Sunday, May 1, 2011

Meaning in Writing

“The method then consists in adding speech acts to language; speech acts bring with them the particular intentions that allow interpreters to clear up the ambiguities intrinsic to language as such. But this separation of language and speech acts need not be used to establish an interpretive method; it can in fact be used to do just the opposite. For a theorist like Paul de Man, the priority of language to speech acts suggests that all attempts to arrive at determinate meanings by adding intentions amount to violation of the genuine condition of language…theory in its negative or antimethodological mode tries to preserve what it takes to be the purity of language from the distortion of speech acts” (Knapp and Michaels 733).

"Against Theory" by Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels

In the above quote, Knapp and Michaels suggest theory is a violation of language. Knapp and Michaels’ argument appears to be nihilistic in that they refute the ideas of theory in terms of how authors try to (or try not to) give a meaning behind their work. I agree that when consciously writing, theory can violate “genuine language,” but the existence of theory makes writing an art through objectivity; theory is a mean in which language and writing in general can be organized and evaluated. It can be argued through many lenses that theory is the essence of writing. Without a purpose, an author’s work has no meaning because a message is not being shared. I would be more interested in hearing Knapp and Michael’s opinion on what the essence of writing actually is. It is up to the author to decide whether it is more important to value language over meaning or vice versa. While theory can be a hindrance to writing and language, it is a way in which we can evaluate a text, therefore assigning value to a text according to how it demonstrates or does not demonstrate a particular theory.

Meaning Without Intention

"However one might understand this text, one could not understand it as a representation of 'the meaning of a particular utterance.' We agree with this--if it implies that the random marks mean nothing, are not language, and therefore cannot be interpreted at all...Our point is that marks produced by chance are not words at all but only resemble them."

Knapp, Steven, and Walter Benn Michaels. "Against Theory." Critical Inquiry 8.4 (1982): 723-742.

I disagree with the assertion from Knapp and Michaels that marks produced by chance aren’t real words, and just resemble them. Regardless of whether there is intention or not, I think that all words do have meaning and therefore should be given equal representation. Granted, words produced by chance are likely not as complicated as those produced with intention. When we present our thoughts and ideas, we impress our intentions to the audience. The words we use to express this intent are formed in a certain way to produce an end meaning. However, even if words are produced by chance, we recognize those words to have specific meanings. Parrots are used as an example in the text. Although a parrot may not know what it means when it utters “Water is pouring down from the sky,” this shouldn’t represent a meaningless statement because those who hear this will interpret this in multiple ways. The fact that our own intentions are exposed to interpretation from our audience should confirm that a supposed “meaningless” statement or word can and does have meaning. Even if intention is absent, it can still possess meaning because the audience will see it as such. The “condition of language prior to the addition of intention” should not be dismissed as a word with no meaning simply because it is devoid of intention. They assert that “random marks mean nothing…and therefore cannot be interpreted at all.” I fail to see the validity in this argument, because what some may construe as a series of random marks void of potential interpretation can be viewed differently to other people. Meaning still exists even though intent may not be present because a word is subject to interpretation, and therefore given meaning.

Against Theory

"You will either be ascribing these marks to some agent capable of intentions (the living sea, the haunting Wordsworth, etc.), or you will count them as nonintentional effects of mechanical processes (erosion, percolation, etc.). But in the second case--where the marks now seem to be accidents--will they still seem to be words?

Clearly not. They will merely seem to resemble words."

Knapp, Steven and Walter Benn Michaels. “Against Theory.” Critical Inquiry 8.4 JSTOR (1982) 728. Web. 1 May 2011.

I take issue with Knapp and Michaels' reasoning here. In their example of the wave poem, they state that if a person accepts that the wave poem was created spontaneously in nature, then the person observing the poem will believe the words have no meaning. "Will they still seem to be words? Clearly not." The statement is actually not so "clear." Poem can still be found within the words of the poem--in fact, the viewer could find inspiration in the words for a poem of his or her own. What is at stake by discovering the lack of agency in the poem's creation is the viewer's motivation to discover meaning, not an inherent lack of meaning. The article makes a large leap here that seems fallacious, though it makes several other credible points.

Are Intention And Meaning Always The Same?

"Not only in serious literal speech but in all speech what is intended and what is meant are identical. In separating the two Searle imagines the possibility of expression without intention and so, like Hirsch, misses the point of his own claim that when it comes to language 'there is no getting away from intentionality.' Missing this point, and hence imagining the possibility of two different kinds of meaning, is more than a theoretical mistake; it is the sort of mistake that makes theory possible." (729-730)

While I do agree that separating intention and meaning helps to make theory possible I do not believe that they should be called mistakes. I would agree that “what is intended and what is meant are identical” to some degree, but not always. Though it is possible to read a text and recognize the author’s intended meaning, this is not always the case. Sometimes, when you look at the author’s intent and then look at the meaning that the reader interprets, they are not always the same. I recently read about an interview with author Zadie Smith in regards to her novel White Teeth. In the interview she mentioned that many of her readers received a different meaning from the novel then what she intended for them to receive. This is a common thing in literature because a lot of the time meaning is up to the reader, and varies depending on the reader.

Knapp, Steven, and Walter Benn Michaels. "Against Theory." Critical Inquiry 8.4 (1982): 723-742.

Angela Carter

"Yet, if she was asleep, she was dreaming of passion and afterwards I slept without dreaming for I had experienced a dream in actuality" (Carter 56).

