Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Modernist Politics

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 11

While reading "Monday June 26th 1916" I could not help but notice the overt sexuality, which Lytton Strachey seems unable to control. His every thought seems to be sexual in nature. Even more interesting was the difference in his treatment of his sexuality with women and with men. Lytton Strachey seems uncomfortable about the thought of sexual contact with women, and romantic and dreamy about sexual contact with men. His vision of flinging himself into Vanessa's arms ends immediately when he realizes that he already knows what her reaction will be. On the other extreme Strachey envisions the handsome youth on the road in a more romantic light - anything seems possible with this handsome stranger.

Strachey also places a great emphasis on sleep and dreams in "Monday June 26th 1916." His entire day is punctuated by naps and day-dreams. His whole life seems to be a series of disconnected dreams (usually about sex).

Virginia Woolf also placed a great deal of emphasis on day-dreams and her internal thoughts in her essay "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid." She deftly details her feelings of being a prisoner within her own mind - made all the worse by the planes overhead making her feel powerless. She concludes that ideas are the only form of help she can give the male soldiers, yet her she does not feel (as a woman) that her ideas are wanted, needed, considered, or even heard. She seems to have so much to give to the world in defense of her country, yet because she is not allowed to defend her country, she chooses to defend her sex.

The juxtaposition of Strachey's internal monologue and Virginia Woolf's raises a very interesting point. While Strachey's sexual desires are trapped within his mind, Woolf's very essence is trapped within hers. Her worries are lofty because it makes no difference is she worries about her next sexual encounter or a sure-fire plan for world peace. Her ideas are not wanted, needed, or considered (she feels). Strachey is allowed to voice his opinion and his advice is often taken. His ideas are no longer his own - they belong to the world, leaving him nothing to think about but his lunch and Bunny's sexy arms.

A second theme raised in "Monday June 26th 1916" and "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid" is that of impotency. Woolf seems to be personifying the war as a masculine pissing contest of sorts as she describes how "All the searchlights are erect" (1). While men stand erect in the open and are awarded medals and honor, women are left alone in their beds, impotent to do anything at all. Strachey is anything but impotent. His days are filled with day-dreams of the men he would love to sleep with. Nothing about his manner is impotent, just as nothing he would have to say about the war, or nothing he would do to support his country would be dismissed or belittled. In his essay "Fear and Politics: A Debate at the Zoo" Leonard Woolf feels so comfortable discussing politics that he is able to publish a cleverly written essay detailing dense political issues from the point of view of zoo animals. Should Virginia have written this essay she would have been criticized for her minimalization of serious issues.

The impotency of women at this time is palpable in almost every essay, poem, and short story I have read from this time period. It is unendingly interesting and infuriating at the same time.

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