Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Beauty of Writing on a Blog

Blogs get a lot of criticism, even from me who writes in several online spaces. It's easy to get sucked into the trap of almost unconscious writing, or worse: the sort of gibberish that I lament is killing the minds of teenagers everywhere, IM-lingo. (Uggh, I hate it). However, Donna's post from yesterday made me think about the purpose of blogging.

And I realized even when I'm being "intellectual", it's a release of pent-up word energy. It's a way for me to write in a forum where there are no critics (harsh ones anyway), no professors to grade what I write, and if someone disagrees with me, so what? I can alternate my roles from reader, creative writer, book critic, book lover, and thinker, switching from scholar to curious individual (or some combination therein) with each entry I form. I can hope that others read and enjoy my entries, but in the end it doesn't actually matter.

The beauty of writing on a blog--to play, to grow, to learn. It can be a lovely thing, this blogging on varied interests, developing a writing style. Those writing teachers always say "write everyday" (or something like that) and blogging provides an incentive to do so, with the added charm that an audience exists out there in the Interwebs to read, enjoy, and learn with me. My pent-up word energy is out, and I'm better for it because I'm making it available for other eyes, giving me an audience to write for, even if they are only in my mind.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fem Lit--or, The Only Place Feminist Criticism is Welcome

I've stated before that I dislike feminist criticism. It's not that I dislike feminism (I occasionally fancy myself a bit of a feminist--but wouldn't you, growing up in a conservative family with four brothers?) but rather their often over-reaching approaches and their snooty jargon. They always seem to be glaring at me, frowning at my knitting and domestic pride, and my lack of desire to read everything as men trying to screw me. It's just not how I think, okay?

However, feminist literature is certainly a valid field for feminist theory--since it's feminist theory turned narrative. So, without further ado, I delve into an exploration of Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad. It's a modern, feminist retelling of The Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope. But she's dead when she's telling it, which brings all sorts of interesting implications. She opens by declaring that's she's dead, and thus knows everything. If that's true, then why does she spend so much of her time wondering why her twelve maids were killed, why Eurycleia picked them to be hanged, and other incidents during her mortal existence.

The Penelopiad is written from women's voices, alternating between Penelope with the twelve hanged maid serving as a chorus. It also brings in the voice of Helen, her beauty queen cousin. The maids were hanged for certain sexual crimes and insolence against their master, and they are bent on avenging their deaths. Their chorus both supports the tale that Penelope spins, and undermines it until the reader is caught trying to figure out the truth along with Penelope--a truth that, in typically feminist, is never arrived at.

The feminism within the work is carefully plotted. Penelope occasionally mentions ideas from her Greek society that seem almost preposterous to us--the father "selling" his daughter to the man who can win the contest; the maids whose lot (if they are especially young and pretty) is to be raped and sexually used by their master and perhaps his guests; and the role of a young noblewoman in marriage. On her wedding night, Penelope has to pretend to scream like she's being raped to satisfy the ceremonial wedding rites. This is a story where women are property, their bodies are not their own, and men control them and their lives. In the case of the twelve maids, they are hung by Odysseus after he kills the suitors.

And yet, not quite. Atwood teases out another story through the chorus of maids, asserting that they are not the Twelve Maids, but the Twelve Maidens of the goddess Artemis, the feminine goddess of chastity, the moon, the huntress who takes no man. And as there are thirteen lunar months, Penelope is the Queen of them, which she indeed has claimed all throughout the book that these Twelve are her special, beautiful, chosen maids, trained by her and used by her to keep the Suitors at bay. Then the story becomes about the repression of the cult of the Moon-goddess and a further dominance of the patriarchy.

And then the further question--did Penelope sleep with any of the Suitors? It would be difficult to resist a little dalliance, Atwood seems subtly to assert, when her husband has been gone for twenty years. The maids declare outright that they helped her in her infidelity, while Penelope maintains that she was never unfaithful to her husband, even when she heard he was off sleeping with beautiful goddesses. Or whores, if you don't believe the "high" version of the tale. But then she undermines herself by linking herself with Odysseus, the honey-tongued liar. Does she lie, or tell the truth? Apparently even dead she still buries some of the voices of her tale.

