The Expressions of Freedom: Contemplating Anger

by Lynn Clement


Despite being immensely inspired by Raquelle’s awesome post on “overcoming writing stalls”, I’ve had a difficult time being productive this week.  Current events have left me angry, distracted, and anxious.  I feel lucky, because many others have had it much worse: anguish, suffering, trauma.  Due to my professional training, I am quick to analyze what I see and, even after listening to hours of testimony, it was the images that lingered: the setting, the people, the facial expressions.

My writing has long centered on women’s involvement in revolutionary political movements and their subsequent punishment, in visual form, for entering into the public sphere.  Honestly, it’s been almost too easy to find topics because history is filled with demonized depictions of women who dared to defy societal norms and demand equal rights and an equal voice.  For so long, I had naively regarded my analyses as study of a distance past.  As an art historian, it’s a strange feeling when your research becomes terribly relevant and attempting to return agency and voice after centuries of vilification and erasure feels like a particularly pressing endeavor.

CommunePostcardMarch-May1871
By Artist or printers mark looks like “Bernard”. Uploaded by User:Nickpo – own collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3820117

 

My attention had remained on France and their age of revolutions because, again, there was so much to study.  Negative depictions of women revolutionaries abounded.  However, I’ve since turned my attention to how other political imagery, ones that we often consider to be positive or laudatory, might be creating a negative impact.   And I’ve turned my sights to my own country, which is how I found myself picking a fight with the Statue of Liberty.

Well, to be clear, not with the statue itself, but with the way that personification was changed by those who gave, and those who received, her body.  The statue of liberty became a logical image for me given its origins. Although the most recognizable symbol of America, and the liberty and freedom (arguably) found in its republic, Bartholdi’s statue was conceived of by conservative French scholars and politicians who saw the new county as a stabilizing influence against the dangers of monarchy, as well as anarchy. Unlike what comes to mind today, Liberty (since 1792) had worn the Phrygian bonnet (an ancient symbol of the freed slave), wielded a weapon, and had functioned as the powerful, often angry, leader of popular uprising.  Joan Landes’ states, in her book on women’s removal from the public sphere during the years before and after the Revolution of 1789, that “Liberty did not simply appear on the seal of the Republic, nor did she remain fixed on canvas or carved in stone.  She went into the public forum…”  She could be evoked by real women when they asked to be treated as equals.

I thought about this more and more as I saw photographs directly comparing the calm stoicism of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford with the overt anger and frustration of Brett Kavanaugh.

EdwardMoran-UnveilingTheStatueofLiberty1886Large
By Edward Moran – Museum of the City of New York, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=229787

Liberty is someone/something we desire to evoke now, when the status of so many, even as humans, is being tested. (I was going to include a hyperlink, but there were just too many news stories that support this.  You know what I’m talking about.  Just open a newspaper and throw a dart.) However, the idealized depiction of Liberty found in New York’s harbor is a stern goddess with a rational respect for law and order.  Her vagueness denies any relationship with the people who might call upon her protection. Although Linda Grasso’s book The Artistry of Anger focuses on black and white women’s literature, one can apply her theories to the visual.  What emotional freedom would have been available to women and people of color when the Statue of Liberty was designed and erected?  To be allowed anger is to allow a sense of self, true autonomy. “Two unstated assumptions underlie these premises: one, that the rational, righteously angry person is entitled to desire self-satisfaction, pleasure, and just treatment; and two, that the rational, righteously angry person possesses the power to make judgments about one’s own and others’ behavior.  Both of these assumptions have, historically, not applied to women.” Thus, whose liberty is implied in the title of this statue? When the torch was lit rights for women, the working poor, and people of color were being squelched. The Phrygian cap’s replacement with a crown, the removal of her armament, and her composed demeanor seems poignant, to me, in this light, and much less majestic.

My research and writing has been cathartic this year, but it has also reminded me what we are up against: even the strongest visual symbol of this country and its founding ideologies has been constrained. Once celebrated for her righteous anger and willingness to cut down oppressors, she was sanitized for political reasons.  While our bodies are used as symbols of enlightened and universal political ideologies, like Liberty and Justice, our voices, our emotions, and our experiences have also been suppressed.

I don’t know if I can say that I’m glad this is a writing project I’ll be working on more and more (to examine and include depictions of America, Freedom, and Lady Columbia), but it feels necessary to fully research and consider. I’ve been seeing Artemisia Gentileschi’s depictions of Judith and Holofernes making the rounds on social media.  Perhaps it’s time to design a new colossal national monument…

 

 

 

 

Lessons from Smart Women Writers: Overcoming Writing Stalls

“Writing is to academia what sex was to nineteenth-century Vienna: everybody does it and nobody talks about it.” (Wendy Laura Belcher)

woman thinking sitting.png

This is the first sentence of Wendy Laura Belcher’s workbook, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. And it’s right on. Continue reading “Lessons from Smart Women Writers: Overcoming Writing Stalls”

A Career Shift, A New Project

I recently read an article on taking time to mourn during career transitions. When your identity is so deeply tied to work and to the relationships that have been fostered at your workplace, leaving can be hard.

IMG_0583

That wasn’t the case for me. Though, I’m in a bit of a different situation. I am a recent PhD leaving my grad school department for a postdoc at another institution located in the same city. And to boot, I am still a Visiting Scholar in the department where I received the PhD. So, I’m not quite leaving, which puts me in the interesting position of existing between two institutions of higher ed.

My official title is Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Fisk University. This is a welcome and exciting change. I am thrilled to learn from new people at a new place and to use my training to enrich the intellectual life of campus. Continue reading “A Career Shift, A New Project”

The Smart Woman’s Writing Desk, Part IV

By Lynn Clement


Even though Virginia Woolf’s famous essay about the importance of creative space for women (both public and private) was published in 1929, it wasn’t until 2013, after the birth of my daughter, that I finally claimed a room of my own.

