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Bien qu’il puisse paraître que la société que Diderot décrit dans le Supplement au voyage de Bougainville est une sorte d’utopie—un endroit idyllique où règnent la liberté et l’égalité—en réalité, ce que Diderot fait dans le Supplement est de présenter seulement l’image d’une utopie et ensuite de montrer que ce “paradis” a autant de problèmes que la société il est supposé de s’opposer.

Sur la surface, le Tahiti est décrit comme quelque part qui approche l’état parfait de Rousseau: l’age d’or au début d’histoire d’homme. En Tahiti, il n’y a pas des lois arbitraires et contre la nature. Tous les gens peuvent faire ce qu’ils veulent. Les Tahitiens, dans les mots du vieillard, sont “innocents… heureux” et ils “suiv[ent] le pur instinct de la nature” (148). “[En Tahiti]” il continue, “tout est à tous.” Si on prend ces déclarations comme la vérité, le cas est simple: le Tahiti est une vestige de l’état dont parle Rousseau. Il est libre, juste, et aligné avec la nature. Et il fournit un point de contraste concrète avec la société Européenne qui est corrompu à cause des forces de la civilisation. Mais, en fait, le projet de Diderot et plus compliqué que ça: son Tahiti n’est pas une utopie, mais une société qui est aussi convaincu de sa supériorité que celle de Bougainville et l’aumonier. Read More

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Mary Wollstonecraft et son Divorce de la Féminité dans sa Défense des droits de la femme

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Mary Wollstonecraft, John Opie, c. 1797

Wollstonecraft commence sa Défense en disant que son propre sexe (“my own sex” 31) “will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in it a perpetual state of childhood, unable to stand alone” (31). Cette citation introduit un problème qui persiste tout au long du texte: la question de nous et eux, le problème de la localisation de Wollstonecraft elle-même dans son texte. “My own sex” ne vient pas avec “them”; “them” implique qu’on parle de l’autre, mais “my own sex” unit le sujet avec l’autre. On a une contradiction dans la coeur du texte qui pourrait fausser l’argument.

Dans son introduction, Wollstonecraft parle de nous—“men endeavour to sink us still lower, merely to render us alluring objects for a moment” (30, accentuation la mienne)—se présentant comme un membre d’un groupe qui est plus large qu’elle: les femmes, un front de solidarité. Mais cette utilisation de nous, de “us”, commence à disparaître après le début*—au moins dans le contexte de “nous, les femmes” (elle l’utilise parfois comme “nous, mon lecteur et moi”—un “nous” sans identité réelle ou fixe et particulièrement sans gendre)—d’être remplacer par “eux”: les hommes essaient toujours de “keep them in a state of childhood” (46, accentuation la mienne). Ce mot “them” introduit une division entre Wollstonecraft et son sexe qui est problématique parce qu’il permet Wollstonecraft d’être condescendante à l’égard des femmes et aussi parce qu’il implique qu’elle ne s’adresse pas aux femmes, en dépit de l’introduction (en fait, à la fin, elle s’adresse directement aux hommes). En parlant de la situation et les manières des femmes sans instruction elle est en accord avec les satiristes comme Jonathan Swift dans leurs critiques des femmes, mais elle place le blâme—elle dit—pas sur les femmes elle-mêmes, mais sur les hommes, la société: elle dit que c’est naturel pour les femmes de mettre “their hands to each others lappets and ruffles” (dans les mots de Swift) tandis que les hommes parlent de la politique parce qu’elles “have not any business to interest them, have not a taste for literature, and they find politics dry, because they have not acquired a love for mankind by turning their thoughts to the grand pursuits that exalt the human race, and promote general happiness” (219). C’est vrai que dans la figuration de son argument, cette situation vient d’oppression des hommes, mais sa formulation est intéressant: elle laisse l’action aux femmes. Elles ne sont pas empêchés de faire quelque chose; elles ne l’ont pas fait. Peut-être (probablement) sans le reconnaît, Wollstonecraft attaque les femmes pour les mêmes choses qu’elle insiste sont les produits de la société et l’oppression des hommes. Son ton, qui est souvent condescendant vers les femmes, implique une frustration avec les femmes qui restent ignorantes, qui ne se luttent pas contre leur circonstances, les femmes, en bref, qui ne sont pas comme elle-même. Voilà l’origine de la division entre eux et nous: quand elle parle de l’assujettissement des femmes par les hommes, elle s’inclure (“I view, with indignation, the mistaken notions which enslave my sex” (62)), mais quand elle parle de la situation courante des femmes, elle se sépare (la répétition continue de “they” et “them”) parce qu’elle se considère comme une évadée réussie, qui a pris la décision d’échapper ses circonstances et faire ce qu’elle peut avec ce qu’elle a. Dans sa formulation précédente, elle a fait le choix de tourner ses pensées vers les “grand pursuits”—une idée qui rappelle la liberté positive de Berlin.**

