Monday, July 31, 2006

A Meme

1. How tall are you barefoot? 5'2" and a little bit.
2. Have you ever been unfaithful in a relationship? I believe not.
3. Do you own a gun? No.
4. If you had a mental disorder, what would it be? Something resembling Lucy Snowe's.
5. How many letters are in your crush's name? What crush?
6. What do you think of hot dogs? They are edible, and occasionally delicious.
7. What's your favorite Christmas song? No particular favorite.
8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Coffee.
9. Do you do push-ups? Have done in the past.
10. Have you ever done ecstasy? No.
11. Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? Of course I have friends ;)
12. Do you like the rain? Yes, mostly.
13. Are you in love? With what?
14. Do you like creamy or crunchy peanut butter? I am not fond of peanut butter.
15. Do you have A.D.D? No idea.
16. Full initials? :P
17. Name 4 thoughts at this exact moment.
- I am very nervous about prospective interviews/future
- I want to get a dose of Jane Eyre tonight to calm my nerves.
- It is frightfully HOT in my room.
- I must do more reading and plan for what is ahead.
18. Name the last 3 things you have bought in the past week.
- Another pair of flip-flops.
- Groceries.
- Interview necessities.
19. Favorite movie? Changes often..anything that makes me think a lot.
20. What time did you wake up today? 8 ish.
21. Can you spell? I would hope so.
22. Current worry? Being indecisive about an interivew.
23. Current hate? The fact that I haven't done anything substantially creative in days..or weeks, rather.
24. Favorite place to be? In my Imagination.
25. Least favorite place to be? Current state of joblessness/uncertainty.
26. Where would you like to go? Ireland.
27. Do you own slippers? Yes.
28. Where do you think you'll be in 10 yrs? I hope to be doing something I love. (No doubt my parents expect me to be married by then..sigh).
29. Do you burn or tan? A bit of both.
30. Yellow or blue? Depends.
31. Would you be a pirate? Perhaps.
32. Last time your phone rang? This evening.
33. What songs do you sing in the shower? None.
34. As a child, what did you fear was going to get you at night? Everything ghastly imaginable.
35. What's in your pockets right now? Which pockets?
36. Last thing that made you laugh? Can't remember.
37. Best bed sheets you had as a child? I can't remember..I don't think there was a favorite.
38. Worst injury you've ever had? Scar obtained as a result of trying to jump over barbed wire when I was about 8 yrs old.
39. What is/was your GPA? Confidential :P
40. How many TVs do you have in your house? 1
41. Who is your loudest friend? None of them are loud.
42. Who is your most silent friend? Me or maybe my friend A.
43. Does someone have a crush on you? Not likely.
44. Do you wish on stars? Yes.
45. What is your favorite book? Villette, Jane Eyre.
46. What song did you last hear? Probably something mellow on the radio.
47. Who is the last person you kissed? In what sense?
48. What's your all-time favorite memory with your significant other? No grounds for that.
49. What were you doing at midnight last night? Blogging probably.
50. What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up? Ah, another day!

To Tame a Shrew?

Along with being portrayed as demons, witches, and temptresses, women have also been portrayed as fiesty creatures, in need of being 'tamed'. This fact was blatantly obvious when I had a chance to observe a production of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" this weekend.

I was excited to see this play. Firstly, because I had enjoyed it very much when I read it as a twelve year old, and secondly, becuase I had heard that this version would have a 'modern' twist and I hoped for an interesting adaptation.

I was disappointed on both counts.

