w/ stereotypical roles
forces reader to re-live comics you read, associations
why can't this be masculinity?
geared toward experience?

sets him up to perform gender for us, he fails
is that not masculinity?
not stereotypical muscled guy, highlights ideal
is story being presented as one of masculinity?
being disappointed in who you are? as a man?
first scene important, never returned to
really directed toward emasculating failure?

historical narrative:
great grandfather's presence--that narrative of masculine brutality
shapes our impression of how this is about masculinity
earliest Corrigan in story is still present
every generation delineated by his experience
model of difficulty of father-son relations: paternity
fathers teach sons how to be masculine/man
scene of testing/failure
lot about race in both narratives
plays into sense of his being confined, trapped
effect of discovering another child, of different race?
important to talk about daughter, see if there is a superhero narrative
an orphan/ standard plot of redemption
what is plot trying to make us feel?