And there will be days, / days enough for you's and I's to / take the mornings open-eyed / with hair outstretched across the pillow. Beginnings / measured in sun slants.
LIVING MY GAP YEAR
Sun in windows is what I wake up early for. Seven AM weekends and weekdays alike I'm up and ready to admire, to worship the domestic beauty, the ordinary glory, the continuity of life summed up and expressed in a silent beam thrown between my curtains. Ah, mornings...
This is just to say / I don't think I'll ever / touch food again / cause hunger is delicious / so sweet and / so cold / and nourishment is cloying.
The Power of Elusion in The Handmaid’s Tale
In her futuristic novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood constructs a dystopian world in which the United States have been overthrown in a military coup and supplanted by a theocracy called the Republic of Gilead. Under this new state, individuals are reduced to a function and assigned a specific utility to the greater good of society; to act, and interact, outside of one’s prescribed station is unnecessary and suspicious, and may even be punished by torture, execution, or banishment the chemical wasteland known as ‘the Colonies.’ In an attempt to salvage a dwindling population in the face of direly low birth rates, the regime of Gilead allots the responsibility of reproduction to a class of women called Handmaids, who exist to be impregnated by and bear children for Commanders, who with their often infertile Wives constitute the elite of Gileadean society. Identified by the name of the Commander to whose household they’re posted plus the possessive prefix “of,” Handmaids are just that, possessions “of” the man they serve, valuable only as long as their ovaries are viable.
The protagonist of Atwood’s novel, called Offred, narrates her experience of indoctrination into and life as a Handmaid in the early days of Gilead. The theocracy has only existed for a few years, and Offred retains poignant memories of her husband, daughter, and friends from ‘the time before,’ which she threads through her more immediate account of her existence in the house of a high-ranking Commander in what was formerly Massachusetts. No part, however, of her narrative is completely contemporaneous: though she narrates in the present tense, we discover in the effectual epilogue of the book that her tale exists as a spoken recording on a series of cassette tapes that she can only have had access to after she has escaped Gilead, or has at least gone into hiding in wait of escape.
This revelation about the context of Offred’s narrative has a seismic effect on our reading of the story. In addition to unexpectedly framing the preceding tale, Atwood’s concluding fictional ‘Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale’ provoke a multitude of questions—most of which go unanswered. In addition to prompting the reader to reconsider the motive for a narration that was evidently composed with the altered perspective that comes with remove, the ‘Notes’ make us question the identity and nature of our narrator herself. The contextualizing effect of this section confirms a niggling sensation in the reader that we have never really known Offred as a narrator rather than a character, as a host who has guided us through her vulnerable and intimate past experiences but not allowed us to assemble even the most rudimentary awareness of her present self and state. The realization of Offred’s elusiveness as a narrator dawns on the reader conjointly with the realization of the elusiveness of her narrative motive, and it is through Offred’s insistence on authorial unavailability that her tale’s narrative form, as much as its content, underscores the novel’s eerie warning that the revoking of a society’s right to interpret and wonder, and the supplanting of it with singleness of perspective are the first and foremost weapons of autocracy.
The ‘Notes’ rattle our perception of The Handmaid’s Tale by showing us the unexpected truth of Offred’s assertion that “this is a reconstruction” (Atwood 225). Being as such a version of events inevitably approximate and colored by retrospect, an inquiry arises into just what hue the events have taken on since their actual occurrence, in the narrator’s eyes and hence in her readers’. How does Offred reconstruct her tale, and to what end? Though she does weave certain diegetic clues into her narrative, they yield no consistent theme. As Marta Dvorak points out, these clues arise when Offred “calls attention to the fabricated nature of her story…and repeatedly [disscusses] the procedures of her own narration” (Dvorak 449). Indeed, at one point Offred acknowledges: “[i]t’s impossible to say a thing exactly the way it is, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, chances; too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavors, in the air or on the tongue, half-colors, too many” (Atwood 134). While a quote such as this, treating as it does of the manipulative properties of reconstruction, could be expected to divulge something of Offred’s narrative intent, this passage offers only the general assurance that Offred is indeed deliberately story-telling, and aware of it. It does not reveal the purpose of this story-telling, or what, if any, “half-colors” she has endowed her reconstruction with.
If Offred’s narrativepurpose seems uncertain to us, it is perhaps because we are made to feel uncertain by the very structure of her narrative, the very mind-style of our story-teller. Barbara Garlick observes that the opening segments of the novel are the most straightforward of the book, “seemingly framed in an almost classically correct way for fantasy” (Garlick 163), with Offred describing in snapshots her various settings of the ‘present’ moment (which we later learn is not actually that) and its preceding phases. Here “the emphasis is on certainty of perception and realistic descriptions of the Red Centre and the Commander’s house” (Garlick 169), but with the advent of the second ‘Night episode,’ the narrative becomes marked by “unreliability and deliberate prevarication” (Garlick 169). The straightforwardness of Offred’s valiant counter-memory falters, and the ‘certainty of perception’ that we as readers generally rely on in a text becomes increasingly unstable. This mounting uneasiness peaks, and meets its ultimate realization, at the end of the novel with our discovery that we have indeed been duped all along by our narrator: Offred is not there, before us, speaking or writing to us from where she has lead us to believe she is speaking or writing. Her voice, we are informed, is not conclusively the voice we’ve come to know; that familiar one is rather the “guesswork” arrangement of her “unnumbered” tapes by self-satisfied male academics who are so far from empathizing with Offred’s story—putting themselves in her place—that they can flippantly crack jokes about it (Atwood 302; 301, 305).
We are made to feel that we have never really had access to Offred, or indeed to any sovereign narrator at all. To revisit Barabara Garlick, the scholar points out that “The ‘Historical Notes’…deliberately deny all possibility of establishing an identity for the narrator. She is like the first African Eve, evidently there—we have a consciously arranged version of the story told on the tapes—but without a clearly identifying face or name; it is only possible for Pieixoto to postulate a figure on the basis of the identity of the Commanders with whom she was associated” (Garlick 165). Offred the narrator is as remote from the telling of her tale as Offred the character is central to its content. We know her thought processes and motives as she navigates the Gileadean world, but we are excluded from the thought processes and motives of the Offred who is recording this story orally, who is enunciating from somewhere—we can only guess where, for this too is real-time information she does not grant us. And so the elusiveness of her diegetic intent becomes entwined with the elusiveness of her diegetic identity—the identity of an Offred who succeeds that Offred we know from the narrative, but is in fact the only Offred we have ever been exposed to.
Again, clues are dispersed throughout the text that may portend to reveal what we seek, in this case an authorial presence, but which also prove ultimately unyielding. One particular passage, embedded in Offred’s meditations of a solitary evening in Gilead, extends a gleaming hint: “This is a reconstruction. All of it is a reconstruction. It’s a reconstruction now, in my head, as I lie flat on my single bed rehearsing what I should or shouldn’t have said, what I should or shouldn’t have done, how I should have played it. If I ever get out of here—Let’s stop there. I intend to get out of here” (Atwood 134). Upon first reading, we may imagine this to refer to Offred lying in her bedroom in Commander Fred’s house reviewing her reality in her stream-of-consciousness way, and acknowledging our presence as a conjured listener in her head. After having read the ‘Historical Notes,’ however, we may return to reconsider this passage and now construe it as referring to the narrator’s immediate moment of actual recitation from her hiding place—perhaps a hiding place with a ‘single bed’ to lie ‘flat on.’ But such a revised reading is in turn revised by the following passage, in which Offred continues: “When I get out of here, if I’m ever able to set this down, in any form, even in the form of one voice to another, it will be a reconstruction then too, at yet another remove” (Atwood 134). Does Offred here depict her Handmaid self anticipating her narrator self and the recording she will do ‘in the form of one voice to another’ if she can slip the noose of the regime’s control? The multitude of distinct, time-warping readings that branch out from this single excerpt conclusively extinguishes the hope of gleaning any omniscient authorial commentary here.
