Monday, August 16, 2010

Gender and Capitalism in Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises Pictures, Images and Photos

A novel based on the lost generation of the 1920’s, Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises subtly depicts the solidarity of patriarchal rule under the allusion of the flexibility of gender roles. The way the male characters seem to carry a feminine quality, while Lady Brett Ashley is often interpreted as having a masculine façade, is simply the evolution of the manifestation of gender roles within a new era of change. In addition, a Marxist lens reveals that the adaptation of gender roles in Hemmingway’s piece can largely be attributed to the roles that the characters also play in a Capitalist society.

First, before identifying the gender roles and relationships of Hemmingway’s characters, we must understand the ideas indicated by the institution of “gender”. Judith Butler considers homosexuality, asking: “Is drag the imitation of gender, or does it dramatize the signifying gestures through which gender itself is established?” (Butler 2541) If a man can dress in women’s clothing, wear his hair the way a woman should, walk, talk, and create the act of being a woman, then what does it really mean to “be a woman”? Aren’t these topical appearances merely a form of semiotics, based on an arbitrary relationship between the behavior and one’s sex? As Simone de Beauvoir puts it: “One is not born, but becomes a woman” (Wittig 1907). Gender is the accumulation of habitual acts taught and reinforced by cultural norms, whereas sex is defined biologically based on anatomical differences. In analyzing the gender roles of Hemingway’s characters, we are looking at the way they are presented through the narrative lens of Jake Barnes, the way they act and interact with one another, and how they fit into the larger society as a whole.

None of the three notable female characters within the novel fit the classic mold of feminine compliance as dictated within the male hierarchy. Although each slightly deviate from the submission and silence that is demanded by the patriarch, ultimately the female is unable to find happiness in her gender and place in society. Georgette may speak boldly on certain subjects, such as her assertion that, “I detest Flamands” (Hemmingway 24) and she certainly doesn’t seem timid as she flings Jake’s sarcasm back at him saying, “Little girl yourself” (22). Yet, as noted earlier in regards to the definition of femininity, Georgette’s use of language is based on an arbitrary relationship between the attitude she is portraying and the vulnerability she actually possesses. While the power of her language may create a temporary veil, the purposeful exploitation of her body as a prostitute fundamentally identifies her as the downfall of a matriarchy. This undoing is what radical lesbian theorist Monique Wittig describes as “the idea that the capacity to give birth (biology) is what defines a woman” (1907). Brett references the fact that Georgette is defined by her sexuality, referring to her as an object of sex and anatomy rather than a person, when she asks Jake, “Where did you get it?” (Hemmingway 30) Georgette’s language and the signified she wishes to embody cannot counteract the fact that as a prostitute, her self-definition relies on the biological difference of men and women, which leads to the “natural” (1907) assumption that men are biologically superior to women.

Frances, the mistress of Robert Cohn, initially appears to possess a high level of control over Cohn. As Cohn kicks Jake under the table to silence him, it is evident that Cohn follows a system of behavior and language as dictated by Frances. Jake’s narration of Frances is tainted with disgust for her assertiveness as he notes, “evidently she led him quite a life” (Hemmingway 15) and “[s]he was very forceful, and Cohn never had a chance of not being taken in hand” (13). Yet, when Cohn obtains some success as a writer he realizes, “the fact of a woman caring for him and wanting to live with him was not simply a divine miracle” (16). As feminist Simone De Beauvoir points out: “while normally a woman finds numerous advantages in her relations with a man, his relations with a woman are profitable to a man only in so far as he loves her” (1269). Frances loses what control she once had over him. His realization of the dialectic between them, that she is nothing without him, is what defines his gain in masculinity and the establishment of her dependence on him. Frances becomes desperate for the stability of marriage, which Cohn refuses to give her, and verbally assails Cohn in front of an audience. She continually berates him, “talking on him” (58) and attempts to strip him of his masculinity saying things like, “you can’t have scenes without crying” (57). What power Frances has over Cohn lies solely in her use of language against him, a manipulative power, which as with Georgette is based on a semiotic façade that is easily penetrated and dissolved to the inferior relationship woman has with man.

