When I first began thinking about how my literary research interests could develop into potential topics for my senior thesis, I knew, broadly, that I wanted to focus on Latin American/U.S. Latinx literature. My desire to pursue this led to coursework on U.S. Latina/o Literature and further research on Latin American/Latinx literary traditions. As I read, I became aware of the scholarly focus predominantly on Mexico and the Caribbean (notably, Puerto Rico and Cuba) when discussing Latinxs. My specific interest in Central America and El Salvador has meant further refining my focus to search for these keywords within my findings on Latin American/Latinx literatures. Due to limited literary scholarship on Central American literatures, I maintain this broader category of Latin American/Latinx literatures as critical keywords––however, I aim to complicate this pan-ethnic category by also recognizing how it has dwelled on particular national narratives over others. I also aim to understand the role of Salvadoran literature within the two broader categories of Central American literature and Latin American/Latinx literatures.
As I have begun to focus more closely on Salvadoran literature, one of the binaries that emerged was writings of homeland versus writings of diaspora. These became keywords that I had identified as the two main groups of Salvadoran writings. What I came to realize later on, however, were the temporal attachments that I had begun to associate with each ‘branch’ of writing. I imposed a temporal restriction on writings of homeland as limited to pre-civil war, and writings of diaspora as strictly post-civil war. My interest in the civil war’s sociopolitical significance (including events leading up to the war and its aftermath) in shaping twentieth century Salvadoran literature led me to ignore the possibility of ‘diaspora’ before the war as well as to ignore the continuation of ‘homeland’ writings in the post-war area. As stated in Writing Analytically, “when you find a binary opposition in an essay, film, political campaign, or anything else, you have located the argument that the film, essay, or campaign is having with itself, the place where something is at issue,” (95). The binary opposition that I had identified revealed the tension in negotiating what happens to narratives and literatures when they inhabit different physical and temporal spaces. Specifically, the question that emerged was: what does Salvadoran literature look like at origin versus beyond the homeland, in ‘diaspora’?
I want to complicate ‘diaspora’ as a guiding keyword by thinking about how else we might refer to the experiences of people of Salvadoran origin living in the U.S. This is relevant to my literary research because these keywords will help me to select theoretical approaches. Some key terminology related to but distinct from ‘diaspora’ that come to mind are: immigrant, migrant, forced migration, exile, refugee. Many of these terms carry different political implications that affect the critical framing and context of how I will approach my discussion of Salvadoran literature.
Searching for definitions is useful here in gaining a better grip of what the terms specifically mean; for example, considering the differences between ‘migration’ and ‘immigration,’ in which the former refers broadly to movement across space and the latter implies a permanent move. While diaspora is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the state or fact of having been dispersed from one’s homeland or point of origin,” there is not necessarily a political implication in this term. On the other hand, ‘exile’ and ‘refugee’ have more political significances; exile is defined as “prolonged absence from one’s native country or a place regarded as home, endured by force of circumstances or voluntarily undergone for some purpose. Also: an instance or period of this.” The OED definition of a refugee is “a person who has been forced to leave his or her home and seek refuge elsewhere, esp. in a foreign country, from war, religious persecution, political troubles, the effects of a natural disaster, etc.; a displaced person.” Considering the sociopolitical significances of these terms will enable a better analysis of my literary scope and raise specific questions for the primary texts I will consider. For example, one of the leading contemporary Salvadoran writers is Horacio Castellanos Moya, who has spent most of his life away from El Salvador, in exile. Does Castellanos Moya belong to homeland or to ‘diaspora’? Is ‘diaspora’ an appropriate word to use when we are referring to circumstances of forced migration? What do these literary texts gain or lose from being referred to as belonging to ‘diaspora’ to ‘homeland’ or to literature of ‘exile’/’refugee’ writing?
“Diaspora.” “Immigration.” “Latino, Latina, Latin@.” “Migration,” Keywords for American Cultural Studies. New York: NYU Press, 2007.