I found that I have changed so much and come a long way since I was 12. Whereas Petruchio's treatment of Katherine and his method of changing her used to amuse me, now I could hardly endure more than a few minutes of his cruelly misogynistic behavior. For he was a misanthrope! Being almost half her height taller than her, and of a larger build, he over powered Katherine from the start. She had no say in the marriage, and no support from her father, who only wished to get rid of her because he feared she had little prospects for marriage. So here she was literally sold off to a man, who desired her dowry more than herself. And then her husband turns out to be a worse terror in that he deals harshly instead of gently with her. I agree that Katherine is the type of woman who needed something harsh to set her right. I agree that she misbehaved badly before her marriage. She was too cross and could hardly ever have a decent conversation without wrecking the house. However, her husband's tactic involved making her meek and submissive. At the end of the play, Katherine shows all the women and men around her that she is the most obedient wife, for she listens to all her husband's commands without question. She tells the women in the room that a woman must always obey her husband because he works so hard and loves her so much while she languishes in her home, being pampered by the fruit of his hard work. She warns women to not be angry, but be pliant and accepting. She tells them that ire would get them no where. I understand that a woman, or anyone, should not go around destroying everything and wrecking havoc verywhere in the manner that Katherine did. However, what kind of punishment is it when all her fire is quenched at the end? When all we are left with is a little puppet, who listens to all that he husband tells her, because he has so much control over her? What kind of woman is she who has no opinons of her own? Is she then not a toy to be used for the sole purpose of giving pleasure to a man?

I felt like Katherine had died at the end, even though everyone applauded her conduct and esteemed her as fine example of virtous womanhood. When the play ended, the audience clapped wildly. I didn't know what to do.

After the play ended, my friend (who was just as furious with the whole episode as I was) and I happened to spot the director mingling with other guests. We walked up to him and inquired as to what his thoughs were about the message in the play, and how he hoped it would address a modern audience. He replied saying that Katherine wasn't wholly submissive, that she still maintained a sly way of dealing with Petruchio's commands, that she was not innocent as she seemed by the end. We told him that the play didn't show enough of what he claimed. When he insisted that Katherine could only marry Petruchio and that they were equals, I mentioned that Petruchio always had the upper hand, for he always knew how to deal with Katherine. Whereas Katherine had to obey him by the end if she is to live peaceably with him. Petruchio could be cunning or not if he wished but Katherine could not because she had no way out.

As for the 'modern twist', the setting was America in the 50s. I suppose one could say that this was an age before the feminist revival of the 60s. Does it still mean that we can accept the social mores that were being implied in the play? Katherine speaks to the audience at the end about submission and obedience toward her husband. Are we meant to take this as invaluable advice for all time? Or are we meant to think of it as the speech of a repressed 50s housewife, and be glad that we are living in a different time?

More importantly, how far have we changed? It is contemporary actors who played those roles. I wonder what thoughts run through their minds when they perform this play.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mistress of Magic

Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock isn't an easily forgettable book. If one has the pleasure to read it, it won't fail to mesmerize! The first book, called Griffin and Sabine is followed by two sequels called Sabine's Notebook and The Golden Mean and they can be enjoyed together as a trilogy. However, each book is very unconventional and it is this unconventionality that makes it stand out. The story is told through a series of fantastical pictures on post cards, and letters that the protagonists exchange between one another (which incidentally we, the readers, will find enclosed in beautifully decorated envelopes glued between the pages). In such a way, we are drawn into a most intimate correspondence that provokes our voyeuristic desires, for we are caught in the trap of the forbidden act of reading someone else's letter, and enjoying it in the process.

The premise of the story is that Griffin Moss, an artist living in modern day London receives a post card in the mail from a woman called Sabine Strohem who lives in an island in the South Pacific. What is puzzling is that she seems to know all about Griffin and his work while he does not at all know of her existence, and moroever, has never met her. As their correspondence takes flight, and each wishes to learn more of, and visit each other, they find obstacles on their paths to unite with each other, leaving them unable to be with each other in the same place and point in time, until the end, which I will not give away.