Many interpretations have been given for Lady Ashley, but among them she is “an intriguing mix of femininity and masculinity, strength and vulnerability, morality and dissolution,” (Fulton 61) providing one of the most complex characters in the book. In contrast to Frances and Georgette, Brett is able to hold her own with the men she associates with, playing something of an equivalent while also becoming the central object of desire. With a masculine first name like Brett she also embodies other masculine qualities: a short haircut, a high alcohol tolerance, an air of entitlement to the things she wants, a loose moral conduct, and often refers to herself as one of the “chaps” (Hemmingway 29). Brett seems to have an unnerving level of control over the men around her. Robert Cohn claims that “she turns men into swine” (148) and she is described as being involved with various men throughout the novel, none of which have the ability to hold her interest for very long. Although her actions are somewhat definitive of a prostitute, she is able to tread lightly on the border between indecent and classy. Brett takes the definition of what it means to be a woman, the accepted gender role for her sex, and tangles it with the unacceptable defiance of a social outcast. It seems she has confronted the master/slave dialectic, unconsciously realizing that if she maintains an attitude of unattached and cold disinterest towards men, they will no longer possess that same power over her. Brett does seem to fall into the category of mysterious or misunderstood by men, the “myth of woman” (Beavoir 1271). Beavoir describes this myth as “a luxury” (1271) and claims that, “rich America, and the male, are on the Master side and that Mystery belong to the slave” (1270). Instead of seeking to understand Woman and the conflicted life she lives in the hierarchy of men, males, “project into the myth adopted the institutions and values to which they adhere” (1267). Yet this mystery simply does not exist, it is merely the accumulation of experiences, which are “impenetrable” (1268) to men. Because this myth is a nonexistent yet socially adopted belief it is impossible to portray in literature. While Hemmingway has created a very complicated and complex character, the mystery he attempts to attach to Brett fails to adhere. As Beavoir explains, “[female characters] can appear only at the beginning of a novel as strange, enigmatic figures…they give up their secret in the end and they are simply consistent and transparent persons” (1270). Originally visualized as the goddess of the party, Brett is revealed consistently noncommittal to men and in constant pursuit for a happiness that will never be granted to her.

While many critics have endowed Brett with an untouchable air, she is still in many ways confined by her femininity. She looks for happiness from affairs with men, she takes on a motherly quality by often “looking after” (206) these same men, and is ultimately proven weak and therefore subject to her womanhood when she “pass[es] out on the train” (131). Women have traditionally been depicted as hysteric and faint of heart, as “patriarchal socialization literally makes women sick” (Gilbert and Gubar 1932). Susan Bordo specifies the fact that, “the term hysterical itself became almost interchangeable with the term feminine in the literature of the [nineteenth century] period,” (Bordo 2244). Feminists Gilbert and Gubar raise the pertinent question that: “Implying ruthless self-suppression, does the “eternal feminine” necessarily imply illness?” (1934) Hemmingway includes these stereotypical generalizations of the women in the novel, and especially of Brett in order to avoid letting her escape her place in society.

Within the novel, Brett seems to defy patriarchal reality and is unable to be clearly defined in a “society where women are warned that if they do not behave like angels they must be monsters” (Gilbert and Gubar (1932). Each of these three women, although subversive towards male authority in their own way, cannot evade their feminine fate, although much of their success, or lack of, in using language and physical signifiers to diffuse their lack of power can be explained through a Marxist lens. While Georgette and Frances use their disguises in pursuit of money, Brett does not give money the same significance. She turns down the money the count offers her to travel with him and didn’t want Romero to pay her bill, although he did so anyways. In a society, especially during the 1920’s, where women are financially dependent on men, where there were little to no opportunities for women to provide for themselves financially, women are further bound to their gender roles by need for survival, which in a capitalist world is the equivalent to money. One’s value in the capitalist world is based on how much one can produce, or for women, reproduce. Capitalism has made the woman a commodity, stripped her down to her exchange value, which even then is limited. Brett, although still inferior as a woman, refuses to be a commodity, which raises her status among the other women while distorting her gender role.

If we can dissolve the pretense of female power that is merely a façade of semiotics bound to the capitalist superstructure, then clearly the struggle or lack of masculinity that critics often point to in The Sun Also Rises is equally as unstable. Masculinity is literally taken from Jake in World War I with a wound to his genitalia and his inability to consummate his feelings for Brett, which clearly inhibits his happiness throughout the novel. While he remains emotionally disconnected throughout his dialogue with the other characters, even without reaction while watching Brett with other men, he cries when alone in his bed. Cohn, as earlier mentioned, has difficulty taking assertion with women, is not a war veteran, and is emotionally charged throughout the novel. Crying and emotion are considered feminine traits, and therefore a weakness, especially in men. Both men look to establish an appearance of masculinity: Jake through financial means, and Cohn through a career in boxing. If women are bound by capitalism to there roles as submissive and docile beings by an inability to reach financial success unless utilizing their bodies or relying on men, then men are similarly bound.

