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Keyword: ‘Sir James G. Frazer’

Palin and Fefu: a male-associated strategy of domination

September 7th, 2009 No comments

One of the more intriguing elements of Fefu is the relationship of certain actions against animals and Julia.

Taking up the Rifle

Taking up the Rifle

In Part 1 there is a conversation between Christina and Cindy in which Cindy relates the tale of Julia’s paralysis.  A hunter aimed at a deer and then shot it. Julia and the deer fell.  The deer was dead, but Julia had convulsions.  Julia was bleeding from her forehead, but it was not a bullet wound, and there was no other visible evidence of injury.  Julia rants in delirium. The paralysis is blamed on scar tissue on the brain from the fall: a petit mal.


Cindy relates what Julia said in her delirium:

“…she was persecuted.–That they tortured her…That they had tried her and that the shot was her execution. That she recanted because she wanted to live….That if she talked about it….to anyone…she would be tortured further and killed.” p18

The delirious statement by Julia above corresponds to her hallucinations later in The Bedroom, which serves as a fuller explanation of what Cindy relates.

At the end of the play, Fefu shoots and kills a rabbit.  This action again results in a wound on Julia’s forehead, but this time it seems as though Julia is finished, as her head “falls back.”  Just prior to the gun shot, Julia says, “I didn’t tell [Fefu] anything.  Did I?  I didn’t.”  Implying, per the quote above, that Julia was bound to silence about what she knew, punishable by death.

The question of interest for me here, though is that of the animals being shot and Julia being injured.

For the first part of my response to it, I’m going to point to Sir James G. Frazer1 and his work The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion.  In that work there are several stories that are recounted which have events that are similar, under a section entitled “The External Soul.”

Once, a warlock called Koshchei the Deathless carried off a princess and kept her prisoner in his golden castle. However, a prince made up to her one day as she was walking alone and disconsolate in the castle garden, and cheered by the prospect of escaping with him she went to the warlock and coaxed him with false and flattering words, saying:

“My dearest friend, tell me, I pray you, will you never die?”

“Certainly not,” says he.

“Well,” says she, “and where is your death? Is it in your dwelling?”

“To be sure it is,” says he, “it is in the broom under the threshold.”

Thereupon the princess seized the broom and threw it on the fire, but although the broom burned, the deathless warlock Koshchei remained alive; indeed not so much as a hair of him was singed.

Balked in her first attempt, the artful hussy pouted and said, “You do not love me true, for you have not told me where your death is; yet I am not angry, but love you with all my heart.”

With these fawning words she besought the warlock to tell her truly where his death was.

So he laughed and said, “Why do you wish to know? Well then, out of love I will tell you where it lies. In a certain field there stand three green oaks, and under the roots of the largest oak is a worm, and if ever this worm is found and crushed, that instant I shall die.”

When the princess heard these words, she went straight to her lover and told him all; and he searched till he found the oaks and dug up the worm and crushed it. Then he hurried to the warlock’s castle, but only to learn from the princess that the warlock was still alive. Then she fell to wheedling and coaxing Koshchei once more, and this time, overcome by her wiles, he opened his heart to her and told her the truth.

“My death,” said he, “is far from here and hard to find, on the wide ocean.  In that sea is an island, and on the island there grows a green oak, and beneath the oak is an iron chest, and in the chest is a small basket, and in the basket is a hare, and in the hare is a duck, and in the duck is an egg; and he who finds the egg and breaks it, kills me at the same time.”

The prince naturally procured the fateful egg and with it in his hands he confronted the deathless warlock. The monster would have killed him, but the prince began to squeeze the egg. At that the warlock shrieked with pain, and turning to the false princess, who stood by smirking and smiling,

“Was it not out of love for you,” said he, “that I told you where my death was? And is this the return you make to me?”

With that he grabbed at his sword, which hung from a peg on the wall; but before he could reach it, the prince had crushed the egg, and sure enough the deathless warlock found his death at the same moment.

There are many other stories of a similar sort which I will not repeat here, but the similarity is the nature of the soul being external to the person and that person’s existence being tied to the animal or object containing the soul.  Similar relationships are drawn between a witch/warlock and her/his familiar; and it should be noted that references to witchcraft are peppered amongst Fefu, the most obvious of which is Fefu’s story of the black cat that she feeds.  As a play with very strong feminist overtones, it is certain that the references to witches are there to point to men’s latent fears regarding the mystery and power of the female body.

With the above in mind, it is clear that the animals and Julia are connected.  We also know that there are two types of animals killed (a deer and rabbit) so there is no one type of animal with which Julia is associated–it would seem to be animals in general.  Although, there is no monopoly one the relationship between animals and people, the scene “In the Study” has Cindy reading from a magazine: “A lady in Africa divorced her husband because he was a cheetah.” p30. However, I will note that the animal in question here is a hunting animal, not a grazing animal.  So, the main question is, how is Julia related to animals or what does this connection mean?