“diaspora, n.” “exile, n.1.” “refugee, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2017.
David Rossenwasser and Jill Stephen. Writing Analytically, 6th ed. Boston: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011.
Throughout the last three weeks in English 403, the concept of power has emerged as a central theme in almost all of our readings and class discussions. Generally defined by Merriam-Webster as the “possession of control, authority, or influence over others,” the word “power,” as we have seen, is not only employed in order to demonstrate the strength of a person, group of people, or an entity, but is also utilized as a method for creating or bringing focus to a dichotomy that exists between those that possess power and those that face subjugation under that specific source of power (“Power”). For this reason, analyzing the ways in which different works engage with the concept of “power” and its effects allows individuals to identify the multiple, unique facets of various power dynamics and gain a better understanding of the seemingly universal precursors that must exist in order to enable the possession of societal power.
Two works that seem to make the most significant use of the word “power” include Judith Fetterley’s Introduction to the Resisting Reader and Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In Fetterley’s piece, she grapples with the idea that American society and literature feel a “commitment to the maintenance of male power” that directly causes and encourages “powerlessness [to] characterize women” (994, 992). Similarly, in Mulvey’s piece, she also describes a lack of power amongst women by analyzing how films have encouraged a reality based in “sexual imbalance” in which “the active power of the erotic look” is held solely by men (668, 671). Although both writers are concerned with the societal promotion of female powerlessness, it is their analysis of “power” in regard to different mediums that is most revealing. For Mulvey, “power” is a visual concept. She argues that films utilize women as “objects of sexual simulation through sight” by purposefully depicting women as sexual beings that exist solely for men’s visual enjoyment (672). In addition, it also a woman’s appearance, or “visually ascertainable absence of the penis,” that causes her to be relegated to the periphery and made powerless (672). In contrast, Fetterley is not focused on the visual aspects the define “power,” but rather, on the way in which education and literature determine “power.” For Fetterley, one’s power stems from the written works with which they interact and the authors that they are exposed to. For this reason, Fetterley believes women are powerless because they are taught through literature that they must think and act like men and become “intellectually male” (996). In this way, although Fetterley and Mulvey both point to a sexist societal hierarchy that renders men powerful and women powerless, their differing engagements with “power” enable one to understand the various ways in which person(s) achieve and maintain power at the societal level.
In addition, it is also significant to note the way in which the word “power” in both of these works is often accompanied by the word “unconscious” or “universal.” While Fetterley and Mulvey wrestle with different channels in promoting gendered power dynamics, they are unified in their assertion that people within society have been unconsciously molded by social formations into expecting and accepting a patriarchal society and its “universal” norms. By utilizing the words “unconscious” and “universal,” Fetterley and Mulvey not only emphasize the pervasiveness of male power, but recognize that power dynamics are often so ingrained in a culture that they are not fully recognizable or actively thought about by that culture’s members. In this way, Fetterley and Mulvey not only shed light on the tight link between “power” and culture, but stress that power can only be shifted if people recognize what societal institutions and conventions have enabled those powerful persons or entities to thrive.
Fetterley , Judith. “Introduction to the Resisting Reading.” Reader-Response Criticism , pp. 990–998.
Mulvey , Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema .” Psychoanalytic Theory , pp. 667–675.
Canon can be defined as more than just literary but possibly it’s polar opposite of non-literary media. Gasp! How could I say such a thing as that as a scholar of literature? For Jonathan Culler, author of Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction,There is a considerable debate between literary and non-literary canon. A definition from the Oxford English Dictionary dated from 2002 suggests it is a, “A body of literary works traditionally regarded as the most important, significant, and worthy of study”, but I find this definition only correct as far as “body of literary works”, while the rest presumes too much. I say literary canon is now on-track to fuse with popular canon, as I look at an entertaining read in Ready Player One (2011) a novel by Ernest Cline. The first few chapters can be found online. The science fiction story focuses on a virtual reality contest in 2044 based around a teen’s 1980’s-inspired scavenger hunt that describes popular culture as it’s own shared consciousness canon. What all three can agree on is that the definition of literary canon is going to need to expand though they need to also include non-literary popular culture multimedia formats.