Capitalism reinforces the image of men as providers and identifies then as the superior in the rich/poor, bourgeois/proletariat relationship. Cohn was not able to gain leverage over Frances until he found financial success, which deemed him an object worth pursuit by other women. Yet, as Cohn becomes a successful producer, he also becomes a commodity, and something to be used by women. Karl Marx explains this phenomenon declaring, “the worker sinks to the level of a commodity and becomes indeed the most wretched of commodities; that the wretchedness of the worker is in inverse proportion to the power and magnitude of his production” (652). According to this lens, Cohn cannot lose his masculinity simply because he has the ability to produce. Comparably, in a capitalist society, Jake maintains his manhood in his ability to produce financially, and Jakes relationship with money is directly related to his lack of sexual power. As Jacob Leland illuminates, “Jake Barnes’s sexuality, then, is a commodity, with exchange-value but not use-value” (43). This is reflected in the way Jake spends his money. He in not interested in accumulating things of material or use-value. Jake is primarily concerned with spending his money in order to define his relationship with other people, whether it is tipping a waiter, or buying alcohol in a social setting, or paying a prostitute in order to preserve his dignity. Jake ultimately realizes that in the larger scheme of things, he can never produce enough, as the bar of capitalism is always being raised, “I though I had paid for everything. Not like the woman pays and pays and pays. No idea of retribution or punishment. Just exchange of values .You gave up something and got something else” (152).

The Sun Also Rises has been a popular example of how time, and especially war, changes the definitions of masculinity. Yet, this view merely upholds the false ideas of gender roles. For example, if a functional penis makes one masculine, then bearing children makes one feminine. It is the reliance on biological differences that lead us to uphold that our roles as male or female are “natural,” (Wittig 1907) which they clearly are not. Gender roles and the ideas of masculinity and femininity are founded on the same meaningless relationship as the language used to describe these ideals, as well as the language used to hide the underlying system of patriarchy, as reinforced by capitalism, that is stained into our way of life. While the female characters of the novel may be able to appear deviant to their role as women in society, those appearances are just as false as the roles they ultimately subscribe to. Similarly, the male characters may react to what seems an altered state of gender, but are still superior to women, even if castrated, as long as they have the capital to prove it.

Works Cited

Beauvoir, Simone De. “From The Second Sex: Chapter XI. Myth and Reality.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed, Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.: New York, 2001. 1265-73. Print.

Butler, Judith. “From Gender Trouble: From Preface.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed, Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.: New York, 2001. 2540-53. Print.

Fulton, Lorie Watkins. “Reading Around Jake’s Narration: Brett Ashley and The Sun Also Rises.” The Hemmingway Review 24.1 (2004): 61-78. Project MUSE. Web. 13 August 2010.

Gilbert Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. “From The Madwoman in the Attic.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed, Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York, 2001. 1926-38. Print.

Hemmingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.

Leland, Jacob Michael. “Yes, That is a Roll of Bills in My Pocket: The Economy of Masculinity in The Sun Also Rises.” The Hemmingway Review 23.2 (2004): 37-46. Project MUSE. Web. 13 August 2010.

Marx Karl, and Friedrich Engels. “From Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed, Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York, 2001. 651-55. Print.

Wittig, Monique. “One Is Not Born a Woman.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed, Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.: New York, 2001. 1906-13. Print.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ethic Studies and Post-Colonial Analysis

While Langston Hughes’ argument in his essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” is interesting and holds some valid points; I would disagree with a portion of it. Although what Hughes is asking of all artists is important, his argument is flawed. His interpretation of one “Negro Poet’s’” statement, “I want to be a poet –not a Negro poet” is equal to “I would like to be white” (1192) is quite a stretch. First of all, it is never appropriate to assume what someone means when saying something else. Furthermore, I believe it to be possible that the poet would like to be seen as an artist without his ethnicity modifying his title. Perhaps, he wants to be seen for his work, and not as Hughes is evaluating him, as how his work defines him as a black man. I also found Hughes’ very detailed description and interpretation of the Negro middle class (1193) to be very matter of fact, when in reality is it very difficult to so plainly articulate the daily lives and desires of a large group of people.