This line was a central theme in the Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Desiderio was experiencing this "actuality" due to Doctor Hoffman's "desire machines." I liked the comparison between Mary Anne's dream and Desiderio's dream because it appeared that Carter was making a distinction between the complexity of men and women. The passgae said that Mary Anne was dreaming of "passion" and I feel that that word is heavily stressed towards how women think. I think Carter is saying that dreaming is a good thing whether you are doing it while you are asleep or you're fully awake. Carter then makes a reference to Desiderio and says that he slept "without dremaing" and I feel that she is showing that men's minds are not as complex. She may be saying that the "actuality" of things is more present in men. I do agree with the author's statement because women tend to be more emotional and passionate about the "self." Whereas men take things more literally and do not think/dream about things with such passion. The book itself is quite in depth and complicated and I feel that a man would not have wrote a story like this. I feel that the author is exploring not only the complexities of the "desire" of men, but how we percieve the "self" and how we are completely driven by desire. This is why the "desire" can occur in either a "dream" or in the "actuality." Basically "desire" is always present.

An Overwrought Argument

Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels make a critically audacious claim in their essay "Against Theory"-- that the practice of literary theory per se should be abandoned. Their reason for this is an assumption that, while blasphemous to mainstream scholars of literature, deserves consideration: meaning is categorically equivalent to intention. Though critics flail reflexively against this assertion, citing the plethora of pluralistic meanings reaped from a text through critical theoretical approaches, their definition of meaning seems to me to be abusively expansive. Of course there can be as many personal lessons, cultural applications, etc. drawn from the ideas presented in a text as there are individual readers, but meaning is NOT synonymous with relevance or valence, as these critics implicitly assume. Knapp and Michaels take issue only with the "attempt to govern interpretation of particular texts by appealing to an account of interpretation in general." (723)

While I find their basic premise to be a valid and provocative idea, the argument which they put forth to defend it tends to complicate and consequently weaken their case. It seems to me that one must either choose to accept or reject their definition of meaning. If one does not, their entire argument is futile. If one does, it is a long-winded sermon to the choir, for, like their vision of intention and meaning, there is no gap between their definition and the case built thereupon. In particular, their example of the poem in the sand that appears to have been written by the insentient waves, while initially compelling, seems to rest on faulty assumptions. "But in the second case-- where the marks now seem to be accidents-- will they still seem to be words? Clearly not. They will merely seem to resemble words... What you thought was poetry turns out not to be poetry at all. It's not poetry because it isn't language; that's what it means to call it an accident." (728) This analogy misses the point that critical theorists make when they "interpret" a text. They do not see the author's language, or the signifier as accidental, but assume that there can exist signifieds that are accidental, mutable, and plural.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Point of Using Theory

“What seems odd about Hirsch’s formulation is the transition from definition to method. He begins by defining textual meaning as the author’s intended meaning and then suggests that the best way to find textual meaning is to look for authorial intention. But if meaning and intended meaning are already the same, it’s hard to see how looking for one provides an objective method---or any sort of method---for looking for the other; looking for one is just looking for the other.”

Knapp, Stephen, and Walter B. Michaels. "Against Theory." Critical Inquiry. Vol. 8. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1982. 723-42. Print. Critical Inquiry

I would have to agree that Hirsch’s formulation is odd. If textual meaning was only what the author meant for it to be, there would be no point in using theory. The reason readers as well as scholars engage in a text are to make meaning of it for themselves. This is what makes literary works art, because there is no set meaning and they are open for interoperation. If we should always look for authorial intention and reconstruct our theory around that our reading of the text is shaped, therefore leaving very room for interpretation which is something that should be open. It also makes using theory pointless because if we know what the author means and that is all a text is supposed to mean then there is no point in making an interpretation of a text. In addition to this, we do not always know what the author’s intended meaning of a text is; therefore when using theory we should ignore authorial intention and not even explore it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Right Answer; Wrong Method

“You might well go on extending the list of explanations [for the appearance of the poem on the beach] indefinitely, but you would find, we think, that all explanations fall into two categories. You will either be ascribing these marks to some agent capable of intentions (the living sea, the haunting Wordsworth, etc.), or you will count them as nonintentional effects of a mechanical process (erosion, percolation, etc.).”

I appreciate the thought process Knapp and Michaels employ here, but I think they are too keen on dissection to see a bigger picture. These two creators they consider – “some agent capable of intentions” and some “mechanical process” – are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It too often assumed that human reason is somehow above the very real mechanical nature of our minds. If a blind man presses random buttons that program a robot to perform a task, the robot embodies both options: it has nonintentional, mechanical intentions. When they later claim that “the two cases of your amazement would have two entirely different sources” they are ignoring the very real possibility that their own logical statements are mechanical reactions to their surrounds. And when the authors suggest that this combination of word-shaped marks “isn’t poetry because it isn’t language; that’s what it means to call it an accident,” they seem to ignore the reality of language. Far more than a written system, language extends to body language, which is often entirely unintentional. One often betrays his emotions through body language when his intent is to appear a different way. Language can appear from anything. In the end my views are compatible with Knapp and Michaels’ but I disagree with the methods through which they arrive there.

Knapp, Steven, and Walter Benn Michaels. "Against Theory." Critical Inquiry 8.4 (1982): 728

Meaning Without Authorial Intention

"Only now, when positing an author seems impossible, do you genuinely imagine the marks as authorless. But to deprive them of an author is to convert them into accidental likenesses of language. They are not, after all, an example of intentionless meaning; as soon as they become intentionless they become meaningless as well." (Knapp and Michaels, p. 728)

Knapp, Stephen, and Walter B. Michaels. "Against Theory." Critical Inquiry. Vol. 8. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1982. 723-42. Print. Critical Inquiry.