What struck me about this book is the depiction of the female protagonist. The author, a male, has sought to portray her as a Creature of Magic instead of an earthly human being. It is Sabine who contacts Griffin first, and not the other way round. While Griffin had normal parents and was brought up as any other human being, Sabine is a mystery from the very beginning. She lives in an island, whereby we are introduced to her exotic nature. Moreover, she does not know of her parents or how she even came to exist, for her adoptive island parents had found her one day as an abandoned baby. It is Sabine who can see Griffin and his work, while Griffin cannot see hers, although she too is a talented artist, if not prolific as he is. As the story progresses, we learn that Griffin is enchanted with Sabine, and eventually, cannot go on without corresponding with her. He claims that she becomes his only source of joy in his otherwise lonely existence.

Griffin is seduced by Sabine, by whatever she represents, whether Magic, Art, Reality, or Desire. By the end of the third book, we feel a sense of eeriness and unease about Sabine. We are more confused about her identity and her purpose. My question is, why did the author make Sabine, a woman, as the creature who seduces a man? Why couldn't it have been the other way round whereby a Man of Magic seduces a human woman? Though she is given supernatural gifts, she is filled with mystery and elicits fear so that we are not sure if she is the ideal lover or the ideal nightmare.

In this sense, Grffin and Sabine resembles the demon lovers of the Romatic poems, such as Coleridge's Christabel and Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci. It seems that men were (and are still) obsessed with the different extreme shades of women. According to them, a woman can be just as beautiful as she can be vicious. But I wonder why they view women as creatures composed of these extremes. Can a woman not be a little of both? Can a woman not be allowed to have a moderation of feelings? Can the woman not be beautiful without having evil tendencies? Can the woman not be viewed as good without being evil?

If men were scared of magic, then why were they (primarily such poets) fascinated with ethereally beautiful women? If they wanted to stay away from magic, thinking it is wrong, why not marry a woman who is less beautiful? It seems to me that these men chased after what they believed to be Beauty, which according to Keats, is truth. However, absolute Beauty does not exist, for Beauty is mixed with its opposite; It is impossible to "unperplex bliss from its neighbour pain". And so, when poets imagine an ideal woman, they intially desire her to be beautiful, but this overwhelmes them in some manner and so she is imagined as a demon.

But what is the casue of this uncertainty in men? Why should men create a demon of a woman? Are they afraid of women? What about women frightens them? Are they afraid of women or of their own natures? Perhaps they cannot get what they desire for themselves (for example, ambition) and so blame the woman as the source of their failure. This story is not unfamiliar, beginning with the Biblical tale of the Original Sin.

Ironically Griffin needs Sabine just as much as she needs him. The books will not exist without Sabine, without her Magic. We would not know of Griffin's art if it wasn't for Sabine. Sabine is the source of a man's Art. Men need women to fuel their imaginations, to fuel their Art, to live. In the same vein, the poems about demon lovers by the Romantics would not exist without the mystery women, for these women weild such power, the power to transcend men's impulse to vilify them, as well as the power to transcend time.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I had yet another interview yesterday and spent almost the whole day in town again. To my surprise, I found the place quite easily, as opposed to the other times when I've jumped into the wrong train or walked for miles on the wrong street. The building was centrally located so I found it faster. Once again, I think the interview went...fine. I mean, there wasn't much I could have added and there wasn't much I didn't know about the job. Basically, they informed me frankly, "It is very unglamarous, but it has got to be done". Ah well..I guess one would say that it has got to start somewhere, right? That I will be doing an entry-level job and then moving higher. Although I complain often now during the summer that I don't have enough time to read and study for my GREs, I think it'd be even harder if I get a full-time job that's tedious. This summer job is not stressful and I do have lovely supervisors who I can converse with: One's a Jane Eyre fan, and the other recommended some interesting books for me to read.

Well If I didn't escape a mishap in getting to the town, I did encounter one on the way back. I took a train back but it was only after I got in that I realized that it was an express train and went on another route. So there I was, sandwiched between two odd gentlemen, an rather obese one on my left who was snoring, and another fiercly sombre one working intently on his laptop. All this time I was trying to drink my coffee instead of spilling it on my new suit (which I had purchased after my interview), or on the man's laptop or the other man's pants. How I had the patience and nerve to not falter, I cannot fathom but I made the wrong stop that is. So I got down, and waited for the train back to the town. Thankfully, it stopped at my very own station on the way to town so it turned out well in the end.

