HE462--Chasing Medusa


This course will focus on the figure of Medusa as it appears and is reconceived again and again in literature from the classical to the post-modem period. Apart from serving as a particularly concentrated reinforcement of period distinctions, the course will introduce some essential themes: the hero, the monster, romantic and religious love-and the way in which violence, gender, and poetry are inextricably connected in the various manifestations of these themes. The course will give students an opportunity to study rich specimens of imaginative literature from such writers as Ovid, Dante, Petrarch, Shelley, and Plath; and also theoretical writings of such figures as Freud, Jung, Campbell, and Cixous. It will also address more formally than is common the ways in which myth and literary allusions operate, the interpretive "laws" by which they come to mean something within lyrics and narratives, and indeed within different periods and ideologies--the Patristic and the feminist, for instance.

 
Web Texts (selections)
Apollodorus, Library
Dante, from Rime Petrose and Purgatoria
Freud, "The Head of the Medusa"
Lully, Persee
McGann, "The Beauty of the Medusa"
Morris, from The Earthly Paradise
Ovid, from Metamorphosis
Pindar, 12th Phythian Ode
Shelley, "On the Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci"
Selections of Poetry (Bogan, Clampitt,
    David, Deming, Hollandor, Plath, 
    Rossetti, Sarton, Smith, Wandor,) 
Books 
John Barth, Chimera 
Russell Hoban, The Medusa Frequency 
Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head 
Peter Shaffer, The Gift of the Gorgon

Handouts (selections)
Majorie Gerber, from "Macbeth: The Male Medusa"
Hélène Cixous, from "The Laugh of the Medusa"
Petrarch, from Canzoniere
Selections of modern poetry
Ann Stanford, "The Women of Perseus" 

Syllabus
Please note that the following syllabus lays out a schedule of readings, topics, and activities for class sessions.  I will expect you to prepare for those sessions by completing the scheduled readings and activities. However, please roam about the material in the syllabus at your leisure, and feel free to raise issues that interest you at any time during the semester, to follow up on notions that come to you or that emerge during class sessions, and to peek regularly at the list of possible paper topics, a list that will grow as the semester unfolds. This syllabus also includes links to Medusa sites, all useful in getting us well-acquainted with the myth.

P   O   S   T   I   N   G   S

1.  Guidelines for Short Papers(click)
2.  Suggested Topics for Short Papers (click)
3.  Short list of Medusa/Gorgon films (click)
4.  Three in-class paragraphs on A Severed Head (click)
5.  Sample short paper on A Severed Head (click)
6.  Guidelines for Capstone Paper (click)
7.  Capstone Projects (click)
 
WEEK DAY            READINGS      TOPICS AND ACTIVITIES
WK1 Aug 19 Introduction to Course Who/what is Medusa?
- Aug 21 from Apollodorus, The Library  text link
from Ovid, Metamorphosis, 4 (ll.604ff.)  text link
                                            5 (ll.1-293)  text link
The Medusa Story
Medusa, Perseus, Athena, et al
- Aug 23 Pindar, 12th Pythian Ode text link and/or text link
"Medusa in Myth . . ."  text link
Ovid's Narrative Choices/Meanings; Medusa
and Art/Poetry/Music
WK 2 Aug 26 Shaffer, The Gift of the Gorgon (complete) Ancient Medusa in 20th C.
- Aug 28 The Gift of the Gorgon, cont. "Violence and the Sacred"; Medusa/Representation
- Aug 30 The Gift of the Gorgon, cont. More Medusa Issues
WK 3 Sep  2 NO CLASS--LABOR DAY -
- Sep  4 Gerber, "Macbeth: The Male Medusa" (handout)  art link Medusa and the Uncanny; Medieval and Renaissance Versions
- Sep  6 Dante, Rime Petrose  text link Petrification, Love, the Flesh
WK 4 Sep  9 Medusa in the Inferno/Medieval Medusa  text link Medusa and Athena in Pauline Terms
- Sep 11 Petrarch, from Canzoniere (handout) Petrification, Love, and Art (Pygmalion?)
- Sep 13 Review.  Study guide (click here) Medusa Themes (link) ; Discuss Paper #1
WK 5 Sep 16 Murdoch, A Severed Head (1st 100 pages) In-class writing/quizz;sample results- click
- Sep 18 A Severed Head (complete) Ancient ("Primitive"?)Medusa in the Modern World
- Sep 20 A Severed Head, cont. Violence as Subtext; Medusa as the Unconventional
WK 6 Sep 23 Shelley, "On the Medusa. . ."  text link
Ruben not da Vinci (go to art link & art link 2
Recommended  text link on Ruben's Medusa
Caravaggio, Medusa Shield (after1590)  art link
Medusa and Borders
Medusa as Fear
Medusa vs. Authority
Horror as Beauty
*** Sep 25 Deadline for short paper #1 (click here for guidelines) Editing Exercise
- Sep 27 Rosetti, Medusa  text link Medusa Sentimentalized; Doubling Mirror/representation
WK 7 Sep 30 Morris, from "The Doom..."  text link  (pp171-240, or ll 5922-8382) Review Romantic Themes/In-class Writing
- Oct  2 McGann, "The Beauty of the Medusa"  text link and
La giaconda art link; Rondanini Medusa art link;
and for fun  art link
-
- Oct  4 Freud, "Medusa's Head"  text link
Athena--Freud's Favorite art link  (go to Athena)
See also text link
Medusa and the Castration Complex
Medusa as container of opposites
WK 8 Oct  7 View Fatal Attraction  (femme fatale, decapitation text link --recommended) Is Freud Right?  Hair?
- Oct  9 Barth, Chimera, "Dunyazadiad" In class Writing/Quiz
- Oct 11 Open Modern Heroic?
WK 9 Oct 15 Barth, Chimera, "Perseid" Perseus in Therapy
- Oct 16 "Perseid," cont. Medusa as Wanting Love (Morris revisited?)
- Oct 18 No class--Compensatory Time for "Fatal Attraction" -
WK10 Oct 21 Barth, Chimera, "Bellerophoniad"
For background see  text linktext link and art and text link
Reality and Representation--and Medusa
- Oct 23 Review -
*** Oct 25 Open
Deadline for Short Paper #2 (click here for guidelines)
-
WK11 Oct 28 Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa" (handout)
Explore "The Laugh . . . Resource Page"  text link
Medusa, Feminism and Postmodernism
Body-Spirit Reconfigured (see  text link )
- Oct 30 More feminist shaping of Medusa  text link
A "take" on gender and decaptiation of Medusa  text link
Angry Women" cover of Medusa text link
Angry Medusa--look out Perseus, good-bye Freud
- Nov 1 Smith, "Medusa" ( text link); Duplessis, "Medusa," in section called "Wells" (text link);  Bogan, "Medusa" ( text link ; see also  text link); Wandor (text link) Medusa as lyrical inspiration
Medusa as more than Athena's aegis
WK12 Nov  4 Open Report Proposed Paper Topics
- Nov  6 Clampitt, "Medusa at Broadstairs," (read pp.8-9 of  text link); and "The Mirror of the Gorgon," (handout) Medusa and Art
- Nov  8 No class--Compensatory time -
WK13 Nov11 NO CLASS--VETERAN'S DAY -
- Nov 13 Stanford, "The Women of Perseus"  (handout) Hero defined by women
- Nov 15 Plath, "Medusa" and "Perseus" (text link); and (text link) for bio. Oppositions, age-old violence, Medusa
WK14 Nov 18  Medusa poems by Lowell, David, Sarton, Deming, Merwin, Nemerov, Sarton, Sitwell (handout) Men's and women's Medusa
- Nov 20 Hoban, The Medusa Frequency (complete) (art link, scroll)
              (other art links)
Medusa, Kraken, Euridice/Quiz
- Nov 22 The Medusa Frequency, cont. Heads will roll
WK15 Nov 25 The Medusa Frequency, cont. Women and water
- Nov 27 Cellini, Perseus and Medusa (art link) & (art link);Caravaggio, Medusa Shield  (art link) Discuss Cellini as review of themes; Report on papers
- Nov 29 NO CLASS--THANKSGIVING LEAVE -
WK16 Dec 2 Complete work on papers; conferences -
- Dec 4 Complete work on papers; conferences -
- Dec 6 Final Matters
Deadline for capstone papers
First Impressions and Last Impressions?



