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Companion

The writing of my creative piece, ‘Freedom from Paradise’ had certain key intentions behind it. Firstly, I aimed to create a short story that was postmodern in its style, and attempted to include numerous elements commonly associated within postmodern literature. I adopted many of these from Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, the intertextuality of which aided me in the formulating of the postmodern style. Secondly, I wished to explore the theories of essentialism verses social constructivism within gender and sexuality. I focussed principally on the sexuality element of this, and drew influence from the homosexual and lesbian short stories studied on the module such as: ‘Martha’s Lady’ by Sarah Orne Jewett, ‘Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself’ by Radcyffe Hall and ‘Arthur Snatchfold’ by E. M. Forster. Using these texts and much of the theory that surrounds them, I lastly intended to explore the attitudes towards homosexuality within the late Victorian era. In this companion I intend to explore my intentions within regards to the context of the module and my primary texts, whilst drawing on secondary research that had helped shape my understanding of these elements. Due to the restricted length of this companion however, I will only comment briefly upon the ones I feel most integral.

 

Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges I was faced with when writing my piece was to attempt to create a short story that was postmodern in its style. This is largely due to the facets of postmodern literature being ones that are largely debated between critics, unfixed and difficult to distinguish from modernism. It is therefore a highly difficult style to accurately distinguish and imitate. Bennett and Royle state that ‘there is perhaps something maddening the ‘postmodern’. Indeed, the postmodern appears to welcome and embrace a thinking of itself in terms of multiplicity.’ (Bennett & Royle 279) It is chiefly due this that I feel my piece embodies elements of both modernism and postmodernism, for example, the piece is largely melancholic towards the dystopian society it is set in, alike to much modernistic literature, as opposed to the postmodern. However, I learnt from the module and my secondary research that many of modernism’s traits are often found within postmodernism which allowed me more freedom.

 

Bennett and Royle suggest that ‘The word ‘postmodern’ itself seems odd, paradoxically evoking what is after (‘post’) the contemporary (‘modern’).’ (Bennett & Royle 279) which, when applied to considering texts that can conceived as postmodern and set in a dystopian society, Carter’s The Passion of New Eve for example, I presented with the possibility that if I was to combine these two elements, setting my piece in the future would be vital. This presented a problem to me due to so much of my piece wanting to reflect much of the Victorian attitudes towards homosexuality. However, after considering other elements of postmodernism, I realised that its reoccurring alliance with literary devices such as magic realism, left me free to do as I had originally planned. Time is often something that is played with in postmodern literature and, as Bennett and Royle go on to say:

…strictly speaking, the postmodern should not be thought of as a term of periodization: the postmodern challenges our thinking about time, challenges us to see the present in the past, the future in the present, the present in a kind of no-time. (Bennett & Royle 279)

 

Postmodernist literature, some critics have agreed upon, share some reoccurring traits which I have attempted to introduce into my creative piece. One that I have previously mentioned is magic realism. Wechsler suggests that ‘Magic realism does not invent a new order of things; it simply reorders reality to make it seem alien.’ (Wechsler 293)  The plot itself to a certain degree is an application of this technique, and additionally, the application of the sun’s colour and the indication of animals that roam the streets at night all combine to create this effect. I found this difficult to introduce without it becoming more alike to surrealism, however, they are all described in a very matter of fact manner, with anchoring to realistic elements. For example:

 

…the sun had set ten minutes lower into the Thames casting its deep viridian glow through the skyline that sat upon the water, making the cobbles along Whitechapel high street appear like individual emeralds littering the lane. (Beatson 1)

 

Carter’s text influenced me greatly in the writing of the city due to her description of the New York in The Passion of New Eve. ‘The skies were of strange, bright, artificial colours . . . from those unnatural skies fell rains of gelatinous matter, reeking of decay’ (Carter 12) The indication of the colour of the sun fits perfectly in with a surrealistic style but by having no further exploration into it and positioning alongside real life places and scenarios kept it within the boundaries of magical realism. By including these elements of magical realism, I was able to create ‘the loss of the real’ (Barry 86) that postmodernism creates.

 

Further techniques that I have attempted to adopt that are archetypal to the postmodern style are those of pastiche and the challenging of high and low culture, the breaking down of boundaries such as the ethnocentric, metafiction and intertextuality. Examples of these are the names that I have chosen, such as Annabel Pyne, the first name being synonymous with Humbert’s sweetheart in Lolita and the surname being a reference to Harriet Pyne, the lady that evokes Martha’s essentialist love in ‘Martha’s Lady’.

 

‘Approaches to metafiction have appeared whenever storytellers within a fiction result in an inner frame,’ (Wood 1) Within my creative piece is my attempt to consistently draw the reader’s attention to the fact that it is a piece of fiction, similarly to Lolita. I have also imitated, to a certain extent, Nabokov’s application of the unstable narrator. Despite Adam’s self-proclaimed superiority and noble intentions to his diary and claims of his innate sexuality, he still becomes doubtful and unsure of himself, and the use of the intrusive third person narrator shows his hidden feelings to the reader.