Oh but there is more, for we endured 2 more fire alarms yesterday, and then my friend FINALLY decided she was willing to watch 1 hour of Jane Eyre and we watched it together. She did dislike the acting of the kids who played Young Jane and the Reeds and I was so embarassed for them. I assured her that the movie got better when the adults stepped in. However, poor Rochy falls off his horse when episode 1 ends so that is all the glimpse she got of him yesterday. I find Jane Eyre to be like something like a familiar something that might ground me in reality.

A Project: The Hallam Letters

I am really excited! A week ago, one of my supervisors suggested that I read Byatt's Angels & Insects and just as I had finished half of the book (the Novella titled Morpho Eugenia)and was looking forward to watching the movie starring Kristen Scott-Thomas, I was told that I could work on a project that connects with this novel!

My supervisor had a visitor who asked to get information about Arthur Henry Hallam, and my supervisor asked her to get my assistance, saying that I was "very much" into the Romantics. So they asked me to write an article about the letters written by Arthur Henry Hallam to his beloved Emily (Emilia) Tennyson, who was the sister of Lord Alfred Tennyson! I was so excited that I didn't know what to even say for a few minutes. Thinking of the letters (and getting a chance to look and feel some of the originals) makes me feel so deliciously giddy! Oh I could almost feel myself stepping back in time...

Friday, July 21, 2006


On a trip to a Museum, a friend and I found this waistcoat on display! The instance I glanced at it, I was convinced it was perfect for Edward! (Rochester, that is). Impulsively, I lunged and hugged the display cabinet! ^_^ It truly felt like his very coat, pocket watch and staff. Just a little sliver of light illuminating the velvet sheen was enough to make the waistcoat and the wearer come alive!

Sadly there is no snapshot of me embracing the cabinet, but my friend did manage to capture this. Isn't it splendid!

"I am not deceiful"

A brief discussion and yesterday's post on Bronteana about Rochester's appearance and our subsequent reaction toward him, made me wonder about Jane's credibility as a narrator.

The novel, as we know it, is called an Autobiography, and it is written by Jane herself, many years after the events in the novel have taken place. Jane's first impression of Rochester is as follows:

"I traced the general points of middle height and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle-age; perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him, and but little shyness. Had he been a handsome, heroic-looking young gentleman, I should not have dared to stand thus questioning him against his will.."

At the same time, she contradicts herself by saying, "I had hardly ever seen a handsome youth; never in my life spoken to one."

How can she know what an "ugly" man on earth is really is like if she had not met a handsome one?

Moreover, she goes on to claim that, "I had a theoretical reverence and homage for beauty, elegance, gallantry, fascination;"

So she says that her opinion on Beauty is based on theory. Her use of the word "theoretical" suggests that theory can differ from reality, although she might expect everything in reality to follow from theory. If Jane had not met with a handsome man, then chances are she had not met with an ugly one either because her views on Beauty (and its counterpart, Ugliness), are both based on theory--not reality. If Jane had not met many men, then how can she fairly comment on Rochester's looks without comparing him to many other men?

My other concern about Jane is that, as idealistic as she might be, she is not free of human cares, such as jealousy and obsession. Jane does feel immensely jealous towards Blanche and exaggerates the discrepancy in appearances by executing portraits of both Blanche and herself. In fact, she does demean Blanche in the novel instead of exempting from describing her. Even though Jane has a right to be angry at Blanche's superficiality and greed, this same jealousy could propel her to misrepresent Rochester as well. For example, it is possible for her to want to protect him from the discerning minds of the readers, as well as their imaginations, by calling him "ugly". This could keep readers who might be attracted to his physical beauty away from him.

