Trilby | Svengali, Jewishness, Englishness, & Colonialism

Drawing by George du Maurier

Trilby and The Three Angliches. Drawing by George du Maurier

Allo Allo,

I just finished George du Maurier’s (1834-1896) Trilby (1894). You may recognize du Maurier’s name. There is a Canadian cigarette brand named after his son, Gerald du Maurier. Speaking of children and whatnot, Gerald is Daphne du Maurier’s father. So three generations of artistic du Mauriers. In addition to the well-accepted fame of the surname, du Maurier was a gifted artist, who made many illustrations for Punch, the charivari magazine. He wrote three novels, and I will be discussing Trilby here. Whilst, Trilby’s name is relatively unknown, we will, mostly, all recognize, the name of the identified core villain, Svengali. The name has come be a commonplace term to describe a person who controls an artist or, in the courts any person, through manipulation.

Svengali’s character and the characterization of Jews as evil, manipulative, dirty, cheap, and less than human exist throughout the novel. Svengali, from the beginning of the novel, terrorizes Trilby, a young, poor English woman living in Paris—a figure model (nude) for the aspiring bohemian artists of the Latin Quarter. When Trilby and Svengali are discussed side-by-side, Trilby’s whiteness is emphasized in subtle ways. She is “English.” She is made into a “girl”. That is not to disregard the daily sexism women experience(d), but these contradistinctions do not exist when Trilby is discussed next to other English or French characters. Indeed, Svengali hypnotizes and terrorizes Trilby to become La Svengali, the greatest singer of all time. She may only sing under his hypnosis (unaware, of course), because her conscious singing voice is cacophonous. Indeed, we should be cautious to understand Svengali’s manipulation as part and parcel of Jewishness. It is racism perpetuated in literature. It is and was a lazy way for authors to signify a dubious character. We should also recognize that this trope of the demonic Jew was imbedded culturally, in literature, and socially—ghettos and dehumanization.

Svengali described as a spider. Drawing by George du Maurier.

Svengali is a manipulative character in du Maurier’s text. He is articulated as the kind of person we do not want to know. He’s the person that you try to avoid at parties, group gatherings, and daily. But everyone wants him there because he is an exceptionally talented musician. People (the right kinds, of course) want him around because when he plays the piano, they feel something beyond themselves. For a moment, they escape into a synaesthesiac abyss. Music, in the novel, is a powerful force. Indeed, the stereotype of Jewishness that Svengali is able to hypnotize Trilby is exaggerated because whilst others are hypnotized by his very power of music itself, she is not. Indeed, at the beginning of the novel, she is quite unaware that he even plays. Whilst the others are listening intently, she calmly eats her lunch and smokes a cigarette looking out into the temporal world rather than experiencing the spiritual through the sensuousness of his music. She has not interest in him and his music. She is more interested in the painters and sculptors.

Trilby, model to the bohemians, but not “in the altogether” to the three artists around whom du Maurier’s story centres: Little Billee, Taffy, and the Laird. Trilby is in love with Little Billee, and so she integrates herself into their lives. She darns their socks, finds them props for their scenes, cooks them meals, and loves each artists (platonically or otherwise). We are aware of Trilby’s affection for Little Billee for quite some time, but we only later learn that Billee has proposed to her twenty times. On Christmas Eve, she finally accepts. But of course, what middle-class English mother would let her son marry such a “girl” as Trilby. Is this where everything changes? —

I’m getting ahead of myself. Indeed, both Trilby and Little Billee are in love. But all of the Latin Quarter is in love with Trilby. Her feet are accepted as the finest in creation. Many artists have sketched, sculpted, and painted her feet. Du Maurier describes her has quite unaware of her body as a source of shame–as women are taught to do. She models her feet and in the nude. She does not comprehend her body as sinful. Du Maurier repeats that she was uninhibited by the social mores of covering one’s body to save from “womanly” shame. For example, he writes,

“She would have ridden through Coventry, like Lady Godiva–but without giving it a through beyond wondering why the streets were empty and the shops closed and the blinds pulled down–would have even looked up to Peeping Tom’s shutter with a friendly nod, had she known he was behind it.” (Du Maurier, 60)

Du Maurier wants the reader to be aware that Trilby’s nudity is unabashed because it is not sexualized by herself. She does not see herself as an object of lust or sex, and so when she poses in the nude, she sees it as commonplace. Of course, this mentality must change for the patriarchy. Eve did not get to wander around Eden forever—there had to be a fall. Trilby’s prelapsarian reign over the Latin Quarter ends when Little Billee goes to the studio where he and fellow aspiring artists study—and there he sees a naked Trilby modelling. He makes a scene and runs out of the studio. It is at this moment that Trilby recognizes shame. I suspect that this is, in fact, when everything changes. It is here that Trilby tries to model herself, rather than being the model, into a pious and respectable, young, English lady.

Trilby is antagonized by realization that Little Billee was scandalized by her nudity. “The new-born feeling of shame was unendurable—its birth a travail that racked and rent every fibre of her moral being, and she suffered agonies beyond anything she had ever felt in her life.” (Du Maurier, 74). Indeed, Little Billee’s moralizations render the Edenic Latin Quarter a place where brother will kill brother; Trilby’s fall from grace makes her vulnerable to Svengali—to the “devil”. But let’s not consider it so easy. After all, Svengali doesn’t interfere with Little Billee’s plans to marry Trilby, that award goes to his mother and uncle. His mother meets Trilby and asks her to back away from her son; doesn’t she know she isn’t respectable for such a talented artist? Surely, Trilby should recognize that Little Billee would be turned away from all respectable places with her at his side!

Let’s really think about that. Ruminate upon it. Digest it. It’s shit. Svengali’s domination and manipulation of Trilby, making her into the most sought-after woman in the world, shows that people easily forget class and origins when they want something. Suddenly, her parentage is respectable. It was not respectable enough for Little Billee’s mother. Left alone, Trilby’s brother dead, and willingly ready to die, she sought out Svengali. He puts her under hypnosis, and whilst in this state, he trained her to sing, and, later, perform. La Svengali (Trilby’s stage name) becomes something everyone wants to have. Yet, her voice is ephemeral. Her voice is lauded as the greatest there ever was and will be. No one, but those who hear her, will have ever experienced such greatness. She is a luxury commodity; and she, of course, makes a lot of money for Svengali (since she is actually unaware). But royalty wants her. The middle classes want her. People on the streets want her. Advertisements pronounce her arrival. Svengali’s manipulation of Trilby is often discussed as something that he does. He is the guilty party. Yet, isn’t it more accurate to understand society as the real perpetrator? Svengali just makes them pay. Doesn’t Svengali’s character actually, subtly, expose how ludicrous, greedy, and money-grubbing everyone else is? Indeed, Trilby is respected for her talent, and the whole farce of Svengali’s manipulation reveals the fractures of Little Billee’s mother’s polite society. Ultimately, Svengali has the last laugh because Trilby hypnotizes and entrances the world. The things they fear the most, the Jew and the classless “girl,” who models in the nude, enchants the world; these two (conscious and not) usurp the whole system.

Little Billee’s mother will not permit her son to marry Trilby because it destroys his prospects. Do we sympathize with her because we think he is more worthy than Trilby? Do we sympathize with her because, good, English boys are not stereotyped as greedy or manipulative? Trilby’s brother died because she left Paris, at Little Bille’s mother’s request–he was an English boy. We cast stones at Svengali’s character, and, indeed, he did predatorily seizes upon Trilby, but other characters are similarly manipulative. We excuse the behaviour from white characters because we see their motivations as valid and not through a stereotyping lens. Yet, Svengali’s character is easily demonized because he is Jewish. What if we expand our parochial view of Englishness to one of Empire and colonization—does our view of the polite rules that rule out Trilby as a desired mate for a proper, English man change? I think it should. The fairy tale isn’t quite so simple, is it?