We cannot, then, locate the intent of a narrator who herself cannot be located. But we may guess at it. Some have suggested Offred’s narrative was a form of resistance, with the scholar Hilde Staels perceptively aligning Offred’s narrative act with that of resistance to an imposed theocratic discourse: “Offred crosses the boundaries of accepted meaning by giving voice to an alternative perspective and an alternative discourse that continuously cut through the rigid logocentric texture of the superstructure” (Staels 233). Staels traces this logic in its literal manifestations: the regime tells Offred she is better off as a Handmaid and must forget the past; Offred recalls and relives ‘the time before’ constantly in her tale. The regime tells her she is “a thing…a made thing not something born” (Atwood 66); Offred insists “I feel,” “I want,” “I don’t want,” attesting to the existence of an inner life outside of that which the regime recognizes and permits (Staels 231-32). And though Staels’ claim is undeniably true of the majority of the novel, I believe the ‘Historical Notes’ invalidates it: being committed in hiding or somehow outside the periphery of the ‘rigid logocentric…superstructure’ it is said to ‘cut through,’ does Offred’s narration still qualify as the substantive resistance Staels designates it?
I would not characterize Offred’s narrative purpose as resistance—not substantive resistance, at least. Her narration is neither an attempt to assimilate to nor to defy the reality of her world. Rather I believe it’s the aspiration to a consciousness in between these poles, a delicate balance, that ultimately emerges as the function of The Handmaid’s Tale. For while Offred’s act of narrating her Gileadean experience is an effort to commemorate it—and her existence as a Handmaid—it is simultaneously an effort to protect herself from being overwritten by this experience, an effort not to yield her consciousness of her own individuality to it. This balance between pre-Gilead selfhood and Gileadean selfhood is a critical one: over-emphasis of either could result in the loss of life, or of hope. Were Offred to fall irrevocably into pre-Gileadean self, as a fellow Handmaid did once at the Red Center, she might never resurface and never escape the regime. At the Red Center when Janine wakes one morning in a trance in which she relives her daily interactions as a waitress in the time before (“Hello…My name’s Janine…Can I get you some coffee to begin with?”), it takes a slap from Offred’s friend Moira to bring her back to the present: “Get back here, [Moira said]. Get right back here! You can’t stay there, you aren’t there anymore…Don’t you know what they’ll do? You go too far away and they just take you up to the Chemistry Lab and shoot you” (Atwood 216). Though a relapse into the past—a “slipping over the edge” (Atwood 217)—would not be as dangerous for Offred, ensconced presumably “in [an] attic or cellar” (303), as it was for Janine, who was in danger of discovery and punishment by the Aunts at any moment, a relapse would be equally detrimental to her chances of survival, as it would render her incapable of a cautious, stealthy escape. But total submission to her imposed Gileadean identity, on the other hand, would defeat the purpose of escape at all: why risk your life and the lives of others in an effort to flee if you no longer have any objection to living as a Handmaid, no longer cling to your former memories and no longer resent the humiliation and subjection that a Handmaid’s existence entails?
Offred’s orchestration of this balance can be seen in a passage in which she contemplates the importance of names to personal identity: “My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I’ll come back to dig up, one day. I think of this name as buried” (Atwood 84). Here Offred shows that she can preserve contact with her past (I have another name), while not allowing this contact to endanger her current position (I think of this name as buried). She narrates in the hope of conducting herself safely towards that ‘one day’ when she can dig up her old life, her treasure.
It is as much through this balancing act as through her authorial elusiveness that we can view Offred as cultivating a layering of consciousness. Offred’s power lies in her ability to generate multiplicity: while in the regime’s view this amounts to her capacity to be fruitful and multiply, for Offred it takes shape in the deliberate proliferation of meaning, in the “heterogeneity [which] manifests itself…in non-calculable musical effects” (Staels 229). In fact, in this generative power of our narrator we can identify a different sort of resistance than the type which Staels indicates. If her vagueness creates the possibility of ‘heterogeneity,’ it does so through its allowance of independent interpretation and conjecture. Such allowance, I believe, is an agent of individual and societal freedom; its restriction functions as a restriction of freedom, and in extremity facilitates oppression. By perpetrating elusiveness, then, Offred fights what twentieth-century philosopher Antonio Gramsci terms ‘the fight of position,’ “in which aggrieved populations seek to undermine the legitimacy of dominant ideology, rather than just a ‘war of maneuver’ aimed at seizing state power” (Gramsci paraphrased in Lipsitz 146). A unique form of resistance, the very unavailability of Offred’s narrative form undermines Gilead’s ideology by its criminal vagueness, rejoining the regime’s discourse of certainty with her private legitimation of uncertainty.
In an age when “alternative facts” abound, we are not in immediate danger of losing polyvalence in perspective. But with the ruling figure of the United States constantly clamoring to discredit the press—in deference to his own version of events—we find our nation uniquely ripe for the receiving of Offred’s warning. Both the content and the structure of her tale demonstrate how the denial of alternative discourses and alternative narratives denies the existence of certain populations, of certain lives and emotions and memories. Heterogeneity, Offred whispers, is worth fighting for.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor Books, 1998.
Dvorak, Marta. “What is Real/Reel? Margaret Atwood’s ‘Rearrangement of Shapes on a Flat Surface’ or Narration as Collage.” Etudes Anglaises, Vol. 51, Call No. PR1.E85, Accessed May 8 2017.
Garlick, Barbara. “The Handmaid’s Tale: Narrative Voice and the Primacy of the Tale.” Twentieth-Century Fantasists: Essays on Culture, Society, and Belief in Twentieth-Century Mythopoeic Literature, edited by Kath Filmer, McMillan Press 1992, 161-171.
Lipsitz, George. “The Struggle for Hegemony.” The Journal of American History, Vol. 75, No. 1, 1988, pp. 146-150. www.jstor.org/stable/1889660. Accessed May 8 2017.
Staels, Hilde. “Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale: Resistance Through Narrating.” English Studies 76, no. 5,1995. pp. 455-468. Accessed May 3 2017.
Satan and the Creature in Shelley’s Frankenstein
In Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelly frequently alludes to, and elaborates on, themes from Milton’s Paradise Lost. Throughout the novel she casts her characters in different roles from that great epic, exploiting the moral and philosophical significance such associations necessarily effuse to develop characters and intensify their relationships, specifically that of Creator to his Creation. The most obvious translation of Miltonic figures into Frankenstein is the association of Victor with God—though that scientist failed dismally in the duties which Milton’s God performs for his offspring—and his Creature with Adam. More noteworthy, however, andconstant, is Shelley’s similizing of the Creature with Satan, a connection she draws both explicitly, in the words of the Creature himself, and implicitly, through the evolution of his actions. In this nameless, beleaguered character, Shelly resurrects Milton’s Satan, and revises him. In the Creature she justifies Satan, and renders him the blameless, understandable antihero he couldn’t be in the didactic verses he sprang from.
