Sir Gawain in the closet of Knights?

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When I first read the kiss scenes between Bertilak it was quite shocking. I did not expect any kind of homoerotic imagery such as provided by the kiss scenes, from a text that was written around the 14th century. Therefore, I appreciated Carolyn Dinshaw’s interpretation in the journal article, “A Kiss Is Just a Kiss: Heterosexuality and Its Consolations in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, which gave me the opportunity to think more deeply on the subject.  Dinshaw argues that the inclusion of the kiss scene between the two men was a way of reinforcing heteronormativity. The article helped me to understand how important sexuality is for identity during that period. Dinshaw asserts that, “there is good  late medieval evidence that sexual acts were fundamental to an individual subject’s sense of self and location in larger cultural structures (207). Thus, sexual acts helped one to create their identity. Does this then mean that one is without an identity of they do not engage in any sexual activities? I think that it would be more appropriate to consider this “sense of self” to be a sense of the sexual and desiring self. This seems to be about sexual identity.

With the background knowledge that heteronormativity and performance of gender roles were important to the maintenance of the social structures in the medieval era, I found that I do not quite agree with Dinshaw. I think that the text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, uses the kiss scenes to subtly resist heteronormativity. The encounter between Gawain and the lady seemed to be a Biblical allusion to Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.  In both stories, there is a reversal in the stereotypical gender roles where the lady is doing the chasing and the man is being chased. The story from the Bible results in Joseph fully resisting the seduction of his master’s wife and being thrown into jail. However, in Sir Gawain, the lady who is also married to Bertilak, the “master” of the castle at which Gawain was staying, successfully steals a kiss from him. I think that this parallel is important in the discussion of sexual normativity because it breaks the conventions of a typical lady, who should allow herself to be the damsel that is pursued by the knight.

Another way in which the text may be showing a resistance rather than reinforcement of heteronormativity is through the fact the kisses are passed on more than once. It can be argued that Gawain wanted to restore his masculinity by allowing the lady to attempt to seduce him again. However, given that he is aware that he must give whatever he receives to a man, yet does not refuse the kiss of the lady, indicates that he was not repulsed by the kiss with Bertilak. In fact, Gawain could have found an excuse to not kiss the lady a second or third time, he could have also found a way to receive something else to give to Bertilak, but he did not. There is significance in the repetition of the action as well as the increase in the amount of times the actions is repeated. This also relates to sexual identity because Gawain is resistant of the lady yet willing toward the man, which may indicate that he is discovering his own preferences. This can be read as Gawain’s resistance of the norm.

 

Read My Mind: Actually Don’t

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Savarese and Zunshine argue that theory of mind or mindreading is the involved cognitive adaptation that prompts us to explain observable behavior as caused by unobservable mental states, such as thoughts, feelings, and intentions (21). Savarese and Zunshine make a valid argument that mindreading “limits our perception”, however, it can also allow one to attempt to understand the other. I think that mindreading should be viewed as a way of empathizing and resonating with each other rather than as something that is used to essentialize the other. This is quite evident in Alberto Rios’ short story “The Back of My Own Head in a Crowd”. The main protagonist misses her husband who has somehow disappeared and finds him in the memories they shared. The story is complicated with the multiplicity of the self, which is found in others, including inanimate objects. This deeply represents the ways in which we interact with the world by forming connections between ourselves and the people or things around us. This connects to Theory of mind because in a way, this mental assessing of the other can be viewed as searching for ourselves or our own mentality in them.

It we inspect the way that we assess literature and the relationship of readers to characters and reading the mind of those characters or even the authors themselves, we can gain insight about a text, certain period, or people in doing this. In the case of someone who has a disability within the autism spectrum or otherwise, those who are unable to share their experiences may only be able to understand such people through theory of mind. There is the “dark side” to mindreading but there is also a side that allows us to coexist; it helps us to relate to the other. ‘

That being said, I really am torn because I also agree with the serious danger of essentializing that presents itself as “mindblindness”. This is actually evident in the aftermath of the recent election. Trump is now the president of America and he has put himself in a position to represent many of the things wrong with the world i.e. racism, prejudice, misogyny, bigotry, etc. While these traits may be desirable to many (of course…), the more rational population will likely assume that anyone who supports Trump, possesses or supports at the very least, such qualities as his. This is where tension arises between trying to understand for the sake of the other or for the sake of creating labels. For instance, in “Bartleby”, the Lawyer is very observant of the character, Bartleby, and even praises himself for being so good to someone who is so different. He labels Bartleby by saying, “I think he’s a little deranged” (237). This is a great example of how theory of mind can be misused. The lawyer is not trying to understand Bartleby, but diagnose his difference.

