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Faith and Learning Integration Links and Quotes

Here is the handout for my faculty presentation on the integration of faith and learning, the week of August 8, 2016, at King University:

Some seek knowledge for
The sake of knowledge:
That is curiosity.

Others seek knowledge so that
They themselves may be known:
That is vanity.

But there are still others
Who seek knowledge in
Order to serve and edify others:
And that is charity.
– Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

King’s Mission Statement: To build meaningful lives of achievement and cultural transformation in Christ.

WHY strive to unite faith and learning?

WHAT is the theory behind faith-learning integration?

HOW do I begin?

 

Useful links:

Videos of professors sharing their teaching and learning: http://www.cccu.org/professional_development/Faith%20and%20Learning%20Integration/flic (sorted by discipline; each video is about 10 minutes long)

Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin College: http://www.calvin.edu/kuyers/ (they have a journal, conference, and more)

A collection of faith and learning resources: http://www.virtualsalt.com/int/

King’s curated collection: http://king.libguides.com/faithandlearning

Bibliography of resources: https://www.uu.edu/dockery/FaithLearnBooklet_Fa07.pdf

Center for Teaching Excellence at Liberty (includes lots of links to other university sites): https://www.liberty.edu/academics/cte/?PID=25719

Professors share their stories of integrating faith and learning in small textual tidbits: https://www.liberty.edu/academics/cte/index.cfm?PID=26885

Quotes to chew on

Frederick Buechner, on writing Xmas instead of Christmas: “It is tempting to say that what you do with this time that you save is your own business. Briefly stated, however, the Christian position is that there’s no such thing as your own business” (Listening to Your Life 203).

Buechner, on vocation: “…we should go with our lives where we most need to go and where we are most needed” (Secrets in the Dark 39).

“If Christian education is not merely about acquiring a Christian perspective or a Christian worldview, what is its goal? Its goal, I’m suggesting, is the same as the goal of Christian worship: to form radical disciples of Jesus and citizens of the baptismal city who, communally, take up the creational task of being God’s image bearers, unfolding the cultural possibilities latent in creation—but doing so empowered by the Spirit, following the example of Jesus’s cruciform cultural labor” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom 220).

“FLI [faith-learning integration], like all effective teaching, is less about the teacher lecturing and more about the teacher engaging students in learning and practicing faith in the context of academics and professional practice” (Roso, Faith and Learning in Action 69, http://education.biola.edu/static/media/downloads/roso.pdf).

“The goal is for students to be qualified to reveal God to others (Byrne, 1977) through their chosen professions. How can I as a professor [] reveal God to others? Hosea 12:6 says I am to return to God, observe kindness and justice, and wait for God continually. I must walk close to Christ while also showing compassion to those who need it the most” (Ibid, 69).

For Future Reading

Desiring the Kingdom (2009) and Imagining the Kingdom (2013), James K.A. Smith

Faith and Learning: A Handbook for Christian Higher Education (2012)

Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life (2008)

Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning (2011)

 

 

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Text for my MLA presentation on the Patrick Ness YA novel More Than This

Yes, it’s been awhile and I’ll update this website later, but for now, I’m attending the Modern Language Association convention in beautiful Austin, TX, and I want to provide the full text of my presentation, along with my slideshow link, here. Enjoy!

Greetings from Austin

Greetings from Austin, courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/flipintex/12260854856

Link to slideshow: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Asjy3z1QupjcIwlIMQgXEr6dGRUzVvCy8MJWFkX9Xz4/edit?usp=sharing

[SLIDE 1] “black and fat”: Deviant Gendered Bodies in Patrick Ness’s More Than This

[SLIDE 2] Quote from “Fat Amy” character in Pitch Perfect: “Even though some of you are pretty thin, you all have fat hearts, and that’s what matters.”