Shelly wrote Frankenstein at a time when Milton’s legacy was enjoying revived popularity among writers, philosophers, and artists (Schock 2-3). The poet was lionized by proto-Romantics and Romantics to such an extent, in fact, that Shelly’s own mother in 1787 eloquently declared: “I am sick of hearing of the sublimity of Milton” (qtd. in Craciun 699). Particularly, Romantic-era literati had a fixation on Milton’s rendition of Satan: as Peter Schock explains, “Milton’s Satan assumes in the Romantic era a prominence seen never before or since, nearly rivaling Prometheus as the most characteristic mythic figure of the age. A more active and ambiguous mythic agent than the bound, suffering forethinker and benefactor of humanity, the reimagined figure of Milton’s Satan embodied for the age the apotheosis of human desire and power” (3). The historic origin of the “Satanist position” (Wittreich 816) of identifying with and celebrating the Devil is unclear, but Joseph Wittreich explains that a portion of contemporary Miltonists locate its inception in Lord Byron and Percy Shelley while another portion objects to perceiving these poet’s notions as explicit Satanism at all (816). Wittreich explains, “This is the tenor of their argument: taking as gospel Satan's preachments in hell, the Romantics, who read Paradise Lost with indecent haste, have succumbed to his temptation; their unguarded admiration invests in Satan an unqualified sympathy and embraces him as a thoroughly admirable moral agent. Thus Blake, Shelley, and their contemporaries are depicted as intellectually irresponsible, morally derelict, and critically impoverished” (Wittreich 828). Regardless of whether recognizable Satanism originated in these Romantic poets or elsewhere, Wittreich expresses something valuable in the idea that by viewing Satan as a hero Milton’s reader is ‘succumbing to his temptation.’ Stanley Fish writes at length about this temptation in the first chapter of his groundbreaking book Surprised by Sin. As Fish describes it, Milton purposely portrays Satan as magnificent and inspiring in the expectation that his reader will sympathize with the demon, and then turns on the reader and, speaking now through the narrative voice of the epic, condemns him for fulfilling this very expectation (9). Fish interprets Milton’s poetic chide for us: “I know that you have been carried away by what you have just heard; you should not have been; you have made a mistake, just as I knew you would” (9). For to Milton’s mind Satan, who has committed unprovoked a supreme act of blasphemy, deserves every “affliction and dismay” (Milton 1.57) Hell has to offer.
By this logic it is indeed “intellectually irresponsible, morally derelict,” as Wittreich puts it, to view Satan in a sympathetic light. Not so, however, if one removes the inaugural culpability that felled the character in the first place. This is just what Mary Shelley does in Frankenstein when she replicates Satan’s development in the unlucky but fundamentally blameless Creature. The similarities between these characters abound; the divergence characterizes the two reading experiences with entirely antithetical emotions.
The links that Shelley draws between Satan and the Creature of her text center on the most emblematic feature of these two characters: their criminality. Each of the two is introduced to the reader in a state that is wretched and pitiable, and which ignites within each a thirst to be avenged on his creator and to inflict suffering such as that which has been inflicted on himself. This ambition catalyzes the main events of both Paradise Lost and Frankenstein, positioning Satan and the Creature as the driving force, and the crux, of their respective texts.
When we first glimpse Satan, he has been cast off by God and lies “vanquisht, rowling in the fiery Gulfe” of hell (Milton 1.52), and when we meet Frankenstein’s Creature he is waking in a dim laboratory to behold his creator fleeing his presence, filled with “breathless horror and disgust” (Shelley). Both figures at the time of their creations are pure and good, and become evil when they are prompted to doubt the affection of their creators. In Milton’s epic, Satan initially ranks “of the first, / If not the first Arch-Angel, great in Power, / In favour and præeminence,” but waxes evil when he conceives a jealousy for god’s newly-begotten Son, whose supreme claim on the Father’s love he “could not beare…& thought himself impaird” (Milton 5.659-661, 664-655). Infuriated by this perceived ebb of love for him in his Creator, Satan challenges God and is subsequently banished to Hell. Similarly, Frankenstein’s Creature was created naive and mild, deriving pleasure from such trifles as the singing of a thrush and the clandestine gathering of firewood for ‘his cottagers’. “I was benevolent,” he explains at one point to his skeptical progenitor; “my soul glowed with love and humanity” (Shelley). He transgresses only after he learns from Victor Frankenstein’s diary of his creator’s abhorrence of him. It is this knowledge, combined with multiple rejections from other humans, which incites him to do what those rejections alone had not, and murder innocent William Frankenstein.
Both characters arrive at a crossroads of sorts a third of the way through their respective texts that rears the possibility of redemption and reform but serves conversely to spur each down a path to irredeemability and absolute villainy. At this crossroads, which hinges on Book Four of Paradise Lost and Chapter Seven of Frankenstein, both characters yearn to be included in mankind, but, learning that they are barred from it, determine instead to ruin it in belligerence towards their Creators. For Satan, this moment arrives when he understands how utterly he is excluded from the joys and privileges of God’s universe, embodied for him by the nascent human race, “whom [his] thoughts pursue / With wonder, and could love” (Milton 4.362-63). As he views Paradise for the first time, he is overcome by sensations of “envie” but also of earnest remorse, and he exhorts himself “O then at last relent: is there no place / Left for Repentance, none for Pardon left?” (Milton 4.115, 79-80). It is Satan himself, however, who rejects the idea of reform because, he reasons, even if he “could obtaine / By Act of Grace [his] former state…ease would recant / Vows made in pain,” and he would sin again (Milton 4.93-98). This projected recapitulation of corruption is, like all events, already “known” by God, “therefore as farr / From granting hee, as I from begging peace” is the conclusion of Satan’s fleeting consideration of repentance (Milton 5.103-104).
Hence Satan never delivers a request to his Creator; Frankenstein’s Creature, on the other hand, does. The Creature’s opportunity for reform arrives when he asks Frankenstein to engineer him a companion, vowing that his lost “virtues will necessarily arise when [he lives] in communion with an equal” (Shelley). And while God can preempt the outcome of Satan’s unproposed proposition, Frankenstein cannot know what might follow the fulfillment of his Creature’s request: not having seen these previous virtues first hand, he doubts the Creature’s good intent. Thus the scientist denies his Creature in ignorance the redemption God would have denied Satan in wisdom, both to the same effect: Satan’s “evil be thou my good” is echoed in the Creature’s “I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear” (Milton 4.110, Shelley). Subsequently the one commits himself to further evil via the ruination of Adam and Eve and the other via the the ruination of the extended Frankenstein family.
To understand the operative distinction Shelley fashions between her Creature and Satan, we must consider their acts through a lens of context and motivation. As cultural anthropologist Francois Flahault explains, malice can best be comprehended through an investigation of “the historical, social, ideological, organizational and other conditions which can trigger the logic of destruction and set it in motion” (qtd. in Butchart, 177). A look at these ‘conditions,’ especially the social one, in the lives of our fiendish characters provides insight into their fundamental principles, the underlying intentions where their vital difference lies. Satan, we learn from Raphael’s conversation with Adam, as well as from his own admission in Book Four, first acted evilly in reaction to an imagined lack of love for him in his creator, while Shelley’s Creature first acted evilly in reaction to a real lack of love for him in his creator. The one was purposeless, unprovoked; the other purposeful and legitimized. Later this disparity asserts itself in the objectives undertaken by the characters’ second evils, that genuine malice which is brought about through the deliberate decision expressed by each at his ‘crossroads’ moment. Here, Satan sins hopeless of any benefit proceeding from his crimes, other than perhaps the momentary gratification of causing pain in his creator. As he meditates on the act he is about to commit, the fiend admits that he does not “hope to be my self less miserable / By what I seek, but others to make such / As I” (Milton 9.126-128). The Creature, on the other hand, is driven to evil for its capacity of extortion, its utility in achieving a desired end. And what he hopes his malice will achieve, essentially, is his happiness in the existence of a companion, and arguably his creator’s happiness as well, for, as David Marshall explains, the eighteenth-century concept of sympathy suggested “putting oneself in the place of someone else, taking someone else's part—a general condition or act, related to the modern word ‘empathy,’ of which pity, compassion, and commiseration are only specific examples” (qtd. in Hustis 848). Bringing happiness to the Creature would then bring happiness to Frankenstein, if the scientist were truly ‘putting himself in the place’ of his creation. But of course he is not, and “the monster’s transformation from failed Adam to fallen angel to malignant devil is the result of the neglect of his all too ungodly creator” (Lewis 280). By replicating Satan without this innate ill-intent of his, and with the desire for serenity and virtue which he wholly lacked, Shelley resolves for the sensitive reader that moral dilemma Fish observes in Paradise Lost. It is by this subtraction and addition, this amendment to the “conditions which…trigger the logic of destruction” in Satan, that she truly justifies the antihero and renders him, incarnate in the Creature, worthy of the acclaim he receives.
