A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that the bulk of my time was spent on creative writing and academia. Granted, that’s probably what you’d expect from a creative writer who’s also a teacher and a doctoral student, but it seemed almost overwhelming. I felt one-dimensional. I was worried that I had tunnel-vision, and that my creativity would suffer because of it. Because of all that, I decided that I needed a new recreational activity. I have a tendency to turn to other art forms for this sort of thing. In the past, I’ve worked with acting and visual arts. This time, I was drawn to music. I happened to watch a movie that featured a theremin, and decided that I might want one. I did all sorts of online research, became awestruck by Clara Rockmore, and ultimately bought a relatively inexpensive pitch/volume theremin. I’ve been playing almost every day, and what I love about it is that it doesn’t feel dire. My writerly and academic pursuits can sometimes feel really weighty because they’re such a big part of my identity. When I think about not being a writer or not being an academic, I feel like I don’t know who I am. (Psychologically, this is probably not super healthy, but psychological soundness has never been my primary goal in life anyway.) I’m sure that many people feel this way about their passions. I cope with this by adding other things into my life. Maybe these things won’t become the core ingredients of my identity, but sometimes they become the spices. They become the subtleties that make me feel like I have more than one dimension. I love playing the theremin, but nothing about that experience is quantified or qualified by performances evaluations and publications. It unlocks a sort of freedom that translates into the other, more “serious” areas of my life and makes me a more innovative and productive writer, scholar, and teacher. What artist doesn’t want that sort of growth in their life? I guess the moral of the story is that taking a break from what you’re serious about can make you better at it. And if, in the process, you can learn to play spooky, electronic versions of every tv sci-fi theme song from the past twenty years, so much the better for you!
Monthly Archives: February 2015
Currently, I’m taking an independent seminar that has me analyzing the male gaze in literature across four different centuries. I’ve plowed through four primary texts so far, with another four to go, and the whole thing will (hopefully!) culminate in the writing of some sort of cohesive article. One of the things I’ve been considering is how these texts not only demonstrate the male gaze, but also challenge it. In some situations, the objectification of the gaze’s female subjects is pretty blatant, such as in the Marquis de Sade’s Justine. I mean, I couldn’t ask for a better example of male perspective commodifying women based on appearance and general physicality. (Come to think of it, this whole project is begging for a Marxist analysis, with a focus on commodification, but I don’t know if I can squish Marxist and Feminist analyses into one paper. I’m definitely running the idea by my advisor, though!) However, despite the prevalence of the male gaze as a literary institution, I’m actually finding that the sample of authors I’ve chosen buck the system more than might be expected. Furthermore, not all of the challenges to the male gaze come from literature of the later centuries. For example, I was able to find a few interesting anomalies in Madame Bovary, despite the fact that the novel is elsewhere stuffed with examples of the m.g. Of course, this isn’t to say that contemporary literature is any less impressive in its opposition. In Gilead, Marilynne Robinson seems to almost entirely avoid the male gaze, despite the fact that her first person narrator is male. Not only does she eschew this thorn in the side of feminist theory, but she also offers alternative “gazes” that complicate and develop their subjects.
“So…that’s great and all, but what does this have to do with your writing?” you might ask.
Here’s the thing: This whole project has made me more conscious of the perspectives I create for potential readers in my own writing. Granted, the male gaze functions a bit differently in poetry than it does in fiction, but I’m a fiction writer as well as a poet. When I started my doctorate, I decided to go on hiatus from fiction, due to my concerns about balancing a teaching schedule, a grad school workload, and TWO genres of creative writing. However, now that I’ve been at the whole grad school thing for almost two years, I feel like I might be able to safely pay a little more attention to my fiction writing without completely upsetting the fragile balance of my chaotic little universe. That being said, I’m now considering how I can best challenge the prevalence of the literary male gaze in my own work. I worry that if I describe the appearance of a female character, that I might do so in a way that’s objectifying. I’m trying to pay more attention to how I can use reader and character perspectives to celebrate the autonomy, complexity, and value of female subjects. This matters to me because my doctoral project has reminded me of how pathological the male gaze is as a literary technique. I believe that it absolutely reinforces gender inequality in contemporary society, whether consciously or not. It’s very reassuring to me that a Pulitzer Prize winning novel such as Gilead is also a work in which I find so much progress being made in this area. For this, I applaud Marilynne Robinson, and hope to follow her example.