Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What's Your Name Who's Your Daddy?

I'd like to start by thanking Dr. Krouse for her guest lecture.

While reading this article I couldn't help but think about our discussions regarding post-structuralist/post-colonialism and Spivak and the importance of hybridity in post-colonial criticism. I find that this logic holds true for feminist theory as well and is worth the examination. It is understandable that there is an ambiguity in feminist theory and in feminist politics primarily because they exist within and from a patriarchy that is the antithesis of feminist opinion, literally. Whether we rely on the "basic" definition which promotes equal rights for women or the more intricate sociological questions about agency in sexuality for women, we are observing and dissecting questions that arose from a masculine dominance. I'd like to refer to the blog post we read, "The Context," in which the blogger is confronted about her "negative" reaction to a sexist comment (I'd like for you to wrap your head around that phrase...a negative reaction- this can also be applied to the notion of being surrounded by the context of misogyny and female subjugation). This issue of context is raised in her post and is something that we discussed about Spivak and the deconstruction of one's position as the 'colonized' in a setting controlled by the very oppressors.

"The thing is- from the minute I leave my house in the morning I am inundated by misogynistic messages, from the things I hear people say to the images I see all around me. For every one time that I make any sort of comment on these messages there are approximately 1,172 times that I've recognized something as sexist and not said anything. There are about 5,249 messages that I didn't even pick up on." -from The Context

In the same way that acknowledges her surroundings as male-dominant and misogynistic by nature (which Dr. Krouse also mentions about feminists as women 'who see sexism at every turn'), Spivak is able to observe her participation and proliferation of Western liberal discourse and both of these understandings suggest a refer to the notion of hybridity in critical identity. That seems like a bizarre term but really it is valuable to observe one's perception- the why to studying theory, in order to think about how we think and perceive our surroundings.

With that in mind, I would argue that being objectively aware of one's juxtaposition as a critic, and more importantly as a person, must and does have an effect on one's political opinions. All the theories we have explored have based their arguments in how to read literature and, therefore, how to language which is the base way in which we experience our worlds. Arguably then, there is a theory being developed about lifestyle and personal politics whether minute or grandiose, when dissecting literature. It seems impossible to enter a text without preconceived notion about what a text is trying to suggest culturally, socially, and even just literally, especially after having delved into the theories themselves.

As far as limitation or expansion in thought when coming from a particular political stance there is a need to examine the fact that even political agenda is not concretely defined within itself because of the variations in opinion and circumstance regardless of political position. Even in direct politics, Republicans and Democrats are seen on a scale of political opinion within politics and within each party there exists a range from moderate to radical. This also exists in the world of theory and can be painted fairly well in the realm of feminism. A prime example is that of women and sexuality- is there no possibility of agency because of the masculine constructs of sex or are women able to define sexuality by their own terms- can we do so in a world were we are defined in our relation to men, as Dr. Krouse mentioned. The range in approaching texts exists, so, it is likely that there would be a range in limiting and expanding ideas when approaching texts and culture according to extremity and where one can position herself in the context.


Note on the title- I heard this song while writing this blog entry and it seems appropriate when discussing the feminist position, whether extreme or hybrid, in the context of the patriarchy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Search to Be Whole in a System Full of Holes

Ah-ha note the subtle double-entendre of that title. Completely unintentional.

I couldn't be more grateful for Ms. Shelden's post considering she hammered out a major point of my final paper. Particularly the issue concerning sexuality and identity.

As far as Mantissa goes there are very evident connections to be made. First one can connect the sexual connection between Miles and Erato. Particularly in Parts III and IV where they discuss their sexual activity as the culmination and endpoint in their joint creative process. The scene where she reappears in human form and the wallss of the hospital room turn to glass would be considered, pun intendend, the climax of the novel (if one could be pinpointed). It is interesting because at first, when reading the guest post, I felt that Fowles' followed the pattern of Lacan's thinking by creating the image of the mirror stage in the first section of the novel, changing Erato's image, and in many ways transforming signifier to signifier without any real basis of stability for the reader. Yet, "When you consider the force of the death drive, and jouissance as the orgasmic shattering of the self for which the death drive aims, how might you read the first section of Mantissa?" makes me feel as though there is a slight deviation from Lacan's theory.. Fowles' introduces Miles as the unidentified 'it' until he processes through the mirror stage (which we have discussed in blogs and in class so I won't go through it again) but then ends section one with the creative unconscious awakening through the orgasmic experience: his sexual peak results in the creation of the novel. This pattern continues throughout the novel and it makes me wonder if Fowles' thinks of the moment of jouissance as a moment of the 'real' occuring within the illusion.

