Tag Archives: feminism

Communication Communicates

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Ed Ruscha’s 26 Gasoline Stations (1963)

In 1963 Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations was published, pioneering a new era in artist books. In the spirit of the counter-culture, this seemingly simple book altered the way that books were understood. The term “artist book” is a confusing and malleable term used differently by different people, but Ruscha’s work is understood as being at the incunabula of that discussion. Of course, Ruscha may not even accept the term for his own book, which he felt was mere documentation. What is Twentysix Gasoline Stations about? Ruscha might answer— it’s not about anything. It is exactly what it says it is: twenty-six gas stations. He is quoted in Mary Richard’s essay, “Artist Who Do Books,”  firmly stating: “Not that I had an important message about photographs, or gasoline, or anything like that—I merely wanted a cohesive thing” (Ruscha quoted in Richards, 30). One could argue that this is a slightly disingenuous stance given that he is the photographer, choosing the subject matter, angle, and method of delivery. In fact, by virtue of his choosing to present his photographs at all he is making a statement.

What that statement may be, is, of course, a more complicated matter. But there is at least one consistent element that comes through when reviewing Ruscha’s work as well as other works of that period, like Sol LeWitt’s Arc, circles & grids, or the whimsical Choosing Green Beans by John Baldessari. That is: the seemingly objective and removed nature of the content. Perhaps through a sort of wry humor Baldessari inserts himself a bit into his work, but these are all ostensibly impersonal works. They are“collections of facts” as Ruscha would say in Richard’s essay (31). They are all, also, works produced by men.

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Carolee Schneemann’s Vulva’s Morphia (1997)

Those works, therefore, juxtaposed with the feminist works, like those of Carolee Schneemann, Susan King or Jen Bervin, make for a very stark comparison. The female artists that were struggling to get their voices heard took to the artist book as a means to bypass the patriarchal authorities that kept them (and still keep them) out of the high-end art world. Books, they discovered, provided an accessible means for women to communicate their art. Lucy Lippard wrote in her essay “Escape Attempts” that the burgeoning genre of Conceptual art touch on the idea that “communication between people was subordinate to communication about communication” (Lipard, xvii). And that idea is clearly delivered in the works of Ruscha and DeWitt and many female artist as well, but when one considers the suppression of female artists throughout history, “communication about communication” takes on a deeper meaning. Feminist artists laid their minds, hearts and vaginas on the line in their art.

Vulva's Morphia

Vulva’s Morphia

Carolee Schneemann challenges notions of “polite society” and forces her viewers to consider just who it is that gets to say what women (and therefore people) can and can not talk about or display. In her book Vulva’s Morphia, Schneemann gives Vulva a voice, her radical stance is that Vulva has been denied the ability to communicate and the results, in Schneemann’s beautiful velvet-bound book, is at once sardonic and poignant. Vulva has a voice and through her voice,  Schneemann raises the sexual vitality of womanhood to fine art. The fact that, even in this day-and-age it feels incendiary, speaks volumes about how far women have yet to go to achieve equality in the art world—”‘vulva” is not even welcome as a word. It would seem we are not that far from the familiar, imposed “morality” that is pointed to at the end of the book: “Vulva goes to church and discovers she is obscene.…(quote St. Augustine)” (Schneemann). When Vulva says it— it is funny, but also, quite sad.

Jan Bervin's The Dickinson Composites (2010)

Jan Bervin’s The Dickinson Composites (2010)

Another popular and well-worn method of suppression is the relegating of “women’s work,” to some special, lesser genre. Some artist like Jen Bervin turn traditional female crafts (like needlework) onto the page in strikingly conceptual ways. Teasing out the secret world of Emily Dickinson’s unconventional notational systems in her poetry, Bevin creates in The Dickinson Composites a lovely minimalistic work in which one woman explores the secret inner life of another while expressing the deep continuity between them.

