Tag Archives: gender

“Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Electrified Tesla – Issue 01” by Cynthia von Buhler

I picked up this comic the other day on a whim. I was in a new comic store and saw this on the shelf. It looked interesting, so I bought it. Wow! I was really impressed.

First, I need to point out that Ms. von Buhler is both the writer and artist for this graphic tale, and her work is outstanding on both fronts. The writing and the artwork both excel in quality. This is a fictional detective style story based on historical facts about Nikola Tesla and the mystery surrounding his life and death. In addition to creating an engaging mystery tale, Von Buhler also uses her character, Minky Woodcock, to explore issues of gender bias. The result is a definite work of art.

At the end of this installment is a section entitled “Fact versus Fiction,” where von Buhler cites the historical facts that she weaves into the tale. She also shares some interesting tidbits about her research, which I personally found fascinating.

Tesla lived in the New Yorker Hotel in 1943. Every day he would walk to nearby Bryant Park to feed the pigeons. He took a fancy to an injured white pigeon after nursing her back to health. As part of my research, I stayed overnight in Tesla’s two small rooms on the hotel’s 33rd floor where his beloved pigeon would enter his room every day via a window facing the Empire State Building.

It is worth noting that Tesla was convinced that there was power associated with the number 3, and he was quoted as saying, “If you knew the magnificence of 3, 6, and 9, you would know the key to the universe.”

If you like detective stories and graphic novels, then I highly recommend this one. I for one will be reading the subsequent installments in this arc. Thanks for stopping by, and may you always discover new and interesting things to read.

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 4: The Portrayal of Women

quixoteandwomen

So for this post, I wanted to look at the way women are portrayed in Don Quixote. I’ll start by sharing a few passages and then provide my thoughts.


If, then, the mine of her honour, beauty, virtue, and modesty yields thee without labour all the wealth it contains and thou canst wish for, why wilt thou dig the earth in search of fresh new veins, of new unknown treasure, risking the collapse of all, since it but rests on the feeble props of her weak nature?

(p. 337)


At these words Luscinda looked up at Cardenio, at first beginning to recognise him by his voice and then satisfying herself by her eyes that it was he, and hardly knowing what she did, and heedless of all considerations of decorum, she flung her arms around his neck and pressing her face close to his, said, “Yes, my dear lord, you are the true master of this your slave, even though adverse fate interpose again, and fresh dangers threaten this life that hangs on yours.”

(p. 377)


I follow another, easier, and to my mind wiser course, and that is to rail at the frivolity of women, at their inconstancy, their double dealing, their broken promises, their unkept pledges, and in short the want of reflection they show in fixing their affections and inclinations.

(p. 525)


At first, I felt disgusted and angered at the way women are depicted in this book. I find it deeply offensive to assert that anyone’s race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation makes that person less than equal. I understand that ideas shift throughout history, and what is considered an acceptable belief at one point can be completely rejected at another stage in history, but that still doesn’t make it any more palatable to me.

But as I sat and pondered on this, an idea struck me that changed my view of how Cervantes was portraying women. This text is a complete farce. It is meant to be ridiculous and comical, while addressing truths between the lines. This made me begin to wonder if Cervantes was putting these beliefs out there as being ludicrous, in the same way that Don Quixote’s beliefs regarding chivalry are completely insane and comical. And the more I thought about this, the more it seemed to ring true for me. I believe that Cervantes was pointing out just how silly the established belief of women being lesser than men actually is. He basically used comedy as a form of social criticism, and I love that.

When artists challenge the paradigms of their time, humor is a great tool. It is less threatening, but still forces people to face their prejudices and biases, a tradition that is still alive and well thanks to SNL and Stephen Colbert.

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“Sonnet 20: A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted” by William Shakespeare – An Exploration of Transgender Issues

Venus and Mars

Venus and Mars

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all “hues” in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

In this romantic “fair youth” sonnet, Shakespeare explores the physical beauty he sees in the youth. He sees the young male as possessing both male and female characteristics, the best of both genders; hence the reference to the youth being “the master-mistress” of Shakespeare’s passion.

The first ten lines are pretty clear, where the poet describes the physical aspects of the facial features, and particularly on how the youth’s face has many feminine qualities. But the last four lines are of particular interest.