Jonathan Culler believes that literary canon may be endangered to its diametrically opposed popular culture non-literary canon counterparts, but can still be seen equal rivals. While cultural studies may be “all encompassing”, literary canon has an exclusive division of quality. I can relate to his argument that some works in the literary canon have also eclipsed the more ‘minor’ works compared to larger works such as Shakespeare’s plays. Culler summarizes that the two canons may not need to compete, in that, “close reading of non-literary does not imply aesthetic valuation of the object,” a statement that holds true in the enjoyment of Ready Player One.(Culler, 55) If anything, I happen to agree with Culler’s analysis of the binary.
In Ready Player One, the main character Wade Watts competes in a videogame-based scavenger hunt designed in a canon of popular culture references from the 1980’s, which in itself is a kind of commentary on canon. After the death of James Halliday, founder of the first total virtual reality experience, a post-mortem online video challenges the world to follow his challenge in order to secure his inheritance. As a result, “The Hunt, as the contest came to be known, quickly wove its way into global culture.”(Cline, 7) In a way, a popular culture canon is a kind of contest in which we put effort into committing works to memory as a kind of trivia. The global aspect is also fascinating, in that popular culture has permeated more global spheres than traditional literature. Thus, “Fifty years after the decade had ended, the movies, music, games, and fashion of the 1980’s were all the rage again.”(Cline, 7) This obsession with the 1980’s mirrors realities obsession with deciphering Shakespeare’s plays and historical background. The Bard, while rough 400 years old, has the same affect on our world as Halliday in Cline’s. As the contest continues, movies and music references abound. Cline’s fiction novel reads like a love letter to a bygone popular culture canon filled with Matthew Broderick and Harrison Ford films alongside Wham! And Rush. While very little of the references are tradition literary text in format, the new media and the spirit of canon remains.
In honesty, I fill this blog post may have taken too many liberties with canon as a concept in literary theory. The definition from the OED would find my close reading of Ready Player One a misuse of the word, but I insist that canon’s definition is not broad enough. To only suggest the most academic works deserve canonization is a disservice to the potential of new minor works in the future. Like Culler either side of this debate has a legitimate point.
Disclaimer: While it would be untrue to say that the text I’m covering has nothing to do with my research, this has more to do with the forgiving definition (or lack thereof) of the current range of my inquiry than the focused attention I’ve laden on this artist. That being said, I do think of this text and its author quite a lot, so I may try to work them in somehow (but I’m highly dubious that I’ll actually put serious effort into doing so).
Disclaimer Two: I could probably pontificate at an unwilling listener about this album for the literal duration of my natural life, so while I’m going to knowledge that I’m barely going to scratch the surface here in hopes that I don’t try to do more, I’m going to try and just set up the connections without synthesizing them to avoid going over the word limit.
For a while, I would skip over “The Man of Metropolis Steal our Hearts” whenever I would listen to Illinois (Sufjan Stevens’ 2005 concept album about the state). I fucking loved the album, it was (and still is) my favorite album hands down, but I had no idea why he went from singing poignant ballads about wrongheaded teenage misanthropic, childhood sweethearts with cancer, and old ladies painfully reminiscing, to devoting a (six minute) song to Superman. It totally threw off my whole idea of the album and so I decided to just try to forget about it.
About a year after I first heard of the album, I saw a video of Stevens performing “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades” (the one about the old lady [maybe — the gender of most of his narrators isn’t specified] I mention above). He and his bandmates stood on stage, all wearing the kind of fairy wings that parents buy for particularly girly girls. My first reaction when I saw the wings and saw the light sort of glitter off of what appeared to be glitter on his face was: “oh, that’s… oddly effeminate” — which I immediately regretted having thought, even while acknowledging that it was the most succinct phrasing of my genuine reaction.