Notes on Goals, Policies, Grading, and Requirements

1.  Goals.  To know the Medusa myth "inside out"; to be able to understand and explain clearly the major themes related to the Medusa myth as it has unfolded over time; and to research and compose papers that employ both the knowledge of interpretation and skill as a writer that you have gained as an English major--and that you will have developed during this course

2.  Instruction.  Discussion shared equally among students and teacher.

3.  Assignments and Grading.
Quizzes, short in-class writings, & contribution to seminar . . . . roughly 20% of final grade
Two 2-3 page papers, each on a different work . . . . . . . . . . . . roughly 30% of final grade
Major paper of about 15 pages  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  roughly 50% of final grade



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Major Topics involved in the Medusa Myth (listed randomly)

1.   The monstrous.
2.   The hero.
3.   The mask.
4.   Flight (as with Perseus' sandals and Pegasus).
5.   "The gaze," eyes, reflection. (click here)
6.   The serpant.
7.   Hair.
8.   Violence and the definition of women (sexual difference).
9.   The cultural meaning of rape.
10.  The "shield."
11.  The origin of "gender."
12.  Petrification.
13.  Art, representation, and sexual difference.
14.  Doubles.
15.  "Violence and the sacred," to use Girard's term.
16.  Matriarchy vs. patriarchy.



 
 









Notes on the Medieval Medusa
 
1.  from Dante, "Inferno," Canto 9

Dante and Virgil, before the gates of the infernal city of Dis, wait for heavenly help to open the gates, which the fiends have just closed to them.  The three furies then appear on the wall above them, making all sorts of loathsome and frightening noises; they threaten to call for Medusa, who will turn the pilgrims into stone.  Here is the passage from Mark Musa's translation:

                "This swamp that breathes with a prodigious stink
                    lies in a circle round the doleful city
                    that now we cannot enter without strife."

                And he said other things, but I forget them,
                    for suddenly my eyes were drawn above,
                    up to the fiery top of that high tower

                where in no time at all and all at once
                    sprang up three hellish Furies stained with blood,
                    their bodies and their gestures those of females;

                their waists were bound in cords of wild green hydras,
                    horned snakes and little serpents grew as hair,
                    and twined themselves around the savage temples.

                And he who had occasion to know well
                    the handmaids of the queen of timeless woe
                    cried out to me "Look there!  The fierce Erinyes!

                That is Megaera, the one there to the left,
                    and that one raving on the right, Alecto,
                    Tisiphone, in the middle."  He said no more.

                With flailing palms the three would beat their breasts,
                    then tear them with their nails, shrieking so loud,
                    I drew close to the poet, confused with fear.

                "Medusa, come, we'll turn him into stone,"
                     they shouted all together glaring down,
                    "how wrong we were to let off Theseus lightly!"

                "Now turn your back and cover up your eyes,
                    for if the Gorgon comes and you should see her,
                    there would be no returning to the world!"

                These were my master's words.  He turned me round
                    and did not trust my hands to hide my eyes
                    but placed his own on mine and kept them covered.

                O all of you whose intellects are sound,
                    look now and see the meaning that is hidden
                    beneath the veil that covers my strange verses:

                and then, above the filthy swell, approaching,
                    a blast of sound, shot through with fear, exploded,
                    making both shores of Hell begin to tremble. . ."

Here the angel arrives to open for Virgil and Dante the gates to Dis, whereupon they encounter the Epicureans.

2.  from Carolyn Dinshaw's Chaucer's Sexual Poetics, concerning this literal vs. spiritual, body vs. mind, Medusa vs. Athena opposition suggested in Dante's passage above:

So allegorical interpretation is, in this sense, undressing the text--unveiling the truth, revealing a body figuratively represented as female.  This interpretive activity is only for initiates of the highest intelligence, Macrobius argues; only available to the learned, Boccaccio argues; and only for men, as the diction of hetersexual culture suggests.  Richard of Bury, again, provides a clear example of this gendering of allegorical reading:  in describing the difficult and tedious task of discovering the truth in a classical text, he uses the language of seduction:  "The wisdom of the ancients devised a remedy by which to entice the wanton minds of men by a kind of pious fraud, the delicate Minerva secretly lurking beneath the image of pleasure." . . . But according to Richard of Bury (and Augustine before him), the reader must pass beyond that pleasurable surface, the signifier, to the hidden truth beneath, the signified. . . When Dante, in Inferno 9, admonishes his reader to "mark the doctrine under the veil of strange verses," he links that veil with the threat of feminine beauty posed by Medusa."