The ending focuses on the youth’s genitalia, particularly the fact that he has a penis. When I studied Shakespeare in college, the professor gave a lecture about Shakespeare’s use of the word “nothing.” Basically, nothing meant “no thing,” or the lack of a penis; in other words, nothing means vagina (think “Much Ado About Nothing”). So in this sonnet, Shakespeare is expressing his belief that the youth is really a woman trapped within a man’s body, that “one thing” was added to the youth’s “nothing.” He goes as far as to make a pun about how Nature “pricked thee out for women’s pleasure.” If you think about it, this is a pretty radical poem.

As I read about legislation being passed in the US that discriminates against transgender individuals, I cannot help but wonder why we have not evolved more as a society. These were clearly issues that have been dealt with for a long time now, and Shakespeare certainly seems to have been comfortable with this. Maybe our lawmakers should take some time and read more Shakespeare.

Well, enough politics for one day. Thanks for stopping by and having an open mind. Cheers!

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“Sonnet 19: Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws” by William Shakespeare

Portrait of a Young Man: Piero di Cosimo

Portrait of a Young Man: Piero di Cosimo

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

This is another romantic fair youth sonnet in which Shakespeare expresses his longing to immortalize the young man’s beauty through poetry. But I noticed something interesting about this sonnet which I feel gives some insight into the fair youth and why Shakespeare found him so attractive. The key is in the first four lines:

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;

Here we have four metaphors, two symbolizing masculine strength and beauty, and two representing feminine. In lines 1 and 3, the lion and the tiger symbolize the masculine, images of strength, manly grace, and power. In lines 2 and 4, we have the earth and the phoenix, feminine symbols of beauty associated with creation and rebirth. The fact that Shakespeare vacillates between the masculine and feminine implies that the young man to whom the sonnet is composed possesses a balance of masculine and feminine qualities, allowing him to transcend the concept of gender-based beauty. And because the youth’s physical traits encompass both masculine and feminine beauty, he becomes, in Shakespeare’s eyes, the paragon of what human beauty should be.

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“Revolutionary Dreams” by Nikki Giovanni

NikkiGiovanni

This morning I read an amazing poem by Ms. Giovanni from her book The Women and the Men. It’s a great collection of poems and I encourage you to invest in a copy. Anyway, I would like to share the poem because I feel it’s important in the current political climate.

i used to dream militant
dreams of taking
over america to show
these white folks how it should be
done
i used to dream radical dreams
of blowing everyone away with my perceptive powers
of correct analysis
i even used to think i’d be the one
to stop the riot and negotiate the peace
then i awoke and dug
that if i dreamed natural
dreams of being a natural
woman doing what a woman
does when she’s natural
i would have a revolution

As the campaign marches on, the rhetoric has become more harsh and combative. Everyone wants to “take back the country,” or get rid of this group or defeat this other group. The focus is on everyone else, and no one seems to be looking within to figure out how they should change. As Nikki so eloquently expresses in her poem, revolutionary change is not forcing others to change to your view or ideology, true revolutionary change comes from within. It is the process of changing yourself and being an example. And let’s face it—that is the truly difficult task. Forcing someone to change or imposing your will upon others is easy. Honestly looking at yourself, acknowledging your shortcomings, and making a conscious decision to change is infinitely harder and requires significantly more courage.

I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Nikki Giovanni when I was a college student. She is an inspiring individual and an amazing poet. If you are unfamiliar with her work, I highly recommend you read more of her poetry.

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ODY-C – A Graphic Retelling of Homer’s Odyssey

ODY-C_01

I saw this on display at the comic store and it looked interesting. The owner said it was a retelling of the Odyssey with the genders reversed. I did not buy it at first, but after I got home and thought about it some more, I decided I should read it. So I went back and picked up a copy.

I’m kind of on the fence about this one. There are things I liked about it and things that didn’t work for me. I guess I’ll start with the things I liked.

The first thing that struck me was the map and timeline at the beginning. These are big multi-page foldouts that are lavish and detailed. The timeline, although a little confusing, builds the mythology on which the tale is constructed, while the map provides an overview of the area through which the female warrior Odyssia (the central character in this retelling) must travel.

Graphically, there is some interesting symbolism incorporated into the illustrations. There is a good amount of goddess symbols incorporated, which I found interesting. A great example is the title graphic that employs lunar goddess symbols to form the letters.

Finally, I thought the artwork was very good. The drawings are rich and vivid, and the color schemes are surreal and psychedelic. Visually, I find this comic stunning.

What didn’t work for me in this first issue is the actual storyline and writing. It is kind of choppy and disjointed. I am hoping that this is just the result of the writer establishing the foundation of the tale, which I concede is no easy task. For this reason I am going to reserve judgment until I am a few issues into the series. I feel there is potential and if the writer can focus a little more that it will be a great graphic series. I’ll commit to two more issues before I make my final decision on whether to continue or not. I do hope that the writing improves because I am very intrigued by the concept.

