Tuesday, 31 March 2009

An excuse, language and gender theory and feminism. Sort of.

Sometimes work takes over. Not very often at present, I grant you, but sometimes. And things like laundry and cleaning require to be done. And photos, which haven't been attended to for months. They're not done yet - I need to find another evening or two to fiddle with them, but evenings are at a premium and it's not looking that likely, at least for the time being.

That's my excuses made, anyway.

Traci and I went to Ely on Sunday, because we had a free afternoon on a lovely day and it was nice to get out of Cambridge for a bit. Went to Evensong at the the Cathedral - now THAT is a fantastic building. The girls and men were doing Howell's Worcester Service, which I didn't know but knew I'd love (and did), the Leighton Responses, which I can still sing by heart and Leighton's Solus ad Victimam* which I've been wanting to hear for ages and which was divine. The building itself is spectacular - one of the oldest and largest Medieval buildings in England if not the world, built in 1109 (that's 900 years old this year). We wandered into the Lady Chapel, where I did a concert in January, to admire the light and the acoustic, and then wandered around the town a bit. It's a pretty place, and the light was nice. I took some pictures I might put up if they're worth it.

The bit that grated was the sermon. I don't listen much to sermons in general, regarding them as interludes between the singing, unless something grabs me. A really good speaker is worth listening to, almost no matter what they are saying, and the kind of people who preach in Cambridge or in the Cathedrals will say something worth hearing, that might have a Christian basis but will be applicable for nearly everyone. And they say things, usually, in an interesting way using interesting words and with anecdotes to make points. This guy, and I don't know who it was because they don't seem to publish a helpful service sheet with things like the readings or the name of the preacher on it, had an incredible voice, too, and I can always listen to a good voice. (Music list, I can get hold of, but surely that's less liturgically relevant and hence less important to the work of the foundation, and hence shouldn't be easier to find than a sheet of the lessons? This is the second time I've had this problem in an English Cathedral in the last three months; what's going on?!) Anyway. Maybe he was the Precentor, that would explain the voice, though he didn't seem to be acting as cantor.

The reading was from Romans 5, which is more or less irrelevant to my point, except that it comes from the letters of Paul. He's quite widely regarded as having been fiercely misogynistic, and it's often from his writing that people have taken the excuses for discriminating against women in the Church and hence in more secular areas of life. One of the key parts is 1 Timothy 2 - particularly verse 11 to the end^. There are people who don't believe that Timothy letters were actually written by Paul, but it's like debating the authorship of the plays of Shakespeare in terms of amount of speculation - worse, in fact, given their age. Anyway. Romans 5:14 mentions 'Adam's transgression'. The speaker interrupted the flow of his sermon (which focused on the free gift of the sacrifice of Christ) to point out 'for those who believe that Paul was a misogynist that he describes it as Adam's transgression.'

Yes, it is described as 'Adam's transgression' - Paul doesn't blame Eve for the Fall of mankind at least at this point. I have no idea about whether he does elsewhere in his oeuvre and now is not the time to trawl. But WHY does he not blame her? Is it about chivalry? About taking responsibility? But it IS Eve's fault. SHE is the one fooled by the serpent and Adam blames her and by implication God, saying in Genesis 3:12, 'The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree'. The blame, for Adam's part, is shared between God and the woman. God cannot be blamed, and so it is Eve's fault. God punishes both of them. They are equal in their fault. Paul's claiming of the sin for Adam alone in the passage from Romans makes her a child. His chivalry enfeebles Eve. Her reasoning is felt to be inferior than his and she is regarded as incapable and hence cannot be held accountable for her actions. This is worse than blaming her outright and extending that to the whole of the female species.

