- Norah Doss - norah.doss at gmail dot com
- Michael Lutz - j.michael.lutz at gmail dot com
- Joey Holloway - joey.holloway at gmail dot com
- Molly Malcom - mollymalc at googlemail dot com
- Faith Woodside - fawoods09 at earlham dot edu
- Johanna Wilcox - cherrypi3.14 at gmail dot com
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- 1 Business and Scheduling News
- 2 Book Title
- 3 Love Medicine
Business and Scheduling News
Talk about stuff besides the texts here!
August Book: EITHER Left Hand of Darkness or A Place on Earth. WHICH ONE?
- My vote would be for Le Guin. But I didn't read the last two books, so I think my vote should count for very little. -Johanna
- I'm reading Left hand of Darkness now! It must be a sign! But honestly I'm fine either way. - Joey
Comments made by the person introducing the book?
Initial response by so-and-so
Love, So-and-so mm/dd/yy
- I like your idea, so-and-so! However, have you considered pg. 172 and the role of patriarchy? -- Mr. Pants mm/dd/yyy
Initial response by such-and-such
Sincerely, Such-and-such mm/dd/yy
- Indeed, blah and so-forth! -- Ms. Liz Bennet mm/dd/yy
- Ms. Bennet should consider that her fine eyes are brightened by the exercise. -- Mr. Darcy mm/dd/yy
Maybe Molly would like to say something about why she picked this text?
Okay guys, so sorry it took me so long to get my shit together on this, even though it was my book pick, and then it took me even longer to figure out how to post this here, but here is some of what has been swimming in my head about why I chose Love Medicine and how I feel now that I am on the other side of it, at least in a physical sense.
I chose this text because of my own emotional state over the past few months. I don't know too much about Native American literature, other than what I read in Po-Co and then what we read in Magical Realism, but I knew that I wanted more. Partly from my own experiences growing up in the Pacific Northwest I felt a desire to fill in, at least partially, some gaps in my own literary understanding of Native people. Also, from my brief encounters, I knew that Native American texts often deal with fragmentation, geographically (a separation from home, being split between land, feeling nomadic, etc.), socially, in love relationships and in one's understanding of their own personal identity. That fragmentation can often lead to a dulling a sorts, a slow ache that allows people to distance themselves from their own lives, enough to cause harm to themselves and those they love. That ache can cause them to lose their history and culture in the very process of trying to recapture those little bits of self that had gotten lost along the way. Heartbreaking. and Real. and Honest. and Complicated.
On a much less severe level, I have been feeling my own sort of fragmentation all summer. I have felt disjointed and confused lately, as so much activity and tumult has caused me to feel a bit like I have lost myself in the process of trying to create my own life. I am moving apartments, preparing to start graduate school next week, spending my first summer ever away from an ocean, stuck in the middle. Also, my boyfriend began medical school last week, and as I learn to build an adult life for myself, in a new city that I am trying to claim for my own, with a partner, where we have to learn the art of compromise, and then re-learn it on a daily basis, things can get a bit hectic. There was something appealing about a text that would feel as out of sorts as I have felt, and Love Medicine turned out to be just that type of book for me. Although, I must admit, I did not love the text as much as I hoped I would, I appreciate the raw honesty and emotion that Erdrich was able to infuse in every word, every idea, enough that I felt like I was aching the characters' aches along with them. The jumble of narrative voices and lack of easily discernible chronology was really appropriate for the material it dealt with, helping to unify the ways with the means, for me at least.
I appreciated the heavy symbolism, because at times the symbols were about to function as a touchstone for me in a way that narrative continuity could not do, which I am sure was an intentional choice on Erdrich's part. That Catholic imagery, as Norah pointed out, was strong throughout, and, to echo Joey, mixed with more traditional symbolism and language patterns to actively display the fragmentation and dilution that occurs when multiple forces are at work on the same thing, especially when colonial conquest and Western religion are involved. However, there was also a strong thread of resilience there, even amidst the never-ending depths of sadness, and that gave me hope, maybe not for any individual character, but for the state of the nation reading about those characters, the real readers who would and did draw strength from imaginary wounds, and I felt reassured, and a bit rejuvenated, seeing even just a small glimmer of hope, in 'not being about to keep a Chippewa down', like the proverbial Phoenix rising from the ashes. There can be beauty in despair, and love inside of pain, and that is comforting to me in a such a fluid and transitory time. I guess that is why I picked this novel, and although it is not my most favorite thing I have ever read, for that reason I am very appreciative of having picked it.
