Posts tagged ‘Culture’

The meaning of LILITH



“To be a woman is to be incarcerated, and to struggle against incarceration, and to long for it”.

Susan Sontag wrote these words in “A Double Destiny: On Anna Banti´s Artemisia, which was to be one of her last essays just before she died in 2004. Collected in a Penguin paperback edition in 2007 under the title “At the Same Time”, Sontag´s last essays include a moving preface written by her own son – David Rieff.
Sontag, the militant reader, the woman, the writer, is with her political engagement, her awareness of the Other and sense of mission one of the people I most admire. “Against Interpretation” and “Regarding The Pain of Others” are part of the few books which have moved with me throughout different cities.

Unfortunately, to be a woman today still includes a great lot of thinking about one´s own sex and role in society. Men experience no such thing. Because we are still subjected to sexist comments at our work environment, because we still earn less money even if we perform exactly the same task as a male colleague and because we are torn between the different roles (as competitive professionals, mothers, wifes, etc) society expects us to fulfill under one single harmonious behavior, we are acutely aware of our own gender and its culturally imposed limitations.
And the worst is that women who assume a defence speech and take action against the discrimination are labelled by others – sometimes sadly by other women also – as “militant radical feminists”, constantly dismissed, mocked and put down.

According to the Midrash, Adam´s first wife – Lilith – rebelled against and abandoned him. Throughout history she has been alternatively seen as a female demon, evil spirit, a murderer of children, a vampire, an erotic goddess and the snake which offers the apple in Paradise. It was only in the seventies that the figure of Lilith was first reabilitated by feminists.
Lilith was a free spirit. She understodd herself as an equal of Adam, for they were both created from the ground, and when he asked her to have sex in the missionary position she refused and told him that she would not lay beneath him for they are equals. And so they argued and she abandoned him.
God had then to create a second wife who had so much hair that Adam was scared and disgusted and then a third – Eva -, who was created of Adam´s side, and was finally perfect! (Its a relief to know that even God doesn´t hit it right at first!)

So from the very begining the two female archetypes can be found: “the serving, self-sacrificing wife (Eve) and the wild, man-dominating woman (Lilith)”. The first defying free will, the second defying subservience. Lilith may have sacrificed the paradise of Eden, devoted herself without thinking twice to exile and suffered the death of hundreds of her children as a consequence of her choice for freedom and equality, but in the end she gained immortality (unlike Adam and Eva she didn´t eat the apple in the Garden of Eden).
Lilith and Eva represent the different and contraditory sides /desires still battling in every one of us. But for me, Lilith stands defiantly alone as the ideal for self determination, freedom and equality. Voluntary exile, yes indeed!

August 7, 2008 at 1:28 am 1 comment

Freedom of Thought

I just saw Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn, and realized that all that I´ve been writing and thinking about lately has got to do with the search and meaning of freedom.
Except, as S. pointed out, freedom is such a vague concept. Most people tend to confuse it with being able to fulfill one´s wishes, which would make us fall into a discussion about happiness. It is impossible to use words as such today, without a context. The only sure thing is that there are people deprived of freedom, but again being in prison for instance, doesn´t necessarily mean you´re not free.

“Rather than Love, than Money, than Fame, give me Truth” Thoreau

Into the Wild is based on a true story, that of Chris McCandless, who left everything and everyone behind and went North. He was searching for trueness as a resistance and heroic act against capitalism and consumerism, which in his case seems to have been an excuse to rebel against his parents in the first place. Despite this, one´s admiration for his action doesn´t diminish. Though some did call it plain stupidity, for Chris died alone and in pain in Alaska, and according to the mountain patrol if he had had a simple hiking map with him he would have known that there was a bridge just a couple of miles away from where he tried to cross the river to get back to civilization.

His personal quest was about finding truth and freedom, and it involved getting into the wild, only to find in the end that there´s no point in happiness if you cannot share it with someone else.

This made me think. For my conception of freedom doesn´t involve getting back to nature and experience wilderness. But again, people keep telling me that I have absolutely no sense for nature. And it might be true… This week, I found out that my orchidee is dying from excess of water and, meanwhile taking a walk in the woods last weekend, I kept complaining about the smell of wild garlic, which is all over Leipzig this time of the year!!