I begin with this quote because it succinctly sums up Richard Klein’s statement in Bodies out of Bounds that [SLIDE 3] “There will come a time, if civilization lasts, when fat again will be beautiful, and thin will be hated” (20). I’m sure you’ll agree with me that in the current moment, rarely does popular media or culture (including current fictional texts, both YA and “adult”) privilege the fat body. As Kathleen LeBesco claims in Revolting Bodies?, [SLIDE 4] the fat body is often simply invisible next to the thin body, for years forgotten in advertising and “strictly limited to comic or tragic roles” in fiction” (66). LeBesco reminds us that “fat is the antithesis of the beauty ideal of the day: tight, lean and toned” (1). She goes on to claim that [SLIDE 5] “In a modern capitalist society such as the United States, fat is seen as repulsive, funny, ugly, unclean, obscene, and above all, as something to lose” (16). So Fat Amy’s doubled comment is a notable one: that a) thin is not a desirable state of being; and b) if you have the bad luck of being thin, you can at least be in the possession of a fat heart as an alternate desired state. Here fat is large, as Whitman suggests: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” To be large is to notice more, feel more, include more in one’s being and in one’s embodied experience. In this light, large is what we should all aim for.

But large, or fat, is simply not what we are given as model citizens, as appropriate consumers, as worthy heroines. Instead, we are given this: [SLIDES 6, 7, 8]. I read YA novels voraciously, and I several years ago I began to notice deviant bodies everywhere, but bodies that nevertheless conformed to certain stringent parameters. For example, [SLIDE 9] Karou in Daughter of Smoke and Bone has blue hair and tattoos on her palms… but is thin and white. Blue in The Raven Boys series amplifies psychic powers and is extremely short … but is thin and white. Neither of these texts are dystopians, to be sure, so turning to dystopians: Katniss in The Hunger Games is a tomboy and uses her body in ways that females often don’t (shooting those wicked arrows) … and she is thin and white. Tally in Uglies has frizzy hair and squinty eyes … and is thin and white. It was the same story everywhere I looked: [SLIDE 10] Tris in Divergent, Cassia in Matched, Darrow in Red Rising, Cassie in The 5th Wave, [SLIDE 11] Austin in Grasshopper Jungle. All thin and all white (or, in the case of Darrow from Red Rising, red and then golden as he assimilates into different dominant people groups). Even the heroine in Say What You Will, who has cerebral palsy, is thin, white and attractive. Where are all the big bodies? Where is all the colored skin? Why are these bodies allowed to be deviant in certain ways, but NOT in these two very striking ways? Certainly there are more fat bodies rather than bodies with naturally-occurring blue hair. Certainly there are more bodies of color than red inhabitants of Mars. Many of these YA protagonists are allowed strikingly deviant behaviors: many fall in love across socio-ethnic kinship boundaries, and many are fiercely, proudly gay when the dominant climate in America arguably continues to be heterosexual policing. It seems important in these YA texts that the main characters stand out physically in some way, that they deviate in some way—but NOT when it comes to the weight of their bodies or the color of their skin. In an age when diversity is given much lip service, there remain specific elements of diversity that do not often appear.

[SLIDE 12] To return to the dystopian: A dystopia, according to the OED, is “an imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible” (dystopia, n., OED.com). The prefix dys– stems from ancient Greek for “hard, difficult, bad,” from Old English “to break,” and all ancient forms have a connotation of “destroying the good sense in a word, or increasing its bad sense” (“dys-, prefix,” OED.com). Dystopian literature, that which is rooted in the nightmare and in fear, allows the reader to fix a critical lens on the construction of hegemonic societal systems and their many failings. [SLIDE 13] It makes space for “previously disenfranchised characters to gain power and influence based on their special skills or revolutionary leadership qualities” (Rachel Dean-Ruzicka 53). It additionally allows the reader to focus on the prevailing dichotomy of the binary heteronormative sex and gender system, as in a world turned upside down, only one thing is constant: the lived reality of a boy, the lived reality of a girl, and often the inevitable love that springs up between them. This love can sometimes mean that the female must be passive in some sense, waiting for the more agential male to rescue her and steal her heart in the process. More recently in YA fiction, however, young women have become empowered to demolish their preordained societal and literary roles and “do as the men do.” The positive uptick in the portrayal of female soma should not be dismissed wholesale. Yet, significantly, the dominant female type in this trope continues to be a thin, attractive, white young woman successfully taking on the world ([SLIDE 14] most recently, we see this in Rae, who is currently burning up the pop culture pathways but is notably absent from the toy aisles — #WheresRae). Does this strict positioning and shaping of the female body mean that the female gender must still be at root traditionally attractive (conscribing to restrictive cultural regulations)? Does it mean that the female gender as popularly constructed still operates in direct correlation to its ability to inspire attraction in the male sex? Does it mean that “fat and black” bodies simply cannot be powerful or attractive or successful?