Thanks for stopping by and I will share my thoughts on issue #2 as soon as it is released.

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Witchblade: Issue # 175

Witchblade_Issue175

This is a special edition and actually contains three stories. The first one, Into the Fire, basically moves the primary story along. Sara has reclaimed the Witchblade and is establishing a new connection with the mystical artifact. She also takes Deputy Rooney into her confidence and sits in the woods with her, ready to share her history with the gauntlet.

The second story, Temple of Shadows, is also written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Laura Braga. It tells the tale of a Japanese woman, Shiori, who was the bearer of the Witchblade during the 17th century. She does battle with an oriental beast that looks like a cross between a man and a dragon. The artwork is very good and it hints at a recurring cycle between stories and events, a concept which I personally find intriguing.

The third tale, 4 for 5, is written by Ashley Robinson and is told from the perspective of Patrick Gleason, Sara’s former partner. I liked this vignette because it explores a male character’s journey to acceptance that he is not as powerful as his strong female partner. I think that some men have difficulty reconciling their masculine roles when in a partnership with a strong woman, whether that be a work relationship or an intimate one. Fortunately, I feel that traditional gender roles are being challenged and that we are moving more toward gender equality. I hope that one day we get there.

The issue concludes with a bonus: draft sketches from Ms. Braga. I found these very interesting, particularly since I am not artistically inclined when it comes to drawing. I enjoyed seeing how the characters and scenes are sketched and outlined. It was enlightening for me.

Overall, this was the best Witchblade issue that I have read in a while. It’s worth picking up if you have not yet done so. Cheers!

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“The Younger Edda” by Snorre Sturluson

YoungerEddaThis book has been on my list for a while and I finally got around to reading it. Essentially, it’s a collection of tales from Norse mythology. As I started reading it, I quickly learned that I had to disregard all the introductory text, as well as the footnotes. It may have just been the translation, but the sheer volume of academic blather and mental masturbation that was wasting pages almost made me delete the book from my reader. Once I skipped over all the analysis and got into the actual text, though, it got much more interesting.

As with many epics, there are sections that contain lists of names, and you can drive yourself crazy trying to remember them all, especially since the gods and persons in the book are referred to by multiple names. I didn’t spend a lot of energy trying to keep track of everyone, but instead focused on the stories.

The first thing that struck me about this text is how much it inspired Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I wasn’t completely surprised by this, since I recall reading about it somewhere. Yet it seems that Tolkien borrowed not just the epic style, but he also took names from the Edda. I was surprised to see Gandalf’s name appear in the Edda.

The earlier part of the book deals with the creation myth and it was interesting to compare the Norse version to other creation myths. For example, the god Surt seems a combination of divine beings from other texts. He is similar to the cherubim and St Michael the Archangel, with the sword of flame. He also seems to embody aspects of Shiva, the destroyer of worlds.

Surt is the name of him who stands on its border guarding it. He has a flaming sword in his hand, and at the end of the world he will come and harry, conquer all the gods, and burn up the whole world with fire.

There are some interesting differences, too. The one that stands out the most for me is that when the moon and sun are created, the genders attributed to them are the reverse of what is common. In everything that I have read so far, the sun is associated with masculine energy, while the moon with its cycles is symbolic of the feminine. Not so in the Norse mythology.

The sun knew not Where her hall she had; The moon knew not What might he had; The stars knew not Their resting-places.

I thought about how this type of gender reversal would affect the symbolism of the sun and the moon. I suppose in the cold north, the sun becomes a symbol for birth, life, and regeneration, causing plants to spring from the earth. The moon, associated with might in the text, has the power to shift the tides, a power that certainly must have been important to the Vikings. So the symbolism attached to these astral bodies makes sense when you look at it from that perspective. That’s the thing about symbols—they mean different things to different people.

Although the god Thor figures prominently in the text, I’m not going to say much about him. Personally, I found Thor to be arrogant and prone to hubris. It was like his attitude was always: If I hit it hard enough with my hammer, I’ll get what I want. Thor’s flaw as a hero is that he doesn’t really use his brains as much as he should. It’s all brawn for Thor, which is his defect, in my opinion.

Loke, on the other hand, I found infinitely fascinating. He is like Lucifer, Prometheus, Anansi, and Odysseus all rolled into one. He is beautiful; he is a trickster; he is sharp and cunning; he is the embodiment of all the things that make a character thrilling and interesting.

