Monday, August 16, 2010

A Doll's House - A Discourse on Feminism

When Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was first published in 1879, it was a coming of age play that dealt with the lives and anxieties of the bourgeoisie women in Victorian Norway. Feminism is the dominant theme, as Ibsen investigated the tragedy of being born as a bourgeoisie female in a society ruled by a patriarchal law. If examined more closely, one can find traces of Marxist Ideology and other schools of thought. The first thing that I am going to start with is shedding light on the feminist attributes that this play is throbbing with and try to see it with the eyes of feminist writers like Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault and other feminist writers. The feminist school of thought has brought revolutionary ideas by exposing masculine stereotypes, revaluating women’s roles in society, studying women’s cultural and historical background, studying female literature, and criticizing social sexist values.

Norma Helmer is the best illustration of the illusioned woman who lives in a society where the male oppresses the female and reduces to a mere doll or plaything. Nora Helmer is that doll living in her fake doll house, which reinforces the fragile idea of a stable family living under a patriarchal and traditional roof. One can argue that Nora Helmer and the other female figures portrayed in A Doll’s House are the best models of the “second sex” or the “other” that the French revolutionary writer Simone de Beauvoir discussed in her essay, The Second Sex. De Beauvoir argues that throughout history, woman has been viewed as a “hindrance or a prison”. Aristotle also said,” The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities. We should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness.” Woman is always depicted as secondary to man. She does not exist as an entity by herself but as the “Other”.

In her husband’s eyes, Nora is nothing but a silly “squirrel”, a “little skylark”, a “song bird” or a cute “scatterbrain” whose thoughts are nonsensical and typical to any other woman’s. Since her childhood, Nora has been regarded as the “other” by her father. Then, her father handed her to her husband who treated her like a valued possession. This is best depicted by Nora’s self-realization and awakening towards the end of the play: “When I lived at home with Daddy, he fed me all his opinions, until they became my opinions. Or if they didn’t, I kept quiet about it because I knew he wouldn’t have liked it. He used to call me his doll-child, and he played with me the way I used to play with my dolls. And when… Daddy handed me over to you. You arranged everything according to your taste, and I adapted my taste to yours… Now, looking back, I feel as if I’ve lived a beggar’s life—from hand to mouth.”

Ibsen’s depiction of the weak and docile woman brings to mind the 18th century revolutionary writer Mary Wollstonecraft who argues in her essay, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, that women are taught since their infancy to have the “softness of temper, outward obedience, scrupulous attention”. Once accompanied by the gift of beauty, these attributes will ensure them the protection of man. This is echoed very loudly in Torvald’s words, “Poor little frightened songbird…Rest assured; my wings are broad enough to shelter you. How lovely and secure our home, Nora. A sanctuary for you. I’ll keep you here like a hunted dove I’ve rescued unhurt from the hawk’s talons. …For a man there’s something intensely reassuring and pleasurable about knowing that he’s forgiven his wife—and that he’s forgiven her sincerely, with all his heart. It’s as if she becomes somehow doubly his possession, as if he’s allowed her to be reborn, so that in some way she becomes both his wife and his child.” Moreover, Mary Wollstonecraft stresses that man tries to secure the good conduct of a woman by reducing her to a state of innocence and childhood. She states, “Children, I grant, should be innocent; but when the epithet is applied to men, or women, it is but a civil term of weakness.” This is very evident in Torvald’s treating Nora as a child. He forbids her to eat macaroons; he makes her dance for him, dress up and recite for him. On the other hand, not only Nora is treated as a spoiled child but also as a sexual object that her husband fantasizes about. At parties, he keeps away and steals glances at her eventually pretending that they’re secretly engaged. When it’s time to go, he puts her shawl around her shoulders and pretends that she is his young bride. He fantasizes that they are just arriving from their wedding and are alone for the first time together. He is so possessive about her to the extent that he refuses to share Nora with female friends, like Mrs. Linde. Here, Nora becomes what Michel Foucault calls a docile body regulated by the norms of cultural life.

