|Copyright K. Kendall, Wiki|
Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Adrienne Rich, poet, activist, thinker, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, died 27 March 2012 aged 82.
“There is no writer of comparable influence and achievement in so many areas of the contemporary women’s movement,”says the Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States. The British newspaper, i, quotes Rich’s own description of herself as “…a white woman, a Jew, a lesbian and a United States citizen.”
Rich married economist Alfred Conrad but eventually she began to reject conventional family life and heterosexual relationships. The couple separated in 1970 and Conrad committed suicide a few months later.
Her collection Diving into the Wreck in 1973, was committed to “…breaking down the artificial barriers between the private and the public” and it won her the National Book Award, an honour she shared with fellow nominees Alice Walker and Audre Lorde. In 1976 she settled down into her lifelong partnership with the novelist Michelle Cliff.
Adrienne Rich's Achievements:
· Yale Younger Poets competition (age 22) ~ 1951.
· A Change of World (published as part of the award) ~ 1951.
· Diving into the Wreck, ~ 1973
· National Book Award (for the above) ~ 1976.
· National Medal of Arts ~ 1997. Rich refused this award, stating, “I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. It means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”
In his preface to A Change of World, W.H. Auden, a judge on the panel, said that Rich’s poems were “neatly and modestly dressed, speak quietly but do not mumble, respect their elders but are not cowed by them.”
Criticism - A Representative Fable
Jan Montefiore, in her book Feminism and Poetry, says: "The tendency to privilege the notion of female experience... can make for a too easy and uncritical assumption of identity between all women." The flaw in this process and its effect on Rich's poetic language is that most of Rich's best poems do not experience directly. The poem "Diving into the Wreck" does not describe a real experience but an imaginary one. It is a lyrical "I" speaking, which results in the production of the representative fable.
The fable fails to take into account individual experience, for example, black experience and working-class experience. Judgement should be made in terms of gender, colour and class, which are central to the experience of individual women, for, in truth, the "typical" woman poet does not exist.
Addressing the Issues - Unfair Criticism of Adrienne Rich?
I am not sure any of this criticism is entirely justified, especially when considering the range of Rich's poetry. It is worth mentioning that Rich demonstrates considerable concern in her political poem, "Culture and Anarchy" for individual women, both black and white, middle-class and poor working-class. Clearly and naturally, in Diving into the Wreck she began from her own experience, but as her knowledge and awareness developed, so her sensibilities were increasingly involved, and her poetry embraced these vital concerns.
It is, of course, a valid concern for feminists that individual experience should be acknowledged and that a white, middle-class feminism would be unjust. To be fair, Montefiore qualifies her criticism by stating:
"The gap between experience and language is, after all, a philosophical problem that applies to all speakers whether they know it or not."
Adrienne Rich Challenged the Political and the Personal
What is without doubt is that Rich’s work pushed the boundaries of militant lesbianism. As Tom Payne in “Adrienne Rich, a woman outside the law,” quotes from a 1980 essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Experience”:
“… women should allow “the search for love and tenderness … to lead toward women”.
“If that has come to define her,” says Tom Payne, “she hasn’t shrunk from the definition: 'The split in our language between ‘political’ and ‘personal’ has, I think, been a trap,' she said as late as last year, in a clear refusal to mellow.”
Her son, Pablo Conrad, stated that his mother had died from complications from long-term rheumatoid arthritis.
· Williamson, Marcus, “Life in Brief, Adrienne Rich Poet,” “i” newspaper, 30 March 2012.
· Rich, Adrienne, The Fact of a Doorframe, W.W. Norton, N.Y. London, 1975.
· Montefiore, Jan, Feminism and Poetry, Pandora Press, London, 1987.
Sunday, 26 March 2017
Writer and poet Pam Brown says, “Women feel guilty to sit down and do nothing. Usually they are spared this emotion.”
This is true, but Birthdays and Mother’s Day are different. On these special occasions, enjoyment is mandatory and guilt is banned.
Mum's Special Days
Years ago, in my own childhood, paste brooches fashioned into the word “Mother” with shiny stones were popular for mothers' birthday presents. They were priced to suit a child’s pocket money, and the child would feel s/he was giving Mum a wonderful and valuable gift! Nowadays, of course, gifts are likely to be more sophisticated than this, but the old tradition of sparing Mum the daily grind of cooking and housework by taking on some of her chores still holds good.
