kitchen table math, the sequel: bring back English

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

bring back English

A university funded, award-winning undergraduate Honors thesis at NYU:
Shahida Arabi, The Show That Must Go On: Gender Performativity in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare’s As you Like It*
The Show That must Go On: Gender Performativity in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare’s As You Like It Shahida Arabi, English
Sponsor: Professor Elaine Freedgood, English

Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity asserts that gender is a performance that is constantly problematizing itself. using this idea as a basis for my research, and combining literary criticism with performance studies and gender studies to guide my analysis, I explore how gender is theatricalized and problematized in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice within their respective historical contexts. The body in both texts serves as the site where cultural meanings are inscribed and performed through various stages of gender signification, including cross-dressing, drag, and the rituals of marriage. The body exerts a performative labor that exposes and subverts the very performances being staged. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice emphasizes the role of marriage in successfully “passing” for a woman in eighteenth-century England, while Shakespeare’s As You Like It reveals a world of drag and cross-dressing that both destabilizes and exposes the performativity of gender through the vehicle of Rosalind’s body. Rosalind’s doubling performances construct several layers of gender performance, reflecting the nuanced roles of sixteenth-century English women and the dubious nature of the gendered body on the Shakespearean stage.. These performances, engineered through clothing and language, are partially negated by Rosalind’s references to her biological body, even as they are reinforced by her defamation of the female sex. The financial necessity of marriage in eighteenth-century England compels female characters in Pride and Prejudice to perform their gender through marriage rather than through the stage props of clothing or weapons. Consenting to or refusing a marriage proposal could secure social mobility or undercut social and class expectations. The narrative, however, complicates seemingly subversive performances by reducing characters to the physicality of their bodies, or granting physical agency to “flattened” or one-dimensional characters. These two texts, despite the difference in historical era, problematize this timeless discourse of a stable gender identity.
Inquiry: A Journal of Undergraduate Research

* supported by Dean’s undergraduate research Fund † winner of Phi Beta Kappa Albert Borgman Prize for Best Honors Thesis


Barry Garelick said...

"Performative". "Problematize". I used to see words like this in the govt quite a bit.

She may be in line for a job with the federal govt. The people who make it in govt (i.e., they work for the "front offices" of the various divisions and their job descriptions involve making and/or analyzing "policy") are lawyers, public policy majors, political science majors and English majors.

Hainish said...

Catherine, as someone who has not studied literature a whole lot, I'm not really getting the implicit objection.

How would something that is more English-y differ from this thesis?

Glen said...

This both emblematizes and exposes the inherent nugatorimentation and resultant hogwashitivity of the academy pursuant to the replacement of bona fide teachers with performative activistes.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the gender-lens interpretation of these 2 works is not ridiculous; it's just used too heavily and to the exclusion of other ways of looking at works of literature. And the vocabulary is too in-groupish. But I have to say my high school-aged daughter came up with a great take on Jane Eyre back in the day: she decided (with no provocation from an ideological English teacher) that Mr. Rochester was a pedophile because he used so many diminuitives to address Jane ("my child," and similar terms). Hee Hee.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hainish wrote: How would something that is more English-y differ from this thesis?

The horrifying thing is that I really can't answer that question (and I have a Ph.D. in film studies --- )

People used to know things about literature: real things, things that students benefited from learning.

Do you remember Momof4 mentioning once that future English teachers used to be required to take intensive courses in grammar and stylistics?

These days, they take neither. I asked a Penn English professor who studies poetry whether graduate students study grammar (or linguistics, actually) now, and he said they didn't and he hadn't, either. (He didn't necessarily think that was a good state of affairs, but that wasn't the topic of the conversation.)

There is actually a great deal to ***know*** about classic literature in order to really understand and appreciate it ---- and that knowledge has gone missing.

I'm trying to recapture some of it, seeing as how I teach an English class (!), but it's slow going. I have to track down the old books, try to find time to read them, and try to figure out how they relate to each other.

My impression, too, is that a lot of these works were well-written: well-written meaning enjoyably written.

By the way, this abstract discusses flat characters towards the end. The new Philip Pullman translations of Grimms' Fairy Tales has a fabulous passage in the introduction that discusses flat characters in fairy tales --- I'm going to post it, and I think you'll see what I mean.

"English," as I think it used to be, is incredibly enriching: a good English teacher or literary analysis makes you 'see' the work in a way you couldn't have done on your own --- and in a way that fits the spirit of the work, which this abstract does not.

That said, this is my **image** of what English used to be.

That kind of English is long gone, it seems.

Catherine Johnson said...

"Performative". "Problematize". I used to see words like this in the govt quite a bit.

oh boy

that's bad ---- yikes