The Value of Virginity

In The Tempest written by William Shakespeare, one topic that I find interesting is the way virginity is a matter of politics. At this place in time, matters of feminism were inexistent and women were treated fairly stereotypically. A woman was meant to be someone who was controlled by a man, father or husband for example, and to control their behaviours including sexually related ones. Miranda, the daughter of Prospero, who was also the only female character in the play and was portrayed to have one intention; to be a bride to Ferdinand to bring joy to their fathers. The value of Miranda was her virginity, and her virginity was a matter of politics. In order to be the wife of Ferdinand, especially him being a prince and all, Miranda had to be seen as “pure.” This ensured Ferdinand that his children one day would never have to be questioned as his and to ensure that Miranda was seen an example of chastity. Not only was Miranda constricted to behaving a certain way because of the men around her, but she also getting into a political marriage that she may not have realized. This marriage set up by Prospero was done so that he was entitled to grandchildren in line with the throne, a political matter. Virginity here was nothing more than doing what “was right” for others (like the fathers of the couple) and being seen as innocent and pure like women were supposed to be. It was unfortunate at times like this that the value of virginity was strictly politics.

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Breaking News! New Island Discovered in the Mediterranean Along with Native Inhabitants.

A new island was discovered in the Mediterranean by famed researcher Prospero and his daughter Miranda, who hail from Milan, and they are breaking headlines. A male, who calls himslef by the exotic name of Caliban, has been a prominent, and somewhat terrifying figure of this brave new world and is a native to the island. Initially there appeared to be the promise of a friendly relationship between the native and the explorers as he showed Prospero where to find food and water , but in a terrifying twist Caliban attempted to take Miranda by force! It is safe to say tensions have been raised ever since. Luckily there was a kind spirit, Ariel, who Prospero has befriended and they are working together. Hopefully not all chance for a friendly relationship is lost.

With the exploration going well, baring the incident with Caliban, more people will soon be arriving on the island. Alonso (who heads a museum in Italy), Sebastian (brother to Alonso and a famed archaeologist), Antonio (a fellow reasercher and Prospero’s brother. Do I smell some brothley competition?), Ferdinand (a young reasercher just getting his bearings at his father, Alonso’s, museum), and the joyful reporting duo of Trinculo and Stephano will join Prospero and Miranda on their exploration.

Until next time, us here are C.O.L.O.N.I.S.T.A.S.S. Hole International wish them all the best.

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Meta blogging #101

BLOGGING AS AN ART

A blog is an interesting concept, it not only reveals the personal views of an individual, but it isn’t restricted by the formal elements of academia, and thus allows a varied, thoughtful approach that can branch out in any direction, particularly because it is not marked, and thus no rubric has to be adhered to, which in turn gives its author the right to write in any idiomatic, unstructured, amusing, or ridiculous way he pleases, and furthermore, in a personal context, isn’t going to be heavily reviewed by 3 other classmates and Jason in a little room filled with great big books and a general air of obfuscating intellectualism, further providing the author with a complete emancipation from the archaic and dull dogmatic practices presented by the APA referencing style; indeed, one could potentially write a blog without any full stops, and, if one wished, would even be at liberty to put quotations marks wherever he please”d, with absolut””””ely no consequences what so-ever, in fact, I think one, in the form of a blog, one could even present completely incorrect spellings of basic words, and haavee nott 1 konsikwwent; indeed, numbers could be used without spelling them out (which itself is such a god-damned (Oh look, one can swear as well!) waste of my time!): one cannot begin to describe the sheer quantity of literary material that has been burnt at the proverbial stake due to ‘grammatical errors’, as if such a thing should plainly exist; as if grammar is some important part of language- which, I contend, it is not, and should not be commonly accepted; language exist, in its most fundamental sense, to convey meaning, and if one wishes to break every rule of grammar in doing so, then so be it- it would take an individual with a serious case of anti-intellectualism to deny the value of breaking the rules once in a while- Galileo would attest to that- so I compel you (the reader) to adopt some kind of new approach when blogging, because it is the one time in your life that you won’t be callously and forcefully restricted from expressing yourself in an academic environment, for, as we know, no academic wants to be challenged; or at least, not at a fundamental level; sure, they want to have their ideas probed and questioned, but only so they can go ahead and strengthen them, thus keeping themselves relevant, but not one academic will truly be able to claim they want the rules -which their work is restricted to- to be undermined, as this blog has so successfully done; so, in the interest of academia, break the rules, question the assumptions, and write however you want?

 

 

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Man vs woman, light vs dark: was Hildegard’s world really that black and white?

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t really discuss the movie more, or even had a longer discussion comparing Hildegard’s presentation of herself versus how von Trotta represented her. This is just a small discussion on what I thought of the movie and the director’s take on Arts One’s favourite nun.