To hone in on one text to further these considerations, [SLIDE 15] let me turn to the 2013 dystopian YA novel by Patrick Ness, More Than This. Ness is a 44-year-old author who lives in London but was born in America. He is best known for [SLIDE 16] his Chaos Walking dystopian series (2008-2010) and [SLIDE 17] for A Monster Calls (2011). He just published [SLIDE 18] The Rest of Us Just Live Here in Oct. 2015 to good reviews; it’s about those kids who aren’t superheroes or vampires but are just average and ordinary…and have value and purpose anyway.

[SLIDE 19] Ness’s More features a trio of heroes: Seth, Tomasz, and Regine, two young men and a young woman. Seth is the main character, a boy struggling with his latent homosexuality and reeling from the recent betrayal by his lover, Gudmund, and the ensuing condemnation and judgement from his family and his peer group. (I will return to Seth’s homosexuality, which is another prominent feature of “deviance” in contemporary YA novels, in a moment.) Tomasz is a young Polish boy traumatized by the recent murder of his mother. And the third character in our little trio is Regine, who is empowered to become a key agent in the triple threat of the three friends, banding together to topple the restrictive world regime that enslaves them. More importantly, Regine is fat and black, and she carries (even embraces?) this aspect of her deviant personality even as she expresses revolt against the oppressive Foucauldian regime that would keep her body docile. [SLIDE 20] As Cecelia Hartley suggests, Regine’s refusal to acquiesce to dominant cultural norms that women be “physically passive, taking up little space, and [be] non-self-nurturing” (71), is incredibly powerful.

Seth, Tomasz and Regine have recently died in violent ways that included head trauma. This causes them to wake up in England and eventually discover that sometime in the recent past, presumably everyone in the world entered into a virtual reality that replaced the “real” so effectively that everyone forgot they had switched from an embodied to a virtual reality. Hitting their head in the exact location of their brain’s upload into the mainframe caused them to be spit out of the system, [SLIDE 21] much like Neo is spit out in The Matrix. They discover that they their physical bodies have been housed in coffin-like structures with tubes to feed them and remove waste. They seem to be alone in a landscape blighted with emotional ruin: dust, storms, and weeds prevail. The main antagonist, other than the prevailing online system itself, is a humanoid robot which they call “The Driver”: a single-minded and violent figure who roams the streets in a van and coldly attempts to reinsert the adolescents back into the mainframe at any cost. [SLIDE 22] The title of the book, More Than This, therefore triply alludes to 1) waking up and discovering one’s life has been a paltry Benjamin-esque copy of “the real,” [SLIDE 23] 2) achieving rich and lasting friendship (there is more than this horrific hatred that these characters have experienced), and [SLIDE 24] 3) realizing one’s life has been severely limited and even handicapped by the complicit adoption of the judgements of others.

I want to take a few moments to analyze the modality of Regine’s non-normative body in this dystopian novel, asking what function the character who goes against normative gender type has. How can reading with an eye for ethnicity and “fatness” augment our understanding of the message about gender? This project could take me all day, so let me limit my observations to [SLIDE 25] four key points: [SLIDE 26] 1) each body in the trinity of heroes is notably deviant in some fashion; [SLIDE 27] 2) each body is notably able-bodied—able to run, escape, forage for food, fight; [SLIDE 28] 3) each hero’s deviance is linked to the white, middle-class, European definition of pollution (pulling both from Mary Douglas’ notion of pollution, and Joyce Huff’s discussion of fat as pollution); and [SLIDE 29] 4) each hero is not sexualized in the construct of friendship that prevails in the novel. There is romantic love in Seth’s numerous flashbacks to his time with his lover, but romantic love is importantly not a force that topples the Driver’s regime. Friendship is. There is productive tension between the gendered subject operating as a vulnerable sexual being (an important aspect of Seth’s character) and the gendered subject operating as a strong, able body. In the face of some element of their ethnic, sexual or class identity that renders them [SLIDE 30] “perverse, excessive, unnatural and a threat to the social order,” these bodies are importantly able, strong, successful (that last quote was from Jackie Wykes in Queering Fat Embodiment 3).

To put it simply: in Ness’s book, it doesn’t matter much which character is a boy or which is a girl. Is this gender or female empowerment when both bodies, male and female, equally fight and strive against the Driver? Is it gender or female empowerment when critics trumpet that Rae is a successful Jedi mostly because it doesn’t matter that she is a girl? What might female or gender empowerment look like in YA texts and in popular films? This is an honest question.

