Wednesday, October 31, 2012


On thing that I find most interesting about Molloy is attempting to work out what it is that he understands. I am thinking specifically of the instant at the beginning of the novel when Molloy is arrested. He does not seem to understand exactly why he has been arrested other than a lack of papers.  He can not tell the officers anything about who he is at first and I  see it as a lack of competence; however, his language in the text at times comes across as very competent.  For example  Molloy claims, "This should all be re-written in the pluperfect (20.)" This shows that he has a functioning knowledge of how language should work, and that he is the person dictating the information we are receiving. But it seems that he is unable to separate the information we benefit by knowing, and the information that is more generally kept inside.  I can't help but thinking that Molloy does not keep statements like this inside because he has trouble conjuring memories and by expressing even the irrelevant ones he is able to access that information later; however, he claims that the does not re-read his work.  Maybe he wants not just to access this information in the future but simply lay claim to the fact that he has this knowledge in the first place?

What I am trying to say is that Molloy comes across to me in layers, and I have to work through most of what he is saying, or attempting to say, in order to place him in the situation he his relaying.   

Monday, October 29, 2012


The character of Molloy is by far the most interesting individual we’ve encountered in the class so far. The aspect of this character which I find most compelling is his notion of being “bounded”. He describes at one point in the text how he believes himself to be relegated to one vast “region” (88) which he can never escape. This feeling of being bound manifests itself spatially in Molloy’s fascination with the canals that crisscross the town as well as by his obsession with the town which he claims as his own (though he cannot remember its name). I think this feeling also manifests itself temporally in that he seems to be unable to distinguish between differing periods of his life or even of the day – in this sense, he is in some sense timeless. Finally, this “boundedness” manifests itself physically in Molloy’s inability to be mobile due to his stiff leg(s), which explains in part his love for his bicycle.
All of this goes to say that Molloy feels as if he is bounded by something, be it an external force or simply inner turmoil.  What this has to do with Moran or the rest of the novel, I’m not at all sure.


A fundamental part of what I understand is happening in Molloy revolves around the idea of negation or undoing. So often, what Molloy himself says is negated by immediate literal contradiction or by undermining the possibility of his feelings, as in “I felt more or less the same as terror-stricken that I was virtually bereft of feeling” (p 72). In some cases, this negation seems to be beyond Molloy’s control -- his body steadily becomes unable or even absent. Molloy’s foot (whichever) becomes defined by its lack of toes, his legs by their inability to convey him. In other ways, negation appears to be a definable goal of Molloy, e.g. “I was bent double over a heap of muck, in the hope of finding something to disgust me for ever with eating” (p. 77). I suppose I would ask, what is the purpose of Molloy’s project of writing, why does it seem so crucial to negate statements, experience, and his body?

Language in Molloy

I wasn't in class on Thursday, and so I hope I'm not bringing up a topic that has already been discussed.  I'd like to focus my blog post on language and Beckett's invention of words in the text (which we have seen in previous texts). How might his experimentation with words benefit or inhibit the text and our reading of it? How might it compare with the use of language in Lessing's The Golden Notebook or Green's Loving?

I have some examples: "pitilessmost" and "corncrakes"(21); "index-knuckle" (23); "connexion" (28); "raglimp" (34); "sucking-stone" (59); "coenaesthetically" (72); and "floccillate" (89).

While I think words such as these are fun to come across, we can only somewhat decipher their meaning (some better than others--though many derive from actual words or mirror them closely). It's interesting to examine these in contrast to the simpler language. Take page 56. If you look at this page as a whole, the word "I" prominently jumps out to the eye. They're a series of first person, simple sentences. Compare: "The next day I demanded my clothes" (56) to "But sucking-stones abound on our beaches, when you know where to look for them, and I deemed it wiser to say nothing about it..." etc. (59).

Where do these words get us? They're becoming less fun, and more like little frustrations for me as I'm writing this blog post. Where does this experimentation with language get us, besides confusion?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Life & Death

"But it is only since I have ceased to live that I think of these things and the other things. It is in the tranquility of decomposition that I remember the long confused emotion which was my life, and that I judge it, as it is said that God will judge me too, and with no less impertinence. To decompose is to live too, I know, I know, don't torment me, but one sometimes forgets." (p 32-3)
Is Molloy an account of life after death? Is Molloy even alive, or does he mean "ceased to live" less literally? Perhaps he has changed or evolved or regressed into a new person with a new way of life. The idea that decomposition is life too means that life goes on once we have perished. Do life and death have to contradict each other? I am not sure, clearly, if Molloy is alive or dead. But I am leaning toward the thought that he is telling this story of his life post-death. Maybe.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Reading the beginning of Molloy, I was thinking of a topic we discussed a few times in class, about how we visualize the story we are reading. Several people said they see it almost like a movie playing in front of them. I usually read this way, too. For Molloy, it feels different. I see it almost as a movie, but I feel more inside Molloy's head. It is a very internal type of narration where Molloy is witnessing events but instead of taking them for their external value, tries to come up with internal reasonings. I think I'm just wondering if anyone else thinks it feels different. The repetition of words and phrases increase this internal feel where I see the story unfold through Molloy's eyes yet still see him externally at the same time. My mind is also making weird connections at the moment due to stress and lack of sleep, so my point is: does anyone else view it this way?

Molloy; Or, the Poop Stories

There’s so much going on in Molloy, it’s hard to pick a single thing to write about. Some things I really wanted to touch on is the lack of a determined setting – England? Ireland? Somewhere with hills. And so far, the majority of what we’ve read has taken place while Molloy is riding his bicycle (not a bike. Bicycle), which I think is blog post-worthy. But, finally I decided on something much more important: poop.