I know it’s supposed to be for dramatic effect, but I can’t be the only one who thought those dramatic zoom-ins were a little funny. It really reminded me of the cinematography on mockumentary sitcoms like The Office and Parks and Rec.

I’ll admit: I hadn’t even started reading Hildegard von Bingen’s writings before I saw the movie. That was why, I suppose, I was a little disappointed when I read the book. There wasn’t enough conflict between Hildegard and the men to whom she was writing. She constantly put herself down as “a mere woman” to make her voice and her visions more palatable to the men she was addressing. However, Margarethe von Trotta painted von Bingen as this (pardon my language) badass nun who used her gift to gain a higher status not only for herself but for the women around her. She was, essentially, an activist of sorts. This was a nun who fought tooth and claw (or is it nail?) for visions to be considered valid. She was anything BUT “a mere woman”.

I guess my main problem was that the movie pitted von Bingen so fiercely against men. Almost every male character we see in the movie is there to oppose Hildegard von Bingen, to act as an obstacle on her path to success. Only one man, Volmar, was … well, nice to her. I suppose von Trotta’s main point in making almost every man an enemy of Hildegard is that this really was the world that she lived in. Since men had power over women in every way, it would make sense that the von Trotta pitted men so directly against Hildegard von Bingen. One scene that illustrated this relationship was when the nuns of the order performed one of von Bingen’s plays. The women represented the virtues, wore white and stood in the light; the one man in the play (Volmar) depicted the devil, wore black, and stayed in the shadows. You can see this sort of light-versus-dark imagery in another scene where Hildegard is appealing to the big boss priest (I don’t recall what the term is) to build her own monastery and being promptly shot down: Hildegard is standing by the window where the light can directly hit her, while the priest is sort of more in the shadows. A bit of a stretch, I know, but von Trotta makes it obvious from the very beginning, using lighting, that the nuns are the good “guys” and the priests and monks (except for Volmar) are the bad guys.

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Hildegard von Bingen, Doctor of the Church three hundred thousand days later

Whatever might be said about the current Pope Emeritus, it was Benedict XVI who recognized the prolific writings of Hildegard von Bingen as being worthy of a club of only 36 names. On October 7th, 2012, Hildegard was proclaimed Doctor of the Church alongside Saint John of Avila, becoming what some would consider a super-saint. But why now, so many centuries later? Because, according to Pope Benedict, her extensive writings are a sizable and significant enough doctrine to still have a distinct impact on Christianity and its adherents today. But that alone is not enough to merit recognition as a Doctor of the Church; Pope Benedict was of the persuasion that she merited the office thanks to the adaptability and longevity of Hildegard’s bibliography. Namely, that the Liber Vitae Meritorum and the Ordo Virtutum are so timeless in their moral and ethical teachings that Christians today still look to them for new meaning regarding their faith and place in the world.

Perhaps the greatest idea of Hildegard’s left for posterity, I believe, is the idea that one can look back at something once seen, many years later, and still find new meaning, new significance in it. For her sudden elevation to Doctor of the Church is nothing if not evidence of that idea’s longevity and applicability.

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Hildegard’s empathic writing towards her own gender

Something I found interesting while reading the selected writings in Hildegard of Bingen is her repetitive use of ethos in her letters when writing to other women. Firstly, Hildegard will often use a modest tone when writing to other women by portraying herself in a humble manner in her letters: “I, a mere female and a fragile vessel”. Whereas, when she writes letters to men, the structure of her writings slightly differ in the manner that she does not begin with any formality or introduction including ethos, instead Hildegard begins and ends the letter with the contents of the vision, starting from “A certain man rose…” to “…never be destroyed!”. Hildegard also continuously refers to the women she writes to as “Daughter”, “Daughter of God”, “Mother”, displaying further empathy towards these women. In contrast, Hildegard writes in a more distant tone to the Bishop of Bamberg by only mentioning him as “you” and commanding him to do something instead of asking in a compassionate approach as she does with women. The reasoning behind why Hildegard writes in a somewhat discriminative manner in my opinion is due to an unintentional action created by her actual sympathy towards other women who also suffer from gender inequality during her time.

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Hildegard- A sort of Feminist

Men are most naturally seen as the higher sex, based on the social differences between male attributes and female ones. Males are seen as strong and stoic, while females are seen as soft and kind. Hildegard is famous for challenging the idea of females as inferior by presenting both biological sexes with a purpose: Women are made for men, and men are equally made for women.

