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Week 5: "Ordered Chaos of the Dreaming"

Anne Dalke's picture

Having looked @ a science text that catalogues diversities of sex and gender, and a social science text about the diversity of culture and location, this week we are turning to an exploration of the third "division" of knowledge, that of the humanities. We will be looking for  "diversity of representation" in a literary text and commentary.

So: what are your reactions to  Neil Gaiman's graphic novel, The Doll's House, and Kathy Acker's essay on "Seeing Gender"? What do they add to your growing interdisciplinary understanding of gender and sexuality?

rae's picture

in response to skindeep

skindeep wrote "and if we are ever questioning our identity, our gender and sexuality, we need to be more aware of the forces within us that our shaping us everyday. our fear, anxiety, memory, even (as mentioned in the book), our desire." 

and i think that's it. i agree. our subconscious selves, our fears and desires--without that, i don't know if we can question ourselves, our identities. i've questioned both my gender and my sexuality, and i've realized that they're deeply intertwined with my fears and desires, the things that terrify me and the things that i want the most, the feeling of something that i can't explain. and we need to pay attention to these things and not just focus on facts and logical arguments and reasoned explanations.

and i think that one of the reasons that the dreaming and these emotions are so important to gen/sex issues is that sometimes we don't want to face things about ourselves, and dreams and emotions make us deal with them, even when we don't want to on an intellectual/logical/mental level.

holsn39's picture


I really loved the graphic novel that we read and the article, very refreshing reading i would say. I think it was great that Neil Gaiman encorporated queerness into his dream world. I recently came across a definition of queer that I found interesting. "reclaim queerness as a radical expression of individuality. If you are not queer identified we encourage you to claim queerness for yourself, thus approaching life from a nonconformist, outsider perspective which contains a huge amount of power in the homogeneity of American mass society. You don't have to be gay or gender variant to be queer, all that is required is a rejection of that which is offered up as "normal" in America." from

I think that the Sandman shows a great representation of this idea, every character, image, emotion, idea... is queer. I think the book itself is an expression of queerness. Great stuff.

I came across some interesting links online about the Radial Queer Movement. Pretty interesting topic and there are lots of cool atricles on the blogs.

eshaw's picture

The Problem with Language...

(Sorry if this post appears twice...I posted the first time without signing in! oops) 

We ended class on Thursday with the question of a “women’s language.” I find this a very provocative question, especially after the time that I’ve spent thinking about the positive/negative dichotomy of man/woman. I suppose it harkens back to our well-worn topic of categorization and the destruction/fortification of those boxes. Because we are so rooted in language, as Acker articulates in her essay Seeing Gender, it seems only natural that these categorical binaries are intimately connected to the act of signification itself. The human compulsion to “name” things is something that is central to our understanding of the world around us, even in the very distinction between “self” and “other.” I feel that the very concept of identity is rooted in act of filtering out the “other” and by so doing, naming it. Ultimately, I tend to think of the whole thing as a “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” Do we construct categories of gender because of language or do these distinctions already exist and language just “names” it?

Yes, this sense of “naming” does have a kind of patriarchal, authoritative ring to it – I think of the Gospel of John (“in the beginning was the word and the word was God”) and all that logocentric, Derridian stuff.   Therefore, to come back to the initial question of creating a “women’s language,” or even the concept of such a thing existing, I think we run into a few pitfalls. Firstly, if language is essentially masculine in nature, is a “feminine” language even possible through the written word? Secondly, if such a language could be created, would we not be fortifying the walls between the genders, creating an even bigger gap than when we started? Thirdly, how does one even initiate a new language, with the old being so essentially ingrained in our education and our concept of our world? I think that the notion of a “women’s language” was radical in its conception because it illuminated some implicitly masculine aspects of the language that we use everyday. Ultimately, though, I don’t know if such a thing is possible or even productive. 

All this does relate back to the humanities in some important ways, in my opinion. I think it points to the power of words and language in relation to conceptualizing the world around us. The more I continue to think about it, though, the more I get stuck in that self-referential loop. At some point, life lies outside of what we can speak and what we can read and what we can name and I think that a crucial part of deconstructing the gender binary lies in that space beyond language. I think we run into problems when we place too much faith in our signs and words and too little attention to everything else.