Hear me out: the world we live in, according to Lacan, is a world of signifiers which develop several illusions. Most importantly, the way we understand the world and the ways in which we self-identify are through language which is completely unstable because there is no central or absolute referent. Throughout life we spend our time continuously searching for the real within the illusion but we're trapped because the only way we know how is through a system that is constantly falling to pieces and has no real stable truth anyway. If the moment of jouissance and the death drive are the things that "...always threatens to undo one’s sense of self" does it mean that at that point, in that peak, we are no longer contained within the constructs of the language system (in other words, we are outside of the way we usually understand ourselves 'to be') so we are existing within a realm of real. Again, this is not to suggest that we all just need to get off all day to identify with ourselves, but within that moment are we, to some degree, because we are outside of the structure/illusion of our worlds, for the slightest moment real?

I could be taking the notion out of context or manipulating the idea to an unnecessary degree but it does make some sense. Plus, that's pretty great, no?

Peace and Jouissance to all!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I've Got an Itch to Scratch, I Need Assistance


I would like to touch back on an interesting point we discussed in class. It was noted that Fowles' overt usage of terms and examples from different literary theories (most notably feminist and psychoanalytic theory) are examples of his criticism of the use of theory. That isn't to say he is anti-intellectual, nor anti-theory for that matter. It says that he is calling into question how we apply theory.

Which leads me into another point. Does Fowles apply humor as a critical theory? I do not have the authority to say but I will note that in recent history humor has become the major form in which we understand much of the 'literature' that we consume. There is an overwhelming amount of negative or problematic topics that are covered through humor. A great example would be that of this past election. Instead of coming out and making certain claims about certain candidates (Ahem...Sarah Palin), each week people looked forward to their local paper and Saturday Night Live for a commentary on the social implications of candidates. I'll probably return to this point in the future because it intrigues me so.

In class there was also the argument about the decline in quality of theory and academia when accessibility, to a theory for example, is promoted through popular culture. The argument was raised in the case of Baudrillard's theories used in The Matrix. Though it represents some ideas from Baudrillard and even quotes from his work, the message is not the same.
(I'd also like to add that I think Fowles representation of the theories which he mimics/mocks in Mantissa also has to do with his frustration with the decline of creative understanding. People are wrapped up in trying to figure out what he is showing through the theories without acknowledging the nature of the creative writer. If that makes sense.)

That was brief and probably just served as a apologies

As seen in previous posts, a note on the title: If you haven't seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I would advise that you do so.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Don't Worry, We'll Make Them Look Real...

It's up to you to decide what that title means.

Let's hear it for Ken Rufo.

I will have to agree with him that I sort of have a nerdy-theoretical crush on Baudrillard; I won't be ashamed to admit. There are several points that I found interesting so I apologize in advance.

Systems of exchange-values

Our current system of exchange value is an incredible model of a simulacra. There is no tangible evidence of worth; there is barely the concrete exchange of bills because now we have plastic, which apparently is worth more than pretty much anything when considered within the simulacra. There is a suggested value in every aspect. I work X hours and get paid Y amount per hour then on a given day I just know (because of direct deposit...which is arguably the most indirect activity in human interaction) that this total amount of X multiplied by Y is now in my bank account. Never once is there money involved; the value is then given to the representation in a computer somewhere that updates my account...which is also not tangible. I've certainly never seen it "because the use of money no longer requires any actual referent to a real object or action" (Rufo's post). Maybe I would be more excited about this simulacra if my X was less and my Y was much greater. Which ties into what Baudrillard suggests about the lower classes simulating the upper class.

My parents do that- shopping at yard sales and what not, but it is for the attempt to simulate a kind of life. It makes them happy and, hey, what else are they supposed to do? The value lies in the social exchange value. Even if no one sees this simulation it exists for them. Does that make sense?

Meaning Machines
"Marxism: it is just another model, and as such a simulation, and since it is about producing a truth, in ends up inadvertently feeding the idea of production that it attempts to subvert or oppose as being the evil axis of capitalism...
Psychoanalysis acts like it has discovered the unconscious, but really what it does is to produce the unconscious as an expository device in accordance with its own precepts."
Wait Baudrillard (via Rufo) you're telling me that theory is not legitimate? Just a bunch of made up processes that end up being true because they are being constructed instead of discovered truths? Well, yeah...but this doesn't make them any less valuable in my opinion. There is something marvelous about this criticism of literary theories.

"Expression always falls into the trap... of assuming the force of an authority, an agency, rather than a substance. Western thought cannot bear, and has at bottom never been able to bear, a void of signification, a non-place and a non-value." (p. 234).