With one word, it emasculates every woman. Not that you can emasculate a woman, really. But it's the right word. Makes them impotent. Another word you can't use about women. Maybe I need to read the theories about gender and language I always sniffed about at college. In fact I probably do - our language is inherently masculine, inherently limits what women can be in our thoughts. Well. Up to a point. Everyone knows what I mean when I use the terms 'emasculate' and 'impotent' about women. I mean 'render powerless' and 'ineffective'. Maybe I should have used those, but they don't contain within them the cut to the self esteem that the words I did use do. Is there an equivalent feeling in women? The inability to have children does have some of the same helplessness to it, I suppose, but it's not the same. Does it create the same 'I am not a woman' feeling that losing essential pieces of anatomy does for a man? I guess it does in many women. But there isn't the same level of competition between women - it's not about prowess. Maybe those words are so masculine because women actually can't feel those things, though they can imagine them well enough from understanding men to comprehend the concepts in the words. So language isn't inherently sexist?

But the sermon irritated me because this man clearly wanted to score points for Paul and felt that this was the way to do it. In a public space, he expressed these sentiments and didn't see what was wrong with them. It implies that he, too, holds such patronising opinions about women as expressed by the author of the letter to the Romans. And he would deny that he did, and would hold up this sermon as an example. It could be an honest mistake; he could be blinkered by arguments from feminists about Christianity blaming women for the human condition. But I don't think it is.

*The words to that are amazing, as is the story of Abelard and Heloise. 'Alone to sacrifice thou goest, Lord, giving thyself to Death whom thou hast slain. For us thy wretched folk is any word? Who know that for our sins this is thy pain? For they are ours, O Lord, our deeds, our deeds. Why must thou suffer torture for our sin? Let our hearts suffer in thy Passion, Lord, that very suffering may thy mercy win. This is the night of tears, the three days' space, sorrow abiding of the eventide, Until the day break with the risen Christ, and hearts that sorrowed shall be satisfied. So may our hearts share in thine anguish, Lord, that they may sharers of thy glory be; Heavy with weeping may the three days pass, to win the laughter of thine Easter Day.'
Peter Abelard (1079-1142), trans. Helen Waddell

^'Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.'

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

I didn't mean to do this...

Originally uploaded by hazelsheard
...but I quite like it. It's an enormous table, and is making my computer hurt while it undoes. I need to take some photos and organise some new desktop backgrounds. I'm bored of mine. While this is cool, I don't think I want to have it anywhere reminding me of work I'm supposed to be doing...


We could speak about the meaning of life vis-a-vis non-consequential/deontological theories, apodictic transformation schemata, the incoherence of exemplification, metaphysical realism, Cartesian interactive dualism, revised non-reactive dualism, postmodernist grammatology and dicey dichotomies. But we would still be left with Nietzsche’s preposterous mustache, which instills great anguish and skepticism in the brain, which leads (as it did in his case) to utter madness. I suggest we go to Paris instead.

The Principles of Uncertainty
Nod to Deb, where I found it while digging for dinner...

Monday, 16 March 2009

Not finished, I suspect.

My Easter

Make the best of it, my father said.
As though it were no hotwater mislaid keys sixfeet
of snow carcrash (no one hurt).
As though earth did not shake rocks
crack curtain split
and light did not flash
over silver (bromide) like nova through history.
He was keepcalm and carryon stiff
upperlip terror__________alert
No glow (worm): the blinded.
Me she we splitlocked
the blowtorch blue Light of the world.

Did you see the unknown soldieress walk again?

Friday, 13 March 2009

Pure vent.

I dislike the tone of this article. Depression does not equal a pre-disposition to murder. It was a terrible, tragic thing to happen, but frankly the guy appears to be disturbed in some way. This article risks damaging the very small amount of progress we as a global society have made towards de-stigmatising mental illness.

Cross. Have a less cross post I'm half way through, perhaps I'll unruffle feathers by finishing that.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Music...food of?

Finding this today prompted debate. Nobody ever agrees on what should go into that kind of list in the first place, and in any case it was probably written by a group of people 10 years older than me. Which means I don't feel too bad about how few of those albums I've heard. I did agree with Ok Computer and, unsurprisingly, Graceland. Those are definitely in my top five all timers. I'm not sure what else would be - nothing that mainstream, I suspect, just things that mean something to me. I wouldn't want to put the rest of Radiohead up there. I suppose I also agree with Bridge Over Troubled Water, though I tend to listen to their work in compilation form nowadays because I find some of the less well known stuff much more poignant and that particular album is a little too wet for my taste - maybe it suits the American sentimentalism more than the British cynicism. It is GREAT work though. So that's three. Others would be classical I suspect. I have an Orlando Gibbons album that I would rate pretty highly. And probably some jazz would make it pretty somewhere near the top. Zoe Rahman? I like what she plays. But the requirement here is 'influential', and while I love listening to Rahman, she hasn't opened many new doors to me. Millenia Nova (there isn't even a Wikipedia page in English for those guys) or Massive Attack.