For me, freedom means freedom of thought, to be able to surpass one´s apparently given limitations (educational, the condition´s one was brought in, the part of the world one was born in, life´s experiences, etc). At a certain point, in The Dogs Bark, Truman Capote interestingly says:

„the perils, the dooms of not perceiving and accepting the limits of one´s supposed identity, the classifications imposed by others – a bird that believes it is a dog, Van Gogh insisting that he was an artist, Emily Dickinson a poet. But without such misjudgments and such faiths, the seas would sleep, the eternal snows remain untracked“.

And that´s exactly on the point. For me, freedom of thought is the synonym for freedom itself. And it happens when you keep breaking out of the cage other people, and also yourself, imprison you in. Its a constant search for improvement, not settling for the role others attribute you or, you condemn yourself to.

When your mind is set in achieving freedom of thought, you are truly in a process to fulfill your potential.

February 27, 2008 at 11:59 am 1 comment

ON CLEMENCY – On the reevaluation of values

»Götter, wenn zum Regieren ein hartes Herz nötig ist, nehmt mir entweder die Macht oder gebt mir ein anderes Herz.«

Composed in 18 days and premiered on the 6th of September of 1791, „La Clemenza di Tito“ was Mozart´s last opera before he died on the 5th of December that very same year. As usually happens with final works, this opera was regarded as an inferior effort, for everyone praises the ingenious music but the plot has always been the subject of delicate contempt.

The libretto, adapted by Caterino Mazzolà, was based on a former textbook by Pietro Metastasio from 1734. Its central character, Emperor Tito, has been the source of all controversy, for he forgives everyone around him, which has been seen as an unusual and incomprehensible behavior for an emperor.

When the woman he decides to marry tells him that she loves someone else, he forgives her, when someone admits having attempted against his life – the ultimate crime – he shows mercifulness and so on and so forth. He says, that if the world wishes to accuse him of anything, it can charge him with showing too much mercy rather than with having a revengeful heart. As a re- conciliator, he wants to rule without victims. In the end, he finds himself completely alone.

Some have read Tito´s mildness as a revolutionary attitude offering a new perspective, one of forgiveness, against the vicious circle of violence and brutality taking place during the Ancient Regime. Others, less positive, have classified Tito´s amnesty acts as a feint, as if he would only forgive so that the people are touched and he continues to rule, and this would make him a sort of tragic hero clinging on to an epoch due to to be over. On the contrary, there are also those who have pointed his ability to forgive as a sign that he is only human, no longer invested with the act of forgiving through a sacred higher power, thus stressing a secular and progressive aspect to the plot in syntony with the forthcoming Enlightenment.

I happen to find all this very interesting. On the one hand, who is to say that Mozart wasn´t only fulfilling a commission, his interest being the music in itself and not the plot. I sometimes think that narratives are overestimated – but one would have to research more to find it out. Second, what is interesting about Tito´s character is that one cannot decide if his idealism is either good or bad. Or perhaps that´s the point, that we are left to judge if standing alone is an obligatory price to pay for one´s idealism or, a definitive sign that it makes absolutely no sense to be good-hearted in this world.

One thing is for sure, we are forced here to reflect if our traditional values are still operational or not; we are asked if revenge is a good strategy; if one should stick to one´s ideals passionately (which would justify revenge) or, instead choose not to disturb nor destroy or as Tito, to reconciliate; we are left to wonder the price to pay for one´s own idealism; if it is a good strategy, even if it sometimes implies uttermost loneliness.

February 15, 2008 at 6:35 pm Leave a comment

Wie Man wird, was Man ist/ How one becomes what one is

Ecce Homo, the last book written by Nietzsche (1844-1900) before he lost his reason in early 1889, adopts an unusual megalomanic tone. At a certain point he declares: „I am not a man, I am dynamite“. For long many philosophers didn´t consider this specific work when analysing the german author´s corpus. Only recently, given several translations in the english language, the work has received more extensive attention.

