Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The American Perspective

In The Voyage Out, Hewet was having a conversation with Rachel in Chapter 16, and one of the things that he said really stood out to me:
"...this curious silent unrepresented life. Of course we're always writing about women-abusing them, or jeering at them, or worshipping them; but it's never come from the women knows nothing whatsoever about them. They won't tell you. Either they're afraid, or they've got a way of treating men. It's the man's view that is represented, you see."
To me, this quote describes a situation that is not only a feminist occurrence, but a national one as well. It often seems that living in the United States means being self-contained and ignoring the other countries that live around the world.

Last year, I took Urbanism to fulfill the Visual Art requirement of Fordham's core. The way the course works, we had to choose a city that has a problem, and explore the city by looking at maps and seeing the patterns that arise. The course culminates in a final presentation where we had to present our final findings to the class. I chose to study Hiroshima. The first thing that comes to your mind is the atom bomb, right? It was extremely difficult for me to find out almost anything else about the city, because Americans are obsessed with World War II history. Almost no one brings up how quickly Hiroshima cleaned up (within the five years after the bomb), or how today there is no indication that the city was ever bombed except for a memorial in the center of the city. When it is Americans talking about Hiroshima, we are usually referring to our involvement in Hiroshima's history, which brings up images of mushroom clouds and wreckage. Since that is what we request to see, that is what is shown to us. We are not shown the city that Hiroshima has become today.

This phenomena is not limited to an academic sphere though. Over winter break, I went to Quito, Ecuador. It's a modern city in a South American country. It was my first time out of the continent, so I didn't know what to expect. It surprised me to see, despite knowing that I was in a modern city, a mall within sight of the place where I was staying with my GO! team. To me, a mall seems to be distinctly a phenomena from the United States. We ended up going inside it because there was a day there where the place we were staying did not provide the meals. Looking around inside, with the exception that there were phrases in Spanish, it could have been a mall from the United States. The only feature that was distinctly Ecuadorian was a huge window that capitalized on the beautiful view of the Andes mountains around us (malls in the United States don't have windows to the outside). Despite this, the mall was just as much a part of Ecuador as any other more "traditional" site. It just showed a reality of Ecuador trying to be like the United States. And why not? Quito is the capital city of Ecuador: it's more likely to get American tourists who will spend their money at a mall without giving it a second thought. And if it will bring the business, why not build a mall?

When I think about the mentality in which American-born people are taught to think about the United States, in that we are (or at the very least should be) the best country on Earth, and that we are the major hub for immigration because we're the modern promised land, I wonder if other countries only let us walk around with bloated heads because of our military power and money. Is it only for our money that other countries put up with us visiting them without knowing a word of their language, assuming that someone knows English? Do we, as Americans, by proclaiming that we're the best country, see other countries as less civilized without ever having visited them? Like how Hewet wonders about females yet will never be fully able to under their perspective, I'm afraid that I will never be able to understand the viewpoint of people who are from other countries because I have the American perspective.

Rachel Reading Ibsen

In The Voyage Out, reading plays an important role revealing certain things about the characters without Woolf explicitly stating them. Because of the importance that Woolf places on reading, I found Rachel’s choice of Ibsen especially interesting. Woolf references Rachel’s reading of Ibsen a few times, and I think it is safe to assume that based on Rachel’s literary choices, she probably read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. This play is critical of marriage conventions and ends with the heroine, Nora, leaving her husband after telling him she wants to find out who she really is as an individual, thus giving an unconventional ending for a woman during that time. I found it interesting that Rachel mirrors this desire to find out more about what she can do as an individual separate from the institution of marriage. However, the conventions of the people around her cause her to consider what society expects and I think that is why she believes that she should be engaged to Terrence. In the end, neither Rachel nor Nora can reconcile themselves to their current societal roles, however I think Nora’s fate vindicates her choice more than Rachel’s death, which almost serves as a lesson.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Woolf and Regina Spektor

Often when listening to Regina Spektor (my favorite singer) I get the feeling that she is some how inspired by Virginia Woolf. After encountering Paris by Regina Spektor and realizing that she referenced Virginia Woolf, I decided to do some research. It turns out that Virginia Woolf and many other classic writers influence Regina Spektor. In this song Spektor sings about being in love with a man and giving up her feminist ways to be with him. View the song here- Paris by Regina Spektor  

Woolf wonderfully captures the awe of a first time reader

In the Voyage Out, Woolf cleverly pokes fun at the way that Rachel reads Gibbon. Rachel is in awe of the words on the page exclaiming,  “ Never had any words been so vivid and so beautiful- Arabia Felix- Aethiopia.” (Woolf 175). Rachel reading Gibbon for the first time is so interesting to me because in this scene Woolf perfectly captures the awe of the unfamiliar reader. When I first began to venture more seriously into the world of classic novels, I did so without the help of a class, thus I did not have any guidance. Of course, I had encountered all the standard classics in class. But one summer I decided that I would start to read many of the more challenging classics on my own. After reading Woolf’s description of Rachel, I realized that she had in effect also described my experience with the books of that summer. I had not, at the time, realized that the books that I had picked were too challenging. Thus I was unable to understand and follow the plot of each book. Instead that summer became the summer that I would learn to appreciate and admire the beauty of words. I would sit outside in the sun and marvel at various authors and the skill with which they crafted each sentence, while not being able to understand a single plot line. The scene that Woolf writes is so realistic because it captures the experience that I and many other readers that are new to challenging materials have had. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Door to the Self

I tried to imagine myself being in Rachel's shoes. What if it were me on that ship surrounded by people I do not know with no way to escape; people who seem to live in a world that is different than mine.

The only way I could relate is every morning and afternoon that I take the 1 train to get to class. Every morning and every afternoon, I ride the subway with different people; I see faces that I do not recognize and people I will never see again (with the exception of a one or two recognizable faces that take the train at the same time as me every morning).

Being surrounded by strangers, I never feel the need to strike up a conversation with any of them because I know that I will never see them again. So, there is no point in learning about their lives and their personalities. But, what if something were to happen to the train, and I was stuck with them for days awaiting rescue? If that happened, I'd be forced to talk to them and learn of their lives and personality. I might like some and I might dislike others. Either way, I imagine I will still feel alone even though I am with people in the same situation as me. If I opened myself up to the people around me, perhaphs I will arrive at the same conclusion as Rachel.  Just as she had done with Richard Dalloway and Clarissa Dalloway, she eventually found out that she opened not only her emotions to others but her mind was opened to whole new experiences; experiences that allowed for her to learn more about herself, her desires (both mental and sexual), as well as the acceptance of more possibilities where she can be her own self regardless of the views of others.

Especially in Rachel's case, her relations with others causes her to see herself in a light that shows she is not as educated as others (in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway having read books Rachel has never heard of). The more she entangles herself with others, she comes to learn more about her own Self.

I think it is part of being human that people are scared to open up to others; in fear of finding that our own self is lacking in relation to another. It takes courage to open a door and even more courage to keep it open and learn more about the self and others (just as I hope Rachel will continue to do).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What the water gave me

The internet in Lowenstein 518 was slower than molasses this morning, so we could only watch the first minute of this video. It's one of the best Woolf-inspired pop songs I know:

Florence + the Machine - What The Water Gave Me [Official Music Video] from Back Alley Journals on Vimeo.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Getting started.....

Here we go....It's time for a new semester of Woolf and a new course blog. You can find my personal blog, Fernham, here. And a prior incarnation of this blog here. Stay tuned for further developments....