Thought you all might be interested in this recap. Without further ado:
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Surrounded by texts, blogging on theory, preparing to talk about ideas, I read E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops," and I wanted to cry. I realized I had not, for 8 hours of the day, breathed fresh air. Too much work had to be done. I didn't have the time.
Questions linger, many more and much deeper than Huxley's:
Has the idea become for me a commodity?
Do I accrue them just to parade them in the MATRF or perhaps a journal?
Have I, reading near 5 books and three hundred pages of pdfs this week, lost the button to the front door?
Do I accept that "First-hand ideas do not exist"?
Who are my white tentacles wrapping around my legs?
If these categories lay over Garrard, then practice is my wilderness and theory my refuge (at least now, since graduate school). Yet this seems to neat. It is snared too easily by the dualistic trap Gary Snyder warns us to avoid. Still, how then, as Snyder says, must wilderness "come home"?
For John, Huxley's Savage, the wilderness is our civilization: a land of excess and un-rule. On the other hand, his world of ritual and practice on the reservation becomes our wilderness—the embodiment of the primitive and the crude. Of the two, it is our world of ideas that can refuse the sacred bond. For John it is chaste love. For Kuno in "The Machine Stops," it is simply a mate. Fordism and Machinism (once practices, now evolved into super-societal theories) have denied them the intimacy they seek. As a remedy John radically fulfills Snyder's call to find the wild within his own body. Tragically, the Savage tries to tame this too.
(Although perhaps "tragically" is too strong of a word. I find it difficult to sympathize with characters whose authors think so little of them.)
As for our world of ideas, our series of tubes and trams and helipads here at Clemson, it bears asking how much our theories are joined with practice. Lefebvre would claim we run too much with post-structuralist approaches to the subject. We have followed Foucault and Derrida to the sacrificial altars. Our subjects have been dissected from our spaces. We no longer link categories of physical and social. All is fractured.
Forster issues a clarion call. A reminder that there is a recession. A reminder that we eat tonight when others do not. A demand for our ideas to leave the building.
Monday, January 19, 2009
This is difficult. I'm a man. And so much of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland is about not being a man. It's about unmanning. Bridgitte Arnold puts it well when she discusses the bold reversal at the heart of the novel: men show up as the explorers, as the colonizers, as the conquerers, but it is the women who conquer, who colonize, and who map them. The reversal is obvious today (especially with those modern day conquistadors--biceps pumped, eyebrows threaded, everything emitting a strong, expensive scent--a model, in the same instant, of the hyper-man and the hypo-man). But while I read Gilman, I continually tried to imagine the boldness of this idea in 1915. Unmanning anything was risky, but feminizing it? Arguing for a communalized society of ecofeminists? Arguing that women might be more productive outside the home? Absurd! says your author, before changing his son's diaper, dancing with him to folk rock, and putting him to sleep with a butt-patting and a kiss.
When Gilman's three male protagonists--Van, Jeff, and Terry (oh, Terry)--show up on the shores of Herland, they are soon met by three young women: Ellador, Celis, and Alima. Here the treatise of the novel overtakes the narrative. And perhaps it should. What results is an extended "info dump"--a term which Edward James doesn't invent, but identifies as a stain which most sf writers try to coverup. In Herland the information comes, but the characters do not change. Van remains the reasonable observer of the "middle landscape," Jeff the chivalric courtier, and Terry (oh, Terry) frees his closeted rapist; so perhaps there, if measuring by degrees, Terry does descend, although his fate is never in question. The moment the three young "girls" walk on stage we can hear the genre mold ker-plump in the background: there will be a triple wedding. To Gilman's credit, she purposefully mucks this up and nicely sets up an anti-pastoral sequel, but something has been lost. And this isn't loss in the romantic sense; no Wordsworthian nostalgia, here. The loss is in the telling.
In parsing combinations of ecology, feminism, and pragmatism, Mary Jo Deegan and Christopher Podeschi list a few points of friction between Gilman and the more common ecofeminist line, the most interesting of which is the repression of sexuality in Herland. The Wonder-Women reproduce through recurring immaculate conception, or, in the novel's terms, parthogenesis. The crux of the novel, then, is a fantasy. There is no scientific explanation. There is not even a bit-by-a-radioactive-spider, pseudo-science explanation. There is only a type of Heideggerian calling into being. The characters--male or female--don't question it. Just as quickly, we learn the women will re-accept a bi-sexual society.
Somewhere in- between, the two most complex characters, Van and Ellador, fall chunkily in love. Here, the straightforward prose seems unsure of how to develop its characters through something as abstract as romance: "my sense of pleasant friendship became but a broad foundation for such height, such breadth, such interlocked combination of feeling..." The problem seems that while the males may swell with desire (oh, Terry), Gilman leaves nothing for the women. This has the benefit of creating a land without strife. It also saves the land from the destructive history Greg Gerrard ties to the concept of nature as lover. But the payment is the purging of desire. The women truly will not want.
Maybe this is too manly of me. Maybe I want to be wanted. Still, I hope for the kind of awakening that Le Guin gives her small band of anarchists on a planet of institutionalized anarchy in The Dispossessed. One will awaken and ask: why do I not want what I do not want?
Saturday, January 10, 2009
I've blogged for classes before. Not created a blog. In fact, not ever created a blog. Never. So this is already new. It seems like the guilt will be much sharper if you neglect your own blog. Guilt, guilt is a mother tongue.
A few questions about audience:
I've always appreciated moving more of the classroom outside the classroom--and a blog does just that. My brother can read this. My wife. A classmate from St. Pat's Elementary School. Not that any of them would want to (maybe my wife and my mother, but then again, do you really need anyone else to?).
But this confuses me about audience or, maybe more precisely, confuses me even more about academic audiences. Should a blog, written for a science-fiction/future media/utopia theory course in a Ph.D. program, for a grade, but posted in public, for all to see who want to see, should this blog write only for students enrolled in the class?
Again I don't have delusions of grandeur. Not many, at least. I don't expect anyone but people in the class, and then probably only under coercion, to glance at the posts here. I'm also aware that google provides a few checkboxes that could make this a non-issue.
Yet there's the matter of principle. Shouldn't "academic" work play in larger theaters? Even if the seats are empty? For clarity's sake? For the sake of grounding? Inflate to deflate, that sort of thing?
Yes or no, off we go, into utopia, with questions of expectations and expectations of questions.