However, it is possible that the dangers of theory of mind or more specifically “mindblindness” can be pacifies by the good it can do in understanding each other.

The Curious Meeting of Three Strangers at a Bus Stop

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Michiko Kakutani: (Walks up to a bus stop holding the book Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon.)
Greg Olear: Excuse me, have you read that book.
Michiko: Why yes I have. I recommend that you read it too.
Greg: Ha! Unfortunately, I have. That book is utter trash!
Michiko: I beg your pardon? I happen to think that Mark Haddon does a great job in his portrayal of the main protagonist and constructs a plot that we can all learn from.
Greg: You’re clearly delusional lady! My kid has Asperger’s and this book is about the worst thing that can happen for his future. It perpetuates so many negative stereotypes about kids like him. I’ve done my research on this guy and he ain’t no expert. He even says so himself in a blog I read. None of the “aspie” critics think it’s accurate either!
William Schofield: Somebody needs a chill pill. Says under breath.
Greg: Excuse me?! You got something to say pal?
William: Well…um…actually I-I’ve actually read that book as well. And to-uh agree with the lady here, I thought it was pretty interesting.
Greg: Who asked you anyway.
William: Actually, you just did sir.
Greg: Listen, you don’t know what it’s like to be a father who has to not only worry about your kid who has a disorder but also the way people are gonna treat him because of this book.
William: You’re right. I don’t. But I do have Asperger’s syndrome and I think that Haddon’ s portrayals are pretty accurate. Although Haddon only ever mentions Christopher as having “some disability”, I can resonate with the character.
Michiko: I agree with you kid. I don’t think Haddon is claiming to be an expert here, but he’s showing that he sympathizes with the character and this novel may be an attempt to understand the disorder a little better.
William: Exactly.
Greg: Forget you both! No one cares what you two think anyway! My son now has to live with the damage done by Haddon’s book and that’s that. Walks to other side of bus stop.
William: Poor guy. He must be taking the news of his son having Asperger’s pretty badly.
Michiko: Yeah

I especially wanted to write about Greg Olear and William Schofield because they contrasted so well. Olear’s tone made it seem like he was yelling through his entire review and it was clear that he only began to really care about Haddon’s novel after the diagnosis of his son with Asperger’s. Schofield was the perfect contender because he has Asperger’s just like Olear’s son. This contrast really made me think about Murray and how he argues that all autistic people are individuals and therefore experience the disorder differently. While many of the critics that Olear mentions do not think Haddon gives an accurate portrayal of people with Asperger’s, Schofield does. He also does so in a somewhat objective way, by making a comparison specifically about having “some kind” of disability. This shows that Haddon’s novel is subjective and may resonate with some while rebounding off others.

 

 

 

Piggybacking Stuart [a] Little

 

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I decided to begin reading Stuart Murray’s, Representing Autism, before starting Mukhopadhyay’s, How Can I Talk if my Lips Don’t Move. Almost immediately, I realized that I was  entering Mukhopadhyay’s work with an already  presupposed narrative about autism. I have not had any real life encounters with an autistic person (that I am aware) and the only experience I have had with it is through the representations in the media i.e. television and movies. I was also exposed to a very vague explanation ad about autism through the Learn the Signs Ad council campaign. My initial ideas about autism was that it affected the way children read words and that those children are extremely reserved. However, I was not aware of other symptoms that Mukhopadhyay experiences and Stuart also mentioned. Having hands flapping around during an episode or being unable to experience more than one sense at a time came as unexpected.

It is clear that I  was only exposed to what Murray states as the, “stories, accounts and versions that create an idea of autism rather than try to reflect one”. This makes me question whether the media or anyone who writes about autism have a responsibility to accuracy in their dissemination of the topic. I think that this is why work like Mukhopadhyay and the other authors Murray mentions are necessary. While the misconceptions about autism are more widely spread because of the media, having accurate accounts on the subject can begin the work of correcting these “created” stories.

I was also very interested in the media profiling aspect of autistic criminals. Murray asserts that, “increasingly autism and Asperger’s feature in the media profiles of those accused of crime…” I automatically began to think about the connection this could have to racial profiling and portrayals in the media. It seems to be important for the media to assure the public that, whatever the crime committed, it was done by someone who was not “normal”. This separates “us” from “them”. It is the idea of the self versus the other. This brings me to the topic of identity. Stuart States that, “Neurologically and semantically, autism is constituted primarily in terms of the individual and with individual emphases”. The insertion and repetition of the individual indicates that each person with autism has their own specific identity and different way of experiencing the disorder.  Autism does not define autistic individuals, but rather informs the way they experience the world and communicate.