I am going to leave the review here, and I will post another about the way mental health is treated throughout the novel and give Trilby more of an opportunity to speak for herself.

Heaps of love,
WordPlay Xx

Why We Need To Take Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda Seriously, Seriously.

The Introduction:

Recently, Nicki Minaj has been in the news. Her so-called feud with Taylor Swift directed a lot of people’s attention to her Anaconda video, about which Nicki was, understandably, upset because it did not get a nomination for Best Choreography and Video of the Year at the VMAs.

And, as we all know, Taylor decided to get involved. I am not going to rehash the ins and outs here. Marina has a really great video discussing the issue; please watch it to find out more.

Now, for my part, I want to talk about the merits of Nicki’s video, which has been heavily criticized and a little bit about the response others had to Taylor’s misapprehension of the issues of race, media, and Nicki’s tweets. Perhaps, I’ll start with the second point first.

Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran decided to derail Nicki’s point even further with their smack-talking, WWF (sic, should be WWE) analogy of the VMAs. First of all, Nicki has every right to be upset that her video was not nominated. Let’s get that straight. Full stop. Second of all, she has a right to tell her fans she is upset. Her fans support her, they like her work, and they want the best for her. She is allowed to share her vulnerability. Full stop. Now, when Taylor got involved, she derailed Nicki’s point. But when Ed and Bruno got involved, they were silencing Nicki even further and completely derailing Nicki’s discussion of race and systems of racial stereotype and oppression via the machismo of wrestling. Additionally, they made a mockery of two women disagreeing about something. Ed and Bruno made it about Nicki and Taylor’s gender–two women not seeing eye-to-eye became about two men showing that women don’t and can’t play nice with each other. First, it harkens back to archaic tropes that women can’t hold the same jobs men do because their emotions overwhelm them. Second, and most importantly, it reinforces race-based tropes of the angry-black woman. The narrative becomes that Nicki is just angry and Taylor is somehow a victim in this. That is not at all what was going on. Nicki was expressing her own disappointment and anger that she was not nominated.

The Argument:

Let’s talk about Nicki’s discussion of race and bodies in relation to Anaconda. Nicki explains that she feels black women and fuller-bodied women are not represented in the media. Yes, yes, yes. It is just true. When Nicki posted a photo to instagram to announce the video, people were outraged by her bum. Good grief. When a woman expresses her sexuality, suddenly is is tacky, pornographic, slutty….<<INSERT ALL THE WORDS>>, but men have been sexualizing and making women into objects FOREVER. Why is it okay for the Wiggle song to exist or Blurred Lines or any of those types of videos where women are not only made into objects in the lyrics but hyper-sexualized in the video? Additionally, because of racism’s dreadfully terrible history (not that it could have any other history but dreadful) of aligning certain races with animals, animality, primal lust &c., black men and women are always sexualized  (read: over-sexualized) without their consent. Thus, when a black woman expresses her sexuality, she is immediately policed by the media, social-media websites, friends, family, people she doesn’t know &c.,

The genius of Nicki’s video is that it RECLAIMS one’s ability to be sexual without being sexualized by someone else. The beginning of Sir Mix A Lot’s song has two white women discussing a black woman’s body like it doesn’t belong to a living person. They are distanced from making emotional contact, first by their language, and second by the fact that the black woman is put on a pedestal like a statue–a non-human. Their language cannibalizes the body of the woman. Her body is cut into what is worthwhile (by Mix A Lot) and what is not. Her “butt.” She is no longer seen as a person, but she is something that we ALL consume as we watch the video and get the song stuck in our heads–“I like big butts.” This becomes especially apparent as we see fruits and veg used to stand in for bums. They also say that she looks like a “rap guy’s” girl friend, thus claiming she only exists in the context of the male gaze. Next, they even suggest that she looks like a prostitute, based solely on her body type. WHAT?! The girls are ridiculed for finding her body gross, but not for sexualizing her body. Her body, according to the rest of the song, is meant to be sexualized, sings Sir Mix A Lot.

Now, if we take a moment to look at the way the women are dancing in the video, we will note that Nicki’s own choreography is fairly similar. It is not more riské than Sir Mix A Lot’s video. The only difference is that a woman is saying that her body is sexy and reclaims the power of the gaze.

She castrates the male gaze.

I mean, the video is SO GENIUS! Nicki reframes the ENTIRE idea of how women’s body’s are and have been sexualized by male artists. The song begins with Sir Mix A Lot’s sound bite, and, for a moment, you see the bodies through the male gaze–then Nicki begins talking about a guy–her context. She reverses the power of the male gaze and she openly discusses her own sexuality. She’s basically saying, “yah, look at her butt.” Do it, when she says you can. Is that what makes people so upset? It’s on her terms? The lyrics are often ill at ease with what is happening in the background. When the scenes seem to become more sexualized, the less relevant they are to her lyrics. For example, when she is talking about the male with the “dick bigger than eiffel” the man in question is not even in the scene to restore the power of the male gaze. It is not his pleasure or power that we glean from the scene, it is hers! Furthermore, she is talking about and referencing the male body in abstract terms: the male body is reduced to his penis, just like in Mix A Lot’s women are reduced to their bums. Although, the penis is usually taken as a sign of power and virility, Nicki undoes this. She mimics Mix A Lot’s use of fruit, mostly to imitate the male phallus: bananas. They swim, abstractly, upon a turn-table, or just as Nicki is about to take a bite of one she throws it away in disgust and cuts one with a pair of scissors. She castrates the male gaze. I mean, that scene where she is spinning just shows the ridiculous way women, especially black (/POC) women, are sexualized by the media and not on their terms.

I think my favourite part is when she is dancing for Drake, and she is expressing her own sexuality, but when he tries to touch her, she slaps his hand away. She said LOOK, not touch. Get it? Look at her butt?!

So, whilst Nicki did not get a nomination, I think her video should be celebrated for the clever ways it functions to dismantle how men and women have portrayed women, especially women of colour, in the music industry and the media. If we understand the context of her videos, then we won’t underwrite her when she says that her video represents that from which which the media, purposefully, shies away. Additionally, if someone says, well “Beyoncé was nominated” then we should say, why are we counting how many black women are nominated?

Heaps of Love,
WordPlay Xx

Standing Your Ground | Doubling and the Roles of Femininity

Today, I was out doing errands when someone was quite rude. I was in a fairly good mood–happy, looking for yoghurt for my mum. Unfortunately, this person either did not hear me and reacted outrageously rudely or they are just outrageously rude. Of course, it escalated because I decided to stand up for myself and then her husband got involved. Now, in a situation like this, where does the blame lay? I think it would be a vast waste of time to try and figure that out. Her husband kept trying to assert his sense of righteous rightness, and that is where it went wrong. Misapprehensions happen, but trying to intimidate someone who is vastly younger than you is a losing battle–you are always a bully. Always.

I used to not really stand up for myself in public or to a lot of my friends. I always had this weird sense of it not being ladylike or proper. Of course, I argue(d) with my sister or with people I knew, historically, that were downright wrong. Yet, when you argue with someone outside of your family, where gender doesn’t seem so important in defining you–because there are so many other characteristics to call upon, one’s gender becomes one’s defining feature.