Karina's picture

Again with the posting that disappears thank god there's a copy

What is the value of looking at gender and sexuality through the lens of humanities? I found myself agreeing overwhelmingly with everything that has been said in class regarding the (humanities’) ability to evoke powerful emotion, build personal connections, and allow us to re-imagine ourselves in constructs that are not necessarily possible in the “real” world and allow for change in attitude or perception. All those points are entirely valid. However, there’s something about the way in which the value of humanities is framed in contrast with natural and social sciences that borders on trivialization and this bothers me greatly.
I am (like Kayla and probably quite a few others in the class) most comfortable in dealing with humanities. The biggest distinction I’ve heard so far between humanities and other areas of study is that the sciences – be they natural or social – are more based on facts, on the construction of a “solid” sense of truth. Yes, we’ve all been made aware of and agreed upon the fact that even an area as “inflexible” as natural science is highly dependent on continuous paradigm shifts and is therefore not nearly as steady as we may believe. But nonetheless, when we put the humanities alongside natural science, the former is clearly viewed as “softer” than the latter.
The power of human emotion in an academic setting amounts to nil, let’s be honest here. No one grades us based on how much of an effect the material had on us and how well we allowed ourselves to be connected to and invested in it. No one places value on the depth or scope of feelings we experience or connections we’ve been able make with regard to our sense of self, personhood, and identity. Not unless we’re able to produce something in a 5-7 page format with the appropriate MLA-style bibliography. Not unless we’re able to produce proof. It matters little what sort of wondrous and transformative disease(s) may be inhabiting our minds and bodies due to our honest engagement with what we are learning and the ways in which we are applying what we’re learning unless there are SYMPTOMS.
Humanities works on an asymptomatic level, I think. That is why it is so often the case that one can appreciate a work of literature and connect with it but fail to produce the adequate evidence for the work that is being done. The value of papers about the relationship of humanities and to issues in understanding gender and sexuality hinges on one’s skilled ability to synthesize the appropriate symptoms, to fabricate evidence. A paper on the topic (for that would be the substantiation/proof of the value of humanities) is a perpetual shortcoming, a constant false representation of its value because in the world of academia it would consist of 70% skill in terms of writing a coherent paper (ANY paper) at least 10-20% self-censorship for the benefit of the academic setting – the appropriate language, the forced (re-)organization of ideas so that that fit the standard academic paradigm of how a paper should develop and lay itself out, the appropriation or manipulation of genuine ideas to fit the question being asked if the question is just plain unprovokative – and with any luck 10-20% of unadulterated substance.
Is that pessimistic? Yes, probably. Is it unfair? I’m not sure yet, I’m still in the process of thinking.
What am I going to do about it? Probably put it into yet another paper.

kayla's picture

gender in literature?

 Today’s discussion on Seeing Gender hit a weird place for me—I’ve been thinking a lot lately about literature and authority, and it was interesting to hit upon these issues through the context of Acker’s sought “escape” into the books she read. One of the most moving quotes I found in the reading was “I am Alice who ran into a book in order to find herself. I have found only the reiterations, the mimesis of patriarchy, or my inability to be. No body anywhere. Who am I? Has anybody seen gender?” (84). The books she read as a child were supposed to be another avenue to the adventure she felt she was denied as a girl. Literature is often used as a passage way into another world or dimension that the reader would otherwise never have a chance to visit. What happens, though, is that literature more often reflects the realities of society. Writers still write what they know and see around them, and I think that if patriarchy exists in our world, it will be reflected in literature even if the author is hoping to encourage different perceptions (See Acker’s description of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: the entire story is from Carroll’s imagination but gender issues can still be found within the text if looked for). Now, as an adult, Acker realized that what she had been looking for all along (a reflection of her self) doesn’t exist in the literature she had read as a child growing up. This is where I start to question my assumptions and seem to go back on an opinion that’s pretty engrained in me: “But what if language need not be mimetic?” (84). My usual stance is that the context in which an author is writing heavily influences the literature that the author composes, and the events of the time period or details about the authors life can often be found in the text somehow (i.e. language mirrors life). But can’t literature then reflect imagination—something outside and even sometimes unaffected by reality? Would we still be able to call it literature? This is the possible exterior of patriarchal definitions, I think, in which Acker can find the body, but how we use language in literature must change before we can get to that point.


meredyd's picture

 When I heard we were doing

 When I heard we were doing The Sandman for this course, I initially assumed the volume Prof Dalke would choose would be "A Game of You", which is a very blatantly feminine stand-alone piece focusing on the Barbie character from "Doll's House", as well as a witch, a transsexual woman, and a lesbian couple expecting a child. However, in retrospect, I think that would have been a little too obvious...I know that personally, it wouldn't have challenged me that much in terms of thinking critically because the themes were so blatantly laid out, as compared to the way they were in "Doll's House", where most of the class had trouble reconciling the text with critical gen/sex thinking. I also think it was an oversight on my part to assume that the text needed to be mainly/only focused on feminine experience, rather than experiences of males and females together or those outside the gender binary - sort of like what we talked about on the first day of class. 

