Friday, 27 May 2011

Ideas for Final Post

So, I'm looking back at the sequence of posts on this blog over the course of our semester study of Women's Literature, identifying trends and points of interest to bring together in a final post.

Here is my list of titles:
STILL Thinking about Boland & Olds
On Power: the Poem & the Idea
On Power (2)
On ‘Black Swan’, Repression, & ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’
On ‘Black Swan’, Repression, & ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (2)
On Perfectionism & the Personal-Political Blur
On Owning Your Own Mind, If Nothing Else
On Forgiveness in ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’
On Forgiveness, Sex, & Love
Bits & Bobs on ‘Vindication’
On Being Complicit Most Days
On Violence: “The Numbers Are Staggering”
A New Paradigm: Real Beauty
On Celebrating the Mythic Feminine
On Rebirth & Reincarnation in ‘Jasmine’
Jasmine as Existentialist
On the Connectedness of All Things in ‘Mrs. Dalloway’
Exquisite Agony & Ecstasy in ‘Mrs. Dalloway’

From this list, I can pull these themes/topics for further consideration and synthesis (preparing to write my final post): power, beauty, repression, perfectionism, politics, individuality, forgiveness, identity, birds, complicity, violence, femininity, rebirth, existence, connectedness, and agony/ecstasy.

I'll have a think, now, and let these percolate before launching in, Virginia Woolf style...

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Exquisite Agony & Ecstasy in Mrs. Dalloway

This novel seems wildly at work on the interplay between extreme passion or exultation and extreme anguish or terror. The two populate the lives of Clarissa, Septimus, and Peter, to be sure, if not others as well. Characters throughout the text makes exclamations about 'What joy!' or 'Horror!'

In the park, after leaving Clarissa's, Peter swings between desperation and peace, falling asleep, in the end, on a park bench. Peter reflects on his dream of Bourton with Clarissa in years past, saying, "It was an awful feeling!" (52) Two pages later, he reports: "Never, never had he suffered so infernally!" (54) Two pages later, however, "Peter Walsh laughed out" because a little girl puts a handful of pebbles down on her nurse's knee. Joy and anguish are brothers here. (Sisters?)

I am perhaps most interested (today, anyway) in Septimus who "lay very high, on the back of the world. The earth thrilled beneath him" (59). Through Septimus's perspective, we get his sense that the world seems to say: "We welcome [...] we accept; we create." This passage continues: "Beauty, the world seemed to say" (60). Is beauty, then, what is both terrible and wonderful? Is this a paradox not to be reconciled?

Septimus's meditation on beauty comes only after falling down: "I went under the sea" (which "was awful, awful!") Is it that he emerges? Is this rebirth? In the next paragraph, as he looks around at the world, "beauty sprang instantly" (60). Indeed, "Beauty was everywhere" (61). Perhaps this is a story of the many resurrections in a single day.

I think of Yeats, of course, and his poem 'Easter Rising, 1916', in which he writes of a "terrible beauty" being born. Terrible beauties have to do with war, perhaps (as his did, in Ireland). In Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus has been shattered by WWI, is profoundly damaged, and in the film 'The Hours', the husbands have come back from war, yet supposedly Septimus in the novel "could be happy when he chose" (Rezia tells us); nothing at all is officially the matter (58). Yet characters in the wake of war are swallowed whole by a profound desperation--in the case of Septimus, to do with the world's meaninglessness.

How is it, then, these characters seem--Woolf herself seems--to ask us, that beauty still exists in the midst of what is terrible? Is the world, then, both broken and whole at once, both perfect and horrible?

Friday, 20 May 2011

On the Connectedness of All things in Mrs. Dalloway

In the early pages of Virgina Woolf's formidable novel, Mrs. Dalloway, we can observe the tenuous line between vital life and ending death. On the first page, in fact, the narrator says, "What a lark! What a plunge!" (1) Perhaps this lark connotes a kind of life and this plunge a kind of death from here at the very beginning. They are practically one and the same in this novel; they intersect; they intertwine; they flow in and out of one another; they overlap.

The narrator goes onto describe the London morning for Clarissa Dalloway, listing an enormous range of physical objects and people in a single, long sentences before summarizing: "... what she loved; life; London; this moment of June" (2). What she loves is thereby a totality, a wholeness, a pluralism (as opposed to a singularity or particularity). What she loves includes practically everything--this world of things and people and ideas that flow in and out of one another.

Just several pages further, the narrator confesses that "[Clarissa] would not say of any one now that they were this or were that", making presence and absence fluid (5). Who knows what is or is not? The narration goes on: "She would not say of herself, I am this, I am that" (6). We are inside Clarissa's perception as the narrator explains: "...death ended absolutely [...] but [...] somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, she was positive, of..." (6). Somehow death is total but life endures nonetheless.

Perhaps this is all why Clarissa has the sense that "it was very, very dangerous to live even one day" (6). Characters of all sorts, like Rezia Smith or Maisie Johnson, already want to cry out, "Help! Help!" or "Horror! Horror!" (12, 22). One man, Mr. Benley, interprets the aeroplane overhead as a "symbol... of man's soul; of his determination [...] to get outside his body, beyond his house..." (23). This life, this fate, is something that all of these characters are inextricably caught up in together--in all its "beauty" and all of its harm.

