Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Literature the Opiate of the ....

I received the following stimulating email, which I am still mulling over. Your comments will be very welcome:
... it would be nice to talk a bit more about literature as opiate (OED: a. "Something that soothes or dulls the senses or causes drowsiness
or inaction" -- AND, I would stress the inaction....lulls a person into
inaction...so that they don't question things) ... I think some lit can be classified as opiate, but not all...however it might be hard to classify some works, since everyone's interpretation of a text will be different. It is probably more clear withthe lad lit books that end with the man being tamed and chosen for marriage after long occasions of intense rivalry with other men. It sends the message that it's ok to give in to the traditional roles of men...to let women tame you, etc.. Similarly with the nice little romance novels where the woman chooses her man and becomes a wife and mother. Perhaps some women read those types of books if they are unhappily married....to validate their lives, their choices, and to soothe any doubts the may have...Other literature COMPLETELY challenges these views or makes a complete riot of them, including Villette due to the tragic ending (I like to read the ending the way Bronte intended it...that is, that M. Paul drowns), and due to many other reasons besides. I think traditional notions of gender, sexuality, and social tradition come undone in the books we've read so far. It happens in almost every paragraph of Cranford!

4 comments:

Esther said...

Instances in She where the female gender may find opiate: The crocodile/lion scene(The Head of the Ethiopian chpt) and maybe the scene before Ustane throws herself onto the body of Leo to save him from being killed (The Feast and After chpt.)
Why: Watching/reading of violence - for the most part - causes an opiate reaction within the female viewer/reader. We can liken these scenes to violence enacted in sports (football, wrestling etc). These sports are watched by a predominately male audience. As Toby Miller( SPORT AND VIOLENCE: Glue, Seed, State, or Psyche? ) points out, "reports of domestic violence by men against women are said to increase dramatically during the SuperBowl." I'm not saying the male students in our class are inspired to go out and kill a boar after reading of the crocodile in She ; however, the violence Haggard includes in She, causes a weaker reaction in females than in males...and maybe this indicates She being classified within a lad-lit type of genre...

Bonnie said...

I would disagree that these scenes could be described as opiates. While it may or may not be true that females react less to these passages than males do, I would still argue that these passages are both very arousing of the senses. I guess if you are suggesting that these scenes are opiate-like because the female "tunes out", then maybe this is true. I did not find them dull, and remember these scenes quite vividly...so I am not sure that I agree with you here (unless I have missed a big part of your argument--which is plausible :) )

Esther said...

Hey Bonnie, through the muddle of my comment, I was suggesting that males react differently to violence than women do. Particularily, the violence within the scenes would cause within men a less opiate response than within women. In other words, the violence within the scenes would leave a stronger effect (either on the senses, or on his responsive attitudes) on the male rather than on the female. I don't know what (i) kind (/i) of an effect reading of the violence would have on the male reader, but in reading of Miller's comment that ""reports of domestic violence by men against women are said to increase dramatically during the SuperBowl," I thought a kind of "call to action" response would be imposed. For me, I felt the scenes were opiate while reading of them. I know I am assuming too much and not giving the males enough credit, but hey, just thinking outloud [-:

Kristen said...

What I meant by lit as opiate, is that some people read literature or contemporary fiction in order to acquiesce to their own REAL LIFE situations. The literature in this case would sooth or lull the person into inaction...meaning that they would not act out against some predicament they are in; they would accept it instead or repress their doubts, etc. Literature that puts forth strong ideals of marriage and supports traditional lifestyles is more blatantly opiate-like than literature that sets these norms up only to then shatter them to pieces (like in *She*).

About the way women respond to violence in *She* or violence anywhere else for that matter...I'm not sure how easy it is to make a sweeping statement based on sex and/or gender. I know that when I watch violence in movies, I get pretty excited. I sure as hell don't tune out...same as when I'm reading. That's my experience....and Esther experienced something totally different. That's all we can say for certain.