Thursday, May 31, 2012

On 'Fugitive Pieces': Michaela's body

I wrote this critical essay on Fugitive Pieces by Canadian poet and novelist Anne Michaels. Anyone who is interested in trauma fiction will like this novel. It's an excellent read, I fully recommend it.


One of the most important characters in Fugitive Pieces is Michaela, the young administrator at the museum that the protagonist meets through his dear friends Irena and Maurice. Immediately, Jakob Beer is smitten with this beautiful woman and is unsettled by her physical appearance as he wonders “what to look at first. Her light-brown hair or her dark-brown eyes or her small hand disappearing into her shoulder of her dress to adjust a strap” (175). In the course of the novel, Jakob and Michaela will forge a very strong bond and loving relationship, as the twenty-five year younger woman will become his second wife.
The physical features of Michaela appear to be a prominent factor in Fugitive Pieces. In fact, the reader gets a vivid and graphic representation of her whole body throughout their love story. Only to name a few instances, Michaela is described as a  “voluptuous scholar” (176), Jakob sees “in Michaela’s face the goodness of Beatrice de Luna, angel of Ferrara, who reclaimed her faith and gave refuge to other exiles of the Inquisition” (178,) and he moves “over the boundary of skin into Michaela’s memory” (185).  In this regard, Jakob’s relationship with Michaela relies abundantly on her physicality. In the light of the following arguments, it will be discussed how Michaela’s young and ardent body plays a significant role in the novel and consequently, how it also helped in saving Jakob Beer.  

First of all, one of the reasons why Michaela’s corporeality is a key factor in Fugitive Pieces is because there are noteworthy parallels between death and the body. Jakob lost both his parents and his sister Bella as a child and then, his mentor Athos lateron. Bella's ghost has haunted him ever since. In the case of his sister, it even seems that the protagonist continues “living” for her as he not only remembers a number of details concerning her past life; but he also imagines the life she would have had if she were still alive. For example, he visualized Bella’s children: “I love Maurice and Irena’s boys, as I would have loved Bella’s children” (174). Although not present in body, his parents, Athos and Bella's deaths have deeply affected Jakob Beer. Undoubtedly, the spirits of his family are very present emotionally in Jakob’s life and he finds solace in keeping them in memory.
Now, regarding Michaela, Jakob is confronted with something that is quite unfamiliar to him until the moment the meets her. For the male protagonist, ”there is no tinge of death in Michaela’s body” (181). With this emphasis on her different body parts, he is amazed by the “life” in them. As Jakob states, “I see the muscles pushing out her calves, firm as new pears. I see that she will again open her eyes and embrace me” (181). Michaela’s physical presence is an important factor because it seems to encompass life in all its beauty in the eyes of Jakob. Her body comforts him. Ghosts had possessed him throughout his life, but with Michaela, he himself comes alive again. “Every cell in my body has been replaced, suffused with peace.” (182)

 On a second note, Michaela plays a significant role in Anne Michaels’ novel because she is the “embodiment of a perfect listener” (Schönfelder) and is extremely empathetic towards Jakob’s confession: “She is sobbing. She has heard everything – her heart an ear, her skin an ear, Michaela is crying for Bella” (182). Once again, in describing this particular quality i.e. her empathetic side, the reader gets an emphasis on Michaela’s physicality. It gives the impression that her “whole being” listens and cares for Jakob. By describing it so graphically, it once again underlines the importance of Michaela’s body.

In addition, Michaela’s corporeality is also a key element in Fugitive Pieces because it not only has a healing effect on Jakob; but it also gives the male protagonist a sense of attachment, both physical and emotional, to another “living” person. As written in the fifth preface on collective memory in Canada, “Michaela’s physical presence and imaginative empathy awaken [Jakob] from his Holocaust-haunted nightmares to a first morning of human connectedness.” Furthermore, through their relationship, she also gives him “the first sleep of his life” (182). Jakob feels a deep feeling of love and connectedness to Michaela. Moreover, he discovers vital privileges such as sleep with her. In other words, one could say she completes him. Hence, Michaela undoubtedly saves Jakob from his trauma.

To conclude, it is clear  that Michaela is not only one of the main characters of Fugitive Pieces, but she is very important in different respects to Jakob Beer – specifically through her physicality. There is such a graphic representation of her body throughout their story because her physical presence in his life manifests the beauty of life and empathy. In the end, her body will rescue the protagonist from his traumatic experiences. Michaela’s body is worthy of attention because, as Jacob writes, he is “saved by such a small body” (183).


References

Michaels, Anne. Fugitive Pieces. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009.
Schönfelder, Christa. Discussion in class. 15 May 2012 
Canadian Poetry. “Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces”. Accessed on May 24 2012.
< http://canadianpoetry.org/volumes/vol41/preface.html

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Daresay





Ironically, we are sometimes more honest about who we are with total strangers than with those closest to us.



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It happens!



Life will pass right by you if you keep postponing because of bad timing.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Light(er)


It is that moment again:
Looking into our pockets
And disappeared 
You seem to have, once again.

A million lying around 
Some that we purchased,
And others we borrowed
Without even asking.

Fully conscious
How absurd this must be,
That when you are needed the most
You decide to go missing. 

But see that this is the best part;
Though you always vanish
When ours is out of sight
Another will soon bring you back. 

Like the Sun's glorious light
You keep being passed around
You belong to none
And to all of us at the same time. 