In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche proposes to write his own biography, but doing so in a very unorthodox way, deliberately subverting the conventions of the genre. As observed in the introduction he fails to speak of periods of his life and is not accurate when it comes to dates. But this only happens because Nietzsche is speaking more about his ideas than about himself, and in a tone of exagerated self-esteem purposefully choosen in opposition to socratic humiliation.

Nietzsche wrote Ecce Homo as a sort of explanation for the overall of his work, in order to make some points clear enough just before the work he was projecting, which was supposed to be the major work of his carrer but never saw the day of light.

„Wie Man wird, was Man ist“, „How one becomes what one is“ is Nietzsche´s central thesis here. There´s a passage where the german philosopher states that he never fought for things in a combative manner but just learned to accept them as they came into his life. I was surprised to read this, for Nietzsche was frequently sick and achieved little recognition during his life time, which would lead one to think that he could have felt miserably.
But somehow he endured, and this is connected with his theory of the eternal recurrence and the idea of amor fati, which speaks of the acceptance of the events that occur in one´s life, despite all the suffering and pain. One needs to live life in such a way that one could accept its eternal repetion, cheerfully.

As a coincidence, I just saw Aeschylus´ “Oresteia” on stage this week. A theater play that speeks of the ethic of revenge, revenge being exactly the opposite of accepting one´s life calmly. In Aeschylus´ play, our deepest sense of any possibility for enduring justice in our community is deeply violated, we are submitted to a never-ending cycle of retributive killing and over-killing. And this had the interesting effect on stage, of making me think how theater is sometimes stronger than life itself.
Thought written before the advent of Christianismus but ruled by a similar metaphysical logic, the “Oresteia” seeks to come in terms with it. Aeschylus proposes that traditional goddessess of vengeance be incorporated in the justice system and not ruled out. He also says that though justice should move beyond pure personal emotion, ultimatelly it will not work if it doesn´t take our personal feelings into consideration somehow.

While Aeschylus is convinced that we cannot remove the Furies from our lifes, Nietzsche´s cut is of course of a radical kind, as he proclaims himself as the Antichrist for announcing what is to come, the transvaluation of all values. Interesting and coincidentilly, they seem to share the same view that we must move beyond our brutal and unworkable traditions. And this point revealed very important to me, as lately I am wondering about how one can be free, think and act freely.

February 11, 2008 at 7:03 pm 3 comments

Women In Art

January 17, 2008 at 12:03 pm Leave a comment

DIGITAL killed the professional photographer

I need a picture of myself for an official card. Because I am in a hurry but as I don´t feel like running to the next automaton in the busy subway and sit in it alone while people hush beside to their jobs, I decide to enter an old photographer´s shop in one of Lisbon´s poshest avenues.

The old man escorts me to the room where “it” will happen and gives me a moment to prepare. Suddenly I feel like an actress, I sit before the mirror framed with lights, where make up and brushes are lying around in a small table and think how purposeless it is to prepare; I always look pretty awful in every goddamn picture.

I sit where he tells me to and follow his instructions, head slightly pending to the side, chin up, strait back and looking into a designated fixed point. I think of K. always telling me to smile for photos. Despite the usual result I always enjoy when others take my photo, specially if unexpectedly. I have the theory that if someone likes you as a person this will somehow shine through the picture they take of you. For me it works like a scale. The people that loved me the best have taken the best photos of me.

Surprisingly, we only need one round this time. Usually it takes a lot longer, because I always shut my eyes or look as if I am not right in the head! The old photographer smiles and calls me up to see the result. He is happy with it. And so am I. Though I look so retro. We exchange approving looks and he hushes out of the room to print it meanwhile I collect my things. How interesting that a photo made just seconds ago can look so dated!