3.  from Sylvia Huot, "The Medusa Interpolation," Speculum 62/4 (1987):

Perseus arms himself with the mirror of reason to resist the dangerously feminine, to neutralize the erotic power that threatens to immobilize him.  This interpretation of Perseus and Medusa was current during the Middle Ages.  For example, Bernardis Silvestris, in his commentary on Aeneid 4. 289, explains that Perseus is the virtue that, with the help of wisdom (Athena) and eloquence (Mercury), destroys wicked acts (Medusa). . . The Ovid moralisé continues the tradition.  According to the moral gloss Medusa is "charnel delice" and Perseus is Christ.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Links to Useful Sites Related to Medusa

1.      Cellini's Perseus and Medusa
2.      Da Vinci's La Gioconda (Mona Lisa)
3.      Gods, Heroes, and Myth Page.  Basic site for brief description of Classical figures.
4.      Sources for Medusa.  Briefly captures some early descriptions of Medusa.
5.      Perseus and Medusa Page. Nine important pieces of art depicting Medusa subjects.
6.      Mything Links. Offers links to Medusa-related sites, some mildly useful and others defunct.
7.      Sargent's Perseus by Night.  Image of Sargent's rendering of Cellini's masterpiece.
8.      Sargent's Perseus Slaying Medusa.
9.      The Kraken and Other Monsters. A Link to brief description of the Kraken and other monsters.
10.    Medusa/Gorgon from Temple of Artemis, Corcyra, 590-BC.
11.    Perseus Pursues Medusa.  Red-figure vase, 5th century BC.
12.    Perseus Attacks Medusa.  Boeotian relief amphora, early 7th century BC.
13.    Canova, Perseus Triumphant (1801).
14.    Athena with Aegis.  Pottery fragment. No date given.
15.    Perseus Rescues Andromeda.  Fresco in Amandas' house in Pompeii (AD 40).
16.    Titian, Danae and the Shower of Gold (1553).
17.    Medusa: A Web of Meaning.  Helpful displays and discussions of the ramifications of the Medusa myth.
18.    Dali, Medusa's Head (1962).  Select "Medusa's Head" from the list of Dali's works.
19.    Dali, Medusa again . Another image of Dali's work.
20.    Brancusi, Sleeping Medusa.
21.     Levy-Dhurmer, Medusa.
22.     Medusa Gallery.  "Rare" collection of Medusa images.
23.     Burne-Jones, The Rock of Doom.  Perseus with the Medusa head encountering Andromeda.
24.     Mosaic of Medusa. From Bignor Roman Villa, Sussex.
25.     Didyma Head of Medusa.  Scroll down and click on the image.
26.     Torso of Athena with Medusa Aegis.
27.     Perseus Slaying Medusa.  From Attic red-figure (450 B.C.).
28.     Perseus, with Athena, Killing Medusa.  Temple of Selinas (550 B.C.)
29.     Athena with Aegis.
30.     Terracotta Medusa Head.  Etruscan Rome.
31.     Marble Relief of Medusa Head.  Greek temple in Syracuse.
32.     Gorgon Medusa Clay Plaque.
33.     Perseus and Andromeda.  Pompeian wall painting, Naples (1st century AD).
34.     Bauer, Perseus' Wedding Fight.
35.     The Perseus story.  About Perseus, with links and images. Part of "From Myth to Eternity" Page.
36.     Black figure of Medusa.  Hit "back" to get details.
37.     Vase with Perseus Slaying Medusa, Hermes Looking on.
38.     Medusa and the Image of Rape.  Discussion of Medusa and some interesting images.
39.     Thuldan, Athena and Pegasus (1644).
40.     Berman, Medusa at Sunset.
41.     The Constellation of Perseus.
42.     Maffei, Perseus Cut the Medusa's Head Off (1660).
43.     Berning, Medusa (Sculpture).  Example of a sympathetic rendering of Medusa (scroll down).
44.     Camille Claudel, Medusa.  Scroll down and read the very personal background to the piece.
45.     Hosmer, Marble Bust of Medusa.
46.     Relief from the Acropolis at Selinus
47.     Sulis Minerva from Bath  Scroll down to the second image, the "male medusa"
48.     The Gaze  Discussion of the "gaze," something obviously related to Medusa's lethal glance
49.     Rondanini Medusa



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Suggestions for Capstone Paper Topics

Please understand that the following constitute suggestions of the kinds of approaches you can take.  You are not limited to or by them.

1.  Pursue the "medusa theme" in one of the authors we will have read this term--Plath, Clampitt, Stanford, for instance.

2.  Focus on one of the topics associated with the Medusa theme.  See Major Topics.  For instance, you might want to analyze the way in which the myth calls attention to the idea of "representation."

3. How does the Medusa story fit in with our present day cultural structures--advertising, children's literature/cartoons, super hero stories, Naval Academy values, movies, etc.?

4.  Deal with appearances of Medusa as a way to define the laws of literary allusion.

5Annotate and anlyze the various references to artists and other works of fine, music, mythology, and literature in A Severed Head.

6.  Consider what transformations the feminists have to make of the Medusa story in order for it to become their emblem of power.

7.  What sort of standing does Freud's interpretation of Medusa as the locus of the castration complex have today?  Or, even if Freud's interpretation is limited, how might it serve as a penetrating--even though rather brief--capturing of the major issues expressed by the Medusa story?

8.  Medusa and the love lyric--how can she never be far away from the dynamics of this genre?

9.  Medusa in comic books, cartoons, children's literature.

10.  Medusa and the Pygmalion myth.  Medusa and Narcissus.

11.  Medusa, violence and love.  See Girard, Violence and the Sacred, for starters.

12.  Decapitation stories over the ages and how they relate to the Medusa story.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Guidelines for Capstone Paper
Length:  about 15 pages

The purpose of this paper is to give you the opportunity to pursue a carefully defined topic in some detail and in the process employ some of the skills you have practiced as an English Major--close reading of texts; analysis of a literary (aesthetic) theme or problem; identification and assessment of influence of, or borrowing from, other works; and production of an organized, well-written analysis.  You will become an expert for your classmates and me on the topic you choose--whether it is the religious references in A Severed Head (Martin), the Eve-Medusa connection (McGhee), the mouth and consumption  (and the mouth) in the figure of Medusa (Lerner), hair as a cultural construct in the figure of Medusa, Freud's reading of Medusa as bankrupt, the figure of the Medusa behind female portraits (Beatty), or the limits of allusion as it relates to artistic use of Medusa.

In order to become this expert, of course, you will have to do research--on the WEB, in books, in articles.  You will have to distinguish between useful, authoritative material and mere "noise"; and you will have to be able to integrate that research gracefully into your discussion.  Your paper is not a glorified book report:  so be sure to frame its controlling idea in terms of a problem to be solved, an argument by which you persuade us to see something in a way we might not have, and/or an explanation of the means by which "something" (a work, a pattern running through certain works) means what you say it means.  As you might expect, your research will likely be interdisciplinary--anthropology, fine arts, movies, popular culture, psychology, history, etc. might have something to offer in support of your idea.  Below I've listed some works that might be of some help, either because of what they say or because of where their bibliographies might lead you.  I have most of the articles in my office, if you want to delve into them.

