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TSE  May 2010

TSE May 2010

Subject:

Re: Mr. Eugenides

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Tue, 11 May 2010 19:51:05 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (243 lines)

I left the asterisks in to indicate where this post continues the
previous one. I was nearer to the end of what I had to say (not of what
there is to be said) than I thought.

Carroll

> Nancy Gish wrote:
> 
> "But that certainly was not
> the case in 1920." ----- regarded by whom?
> 
> It is an interesting fact that in a major Victorian novel (the name of
> which is just at this moment a memory glitch) a man is depicted as
> raping his wife.  Of course at that time such an act was not a legal
> possibility, though the characters in the novel are disgusted.  It
> still happened.  The typist's lack of reaction does not mean it was
> not the case; it only means she had no way to articulate what had no
> public conceptualization.

The Victorian Age was wildly miscellaneous and contradictory. I wish I
knew more about it than I do. Some of this gets captured in James's _The
Awkward Age_, the unnamed center of which is Zola's _Nana_. In P&P
Elizabeth shudders at the 'picture' Charlotte's marriage presents. The
word may not have been "picture"; I'm depending on memory here. That is,
Elizabeth is letting her imagination roam -- and the image of Charlotte
in bed with Mr ___ (my own memory glitch) brings out and underlines the
'stakes' in the polite maneuveings of the world she presents. An earlier
one-paragraph digression helps locate Charlotte's dilemma: an exchange
between Mrs. Bennet and Charlotte's brothr: if Charlotte remains
unnmarried she will eventually be the slave of the kind of woman _that_
young man will marry. This is pre-Victorian but points to the abyss
beneath the characters in the classic 19th-c novel.

Inso far as they typist exists 'outside' the pages of TWL I agree with
you completely. And Eliot's lines do slander her. But I had a narrower
focus: how she and her adventure 'operate' within TWL, and in answer to
your question above, Eliot, Pound, & the hypothetical reader of the
poem. (And I personally doubt that Eliot had the depth of social and
political understanding of Austen, Dickens, or James.) And _Eliot's_
typist fails abysmally, in contrast to Philomela, to understand that she
has been raped. Her understanding of what has happened is as superficial
as the young clerk's interpretation of her idifference as a welcome.
Again, inventing narrative the poet does not provide -- e.g. seeing Mr.
Eugenides as an 'actual' rapist, thins out rather than enriches the
range of meaning in the poem by narrowing the possible interactions
between the modern sexual encounters and the calssical tale from Ovid.
On the one hand, we have an extraordinarily dramatic rape and its
consequences in the Ovidian tale; on the other hand we have these
ambiguous modern encounters. Deliberate narrative gaps are a powerful
tool for the writer: a tool that is blunted if the reader insists on
making up a substitute for what the author has deliberately left blank.

>  An analogy is the notion of emotional
> abuse. Until very recently, only physical abuse was "abuse."  That did
> not mean there was no emotional or psychological abuse.  Nor does the
> absence of a term like date rape mean that such things never happened
> in 1920-

The poem echoed in the episode contains the phrase, "and learns too late
that men betray." Part of the horror of date rape is precisely it being
felt as a betrayal. But the typist is presented as having expected the
episode (Now that's done...) rather than having been betrayed into it.
It was a complex process by which the term "date rape" became coined,
and part of that process was a shift in the consciousness of women. Now
if by "such a thing" you mean the use of drugs, then yes it happened
before either the conception of a "date" or of date rape appearedd:
That's what Richardson's Clarissa revolves around. The "thing" does come
into existence before the term is invented, but it is that new fact that
brings about the need for a term. So we can assume that in the century
or half-century before the coinage of "date rape" various women were
haiving an experiencee that previously no woman had had, and these
expereinces would enter into the explosion of the modern Women's
Movement in the '60s. Probably some women were already searching for the
language to describe this experience back in the '20s. But I doubt that
Marianne Dashwood's beetrayal was experienced by her as anything like
what we now mean by date rape. She did nearly die -- and for that later
blames herself, not her lover. (She exchanges letters with _____;  had
they not had sexual relations that act would have been inconceivable, as
would the intensity of her reactions.) Put another way, the appearance
of a term lags the entity named, but it is also evidene that the entity
named itself was of fairly recent origin, which explains the emergence
of the term and the need for a new term.

> --nor does it mean that for the person violated it had no
> psychological consequences and damage.

The treatment of children in colonial America was unbelievably brutal by
modern standards. (See Stephanie Coontz, _The public origin of private
life_.) Whether those children suffered the emotional abuse that a
modern child would suffer seems at least doubtful. The effects of child
abuse today cannot really be separated by the experiences of the
non-abused chldren among the child's acquainatance. The question is an
open one however, and it's at least arguable that experience depends not
just on the physical event but on the available conceptualizations of
that event. There is not a one-to-one correlation between a physical
eent and the experience of that event. Clarissa was raped by her
knight-in-shining-armor who aided her in escaping the prostitution her
family attempted to force upon her. (Cf. Fanny vs. Cwraford in Mansfield
Park, which was a conscious rewrting of Richardson's novel.) Whether or
no Clarissa had stopped to folly, she felt she had to die, and Goldsmith
probably had her in mind when he wrote the song. But I think it would
seriously distort Clarissa's (or Marianne's) experience to label it date
rape.

>  Moreover, the typist is
> assaulted; she does not resist, but she does not reprove. [Iassume this is a typo for "approve""  Your
> position assumes that it is only a rape if the woman tries to fight it
> off or at least reject it.