Au vu de cette division entre elle (consciente de l’oppression des femmes dans la société et engagée en luttant contre cette oppression) et les autres femmes (qui sont ignorantes), peut-être on peut voir son projet moins comme une vindication des droits des femmes et plutôt comme une vindication des droits des humains (distinct des hommes). Cette idée revient au fait que j’ai mentionné avant, qu’elle utilise un “us” et un “we” qui manquent un gendre distinct pour l’expression de ses vus en écriture, comme si elle veut se divorcer de sa féminité. Wollstonecraft développe une conception de gendre comme la chose qui conduit les problèmes dont elle parle. Ce n’est pas les hommes qui sont le problème, mais les conceptions qu’ils ont créé de la femme et de l’homme. Wollstonecraft écrit que “[the] desire of being always woman, is the very consciousness which degrades the sex” (126). C’est à dire que les femmes sont opprimées par la connaissance du fait qu’elles sont des femmes et par l’idée qu’elles doivent êtres toujours “la femme”—elles ne doivent jamais “forget their sex in company, for they are for ever trying to make themselves agreeable” (219). Qu’est ce qu’on doit faire, alors? Oublier notre sexe! L’idée de Wollstonecraft est de vraiment “obtain a character as a human being, regardless of the distinction of sex” (31, accentuation la mienne).

*Ce n’est pas à dire qu’elle n’utilise pas “us” pour signifier “nous, les femmes” après le début, mais que cette formulation est beaucoup moins fréquente que celle d’“eux.”

**Je ne suis pas satisfaite que cette explication est assez pour résoudre le conflict entre “us” and “them” et le problème de son ton condescendant. Elle explique d’où il vient, mais elle ne le justifie. J’ai quelque chose approchante une idée qu’il y a une scission de Wollstonecraft dans le texte et quand elle attaque “les femmes” comme un groupe elle attaque elle-même aussi, ou une partie d’elle-même, mais j’ai pas un vrai argument.

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Tristan and Isolt (Death), Rogelio de Egusquiza, 1910.

Illicit Love and the Production of Literature

The end of the eleventh century in Britain and France saw the invention of a kind of romantic love—“courtly love”—which arose out of a particular combination of societal and political conditions (Lewis, 1-5). As C. S. Lewis described it in his The Allegory of Love, “courtly love” was distinguished by “Humility, Courtesy, [and] Adultery,” wherein “the lover is always abject,” and the love itself “is always what the nineteenth century called ‘dishonorable’ love” (Lewis, 2), which is to say an illicit love, outside the bounds of marriage and of society. Lewis traces the origins and the extent of the literature of courtly love, but not, perhaps, why this particular human invention produced quite so much writing. If “dishonorable love” is most always characterized by a particular abjection on the part of the lover (or lovers), as Lewis states, a connection between that abjection itself and the production of writing, of fiction, of language seems forthcoming. After all, the connection between abject lovers and the process of writing and composition extends far beyond the courtly love of the Middle Ages. Wherever love or certain types of love is prohibited by society, abjection results, and from that abjection, prose and verse.

In his “Poichè la vista angelica, serena”(Sonnet 276), Petrarch looks to writing for some release from his suffering, writing “in great sadness, and gloomy horror, / I search for words to ease my pain” (Petrarch, 3-4). And whence exactly Petrarch’s suffering? Lord Byron sums up the heart of it neatly in an aside in Don Juan: “Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch’s wife, / He would have written sonnets all his life?” (Byron, Canto III. 8). Petrarch’s driving force in his writing is not that his love is unrequited (for of course his love could be requited even were Laura not his wife); it is that his love is forbidden by the strictures of society and hence he has nowhere else to turn. His pen and his writing can be his only succor since the feelings which rend him stem from a place outside society’s strictures—that he feels it marginalizes him, forcing him to turn inward for help. The abjection of which Lewis speaks and which produces the literature of illicit love is the result of the forced marginality experienced by the lover(s), which, forbidding public expression, drives their pain inwards and their hands to their pens (or their fingers to their harps).  Read More

Marie de France’s Chevrefoil is a text about communication. In it, communication operates on many levels: Tristan communicates to Isolt via hazel rod, Isolt and Tristan communicate with one another in speech, thought, and physicality, Tristan communicates to an unspecified public through the composition of a lay, and Marie de France communicates to the reader or listener through her own lay (often directly, in second person). It is these series of communications and their processes and significations that Marie de France concerns herself with, saturating her text with words of communication’s lexical field: tell, recite, write, message, send, speak, give, and their variations.

Marie de France brackets her lay with two sets of three lines, closely related in structure, dedicated to informing her listener or reader of her purpose: that is, to tell you, the reader, the truth. Thus we begin and end with communication; this is a lay not only about communication but very directly and specifically designed to communicate (of course all lays and texts are meant to communicate on some level). Furthermore, the last action of one of the two central characters of the poem is to compose a lay of his own, meant to remember and thus communicate “the words” (111) of his communication with his beloved and the joy that had been made possible “by means of the stick he inscribed” (109). It is not for nothing that Marie de France emphasizes that Tristan composes to remember “the words” shared between himself and Isolt, emphasizing the importance of their communication; throughout the lai it is this communication which takes center stage. In the blissful 11 lines the lovers spend with one another, two are given over explicitly to their communication: “he spoke to her as much as he desired / she told him whatever she liked” (95-96). Of the remaining seven, five concern the content of some of their communication, two are her arrival, one is her departure, and one tells us that “they took great joy in each other” (94)—a “joy” steeped in sexual connotation. From these proportions, it becomes clear that in their bubble amidst the storm, Marie de France privileges their communication above their (sexual) pleasure. It is not physical entwinement with which Marie de France is concerned, but a more spiritual entanglement, represented by the mingling of minds and souls in communication, both verbal and symbolic. Read More

3 down, 2 to go. That’s the mantra running through my head non-stop at the moment. 3 down, 2 to go.