justouttheasylum's picture

I Need A Flogging

Forgive me all for I have sinned. In Tuesday's class, my group was discussing how interesting it would have been to know the women's version of the story (Nada and Kai'ckul). It was then that it occured to me that if the old man never told his grandson that the women heard a different story, I would have never even thought about the women. It honestly never crossed my mind that there were these two men talking of a story, about a queen of a land and still women had not come to my mind. I keep trying to say that it's because this seemed to be a male's only ceremony but even then, I did not wonder what the women did. The women just were not in my thoughts.

I must do better.

Serendip Visitor's picture


i did like the doll's house. reading everyone's posts it seems like i wasn't quite the fan that some of you were, but i am usually quite the critic of books (among other things) so what did i think? i'm somewhat surprised by how disturbed so many people seem to have been by the novel. i did feel like it pushed on some boundaries, but i felt like every time it started to push, it would stop just short of really pushing it. i'm not talking about just a gore type disturbance factor, which i assume is the visceral reactions we talked about, but also in pushing those philosophical type issues - the things that 'would drive you mad if you thought about them too long' (to paraphrase rose). i always felt like we were taken just to the cusp of something that would really mess with our minds, but then something else would happen. and though i know that the whole waking from a dream style is integral to the novel, i sometimes couldn't help feeling cheated. and i didn't feel cheated like i should figure it out on my own, i just felt (and i may just be cynical) that the author just couldn't take it to the next step. and i didn't always know what the next step should be, but i wanted him to take more of a stance on certain things, say it IS this way, now what are you going to do about it? even the disturbing images/scenes that so many have talked about, maybe i'm just (ready for the cliche?) jaded by culture, but i honestly wasn't that disturbed. i often expected to turn the page and for it to be worse, something that would really bother me, but it never came. personally i found the cereal convention stuff sort of hokey. i guess that was kind of the point though- once morpheus came and disbanded them and told them how basically lame they all were, playing bad guys. all that being said, i did feel compelled to finish it, and did want to know where everything was going, so as far as books for academia, i enjoyed reading it more than your average text book.

ebock's picture

i couldn't resist

I'm writing a paper about Shakespeare's love(s) in his sonnets and still watching Cure videos, so I really just couldn't help myself:

"Friday I'm in Love"

ebock's picture


There is so much in "The Dollhouse" that does just what we talked about in class on Tuesday: it appeals to our subconscious (or at least mine), our dream state. There were several instances in the novel where I found myself reacting almost physically to some of the situations. So many different parts of this novel tapped into some of my deep-seated fears. I was frightened when Rose was nearly raped at the Cereal Convention. I cringed when I saw Jed being abused. In some ways, it also appealed to some of my fantasies or interests too. Like I said in class, at first glance I thought Morpheus looked like Robert Smith from the Cure (yes I am a dork). The most interesting part of all of this is that the novel itself, which relied on illustrating the frail boundaries between dreams and reality for the characters, also affected us as readers and our dreams, fantasies, and nightmares.

This is what makes humanities media different than anything we've read so far in the natural sciences and social sciences: different mediums will operate in different ways for different readers/participants. Gaiman's representation of the subconscious/conscious/reality/non-reality affects us each differently.

I'm very much looking forward to class tomorrow. Also, a gen/sex related Cure song for anyone who's interested - "Boys Don't Cry" (I'm sure some of you have heard this before...)


skindeep's picture

this i perceive

to say that i loved the book would be an understatement. it intrigues me. the pictures, the colours, the way it holds you by the hand and tells you it's story, somehow still managing to leave room for your own perception/interpretation.

but im not going to go into that right now. right now, im going to tell you how, in terribletwo's words, the story 'violated me'

dreams and the manner in which they play a role in what we do and how we behave and who we are is something ive been interested in for a while now -- needless to say, the manner in which that concept was depicted in the book blew me away.

your subconsious/unconscious mind is your safe haven, or so we like to believe, and thats why the idea of a vortex scares most  people. it makes you wonder if you do have a place thats truely your own anymore. if someone could enter your dreams, enter into your subconscious mind, would you then have any privacy at all? i guess not. but would you be safe? thats something that i think differs from one person to the next. if you can fnd safety in knowing that your not alone, then maybe yes. but if you need your own sense of space, or think you do, then i guess not. nonetheless, the idea itself is an interesting one. because it is so possible.

