Saturday, October 24, 2015

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland


Opening Passage:

This is written from memory, unfortunately. If I could have brought with me the material I so carefully prepared, this would be a very different story. Whole books full of notes, carefully copied records, firsthand descriptions, and the pictures--that's the worst loss. We had some bird's-eyes of the cities and parks; a lot of lovely views of streets, of buildings, outside and in, and some of those gorgeous gardens, and, most important of all, of the women themselves.

Summary: The basic idea of Herland is easily summarized, and Gilman's own summary (from the sequel, With Her in Ourland) hits the essentials:

Three American young men discover a country inhabited solely by women, who were Parthenogenetic, and had borne only girl children for two thousand years; they marry three of the women.

The three men are Terry O. Nicholson, Jeff Margrave, and Vandyck Jennings. The three are basically types. Terry, the wealthy adventurer, is the hell-raiser, the lady's man, the man among men, alpha-male-ish and sure of getting his way. Jeff, the doctor and botanist, is the dreamer, the sentimental one, good in a pinch but inclined to worship women. Van, the narrator, is the level-headed sociologist, open-minded and cerebral, thoughtful and moderate. Out of a sense of adventure the three friends join a scientific expedition, and, hearing legends of a dangerous civilization of women, decide to look into it on their own. Thus they come to Herland, where they meet Alima, Celis, and Ellador, the women they'll eventually marry, and learn all about the customs of the society that has included only women for two millenia.

Herland is a utopia built on the concepts of motherhood and education. Lacking men for so long, they have no sense of most of the things that we define as femininity; they don't have the contrast case of masculinity, and in a society consisting only of women it makes no sense at all for roles to be divided by sex. Having for reasons unknown developed a capacity for parthenogenesis, they can nonetheless still have children, and their entire society is built around this. Motherhood is their idea of womanhood. But they are aware of the idea of fatherhood in animals, and they have record that they were once two sexes before the loss of their men, so when the three men come upon their country under circumstances showing that they must be from a fairly advanced civilization, they are intrigued by the thought that they, having had only motherhood for two thousand years, might be enriched by finally having fatherhood again.

It is unsettling for the young men. They come from a society that sees sex and interaction between the sexes as a matter of pleasure, not procreation, and pleasure, at that, mostly for the man. They have not learned to think of themselves as potential fathers, or of fatherhood as a summit of life and a thing to be upheld and cherished by all of society.

This is what gives much of Herland its satirical bite. Herland itself is a utopia, full of peace and prosperity; Ourland, as Gilman calls our world in the sequel, is far from it. But what makes the difference is not that Herland is a society of women, nor that Ourland is a society ruled by men. It's notable that when Ellador visits our world in the sequel, she is inclined to judge the women more coolly than the men for the state of affairs; she takes the domination of men over women as primarily the fault of the women. This is quite harsh, and to fully understand it one must keep in mind Ellador's background in a society in which no woman could even imagine ever standing for some of the things that women tolerate all the time in ours. But it is a clear sign that from the perspective of Herland, the faults of our society are not merely the faults of men. This book is not an attack on men, although they come in for plenty of criticism.

What makes the difference is that Herland is a society of mothers. Herland arose after a series of catastrophes brought their society to what seemed an inevitable extinction; but in the midst of that despair and resignation a miracle happened, and that miracle was, beyond all expectation or apparent possibility, motherhood. Motherhood is sacred to them; it is at the core of what they are. But in our world, we have nothing of this. We occasionally pay lip service to motherhood and fatherhood, but we do not treat them as sacred but as incidental. The relations between the sexes are not governed by what makes them sexes in the first place, but on individual pleasures and preferences. Because of the relation between the sexes is on a false foundation; it is not based on the things relationship between the sexes must be based on if it is to be coherent: motherhood, fatherhood, friendship. And since our sexual relations are not friendships between potential mothers and potential fathers, they degrade both men and women alike. Because motherhood and fatherhood are treated as secondary goals, and because friendship between mothers and fathers is not treated as a sacred thing, our society constantly does things that make no sense in light of any of these things.

Herland is a utopia, but it is not a perfect society. The Herlanders themselves recognize this. (And Gilman certainly thinks that they are right in this respect.) They are by nature incomplete. An excellent society of mothers is less rich, inevitably, than an excellent society of mothers and fathers; and, what is more, the interaction between mothers and fathers is the sort of thing that can make it easier to see them both as people -- which is something that even the Herlanders themselves have difficulty doing, so inevitable is it that they think of men primarily in terms of fatherhood. But the society to which even utopian Herland can aspire is not our society of mutual degradation, but a society in which fatherhood too is as highly rated and as universal in aspiration as motherhood in Herland and in which the relation between fathers and mothers is a relation of friendship between two people with two high callings, crowning offices, of utmost importance for all of society.

Favorite Passage:

As to anthropology, they had those same remnants of information about other peoples, and the knowledge of the savagery of the occupants of those dim forests below. Nevertheless, they had inferred (marvelously keen on inference and deduction their minds were!) the existence and development of civilization in otehr places, much as we infer it on other planets.

When our biplane came whirring over their heads in that first scouting flight of ours, they had instantly accepted it as proof the higher development of Some Where Else, and had prepared to receive us as cautiously and eagerly as we might prepare to welcome visitors who came "by meteor" from Mars.