This exquisite interaction between Frankenstein and Paradise Lost lends to the whole of Mary Shelley’s novel an oppressive air of tragedy, for the Creature, like Satan, is left at the close of the text with imminent doom looming over his head. Readers at the time would have been aware of the extended Satanic analogy Shelley has drawn, and noted the uncomfortable distinction it produces at the end of the novel: while the prospect of Satan’s punishment at “the Judgement” (Milton 10.81) is a welcome remediation to our lingering sensitivity to the demon’s offense, the Creature’s professed intent of suicide (“I shall collect my funeral pile, and consume to ashes this miserable frame”) elicits doubt and even disappointment. For if “Milton forces us to acknowledge the personal relevance of the Arch-fiend’s existence” (Fish 22), Shelley brings that existence yet a degree closer to our experience by making the Creature pitiable, perhaps even lovable. Are we, as readers, lead to feel dissatisfied with Shelley’s promotion of sympathy the way we are with Milton’s prohibition of it? Having sympathized with the Creature in the full Romantic understanding of the word, and put ourselves in his place, are we not then doomed along with him, bound to feel about the course of Shelley’s plot the regret which the Creature feels about his string of ruthless murders? In mourning the fact that in fate, as in inception, the Creature mirrors Satan, we find ourselves mourning the perversion of innocence by hardship. Ironically, the perversion of innocence is Satan’s cardinal offense; in addition, then, to being a reiteration of Satan, the Creature also becomes a victim of the arch-fiend, or of what he stands for. It is the Creature’s stirring regret, in the face of this victimization, that serves to redeem him minutely in the reader’s eyes, and grants the character a rare opportunity for individuality: his expression of ambivalence and remorse over his blasted innocence occurs in the first scene in which the Creature appears in real time, through the narrator’s eyes and not those of his Creator, who is now dead. Freed for a moment here from his likeness to Satan, and from the conflict with Frankenstein which occupied so much of his existence, he appears to us suddenly an “apotheosis of human desire and power,” to repurpose Schock’s characterization of Satan’s heroic appeal. The Creature shows his “desire and power,” however, not solely through his significant malice, but also through his yearning for a happier life, his furious, undying ambition. In his own right, he too is an antihero.
Butchart, Garnet C. “Malice by François Flahault, Liz Heron.” Cultural Critique, no. 63, 2006, pp. 177–181, www.jstor.org/stable/4489251. Accessed April 13 2017.
Craciun, Adriana. "Romantic Satanism and the Rise of Nineteenth-Century Women's Poetry." New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation, vol. 34, no. 4, 2003, pp. 699-721, EBSCOhost, ezproxy.sunyrockland.edu:2048/login?url=http:// search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2004395003&site=ehost- live. Accessed April 8 2017.
Fish, Stanley E. Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost. U. of Calif. P, 1971.
Hustis, Harriet. “Responsible Creativity and the "Modernity" of Mary Shelley's Prometheus.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 43, No. 4, 2003, pp. 845-858. www.jstor.org/stable/462510. Accessed April 15 2017.
Lewis, Paul. "Victor Frankenstein and Owen Warland: The Artist as Satan and as God." Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 14, 1977, pp. 279-282. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.sunyrockland.edu: 2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=mzh&AN=1977107587&site=ehost-live.\. Accessed April 8 2017.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. The John Milton Reading Room, Dartmouth U. www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/pl/book_4/text.shtml
“Romanticism: More Satanic Than Satanism: Part 3 of 3.” thesatanicscholar.com, March 22 2017. thesatanicscholar.com/category/romantic-satanism/#fn16. Accessed April 8 2017.
Schock, Peter A. Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. panOpen, 1818 ed. sunyrockland.panopen.com/reader#/courses/1570/books/4197/chapters/ 2003c9d2f39c8/pages/e00712fc-6452-4d11-91f4-e6de7a1aa524/paragraphs/ 1HpHHIyw8C3WdBFmzJPigpIAdPo-Aa4jTo6eFAYu6tdw_47?_k=y2sn0n. Accessed 17 April 2017.
Wittreich, Joseph Anthony. “The ‘Satanism’ of Blake and Shelley Reconsidered.” Studies in Philology, Vol. 65, No. 5, Oct., 1968, pp. 816-833, www.jstor.org/stable/4173623. Accessed April 9 2017.
A Photo Journal of the Ludicrous, the Lavish, the Lyrical
In mid May I spent three days on the West Coast, in which I visited three cities and worked for three clients. Wednesday was Nordstrom in Seattle, Thursday Dior in LA, and Friday Everlane in San Fransisco. I lucked out with beautiful weather all three days, familiar faces to work with, and thrilling locations to do that work on (as well as an abundance of sedatives to get me to sleep on the two hour flights between each destination). Here are some of the highlights:
—Seeping well in the Seattle Marriott. Like, SOO well. I think I have to go back there just for that bed. No sleepless in Seattle for me!
—Los Angeles acai. This was only my second time in the city of angels but my third time eating at Backyard Bowls, a cafe devoted entirely to acai bowls and which provides the perfect place to refresh, relax, and, if you’re me and confronting the end of the spring semester that week, to finish a term paper on The Handmaid’s Tale.
—The Dior Cruise show. After my acai bowl we all rode a bus an hour out of LA to the Calabasas area, and specifically to a nature preserve called the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon, which was mostly arid hills with dry brown grasses that were home to tarantula-sized spiders and, to uproarious effect, rattle snakes. When we models lined up in the grass for photos, hired men stood around us just out of frame, wearing thigh-high boots and wielding clubs to fend off rattlers.
—Sketching backstage at the Dior Cruise show in Las Virgenes Canyon. Having finished my paper at the hair station (just hours before it was due), I was free to move on to my next homework assignment--from W Magazine. A writer there had asked me to create a brief sketch log of Dior Cruise for them, much like the one I did for French Vogue last year, and this was due the next day. Perched in an un-airconditioned tent on a dry and baking hill surrounded by unsettling wild animals and models (sometimes synonymous), I dashed off a few images from my trip, the full versions of which you can see here.
—Dior afterparty: the Dior Cruise show took place in a fire ring/gypsy camp encircled by tents with "DIOR" blankets and cushions for the guests, and immediately afterwards the tents were converted into food stalls circulating mini servings of salad, tacos, hamburgers and ice creams--and, of course, alcohol. They had these fascinating cocktails that were a mix of green juice (kale and cucumber etc) and vodka, and which were surprisingly tasty, dangerously tasty, and so bemusingly Los Angelan.
—While during the show, music was provided by a live band on African Drums, at the afterparty it was supplied by none other than Solange, robed in white gauze and stationed at the center of the paddock dreamlike with her backups. After she performed, my friend Amanda and I got a picture with her, just cause she happened to walk by, and we were feeling our green juice.
—Amanda scored one of the Dior blankets by kissing its owner on the cheek. An hour later he walked by with another blanket over his shoulder. We tried to snag one for me but as the night wore on guests wised up to just how coveted their new blankets were, and even in the thick of the dance floor in the main tent revelers clung to their rolls like they were security blankets rather than exclusive monogrammed Dior wool throws. That night Amanda and I returned to our room at midnight, and I spent an hour on the shower floor clawing hair extensions off my scalp, pounds and pounds of them. At one am I had to let what glue remained on my head alone and nab a few hours of sleep before my alarm would wake me at 4:30 am for my journey to the next and final city.
—Working literally on the road: During my ride to LAX at 5 am on Friday morning, I conducted a quick interview with my liaison at W Mag. At my gate I painted a quick watercolor of the Las Virgenes Canyon. On the flight I snoozed, and in San Fransisco two hours later I rode an Uber to work, to Everlane studios to get my hair and makeup done.
