Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Armory Show and American Modernism

The Armory Show of 1913 in New York City led to an unbelievable transformation in the way Americans began to perceive art, where the traditionally realistic forms they were well acquainted with were replaced with unique, shocking, and avant-garde pieces of work. This show was the end of an era of realism and propelled the American public towards a new modern epoch marked with depression, war, and disillusionment. This led artists and writers alike to question their art forms and to reject the realism of society and culture. They reworked their art in a way that emphasized an importance on time and consciousness. The artwork that the audience saw forced them to interpret these new shapes and colors and modes of expression into whatever they wanted to make of it because it was unlike anything ever seen before.

Paul Gauguin's Words of the Devil stood out a lot because it contradicts past notions of finding freedom in nature (like in Whitman's 'A Song of Myself') by showing a Tahitian woman who appears to be in exile of some sort. She's not alone, but being watched. Here the natural setting is not painted realistically and appears as a swirl of colors. The subject appears primitive and the colors used are bright and unnatural.

John Sloan's Sunday Women Drying Their Hair is set on a city rooftop with dark colors. At this time, people migrated into the cities to find work instead of out of the city toward nature. Here, the women do not appear self-conscious of their behavior, it's free and easy. They are not stuck at home, instead they are outside coiffing their hair. Women are baring their chests and showing skin, even showing a camaraderie often unseen in 19th century literature where women were normally depicted as alone and confined to the indoors.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Similarities Between The Revolt of Mother & The Yellow Wallpaper

In "The Revolt of Mother" and "The Yellow Wallpaper" both protagonists are undermined by their husbands continuously until they rebel against their spouses in outrageous ways.

John, the doctor in Gilman's Wallpaper, tells his wife which room she will remain in during their stay at the summer home and prevents her from writing or expressing her emotions. When she communicates her feelings to him he makes them seem like a joke, repetitively infantilizing her. The nameless woman defies him by secretly writing in her journal at night and eventually (and drastically) rips off all of the wallpaper in her room, crawling over her husband's fainted body, going insane after realizing she's trapped. The husband is defeated and immobile on the floor.

In Wilkins's Revolt of Mother, Sarah's attempt at freedom against her husband is when she moves her family into the barn. Sarah is allowed to work with her hands openly but only if it is for the benefit of her family unlike the protagonist in The Yellow Wallpaper. Similarly to the aforementioned story, Sarah defeats her husband by the end of the plot when he breaks down and cries and has no idea how much thought she had put into this.

It would seem, however, that Sarah and even the nameless woman in Wallpaper's defeat is only temporary because most of the transition to power took place in the husband's absence and that while the men may be physically/emotionally crippled now, the final moments are so open ended that these changes most likely have no permanence. It's insinuated that the men will wake up and snap back to reality and reclaim their patriarchal title. Gender roles are reversed at the end of both stories when John faints like a lady and Adoniram weeps heavily like a woman. Both women are workers and like to use their hands to make things and express themselves through creativity. We see the housewife vs. artist and order vs. creativity constructs emerge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Freedom according to Dickinson, Douglass, Whitman and Emerson

Emily Dickinson:
"I Dwell in Possibility-- A fairer House than Prose--"
Freedom here is about the nature of thought and how we can choose how to think about it. Every independent thought is a possibility, unlike statements already written down in prose. Like Emerson's concept of the bookworm, freedom lies in choosing to think independently and creatively.

Frederick Douglass:
"I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom...Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read."
Literacy for Douglass would allow him to escape the oppression he faced physically and mentally in slavery. If he could read for himself and not take orders from his slave masters like a puppet, he could escape their reigns. He can develop his own truths and break away from dependent thought. A lot of connections to Emerson's bookworm ideas seen in this passage.

Walt Whitman:
"I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked, I am mad for it to be in contact with me."
To Whitman, freedom is nudity and nature. Nakedness is the authentic self with no specific roles or identities placed upon someone. To be undisguised in nature is the most real and natural way to live. There, everything can be divine, and there are no forced boundaries in thinking.

Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"In this distribution of functions, the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state, he is, Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking."
Emerson sees freedom in independent creation of thought. By developing meaning through your own experiences and consciousness you are free from being reduced to parts and imitating other people's  ideas.