For possible topics go to the list of suggested Capstone paper topics (click) and the list of major topics related to the Medusa myth (click).

Use the MLA Parenthetical method of citation.  This means no footnotes or endnotes.

The Reference Bibliographer for English is Michael Macan. (macan@usna.edu).
 

Informal bibliography of books and articles related to Medusa issues:

Durling and Matinez, Time and the Crystal:  Studies in Dante's Rime Perose.

Wilk, Medusa:  Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon.  (Discusses origin and changing nature of depictions of Gorgon/Medusa over the ages; extensive bibliography).

Bowers, "Medusa and the Female Gaze," NWSA Journal 2.2 (1990): 217-235.

Feldman, "Gorgo and the Origins of Fear." Arion 4.3 (1965): 484-94.

Siebers, The Mirror of the Medusa.  Focuses on rivalry of Medusa and Athena in development of Medusa myth.  Also considers the relation of Narcissus to Medusa.

Pratt, "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers."  An article describing the appearance of Medusa in tapestry and needle work.

Culpepper, "Ancient Gorgons: A Face for Contemporary Women's Rage." Woman of Power (3): 22-24.

Baker, "'The Uncanny Stranger on Display':  The Female Body in Sixteenth-and Seventeenth-Centuiry Love Poetry." South Atlantic Review 56.2 (1991): 7-25.  Renaissance view of female body and its threat.

Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Screen 16.3 (1975): 6-18. Feminist reading of Freud.

Bryson, Vision and Painting:  The Logic of the Gaze.  New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1983.

Coldwell, "The Beauty of the Medusa:  Twentieth Century." English Studies in Canada 11.4 (1985): 422-37.  Discusses Murdoch and Plath, among other 20th Century writers.

Wilner, "The Medusa Connection."  Triquarterly 88 (1993): 104-32.  Discusses changing face of Medusa over time.

Huot, "The Medusa Interpolation in the Romance of the Rose." Speculum 62.4 (1987): 865-77.  Fairly technical and specific, it does provide a sense of the medieval view of Medusa.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Guidelines for Short Papers
Length:              about three pages
Audience:          classmates and instructor
Format:             double spaced, 12pt font, one inch margins, title on first page (no title page)
Subject:             must address something in a text, texts, and/or piece of art on the syllabus
Limitations:      a) one of the two short papers can be a personal response to a work or works
                           on the syllabus (here's a sample of a personal response to a poem, just as a 
                           guideline of the kind of thing you can do click here)
                          b) one can be the "proving ground" of a subject you address much more fully in
                           the capstone paper
                          c) whatever your approach--a character, an image pattern, a motif crossing different works, 
                           a key word, an apparent problem that needs a solution, a single passage of 
                           vital importance--the aim is to produce a careful, fully developed analysis of a narrow
                           issue (Make a lot out of a little; click here for some suggestions; click here to see a 
                           sample paper of this sort on Song of Solomon; click here to see a sample paper on A
                           Severed Head
Due dates:         25 Sep and 25 Oct (as for late papers, I do not have a "policy," except that I can 
                           be arbitrary about what I do with them (discard, cherish, penalize in some mysterious 
                           way, decaptitate, turn to stone, feed to the Gorgons, etc.)


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Out of Joint

        Miniver Cheevy, in Robinson's poem, makes fun of a character who fuels his failure with excuses.
Coming from a family that thrives on laughing at each other and other people for their pretensions, for
their false sense of self-importance, I can really "get into this poem."

        "You're wrong, Richard."  "It's your own fault, not your friends'."  "Look it up and see."  "Is that
right; are you sure?"  Perhaps these questions circulate through any family, but having married into a
family whose members skirt confrontations, avoid debate, and thrive on what remains unsaid, I began to
get a different perspective on my bringing-up.  The person who made a claim that he couldn't prove or the
person who made a mistake and tried to act as though he hadn't--whether father, mother, or son--became
the raw meat for a pack of hungry hounds.  The appetite for ridiculing laughter was enormous.  And
beyond that, even the hint that one imagined himself as something "superior" to what he in fact was
brought the hounds running.  For us this imagining took "manly" shape—pretending to be Michael Jordan
or Larry Bird, or imagining ourselves to be combat soldiers or great safari hunters.  Though a normal part
of a person's forming identity (at least I think it is), this process had to occur in a carefully guarded form.
Any sign of an attempt to imagine oneself as the great hunter or the all-star basketball player would invite
all sorts of bubble-bursting commentary—"How's the great marksman doing?"; "How many elephants you
killed this afternoon?"; or "Hey, great rebound; I could almost see some air between your toes and the
pavement!"

        We aimed the ridicule outside the family as well, always honing in on vanity or the slightly emerging
sense of self-importance.  The President of the obscure Eastern Brewer Little League Association was one
of our favorite laughing stocks for his sense of self-importance, his claiming that he "rendered this
decision" about the distance to the left field foul pole or "did some soul-searching" about what time to
open the snack bar before the Tuesday afternoon games.  We laughed at dinner about his name-dropping,
as when he alluded to the time that he and Tony Conigliaro of the Boston Red Socks discussed hitting, for
instance.  He never even came within a football field of Tony C!  Even now, when I go home to visit my
parents, I reenter this world largely sustained by ridicule.  There's a 5'3" guy across the street who wears a
red and black hunting shirt and who's wife bosses him around; my dad calls this guy "Paul Bunyan."  The
man who walks a step or two ahead of his wife during their morning "constitutional" has been christened
"lead man" as a way to call attention to what seems to be his "taking charge" in a situation where it really
doesn't matter.  I could multiply these examples, but I think you get the drift.  My family was irreverent
and liked to "lock onto" human vanity.

        As I think about it more and more, I realize that two perhaps competing things were going on in our
family psyche:  one, we pretended that we were the few among humanity who operated according to the
unadorned truth and did not pretend to be anymore than we were; and two, we could only recognize so
uncannily the vanity in others if we in fact harbored, even cherished, it somewhere in ourselves.  I for one
can confess that I lived out my own fantasies, imagining myself having the moves of Julius Erving, the
swing of Tom Watson, and the curve ball of Nolan Ryan.  In imagining those things I actually improved as
an athlete at least and, often as not, avoided the ridicule of my family.  Nevertheless, I have come to
realize how thoroughly I was, and perhaps still am, invested in an imaginary world in which I display more
prowess than I actually have.  Because of this I can imagine now what I never recognized:  all the dreams
that my parents and brothers must have secretly harbored.   In fact when I think of my father (a lowly
plumber who revered Arnold Palmer, Ted Williams, and Rocky Marciano) and his genius for ridiculing
others, especially by naming them in a way that absolutely captured their vanity, I think sadly on all the
fervid but unfulfilled dreams that must have spawned that genius.