During the reading, the authors talk about writing that appears in the sand after a wave washes up onto the shore of a beach. However, I disagree with the argument that, if the writing was in fact a random series of marks that resemble language, it becomes meaningless. Though there may be no deeper meaning due to the lack of an author, which creates a lack of authorial intention, the marks do not become meaningless. Rather, a meaning can be taken from the marks because they are still words. If people found marks that resembled words, they would most likely derive some sort of meaning from the marks, whether the meaning is religious to them or, as in the case of the shore poem, the marks create what appears to be a deep, coherent thought. Just because there was no one to create the marks does not mean that the marks do not count as language. As it is stated later in the reading, "language consists of inherently meaningless sounds to which one adds meanings-in other words, that the relation between the signifier and signified is arbitrary" (734). If this argument can be made for the spoken word, can the same argument not be made from the written? Because the markings resemble letters that people write, meanings can still be attached to the written words. Due to the fact that they were not written by anyone, the argument can still be made that there is no concrete meaning behind the words. However, each person that sees the markings can attach a meaning to them in the same way that they can attach their own meaning to other readings that they have done.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Convoluted Attempt at Meaning

"In practical terms, then, the stakes in the battle over intention are extremely low--in fact, they don't exist. Hence it doesn't matter who wins. In theoretical terms, however, the stakes are extremely high, and it still doesn't matter who wins. The stakes are high because they amount to the existence of theory itself; it doesn't matter who wins because as long as one thinks that a position on intention (either for or against) makes a difference in achieving valid interpretations, the ideal of theory itself is saved. Theory wins. But as soon as we recognize that there are no theoretical choices to be made, then the point of theory vanishes. Theory loses" (Knapp 730).

Indeed, Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels present the most convoluted argument that I have read in quite some time. And for all the dismissals of other critics' work in this analytical rant, both authors neglect to acknowledge their proposed methodology or framework is (in and of itself) a theory. To say "Meaning is just another name for expressed intention" (742) is patently false. Meaning can exist without authorial intention. The ubiquitous example of the wave poem in Knapp and Michaels' analysis serves as an example. The observer may derive some meaning from the poem, and he or she may derive that meaning merely from the fact that he or she feels some connection to those words in the sand. Perhaps the words speak to some experience that the observer has had. No author could have ever accounted for EVERY conceivable effect that his or her writing would have on readers. And while it may be helpful to examine the author's mindset at the time of writing or authorial influences, we can never fully understand an author's intent. By Knapp and Michaels' logic, therefore, we can never understand meaning. Thus, theory is indeed a valuable tool. It helps us to bridge the gap. If their argument was a "pragmatist" (740) one, it wouldn't require a convoluted and nearly nonsensical construction. I understand that this critique is a bold condemnation. But these authors present claims that are equally bold. They claim that "the whole enterprise of critical theory is misguided and should be abandoned" (724). If "the stakes in the battle over intention are extremely low," then Knapp and Michaels' own argument has no thrust. It seems that their very thesis can be used against them. If intention is meaningless, then why bother with a diatribe against it? There are theoretical choices to be made. The observer of Knapp and Michaels' ridiculous wave poem choose to think about the poem in the context of their own life experiences and to derive their own meanings or to think about the poem in the sand's intertextuality and the authorial intent associated with it. And to say that there cannot be intentionless meanings is folly. No author in 1842 (I selected that year arbitrarily) could have possibly intended for his text to have a precise meaning in 2011. But meaningless nonetheless exist. We still read texts and take something away from them. The stakes of theory are high, and it does matter who wins. To say that we cannot derive any meaning from texts other than the meaning that an author allegedly intended ignores the entire purpose for reading. We read because we identity with texts. We read because we want to engage with texts. And we engage texts in a multiplicity of ways--not just in a consideration of an author's intent.

**All Citations From: Knapp, Steven, and Walter Benn Michaels. "Against Theory." Critical Inquiry 8.4 (1982): 723-742.

A Bold Statment...To Say the Least

"The fact that what a text means is what its author intends is clearly stated by E.D. Hirsch when he writes that the meaning of a text "is, and can be, nothing other than the author's meaning" and "is determined once and for all by the character of the speaker's intention." (725)

Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4, (Summer, 1982), pp. 723-742

What the text means is what the author intends is a very broad statement in my opinion, and one that I grappled with all the way through this reading. In some sense, I agree, what the author intends for a text to mean is in fact what it means. However, that does not make it the ONLY meaning. It just makes it the author's meaning. Therefore, I disagree with what Hirsch notes when he says, "is, and can be, nothing other than the author's meaning." If this were the case then why did I just spend an entire semester learning numerous different ways to analyze a text that only has one meaning, the one the author intends. I cannot agree that there is only one way to read a text based on a couple of reasons. The first being my own personal experiences with writing. Although I have by no means had something published, I have spent significant time writing with the intention being to convey my intended meaning. However, unfortunate as it is, many times the professor's who often read my works disagreed with my intended meaning and reflected that in my grade. Not only has this happened with professors, but often with peers as well. When having a peer look over my works, they often take my intended message differently than I intended it to be taken. These personal experiences within writing on my own strongly contradict this statement made by Hirsch.