Today, Hildegard would still be arguing her point as the sexist issues remain. Maybe people aren’t standing up and stating that females are made for men, but these ideas are embedded in social systems. If advertising in the middle ages had existed, it would look about the same as it does now: products reiterating sexuality to make women more appealing to men. The ideas behind advertising fall under the concept that women exist to make men happy. Basically, nothing has changed from the middle ages when people believed women are made for men.

When a woman does something amazing, her femininity is praised with it, for a man, he is simply congratulated. Quite often one will hear, “Hillary Clinton, the first female president”, we will know sexism is gone when Hillary is considered president, not a ‘female’ president. It was a huge deal for Hildegard to be presenting visions from God, and the only way this was possible was through the power of a male. Hildegard would not have been taken seriously if she had not sought the support of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, just as Hillary cannot be taken seriously without public support by male figures.

Although Hildegard’s ideas were progressive for that time, they would not be seen as entirely feminist today. She was seeking acknowledgment for what women bring to the world, but through this she was reiterating stereotypes, being that women are maternal. I can conclude that her ideas are strictly biological, arguing that women have just as much importance in the world based on what they physically provide. The difference between middle-aged feminism and 21st-century feminism is biological vs. social. If Hildegard was alive today, I believe she would agree with feminism because of how strongly she argued for basic acknowledgment of females.

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The power of humility

Dear Readers

After writing excerpts from Selected Writing of Hildegard of Bingen, I found that Hildegard was surely an interesting figure in the middle ages. She was exceptional in the sense her was able to describe many if not all of her extraordinary visions in Latin.  In many occasions, she claims that her visions are inspirations from god. In the middle ages,  receiving messages directly from God was a huge honor and privilege.  Consequently, the person who has the capacity to receive information from God was regarded as honorable and authoritative.

Strangely enough, In one of her letters, she describes herself as “a mere woman ” who delivers messages of the god. In a letter to the pope Eugenius, she writes “Gentle Father, through a small and insignificant figure, I write to you now, in a true vision by mystical inspiration, on all that God wishes me to teach”. However, despite her humility, Hildegard remains “one of the most influential figure in the middle ages” to quote Jason. To an extent, her reverence to god was the source of her authority.  Nobody could disobey the instruction from the divine. Precisely because nobody could see the visions that Hildegard experienced, she became one important source of information. Precisely because people took Christianity seriously,   they desperately wanted to know what God want to say to them. They are a lot less interested in what Hildegard has to say to them. In other words, when Hildegard, tries to emphasize her insignificance,people are more inclined to listen to her .

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Feminism in the film vs. the book

An interesting topic that arose in today’s make-up seminar [Hendricks] was the different ways in which Hildegard was portrayed in Margarethe von Trotta’s Vision and in our Selected Writings text.

What struck me was how the two pieces delivered very different meanings in the context of feminism. Von Trotta is a director with an undoubtedly feminist agenda; her filmography consists primarily of films with strong, independent female figures. Hildegard represents such a character – her story boasts of strength in the face of the misogynistic Christian faith. One area of the film where von Trotta’s feminist agenda is expressed is in the segments of Hildegard’s life to which she adds emphasis (and those which she neglects). Vision skips over Hildegard’s early life in the monastery at Disibodenburg where she would have received most of her theological education, which leads us to believe that von Trotta’s interest lay more in Hildegard’s character than the spiritual context surrounding her. This claim is strengthened by the fact that Hildegard’s visions are very underplayed and implicit in the film; Vision seems to be more engaged with the physical aspects of her life than the metaphysical ones. The film is set during the time when Hildegard establishes herself as a mystic and solidifies her reputation. This coincides with a few occasions where doubt in her is expressed by male members of the church; yet each time, Hildegard is able to stand her ground and rally support for her preachings. This creates an image of a very strong and determined Hildegard to an audience of Vision.

From a more technical standpoint, the feminist agenda can also be seen in the film language in Vision. One technique used by von Trotta that struck me especially was the ways in which the director juxtaposed men and women in the film. The men, who are almost exclusively members of the church, always appear in an inside setting. The overall mood of shots with men in them, for example when high-standing members of the church come to visit the monastery at Disibodenburg to come to a verdict on the legitimacy of Hildegard’s vision, is somber. Faces are often shadowed, and dark colours dominate these shots. This application of mise en scène is heavily contrasted to the women in Vision, primarily Hildegard’s sisters in the monastery. They often appear outside, in the gardens of the monastery, in a bright and colourful setting. There is a strong association made between the women, led by Hildegard, and nature in the film. One concrete example is when the sisters pack their things and leave to establish a new cloister just for nuns – shots of the nuns with their wagons riding through the bright and colourful woods, accompanied by cheerful music, are contrasted to dark and quiet shots of the brothers of the monastery sitting inside, dark expressions on their shadowed faces. Apart from the positive association that von Trotta creates to women, and the negative one to men, the director also uses film language to further establish Hildegard’s strong character. An example in the area of cinematography is that, whenever Hildegard is making a demand of a priest or taking a stand, the audience is shown a close-up up Hildegard’s face. This makes her seem powerful and resolute.

