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Notes Towards Day 6

Finding Ariadne's Thread in Middlesex (Book Three):
Notes Towards Day Six of
Critical Feminist Studies

Sarah Kauffman: Cal describes his dating patterns as "wandering in the maze for these many years"....a masculine retreat from intimacy with women because of insecurity with his body. However...Desdemona's ...experience of the maze of pregnancy is a highly feminine one.

"Middlesex! Did anybody ever live in a house as strange? As sci-fi? As futuristic and outdated at the same time? A house that was more like communism, better in theory than reality?...a testment to theory uncompromised by practicality...everyone knew that one thing didn't lead to another but often nowhere at all. So neither did our stairs
(p. 258).

aaclh: I love the part when Eugenides uses thread to tie bits of the story together.

I. So, Ariadnes, what threads did you pull out of this maze?
why are you reading this novel for a course called Critical Feminist Studies?
What elements in the book point you to some feminist questions?
(What is a feminist question?)
What threads are you finding that are helping you make sense of the story?

First some coursekeeping:
naming gaming: name two ppl. to right/left of you?
1 of you not posted @ all yet...probs?
some of you not logging in...probs?
some words running together...probs. cut/pasting from word, using safari?
one of you in last year's forum (w/ response from an alum!)
need some thinking each week; posting retrospectively won't help the shared project...
sign up sheet w/ e-mail/user names
packets--> $20 in envelope
(finish Middlesex for Tuesday/first readings in packet for Thursday)
first paper weeks from tomorrow...happy to talk w/ anyone about it:
What has been transformed in your thinking?
Where do you need to go to learn more about this question?
Where is it taking you? (5pp., on-line, in your blog)

come see me before, after paper--but before fall break for sure!

A relevant announcement @ y'day's faculty meeting...
(first wave feminism? globalized education? cultural change? or....?)

And my elevator to understand that? how to respond?

Back to (a "bundled" selection of) your postings/possible paper topics:
threads included
sexual /lesbian narrative: mpottash, stephanie2, hpolak, sarina, ssherman,
why is it that we discussed the taboo of heterosexual incest but not queer incest?
jlustick on Fluid Sexuality: Our human reluctance to deal with psychological inconsistencies may cause us to bury the truth and design a more consistent narrative.

skumar02: A major thread throughout Middlesex is identity experimentation...makes me question why such a novel is read ina feminist studies course....In my opinion, a feminist is somenone who celebrates having the body of a woman....I look forward to discussion on the way others explain how feminism corresponds with Cal's biological and psycholgoical transformation from woman to man....I would be curious to know whether others make a distinction between women's studies and gender & sexuality studies.

& other forms of identity studies, such as religion:
Greek Orthodox [religion] plays a major role in causing the characters to become guilt-ridden individuals...the ideas of guilt, sex, and satisfaction are all inter-linked..not even prayer..can help to process the guilt.
...and race:
I've been thinking about the significance of race in Middlesex...could it have something to do with an "outsider" status theme in the book? Might it tie in with the "rebirth" theme...? how Cal/lie made friends with Marius Grimes; be that Cal/lie had yet to form social/racial/gender/etc. classification for other individuals...?...also interesting: "the matter with you" (246).
the relation of ethnic identity and ecnomics:
When Desdemona is being interviewed. "But what you is?"...She thought about her children. She imagined coming home to them without any food. And then she swallowed hard. 'Everybody mixed. Turks, Greeks, same same."....I think this is one of those tricky areas that feminism has to deal with.
& the role of language in identity formation:
lrperry: “Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling"....Cal...expresses an explicitly political, explicitly feminist, stance toward language and toward expanding the definitions of traditional words....the deficiency of the English
“patriarchal” [???] this lack of words means he must become more engaged in creating his own story. This sounds like a political move to me – the realization that the world...does not include you....To tell your own a change the world, through literature.

anorton: I am Cal's automatic assumption that feelings are part of the women's sphere...."but for what I had there was no word at all"...."patriarchal langauge"...deliberately and effectivley prohibits young Callie from describing part of herself. It is akin to 1984's Newspeak: if people are prevented from talking about politically-undesirable topics, they eventaully are unable to conceive of them at all.
lrperry: Cal did not say that the langauge was masculine...the word "patriarchal" referes to the whole structure in society which serves primarily masculine may not be able to use the power of the langauge that ostensibly belongs to them. a big theme in this story...all wrapped up in the notion of 'passing'...