When a woman or girl stands up for themselves, it is extremely courageous because it means breaking many social codes. It is not demure to stand up to someone because it is as if you have to be angry and show that anger. I was going to edit that sentence to make it less passive, but it demonstrates my point: “as if you have to be angry*. Best not to break those social codes. In more direct words, you’re ANGRY that someone decided they were entitled to behave in an aggressive fashion towards you. I was in a REALLY good mood before the encounter; afterwards, adrenaline was pumping through my body so much so that I felt like I was filled with buzzing bees. My legs felt like jelly. I was surprised I had control over my limbs at all.

There was once a time when I wouldn’t even say excuse me; I would just wait for people to do their thing. I look back on this and I don’t think it’s very healthy to be so silent about how you move through the world. It hinders your life. A bit of it had to do with the fact that I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and general stress, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that I didn’t feel my voice was loud enough to break the silence.

Hear me out: I hate yelling for things. Why? Because I don’t think my voice sounds nice when I have to yell. It doesn’t have it’s same rich tones –forgive me for the self-indulgence. When one yells, one’s voice often goes higher and slightly scratchier. That’s natural. Yet, I don’t like that sound. Thus, raising my voice was a rare occurrence; particularly, when I lived alone. Sometimes, I hear my voice back (after filming) and I notice where my pitch went up, and, although more feminine sounding, I don’t really like it.

I’m sure a lot of it has to do with defying the feminine aura of femininity. I want to stress that all of these codes are taught to children, who mimic them into perfection. Let’s examine that claim. Homi Bhabha writes on mimicry by colonized peoples in his text The Location of Culture. To explain this, let me lay some of the historiographical and theoretical framework that Bhabha discusses. In Edward Said’s famous text Orientalism, Said claims that colonialism created an exotic East that was discussed and debated by the West. The East was an antipode to the West. What was East was not West. Orient to Occident. Largely, Said argues that the East was created discursively (or through language) in novels, pamphlets, and government documents. Following Michel Foucault’s logic of power as discussion in Discipline and Punish, the western creation of the east ensured a “panoptical (or all-seeing) vision of domination” (Bhabha 86).

But Bhabha doesn’t accept that the West actually ever held such a clear image of what the East or the Other was. Where Said sees a western domination of eastern creation, Bhabha recasts the scene to show the slippage of western discourse that points its finger back at the colonizer rather than revealing any truth about the colonized. Bhabha reminds us that the panopticon does not work in just one direction–the colonized subject is created as other mocked up with crude, very racist stereotypes, but, here, the colonizer’s own fragility of identity is revealed. Bhabha explains that authors, such as Joseph Conrad and V.S Naipaul have parodied the racism of the colonizers, but then, so too have Charles Grant and Thomas Babington Macaulay, who, in all seriousness, perpetuated meaningless stereotypes to debase other cultures. Bhabha’s point is not to delegitimize the harm that these men’s words have done and continue to do, but he seeks to unravel their power. He wants to us to take a good look and say, “but that’s simply not true” and re-evaluate how history has cast what the west called the other into a passive sourcebook.

Now, to return to my point about children mimicking adult behaviour. There is something uncanny about young girls mimicking the behaviour of women that doesn’t occur when boys mimic the behaviour of men because men are not sexualized on the same level, day to day, that women, historically, have been and are. Young children cue in really quickly about tone of voice. This tone means this person is angry. This other tone means this person is sad. I make this tone when, quite frankly, I’ve had enough of all the fuss over my little sibling and it’s now ME TIME. Our behaviour is not essential to our gender, but it is taught. We consume it daily. In addition to how we speak and dress, how and when we talk is also taught to us through film, books, commercials, advertisements, and even those political peoples who talk down to all of us, whilst abusing democracy.

So, in Said’s interpretation, we could claim that men have created how women behave and what they do. In many ways, this is true. Oppression has very really consequences. Yet, Bhabha would have us take a closer look at how this source material has actually parodied women’s experiences. Yes, whilst many women, in the home, were treated as inferior or less than, and with many novels, government documents, church or religious doctrines, and advertisements dictating the stereotype of womanhood–women lived according to or against those rules. Like the racist stereotypes that prevail, ideas of femininity and essentialized-gender persist–bleeding into each other as intersectionality plays out.

When I stood up for myself I was confronted with this immediate sense of dread. A lot of it was annoyance that people could be so shitty, but a lot of it was… “I’m nice, but I had to say unpleasant things to stand my ground.” What occurred is a doubling. Because one’s outward appearance indicates who they are in a societally-defined coded language. As a woman, I am meant to be quiet, polite, kind, maternal, and passive. Yet, as a person who was taught that it is right to stand up for oneself, I am loud, assertive, certain, clear. Because my identity is built up by society as adhering to one set of rules, my sense of self is shaken when I fail to live by them. My own sense of who I am becomes trapped between the socially prescribed one and who I feel and think I am. What happens next is an existential crisis. Who am I? Am I my actions? How do I define myself?

As a rule, I don’t like getting angry. Annoyed, sure, we all get annoyed. But angry, no. I don’t like having to stand my ground because someone else wants to be shitty. I kind of sit on the wall of peaceful, happygolucky. Of course, that’s an ideal–life maintains its own stresses.

I’m not saying it’s easier for men to stand their ground, but in media it’s glorified. For example, in the film Endless Love, the lead male character David Elliot has to stand his ground to show he deserves the rich, female lead, Jade. Because he is poor, he is provoked into violence by Jade’s father, as some sort of delusional truth that poor people are inherently more violent and disobey the rules of polite society. Pure poppycock, but the film plays on those tropes. Indeed, Jade stands her ground, too, at the risk of losing her innocence to her parents and the audience. This line is tread quite carefully. Her blond hair and soft nature offset the fact that she’s definitely having sex with David. On it’s surface, the story seems like a gooey, doe-eyed, start-crossed love story, but it is filled with carefully outlined tropes. The male lead must prove he is not marred by his less-than status; he stands his chivalric ground and gains access to polite society. Their relationship and its intimacies are thus validated. His heroic task is glorified. What does this really mean though?

I chose to use the Darkest Timeline image to articulate how ourselves and our personalities always sit in a fragile shell, called forth by different chance moments. They make us consider who we are and how we react. I guess, Community writers would say it isn’t a doubling but rather a sixling.

Heaps of Love,
WordPlay Xx

Connect with me elsewhere:
facebooktwitter YoutubeinstagramTumblr-Icon goodreads

Rethinking the Discourse of Active Children ⎜#Participaction

tumblr_inline_mih2heshn11qz4rgpThe narrative emerging out of Canadian news outlets today is that Canadian parents are holding their children hostage from the great Canadian outdoors. The Participaction Report claimed that 9/10 Canadian children were not active enough, and they gave a D- to the nation. The advice they gave rings clear as a bell from our televisions (ironic), stop letting your kids sit idly in front of the TV and allow them to go outside. The narrative is telling Canadian parents that they are not doing enough. It is blaming them for letting their children sit and do nothing. It is saying, you are not doing enough and you are not enough.

Let’s just reconsider this discourse. It seems more likely that 9/10 Canadian parents cannot afford to put their children in extra-curricular activities. It seems more likely that 9/10 Canadian parents cannot be there to drive their children around town or out of town for sports competitions. It seems likely that Participaction has forgotten that these things are extremely expensive. Many parents cannot remortgage a house to pay for equipment, gas to go to the games, money to repair the car (if you even have one), or the time away from work.

As much as Participaction wants the narrative to be about just taking your kids outside…it cannot be. There are wider considerations that need to be taken into account. Parents who work long hours, may find it difficult to find the time to provide the cookie-cutter fitness routine the government prescribes. Just go to a park?! Well, the school field/park near my house used to have a swingset, but that’s gone. Many parks become fill quite quickly, too.

