On Utopia and the loss of our privacy

I really can’t apologise enough on my appalling dedication to my blog recently. The usual justifications of job, exams, essays and just too much core reading has really eaten away at my time and I know they are not acceptable but I am truly sorry. Despite not posting anything I have been making notes on pieces of literature that I have studied that I have found particularly engaging and interesting so hopefully I will have quite a few posts to upload over the next couple of weeks – although, yes, I am sorry, I still have two essays and two presentations looming on the horizon, before March is out I should be liberated from work for a while.

In a Utopian world I would have all the time I could possibly desire to keep my blog updated and interesting, but sadly contemporary England is far from the case. Similarly the England Thomas More lived through with Henry VIII and his multitude of women is far from the Utopian one he has imagined in his pioneering book Utopia. 

What really took me back when I read this novel (if it can be classified as a novel I am not entirely sure; it seems to be a hybrid of the essay format that was popular in Fifteenth Century Europe and extended prose) was how distinctly modern More’s ideas are. Living in a post-Marxist and post-Communist world it is difficult to separate from our current mindset. Plans to educate women as well as men, the introduction of limited work time and leisure time to encourage the creation of moral citizens. The rotation of labour to ensure that nobody is left having to tend the fields their whole life while others sit and glory at their unjustly inherited wealth.

I don’t want this to turn into a discussion on inequality and poverty because although Utopia does raise substantial questions and problems on this topic I feel that it is not that interesting. Moreover it is also a subject that is so current and seems to underpin human nature that dwelling on it is only likely to inspire us to want to change the world, and then upon realising that this is unlikely to happen, to become depressed, demoralised and hate all of humanity.

Social media constitutes our private and public selves

Our private and public selves are constructed by social media

However, I would like to offer a comment on the treatment of gender in this fictional society. More has created a world in which gender is fairly imaginary and only recognised for practicality. For example, men and women are ordered to appear naked to each other before they consent to marriage to ensure that they are both satisfactorily pleased with their partner. Although this seems highly obtrusive to our modern ideas of physical privacy, in contemporary England this would have been practical. I guess it is comparable to the use of social media in our lives today, the role that instagram and tumblr play in keeping the world aware of their everyday activities act in a similar way to the penetrative communal society More has imagined. Not through the mediums that More would have predicted, but modern day society is effectively and rapidly reducing the scope of our inner lives by making it easier for us to display everything about ourselves. What is more, it is making it an inherent and compulsive element of our lives – if we don’t upload the latest photos from last nights dinner then the world will somehow cataclysmically implode from the lack of photos on instagram with the hashtag #food.

More’s penetrative society is entirely public, the separate spheres theory is rendered useless in Utopia because there is no sense of the domestic. Men and women are on display for their entire lives and they have no choice but to conform. The performative nature of our society is removed in More’s which is essentially what makes it equal and deserving of the name Utopian. Benjamin Richardson in 1876 claimed that “Utopia is nothing but another word for time,” perhaps at some point in the development of the world we will reach the stage in the fictional Utopia where everything is public that it no longer ceases to be public and the notion of public itself disappears. With the removal of the public is also the removal of the private, and perhaps this is the path we are already headed down…

Gendering in our society: Violence and Silence

I am honestly nearly finished reading the book. Some reason I just haven’t been able to find the time just to sit down and read for hours – I blame exams and revision for this. Whenever I begin reading All Change Please or my recent choice Birdsong, I feel immensely guilty and stop after 20 minutes or so because I should be re-reading Gatsby or Eliot in preparation for exam season.

But yet again in another attempt to procrastinate (and if I am brutally honest, I am pretty sure I should be classified as a professional procrastinator. I mean, the amount of stuff I am able to get done whilst not doing the stuff I should get done is impressive. I mean I watched all of Seasons one and two of Game of Thrones in anticipation of Season three in 3 days. I know, I understand your jealousy…) and prolong judgement day, I found myself on TED Talks earlier.

I came across Jackson Katz and his Violence and Silence talk. It focussed on the culture of our society where violence is such a prominent issue and yet gender violence prevention is still almost a taboo. He argued that gender violence is lexically viewed as a feminine one. Men seem rarely to get involved, they are women’s issues that from time to time receive help from a few good men. And that this needs to be changed – it is a male problem. Gender is not synonymous to women.