It’s claimed that the tradition of celebrating Mothering Sunday dates back to the 16th century. A young girl in service would bake a Simnel cake to take home to her mother on her day off. The Simnel cake was a fruit cake, rather similar to a Christmas cake. On top would be 11 blobs of marzipan for 11 disciples, excluding sneaky Judas who fell out of favour for betraying Jesus! Due to this tradition, Mothering Sunday has also been known as Simnel Sunday.
There is a legend about a married couple called Simon and Nell. They had a row about whether the Mothering Sunday cake should be baked or boiled. They solved their disagreement by doing both, so the cake was named after both of them: SIM-NELL = Simnel.
Tender Quotations About Mothers
“The God to whom little boys say their prayers has a face very like their mother’s.” ~ James M. Barrie, Peter Pan, 1915.
“God could not be everywhere, so therefore he made mothers.” ~ The Talmud.
“The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears.” ~ Francis Bacon, Essays, 1925.
“If I were damned of body and soul, / I know whose prayers would make me whole, / Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine.” ~ Rudyard Kipling, The Light That Failed, 1891.
Uncomfortable Truths About Having Children?
“Parents love their children more than children love their parents.” ~ Auctoritates Aristotellis: a compilation of medieval propositions.
“Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.” ~ Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance, 1893.
“Parents learn a lot from their children about coping with life.” ~ Muriel Spark, The Comforters, 1957.
“The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children.” ~ Edward VIII, 5 March, Look, 1957.
Ironic Observations on Mothers and Children
“Children aren’t happy with nothing to ignore, / And that’s what parents were created for.” ~ Ogden Nash, “The Parent,” 1933.
“Oh, what a tangled web do parents weave / When they think their children are naïve.” ~ Ogden Nash, “Baby, What Makes the Sky Blue?” 1940.
“No matter how old a mother is she watches her middle-aged children for signs of improvement.” ~ Florida Scott-Maxwell, Measure of my Days, 1968.
“Mother always said that honesty was the best policy, and money isn’t everything. She was wrong about other things too.” ~ Gerald Barzan.
The Sweetest Verse Ever Written to Motherhood
The following verse was written by Alice Meynell, who lived from 1847 to 1922. It was a heart-stopping moment when a Victorian poetry book fell open at this page, by chance, revealing this little poem, called “Maternity.” There is a strange and haunting beauty in its sadness.
One wept whose only child was dead, / New-born ten years ago. / “Weep not; he is in bliss,” they said, / She answered, “Even so, / Ten years ago was born in pain / A child, not now forlorn. / But oh, ten years ago, in vain, / A mother a mother was born.”
Actual Date for Mothering Sunday May Depend on Calendar Anomalies – and Your Location
Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Lent runs from Ash Wednesday to the day before Easter Sunday and, therefore, Mother’s Day is celebrated on a different date each year. Sometimes it’s in March and sometimes in April.
The United States have a different festival which is not historically related to the UK Mothering Sunday.
3,500 Good Quotes for Speakers, Ed. Gerald F. Lieberman, Thornson's Publishers Ltd., 1984.
The Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Ed. Susan Ratcliffe, Oxford University Press, 1984.
Pocket Treasury of Great Quotations, Readers' Digest, 1978.
A Woman's Notebook, Exley Publications, Undated.
Victorian Women Poets, An Anthology, Eds: Angela Leighton and Margaret Reynolds, Blackwell, Oxford, UK, Cambridge, USA, 1995.
Friday, 24 March 2017
|Saussure on Language - Limited Boundaries|
“…from the simultaneous presence of other units.”
To be of value, the unit must function and establish its role within the system.
This leads on to Saussure’s conviction that no thing has intrinsic value. His example is that “…chess pieces change in value according to the moves that are made.” By this, he means that the pieces are the internal grammar of the set, taking on a diachronistic (ie. historical) role within the synchrony (the now) of the game. This can be applied to any other set, for example, language.
Saussure's Linguistics - Signifier and Signified
The most obvious point is that a book or a symphony is not a chess-set.
As Stuart Sim says, in his essay on Jacques Derrida:
“…structuralist criticism also blurs the distinction between the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic.”
Functional value might apply to the piece in the chess set, but that is not a sufficient condition for aesthetic experience, and, therefore, for aesthetic value. (Although - if the chess set were beautifully carved, this might then be true.)