For the second part of my response, a key comes from an article by Penny Faran2, who writes of Fornes:

By her own account, she began writing the play with two “fantasy” images in mind.  The first was of a “woman…who was talking to some friends [and then] took her rifle and shot her husband”; the second was a joke involving “two Mexicans speaking at a bullfight. One says to the other, ‘She is pretty, that one over there.’ The other says, ‘Which one?’ So the first one takes his rifle and shoots her.  He says, ‘That one, the one that falls.’” In the completed play, Fornes has brought these two startling premises together so that, however indirectly, Fefu shoots Julia rather than her husband Phillip and, in doing so, takes the place of the men in the “joke” who objectify women to the point of annihilation. p446

Faran goes on to point out that “taking up the gun is a male-associated strategy of domination” and that Julia’s observation that Fefu is hurting herself by firing the gun (in Part 1 of Fefu) is correct.

But the notion of the “objectification of women” and the notion that women have traditionally been viewed as passive creatures to men’s more active principle suggests that women, as are the deer and rabbit, subject to being acted upon and are defenseless against the male urge toward domination.  Julia is thus representative of this feminine principle and receives the action of the masculine principle against her.

This again highlights what may be a fundamental assertion that both Fefu and Julia are not only threatened by the male principle, but have harmed themselves, albeit in different ways: Fefu, by constantly acting the part of a man; Julia but allowing herself to become passive.  Again, this raises the notion of to what extent in the play that Emma offers an alternative vision of how women can succeed by redefining the terms of the conversation.

  1. Frazer, Sir James G. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion
  2. Farfan, Penelope. Feminism, Metatheatricality, and Mise en Scène in Maria Irene Fornes’s Fefu and Her Friends. Modern Drama 40 (1997): 442-453
  3. Previous Fefu post

Jesus Walked on the Water

January 6th, 2007 No comments

Well, another irritating theory about Jesus has come out–get this, he walked across water why?  Because the lake was frozen.  Ooooooh.  If you’re going to literally posit a person walking across the surface of water, ice would likely be the first of several explanations, making this theory easily the least imaginative.  If this study was grant funded I’d want my money back.

But let me get to my real point.  If there’s one thing I hate it’s a literalist.  Literalists take all shapes these days.  You have literalists in science and literalist a-theists and you have literalists in religion and literalist evangelical literalists have a strange, zealous, hard-nosed fundamentalism that is to be avoided or that should be confronted directly and beat out of them.

Religion is a mass of symbols that represent a much more expansive realization of human experience.  Joseph Campbell, the great mythologer, notes that far, far too often people become entangled in the symbols (the literalists) and not only miss the greater message of religion, but greatly reduce it, codify it, and generally behave in so fascist a manner as to undermine the point of it in the first place.  Campbell once described a literalist in the following manner: he goes into a restaurant (one of those cheaper restaurants with glossy pictures of the entres on the laminated menu), he gets the menu, sees a picture of a steak and proceeds to eat the menu.  Dr. Nof is a literalist: he eats the menu.  In case you missed the point or I wasn’t clear, the picture of the steak on the menu is a REFERENCE to the real steak that is somewhere else back in the kitchen, likely frozen in the walk-in freezer.  In the same way, the symbols of religion are a REFERENCE to the experience: the experience that is somewhere else.

So, in many ways, this literalism is really a problem of human communication.  The experience of God, or the ultimate religious experience, is something that is beyond words as it transcends rational understanding.  It is an EXPERIENCE, which by definition is felt and lived and not easily conveyed or carried to other people.  This is one reason we value our greatest writers and artists: their ability to transfer and convey their own experience is so profound.  The inability to transfer experience easily results in symbolic expression of the experience or parts of it.  The mind is masterful at recognizing metaphor, and pattern and symbol is its natural language.  For those who cannot grasp the symbols we use metaphors, similes, and aphorisms: that is, we use powered words or powered phrases to describe it.  If you’re keeping track, the final fall to earth is everyday language: Hey, buddy, where’s the john?  So you can see, by the time a religious experience hits earth, using everyday words for its expression, it has fallen far from its heavenly origin and there’s plenty of room along the way for confusion, misinterpretation (honest or intentional), and outright stupidity.

Let’s look closer at a popular one: the Virgin Birth.  I am using Campbell’s explanation of it.  A religious fundamentalist devoutly believes that a woman with an intact hymen was impregnated by God, a magical force, or a shower of gold, if you’re into Greek myth.  She then gives birth to a god herself.  The hardnosed rationalist says that Mary was getting something on the side and pulled the wool over poor Joseph’s eyes further, that anyone who believes her hooey should be horsewhipped and then doused with cold water.  Neither representative above will look at the thing from a symbolic or metaphorical point of view.  The mention of the Greek myth above is important.  Christianity is certainly not the only religion/mythology that has a virgin birth, or other like events.  Whether these symbols rose in isolation from the Jungian collective unconscious or were passed along by transient cultures (both have happened) these symbols and metaphors are common in the society of mankind.  The Buddha was born from his mother’s side; she was impregnated after having a dream.