Thus towards the end of the play, Nora realizes that it is time that she regained her status as being the “One” after a long time of submission, which established her role as the “Other”. As Simone de Beauvoir has stressed, Nora has been taught not to take but to receive. She has gained only what her husband and father have been willing to grant her. In this sense, Nora’s domestic life in such a patriarchal society is just a reflection of the middle class women of her time that De Beauvoir depicted vividly in her essay. “They live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain men—fathers or husbands—more firmly than they are to other women. If they belong to the bourgeoisie, they feel solidarity with men of that class, not with proletarian women.” Nora’s biggest fear is her husband hearing that she had forged her father’s signature to get the loan, which she needed to travel to Italy. Her motives were absolutely selfless because that trip saved her sick husband’s life. Nora knew that the revelation would have put her husband’s reputation at stake, but she felt deep inside that her husband would sacrifice his reputation to defend her as soon as he came to know that she did that to save his life. That feeling tormented her to the extent that she contemplated suicide. She is not worth her husband’s nobility! She is not even good enough to be a mother! Didn’t her husband tell her that “all young criminals have had dishonest mothers because it’s usually the mother’s responsibility”? Despite her great sacrifice driven by her love for her husband, Nora agrees that she is a bad influence on her children. She even decides to isolate herself from her kids and let the nursemaid take care of them fully. We can hear her saying to herself, “Corrupt my children. Poison my home. It’s not true. It could never be true.” This proves to us that Nora is very pleased with her role as the “Other”.

Yet, the doll house is shattered as well as Nora’s illusion. The doll finally recognizes that her role has been nothing but the “Other”. She is aware that it is she who agreed to the definition of the “One” and the” Other”. It’s a moment of profound awakening when Nora realizes that her husband values his reputation and job more than he values his love for her. Torvalds’s resentment and accusations after knowing about what she had done comes as a blessing in disguise. We hear Torvald telling her, “For all these years, for eight years now, you’ve been my pride and joy, and now I find you’re a hypocrite and a liar, and worse, worse than that…a criminal! The whole thing is an abyss of ugliness! You ought to be ashamed.” Simone de Beauvoir says that if the woman seems to be the inessential which never becomes the essential, it is because she herself fails to bring about the change. But here we tell De Beauvoir that Nora is willing to bring about the change. The harsh reality smacks her in the face; a wave of disillusionment wakes her up. She decides bravely to abandon her family to escape the restrictive confines of the patriarchal society she lives in. She is resolved to go out into the world and gain real experience. She is determined to think out everything for herself and be able to make her own decisions.

After all that has been said, we conclude that the woman figure/body in A Doll’s House is reduced, as Susan Bordo believes, to a “text of culture” on which all cultural aspects of gender difference are reinforced. That is, the female ideology is supported and reinforced by the social structure in which women have little social, political, or economic power. The women figures in A Doll’s House are depicted as socially and psychologically dependent on men in the institution of marriage and motherhood. In addition to Nora, we have the character of Mrs. Linde who was forced to break up with her fiancĂ© and marry another man who could support her, her mother, and two brothers. We also come across the character of the nurse who had to give up her child conceived outside the wedlock in order to keep her job.

From a different standpoint, one can argue that A Doll’s House carries some aspects of the Marxist Ideology regarding the conflicts taking place at that time, not only regarding the male and female relationship, but also financial relations. The Helmer household belongs to the bourgeoisie class that wasn’t born as aristocrats, but ascended to social and financial wellbeing through employment and education. Hence, A Doll’s House portrays the stubborn class pride of saving face and preserving one’s reputation. In the play, Torvald Helmer, who is a bank manager, confesses that one of the reasons that made him fire Krogstad, one of his employees, was that he was a former schoolmate and still insists on calling him by his first name in front of the other employees at the bank. This embarrasses Torvald and makes him uncomfortable. We also have the character of Mrs. Linde who had to marry someone she didn’t love in order to escape poverty, and later, after his death, had to work non-stop workdays. She feels all alone and hollow, working for herself. Mrs. Linde is the best example of the working class person who tastes the bitterness of a materialistic life being reduced to the value of a mere commodity and a producer of labor power.