Regine is an important character unlike any I have encountered in literature. She is female, fat, and black, but she is unperturbed by these characteristics that normative society often judges to be so demeaning and worthless. She corresponds to Spivak’s triple construction of a woman who is voiceless: she is poor, black, female, AND black.  But, again, both the novel and Regine herself are untroubled by these characteristics. Regine is simply presented as a human being, one worth of love and respect, one who is able to be powerful and kick some serious ass. She rides bikes without considerable effort, although she is sometimes “out of breath” (but aren’t we all?). She consumes food with no discussion of her weight. She simply is, and this is refreshing.

This isn’t to say that there is no discussion of Regine’s bodily condition in the text. Her body does matter—all bodies here do. Regine is first presented to the reader as a “tall, heavyset black girl” who is “much stronger” than Tomasz (168-9). Any perceived negativity of her bodily condition is immediately counteracted with a positive, and more important, bodily attribute. While she is “heavyset,” a term that fat studies scholars take issue with because it projects some sort of target weight, whereas the term “fat” is simply an unweighted descriptor), she is also strong.

Later on in the novel, when Seth comments that he doesn’t date girls, [SLIDE 31] Regine’s “face drops immediately. ‘You mean you don’t date fat girls. … I can see you thinking it. How can she still be so fat in a world where there’s hardly any food? How fat must she have been to start with?” (204). Here Regine gestures towards a commonly held suspicion that fat people are to blame, that they do it to themselves through not regulating their own caloric intake, that they are not proper citizens because they refuse to acquiesce to the patriarchal gaze that would keep them slender. [SLIDE 32] “Fat equals reckless excess, prodigality, indulgence, lack of restraint, violation of order and space, transgression of boundary” (Jana Evans Braziel and Kathleen LeBesco 3).

But when Regine introduces the idea of her fat body as unable to be sexualized, the narrative swiftly moves from a discussion of her sexuality (or lack thereof) and her purported deviance, to a discussion of Seth’s deviance: his “cardinal sin” of homosexuality. (Here I want to mention the argument in Queering Fat Embodiment that “compulsory heteronormativy works to regulate fat bodies and subjects” (1). In other words, the state of fatness and the state of homosexuality are inextricably linked in that they each experience the same cultural policing.) So, to rewind, the text touches on Regine’s fatness, then jumps to Seth’s homosexuality, then leaps to a mention of the “little Polish person,” Tomasz, thereby highlighting the different yet significant deviance of all three characters. Together, these three represent almost every way that you can be “bad” or deviant in white patriarchal heteronormative Foucauldian dominant Western society. They represent the “wrong” sexuality, the “wrong” ethnicity, the “wrong” class, and the “wrong” body size. All that we are missing is a disabled or differentially-abled body and the picture would be complete. (Here I need to mention that according to Rosemarie Garland-Thompson, the fat body IS the disabled body because it is “vehemently imagined as failed or incorrect” (qted in Queering Fat 103).

[SLIDE 33] Ness’s novel therefore provides a complete picture of all the ways a body can be deviant in his average, ordinary characters. But what, in the end, is this a picture of? I mentioned before that the construct of male vs. female is not given as much weight in the narrative as the concept of human (the three heroes) vs. inhuman (the Driver), or that of real (which includes both embodied existence and love) vs. the unreal (which includes both virtual reality and hatred and bigotry). Perhaps Ness is pointing out the speciousness of ALL of our binary constructs: male vs. female, black vs. white, eastern European vs. Western, middle-class vs. poor, skinny vs. fat, etc. These constructs, so prevalent in the virtual reality world which is the same world the Driver so ruthlessly guards and therefore represents, melt away in the chaos of the awakening of Seth, Tomasz and Regine as they scramble to survive. It doesn’t matter what sexual organs you have when you need to elude the Driver and find something to eat. It doesn’t matter what size you are when you gather as friends. Divisive constructs, Ness is saying, are not what we need in a healthy society and, indeed, they are a prevalent marker of a dystopian society. Dystopian texts are fundamentally texts of division, texts that highlight societies that insist on labeling, containing, fixing, and naming. Ness’s bodies are “revolting” – that is, they politically trouble the prevailing hegemonic construct in order to overthrow “authority, rebel[], protest[], and reject[]” (LeBesco 1). Yet remember the quote I read awhile ago, [SLIDE 34] that dystopian literature makes space for “previously disenfranchised characters to gain power and influence based on their special skills or revolutionary leadership qualities” (Female Rebellion 53)? It is important that Ness’s heroes don’t have any special skills. They are intimately “normal” in spite of their “deviance” – in fact, because of their deviance. Deviance is normal. Deviance is human. Deviance merely means difference, and we are all different, and we are all human.