The Dickinson Composites

The Dickinson Composites

The intensity of the intimacy of Dickinson’s poems considered in Bervin’s gorgeous book is moving without being mawkish or sentimental. Here is a book that is just as much a statement of “communication about communication” as a Ruscha or DeWitt, and yet in Bervin’s work one can see that the impersonal tack is not the only approach to the concept. Just as Dickinson’s poetry is deeply personal, to the point of some inscrutability, Bervin highlights the mysteriously subjective communication that was, significantly, largely whitewashed out of Dickinson’s poems when they came to be published.

In the history of the art world there has always been a privileging of a male-centered perspective, reflected most obviously in the fact that males dominate the work that is shown and/or published. It is implicitly understood that the (preferable) rational, objective mind belongs to the domain of men while the emotional and subjective is relegated to women and children. Obviously that point of view is not only erroneous, but also damages and limits both sexes, yet it is clear that the stereotype still prevails. By comparing the above books, which are only loosely related, but share some conceptual, artistic and historical influences, one can see that the female and male perspective alike offer compelling and artistic insight and exploration into the experience—our experience, of being human. The artist that seeks publication is necessarily connected to communication and all the historical dynamics that influence the ability to be heard. Ruscha insist that he is not up to anything “deep” in his work. He is not, he states, being “arty.” But an anti “arty” stance in fact depends upon notions of “arty” to work against. Ruscha states that, “I think photography is dead as a fine art; its only place is in the commercial world, for technological or informational purposes” ( Ruscha quoted in Richards 30). But as the feminist artists of the 20th century show us, who disseminates the information, and for what purpose, matters.

 

*Vulva’s Morphia and The Dickinson Composites were published by Granary Books

**This essay was previously published in The Artist’s Book in the 20th Century Blog for Smith College in 2014.

 

 

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Dirge of the Efemulated

It seems she had a sudden fit of insanity while shopping at the market. 
–Rosa Rosà,  A Woman With Three Souls (part 7.)

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F.T. Marinetti, the de facto head of the Futurism movement of the early 20th century, was a pretty prolific articulator of the ideas and aims the ‘anti-artistic’ movement sought. Whatever one thinks of the art that resulted, his manifesto, printed in Le Figaro (although Italian, Marinetti often wrote in French for French audiences whom he particularly sought approbation) is set at a high pitch. The movement proclaimed allegiance to  speed! and youthful vigor! But things, for me,  go off the rails in his 11 point diatribe. Here, for instance,  is number 9: “We will glorify war–the world’s only hygiene–militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for and scorn for woman,” at the risk of pointing out the obvious, it is pretty odious and ridiculous. Given no. 9, it may surprise one that there were women involved in the movement (interestingly, many of them not native to Italy).

She was fading away and disappearing like a ghost, yet retained, until the last second, her self-awareness, amazed and frightened by the aggression of the new personality (part 1.)

Rosa Rosà, née Edith von Haynau, born in 1884 Vienna, was one such woman. She married an Italian journalist and changed her name, rejecting her bourgeois upbringing for the progressive, exciting promise of Futurism! (I feel that the exclamation point should be henceforth included to indicate the intensity as well as, subversively, the silliness). Rosa Rosà was the mother of four children and her views of what it could mean, in the future, to be a woman are quite interesting and truly progressive. I am not sure how she stomached the vitriol that permeated Futurism! at large, but her ideas were refreshing: embracing the potent sensuality of femininity alongside the power of the maternal feminine.

Giorgina Rossi was young, but her youth was starting to collect dust (part 1.).

Never mind the scorn, it was the indifference and decomposing dust that interested Rosa Rosà. Her short novel, The Woman With Three Souls is a fascinating consideration of the female side of Futurism.

Briefly stated, Madame Rossi is altered by a lightning strike which hits the chemical lab of Professor X (maybe Y or Z, I can’t remember–they consult one another–the point is, X, Y or Z is alarmed at the strange going-ons within the lab and hires a detective agency to investigate whether the effects of the event have permeated outside of the laboratory walls. They have).