Now I understand that not all violent relationships are the fault of the male. In fact depending on the nature of the relationship, men may not even be present at all. But Katz’s talk focuses on the attitude of society and the attitude men take. And this really got me thinking about our society, not just from a feminist stand-point, but in general. Patriarchy is still such a dominant force that if you look closely enough, it appears in the most unlikely places. In the lecture, Katz gives an example of the nature of sentence structures and how in relation to domestic violence there is a tendency to focus on why the victim became the victim, rather than why the person who did it, did it. (Starts around 4 minutes) This completely altered my attitude towards literature. The active and the passive role that words play in sentences had never really been drawn to my attention before, other than in French grammar lessons.

Fun Home: A family tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

But also, if you think about it on a much larger scale, the sheer number of books, poems, plays, text, fiction and non tend to be patriarchal. It is almost like it is inherent in out being. The way we construct out views on Gender and the roles that specific genders play. The relationship between gender and sex. Is there even a difference? Do people recognise how important it is to differentiate between the two and that they are not just synonymous? A really interesting piece of literature that touches upon this is Fun Home  by Alison Bechdel, which I will review soon. By writing in the format of a graphic novel and not a traditional, archetypal novel she even does something to undermine the conventions of authority.

I also saw this status not long after watching this talk and although funny, and I can laugh about the casual sexism, there is still something prevalent within our society that makes it acceptable for such a statement to be classified as humour and not abuse:

BBQ RULES:

We are about to enter the BBQ season. Therefore it is important to refresh your memory on the etiquette of this sublime outdoor cooking activity . When a man volunteers to do the BBQ the following chain of events are put into motion:

(1) The woman buys the food.

(2) The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.

(3) The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill – beer in hand.

(4) The woman remains outside the compulsory three meter exclusion zone where the exuberance of testosterone and other manly bonding activities can take place without the interference of the woman.

Here comes the important part:
(5) THE MAN PLACES THE MEAT ON THE GRILL.

(6) The woman goes inside to organise the plates and cutlery.

(7) The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is looking great. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he flips the meat

Important again:
(8) THE MAN TAKES THE MEAT OFF THE GRILL AND HANDS IT TO THE WOMAN.

(9) The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces, and brings them to the table.

(10) After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes

And most important of all:
(11) Everyone PRAISES the MAN and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts.

(12) The man asks the woman how she enjoyed ‘ her night off ‘, and, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there’s just no pleasing some women.

 

So whilst feeling bad about finding the humour funny after being inspired to such a degree I decided to write about it, I couldn’t help but think back to the video. I am sure that it will linger with any of you that watch it for quite sometime because I honestly cannot recommend it enough.

To see the entire video click here.

 

Review: Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit

I was sceptical at first about reading a translated play, purely because sometimes words are not translated correctly and the text can lose some of the fluidity that it would have in its natural language. Furthermore the choice of words and their meaning will differ between languages and so this can often cause the text to lose some of its depth.

However, The Visit for me gained depth because it had been translated, and helped to highlight the intention of Durrenmatt to create a universal setting. The play is set in the town of Guellen which is a run-down place after the Second World War. This comedy focuses on the lives of Alfred Ill and Claire Zachanassian and her ability to manipulate all those who love Ill with her power and wealth. Although intended to be a comedy the dark and often grotesque themes that run throughout make it appear more as a tragicomedy in my opinion.

Durrenmatt

The question about being able to buy justice is a very disturbing idea. Claire asks the townsfolk if she can buy herself justice after she was abandoned pregnant while Ill was able to create a proper life for him and his new family. Claire on the other hand was forced into prostitution and a life she would not have chosen for herself. When she returns to Guellen with substantial money and power she is able to dehumanize men as she pleases, castrate those who wronged her in the past and ultimately buying herself justice. The lack of active characters also leads the audience to question the role of the institutions in the town because they remain passive and highlight moneys ability to corrupt. The minor characters have been named by their profession: Schoolmaster, Butler, Mayor, Priest etc which shows both their unanimity and also their passivity.

Despite these heavy themes prevalent throughout the play, it is essentially intended to be a comedy. It is very funny. The rhyming of characters names Toby, Loby, Koby and Roby let the audience laugh in between the sinister outbursts. Claire’s treatment of her new husbands also offers a high point, with them being called Husband VI or Husband VII.

This play is great. The way Durrenmatt deals with these controversial but highly apparent issues of Women’s rights, Prostitution and overall the desire for money is so unique. I love his writing style because it is both tragic and comedic simultaneously without making the audience feel like they are watching a tennis match.

The Visit 1964

I highly recommend this play, particularly to anybody who has delved into the world of translated texts. Or even if they have not read anything that was written by a less famous playwright. This play is not to be missed.