        This is where "Miniver Cheevy comes into the picture.  The poem captures the immense difference
between what Miniver identifies himself with and what he is: an unhealthy drunk (growing lean, he coughs
and keeps "on drinking") who has clearly achieved no success. He rails against the times, blaming their
degeneracy for his failure.  He sees himself as an ill-fit with the worsening times, imaginatively throwing
himself back into the days of Thebes, Troy, Camelot, and Renaissance Italy.  In doing so, however, he
doesn't seem to assume that he might be just a pee-on in these ancient and famous places where heroes,
knights, and ruthless monarchs ruled.  He somehow imagines himself just those heroes, knights, and
tyrants.  It's like the line from the movie Bull Durham, in which Crash Davis asks the "love interest" why
it is that everyone who claims to have lived a former life always chooses the famous people--Caesar, King
Arthur, Robert L. Lee--rather than a nobody.  Robinson cuts through Miniver's vanity like a knife through
butter—the same treatment we would get from each other in my household.  Robinson becomes almost
blatantly sarcastic in suggesting that Miniver preferred the "grace" of medieval armor to khaki pants and
that he "loved the Medici,/Albeit he had never seen one."  My family, if it had to, would formulate
Miniver's problem in this way:  "he can't accept the truth about himself, blames everyone else, and thus
lives in an unrealistic world that has no basis in reality; he's a fool!"

        As a "card-carrying" member of my family, I wasn't surprised that I first reacted to the poem in just
that way.  But as one who has survived and through marriage gotten a different perspective, I can feel
some kinship with Miniver.  I'm not a drunk; and I grow almost physically ill when I hear people talking,
without any sense of historical facts, about the good days when knights were gentlemen (yea, right!).
However, I do feel as though, but for dumb luck or something that I just have not been able to identify,
the balance in any of us between our imaginary worlds of accomplishment and our actual worlds of mere
survival and competence could be thrown out of balance and become like Miniver's.  We could wake up
tomorrow and assume that we're OK and the world's all wrong.  Or is that what we do anyway?



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Suggested Topics for Short Papers (Just in Case)
The Gift of the Gorgon
-Violence and cutting motif
-The word "appal"
-Mothers or fathers
-Art and Medusa's shield
-Names
-Petrification
-Blood
-Suggestions of androgyny or merging of gender
-Function of the medusa figure int he play
-"Extremety"
-Art and the issue of iconoclasticism
-Contested notions of maturity and childishness
-A passage, say the one in which Edward essentially slithers out onto the balcony
-Border crossings, transgression, in the manner of Garber's view of Macbeth
Dante and Petrarch
-Objectification of the beloved
-Stoniness and art (the self-referential quality in the poetry)
-Violence, love, and the threat of Medusa
-Imagery of weaponry, battle; aggression vs. submissiveness
Ovid
-Assuming that Apollodorus' account captures what was known about the Medusa-Perseus story, what Is Ovid doing to the "material?"  What is his "slant," or at least one of his slants?
-By the way he arranges his spidosde, Ovid seems to emphasize the act of "telling"the story of Medusa/Perseus.  What do you make of this?
A Severed Head
-Hair, the way it operates in the novel to build meaning
-Eyes, the way repeated attention to eyes suggests meaning
-Fog, or element of landscape; or the other part of setting, the time of year and day
-The image or concept of sight, seeing.  This is different from attention to the eyes in some ways
-The parent/mother and child pattern
-Heads, headlessness, etc
-The theme of love--what does the novel define as its essentials?
-Allusions to the Medusa figure (see for starters, pp. 44 and 156.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Daddy:  Too Much and Too Little in Song of Solomon

         "Daddy."  That's the dedication to Song of Solomon.  It's not the "father" of the epigraph:  "The fathers may soar/And the
children may know their names."  It doesn't say "to daddy" either; just "Daddy."  That single word, though, expresses the
emotional core of the novel:  the enduring power of that original, early need for the male parent; the sense of an unjudging
intimacy that the word "father" lacks; and  the childishness of the term, uttered it seems by someone who is old enough to put
together 337 pages of prose.  And of course we can't forget that the very saying of the word "daddy" suggests an attempt to call him into the presence of the voice.

        This last point seems simple, but it sustains much of the book.  Saying "daddy" is a request for him to be present.
However, the absent "daddy" is the norm in this novel.  All three women in Pilate's household lack "daddy," and they have
lacked him from an early age.  Guitar lacks a father.  Jake, aka Macon Dad the elder, is at an early age dropped from his
father's arms as he flies away.  Of course he lands in a family, that of Heddy Bird and her daughter Sing, that lacks a father as
well.  Even Freddie, we learn, was born two months after his father had died (110).  More subtly, Milkman lacks a "daddy."
He has a judgmental "father," to be sure, but not one whom he could ever call to as "daddy."  Ruth, moreover, lacks "daddy";
he has disappeared into death, something she cannot get over.  This prevailing lack in the book, whether perverse or natural,
makes search for "daddy," not "father," its likely central action.

        It certainly relates to the fact that the word "daddy" implies that the desired thing remains unsophisticated, a product of
youth, of childhood, even infancy.  The progression of the novel, not surprisingly then, amounts to a regression, a turning back
on the part of the characters to their past.  This holds true especially for Milkman.  He returns to a child-like frame of mind,
complete with a sense of magic (Circe the ghost and a great-grandfather who flies) and a lack of sophistication.  In
Pennsylvania, for instance, he loses his shoes and walks over the same countryside his father did when he was just a boy. This
signals his movement in the direction of Pilate's values, she often appearing without shoes.  In part it also mirrors the image of
the peacock having to lose its gaudy feathers in order to fly.  A return to a frame of mind in which it's possible to say, "daddy,"
is integral, then, to his development.  "Daddy" expresses as much a state of mind that Milkman has to achieve as anything.  That
state of mind involves simply a fundamental need from loving protection; and admitting that fundamental need amounts to
emotional health.