Another major disagreement I have with Hirsch's statement is that their would not be book clubs, Critical Analysis classes and multiple Critical Theories if the authors intended meaning was the only meaning. After all, this whole semester we have spent time looking at ways to analyze one poem, "Leda and the Swan," in order to find multiple meanings that it portrays. Same goes for book clubs that sit and discuss what a particular book meant to them. Each member enlightening the rest of the group on their personal interpretation of the meaning, NOT the authors ONLY meaning, that would make for a pretty redundant and boring discussion. Lastly this semester's Eng 397 class would be a very brief and dull one as well. Our discussions would have never left the so called "box" of the authors meaning, and we would have never learned to find multiple ways in which literature and pop culture speak to their audiences. This excerpt and entire article made some broad assumptions that I found very difficult to swallow.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A World of Cutlures

"My nostirls were full of mingled stench of horses, of the smoke from their pine wood torches, of the perfumed oil with which the women dressed their hair, of blood, of semen and of pain; the very air thickened and grew red. And though Albertina was the object of rape, the males clearly did not know it was a rape. They showed neither enthusiasm nor gratification. It was some form of ritual..." (180)

Carter, Angela. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Penguin Books: New York, 1972.

When I first read this passage I was shocked. First at the picture painted of Albertina being raped by several men and second the fact that the "centaur" man didn't realize what they were doing nor did they think it was wrong. Within the "centaur" society it seems to be normal to rape women, but in the society we live in we think rape is something horrible. It is normal in their society, because they have made it normal. By making it a ritual or tradition makes it normal within their eyes. This ultimately represents the differences between culures around the world. Every culture has its own beliefs, traditions, languages, and many other things we might find offensive or wrong. That's why it would be impossible to have a universal 'moral code' through the world. Everyone sees things differently.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Man vs. Nature

"At First I thought the landslide must have been the Doctor's work. . . I stumbled away over the rough fields, vanquished again, now beyond tears (120)." Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
The scene described in this quote takes place directly after a landslide has destroyed the town Desiderio was visiting with the Peepshow Operator and the sideshow. Desiderio was absent for the spectacle because he had just been raped by the Acrobats of Desire, so he was saved from the carnage and now has time to survey the scene. At first he thinks it must have been Doctor Hoffman, but it would not have been strategically sound because he would have destroyed his "greatest weapon": the peepshow. So what has occurred was simply a random act of Nature. This scene is notable not only in that it seemingly leaves Desiderio without shelter or a method for finding Doctor Hoffman, but in the binary that is created between nature and man. Throughout the whole book, Doctor Hoffman is using his machines to control reality, transforming everyday objects into one more sinister and monstrous than normal and creating entirely new things that haunt the people of Desiderio's besieged home city. By changing the properties of everyday objects, Hoffman is basically attempting to control Nature. Science itself, Hoffman's route to his attempted control, is an endeavor by human beings to understand nature and the world around them, but Hoffman takes it a step further. However, in this scene, we see that Nature is supreme, as Desiderio comments, "The landslide could only be a simple assertion of the dominance of nature herself (120)." The distinction is also made that Nature is chaos, so therefore the Doctor must be order. Although his methods seem to be chaotic, he is using them for a specific reason: the free desire from restraint. The opposition of the Doctor, or man, and Nature is interesting, because it lends meaning and transforms the way one thinks of the Doctors mission and his methods for achieving his goal.

Queer Theory Between Desiderio and the Ambassador

Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman There is one part in this novel that I wanted to elaborate on and show how queer theory is presented. Though there are several instances where homosexual references are made in Carter's novel, the way Desiderio describes the Ambassador is the one specific part of the book I am analyzing. When Desiderio, the male protagonist, first meets the Ambassador, a young male, he describes the Ambassador to the reader. The way in which Desiderio describes him is very feminine, giving the Ambassador "woman-bearing" qualities. "Around his eyes were thick bands of solid gold cosmetic and the nails on his long hands were enamelled dark crimson, to match the nails on his similarly elegant feet, which were fully exposed by sandals consisting of mere gold thongs. He wore flared trousers of purple suede and used several ropes of pearls for a belt. I saw that he seemed to move in soft coils" (Carter 32). According to Desiderio's description of him, the Ambassador dresses very femininely and is a "soft" character. This description in itself is a homosexual reference and can allow one to believe the Ambassador to be homosexual. With that mind frame, Carter also describes Desiderio as being infatuated with the Ambassador. Desiderio says "I think he was the most beautiful human being I have ever seen. He was a manicured leopard patently in complicity with chaos" (Carter 32). This gives off the feeling that Desiderio is infatuated with the Ambassador and that Desiderio himself may also be homosexual. Also, Desiderio says that the Ambassador reminded him of a girl that he wished he was romantically involved with. If this doesn't give off a homosexual feel, then it definitely represents a bisexual relationship. To further support the theory that Desiderio could be homosexual or bisexual, I want to look at the scene where he is raped by nine acrobats. When Desiderio joins the professor's circus, nine acrobats also join. These acrobats, that are male, all take turns rapiing Desiderio. Desiderio does say that it was the worst pain and experience he has been through, this could be to, perhaps, hide a certain homosexual or bisexual sexuality. With Dr. Hoffman's desire machines, the idea that perhaps Desiderio secretly wanted the acrobats to rape him comes into play. With that, I believe there is some sort of homosexual or bisexual characteristic about Desiderio. And just a short comment to add, Desiderio nevers gets the girl in the end, but kills her.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Queer Theory: I and my Shadow

"I am entirely alone. I and my shadow fill the universe." 
 Angela Carter (The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman)

