EN 2011 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Arthur Schnitzler, Kate Chopin, Sexual Intercourse

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11 Sep 2018
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July 4 -- Sexual Knowledge 3
Lecture Notes by H. Donner
Read Wedekind, Spring Awakening.
Read: Lecture Notes, Sexual Liberation and Masculine Dominance. Connecting the scenes.
I. Sexual Knowledge and he Social: Then and Now
II. The time (Bohemie) and Classical Liberation Narratives Presuming Progress
III. Scenes and Significance.
I. Sexual Knowledge and the Social Then and Now.
Is Melchior’s translation of sex into an aggressive non-consensual act of “initiation” one he
consciously willed?
Did Wendla consciously choose to come to the hayloft and lie close to him?
It is absurd to ask such questions as the answer lies in their ever-present arousal which possessed
Wendla’s and Melchior’s organs (in a diffuse sense) and their sense that their bodies and lives are too
narrow and small to encompass their longing physically, emotionally and mentally. Things can get out
of hand (if allowed to). Secrets, fantasy, anger, reticence: all kind of unpredictable attitudes and feelings
collide in the morphing body.
Melchior’s sexual immaturity, his lack of life experiences vis-à-vis literature, underestimate the sexual
act’s significance, and is evident for us in how little he complicates his knowledge of the coitus though
the use of language. In this regard, I doubt our age can hardly feel superior sex education and all,
which does explain and caution, but does not guide their soul. Seeing Melchior’s violent move from the
point of view of gender, I argue that it is indeed, in Wedekind, and in my reading, connected to
masculinity as we know it, and as it is part of the Western sexual tradition reflecting male social
dominance based on power evident in all spheres of life and therefore also in coitus. In our course, care
must be taken not to take the above “evidence” also as “the cause” of male dominance. A critical
(phenomenological) gender analysis demands that we look at the social perpetuation and
reinforcement of this kind of masculinity through mimetic power-conferring institutions through this
and other texts. Wedekind shows great empathy and compassion for Wendla, (less for Mrs. Bergmann
whom he has rendered loathsome) and for Mrs. Gabor, an intellectual and enlightened female who in
the end surrenders her control of Melchior to her husband and her class i.e. status group. However, he
takes the power of men as inherited and transmitted. The man in the mask, Faust, is forgiven his sins
and life goes on as ordained by the ancients.
II. The time (Bohemie) and Classical Liberation Narratives Presuming Progress
Melchior’s sexual knowledge comes from his own genitals and from ancient and modern books and
what he sees and hears. In school they read the classics without a word dropped on their (homo)
sexuality. At the same time, it would be wrong to imagine his era as prudish and backward. Sexologists
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published their theories on the “invert” or the “Uranian” (someone from another planet i.e. Uran) who
felt attracted to his own sex, about frigidity Linen-bound art books contained titillating art and texts, or
picture post cards of naked women painted by the old masters. Melchior by contrast fashions a little
“how to” book on hand of dictionaries and medical information.
Wedekind’s play Spring Awakening is a part of the great European and American thaw (in literature) that
swept away 19th century prudery about talking about sex. Freud and Jung, Havloc Ellis- Magnus
Hierschfeld are some of the Psycho-analysts whowere also publicists. With Ibsen, Wedekind produced
“classical liberation narratives” that is usually also followed by his critics portraying him as someone who
“liberated” social attitudes from preoccupation with sexual morality with its notion of purity and
corruption, just as Arthur Schnitzler, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Kate Chopin, and Bernard Shaw, the
modernists. These writers desired to remove the belief that sex was “sinful”. (The avalanche of
discourses on sex between 1896 to the Great War 1914 reversed the old chastity with “modern” and
“let it all out” mood. The Great War did the rest indeed, sexual statistics and frank talks on venereal
disease to soldier boys. In turn, the study of these publicists of sexuality created a respectable sexual
language: intercourse, libido, penetration, coitus etc.
Our play, taking place in an outwardly peaceful middle-class ruled Germany, shows that world not
untouched by the “medical” sexologists, and its ideological underpinning of individualist laissez-faire
liberalism. Melchior gets his information from medical works along with nihilism about religious and
humanist ideals. It seems that Wedekind argues through Melchior and Moritz, and Wendla and Ilse that
it was all a matter where the sexual liberation seed took hold of. I personally think that Wedekind is
acutely relevant when he finds Melchior strong on they physical aspects of sex but ignorant of erotic
love and the fabric of society.
Wedekind does not really believe in sexual liberation through the scientific approach. The use of
scientific terms does not reduce sexual arousal for the arousable. The trouble is, it offers nothing
beyond. Sex education, received passively, also holds the deeper question of sex and human longing at
bay. And there is always the reality of “signification” that our didactic efforts cannot predict.
III.Scenes of Importance
1. Girls amongst themselves 14-15 Act1 Scene 3
2. Boys amongst themselves pp. 6-11 Act 1 Scene 2 (“Young Friendship/Filial Love”;
Fagging”)
3. Sexual Knowledge 29-30 Act 2 Scene 1
4. Rape 36-37 Act 2 Scene 4 (Male Social Predominance)
5. A thoroughly liberated woman? Mrs. Gabor 28-29 Act 2 Scene 1
6. Correctional Institutions and Philanthropy - Middle Class Smoke Screen 21-23Act 1
Scene 4, 60-62 Scene 5 Act 3
The Scenes
1) Girls amongst themselves Act 1 Scene 3 14-15
Three girls appear, their arms linked. They are happily groomed for womanhood --- Their talk is about
becoming mothers, and be mothers of “boys, boys, boys” though they don’t know why. We smile at
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