—That day with Everlane, we shot at the beach outside San Fransisco. It was Friday and beautiful and clear and when we descended the rocky hill to the shore we encountered…a whale. A humpback whale, spouting and breaching and smacking in the surf! I didn’t get pictures, I was too in awe to look away and find my phone. It was the good start of a good shoot, and we were finished by five pm and only slightly sunburned.
—Partner in crime on the Everlane shoot, the angelic-and-impish-in-equal-parts Dilone :)
—Waking the next morning in my San Fransisco hotel, feeling the weight of my term paper, my sketch diary, and my busy week’s schedule lifted off me. And feeling the sunburn, too. But only a little bit :)
—That morning, my last on the West Coast, I met a friend of mine from high school for an avocado toast reunion, the best kind if you ask Marie and me, before catching my flight back to New York, and home.
There were so many surreal and riveting moments on this trip, as there are on all trips, regardless who you are or what you're doing, and I can fairly say that a few of these "highlight" points here will live on beyond this blog and after this career as anecdotes I'll one day tell my grandkids. The mission of the Dior blankets definitely will; the whale greeting will; the rattlesnakes... If nothing else the hair extensions are guaranteed a place in my future, even if it's only because the hair glue won't come off and is still clinging in places to my scalp. These days reminded me why I do what I do. These days reminded me, once again, of the power and the poetry of travel.
A Sketch Diary
Commissioned by W Mag, this story was posted online in May as coverage of the Dior Cruise 2018 show, and included some interview material on me for some reason... See full story here. Thank you Katie Cusamano for making this happen (and writing something such delightful things)!
On Easter morning every year I wake up early—usually to walk to a spring in a gritty red hillside near my house and splash cold water on my face, my head, walk home. This year, though, I woke up early to catch a plane. To Tokyo.
On Easter morning this year JFK was deserted, my flight on Japanese Air was under-booked, and I got to curl up across two adjacent seats while furiously typing away at a Frankenstein paper due that week for my Literature class. I was headed to Japan for Dior’s reshowing of their Spring ‘17 Couture show— it’s customary, I hear, for big luxury brands to take their collections on the road in Asian markets, where many have lucrative client bases. This particular reshowing was of the show I'd already walked in Paris, and was to occur on the roof of a new Dior boutique in a high-end district of Tokyo called Ginza.
But that was still two days away. First came fittings, which afforded us a few nights to (attempt to) adjust to the 13-hour time difference and explore Tokyo, and which felt for all the world like summer camp. A luxurious camp, of course, cause we were all—models, designers, atelier, casting, hair and makeup—put up in the Grand Hyatt in Minato, where our buffet meals in the French dining room were covered by Dior and our fittings took place in a conference room now overgrown with studio lights and racks of taffeta gowns. For three days I shared meals, and a room, with fellow models, and spent my mornings with a pair of other American models wandering the streets of quirky Shibuya and commercial Harujuku. One morning we went to a gallery of cat statues painted on by various artists, and for $15 bought and painted our own plaster cat figures on the spot. Another morning we went to “Kiddyland,” a five-story toy store fabled among Japanese pop-cultural enthusiasts for the unfathomable softness of it’s stuffed pillow-creatures and unprecedented variety of HelloKitty gadgetry. Yet another morning, I went to the National Art Center to see a retrospective of Yayoi Kusama’s painting, garish and lonely and polka-dotted. That wasn’t with the American girls but with a Dutch model—a comment, perhaps, on the distinction between the European and American ways of seeing a place?
But this place, what a place it was. Japan was fantastical and bizarre and inventive. I went there doubtful that I would enjoy it (I’ve always been enchanted by Europe and the Mediterranean; by Asia never), but I left somewhat under Tokyo’s spell. The city was crowded and bustling, but in an impeccably organized, tranquil way: subway platforms were patrolled by stewards who directed us and helped us on and off trains; crosswalks soared above streets on pedestrian overpasses, allowing traffic to move below; and on escalators all the Japanese stood to one side to leave a lane clear for those in a hurry, a practice I find New Yorkers perpetually disregard.
Fascinating was the artificiality of many aspects of the culture (I found a profusion of plastic surgery clinics, diet pills in cucumber-print sachets advertised as “New Yorker’s Superfood Diet,” arcades of photo-booths offering filters to brighten your skin, blush your cheeks, enlarge your eyes). Equally notable, however, was a contrasting authenticity, a quirkiness and idiosyncrasy which made Japan unlike any country I’ve traveled to yet, and which made it surprisingly endearing. Drug stores sold plastic Totoro molds to shape sticky rice in kid’s lunch boxes, and city buses had eyes painted on them. Starbucks peddled cherry-blossom lattes, grocery stores stocked green-tea-flavored Reeces, cantaloupe KitKats, Borsch-flavored Lays. It seemed to me that Japan thrived on a fusion of the high tech with the whimsical: all was aesthetically designed, modern, high-quality and, above all, surprising, imaginative.
When at length the day of the show arrived, that imaginative spirit was not absent. Night had fallen by the time all Dior’s guests were seated on the benches looping around the maze of catwalk on a rooftop commanding a sweeping view of Tokyo. A strong wind had risen and the hair-stylists were mourning the instant demolition of their handiwork as the show soundtrack thundered up from the bowls of huge speakers stationed around the rooftop and we filed out into the warm gale like birds or lilies being torn at and billowed and flung on the night. Needling my way into the wind wall and along the roof’s perimeter, I could see the winking city below me and feel my gown streaming behind me, and the six minutes it took me to complete the circuit were enchanting and exhilarating and made me worry I would lose all my layers of taffeta or be swept into the audience in a dropping purple wad like an iris after a rain. The music boomed, the wind battered, the view glittered and the sky was vast and vehemently mauve. Moments like this, when all your senses are overwhelmed, are filled and roaring with magnificence, are like being removed, existing externally for a moment from your body and seeing time swell around you. Like standing on a pedestrian overpass and watching the traffic stream by.
At the airport on my way out of Tokyo I stocked up on sweet mochi filled with bean paste and some children's origami sheets that I’ll never use but that looked adorable. It was a few days after Easter and I had turned my Frankenstein paper in, and walked for Dior for a second time in my career. I’d walked a show as imaginative and unusual as the city it occurred in, I’d seen artifice and authenticity and how each was equally valid to the identity of this culture and this experience. I’d been enchanted by Tokyo, and it was a few days after Easter. Who knew bean paste could taste so sweet?
Last week I went to Tokyo. For three days--a short stay for flying fourteen hours each way. But oh was it worth it, ever so worth it. Spring was in full force in the Japanese capital, and though I just missed the peak of cherry blossom season, I enjoyed the warm weather and clear skies that were welcome after rainy grey New York. Tokyo was so clear, in fact, that from my window in the Grand Hyatt hotel I could see, 60 miles west of me, Mount Fuji in stately, gleaming white. The legendary peak towered far above its neighboring mountains, and crowned the city with a certainty of presence that made me feel happy to look at, like I'd achieved something in identifying it, noticing it, and had a companion in it. Glancing at each other over the heads of the city buildings, Mt. Fuji and I shared something secret through the vast emptiness between us; a tallness, a detachedness, a constancy that busy, bustling Tokyo did not have, temporary as the city was for me, and evoking fashion as it necessarily did by association with my work. The mountain, though, that was just there. Just earth, Nature, purity and timelessness, and I was glad, in my hotel room, to know it.