A variety of different sensations had converged in one central point. She felt a great surge of vitality, in her very being, altering her personality and her thought process. Her feminine sensibilities seemed to multiply exponentially in a passionate burst of sensuality that had been completely unfamiliar to her until that moment (part 3.).

This nondescript, (not ugly but unattractive) woman is suddenly infused with her own sensuality, she experiences an “intense vitality “ and is “endowed with predatory instinct” (part 8.).

Giorgina, within days, passes through three metamorphoses. The first is the sensual woman. Pejoratively stated: the femme fatale, but her’s is a realization and communication of the sensuality of her sex.

The second is her intellectualization. Posited as a masculine trait I went off on a tangent to find a word that denotes the female equivalent of ’emasculate.’ Sadly, I was unsuccessful. I resorted to coining my own: hence, ‘efemulate.’ How else to describe the notion that one’s essence can be stripped by emulating the opposite sex– or, more pointedly, the expectations of the behavioral norms of the opposite sex? When Giorgina stands on the market square intellectually raving, the reaction to her sudden efemulated metamorphosis starkly exposes the historically  limited view of femininity.

[Giorgina was driven to] eloquently deliver an illogical speech, replete with vague scientific terms, describing with ease marvelous discoveries that do not exist” (part 8.).

News of her ravings makes the front page of the papers alerting professors X, Y and Z to the anomaly’s effect. The name of the paper is The Awakening and I couldn’t help wondering if the reference to Kate Chopin’s brilliant novel was intentional.  After all, only some thirty years separates the stories’ publications and compellingly overlapping theme of a woman’s autonomy being seen as a form of insanity.

But it is the third soul and metamorphosis of Giorgina that is especially moving. Writing a punctilious letter to her traveling husband about the mundane trivialities of her days and the going rate of beets, she suddenly includes an epic sensibility for the infinitude of love:

You are not here, and I love you. I love you without knowing who you are or where you are. I do not know if you are a body, if you are a soul, or if you are simple the projection into the Infinite of all my desires, of my thirst for Unreality” (part 8.).

She poignantly articulates the profundity of love, and maternal love, which is really, simply universal love. It is not the individuality of love, but rather the universality of love (a love for all babies) that is one of the keenest effects of motherhood.

I love you more than ever, because I know this love will never try to invade this remote corner of freedom, which must be my own” (part 8.)

Nevertheless, the status of ‘the wife’ or ‘the mother’ has, historically, reduced a woman. Not surprisingly, upon receiving the letter, Giorgina’s husband quickly returns home fearful of her sanity. A woman of sensuality, intellect and eternal love has long been considered mad.

Rosa Rosà’s optimistic take on Futurism! was that her woman of three souls would be the inevitable future: women would escape the dastardly quagmire of the madonna/whore complex; they would have intellectual freedom without the stigma of efemulation. In the future they would, at long last, be free to be women.

Der Grufulde and Passionate Freedom

“I don’t see much difference between our life and the life of the carp in the pond there. They have the fiord close beside them, where the great free shoals of fish sweep out and in. But the poor tame house-fishes know nothing of all that; and they can never join in.” – Henrik Ibsen, The Lady From the Sea (40)

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Catfish sculpture by my son Eric Accardi (2014)

This spring I was deeply engaged in making an impassioned argument for the inclusion of literature in philosophical inquiry. One of the texts that I cited in my final paper used Ibsen’s plays- in particular The Lady From the Sea as a source. I had never read that particular play, but I was intrigued on two accounts. One was that the text that was included in the source described an artist that tries to convince a young girl to bind herself to him, with a promise to  “think of him.” He would go off and develop his art, but her thoughts would be a muse  for him. Callously disregarding what effect this might have on her life- emotionally (as well by antiquated ideas of a betrothal’s fetters) to be pledged to a man that had no intention of fulfilling her desires.

Lyngstrand: She too must live for his art. I should think that must be such happiness for a woman.
Boletta: H’m–I’m not so sure–
(56).