Furthermore, it can be debated that the male-female relationship in A Doll’s House is based on a Master-Slave ideology which Friedrich Hegel, the great Enlightenment theorist, started. The relationship between Torvald and Helmer evolves according to a Master-Slave relationship. Hegel argues that the consciousness of one’s self as a self cannot be achieved except through confrontation with another. Both Nora and her husband Torvald recognized their dependency on each other and that self-consciousness led to Nora’s awakening in the end. Thus, Nora’s character self was made through the dialectical special interrelationship between her and her husband on one side and between her and the patriarchal society on the other. Hegel says that the self “through supersession, receives back its own self, because, by superseding its otherness, it again becomes equal to itself; but secondly, it equally gives the other self-consciousness back again to itself, for it saw itself in the other, but superseded this being of itself in the other and thus lets the other again go free.” First Nora acknowledges Torvald as her master and she dutifully assumes her role as the slave who is dependent on her master. After the confrontation, Nora realizes the master’s dependency on her which leads her to supersede him and be free of him.

I also noticed that we can trace the roots of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in Plato’s Allegory of Cave. Nora’s life with her husband is an illusion, and their marriage is a masquerade. As she confronts Torvald, she says, “Our house has never been anything but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as I was daddy’s doll-child when I was at home. My children as well, they’ve been my dolls. I used to enjoy it when you played games with me, just as they enjoyed it when I played games with them. That’s all our marriage has been, Torvald.” Thus, her life in the doll house was like the life of the people chained in the cave. What she saw was not the true reality, but the shadow of reality. She was content with her role as the subservient female whose fate was determined by that of her husband. She also never questioned her inferior predetermined position in the relationship. This is evidenced in her complete confidence in hiding the truth about borrowing money in order to save Torvald’s health. About that she told Mrs. Linde, “it would be a terrible blow to Torvald’s masculine self-esteem; he’d find it so painful and humiliating to think that he owed me something. It would completely unbalance our relationship. It would be the end of our beautiful, happy home.” Thus, Nora emerges from that cave that showed her the distorted reality. Upon realizing her value in her husband’s life, the true reality dazzles her like the bright sun. She realizes that she has been living with a stranger for eight years; she becomes aware of the crippling society that she is living in. Therefore, she decides to leave the dark cave and embrace the luminous freedom that she grants herself.

A Doll’s House is a revolutionary play that exposes the defects of the Victorian patriarchal society. It is the triumph of the woman over all hindrances whether social, masculine, or economic. Once I finished reading the play, I was left in a reflective state. I thought about the universality of the woman figure portrayed in Ibsen’s play. Now, about 130 years after the publication of A Doll’s House, many women still face the same circumstances that Nora faced. For instance, today’s women working in the same capacity as men make about 72 cents compared to a dollar for men. Additionally, many women face discrimination in the workplace and in life in general. Many professions remain dominated by men in a day when women are more than capable of physically handling the job. Despite all their social, political, and career advancement, some women still feel emotionally crippled as their destinies are tied to that of the patriarchal society. The rise in the number of women suffering from anorexia and bulimia nowadays is an evidence of the emotional oppression that women are subjected to. Susan Bordo believes that social norms of beauty, motherhood, absence or presence of sexual modesty position the woman in a struggle with the prevailing social images and conventions.

“I believe that before anything else, I’m a human being, just as much of as you are…or at least I’m going to try to turn myself into one,” Nora tells Torvald in a moment of self-realization. This has been the woman’s quest throughout history. Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House triumphs over all obstacles and finally recognizes her duty towards herself which had always been neglected. Yet, many more women still continue to shatter the collars of gender anxiety and enslavement placed by the masculine world around their necks.

Works Cited:

-Bordo, Susan. Unbearable weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. The Body and Reproduction of Femininity.  Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2010

-De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex.  Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2010

-Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, An Introduction.  Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2010

-Hegel, George Wilhelm Friedrich. Phenomenology of the Spirit. The Master Slave Dialectic.  Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2010

-Plato, The Allegory of the Cave.

-Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Women.  Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Black and Beautiful

Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Black and Beautiful

Langston Hughes, the great African American writer, wrote in his essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” about black poets who want to escape being labeled as black by subconsciously writing like white poets. Hughes views this problem of confused identity as a huge racial mountain that stands in the way of true African American expression. Hughes tells us that a middle class African American poet grows up hearing his parents telling him, “Don’t be like niggers. Look how well a white man does things.” Thus, he grows up silently wishing to be white because it is difficult to interpret the beauty of his own people. “He is never taught to see that beauty. He is taught rather not to see it, or if he does, to be ashamed of it when it is not according to Caucasian patterns,” Langston Hughes states. Moreover, Hughes emphasizes that an African American poet is granted acclaim and success as long as he writes poems that please the whites and picture them as a perfect race. The whites say to the African American artist, “Be stereotyped, don’t go too far, don’t shatter our illusions about you, don’t amuse us too seriously. We will pay you.”

“Why should I have to be white? I am Negro_ and beautiful!” To Langston Hughes these words best represent the authentic African American artist who is true to himself and his people. This statement brings us to Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise"which is a perfect example of that honesty and authenticity. In her poem she expresses her deep pride in her race, history, and black feminism. Despite all the twisted lies scripted in history, she as a black person will rise. She even thinks that the black “haughtiness” offends the whites who want to see the black race broken and weakened. “Does my haughtiness offend you? Don’t you take it awful hard ‘cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines diggin’ in my own back yard.” She is honored by her history that is rooted in slavery, abuse, and pain. “Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise. Up from a past that’s rooted in shame I rise.” The black race is as vast as an ocean vibrating with the richness of its heritage. It is rising above all the terror and fear that has haunted it. “Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise. Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave. I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.”

Therefore, Maya Angelou is a wonderful representation of the African American poet who embraces her race and lets her art be a manifestation of the black folk experience. As Langston Hughes mentioned, she expresses herself without fear or shame. She does not care if her art upsets the white race because what she cares about most is being true to herself. Langston Hughes said on behalf the true black artists and himself, “We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.” This is how that huge racial mountain is demolished.

Works Cited:

- Angelou,Maya. Still I Rise. 1978

-Hughes, Langston. The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Society and the Female Body

The above video shows a twenty- year old girl suffering from both bulimia and anorexia nervosa. According to Susan Bordo, a feminist and gender studies writer, women’s bodies are shaped by social forces. Bordo emphasizes the concept that the female body is a “text of culture” in which social and cultural notions are inscribed. Bordo believes that eating disorders which are forms of hysteria are practices of resistance against the cultural order.
In the video we hear the personal story of a girl who despite her shocking thinness, she still views herself as very ugly and very fat. She knows that she is hurting herself and others by doing so, but nothing can change her self-worth. Susan Bordo, in her essay “Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body”, believes that “the body_what we eat, how we dress, the daily rituals through which we attend to the body_is a medium of culture.” Michael Foucault also argues in “The History of Sexuality” that “our bodies are trained, shaped, and impressed with the stamp of prevailing historical forms of selfhood, desire, masculinity, and femininity.” Thus, women through their pursuit of the ideal female body which is reinforced by social and cultural regulations undergo destructive practices such as anorexia and bulimia. In the age of media and television, women are constantly reminded of how an ideal female body should be like. It is evident that the girl’s obsession with slenderness has distorted her reason to the extent that she stopped brushing her teeth fearing the calories found in tooth paste. She stands in front of the mirror and sucks her stomach in because what the mirror reflects back at her is mere ugliness and fatness.