And, sure, there are some parents who are just lazy. Fine, we’ll point our fingers at them, tell them to get their couch-potato natures in shape and do a monster-mash into fitness, but that isn’t representative of all parents. Most parents and people are tired. Most parents and people cannot afford a lot of things. Most parents and people are overly stressed. Now the government is openly telling them that they aren’t doing their fundamental job as parents.

Do not be so hasty, government, I’m here to tell you, you’ve done yours poorly: We need to reconsider this discourse of active children in more nuanced terms than just blaming the parents. Perhaps better funding at schools and for teachers!! would produce more after-school programming for children to take part in. Perhaps raising minimum wages and stopping corporations from offering only part-time or contract works would allow parents to have more stable incomes and, if not more money to enable activity for their children, more energy to spend time being fit with their children. Perhaps job security in creative fields? Perhaps we should look at the larger issue at hand instead of telling parents that they need to take their children out, like a puppy at pee-time. It also seems clear that, alongside the socioeconomic issues, the gendering of sports impacts who plays and until what age. These are the issues I expect my government to be discussing. These are the issues on which I expect my educated and informed government to make headway.

Please don’t harken back to the good ole days before computers and iPhones. That argument is not fitting. Many children were active in the ‘good ole’ days because they were helping out on farms or in household labour. In short, many were contributing to the household income. This again points to parents needing more support and compassion, rather than a government telling them that you just need to take your children to a park.

Going to a park is sound advice. It is a small step for many who feel that many things are, otherwise, out of their reach or grasp. It might be a small start. But, unless our government begins to create affordable childcare (where children are being active), invests in schools so teachers can more readily incorporate physically-active curricula, and empathizes with busy, underpaid parents, your words are going to fall quicker than the mercury in a Canadian winter on tired ears.

The reason I chose Jan Steen’s c.1665 painting, So the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young, to illustrate this post is to counter the idea that many parents and families are living in an opulent age of technology comparable to the wealth of the Dutch in the seventeenth century. The ones who live those opulent lifestyles are very few, and if children are addicted to their screens trying to emulate these peoples…it has less to do with their parents trying to force them away from those screens but more to do with the fact that, even to children, wealth is enviable. Want. “I want that.” Most consumable things are marketed to children because they “want.” Parents are inundated with marketing campaigns targeted at their children. Bright lights, flashing colours, bold pinks and blues—gendering children’s wants and desires.

So…maybe, government, make things a little easier for parents. Rethink your ideas on affordable childcare and your monolithic class-sizes. That, I think, will have the longest-lasting effect on how active children—to their greatness or their detriment.

#StopBlamingTheParents

WordPlay Xx

Connect with me elsewhere:
facebooktwitter YoutubeinstagramTumblr-Icon goodreads

On Privacy and Narrative.

unnamed-6The act of reading is an intimate act. You sit alone in your flat. You become alone in a crowded space, as your mind submerges into the text. You hear the author’s words resonate from the silent paper as waves of sound pulsate through your body. At the perfect harmony, you are shattered. Reading allows for a personal intimacy, an intimacy with the text, and an intimacy with the character. Whether or not the narrator is reliable pressures our ability to trust our access to characters’ private lives. Part of us may let go, most of us may cling to the edges of the newly bound or ruggedly aged book in our hands. In my own experience, there is always a sense of wanting privacy and self-freedom, whilst also wanting someone to, omnipotently, understand our own narratives. We don’t want to have to explain ourselves. We want an empathetic audience to our lives, but on some level, wouldn’t that just be insufferable? I’ve been thinking, today, about the need for privacy and space whilst reading Oliver Twist. Of course, many narratives do not give the mundane reality of a person’s day. For instance, not once has Oliver had a wee. Am I the only one that this bothers? (haha, please don’t run away with the idea that I think about this and this alone). But such mundane acts are the building blocks of life. A narrative takes the reader through the character’s movements–as much as we can see, as much as is pertinent to the narrator and/or author’s articulations. Reading can seem especially invasive if we are reading a memoir or a memoir-styled fiction. It seems quite perplexing, in a humuorous sort of way, that to escape this world and slip into a quiet sanctuary, that we, unnoticed by the cast, emerge into other peoples’ lives. Of course, I am also going to claim that, although some might argue the observer effect is null-and-void in this context, it is at the forefront of our engagement with the text, story, film, or television show. We always bring our own biases and knowledges to a book. We each have our own particular strengths. I, for instance, can recall quotations from theoretical texts, but I find it much harder to recall lines from literature. I am incredibly envious of people who can memorise these quotations. I’ll have to work on it, I suppose. Back to my point, we always bring our own state of mind (at the time), our own set of knowledges, our own abilities and lack of ability to empathise, and our own interpretations to what we are viewing or beholden. Our observer effect does not effect the ink’s immutability upon the page, but it is key to our understanding of what we read. We cannot change what happens upon a screen, but how we engage with it is our own observer effect. This may be dubious in other areas of life, ‘research’, or writings, but our nature to engage with things on nuanced and varied measures is precisely the (abstract) beauty of reading. Thus, in our own small ways, as we escape into these worlds, you can align or malign with a particular character. The books become about us, inasmuch as they are about other things. Perhaps, that is why in cases of extreme emotion–it is difficult to lose yourself in a book. But, I’ll always remind myself. The lustful craving for privacy and lack of intimacy is willfully and beautifully undone by the power of narrative, character development, and/even the deconstruction of narrative itself. Those silly post-modernists; shucks.

***

Additionally, I am setting myself a goal of Five Books in March. I’m trying to whiz through Oliver, but so far, I’ve been a little slow with it. My own narrative continues to drown out Oliver’s. But, if anyone is intimidated by Dickens, do read this book. Dickens has such a beautiful way of phrasing things. tumblr_nkpcm0aFEe1sb2oz2o1_1280 Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? I’ve read P&P, and if I don’t get to it this month, I might save it for early spring (Canadian weather). To me, it is a spring novel. Maybe, I can bring it forth sooner through literature? Also, I picked up my copy of Northanger Abbey today and was gently perusing it. This might also contribute to my slow pace with Oliver. Woopsiedaisy. I hope you’ll read along with me and/or let me know what you think about these books or a book you’re reading. Be the courageous ones I know you all to be. I wish you peace and happiness.

Heaps of Love,
Word Play Xx

On feeling all the hues of blue.

unnamed-6

I wanted to write a post about feeling blue. I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to say. I didn’t want to say I was enveloped with sadness, and I didn’t want to say I was feeling depleted. Neither of those things are true. Even when I was selecting the image and text (above), I wanted something that piqued curiosity and inspired love. I had a tinge of the blues, but in their complex entirety, my emotions were far more than one bristol blue hue.

For instance, I just had good news that my doggy is doing better than before because of the care we give her. Every time I look at her, my heart fills with this incredible fullness and lightness that makes me feel like I could float away to the moon, with the appropriately fitted NASA gear, of course. Additionally, I am reading two books at the moment: Oliver Twist and Torn Halves. Both texts inspire different feelings, emotions, responses, and intellectualities. I am making that word up, like personality but for your little firing synapses. Haha. One is fictional, and so deliciously written. The other is literary and cultural theory, and I feel like my brain is a jumping bean waiting to explode with joy, curiosity, and, at times, mild confusion over newly learned words. Such as,

aporetic, meaning: ‘an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory’.

Hum, what an awesome word. I’m just going to repeat that a few times to myself. Aporetic. Aporetic. Nicely done there, with that lovely word.

