The Body Electric: Woman Be Thine Name

Under the tag “failure” I re-read calexrose’s Vincent’s Failure and The Beast in the Jungle and the Halberstam Reading by stephaniecaputo23, and under the “success” tag, Irritation: Helga vs. Bartleby by mmacg123. The duality between “success” and “failure” seems apparent and is under major construction throughout the course of this class and its texts. In reading these pieces again, the dichotomy between the bodily (or external) and the mind (internal) is a major theme in the struggle of all the narrative texts studied so far; it is also interesting to note the role females play in conjunction with this external apparatus of body in these texts.

In Stephanie‘s post they mention that Halberstam uses the terms “shadows” “to illustrate Marcher, for example when he mentions, ‘the great vagueness casting the long shadow in which he had lived’” (Halberstram 4, 6) (James 53). In order for a shadow to be cast, a physical entity must be in the path of a source of light. This physical entity is the thing that Marcher struggles with, not the shadow, for he is adept at maneuvering and manipulating the reflection of what he is casting to the outside world. Only within the confines of the relationship between himself and May Bartram is he aware of his limitations; she is the bodily aspect of their relationship that confuses him. In Coward in the Pale Light of April,          points out the that the distance between the two characters is highlighted by the physical movements of May frightening Marcher. “James uses Bartram’s body language and direction to clue both Marcher and the reader in” (post 1). The scene in which May is very ill but manages to rise from her chair to “punctuate her point” (57), and “movement might have been for some finer emphasis of what she was at once hesitating and deciding to say” (59), illustrates the impact to Marcher as much if not more than their coded dialogue. Throughout the narrative, Marcher is somewhat indifferent to May, with the exception of their shared secret that is his folly. So, he finally feels the impact when the threat of her bodily leaving him is near. It is also apparent that the intrinsic nature of their relationship, that May being a bodily female, is what enables Marcher to carry on his shadow existence in secret. The body therefore confuses and allows Marcher to figure out his “beast” while using it as coverage for his detours and fear.

In the post Vincent’s Failure, calexrose posts from Berlant that “precarity is a condition of dependency” (192), he/she is relating to Vincent’s failure both inside and outside the realm of the “external” world of friends and work, I think it is also incredibly apt to the quandary that Murphy finds himself in, in terms of the bodily holding him back in the form of women, namely Miss Counihan and Celia. Miss Counihan (which is defined as meaning ‘elegant’ from the Latin ‘elegare’ which means both ‘to select’ and ‘to exhibit beauty’, of which she does both) is a more typical female in the sense that she wants an advantaged situation in which she is married and has financial security, and she wants Murphy to be that man. It is only a guess but, one can imagine Murphy promising her what she wants to hear simply so he could have her ‘wares’ bodily, to then only flee from the responsibility. Celia, on the other hand, wants Murphy to earn work, but seems to make no other demands of him. The crutch that Murphy in turn faces, is that of the physical bodily longing for women. In our first encounter of Murphy and Celia together he states, “Women are all the bloody same […] the only feeling you can stand is being felt, you can’t love for five minutes without wanting it abolished in brats and house bloody wifery. My God, how I hate the charVenus and her sausage and mash sex” (23-24). In this Murphy is stating that women are nothing but bodily. All of their desires come out in the physical, being it children or a home. He curses the “charVenus” and her “mash sex” for the temptations that they arise up in him, the man who craves for a way outside this physical, external system. I cannot find the quote but near the end Celia states something to the tune of, “I was his last exile”, meaning that she was his last physical hold before he went off to be “less” or “more” of himself than he was without her.

The physical versus mental/emotional aspects is readily available in Quicksand as well as Time Out and can be covered in later post perhaps but this idea of internal vs. external is a broad one that can be used to help define many of the workings of the struggle that defines failure.




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