I realize that this isn't exactly a comprehensive quote, but it does exemplify one of the largest themes of the book in such apt summation that it cannot be ignored. Simply analyzed, this quote shows the feelings of isolation that our protagonist experiences (for whatever reason) and also his inability to identify with anything in his world besides his shadow, quite literally the only representation of himself that exists in a world where mirrors are banned. This ban on mirrors raises the point that a shadow is the closest thing to oneself that anyone would see in the world that Angela Carter created; if I recall properly there is even a scene where Desiderio sees himself in a mirror and is taken aback. So what is it that this representation of the self reveals? This shadow is the part of Desiderio that is never in the light, it represents his "hidden" being and reveals itself only when his self is most exposed to the light - if we go with the traditional definitions of a shadow. These definitions, however, fit well with out analysis. The shadow is the part that, while never "brought to light" so to speak, is always constant and would always follow it's maker. The shadow is, in a sense, more of a doppelganger that exists within the mentality, the confines of one's mind or soul. So what does Desiderio's shadow show? This shadow that is perceived as the only other entity existent in the world is the inner workings, the true meat of Desiderio. The shadow represents the part of Desiderio that enjoyed his foray in the van with the Moroccans, the part of him that desired the Ambassador rather than Albertina herself, the part that can never be brought to light. This shadow is a strong argument for the underlying homosexuality of Desiderio and would be an excellent topic for further exploration.

"Ultrafeminine Verisimilitude" or "chicks ain't perfect"

“A bristling pubic growth rose to form a kind of coat of arms above the circular proscenium it contained at wither side but, although the hairs had been inserted one by one to achieve the maximal degree of verisimilitude, the overall effect was one of stunning artifice. The dark red and purple crenellations surrounding the vagina acted as a frame for a perfectly round hole through which the viewer glimpsed the moist, luxuriant landscape of the interior” (Carter 44).
From a feminist perspective, Exhibit One: I HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE, which Desiderio finds in the old blind man’s exhibits, presents an intricate framework of concepts. The luxuriant landscape mentioned above is expounded upon and glorified, but it is later revealed to be the grounds of Dr. Hoffman’s castle, within which desire is farmed to support actions Desiderio deems to be wrong. And with words like verisimilitude (a mere semblance of truth) and artifice (a trick or contrivance), the reader senses that the idealistic images of juicy fruit and luxuriant landscape are frauds. The dream of idealized sexual womanhood, Carter suggests, is an empty dream to which we often aspire. Battlements and castle-like structures are also references repeatedly to suggest the aggression and fervor men go through to achieve the fraudulent dream. Overall it is a craftily constructed perversion of idealized feminism.

Carter, Angela. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Penguin Books: New York, 1972.

The African Tribe Meets The Outside World

“Their officer, chosen, it would seem, as much for the size of their bottoms as anything, marched beside them playing long –stemmed, brass trumpets and little hand drums and these female soldiers were aggressively armed with duck-guns, blunderbusses, muskets and razor-like knives, a museum of ancient weapons.” (Carter 156)

This passage from the novel hints that the African tribe that Desiderio, the Count, and Lafleur encounter has had previous contact with the outside world. Because of this we can see that this represents post-colonialism in the novel. For one, the mentioning of the brass trumpets stick out as not belonging within this tribe. I am aware that African tribes had and still do have trumpets among them, but because the trumpets are brass (and not wood or bone) it seems that they were possibly acquired from Europeans. In fact, the chapter from which this passage comes also mentions that this tribe is cannibalistic. It can be assumed that their victims are most likely going to be outsiders, or explorers, that found themselves amongst the tribe for whatever reason, whether it be on accident or with intent to subjugate. This is another point that agrees with the post colonialism present in the novel. As if that is not enough, the mentioning of the weaponry being used by the soldiers in this passage also hints to the tribes contact with the outside world. The fact that these weapons are referred to as “ancient weapons” asserts the issue that the tribe is not as advanced as the world that Desiderio is from. Therefore they most likely came in contact with foreigners a while back, and now used their weaponry. The use of the brass trumpets and the weapons expresses that the tribe, though portrayed as barbaric to our standards, have adapted some things from outside cultures.

Carter, Angela. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Penguin Books: New York, 1972.

They Cage the Women at Night?: Female Representation in Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman.

“There were, perhaps, a dozen girls in the cages in the reception room and, posed inside, the girls towered above us like the goddesses of some forgotten theogeny locked up because they were too holy to be touched. Each was as circumscribed as a figure in rhetoric and you could not imagine they had names, for they had been reduced by the rigorous discipline of their vocation to the undifferentiated essence of the idea of the female. This ideational femaleness took amazingly different shapes though its nature was not that of Woman; when I examined them more closely, I saw that none of them were any longer, or might never have been, woman. All, without exception, passed beyond or did not enter the realm of simple humanity. They were sinister, abominable, inverted mutations, part clockwork, part vegetable and part brute” (Carter 132).

This passage provides multiple avenues for feminist theory. First, I see it fit to examine the fact that Carter puts the women in cages rather than the other way around. It is the men who walk around with their genitals exposed in the Bestial Room, not the women. Thus, phallocentrism reigns supreme here. And we have an immediate preference of the male form over the female. The women are on display, just like in a zoo. But, although the women are nameless and are clearly presented as sexual objects, they have a degree of power—especially from a Lacanian perspective. Granted, the men choose whether or not to purchase the women’s sexuality. But the women on the pedestals get to objectify the men too. Desiderio and the Count have no faces. Their identity centers on their exposed male genitalia. Thus, for as much as the men objectify the women, so too do the women objectify the men. Most interesting of all is Carter’s depiction of the women as “abominable.” While they are overtly sexualized, the ultimate objectification of the female form makes it non-feminine. It is mechanical and banal. Hence, Desiderio later refers to the women as “meat.” The women are so sexualized that they are inhuman. So too are the Count and Desiderio. Thus, for as much as this passage opens itself up to feminist interpretations, it also raises significant questions about sexuality in general. How much is too much? And why is it that both sexes fail to see their equal objectification? Both the men and women in this scene are the respective “other.” Neither sex is privileged. The women may be in cages, but at least they have faces.

