Today in class, the hypothetical question of utter lawlessness came up. I thought this was really interesting, mostly just because I love the potential of what-if questions. They are so open for interpretation that it seems to me that the process of answering one (or at least the opportunities for embellishment envolved) is almost like fiction writing (my major).
Anyways, I wanted to post about what I think might happen. (Side note: Like Dr. Seaman said, this is completely hypothetical. Also, I should mention that there really is nothing to suggest that I am right or wrong in my imaginary/hypothetical answer) I think that if there was no human law at all, and if people were truly autonomous in the sense that there is a total lack of legislation, enforcement, and judgment, then a government of sorts would arise naturally. I suppose I’m suggesting a sort of Darwinian hierarchy where those with the most ambition, intimidation, manipulative skills (cunning), physical strength, intelligence, etc. would establish control. To connect this post to the Theory Toolbox, I guess these traits are what the TT authors might include in “power.” This established authority would either wipe out or suppress the rest of the population. If they wiped out the rest, then the standard of intelligence, strength, etc. would increase greatly, and this process would recur, causing a sort of elitist society. But if they suppressed the rest, then the established authority would either abuse their control and oppress/use the rest of the population out of self interest, or they would act benevolently, considering the interests of the subordinate. I think that, being human, and having established their authority through the exercising of their own power, most would choose to act out of self interest. Some may profess that they wish to be more compassionate, but even those I think would be pressured and tempted to act through self interest eventually. After the established authority began to acknowledge their power in this way, the subordinate would be faced with another choice: to use their numbers to revolt or to accept the new status quo.
You see where this is going. Eventually we would end up with compromises like the different governments we have today. When typing this, I realized my “prediction” was basically a really really vague synopsis of human history. But, if anything, I see that as a suggestion that I’m on the right track.
As we talked about in class on Wednesday, the question of power and ‘acting’ versus ‘thinking’ really stood out from the reading in the discussion. Not in an evangelical sense, as Blake began the early stages of our discussion on, but in a sense of having the power of decision within the realm of our culture, ideology, gender, etc. versus the supposed pre-determination of our actions from the specifics of our existence. Professor Seaman demonstrated this with her example that being born on this day in this country to this family doesn’t really give you an ‘inevitable’ obligation to act a certain way. On the contrary, you are able to enjoy a variety of choices based on factors like culture, ideology, gender, race, social class, etc. The idea of simply being ‘beholden’ to these aspects of your person—or ‘subject’—is actually quite comforting. Though our previous discussion on subjectivity did leave me down and depressed feeling as though I have no power over my life, this discussion served, for me, to lighten my mood a bit on this issue.
According to this chapter, your range of choices relating to the ‘beholdenness’ of your power even gives you the option not to respond, which (as we discussed)is a sort of freedom and choice in itself. Thinking of my own experiences, I have found that my decisions have largely been based off my ideology and culture and background experiences, even if I decided not to do something. For example, I chose (and still do) not to take up smoking because my family—many of whom do smoke and some of whom have quit—have lectured me time and time again of the horrors picking up that white cylinder will inevitably cause. The choice was still mine, and because I was born in a certain era didn’t dictate what I would or would not do (as there are numerous smokers today); ultimately, it was my decision.
This week we continued with our first reading of the Wife of Bath, moving on from the prologue into her tale proper. The tale, the story of a knight who is sent out to find the answer to the what women want in order to escape execution, has many parallels with the prologue and read together the two complement each other’s non-traditional view of gender relations and how the power dynamics within mediaeval might be questioned and reevaluated.
The tale begins with a very powerful and violent demonstration of the “hero” as a very aggressive and domineering masculine figure when he rapes a virgin he finds during his travels. The tale hinges on an extreme reversal of fortune that is imposed on the knight in having to submit his power to women throughout the rest of the story: he is saved by the Queen and her maidens from his death, sent on a quest that is totally about women and their desires, finds that he can only find the answer by submitting to marry a women. After going through this long quest he eventually comes to a sort of revelation, that women aren’t objects that he can simply impose his will on, but rather, they have a very definite sense of authority and sovereignty in their lives. He experienced a similar loss of sovereignty as that he inflicted on the girl he raped at the start of the story and through this reversal of positions, the tale comes to the same conclusion as the end of the Prologue with a husband willing ceding authority to his wife and not trying to control her or impose his wishes on her.
There has been some discussion so far as to whether or not the Wife of Bath is an admirable female figure to look up to, whether she promotes a feminist way of thinking, or whether the women in her story (herself included) are empowered. Now the first question can be debated depending on what qualities you think are admirable or ‘good,’ but I personally thought that the Wife’s voice was strong and that her stories did bring a sense of empowerment to women. She found a way in which to gain power in a world where women were thought of as their father’s or husband’s possessions. By today’s standards, I realize that most would not regard her ideas about controlling and manipulating men with her sexuality (as she does in her personal life with her first three husbands, and attempted to do with her fourth and fifth) is a far cry from the feminist ideals of equality; however, the tale that the wife tells exemplifies a way in which a woman can gain power without her sexuality or beauty.
She uses her tale to continue this thought process and show that women can have power. Arthur’s queen and her ladies of the court had power over the king and the court when they overturned the decision to have the knight put to death and then had power over the knight by presenting him with his quest. This showed the sovereignty the queen already had over the king. The hag also gained sovereignty over the knight in the end through the authority she had in her speech about nobleness and poverty. The hag didn’t use her sexuality over the knight, but her mind. I believe that this was something the Wife of Bath wished she had herself because then she would have had sovereignty over the only man she truly loved, her fifth husband, since she could not gain power over him through her sexuality.
In the beginning of the week, we discussed a text from Robert Eaglestone about the origins of English as its own topic and about the canon. I found the reading extremely interesting, especially the use of the English language and literature as a ‘tool of empire’. When attempting to keep control in colonized India, the British government decided to stray away from the tactic of imposing religion on a people to enforce their other ideas and superiority. Instead, they began to teach English to anyone who wanted to learn it. From the Indian perspective, the British were far more superior to them intellectually, and this was the source of their power. It was only natural, then, for the Indians to strive to learn English and study literature in English in the hopes of becoming intellectual equals—or perhaps even surpassing the British—and then forming a resistance to colonization. This idea that ‘knowledge was power’ led to a great deal of growth and acceptance of English, beginning in India. Whereas Eaglestone continues to discuss the canon and the other various steps taken to produce English as an actual concrete subject to be studied alongside philosophy, I am more interested in the results that this initial introduction of English had on the native Indians.
From other classes and sources read, I have found that the impact of English on India was profound. There is a current debate over what’s considered “Indian literature”—literature that has sprouted from the initial seed of English literature and language. Most of the literature produced in India or by Indians is written in English—a very interesting effect of British colonization tactics. Moreover, literature by Salman Rushdie—a native-born Indian now basically banished for writing The Satanic Verses—has been denounced by some critics as not true “Indian” literature. The rift which the division of English and the various languages of India (most commonly Hindi) is quite intriguing and shows that English does hold extraordinary power and worth in today’s society.