Anyway, I don't feel like I am saying too much here but here you go!
Responses to Love Medicine
I just finished rereading (so honestly I skimmed a lot) Love Medicine. I looked for the paper I wrote on it for Barb, but with no success. I'm sure that is ultimately for the best....
I enjoyed reading it again, and I remembered a great deal of it. I don't remember being quite so confused about the narrators, but it's probably because I was reading it more closely then. I won't go super in depth because I know no one wants to read that, but I will say some things that interested me. I'm really fascinated by the catholic imagery throughout the book. The catholic school, rosaries, and even names like Lazarre (lazarus anybody??), and Marie. I think if I someone were to really do a deep reading of it, the argument could be made that all the characters function as a form of saints mimicking the catholic tradition, each character representing a safe space and answering prayers. There is a lot of juxtaposition of winter and summer as well, bad things happen when it's cold and good things when it's warm. June (the character, and the month) dies in the middle of winter and Lulu gets pregnant in the winter (which could arguably be a negative turning point). Male characters seem to be more involved in their families in the summer. The female characters are often described as, or compared to, cats. I'm not totally sure what to do with that, but I think it's interesting. Erdrich also does this thing with her prose that makes even good moments seem so very sad. I don't mean this in a bad way, it's quite amazing. Every chapter has a deep sense of melancholy in its telling, and yet I still like it.
These are just some little things I was thinking about regarding the book. I really liked reading it again, from an older and different place.
- I really like the idea about Catholic imagery and symbolism throughout the text. I wonder what you think about Marie's interactions with the nuns, and the decidedly bad memories she had with one in particular. Also, in the same vein, how would the distinctly Native American spirituality present in the text (as seen through Lipsha) line up to this theory as well. I think that these points show a kind of in between grey area which the entire novel seems to function within.
Joey's thoughts, which accidentally changed into a paper
When thinking about what I would write about for my response of "Love Medicine" the first thing that came to mind was the title- specifically love. How does love manifest itself in the novel, and what role does it playin the characters lives? Not to be blunt, but the manifestation I wish to focus on is sex. There are several points in the novel where sex is used by the female characters as a way to regain power. Looking through the lenses of Audre Lorde's "The Uses of the Erotic" and Foucault's "The History of Sexuality," specifically his notion of Biopower, the actions which the female characters take in a deeper context, one portraying a power struggle. These notions in "Love Medicine," however, take on a twisted form- the co-opting of power through sex becoming warped in its reclamation. How are sex and power related in the novel, and what do the representations of sex say about the broader setting which the novel takes place in? All things considered, a brief overview of the concepts would be beneficial.
Audre Lorde's concept of the erotic is one which allows women power in a system which otherwise robs them of it. Lorde states: "The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire". The erotic is something more than just sex, it involves a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment which they would not have if not for the erotic. While the erotic has been relegated to taboo by male dominated society, "We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused, and devalued within western society," a reclamation of it leads to a further fount of power. Lorde states: "Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness." The erotic is an internal power which can be reclaimed by women in order to gain agency in their lives, as well and more specifically fulfillment.
Foucault's concept of Biopower deals more with the exterior applications and importance of sex as a way of maintaining or gaining power. Foucault states that Biopower involves the: "ancient right to take life or let life live was replaced by a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death" 138. Biopower is the power to control life, either allow it to live or disavow it to the extent that it is valueless. This is where sex comes in- through the condemnation and vilification of sex, power was taken away from the people: "Broadley speaking, at the juncture of the 'body' and the 'population,' sex became a crucial target of power organized around the management of life rather than the menace of death" 147. Controlling sex led to the management of sex. In this way, a reclamation of sex leads to a further reclamation of power from the superstructure which otherwise controlled it. Taking back the "dark shimmer of sex," as Foucault puts it, is necessary in taking back power which was taken away from the people.
So the question emerges, how are these concepts displayed in the novel?
Marie provides the first example of sex as a grab for power- in her seduction of the Kashpaw patriarch: "she moves her legs. I keep her down. Something happens. The bones of her hips lock either side of my hips, and I am held in a light vise...it hits me that I am lying full length on a woman, not a girl...and then I am caught. I give way. I cannot help myself..." 60-61. The power is instantly taken away from Nector, and through provoking him into having sex with her she has gained dominion over him: "this is how I take Marie's hand. Ths is how I hold her wounded hand in my hand... Her hand grows thick and fevered, heavy in my own, and I don't want her, but I want her, and I cannot let go" 62. This is almost reminiscent of rape, however, with the power dynamics having completely shifted. When considering the definition of the erotic which Lorde out forth, this does not seem to be a fufilment on an interior level- rather it seems to be a domination through sex. Biopower can be applied, but it is also a little skewed- it is not so much of a reclamation of power so much as a mirroring of the current domination. Marie displays a warped erotic as well as a bastardized version of Biopower.