Hughes goes on to argue that is the poet he mentioned would only embrace his ethnic roots, he would find “a great field of unused material ready for his art” Hughes’ main concern with the Negro poet seems to be his responsibility to use his art in order to identify the “innumerable overtones and undertones” between blacks and whites, to which “there is an inexhaustible supply of themes at hand” (1194). Although Hughes is asking of the poet to infuse his art with the utmost honesty of his identity as an artist and a creator, he is also placing a very political buren upon all black artists. This “inexhaustible supply of themes” should certainly not be left unexplored by any means, but it is up to no particular black person, or person of any race whom desires to examine the racial politics of America, to dedicate their art form to such an issue. If anything, I believe this constraint to be demeaning to the artist. An artist should be able to be identified by the integrity of their work alone, without having to directly incorporate the color of their skin.

However, this does not mean there is not a need for what Hughes is asking. Representation of the lower class African Americans should be highly encouraged, as should art and representation of all ethnic backgrounds. Taking KanyeWest for example, his identity as a recording artist is largely affiliated with his personal life as a black man. His lyrics incorporate such ideas as war against racisisms and issues facing minorities of America. Not only does West have a large fan base for his authentic concerns, but it is also what defines him as a true artist, writing song lyrics that people care about, can relate to, or can be seen as instructional for those outside the American black experience. On top of all that, it has brought him great financial success, which is always a plus.

Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artists and the Racial Mountain.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed,Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.: New York, 2001. 1192-96. Print.

Feminist Analysis

Feminist Criticism

The Dove campaign for beauty is unique in that it wants to help women define their own inner and outer beauty based on realistic ideals, while the large majority of other companies who target women create the need for their product by insinuating that the beauty you are born with isn’t enough. Dove has taped the long the transition from ordinary woman to fashion model in order to emphasize the fact that advertising is selling a lie: a beauty that isn’t attainable without hair, make-up, lighting, and computerized help. Yet, there is nothing like this kind, and various similar associations dealing with feminine self-esteem, for men. As Simone de Beauvoir points out: “The attitude of defiance of many American women proves that they are haunted by a sense of their femininity. In truth, to go for a walk with one’s eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals whose clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests, and occupations are manifestly different.” The campaign itself is evidence of the burden femininity has become, and furthermore, it begs the same question that Beauvoir poses: “What is a woman?”

Clearly, we cannot define woman based on the definitions of femininity, or at least those definitions of society, largely because men dictate society, as Beauvoir explains saying, “humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him”. If anyone can define the true essence of woman, it must be woman herself. Yet, this is not so easily answered because as Beauvoir indicates, while comparing the female gender to the capitalist’s proletariat, “The proletariat can propose to massacre the ruling class, and a sufficiently fanatical Jew or Negro might dream of getting sole possession of the atomic bomb and making humanity wholly Jewish or black; but woman cannot even dream of exterminating the males. The bond that unites her to her oppressors is not comparable to any other.” It seems as though the female desire to be equated to man as his fellow human being is blocking her from separating herself far enough to consider her own definition.

The Dove campaign clip further demonstrates this predicament, because although it is a nice gesture, Dove continues to use airbrushing and unrealistic female figures in their commercials to attract consumers.


De Beauvoir, Simone. “From The Second Sex.” The Norton Anthology of

Theory and Criticism. Ed, Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York, 2001. 1265-73. Print.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Presentation Reflection

My contribution to the group presentation included reading and understanding Derrida’s deconstruction principles, specifically those found in his “Dissemination”. Understanding deconstruction enough to present it to the class has been a very frustrating process for me. It seemed to me that Derrida’s writing is more of a demonstration of the instability of language rather than any concrete explanation of the phenomena. He plays with multiple metaphors such as “organism,” “embroidery,” and “game” (1697) to describe the complexity of language, which left me stranded to decode his meaning rather than absorb his purpose. Ultimately I had to look to other sources for reassurance that I was not going crazy, but that the ideas of deconstruction are quite metaphysical and difficult to define. J.M. Balkin from Yale Law School identifies various applicable uses of Derrida’s ideas in his essay on deconstruction, specifically in the field of law. Dr. Kristi Siegel’s website was also helpful in breaking down Derrida’s terms, such as “trace” and “differAnce”.

