Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Frustrations

Hello. Guess what: my exams are finished. Woot. This means I can actually spend some time online and maybe even blog. I must sort out the blogroll here at some point. It's hideously out of date. I need some way to organise it into categories. Maybe I will have several blogrolls. I need a website, but I'd want a decent one and I haven't the know-how to make it.

With my new-found free time, I went to a conference today. It was on the Odyssey, "Homer to Hollywood," connected by video to two academics in Kentucky. You can see the advertisement here. It was really worthwhile but incredibly frustrating, having this fascinating debate going on all around and being unable to participate. Technically I was allowed to speak but it was near impossible. The only people who spoke were lecturers and one PhD student. I did wave my hand in the air tentatively a couple of times but this was either ignored or not noticed. Those who got a word in were the ones who had the confidence to just start talking loudly, quite often over someone who was already talking. I really didn't feel I had the authority to do that.

I also felt that it was sort of assumed that we wouldn't speak. There was just a hint of the academic snobbery that I've found to be quite prevalent in some places, the suggestion that only people with postgraduate degrees ever have thoughts or opinions worth listening to. I actually find that quite offensive. It's rather like the wicked looks you get as an undergraduate if you venture into the British Library and dare to occupy a seat. Nevertheless, the conference did make me think about the Odyssey in new ways and I enjoyed that. I'm going to go on to articulate some of the thoughts I had, things I would liked to have said. Blogging is a tremendous solace, you know, when you feel that no one's remotely interested in what you have to say. You just say it anyway. Who cares if anyone's listening?

Firstly, the weather and the seasons. Odysseus returns to Ithaca in winter and spring comes on as he enacts his revenge and restores order to the kingdom. The significance is obvious but it's an unobtrusive detail in the poem. Why, then, it was asked, does it turn up in pretty much every film of the Odyssey ever made? The simple answer, which Edith Hall said, is that weather's good in films. Doubtless whoever makes the films goes through the poem with a fine toothcomb, looking for things that will work well visually and atmospherically in a film. A discussion ensued about pathetic fallacy, all well and good. But one really vital thing that was left out was how the weather reflects not only the situation but what is happening inside the characters. On a simplistic level, someone did mention Tess of the d'Urbervilles: it rains when she cries, etc. But I was surprised that no one mentioned King Lear. The storm in Lear not only represents Lear's inner turmoil but is instrinsically connected with what it going on both inside Lear and in the kingdom. It is not merely a weather phenomenon: it is a process. The storm rages and calms. The seasons are processes in the same way. So, likewise, when Odysseus returns in the winter, the kingdom is barren, unfruitful and stagnated. The characters there are despairing. The coming of spring is a process, as is the re-establishment of a fruitful, ordered kingdom, the restoration of Odysseus' identity and the return to happiness of his friends and family. That's why it's such an important detail, and that's why film-makers are right to pick up on it. Not necessarily the same as why they do pick up on it, but relevant nonetheless.

Another question discussed was why is the Odyssey so influential to everything afterward, and why is it so culturally ingrained? Edith Hall and Ahuvia Kahane had a nice little argument about whether Joyce was influenced by Homer or Homer by Joyce (in our perceptions, I think he meant), which was quite entertaining to watch. I would argue, though, that it is not the Odyssey itself but its motifs, which are such an integral part of our collective human subconscious and so resurface again and again. These motifs - monsters, journeys, revenge, etc. - even in the quite specific forms that they take in the poem, predate Homer. The Odyssey just happens to be our earliest source for them. The interesting question, though, is why are these motifs a part of the human psyche, across all ages and cultures? I'd really like to put this to the chaps in Kentucky, who were very insightful and knowledgable, but I doubt I could find e-mail addresses. They may well tell me to sod off anyway. I'm only an undergraduate, after all ;o)

In spite of how much I enjoyed much of the seminar's content, I came away fairly disgruntled because of aforementioned frustrations. A friend of mine, who has been having a hard time lately and so is taking it out on anyone who comes within three feet, snapped at me for the fiftieth time today and I'm ashamed to say I snapped back and went off on one of my confrontational rants. After I stomped away fairly childishly and was struggling to deal with my feelings of anger, another frustration resurfaced. As I puzzled over how to express my anger in the least destructive way possible, I started thinking about how society makes it difficult for women to express rage. Anger in a woman is almost a taboo, it seems. Boys, when angry, are expected to have fights in the playground, but what is an angry girl to do? Women have been wrestling with this problem for centuries. I think it's why we have a reputation for bitching. I also think it's why self-injury and eating disorders are so much more common in girls. We turn our anger on ourselves because we have no outlet. Or at least I do.

This women's justice issue got me thinking about the dreadful case linked to on Rachel's blog. Although I'm not an especially ranty feminist type (I have my moments), I do agree that our culture is, to a large degree, a rape-apologist culture which thrives on blaming the victim. This I know from experience. We still have a long way to go for gender equality. Which sucks.

On a completely unrelated note, Julie Carter has just opened a new poetry forum. Looks like it's gonna be good.

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