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Notes Towards Day 5 (Tues, Jan. 31): Feminist "Visibility Politics"?

Anne Dalke's picture

A picture is worth a 1000 words....
(cf. Maugerite Duras: "a word is worth a 1000 pictures"
--i.e.: , is less directive, opens the space for more interpretation).

Picking up again the conversation we began about visual representation two weeks ago (cf. Sojourner Truth speaking, her words transcribed, her photograph taken, her "plate" made and set @ the The Dinner Party)....

Picking up, too, on the question of how well "children's forms" (nursery tales, comic books) can "represent" feminism (too infantilizing? or giving voice to the silent...?)

I. coursekeeping

by classtime on Thursday, please finish Satrapi's second volume, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return;
see also two NYTimes articles about Iraqi women suicide bombers (linked to from course homepage)

by 8 p.m. this Friday, your first 4-pp. web event is due:
post it just like a regular portfolio entry, but also be
sure to tag it as a student webpaper --> Critical Feminist Studies Webpaper 1
it will appear in our regular forum,
so you don't need to do a Sunday forum posting this weekend,
(unless you didn't do one this week: then catch up now....);
this tag will also generate a separate list of papers for me to review

your Serendip portfolio is self-generating as you write:
see /exchange/portfolio/dchin

II. your afterthoughts/continued conversation with Virginia Woolf....

(we didn't discuss her "satirical," "snarky" side, or: what's the role of humor in feminism?
what's the role of humor in working for social change? does it reinforce the status quo--
by allieviating what is uncomfortable? or provoke change, by identifying problem areas?)

what you did focus on was the role of women's colleges-->
several of you felt that they continue important for women's success (=making us "insiders"?)

hwink: Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine…talks about the difference between explicitly held beliefs and implicity held beliefs….by their sophomore year women who attended single sex institutions were more readily able to pair women and leadership roles than their co-ed counterparts.

pejordan: In my opinion, single-sex schools are valuable ...because they empower women and show them that they can be successful.

meowwalex quoting Meryl Streep: her education at Vassar awoke her brain because she no longer needed to compete for boys, it started a conversation about the idea "that single-sex colleges are important because they allow women to flourish academically in a bastion away from the distractions of men".

others explicitly questioned the value of such flourishing (=making us "outsiders"?)

epeck: I feel very strongly that women CAN be in any type of situation a man can be in, but the question is - should they?  Or should women maintain their "differentness" as Woolf discussed in Three Guineas? 

jdsisco: I can't help but wonder if Virginia Woolf would still give … a guinea to a women's college?… in general they provide a "man's education" opposed to one designed against competition.

amophrast: Bryn Mawr College, statistically speaking, is a women's college that excludes women. To me, what this says is that BMC is not a sanctuary for women seeking higher education, but the same as any other college: a business. As a result, BMC only admits certain kinds of women.

S.Yaeger-->frigginsuchi-->sara.gladwin pushed back on Woolf's argument about "poverty as a virtue"

dchin: I would like to hear your thoughts on how race would factor into your utopian "outsider's society".

Where are you four on the question of being inside/outside?

And where are the rest of us? Let's see!
Name yourself, what you are "inside":
"I am Anne and I am inside the classroom"

listen to woman on your right, so you can
name her and her "outside" on next round:
"She is Anne and she is outside the outside."

got the idea of this exercise from....
Diana Fuss. "Inside/Out." Critical Encounters: Reference and Responsibility in
Deconstructive Writing.
New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 233-240:

her key idea is that identity is fundamentally relational:
we are defined by what we are NOT -->
Hegel's master/slave
also psychoanalytic/Lacanian work focusing on "the lack"
(= language arises from the lack of access to the "real"),
on the the "mirror stage," on "object relations"
simply put: an awareness of self by contrast with an other
(old/white/Quaker/traveling American)

Fuss: naming any "inside" category creates an "outside"
(Woolf: vice versa?)
Fuss: any term is dependent on what is exterior to it
(Woolf: vice versa?)
so (according to this reverse logic)
Virginia Woolf's "outsider society" strenghtens the inside

danger: this dynamic becomes a structure of rigid/polar exclusion
for Fuss, in particular: a concern w/ the fixed polarity of sexual terms
great irony: when homosexuality named/became closeted:
identification=explicit policing

recently it's "in to be out": valorize marginality
is that a tenable position? is it politically viable?
or does an outside always get created however "out" the inside?
(Mark Lord: a shell game, not an entity)

the very roots of "hetero" (other) and "homo" (same) are opposites
Fuss says that the rigid polarities of the sexual terms we have hide a lack on the inside;
heterosexual policing of homosexuality: fear of w/in
two meanings of "out": into presence, on outside
to out can be to valorize/idealize/romatnicize the marginal
reconsider "in" and "out" as "alongside"; distance/proximity ....?

Continue to discuss these issues with one another and with Woolf, on-line and in your webevents.

III. As we turn now to a different era, and geographical location, and genre,
relocating feminism in relation to nationalism and religion (along with race and class),
we are also continuing our conversation about the current use-value of women's colleges,
since Sisters' Colleges See a Bounty in the Mideast, "where single-sex education is more than a niche product."

from an alum living in Syria, whose sister decided not to come to Bryn Mawr:
"I did not want to go to an all-women's college. I just don't like the idea of separating people and living in an exclusively unisex atmosphere. I don't see the reason for it. It's like when you go to a Ramadan feast and all the women are on one side of the room and all the men on the other --- why can't they interact? Why can't they even pray side by side?"