Well, not poop in general. Molloy has many, many allusions to the body (particularly his), but they are all grungy and generally always unhygienic. Especially when he decides to spend a few lines talking about carrying around newspaper to wipe with – but not after every poop, only sometimes, if he feels like it. Molloy also uses phrases like “pain in the balls” (52), refers to the back of the moon as “her arse” (52), and talks about festering wounds if he were to remove his own testicles with shears. Beckett is definitely using a lot of grotesque, anatomical(ish) imagery – but why? One theory I want to propose occurs on page 52, after a particular nasty stream of narration, in which Molloy mentions in passing, “What I liked in anthropology was its inexhaustible faculty of negation, its relentless definition of man, as if he were no better than God” (52). This implies an equality between man and deity (and, if man is defined, mankind has a single definition – everyone is the same). This, paired with the clear lack of distinction between the “characters” A and C, supports the theme that everyone is the same, which leads me to believe that perhaps Beckett is trying to convey that everyone has bodily functions, therefore we should have no problem discussing them (Molloy certainly has no hesitation with it).

I think Molloy’s “birth” on page 20 is also worth commenting on, but this is already a long post. But it might be a good place for comments to stem from. 

Saul as Karma?

Let me begin by apologizing for this post being so late.

this is something I've been thinking about ever since Saul first came into The Golden Notebook. I remember feeling that, at the point right before Saul came into the picture, the book had reached a point were it could have ended. It could have stopped when all the other journals had come to an end, or when Anna goes to talk to Tommy and Marion, or when Molly and Richard come to talk with Anna afterwards. To me it felt like this moment would have provided a satisfactory ending in that, all the problems that were established in the very beginning of the novel, during a very similar conversation between Anna, Molly, and Richard (What to do with Tommy, how Richard had been treating Marion, etc.) had all been resolved. Marion has finally left Richard, Anna is finally able to influence Tommy, and when the three part, it is actually on a somewhat friendly note, unlike the first time when Richard leaves in anger and Molly and Anna part on seemingly shaky ground. 

And then along comes Saul, and a small part of me couldn't help but wonder if maybe Saul's appearance, and how he throws Anna's life into disarray once again, wasn't some sort of karma. Maybe I'm being cruel to Anna, and I'm not saying that what Saul did was excusable, but when Anna was looking through Saul's diary and she began to grow jealous of how he was sleeping with other women, all i could think was "the mistress has finally become the victim". After all of the affairs that Anna had knowingly been a part of, after all the times she slept with men she knew were married, she was finally the one who was being cheated on. I say that she was "the wife" in this case and that the other women Saul slept with were "the mistress's" because Anna was the one that Saul actually lived with. just like the men Anna had affairs with would go back to their wives, Saul would go back to her. Just as all the relationships Anna had been in as a mistress had ultimately ended badly for her, so too did it end badly for the women Saul slept with while staying with Anna. At this point, Anna has experienced such a relationship from both sides, as the mistress, and as the wife

Monday, October 22, 2012

"total sterility": denying the creative self

Anna claims if she had to label her dream that ends the black notebook, she would call it “total sterility,” recalling her earlier concerns of cleanliness in relation to her own body (period) and of immunization against cracking up (an ordering and separating of her identity from others).  This “sterility,” however, seems to be related to Anna’s writing/creative expression itself and rather illustrates her concern of not remembering “how Mayrose moved her eyes” or “how Paul laughed” (502).  In the dream, the cameras first remind—and then become—machine guns, suggesting that the capturing by film sterilizes the memory by not allowing it to be continually reinvented. 
Anna links the “untruthfulness” of her notebooks to her “sterility”(455), claiming that what she wrote down was not what she remembers.  Writing, then, as a form of “sterilizing” the self, contributes to Anna’s attempt to create an identity for herself but also undermines this very process by opposing the fluidity of memory and experience.  By reviewing her own notebooks (455), Anna further distances her present self from her past self and suggests that such a process of examination inevitably leads to a totalizing effect:  namely, that Anna uses her journals to draw conclusions about her past—“how the experience of being rejected by Michael changed, or apparently had changed, [her] whole personality” (my emphasis, 455).  The word “apparently” indicates Anna’s own skepticism regarding the truthfulness of the journals and distances Anna-as-reader from Anna-as-writer.  

The Romantic Tough's school of Writing

During the excerpt of short story ideas in the Yellow notebook, one of the stories breaks the naming convention of the other but also appears to break the thematic pattern of the other stories: "19 The Romantic Tough School of Writing" (page 539 in my weird edition).

I say it "appears" to break away from the themes of the other story ideas because it is one of the only stories in which the central speaking voice is male. In fact the narrator of this little story is Mike-the-lone-walker. While the gender of the main speaker has changed, it is worth noting that in at least one of the other short story ideas, one of the female characters is referred to as Anna, and another is an artist. With that in mind, it might not be too great a stretch to place Anna in the central role in all these short story ideas. Thus, we might even say that the nick name "the loan walker" might be linked to the idea of a free woman which Anna represents (or possibly her isolation).

The story also features a mixing of brutal physical violence with professions of love In that the boys, Buddy and Dave, say "I love you man" before pounding the other into unconsciousness. Considering that all the other story summaries involve people "in love" who proceed to emotionally wound each other, one might argue that the "romantic tough school of writing" is a parody of the other stories' cycle of love and emotional pain played out with physical violence.