[SLIDE 35] What matters in Ness is the human, and the human in any and every incarnation is a beautiful thing, something to be celebrated and nurtured and loved. In a paradox, then, Regine is important because she is a fat and black hero (something we need to see much more of), and also she is important because her fatness and blackness do not matter. She is human, a child of God, and therefore worthy of the gifts of friendship and respect.

I don’t want to end sounding like a Hallmark card, so let me reiterate that the primary purpose of being fat and black in Ness’s More Than This is to show the reader that there is indeed more than this. Dominant Western society has made a totem out of the “right” kinds of appearances, and the “right” kinds of behaviors. Regine and her friends exist primarily to point the way to another modality of being and of seeing. Ness renders the fat (and the “Othered” and the homosexual) body “visible and present, rather than invisible and absent: seen, rather than unsightly” (Braziel and LeBesco 1). And that’s a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

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Text for my Woolf Presentation

Here is the full text for my presentation at the 2015 International Virginia Woolf Conference, Bloomsburg, PA, June 2015:

Masculine Reproduction in Virginia Woolf, Enid Bagnold, and Naomi Richardson

This presentation begins with a question: how was female physical reproduction—any aspect of fertilization, gestation, and parturition—portrayed by modernist writers? Did their extreme experimentation extend to this equally extreme physical experience? As I began to hunt, I found reproduction popping up in varied and fascinating ways among modernist writers. I soon formed the argument that two cultural shocks—the shock of modernist experimentation and the shock of a reproductive crisis augmented by significant reproductive advances—are intimately interwoven in many modernist novels. Focusing mostly on the years 1900-1950, mostly on novels, and mostly on Britain and her colonies due to the necessity of limiting my search, this presentation details some of what I found.

I found that the majority of British modernist texts that tackled reproduction did so predominately in three main ways. 1) Writers tangled up the often disorienting process of reproduction with the disorienting status of the colonized individual: isolated, confused, and adrift in the metropolitan landscape. See Jean Rhys (Voyage in the Dark, 1934 and Good Morning, Midnight, 1939) and Olive Moore (Spleen, 1930 and Fugue, 1932). 2) Writers portrayed the reproducing female form as akin to a machine that was constantly breaking down and therefore must be ameliorated by masculine forms of scientific control. See Charlotte Haldane’s Man’s World (1926), Susan Ertz’s Woman Alive (1936), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1937), and Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night (1937). And 3) writers turned to masculine rhetoric when considering the female birthing body, often employing masculine tropes to resist meeting the physical birth process head-on. See Enid Bagnold’s The Squire (1938), Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Orlando, and Three Guineas, and Naomi Mitchison’s We Have Been Warned (1935). It is this last category of modernist reproduction that I’m going to talk about today.

But first, I want to sketch out why the early 20th century pairs so well with a discussion about reproduction. This era witnessed not only extreme cultural conflicts around reproduction, but an explosion of new rights surrounding the female form, and a panoply of new advances in science, hospitals, and medicine. For example:

  • Partially due to unrest in the empire (Boer agitation, Irish home rule movement) and war recruits deemed “unfit,” a vast cultural movement began to reeducate and train able-bodied men and women, especially mothers and pregnant women, via the “mothercraft” movement (training mothers in the craft of child rearing). Not only did Britain need more bodies, then, they needed eugenically good ones.
  • Due to new forms of communication and the increase of newspapers and small journals, a new conversation about the “now” of reproduction was created—a conversation happening in real-time about real-time issues.
  • The rise of the Women’s Movement which in part fought against the Victorian idea that woman was fundamentally unstable and at the mercy of her physical form – see Havelock Ellis, who in 1929 explains, “Whenever a woman commits a deed of criminal violence it is likely that she is at her monthly period.”
  • The rise of birth control and the beginnings of divorcing the act of sex from the act of reproduction, a process that had extreme ramifications for the cultural portrayal of both sex and reproduction. See my colleague’s wonderful forthcoming book, Conceived in Modernism: The Aesthetics and Politics of Birth Control.
  • The appearance of the first mass-produced maternity clothes around 1910, allowing the pregnant woman more freedom to appear in public throughout her pregnancy
  • Scientific advances like the first pregnancy test in 1928, the rise of ultrasounds and X-rays, the field of “sexology,” new forms of pain management like the unfortunate Twilight Sleep movement, the rise of prenatal care in the 1920s
  • The rise of hospital births and of a reproductive process that was a masculine enterprise (overseen by male doctors) and the fall of midwives and of a female-centric model of reproducing

