Hello class! Feels good to have the first assignment done, right? This week, the Personal Bibliographical Archive Assignment was due. We also went over what is the next assignment (due March 7th), which is the first Reading Response. Remember this is not an optional assignment!
The guidelines for this assignment are found here: https://bccfeministphilosophy.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/guidelines-rr.pdf
The prompts for the assignment itself are here: https://bccfeministphilosophy.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/feminist-philosophy-reading-response-1-2012.pdf
Remember this is due March 7th! If you wish to write about your own topic, please meet with or email Shawn in order to have your topic approved.
We also reminded everyone that the readings for Week 7 and 8 (but not the assignment due dates) have been switched on the syllabus. An updated syllabus is found here: https://bccfeministphilosophy.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/feminist-philosophy-syllabus-spring-2012.pdf
Next week is the Angela Davis and Grace Lee Boggs conversation, which some of us are planning to attend. The plans so far are 3:30pm in Lower Sproul on the UC Berkeley campus, to get in line for the talk. I am trying to organize a section for us, so that the stress of finding enough seats is lessened. I will make sure to keep everyone updated!
Also, we passed around a paper for an email list for those who do not want to keep their emails private for this class, so that everyone can keep in communication with each other. If you were not able to sign this, but wish to not have emails BCC’ed to you, just send me an email.
Now on to lecture.
Week 5: This week we finished Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. What did you all think? I still believe it is one of the most poetic and elegant essays regarding the topic of women and writing. Elitist/snobbish, yes, but still very, very smart.
We began by reading the section about women being written about for hundreds of years, but mostly and only by men. Why does this happen? Our discussion led us to various places, particularly to the binary of Superior/Inferior. We discussed how perhaps men have written about women in order to keep them as an Other, as the Inferior, as well as a way to keep their ideas about themselves alive and well, to show how their superior position is supported. Writing about women, they are able to maintain the status quo that favors them.
Because of time, our discussion ends mostly on two important elements that Woolf writes of which are the metaphor of the mirror and the mention of the androgynous mind.
The metaphor of the mirror, which occurs in Chapter 2, discusses a position women have had to have in order to keep their men going: women have been men’s looking glasses. Below is the quotation:
Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle. The glories of all our wars would he unknown. We should still be scratch ing the outlines of deer on the remains of mutton bones and bartering flints for sheep skins or whatever simple ornament took our unsophisticated taste. Supermen and Fingers of Destiny would never have existed. The Czar and the Kaiser would never have worn crowns or lost them. Whatever may be their use in civilized societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge. That serves to explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men. And it serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism; how impossible it is for her to say to them this book is bad, this picture is feeble, or whatever it may be, without giving far more pain and rousing far more anger than a man would do who gave the same criticism. For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished. How is he to go on giving judgement, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is? So I reflected, crumbling my bread and stirring my coffee and now and again looking at the people in the street. The looking-glass vision is of supreme importance because it charges the vitality; it stimulates the nervous system. Take it away and man may die, like the drug fiend deprived of his cocaine.
Woolf writes than women have been and are used to reflect men back to themselves, making men look and feel superior than perhaps they actually are. This is an important role to have because in many ways it states that if it wasn’t for women perhaps no man could have had the self-confidence, strength, motivation in order to achieve what they have. Still, women are treated and thought of as inferior, they are not given access to anything that would lift them out of their current position. Perhaps this may be because without their subjugation to men, men would not be able to see themselves as they want to.
Woolf ends A Room of One’s Own with her discussion of the androgynous mind. The word androgynous is derived from the Latin androgynus meaning hermaphrodite and from Greek androgynos, which comes from andr- meaning man plus gynē meaning woman. The word itself means having the characteristics or nature of both male and female, being neither specifically feminine nor masculine, as in being suitable to or for either sex, and/or having traditional male and female roles obscured or reversed. When Woolf writes of the ‘androgynous mind’ she is referring to her ideal state for a creative mind which alternates between male/masculine and female/feminine. She believes Shakespeare had an androgynous mind, as well as other various great writers.
Remember, this is a proposition. One may agree, or disagree. Even amongst various writers, including females and feminists, there are issues with Woolf’s conclusion. For instance, take these words from an essay entitled “Re-evaluating Woolf’s Androygnous Mind“:
However, others have read Woolf’s vision of androgyny as variously: an escape from the body (Elaine Showalter and Lisa Rado), an avoidance of key feminist issues (Elaine Showalter), a “sexist myth in disguise” perpetuating the phallogocentrism it seeks to deconstruct (Daniel Harris, Barabara Charlesworth Gelpi), a vision of self-destructive narcissism (Julia Kristeva, Francette Pacteau) or merely as an insipid form of homogeneity that “lacks zest and energy.” However, Woolf distilled a purer essence from the concept than contemporary critics tend to do. Androgyny, for Virginia Woolf, was a theory that aimed to offer men and women the chance to write without consciousness of their sex – the result of which would ideally result in uninhibited creativity. Whether she succeeded in this aim will be the study of the following essay.
And with the androgynous mind, we end our discussion of A Room of One’s Own. I hope some of you will choose this work for the Reading Responses as there is so much to talk about and consider.
We then moved onto the film. During this class we screened Sally Potter’s Orlando (1992). This film is adapted from the novel written by Woolf at the same time as A Room of One’s Own, so we are not free of ol’ Virginia yet! Many of Woolf’s ideas regarding writing and the role of women are represented, if not touched upon, in this novel as well as the film.
Although based upon the novel of the same name, the film is itself one of kind. Potter’s Orlando is distinguished by her own creative interventions and interpretation. She even takes the playing with gender roles and direct address even further. She adds characters like Jimi Somerville’s high-pitched singing angel, casts Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth I (who also bestows upon Orlando the ability to not age), gives Orlando a daughter instead of a son (so that she doesn’t keep the home), and ends the film in 1992 instead of 1928 when Woolf’s novel concludes. Instead of the writer addressing us or reminding us of reading the novel, Orlando addresses us and reminds us of our role as an audience of the film.
During the class, a handout discussing Potter’s own view of her adaptation of Orlando. I suggest reading it as it provides wonderful insight into making this film. Here is the link: http://www.uah.edu/woolf/Orlando_Potter.htm
For those that would rather watch something than read, here is a video:
My favorite quote, and one of the most important in signifying the problems with gender binaries, in Potter’s Orlando is this one: “Same person, no difference at all. Just a different sex.”
I absolutely love this quote, and if you did not understand the movie, or did not like it, or whatever, this is the main idea you should walk away with. Orlando is Orlando the whole time, regardless of her/his sex. For Woolf, a writer must be a writer, regardless of the sex, the gender, and this writer must find the methods, accommodation, resources to best be a writer. Taking this further, it is the writer who is androgynous that will be the most successful. In the film, Orlando embodies this androgyny quite literally.
Next Week: For next week, we will be reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: “Introduction” and “Conclusion” as well as an interview. Also, we will be going over Hélène Cixous’ “The Laugh of the Medusa.” All readings are in the class reader.
We will also hopefully be discussing Orlando some more. I hope you all enjoyed this film, it has become one of my favorites to watch regarding issues with gender. Please share all your comments and opinions! See you next week.