With that context in mind, Buddy's declaration of love for the girl Rosie, implies that this cycle is played out in the adult world, though in a manner more akin to the other stories.

Friday, October 19, 2012

From the blog of The London Review of Books. Seems relevant to our discussion of The Golden Notebook:

Learning to Deal with Loathsome Men

If you lived through the 1960s and 1970s, and are a woman, it’s really hard to be shocked or surprised by the tolerated sexism back then that’s currently crawling out of the woodwork. It wasn’t in the woodwork at the time. It was just there, in the air you breathed, in the world you walked about in. It wasn’t just DJs and comedians. It wasn’t even only the touching up, the comments, the boss who called you in to deal with a pile of filing that needed putting away in the bottom drawer of the cabinet right opposite his desk (think 1960s miniskirts). The men who felt you up on the Tube at least knew they were doing something wrong, even though they didn’t think it was very wrong, or only wrong because it was in public. You could say, in a loud voice, ‘Take your hand off my body,’ and they would look ashamed. You could strategise to avoid those you knew were trouble, you grew a tough skin walking about the street being shouted at, having your body commented on, being sneered at when you didn’t respond. Learning to deal with loathsome men in public and at work was part of being a young woman. But it was more pervasive than that.
When I was 19 I worked in the production department of Granada publishing. One December evening I went out with one of the editors intending to go for a meal. He said he wanted to stop off at a Christmas drinks party for publishers. When we arrived at the club in which it was being held, I wasn’t allowed into the room, where I could see a hundred or so men, some of whom I knew, drinking, smoking and talking. My companion said he hadn’t realised that it was a men-only party, and that I should wait outside the room while he went in for a quick drink. I said I wouldn’t be doing that and walked in with him. There was a sudden hush in the room, then everyone tried to carry on as if nothing had happened and I wasn’t there. No one spoke to me, and soon I was asked to leave by some official, not because I hadn’t been invited, but because ‘women weren’t allowed’. I said no. My companion insisted that we leave. He was getting anxious. We went, but I skipped dinner.
The next day I was called in by the head of the department (the one with the filing for the bottom drawer) and told off; shouted at, actually. He had been at the party, too. I had behaved ‘very badly and immaturely’. ‘People’ in the profession had been embarrassed by my childish stunt. I was warned I had better not show up the company again.
Even if the underlying contempt for women has not exactly disappeared (read the tabloids, look at trolling on the internet), it is one of the great social improvements of the 20th century that it must be almost impossible for a young woman now to imagine a time within living memory when the superiority and dominance of men was so completely embedded into the normality of the world that I was faced with a man’s seething indignation simply for having walked into a room full of them.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"And so?"

I picked the image of a dead pigeon because that scene in the story really stuck out to me (pages 402-413). It's full of violence, death, killing. There's also a lot of talk from Maryrose and the narrator about how beautiful the pigeons are and what a shame it is for them to die. I found this striking. Anna has repeatedly asserted that beautiful things save her, or give her "immunity." Yet here the characters are killing beautiful things and we are told all beautiful things must die (like Maryrose's butterflies). So do beautiful things really have any power to save at all?

My allusion/reference also comes from this scene. The group is in a kopje full of barricades built by the Mashona in defense of the Matabele. These two groups were native tribes to Rhodesia, and the Matabele attacked and killed many Mashona until Britain began to protect the Mashona. The Matabele were known for taking Mashona women captive as sexual prizes. On page 403, Paul says "Imagine... Here we are, a group of Mashona besieged. The Matabele approach, in all their horrid finery. We are outnumbered." Paul puts the group into the perspective of the victims, not the conquerors. I wondered why he chose to take that perspective and what he thought the looming danger was. I'm still not totally sure. What I did infer, however, had to do with the plight of women at the time. Anna and Maryrose both say they would rather kill themselves than be sexually imprisoned like the Mashona women (403). The men, however, assert that women love them "all the more for our brutality" (411). Obviously, the men here aren't listening to what the women say. The women would rather die than lose their freedom, but the men seem to believe that men that are warlike (taking women captive) are also virile and loved by the captured women. These two conflicting perspectives cannot both be true, can they? Are the problems in the novel's relationships because the men don't take enough control, or because they take too much? Love is submissive, and Anna would rather die than to submit.

As Mrs. Marks would say, "And so?"

Tree of Codes & Kaffir

In conceptualizing the notion of a truly mad or chaotic book in relation to an image, I thought of Jonathan Safran Foer's recently published novel/artwork, Tree of Codes. Though I've not had the privilege of reading it, I've heard quite a bit about it. To create this work, Foer cut out the majority of words from Bruno Schulz's Street of Crocodiles in order to fashion a new story (allowing words from successive pages to fill in the blanks left from the cuts -- the attached image should help with visualizing it). This provides for a plethora of interpretations and implications. It is sort of overwhelming to think about. Each page can be read through an altered ostensible scope of Schulz's original intentions or through Foer's potentially haphazard or ingenious manipulation. 

For my sociopolitical illusion of choice, I selected Anna's reference to the word "kaffirs":
--"Just as the word kaffirs would have become, in its turn, too crude in ten years' time." (96)
The word is derived from the Arabic word, "Kafir", which roughly translates to English as "non-believer" or "disbeliever". Though originally a neutral term for referring to South African black people, by the 20th century it was considered an offensive ethnic slur. 

Experimenting Madly...right?

I chose this image to represent the cracking up theme in the novel because I liked the period it represented and that both subjects in the image are women. I feel this is a stereotypical example of how women are viewed when they "crack up."