No. It is only the _experience_ of rap if the woman regards it as rape.
If she so regards it, it is (for her life) a rape. I wish I had read the
novel you refer to as involving a husband raping his wife. For that
woman, then, it was rape, whether or no she resisted and whether or no
she so informed  her husband. But it wasn't rape until the person
assaulted conceives it as such. We are talking about experience, not
about mere physical events, and the coceptualization of an event is an
inseparable part of the experience of that event.

>  But that it is not welcome or desired but
> only not stopped when he is "flushed and excited" and "assaults at
> once," means it was not rape?

Two different people -- the typist & the young man. I stick to the
typist for now. According to the poem, she regarded it as an unpleasnt
inevitability which it was a rleief to have gotten over. "Indifference"
in thepoem seems to be an active force She really is indifferent to what
happens to her! (There are several characters like this in _Lustra_.) 
I'm not sure exactly how "blame" functions in the poem

************

I'm not sure exactly how "blame" functions in the poem. It flattens it
too much by calling them all automatons, but there is no narrative
strucutre to provide a standpoint for assessing the characters
differently: they are all separate 'episodes,' linked seemingly only to
the general 'atmosphere' of the poem, not in any clearly intelligible
way to each other. Pound's hand may be visible here, since that is
roughly true of the Cantos & the poems in Lustra, but not in any of
Eliot's other poems,. (It's been so long since I read The Hollow Men or
Ash Wednesday that I have no notion of their structure.)  As I've
already argued, I don't think this opens the door for the reader to
supply the 'missing' narrative, either in TWkL or the Cantos,  I think
we have to take the narrative of each as complete -- to add to it makes
it impossible for Eliot or any other poet to leave blanks in his
writing, deliberately not filled in. But it also forces the reader to
make up his/her own mind on the meaning or significance of each episode
_and_ on how, if at all, to relate them to each other. The last we see
of the young man he is groping his way down unlit stairs. Comment? And
while the typist' smooths her hair with "automatic" hand, putting on a
record shows a certain purpose operative. It's her _aloneness_ that
seems the primary fact about her, her 'freedom' from any social
relationsexcept the one to which she is indifferent. (I'm just thinking
with my fifingers here.)

[Ihaven't read any of the posts subsequent to this one by Nancy, but in
one I glanced at You also call for separate responses to young man &
typeist: if the are automatons they are automatons in different ways.]

> I think it was you Carrol, who pointed out that homosexuality did not
> exist as such before about the 20th century, but the human behavior
> did: it just meant something else socially. 

This is misleading -- perhaps too mechanical a sense of "behavior."  The
motion of one male anally penetrating another male existed before, just
as the motion of a male anally pentrating a female existed, but that
does not in any useful sense add up to _behavior_. Mary Crawford can
jauntily pun on Rears & Vices because the acts referred to tell nothing
about the "identity" of those engaging in them, and the point about
homosexuality and heterosexuality is that they refer to _identities_. So
I would deny that homosexual behavior existed prior to sometime in the
19th-c, leading to the coinage of the terms and the establishment of the
identities, but not preceding by much that coinage and all that goes
with it. And 

> But those who wrote the
> history of all these things were not generally the ones who were
> violated, whose sense of it was not the basis of the legal and social
> language.

I don't know. Your general point is of course correct, but I am
sceptical that "violated" names an experience with transhistorical
content. The same physical act might be equallly abhorred by the
"vicxtim" of it under different historical conditions, but it does not
follow that the experience would have been the same. A person might have
responded to some event as intensely obnoxious, painful, but _not_ as a
violation, whether or not we  would now so designate it. Pain, negative
responses, etc are ahistorical, but they are experienced historically,
and what one age would consider a violation might be experienced quite
differently in another age. I could see a 19th-c woman driven to murder
by what we would now call spousal rape; I doubt that she would have
experienced it as rape, though I don't know how she would have
'experienced' it. Rape is a social relationship, not a physical fact,
and as a social relationship it is not the same (is not experienced as
the same) under different social conditions.

> I'm not, by the way, primarily arguing that the issue is whether or
> not it was "rape" in the typist scene; I am arguing what you
> affirm--that we would call it that or use similar terms, and that the
> act was not less abusive because it was assumed to be no justification
> but only what he, of course, had no need to excuse.  Also, which
> rape?  There are rape scenes in the poem--notably philomel and all the
> recurrences of that motif, but also the Thames daughters.

I would like to see a discussion of the "narrow canoe" episode.

---------

There may be another question not fully defined here. I do not see
literature as a source of truth about the world.  Any truth (or any
falsehood) in a poem is the creation of the particular reader at the
particular time.

Carrol


> Nancy
> 
> >>> Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]> 05/10/10 11:32 PM >>>
> Ken Armstrong wrote:
> >
> > Tom,
> >
> > Aside from the question of whether Eugenides is a rapist or not or
> how
> > "asked me" becomes an "assault," how is the typist scene a rape? It
> > seems to be wholly in the cards, as it were, not at all unexpected
> by
> > either party.
> 
> Agreed. (Though for about 30 years now "welcome of indifference" would
> 
> be regarded as a rapist's self-justification. But that certainly was
> not
> the case in 1920.)
> 
> Another important point. Everything one can usefully say about the
> poem
> on the hypothesis of rape can also be said about it without that
> hypothesis. Occam's razor would suggest not taking the rape hypothesis
> 
> seriously.
> 
> Carrol

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