The novella is a rich and imaginative creation by one of my favorite feminist authors (read The Handmaid's Tale). A modern feminist revision of an ancient patriarchal tale offers up the sort of ideas that are easily read using feminist theories, and the most productive.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Knitting, Delurking, and other Non-Literature Things


This is my "literature blog". However, I don't write on it unless I have something burning about books to talk about. So I think I'm going to make more use of that prose bit of my title and write about a variety of my interests. Because my interests are many.

Take knitting for example. I've recently been caught in a wave of knitting madness: Donna is learning (yay!), and she introduced me to the Secret Knitter, who recently decided to secretly knit scarves for his family, and has since been hooked on knitting. My own knitting history began when I taught myself how to knit my junior year of college, knit a bazillion garter-stitch scarves, got bored, made my first project from a pattern, and have been tinkering ever since (I love stitch patterns). Here is one product of my tinkering:

There's a feeling that emerges from designing and creating a new thing. This didn't exist before I made it (it may have been available in other forms, but this particular manifestation emerged from the fusion of my mind and my knitting needles). And the story behind it is fun: my friend and bookbinding teacher offered to swap one iPod cozy for a bookbinding class (Japanese stab-binding, which I'll be using for a wedding guest book for two of my friends). So, I thought of a design that would be useful and cute (I own an iPod nano, so that was pretty easy), and out it popped. I like it.

Incidentally, if I have any blog lurkers, it's National Delurking Week. So leave a message and say "hi!" Thanks!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Donna, I suppose in an attempt to get me to post, has tagged Amanda and me to post six weird things. But these are not just any six weird things, but six weird things that relate to graduate school and English literature. So without further ado:

1.) When I'm reading something, I often talk out loud in order to think. However, I only do this when someone else is in the room; otherwise, my thoughts are written or kept internal. They often think I'm actually talking to them (and I usually direct my comments in their direction), but really I'm just thinking out loud.

2.) When I'm doing research, I attack books (especially ones I shouldn't write in) with tiny Post-it Notes. Sometimes the notes just mark a spot that I'll cite in my paper. Mostly, I scribble little notes on them. I do this a lot with each book, so when I'm done, the book has a zillion varied colored notes sticking out all over it.

3.) I'm obsessed with office supplies. I love Post-it Notes, pens, pencils, erasers, staplers, notebooks, and all forms of supplies. I especially love Post-it Notes. Every year, I have to resist buying spiral bound notebooks when they're on sale (10 for a dollar! Sweet!) since I have a plastic storage tub full of them. The Boyfriend mocks me for them, and for my office supply obsession. Luckily, being in graduate school means I have to buy office supplies every now and then...

4.) Whenever I find another person as obsessed as me about literature, I hop up and down and squeal. I get really excited about finding other literature lovers. In fact, I found one over Christmas, and he was as excited as me to find another English MA student, so perhaps that's not so weird after all...

5.) I HATE feminist criticism. I like feminists, though. Or feminism, at least. But feminist criticism? Drives me insane. I hate it. I hate how they ignore the text, skew everything to be about feminine oppression, and how they use terms like "the father", "phallocentric", etc. to interpret literature. Sometimes their points are valid, but for the most part, I have little use for them.

6.) I tend to relate things in real life to books I'm currently reading/obsessed with. Sometimes, it carries on to such a degree that those around me roll their eyes and wonder how they put up with my zaniness and nerdyness. I also tend to relate other books I'm reading to books I've just read, coming up with some odd connections that please me in an intangibly, indescribably satisfying way.

Now, who to tag? There are relatively few people, I believe, who read this blog, so...Michael, you're the only one. Do it. Do it now. And to take a page from Donna, you have to relate your six things to technologically based weirdness...