As for my reference I chose the reference to Mayakovski early on in the novel. He was a Russian and Soviet poet and playwright. He was one of the people at the head of Russian Futurism. 


So, I drew these pigeons in class today during our close reading discussion. Something I quite enjoy about the passage on page 393 is its first sentence: “Today on the pavement a fat domestic London pigeon waddling among the boots and shoes of people hurrying for a bus.” The structure of this sentence mimics - or displays in another way - the image the sentence describes. This opening line is not a complete thought, but a series of thoughts strung together to reveal the feeling of chaotic streets, the motions of both men and birds. How do their (human footsteps & bird feet) rhythms match or interrupt each other? The language replicates the waddling movements of the birds; it is a chunky and clumsily organized sentence that is still read as an eloquent description of one London moment. I believe it is a great example of form as it mimics image, and one of my favorite images/ language bits of The Golden Notebook so far.

Also, an unrelated question/ thought that will backtrack some -- I have been into the idea of boulders // mountains for a while (from page 199). "The boulder is the truth that the great men know by instinct, and the mountain is the stupidity of mankind." Does this mean that truth is relative but stupidity/ ignorance is more solid/ lasting? That people are able to believe different truths at different times (because "we push the boulder") but we can not change who or what is "stupid"? I am curious to hear any thoughts about this boulder/ mountain issue...if it is even a relevant passage to bring up.

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Allright, so this was probably my fault for not being clear about our presentation today, my bad, but here is something that I thought about the passages that we talked about today. I felt that these passages contained a theme that is present throughout most of the novel. The theme is that people seem to often miss apply a false sense of authority, or rather, they make judgements and actions hastily based on what they believe to be true about what they're doing, and what they believe is true about what other people are doing or will do, and end up making a mistake and regretting it. Take for example the man who kicks the pigeon. If the man was being honest, that he assumed that the pigeon was just going to fly away, then he demonstrates that people in the novel act without thinking, based on some assumption that they take to be true at the time, and cause destruction, death, and other problems. The man believes the pigeon will fly away, he believes this gives him the right to kick, his assumption turns out to be wrong, the pigeon dies, and he is hated by those around him. 

Merely sticking to humans interacting with the animal world, this occurs again when Paul and Jimmy notice two pairs of grasshoppers mating among the swarm. They instantly judge the creatures based on their size and assume that the two pairings are "grotesque", and Paul decides that it is his responsibility to "correct" this flaw in nature. And yet, even after he and Jimmy have successfully switched the two pairs so that they match up more in size, the bigger with the bigger, smaller with smaller, the way in which the one on top then switches with the one on top indicates that, in doing so, they may have actually pared them incorrectly, and that they may have, in the process of "correcting" a perceived flaw in nature, they may have ended up creating another one.

But these interactions of the human world botching up the animal world also relates to how the human characters have been acting towards each other. even from the very beginning when Molly, Anna, and Richard are discussing what's"best" for Tommy we see that these people are constantly forcing their own opinions and what they believe to be correct on others, and on many occasions, such as when Tommy ends up putting the three to shame when they try to tell him what's best for him, or how Anna and Molly lament that their time in the party was a waste of time. And the fact that this happens in the beginning of the novel, as well as in the Black notebook, if the notebook is to be believed, shows that Anna has done this multiplt times without ever having learned her lesson. 

Real men

I wrote this early so I wouldn't forget, and although it's not entirely about the picture, there is something else I wanted to address first.

Lessing/ Anna continually speak of "real men" and it makes me wonder what exactly a real man is? On 463, Anna says "...women have this deep instinctive need to build a man up as a man...this is because real men become fewer and fewer, and we are frightened, trying to create men." What man is Anna trying to create? The majority of men Anna seems to think are "real men" are unfaithful and polygamous or they're insensitive, unapologetic, and generally just bad people. The ones who are kind-hearted and seem to care are bad at sex or homosexual, and Anna seems to immediately dismiss them, often comparing them to girls or depriving them of their masculinity. She even generalizes this to an entire country saying England is "full of men who are little boys and homosexuals and half-homosexuals." So what does Anna want in a man?

I would argue that ultimately Anna doesn't want a man. She is a "free woman" and despite her constant myriad of relationships, and despite her need to "play the girlfriend" she is content deep down with no permanent desire for attachment. Despite her cracking up and own bouts of panic, she needs the freedom to experience her full self. Thus she constantly critiques masculinity, with no man ever being the ideal "real man". In this way Lessing illustrates the empowered woman, though I wonder if she will continue to remain so independent until the end of the novel.
I chose this image because of the dual nature of chaos and uniformity in the novel. Anna's division of her self, represented by her notebooks, ultimately shows all aspects of her identity. Like the individual squares in the image, the individual anecdotes, stories, and thoughts give us a sense of her overall character. While each square/ section may seem random, separate, and unrelated to one another, when viewed as a whole, they portray something greater.