And then: Freedom.

Actual, honest to goodness, freedom. All that stands between me and it right now is 1 measly French paper and an archaeology exam. No biggie. I can do this. (Oh and there’s that FOP application. But we’re not thinking about that yet.)

Romantic Poetry and The European Postwar are over and done with. It wasn’t always pretty (see the email I wrote my poetry TF last night titled “The Unburdening of My Soul”), but it’s done. Finally.

I will never be able to read this again without getting war flashbacks to that exam yesterday, but that’s a fair price for the exam’s being over. Now all that’s left is a paper tackling the tragic figure in 17th century French literature (at least probably—still not totally sure what I’m up to there) and a nice, long archaeology memorization fest. I won’t cry. But I certainly  won’t be crying anything about love love happy happy love any time soon (it’ll take a long time to stop feeling bitter about Keats basically ripping off Blake in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and confusing me more than I’d like to admit). So here, Blake can do it for me:

I cry, Love! Love! Love! happy happy Love! free as the mountain wind!

In the mean time, here’s an essay about Racine’s Iphigenia, which you can enjoy while I return to the play itself and attempt to eke out some meaning from Ériphile.

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, Giovanni Battista

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L’Économie du Sang:

Le sang des femmes comme un objet d’échange dans Iphigénie

Iphigénie de Racine n’est pas du tout un récit du sacrifice, ni de la relation entre les dieux et les hommes, ni même du sort—tous ces choses jouent des rôles, c’est vrai, mais à la fin la pièce traite les moyens par lesquels une société se construit et se défend et particulièrement, la rôle qui est joué par les femmes dans cette construction. Dans cette pièce, Racine subvertit la tragédie d’Iphigénie, fille d’Agamemnon, par l’introduction d’une deuxième Iphigénie qui menace la société parce qu’elle est complètement déhors de la société, mais qui, à la fin est la seule chose qui garantit la continuation et la croissance de l’état naissant de la Grèce.  Read More

This is old as all hell, but why not post it? Not like I have two papers due tomorrow that need finishing (read: starting) or anything.

An odd little exercise I set myself while in Paris on my gap year: observing a group of Americans in my program at the Sorbonne at the lunch hour and creating my own little cast of characters out of them. A fun way to pass lunch time, though reading over it now I’m a bit horrified at my own prose. Ah well. Gotta start somewhere.

A Cast of Characters

They stand in a little half circle around the bench. There are seven of them—no, nine; they are joined by two more boys, their topsiders feebly protesting the day as they’re dragged through puddles and over cobblestones. The semi circle breaks to allow them access and tightens once more. Shoulders hunch, insteps rub calves.

The first girl stands with a studied nonchalance, a cigarette, kissed by rouge, hanging from the first two fingers of her left hand, a carefully crafted reminder: I am dangerous. I am not what you think I am. Her eyes flash a challenge which no one bothers to meet. The toes of her boots are artfully scuffed, but her ankles betray her: rolling outward over and over. Tattered tights and too-short skirt, a long, ill-fitting jacket does nothing for the cold, but at least it’s of the moment. Her lips are a bright red smudge, the only color on her, her fashionably disheveled hair disappears under a knit cap, and the color is bitten from her nails. Her favorite book is On the Road, but not because she’s read it. Her voice is not loud, but sharp as it passes her curled lips, assaulting the air, hanging for a moment, before it hits the pavement and shatters at their feet.

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This is my final paper from my Introduction to French Lit class (Tales of Identity, 19th and 20th century French Lit) from the end of last year. It addresses the question of whether or not a person can have multiple selves, multiple “moi’s.” And somehow (this somehow may have a lot to do with my writing this in one night, mostly in the small hours of the morning), my answer to that question was “look, we’re all onions.”

Looking back on that, I recognize that not only was it a dopey metaphor; it also wasn’t the right one for what I was getting at.

Being onions implies that there’s something at the center because the layers are, after all, layers and cover one another and cover something at the center. But that’s not what I was going for. More like we’re all a bag of chips, each of our selves being a chip jumbled about inside our cellophane. And sometimes the chips collide and break and sometimes you get that weird deformed chip that was two chips before they fused together at some point in the process of becoming chips. But they’re all chips and they’re all united by being the same flavor and in the same sealed bag. Maybe I should stop it with the weird food metaphors now.

L’Oignon d’Identité: Une Clarification du Structure d’une Identité Multiple

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