your subconscious is intangible, and alive. more alive then we ever believe it to be. and it is, in my opinion floating, almost like a cloud, engulfing you on all sides. in it, it holds all your background thoughts, suppressed emotions and character traits. so its no surprise that it becomes more apparent to us, in our dreams.

but if its floating, it also makes all those emotions and thoughts a little vulnerable, more vulnerable than they are in your mind anyway. more vulnerable than you would ever let them be. so maybe it is possible, in that state of vulnerability, for it to fuse, for a small amount of time, with another subconscious mind. and when are you less aware of yourself then when you are asleep?

am i saying that there is a vortex? no. but i am saying that it is possible. and that knowledge of this vortex would probably make people make an effort to be more aware, of themselves, of their subconscious mind. and awareness of that would lead to awareness of identity, of a more secure sense of being.

thats how i think the book gravitates towards gender and sexuality, it deals with identity, identity realised through awareness. and if we are ever questioning our identity, our gender and sexuality, we need to be more aware of the forces within us that our shaping us everyday. our fear, anxiety, memory, even (as mentioned in the book), our desire.


Owl's picture

Very Intriguing

Skindeep, I have to say I agree with what you say here. I found myself also questioning the idea of a vortex and thus the intrusion of one's private dreams. I think when you say "...your subconscious is intangible, and alive. more alive then we ever believe it to be. and it is, in my opinion floating, almost like a cloud, engulfing you on all sides. in it, it holds all your background thoughts, suppressed emotions and character traits. so its no surprise that it becomes more apparent to us, in our dreams.", you capture that idea of fear in people; this fear, that others will "find out" one's deepest darkest secrets, that may not necessarily want to be found. I don't agree that your dreams can be your haven, however for there are such things as nightmares, but dreaming in the sense that it's only your dream, really does give one security in knowing that no one can use it against them. If a vortex should happen to exist, our dreams wouldn't be OUR dreams anymore. There would be no difference between what we believe reality to be and the dream world. Nightmares would engulf us and fears would have to be confronted at a risk.


This image was taken from :


kayla's picture

science vs. expression

 Admittedly, the humanities are my comfort zone. I love it here. But I still appreciated the discussion question Anne asked in class: What particular contribution can the division of the humanities make to our understanding of gender and sexuality? It wasn't something I would have necessarily thought out on my own even though it's something definitely worth considering. Literature, unlike science, is an expression rather than stated fact. It offers readers a character (and in the case of The Doll's House, a face) to associate with whatever issues are discussed in the text, and then delves deeper into these issues through tools like symbolism and imagery. And it is through this use of characters that allows readers to sympathize with gender and sexuality issues--like the example someone brought up in class of Will & Grace allowing viewers to "have gay friends." Characters have the ability to evoke emotion in readers, unlike the anonymity of scientific texts, and offers us an entirely new perspective on gender and sexuality. 

cantaloupe's picture

graphic novels

I'm glad that we read The Doll's House.  Personally, I am happy that I have been exposed to a graphic novel / comic book that I actually enjoyed.  I really did have pretty severe judgements about comic books and my dislike for them.  Yet this graphic novel made me realized that not all comics are about talking cats or super heroes.  Not to mention, I am a big fan of movies, texts, conversations, etc. that argue the world isn't what it seems.  Another world actually controlling us?  I'm on board.  I wouldn't be suprised if it was true that a dream world was pulling the strings and that we are dolls.  

It took me a while to understand how to read a comic book - I kept on reading the wrong frames at the wrong time - confused if I read across or down or followed little blurbs that connected.  I got the hang of it eventually and by the end could read it as easily as a plain text novel.  I'm thinking of maybe reading Watchmen now that I've been exposed to this genre.  So overall, getting used to this new genre was the best part of this particular book.  I'm really glad that it wasn't explicitely gender/sexuality based.  It is so obvious to read papers and books about feminist thought or gender issues.  It is so much more interesting to read a text about a dream world and think about the role it plays in gender and sexuality.