Invisible Self Searching

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In many ways, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man encapsulates and even illuminates many of Du Bois’ ideas surrounding double consciousness. Chapter I of The Souls of Black Folk, addresses many of the struggles about self and identity that Ellison’s narrator undergoes due to the perceptions of various societal groups. In both texts, each of the authors outline a kind of erasure of the self.

Du Bois refers to this double consciousness as, “measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” In this same way, the narrator of Invisible Man measures himself in accordance with the estimations of those around him. Ellison’s protagonist states, “All my life I had been looking for something and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory.” The narrator struggles with who he is because of how others see him, but he soon realizes that he should not be searching for affirmation in anyone other than himself (there is, however, the question of how much of the self is always already manipulated by societal values).

Du Bois employs a number of Biblical allusions throughout the chapter and I became concerned with their function due to the frequency of their appearances. It soon occurred to me that the chapter is titled “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”, which may denote a religious or transcendent journey. There are numerous markers that relate to the journey of the Israelites to the Promised which may symbolize the process of self-discovery as a difficult one, with many obstacles.

However, there is a shift in the subject and timeline of the allusions and Du Bois refers to “social degradation [as] the burden [the black man] bore upon his back.” This analogy between the burden of identity and the crucifixion of Jesus is fitting with the aspect of external ridicule and persecution that accompany both. Most importantly, these biblical allusions indicate that this experience or journey to re-establish the self is a metaphysical one in which each individual bares his own burden.

Du Bois asserts that these external oppressions amount to the, “Suicide of a race!” This is an interesting phraseology because it has less to do with the destruction of the race through external forces and more to do with the destruction of the race through the self. This is also fascinating because Du Bois provides self-acknowledgement and acceptance as a way for the black man to resurrect his sense of self and his race. Similarly, Ellison also allows his protagonist to reflect and come to terms with himself so that he may resurface (also a form of resurrection).

This reading allowed me to view the concept of self-consciousness and individual identity in a more dangerous light. So much of our experiences and how we perceive ourselves do in fact originate from how the rest of the world sees us and our understanding of that. I am now curious about how many of us are unknowingly on paths of self-destruction due to the inadequacy quota that society has forced upon us (alright now my skepticism is really setting in; I’ll end here).

Into the Mind of the Invisible Man(Option 1)

I was publicized, identified with the organization both by word and image in the press. On the way to work one late spring morning I counted fifty greetings from people I didn’t know, becoming aware that there were two of me: the old self that slept a few hours a night and dreamed sometimes of my grandfather and Bledsoe and Brockway and Mary; the self that flew without wings and plunged from great heights; and the new public self that spoke for the Brotherhood and was becoming so much more important than the other that I seemed to run a foot race against myself. (380)

There were quite a few instances throughout Ralph Ellison’s, Invisible Man, that detailed interesting representations of consciousness. The most compelling portrayal, however, was the excerpt above. This passage complicates the idea of consciousness. The narrator comes to an awareness of there being “two” of himself. Does this assume that there can be multiple selves? And does it make a difference which self is becoming aware of this? This portrayal of consciousness shows the narrator becoming aware through the sudden changes in his life. Thus, consciousness is connected to and may in some ways be triggered by the external world. Based on this, can it be inferred that there is a third self for the narrator, who lives underground and is reflecting on his life—the invisible self? Or does this invisible self encompass all the other selves and allow for their existence? These are just a few questions that were evoked by the passage.

This excerpt also indicates the self as other. This “other”, is the self that is least important for the narrator. This idea of a better self is continued when the narrator says that he “seemed to run a foot race against [himself]”. This race is the interminable desire of the self to get ahead. It may just be that in each successful attempt to change one’s life, a new self is created because a new identity is adapted to fit the different situations.

One of the literary techniques that Ellison uses to give readers a sense of his protagonist’s mental life is the omniscient narrator. The fact that the protagonist plays a dual role as the main character and omniscient narrator allows the story to be entirely built upon his perspective. Therefore, readers are able to know what his thoughts are as well as the things that affect him the most, based on his choice to narrate them. This also allows for questions about memory and how much of it is distorted.

One of the more frequent ways in which readers can access the protagonist’s mentality is through non-verbal dialogue. Much like the above passage, the protagonist often narrates his own thoughts and syntheses of ideas about himself and his own identity. These thoughts can help readers to understand the way the narrator’s mind works especially in noting the specific events or times in which he pauses to reflect.