Bordo argues that there are many factors that contribute to the anorectic body. First, the masculine society publicizes the domestic concept of femininity. A woman is not supposed to hunger for power, for sex, or for independence. On the contrary, she is expected to nurture others. Therefore, the woman’s controlling her appetite for food is an expression of that social suppression.
Moreover, Bordo believes that anorexia can be explained as an expression of control. That is, by controlling her appetite the woman gains a sense of mastery at least over her own body. Bordo states, “The young woman discovers what it feels like to crave and want and need and yet, through the exercise of her own will, to triumph over that will, to triumph over that need. In the process a new realm of meanings is discovered, a range of values and possibilities that Western culture has traditionally coded as “male” and made rarely available to women: an ethic and aesthetic of self-mastery and self-transcendence, expertise, and power over others through the example of superior will and control. The experience is intoxicating, habit forming.” This notion also applies to the girl’s case of bulimia and binge eating often followed by throwing up. Hence, throwing is an expression of self-mastery.
Furthermore, Bordo debates that through anorexia the woman gets rid of all the features that bond her to femininity. The more weight she loses, the more the feminine curves disappear and the more lanky and masculine she looks. Thus, losing her limiting feminine features and looking masculine- like gives the woman an unconscious sense of safety. “She begins to feel untouchable, out of reach of hurt.”

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, in their essay ”The Madwoman in the Attic”, also interpret anorexia as a product of “patriarchal socialization”. It’s the cost of repression enforced by a male-dominated social order.

Works Cited:
-Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2010
-Foucault Michel. The History of Sexuality. Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2010
-Gilbert Sandra and Gubar Susan. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth- Century Literary Imagination. Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Group Presentation 4- Marxism

Our group presentation was on the theory of Marxism. Christine suggested the idea of the movie Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin. When our group met and watched some scenes from the movie, Argine and I agreed with Christine that they provided a perfect example of the exploitative face of Capitalism which the Marxist theory tried to unviel. We later brainstormed ideas and questions related to the topics of The Working Day, labor power, surplus value, base and superstructure, and commodification. During the presentation,I was responisible for the scene that introduced the invention of the food machine and the one that deprived the laborers of their leisure time. The questions that we had brainstormed earlier helped us initiate and expand the discussion in class.
I think everybody enjoyed Modern Times because it drew a very vivid picture of Capitalism in our minds.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Glengarry Glen Ross and Capitalism

The above scene from the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” reveals the harsh reality of Capitalism. In it we see the different facets of exploitation, class struggle, idolization of commodities, surplus value, and material relationships among people as discussed in the Marxist theory.

In this scene, we see Alec Baldwin who plays the role of a representative of Mitch and Murray motivating a group of salesmen that are supplied with leads (names and phone numbers of potential clients), but the motivation takes the form of verbal abuse. Everything is reduced to commodities, and the salesman’s value is reduced to what he can contribute to expand the surplus value. As Karl Marx has said in "The Communist Manifesto", the bourgeoisie or the capitalists “have resolved personal value into exchange value.” Thus, Baldwin’s speech to the salesmen has created a class difference, just like the difference between the BMW and Hyundai that he emphasized. Baldwin makes it clear when he tells a salesman that the watch he is wearing is worth the salesman’s car. He also tells him,“That’s who I am, and you are nothing”. The salesman himself becomes a commodity whose destiny is determined by maximum labor power. Yet, if he fails to do so, he is threatened to lose his job. Therefore, the most important thing is bringing in money while nothing else matters.
We also notice that Baldwin ridicules family values by advising one of his salesmen that if he prefers to be a family man, he would rather stay home and play with his children because there is no place for such people in the company. This brings to mind Marx’s saying: “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” Baldwin has reduced the work ethics into four words: Attention, Interest, Decision, and Action. Hence, AIDA is directed towards the commodity, that is, getting the client “to sign on the dotted line”. Moreover, Baldwin’s capitalist speech takes a different direction as he associates the failure to produce profit to lack of masculinity and weakness. The “brass balls” that Baldwin refers to are symbolic of materialistic masculinity. It can also be noted that a there’s a displacement of use value from the commodity,that is: the alienation of the workers from their own labor. The salesmen derive no personal satisfaction from the work they are doing since it takes place in an atmosphere of terror and threat where they have only two options: to take it or leave it.