What a bold statement. Everything has an answer, purpose, or meaning in the Western world. Some religions of the Western world are great examples; there is concreteness, there are definitive rules, and a specified meaning to all things which doesn't exist in several mystic or Eastern religions.

I'd like to turn the tables a bit to further examine this idea of vacancy. I noticed among the fun trivia that Baudrillard was also a photographer. Last night I went to MassArt to hear photographer, Gregory Crewdson, speak about his photography and show us the progression of his work from beginning to end. The connection here is Crewdson's obsession with the intangible nature of the unknown, the elements of mystery, and like Baudrillard the beauty of unanswered questions. Please, I urge you to look him up and I'm sure his photographs will leave you asking who what or why. This is part of his intention and I cannot help but tie him to Baudrillard in that category of explorers versus discoverers; it is more about the entanglement and ambiguity of meaning than the concrete answers. There is more to observe in transition and in instability than there is in "simple arithmetic one two three" (Boogie Nights).

Pretty as a Picture

"...the simulational stuff is so pervasive that you filter your real experiences through the simulation of that reality. This is what Baudrillard calls the hyperreal.
to be the possibility of illusion, of non-meaning, of mystery, and much of his work attempts to reproduce that."

While reading through this section, if you will, of Rufo's post I couldn't help but think about my road trip across the United States. Part of the goal in my mind was to (although I wouldn't have put it in these terms two years ago) deconstruct my perceptions of the United States (as a whole and as individual states) and see if I could do so by escaping the hyperreal experience. Turns out it sort of worked out. I went to all the major stops: Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Las Vegas, Memphis, even Wall Drug (drive out west and you'll find out about Wall Drug). It was nearly impossible not to think about the meanings I had originally attributed to these locations. I didn't want to see the massive white stone of Rushmore but came to realize that it is nothing like the postcards and actually much more impressive in person. I wanted to take a picture in front of the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign because of what it has represented for me but the only way I'll go back to Vegas is through Hunter S. Thompson (sorry about the recent focus, but I just watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). And Wall Drug had billboards that started in Minnesota, possibly Illinois, and trust me its nothing like it.

What's my point? Essentially, its all just an example of the experiencing of the hyperreal but then again we are living the hyperreal constantly. There is an obsession in our culture and, arguably, the human race with signification. While we assign value, I feel as though we constantly work off of the ideals that we have constructed within the simulacrum. Is there anything real anymore? Even if you were to choose live in isolation on a farm to evade it, wouldn't you just be partaking in Romanticized ideas made up within the simulacra? Has anything ever existed before simulation? Isn't even a representation based on a falseness? Are our attempts to quantify, qualify, and classify devoid of any true significance? "Each one causes a regression that overwhelms the relationship between reality." Is there such a thing?

Bottom line- the only thing that is real to me after this roller coaster ride I call a thought process is the fact that I am going to be Michael Jackson (Jackson 5 era). HAPPY HALLOWEEN. (Talk about simulation!)


Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Author, My Friend, is Blowing in the Wind

*Note: No particularly specific link from title to post (other than the fact that the author is dead and he or she could be blowing in the wind if he or she went out Hunter S. Thompson style- )

In Barthes essay "The Death of the Author" he discusses the role of the author in the search for meaning behind a text. Historically, the author served as an individual subject who can, through individual thoughts, beliefs, and experiences, develop a whole and transcendental understanding that is then transmitted to the masses through a literary text. Barthes refutes this tradition by suggesting that the author does not exist in this format. He terms the individual who actually transcribes/produces the text as the scriptor and strips this individual of the transcendental 'powers' he or she once had. Most importantly, the power of limitations is taken away when the author is removed. This allows the criticism to flourish because there is no need to understand the Author nor the context of his or her life. For post-structuralist this is a party not a funeral procession. This absence allows for further explication. Without the concreteness of referring to the author, there is the possibility to stray from one ultimate meaning. Unfortunately for the liberal humanists in the world, the death of the author allows for multiple meanings that derive from the text itself versus originating from the ideas of the author.

This is where the reader is born. "The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost... the reader is without history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who hold together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted (Rice and Waugh, Modern Literary Theory, 2nd ed.)." I would like to consider myself a reader but by nature I suppose I am not; is there a chance that I can transform myself into a reader? Disassociate myself fro my self and what I know it to that what you want from me Barthes?

