Thursday, February 26, 2009

Performance of Pain in Harold and Maude

I can vividly remember seeing the opening scene of Harold and Maude when I was young. There is the incredible build up with shots of Harold's feet - I know my patience with entertainment has suffered since I'd first seen this film, because I was getting antsy. I wanted the money shot. Because I knew what was coming, I relied on others' reactions for the surprise and alarm. Rich provided a fantastic gasp and a "What the hell?" More striking than the image of Harold hanging, though, is his mother's decidedly lukewarm reaction. Harold's elaborately wrought suicide "attempts" are obviously a performance of pain - although the pain he is expressing is emotional and psychological. Perhaps one of the most telling moments occurs when his mother is reading him the questions aloud for the computer dating service. As she becomes less and less interested in what Harold has to say (although I must say I don't think he speaks to his mother until the very end of the movie) he takes the pistol he has meticulously loaded, and points it at her. This is unexpected, but completely understandable.

Which leads me to: what a ridiculous character is the mother? I mean - every character in this film is a caricature, but she is so overbearingly unlikeable. Is she realistic? Is it important that she be? I guess that's part of what makes the film appropriate as a comedy. Without the laughs we get from the likes of the uncle and the priest, the tragedy of love and death could overwhelm the film. As it is, the film deals with the topic of death in such a way as to bring the viewer closer to the idea of their mortality, but in a comforting way. Harold's last "suicide" leaves that part of him in his past - as he is ready to embrace not just life, but his own mortality.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

the big V

I was lucky enough to get to see the Vagina Monologues this year - I caught the Sunday matinee with my boyfriend, sister, and her friend. There are so many ways in which I could connect vaginas and pain (specifically, the idea of birth makes me dizzy and need to sit down) but I think what struck me the most this year during the Monologues was the issue of female circumcision. In my mind, the idea that this happened to even one woman is horrifying, but the fact that it happens regularly to women in dozens of countries is just incomprehensible. In some places, only the clitoris is removed. In others, every outside part of the vagina is removed - clitoris, inner and outer labia. This truly renders a woman "a hole." Some of the excuses given for FC include the "fact" that women are inherently uncontrollable sexual beasts, and if they had their clitorises, society would fall apart. What kind of weird, archaic nonsense is that? The truth is that these surgeries are usually incredibly dangerous, and many times a woman is left with chronic pain. Other times, a fistula is formed, and a woman cannot control her bladder releasing. To me, this is not only a women's issue, but one of simple human rights. This kind of practice should be unequivocally stopped, in my opinion - to hell with tradition or religion.

On that note: I also hate the idea of male circumcision. I think that taking any body-part off of a person without their express permission is wrong on so many levels. Now - if we're talking about a tail or webbed feet - ok. Get rid of that shit. No kid needs to be tortured by classmates for their harelip or eleventh toe. Really, though - what use is it to get rid of the skin at the end of a penis? I have had this conversation before with many people that I see as being intelligent and humane, and most would agree completely about eradicating FC, but see no problem with young boys having their penises surgically altered before they have the right to assert themselves one way or the other. Circumcision is possible on older boys (I know of one young man who had it done at 14) so why mutilate a child? I use the word mutilate, realizing that it will probably provoke debate. Bring it. Also, I must admit that I have experience only with circumcised men, but that is surely because I am an American. Almost everyone here is chopped! Not so in Europe or Asia, and certainly not in South America. I cannot accept cleanliness as a reason for slicing the foreskin of a baby boy, because if your foreskin is keeping your penis dirty, chances are you're just dirty in general. Foreskin can be pulled back, and an uncircumcised penis can surely be effectively cleaned. So why, then, other than tradition, do we let this happen (and do it to our own children)?

As an end-note, I'd like to point out that I do not see male and female circumcision as the same thing. MC is to FC like ripping of a hang-nail is to amputating a hand. But although I see a difference in degree, I think there is an obvious similarity in kind.

Dr. Nick Ealy and Celestina

I realize that it's taken me forever to get to this. My apologies! The truth is, I absolutely loved this discussion. In fact - it's class sessions like this that make me want to hang out in academia forever!

It was certainly useful for Dr. Ealy to point out the stereotypes of the Dark Ages before he started in on Celestina. The idea that these "Dark Ages" were dark due to ignorance and superstition is fallacious. Instead, he pointed out, we can find plenty of enlightened philosophy, if we care to look further than stories of limbs rent, etc.

"The Romance" story was a new ethos, according to Ealy, and the best kind of fantastical glory now came from love, rather than war and the battlefield. In Celestina, we see an example of this unfulfilled erotic love become a kind of exquisite pain for the two main characters. "Love batters me, though no wound is visible." This unfulfilled love has transformative properties - becoming enobling and transcendental. We see this kind of love in so many love stories - where the lovers elevate each other to impossible heights, and there is inevitably a fall. Celestina does not disappoint - the heroine literally "falls" from her window, torn apart as she is from her requited yet impossible love - and of course Celestina herself is killed as a direct consequence of her meddling.

The problem in many love stories is that there is an obvious gap between fantasy and reality. When her lover comes to her, they both become confused when the physical expression of their "love" is less satisfying than the pain they felt apart. If looked at from a modern perspective (which, I guess, I cannot help but do) this story becomes more tragic than ever. I mean, truly - who ever had a satisfying, let alone transcendental time losing their virginity? OF COURSE it was disappointing. For these two, that was just the first step leading to their literary doom. Ealy said that her life was based on empty dreams, and I think that was probably true of many medieval people. Hell - it's true now! I know countless people who think that if they only had that jacket, those shoes, that house, that boy - they would be truly happy. It never works out that way. We love to want things! Ealy calls this "a fundamental unavoidable lack." This renders us human, and can be a positive force until we fallibly think that an object of our obsession is the "one true answer."

Ealy also posits that love cannot be "the answer" because there isn't an answer. "Life is a search; enjoy the journey."

Friday, February 13, 2009

What Constitutes a Rape Act?

During Nels' excellent lecture, even as I was paying rapt attention, my mind kept wandering back to the idea of a definition of "rape" or a "rape act."  There are non-sexual definitions of rape (i.e. plunder), but I am not interested in those.  I think I might like my own definition of rape, to then petition all 50 states to adopt my over-arching denotation.  In trying to find what I consider to be rape, I looked up plenty of others' efforts.

"the unlawful compelling of a woman through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse"  and "any act of sexual intercourse that is forced on a person" were the top two definitions on  The first obviously is gender-specific, and therefore nonsense, in my opinion.  The second is still not right - sexual intercourse cannot be the only act included in the idea of rape. has an extremely long definition (being medically inclined, I suppose).  They include the possibility of any gender being a rapist and/or the victim, and also include the anus in their category of "rape-able" orifices.  They discuss the important distinctions between regular "rape" and statutory rape - and also give date-rape a loose definition.

I think that the best place to start my definition of rape would be at the word's origin.  Rape is derived from the Latin word "rapere" - which means "to seize."  I think this is totally applicable, and would say that perhaps rape should be defined as any sexual act that is forced - any person who "seizes" anyone else's body part (vagina, anus, mouth) for their own sexual enjoyment (or general perversion) should be considered a rapist.  Those boys who ejaculated all over a sleeping girl's face?  Rapists for sure, in my book.  

I am really interested in what other people think about this definition in progress.  Please leave a comment if you have a suggestion - and I may work more on my definition as the semester goes on...