 

Damasio and Dehaene’s Consciousness(Option 1)

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A common thread throughout both Damasio’s and Dehaene’s work relate to the concept of dualism which indicate the mind as separate from the material self. One thing that both excites and at the same time perplexes me in Dehaene’s “Consciousness and the Brain”, is the comparison made between the autonomous mind” and the wandering soul that is essentially the “soul bird which delivers psyche to new born babies and takes it away from the dying” (2). Dehaene’s description of, “freedom of the conscious mind” (3), confuses me because consciousness and the mind are inked to the immaterial concept of the soul, which is assumed to be free-flowing. Does this make our consciousness transferable? In other words, can the same way that we experience the world be moved to a new host? I do not believe that this is the case based on Dehaene’s inclusion of the “phenomenal awareness” theory, which promotes the idea of how “unique” and “personal” traits contribute to the way people experience consciousness (9-10). Therefore, I was confused as to the way in which Dehaene depicted the mind as “free-flying”. The graphic novel, Neurocomic by Hana Ros and Matteo Farinella closely relates to the concept of dualism through the way in which it primarily focuses on biological functions and mention little about the mind, but rather allude to the mind as being separate from neurological processes. Neurocomic also briefly explores the idea of consciousness by creating disparities between the reader and the characters on page in allowing the characters to realize and vocalize that they are actually fictional characters in a book. This meta element furthers my curiosity because, according to Dehaene’s awareness theory, the fabricated characters are exercising a form of consciousness by knowing that they are not real (just to play with some ideas).

Continuing with the concept of consciousness is Damasio, who explores the “biological knowing of self” (4). Unlike Dehaene, Damasio seeks to understand how neurological patterns influence consciousness. One curious element in Damasio’s “Stepping into the Light”, is the situation described in the subheading, “Absent Without Leave”. This situation made me think of Dehaene’s idea about “genuine consciousness”, which is that, “whatever we decide to focus on, may become conscious” (9). The subject that Damasio was observing focused on various things such as the “flower vase” and “cup of coffee” but was not conscious of it. The problem in this situation was caused by epilepsy which is abnormal brain activity, therefore, is consciousness a product of the brain or is the brain an inhibitor of consciousness?

I was further perplexed by Damasio’s neurological perspective when reading “Self Comes to Mind”, because in this work the author addresses many ideas linked to dualism.  One of the points that the author makes about consciousness, is that, “love would never have been love, just sex” (4). Basically, consciousness has to do with the way we individually experience emotions. This also relates to the ideas of dualism in Plato’s, The Symposium. According to Plato, love is an experience of the mind or intellect which is to be held in higher regard, rather than just a physical attraction and gratification which will eventually fade. Does this then mean, that Damasio also supports the dualistic perspective as well as neurological thought? If not, I am not sure how both love and sex can be defined in the physical realm.

 

Historical Hysteria and “The Yellow Wallpaper”

The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves by Siri Hustvedt, chronicles hysteria as being, “the root [which] comes from the Greek for ‘womb.’ Its origin as a purely female problem connected to reproductive organs serves to warn readers that the word itself is an ancient bias against woman” (12). This assumption paves the way of differentiating “hysteria” from female hysteria; assuming that there is a difference.

Through the lens of Hustvedt, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, can be interpreted as an historical account of how women were essentially misdiagnosed based on their gender, in the form of a narrative. This novel addresses the role of the “Physician” in such misdiagnoses and how they refuse to attribute “hysteria” to being a psychological impairment. Hustvedt documents the belief of the Greek physician Galen, that, “hysteria was an illness that beset unmarried and widowed women who were deprived of sexual intercourse” (12). However, Gilman illustrates through her text that it is isolation and a caged consciousness that imbues hysteria, rather than “sexual deprivation”. Gilman explores this idea of deprivation of affection by accounting for the main protagonist who is a woman, with a husband and a baby. Ultimately, it is the lack of stimulus from human interaction, which allows for the gradual loss of a sense of self and of reality for the main character. The “barring” of the windows in this narrative can symbolize a caging or inhibiting of the expansion of the mind, which may also translate to the confinement that comes with being too alone with one’s own thoughts.yellow-wallpaperThe narrator of The Shaking Woman is a mirror image of the main protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” through the way in which thy both embody their mental state at the conclusion of each of the works. The women either texts, exemplify heir abnormal mental state which manifests itself into the physical realm as an extension of themselves. Hustvedt becomes “the shaking woman”, through introspection and verbal affirmation, whereas, the narrator of the “The Yellow Wallpaper” becomes “the creeping woman” through merging with her subconscious. The “creeping woman” on the yellow wallpaper is projection of the narrator’s imagined subconscious and it appears as though the projection materializes as her reality with each increased interaction.