But what makes music great? I'm not sure about influential, and I can't answer for anyone apart from me. Who knows why a song or a style or an album fires a generation for a moment? For me, music must have tune, harmony and something distinctive. Words are pretty important - or at least voices are. Something in there about conveying emotion, or maybe I'm just too much of a singer. I need it to keep my ever-wandering attention. It needs to connect within itself, draw me along with it to the next stage. An element of patterning is important. The pattern can be monotonous - I have a weird but definite love of trip-hop/electronica that can only be explained by an enjoyment of patterns - but it must be interesting by itself, as well. I'm not interested in things that are just noise and not music. I suppose that's what describes music for everyone, except that everyone's definition of what the difference between those two concept is will be individual.

How do you say what makes something interesting? There is an enormous amount of power in music to connect to events, as I've thought about before (at some length, it appears from the number of posts that just found). If anyone can tell me why I find the trance kind of thing addictive, I'd love to know. Is it just about pattern and association? Is there something intrinsic in music that makes it more than it is?

Must go, finishing whiskey and then bed...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

How to sin.

A friend asked me which of the seven deadly sins I'd pick, if it was me, for a costuming project that she's doing as part of a course. Greed, gluttony, lust, sloth, pride, envy, wrath. Which would YOU pick, and why? I found it hard, and did what I usually do when asked to answer a question, which is unpick the semantics of the question in order to establish what it's really about. That led to Wikipedia, which has the following to say:

"Listed in the same order used by both Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century, and later by Dante Alighieri in his epic poem The Divine Comedy, the seven deadly sins are as follows: luxuria (extravagance, later lust), gula (gluttony), avaritia (greed), acedia (sloth), ira (wrath), invidia (envy), and superbia (pride). Each of the seven deadly sins has an opposite among the corresponding seven holy virtues (sometimes also referred to as the contrary virtues). In parallel order to the sins they oppose, the seven holy virtues are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility."

I get hung up on the fact that 'greed' and 'gluttony' in ordinary English usage are very similar - gluttony is surely just a specific form of greed, why single it out as a particularly bad thing all its own? But the Latin for 'greed' is 'avaritia', so maybe we're talking about avarice which is much more specific and definitely different from gluttony. But both are to do with acquisitiveness - which is different from miserliness. The desire to spend money as opposed to hoarding it. The sin there is the stop-at-nothing attitude to acquiring possessions, no matter who gets walked over in the process.

I suppose in times gone past you could link lust in here, since the trading of humanity for sex was much more widespread than I think it is today. (Is that a naive thing for me to say? I don't know any figures on the sex trade over history.) But is the sin the commodification of human flesh, or the desire for corporeal (corporal? I need a dictionary. Or I should just use the word 'physical', but where would the fun be?) pleasure? I think only the first is atually wrong. There is no harm in pleasure or happiness, though I appreciate that those two things are different and that there's an argument that could be had there - about moderation, mostly. But the thing that is wrong is treating a person as a thing - which is different again from enjoying the other person's body. That surely is not a problem provided you treat one another as people and not objects without feelings. There's a Discworld reference there - Vimes I think in Night Watch defines crime as anything which involves treating people as things. It's interesting that 'lust' started off as 'extravagance', really - back to moderation. The Latin 'luxuria' has odd connections - to the word 'uxor' meaning 'wife', for example. I always found that rather uncomfortably telling about the Romans' attitude to women. Objectification or what?! You're only a 'luxury' men can afford to do without??

In gluttony, what is the sin? Enjoyment of food need not be wrong, nor should making oneself obese be of itself wrong. Is it greed at the expense of others, then? Taking food from the child's mouth? Probably. Or perhaps there's an element of over-eating and wantonly making oneself a burden on family and health systems, that is the sin. That is selfishness, and that is the sin. Gluttony, defined as excessive consumption of food, is not wrong for itself.