II. As further inspiration/extension: Stephanie on
the quilts of Gee's Bend (at the Arden Theater, Oct. 9-Dec. 7)

III. Back to Middlesex, pp. 430-432:
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)....

While my parents were being given a crash course on gonadogenesis, I...was doing some homework myself. In the Reading Room of the New York Public Library I was looking up something in the dictionary....
hypospadias- An abnormality of the penis in which the urethra opens on its under surface.
See synonyms at EUNUCH.
I did as instructed and got
eunuch-- A man whose testes have not developed.
See synonyms at HERMAPHRODITE.
Following where the trail led, I finally reached
hermaphrodite--Anything comprises of a combination of diverse or contradictory elements.
See synonyms at 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!"

I want to take some time with the ideas highlighted by Sonal, Emily, Allie, Laura and others, especially the power (and danger) of words, their usefulness for getting us out
(or is it trapping us in?) the labyrinth, the potential liberation
(or is it destructiveness?) of the act of categorization
that is their application-and-definition.

He was a great teacher, Mr. da Silva...had a relevant quotation for
everything that happened to him and in this way evaded real life (p. 321).

I want us to start (again, again) with ourselves:

What categories do each of us occupy?
What words do we use to describe ourselves?
What words do others use to describe us?
How do the categories "inside" differ from those "without"?

Is our occupation of categories willing or unwilling? "Natural" or imposed?
What do those categories (say, "learner" and "teacher") signify to us?
What do they look and sound like to each of us?
What categories matter most to us,
when we discuss our own identities and those of others?
How might we self-organize into a taxonomy that makes sense of those identities?

So--split into groups to conduct this taxonomic exercise:
How many "kinds" do you constitute?
What are the grounds for your grouping?
(Identify any/all characteristics that seem important to you.)
Identify a table, or grid, or draw a tree...
...that places you in relation to one another.
What matters in the categories you make?
How do you construct them?

For Results, See Catagorization: An Exercise

What have we learned?
For starters: categorization can begin

* "platonically": from the "top-down"
with the catagories, into which we then put ourselves.
But how many categories can each of us occupy simultaneously?
If we were building a "science museum," how many rooms would feature you?

* "aristotle-ally": from the bottom-up
with reports of what we observe about ourselves,
which we then sort into categories.

Next: what is the relationship among the categories?
How much are the categories "inside" determined by those "outside"?

...And what does all this have to do with Cal? ever-growing list of upkeep requirements (p. 311)

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

Playing with Categories: Re-doing the Politics of Sex and Gender

George Lakoff, Philosophy in the Flesh: we are programmed to see patterns.
As pattern-seeking/pattern-making creatures, we make smaller sets
from large amounts of information and, conversely,
infer larger structures from whatever limited information is available.
But what are the principles of our doing so?

As Foucault writes in the Introduction to Herculine Barbin,

biological theories of sexuality, juridical conceptions of the individual, forms of administrative control in modern nations, led little by little to rejecting the idea of a mixture of the two sexes in a single body, and consequently to limiting the free choice of indeterminate individuals....From the medical point of view, this meant that when confronted with a hermaphrodite, the doctor was...concerned with...deciphering the true sex that hidden beneath ambiguous apearances (viii).

It is at the junction of these two ideas--that we must not deceive ourselves concerning our sex, and that our sex harbors what is most true in ourselves--that psychoanalysis has rooted its cultural vigor (xi).

The idea of the "administrative control" that results from the ability to identify "kinds"--is the central argument of the Preface to Foucault's The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences
(translation of Les Mots et les choses) which begins with a meditation on the constructedness of categories.

Photograph by Simran Kaur, BMC '04

To be continued....