Each of the texts seem to work towards resisting the idea of “hysteria” being opposed as a psychological problem, but rather in direct relation with femaleness.

Neurocomic & “The Brain Is Wider than the Sky” (Option 1)

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Two representations of the brain that I found in the readings, was in the work, Neurocomic, by Dr. Matteo Farinella and Dr. Hana Ros, as well as in the poem, “The Brain is wider than the sky”, by Emily Dickinson. The representation of the brain in Neurocomic takes a neurological approach that employs the aid of imagery to allow for an easier understanding of the text, which explores some very complex ideas. The graphic novel takes readers on a journey into what they should conclude as being their own brains. The novel illustrates the different functions of the brain in an anthropomorphic way and the settings of the various panels assimilate to what readers are familiar with in the tangible world. Some examples of this is when the main character falls into a pool of balls that are really vesicles (36), or when he meets the neurotransmitters that are actually miniature people with literal keys which open the receptors (47). The most surprising aspect of the novel’s representation of the brain, is the way in which it made the reader into the “true” main protagonist at the end when the female character says, “our existence relies on the brain of the reader” (132). This work is quite meta in that it can be categorized as a graphic novel about the inner workings of the brain that depends on those same functions to make connections. Therefore, the reader is able to visualize what is happening in their brains as they read about the brain.

Emily Dickinson’s poem is similar to Neurocomic in its use of imagery. Dickinson writes, “THE BRAIN is wider than the sky, / For, put them side by side.” These lines are metaphor and hyperbole. They are clear exaggerations and differ from Neurocomic because they do not explicitly address neuroscience. Also, the term “brain” can be viewed as a representation of the mind in this poem. The line, “The one the other will include”, shows that the scope of the brain (or mind) is immeasurable and able to process the experience of seeing the vast sky. Another way in which the “brain” is not meant to be taken as literal, is in the line that says, “The brain is just the weight of God”. Logically, God cannot be weighed because he is an unseen deity that cannot be contained. Yet, we may see and touch the physical brain by opening the skull. This representation surprised me because it is typical to think of the brain and mind as separate entities, but Dickenson does not make that distinction. Instead “the brain” is used as a synonym for the mind, which weighs nothing but holds a world of knowledge.

One thing that is indeed true for both texts is that they examine the internal wonders of the brain.

Thinks Reflection-Roth(Option 1)

David Lodge’s novel Thinks, does not merely submit to Marco Roth’s ideas about neurological reductivism nor biological determinism in his academic article, “Rise of the Neuronovel”. In fact, Lodges novel actively engages both of these ideas, but in different ways. Reductivism seeks to reduce human actions to being caused by the internal operations of the brain. Lodge introduces reductive reasoning through the main protagonist Ralph Messenger. Much of Messenger’s dialogue contains reductionist views which present themselves as an avenue for Lodge to arrest the two conflicting views within his single novel. In the hot tub scene debate with another character, Helen, Messenger demonstrated reductivism by saying, “it’s still just information processing by his brain.” (100) This statement was meant to reduce “determination” to a mere mechanical action that was caused by the communication of nerves within the brain. Throughout various points in the novel, the main protagonist engages similar discussions with Helen, who appears to provide the platform for the conversation with her minimal input. This allows for the insertion of the reader and their own thoughts.

Most of the chapters that are narrated by Messenger, Helen or arguably, even Helen’s students, can be viewed as what Roth calls biological determinism. This idea explores how the human behavior is determined by culture and other social forces. One of the ways in which Lodge illustrates a deterministic idea about the brain is when he includes the transcript of Helen’s thoughts about having been kissed by Messenger. In her diary, she says, “At least, I didn’t resist it. I didn’t slap his face or push him away, or ask him what he thought he was doing. I didn’t say a word.” (103) Altogether, Lodge is addressing how action induces reaction and how societal norms influence a chain of possible responses, as listed by Helen, as well as the way in which emotions cultivate their own reaction.

Although the deterministic idea is the most dominant of the two concepts within the text, both ideas are clearly and carefully included. As I have stated, Lodge engages a conversation with the reader that investigates both reductive and deterministic aspects of the way that thought is assumed to work. Therefore, the novel is psychological because the general plot surveys ways in which the mind can be affected through awareness and external forces. Yet, the novel is also neurological because it addresses changes that occur to the main character post brain operation. Thus, the novel falls into both genres and can be called a psychoneurological (I combined the terms) novel.