[Life and death and chaos and self- preservation…


                I chose a photo titled Rome, 1977 by the American Photographer Francesca Woodman.  Woodman had a particular interest in self-presentation/self-preservation, space, and the “long single exposures that blur the trace of the subject”. I can’t help relate Woodman’s interpretation and portrayal of space and the momentariness of the blurred girl to the ways in which internal/external, public/private space are working in The Golden Notebook. I am particularly interested in the relationship between domestic and public space and how/if Anna’s interactions and experiences within these spaces enable her to form, preserve, or more clearly forge her identity. Anna denies order but fails to acknowledge the necessity of form to understand the seemingly overwhelming chaos and what it means to "crack up." Anna dwells in the out of body liminal space, the space of "I" and "Anna".  Although the term “cracking up” implies a fragmented array of chaos and disorder, there is also a sense of integrity associated with active moment of “cracking up.” Although the term cracking implies a division, breaking, or disconnection, it simultaneously preserves a moment of action where the entire or whole object shares the moment with the potentiality of separation; this moment preserves or even traps Anna in patterned process of cracking up, the space between the various dichotomies established throughout the text.  As discussed in class, much of Anna’s anxiety derives from her desire to define/label/reveal a reason for her existence. These distressing surges towards self-discovery force Anna to rely on other people and her environment to constitute an a sense of self. Anna’s experience on the train urges her to demystify her obsession with “cracking up." The transient motion and public space of the train challenges Anna to physically collide/interact with the “yellowish grey and large-poured” man and the intimidating “living city” environment. The short, fragmented s descriptions of the Anna’s repulsion towards “the face” following her further indicates her initial inability to view things as whole or complete; Anna refuses to convey an integral image of the man, and we can, consequently, only envision parts or sections of his body and face, unable to see him as whole or human. These seemingly threatening moments reveal Anna’s reliance on the distanced space between the dichotomies that plague The Golden Notebook: living/dead, feeling/thinking, and internal/external, physically/mentally, and order/chaos.  Overwhelmingly, once Anna enters the Tube, she must include her external environment in her attempt to forge an identity. In this sense, the collision of the public space with Anna’s desire to be defined and her simultaneous fear of order enables her to almost preserve a whole version of herself in a world where she can be "alone in chaos” (285). Anna “felt a swaying”, “and saw the sway”, and is finally “feeling the shake and sway” (373). The development from “felt a swaying to “saw the sway”, and finally Anna’s “feeling the shake and sway” suggests that perhaps Anna was able to successfully defeat the physical/mental dichotomy and merge her mind and body in an instant of momentary completion. Furthermore, Anna finally refers to the face as a man after “touching the smooth” fruit to counteract the intimidating ugliness of the “living city”. Even though Anna can momentarily exist in the collision or “swaying” motion of the patterns created by the process of “cracking up”, she reverts back to the calming “immunity” and facilitates the distance created through various oppositions, by buying the fruit. Instead of acknowledging her identity as one that is cracked and therefore also whole (in the pattern of actively cracking) and in this sense, ordered through the process of chaos, she retreats to the side of the living fruit and further distancing, fragmenting, and disconnecting  Anna's physical act of purchasing the fruit and "smelling at the tart clean smell, touching the smooth or faintly hairy skins” from her internal world; Anna hides in the calming sensory moment of the fruit instead of  feeling, acting, and thinking her way through the challenge of a "crack up."
               Only evanescently, after a dream is she “both giddy and afraid”) without struggling to maintain a balance of the various divisions that external world demands (373). Although Anna comes to close to self-preservation of a whole self in her external environment, she nears a more perfect  moment of collision in the domestic space of her flat: “She went into the kitchen, and ran a glass of water, slowly: running the water to watch it splash and sparkle, to hear its cool noise. She was using the water as she has used the fruit earlier-to calm… ”, or in this case, the dash relates a distance to distance associated with calm. In this instant, Anna momentarily realizes the necessity of collision instead of distance or space by confessing “I’m right off balance” suggesting that she was once on balance and now takes refuge in the impossibility of attaining the type of balance required by whole of society. Instead, this realization in the private setting of her flat suggests the importance of both a domestic and public space to enable the experience of a “figure that sprang into shape and personality against the defining light" (378). The potential “personality” or identity for Anna awaits if she accepts the notion that chaos is capable of producing form/shape, meaning, and finality. Just like before the dashes and fragments thwart the connection of thought, Anna, and act of cracking up: “And she thought: this time intelligence, it’s the only barrier between me and-but this time she didn’t finish it, she knew how to end the sentence. Between me and cracking up. Yes” (378).
            Anna’s attempt to live and preserve her identity in the moment of various patterns that make up the process of cracking up, is analogous to our experiences as readers; we experience the patterned repetition of the notebooks and, like Anna’s tendency to define herself in regards to people and spaces, we want to define our identity/commitment to a particular notebook and “crack” the seemingly mystery of the chaotic format of the book. We are experiencing the frantic process of reading a novel riddled with chaos in anticipation of an end, finality, or conclusion of some sort. She doesn’t want to make meaning of the chaos because that would impose of type of order or pattern; a fixity or wholeness that Anna would be outside of instead of safe within. Once we have claimed to have solved this novel then it’s over finished; whole, complete…where does that leave us? Which “notebook were we preserved in? Will Anna ever become preserved and accept being composed of fragmented chaos.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Cracking up" also Means to Laugh

I thought Google images was making my life difficult by returning images of people laughing when I searched for the central phrase "cracking up." I thought this inconvenient idiom would stop me from discovering a meaningful image, but then I found the passage on pages 409 and 410 concerning laughter. In the couse of this passage Paul claims that he never actually laughs when he is happy (Maryrose's observation supports this). A while ago I watched a program on the History Channel called "The History of the Joke." Durring this program the interviewed comedians adressed the nature of laughter. This one elderly comedian said that laughter was a pure and vulnerable state. When one laughs they are exposed in the honest expresion of their emotion. He likened laughter to crying, saying that they two were very similar in this respect.

