Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is it wisdom or rebellion against a society which leads women to success?

For the sake of having to contradict my thoughts, I have decided to write against Virginia Woolf’s portrayal of women - make writing this essay challenging for me - using her short story, From A Room of One’s Own, and her novel, To the Lighthouse. In her short story, From A Room of One’s Own, Woolf attempts to depict how women used to live during the Elizabethan age. She creates an imaginative character- Shakespeare’s sister, and uses her to enslave her to history, tradition and society, which she entirely blames men for saying, “Wife-beating was a recognized right of man, and was practiced without shame by high as well as low…” Instead of blaming society itself, which not only consisted of men of low and middle classes but also of women who were stuck between the “old” and the “new” world yet could have enlightened the younger generation of women, instead, they chose to be silent - as we clearly see in her novel – To the Lighthouse - Mrs. Ramasay has the opportunity to speak to her daughters about their life opportunities yet she chooses to remain silent, and Woolf only blames men for the enslavement of women. She even goes on to say, a woman is considered “Insignificant… slave of any boy… she could hardly read, could scarcely spell. And was the property of her husband.” I believe Woolf is saying women are treated like rag dolls - they have no word to say, no room to express their feelings and no capability of leading their own selves. I personally disagree with blaming woman’s entire enslavement on the father, the brother or the husband for what traditions and mentalities have pushed a particular society to a particular point - limiting the knowledge and mentality of humans. Woolf goes on to add, “One knows nothing detailed nothing perfectly true and substantial about her. History scarcely mentions her… occasionally an individual woman is mentioned, an Elizabeth, or a Mary… middle class women with nothing but brains and character at their command have taken part in any one of the great movements… ” What is it women have done and their names have not been mentioned? Have they concurred a land? Changed the governing of a church or a country? Have women written philosophical essays that were pilled and burned? Are we talking about novels? Allow me to say, those women who have written novels and short stories because of personal break downs or emotional moments or even depressions are best to be kept hidden, since it brings nothing other than shame to the rest of the women. I think, at least for women, writing a novel is a means of expressing feelings and emotions of some sort and since, in the old days, women had no way of communicating themselves to their husbands, fathers or brothers their novels seem to be too extreme to be published. I need to explain I am not against women with emotions and needing to express them - I do the same, but I disagree making the depression or any other need public. Yes, women needed help back then, but let us not forget Woolf is talking about women from the Elizabethan age – mentalities back then were defiantly not like our new age. To us their living may sound depressing and harsh, yet to them it could have been either a normal life or at least not as harsh as we think. Not only women, any person will not know his/her level of situation until introduced to anything “new”.
Moreover, in To the Lighthouse, Lily- one of Woolf’s female characters, proves to break the boundary of social pressure, yet she was admiring Mrs. Ramsay for her beauty, her happy marriage, her simplicity, and her ways of attracting men. I do not believe any woman would want to be in the position of admiring another woman for some criteria, which is missing in her which she longs to have - if she was so content and determined to be this woman who did not want to attract men nor get married nor be in the position of simplicity and innocence, why was she admiring Mrs. Ramsay for choosing to follow the “rules” of the society. Choosing to be the artist of the novel, Lily chooses to fight the society pressure to get to her goal of independency. “With her little Chinese eyes” she lives to change her life with her own talents - she lives to live the art of life. “With her Chinese eyes” is the best description I like about Lily. I believe Woolf uses this description to make her readers start feeling some sympathy towards “Lily the outcast” and maybe start relating to her in the sense of an outsider towards her society. Woolf tries to tell her female audience there are those, like you, who are afraid to speak but fight to get their rights – a little light at the end of a tunnel, which I believe she fails to extent because in the heart of the novel she kills her main character – Mrs. Ramsay, who has been living according to the society and seems to be happy. Mrs. Ramsay is portrayed as an intellectual female character, a loving wife, and a caring mother - a woman who likes to feel power even around her dominant husband who “wanted something- wanted the thing she always found it so difficult to give him; wanted her to tell him that she loved him. And that, no, she could not do… a heartless woman he called her; she never told him that she loved him…” Mrs. Ramsay is viewed as the perfect woman following the “rules” of her husband and the society, at the same time happy, knowing how to handle her house, and holding her husband from the neck – she knew he needed her to tell him she loved him, also she very well knew how much he depended on her. Because of dominating passages in the beginning of the novel, it is very easy for the reader to be persuaded to take her side. “When she looked in the glass and saw her hair grey, her cheek sunk, at fifty, she thought, possibly she might have managed things better – her husband; money; his books. But for her own part she would never for a single second regret her decision, evade difficulties, or slur over duties.” Throughout the entire novel, there is no mention of Mrs. Ramsay being educated or with brains, yes she was beautiful, which I believe made her life easier, yet her key point at knowing how to deal with her dominant husband and pressure of the society was her wisdom. What I am trying to argue here may sound absurd, but I really believe being simple and having wisdom will help women cope into a dominant society, which they are part of, rather than try changing something they, their mothers, and their grand-mothers have agreed to live with. Mrs. Ramsay is the perfect woman figure – lights to everyone and retreats from time to time. The lighthouse is her guide to the “new” world, no one seemed to stop her from extending her “vision” to the people around her, yet she chooses to make good out of what different generations have build and move on with life happy and content. Some may see this as an enslavement and feel sympathetic towards Mrs. Remasay, but I believe choosing to live like her is much more worth than living like an “outcast”. Lily, who tries to push hard on herself to change the mentality of the people, does not seem as happy as Mrs. Ramsay does. I am not against trying to change something that has strong foundations, I believe women can change a specific attitude or a specific mentality, just not the way Lily was doing it. I believe Mrs. Ramsay’s reactions with her husband and her children had more positive effect of them than Lily pressuring herself and pushing to obviously the boundaries set by her and the society. As we clearly see – at the end of the novel – Mr. Ramsay chooses to finish the journey his wife has been working on. We also read, his children learn he is not as bad and dominant of a father they thought he was. The final stage of the journey to the lighthouse, the Ramsays’ portray Mrs. Ramsay’s treatment to them. She uses her wisdom, to follow her husband and the society, to build a family that has respect and perseverance for each other.