Campbell describes the Virgin Birth using images on the chakras that he saw in an Eastern religious text; chakras being bodily centers of energy in Eastern religious practices.  The first chakra he describes is at the level of the anus and bears the symbol of a snake.  He describes the alimentary canal as virtually being a snake in itself.  The symbol, however, is that for the physical energies of the body: hunger, for example.  The second is at the genitals and bears the symbol of the male and female genitals in intercourse.  It is the symbol of sexual energy and procreation.  The third symbol is at the abdomen and again is a snake, this time more elaborate.  It represents another kind of hunger: the hunger for possessions, territory, power. Anyone who has ever watched a nature show knows how much time is dedicated to large mammals fighting to walk certain fields and forests or to inseminate the herd. The forth chakra, and the last that I am going to discuss, is at the center of the chest and it bears the symbol of the genitals in intercourse again, this time they are golden. This is symbolic of love.  This is the Virgin Birth.

As Campbell explains it, of the four chakras mentioned so far, this is the first that is not an ANIMAL function.  The first three: physical hunger, sexual energy, and hunger for possessions, are all animal energies.  They concern themselves with the experience of the body and its desires.  The fourth is the energy of love.  More specifically, of concern for another other than the self.  It is the birth of the human OUT of the animal.  The Virgin Birth is the birth of the pure spirit from the animal existence.  It is the birth of the Holy Grail: compassion; from the human animal.  To have concern for another is to recognize that other person as similar to yourself, to empathize, to see his or her pain as your own and understand it.  It is the golden birth, the new birth of the human spirit.  It is out of his mother’s side at the level of this chakra that the Buddha’s birth is depicted.  It is at this point where the Sacred Heart of Jesus is observed.

The Virgin Birth is the birth of the human from the animal.  It is that point at which we each become fully realized human beings.  Sadly, there are some amongst us that never make it beyond the first three: greedy, oversexed, eating and shitting like animals in the woods all their self-referential lives.

Religion has been around for a very long time.  Magic was its mother, and she’s been around even longer.  She had another child, the brother to religion.  Do any of you know who he is?  Paraphrasing Sir James G. Frazer in The Golden Bough, the purpose of Magic was to control the external world by harnessing powers that are greater than us.  This involved elaborate ceremonies that, when properly carried out, resulted in the desired effect.  Later, Religion developed a line that appealed to a personal higher power, one that was sympathetic, intelligent, who provided guidance, care, and support.  The other line that stripped off became Science.  Note that it, too, follows elaborate ceremonies (procedures) that result in a desired effect no longer arbitrary, but proven by new scientific methods.

Overcoming our superstitious natures will always be a fight for humans.  This is not only due to the hundreds of thousands of years we have had to live at the mercy of nature, but due to the wiring of the brain, which Ray Kurzweil refers to in The Singularity Is Near–as being massively parallel–and as he and other brain researchers have found to be largely pattern-based.  The human brain seeks out patterns.  Poetry and metaphor is the best example of this: connecting unrelated ideas and making a new experience.  The newspaper floated along the street like a butterfly, gently its wings brought it to rest on a neighbor’s lawn.  Connecting the disparate, that is what we do.  And when one thing connects to another coupled with a violent, frightening event: well, those two things become associated forever.  I had friends at OU who refused to drink Wild Turkey ever again after a rough night one time.  This is a direct connection.  But to a so-called primitive man in the woods who has just eaten a mushroom, the bolt of lightning that splits the tree, setting it on fire, is no less a connection and just as much to be feared: never eat that mushroom again (taboo).

Religion, just like Science, is our attempt to understand the world around us.  And just like science, religion is not simple.  It’s no accident that Religion and Psychoanalysis are closely related and deal with experiences that can be described both as psychotic episodes or truly religious events.  Regardless, dismissing easily any one method we humans use to understand and experience our world is the truly ignorant message here, and it cuts both ways.  Reducing expressions of science or religion to simplistic, rationalist, or literalist interpretations does far more harm than good: whether it’s Christ walking on water or the Virgin Birth or humans descending from the monkeys swinging in the trees.

So did Jesus walk across the water?  Maybe you won’t look at the question so literally now, eh?  What is the water?  What does it represent.  I’ll leave that to all of you to figure out.  Just one clue, water is usually associated with the unconscious.  The deep well of our human heritage, as Jung says primordial images, in symbols which are older than the historical man, which are inborn in him from the earliest times, and, eternally living, outlasting all generations the groundwork of the human psyche.  There is a dynamism in the unconscious too, an energy.  The generator of dreams and unseen forces.  This dynamism is usually characterized as a beast or animal: a whale, for instance: a white one or the one Jonah encounters.  Does it eat you, or you it?  Jesus walked across the surface of the water.  He didn’t run, or skip, or flee. He walked the line between the conscious and the unconscious.  Easily, quietly.  Think about that, Dr. Nof; you Literalist.

**Note** Originally published, by me, elsewhere on April 8, 2006. 

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