With this understanding, Paul and Anna's laughter in response to Wili's defense of socialist philosophy followed by Paul's instance that he does not laugh when he is happy makes the phrase "cracking up" and the idiom for laughter much more unified in meaning than I would have first suspected.

In this case Paul and Anna's mirthless laughter in the face of socialistic policy represents a portion of their lives where they are vulnerable. People who laugh when they are happy do so from a more stable place, where they do not fear the exposure of their raw emotions. Maryrose and Willi claim to be a part of this group. In contrast, Paul and Anna's laughter expresses their instability, the cracking up of their own world.

of course after this I could not find an image that I thought adequately expressed this idea but I did find this.

I think there might be some meaning that can be extracted from the fact that this is the traditional representation of theatrical comedy. The lines across the mask serve for cracks and I've always thought the comedy mask looks very close to crying.


I chose this image because it reminded me of the passage we discussed in class on Tuesday. When Anna is in the elevator she is clearly in panic.  Although the elevator she was in was tightly fit with others, she had her eyes closed for the majority of it.  I feel as though a lot of the internal conflict that Anna feels is not necessarily dictated by immediate outside forces. Her sick feeling is present before she even realizes the man in the elevator is staring at her. While her panic was fueled by the crowed situation, what she is battling with is entirely internal at first.

I chose to look up the Rosenberg reference in the text because I have seen it in many other places. Julius and Ethel Rosenburg were executed June 19, 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage.  They were suspected of giving the Soviet Union information about the atomic bomb.  

The Two Fridas

I feel like pretty much any painting by Frida Kahlo would apply to The Golden Notebook simply because I feel that this particular artist embodies many of the themes we have been discussing in class. She was an active Communist, an outspoken advocate for sexual freedom for women, and was somewhat infamous for her rocky love affairs. In addition, Frida Kahlo's artwork is influenced by the pain throughout her life, particularly the miscarriage she had after her body was permanently damaged in an accident. The other day as we discussed the part in the blue notebook where Anna describes her period and how awful it is, I couldn't help but be reminded of Kahlo's work. I realize that miscarriage and having one's period are not really the same thing, I think the point remains that the two women express troubles unique to their gender. 

I chose this particular painting because of the other passage we discussed the other day in which Anna questions who she is (373). A little research told me that this painting was painted at the time of Frida's divorce from her husband (and another prolific artist) Diego Rivera. It is believed that this painting, entitled "The Two Fridas," was an expression of her feelings as she went through this time. Anna experiences a similar "split" as she struggles on the bus with both being a mother to Janet and being her own person. Frida seems to be struggling with a similar split between her domestic self and her personal self as an individual. 

The historical term that caught my interest was the McCarran Act referenced on p. 233 among the article clippings Anna carefully places in the journal. After a little research I discovered that the act, officially called the McCarran Internal Security Act, required Communist organizations to register with the U.S. Attorney General and established the Subversive Activities Control Board to investigate people suspected of engaging in subversive activities or otherwise promoting the establishment of a totalitarian dictatorship, either fascist or communist. The notebook mentions Title II of the act, which focused on emergency detention of "foreseen threats" to the national security. Title I of the act, officially entitled the Subversive Activities Control Act, which allowed for the U.S. government to basically cross examine whoever they wanted on the grounds that they were somehow ensuring the country's safety (it reminds me a lot of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission in Harry Potter).

Tory's and Swaying

“I thought: Good God, who is this awful little Tory Tommy’s inflicted on me?” pg 350.
Tory – In Britain, Tory is a term that means a member of the Conservative party or stands for the party in general, after 1832. Not a slur, self-inflicted.

I chose this image because to me, it represents the feeling of panic we were talking about in class yesterday (the sway quotes). At that point, Ella is panicking, focusing on herself and her feeling of "cracking up." She is surrounded by people, but that offers no relief. This picture shows dizziness, blurriness, the feeling that I believe Lessing was trying to convey when she used "sway" as a descriptor. 

Housewives; Czech Sabotage Trial

Pardon the language... But I think this image is relevant to The Golden Notebook. Perhaps we can even hear Anna saying that. I thought of the yellow notebook and Ella's letters that she receives for Women at Home. We mentioned in class yesterday how Ella and Paul refer to the letters as "Mrs. Browns," thus reducing all of the letter writers into one category. Most of them are housewives with mental problems, and our protagonist in the story wants to escape that, to be a "free woman." I also thought about when Ella goes to Paul's house and notices that his wife reads Women at Home. Ella doesn't believe that his wife can possibly be happy, but Paul insists that she is. The image above represents the women, like Ella/Anna, wanting more out of life than "fifties housewife bullshit."

I have also researched the Czech Sabotage Trial, mentioned on page 236 in the text. Also referred to as the Slánský trial, Communist Party General Secretary, Rudolf Slánský and his thirteen co-defendants were arrested, unjustly accused, tried, and executed as traitors and western spies. The trial was orchestrated by Soviet advisors, sent to Prague by Stalin, and assisted by Czechoslovak Secret Service interrogators and members of Czechoslovak Communist Party Central Community. They were thought to have adopted the line of the maverick Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito and were accused of participating in a Trotskyite-Titoite-Zionist conspiracy. The trial was the result of a split within the Communist leadership on the degree to which the state should emulate the Soviet Union and was part of a Stalin-inspired purge of "disloyal" members as well as a purge of Jews from the leadership of Communist parties. After Stalin's death, the victims of the trial quietly received amnesty one by one.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