I lost myself a bit after becoming a mother and I struggled while my body, mind, and purpose felt as if they were no longer fully my own.  Personal space suddenly became more important as I grappled with identity and nagging doubts about career and choices, in general.  So I staked a claim in my home to help me retake my place in the world.  This was also important for legitimizing my work, to others and myself.  My contingent faculty career status had often been maligned, and this often made me question my place and worth.  Both became stronger after I added “mother” to my list of jobs.  “Maybe now you should focus on something more worthwhile?” “Maybe this could be a chance to switch careers?” “Are you even going back to work?” “When?”  “How?” “Why?”

I did go back to work because I love what I do, and I didn’t switch jobs because I’m also good at it.  However, I needed to find equilibrium between my career and my new role as caregiver. To do this I needed space. I found a tiny section of my already cramped home and tried to carve it into something. I ripped up carpet, scrubbed floors on hands and knees, stripped wall paper, patched walls with joint compound, painted newly sanded surfaces and trim, hauled books, dragged furniture, hung curtains, and remade the space as I tried to remake myself.

img_20180804_170937207

It’s not perfect, and it’s a bit chaotic, but it reflects me: who I have been, who I am despite the changes I have undergone, who I may become.  My actual work space, a narrow desk with an obsolete X-Files mouse pad, is surrounded by objects that make me contented: books, art, notes, papers, mementos, trifles.  Tomes on art, popular culture, programming, science, culture, politics, and religion are stacked below art made by my grandmother, my sister, my students, and my daughter.  (The drawing by my daughter depicts me, fighting a dinosaur with a sword.  Totally bad ass.)  Mismatched bookcases and sills hold some of my most prized keepsakes.  An antique typewriter found at a img_20180804_171120236garage sale was given to me by my parents.  They had high hopes that I would write my first book with it.  I won’t, but it is a sign of the support I have from family and friends.  img_20180804_171106780A guitar built by my great-uncle from an old stump that was half rotting in the backyard of my childhood home serves as a reminder to find inspiration in the unlikeliest of places, and to make something beautiful and useful.  My collection of running medals, all earned during road races of varying distances, reminds me to put in the work no matter how tedious.

Not everyone has the luxury of a room of their own and sometimes I still don’t.  I began writing this post on one of those yellow legal pads because my daughter had commandeered both my desk and my laptop.  In addition, my office now temporarily houses her new kitten and all his kitten accouterments.  However, the process of making that space my own resulted in an important change of mindset about room and my need to make some for myself in the world.  It’s okay to take up space.


 

The Smart Women’s Writing Desk, Part 3

About a year ago, I posted these pictures of my home writing space on Instagram. These photos were a part of my virtual “save me from my isolation!” post on social media in the weeks before my defense.

When I’m in intense work mode, my desk is some sort of combination of these images. Stacks of books related to the current project, marked-up and printed drafts, to-do lists and ideas on sticky notes, and my favorite erasable Muji pens, which let me revise edits without making the page into an illegible mess. Continue reading “The Smart Women’s Writing Desk, Part 3”

The Smart Women’s Summer, Part 3

Last year, I spent the summer months finishing my dissertation. I was a sleepless madwoman, constantly tapping away at the computer and pacing my apartment with primary and secondary texts in-hand. After a hard-earned successful defense and a year of intense job-marketing, I thought I would give myself a bit of a break in 2018. A few weeks ago I made a healthy, feasible list of not just academic but also personal goals, which included submitting a couple articles for publication, starting to learn a new language, spending more time in the kitchen, and traveling. And so, after the semester ended in May, I submitted an article manuscript for publication: “Queering Sexual Difference: The Evolution of the Cixousian Medusa.” (It has been sent to the readers!)

And then…I went on a two-and-a-half week trip to Paris and Aix-en-Provence, France with my partner. We met up with old friends, visited beaches on the Riviera, and ate the best cheeses the regions had to offer. I love travel because it lets me recalibrate priorities and brainstorm about academic and non-academic projects. But even more, I adore allowing myself to spend hours at restaurants, markets, and bakeries; undoubtedly, food is always a major focus of my travel. Which got me thinking. Because I am so intrigued by gastronomy, French and otherwise, I decided that I might incorporate that love into my academic work. This led to my next summer writing project.  Continue reading “The Smart Women’s Summer, Part 3”

The Smart Women’s Summer, Part 2

I loved reading about Angela’s summer-so-far and her summer plans. My summer-so-far hasn’t been as exciting in some ways (yet crazy in others), but it’s about to get there. For me, summer is a time to stop teaching, reflect on the teaching year I just had, prep for the next one, read a ton of books, and ideally, travel. In the seven years I’ve been in my job, I’ve only taught summer courses two or three times, and I think I’ve traveled every year except the summer of 2013 when I was on maternity leave.

That summer was also the only time I did zero work. In the years since, I’ve found that summer is a great time to put my creative energies into planning for the fall: my ideal the past couple of years has been to work in June and relax in July. I planned the same for this year. This is what the Summer of 2018 was supposed to look like:

  1. Take Kiddo to summer camp every day
  2. Use the camp hours (in June) to…
    1. Do a brief side-gig
    2. finish prepping logistics (assessments, standards, etc) for a new unit in a new course
    3. Prep lessons for the fall
    4. Clean my house, read books, write, etc., etc.
  3. Travel to England for a one-week seminar and a few days of extra sight-seeing (namely at the Imperial War Museum, for teaching purposes).

But best-laid plans and all that. About two weeks ago, the plan began unraveling. It’s not bad – it’s just different.

Continue reading “The Smart Women’s Summer, Part 2”