         The other, darker side of this nearly infant-like attitude expressed in the word "daddy" emerges in the lack of emotional
maturity that marks many of the characters.  Ruth serves as the obvious example, incapable of seeing anything apart from her
loss of father.  Hagar, too, displays this immaturity; and not surprisingly the signature action of her character—those repeated
attempts to murder Milkman—responds to his having ended their relationship.  Though younger than she, Milkman is as much
the father-figure for her as Freud would have most men be of any women.  Her attempt to kill him amounts paradoxically to an
attempt to keep him.  The two Dead daughters, Lena and Corinthians, also display the negative emotional immaturity that
"daddy' captures.  This appears most clearly in Corinthians, who at 44 still cannot leave her father's house and give herself over
to another man.  The two-sided nature of this suggestion of immaturity in the word "daddy," though, shines through in her
relationship with Porter.  On the one hand she remains emotionally unfulfilled because she remains her "daddy's daughter"; on
the other hand, she has to become like a child to Porter, clinging to his car so as to prevent him from leaving her (199), a
separation that she couldn't bear.  The language describing her feeling when she gets to Porter's meager room is telling:  "She
sank down on [the bed] as soon as she got into the room and stretched out, feeling bathed, scoured, vacuumed, and for the first
time simple" (199, emphasis mine).  Though Porter is not literally "daddy," he does serve for Corinthians as the lost thing found,
and found as a result of her having given into the simple attitude of almost basic, infantile need for his love and care.

        At 44 she stills needs something like a "daddy's" love, something unlike her childish captivity to Macon's possessive control of her.  An that's what's so extraordinary about the dedication—"Daddy."  It captures the irreducible importance of the kind of love for which so many of the characters long in this novel.  It places it front and center of a novel obviously produced by an accomplished adult, but an adult nevertheless whose elemental need for parental care and protection endures.  In this way that single word, I would claim, captures the very emotional core of this book—of its characters and even its author. 



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Study guide at 4 weeks--HE462
1.  Give at least two examples of the way(s) in which the Medusa story is also the story about the power of art.
2.  Find three images of Medusa/Gorgon on the syllabus and its links that depict the combination of horror and fascination.
3.  Find three images of Medusa/Gorgon on the syllabus and its links that depict victimization.
4.  Using at least two examples from the readings, explain what it means to be subject to Medusa's petrifying look.
5.  How coherent can you be--with reference to several of our readings--about the important sub-theme in the Medusa story of decapitation?  What is its meaning?  Is all decapitation related to Medusa:  for instance, the beheading of criminals, or in terms of literature, the beheading of the green knight in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?
6.  If the Medusa story is "the definitive myth" about gender differentiation, we have to come to terms with the essential element of violence within that process of differentiation.  How do you understand the violence in the Medusa myth--Poseidon's rape of her, Athena's reshaping of her coiffure, Perseus' decapitation of her, and more?
7.  What does it mean to say that Medusa expresses the "uncanny?"  Give some evidence from the texts we've read and/or the pictures you've looked at on the syllabus and its links.
8.  The essential episode in the definition of Ovid's great hero, Perseus, is the Medusa story.  How is the figure of Medusa wrapped up in the story of heroism?
9.  Can we rightly discuss the issue of love in relation to the Medusa story?  It seems that way, at least in terms of Dante's rime petrosa and Petrarch's Canzoniere, though certainly not so in terms of the brief passage you've seen from the Inferno (Dante the lover has to be managed like a plebe by the upper class (Virgil) in order to keep from "falling for" the sight of Medusa!).
10.  Where are we on Irish's idea that Medusa is part of the array of women in everyman's--the hero's--life?  Everyman has to face the Medusa in some way or another. Does woman have to face the Medusa?  Think about it!
11.  What about the hair? 
12.  Flight?  Has that played a role in anything we've dealt with so far?
13.  What else do we need to think about?


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Medusa/Gorgon Films--a Short List

     1.  Porky's Hero Agency, Dec 1937.  Warner Bothers cartoon. 

     2.  The Seven Faces of Doctor Lao, 1964.  George Pal.  Based on Charles Finney's
          novel,  The Circus of Doctor Lao, 1935. 

     3.  Perseo l' Invincible (released in U.S. as Medusa against the Son of Hercules), 
          early 60's. Warner Bothers.  Directed by Alberto de Matino. 

     4.  The Gorgon, 1964.  Hammer Films.  Directed by Terence Fisher. 

     5.  Metamorphoses, 1978.  Takash (animated). 

     6.  Clash of the Titans, 1981.  Directed by Desmond Davis (Harryhausen special effects).



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Three paraagraphs from the in-class writing/quiz on Monday.  These represent the good responses in that focused on a farily confined but nevertheless important element in the novel.
 