When does a writer become known as a romantic writer?

In, “Wordsworth, Gibran, and the Moral Landscapes of Romanticism”, James Barcus introduces his readers to two masters of language - Gibran, a Lebanese ex-patriot, lived enough time in the United States to be considered as a poet. His literary work and life are international with firm roots in Lebanon. His texts center spirituality and the interior of human heart. Moreover, Wordsworth, whose poetry is dominated by nature and philosophy, centering on the English Traditional literature, is known to be a romantic poet. However, in spite of these contrasts, Gibran has been known as a Romantic writer as well. The question, which Barcus aims to answer, in what sense is Gibran a Romantic writer? He barely fits into the Western historical moments, which supported Wordsworth and many other romantic writers and there is little common between him and these master of English and American Romanticism. What is it in his structure and style which is making him to be entitled as a Romantic writer? How can his style be similar to Wordsworth? Barcus says, through his perspective towards life, his moral landscape and his commitment. Gibran’s relationship with nature sounds very much like Wordsworth. They both “believe visions of the rural landscape are a source of stability and nourishment.” (1999, p. 231) Unlike other authors – Bernbaum, who believed that love of nature with distaste for city life is the first point to consider about a Romantic writer. Gibran says, “Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls.” (1999, p. 230) Pantheism has led critics to decide that it is important to the Romanticism, which Wordsworth himself committed his writing to in some way or another. With Gibran was the same case – his writings brought God nature and man under a unitary relationship. He says, “Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children, and look into space and you shall see Him walking… you shall see him smiling in flowers…” (1999, p. 233) Those common qualities between Gibran and Wordsworth have made critics complicate the definition of Romanticism. Knowing many people through the ages glorify nature and pantheism, they have sought to refine other conceptions. A movement that reshaped the thinking – scholars start reading Romantic writers against their cultural context. Meaning, instead of seeing Wordsworth as an amateur religious thinker, he is merely explaining the human mind development, specifically in his poem The Prelude. Similarly to Gibran’s structure of The Prophet. It is a journey – Almustana, the messenger, “Has waited twelve years or his ship to arrive and bear him back to the isle of his birth.” (1999, p. 234) After many years the ship arrives and he is overjoyed for returning home but saddened to leave his people. Like Wordsworth, Gibran’s The Prophet entails a forward movement. However, just as Gibran’s journey is a secondary to the “inner” voyage, Wordsworth’s journey back to the Lake District is secondary. So far Barcus has been trying to center on the definition of Romanticism, pointing out although Wordsworth and Gibran love nature and be tempted with pantheism, these qualities are not important to Romantic tradition. Rather, it is the interior life that Wordsworth and Gibran explore – opening the doors to the individual moral self. Inconsistently, in the context of nature, Wordsworth’s love of Nature is seen “Divine and morally uplifting”. (1999, p. 235) The moral landscape relates back to what he experienced and if he really had lived in the tropics, his picture would have been different, for “The jungle is marvelous, fantastic, beautiful; but it is also terrifying, it is also profoundly sinister.” (1999, p. 236) In comparison with Gibran, they have parallel ideas. Gibran is committed to continuing spiritual and natural growth. He says- in The Prophet, “For to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be burned in a mould.” (1999, p. 238) Like Wordsworth, he is believes to stop growing is to die. Moreover, Barcus says they both hold a special place for children. Gibran says, “You may give them your love but not your thoughts … you may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.” (1999, p. 238) Labor and work is another criteria both Wordsworth and Gibran call “ennobling and soul- making”. Obviously, much is common between Gibran and Wordsworth yet, unlike Wordsworth’s text, Gibran has a commitment to sensuous experiences. In this area Wordsworth seems to draw a distinction between feeling and thinking. Whereas Gibran finds the sensuous always present. “When you kill a beast say to him in your heart, by the power that slays you, I too am slain… and when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart, your seeds shall live in my body…” (1999, p. 239) Barcus elaborates saying, Gibran’s moral vision includes the killing of animals and the crunching of an apple. He is giving thanks for the rewards he consumes while knowing he is inside as well as outside the cycle of nature. In addition, lust and passion, which are unknown to Wordsworth, play a great role in Gibran’s perspective. He believes passion must have a place in humans. He says, lust for pleasure destroys passion- it makes mock of the senses- lust kills the passion of the soul. Finally, Gibran promotes and sustains a moral vision; this moral universe is not in the painting of Wordsworth’s world. To Gibran laws condemn all. He says no one can escape from it and whoever breaks the law is not any worse than those who push others to break it. This is where the major differences between the Romanticism of Wordsworth and Gibran- the understanding of the truth and how it relates to the human soul. They both agree very well on the growth of the human soul, yet the conclusion of this journey is different in their eyes. Wordsworth believes what he finds is in all people; meaning whatever truth he finds will be the same truth to all. In contrast to Gibran, he says, “say not I have found the truth, but rather, I have found a truth. Say not I have found the path of the soul, say rather, I have met the soul walking upon my path…” (1999, p. 241). Gibran and Wordsworth, the pairing is neither usual nor customary. Barcus’s great article depicts great common between the two Romantic writers- the faith in humans being to grow, the wisdom of children, and the belief of work as a noble act. At the same time, I believe, Barucs chooses to be one of those people who give credit to those who have suffered much to get to the level of well known authors or writers. I do not believe I can ever be a master of Chinese language as well as a writer, whose text extends to almost half of the world, and not be a Chinese origin. Gibran did it. Not only he is considered as one of the American authors, rather one of the masters of his time and even to this day.