There are popsicles everywhere

This painting by the contemporary primitivist John Lurie is watercolor, ink and oil pastel on clayboard. It feels reminiscent of the scene on pages 372-3 that we close-read in class today, with all the "oozing" and "squeezing"--ostensibly a coalescing as opposed a fragmenting--though in this case, the "compartment," the "crammed smelly place" which contains what might be termed "the undifferentiated blob" is a mental rather than a physical public space. I'm fascinated by this idea of the fragment-mistaken-as-whole, either within consciousness (as in the painting) or manifested within a public space as a crowd/mass (as in the passage); every "whole" ultimately has it's container--is in fact a fragment. The floating eye (also contained) might be equated with Anna's self-consciousness, the moments in which she becomes explicity "conscious of Anna" (373), almost as if she splits herself in two or looks down at herself from an analytic balustrade.
As for my gloss, I've selected the kopje, a geological formation, usually dome-like, which becomes isolated through the process of erosion. This feels important considering the theme of isolation (which also relates to fragmentation) that runs throughout the text.

dealing with it later

I was going to explain the reference to Quemoy, but Victoria beat me to it...not that there is a shortage of references in The Golden Notebook that I don't fully understand.  One of these references is in regard to Paul's work - "He specialised in leucotomies" (313).  Using the text, one can decipher that a leucotomy deals with the brain, operations, and irreversible changes in the patient.

According to the interwebs, a leucotomy occurs when the connections to the frontal lobe are severed.  This operation was very popular in the '40s and '50s for patients with severe psychotic or depressive illnesses; however, the operation is rarely performed now because in greatly increases epilepsy.

Once Paul explains what his job is, Ella is surprised, stating, "But you know when you've finished that operation, it's final, the people are never the same again?" (313).  This finality is something that seems to worry Ella, and consequently, Anna.  Both characters have a difficulty finishing things: affairs, jobs, friendships.  For Anna, especially in the case of her novel Frontiers of War, she can never be finished, because to be finished she would have to be happy with her work.  Anna continuously strives for the truth, for the most real writing she can achieve, but she struggles.  Anna tries for finality occasionally, but most often she is content to remain where she is.  The most striking description of Anna that describes her willingness to simply stay where she is just because is "But it seemed too much effort to leave it and find another" (293).  This quote comes from Ella, but the same quality of staying can be found in Anna.  For Anna and Ella, it is easier to live in the moment or in past moments.

 This is why I chose a picture of clutter to represent the novel so far.  The clutter is organized - like the notebooks, pushed aside yet still present - like the memories, and the clutter is not changing or going away - like Anna and Ella.

"emotion and nothing else"

Girl before a mirror, Picasso, 1932

This painting by Picasso illustrates tensions of fragmentation/wholeness and internal/external presentation of self.  I’m interested in the way in which a mirror can construct a whole/integral image despite seemingly disparate parts of that image.  Characters in Anna’s notebooks serve as mirror images for people in Anna’s life.  Although the novel seems to fight against the tendency to produce a “whole” or “integral” image of its fragmented parts, it does, nevertheless, produce “mirror” images that create illusions of wholeness in their reflections of characters.

In this case, the reflected image is the darker one—perhaps illustrating what the woman sees in herself that is not perceived by society.  This is interesting, then, in the way in which the mirror—a reflecting force that creates illusions and distorts—is also, in a sense, revealing the woman’s subconscious perceptions of self.  The mirror both creates illusions and works to reveal internal conflicts in self-identity—not unlike the way in which Anna’s writing both reflects and reveals but also undermines its author’s efforts to create an integral self.  This painting also speaks to Anna’s sexual concerns—that the clitoral orgasm is merely external or false whereas the vaginal orgasm (internal/penetrative) allows her to achieve her true self. (mirrors/writing can reflect feelings but cannot actually penetrate the self).  The clitoral orgasm is male-manipulated (mechanical) whereas the vaginal orgasm is the only “female” orgasm that produces “pure emotion”—a “dissolving in a vague, dark generalized sensation” (204).  Separate elements cannot be distinguished when dissolved, suggesting that the orgasm--true experience--is the solvent and can merge disparate substances of self.  The “sensations” and “emotions” are indistinguishable, illustrating the merging of the physical and emotional into one “true experience.”  Because it cannot be self-induced, the vaginal orgasm reveals Anna's incapability to construct a whole self.  

“‘Or perhaps you’d like a merrie England, beer, skittles, and the girls in long homespun dresses?’”
“She said, angry: ‘Of course not!  I hate all the William Morris stuff’” (180).   

This conversation between Ella and Paul is focused on Paul’s accusations of Ella’s communist leanings.  Ella refutes his association of her with William Morris, an English textile designer, artist, writer, and libertarian socialist.  Hugely influential in the arts and crafts movement, Morris was responsible for mass productions of wallpaper designs.  Morris seems to contribute to the “quiet and tame and suburban” masque of a society that is, in fact, deeply split and fractured. 

And to continue our discussion of periods . . . 

The Truth-Teller; or The Four-Armed Man

 Part 1
The first historical reference that I didn't understand in The Golden Notebook is on pages 152. It's in the Red Notebook. The Rosenbergs have just been executed for alleged Marxist activity and Anna opens a paragraph with a one-word sentence: "Koestler."

It turns out she's referring to Arthur Koestler, a Hungarian/German author who was once a dyed-in-the-wool Communist. Stalinism, however, proved too brutal for him and he left the Party in 1938. He went on to write several novels and biographies that essentially beat totalitarianism with a crowbar. (He later killed himself because he had been diagnosed with cancer, but that happened after this book was published. Still eerie, no?)