The second account was that it was argued that this play did not entail moral reasoning and therefore could not seriously be considered ‘philosophical.’

I promptly added it to my summer reading list.

Ellida: [looks after him a while] Of my own free will, he said! Think of that – he said that I should go with him of my own free will (56).

While writing the paper, as well as subsequently, I have yet to discover any piece of literature that does not involve moral reasoning – in fact, I enlisted all of my friends in the pursuit, and if you can name one, I would be most interested.

But, meanwhile,   The Lady By the Sea…oh Ibsen…what a wonderful humanitarian, feminist, and writer…

Ellida: You call that my own life! Oh no, my own true life slid into a wrong groove when I joined it to yours (76).

The play, while ever so slightly too neat, is an extraordinary anachronism.  Ibsen was writing, through the telescope of a female perspective the true meaning of ‘freedom.’  An internal state that is stronger than any temporal ‘moral’ strain imposed from an ‘authority.’

The Stranger: Do you not feel as I do, that we two belong to each other?
Ellida: Do you mean because of that promise?
The Stranger: Promises bind no one: neither man nor woman. If I hold to you persistently, it is because I cannot do otherwise (87).

The distortions of subjugation is the theme of this play. No life is complete, fulfilled, or worthy of sharing,  without complete freedom. Ellida must be free, as a woman, as a human, to choose her destiny…it seems a problem of the past, but in fact, it is not. Societal ‘norms’ dictate what is valued, who gets to choose, what is ‘moral.’ But individuals don’t stop feeling just because they ought not, or are perniciously told not to. Ellida insists her husband (a marriage, she feels, that was of mercenary convenience) must release her, just so that she can decide for herself if she must leave him for The Stranger. She can’t know while she is bound.

Wangel: [looks anxiously at her] Ellida! I feel it – there is something behind this.
Ellida: All that allures is behind it.
Wangel: All that allures–?
Ellida: That man is like the sea (53).

Det grufulde: ‘the terrible,’ what frightens and fascinates. Ellida cannot understand her own life until it is truly her own life. Ibsen had a genius for understanding the subtle but very real harm experienced by the lack of freedom women experience.

Ellida: You can never prevent my choosing; neither you nor anyone else. You can forbid me to go away with him– to cast my lot with him – if I should choose that. You can forcibly detain me here, against my will. That you can do. But the choice in my innermost soul–my choice of him not you,–in case I should and must choose so,–that you cannot prevent (75).

Ibsen bravely expresses the force of one’s heart. It never yields, it only buries itself far away from anyone’s touch. Once free to choose, a true love will out. Rather than forced to react like a caged animal, Ellida, as her own woman, can give her whole heart, at last, to the husband she’s come to love, because she is finally free to choose that love for her free heart’s content.

*title from footnote on pg. 70.

*The Eleonora Duse series of plays, translated by Mrs. Frances E. Archer.

 

 

 

 

One Becomes One

The only link between two people who loved one another should be love.
– Simone De Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (345)

IMG_0707In our current age of memoir mills, I was interested to read this early example of the popular literary form as it is a genre I don’t read often. Simone De Beauvoir’s title, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter,  is pointed: the entire book of some 385 pages goes into minute detail regarding her childhood as the eldest daughter of a French Catholic bourgeoisie family. Initially, I have to say, I couldn’t understand why I kept reading it. It was interesting, if nothing else because her (presumably) sedulous and copious diaries afforded an accurate look into the thoughts and states of mind that a child to adolescent to young adult progresses through. But her faith in her own uniqueness and brilliance was of some disconcerting fascination to me- I am not a French catholic bourgeoisie, and yet we shared many similar experiences, revelations and ideas- so, how unique could she possibly be? But I am always transfixed by the confident…

I sensed for the first time that one can be touched to the very heart of one’s being by a radiance from the outside. (59)

Of course there were many moments when she might allude to her age at the moment of some momentous understanding of life- when she might have been at the ripe old age of, say,  eleven – that caused me vexatious chagrin, but still, her youthful arrogance was somewhat off putting and I wondered at her so freely acknowledging it and including so many instances of it throughout. Mostly her attitude towards her own brilliance was presented very matter of factually, but thankfully there were glimmers of self-deprecating knowing that is probably what allowed me to continue.