But you see what I mean. There is this internal desire to just say I’M DONE. TTYL PEOPLE. RUNNING AWAY (with the no money I have) to….A HIDDEN PLACE (because I couldn’t go anywhere farther than my closet). At the same time, I have this extremely overwhelming curiosity. And this is making me think that our brains like the challenge. Reading is sometimes slow and loopy language is clouded with the metaphoric or analogous, but it so beautifully sends our minds whizzing in so many perfect directions. Even if those directions lead us no where physically, we have grown spiritually. I always refer to my inner self and well-being as my spirituality. For each of us, it is different. And that is perfect and infinite.

That’s why I won’t say I’m feeling sad. I have moments of insecurity and self-doubt. We are meant to. We cannot have all the answers. We should want them. Maybe that’s a westernized concept, but I think it’s okay to hold your hand to the stars and wonder and feel in awe of the universe or multi-verse. It is okay to let your imagination dream in numbers, sing in riddles, and fly in miracles. It’s okay to dream of being held tight by someone to whom you don’t really talk anymore. One time, and I still laugh thinking about this, I had a dream that it was super sunny and a friend of mine was tickling me. I am pretty sure I was joyfully laughing from sleep. Sure, to the person who had to see it, it was probably pretty creepy…but I am grinning bigger then Cheshire Cat right now. And, I have some negative memories about this person, but I also know that there are so many happy memories there too–a jouissance, if you will. (Don’t read too much into that). I find it comforting, that, although we’ve had this negative experience, my sense is to recall the joyous times and let that negativity become overwritten by peace and bliss.

I guess what I am saying is that…I’m giving myself permission to explore those moments of sadness, but I am no longer going to categorise them as the same feeling. Those moments are so nuanced that they need to cover a spectrum of colour that far outreaches my feeble visible colour spectrum, known as ROYGBIV (red orange yellow green blue indigo violet). Haha, also, I remember in grade 7 not remembering that infrared rays were slower than the visible colours, and my science teacher totally yelled at me. I’m pretty sure she thought I should know better. But, come on, it’s not like I had met with all these rays and timed their speeds. Since then, we’ve ran laps, they’ve all creamed me each time, but I got ultraviolet to do the timing, and she’s pretty reliable… Newton was proud.

For me, when I feel blue, it is because I feel like I have no where to express those feelings. I try not to give into the stigma of shaming sadness, but I was pretty hardcore shamed by some people when I was younger. I still fight against that. I do also think that because of that shaming, it is easier for me to label my sadness in the same box of my undoing. [Of course, none of this can apply to anyone else but me. It is not meant to. It is my experience. Others may share it, but I don’t try to speak for them.] Like I said, I am going to try and work at not having that reflex which automatically traps me in a mood of sadness. I am going to learn how to communicate, even to just myself, my discomfort. For me, I think that will be the start. It kind of reminds me of when I don’t feel like doing something, for any number of reasons, and when I start to work through why I don’t want to do it, I am able to articulate that there is some fear at the bottom of it. I don’t know that I can promise to be fearless because I will always have a spider thing. Instead, I am going to work on mindfulness and deconstructing my aporetic.

Heaps of love,
Word Play
Xx

Books & Me – Thoughts for the Ether

IMG_4917

I am reading The Parade’s End Tetralogy. I love it. I am at 90 pages, and the book is fantastic. I have been raving about it to everyone I who has stopped to say one word to me. It’s a really clever book, and I want to share that magic. I am disappointed at myself that my first impression was an unfavourable one. But, I think I have that way about me. I tend to dislike first before I fully love. For instance, Mika. The first time I heard Mika and saw his videos, I thought it was ludicrous. I was in high school. I was catching a few minutes of music videos on the television, and he was dancing with a fluorescent light tube. Judged. I was the judge, jury, and executioner. Did not like him. At all. But then, I saw his video again, maybe a week later. I looked it up on youtube.

Instant Love: 


A life-long longing was thus imbibed. I really liked his music and his character. I liked his fluidity of character. I liked that he was sexually ambiguous–in every way. In a world of rules and meaning, he just went with this ridiculous flow. He liked Freddie Mercury. He liked Grace Kelly. He told big girls they were beautiful. He did that for his mom and his sister. How could you not like the guy? It even began a life-long battle over who has rights to him between my best friend and I. I found him first! haha. *mmhhhhmm, but all her looks were too sad. So I tried a little Freddie. I’ve gone identity mad.* I just really loved this song. I loved what it was saying without saying it. That we create identities and niches for the world to consume, rather than for our own consumption and joy. The unfair world also inscribes prejudices and disadvantage for many. 

Let’s bring this back to reading. I suspect that, for me, reading is this undeniable consumption of joy and pleasure. Not always. Sometimes, you have to read A LOT of drivel before you get to the book that makes your heart race and has all those chemicals in your brain swirling in a soupy tub of pink mess. Yes, authors put these ideas out there to be consumed–hopefully profitably (Thanks to Charles Dickens’s work on copyrighting texts; check out Nicholas Nickleby ALSO, check out Edward Lloyd, who ridiculously plagiarised Dickens and also published Sweeney Todd). Sorry, that was rather a stupendous tangent. Anyway, I was using Mika’s Grace Kelly as a metaphor for reading and satisfying yourself rather than seeking to find the approval of others. Most people won’t really care about all the books you’ve read. I’ve read many books, and a lot of people I know probably don’t care or don’t think it’s important. That doesn’t make them bad people, because it doesn’t make me a bad person that I don’t read for them or for their approval. I do it for me. Often, I will try to make others engage with a text for which I’ve fallen, but that can be met with boredom, contempt, denial, and avoidance. But, if a book makes you happy, you’ve got to share that joy. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have Mika dancing with STUPID FLUORESCENT LIGHTS!

Haha. One time, I went for a 57 KM bike ride with not enough water on a REALLY uncomfortable bike. So, I was racing back to try and catch the ferry back to the mainland. Well, I started to sing Mika’s song Blue Eyes at the top of my lungs. I had been alone for most of the day. And this moment, an act of desperation to the gods of mercy and love and endurance, this man with calves the size of small cows rides past me in all his glory. I almost fell off my bike. Haha. Too funny.

I Love Lucy / Lucille Ball

My particular taste in books is 19th-century Victorian and postcolonial authors. So, I tend to fluctuate between those genres. The Age of Empire (with many authors denying this or hiding their privilege behind other privileges or even blatant racism) in contradistinction to postcolonial authors who sometimes choose to use opacity to reclaim the system. I get it. I appreciate it. Sometimes, we want people to have to work to understand us. If they won’t work for it, would they be there for the tough bits. In my experience, no. At the same time, there is nothing more refreshing than a clearly stated argument. So, I will make that my mantra and caution to others. *nods in a supremely wise manner* *pokes eye on computer screen* 

What I find most fascinating about this, and I am going to refer to a quote from the book I’m currently reading, Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End. I’ll get to my convoluted point hereafter.

And Tietjens, who hated no man, in the face of this simple-minded and agreeable schoolboy type of fellow, fell to wondering why it was that humanity that was next to always agreeable in its units was, as a mass, a phenomenon so hideous. You look at a dozen men, each of them not by any means detestable and not uninteresting, for each of them would have technical details of their affairs to impart; you formed them into a Government or a club and at once, with oppressions, inaccuracies, gossip, backbiting, lying, corruptions and vileness, you had the combination of wolf, tiger, weasel and louse-covered ape that was human society. And he remembered the words of some Russian: ‘Cats and monkeys. Monkeys and cats. All humanity is there.’