According to the Red Notebook, Anna has been reading Koestler, which hardly keeps her in with the Party. She paraphrases him, saying, "any communist in the West who stayed in the Party after a certain date did so on the basis of a private myth. Something like that." She then reflects, "what is my private myth?" This invocation of Koestler reveals Anna searching for the Truth. Ironically, she does not quote directly, as if the very words she's searching for Truth in are not all that important to that search.

Part 2

 I selected this image because it portrays the splitting of Platonic soulmates; I keep hearing Plato in The Golden Notebook as Anna strives for wholeness of Self. She seeks out that wholeness in other people, just as Plato's story of soulmates suggests: we need other people, we need connection, in order to be individuals.

The Korean War and the Battle of the Sexes

Straight up, I know next to nothing about the Korean War. I mean, really? I guess that makes me a bad historian. But then I also guess it's a good thing I'm an English major, then ;)

...moving along.

The Korean War, mentioned in Anna's clippings, arose amidst the Cold War. A result of North Korea invading South Korea, the UN were alerted to arms to try and stop the fighting. I feel like I could go into some serious detail here, but I'm going to leave it at that simple summary.

I hope you guys laughed out loud at this image like I did when it popped up on my "Battle of the Sexes" Google search. But as hilarious as this poorly manipulated photo is, I feel that this image of the "Battle of the Sexes" is absolutely, positively relevant to The Golden Notebook. I'm a little hung up on the notion of "free women" and what that exactly entails, but I see it enforced as the novel moves along. There seems to be with every turn of the page, a subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) stab at maleness in juxtaposition with womanhood. Again, it's something I feel I could write a whole lot more on, but I am going to save my thoughts for our presentation on Thursday. See you then team EBF!

Most important corpse in Europe

First, this image is from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which in short order was brutally reversed by the Soviet Army. This image of Stalin as an enormous corpse is simply fascinating, and I think it gets at both the sense of rot afflicting Communism and the impossibility of ignoring it. The giant stone corpse in the room, as it were.

I'd like to call attention to some name-references I've found in the book; I'm sure there are more. The first one that stood out to me was Paul Blackenhurst. We can divide his last name into "blacken + hurst", where hurst is a Middle English word for a grove or a wood. This sense of blackening something connects Paul to the Black Notebook, a sense of power and mystery, but also to death and decay (a "black" wood) which eliminates renewal. 

Next I picked up on a suggestion in the name Willi Rodde, where Willi is most likely short for Wilhelm. Wilhelm is also the name of a rather famous European leader who lead Germany on an African imperialist project, while Rodde suggests Rhodes, as in Cecil Rhodes, a businessman who was a driving force in the British colonization of Rhodesia (named after him, just where the events of the Black Notebook happen to occur) and white supremacy there. 

Finally, it is mentioned on p. 447 that Anna's maiden name is Freeman, which is something like the structuring absence in the title "Free Women." As usual, this is ironic, but also in some ways universalizing, as women are "men" too in some (but not other) meanings of that word.

Monday, October 15, 2012


The headline and snippet on page 241 in my edition of the text refers to the trial and sentencing of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and represents the only case of civilians being executed for espionage in US history. Their trial and execution helped fuel the paranoia fueled McCarthy "witch hunts."

Since everyone else is posting moody and abstract images, I felt a little levity would be helpful. Although Anna describes her news-paper snippets as being about "death and destruction," there is definitely a focus on the activities of the USA. And many of the snippets have to do with McCarthy, or the imprisoning of communists. To the contemporary outsider (i.e. non-American) might think reading about these events, it seems appropriate to post an image that reflects the mass over-riding of common sense in the name of "security."

Though the first thing that comes to mind whenever I think of this book is F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up, the second associaion that I think of is, oddly enough, Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining. Admittedly, I don't think that Anna is going to end up attempting to murder her family; nor do I believe her issues to be at all supernatural. However, there are a number of similarities between Anna and Jack Torrance, not least the fact that they share a profession. And, while Jack's journal contains only one very creepy phrase in the film, I think it's significant that the act of journaling is indelibly linked with the issues both characters are facing.

A woman on p. 384 of The Golden Notebook makes reference to the R.S.P.C.A. after she witnesses a man kick a pigeon on the street.
The Royal Society for the Preventino of Cruelty to Animals is a charity that has operated since 1824; it is the oldest animal welfare charity in the world. Queen Victoria granted it "Royal" status in 1840, and since then it has served as a model for animal welfare charities across the world. The society has been charged with a number of misdemeanors over the years of its existence, including the charge that its members have impersonated British police forces.

Quemoy War

On page 274 of The Golden Notebook, a newsman in the background of a scene shouts about, “War in Quemoy”. The scene between Anna and Reggie, the man from the TV company, is littered with this single line. Toward the end of page 275 (and of the scene itself), Anna remarks that, “This is going to be another of the places we know about only because there’s been a war in it.” After reading this small reference, I had to agree; I had never before heard of Quemoy, and I was interested to learn more. Quemoy is actually an island in the Taiwan Strait, and was one of two islands attacked by the People’s Republic of China during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. It took place in the year 1958, and was one of a serious of conflicts between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China. The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis ended in a stalemate between the two sides.

I chose a picture of a damaged book because Anna dislikes, if not outright hates, her first novel. The Golden Notebook as a whole seems to criticize writing, or the popularity of writing. Many characters or people Anna meets throughout the novel, whether they're named or just a part of the mass, seem to be in the process of writing a novel. Along with the constant attempts to have her novel turned into a film, the book seems to hint at the degradation of the written word.