Jasmine as Existentialist

In Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee, the main character (Jyoti, Jasmine, Jane) explores--both beautifully and painfully, throughout her journey--what it means to exist, whether or not we have control over that existence, and in what ways and to what extent we determine how we exist.

She tells us of her early childhood in India, "I was nothing, a speck in the solar system," reporting a sense of diminutiveness (4). Of Darrel in Iowa, she says, "He comes from a place where the language you speak is what you are," suggesting a relationship between speaking and being (11). Later, she notes, "Bud was wounded in the war between my fate and my will," implicating her decisive role in refusing to simply accept destiny or to simply deny it (12).

"We are just shells of the same Absolute," Jasmine says (15). I wonder about this. Is she acknowledging that we all share one humanity, that life is fragile and fleeting, or that we are just containers of one, same substance that is both everything and nothing? This women--young, abused, and underprivileged--reckons boldly with the universe and its laws. She wonders what it means for her to live, whether or not her life has meaning, and whether or not she control over her own direction.

I finished this post last week, but it was sucked into the vortex somehow, so I'll leave the rest of these lines from the novel without integration for now and hope to return to this thread soon...

"Out There, the darkness... In Here, safety. At least for now. Oh, the wonder! the wonder!" (21)

"In Baden, I am Jane. Almost" (26).

"We murder who we were so we can rebirth ourselves in the images of dreams" (29).

"I feel old, very old, millennia old, a bug-eyed viewer of beginnings and ends" (35).

"Dida said, 'All it means is that God doesn't think you're ready for salvation. Individual effort counts for nothing'" (57).

"Enlightenment meant seeing through the third eye and sensing designs in history's muddles" (60).

"Perhaps I don't count in God's design" (60).

"Love rushes through thick mud walls" (67).

"To want English was to want more than what you had been given at birth, it was to want the world" (68).

"I felt suspended between worlds... I shuttled between identities" (76,77).

"We could say or be anything we wanted. We'd be on the other side of the earth, our of God's sight" (85).

Thursday, 12 May 2011

On Rebirth & Reincarnation in 'Jasmine'

Mukherjee suggests, through Jasmine/Jane/Jyoti, that perhaps we are reborn many times during our lives in one body—as opposed to being reborn to a new life in a different body—or at least that this is possible. I absolutely agree with this unexpected assertion and have found my own life to work very much in this way. The narrator tells us that Jyoti was not Jasmine, that Jasmine isn't Jane, and wonders onto which identity to put herself as a murderer or herself as a victim of rape (127). I think about this kind of thing a lot—how some of my previous selves don't seem like me now, me today.

(Different versions of me, different lives that I have lived include: Tally in an Emory sorority, M-tal to students at Cate, Meghan-Tally in braids in a Colorado mountain town, Meggie the daughter of my mom. There are others.)

Jane joins Mary Webb, who believes she has been reincarnated multiple times, at a luncheon because Mary sees Jane as a kindred spirit of sorts, trusting that she, too, believes in reincarnation (perhaps just because she looks Hindu and perhaps because she simply seems a certain way). Jane says, "When the waiter leaves, I tell her that yes, I am sure that I have been reborn several times, and that yes, some lives I can recall vividly" (126). A few minutes later, she continues, "'Yes,' I say. 'I do believe you. We do keep revisiting the world. I have also travelled in time and space. It is possible'" (127). Mary is talking about being different people in different bodies, different times, different places, while Jane is talking about being different people in one body, in different times and different places. She re-inhabits her own body as different people or different versions of herself all the time.

After Jane finds out that Professorji is actually not a professor but a procurer and seller of human hair, she tells us, "Nothing was rooted anymore. Everything was in motion" (152). She seems to have the sense that boundaries are fluid, that everything both is and isn’t at the same time. She is obsessed by questions about her own existence; she has to be.

"I feel at times like a stone hurtling through diaphanous mist, unable to grab hold, unable to slow myself, yet unwilling to abandon the ride I'm on," Jane says (139). Then: "An imaginary brick wall with barbed wire cut me off from the past and kept me from breaking into the future. I was a prisoner doing unreal time" (148).

Jane’s sequence of rebirths or reincarnations presents a paradox: they make everything and nothing possible. She can be someone new, but she is not entirely in control of who that someone will be. She feels consigned to this fate, in a way, and yet she understands her own adaptation and reinvention as a mode of survival, an utter necessity.

Sometimes this is positive, even though it is surprising and out of her control. Unexpectedly, Wylie and Taylor’s gecko jumps onto Jasmine at their apartment in New York, and Jasmine says, "Truly I had been reborn" (163). Jyoti would never have been able to embrace this happening, but Jasmine can. Jasmine adapts and survives, and this brings small lagniappes as well as traumas, depending on the day.

I have not survived nearly as much as Jane; nor have I adapted nearly as much. Yet I have survived and adapted through various mutations. Maybe being reborn or reinvented is a shedding of skin. The old skin dies and comes off, and a new person is revealed underneath—both the same and different.