(Parade’s End, 79)

To me this problematises how we read things. If a Person tells you a story, you learn from them by the way they use language, the analogies employed, the mumbles and stumbles over certain vocabularies and styles. If a storyteller shares an excerpt with you, you may also learn things about their style, register, and motivations. But when a Person shares a story, you acquire a personal connection with them. When a storyteller shares a story, we are at a further remove than a personal connection. Does it matter that they drafted and edited the story? For all we know, we’re not the first one to hear the Person’s story. Maybe they’ve embellished, added or cut for time or suspense. When we hear the story face-to-face, are we more willing to trust it from the source? Or are we more likely to question tone and meaning? If they say that they are empathetic, but there is a weird twist to their smile that seems questionable, do we then not trust them? If we are removed from the storyteller’s tale, we may not feel threatened in the same way by the (lack of) personal connection. I don’t know. We are always careful not to read too much into the author’s link to a text. Freud is debunked. But ask any scholar, and they’ll tell you that’s a lie. Pick up Derrida, Deleuze, Lacan, or (my favourite) Kristeva– Freud is there in one way or another. Instead of trying to understand the author, because we feel that it has long since served a true purpose to the understanding-industry, we focus on character. Maybe this is where we leave off with Paul Auster’s anti-character in City of Glass. Will the real Paul Auster–imposter–please stand up?! 

So books and storytellers are, then, the ways we can learn to see the world as a vault of individuals, rather than seeing it as a depraved mass of peoples. Isn’t that always the case? We put our fears before our hearts. Compassion never stands a chance? The rich fear the destructive powers of the proletariat. Whites think everything will go to pot if things get ‘too equal’. Men claim that women just want to eat cake. Straights think gay peoples will make them gay. But all of these things are false assumptions. Claims based on faulty evidence and fuelled by fear. Everyone says you need to be acclimatized to your fears. Well, before you put that spider near me….challenge your own fears. Okay? 

Ultimately, this is the beauty of reading. Thinking. Perhaps, we don’t glean much of the true meaning of anything through these exercises of placing the verbs in the right spot and recognizing an author’s nuance, but we do get pleasure. That’s worthy too.

So, I’m about to let my heart swell and my mind dance. What book are you reading?

The Silly-ad Iliad

Hades agreed to represent Achilles’s rage. // Disney / GIPHY

Yes, Achilles sulked. And it is humorous to regard his sulking as the petulance of a child, but we must recall that the opening of the epic tells us of Achilles’s rage. We are meant to envision rage. Indeed, it is what gives Homer’s tale a beginning. The Iliad does not review the full Trojan War. Rather, we land somewhere about the end–after nine years of battling. Achilles’s rage devours nine-years worth of war, and it makes the reader forget that they’ve been fighting for so long. His rage overpowers the entire act of war-making. That is some pretty powerful rage.

Achilles stops fighting because Agamemnon dishonours him by taking Brisēís, a woman Achilles won in battle, to recover Agamemnon’s loss of his own trophy. He was forced by Apollo to return Chryseis to her father, who offered a large ransom for her return. Achilles and the wiseman Calchas, alone, stand up to Agamemnon to say that the woman should be returned to her father. So, Agamemnon takes revenge and takes Achilles’s woman. Essentially, the men aren’t very concerned over the women as people but as property and conquests of war. To them, the women represent property won in battle. These women are representative of the men’s status as a warrior, but they are not represented—as humans or characters in the text. Indeed, even the beautiful Helen, for whom the Trojan war is being fought, represents the defamation of Menelaus’s honour because she ran off with Paris. Helen is much desired for her beauty and the property—her booty, in the many senses of the word. But these attributes are meant to be consumed by the men in her life; her husband(s).

These women are representative of the men’s status as a warrior, but they are not represented—as humans or characters in the text.

Troy will meet its destruction for the battle over honour; but, because Agamemnon dishonours Achilles, the Achaeans almost lose. Honour is constructed by many facets of war and warfare. As we have thus far seen, the conquest of women and objects signifies honour to other warriors and, especially, the people of one’s own race. (I use race here not in its modern sense but to refer to ones countrymen or allies). Furthermore, honour is signified by the performed masculinity of fighting and one’s armour. The gods urge on certain men, breathing courage and energy into their bodies. The gods discourage other men, casting fear and uncertainty into their hearts. Yet, the true warriors are men capable of destroying MANY other men. In an ironic twist, one man who eliminates hundreds of others is the pinnacle of masculinity. Man-ness determined by de-manning; the ultimate game of survival of the fittest. Hector, King Priam of Troy’s son, is beloved for his skill as a warrior. Likewise, Achilles, a man who easily kills many other men, is also distinctly male. Except that he sulks. For this reason, the listener/reader must be made aware, indeed, of Achilles’s rage.

Much of the plot is moved by Achilles’s anger at Agamemnon. The parallels between his dishonour and Menelaus’s is fleshed out. We are left in no doubt that Agamemnon committed the same sin that Paris did. Achilles’s similar rage and intra-Achaean act of warfare is sanctioned by Zeus, who allows the Trojans to, seemingly, win until Achilles re-enters the battle. If Agamemnon and Menelaus can begin full-scale war with Troy, then Achilles can rage his own fury. Indeed, borrowing from Homer’s many metaphors, the scales of battle are tipped in favour of the Trojans, and the warfare ebbs and flows like the tide against the sandy beach. This drama-filled poem contains many graphic scenes of warfare and the many men whom death covers. The ultimate scenes of battle occur when Achilles re-enters the fray, and his rage has intensified.

A quick note on the pace of the poem. The rapidity and the softness of pace that compels you onward. Most of the poem takes place in very fast-paced moment of war. What is extremely fascinating is the pace of the text. At times, many things are happening in what seems like mili-seconds, but there is a grace to the way words take their time and stamp their own authority over the timing of the events. Moreover, at times when fast-paced scenes unravel, gods or other characters will take a moment to interject and monologue, and these moments seem to be a false eternity before the eternity of all eternities: death

The ultimate scenes of battle occur when Achilles re-enters the fray, and his rage has intensified.

(More-revealing spoilers below)

Achilles is a hero for the Achaeans (and somewhat of an anti-hero, generally); crucially, Hector is the true hero of the poem. The poem ends with the Trojans and the listener/reader mourning Hector. Even Helen, who has cursed both Paris and Menelaus honours Hector as a great man. But let’s look a little closer at what happens on the battlefield. Hector kills Patroclus, Achilles’s BFF, and this prompts Achilles to re-enter the war. Hector removes Achilles’s armour–so Momma Thetis goes to Hephaestus and asks him to make Achilles’s another set (MORE ON THIS LATER). Achilles seriously mourns Patroclus’s death. The depth of their friendship is revealed, and Achilles’s sorrow moves the listener/reader. Quite so, he must avenge his death, aside from the fact that he must kill the Trojans to win, anyway. So, as Achilles re-enters the war, the scales are forever turned in the Achaean’s favour. BUT ARE THEY?

At one point, Zeus is tempted to save Hector from death at Achilles’s hands. Surely. this would be the greatest dishonour to Achilles. (22.167-4). Zeus says:

How dreadful! A man I love is being pursued
around the wall of the city, My heart grieves for Hector

But now Achilles, whom no one can match running,
is chasing [Hector] down. All of you–we must decide
whether to save him from death or allow Achilles
to finish him off, brave fighter though Hector is.

Athena quickly quells Zeus’s desire to save Hector. She knows that Achilles must be the one to kill him, or he will never be satisfied. And Athena rather likes Achilles and the Achaeans. But look at the way Zeus offers to save Hector. He loves him and he grieves over his likely death. He wants to save Hector, but he also wants to allows him the chance to fight Achilles because he trusts his bravery. Parent-like, Zeus wants to protect Hector but also allow him to prove himself brave, even it means he dies.

