Hello class! First and foremost, please remember that the Take-Home Midterm is coming up soon. It consists of term definitions and essay questions. More information will be available during the next lecture, however, you can already begin reviewing notes as well as readings we have discussed in class.
We began the class by discussing the event that was held last Friday. Below is the link to the video recording of the Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis conversation “On Revolution.” For those of you who missed it or want to review what was said, you should be able to access most of the talk by clicking on the following link: Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis Video
Also, there is LUNAFEST Short Film Festival coming up in El Cerrito on March 31st. Here is some information about the film festival:
Established in 2000 by LUNA, the makers of the Whole Nutrition Bar for Women, LUNAFEST connects women, their stories and their causes through film. This traveling film festival spotlights the work of a diverse array of talented women filmmakers with intelligent, funny and thought-provoking themes. Click here for more info.
Before we go onto the discussion of Week 7, I also wanted to share with you another important and interesting piece a student shared with Shawn and I. Eve Ensler spoke recently at Domincan University and there is an audio recording of the event. It is very powerful and potentially trigger for trauma survivors, as it discusses some devastating issues happening in the Congo. Eve Ensler is a playwright, performer, internationally-acclaimed author and founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls, and she appeared in conversation with award-winning author and philanthropist, Isabel Allende. The link to this talk is here: http://radio.dominican.edu/ils/ensler/120224ensler.mp3
Now onto lecture!
Week 7: This week, we discussed John Berger‘s Ways of Seeing (1972) and his chapter on the nude. Before we begin to discuss this chapter, first let’s mention something about Mr. Berger himself. He was born in London, and is a sort of jack-of-all-trades. Berger is a playwright, teacher, filmmaker, dramatist, critic, painter, novelist, amongst other things. In 1952, he wrote for the New Statesman and it was here he became rather well-known. He quickly became an influential Marxist humanist art critic. He has written various novels, such as G in 1972 (same year asWays of Seeing) which won the Booker Prize.
Because he has done so much in his life, he is often overlooked as he didn’t specialize in one thing. His highly acclaimed Ways of Seeing is an influential work in various institutions around the world, and is read often in art and film departments.
In the piece that we read, Berger is discussing the nude versus the state of being naked. He gives us his discourse while demonstrating to us various paintings that are supporting his argument on Western European classical paintings, specifically of the genre known as the nude. Berger, being himself an artist and having studied and taught art, has developed various ideas regarding the gaze, the view in art. He is applying ideas he has seen as an artist.
What he notices is that in the time of the nudes, and perhaps, even to an extent, now, when someone refers to an artist they are referring to man. Men are artists, and particularly in the time of the nudes, only men were artists. Therefore, these men are painting for themselves and their familiar audience (other men).
What Berger sets up is a different way of thinking of the binary, the dialectic, of man and woman in terms of paintings. He has set up the system of having a surveyor and a surveyed, a subject and an object. The nudes of the paintings are objects. They are seen naked by others yet are not recognized for oneself. Therefore, the painter becomes the subject. He paints for himself and for those like him, but not for the woman, not for the object. The nude becomes a sexual object to please and confirm the presence of the man.
How does this compare to being naked? The state of being naked is not like being nude. To be naked is to be oneself but without clothing. To be naked is to be a subject. There is a sense of agency, the opposite of object or passivity. To be naked is to be the subject, the surveyor. It is to embody the promise of power, it is to power over, to have power over the object.
The subject will always be an exterior presence that embodies this power. On the other hand, the object has a presence that is intrinsic to it. It is surveyed. It is internal, it does not go beyond the self.
The object is characterized by immanence, which is discussed by de Beauvoir. The object, who is most often and likely woman, is a being within itself. The object controls their own self, aware of their presence in the eyes of others, they are always looking at themselves to see how others construe them. The subject, the man, the artist, is the opposite. He is characterized by transcendence. The subject goes beyond the self, outside themselves, trying to go beyond the limits of the self and looking out. In other theoretical work, it has been summarized as men being the makers of meaning and women as the bearers of meaning.
Berger points to this discourse. He is alluding to the gendered social presence in the paintings. He is coming from a Hegelian-Marxist background, breaking down the inequalities he perceives in this form of painting. For example, when in painting women are set up to seem narcissistic, by holding a mirror to their own face, this is actually an affect of the surveyor/surveyed dialectic. Women are worried about what they look like not be vain but to ensure they are going along with what is expected of them. At least this is one understanding.
A term that arose in our discussing was heteronormativity. This is a term that describes heterosexual lifestyle “norms” that believes that people all fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life that go along with each gender. We will come across this term more and more as the class continues, so keep it in mind.
Remember, there is also a BBC TV Series on Ways of Seeing. Here are the links to watch the episode on the “nude”:
Ways of Seeing; Episode 2, Part1
Ways of Seeing; Episode 2, Part 2
Ways of Seeing: Episode 2, Part 3
Ways of Seeing: Episode 2, part 4
Here is also a little study guide on the chapter on the nude: https://bccfeministphilosophy.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/john-berger-nude.pdf
Next, we watched ! Women Art Revolution. What a great film! It took over 40 years to compile everything we saw in the film, and we still did not see everything in it. The film beings in the 1960s, with women artists and revolutionaries of that era, and approaches present day. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did, or if not, at least took in the work women artists have had to do to have the position they are in today. Here is the link to this site associated with the film, that has cataloged and document a lot of the art we did not get to see: http://womenartrevolution.com/
Also, what did you guys think when it was mentioned in the film by artist Judith Baca (I think it was her) that this generation of women seemed to be digressing into the mentality of 1950s-early-1960s women? I have actually thought this before, and I was surprised to have someone else to say it because I thought maybe it was just me thinking that based on what I have come across from that era. But, since this artist lived the time, I guess she may know more…
Next Week: For next week, we will be going over Hélène Cixous‘ “The Laugh of the Medusa” (which was already assigned reading but we have yet to discuss it) and Luce Irigaray’s “This Sex Which is Not One” and “The Question of the Other.” Please make sure to have done the reading by next class. We will not be going over Audre Lorde’s article as is mentioned in the syllabus, but we will do so in the future. See you then!