To gloss briefly over that offputting statement (I swear I’ll come back to it): at the end of the introductory monologue, Stevens says, “maybe this is one of our theme songs for this tour, ’cause that’s why we all have wings on, it’s sort of to overcome my fear of flying things.” When I heard that, pieces immediately started to click together. When I began to think about it, I saw that flight was one of the main motifs on the album. From the UFOs on the opening track, to the Black Hawks on the next one, to the metaphorical “flight” of escape on “Chicago,” all the way to the predatory wasp of the song at hand (if you want to browse the full track listing to identify more instances, here it is), and, of course, to Superman (who’s even pictured flying on the album cover).
I then began to realize there were some more parallels between “The Man of Metropolis….” and “The Predatory Wasp…” Specifically, the former song espouses some pretty bold (though ironic/non-literal) statements about masculinity (“only a real man can be a lover… / only a steel man can be a lover”), while the latter stands in a very fragile relation to conceptions of gender (the narrator wears leg warmers, but Sufjan sings the song from his perspective / it’s not clear whether the love between the characters is a romantic or kindred one or even which gender the narrator is either way).
So, I began to associate flight with this struggle with masculinity, and then I realized that the motif of faith intersects with flight on “Casimir Pulaski Day” (“And the cardinal hits the window / … All the glory that the Lord has made / and the complications when I see His face / in the morning in window”) and with masculinity on “The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders” (the person referred to by the title being God… need I say more?) and “Casimir Pulaski Day” (The song’s namesake was a most likely transsexual military general / the indeterminate genders of the characters). Then, I realized fate and flight intersect on the title track with the UFO delivering the holy spirit unto some lowly cornfield.
With that simple guiding directive to focus on a specific element on the album, so much other shit just immediately popped out and began to intersect and this album that I knew and loved took on this vast, richer life in a matter of moments.
It was one of those spasmodic, beautiful moments of rapid-fire entanglements that overpower you with this overwhelming sense of density and scale. I stopped skipping “Man of Metropolis…” after that and, more importantly, I stopped trying to confine the import of someone else’s album to what made sense to me.
As I work toward defining my interests and nailing down the characteristics I would like to study and eventually organize a thesis around, I find that my reading history is punctuated by extreme interest in works that surprise me. I do not mean that they surprise me through their plot twists, but rather that they do not fit in with the works that typically are associated with their era of origin. I am interested in works and authors who are not part of the definition of their literary eras, which are time separations controversial in their own right. I am drawn to works by overlooked demographics, particularly members of those demographics who were not actually separate from the literary establishment during their lives, but who were forced to remain outside the prominence of their peers. Two key terms that I think define my thoughts so far are canon formulation and defying assumptions about a period through gender, race, and sexuality.
Defying assumptions in my case applies to the preconceived notions about what defines a period of literature and the women and queer individuals in eras and movements of literature who do not fit them. Though these periods and genres are very different in time and style, the individuals I am interested in are all excluded almost entirely from the accepted canon they are taught from. While their work is not included in the keywords of their periods, women and queer individuals were often present and influential in the circles that produced works, authors, and relics of their time. From the work of women in to establish literary salons in eighteenth century England whose are mostly left out of that era’s history, to the women who pioneered the novel as a genre which was only validated when men adopted it as a forum for quality narratives.
Nella Larsen’s work is read but not widely read, despite her role in the Harlem Renaissance influencer group. She worked on publications including the Opportunity, and The Brownie Book. She was friends with key influencers including Du Bois, and her first novel, Quicksand, was popular and acclaimed at its time. Despite all of this, her work was left out of curriculum and association with both Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance until very recently. Similarly, Jessie Fauset was ignored as a producer at the time, thought she was very present in the social circle where the Harlem Renaissance mission and characteristics were debated and cemented.
