Monday, January 19, 2009

Week 2: Herland

In “The Concept of Utopia,” Peter Fitting notes Frederic Jameson’s importance in the concept of utopia. According to Fitting, Jameson admits that literary utopia is not representative of society, but is indicative of our inability to conceive of utopia (9). We, according to this theory, are all closed out of the utopian concept – the result of “systemic, cultural, and ideological closure of which we are all in one way or another prisoners” (9). Here we have to identify the Real with references to actuality – in order to neutralize it. (So, according to this concept, we have to identify the real elements of our lives, but even then, we can not properly picture what could be. I’m not sure I agree here – I’m pretty good at visualizing and perhaps I can not sustain a picture of utopia, but I can imagine it without imprisonment).

Gilman references the real (dress, social ethics, gender economy) when conceiving of a utopia that differs from the Victorian world that she inhabits. The only aspect that seems to speak to her Victorian world is, as Bridgitte Arnold notes in “’It Began This Way,’” the Victorian principles of “domination of nature” in the beauty, order and perfect cleanness that Van sees around him. Here Gilman does not seem, for the first time, to be in conflict with the Victorian notions of beauty and femininity around her. Yet the 3 men assume that men must be part of this society because of how civilized it looks (which, as Arnold notes, is because their cognitive maps assume that men are inherently part of cultivating nature). Van, through Gilman, soon sets them straight.

Arnold also notes that all of “the men’s assumptions and prejudices are voiced within the first few chapters. After the first 30 pages it just becomes repetitive, as if Gilman did not trust her reader, or was it too advanced? Still, they would be reading Mrs. Dalloway in 10 years, and here V. Woolf dealt with homosexuality, mental illness, and feminism, and in 1915, D. H. Lawrence wrote The Rainbow on sexual desire and power within relationships (granted, it was burnt for obscenity), and W. Somerset Maugham wrote Of Human Bondage, which dealt with beauty, suicide and prostitution. So the population was not THAT innocent.

Two of our readings this week deal with ecology – Garrand’s Ecocriticism, and Deegan/Podeschi’s article. Garrand’s Ch. 2 provides an introduction to the environmental movement (cornucopia, environmentalism, ecofeminism, etc…), and Ch. 3 breaks down the 3 notions of pastoral (classical, romantic and pastoral). I enjoyed his critique of American pastoral as a promise situated on the other side of the frontier – always receding westward (51). Both texts also discuss the tie between women’s social oppression and nature’s exploitation and their need to subvert the patriarchal order.

And lastly, Gilman’s first marriage, and subsequent mental breakdown, clearly impacted her text. One wonders how she trusted her ex-husband to raise her daughter without irrevocably keeping her locked in antiquarian ideals. Not sure.

Questions for next week:
-How does a sense of space contribute to a patriarchal society?
-How is the “science” different in each of these texts?
-How are both prescient?

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