The Femme Fatale and the Liberated Woman
In one weekend, I was given a fast-forward fictional portrayal of the femme fatale in Saint Saens’s Opera Samson et Delila and a film version of the beginnings of the modern liberated woman in the movie, Colette
The film was based on brilliant writer who eventually broke away from a patriarchal husband who used her writing talents, under his name, to gain personal fame.
Colette reaches a tipping point when she discovers that her husband sold the rights to novels she essentially wrote.
It is her moment of truth when she storms into his office and confronts him with the tragic reality of what he has done to her: completely sold her artistic identity to someone else— the final and unforgivable transgression, in her mind.
On her arduous journey of independence, she discovers she no longer needs her husband’s name and power to succeed as a writer. Her talent is enough.
Seduction as Power, the Adulterous Lover, the Fleshless Saint
With some glowing exceptions (Queens Elizabeth and Victoria), it seems to me the only power women in the West have been allowed to have is the power of seduction.
Innocence, sanctity, maternity, and mediation found in the cult of the Virgin Mary during the Middle Ages reduced women to fleshless creatures of domesticity, quiet piety, and silent submission to God’s will (at least that’s the orthodox Christian version).
The courtly love tradition portrayed women as moaning lovers writing love letters hinting at a poetically inspired sexual tryst when a lover returned home from war or a military obligation (Granted the courtly love tradition may have been more myth than reality).
The women as seductress, however, seems to have been a constant in Western mythology, especially in the Old Testament. That role appealed to men because it obviously gave the male the innocent-victim status.
“The devil made me do it,” as an old tv comic character used to say. And the sexual devil was always in the form of a woman—- Salome, Bathsheba, Delilah, Jezebel
So, women it seems were given power in Christian myths as seducers (whores, most likely) or as adulterous, but bloodless lovers by mutual consent in the courtly love tradition.
On the dry side, women were permitted to have some iconic status as saints or martyrs, but, as we’ve seen with the cult of Mary, only as fleshless domestic servants of God.
Women and the Arts
On the other hand, in the arts, women really had no power. Their roles were to reproduce, to cook, and to clean. Or to help with the farming.
What we think of as their nurturing role may have been non-existent given all their harsh duties, not to mention how many births they had to have just to make sure that a few of their children would survive.
In any event, prior to very modern times, most women didn’t have time to compose an oratorio, to write a a play, or to paint, especially for a living.
Even if they married into wealth, they were prohibited, by tradition, from either exposing their talents (unless to “perform” as a vocalist or pianist in a salon setting) or establishing an independent career in the arts.
Colette certainly broke that tradition as an independent writer.
Thanks to her, thousands of women have been inspired to find their unique power in the arts as fiction writers.
Movies with a multicultural theme are always difficult to write about without appearing to be a self-taught expert. If you’re a white male writer, it becomes even riskier because, then, the stereotype of the “mansplainer” is a label easily used to discount everything you say.
Well, here goes.
Wind River is a gripping crime thriller that takes place on an Indian Reservation in Wyoming in merciless sub-zero temperatures.
Cory Bannon, a US Fish and Wildlife agent discovers the body of a female Arapaho teenager whom he recognizes as the daughter of a close friend. We find out later that part of Bannon’s life seems to come at him in a surreal rush because he lost his own daughter, Emily, who was of mixed ethnic heritage–her mother is also Arapaho (she and Bannon are currently going through a divorce).
A rooky FBI young woman, Jane Banner, is called in to investigate the homicide. Along with the local tribal police, she and Bannon eventually take the villains down, after, of course, a brutal cops-and-robbers shoot out (about and hour-and-a-half later, in movie time)
For what it’s worth, this is what I discovered about this film
(1) The film takes some risks in giving us portraits of heart-felt grief, both male and female. I might add here, there are some strong male-bonding scenes that are particularly poignant because they cross over ethnic lines.
(2) The male-as-avenger seems to be a stereotype that Hollywood film directors can’t seem to escape.
(3) The film makes some attempt at giving a woman a leading equality role as a police agent fully capable of taking physical and mental control. At the same time, she has a necessary psychological role in identifying with the plight of the young Arpaho woman and her mother.
(4) All the “reservation” social issues come at us as if they were as commonplace as a red-light at a busy city street corner—-drugs and alcohol; the number of missing and murdered Native American women; Indian sovereignty; under-staffed tribal police; poverty; imprisonment as the invevitable fate of many young male Native Americans; and the relentless brutal winter, not to mention the loss of livestock because of the many wandering predatory animals in search of food.
(5) There is a strong message in the film about the Native American ability to endure hardship. Bannon makes the point to Banner, early in the film, that the young female victim probably ran much beyond any normal human being’s ability to endure the sub-freezing weather in spite of having been brutally raped. And it is clear, in the final poignant scene of the film, that the young women’s father and mother will eventually survive.
Have to admit I was hooked, particularly at the breath-taking visuals. There may be some criticism, however, about the violence. It is very, very graphic, although I’m not quite sure it was gratuitous given the frontier setting of the film in the wintry Wyoming wilderness and the painful reality of so many Native American women murdered and missing.
