EN 2011 Lecture Notes - Lecture 7: Dionne Brand, Primo Levi, Physical Therapy

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11 Sep 2018
o July 16 Beyond the sexual- - Women’s Search for
Freedom and Meaning - Verena Stefan, Dionne Brand.
Lecture Notes, by H.Donner (sorry incomplete some
more paragraphs will be added tomorrow) But you may
begin reading. ..
Loving the (female) body “not enough”.
We will look at literary works, in which the empowered masculine gaze on the female bod.
Welcomed or unwelcomed, is show to be connected to women’s ambivalence toward her
female body, captured in Jane Rule’s comment that women do not love themselves enough.
Two texts are used for evidence and critical comparison, Verena Stefan, “Shadow Skin” and
Dionne Brand’s “Train to Montreal”. Both writers call Canada “one” of their homes, and I have
had a chance to see and hear them in person.
The texts take us deeper into the Anonyma’s dilemma: her awareness of the “gaze”, the image
of herself as “woman”. Countless references show the two her unacceptable image in contrast
to the “purity” of her as little girl. In one passages she separates true herself from her
besmirched and molsted body . She is appalled to blend into “gray”, invisible German women
who have nothing to display to their advantage. On the other hand, women use everything to
render themselves unattractive, sickly, old…to escape their rapists. That the teen-age daughters
of the concierge do not evaluate their own body but the body seen by men is apparent when
the younger feels proud that the rapists chose her rather than her sickly looking older sister.
The texts take us deeper into the Anonyma’s dilemma: her awareness of the “gaze”, the image
of herself as “woman”.
The gaze is critically linked to male power in Ibsen’s A Doll House and how Nora affirms it with
pleasure dancing the Tarantella when Torwald imagines all the other men’s eyes on her. In
In Spring Awaening, how plain Wendla’s mother wishes her daughter’s body parts to be hiden
under a “sack cloth” dress.
But in and of itself the gaze is a benign form of reciprocal pleasure and
complementarity. The power of sexual attraction was “stripped” from the inmates of the
concentration camps. Primo Levi, and inmate of the rubber producing Buna plant of Auschwitz
writes of in his memoir, Survival in Auschwitz how he and two other former chemists were
installed to work in the camps “laboratory”. The “pain of remembering the old ferocious
suffering of feeling myself a man again” comes back by working in a space where there are also
German office girls. “Faced with the girls in the laboratory, we three feel ourselves sink into the
ground from shame and embarrassment. We know what we look like”…ridiculous and
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repugnant. Our cranium is bald…We have a swollen and yellow face… Our clothes are incredibly
dirty... Besides which, we are accustomed to our smell, but the girls are not and nevery miss a
chance of showing it…These girls sing, like girls sing in laboratories all over the world, and it
makes us deeply unhappy.” (142-3) The references to the “suffering of feeling myself a man
again” show the weight of gender’s drainage and reentry into Levi’s entire being.
But it involves him with those who are not even aware of his humanity nor his
manhood. The gaze is therefore hopeless of even minimal acknowledgement of his presence
a further reminder of his pain.
However, Levi thinks with his entire body and, where he to be offered a pornographic
situation, where reciprocation is a fantasy, he would say that it contains aspects of the camps,
and that the return to reality similarly so. Levi by contrast, if he dreamed by chance of being
free and with his lover, waking up to reality from such a dream was unbearable. Sex required a
prelude, an occasion to feel worthy, and a hope to find an equal partner whose gaze aroused.
The Sexual Revolution.
The Sexual Revolution is not a recent event. In the 1930s, Simone DeBeauvoir was still only a
young middle class girl in a small town. In the war years, deBeauvoir had passionate
relationships with women and was living in an open relationship with Sartre.. But in her book,
The Second Sex (1949) she imagined the average French woman to be innocent, pure until
marriage. But deBeauvoir, herself, was as free as a “scientist” and spoke with a fresh air of
honesty about delicate sexual issues: sexual initiation, “the Lesbian”, the nymphomeniac,
Pederast, Homosexuality, Whores and Haetheras. The book relied on sexuality surveys
conducted by sexologists, and on frank testimony whose innocence was shattered by men, by
the pain of defloration, by being seduced in a hotel room by an until then gentleman, or
brutally initiated by by their husbands to remain frigid ever after.
In the 1960s young women read Simone deBeauvoir, and the main argument of her work
though it was using the French male and the catholic-raised middle class educated woman as
her example and her reader. Her gaze was demure, his gaze invasive and possessing. However,
the adoption of her book was so widely read and caused such agitation. The women converted
by her text have taught the next generation.
1. Simone deBeauvoir - 2.- Verena Stefan ----3. Dionne
Brand ----4. -Leila Aboulela.
The Sexual Revolution was advocated by sexologists who felt it would create a new and
rational society. Remove the barriers, the shame and rapes, neuroses and jealousy would
cease. Why did the sexual revolution not bring about that kind of society. That was the question
of the New Feminism.
With Race and Gender, the body GAZED ON IS ALWAYS JUDGED. If it is the wrong shape, it feels
‘hated”. In the case of race, the body develops a double consciousness, one accepting her
body, one constantly carrying the image of the hated body in herself, seeing it through the eyes
of the rejecting, denigrating colonizing white.
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