In order to demonstrate the principles of deconstruction, my portion of the presentation will be the active breaking down of a single sentence with the class’s participation. I have chosen the eighth amendment, largely because it has become clear to me that language and law share the same instability: they are both defined by principles that are not innate but structured by man, taught, and must be accepted by the whole in order to function. In addition, both language and law are in a constant flux, always needing to be defined, and can only be defined in terms of their own instability.

Looking at the eighth amendment, one could spend days breaking apart each word and discovering the various interpretations that might be rendered. In my presentation I will be looking at a few specific words within the phrase, identifying some of their various possible meanings, and revealing how the statement ultimately contradicts itself. Using this single phrase, I will also be able to exhibit Derrida’s idea of the web of language and his theory of the trace carried by each signifier.

Works Cited:

Deconstruction, in A Companion to the Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory, (D. Patterson, ed., Basil Blackwell, 1996).

Derrida, Jacques. “From Dissemination, From Plato’s Pharmacy.” The Norton Anthology ofTheory and Criticism. Ed, Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.: New York, 2001. 1697-1734. Print.

Siegel, Kristi. Introduction to Modern Literary Theory. Mount Mary College. Web. 30 July 2010.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Marxist Analysis

In analyzing the Alec Baldwin speech from the film Glengarry Glen Ross, the fundamentals of Marxist capitalism are evident, as played out by Baldwin and his inferior counterparts. The harsh language and cold demeanor of Baldwin’s character and “motivational” speech exemplify what Marx described as, “the icy water of egotistical calculation” (659). The employees to whom Baldwin’s character is addressing are merely figures within the profit margin, not human beings of equal existence. Baldwin bluntly enforces the fact that each man is a commodity, a replaceable object, and a worthless one at that if unable to satisfy the demands of the company. The saddest part about the scene is the powerlessness exerted by the employees. Their jobs are being threatened, and to be stripped of ones ability to produce is essentially to become void of any value or worth; a societal outsider.

Much of Baldwin’s establishment of authority is through the things he possesses: large sums of money, the nice suit he’s wearing, his watch, and his car. He compares his watch and his car to the value of the employees and their cars. This comparison draws upon the ideas of commodity fetishism, about which Marx states: “the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race” (665). The “mystical character of commodities” (664) is related to the fact that Baldwin’s logic and persuasion hinge on the idea that the value of a human being is somehow relatable to the value of a car or a watch. If the car and watch were unassembled into their basic components, they would just be a pile of junk worth much less. Yet, because they required human labor for their assembly, and are therefore a commodity, they are comparable to the human, who is yet another commodity.

When we evaluate our surroundings, we are constantly summing up worth. Marx explains that, “Value, therefore, does not walk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic” (666). With commodities becoming a system much like language, Saussure’s principles of semiotics would further prove that the relationship between the commodity and its value are arbitrary. Yet, like the employees beneath Baldwin’s aim, all of those who subscribe to the language of capitalism enforce is structure and are therefore further confined by its exploitation.

Marx, Karl. "The communist Manifesto", "Capital, Vol1". Ed. Vincent Leitch. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Second Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2010. Print.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reader-Response and Film Adaptation

Translating any work from text to a film production requires a great deal of decision-making on the director’s part. While a text allows for endless possibilities for interpretation on the reader’s end, a visual manifestation of that text must take certain measures to declare a more specific understanding, which is to be visually reproduced for the audience. Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been produced on stage and film throughout the centuries and is controversial in its various interpretations. The film adaptations by Frank Zeffirelli and Kenneth Branagh clearly depict very different “virtual” texts (Iser 1524) and thus a very different interaction between the work and each director. Using Iser’s principles of the reader-response theory, we can identify the “gaps”(Iser 1527) that each director has filled, as well as the journey described by Iser as each director’s “wandering viewpoint travels between all [the] segments” (1528) between the “explicit and the implicit” (1527) of the text.