Today, I detail three modernist authors who bear a highly conflicted relationship toward female reproduction. While it may appear these authors celebrate the complexities of the female condition, upon closer reading, their female characters merely become a tool for the use of the masculine mind, state, and empire machine the moment they enter the female-centric experience of pregnancy and childbirth. I call this process “masculine birth.” The intrusion of the masculine happens in diverse ways: Woolf transmutes birth from a physical act of the female flesh into a mental act of the masculine mind in A Room of One’s Own (1929); Bagnold emphasizes the masculinity of the birthing woman in The Squire (1938); and Mitchison couches reproduction firmly in the masculine realm of commerce, empire, and eugenic “science” in We Have Been Warned (1936). All three novelists ask what it is to be a reproducing female in early twentieth-century Britain, concluding that the female body is strong when it is masculine, and successful when it is more than female.

I also want to explain that throughout I’m using traditional gendered binary divisions of male vs. female that were so prominent in modernism and that writers such as Woolf sought to dismantle (but I claim that it was unsuccessful). When I speak of “masculine” ideas like road-building and empire-making, then, it is because these concepts fell under the aegis of activity that was seen as belonging to men. I also speak of “birth from above” versus “birth from below” throughout. This is simply a way of speaking of mental, disembodied birth (above) versus physical and embodied birth (below). This scaffolding is borrowed from Robbie Pfeufer Kahn’s book Bearing Meaning: The Language of Birth (1995).

Turning to Woolf first: Woolf was eager to jettison rhetoric limiting the woman to her body and to her reproductive capacity. While such bodily ambivalence is often included in Woolf scholarship, what is consistently overlooked is how this ambivalence coupled with her use of masculine (or disembodied) births in her texts combines to create a birth paradigm founded on the masculine and the mind, eschewing the bodily feminine and thereby removing critical avenues of power from the woman. Birth in Woolf is patriarchal, often has masculine connotations, and seeks to bolster the empire and Englishness (by supplying proper British citizens), to map the mind of the writer, or to explore psychological, ideological, and political systems. Physical birth, when it happens, appears in the margins (literally between the acts) or is artificially truncated (as in Orlando).

For example, in A Room of One’s Own, Woolf famously describes the writer’s ideal mind begetting a novel as it “celebrate[s] its nuptials in darkness” (104); “[p]oetry ought to have a mother as well as a father,” the narrator argues, as if the poem itself is offspring of a mental union (103). While Woolf claims “[t]he book has somehow to be adapted to the body” (Room 78), she also argues it is “fatal” to write as either a man or a woman, but instead, to write in the “perfect fullness” of the consummation of this “marriage of opposites” (104).

Woolf shrewdly surmises and advises her readers in Room that in order to be more effective in an institutionalized, patriarchal world, women need to turn from the slavery of bodily births to the birth of the mind. Woolf was importantly distancing herself from the body when systems such as fascism sought to confine women to their physical bodies. In this light, Woolf’s revision of a “bloodless” birth can be read as an attempt to free women from the prison of being cast as only “walking wombs.” But what I am also interested in is how Woolf consistently turns away from specifically female embodiment. Consistently downplaying the physical in light of the mental results in a problematic and recurrent theme of female disembodiment.