Further Analysis of Emily Dickinson

The word that stood out the most to me in Poem 613 was "captivity". Dickinson uses this word to show how powerless and confined she is in a conservative 19th century world. This word really holds the whole meaning of the poem, because the speaker is unable to express herself wholly and naturally and is forced to hide away. Locked up, she reflects on her restricted state and knows the only way to break free from oppression of expression is to use her mind to be set free. In several works written by women in the 19th century (The Awakening, The Yellow Wallpaper) I notice that there is often a battle between women’s internal and external situations that collide and explore the paradox of one coming to a greater understanding of inner reality while losing touch with the outside world, realizing that they are prisoners in their own skin. These other works can bring a greater understanding and overall context to why Dickinson writes about the subjects she chooses to.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Poem 613 Commentary

Poem 613
They shut me up in Prose --
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet --
Because they liked me "still" --
Still! Could themself have peeped --
And seen my Brain -- go round --
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason -- in the Pound --
Himself has but to will
And easy as a Star
Abolish his Captivity --
And laugh -- No more have I --


They shut me up in Prose —
The speaker's captors have limited the speaker to only expressing themselves through reading/writing.
Why they have captured them is unclear.
Who is "They"?
Is "They" society?
As when a little Girl
Speaker is recalling of a previous time this happened as a child.
The gender noted here is important, and I think it is closely intertwined with why she might be oppressed.
They put me in the Closet —
As a child she was put there to hide her away.
A closet
Because they liked me "still" —
She is put in the closet to keep her quiet.
Girls were meant to be proper and keep to themselves in the 19th c.

Still! Could themself have peeped —
 "Still!" says that they could have checked on her anyway and that the captors could listen to her.
I'm wondering who speaker is referring to as "themself"
Peeped, like a bird?
And seen my Brain — go round —
If captor could see her brain they would know she has a lot to express.
Round: implying working, spinning, thought provoking.
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
Just as she was locked in a closet, they could have easily done this to a bird.
Birds are symbols for peace, innocence.
Bird could also mean pretty young woman
For Treason — in the Pound —
Treason, as in to betray allegiance?
Pound, a place for unwanted, unclaimed animals?
Himself has but to will

Himself, like God?
Him is capitalized, higher power?
Capitalization to demonstrate patriarchal power?
And easy as a Star

Celestial, divine, Godlike, omnipotent
Abolish his Captivity —

His is not capitalized anymore
And laugh — No more have I —

Captivity has rid her of humor and freedom of self-expression.

Emily Dickinson's writing is really enigmatic to me, especially her generous use of dashes and capitalization. I'm curious what the meaning of her punctuation choices mean. Maybe the dashes and capitalization have something to do with meter and rhythm, or perhaps to emphasize certain words.  Either way, her writing themes strongly resemble most other women's writing in the 19th century, those themes of subordination and lack of control over one's body.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


In Emerson's The American Scholar, he defines freedom as breaking away from repetitive bookworm type of thinking and advocates forming creative, independent thought. A person can then become "man thinking" (a creative, progressive thinker) instead of an imitator of recycled past thoughts and ideas. Knowledge means nothing unless the reader has interacted with it, and so through one's own experiences one can gain a unique perspective on their surroundings and assert idiosyncratic thought by pushing the boundaries further.

As seen in A Song of Myself, Whitman calls for an undisputed intimate reader-poet relationship that has no boundaries. To Whitman, everything and everybody is linked through shared experiences that can span time. No matter how big or small, anything can be at the center of the universe. The world is a unified body made up of many equal individuals and each voice in this individual but collective body can be heard with the same influence. Whitman celebrates the ordinary and really wants the reader to lose themselves in the exchange of togetherness. Therefore, you can transform into anything you want by losing yourself in nature and finding freedom in the unhindered nudity of one's personal thoughts and ideas.

Frederick Douglass learns early on in his life that slavery was not only physical dehumanization of people but that it was really the enslavement of consciousness. By breaking free from relying on a slave master's ideology, one can accomplish what they need to to escape mental oppression. A slaveholder's power most significantly lies in their ability to manipulate the collective body's mind in making slaves seem insubordinate.

What all of these authors have in common is their coherent desire to revolt against mental oppression and find personal freedom through declaring independent thought.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The American Scholar

"Each philosopher, each bard, each actor, has only done for me, as by a delegate, what one day I can do for myself."

In this quotation, Emerson points out that while you can read as many books and try to take in as much information as you possibly can, it cannot become tangible until you take from those ideas and truly make it your own. There is a tendency to abuse the power of a book through simply imitating everything it says, but by detaching from that dependency of mimicking, it allows the reader to gain a unique perspective on what they study by connecting it to their own experiences. He emphasizes that one must create and be active in their education to get a hold on forming their own beliefs and opinions otherwise you are not free.