I could not possible be hurt by stupid children who demonstrated their inferiority by not liking croquet as passionately as I did. (63)

I found myself getting impatient, and yet, and yet, there is a rather beautiful and profound point to her long honest examination of growing up in a tightly controlled “moralistic” environment with all the attendant pressures to do what’s “right,” and to act “proper” while feeling…so different as to make that conformity impossible.

“Simone would rather bite her tongue out than say what she’s thinking,” [my mother] would remark in a tone of sharp vexation. That was quite true: I was prodigiously silent. (203)

The expected sexual mores of girls is a theme that runs through the entire book. And while De Beauvoir early on openly rejects the idea of (her mother’s) god, she only alludes, mentions, and keeps at a low heat what it means to be a girl in a society (or world as the case really is) where the expectations and rules are so divergent between the sexes. It’s the undercurrent to her life, and becomes her life’s work: an ignored gnawing injustice that she will (famously) fully expose later in life, after the story of her memoir ends.

That year, Zaza did not accompany me to Mont-de-Marsan; I walked around the town thinking about her as I waited for my train. I had decided to fight with all my strength to prevent her life becoming a living death. (297)

By the end of this part of her story however, it becomes apparent that the book is really about De Beauvoir’s long friendship with Zaza, a woman that never fully breaks away from her own mother’s hold, yet who yearns for independence, equanimity and freedom in love. Near the end when Zaza becomes “reacquainted” with Stendhal’s books I had a bad feeling that things were going to go south for her. If Stendhal knew anything- it was hopeless love.

But all the same, after so many years of arrogant loneliness, it was something to discover that I wasn’t the One and Only, but one among many, by no means the first, and suddenly uncertain of my true capacity. (365)

Speaking of love, as I always do, Sartre does not enter the story until very near the end, but the above quote, and change in attitude, she openly attributes to her relationship with him. Their love. But her source of purpose and clarity of meaning in her early story she attributes and dedicates to her lovely friend Zaza, whom she could not save from a sad frustrated fate. But, like any good Stendhal tale, the strengthening of our own determination to live and love fully is what we take away and try, some tragically, very hard to be true to. De Beauvoir is an inspiring woman whose unique path reveals, absolutely, her unwavering intelligence, courage, and beautiful humanity.

*translated from the French by James Kirkup
**title from De Beauvoir’s famed quote of her book The Second Sex: “One is not born a women, one becomes one.”

The Sedulous Farrago of a Woman’s Mind

However, the majority of women are neither harlots nor courtesans; nor do they sit clasping pug dogs to dusty velvet all through the summer afternoon. But what do they do then?  –Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (88)

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The well-known first few lines of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, sum up her thesis neatly; she declares that a woman must have money and a room of her own in order to write. Having come into a bit of money, Woolf was in a position of some authority to make these statements.  At nearly one hundred years distance, it offers a still (depressingly) prescient message.

There was another ten-shilling note in my purse; I noticed it, because it is a fact that still takes my breath away – the power of my purse to breed ten-shilling notes automatically. (38)

Cash rules everything: that is as true for men as it is for women, however, we women simply have always been, and still are, the poorer half of society. I am, regrettably, neither an expert on having money, nor on having a room of one’s own. However, I wondered, as I read this rather brilliant little book, about that last point. Woolf spends a lot of time talking about the dearth of female literature, she adds odious quotes that would make most humans cringe, showing up the dumbest things a man is capable of saying on the subject of women and their intellectual capacities. She also clearly understands that the difference between men and women is potentially the all-important and wonderful thing.