Further, Saussure’s structuralism has no place within its limited boundaries to accommodate and recognise, for example, poetry’s creative energy.
From his analysis of words, Saussure produces three notions:
- The signified, which is the mental concept.
- The signifier, which is the sequence of sounds related to the concept.
- The sign, which is the union of signified and signifier.
The relationship of the signifier to the signified is arbitrary; meaning it is agreed upon by a linguistic community. Therefore: “Signs function through their relative position” and from this conclusion the judgement of their value is derived.”
Criticism of Saussure by Jacques Derrida
All of this is logical in terms of understanding structure, but is attacked by Jacques Derrida as sterile as far as aesthetic value is concerned.
“Form fascinates when one no longer has the force to understand force from within itself.”
Derrida means that Saussure’s theory tells us nothing about aesthetic value, the psychological or social aspects of novels, the drama of a great painting, the ineffableness of music.
“It is,” says Derrida, “a tyranny of form…which is held to inhibit the creative imagination.”
While Saussure insists on combining words according to the rules of syntax, Derrida breaks with this tradition. Derrida allows language to develop in new ways, creatively, aesthetically and, at least in theory, valuably. “Deconstruction relies heavily on this notion of paradigmatic relation.” Derrida and his followers make extensive use of punning and wordplay. This suggests: “a much more random motion for thought.”
Saussure argues that complications would arise through paradigmatic relations, causing our common language to break down, but this seems unlikely. Derrida says: “It (meaning structuralism) classifies and corrects rather than interprets or creates.” Derrida derides the interior design of the structuralist movement with what he describes as: “…the joyous affirmation of the play of the world and of the innocence of becoming, the affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth and without origin, which is offered to an active interpretation.” Structuralism imposes form rather than discovers it.
Stuart Sim and the Limitations of Saussure's Theory
Stuart Sim makes a strong criticism of Derrida’s extreme opposition to Saussure. He accepts the limitations of Saussure’s theory of reducing everything through wholeness, self-regulation and transformation in order to determine value. However, he also finds inadequacies in Derrida’s theory. “In Derrida’s scheme, meaning is endlessly being produced and just as endlessly being erased, so that there are no fixed points of reference.” This puts more pressure on the reader to interpret, so that: “Value judgements of the traditional kind become impossible,” and so, in Sim’s opinion, this isolates readers.
Sim asserts: “Reference points can only be jettisoned after they have been learned and absorbed.” It seems that we need Saussure’s structuralism to give us reference points to guide us, because: “…it still generates illuminating data about the internal relations of texts,” and this is Saussure’s main intention of determining value.
Saussure's structuralism seems to be a kind of formalism, and it is argued by many that this approach is too narrow to cover all the types of aesthetic values and qualities, like the psychological insight of Shakespeare, and the beauty of nature, music and paintings.
Aesthetic value, as a subjective quality that might, perhaps, lead to objectivity through Kantian theory, cannot be confined within Saussure’s account.
"Structure, sign and play in the discourse of the human sciences," Jacques Derrida, Art Context and Value, Ed: Stuart Sim, The Open University, 1992.
Literary Theory, Jonathan Culler, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 1997.
Positions, Jacques Derrida, Translated and Annotated by Alan Bass, The University of Chicago Press, 1972.
"Structuralism and post-structuralism," Stuart Sim, Philosophical Aesthetics, Ed: Oswald Hanfling, Blackwell Publishers in association with OUP, 1992.
"Introduction to the structural analysis of narrative," Roland Barthes, Art, Context and Value, Ed: Stuart Sim, The Open University, 1992.
Thursday, 23 March 2017
It's said of him that he never wrote an ugly sentence in his life!
Bertrand Russell was also a brave supporter of those unable to defend themselves against authority and the ruling dogma of the time, for example, he was committed to helping conscientious objectors and twice was sent to jail for his activism.
"The first war made me feel it just wouldn't do to live in an ivory tower," said Bertrand Russell in an interview conducted on 4 March 1959 by the BBC TV programme Face to Face with John Freeman.
Academics, Russell said, could not remain cut off from the real world. It was the brutal brush with the realities of the 1914-1918 war that propelled the great man into turning away from traditional philosophy within the confines of academic life, and into becoming an activist and a revolutionary, committing himself wholeheartedly to social reform and politics.