**Carter, Angela. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Penguin Books: New York, 1972.

Structural Analysis of Desiderio's Swan Dream

“Presently I saw the object of my vigil. A creature was approaching over the water but it did not assuage my loneliness for though I could see it was alive, it did not seem to be alive in the same sense that I was alive and I shuddered with dead…The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown; I was afraid.
As it drew near, I saw it was a swan. It was a black swan. I cannot tell you how ugly it was; nor yet how marvelous it was. Its vapid eyes were too close together on its head and expressed a kind of mindless evil that was quite without glamour, though evil is usually attractive, because evil is defiant. Its elongated neck had none of the grace traditionally ascribed to the necks of swans but lolled foolishly, now this way, now that, like a length of hose. And the beak, which was the clear, pinkish scarlet of scentless roses, striped with a single band of white, was flat, broad and spatulate, fit only for grubbing worms from mud. It swam remorselessly and terribly towards me but, when only a few yards of shifting water lay between us, it paused to unfurl its enormous wings as if it were opening a heraldic umbrella.”

Carter, Angela. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. New York: Publisher, 1994. Print

The above paragraphs are excerpted from Angela Carter’s “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman” by Angela Carter. In these two paragraphs, Desiderio, the main character, is asleep and experiencing a dream where he is alone on an island and being approached by a swan. The depiction of the swan invites a structural analysis: it is quite unusual for an animal normally associated with grace and beauty to be connected with evil and ugliness. She subverts the typical image of the swan through these connections; whereas the typical response to a swan might be awe, Desiderio experiences a mixture of both awe and fear—an interesting combination. One way to understand the poem is to do a diachronic analysis; Carter seems to be drawing upon Yeats’ poem “Leda and the Swan,”—a poem where the swan is a rapist. Similar language is deployed by Carter to describe the swan, yet with a couple important differences. Since the presence of rape and fear of rape in Carter’s story is so strong, and since the reader later finds out that the swan is female, Carter subverts Yeats’ gender roles by making the female a rapist—and the male experiences the rape. It seems Carter uses this change to make the swan an icon of the epitome of sexual deviancy—the swan is a female source of unbridled, rapacious sexual energy—something quite unwelcome in a heteronormative society.

The Language of the River People

“The speech of the river people posed philosophical as well as linguistic problems. For example, since they had no regular system of plurals but only an elaborate system of altered numerals for denoting specific numbers of given objects, the problem of the particular versus the universal did not exist and the word ‘man’ stood for ‘all man’. This had a profound effect on their societization. Neither was there a precise equivalent for the verb ‘to be’… and one was left only with the naked, unarguable fact of existence.”

Carter, Angela. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1994. p. 71.

This passage shows the vast amount of influence language has over a people’s perception of the world. As the poststructuralist quote says, “There is nothing beyond the text.” Here, we see that the limitations of the River People’s language fundamentally change their view of the world around them. They have no form of singulars and plurals, meaning that they have little to no concept of specificity. The above example states that instead of referring to a single man, their word is used to represent “all man.” Further along from the above quote, Carter also claims that these people do not have a future tense for their verbs, causing them to act with “absolute immediacy.” Their perception of something as basic as their own existence is radically different from ours, due to the absence of the verb, “to be.” The River People are an example of how our perception and understanding of the universe is contingent upon our ability to communicate ideas.

Desiderio's Unreliable Narration

“I remember everything” (Carter 11).

“I cannot remember exactly how it began” (Carter 15).

To me, these two lines are significant in understanding Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. They are evidently contradictory and make the reader question the validity of the main character and narrator Desiderio. Through the first person point-of-view, Desiderio writes his autobiography. He tells the reader how he became a war hero. As readers, we must consider that Desiderio is telling the story in his perspective. He claims that he was not affected by Dr. Hoffman’s illusions, yet there are times when he sees surreal images outside of town. Carter’s use of imagery and an unorthodox plot suggest that Desiderio’s memory has become poor with age or that he is making up a story. After all, he is someone who wanted to be desired by others at a young age. The fact that he is an old man reflecting his war days also must be considered. As we age, our memory fades. The contradiction between these two quotes demonstrates that.

The key difference between these two quotes is that they appear in separate chapters towards the front of the novel. The first quote is from the “Introduction” and the second quote is from the first chapter “The City Under Siege.” An introduction is typically used to describe the content a narrator is talking about. Desiderio uses the introduction to tell the reader that he remembers “everything” and is a war hero. In “The City Under Siege,” he begins to tell his story about the war, opening with the line “I cannot remember exactly how it began” (Carter 15). Throughout the novel, Carter uses an unorthodox plot to allow breaks in the narrative, giving Desiderio a chance to give his comments about the war in his old age. Above all, Desiderio is in control of the plot, a plot that has sudden solutions, a limited climax, and ultimately an unexpected ending that Carter uses to explain theory. Could this possibly be that Desiderio is telling a fictional story for his autobiography? Better yet, could he have been affected by LSD when penning his autobiography? Carter’s surreal imagery and the references to Albert Hoffman, creator of LSD, suggest that Desiderio is in a battle with achieving reality rather than telling us about his life. As a youth, he seeks acceptance from others and claims that he struggles with killing Albertina. It seems to me that this novel shows the desires of Desiderio in a surreal manner in which the narrator describes himself favorably and seeks the possibilities of acceptance.

Overall, these two lines leave the novel open to a wide variety of analyses that could focus on Desiderio’s validity as a narrator.