     One detail I have noticed thus far is that Martin is constantly focusing on the eyes and hair of the women in the novel—closely following the Medusa theme.  In all of his descriptions of the women in his life he spends a great deal of time and effort illustrating Georgie, Antonia, and Honor’s hair and eyes.  He talks often of Antonia’s golden, sophisticated hair.  We see how she ties it back into a neat, prim bun.  Georgie, in contrast, has wild thick reddish hair.  It is all over the place, and messy unlike Antonia’s.  It is almost as if the hair of the women describes their respective personalities in Martin’s eyes.  Antonia is polished, reserved and refined.  Georgie is wild, crazy, young and not nearly as refined.  An example of Martin’s fixation with eyes occurs when he meets Honor Klein at the train station.  He describes her eyes as “strange” and says they are “shot with red,” which seems to indicate evil.  He also says she has “something animal-like and repellent in (her) glistening stare.”  All of these images and descriptions of the women in Martin’s world very clearly lead the reader back to Medusa.  He obviously sees women as threatening, harsh figures in his life.  He very hypocritically plays himself off as the victim of women, even though he himself has been involved in an adulterous relationship for a long time.  Yet, he is so hurt by Antonia’s own love affair that he views her as Medusa—turning him to stone through her actions.  The turn of events against Martin is most likely, in my opinion, a function of his own disloyalty.  I think he fails to realize that he is actually the Medusa figure in the relationship.  He has neglected his wife and cheated on her, thus turning their relationship to stone.  Yet, all of his references to hair, eyes, pain, victimization, etc. show that he believes the opposite is true.  Antonia, along with the other women in his life, is the Medusa to him. Perhaps they are both Medusa figures—turning one another to stone through their dysfunctional and dishonest relationship. 
    Perhaps one of the more significant issues that stands out at me is actually a few things that led up to a generalized concept. Martin’s description of Palmer’s sister, Honor Klein, almost put her in a homosexual kind of light as if she herself were gay. He compared both brother and sister with looks and noted that Honor was not as good-looking or attractive as her brother; in fact, Martin, even goes on to admit she is rather ugly. In addition, Martin goes on to say he is somewhat attracted to his friend Palmer, noting a minor homosexual tendency. What also stands out at me is Honor’s handling of her samarai sword: she carefully dissects two dinner napkins, leaving Martin very impressed since she is, after all, a woman and that behavior was not necessarily associated with females. I suppose at the time it was not a usual occurrence for a woman to be studying abroad, especially learning to become a Japanese swordswoman. In fact, I relate that samarai spirit or warrior qualities with a strong, burly man. It seems as if Martin may have viewed Honor as being non-feminine, especially when he notices one of her stockings as she’s helping him by being a lookout during the drive back in the fog. At that precise moment, he is reminded she’s a woman. Strange but significant nonetheless.Moreover, the fact that Martin’s two secretaries at work just happen to be lesbians also contributes to this homosexual erotics of the novel. If on the back cover of the book is a portrait of the author, Iris Murdoch, then I find it peculiar that she has a boyish haircut associated with many lesbians even today. All in all, I am not quite sure how to paint a picture of Honor Klein in my mind’s eye. The first thing that jumps out at me is that this is an old hag who seems to constantly be in a bad mood and who does not approve of her brother’s new love interest (which the reader will learn is rather noteworthy). Martin even tells of Honor’s scornful look at meeting Antonia. I cannot help but get the feeling inside that Honor will play a pivotal role later as the story progresses.
     A part of the book that sticks out in my mind was when Martin went to Rosemary and Alexander’s house.  Alexander was showing Martin the sculpture of just a head when Martin realized it was Antonia’s head.  Martin said that it could not be Antonia without the body because her swaying body was a big characteristic of her.  Alexander replied, “Yes, some people are more their body than others.”  I thought this passage stood out. In a literal sense, it means that people have certain things about their bodies that are noticeable and that are essential to who they are. For instance, my boyfriend is fairly big, built like a football player and walks with his butt sticking out. I can point him out from very far away at school since he is bigger that everyone else and has that strut. Many times I meet people that are less their body. There are girls who are very developed and have a more ‘feminine’ physique than others. However, you see these girls covering it up and not quite ready to face the attention that comes along with their bodies. Medusa was more her head than her body. We really don’t know anything about her body. We just know of her beautiful locks turned to snakes, her eyes that turned men to stone, her fangs, and her tongue. She, in fact, was separate from her body. Athena probably made her that way after Poseidon raped her—that way her body could no longer be a part of her and an object to be used.
 People are usually attracted to both body and head when they meet one another. At the Academy, since everyone wears the same thing, you become more concerned with the head.  Antonia’s sculpted head represents the Medusa head because now it hurts and cures Martin just like the blood from Medusa’s head did.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Here's an attempt at one approach to the short paper.  Whatever you think of its thesis, please notice that it tries to pursue that thesis thoroughly by offering plenty of evidence from the novel; also it  organizes that discussion so as to avoid simply re-telling the novel's events (the audience, after all, is our class, which has read the novel).
"Let Be Be Finale of Seam":  the Edge in A Severed Head

    As Martin tries to come to terms with his suddenly realized love of Honor Klein, he ponders the origin of that love (125):  did it emerge when she cut the napkins in two with the Samurai sword, when he threw her to the cellar floor, when he saw her standing so confidently in the doorway before Palmer and Antonia, or when he glimpsed the "curving seam of her stocking in the flaring orange lights at Hyde park Corner?"  The answer, I think, is the last: his glimpsing the seam of her stocking.  If it does not mark the origin of his love, however, that glimpse does highlight an essential, if rather slippery theme in the novel, a theme at the core of Martin's discovery of profound love.  The theme concerns seams themselves, those sites where parts are joined, the borders of things.  These sites mark off the effort both to peer into and to seal off something mysterious about human nature; they occur where the explored meets the unexplored, where the conventional abuts with the unconventional, and where safety leaves off and fear begins.

    Martin's glimpse of the seam, remember, occurs as he and Honor try to reach Pelham Crescent through the thick fog.  She looks outside the passenger window, as he peers out the driver's window while steering the car.  The scene is loaded with obvious symbolism, of course:  the obscurity of the fog mirrors Martin's blindness to his own nature and what he discovers much later in the novel to be his massive blindness to the game of musical partners that has been going on all around him.  The glimpse of the stocking, though, is vital.  In the context of this scene alone it functions primarily as a reminder to Martin that Honor is a woman.  He needs reminding precisely because what he knows of her from the past and what he first sees at the station suggests either an indefinable, non human quality about her--"there was something animal-like and repellent in that glistening stare" (55)--or a decided masculine, or at least indeterminate element in her appearance:  "short black hair" (55), a body that sags like a "headless sack," (57), all wrapped in a formless coat of "rough material" (57).  Add these details to the ones emerging earlier from the conversation between Martin and Georgie about Honor:  "there's something primitive about her" (7), she "seemed the Female Don in person" (7), she looks like "a haystack" (7), she carries a lot of "guns" (7).  What we have--and what Martin expects to face--is a kind of "wanna-be-a-guy woman," at least in the terms that Murdoch's descriptions have set up.  In this context, then, Martin's glimpse of the stocking seam--even though it draws his eyes down also to an unflatteringly masculine "stout crepe-soled shoe," nevertheless--implies something, just something, of a sexual nature about Honor amid all the signs of asexuality.  But more importantly it functions not so much to mark what she "really" is--a woman--as to emphasize, almost, her androgynous quality, her being neither one nor the other sex.  In this sense, then, the stocking seam locates not just Honor's femininity, but her position at the very seam, if you will, of the difference between men and women.  The detail emphasizes her indeterminate nature; and, unlike the peek-a-boo thrill of strip tease, which exaggerates sexual differences, it serves to interrogate the boundaries of gender.

    To the extent that it adds to the novel's confusion of gender this detail is important.  The theme of confused gender dominates the novel, from the female names derived from male ones--Georgie and Antonia--to the otherwise perhaps unnecessary focus on the homosexual pair that works in Martin's office; from the possibility that Martin is erotically attracted to Palmer to the fact that Honor so adroitly wields the obviously phallic sword.  But I think the detail of the seam is more important in the way it draws attention to the seams in life, the apertures through which we glimpse something at once foreign and fundamentally familiar, a kind of haunting reality that everyday existence covers over.  In part the prevalent fog that hangs over the scenery of the novel symbolizes this covering through which Martin must penetrate.  His driving in the car with Honor while trying to penetrate that fog, therefore, is, in retrospect anyway, quiet suggestive.  In fact, just when Martin feels his "ailment," his love for Honor, he finds himself walking along the Thames by Waterloo bridge almost unable to see through this foggy mist.  He writes:  "The task of peering through the mist was becoming exasperating and painful.  I cannot see, I cannot see, I said to myself:  it was as if some inner blindness were being here tormentingly exteriorized.  I saw shadows and hints of things, nothing clearly at all" (122).  Even before that, just after he has thrown Honor down in the cellar of Pelham Crescent and follows her out of the house, Martin sees himself enclosed in this impenetrable fog:  "With a choking sigh more profound than silence the fog enclosed me.  I opened my mouth to call out to her but found that I had forgotten her name" (112).  The scene's rather obvious allegory is that in having acted so violently and drunkenly, Martin has forgotten "honor."  However, more broadly the scene continues to define Martin's "job" in the novel as one of getting so that he can finally peer through the fog, the mist, the border between two regions of emotional, psychic experience.

