Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thank You SO Much For Reading This part II

Welcome back. Thanks for stopping by.


This is from a good article in the Times. 
Margaret Fuller was not the best writer in the brat-pack of transcendentalists that came out of New England in the mid nineteenth century, but she knew the truth that history and literature books have yet to admit: that transcendentalism was, at its core, a movement for women, and she chose to use it as the guiding light in her life, which, of course, was not easy.

Despite the fact that she spent a great deal of time with prominent male authors of the period (who all loved and hated her in equal measure), she remained a single woman. She was like them: brilliant, quick-witted, philosophical and probing. (I omitted my first oxford comma. I’m trying it out.) Emerson longed for her company. Nathaniel Hawthorne was obsessed with her and kept killing her in his stories. What else can one do who has found a woman with an intellect as strong, if not stronger, than his own? He couldn’t marry her. That would be ridiculous.

She had been raised by her father as if she had been a son. He taught her classical history, languages, sciences, art, law….friggin law. By the time she was old enough to go to school, she had already received quite an education. Thus, her parents decided to send her to finishing school instead….how to be a girl school, which she naturally hated. Imagine being a kid with so much knowledge and drive, passion and gumption, and being told that you would be better off never using it and trying to be some other person entirely. If I were to be physically ripped in half, I think that pain would probably come close to representing what it feels like.  By the time she was old enough, she started experiencing what she described in her writing as “headaches,” but what was more than likely depression.

I read on a poster at my psychiatrist’s office that women are more likely to suffer from depression than men. Some of it is attributed to hormonal changes, and that is certainly a harsh reality of being a woman. Hormones make a monster of me, when I let them. There was a time in history when women did not understand their bodies (menstrual cycle) because it was illegal to teach them. It wasn’t too long ago in the early TWENTIETH CENTURY. Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is being able to understand and monitor the rise and fall of my own terrifying hormonal changes. Knowledge is power, after all, if not also a curse.

Yes, much of the depression suffered by women is definitely caused by nature, but there is another aspect of it that the poster did address very briefly: social stressors are much heavier amongst women. We are hard on each other. Like I said before, patriarchy is not about men subjugating women. It’s a state of mind, a world view, to which we all fall victim.

Somehow, we all continue to hold each other to the same standards that the media, which is to say, the most marketable mirror of society, sets out for us, the life path that “civilized” human beings have deemed acceptable for women. Margaret Fuller saw it well over a century ago, and she wrote about it in her astonishingly (but also understandingly) underrated answer to Emerson’s Nature: Woman in the Nineteenth Century.

I only suggest reading this if you like rereading because you aren’t going to follow it the first or even the second time. It’s a mish-mash of ideas that Fuller wrestled with her entire life. It’s a conglomeration of possibilities that women in America still haven’t fully realized. It’s hard. Is what I’m saying.

In 1843, She published a short version of her ideas in a literary journal that she edited with Emerson and other transcendentalists: The Dial. She called it “The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men: Woman versus Women.” It was just a few pages. Her second draft, filling about 100 pages in my Norton Critical Edition, she published in 1844. I could drown you in brilliant thoughts that I’ve gleaned from the (seemingly) bajillions of times I’ve read it, but I’ll try to focus on my point.

Fuller answered her dear friend Emerson’s call to all American men to return to nature with her uniquely feminine philosophy: the true nature of humanity is both masculine and feminine. She called it a radical dualism and believed that all human beings share equally in the same traits, and that these traits are constantly passing in and out of each other. The problem, she stated, was not that man was disunited with nature, but that man was disunited with his nature. (That’s basically straight from my own thesis, with a little bloggy talk spin on it, which I won’t cite unless you think you might be dropping by the library at the University of Memphis sometime soon to check it out. PM me.)

How do we solve the problem? Well, that’s the hardest part. Here’s the proposition, in sexy block quote form: 

It is for that which is the birthright of every being capable to receive it, --the freedom, the religious, the intelligent freedom of the universe, to use its means; to learn its secret as far as nature has enabled them, with God alone for their guide and their judge. Ye cannot believe it, men; but the only reason why women ever assume what is more appropriate to you (not farting out loud -me), is because you prevent them from finding out what is fit for themselves. Were they free, were they wise fully to develop the strength and beauty of woman; they would never wish to be men, or man-like...Tremble not before the free man, but before the slave who has chains to break. (36)

The quote sits on the only page I chose to dog-ear in my copy. Simply put, women behave the way they do because they are not allowed to discover any other way to behave. If women were given the freedom to explore their own passions and desires outside the confines of social structure and expectation, they might discover a spirit greater than could ever be imagined.

The same is true for men. We are, all of us, too often at the mercy of our own world-view, but there are steps we can take to stretch our minds further, to defend ourselves from stagnation and ruination. We can continue to explore, with open minds and hearts, the only thing that matters: truth. To discover what it means to be alive outside the lines, and to venture further.

I would like to hear Neil Degrasse Tyson say that out loud.

Margaret Fuller went on to become a front page columnist for The New York Tribune, to be renowned as a journalist, thinker, and critic. When she left the country at age 36 to cover the inevitable revolution in Italy, she became the first female foreign correspondent. She met her husband and had a child while in Italy all of whom tragically drowned in the wreck of the ship aboard which she was returning home, the Elizabeth.

In 2006, she cracked my brain open and left it up to me sew up my skin to protect my bigger brain by creating a skin like cover. That’s all still in the works.

Now I say, “Okay Fuller, I’m going to stop resisting living. I’m going to do the hard things. I’m going to find out what it means to be me...to be a woman.”

As I go, I want to share it with other people, partially because my narcissism demands it, but also because I want to help other people crack open their own brains. Then maybe, together, we can sew this weird skin-like cover to protect our new bigger brains.

Too far? Did I lose you with the skin-like protectant brain cover metaphor? Are you wondering why you’re still reading?

Consider the coming posts my exploration, my changing of the channels on the radio in search of something familiar. I’d like to explore the voices of women through my own voice. Margaret Fuller was the first woman’s voice that I recognized calling me to action. I may never hear it or meet her, but according to Edgar Allan Poe, “her personal character and her printed book are merely one and the same thing. We get access to her soul as directly from one as from the other,” (quoted in my thesis). Her editor at The New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, said of her process, “she never asked how this would sound, nor whether that would do...but simply ‘Is it truth? Is it such as the public should know?’ and if her judgement answered, ‘yes,’ she uttered it” (also in my thesis).

I don’t 100% trust my judgement for whether things are such as the public should know, but I also don’t 100% trust my ability to trust myself. I’m working on that.

Until then, join me in my quest to find the voices of women so that I might, in turn, hopefully, find and trust my own voice.

My thesis is entitled: The Sovereign Self: Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century. I actually don't have a copy that I can find digitally saved or online. I'm in the process of typing it out, but it's been almost ten years, and I keep finding mistakes that need correcting....so I'm rewriting it, in essence.

If you need a list of my sources, I'm happy to send it over to you...meanie.

Oh....and this: 

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