Friday, May 25, 2012

Turning point




It is when you are so close to giving up that you need to hold on the hardest.



Sunday, May 6, 2012

Time travel


The past has a way of catching up with you
Like a crash that beats the hell out of you
And what you thought were memories
Only fragments and forgiven stories
Are moments that you relive again
How could it, once more, happen
All the smallest details resurface
Of that day, and of that place
Unglued, on this pavement
Fray seems not transient
Past is still a question
Present in equation.

But all of a sudden
You notice this man
One stroking your hand
Reassuring you can stand
You smile because it is true
Got the tools to get you through
History has a way of repeating itself
But time lets you take care of yourself
Though you might experience a similarity
You know each day is new and has its own story
And when you forget, those are angels that God sends
Telling you time travel will never feel like a burden again.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

USA Today: Cultural Imperialist?

I wrote this essay for one of my classes this semester.




The United States of America’s influence on society and culture goes undoubtedly beyond its borders. For example, CNN is the most watched news network in the world, a McDonald’s restaurant is found in nearly every city, songs by Lady Gaga play on  radios on a regular basis and Apple products are sold at a very high rate.  In light of the following arguments, we understand that the cultural imperialism of the United States manifests itself in various areas, ranging from the culture spread through the English language, the influence of American social, economical and political institutions themselves to media. Cultural imperialism has been described as “the use of political and economic power to exalt and spread the values and habits of a foreign culture at the expense of a native culture” (Tomlinson 1991). Today, America’s impact on the rest of the world is still central. Therefore, the United States today is best described as a cultural imperialist.

One of the main reasons why the US can be regarded as a cultural imperialist is because it has managed to establish its national language as the lingua franca. In other terms, the English language is used as an important vehicle of spreading culture. We even speak of linguistic imperialism when it comes to promoting one’s own political, economic and cultural interests. This is done for instance through a said missionary or altruistic motivation. As Phillipson indicates, linguistic imperialism is the notion that “the dominance asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstruction of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages” (47). As a consequence, the importance of the English language as a national language has affected local identities overseas. During its expansion, America even imposed English as the national language after Philippines and Hawaii's annexation in 1898. In this regard, establishing English as a national language abroad is a product of cultural imperialism. The result is that other cultures and minorities suffer from this. As an official language, locals have to learn this language in order to guarantee a good economic situation or to survive. In the case of Hawaii, the encouragement of massive migration and teaching English in schools has led to the loss of the use of Hawaiian in everyday life and the number of native speakers has sunk drastically.
More generally, we can also speak of linguistic imperialism when it comes to the US’ hegemony on the rest of the world. Today, English is still considered to be the lingua franca in a broader sense. It is the international business language, it is taught as a second language in primary schools in many foreign countries such as Switzerland and finally, most masters program offer their courses solely in English. Language is indeed a crucial factor for spreading culture. It acts on the way we think and communicate. In this regard, we can see how US can be described as a cultural imperialist because it passed on its own national language to the rest of the world. 

On a second note, the US can be best seen as a cultural imperialist because it has strongly influenced other nations in founding their own social, economic and political institutions. If we take the example of the Philippines, the development of the educational system and government were patterned on the US model. Aside from having English established as a medium of instruction, schools were classified into private or public, government schools. The Filipinos were also pushed to accepting the American administration. In addition, The Philippine Commonwealth was inaugurated in 1935 under a democratic constitution modeled on the United States bicameral system. In doing so, we can assess how other countries seem to succumb to the US’ might and adopt their national values and systems. Therefore, this vast country can be considered as a cultural imperialist. As John Tomlinson said, “cultural imperialism is essentially about the exalting and spreading of values and habits – a practice in which ecocomic power plays an instumental role” (3).

Finally, another domain in which America has had an immense impact on spreading culture beyond its borders is through their media empire. Tomlinson argues that “the great majority of published discussions of cultural imperialism place the media – television, film, radio, print journalism, advertising – at the centre of things” (20). As mentioned in the introduction, the US  influences among others our preference in music, the television series we follow, the films we like to watch at the cinema and Facebook, the most visited social network was founded by an American. The US’ media portray a lot of the American way of life and traditions – and it transcends to other nations. We understand that people around the globe have a yen for American products and services. What is striking is that the cultural imperialism of the USA deeply shapes other countries without them being truly aware of it. As a result, this superpower can be deemed to be a cultural imperialist because “the United States dominates this global traffic in information and ideas. American music, American television, and American software are so dominant, and sought after, and so visible that they are now available literally everywhere on Earth. They influence the tastes, lives, an aspirations of virtually every nation” (val Elteren 173).

To conclude, in the light of these arguments, we can grasp how the US dominates the rest of the world today because its language, values and ideals, music, electronic products, political, economical and social institutions are indisputably still presiding beyond its borders. In truth, this is the reason why the United States of America is best described as a cultural imperialist today. Of course, cultural imperialism has had positive outcomes such as facilitating communication between nations through the English language. However, what is lost in return may be that the cultural imperialism of the US is at the expense of local cultures.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Tomlinson, John. Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction. John Hopkins University Press, 1991.

Van Elteren, Mel. “U.S. Cultural Imperialism Today: Only a Chimera?” Sais Review. Vol XXIII no. 2, pp. 169-188. Project MUSE: 2003.

Phillipson, Robert. Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford University Press, 1992.


What goes around will definitely come around




At all times, being happy for someone else makes your happiness.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012