There is yet one who is numbered among the asas, but whom some call the backbiter of the asas. He is the originator of deceit, and the disgrace of all gods and men. His name is Loke, or Lopt. His father is the giant Farbaute, but his mother’s name is Laufey, or Nal. His brothers are Byleist and Helblinde. Loke is fair and beautiful of face, but evil in disposition, and very fickle-minded. He surpasses other men in the craft called cunning, and cheats in all things. He has often brought the asas into great trouble, and often helped them out again, with his cunning contrivances.

Loke, according to the Norse mythology, is the father of the ourosboros, which for me is one of the most powerful symbols. I was kind of surprised by this. I had always viewed the ourosboros as a symbol for cycles and eternity and had never considered that it was created by another divine entity.

Loke had yet more children. A giantess in Jotunheim, hight Angerboda. With her he begat three children. The first was the Fenris-wolf; the second, Jormungand, that is, the Midgard-serpent, and the third, Hel. When the gods knew that these three children were being fostered in Jotunheim, and were aware of the prophesies that much woe and misfortune would thence come to them, and considering that much evil might be looked for from them on their mother’s side, and still more on their father’s, Alfather sent some of the gods to take the children and bring them to him. When they came to him he threw the serpent into the deep sea which surrounds all lands. There waxed the serpent so that he lies in the midst of the ocean, surrounds the earth, and bites his own tail.

OurosborosI feel like I could write an entire book on Loke. He is by far the most interesting character in the Edda. But, I want to talk about Odin for a little bit, so I will say farewell to Loke, for now.

I learned a lot about the god Odin from this book. Not only is he the father of the other gods, or the Alfather (I like to think of him as the archetype from which the other gods were formed), but he is the source of magic and poetry, which are closely related. Poetry, or the art of “skald-craft,” was passed down from Odin, but Odin remains the master. It is said that: “With words alone he could quench fire, still the ocean in tempest, and turn the wind to any quarter he pleased.”

Odin taught the magical arts to the priests and priestesses of old. Essentially, all magic, witchcraft, and sorcery was passed down from the Alfather.

He taught all these arts in runes and songs, which are called incantations, and therefore the Asaland people are called incantation-smiths. Odin also understood the art in which the greatest power is lodged, and which he himself practiced, namely, what is called magic. By means of this he could know the predestined fate of men, or their not yet completed lot, and also bring on the death, ill-luck or bad health of people, or take away the strength or wit from one person and give it to another. But after such witchcraft followed such weakness and anxiety, that it was not thought respectable for men to practice it; and therefore the priestesses were brought up in this art… From these arts he became very celebrated. His enemies dreaded him; his friends put their trust in him, and he relied on his power and on himself. He taught the most of his arts to his priests of the sacrifices, and they came nearest to himself in all wisdom and witch-knowledge. Many others, however, occupied themselves much with it; and from that time witchcraft spread far and wide, and continued long.

This is not an easy book to read. It is very dense and the language is archaic. That said, if you are interested in mythology, magic, and the occult, it is a must read. I am glad that I persevered and finished the book. It was very insightful for me. As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments. Thanks.

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“Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti” by Maya Deren – Pt 1

DivineHorsemen

I am going to do something a little different. Usually, I will finish a book and then write about it, unless there is a particular passage that inspires me. In the case of Divine Horsemen, though, I feel that I need to write about the first half of this book before I continue reading, mainly because it is so dense and there is so much information here I don’t feel I could adequately cover it in one blog post.

First, a little background on why I started reading this book. I have always been fascinated with religion, mysticism, and spirituality, and have tried to learn as much about various traditions while keeping an open mind. I lived in Miami for many years and had quite a few Haitian friends there, with whom I occasionally discussed voodoo (or voudou). I also have a close friend who was initiated into the voudou religion. Anyway, following a recent trip to New Orleans, I realized that I really don’t know much about the religion of voudou, so I contacted my friend and asked him if he would be willing to instruct me on some of the basics. He gladly agreed and suggested I begin by reading Maya Deren’s book.

So far, the book is nothing short of amazing. She documents the rituals she attended with incredible detail and ties the Haitian deities and practices into larger themes of universal archetypes. Already, this book has had a profound impact on me.