In Three Guineas, Woolf claims fascist sentiments are breeding in England under the word “Miss,” “the egg of the very same worm”; the “embryo” of the “creature, Dictator.” Woolf also attacks “brain prostitution,” in which a woman prostitutes her mind to provide for her children. Selling your brain is worse than your body, Woolf claims, for “its anemic, vicious and diseased progeny are let loose upon the world to infect and corrupt and sow the seeds of disease in others” (112). In short, worms are breeding and laying eggs which hatch into more worms, an image usually equated to maggots, which translates to decay of the somatic. Brains are engaging in sexualized behavior for money, out of which their horrific and monstrous zombie-offspring clamber forth to wreak havoc on the helpless masses. The corporeal disgust here is laced with the specifically female body in a dual manner: not only is it the female body that reproduces, but Woolf is writing about specifically women and women’s needs in a masculinized world. It is a woman who is committing “brain prostitution,” and it is her progeny which need to be curtailed and controlled. Out-of-control breeding by the wrong sort of woman poses a eugenic problem for mainstream England, for “hideous progeny” are not what an empire needs to wage the wars that protect its boundaries and territories. But note the barely‑controlled disgust with which the (female) reproducing body is handled here. This disgust, coupled with the call for disembodiment and androgynous being in Room, begins to give us a clue as to the broader use of birth imagery in Woolf. It is employed to remove women from their bodies—to free them, to be sure, but also to negate any power they have in specifically feminine modalities of being.

Consider Orlando:

But wait! but wait! we are not going, this time, visiting the blind land. Blue, like a match struck right in the ball of the innermost eye, he flys, burns, bursts the seal of sleep; the kingfisher; so that now floods back refluent like a tide, the red, thick stream of life again; bubbling, dripping; and we rise, and our eyes (for how handy a rhyme is to pass us safe over the awkward transition from death to life) fall on—(here the barrel-organ stops playing abruptly).

“It’s a very fine boy, M’Lady,” says Mrs. Banting, the midwife. In other words Orlando was safely delivered of a son on Thursday, March the 20th, at three o’clock in the morning. (295)

The predominant tone of this passage is one of disgust, or at the very least, borderline negative events: blindness, striking a match in one’s eye, burning in a bright ball of flame, bursting forth, flooding in a torrent of blood. Rather than the exuberant fluidity of the flowing and freeform female body as seen in Cixous or Kristeva, the fluid body in Woolf is often aligned with the primordial mud at the bottom of the lily pond in Between the Acts: a space of creativity, perhaps, but also one of death and of consuming femininity.

Turning to Enid Bagnold: A prolific writer who lived to age 91, she is best known for National Velvet in 1935. Bagnold famously explained of The Squire (1938): “‘If a man had a child and he was also a writer we should have heard a lot about it….   I wanted The Squire to be exactly as objective as if a man had had a baby.’” The project of the novel is therefore twofold: to justify the power of birth in masculine terms and to introduce the power of birth to a masculine world. The novel follows the female squire who waits to give birth, then labors in great detail. Throughout the novel, the squire proudly references her masculine strength, resolve, and courage as she approaches the birth of her fifth child: “But I’m getting older and tougher. […] I’m getting more male, that’s all!” (96) In Bagnold’s approximation, female physical existence and birth itself is not enough; both must be recategorized and recast as masculine to lend them authority, in the eyes of Bagnold herself and in the eyes of the empire.

Bagnold may seek to justify the importance of both narratives of the body and of a woman’s place in British empire and in society, yet she ends up painting women into a tightly cramped and confined corner. The squire questions her identity right before the birth:

“What am I?” she whispered into her hands, unable to sleep. “My excitement, imagination, vitality, gift for life—are like a spray that falls again on to the ground and is lost and sopped up. I am lost every day. By every nightfall all is lost.” (194)

The squire’s life force is figured here as a virile spray being spilled and wasted upon the ground (a passage that resonates with Woolf’s description of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay’s relationship in To the Lighthouse: “into this delicious fecundity, this fountain and spray of life, the fatal sterility of the male plunged itself, like a beak of brass, barren and bare”). Try as she might to lay claim to the masculinity within, the squire remains female, conscribed to the realm of the home and of the children. Important (or upper-class) women in The Squire do one important thing with their lives: they reproduce. Their virility remains at the service of the men in their lives; their potent “spray” is but a cheap copy and a ghostly image of the masculine, phallic spray.

[You can read the full text of The Squire on the Internet Archive here: https://archive.org/stream/squirecompleteno00bagn#page/n7/mode/2up ]

Naomi Mitchison was much more prolific than either Woolf or Bagnold combined, as she published more than 70 books over the span of her more than one hundred years. Mitchison was a remarkable woman who was a passionate supporter of birth control but who had seven children, an upper-class socialist who worked hard to surround herself with devoted followers and purchased vast swaths of land in her native Scotland. Her 1931 novel The Corn King and the Spring Queen is perhaps her most well-known work. In her 1936 novel, We Have Been Warned, Mitchison portrays birth as a masculine-encoded enterprise, and, similar to the eugenic birthing model found in The Squire, births in Warned subscribe to the birth from below model. Mitchison highlights the significant reproductive issues women faced in the early years of the century, including new birthgiving techniques, access to abortion and birth control. However, Mitchison also conspicuously uses masculine “tools of the nation”—national and political hegemonic systems and ideology, in her consideration of birth-giving.