The Selected Writings text paints rather a different picture of Hildegard, in my opinion. For one, the text is not tainted by another persons opinion of Hildegard as Vision is; it merely consists of the visionaries various writings. Undoubtedly, Hildegard understood her place in the world -she realised that, as a woman, she was severely disadvantaged and that she had to act in a meek and subordinate manner so that men would not feel threatened by her. We can see this through the way that she describes herself when writing to important members of the church. And although Hildegard’s actions reflect an important step for women in her time period, I don’t believe that she herself was a feminist. Hildegard did the things that she did not in the interest of women, but so that she could record the words of God that were spoken through her. Another example of this in literature could be Antigone in Sophocles’ tragedy bearing the same name – she rebels against the male-dominated state and its laws but not with that purpose.

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Importance of reflection

When reflection becomes incredibly important to your own survival and well-being, it suddenly gets a huge priority boost. I won’t claim that without it I would literally have died, but for the period that I worked on the pearl farm, I might have come close.

I’ll explain where I was, and what I was doing, before giving the rationale behind my reflective process on the events.

My final exam had concluded on November 6th, and I was ready for a break. My plan was to work for the next 8 months then move to Canada to begin university, but at least for the next week I was going to kick back and chill. That all turned to shit unfortunately, when my good friends father offered me a job. The terms were as follows;

  1. At least 8 weeks, maybe more
  2. Work on a pearl farm, doing manual labor of one variety or another
  3. The work place is an isolated farm in the furthest reaches of the Northern Territory, in a bay 3 hours from the nearest town by boat in Arnhemland, called Gove (Nhullunbuy).

 

Of course, this would mean living there, without good phone service, for a period which included my 18th birthday (the legal drinking age in Australia, so an important one), Christmas, new year, Hannuka, and Australia Day.

My decision was made 3 years prior to this however, when I decided UBC was going to be my university, so I said yes. Dave, my friend’s dad, went into another room, and – in his usual manner—immediately booked a flight without telling me.

 

Cut to 50 hours later and I’m sitting in a dongle, sweating profusely in the North Australian wet heat, wondering how on earth I got there, writing in a journal. This is where my self-reflection suddenly became so incredibly important. What I’ll do now, I think, is give a brief account of a few points of reflection which I still have with me, and which I immediately put to use out on the farm.

  1. Be a 0. Don’t try, when you aren’t sure of your own ability, to be a +1, because inevitably, you will be a -1. Here is what happened to lead me to this conclusion. I was on the boat as it was pulling out of the harbor to make the 3 hour journey from Gove to camp. It’s a big ship. The ropes holding it to the wharf were as thick as a man’s thigh, and probably 25 meters long. The call was made to pull them in, and a woman covered in tattoos was dragging one up onto the boat. I was standing around like a limp scarecrow, and desperately wanted to prove myself. With that in mind, I rushed over to Kerry pulling in the rope, and also got a grip on it and tried to pull. It immediately stopped reeling in, so I pulled harder. Kerry told me to “fuck off”, and I suddenly realized that I was pulling the rope at an angle that caused it to jam up against the side of the ship, preventing it from moving. From then on, I stood back until I knew I could have a positive, +1 influence on a situation- which can only come about through this process of self-reflection.
  2. Never, ever mess with animals. This one is less of a personally reflective concept, but I think Mengzi might approve. Animals, in the outback of Australia, want you to die. It’s like the combination of heat, misery, desert, and hunger makes them furious, and almost always out to murder you. Here are a few cases where that turned out to be incredibly true. When I first arrive I was told, “watch out for cigarette snakes. They’re everywhere. We call ‘em that coz if you get bit by one, you just wanna si’down, roll up a ciggy, and ‘ave a smoke, coz… well, it’s the last thing you’ll ever bloody do.” It turns out that the anti-venom only lasts for about 2 weeks, and it’s very expensive- so they just don’t keep it on camp. The venom from these snakes takes about 25 minutes to paralyze a grown man, and with a helicopter, you still wouldn’t make it to hospital in time. I couldn’t believe it when, a few weeks later, I walked out of my dongle to see a 6 foot 4 Estonian bloke staring at a 3ft snake right in the eyes. It looked like he was in a trance, and frankly- so was I- until someone else saw him and screamed “get the fuck away from it! That thing’ll kill ya!”. So I was taught, both through practice and self-reflection, to stay well clear of anything in the bush or water that moves.

 

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