 

 

I attempted to place my story within the time period of my choosing effectively, therefore researching the historical context around my piece was essential. I attempted to recreate the homophobic society of Victorian England and therefore I used certain details collected from my study on the module and from secondary research.

 

‘After the War of Unity, heterosexuality came into being. Now not for a minute am I suggesting that it did not exist before, it did, it happened, it just didn’t have a name.’ (Beatson 1) I have attempted add liberal amounts of references such as this one to Foucault’s theory that homosexuality was created through discourse. McNay states in his critical introduction on Foucault that:

 

far from a discursive paucity and even silence on that topic, a ‘veritable discursive explosion’ is in fact revealed.  The Victorian era represents the culminating moment of an obsessive interest, first emerging in the early eighteenth century, with sex as a political and social problem. (McNay 75)

 

I attempt to demonstrate this within my short story combined with Foucault’s theory of taking power through social control, which is precisely the way the government works within my piece. Furthermore, by mentioning that heterosexuality became a medical issue and an ‘‘inversion’ of sexual preferences,’ (Beatson 2) I include reference to the works of Kraft-Ebbing and Havelock Ellis.

 

The Criminal Amendments Act of 1885, a short time period before my story’s setting, made any acts of homosexuality, privately or publically punishable by law. Women were not included in this clause due to them being far more non-sexualised. In the society within my story all sexes are the same, therefore all sexes are punishable. Additionally, this is another element of postmodernism; the breaking down of the phallocentric patriarchy.

 

I decided to introduce the story to be set against the killings in Whitechapel in 1888 by the serial killer Jack the Ripper, this was mainly to anchor the story more firmly to historical events, whilst displaying that despite the regime attempts to regulate citizen’s emotions and behaviour, some inhibitions cannot be controlled, strengthening the argument for essentialism.

 

The aim of the new regime and governing body within my short story is to control people’s emotions by completely prohibiting heterosexuality, claiming that it is an illness and that due to conflicting hormones, less strife will be found within the country. The protagonist is arguing that he is born heterosexual, and cannot help the way he feels, whilst at times, he is witnessed to have had or still become confused with his feelings for other men. The story is an exploration into the argument between essentialism and social constructivism. There is evidence to support both within my creative piece deliberately challenging and blurring the two and, therefore making the piece slightly more obscure and chaotic. The evidence that there are others similar to Adam, and those that resist the social constraints are evidence of essentialism, yet Adam’s occasionally drift towards homosexual desire and those around him present the argument that it is your surroundings that can shape your sexuality. I had strong influences from near to all of my primary texts in this stage of my creative piece. In particular, The Passion of New Eve, which demonstrates more of an argument for social constructivism and the short stories of Jewett and Hall, which supports an essentialist point of view. The method of Adam’s continual and uncertain switch between sexualities is an attempt to highlight both sides of the argument, as well as providing a further style of postmodernist literature. As Barry states:

 

we show that elemental categories as heterosexual and homosexual do not designate fixed essences at all…we construct instead an anti-essentialist, postmodernist concept of identity…a kind of amalgam of everything which is provisional, contingent and improvisatory. (Barry 14)

 

 

 

Bibliography

  • Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literature and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press (2009) 132-149
  • Bennett, Andrew & Nicholas Royle. An Introduction to Literature and Criticism and Theory. Harlow: Pearson Education (2009) 279-288
  • Carter, Angela. The Passion of New Eve. London: Virago Press (1982)
  • Forster, E. M. ‘Arthur Snatchfold’ Gender, Sexuality and Writing Module Reader. (Bristol: Department of English, Writing and Drama, UWE, 2011) 22-37
  • Foucault, Michael. The Will To Knowledge. The History of Sexuality: Volume One. London: Penguin (1998)
  • Hall, Radcliffe. ‘Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself’. Gender, Sexuality and Writing Module Reader. (Bristol: Department of English, Writing and Drama, UWE, 2011) 11-20
  • Jewett, Sarah Orne. ‘Martha’s Lady’. Gender, Sexuality and Writing Module Reader. (Bristol: Department of English, Writing and Drama, UWE, 2011) 1-8.
  • Koertge, Noretta. ‘’New Age’ Philosophies of Science: Constructivism, Feminism and Postmodernism.’ The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 51 Oxford: Oxford University Press (2000) 667-683. Web. 30th April 2012
  • McNay, Lois. ‘Power and Repression.’ Gender, Sexuality and Writing Module Reader. (Bristol: Department of English, Writing and Drama, UWE, 2011) 75-78.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. London: Penguin (2000)
  • Orwell, George. Nighteen-Eighty Four. London: Penguin (2004)
  • Wechsler, Jeffrey. “Magic Realism: Defining the Indefinite.” Art Journal 45.4, The Visionary Impulse: An American Tendency. College Art Association (1985) 293-298. Web. 6th May 2012.
  • Wood, Barry. “Malcolm Lowry’s Metafiction: The Biography of a Genre.” Contemporary Literature. University of Wisconsin Press. 19.1 (1978) 1-25. Web. 6th May 2012
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