Another matter of note is that Jane's writing about her first impression of Rochester several years after she met him. In this sense, I wonder how accurate her memory is. Because Memory tends to get distorted over time, and Jane is, after all, producing a work of creative non-fiction, I wonder how far she is playing the role of an artist manipulating the information around her for the purpose of her craft. In that case, perhaps Rochester is as much an object in the hand of the artist, as much as the fantastical paintings she creates at Lowood.

Despite the incongruities in Jane's narration, I maintain that the novel remians a powerful work of fiction precisely because it invites these kinds of questions. Thanks to this kind of inquiry, we, the readers, are at liberty to imagine a Rochester, including his appearance, to suit our desires.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

To speak or not to speak?

I've come to realize how much the act of talking to several people of my aquaintance tires me. I can probably name not more than eight people off the top of my head with whom I can have sustained, rewarding conversations. The rest is like smoke in mirrors. These rarely leave a significant trace in the footpaths of Memory, or an imprint of Consciousness in the Heart.

I don't want to be sitting and smiling and saying and listening to things I have little interest in when I'd much rather use that time to do something more interesting, like reading, or watching and interpreting a good film, or being alone pondering things, or having good discussions with people. Basically, I prefer analysis than just descriptions. Often,however, I feel like most people are unwilling to steer towards the former than the latter.

An aquaintance remarked, while we discussed this topic, that having the ability to mingle with a variety of people is an indication of a good education. She said that there is always something one can find in common with someone else.

But I wonder. Why should one listen to things that bores them, when they want to do something else? Why should one put up with something merely for the sake of schmoozing? If one's purpose in life is to dissect everyone else's comments, then this method of talking works, but if that is not the case, then why can't one be allowed to be selectively "sociable"? If one talked to everyone at the same rate, then where is the scope for a marked preference (or the reverse) for one or the other? Surely one must be able to like some things more than others. I don't understand why there is so much pressure to act "nice" all the time. I am by no means advocating for someone to be outrightly cross, but rather that one ought to be free to choose, ignore when necessary, and to love freely.

Because our energies are limited, I wonder if an excess of something (like ambition) can exist without an equal excess of something else (like suffering, isolation, ignorance, or pity).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Reconstructing Emma.

I finished reading Emma Brown by Clare Boylan a few days ago and I’ve been trying to unearth some of its mysteries, if it should have any. I am actually finding it hard to say much about it at present. I feel like the book was neither profound nor easily dismissible. It felt mediocre, although I am not sure if this was crafted for this end.

I must, however, applaud Clare Boylan for taking on such an ambitious project that involved trying to complete Charlotte Bronte’s unfinished fragment Emma. The book has sufficient evidence regarding the amount of research she must have done in order to write it. She has reviewed almost all of Charlotte’s novels, as well as studied biographies on the Brontës. I think, however, that the book would have worked better if she had written her story removed from that of Charlotte’s, if she had not intended to complete Charlotte’s tale. Let’s face it, Boylan is not Bronte, and never will be, though she’s quite a decent writer. When readers read her book, they cannot help but compare her work to Charlotte Bronte’s, and then they detect the deficiencies, which evolve into a feeling bordering on annoyance that turns into nonchalance. As I read her novel, I kept expecting Charlotte’s witty prose, mixed with the right amount of snark and sympathy. I suppose the mystery aspect is fulfilled by the Emma’s past, though not in the manner found in Charlotte’s novels. Emma’s mystery does not affect any of the characters in the way that the laugh in Thornfield affects Jane or the presence of the Nun affects Lucy. Also, Boylan spends too much time in having things “happen” rather than adequately developing the characters or delving into intricacies within the plot itself. In short, her work lacks complex writing, for she is too busy with actions than symbols.

