Friday, June 25, 2010

Eat paradox, you Frenchy!

Current book: The Awakening
Pages read: Guest post - chapters 24 - end

Guest post from Fish

I'm not sure I have anything to add to Claire's analysis. It's a problem.

First, the prose. Loved it. It moves between scenes and topics strongly, with clarity and purpose, and Edna is so deep and complicated and real. Her plights and reactions thereto are absolutely genuine and believable.

I think we can peel back some layers on the practicality of her exerting her agency in a non-dying way, such as her ability to sell paintings and live thereby (that level of financial solvency is a marvel in her day), but I agree that she is the sort that needs structure around her, and she'd have to destroy all her recent gains and try reattain them later when she got situated (I'm not real hopeful about that possibility).

It's so interesting that she said she'd never give up her self for her children that early in the novel, when she'd really never known what that was. In the end, she kills herself to save herself, which is one of the most nuanced and complicated accounts of suicide I've ever read.

Soon after writing my previous post, I began to forgive her for not being the self-aware person I was expecting; I exert a great deal of will over my emotions and I almost began to envy her, as she allows herself just to feel and act. I am also very interested how the representations of the character of internal consciousness change over time in literature, and I wonder if I am asserting anachronistic expectations. I've been reading a lot of philosophy of mind, so I am hypersensitive to gradients in representations of consciousness. (If you are too, and like to be made crazy, try Julian Jayne's 1976 psycho-philosophical cult classic "On the Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.")

It's interesting (for me) to think of the issue of Edna's agency in a simplified Sartre-vs.-Spinoza dichotomy. According to Sartre we are radically free, and so Edna could have gone off and been an artist, and damn the consequences. But as you point out, that's not satisfactory: it would have been untrue to herself, and in all possibility destroyed her. (Are we radically free to do that, Sartre? Eat paradox, you Frenchy!) In Spinoza's view, free will is doing what you're made for (I am putting a modern twist on it, a bit), but the conditions and circumstances for Edna to be herself do not obtain. She's caught between her nature and her constraints. It raises the question of whether swimming out to sea was really the only self-willed and true thing she could have done, perhaps the only thing she should have done.

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