Envy and pride are interelated, too, though I think eparate from the greed family of vices. Pride is difficult - it can be a good thing to take a certain element of pride in what you achieve, it means you value it and will produce better work because of it. It is tempered I suppose by humility or a desire to improve further. Something about the knowledge that nothing is perfect. That's the element of religion, I suppose - nothing is perfect except what God makes. But there's the more human way of putting it which goes, 'You can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.' It is impossible to make something entirely satisfactory. But it is pride which makes the ordinary mortal try? The desire to prove one's ability, to be better than one's fellows, but balanced by self-knowledge enough to know when something could be improved.

Envy is probably the sin I can find least excuse for, possibly because it is the one I find in myself most often. It's a difficult one to unpick - not about wanting what someone else has. After all, what's the harm in that? It's what helps to drive us to improve our own lives. It's resenting them for it, or tormenting them for it, or taking it out on them. Decidedly unpleasant. In a society as acquisitive as our own, this is a moderately big deal. It drives people to over-spend, or not assess motivations for desires. One ends up acquiring without working out why, in a sort of competition, which results in owning a lot of tat you don't need and in having no greater quality of life. It is related to pride, I guess, but without any of the redeeming elements that might be found in the other sin.

Wrath and sloth seem to me to be more independent. Surely there are times when anger is justified? When it is a good thing? Angry against injustice, or angry with someone who lets you down - just enough so that they don't do it again. I guess it's linked to pride like that; in order to be angry with someone or something, you have to believe that your position is faultless, and that could leave you open to pride without self-knowledge, especially if you are blinded by high emotion. And I suppose there are correct ways of being angry, to the right levels. Like, it's never, ever right to kill (I'm talking about individuals not nations; I don't want to start the 'just war' debate just now...), so anger that leads to that kind of violence is definitely wrong. It's back to quantifying people. There is more to someone than their actions, whatever they are.

And sloth. It took me a long time to learn what the word meant when I was a child - I could only think of the animal. The Latin doesn't help unpick it, either. Is it just laziness? What's wrong with that, so long as you are no burden to other people? Not pulling your weight when part of a team is probably an element. Scrounging. Living off the rest of society. Is that it? It's still objectifying other people, I think - you are making yourself more important than everyone else is. Hypochondria is probably in here, too. It's all about self-knowledge.

In fact, it's ALL about self-knowledge and an assessment of your placement in society, I guess. Not being a burden on other people and being aware of yourself and how your actions affect those around you. So is there only one sin? I don't think there are seven, certainly. But in my quest to live a life I'm proud of (!), I find myself working to know myself better - to see myself the way other people see me and the way I see other people, so that I can avoid irritating them, or being a burden on them or on society in any way. In the course of that, I hope I'd avoid most of the bad sorts of the 'sins' above. There's nothing religious in that, but the framework of thinking about what's good and what's bad is interesting. Are these universal? Does every society in the world look to the same sort of vices and virtues? Yes and no. This fits back into the idea of guilt and what constitutes it - I remember a supervisor explaining to me the ancient Greek conception of guilt as something created by society for an individual - 'You've done something wrong because we SAW you' - versus a more Christian conception of guilt - 'I know I've done something wrong and am going to feel guilty about it no matter whether or not the rest of society knows or cares'. There's much more to that, but it's for another day. Enough for now...

Monday, 2 March 2009

Here and now, not past and future.

I Keep Wondering’

I saw a mountain,
And he was like Wotan looking at himself in the water.
I saw a cockatoo,
And he was like sunset clouds.
Even leaves and little stones
Are different to my eyes sometimes.
I keep wondering through and through my heart
Where all the beautiful things in the world
Come from.
And while I wonder
They go on being beautiful.

Hilda Conkling

Don't wonder too much about the world, or you'll miss it. Don't analyse every moment, or every emotion, or every experience, in case you miss out on feeling. Wondering is fine, but it is not everything. There is a world out there to be missed without care.