*My attempts to put the link in as suggested in the Critical Theory and Academy blog have failed so here it is old school style:

In this blog (link above) the blogger discusses his recent frustrations in a literature class. The blogger feels an obligation to explain the biographical information of an author in order to place the text in a historical context. Unfortunately, his/her students are proponents of Barthe's biggest fear (and apparently a fear shared by this professor): limited analysis because of the author! NO! But, it happens. It can seem daunting to eradicate the role of the author his/her life and historical context in which the text was written. Barthe's and this blogger (and myself) think that there is a need to remove the limitations the author's position imposes. At the same time there is a need to understand in some way the context, is there not? I welcome arguments because I really do not know for sure the way to be a buffet-pick-n-choose deconstructionist. Is there such thing? Aside from understanding Barthe's theory about the author and the not so tragic death of said author, this blog touches upon the practicality of applying these and other theories of analysis to literary studies.


Friday, October 10, 2008


Is there irony in the project of trying to capture the true Derrida in a documentary film? Do the directors realize it? What is the format of their "biography"? Does the format provide an acknowledgement of some of his ideas?

Watching a documentary of Derrida is absolutely one of the most ironic projects possible. A man who suggests that our system of understanding (language) is unstable being documented on film, which is arguably the most manipulated form of representation (think of editing processes, the pretense of the fourth wall, any reality television show that is on currently). The brilliance of it comes from the directors being aware of this irony. Why? Because it exposes what Derrida thinks in that kind of setting. He admits that he is not being himself as he is himself when there are no cameras around- no one can be. I refuse to believe that people act purely and candidly while knowing there is a camera watching them. Capturing anyone in this format seems to be a supportive argument to Derrida's view of instability in representation; using Derrida himself however is perhaps the ultimate example. More so than trying to capture who Jacues Derrida is or was the film captures the 'what' of his theories and ideas quite abstractly.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Good Timing (Sort Of): Marxist Reading on Current Events

Yesterday presidential candidate John McCain decided to pull his campaign and request a postponement of the first presidential debate this Friday in order to return to Washington and aid Congress in developing a different plan than Bush's bailout plan. Whether this is a sincere attempt at unifying leadership or a move to gain favor in the polls- I will not discuss. I will however present it forward as an excellent way to look at how a dominant group has, not only, ideological control but through that ideological control affects concrete factors of everyday life (i.e. in one way or another shift the economic workings of the United States and further the lower and middle classes will be shaken, rattled, and rolled). How is this a manifestation of ideology? There is Dr. Craig's example of the impression we receive from the media about stock market's gains and loses. "This will be covered in the media as a universal and unqualified positive sign for all, even though it means that more people are working longer and harder for less pay, not only in absolute terms, but especially in relative terms" (Dr. Craig's post on Marxist criticism and ideology). Currently, President George Bush is using this kind of ideology of universality by suggesting the bailout plan and also playing on a familiar ideology of choice. American culture thrives on giving people 'individuality' and 'freedom' because it then allows for a dominant ideology to expand (as Dr. Craig suggested-"one function of ruling class ideology is to assure the complacency of the working classes, in order to also assure the power and dominance of the ruling class"). Let me note- Swing Vote is not how our electoral system works. By suggesting that the market needs the support of the American people - more concretely their tax money- for the betterment of the United States economy there is a sense of 'duty' being imposed. (Now, supposing that no executives get the 'golden parachute' on their way and the bailout plan is approved- who is to say it will all work? That is really another discussion).

Now, the interesting point to note is the media's 'reactionary' messages. All of a sudden there is a major influx of ads (from,, etc.) which promote and somehow suggest that each citizen has the control to make the ultimate difference in our countries dependence on oil, in the effects of global warming, and even in our economic recession (yes its true- recession). The most interesting part about these ads (and how it relates to marxist critical reading) is the final words in the ads. Many end with something along the lines of: "We're not asking, we're demanding' or 'this message is approved by the American people.' The way they play with language suggest that we- the masses- have control. This is clearly not true in the purest sense but it is a way to keep the masses happy. Just as allowing a Che Guevara shirt be worn to give people the impression they are making a rebellious statement when in reality its rather meaningless now; and certainly if Che saw someone with that shirt on odds are he would be absolutely disgusted and infuriated. Keeping the masses happy with this superficial transference of power and 'our approval' of a message makes it easy for the ideology that our 'democratic' rights work in conjunction with the functioning of the republic to be ingrained.

Further- I would like to point out the role of citizens consciously and unconsciously accepting their subjugation. Those who unconsciously accept their subjugation are people who consume all media formats and somehow messages subjectively and in some forms accept them to be absolute. Those who consciously accept their subjugation are the disappointed idealists (G. Carlin) of the world; the cynics who see all of these manifestations of ideology as exactly that by placing an objectivity towards the base and superstructure and their 'real' role in them, but only in thought and not in action. You tell me which kind of subject I am.


Note: entitled "Good Timing..." because it is a very poignant time to be able to apply Marxist critical theory but obviously there is not much 'good' at this time, economically speaking.