Something that unites many authors I am interested in is their fleeting prominence at the time they were producing. As in all things, women and minorities must reach near perfection to be acknowledged along with majority member counterparts. In the Harlem Renaissance, Larsen was accused later in her career of plagiarism. Despite being the first African American woman to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship, she was almost entirely forgotten after the scandal. She was only mentioned in regards to that stain until fairly recently when critics and readers returned in greater numbers to her work, including Quicksand and Passing.
This process of exclusion and how the definitions of sections of the literary timeline are a source of interest for me. In my discussions with professors, I have pinpointed that as the historical side of what I am looking at. As I look into the works and their creators that interest me, I find that there are usually reasons that have been used to defend their exclusion from the teaching and acclaiming body of texts. The Larsen example is one of many, including Zora Neale Hurston, whose work has surged into much greater prominence, but who was also excluded for controversial views despite her key role in the movement along with male leaders who were never rejected from the group the academy focuses on.
The keywords I have focused on are tightly twined together, and something that also interests me is that connection. As I move forward, I want to explore the three mentioned reasons that the excluded works are treated thus (race, gender, sexuality). I am interested in finding out whether the canon was defined before the works were excluded, or if part of defining literary eras has been purposefully constructing them to achieve that purpose. This is important if one wants to change the future of literary and cultural studies. Whatever cause and effect took place in early canon formation set a legacy that affected the Harlem Renaissance writers I focused on here, and that if left untouched, will continue in our current time and into the future. In the age of technology, it will become much more difficult to determine the pattern and to alter it. I think I’ll be looking at analysis of canon formation and more primary texts moving forward. While simply forcing more inclusion in literary study is an important part, the historian part of my mind leads me to believe that without focusing on what has happened, meaningful understanding and change cannot be made.
For as long as I have been at Dickinson College, I have been passionate about combining my two majors to discover different potential meanings behind texts. My favorite courses throughout my college career have allowed me to explore connections between identity and literature, such as “Victorian Sexualities” and “Evil and Anxiety in Contemporary Global Fiction.” Amidst my studies in both fields, key words that keep popping up include intersectionality and feminist literary analysis. Culler explores cultural studies in Chapter 3 of his book, “Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction,” claiming that a part of cultural studies involves analyzing, “how cultural identities are constructed and organized, for individuals and groups, in a world of diverse and intermingled communities, state power, media industries, and multinational corporations,” (p.43). Here, several words catch my attention as they often show up in my studies. Power and identity are two key terms that will be necessary to engage with while I pursue a thesis that might take a closer look at gender and sexuality. Cultural studies will undoubtably be key in my studies as I plan to look at how my chosen texts interact with the culture in which they were developed. Identity, one of my key words, is essential to cultural studies as Culler says, “Work in cultural studies has been particularly attuned to the problematical character of identity and to the multiple ways in which identities are formed, experiences, and transmitted,” (p.45). Applying these ideas and key concepts to my literary analysis will help me explore deeper meanings within a text. For example, I can ask questions to myself about Toni Morrison’s “Home” that include: how does Cee’s intersectional identity of female, African American, and lower class affect her role in the text? How does Morrison display power within this text? How are power and sexuality intertwined within this book and does that point to an argument behind the text?
Intersectionality, gender, identity, and power, are a few key terms that are essential to take into consideration when performing feminist literary analysis. Some genres I am interested in include children’s literature, fairy tales, Victorian literature, war novels, and literature founded upon fantasy. By using key terms such as power and identity to analyze texts within these categories, I will be able to gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives within the text. Each of these genres can ask a diverse set of questions as related to my key terms of gender, intersectionality, and power. For example, it would be interesting to examine the role of Victorian heroines and their often struggle with ‘wild’ sexuality versus a restrictive family or culture, as seen in “Wuthering Heights.”
Lastly, I would be interested in exploring intertextuality as a key literary term for my line of inquiry. For example, over the Summer I studied the references to the story of King Arthur in the Harry Potter series. Another example of this that I am interested in possibly pursuing is motifs or images in “Beowulf” that make an appearance in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” While these texts contain obvious references to famous older stories, I believe intertextuality can be a literary concept I explore no matter which texts I end up focusing upon.