I think the biggest difference in Boylan’s work, compared to Charlotte’s, is lack of the allusion to the Imagination. All of Charlotte’s works contains some reference to the Imagination, some puzzle that teases the readers. For example, it manifests as Bertha in Jane Eyre, as the Nun in Villette, as Shirley Keeldar’s devoir in Shirley, and last but not least, as Francis’ exercises in The Professor. Each of Charlotte’s most studied works, namely Jane Eyre and Villette, contain strong sense of mystery tied to women’s freedom, and Charlotte’s tactic lies in her subtlety of expression. In her world, the troubles seethed closer to home, one didn’t need to turn to the streets of London in order to see the deprecation. Emma Brown, while expanding on social concerns, does not convey this sense of subtlety in the same manner.

There is the mystery that is Emma’s past, but I found it difficult to discern whether this is directly linked to any of the characters’ own struggles. Mrs. Chalfont seems to have had a peaceful childhood, despite her poverty (in the style of Agnes Grey) and has a Jane Eyre-like romance, only to be disappointed. Unlike Jane and Lucy, however, Isabelle seems to give in too much, which reminds me of Anne Bronte’s heroines more than any of Charlotte’s. Also, things seem to happen much more abruptly for Mrs. Chalfont: she takes in a homeless waif, and puts up with sour-tempered headmistresses in a heroic fashion, except we are not sure of why exactly she is doing all this. In short, I didn’t sense any passionate outburst in her. As for Emma, she is presented more as a harmless victim than as an active participant. Although she is given quite a few witty lines, Emma reminds me more of the likes of The Little Princess than any Jane Eyre. It is significant to note that Ms. Boylan wrote about different classes of people,and her portrayal of the social divide was too conspicuous. There’s Mrs. Chalfont, the placid middle class woman, there are the Misses Wilcox, the bitter old-maids, there’s poor little Emma, the victim of the ills of society, and the list can go on. The trouble is, this would have worked in a Brontean setting, like I have mentioned scores of times above, if we had been provided more details into the nuances of the characters. These characters seem very Dickensian than Brontean; one dimensional.

However, the social commentary is commendable. Boylan does exert considerable effort in order to bring the streets of Victorian London to life. She goes back and forth between different classes of people in order to highlight the differences between classes: we are given a glimpse into the home of a rich girl and immediately drawn to poor Emma’s travails on the streets at night. Also, while she might not express women’s frustration on a deeper level, she does manage to show the dangers that can befall a penniless young girl on the streets. She brings to awareness the inheritance law, the Poor Law, and the lack of employment opportunities open to women. In addition, she handles the subject to sexual and domestic abuse in the context of Victorian times, quite well.

The ending of Emma Brown strongly resembles that of Villette, where the reader is perpetually left in doubt. In both these novels this sense of doubt is what sustains them in the end. We are not really sure of Mrs. Chalfont’s sentiments toward her lovers and we question Lucy Snowe’s strange choice of words at the end. The power in mystery brings me to the question that is at the heart of my feelings for this novel: Should Emma Brown be written as a continuation of Charlotte’s novel, or is the latter best left alone, incomplete. We don’t know the circumstances that lead to Charlotte not writing more than the first two chapters of Emma. We don’t even know if she willingly chose to do so. We don’t know if, like in Villette, she wanted to end the fragment with mystery. She didn’t give us more insight into the character of Matilda Fitzgibbon, and for a good reason. We are left perpetually in doubt. Though Charlotte’s work is called "Emma, a fragment”, its incompleteness is perhaps, paradoxically, what makes it complete. I believe that the piece could be enjoyed in its present state, and that no completion is necessary by any other author, even if that author herself chose to end her novel in a similar manner. Though Boylan’s novel’s triumph lies in presenting a case for the plight of the poor in Victorian England, it also recognizes the tantalizing nature of leaving questions unanswered. While she attempts to imitate Charlotte Bronte, she also strays away from her purpose, for she tries to answer a question that Charlotte probably meant to be left forever mysterious.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"I am a Creature of My Pen"

I finished re-reading A.S.Byatt's Possession over a week ago, but I have not yet stopped dwelling on it. Just when I think I have given it enough thought, it surprises me, teases me with its richness, its language, its complicated characters, and Romantic sensibilities in the literary sense. In short, Possession is a novel that continues to delight readers through the sheer volume of questions it raises. Byatt's depth of plot is neatly woven into the intricacies of her language. The book is filled with poetry, prose and everything in between. The chracters are complicated, but I found myself much more interested in the words they exchanged; I was far too engrossed in the literary scene created by Byatt's pen. I found that the book hasn't ceased to possess me, for once I step into its pages, it is hard to pull back and face Reality that is our present age.