A Twisted Gender Essentialism in Carter's "Desire Machines"

"Gentlemen, if you rid your hearts of prejudice and examine the bases of the traditional notions of the figure of the female, you will find you have founded them all on the remote figure you thought you glimpsed, once, in your earliest childhood, bending over you with an offering of warm, sugared milk, crooning a soft lullaby while, by her haloed presence, she kept away the snakes that writhed beneath the bed. Tear this notion of the mother from your hearts. ...I am proud to say that not a single one of my harem or, indeed, any of the tribe of more than Roman mothers you see before you, has ever experienced the most fleeting ecstasy, or even the slightest pleasure, while in the arms of any of my subjects. So our womenfolk are entirely cold and respond only to cruelty and abuse."

--Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, pp. 160-161.

This excerpt is from a monologue given by the ruler of a cannibalistic African tribe encountered by Desiderio in the sixth chapter of Carter's Desire Machines. It should be noted first that this ruler was originally identified as the "pimp" who chased The Count all over the world aiming to avenge the death of one of his many prostitutes. At the beginning of the chieftain's speech it would seem that he rejects the idea of any essential "feminine" nature. But by the conclusion, it is more likely that the speaker instead simply espouses a different, and to us even "backward" concept of essential femininity. By performing compulsory female circumcision on all the girls in his tribe as soon as they reach puberty, the chieftain boasts that he has hardened them into cruel, emotionless instruments of his will. Because he joins his claim of their deprivation of pleasure to their coldness with the word "so," we have no choice but to infer a conceived causal connection between the former stimulus and latter phenomenon. It seems that the chieftain thus believes that the qualities we assume to be "feminine"-- warmth, emotional sensitivity, propensity for nurturing-- are engendered only through sexual stimulation, without which they retain only their "natural" characteristics-- coldness and cruelty. This model, then, assumes that women are born ruthless and vicious, and only develop nurturing, sensitive traits as a response to the psychological effects of and social imperatives to sexual pleasure. The chieftain goes on to claim later that man's essential nature as well is "constitutionally vicious, instinctively evil and studiously ferocious." Regardless of whether or not the chieftain truly believes in an immanent femininity, it is clear that he believes gender, or at least "femaleness" is determined completely by sexuality and the effects of sexual stimulation. Carter's portrayal of this character as abominably cruel and inhumane is ample indication of her rejection of this mindset.

The Idea of the Woman vs. The Idea of the Female

"Each was as circumscribed as a figure in rhetoric and you could not imagine they had names, for they had been reduced by the rigorous discipline of their vocation to the undifferentiated essence of the idea of the female. this ideational femaleness took amazingly different shapes though its nature was not that of woman."

Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, p. 132

In this passage, Desiderio considers the women in the cages of the brothel that he has come to with the count. To him, they contained the essence of the female rather than the idea of Woman. The women in the cages have been stripped of their humanity so that each could attempt to fit the desires of some customer. In being stripped of their humanity, they either lose the quality of being woman or, if they never had any humanity to begin with, they were never "women". By presenting them in this light, the question of what is "woman" is brought to mind. The women in the cages are presented as being "sinister, abominable, inverted mutations" by Carter (132). As a result, the reader is led to believe that the ideal woman is more nurturing, more feeling, and more caring than the women in the cages. Desiderio also states that the women in the cages had "passed beyond or did not enter the realm of simple humanity" (132). This statement begets a question; have the women in the cages transcended humanity or fallen prey to it, in a sense? The women in the cages are emotionless, seemingly unfeeling, inhuman beings only used for pleasure by the depraved patrons of the brothel. Their quality of being emotionless could give them a kind of independence. By not needing or wanting anything of others, they are free of attachments and may be able to live life for themselves. However, the other side of the argument comes in their being caged. They are mere pleasure tools for the people that visit the brothel. Their inhumanity proves to be dichotomous; they are free of attachment only to be used by others. They cannot fit the idea of "woman" implied by its contrast with the women in the cages. They are female, and, in terms of the passage, this definition makes them ideal images of lust. However, because they are without humanity, they are trapped, without either the constraints of humanity or the benefits. They lack desire and, as a result, they lack purpose. Because they cannot fit the model of being "woman", they are merely female, and are enslaved by that title.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Carter's Creative Destruction of Patriarchal Oppression

"There were, perhaps, a dozen girls in the cages in the reception room and, posed inside, the girls towered above us like the goddesses of some forgotten theogeny locked...part vegetable and part brute."

Angela Carter's "The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman" (132).

After reading this paragraph in the novel, I had to stop and re-read it. The treatment of women within this paragraph is brutal, however, Carter seems to have the ability to take such a sick and twisted situation and turn it into something that instead empowers the women, and puts all the focus on them. From the beginning, the patriarchal oppression that the women experience can easily be seen. As the paragraph begins, "a dozen girls in the cages in the reception room and, posed inside..." (132). In this short quote from the paragraph the patriarchal lines are already drawn. The women are posed inside cages solely for the viewing pleasure of the men who frequent the House. In this case those men are Desideiro and Count. This patriarchal oppression continues as the paragraph again reads, "for they had been reduced by the rigorous discipline of their vocation to the undifferentiated essence of the idea of the female" (132). Here Carter not only employs the idea of patriarchal oppression of women, but plays on the societal view of femininity and the feminine role. As this quote shows, the women in these cages have been displayed in such a way that portrays them as society perceives women to be, an object of sex there to serve the male.