It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only? – (87)

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As women were slowly “allowed’ to write more than letters, and then to show their work publicly, one of the problems, according to Woolf  that presented, was the difficulty in writing about a world in which a person knows so little. Confined as these early female proto-writers were, their writing was limited. Much in the same way, she adds, that men knew, and therefore wrote, next to nothing (and nothing at all interesting) about the all-important female to female relationship- they simply had, historically, no idea what that entailed and so female characters were by and large relegated to the role of lover or femme fatale with some female relations thrown in. Imagine, she asks, if everything written by a man was stripped of its male to male friendships? I can’t even get past re-imagining  The Epic of Gilgamesh, so let’s not try…I do seem to recall a vitally important prostitute in that tale, yeah Virginia, point taken.

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But here I run into a slight problem. I get, theoretically, the whole room of one’s own thing, it sounds very nice. And yet, and yet…I believe this is one more of a piece. This is a man’s problem, not a woman’s. If a woman has money- which gives time; and confidence – which gives energy, a room is superfluous. Are we not the multi-tasking half of the sexes? It’s built in. Tend to children, roll the dough out, plan the dinner, read a book, jot down a brilliant thought, hang the clothes to dry, drive in circles taking kids to and from and back again to practices, friends, and libraries, and then sit down to write while answering homework questions and making plans for the week (you’ll notice it’s the having money part that would eliminate what many of us have to add in – doing all of the above for a minimum wage – a serious blow to both time and confidence). All this is done while the same writing-male sits in his room of his own. I’m not saying either is easy, or one easier, simply that a hermetic room of peace is not the key thing in a woman’s life. We don’t have time to be precious. Sorry, that came out wrong, what I meant to say is…it is possible…we have an innate capacity to hold a spoon in one hand and a pencil in another. We only needed to be respected for doing it- our way.

There are people whose charity embraces even the prune. (19)

All I’m saying is, don’t wait. The money problem is a definite problem, but if you are a woman, and you are waiting for a room of your own- it may be a long wait. You’re probably much more likely to get an hour snatched here and there with lots of workable minutes strung in between. As a client of mine, who gave me her delightfully underlined copy of A Room of One’s Own and was born years before it was even written,  always says- we must take what we can get. Although come to think of it, she had money and room, so…on second thought, I’m open to the experiment- someday!

My motives, let me admit, are partly selfish. Like most uneducated Englishwomen, I like reading – I like reading books in the bulk. (107)

Rhubarb Strawberry Pie

Rhubarb Strawberry Pie

Mind At The Mercy of Multiplicity

Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you. It’s meant to, and it couldn’t do it better. Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.
– Florida Scott-Maxwell, The Measure of My Days (65)

DSCI0018I was given this most interesting book by a very old woman that I work for. The meditations and musings of Florida Scott-Maxwell: born in 1883, she barely attended school and yet was a prominent figure in the women’s suffrage movement, wrote books and plays and even became, in her forties, an analytical psychologist studying under Carl Jung.  The Measure of My Days, was written when she was in her eighties; the subjects in her mind were aging, death, life, God, love, hate and meaning. Old people, as she put it, “are people to whom something important is about to happen.” (138)

I used to  find it difficult to talk to people newly met. Speech felt precipitate. A silent knowing should come first, sitting, smiling, holding hands, dancing perhaps without words, but talking is too committal for a beginning. (30)

The above quote arrested me, firstly for its succinct charm, summing up how many people, like myself, feel and second for her use of the words “used to.” I hate the difficulty in myself, but gradually I sometimes have a feeling that it is slowly falling away.  I love the confirmation that that could be true. Scott-Maxwell, writing at her ripe age, mostly worried about shocking people with what she considered her most passionate years.

To me the pigeons say, “Too true, dear love, too true” I listened, looked out on the trees beyond both windows and I was free and happy. (123)

I may never hear a pigeon any other way. A deeply religious woman, but also honest and human. She was not above feeling hate, shame, or love.  Above all, the most fascinating quality about this book is that she was a woman, and wrote as a woman, both overtly and instinctively. Which is not to say there are elements of maternal earth-mother or, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar stereotypes, rather it is an unusual absence of the male perspective that we are all trained to think under—a palatable freedom from the male paradigm. She was who she was. She wrote as she thought and didn’t ask, or expect, you to agree. But it is as if the syntax of the male dominated domain of the intellect is slightly off, and it is lovely.