LizJ's picture

Personal Perceptions and Dreams

Anne mentioned in class that her discussion group talked about whether the reader's imagination is stunted when words are used along side with images such as in a graphic novel. This interested me because I then started thinking about "The Doll's House" as a whole. While it is Neil Gaiman's story, it is not his completely. I say this because even though the ideas of the images are his, the actual images are not. The graphic novel was illustrated by five different people, all of whom, I'm sure, had their own personal take on the images from their own imagination. Even if the illustrators' images were representative of what Gaiman wanted, there is no way, without Gaiman drawing them himself, that they were exactly how he pictured it. I hope that makes sense... I think this also brings back the idea of how personal and fragile each persons' dreams are. The idea of a vortex is so horrifying because it takes away from a person able to just be: to just be in their dreams, imagination, creations, and themselves. I believe, no matter how much we might hate to admit it, we are never completely ourselves in the "waking world." We ARE a part of our surrounding world and it is a part of us, BUT in our dreams we our of our own world and no one can take that away from us, unless they are a vortex...

eshaw's picture

Woman as negative space

Just to preface, I’ve been taking an English class solely devoted to the graphic novel so I’ve been thinking about these texts a lot in the past month. I find it very interesting and also appropriate that we should be using the medium for a text in Gen/Sex. Unlike traditional forms of literature, the graphic novel can deal with modes of representation in incredibly innovative ways that, at least for me, can more efficiently explore issues of categorization that is so often connected to a kind of visual representation. That being said, however, I was still surprised that a series like Sandman would so thoroughly investigate the gendered body in The Dollhouse. The theme that consistently emerged from my reading of the text was the juxtaposition of positive and negative space. The negative space, traditionally associated with woman, is a place of discomfort in the narrative tradition (you want to know what happens in the story - you want everything to be explained).  This first instance of this positive/negative juxtaposition is in the myth at the opening of the book – the myth ends with no resolution and this sits uncomfortably with the young man. This opening mirrors the conclusion of the book as well, which ends with a kind of cliffhanger (what was Desire trying to manipulate exactly?) The comic book mechanism rests entirely on that sense of space – what fills the spaces between the panels where the reader cannot see? The book relies on the negative spaces as a place for the reader to create a kind of cohesive unity, but it is also manipulated to get the reader to want to learn more about the story. This balance between positive (filling of space) and negative (emptiness of space) is reconfigured in The Dollhouse as a juxtaposition of gender. Rose, the Vortex, is a danger to the dream world – she threatens to collapse all the walls around individual dreams and erase them into a void of nothingness. The fascinating aspect for me about the presentation of this tale is the way in which there is no clear demarcation between “good” and “evil” in the classic comic book sense. Rose is threatening through her very existence rather than something she actively performs – her existence threatens the organization and presence of that material world of the dreamscape. While the book did not claim to resolve the gender binary, it did seem to provide glimpses of unity between the two. Ultimately, it seems to be making the claim for a kind of balance, a balance achieved between full and empty, positive and negative.


CCM's picture

What a novel!

            What a novel! I simply could not put this book down! Overall I was surprised by how entertaining a graphic novel could be (this was my first experience reading one). One of the reasons I think I was so engaged was because I was constantly in a state of bewilderment. I continued reading in the hope that I would better understand Neil Gaiman’s plot. Is there some sort of main point to The Dollhouse? If so I am in desperate need of clarification. Despite the fact that I was overwhelmed by the complex nature of this text I did my best to examine it from a gender and sexualities studies perspective. Thus, if I were to critique this novel from a gen/sex angel then I would argue that Gaiman represents various female stereotypes in his female characters. For instance, Lyta’s character embodies the stereotype of the quintessential housewife, a woman that finds herself lost and unsatisfied with the life she has created for herself. Rose Walker on the other hand represents an assortment of stereotypical female identities. We see her become The Dollhouse’s leading lady as she takes on the role of heroine in her search for her younger brother, Jed. Soon after, Gaiman portrays Rose as an insecure female and victim of sexual assault. Well I look forward to reading what other people have to say about this truly puzzling novel.. 

ebock's picture

The Dollhouse

After reading "The Dollhouse," and trying to think of it in relation to gender and sexuality, I just found myself confused. I wasn't exactly sure how to read a message about gender or sexuality in the novel. I felt like maybe I was missing some kind of allegorical representation or something, or maybe I was just thinking too hard. If anything, I found that the conclusion might have had some relevance to a message of gender and sexuality. If, in fact, it did, it left me feeling a little disappointed: if they were all just "dolls," and there wasn't really any way they could change their situation, it just leaves one with a kind of resigned feeling. I'm interested to hear what other people have to say because I think maybe I'm missing something... All things aside though, I really enjoyed the novel (I read it all in one night haha). My only really problem right now is trying to connect it to what we're talking about in class...

Have a great weekend everyone!