Barcus, J. (1999) Landscape and morality in Wordsworth & Gibran. Prophets of Lebanese writers american literature. Ed. Naji Oueijan. Louaize: Notre Dame University Press.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Is it Nature or Art?

I believe art imitates nature. No matter how talented an artist is, he cannot imitate the work of God; we humans are not even close to surpassing it. Artists create things conceptually; meaning they create things totally different than nature. Here I am not asserting comfort or perfectness, only the fact of imitating something that is not “perfect” and making it seem perfect; “unnatural”. Are we supposed to live perfect or at least try our best to live perfect outwardly instead of inwardly? I believe if God wanted us to live perfectly outward he would have created us so perfect we would not be in need of art or nature. Let us take the general and most common argument, which shoves God and creation out of the way and say man is capable of making our nature more perfect; meaning the less perfect, nature, would have to imitate the more ideal image of life, which is the art and technology. How would have man created this ideal nature if he would have had the power to do so? How would he have created the imperfect, not comfortable, boring, and the unfinished nature in a better way? How would he have made the damp rough grass softer and more comfortable to sit on? Or how would have he created the mountains to a more villa living imagination? Very simple; he would not have done any of this without having a head start with something. To build a house, either by rocks or wood, to make a chair, to eat a grape, to smell roses, to feel the cold air, and to hear the sound of a laughter all have the same essence; nature. Why do musicians, when wanting to add some natural sounds to their piece imitate the sound of water, wind, birds, laughing, or crying? Aren’t these mere imitations of nature? Art is artificial. What nature gives us is much more superior to what man wants to create. It’s very beautiful to hear perfect sounds, see perfect colors and images, but will not we ourselves say it is beautiful but it does not look natural. Now a day, when singers and actors and actresses are seen with perfect on TV, most comments heard are “beautiful, but fake”. What about the use of makeup; why is the fashion turning to natural use colors? Yes, it is still the use of art, but with the imitation and respect of nature. What art does is that it extracts the most beauty of nature and then we imagine a new invented reality. The minute we speak about it, we think at human mind, skills, talent that expresses and succeeds in catching the essence of what it is trying to represent. Even if there are those who say art represents something unique, we cannot deny its existence; its real basis of nature.