Bertrand Russell was born in 1872 in Monmouthshire in Wales to a wealthy, aristocratic family. He became drawn to philosophy, logic and mathematics, eventually becoming a fellow at Cambridge University. In the programme, Russell talked of what first provided him with the incentive to study mathematics. He named Euclid, known as the "Father of Geometry" and Russell said that this was the "loveliest stuff I had ever seen in my life."
Progression from Academia to Activism
With age, Bertrand Russell had become more radical, said author, Tariq Ali in "The Great Experiment." Finally, abstract thought progressed to direct action and Russell was thrown out of Trinity College, Cambridge during WWI for his pacifist activities and served the first of his two jail sentences. Later, in 1918, he was sent to Brixton Prison for six months for trying to incite the US to enter the war in support of Britain.
During the 1950s, broadcasting made national celebrities out of scholars and provided them with a platform on which to preach their sometimes radical views. Running a good and decent society was uppermost in the minds of many great philosophers, reformers and thinkers such as Bertrand Russell. He campaigned tirelessly for peace and protested how he deplored the thought of nuclear war.
Some telling insights into his character were portrayed on the BBC4 programme of 8 August 2011. Philosopher Roger Scruton pointed out that Russell never wrote an ugly sentence in his life and that for him, the English language was a plastic material that he put to his own use whenever he needed it. A further clip from the 1959 BBC TV programme depicted Russell declaring how he could not bear to think of hundreds of millions of people dying in agony simply because the rulers of the world were stupid and wicked.
The Conflict Between Science and Theology
In the Preface to his History of Western Philosophy, a wonderfully accessible and enlightening overview of the subject, Russell says: "Philosophy, from the earliest times, has been not merely an affair of the schools, or of disputation between a handful of learned men. It has been an integral part of the life of the community, and as such I have tried to consider it." Russell never wavered from that conviction.
Speaking of science in his History of Western Philosophy, Russell says: "Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance."
On the other hand: "Theology induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales."
Philosophy - a No Man's Land
His aim, as a philosopher, was "to teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralysed by hesitation." For Russell, philosophy was the "No Man's Land" in between science and theology, and was exposed to attack from both sides.
The great humanitarian, Bertrand Russell. showed us how to try to reconcile these disparities by his own example, as an intellectual, a sensitive, a trailblazer and a true man of the people. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and was a member of the famous Bloomsbury set along with social reformer John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf. He was happily married and credited his wife, Patricia, for supporting him and for assisting him in his research for his History.
Bertrand Russell died on 2 February 1970.
· Great Thinkers in Their Own Words, "The Great Experiment" BBC 4, 8 August 2011, 21.00pm.
· Face to Face with John Freeman, BBC Television, 4 March, 1959.
· History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell, Routledge Classics, 2009, originally published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd. London, 1946.
Wednesday, 8 March 2017
|Photo by Jenny Harris, (back right) - with some helpful photoshopping|
by Victoria Nicks.
One of the members in my Wednesday philosophy group read out this story today. I can't credit it with a source because there isn't one, and I'm guessing I'm not breaching any copyright as the story is so widely shared in so many places. It's well worth sharing again, in my opinion; such a beautiful and relevant lesson in philosophy:
Tuesday, 7 March 2017
Eight Top Tips
- Trust in yourself to stay on track and reach your goal, even if you don’t know exactly how you’ll get there.
- Find out what works for you and be prepared to use a little cunning – so long as it doesn’t hurt anybody.
- Don’t be afraid to be different. Don’t be too hard on yourself either, make allowances for yourself in the same way as you would for another person.
- Know that you're worth it. If you’re lucky enough to receive some feedback from the editor rejecting your work, be grateful for it and use it if you can. If the editor has taken time to comment, s/he clearly thinks you’re worth it. Always take constructive criticism on board provided it is from an informed and impersonal source.
- Ignore envious comments from those who feel threatened.
- Rejection is not personal. It is for this particular piece of work at this particular time for this particular publication. If you suspect your piece needs work, have it analysed by an expert. If you’re happy with it, try somewhere else. Most of all, keep going.
- Don’t be afraid of peaks and troughs. Writing’s like that, at least for most of us. Imagine how boring Coronation Street would become if there was a murder in every single episode. It’s during the ‘lows’ that you most need to stay focussed.
- Enjoy your writing.
Sunday, 5 March 2017
|Wikimedia Public Domain|