I was struck by one of the poems in the novel, for it made me question the Art of Writing itself. I did a little excercise in order to understand this riddle, and I'd welcome any readers of this blog to try it as well. So here it is:

I read this poem, which is found in the novel, written by a fictional poet Randolph Ash, addressed to a lady (who is hitherto mysterious).

They say that women change: 'tis so: but you
Are ever-constant in your changefulness,
Like that still thread of falling river, one
From source to last embrace in the still pool
Ever-renewed and ever-moving on
From first to last a myriad water-drops
And you -- I love you for it -- are the force
That moves and holds the form.

When I substituted the word men for the word women the poem read as follows:

They say that men change: 'tis so: but you
Are ever-constant in your changefulness,
Like that still thread of falling river, one
From source to last embrace in the still pool
Ever-renewed and ever-moving on
From first to last a myriad water-drops
And you -- I love you for it -- are the force
That moves and holds the form.

I then showed these two poems to an (unsuspecting) friend of mine and asked her to read them both and tell me which in her opinion seems a "better" poem and which she prefered. She said the first one appealed to her more. I then asked her to give her reasons for why she thought so and she replied, "The first one seemed like it was really addressed to a woman and as I read it I pictured myself as the woman the poem was addressed to. That poem somehow 'spoke' to me." I asked her why she didn't like the second poem as much and she said, "It didn't sound natural somehow. It didn't sound like it could be addressed to a man". I prodded and pried her to expand on her reasons, to give me more concrete evidence to suppliment her claims, but she couldn't come up with any, except the fact that she thought women were more likely to be associated with change, and then she proceeded to give me an example of an Opera where men accused women of changing.

What I imagined as a small riddle turned out to be a larger, intricate puzzle, for my friend and I talked about the matter for a long time, unable to comprehend if there was even a solution. Why is it that ONE word should make a world of a difference in the appreciation of a poem? Why should the shift in gender affect the meaning of the poem? Should it change our pereception of the poem?

I came to the conclusion that perhaps we find the poem more "feminine" because of the density of references to water. Water, being regenerative, life-giving, and nourishing, mimics the nature of a woman, who gives birth and nurtures her young and others around her. But then, what elements constitute the "masculine" if water constitutes the feminine? Air? Earth? Fire? And Why should gender restrict elements in this way, and vice versa? Why, despite the phrase, "The force that moves and holds the form", do we still think that the poem is addressed to a woman by a man? Can the force not mean a man's force?

Why are women considered changeful? (Even Rochester calls Jane a "wicked changeling"), and men the seats of constancy? Are women's affections so fickle? Although I don't necessarily agree, I applaud Anne Elliot (of Persuastion) for trying to argue against this notion of the feeble nature of women's affections at a time when women's constacy was severely doubted, for she claimed that women love longer and stronger than men. Surprisingly, times haven't changed for yet another friend told me today that "it is generally assumed that women are more disposed to change more easily than men, as the latter are more constant, more "strong" in thier resolves".

This labeling of women as "changeful" creatures, unable to stick to their decisions and obey an order, has got to change. I am surprised at how little has changed since
ancient times. According to Paradise Lost it is Eve's susceptiblity to temptation that led to the Fall. She is supposed to have given in when Adam did not, to the temptings of Satan. While she broke the ordained law, she also gratified her curiosity, for it is the eagerness for knowledge that led her to committ such an act. It does not mean she can never be constant in her resolve. She never stopped loving Adam.