Warned is the story of an upper-middle-class Scottish couple, Tom and Dione Galston, and of Tom’s campaign for a Socialist seat in the local government while Dione supports him and grows ever more radical about worker’s rights, veering towards Communism. Even by contemporary standards, the amount of space in the novel given to discussions of sexuality and the problem of reproduction in a modern society is shocking. Sex and reproduction, and the politics thereof, comprise the scaffolding of the entire novel.

In the novel, the ancient Galston family legend in Warned is of a woman, Jean MacLean (“Green Jean”), who was thought to be a witch and whom the Campbell Women left outside to freeze to death with her infant. At the end of the novel, Green Jean comes to visit Dione (who is unexpectedly pregnant with her fifth child), and bids her look through a stone with a hole to view a warning of the future. Dione sees Tom win the election for the socialist party, then the counter‑revolution takes place during which their home is destroyed, her daughter Morag is raped, and Tom is executed for being a socialist. The final words of the novel are: “‘We have been warned,’ Dione said, and it was as through a steel spring had suddenly loosened and vibrated inside her. The baby was coming alive and moving in her for the first time” (553).

While the bulk of the novel purports to show the appeal of a socialist revolution, then, it is rooted in ambivalence, as it also clearly demarcates the differences in the lives of two classes of people, upper and lower. As Dione realizes the importance of the class divide, she simultaneously experiences the quickening of the infant inside her as a physical and industrial movement—the shock of her vision or of the baby moving (the two cannot be separated) is as if a “steel spring” has come loose (553). The movements of the fetus blend with the Green Jean‑inspired vision, and Dione’s body, painted as a mechanical apparatus in the language of factories and workers, pops a gasket. This final image is conflicted—is Dione now broken? Has she come to her right mind now that a few mechanical parts have been rewired?—but the importance lies in the pregnancy portrayed in language of masculine commerce. Dione is quite literally a factory of the right sort, producing proper citizens of the empire. Her prolific reproduction (again like the Squire, she will have five children) is not the problem Warned seeks to solve.

The problem is Dione herself, who exhibits “masculine” freedoms throughout the novel: she canvasses the countryside with Tom working for his campaign; she visits Russia and the abortion clinic to view firsthand the horrors of the lower-classes; she leaves her children at home and enters the public world at will. Yet at the end of the novel, pregnant Dione is portrayed as noble but meddling in forces completely beyond her comprehension, and the “warning” of the title is partially for her to resume her role as a birther and mother, return to the home and leave politics behind.

Pregnancy and childbirth lie at the heart of Mitchison’s novel, but in the end, they are subsumed by the larger political systems in which they take place. What is going on in Warned is a masculine reinscription and appropriation of reproduction, not through disembodied birthing rhetoric as we have seen in Woolf, but through the calculated and pronounced political placement of the birthing women. Much like Squire, women in Warned have no freedom to reproduce outside the political and patriarchal system. Their race and class dictates how—or indeed, even if—they will reproduce at all.

Authors like Virginia Woolf, Enid Bagnold, and Naomi Mitchison knew the contemporary cultural assumptions about pregnancy and childbirth were somehow wrong, but they were not ready to make the substantial leap to woman as double‑birther (birthing children of both the mind and of the body). Instead, they began to reconfigure birth in their own texts, respectively recasting birth as a either a key mental process, a masculine feat on par with the work of soldiers in a war, or as a significant issue for society to monitor and amend. I argue that births in their texts were therefore “bloodless,” as they were infused with a healthy dose of the masculine mind to mitigate the shortcomings of purely female, purely bodily birth. While these texts are noteworthy for the groundbreaking ways in which childbirth is either recast (as in Woolf), displayed in all its corporeal splendor (as in Bagnold), or placed within a larger society with its political issues surrounding reproduction (as in Mitchison), they simply cannot yet imagine a future for femininity that is predicated on the ability to successfully birth both babies and texts.

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