Die, he does. Achilles tries everything to defile Hector’s body, but the gods protect his corpse so he may be honoured by his family with a proper death. Of all the raging men in The Iliad, Hector has his honour intact throughout. Hector is given a full burial rights; the gods ensure this too. How beguiling! A Trojan is the mourned hero of the epic. Indeed, Hector’s proper burial rites gives Homer’s tale it’s ending, not the end of the war or even Achilles’s death. The burial of a hero and not the triumph the the Achaeans, who will destroy and enslave Troy, ends Homer’s epic.

Now, to return to Achilles’s armour. Hephaestus’s craft-godship is perfectly and staggeringly breathtaking. Book 18 contains the magic of Homer. The detail of the armour is spectacular. One could study endless pages on the relationship between the scenes on the armour and the themes of the entire epic. (18. 521-531):

Upon it he set rich farmland that had been lying
fallow the year before. It had just been plowed [sic.]
three times, and the plowmen were wheeling their teams across it,
back and forth and up and down the deep furrows.
When they reached the edge of the field and before they turned,
a man would hand them a cup of honey-sweet wine;
then they would turn back, eager to plow through the soil
and reach the other edge of the field for the next turn.
And the land darker behind them and looked as if
it had just that moment been slowed, although it was fashioned
pure gold: so marvellous was the craft of its forging.

And this is only a brief taste of Hephaestus’s skill. As a final note, I want to remind the reader of the fact that in Homer’s Iliad the only two characters who create are Helen and Hephaestus. Helen sits at a loom making a purple robe with scenes of the battle. Both characters also destroy. Helen is at the centre of the Trojan war. Hephaestus helps save Achilles from an angry river god by casting his fires upon the water. Just like the ultimate claim to manness is de-manning the battlefield, these characters create and destroy. An unholy balance is somewhere set at equal by these characters.

The ending was always clear. The Trojans would lose and the Achaeans would leave triumphant; Odysseus would his famous journey home. Do not let these facts stop you. For, within this text, is heart-breaking language that will stir your soul. Of course, there are many problematic issues with the text: glorification of warfare and the appalling treatment of women–bitch is a recurrent word. But, for the beauty of language, the eloquent use of metaphor and imagination I would recommend this to all. I will definitely revisit this text again and again.

p.s
Hector's Theme song:  'Only bad people live to see their likeness set in stone'





The Litigation Mermaid: Ideas of Consent and Contracts

Disney / GIPHY

Ariel signs a contract. Ursula acquires Ariel’s voice. Ariel has three days to kiss Eric, and, if she fails to do so, her soul becomes Ursula’s. Poor Unfortunate Souls, indeed. Although, Ursula is cast off as a villain in The Little Mermaid as an othered body—a powerful female, who is not a merman, and compared to Ariel’s slim waistline, fat. Her otherness is meant to vilify her in the context of Ariel’s so-called innocent quest for love and a different kind of othered body. It is arguable that The Little Mermaid is as much about the legal truths of contracts as it is a doe-eyed love story. In fact, I also argue that this film is not so doe-eyed, but a tale of sexual awakening and includes ideas of consent, if not outright comments on the subject.

First, let’s discuss the terms and conditions of Ariel’s agreement to Ursula. Ariel is not naively signing her soul and voice away; Ursula tells her the results of not paying a debt. Ursula shows a mermaid and man who wanted to become more attractive to impress one another, a vanity which costs them their souls. Arguably, their souls were in peril before Ursula got to them. Indeed, Ursula’s own size and curves emphasize the hubris of the choices of the mermaid/man to slim down her waisteline and to bulk his pecks, instead of just accepting themselves and each other for who they are [naive, right?]. Ariel and other Disney Princesses have unrealistic body types, Ursula’s parable about weight undeniably shows how unrealistic and disastrous coveting these body types are. Indeed, as we see in Ursula’s later transformation to woo Eric, she may chose to look however she wants. Ultimately, Ursula’s entire song “Pour Unfortunate Souls” shows the dangers of covetousness and hubris.

Disney / GIPHY

For example, underwater, Ariel is used to doing as she pleases. She is out-spoken, fearless, and adventurous. But to get above water, Ariel must give her voice to Ursula. The agreement is not all that unfair. In true trinity fashion, Ursula exchanges three days as a human with Ariel for her voice and Ariel needs to acquire “true love’s kiss.” Ariel agrees, and signs her name to the contract. 

Disney / GIPHY

Now, we all know that Ursula wants to use Ariel’s wish to be human to acquire King Triton’s throne and triton to rule the waters. She will manipulate the contract in order to acquire the goods from Prince Eric, so Ariel’s soul will become hers. Yet, the film focuses on Ursula’s contract with Ariel and her final contract with Triton. The presence of the legally binding contract is more authoritative than Triton’s sovereignty, his foul temper. Indeed, let us examine Triton’s court and his behaviour. Like the French Kings, a luxurious court life is meant to symbolize divine right and kingship. We see that his other daughters behave frivolously and sing little ditties to keep the court amused. Entertainment is the opiate of the masses—bread and circuses. But this style of kingship sacrifices the populace for the grandeur and splendour of court life.

Moreover, Ariel is, from the start, shown to be irresponsible to court life because she is not at the concert. Instead, she searches shipwrecks for signs of human and their wares. Ariel seeks the other–the humans that mermaids/men, and underwater life fear. Indeed, humans are seen as a chaotic and harmful force to the water’s ecosystem. Their waste is worrisome to Triton, and that his youngest and dearest daughter collects the detritus completely unnerves him. Instead of explaining himself to us or Ariel, he finds his daughter worshipping the idol of Prince Eric and destroys it all. HUMANS?! BADDIES! (Thanks Triton) But Ursula is willing to transgress the boundaries between land and water, human and not-human. Ursula sends Ariel into the human world after she sacrificed her voice in exchange for the legs. Ariel is, thus, still tied to the underwater world because her voice is trapped under water in a legally binding contract with Ursula. Moreover, Ursula’s contracts do pull Ariel back into the water and even has the power to unravel Triton’s power. So, instead of simply seeing the patriarchal forces of the film play out, we must note that Ursula’s contracts are more powerful than Triton. This is why she is scary. She can overpower Triton. It is when she starts to use Triton’s triton (phallus?) that she is undone and defeated by Eric. Triumphing not only over Ursula, at her death, but also over Triton’s waters. Ariel and Eric do, indeed, get married on a boat and Triton has to concede to Ariel and Eric’s love. Ursula’s disruption to Triton’s authority forever changes the relationship between land and water.

Before I discuss the presence of consent in the film, I discuss the othering of Ursula’s body. We’ve already touched on the divisive quality of man and nature in the film—this divisiveness is a type of othering. The human world is othered because it is different from the underwater world over which Triton reigns. It is seen as a negative place because it is not known, and it is inhabited by difference. See the song “Under The Sea” to drive this point home. Now, the othering of Ursula body is similar in idea. Ursula is immediately identified as a villain in the film. Is it the darkness with which she is associated? She does not look like the white, pristine mermaids/men. Is it that she is not white? Is is that her sexuality is overt, where the barely clad mermaids are somehow innocent and chaste? She is also a woman with, seemingly, unnatural powers. But, where Triton uses his triton to ‘magic’ events, Ursula actually relies on contracts for power. She relies on an enlightenment-based principle of contract and law to make agreements and settle debts. The results of unpaid debts are, indeed, ghastly. Who really wants to look like a slug or a piece of old sea kelp? The questions raised show that Ursula’s legal actions are blurred and convoluted by the fact that she is a non-white, not skinny, woman. Ursula’s marginalization should keep her oppressed, but she has power.