I found this poem by Byatt even more interesting because it is written by her, a woman, in the style of a male poet writing to his female muse. What does it mean for a writer who is female to have done so? How are we to interpret this act as readers?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

On the nature of Adventures

I went kayaking for the first time yesterday with a bunch of other people who also happen to live in my building. And I must say I LOVED it!! Simply being on that vast, serene lake was freeing in itself. Although I had 3 other people kayaking with me, I felt quite alone and content. All I had to think about when working as a team, was the synchronized paddling and the odd small talk now and then. Otherwise, they left me alone, alone to myself to wonder and muse and dream. The best part about the trip was how many paths we had available for us to go: we could go in any direction we wanted, cross any way we pleased, pass any tunnel, and still come out safe and reach our point of departure. The almost endless stretch of water which took me to distant places (even if it is a shaded wood or a peek at someone's private beach), which would not stop me from traveling if I chose, and yet buoyed me up should I fall or choose to float, filled me with such pleasant thoughts, that I ceased to think of all the myriad things that weigh on me in that most uncooporative World of Work. While the sea is overpowering and insistent, the lake is active in its own way. It is quiet, but potent. It is serene, but nurturing. It is calm but challeging in its isolation. Above all, it allowed me to step in its waters and give myself completely up to nature for a few hours. Also, wherever we paddled there were interesting sights to see: whether it was another sailing boat, a family kayaking for the first time, a deserted hut, or a little waterfall. In any case, I was certainly not tired (except when the muscles in my arms ached due to natural effects of anaerobic oxidation). It was such a lovely day as well and made me so energized, so full of inspiration, enabling me to see little stories scampering about here and there.

When we got back in the afternoon, I talked with a friend of mine (who had also gone on the trip), and she mentioned how so many girls have no desire for "adventure". She looked at me and said "In the scale for being adventerous, I'd give you a 3/10, but otherwise, you are ok!". This is a friend whose honesty I respect, even though it might come off harshly, even though I might get hurt. It is always best to hear the truth.

However, I didn't think she was quite right. Basically because she and I clearly had different definitions for the word "adventure". She is more the sporty type, who can't sleep without a (large) dose of excercise a day, including running or swimming. Fitness and physical activities are such an important part of her life, for she used to row as well. Though our need for intellectual conversations brought us closer together as friends, the differences in our "active" lifestyles were still significant. Her comment about my being not adventerous enough made me think of Frankengirl's recent post, where she asked,

"Is exercising the muscles of our body more highly esteemed in our society than excising the muscles of our brain? Is traveling to other countries, more desirable than traveling across the maps of our minds, hearts and souls?"

Why is the need for doing sports necessary to being termed "adventerous"? Why do people not think that one could have the most interesting, inspiring, fierce, and destructive adventures in one's own head? Why is the adventure of the intellect not noticed? I don't want to be called "adventerous" merely for the sake of it. All I am saying is that people ought to recognize that some of the hardest battles take place not in war zones on earthly soil, but rather, in the grey cells of one's cranium, as well in that intangible corner of one's being, one's heart and soul. I'd like to ask others who are ignorant of mental adventures this question, "Is it necessary for me to measure my brain activity by use of wires and electronic equipement in order to prove to you that I am not just languishing, idling away all day just because I don't prance around the tennis court?" Honestly, I don't dislike sports, in fact, I do them in moderation. And I am fond of walking and I swim when possible. And I am quite content with the "adventures" in my own head (though there are times when I long for more mental excitement), I am quite content to be left alone,if it means being removed from the society of such people who not only exert little intellectually and emotionally (when they have the capacity to do so), but also ridicule others who long for other things. If they left me, I'll be left alone to just ponder and think things and dream dreams without being forced to restrict my thoughts, schmoose and endure their arid chatter.

But this brings me to the 'material point', which is to ask the following questions: What is an Adventure? If freedom is sought in adventure, isn't restricting the meaning of this word doing the opposite of the very thing that adventure promotes?