Recommendation: This work is an excellent example of utopian literature, in which the elements of the utopian society are largely given a thorough thinking-through, and in which the limits of such a society are kept in mind. Recommended.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Poem Draft

Rain Outside My Window

How lovely is the patter
of the rain outside my window,
an ever-changing pattern
like the life its grace inspires!

When I hear the rainfall,
I feel nothing is against me;
my heart leaps up within me
and to higher things aspires.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Love and Emotion

Today is the feast of St. John Paul II, also known as Karol Wojtyla. From Love and Responsibility:

Emotional subjectivism makes us susceptible to the suggestion that whatever is connected with 'genuine emotion', whatever must be recognized as 'authentic' in its emotional content, is good. Hence the temptation to reduce love to nothing more than subjective emotional states. If we do this, love finds its whole content and sole criterion in emotion. The affirmation of the value of the person, the aspiration to the person's true good, to union in a common true good -- none of these things exist for a will subjectivistically fixed upon emotion as such. In these circumstances sin arises from the fact that a human being does not wish to subordinate emotion to the person and to love, but on the contrary to subordinate the person and love to emotion.

[Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, Willetts, tr. Ignatius Press (San Francisco: 1993) p. 163.]

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Where Is My Hoverboard?

A milestone is reached today at 4:29 pm!

2015 was so much cooler in the 80s. It's probably fortunate that we avoided the punk rock hair, though.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Interior Teacher

Here now, brothers, see a great mystery. The sound of our words strikes your ears; the Master is within. Do not think that anyone learns anything from a man. We can suggest through the sound of the voice; if there were not One within who teaches, our sound is empty. Do you even so want to know it, brothers? Have not all of you heard the discourse? How many will leave here untaught! For my part, I have spoken to all. But those to whom that anointing does not speak within, whom the Holy Spirit does not teach within, go back untaught. Instructions from outside are kinds of aids and suggestions. He who teaches hearts has his chair in heaven. For this reason he also himself says in the Gospel, "Call no one your teacher on earth. One is your Teacher, Christ." Let him, therefore, speak to you within since no one of men is there, for even if someone is at your side, no one is in your heart. Let Christ be in your heart; let his anointing be in your heart, so that your heart may not be thirsting in a desert and having no springs by which it may be watered. There is, therefore, an Interior Master who teaches. Christ teaches, his inspiration teaches. Where his inspiration and his anointing are not, words from outside make useless sounds.

Augustine, Tractate on First John 3.13, in St. Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John 112-24; Tractates on the First Epistle of John, tr. by John W. Rettig, The Catholic University of America Press (Washington, D.C.: 1995), pp. 171-172.

At the Pallid Polar Midnight

The Were-Wolves
by William Wilfrid Campbell

They hasten, still they hasten,
From the even to the dawn;
And their tired eyes gleam and glis’en
Under north skies white and wan.
Each panter in the darkness
Is a demon-haunted soul,
The shadowy, phantom were-wolves,
Who circle round the Pole.

Their tongues are crimson flaming,
Their haunted blue eyes gleam,
And they strain them to the utmost
O’er frozen lake and stream;
Their cry one note of agony,
That is neither yelp nor bark,
These panters of the northern waste,
Who hound them to the dark.

You may hear their hurried breathing,
You may see their fleeting forms,
At the pallid polar midnight,
When the north is gathering storms;
When the arctic frosts are flaming,
And the ice-field thunders roll;
These demon-haunted were-wolves,
Who circle round the Pole.

They hasten, still they hasten,
Across the northern night,
Filled with a frighted madness,
A horror of the light;
Forever and forever,
Like leaves before the wind,
They leave the wan, white gleaming
Of the dawning far behind.

Their only peace is darkness,
Their rest to hasten on
Into the heart of midnight,
Forever from the dawn.
Across far phantom ice-floes
The eye of night may mark
These horror-haunted were-wolves
Who hound them to the dark.

All through this hideous journey,
They are the souls of men
Who in the far dark-ages
Made Europe one black fen.
They fled from courts and convents,
And bound their mortal dust
With demon wolfish girdles
Of human hate and lust.

These who could have been god-like,
Chose, each a loathsome beast,
Amid the heart’s foul graveyards,
On putrid thoughts to feast;
But the great God who made them
Gave each a human soul,
And so ’mid night forever
They circle round the Pole.

A praying for the blackness,
A longing for the night,
For each is doomed forever
By a horror of the light;
And far in the heart of midnight,
Where their shadowy flight is hurled,
They feel with pain the dawning
That creeps in round the world.

Under the northern midnight,
The white, glint ice upon,
They hasten, still they hasten,
With their horror of the dawn;
Forever and forever,
Into the night away
They hasten, still they hasten
Unto the judgment day.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Some Links of Note

I've been snowed under with grading and allergies, but posting should pick up a bit later this week.

* David Mumford talks about mathematics and beauty

* A man shooting puppies was shot by a puppy.

* The wood s lot blog recently reached its fifteenth anniversary.

* An interesting interview with Nancy Fraser on feminism, at "The Stone"

* Sydney Penner on Schmid on final causation in Suarez: Part I, Part II

* Rosemary Counter on surviving the Twitter mob.

* Robert Wagoner on Seneca at the IEP

* The recent Synod has made quite a few Eastern Catholic voices more easily heard.

An interview with Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, the primate of the Ethiopian Catholic Church.

Some comments by Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

The intervention of Fülöp Kocsis, primate of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church.

* A feed for a large number of Catholic blogs

* I've linked to it before, but I keep forgetting about it and having to rediscover it:
Documenta Catholica Omnia