I remember, as a child, watching Ursula and knowing right away that she was meant to be recognized as the baddie. Ariel’s innocence was so starkly contrasted in Ursula’s knowledge of being sexy and what men want. Not mermen…real men. For example: 

Disney // Giphy

Yes, Ursula has curves. Yes, Ursula is sexy. She knows the importance of body language. Look at that butt. DAYAMM. Also, those red lips. You can see that she is aware she is sexy. But there is also this discomfort present. Why should she feel sexy? She doesn’t look like Ariel. She is not skinny. She is not doe-eyed. She is not the daughter of the King. She is not… But her sexuality and knowledge of sexuality is unmistakeable. Her own self-awareness is lost on children as a negative inference, but Ursula’s character should be seen as an empowered female character. A character who has to fight and play dirty for what she wants. Is it only dirty because she is a woman? Negative adjectives are attached to women’s actions, whereas a male character would be considered a hero–trying to claim power from Triton, a king who creates margins and alienation. Ursula has made her own spaces to assert her power. Ursula certainly does not hold her tongue. She even wields Ariel’s voice in the film.

Disney / GIPHY

Ursula’s assertion of power is captured in her claim: “It’s she who holds her tongue who gets her man.” Whose tongue? Ariels! Ursula has her voice and Ariel’s voice. With it, she is able to manipulate Eric into falling in love with her. Note that when Ariel regains her voice after the sea-creature shenanigans at the wedding, Eric immediately races to Ariel. It is not female submissiveness, but the assertion of power and authority that negotiates power relations in the water and out–the voice.

Disney / GIPHY

Ursula’s character is sexy. That is undeniable. Eight (ten) arms are better than two? Anyway, Ariel’s character is understood as an unaware, innocent, young girl seeking her true love. Prince Eric. *swoons* But Ariel’s character should not be understood as an non-sexual being. Ariel is experiencing a sexual awakening in the film. Ariel is crushing on Eric like no other crush before. Haha. Lies. We’ve all been there. But Ariel is awakened, and she wants to be part of Eric’s world. Although Ariel’s character is chastised as a child and she is very childlike, it is undeniable that she is older than these characteristics. She is portrayed as naive and chaste, but she makes the contract with Ursula. She knows she wants to leave the water to find Eric.

Disney / GIPHY

Disney / GIPHY

Although, Ariel’s character appeals to children, the film, even unknowingly, expresses the sexual awakening of a young woman. Perhaps, that she metamorphoses into a human with legs—literally, becoming a woman, her sexual awakening is complete.

Now, speaking of sexual awakenings and our massive crush on Prince Eric. So dreamy. *giggles* It is all so sudden. Oh yes, where was I? Let us move to our final discussion, that of consent. Ursula told Ariel that she had three days to make her humanness permanent by having true love’s kiss—can it be true love if both parties cannot communicate openly with one another? No! So, perhaps Ursula’s contract was always filled with clauses and impossible loopholes in her favour. But, I digress. The song “Kiss the Girl” has often been read as a moment where the kiss is meant to happen to the girl, but, arguably, Ariel’s friends are her voice in this scene. She WANTS to kiss Eric and for Eric to want to kiss her. Alas, the boat is upturned at the end of the scene, and maybe we can consider Ursula to be a bastion of consent, rather than trying to stop all possible kissing moments [cock block]. [Of course, Ursula’s attempt to marry Eric is an example of consent gone to pooh]. But even if Eric does kiss Ariel, consent is not present. Eric does not know who Ariel is, and Ariel is using him to become human.

Disney / GIPHY

Ariel and Eric cannot kiss until both parties can communicate. The kiss is not consensual until communication is present. And while Ursula has Ariel’s voice, communication is impossible and so, too, is consent. Writing or sign language are not necessarily options because of the premise of the contract; indeed, there is a scene where Ariel attempts to communicate by signing, but Eric cannot understand her signs. Finally, it is when Ariel speaks, Eric recognizes her and they both go to kiss. But they are stopped as Ariel changes back into a mermaid. The contract to kiss him was not known by both parties; communication has failed. When the contracts binding Ariel to Ursula are resolved, Triton signs a contract to release her, Eric fights to save Ariel. This happens in very quick succession, but the events that unravel show the necessity of consent.

In conclusion: 

Disney / GIPHY


Yes, The Little Mermaid has its issues that many feminists have discussed more eloquently than I, but I think that there are also instances where women are shown to have power, sexual awareness, and consent. Indeed, Ursula’s knowledge of contracts is an area that could, perhaps, be explored. Octopi Law School; Under the Sea Academy of Law; The Eight Balancing Arms of Justice….I could go on.

EDIT: URSULAW SCHOOL

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

source: brooklynbookgirl via tumblr

In the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment hit like the plague. Rationality, human rights, and queries into sovereignty were the symptoms that festered. Of course, one does not wholeheartedly begrudge the Enlightenment, but it is of course nice to throw shade at it once in a while. In any case,  Dr. Mah argues, the French spread their own strain of civility and cultural values that made German intellectuals and society quite uncomfortable. Toujours français! Alas, German particularity was born. But, as Dr. Mah further suggests, these notions of national identity, which sought to create difference and superiority through divisiveness, were, in fact, “phantasies.” Or, that is to say, not really there. The fight over who had the right to dictate culture and cultural meaning led, Mah says, to Karl Marx’s ultimate repudiation of cultural identity, located in the proletariat–those without culture. 

Mah’s book considers leading intellectual and cultural figures throughout the German and French Enlightenment, who presented contrary behaviours. How could this be? In an immediate way, as a historian and reader, this book taught me that when I am reading (and living), I shouldn’t look for the ways a person conforms to what I already expect to be true about that person or their history. It also taught me that often times people, and those who become interested in those people, are incredibly caught up in their own contradictory behaviours—sometimes seething in a locked tower in an attempt to surmise just who they are. Just as I write this, the amazingly sunny weather has turned into a drastic-hurricane-like torrent. To go on a brief tangent, the rain is not tears, no, the rain is a moment of cleansing harmony. Perhaps, that is just what we all need–to be cleansed from our desire to seek out and create damning memoirs of our own contradictory behaviours.

The problem of contrariness stems from the need to put everything into narrow boxes of identification. This, of course, *rings bell of Enlightenment* stems from the Enlightenment. By attempting to classify, clarify, and justify the world according to their experience, Enlightenment thinkers paved the way for western institutions, Michel Foucualt argues. From a world in which power was displayed by inscribing power onto bodies through praise and punishment, to a panopticon-world in which man recorded and modified his own behaviour. Which is better? I don’t really imagine that is the right question to ask. Now that we are aware of how systems are manufactured, sold (by objectifying race and women), and digested (passive acceptance and aggression towards minorities) we should do our best to confound that system. If we all adhere to this world, wherein we identify as one thing and spend the rest of our lives finding our own contrariness, we deny the full spectrum of life. Inherently, any such binary will be fabricated in our own imagination. How we imagine we are perceived, rather than how we actually are. At any one time, we cannot be entirely sure of our identity. How does one adequately mark out their identity? Do we create lists, do we share stories, do we smile to someone’s face and cry when they leave?

I don’t think so. For if we start to create a list, by the time we’ve gotten to the bottom, there is no way for us to know if we are still aligned with the top. If we just are, rather than modifying to conform to the patriarchal world we live in, then we might just experience something new and worthwhile. Not to delegitimize anyone’s lived experience–no one’s life should ever be seen as less. It feels like always walking the plank—at what point am I stable in just being and when does the plank begin to shift under the weight of thinking. Ultimately, the goal is to no longer fear the water or the sharks we see below. Ultimately, the goal is to plunge into the unknown and live fearlessly. Ultimately, the goal is to realize the real.