Deren begins her book by explaining her concept of myth: “Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter.” (p. 21) She continues by stating:

The metaphors of the diverse myths differ; the nature of the Cosmic Catalyst is the same. It is an energy which, out of the anonymity of void, of chaos, of the wholeness of the Cosmic Egg, crystallizes the major elements, precipitates the primary areas, and finally differentiates the first androgynous life (as the solitary Adam) into the twinned specializations: male and female. (p. 23)

Essentially, she asserts that all creation myths contain the same elements, that life is first created from the void as the combined androgynous archetype, which is then divided into the masculine and feminine.

Much of the first half of the book deals with the loa (which are the voudou deities) and with the symbolism associated with those deities. “Each loa is but an aspect of one central cosmic principle differentiated by the emphases which that central principle manifests according to the varying contexts in which it operates.” (pp. 94 – 95)

One of the symbols that is explored is that of the cross, or the crossroads. The cross symbol is prevalent in Christianity and the symbol of the crossroads represents a place where one encounters beings from other realms, as evident in the tale of blues musician Robert Johnson selling his soul at the crossroads. But as Deren explains, the crossroad symbolizes the intersection between the two planes of existence: the spiritual and the physical. It is at this point where one can move between realms.

It is, above all, a figure for the intersection of the horizontal plane, which is the material world, by the vertical plane, the metaphysical axis, which plunges into the mirror. The crossroads, then, is the point of access to the world of les Invisibles, which is the soul of the cosmos, the source of the life force, the cosmic memory, and the cosmic wisdom. (p. 35)

The name of the loa that controls the crossroads is Legba, an androgynous deity that contains divine feminine and masculine principles. Deren explains that Legba’s symbol (or vever) is comprised of male and female elements.

As principle of life, as the initial procreative whole, Legba was both man and woman and his vever still bears the sign of this totality. (p. 96)

Another example of masculine/feminine divine balance is represented by Damballah (the serpent god) and his female counterpart Ayida (whose symbol is the rainbow). Together, it was Damballah and Ayida who created all existence out of the void, or from the Cosmic Egg.

OurosborosDamballah and Ayida, who together represent the sexual totality, encompass the cosmos as a serpent coiled about the world. (p. 116)

This is clearly a manifestation of the ourosboros, a symbol which represents “the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.” (Click here for source.)

The voudou religion demonstrates a genuine gender balance, recognizing that male and female energies are both required for the creative process, on the material plane as well as the metaphysical plane.

The female principle thus participates in all the major cosmic forces (with the exception of the distinctly masculine forces personified in Ogoun) and Voudoun does not idealize woman, per se, as the principle of fecundity. Neither does it give preferential emphasis to the maternal womb over the phallic principle, either as cosmic origin, or in the prevalent psychology as reflected in ritual. Because of this explicit insistence that generation is the responsibility of male and female equally, the female principle enjoys less singular and specific importance here than in several other major mythologies. (p. 137)

This is by far my longest blog post and I feel like I have only scratched the surface regarding some of the key themes covered in the first half of this book. It is a very dense and informative book, and one that must be read slowly and thoughtfully in order to fully grasp the material. If you are at all interested in religions and spirituality (and I assume you are if you have read this far), then I encourage you to find a copy of this book and spend some time with it.

I will be writing Part 2 upon completion of the book.

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“All I Gotta Do” by Nikki Giovanni

NikkiGiovanniI recently read in the newspaper that Nikki Giovanni will be speaking at the UNCA graduation ceremony. This brought back memories of when I got to hear Nikki speak while I was in college and I was fortunate enough to attend the National Collegiate Honors Society Conference in San Antonio, TX. I had not heard of her at the time, but my English professors were very excited upon hearing she was going to be there. I went out and bought a book of her poems before going: The Women and the Men. It’s a very good collection of poems and worth purchasing.

Anyway, I decided to read one of the poems from the book this morning, so I picked “All I Gotta Do.” It’s a short poem and it has a strong rhythm to it, which makes it easy to read. In fact, I read it twice. As you read it, you can sense the beat of the verse, almost like there are percussion instruments driving the rhythm of the poem.

As far as the content, I got the impression that Giovanni is describing what it feels to be a woman in a male-dominated society. She describes the frustration of waiting in a subservient manner and not being able to take an active role in her life.

what i need to do
is sit and wait
cause i’m a woman
sit and wait
what i gotta do
is sit and wait
cause i’m a woman

I think we have moved closer to equality for women since Nikki wrote this poem (the book was published in 1975, so I assume the poem was written around that time). Still, I don’t think we are there yet, which is why I think feminist literature is still important. Until women attain a truly equal status with men, we need writers like Nikki Giovanni to express the frustration of how it feels to be treated as a second-class citizen.

Click here to read the poem online.

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