Toni Erdmann a German-Austrian production about a father and adult-daughter relationship. The father is a playful eccentric who loves to impersonate. The adult daughter is an up-tight, angst-driven corporate executive trying to succeed in a male dominated work environment.
Her father, impersonating an executive, uses the interventionist, in-your-face approach by invading her corporate world.
The psychological clash between the two of them vacillates between her rage and frustration with her father’s antics and an occasional surrender to the playful world and love of life he is trying to convince her has more intrinsic worth than all the compromises of self-worth she has to make in the corporate world.
Does the father succeed in winning her over to his side of life? Well, let me just say the movie’s ending gives you an ambiguous clue.
Images and Story: Call and Response
Vittoria de Sica’s classic 1947 film, The Bicycle Thief, has probably been written about more than any other film in history. At one time, film audiences considered it to be the best film ever made; unfortunately, it has slipped off the charts in recent times.
I have longed maintained that films consistently use visual and auditory images as stories in and of themselves. They often become complementary social plots replete with cultural values and world-view perceptions. The central story line in many classic films becomes more than just ornamented with these visual and auditory images, it often becomes a kind of call-and-response complement to the less evident images of a film.
Diversity of Spiritual Journeys in AA
Some of us in twelve-step recovery programs have never belonged to a religious institution. Some once belonged but have left. Some are still emotionally connected to their religious heritages, even though they do not practice their religions.
There are a minority in recovery programs who have chosen Buddhism, a non-theistic sect. If they are practicing Buddhists they participate in daily rituals: chanting; silent, sitting meditation; or walking meditation.
Others in twelve-step programs have developed a very eclectic collage of practices, values, and beliefs they have gleaned from Pema Chödrön, Osho, Krishnamurti, Andrew Cohen, Deepak Chopra, Gurdjieff, among others
There is a vast number in recovery programs who remain attached to their Judeo-Christian heritages and continue to practice their faiths of choice.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage
Vintage International, 2015
Magic Realism, Interiority, Bildungsroman Tradition
Haruki Murakami appears to have captured the imaginations of a lot of readers. And that’s saying a lot because he is not a writer who seems to be satisfied with just a story line.
In two other novels I have read, he clearly mixes his own brand of magic realism (fantasy, dream narratives, science fiction, fable) and a very realistic narrative (It would be an understatement to say that Murakami does not shy away from sex or death. He also manages to blend the murder mystery genre into some of his stories).
He is also a writer who has a strong interior sensibility and appears to be particularly drawn to millenials.
A third motif of Murakami’s fiction is a penchant for story lines that resemble the Bildungsroman tradition (stories about self-knowledge journeys, usually about younger protagonists moving through a variety of intense rites of passage). Continue reading
The Constitutional Precedents For Marriage Equality
The recent Supreme Court decision, Obergefell, et al v Hodges, gave same-sex couples the Constitutional right to marry in the United States.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy cites the many Supreme Court decisions that expanded the inclusiveness of marriage to a wider variety of same-sex couples and individuals—prisoners, interracial couples, and men behind in their child support payments—all of whom sought the right to marry, not because of their unique status, but, as Judge Kennedy makes eminently clear, because of the “right to marry in its comprehensive sense.”
Kennedy also cited decisions protecting the rights of homosexuals.
These two legal approaches were the guiding forces in leading the majority opinion to end the last legal barrier to “equal protection” and “due process” for same-sex “intimacy”—- all state laws prohibiting same-sex marriages. In addition, states will be Constitutionally compelled to honor all marriage licenses given out-of-state.
Aside from the legal and Constitutional issues framing the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy included in his statements a wide array of assumptions about marriage. Continue reading
Prosperity and the Good Life
“Who doesn’t want to see their kids prosperous?” says the mother of Qin and Yang in the documentary, Last Train Home. This is a refrain begun earlier by the grandmother: “But who doesn’t want their children to live a good life?”
If we are to believe the mother and the grandmother, prosperity and the good life are the two goals of all families. China appears to be no exception to this rule in Lixin Fan’s brilliant documentary of one family’s attempts to achieve some form of prosperity in the new hypercapitalist China.
But it is a prosperity that has a profound emotional price tag. Over a period of thirteen years, the Zhang family becomes fractured when the mother and father leave their two children home with the grandmother as the parents pursue the Chinese dream to succeed.
And they don’t just leave home to go to a nearby city. They travel a little over 1300 miles to work in a makeshift factory in the city of Guangzhou in Guandong Province. Like the other 130 million migrant workers working in cities all over China, the Zhang couple returns only once a year to their small village.
His mouth, a small megaphone,
Hazardous to his own waning strength,
Fatigue encircling him,
Certainty losing its balance
Against weightless cells
The final silence.
If it’s a dark satire like “Dr Strangelove,” or “Catch 22,” or even “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the viewer always gets the feeling in the pit of their stomach that there is something not right with the world, that some impending dark force is going to place the world in a state of implosion.
In these hard-edged satires, that dark force often exists in the possibility that a nuclear holocaust could be started by a bunch of crazies; that our revered institutions could be run by psychopaths; that maybe we all have the potential for evil. Continue reading