Ultimately, I hope to use my background in Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies to enrich my understandings of the texts I choose. I plan to use key terms such as intersectionality, gender, power, and sexuality to explore one of the genres I outlined earlier, as well as expand my vocabulary to include different lenses in my analysis. This will help me learn how to employ different modes of looking at a text while enhancing my own work.
Jonathan Culler’s book Literary Theory discuses meaning in chapter 4. When he discusses meaning Culler claims that meaning is based on differences. He says, “We have different kinds of meaning, but one thing we can say in general is that meaning is based on difference” (Culler, 56). By reading a specific work a person creates their own interpretation of the text and what they perceive the authors writing as being. Now one key word that we have read and also watched a movie on in class is related to the term Communism and specifically its Marxism. Marxism was founded and created by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as an economic system that would create equality within a country. Marxism is based on the idea that there is equality amongst everyone in society and regardless of how much work a person works or does they will always make the same amount of money and receive the same amount of supplies as everyone else. Communism sounds like a good idea but it demotes the idea of working hard for a better life and thus destroys the idea of working hard to achieve a goal or dream. In particular, Marxism matters because it was the creation of an economic system that failed to work and almost caused a nuclear war between the United States and Russia. Relating Marxism back to Culler’s point, Marxism worked well on paper but when it came to individual’s needs it failed as people are not willing to work hard if their hard work is not going to get them anywhere in life. Marxism is an important keyword because without Marxism the Berlin wall would not have come down in 1989. Additionally, there would also be no Red Scare or McCarythism in America and even the Cold War would have possibly never happened without the term Marxism. My interpretation of Marxism is that it is responsible for almost causing a nuclear war, it separated East and West Berlin, and lastly it helped promote how important achieving the American Dream was.
Another keyword that Jonathan Culler discusses is interpretation. In particular, interpretation is what gives meaning to writing and to a text. Interpretation specifically comes from the reader and through these interpretations the reader creates their own opinions and perspectives based on the text that they just read. Interpretation brings about individuality and meaning to every word. As an example, in the Intentional Fallacy the text discusses how the reader, the author, and the text are all separate from one another in the way that they are meant to be viewed. As an example of this in my poetry class, Professor Perabo asked our class to think about the word “love” and then describe what we perceived love as being within our own heads. It was amazing to see and listen to the different perspectives based on just one word. I perceived love as being a big red heart while one of my classmates saw love as two people getting married and someone else saw love as being a mother’s love for their child. Now one thing about interpretation is that it can change over time. In Benjamin Walter’s text, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction he discusses that over time artwork changes, “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element; its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (Walter, 714). My interpretation of this quote is that as time passes one individual might have a different interpretation of a text over time. Their perception of a text or work of art might be very different from age 18 in comparison to age 35. The individual may notice more cracks in the art or see the artwork as being smaller than what it used to look like. Not only does interpretation create meaning in the text but it creates individuality and expressing one’s own thoughts and ideas.
This year, I am focusing my writing and research on the Vikings and the Nordic mythology and sagas. The pantheon was pretty much limited to the small Scandinavian countries, especially Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and started to die off when Iceland was Christianized, in around 1000 C.E. Oral tales and storytelling are important (or at least present) in almost all the world’s cultures, especially before people could read and write. All of the Norse tales were told orally for many generations, and were mostly written down after making contact with Christianity. This turn is something I wish to focus on in my research, especially in relation to two primary texts, The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, and the famous Beowulf. I see multiple similarities in these two texts, and one key difference. I argue that these two tales are actually the same story, except Hrolf Kraki is very pagan, and the Beowulf author attempts to make it a Christian tale. I argue that Beowulf is a Christianized version of Hrolf Kraki.