Between a rented room in Paris for two weeks and a small brown hotel in Barcelona for five days, and the car rides and flights between them, and the coffee cups and solitary dinners throughout, I wrote this paper about Milton's poetic masterpiece Paradise Lost, an assignment for my three-credit college course that was all the meanwhile convening back in Rockland County miles across the sea. Exploring amazing vegan restaurants at the same time in both cities where I was working, I found the theme of this paper start to ring a little too true! Enjoy, or, Bon Appetite :)
Down the Rabbit Hole of Research that is Milton’s Paradise Lost
In her article “‘For Knowledge is as Food:’ Digesting Gluttony and Temperance in Paradise Lost,” Emily Speller examines Milton’s bountiful food metaphors to show how they color the primary events, and intents, of the poem. Within the intricate and nuanced bounds of religious and cultural interpretations of sin and virtue, she uncovers Milton’s portrayal of gluttony as the vehicle of man’s original disobedience and explores how such a portrayal strengthens the poet’s persistent encouragement of temperance (Speller 1). Such an examination, she says, can help us to understand Milton’s professed objective of “[justifying] the wayes of God to men” (Milton 1.26), as well as the importance of Reason in guiding human beings towards the most ethical and temperate existence accessible to them after their Fall from grace (Speller 17).
Speller portrays gluttony as a central concept in Paradise Lost that Milton’s characters both modify and are modified by. Milton, she explains, uses gluttonous and digestive metaphors to besmirch the “infernal and sinful” (Speller 2) figures in the poem when he describes Satan and his followers in terms evocative of vomit, flatulence, and defecation (Speller 2). This fosters within Milton’s reader a repulsion towards to the inhabitants of Hell, which sentiment Milton extends to entangle Adam and Eve as well when he fashions parallels between the actions—especially those involving the eating of fruit—of the demons and our ‘first parents’ (Speller 3-4). In addition, however, to borrowing from gluttony’s undesirable attributes to rub abhorrence off onto his characters, Milton also does the inverse and uses his characters, especially those whose unpopularity is pre-established, to lend infernal cachet to the concept of gluttony (Speller 4). Speller notes particularly that, in a topos common to Medieval and Early Modern writers, Milton personifies gluttony in the character of Death. She explains that “[b]y giving the formidable shape of Death a ‘Rav’nous Maw,’ Milton depicts not only the terror of death as a product of sin, but also what he believes to be the insidiousness of gluttony” (4). Speller’s apt demonstration here of Milton’s vilification of gluttony, combined with her argument for Adam and Eve’s association with gluttony via comparison with the devils, allows Speller to proceed plausibly to her cardinal claim, namely that the Fall from Grace in Paradise Lost is itself achieved through gluttony (5).
This is essentially an assertion that in Milton’s understanding, humankind arrived at its current state through an act as sensually seditious as it was spiritually so. Speller sets about, through methodical, logical rhetoric that is punctuated by frequent allusions to preceding scholars, proving this claim, and draws evidence for Milton’s belief in the primacy of gluttony from a few of Milton’s own prose works, harvesting from his Commonplace Book the statement that gluttony is intolerable in part “because our first parent sank into it” (Speller 5). Speller proceeds to catalogue the literary history of gluttony as original sin, quoting religious authorities from Augustine to Aquinas as well as Medieval and Early Modern poets on the theme (Speller 5, 7, 10). She conjectures that in representing Adam and Eve’s transgression as gluttonous Milton may have taken a cue from these predecessors: being “familiar with the Church Fathers, Dante, Chaucer and Spenser” (7), she argues, Milton was undeniably aware of the literary tradition this portrayal comprised, and he can reasonably be seen as supplying it “further development in Paradise Lost” (7).
When it comes to definitively locating the particulars of gluttony within Milton’s narration of the Fall in Book Nine, Speller makes use of a diverse host of sources, fashioning from their texts a framework of definitions and distinctions within which she weaves her comparisons and harmonizes centuries of ethical thought to the key of one penetrating poem. With a keen understanding of the nuanced process of and preceding our ‘first parents’ ’ transgression in Paradise Lost, Speller extracts from her sources recondite features of gluttony that each reflect specific aspects of that process. Intriguingly, the source Speller most frequently draws on in this endeavor does not once mention Paradise Lost. The article “Gluttony,” by William Ian Miller, treats it’s namesake theme rather through a social lens, inspecting the inordinate scorn many cultures reserve for gluttony and the way in which it’s historical legacy “as an honored member of a select group of capital sins” (Miller 93) excuses this scorn, allowing us to view obesity, ugliness, and ill-health with antipathy and even reproach (93). For it is Miller who provides most of the historical data on gluttony’s classification which Speller benefits from in her article: Miller relates that as early as the fourth century gluttony was listed at the head of eight deadly sins, and that this arrangement can be found replicated in writings as recent as the thirteenth century, although following the reorganization by Gregory the Great in the sixth century most accounts list pride and avarice first (Miller 93-95). Miller relates that Thomas Aquinas considered gluttony to be a capital sin on the grounds that gluttony has the potential to generate other sins, such as lust and pride, an allegation that Speller shows us is indeed realized by Milton in Paradise Lost when, after their transgression, Adam and Eve’s “desires for food and sex are exacerbated, made increasingly inordinate” (Speller 9). This correlation between Aquinas’ definition and Milton’s verse demonstrates that the Fall in Paradise Lost can be identified as an act of gluttony by the consequences immediately following it.
It is also from Miller that Emily Speller draws the notion that gluttony conscribes more than “the primary meaning of consuming to excess” (Speller 6). On the contrary, Miller tells us that “[f]ollowing distinctions made by Gregory the Great in the sixth century, writings on vices and virtues well into the fifteenth century understood gluttony to have five main branches: eating too soon, too much, too avidly, too richly (in the sense of expensively), and too daintily” (99). Miller explains that this taxonomy of Gregory’s is an elaboration on an ecclesiastic tradition of viewing gluttony as comprised of quantitive excesses (such as eating “too much”), and qualitative excesses (such as eating “too daintily”) (Miller 103). The first, Miller writes, can be characterized as “vulgar masculine” (105), and the second “vulgar feminine; one low-class, the other pretentiously claiming for itself the superiority of expertise and highness, but often taking on the style of an unintended parody of highness” (105-6). Speller grafts this passage meticulously onto our understanding of the Fall in Paradise Lost when she asserts that Milton’s Eve commits both types of gluttony: initially she eats discriminately, when “[i]n an ‘unintended parody of highness,’ she first chooses to act beyond her human limits” (Speller 10) and partake of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then she eats indiscriminately, when by Milton’s account she doesn’t hesitate “to iterate / Her former trespass” (Milton 9.1005-6) and partake again alongside Adam (Speller 10). As Speller points out, this “second helping of sin goes beyond the satiety she experienced earlier, complicating an already criminal act” (9). In thus dissecting the sequence of distinct acts that comprise this most vital scene of Milton’s epic, Speller illustrates another scheme by which man’s transgression in Paradise Lost may be understood as gluttonous. These vivid items of evidence that Miller provides, both that of gluttony’s alleged generation of further deadly sins and that of gluttony as a qualitative as well as quantitative excess, comprise the essence of Speller’s case for the gluttonousness of Milton’s version of Fall, demonstrating that a text written in another discipline and with an entirely distinct purpose, if thorough and well presented, may prove an essential source even to the most specialized of unrelated arguments.
Another source Speller mentions in her text is one that illuminates gluttony’s counterpart quality of temperance. True to her titular purpose of “Digesting Gluttony and Temperance in Paradise Lost,” Speller turns her focus to Milton’s cynosure of moderation after having established his condemnation of gluttony via its part in the ruin of humanity. Joshua Scodel is author of Excess and the Mean in Early Modern English Literature, a book that treats of the popular, philosophical, and controversial concept of the middle ground. His introductory chapter summarizes English writers’ fixation on this Aristotelian juxtaposition of excess and deficiency, and describes Milton as writing Paradise Lost in a time when excess was widely exalted in Cavalier symposiastic verse (Scodel 11-16). On the contrary Milton, Scodel writes, glorified self-restraint and a moderate lifestyle, partly as moral advice to his fellow men and partly as censure of his Royalist contemporaries (Scodel 16).
