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Notes Towards Day 5: The Freak Show

Anne Dalke's picture


Consider contemporary disability studies work
on "the stare," as featured in
The Freak Show by eshaw

...and the multiple legs/performances of Aimee Mullins

A Summary of Sympathy, by aseidman

I. Coursekeeping
general conversation/queries about Friday's papers?
review conference schedule/make sure you can come
instructions for submitting your papers on-line
linked to from top of home page

most important:

  • Go to "create content," and select "blog entry."
  • Title your paper (what would make others want to read it?)
    and select "James Webpaper 1" from categories of student webpapers
  • Copy a text only version of your paper on your computer; preview; save.
  • Don't neglect the possibilites for making your papers more inviting for the web;
    (see, for example, what Kylee's doing in/to our class commonplace book....!)

for Monday, finish reading "The Turn of the Screw,"
and two readings of the tale, both available on-line through Canaday:
Oscar Cargill's 1963 "The Turn of the Screw and Alice James"
Shoshana Felman's 1977 "Writing and Madness (Literature/Philosophy/Psychoanalysis)"

how'd you do on accessing today's readings on-line:
"Barnum Monstrosity" and "The Turn of the Screw"?

do you know one another's names?
what mnemonic devices would help?

Miss Archer's summary of Monday now up
(most interesting to me: what narrative forms might best portray chronic illness?
how instruct a reading into appropriate uptakes for such forms?)
is today's notetaker/keeper/reporter....

II. Commonplacing re: the relation between
the "disability" of Alice James, and ours today--
: A friend of mine has recently taken to bed with many symptoms similar to Alice James. Her stomach is terribly upset .... her senses are easily aroused and common activities she finds over-stimulating.  In particular, reading is problematic because her eyes refuse to remain focused without a conscious exertion of will on her part.  She is rapidly fatigued and finds herself sleeping more that half the day.  When awake her mind is removed as if she were sleepwalking.  However, her emotions run circles around her brain. Can you guess her diagnosis? ... She has a concussion. There are many different interpretations for a set of symptoms.  The diagnosis of an illness is the practice of interpreting a particular person.

parallels between diagnosing illness, interpreting texts..?
transferability of problem-solving techniques?

a relevant Valentine Day's possibility: The Mentalist @ Penn, 8 p.m. on Feb. 14

III. What did you pick up from Kristin Boudreau's 1993 essay,
A Barnum Monstrosity': Alice James and the Spectacle of Sympathy" ?
professional invalid denies sympathy of others,
as a false/alien/invented account of her original experience of suffering,
exploited for spectator's pleasure--and primary threat to her subjectivity

so: constructs alternative, ironic role/comedy of manners/circus sideshow
scoffs @ pretense to benevolence, belabors the theatrical, magnifies the drama
becomes "picturesque to oneself," re-writes body as foreign, monstrous:
the rebellious pleasure of self-division

quotes Chuang Tsiu: "the sympathetic man...trying to be some one else...
misses the only possible excuse for his own existence"

your reaction to this? as a description of Alice James? of life as you know it?

and yet! no subjectivity self-sufficient:
one can never exist without an audience;
self-reliance always an impossibility,
constructed by presence of others,
fiction based on theatrical exchange
(a confusion? a conflict??)

IV. remaining questions about Alice James....
which you'll explore in your papers?
what has surprised you about her/story?
what more do you want to know??

V. Turning now to a story, said by some to be based
by her brother on her "hysteria" (more of this on Monday):
let's go 'round, hear your initial reactions to "The Turn of the Screw"
Cf. James, in 1898 letter to an inquiring reader:
"I'm afraid I don't understand the principle question you put to me about "The Turn of the Screw"... in truth I am afraid ... that I somehow can't pretend to give any coherent account of my small inventions ... after the fact"

Let's talk about The OBLIQUE WAY
James writes (and structures his stories)

--how that contributes to what Paul Armstrong calls the "realist/idealist question,"
--what Shoshana Felman identifies as a
"clash between "imaginative" and scientific" truth,
between "naive" and "disillusioned" readings,
between the "gullibility" of Mrs. Grose and the "suspicion" of the governess,
--what Ned Kukacher calls the "lapse from salutary skepticism to grotesque certitude"
--and what all that has to do with our own responses to the text
(frustration, fright, boredom...?

In "Writing and Madness," the Lacanian critic Shoshana Felman called
"The Turn of the Screw" one of the strongest--i.e. most effective--texts of all time

consider the vehement aggressive tone of first reactions:
"the study ... affects the reader with a disgust"
"the feeling ... is that one has been assisting in an outrage"
what is most scandalous: we are forced to participate in the scandal;
there is no innocent reader of the text
scandal resides in the text's effect on us:
what is outrageous is that which makes it speak to us
A Summary of Sympathy, by aseidman