The biggest recurring motif in both Beowulf and Hrolf Kraki is the symbol of the bear. Both heroes (Beowulf, in Beowulf, and Bodvar-Bjarki in Hrolf Kraki) channel bears in their respective tales. The main similarities between the two heroes are their bravery and unmatchable, ferocious strength. Bodvar’s father is named Bjorn, which literally translates to “Bear” in Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish. Not only that, he is transformed into an actual bear by his evil step-mother when he rejects her advances. He roams around as a bear by day, killing the king’s livestock, and is a man at night. The name of his lover, Bodvar’s mother, is Bera, meaning “she-bear”. When Bjorn is killed and his bear-meat served at a feast in the castle, the evil queen makes Bera eat small pieces of it, even though Bera is warned against doing so. The result of this is that their children, born after the feast, have beast-like features. Bodvar-Bjarki’s two older brothers have the marks of an elk and a hound, but Bodvar has no physical blemish. However, he has the strength and ferocity of a bear, and even gets the nickname “Bjarki”, meaning “little-bear”. Beowulf also has unmatchable strength and prowess in battle, and his name, translated, means “Bee-Wolf”, which is a kenning (a phrase which describes a well-known noun in a creative way) for bear. Bodvar grows up, and becomes a great warrior in the hall of King Hrolf Kraki (who, I will argue, is the same character as Beowulf’s King Hrothgar), and even shape-shifts into a bear in his final battle. In the coming research and writing, I will discuss why the storytellers chose the bear to be the symbol of the warrior instead of another animal.
So, if they are the same tale, why doesn’t Beowulf shape-shift into a bear form? I will consider more answers to this question after further research, but as of right now, I think that when the Beowulf tale was written down by a Christian writer, the writer sanitized the story, and possibly removed references to inhuman, witchcraft-like pagan magic. However, the writer left enough of the original tale intact that we can draw the connection to a pagan saga.
In Laura Mulvey’s argument titled Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, I focused mainly on her second section, which was titled Pleasure in Looking/ Fascination with the Human Form. In this section Mulvey addressed the voyeuristic nature of the cinematic experience and how it is intended mainly for male audiences. She mentions the fact that the female body becomes more of an object that a human being that is set in front of the audience simply for erotic pleasure. I noticed two repetitions of words in this section that I believe pertain highly to this argument, which aims to promote feminism and the wrongs of cinema toward the female figure. These two words are “scopophilia” and “ego,” which both pertain to the act of looking.
Mulvey describes scopophilia as the act and pleasure in looking. This word is mentioned a total of five times in the first paragraph alone. Although she mentions it in other parts of the second section, I believe her uses of it in the first paragraph are most pertinent. This word, in the case of Mulvey’s argument, is relevant specifically to the cinema and to that pleasure of male viewers and how they perceive the female body in the cinematic experience. In addition she states, “looking itself is a source of pleasure, just as, in the reverse formation, there is pleasure in being looked at,” (p. 1446). In this sentence, looking is paralleled with pleasure, which begs the question, looking at what? It is then that we read further and we realize that the reverse of this pleasure is equally enjoyable when one is being looked at. The reader can assume that the sentence is referring to humans looking at humans presumably through cinema as that is the main premises for the argument. However, it is not the female that enjoys being looked at, but the male viewer that enjoys looking at the objectified female, and it is he in return who enjoys being looked at by the same female “object.” This gaze is not one for admiration, but rather a controlling gaze on the male’s part, and thus is an instinctual link to sexual pleasure and eroticism.
This idea leads me to my next point in which the word “ego” comes into play. “It continues to exist as the erotic basis for pleasure in looking at another person as object. At the extreme, it can become fixated into perversion,” (p.1447). The word ego is repeated a total of four times in the end of the first paragraph and continuing into the second paragraph. As “scopophilia” can be conveyed into sexual pleasure, the word “ego” takes this a step further and explains that this is a basis for which sexual pleasure is oriented. A male viewer needs to feel in control and important while looking in order to be attracted to the cinematic female object. The pleasure of looking at another person in this controlling gaze is the beginnings of narcissism in which the male viewer can become hopelessly engrossed in his object of interest. Mulvey goes as far as to say that this fixation can turn into perversion. The words fixated and perversion are even used close to each other in the sentence, separated only by the word “into.” The word fixated demonstrates the intensity and the need for this visual pleasure, and perversion explains the extent to which this pleasure can contort a male viewer.
