Archive for January, 2009

I was struck by Phaedra’s docile nature, and her desire to die from her “sickness of desire” rather than act on it until her nurse conspired with her to concoct a love potion. Phaedra unwarily and heartily fought Aphrodite’s petty games until her nurses coquettish notions overtook her sensibilities. Despite her repressive behavior, Phaedra still fit the stereotype of the Greek portrayal of women in that she was weak, easily influenced, lacking proper moral judgment, and acted as a facile foil to the Nurse’s malevolent planning.

The double standards for men an women are impossible to overlook. First off, men were legally able to sleep around with whomever they chose — and a slave could never accuse a man of rape (thus they were used often for sexual release). But women, women who would be better off if they could never express themselves through speech, were not allowed to have extramarital relations. Additionally, according to this drama, feminine sexuality and desire was reprehensible to men. Men were allowed to have sexual relations so long as it did not make them appear effeminate, but women should stay in their house and not feel any desire except for their husband who really only looked at them as an inconvenient tool to bear children.

Finally, take into account that Phaedra was very likely a young woman, much much younger than Theseus. The text notes that she would likely have been near the age of Hippolytus. There is no doubt in my mind that this play enacted the tangible fear of the husband, that his attractive young wife would fall for his son. Especially as fathers would be faced with the Oedipus complex, feeling threatened already by their son’s transition from the world of boys to the world of men.

I was initially struck with the horror that Aphrodite was callous towards the fate of Phaedra in her plan for vengance against Hippolytus, but then I realized that as a goddess she might have foreseen Phaedra’s initial refusal to act on her new found sexual desire for her stepson.
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This is the most beautiful book I’ve read in a long time. Reading Lolita in Tehran is inspirational, and an important reminder of the influence of art. In the free country many people lose sight of what art really means, but in a repressed country where art is illegal it becomes as necessary as a sip of water in the stark heat of the desert. Azar Nafisi’s experiences in Iran exemplify a woman’s need for something to remind her of their humanity in the face of a world that tells them they are not allowed to be or do what they want to do, when their world tells them that they are not allowed to be women. Nafisi shows us that faced with dark circumstances people will risk their lives to read a forbidden novel, to fall in love with letters on a page written long ago and far away by someone who never would have imagined that their words could be the only escape from opression in another person’s life.

Reading Lolita in Tehran is a beautiful and moving memoir of struggle and hope, even if you haven’t read the literature it discusses–and it also provides an avid reader with a fabulous must read list!

My favorite quote: “You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” p 336

Some thought provocing criticism of Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran

Azar Nafisi’s website

Interview with Azar Nafisi

Book Cover

I actually read “Black Elk Speaks” Premier Edition, but there doesn’t seem to be any photos of that cover available.

This heart wrenching story of the downfall of the Native American peoples is told with beautiful prose and care. It could have been¬† a quick and easy read, but the tale deserved time and reflection rather than an eager gobbling of words. Neihardt uses powerful rhetoric to show the beauty that was lost when the wild west was defeated by ‘civilization.’

From the viewpoint of Black Elk, it is very easy to see how the wasichu’s (white people) were not nearly as civilized as were the indigenous peoples of North America. He and his people were perplexed at the wasichu desire for the “yellow metal that made them crazy” and the fact that they would kill buffalo only for a tongue, to “kill for the sake of killing” and in a very short time they extinguished the wild species.

Black Elk’s vision was mesmerizing, and the drawings in the appendix added a surprisingly accurate rendition of the most important scenes in his vision. I would read this before falling asleep at night, and found that his imagery often entered my dreamworld. I also listened to Native American music recorded with flutes and natures sounds to bring me just a little closer the the power of Black Elk’s story.

As an American I have been raised to understand the atrocities we committed against the indigenous people, and I’ve read many fiction novels that told me, in a vague way, about their religious beliefs and natural lifestyles. But I’ve never before seen so vividly the method’s that the wasichus used to kill these people so mindlessly and cruelly. I wonder how Black Elk could talk about picking up an orphaned baby from the bloody aftermath of Wounded Knee and not cry.

He spoke, 120 years ago, about the way the wasichus were cutting up the land so that the two leggeds and the four leggeds were living on islands and finding it difficult to survive. This rings true today in a world where the few longer vast areas of land left completely to nature are being carved smaller and smaller by the hands of greedy people.

Finally, I’d like to say that this edition was particularly nice because it offers notation in the margins when Neihardt chooses to embellish or add to Black Elk’s story. He does this frequently. A couple of examples are very powerful statements that he puts into Black Elk’s mouth: that the wasichus spoke with forked tongues and that the Lakota’s could not eat the wasichu’s lies. I see that Neihardt is trying to make Black Elk’s story even more convincing of how bad it was, but frankly–I don’t think such embellishments were necessary to understand the atrocities that Native Americans faced, the bravery and courage they fought with, or the hope that they still cling to today–that someday the hoop will be restored.

This is an absolutely beautiful novel! A story of humanity, of choices and consequences, of love and family,  and of grief all rendered in elegant prose. Not only is this story unforgettable, but it deserves a second read. Bravo!