Finally, there’s no humane relationship between Baldwin and the salesmen as he does not even refer to them by their names. All he cares about is profit no matter how much time and energy it consumes from the salesman’s life. As Marx said, "It is self evident that the labourer is nothing else, his whole life through, than labour power, that all his disposable time is by nature and law labour, to be devoted to the self-expasion of capital."

Works Cited:

-The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.New York: W.W. Norton&Company, Inc.,2010
- Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Power of Dreams

The Dream
Lord Byron

Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
A boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality,
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight from off waking toils,
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity;
They pass like spirits of the past -they speak
Like sibyls of the future; they have power -
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
They make us what we were not -what they will,
And shake us with the vision that's gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows -Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow? -What are they?
Creations of the mind? -The mind can make
Substances, and people planets of its own
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.
I would recall a vision which I dreamed
Perchance in sleep -for in itself a thought,
A slumbering thought, is capable of years,
And curdles a long life into one hour.

Upon reading this stanza from Lord Byron’s poem:“The Dream", one comes across that enigmatic secret and unfathomable power of dreams. Lord Byron questions the nature of dreams : “The dread of vanished shadows-Are they so? Is not the past all shadow?-What are they? Creations of the mind.” So let’s try to answer Byron’s questions and shed the light on this excerpt from the standpoint of Sigmund Freud.

Byron starts his poem by saying that “our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world”. Life has two parts: The waking part and the dreaming part, and hence it is a mistake to regard the dreaming part as nonsensical. According to Byron they belong to “the wide realm of reality and dreams in their development have breath, and tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy.” On the other hand Freud emphasizes that dreams are the syntheses of a person’s life that represent his/her unconscious wishes and desires. Freud divides the dream work into two parts: the manifest content and the latent content. The manifest content is the content of the dream which is presented in our memory. The latent content is the dream thoughts. Thus, it is from the dream thoughts and not the manifest content that Freud draws from to “disentangle” the meaning of the dream. However, all the tears, tortures, and joys that Byron talked about are the dream content. They are expressed according to Freud “as it were in a pictographic script, the characters of which have to be transposed individually into the language of the dream-thoughts. If we attempted to read these characters according to their pictorial value instead of according to their symbolic relation, we should be clearly led to error.” Also, Byron questions whether these pictorial images are” heralds”, “spirits”, or “sibyls”: “And look like heralds of eternity; they pass like spirits of the past-they speak like sibyls of the future”. Indeed, they are like highly condensed heralds and sibyls from our deepest unconscious, but once decoded and connected they can fill pages of interpretation, manifesting our deepest, innermost, and unconscious desires that shape our past, present, and future. Byron fully realizes the power of dreams: “They have power-the tyranny of pleasure and pain-what they will, and shake us with the vision that’s gone by.”
This coincides with Freud who thinks that in dreams the most complicated and intellectual operations take place just like in the waking state. In a dream “statements are contradicted or confirmed, ridiculed or confirmed”. Moreover, Freud argues that the dream content does not resemble that of the dream thoughts because the dream distorts the dream wish which resides in the unconscious. Freud calls this process the “dream displacement” which acts like a self-censorship of the deeply buried repressed wishes, and this process is indispensable in dream interpretation.

We can end this discussion by saying that most of the the thoughts presented in Byron’s “The Dream” are thoroughly explored in Sigmund Freud’s concepts regarding the complex phenomenon of dreams and dream interpretation. According to Freud the dream content is like a picture puzzle that needs to be carefully put together in order to fully comprehend the enigmatic work of our unconscious. Dreams are an inseparable part of our being; just as Lord Byron conveys in his insightful poem: “They do divide our being; they become a portion of ourselves as of our time”. A dream is a “slumbering thought, is capable of years, and curdles a long life into one hour.”