The importance of the words “scopophilia” and “ego” help the reader to understand the significance and the extent to which the cinema has become voyeuristic and intended for a male audience. It is a societal problem that we face in which the female is constantly viewed as an object and subdued into an insignificant existence. This is then extended from the cinema into our daily lives.
A keyword that has become relevant, and we have considered regarding a few different points of discussion in class, is literary canon, first presented to us by John Guillory in his piece “The Problem of Literary Canon Formation”. Guillory discusses the ways in which “the school is the vehicle of transmission for something like national culture” (1589), and how that transmission of culture is largely determined by “reference to the High Culture artifacts to which access is provided in schools” (1589-1590). I plan to lean into that sentiment and argue with it, reasoning that cultural artifacts come in different forms than, say, the great American novel, and extend to primary texts written by less glorified authors, who have just as much clout and cultural knowledge as the authors that tend to be studied most heavily in schools.
My initial background research, which originally revolved around WWII, led me down a path that focused less on writing that came from more prominent writers of the time, and instead honed in more on writing that came directly out of the people who experienced this wartime firsthand – and in an unconventional way. I’ve become extremely interested, most specifically, in the writing that came from prisoners of war and detainees of war and torture camps that were published either after their release, or while they were still imprisoned in a prison or a camp.
Based upon some secondary sources I encountered during my research, I’ve come up with two main keywords – or key phrases, in my case – that are used throughout, and really get down to the nitty-gritty of what my interests revolve around. Those words are inmate poetry and prisoner of war literature. These two key phrases are used throughout the texts I have engaged with and target the differences between the type of work that came out of wartime from bystanders or people indirectly involved with war, as opposed to those – like inmates and POWs – who have experienced the traumatic repercussions of war firsthand.
As opposed to other literature composed during times of war, poetry and other works written by inmates and POWs offers an outlet of expression for these solitary people – it is their sole connection to the outside world and the way they express their thoughts, feelings and experiences throughout their confinement, regardless of if their work will be read by others or not. Their experiences and unfortunate circumstances are sometimes expanded upon, but more often than not, they are creative ways of expressing their feelings of their journey from free person to incarcerated person. Repeated often is language that represents thoughtful reflection of their own self, along with a reflection on the hardships of war even more generally. This type of literature differs greatly because the authors are so directly immersed in the effects of war, rather than viewing the effects from an outside perspective.
In looking at my keywords, I came up with a question I wanted to propose to myself as I went forth with my research to further target the reasoning behind why literature from inmates and POWs at wartime is important and interesting to me. I asked “how does literature written by inmates/prisoners both aid in the healing process and act as an alternative, yet still historically accurate, representation of wartime during a specific period in history?” From that, I considered some binaries that were present, like aid/hinder, healing/neglecting, inmates/free persons, historically accurate/historically inaccurate, and wartime/peace. All of these binaries pose certain questions that I wish to explore more, such as “do inmates, who have limited access to resources, write in the same manner or about the same sorts of things as free people?” And, “are these piece of literature from incarcerated people considered historical documents that contribute to the overall discussion about this period of time, or are they of their own separate category?” And lastly, “does literature composed and circulated during the pressures of wartime have different effects on society than literature composed and circulated during a peaceful time?” All of these questions, created from the binaries I discovered in my initial research about my interests, are worth considering as I delve further into this area of work.
By using these keywords, I expect my research to be narrowed enough that I can refine all wartime writing down to pieces that have been composed by unconventional authors, but also still broad enough that I’m not eliminating works that could have been published, edited or produced by secondary authors who report on the stories of inmates, prisoners, etc. I plan to continue to use these key phrases to direct my research as I look to find sources, both primary and secondary, which help to answer some of the questions I proposed above.