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Two English professors speak on feminism in literature

Staff Writer

Published: Monday, November 14, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 16:11

IU

Courtesy of: iusb.edu

On Friday, November 4, two professors of English, Dr. Jacob Mattox and Dr. Lee Kahan, spoke at a feminism and gender studies open forum on the second floor of Wiekamp. They gave separate presentations explaining their approaches to teaching feminist protest literature and the symbolic content of various texts.

Mattox spoke first. He is a veteran professor of ENG-L207, a class that focuses on women writers. He explained that "There are different ways of defining protest literature. Some attach to a specific protest movement. I take a broader approach."

He pointed out that "literature that is meant to convince does not have a hard and fast line between art and propaganda. I want students to erase that line because keeping it is over-simplistic and problematic." He added, "Some protest overtly; others implicitly."

Mattox said that he likes to help students pinpoint what a text argues and what strategies it uses to make its arguments convincing. Sometimes these arguments intersect with questions concerning race.

Historical context, Mattox said, is important to understanding why authors are making certain arguments. He has taken different approaches to contextualizing, including showing documents, court cases and even playing an unedited My Old Kentucky Home, which recently has been modified to remove some references that are now considered offensive by many.

Mattox has also used other works in his teaching including, Rukeyser's The Book of the Dead, Okubo's Citizen 13660, Black Arts Poetry and Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Next, Kahan gave his presentation on gothic novels. He said, "I tend to focus on 40 to 50 years, from about 1750-1800. This sees the rise of the gothic novel in Britain and other areas, which was very popular although we tend to ridicule it now."

Kahan said the novels are "about effective individualism and personal choices, family obligation over personal feelings. They attempt to deprivilegize bloodlines."

He then listed some of the characteristics of Gothic novels. "They usually take place in an Italian province, usually involving a woman separated from her family. She becomes imprisoned under an aristocratic old man with lascivious tendencies. After the Revolution, it was an aristocratic priest with lascivious tendencies."

The heroine also wishes to remain pure and often flees to catacombs where she finds secrets and skeletons in closets. She is sometimes saved by a man of ambiguous origins who appears to be poor but has a manner noble.

He said, "There are some debates on patriarchal authority. It is always the outsider women who hold the true views on the man. The women who always have lived there do not recognize problems."

Settings, according to Kahan, are also important in gothic novels. "Settings play a substantial part in plots. Usually the castle is a wreck. In Otronto, the roof is off. There are subterraneous catacombs, and when the women flee, they end up in the catacombs, hidden from the world, where they are safe."

"Scholars often read them [settings] as feminine unconscious and how violence and perversion plays a role. The heroine spends most of the time running through the dilapidated castle eluding a man and discovering its secrets."

The presentations concluded with a question and answer session with the audience.

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