Although the paragraph presents women in such a patriarchal light, Carter also has a way of taking this negative portrayal and using it to empower women. First, in the beginning she says the women, "towered above us like the goddesses of some forgotten..." (132). Here Carter physically places the women above the men, although at this point they are still present for the viewing pleasure of the males, they are still both physically and literally above the men in their position within the cage. She also compares them to a goddess who is held in such a divine status that again places them above the men, and is headway in giving the women more status and power. A final significant ploy by Carter within this paragraph comes at the end, when it reads, "I saw that none of them were any longer, or might never have been, woman" (132). I read this sentence as Carter's ploy to break free from the common view and stereotype that women receive and that she toys with in the beginning of the paragraph. But in this part of the paragraph she destroys that notion, when Desideiro notes that none of these caged figures were women. This immediately restores the image of women and although difficult amongst everything else that is going on within this novel, attempts to break the common patriarchal representation that women have been stuck in for years.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Dear Dark-Haired Love"

This poem was disturbing. The poem exemplifies a gay relationship. In the line, “our love’s on the wrong side of the gospel” suggests that the narrator is aware that having this relationship is wrong. According to the Bible, it says that having a gay relationship is forbidden. I am also aware that there are other things that are forbidden as well, yet people still sin because we are sinful by nature. However, I do not like that the narrator blatantly says that “our kisses open Christ’s wounds up.” I understand that sinning is not a good thing; however, what Christ did on the cross was the most important thing in human history. All of our sins are forgiven because of what Christ did. When the narrator mentions that he is now opening Christ’s wounds, it sounds a little too harsh. Also, when the narrator said “don’t tell a soul,” it emphasizes that what they are doing is wrong. However, God knows exactly what you are doing so get over trying to hide anything. Through certain images of Jesus Christ, we have this idea that Jesus had dark hair. I thought it was funny that the narrator mentioned “dear dark-haired love” because Jesus had the same hair. So what is the author trying to say here? You obviously do not care about your actions and you could care less about what Christ did for you, so why mention something so specific? God intended for love between man and woman for obvious reasons. That reason is to not only get married but to reproduce and raise children. You cannot reproduce through men. I am perfectly fine with gay people, but that 2nd line in the poem was quite harsh.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Strange Admittance

Within Dear Dark-Haired Love and A Fresh Dimension Cathal O Searcaigh diplays strong sexual theme, both heterosexual and homosexual. Beginning with Dear Dark-Haired Love Cathal uses a homosexual theme twisted with a sense of irony. In what appears to be a monologue to his dark-haired love, he states "don't tell a soul-our love's on the wrong side of the gospel." This line works as both a command, but also as a declaration of awareness. He is acknowledging that his love is misplaced, at least in the eyes of the surrounding culture, likely deeply influenced by Christian philosophy. Though some would debate this, it is commonly acknowledged that homosexuality is restricted by the Christian God; therefore it seems strange that Cathal would essentially acknowledge openly his, per faith, error.

Then in A Fresh Dimension we are exposed to a truly fresh dimension in the sexuality of Cathal. Though love is a driving theme throughout the poem, it is never definitively stated who it is towards (though clues to the object of desire being female). However, in the closing lines Cathal states, "Shelter me here between the bright causeway of your legs, add a fresh dimension to my poem." As we were presented with Dear Dark-Haired Lover before this, we are able to bring in the knowledge of Cathal's homosexual love. This knowledge, combined with the desire to be between the legs of his loves and gaining that female love, allows us to understand the meaning presented.

Public Poetry

Cathal O Searcaigh's poetry acts as a form of fulfillment and rebellion to the heteronormative status quo around him. I liken his work to the public homosexual kiss because the act in itself (enacting the passion of lips or words) is a perfectly normal expression of “normal” emotion. The act is ordinary, but the homosexual twist projects it into the public sphere as an irregularity. It thus pushes and simultaneously redefines the boundaries of society. This is queer poetry, and it is linked to the political world.

Poetry is a widely accepted and emotional practice that only humans can perform. It is a unique and passionate form of communication and reflects society. By turning this human art form into homosexual passion in his poem “Dear Dark-Haired Love” O Searcaigh directly challenges homophobic members of the public by asserting his own passion as human. Queer poetry becomes human poetry, and the barriers of societal norms take a heavy blow.

Homosexuality Within a Larger Forum

The collection of poems that was the alternate option for today’s blog were written by Cathal O Searcaigh. The poems are titled “Dear Dark-Haired Love,” “A Fresh Dimension,” and “Sanctuary.” All three poems are indeed about a love and no doubt elicit images of some long lost crush, that same person that everyone inevitably loves and loses in their young lives. The first poem, “Dear Dark-Haired Love” is probably the one most indicative of a homosexual relationship, or at least a relationship that is “on the wrong side of the gospel.” This is an interesting line in the poem not only because it indicates that there is an obvious cultural dislike for homosexuality, but that there is a strong religious grounding within the narrator’s community, and finally, a knowledge of that religious background that the narrator is applying to their predicament – their pariah status within society, not their homosexuality. The second poem, “A Fresh Dimension” expresses the idea of homosexual love quite differently, however. The author simply alludes to a “fresh dimension” that he (she) seeks. This fresh dimension, he adds, is in the shelter between the subjects legs. This idea of shelter obviously evokes imagery of a feminine anatomy, but the fresh dimension indicates a break from that very assumption of the feminine, looking for a new dimension that subverts traditional connotations. Finally, the third poem, “Sanctuary,” immediately evokes the image of shelter. The author continues this idea when he says that he is in the “hollow of the mountains.” I dare you to imagine a better cloister. Within this cloister, the narrator talks of the altar-boy as being the object of his affection. This imagery makes the closeted gay affection all the more poignant, the man is within the sanctuary of his own body, not truly protected in the house of God. Altogether these were very interesting poems that could lead to better analysis in a larger forum.