Persepolis will give us another context for, and
on, the values and dangers of sex-segregation.

A few additional framing issues:

* graphic narratives
boom genre, new category for academic study
first written, published as comic books, in installments
with Art Spiegelman's Maus (which was Satrapi's inspiration),
they began to be used to take on larger historical issues (Holocaust....)

I want to think with you about the relation of Persepolis to this tradition:
in what way is Satrapi's use of the medium of comics important?
how would her story work differently as novel, or in essay form?
how process differently if you see images instead of words?

Two visual sources identified by Sartrapi herself:
* Persian miniatures  ("the drawing itself is very simple," eschewing perspective);
see Bihzad on "trying to paint the world as God would see it and not as we, humans, do."

* avant-garde, black-and-white, expressionistic films like
Murnau's vampire fantasy Nosferatu (1922)

* Given the history of "the gaze"--
From John Berger's 1972 Ways of Seeing:
"A almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself...she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman...Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another...women watch themselves being looked at...this determines...the relation of women to themselves...she turns herself into an object--and most particularly an object of vision: a sight" (pp. 46-47).

* and the particular role of veiling in the Iran (shielding woman from such a gaze)

* what is the role of a visual medium, in interrupting this historical dynamic??

* how might visuals --especially simple, cartoonish ones--reinforce stereotypes?

Of course caricature is never truly accurate; its job is to exaggerate, it dispenses with detail. This also makes it immune from easy challenge. A caricature bypasses argument. And now that pictures have become central to political life, caricatures have grown even stronger, and caricatured images are joined by caricatures of ideas.


IV. Who has studied this graphic narrative (or the form) before?

Break into 7? groups of 3? to discuss the relation between medium and message,
between this genre and gender
, between the generic predilections of graphic narratives,
and the gender positions of Satrapi's primary characters and (presumed) readers.

Doing some close reading
(following Art Spiegelman's observation that "people don't even
have the patience to decode comics ... comics have become one of the last bastions of literacy"):

One group each to focus on
'The Veil,' p. 3;
'The Bicycle,' (esp. p. 15);
'The Party' (cf. p. 40, p. 42);
'The Heroes' (esp. p. 52);
'The Key' (esp. p. 102); and
'The Cigarette' (esp. p. 117).
The abstract visuals on pp. 77 and 89.

V. Reporting out:
* how accessible, vernacular is this form? how mass its appeal?
* why is it black and white? what are the effects of this minimalist drawing style?
* how child-like is the perspective? how "feminist"?
* what can we say about the representation of trauma?
* does drawing seem more "fictional" than prose? less "transparent"?
* look especially @ the unique artificial borders in comics:
what is the effect of the gutters between the panels?

Hilary Chute, "The Texture of Retracing in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis." Women's Studies Quarterly 36, 1&2 (Spring/Summer 2008): 92-110.
Satrapi's stark style is monochromatic -- there is no evident shading technique; she offers flat black and white .... "the depiction of deliberately empty spaces" ... visual emptiness of the simple, ungraded blackness in the frames shows memory's ... thickness, its depth .... ... frequent scenes in which public skirmishes appear as stylized and even symmetrical formations of bodies ... The minimalist play of black and white ... to present events with a pointed degree of abstraction in order to call attention to the horror of history ...

"Violence today has become something so normal, so banal ... But it's not normal. To draw it and put it in color -- the color of flesh and the red of the blood, and so forth -- reduces it by making it realistic" .... Persepolis is devastatingly truthful and yet stylized ... style as a narrative choice ... is fundamental to understanding graphic narrative ... pared-down techniques of line and perspective ... as with abstract expressionism, which justifies a flatness of composition to intensify affective content ... is a sophisticated, and historically cognizant, means of doing the work of seeing.

child's eye rendition of trauma ... haunts the text because of its incommmensurablity -- and yet its expressionistic consonance -- with what we are provoked to imagine is the visual reality of this brutal murder ... the author draws a scene of death... as a child imagines it .... in a form keyed to structural gaps through the frame-gutter sequence...

present mass death in a highly stylized fashion .... almost architectural ... a child's too-tidy conceptualization ... and the disturbing, anonymous profusion of bodies ....

the pitfalls of other, ostensibly transparent representational modes: "I cannot take the idea of a man cut into pieces and just write it. It would not be anything but cynical. That's why I drew it" ... from a child's (realistically erroneous but emotionally, expressionistically informed) perspective ....

... no perspective, however informed, can fully represent trauma .... it is in "excess of our frames of reference" .... [In] a child's imaging of torture ... one recognizes not only the inadequacy of any representation to such traumatic history, but also ... the simultaneous power of the radically inadequate (the child's naive confusion).

combining on a page ... the historical "routine" (execution) and the personal "routine" (sneaking cigarettes) ... uses understated graphic idiom to convey the horror of her "story of a childhood." Persepolis shows trauma as ordinary, both in the text's form -- the understated, spatial correspondences Persepolis employs to narrative effect through comics panelization -- and in style: the understated quality of Satrapi's line that rejects the visually laborious ... to departicularize the singular witnessing ... to open out the text ... while Persepolis may show trauma as (unfortunately) ordinary, it rejects the idea that it is (or should ever be) normal ....

Persepolis offers not simply a "visibility politics," but an ethical and troubling visual aesthetics...