Wolfgang Iser describes the process of interpreting a text, stating: “As the reader passes through the various perspectives offered by the text, and relates the different views and patterns to one another, he sets the work in motion, and so sets himself in motion, too” (1524). As Iser points out, this process is in fact an interaction, and one in which Iser focuses on the individual rather than the historical contexts for a particular conception. Iser also explains that this “interpretive activity” (1524) is similar to the act of in-person communication, except that the text cannot provide the reader with the necessary feedback to alter or direct the reader’s perception of the work. In describing communication, he explains that the interaction will result in “a view of others and, unavoidably, an image of ourselves” (1525). With the visual and audio advantages of film, the space allowed for interpretation between the audience and the original text is condensed, therefore increasing the amount of interaction permitted to take place. Film then is one step closer to one-on-one communication than a text, and therefore leaves the audience with a greater image of self, particularly the self of the director who is visually reproducing their own conception of the work.

Three, among various items of great debate with regard to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, include: Hamlet’s motivation, his sanity, and his relationship with his mother. In Shakespeare’s original text these topics are some of what Iser might refer to as a “the missing link[s],” (1528) and therefore according to Iser, the stimulation which invites the reader to interpret and react with the text. While Shakespeare has created a single “artistic pole,” both Zeffirelli and Branagh have visually produced their own “aesthetic text”. In Branagh’s version of Act I Scene V, the ghost of Hamlet’s father is pictured towering over him in heavy armor, staring right through him with cold and bright blue eyes. The ghost’s voice echoes loud and booming, amost suggestive that the audience could be hearing the voice from withing Hamlet’s head. This is suggestive of the position that Hamlet is in fact crazy and that the ghost is not real. In contrast Zeffirelli illustrates the ghost as approachable, seated wearing robes, and speaking in gentle tone. This portrayal of the ghost lends Hamlet’s sanity much more credibility in comparison to Branagh’s representation. To infer what is motivating Hamlet to kill his Uncle, Branagh’s version might imply fear of the ghost, while Zeffirelli’s suggests a love and adoration for his father. Each director’s choice in this instance clearly affects other perspectives of the text, as Iser qualifies as a journey of interaction. The perception of the father-son relation affects the understanding of the mother-son relationship: In Branagh’s film it is contemptuous and incestuous in Zeffirelli’s. The bridge between the two missing links indicates an entire network of considerations that took the reader (or in this case the director) from one perspective to another.



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Natura Morta

by Alexa Meade 2009

Live installation: Acrylic paint on found objects, walls, and flesh

(This is actually a photograph of a living person who, like the objects around her, has been painted ON in order to resemble a painting!!!)

Inspired Narrative:

The hotel room begins to devour her every muffled breath before she can even force it from the hollow in her chest. Uneven beats fill that vacant cavity with untiring angst, but her mind is disconnected. Thoughts rising like hot air loom along the musty ceiling where mold clings. She feels the flesh, which binds her in detached hatred, still moist from his body. She watches, as his imprint on the coarse sheets seems to dig deeper into the mattress, though the slammed door failed to carry even the softest breezes into the room with his exit. He was just another and yet she is still the same. It’s tiresome how time comes to reveal the same revelation over and over in new light. She wants to reach over to the lamp and illuminate her feet resting on the dingy carpet but her arms weigh in defiance. She wishes those feet could carry her out into the daylight and stirring air, where she might find something worth living for.

If Saussure were to examine this picture he might base his perception on his theory that, "language is a system of signs that express ideas" (Saussure 851). Similar to a literary work, a picture or piece of art is also a system of signs that express ideas. Saussure might also add that in order to understand what this picture represents, we must also identify what it does not represent, by recognizing the binary oppositions implied by the use of signifiers in the piece. The woman's body language is beyond relaxed and more suggestive of defeat. Sitting in her undergarments, it is clear based on societal standards that we are viewing her in a moment of privacy. The shadows of the furniture seem to indicate that she is sitting near a window, currently rendering the lamp as useless. Her body language and her gaze towards the floor seem to mirror this object. Similarly, the bottle on the table, which is shaped much like that of a wine bottle, is not in it's normal upright position. The signified usually associated with a woman in her bra and underwear is defied in this picture. Instead, she seems to be yielding to the signifiers around her, which are reflective of her current state. The relationship between the woman and the objects around her confirms the semiotic standpoint that the meaning of one sign can only exist in relation other signs. Although the woman is clearly the focus in the image, she means nothing without the daylight cast upon her, the empty wine bottle laying next to her, or her body language in relation to the room around her.

De Saussure, Ferdinand. "Course In General Linguistics" Ed. Vincent Leitch. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Second Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2010. Print.