My answers must be my own, years of reading now lost in the abyss I call my mind. (7I)

For good and bad, she acknowledges a kind of radical understanding that the things that delineate us, not just male/female but: income, race, religion, intelligence, and luck- these things  include inequalities, yet describe individuals. We are none of us alike. That is life.  But in every life, by every means of measurement, there is a profound gestalt.  Florida Scott-Maxwell achieves that and more in her beautifully powerful final book.

*title from page 19 – I am awareness at the mercy of multiplicity.

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

“He was cold; he wanted to go back down. What was there to see here, after all? But she could not take her gaze from the horizon. Over yonder, still farther south, at that point where sky and earth met in a pure line- over yonder it suddenly seemed there was awaiting her something of which, though it had always been lacking, she had never been aware until now.” – Albert Camus, The Adulterous Woman

After reading The Fall I went on to read Exile and the Kingdom as Camus had desired. A compilation of the “critical moments” of  the lives of the introspective. And the short stories are lovely and thoughtful and true. But, I sometimes  really wish I was the type of person who could enjoy a Ring Ding. What are you talking about Jessica? A Ring Ding: those cupcake things that one purchases at a supermarket. I’ve never had one. Because they are kind of disgusting. But that is not the point. The point is, does an introspective life enhance ones life? I can’t enjoy a Ring Ding because I know they are chemical laden frank-o-food. Food is perhaps too strong of a term, let’s use my all time least favorite word to describe ingested sustenance – product. Oh, that hurt. But what if I didn’t know? What if thinking about our empty lives is the cause of an empty life. Camus! Help me.

What would she do there henceforth except to drag herself toward sleep, toward death? (174)

Yeah; that’s not really helpful. Anyway. This story is interesting because the adulterous woman in question is not really adulterous. She merely acknowledges herself, suddenly feeling herself in the mystery of the world. That is her adultery. But I love the use of the word- she is an adulteress to her facade.

Since the beginning of time, on the dry earth of this limitless land scraped to the bone, a few men had been ceaselessly trudging, possessing nothing but serving no one, poverty-stricken but free lords of a strange kingdom. Janine did not know why this thought filled her with such a sweet, vast melancholy that it closed her eyes. (172)

I went to church this weekend. I was filling in a work shift, accompanying my client, who is a dedicated church goer. I was transported to my youthful self because the denomination that we attended was the very same that I attended in my youth. No one else in my family ever went or was even affiliated with this church. I went so that I could sing. I attended a church for years, by myself, to sing in the choir.

Retrospection sent me further into my lonely meditative funk.

It was All Saint’s Sunday and the pastor spent a good amount of his sermon talking about the saintliness of us all- seen through our love of one another. But I got tripped up on the program which featured humble, normally unacknowledged, saints- aka, decent people. The depressing part, to me, was that unless the woman was a spinster, her identity was buried underneath her husband. It’s not just the last name, I did that too – it seemed simpler at the time (ah what we sacrifice to the God of convenience!). But these titles were all the husband’s name: Mrs. John Doe, or, the husband’s family: the John Doe family. What does that do to us? If we have no name, instead we are the Mrs. so and so’s…do we disappear? Where do we go? Plus, I just wanted to know what the names were because the spinsters had such cool old fashioned ones like: Mildred and Edith.

Wasn’t that what she lacked? She did not know. She simply followed Marcel, pleased to know that someone needed her. The only joy he gave her was the knowledge that she was necessary. Probably he did not love her. (175)

I sometimes feel lost between the half of my life lived as one name, and the half lived as another. Well…maybe I am just over thinking it. Damn it. I’ll never enjoy a Ring Ding this way!

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

-William Shakespeare

*Title from  Sacred Emily by Gertrude Stein. Sacred who? Emily.hmmm.