Works Cited:

Byron, George Gordon. The Dream. 1816
Freud, Sigmund. From "The Interpretation of Dreams". Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. W. W. Norton&Company,Inc. 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Autumn Desolation

As Emily sat in the flaming red autumn forest, her thoughts fluttered in her mind like dead leaves in the wind. Memories flowed in her being like the frigid water of the creek beside her. “Why do dreams have to wither and die after their brief blooming? Why does warmth have to give way to coldness? Why does love keep fleeing me like a mirage?” The crisp evening wind battered her cheeks as a chill ran down her spine. She tightened her coat around her and scanned the meandering path for a glimmering sign of hope. From far away, she saw two dark dots moving in her direction. Her heart beat faster. “Could it be him?” Memories of a near past tormented her heart. She saw herself sitting on that same bench in the midst of a once green forest. Everything around her beamed with life as the warm sunlight broke through the trees and spilled like golden syrup on her lap. All of a sudden, she saw him, walking with his friend, engaged in a merry chat. She remembered the way their eyes met and held for a moment. She recalled how the flow of words paused on his lips as they saw each other for the same time. Emily knew right away that with that encounter her life would change forever. Her dreams bloomed in the spring, ripened in the summer, and withered in the autumn. He came into her life, filled it with warmth and laughter, and then left her all alone to face the sneering desolation.
The two dots came closer, but she didn’t dare to hope anymore. “He’s not coming back." The forest that had witnessed the birth of their story was witnessing the crumbling of Emily’s world. She stood up, and hastily wiped the tears off her face. She then trod towards the sunset in the distance.

Tranquil Grief

Let’s look at the painting above: " Wooded Path in Autumn” by Hans Anderson Brendekilde from the perspective of Edmund Burke, a significant figure in Enlightenment Theory and Criticism whose approach to aesthetics is highly remarkable. The impression that we get when we look at this painting for the first time is that of "Novelty" or "Curiosity" as Burke mentions. Yet, this feeling is the most momentary of all. Burke notes that “curiosity is the most superficial of all the affections; it changes its object perpetually; it has an appetite which is very sharp, but easily satisfied.” Thus, with the subsiding of curiosity, it is time to perceive the object from a deeper perspective.

Burke explains the misconception of both pleasure and pain. Some people tend to believe that pain is caused by the removal of pleasure and that pleasure is caused by the removal of pain. According to Burke,the mind is most of the time in a state of indifference that is neither pleasure nor pain. If we look at the painting closely, one notices an aura of tranquility transmitted. We discern a peaceful autumn forest, a calm creek, and a serene pensive lady on a bench. This is the state of “tranquility” or “indifference” that Burke discussed. Based on the painting, the lady and nature are in neither a state of pleasure nor pain. We have no evidence whether a state of pleasure or pain has preceded the moment portrayed in the painting. Burke says, “Pleasure of every kind quickly satisfies; and when it is over, we relapse into indifference, or rather we fall into a soft tranquility, which is tinged with agreeable colour of the former sensation.” On the other hand, Burke stresses that “when we have suffered from any violent emotion, the mind naturally continues in something like the same condition, after the cause which first produced it has ceased to operate. The tossing of the sea remains after the storm, and when this remain of horror has entirely subside, all the passion, which the accident raised , subsides along with it ; and the mind returns to its usual state of indifference".
Now, if one approaches the painting from the perspective of the narrative provided above, one can tackle the concepts of positive pain and pleasure discussed by Burke. If as in the story, the pensive lady is lamenting the loss of her love and the withering of her dreams, we can here apply the concept of "Grief". Burke defines grief as the feeling that is produced by the loss of the object of pleasure. “If the object be so totally lost that there is no chance of enjoying it again, a passion arises in the mind, which is called grief.” As depicted in the story, Emily’s grief is “willingly endured”. That is, as Burke explicates, she dwells on the lost pleasurable moments, repeating every minute detail in her mind, and even reliving her sweet first encounter with her beloved in the same setting.

Therefore, the painting expresses Burke’s theory on indifference and tranquility which contradicts the states of pleasure or pain. On the other hand, Emily’s state of mind is that of grief which Burke emphasizes to have no resemblance to absolute pain “which is always odious, and which we endeavor to shake off as soon as possible.”

Hans Anderson Brendekilde.Wooded Path in Autumn, 1902
The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.New York: W.W. Norton&Company, Inc.,2010