Speller seizes on Scodel’s brief characterization of Miltonic Paradise and proves immensely resourceful in spinning it into corroboration for one of the points she strives to make about Milton’s use of temperance. “Milton,” Scodel writes, “presents unfallen Adam and Eve as models of a partially recoverable ideal” (17). Speller uses this quote initially to demonstrate the idealized nature of Adam and Eve’s prelapsarian life, and it leads her into a discussion of the various manifestations of temperance in Milton’s text. She revisits it later in her text, however, with an eye to its connotations for the future: as Speller asserts, “[t]he final books of Paradise Lost are especially important because they take place in a postlapsarian world and can thereby advise the reader in the management his own fallen condition” (Speller 11). The potential for the ‘partial recovery’ of Miltonic Paradise, she argues, lies in the Archangel Michael’s advice to Adam to infuse all his actions with virtue, charity, and temperance, a passage that Speller argues “illustrate[s] the hope that Adam through moral striving may find a ‘partially recoverable,’ felicitous internal balance no longer possible outside the self, due to the changed nature of a world fallen askew” (Speller 14-15). Speller identifies additional evidence for the recoverability of Paradise in the fact that Milton himself believed that an appropriate amount of pleasure was good and even necessary to human life, as long as it was of course accompanied by temperance, an opinion for which Speller found evidence in Paradise Lost’s “Dinner Party” scene, when Raphael and the mortal couple exalt in God’s delicious bounty and yet only eat “until they had suffic’t, / Not burd’n’d nature” (Milton 5.451-52), as well as in a paragraph of Milton’s Areopagitica in which “pleasures are defended when, ‘rightly temper’d,’ they form ‘the very ingredients of vertu’” (Speller 8.) The corroboration of these passages from two separate Miltonic texts, Speller argues, “suggests that Scodel is correct in assuming that Milton believes the Edenic ideal is ‘partially recoverable’” (Speller 8), a suggestion which would in turn imply the validity of Speller’s assertion that the last two books of Paradise Lost are chiefly a guide to how postlapsarian man should best conduct himself.
Viewing Paradise Lost, as Speller does, through its digestive imagery, clarifies the ethical and practical values expressed by the poem. To my mind, gluttony’s position as primary evil and temperance’s as ultimate good reveal the thoroughly Puritan nucleus of milton’s worldview, showing his work to be informed by intolerance of ritual and excess, and by the all-permeating Puritan tenet of “everything in moderation” (gettysburg.edu). Speller’s analysis of Paradise Lost reveals another pillar of Miltonic nomos: his ascription to monism, or the belief that “there is a single origin or destination for all the elements or beings within a system” (Speller 15, OED). If all things come from and return to god, one must assume that the evils of the world must somehow each evolve to serve an ultimately noble purpose. With this conviction in mind, one might reasonably regard Milton’s depiction of Paradise as ‘partially recoverable’ as an attempt to reconcile God’s omnipotence with the existence evil. The final two books of Paradise Lost, then, beyond being readable as advice to “the reader in the management his own fallen condition” (Speller 11), may perhaps be interpreted as the poet’s amendment to the tragic consummation of God’s expressed foresight of man’s Fall in Paradise Lost. After all, Satan’s penetration of Eden, temptation of Eve, and the entry of Death and Sin into the world were all permitted by Milton’s God, a fact which is held to be primarily justified in the prospect of the Eschaton (Milton 10.623-37, Speller 4). But Milton may intend to further remediate the evil of man’s intellectual and physical engorging—of the triumph of inordinacy and ‘parodied highness’—by extending, via Michael, the prospect of the “felicitous internal balance” that Speller describes (15). Perhaps it is in this, Michael’s intimation, that we can see Milton truly fulfilling his endeavor to “justifie the wayes of God to men” (1.26), via dialogue and scenes of his own devising rather than the mere honoring of a centuries-old religious theory like that of the Eschaton. Perhaps it is in this, the promise of renewed opportunity for feats of temperance over gluttony, that we can find a degree of redemption in the postlapsarian world.
Aquinas, Thomas. “Summa Theologica.” dhspriory.org, Benziger Bros. ed, 1947. dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/SS/SS148.html#SSQ148OUTP1. Accessed 19 March 2017.
Gettysburg.edu. “The Puritan Beliefs.” www3.gettysburg.edu/~tshannon/hist106web/ site15/bobs/puritanbeliefpage11.htm. Accessed 21 March 2017.
Miller, William Ian. “Gluttony.” Representations, no. 60, 1997, pp. 92–112., www.jstor.org/stable/2928807. Accessed 14 March 2017.
Oxford English Dictionary. “Monism,” entry 2. ezproxy.sunyrockland.edu:2098/view/ Entry/121244?redirectedFrom=monism#eid. Accessed 21 March 2017.
Scodel, Joshua. Excess and the Mean in Early Modern English Literature. Princeton University Press, 2002.
Speller, Emily E. “‘For Knowledge Is As Food’: Digesting Gluttony and Temperance in Paradise Lost.” Early English Studies, vol. 2, www.uta.edu/english/ees/ fulltext/speller2.html. Accessed 14 March 2017.
A memorialization of a rare sunny blue-skied day in Paris! Of the Musee de la Vie Romantique (known in English as the museum of romanticism) with my friend Camille who is studying writing and music at the Sorbonne this semester and in whom I've found a health-food-freak, art-admirer, and literary geek to (can it be) match my own health-food-freakish, art-admiring, literary geeking self. Long live blue skies, long live museums, long live vegan restaurants we discovered on our way to the museum, long live renewed friendship.
8 hours on a plane / is as long as a night. / The darkness like a tunnel before you / and the lights of so many you's and / me's / and our screens.
I just realized
that Ugh many times over
Last day of January, / grasping the hours / that inch. / Will we learn to live / without moaning our living? / Oh, these gyrations / of the sleepless mind.
Yes, today is Thursday. But This morning I awoke to a glorious white world of blizzard, and could not go to New York for Fashion Week castings, and could not go to school for my morning English course, and my family could not go to work or school either and we had coffees, and a fire going, and coffees... And it felt for all the world like Sunday, and it felt for all the world like a magical hiatus from the routines of life. And the best part was the surprise in it all, and I and everyone was grateful.
I have a fair quantity of curls on my head. They're no ringlets, of course, but moderately coiled nonetheless, and usually unruly. It's something I consider a defining feature of mine, and something I struggle to protect, because on 90% of my modeling jobs my hair is straightened. Exhaustively straightened, unrepentantly straightened. It strikes me as a knee jerk reaction—as soon as they see me enter the room, and almost without considering what they're doing, hairstylists plug in their irons, section off my hair, and set to work on what can be up to an hour spent transforming my appearance. This has come to distress me over the past two years, and so I was especially conscious of, and peeved by, a certain occurrence backstage at a show this winter…
The season was Pre-Fall, the collection one largely of furs, gypsy skirts, and silk evening gowns. Small teams of hair and makeup artists were on site to primp me and twenty odd other models for the show. Once we were all dressed and in “lineup,” I noticed that the hair stylists had left the hair of all the African American models natural, untouched almost, with its unique volume, texture, and structure gloriously intact. All the caucasian models, on the other hand, had their hair exhaustively straightened by flat-iron into exaggerated linearity that defied, in the cases of hair with texture like mine, the very keratin of each strand on our heads.
This pattern revealed a fundamental inequity in the reasoning which had been used to determine the hair-styling procedure for a given model, for if the decision of which model’s hair to straighten and which model’s hair to let alone was not based on a consideration of the original state of the model’s hair, which I was living proof it was not, it could only then be based on a consideration of skin color. Hence the application of the flat-iron, an instrument that parches hair follicles and splits brittle hair ends, to say nothing of the damage incurred through the toxic sprays and mousses that aid its efficacy, was purely discriminatory, and what's more, racially so. It went unnoticed, by all but me, because of its trivial, even frivolous nature and its inconsistence with racial inequity as we more frequently see it: this particular differentiation recognized a right (the right to naturalness) of African American models and denied that right to caucasian models.
