Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"I Will Not Cease From Mental Fight"

It is a bit shocking reading some of the opinions and political views of the Modernists in Sara Blair’s article “Modernism and the politics of culture.” It is especially alarming considering the experiences most of them no doubt had living through both world wars and the rise of Hitler. Reading Woolf’s essay “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” makes it clear that they were not unaffected by these experiences. Yet, it did not seem to affect them in the anticipated fashion that Woolf herself seemed to be affected. To be fair, I realize that the article does speak mostly about the Modernists on the right and Ezra Pound specifically. However, Woolf’s essay about the German air raids in London makes it difficult to imagine that anyone might support Fascism and Hitlerism. I really liked some of the analogies that Woolf drew between the desire to support one’s country and the tyranny of World War II, as well as the subtle indications about the status of women in the country. As she compares the sound of the planes above to a “sawing” sound at her brain it is as if she is implying this issue of women’s freedom is one that gnaws at our brains. She goes on to point out “Women of ability-it was Lady Astor speaking in The Times this morning-are held down because of a subconscious Hitlerism in the hearts of men” (2). This is a very clever suggestion on Woolf’s part, that the very enemy the men of the country are fighting against is themselves. The Englishmen (or American) are as guilty as the Nazis, and the oppression of women is likened to the genocide of Hitler’s army. What is even cleverer, is that these are not even Woolf’s words, but a quote from Lady Astor. In the way that Woolf is taking the ability of the English to lay all the blame on the enemies of England, I believe she is taking the ability of women to lay all the blame on men for their oppression. She says later, “the young airman up in the sky driven not only by the voices of loudspeakers; he is driven by voices in himself-ancient instincts, instincts fostered and cherished by education and tradition” (2). Anyone that would argue that it is impossible to turn off those voices or ancients traditions, Woolf argues that it is in fact possible. It is so possible that she creates an analogy of childbearing and maternal instincts to compare, arguing that these two can be subdued. The indication it seems Woolf is making here is that maternal instincts are not instincts at all but the result of a woman’s “education, training, everything…” (2). I think this essay is amazing in light of the politics surrounding the Modernist era. Woolf’s ability to control and manipulate language is very impressive, especially in such a short speech. The arguments in this essay are pretty much the same as those in A Room of One’s Own, and yet she is able to make the same impact in 10 minutes. In fact, this essay effectiveness lies in its comparisons within war.

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