    In some cases it's to peer through the glow, also.  This is what Palmer and Antonia exude, a glow preventing rather than enabling clear sight.  Over and over again, we see Martin describe Antonia as having a glow to her, especially to her hair.  And most tellingly, he describes Palmer and Antonia exactly in this way just as he leaves their bedroom during the episode in which he spills the wine:  "Across the white bed their shoulders leaned together, and they glowed at me out of a centre of white and golden light" (108).  Whether it's fog or this glow, the obscurity comes from Martin ultimately.  He participates as fully as Antonia and Palmer in maintaining the veneer of their lives.  Georgie is a good mistress because she acts so reasonably, by which he means that she does not intrude, penetrate the other part of his life.  She works to maintain the categories and the borders between things.  On the other hand, Antonia wants to break away from Martin without, in a sense, making a break.  So even while her trying to maintain a "loving" relationship with Martin despite her having made a split from him seems to merge categories--lover, husband, friend, even child--tit also serves to gloss over the feeling of rupture between people.  The seam in Honor's stocking, in light of this kind of veneered world in which Martin lives and which he urgently tries to maintain, stands hauntingly as a reminder of the seam as both the work of obscuring the horror--or violence, to use Murdoch's term--seething just below the surface and as the opening that is always there to be found onto that subterranean reality of violence and horror.

    All sorts of other details accumulate upon this early image of the stocking to create an overwhelming concern in the novel with that border area, that margin where there occurs, sometimes simultaneously, both the effort to suture and the attempt to cut open.  Take the napkins and the sword, for instance.  In this eerie episode Honor skillfully bisects the napkins Palmer and Antonia have left behind from their dinner.  These napkins, like all napkins, represent some measure of formality, some effort to civilize the simple animal intake of food.  Honor's cutting them in two graphically depicts what she does to this sort of civilizing convention.  She destroys it--and unconventionally, as she wields the masculine sword while Martin watches.  An emblem of civilization meets with a brutal, cutting power, and the former goes fluttering "to the floor" (97).

    When she does the same thing to the other napkin, moreover, Martin says she "decapitated it" (97).  This particularly extends the image, focusing almost on the rather tenuous connection, the seam even, between the the head and the body.  If her act doesn't recommend the precedence of one over the other, it does point out that very area of connection, requires that we ask about that--at least metaphorically.  Of course the novel's title, along with Honor saying that Martin is wrongly regarding her as just a severed head (182), as well as the sculptures of heads in Alexander's studio, further isolate the area of connection as the site of the novel's meaning.  That Honor here seems to represent the decapitator does not simply mean that the body has to be jettisoned from the head or vice versa.  Her complaint, remember, is that Martin is turning her into nothing more than a severed head, and in doing that Martin practices the conventions of his culture, the western civilization he represents, by valorizing the intellectual over the physical, or perhaps more accurately by fencing the one off from the other.  However, as the behavior of the civilized folks in the novel suggests, that very privileging of the intellect, the rational, the sensible really is a form of denial that lets the body run rampant.  Just below the sedate, organized world of the novel's surface lies all this "brutality," in fact.  As Honor tells Martin, people such as Palmer and Antonia connect spirit not with love, but "with control, with power" (96), those fundamentally brutal elements of human nature, even though the aura surrounding these people appears golden and aloof, even godly.

    More details, though.  Look at the boundaries broken once Honor enters the scene:  Martin essentially breaks into the house and then the room in which Honor lies in bed with Palmer; and then he breaks into Georgie's apartment only to find her unconscious from the overdose of sleeping pills. Martin even explains his breaking into Honor's Cambridge house in terms of a border crossing of sorts:  " . . . I had felt like a man running towards a curtain.  Now that I had so suddenly and with such exceedingly unexpected results passed through it I felt dazed and in great pain but also curiously steady" (129).  In this category of images suggesting limits and the breaking of those limits count also the wine spilling out of Martin's glass while he is, oddly enough, visiting with his wife and Palmer in their bedroom, the fact that Antonia will put a rug over the stain that the wine makes on the carpet if cleaning won't take it away (107), the scratch on Martin's writing table, that he tries to wipe away, and the shattered glass on one of the pictures he had shared with Antonia (145).  The last two of these details suggest the partial ruin, at least, of a way of life, but they also represent an important event in the novel, the breaking through a veneer, a protective and attractive surface.

    Even before Martin meets Honor, he knows he feels a potential to act violently toward Antonia.  Honor, of course, speaks of the healing--or maybe truthfulness--in violence.  She wields the sword, after all.   I would like to claim that the frequent  talk of violence, along with the actual acts of violence such as Martin's wrestling with Honor and his rapping Palmer on the eye and breaking his skin, are related to this imagery dealing with border areas, with transgression, with seams as the markers of the civilized efforts to close off the brute beneath, the terror, the ancient forces that Honor in part represents. What is needed in the glossed over world in which Palmer, Antonia, and even Alexander are "stars" is a good thrashing.  Violence is fundamentally a rupture in the surface of existence, and the seam on Honor's stocking marks that undeniably fact.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Links to Art Works Mentioned in The Medusa Frequency

p. 12                  "a genuine Calder" (click) and a "pseudo-Rothko" (click)

p. 21                   "Piranesi prison fantasie"--click on the plates (click)

p. 49 (51)           Redon (click)

p. 75                   Diego Velasquez, the "curved hip" likely alludes to Venus at
                           Her Mirror (click)

pp. 83-85           Gerard David, Forest Scenes (click)--the devotional takes up the
                           missing center section of the triptych, which you can view (click)
                           For more details of Forest Scenes (click)

pp. 83 & 91        "Pieter de Hooch-looking red-brick station . . ." (click)

p. 83                   Vermeer's View of Delft (click)

p. 89:                  Frans Post, Gezicht op het Eiland Tamaraca (click)

pp. 109-110        Henri Rousseau, Sleeping Gypsy (click)