Saturday, November 12, 2011

a string of randoms

I've decided that if I blog things instead of just posting stuff on facebook it would be more accessible to me at a later date.  So here are some of those things.

This video brings me endless joy.

Also, I've found this extension for Google Chrome that will switch out gendered words: he for she, him for her, man for woman, woman for man, etc. I'm excited about this because it's an extremely useful tool for seeing how strongly our culture favors masculine pronouns, and it's already something feminists have used to point these things out. We do it all the time in my feminist religious philosophy class.

Speaking of that class, I am currently working on my final project and I've decided to focus on the issue of priesthood in the Mormon church and discuss what Mormon feminists have been saying about it for the last thirty years. I've really been on a journey this semester as I explore religion from a feminist perspective and really dig in to the issues that have been bothering me for the last several years. I'm figuring out where I stand on those issues and how I want to move forward in my spiritual life. I don't want to do or believe things simply because I have in the past. I want to be purposeful in my religious actions, not just move through the motions. I'm thinking of doing a blog post highlighting some of the books I've read this semester, but for now here are some links to some really important articles:

  • "If I Hate My Mother, Can I Love My Heavenly Mother? Personal Identity, Parental Relationships, and Perceptions of God" by Margaret Toscano.  I've read most of Toscano's articles and this one is by far my favorite.  It's not one of her "controversial" articles on priesthood or Heavenly Mother, but is instead a very personal and touching exploration of how we relate to ourselves, to our family members and to God.  One issue in feminist theology is how to name God, who has, as the scriptures show, many names.  People like Elizabeth Johnson point out that since God has so many names it is unwise to only address God as Father. God is also mother, friend, brother, sister, and all of these reflect distinct roles and relationships that we have in this life that we can then use to relate to God.  I think Toscano asks a very important question, and a version of one I've frequently asked myself: If I don't have a relationship to my father on earth, how do I know how to have a relationship with a Father in Heaven?  
  • "A Critique of the Two Trees" on Zelophehad's Daughters This is a really fantastic review of a talk that has been causing a bit of a stir in the Mormon feminist communities, especially the people I know at BYU. This critique is well researched and extremely thorough and approaches the original talk with solid feminist scholarship. Just because someone claims to be a feminist doesn't mean we have to completely reject or completely accept what she is saying. Feminists must always be critical, must always examine what the words are actually saying.  It's easy to say "everyone is equal, everything is fine" and this may make a lot of people feel better about their support of a patriarchal institution, but I don't believe that anything that is easy to swallow is helpful.  The world is complicated, people are complicated, God is more complicated than we can even imagine, and sweeping generalizations that aren't supported in scripture, history, or actual experience, should probably be left to Sunday School. /end mini rant. 
  • "Addressing the Divine" on By Common Consent This is a bit of a dense linguistic article talking about how we address God in prayer. I love his conclusion that it is impossible for us to lie or deceive or spin when we pray, that prayer is a direct conduit to the divine. I have been having issues lately with prayer and this helped quite a lot.
So there are some articles. I also wanted to mention that yesterday was Armistice Day and today is Remembrance Day in the UK, the holidays initially commemorating the end of the First World War (the War to End All Wars).  Since a bulk of my research is on WWI I thought I would post a little snipit of the project I just finished for the London Consortium. The title is "Negotiating the Forbidden Zone: Boundaries, Bodies, and Politics in Women's Writings of the First World War"  So yeah, I don't really expect anyone to read this snipit, but if you're curious about what I was doing for a year in London, that's it.  Let me know if you're interested in reading the whole thing. 
Mary Borden sees through the structure of the war machine and understands its business.  “It is all carefully arranged,” Borden explains in her sketch “Conspiracy”: 
Everything is arranged.  It is arranged that men should be broken and that they should be mended.  Just as you send your clothes to the laundry and mend them when they come back, so we send our men to the trenches and mend them when they come back. You send your socks and your shirts again and again to the laundry, and you sew up the tears and clip the raveled edges again and again, just as many times as they will stand it.  And then you throw them away.  And we send our men to the war again and again, just as long as they will stand it; just until they are dead, and then we throw them into the ground.  It is all arranged. (79)
Borden recognizes the war-body as a broken and disposable object, an abject thing, what Brown may refer to as an index to “a certain limit or liminality, [hovering] over the threshold between the namable and the unnamable, the figurable and the unfigurable, the identifiable and unidentifiable" (5).  In its thingness, the war body occupies both a literal and figurative forbidden zone.  Physically the body hovers between life and death, between fragmentation and wholeness.  Its borders have been penetrated and its working parts are mangled and useless.  Metaphorically the war body is constantly hovering between a certain, ideal symbol of the state for which it fights, and an uncertain symbol of the outcome of war.
Brown explains that as “they circulate through our lives, we look through objects…because there are codes by which our interpretive attention makes them meaningful, because there is a discourse of objectivity that allows us to use them as facts.  A thing, in contrast, can hardly function as a window” (4).  The object of the masculine body within the war machine, as a container of social and cultural ideals, embodies those ideals, becomes those ideals, becomes a fact.  He is not a composite of parts, of arms and legs, but a whole man, a symbol of masculinity, bravery, and all of the political ideals which he contains within his body.  Brown goes on, “The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject and thus the story of how the thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation" (4).  In her memoirs Borden recognizes the shift in this relation between herself as a subject and the soldier’s body as an object, a once functioning object now asserting itself as a thing, a composite of broken parts. “There are no men here,” she writes, “So why should I be a woman?” Instead of whole men there are merely parts, pieces, fragments:
There are heads and knees and mangled testicles.  There are chests with holes as big as your fist, and pulpy thighs, shapeless; and stumps where legs once were fastened.  There are eyes—eyes of sick dogs, sick cats, blind eyes, eyes of delirium; and mouths that cannot articulate; and parts of faces—the nose gone, or the jaw. There are these things, but no men; so how could I be a woman here and not die of it?  It is impossible to be a woman here. One must be dead.” (43-44).
In his injury the soldier’s body deposits the ideals he contained, the masculine ideals revered by the society and culture of his country.  His fragmented body can no longer contain those ideals. “Certainly they were men once,” Borden writes, “But now they are no longer men. […] Once they were real, splendid, ordinary, normal men.  Now they mew like kittens” (44).  The once splendid, ordinary, and normal man turned soldier is wounded; he becomes infantile, and his body draws attention to itself as a composite of defective parts, similar to the cast away limbs and parts which Borden encounters everywhere in the field hospital.  “At midnight I will get up and put on a clean apron and go across the grass to the sterilizing room and get a cup of cocoa,” she explains, “At midnight we always have cocoa in there next to the operating room, because there is a big table and boiling water. […] Sometimes there isn’t much room.  Sometimes legs and arms wrapped in cloths have to be pushed out of the way.  We throw them on the floor—they belong to no one and are of no interest to anyone—and drink our cocoa” (41).  Here Borden’s prose exemplify a matter-of-fact, and yet ironic tone, reflecting how she sees herself and her own body as an object within the war machine. She admires one fellow nurse (likely Ellen La Motte): “Blind, deaf, dead—she is strong, efficient, fit to consort with gods and demons—a machine inhabited by the ghost of a woman—soulless, past redeeming, just as I am—just as I will be”(43).   In the Forbidden zone women are not women, and men are not men.  In this space their bodies are cogs in the same war machine: parts that mend, and parts that are mended.  
Not only does Borden compare the bodies of injured soldiers to things, she focuses on the absurdity of the things that surround her life and work inside the Forbidden Zone.  In her sketch “Paraphernalia” she describes the uselessness of the objects and instruments scattered about an operating table of a dying patient.  “What have all these queer things to do with the dying of this man?” she asks.  “Here are cotton things and rubber things and steel things and things made of glass, all manner of things.  What have so many things to do with the final adventure of this spirit?”  She then proceeds to inventory the myriad objects used in the futile attempts to save his life, and again asks why.  “Why do you rub his grey flesh with the stained scrap of cotton and stick the needle deep into his side? Why do you do it?  Death is inexorable and the place of  Death is void.  You have crowded the room with all manner of things.  Why do you crowd all these things up to the edge of the great emptiness?” (83). The objects of the operating theater do nothing but crowd, and in their uselessness they call attention to themselves as mere things.  Elizabeth Grosz explains that "the thing is the provocation of the nonliving, the half-living, or that which has no life, to the living, to the potential of and for life" (125).  The instruments that the nurses and surgeons use in order to save life are in themselves lifeless and they clearly provoke Mary Borden.  “You keep on doing things. Why do you keep on doing things?” Borden asks, “Death is annoyed at your fussing” (84).  The uselessness of the medical paraphernalia provokes the living, just as the uselessness of the now irreparable body provokes the living bodies surrounding it:
“What do you say? He is dead? You say he is dead? And here are all your things, your blankets and your bottles and your basins.  The blankets weigh down upon his body.  They hang down over the bed.  Your syringes and your needles and your uncorked bottles are all about in confusion.  You have stained your fingers.  There is a spot on your white apron; but you are superb, and here are all your things about you, all your queer things, all the confusion of your precious things.  What have you and all your things to do with the dying of this man?” Borden asks a final time, “Nothing.  Take them away” (84).
That which is left of the dead man, a spot of his blood on her apron, a stain on her fingers, is a provoking thing, an indictment against her still living, “superb” body, the body that contains meaning and a potential for continued life; perhaps the thing, the spot of blood, is an indication of the guilt she still feels despite her attempts to become herself a thing, a soulless cog in the machine of war. 
Borden also recognizes and struggles throughout her work to accept the role she has as the mender.  Like the things that surround her in the Forbidden Zone, the bodies of wounded men, she attempts to recreate herself as a soulless and subjectless thing so that she might work painlessly within the machine of war.  However, the Forbidden Zone is a space where no meaning is or can be fixed, and just as the bodies of the soldiers hover between life and death, between political significance and insignificance, Mary Borden’s own body and identity hovers within the same interstitial space of negotiation and abjection. "No longer the clear outline of an autonomous body, this border is a disturbing liminal state between subject and object….And if this describes the corpse it also describes those living persons who look up on its contours as a dark mirror of their own state." (Schwenger 158).  Women are not spared the abjection that comes with the broken state of the bodies of wounded soldiers.  Borden never describes the state of a soldier’s body without reference to her own body and her own struggles within the space of the Forbidden Zone.  Her collection of fragments reveals the struggle of the human body to assert itself as a subject from within the machine of war and shows how it instead becomes an abject thing, a piece of broken machinery that in the end cannot be mended, especially as it continues to live within the space of abjection, within the Forbidden Zone.  
And finally.  This may be the best thing you ever see on the internet. 

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