While I wait upstairs, I look at old photos from unknown people of every age filling the walls. Black and white photographs, color photographs, families in their best Sunday suits posing, people marrying, children posing, twins, mothers and daughters, people in love. They all belong to a different epoch, I think to myself. The store looks very old and not renovated. I think of digital cameras and computers, it´s obvious that business has seen better days. Albums that no one buys and very old analogue cameras are still available for sale.
I feel sorry for the lovely man. I want to tell him that it is all about PR, that he should advertise his services as purposely retro and traditional in an age where everything happens so fast and has no meaning any more. He is part of the story of the city, he has been registering generations of Portuguese people with his art.
It´s pure poetry, all those faces immortalized in time, seeking to grab a piece of eternity, leave something to be remembered for to the people that love them.

In the end he thanks “the model”, he looks very happy with my photo, and I thank the photographer, and he thanks me again, and I thank the photographer once more. (Goodbyes always take very long between Portuguese). I leave sad, because I know that his son wont pick up his business, he is one of a last kind.

January 5, 2008 at 4:22 pm Leave a comment

THE CONSUME OF LOVE – Love as a commodity

In Patrice Cherau´s „Intimacy“ a man and a woman casually meet once a week to have sex in the floor of his dirty apartment, without words. As time goes by, the man starts to anxiously wait for the woman every week, up to a point that all his thoughts and week agenda are dominated by the encounters between the two. He starts both missing and following her, for there is an habit that becomes now difficult to break or change. He is confused by his own feelings and gets obsessed in getting closer to her, to the people who know her, to tell her how he feels. Not only does he want to reveal to her what these encounters mean for him but also to find out what meaning do they have for her.
This film always made me wonder about the apparently strange exchange of roles..

In “Intimacy” the man is the one who has the need to talk about what he feels, to declare his love and demand a reaction. And, I would say, cinema has taught us this to be a women´s role, for they are usually the ones to lose their heads, sacrificing everything in the name of love, making fools of themselves without thinking twice. Cinema is full of women driven by their passions – of course in the end, one has to reflect if this translates reality or is merely a consequence that cinema conveys – almost up to the present and with few exceptions – a male´s gaze? (But this is not the time nor place to answer such question).

To whom does the speech of love, the need to express one´s own feelings and demand a reaction from the other, usually belongs to?
K.G. (a male friend) has the argument that the character reflects the fact that both the director as the screenwriter are French, so he would obviously have a „literary“ urge to talk about his own emotions, for he cannot help himself. For K.G. this is a direct consequence of one´s nationality! I happen to find the cultural argument a very interesting one! From here it could be understood that latino men would never admit or discuss their feelings, because that wouldn´t be very manly of them, and German or English men would be obliged by the impact Romanticism had on their cultures to cry their eyes out and drag on about their own feelings!

D. (a girl friend) for instance, agrees that there is definitely something a bit odd with the film. For her, women are the ones always discussing feelings, taking exquisite pleasure in unforeseen theoretical details and demanding for reactions that somehow always seem to go in the same direction – a romantic one. Therefore, for D., this was a genetic consequence as in a woman´s brain the speech part is 90% more developed, she tells me.

K. (a girl friend) said she would agree that women talk about their own feelings more than men, if only I had asked her a few months sooner!!! It seems that lately she is totally done with listening to men´s love confessions (which have so far included different nationalities by the way). And this was the solid proof that nor gender, nor culture, play any role when it comes to reveal one´s feelings and demand a response to it.

So much for the cultural and genetic explanations! Still, it´s not possible to explain everything through pure individualism.

K.G., for instance, is of the opinion that women haven´t lived their emancipation to the fullest, and this would be the reason why they would still need to ask such things as: do you love me? How much do you love me? Do you really really love me? to exhaustion. For him, women who do that are totally phony as, in his perspective, it would only reveal that they still are not comfortable with enjoying their own physical pleasure pure and simply, and need to attach such words to it in order not to be “misinterpreted” by men (or what men expect of them).

All this gave me a lot to think of… could this be the reason why Claire, in Cherau´s film, doesn´t feel the need to share a single word with her occasional lover? Would her silence be the result that she’s being true to what she wants and she doesn’t need to disguise it as something else because deep down she made her choices?
For in fact, in the end of the film, she chooses to remain married, refusing to leave her husband or abandon her domestic life style, though she is totally bored with her marriage and she feels that her husband doesn´t have clue about who she really is.

(in progress)

December 28, 2007 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

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