And it is this, the right to naturalness, that suffered here most. For this irrational approach to hair styling championed what one ought to look like over what one does look like, subordinating recognition of nature to veneration of archetype—and, as this archetype involved the correlation of ethnicity with appearance, hence of stereotype. It was clear that amid the haphazard backstage preparations, someone, consciously or unconsciously, had divorced corporeal authenticity from ethnicity—two things which should naturally be conjoined—and superimposed a certain artificial feature on a certain ethnicity with no firmer basis than the hue of a hide.
I don’t seek to justify or condemn the decisions of the hair stylist at this show, but rather question how the industry of Fashion can claim to be culturally liberal and ‘cutting edge’ while perpetrating, and hence exemplifying to the masses under its influence, ethnic stereotypes of appearance. Differentiation by race is a slippery slope in any scenario, but in this industry it is uniquely dangerous for the very reason that thousands of people, youth especially, follow, admire, and hang on its every dictate and insinuation. In selectively applying electricity—the heat of an iron—to alter a person’s surface, the designer, the hair stylist, the presentation of this collection at large jeopardizes society’s appreciation for the full scope of variation in human traits, the exquisite idiosyncrasies that make us ourselves.
More often than not, a fashion model’s situation is little applicable outside the surreal niche that is our industry. The lesson learned from the hair straightening case, however, actually can be applied elsewhere, for few would deny that human beings in general should be valued without having to be revised into more aesthetically acceptable, more socially coherent variations. As the designer of the show said of me when he came backstage to review the preparations that morning, “I wish her hair was left a little more her own,” and I personally wished it had been left entirely my own! If Fashion be the bastion of style and individuality, it has a duty then to value individuality, and a duty to diminish, not fortify, our culture’s long-ingrained differentiation between races. In that sense, and in the sense that it remains deceptively covert, this is one trend, I think, that bears bucking.
There's Christmas / and nostalgic me / Heaving meaning from / a day. Our table / in the sun.
Another little homemade postcard, this one from Barcelona, Spain, where I spent the past week shooting for Massimo Dutti inside a huge post-apocalyptic warehouse on the huge Inditex compound an hour outside of the city. I had one free afternoon, however, on the day I arrived, to cram full of beautiful Barcelona sights, and my first stop was Gaudi's famed Sagrada Familia basilica. Words cannot do justice to its staggering beauty....and nor can my scraggly pen scratchings! But you get the idea of it...maybe :P
And How They Met in the Middle
AH, at last. This is a satisfying feeling, this walking on moss, sinking the heels of my spindly black slippers into the sod with each step. This is a satisfying feeling, walking for Dior. It’s January and Couture week in Paris and I’ve never walked for Dior before. I came to expect I never would, and I don’t really realize I truly am until in the very act of it, rounding a bend of this forest runway constructed by famed florist Eric Chauvin within the walls of the Musee Rodin.
“Look where I’ve landed,” I think to myself. “Smack in the greenery, and the couture fantasy of Dior,” and I fall into rhythm with the music and concentrate on kicking my long skirt out before me and gaze all the while just above the heads of the audience members. And just above their heads are hedges, a backdrop of leaves upon leaves upon leaves, and just a moment ago backstage I uploaded my last blog post, about Frida and her botanical bent and “the unbearable beauty of leaves.” And this particular detached line I’ve just typed unspools itself in my head at this moment, an unexpected collision of my literary reality and my physical reality, I couldn’t have timed this better if I’d written it. It’s a symphony of strangeness in my mid-runway mind, and it’s heightened by another memory that asserts itself at this moment, a rather less recent, but more related recollection…
My first ever couture fitting was for Dior. The year was 2014, the month July, and I was 17 and staying in a Montparnasse walkup with my mom and brother for the duration of the Paris couture season. At 10 pm one memorable Sunday night—the night before the Dior show, in fact—I was picked up by one of my agents and spirited across the Seine to the Right Bank of Paris and the grand, imposing Dior headquarters.
With chic white sofas and walls all made of mirror, the interior struck me as one of those carnival funhouses that aim to get you lost. This, however, was not exactly a funhouse for me. I was petrified. Through a lobby of mirrors, down a hall of mirrors, and into an elevator of mirrors, I arrived at the basement fitting room awed and trembling. Dressed in one dress after another and sent into the inner sanctum to walk for then-creative director Raf Simmons, nothing worked. First the shoes I was given to wear were two sizes too big, strappy and spindly creations that had a habit of remaining on the floor while my foot moved forward across the showroom. Returning a moment later with my shoes stuffed and taped in place, it was simply that the overall effect of my outfit wasn’t what was desired, and this was the case also with the second outfit they tried, and the third, and the fourth…
At last, the fifth look I donned hit the spot, whatever spot that is where an image, a draping of fabric and nuance of color, a synching and a sheen resonates as the realization, or near recreation, of a sublime artistic vision. What did the trick in the end was a black nylon jumpsuit, billowy and almost parka-like, synched at the waist with a black studded belt. A black nylon jumpsuit, and Raf saw that it was good. A black nylon jumpsuit, memorialized on me in a polaroid to be tacked to my rack at the show the next morning.
Hunched behind a large glass table, Raf Simmons was a mastermind of modern couture. Throughout all the five hours I spent down in that fitting room he was chain smoking and pleating his dark, wild eyebrows. I recall wondering if he always looked so menacing, or if it was just because it was 3 am now and less than twelve hours remained before these looks, some of which were still held together by pins and many of which were as yet unassigned to models, would be sent down one of the most highly publicized runways of the year. Under those circumstances, I thought, I’d scowl too.
When my outfit was in order, my shoes labeled with my name and packed away with the appropriate glues and tapes for the next day, I was dismissed, and stepped out into the cool, silent street. It was just before dawn in Paris. A car took me back to my apartment to crawl into bed beside my brother and fight the odds for sleep…
But it turned out the next morning that the black nylon jumpsuit hadn't hit the spot after all, or rather that Dior had found someone taller than me with whom to hit it, and just like that my thrilling couture debut was off. I am firmly of the belief that something good blossoms from every hitch or mishap of our lives (increased citizen unity a silver lining of Trump’s election?), but at that time I was still getting used to the unglamorous nature of my occupation—the rejections and uncertainties—and I had to try hard to find the good in being dropped from Dior on such shatteringly short notice.
I could, I thought, appreciate the fashion insight that my night in Dior’s basement had offered me: a closer look at an industry I had just been inducted into and was still considerably confused by. I had, after all, been given the chance that night to observe the inner workings of the most elevated and elite of our culture’s sartorial strivings, and I was struck by how just like everything else it was. Men and women rushing to pair shoes with dresses, trembling over a fraying serge and exulting at a harmonious marriage of hues. I remember wondering at the apparently trivial nature of spending hours, nights, debating the matching of a shoe to a dress when set against the bigger picture of the world. But for those who work in fashion, wasn’t this their bigger picture, their world? A mode of expressing beauty, their own earnest, yearning attempt at perfection.
I step buoyantly off the magical moss catwalk. I’m grinning hopelessly, happy for many reasons, not least of them the fact that I managed not to trip over my long dress or leave a shoe behind in the turf. Two and a half years after that initial nerve-wracked Dior fitting, I can say I still worry just as much about falling on a catwalk as I did when I got started, and two and a half years later I can say I take this job’s gains and losses in a bit better stride. I can say I’ve learned loads about la mode and the line of business I now call my own—many blog posts’ worth, in fact; sleepless nights’ worth, transatlantic flights worth and elusive black jumpsuits’ worth. Two and a half years later I can say I’ve seen the intersection of literary and physical realities and the unbearable beauty of leaves. Two and a half years later I can say I’ve walked for Dior.
Ah, at last.