June provides a similar example in both the erotic and Biopower. The erotic is seen in our first exposure to her, when she seduces her dead husbands brother: "Luu left him sitting n the couch and went back int the sacred domain of her femininity. That was the bedroom with the locking door that she left open just a crack. She pulled down the blue-and-white-checked bedspread, it the pillows aside, and lay down carefully with her hands folded on her stomach. She closed her eyes and breathed deep. She went into herself, sinking through her body as if on a raft of darkness, until she reached the very bottom of her soul where there was nothing to do but wait" 87 This section clearly speaks towards the interior in which she feels her sexuality, speaking of the almost spiritual experience which she has when she is preparing to receive the man. This is a litte twisted, however, when you consider that at the bottom of her soul there is darkness and nothing but the sensation of waiting- there is no real interioir reclimation present. This is elaborated on when we hear her personal narrative later on in the text: "And so when they tell you that I was heartless, a shameless man-chaser, don't ever forget this: I loved what I saw" 217. The power which she gains is one which produces not an interior satisfaction, one which is a result of her knowledge of herself and her desires, instead it is a fascination with something outside of herself- desire for the other as opposed to the fufilment of the self, decidedly outside of the erotic.
At the same time she provides an example of the reclamation of Biopower, but similarly twisted. this is seen through the testimony of Nector : "I was jealous of Lulu, and she knew this for a fact. I was jealous because I could not control her or count on her whereabouts. I knew what a lively, sweet fleshed figure she cut" 102. This shows how Lulu has removed herself from the system and claimed her own sexuality, free to mobilize as she choses without the approval of conventional norms. All's well so far, and the communal meeting shows a clear picture of reclimation of Biopower as well; Lulu using her sexual agency in order to manipulate the macro sphere: "'I'll name them,' I offered in a very soft voice. 'The fathers... I'll point the, out for you right here.' There was silence, in which a motion was made from the floor. 'Restitution for Larmatine,' they said" 224. Lulu is able to keep her place on the reservation as a result of her reclamation of Biopower- but this all falls apart when you consider the epilogue to this scene. The house which she was able to defend was burned down, showing the futility of her attempts at reclaiming power through her regained Biopower. The use of sex has become warped from a reclamation of power to a display of the lack of power which she has over her own fate.
All of this is unsurprising when one considers the backdrop of June, which sets off the novel. June was also a very sexualized character and that sexuality is brought into question at the beginning of the text: She knew there wasn't any rousing him now, so she lay still, under the weight of him. She stayed quiet until she felt herself getting frail again. Her skin felt smooth and strange. And then she knew that if she lay there any longer she would crack wide open, not in one place but in many pieces that he would crush by moving in his sleep. She thought to pull herself back together" 5 Her lifestyle of sexual agency has begun to tear her apart, to the point where she is afraid of being crushed into pieces by her partner. In order to pull herself back together spiritually she finds it necessary to remove herself from the situation - in more way then one, meeting her end in the cold while fleeing her sensation of falling apart. From the very start the notion of reclaiming power through sex has been shown faulty- the question becomes what statement is being made through this presentation of power and sex.
Marie, Lulu, and June all show a failure to gain power, specifically through sex. Sex has the ability to reclaim power, on a personal level as well as a societal level, because it is at the root of human existence. Both Lorde and Foucault agree that the power of sex had been co-opted by dominant power structures in order it keep those very structures intact. Both theorists say that the reclamation can show the end of those structures as well. Through the failure to regain sex and the power assosicaited with it, Erdrich presents a scenario where the power structure present remains unchanged. The text, or at least these sections of the text, are placed within the confines of the reservation, where the power structure is completely out of the hands of those within the environment. Depicting the powerlessness of the female characters in something so fundamental to life, sex, Erdrich shows the powerlessness which is omnipresent in the lives of those on the reservations.
That's my take on it anyway, thoughts?
Just a little add-on from Joey
I wanted to see people's thoughts on was this tag line I have on the back of my edition:
"The beauty of Love Medicine saves us from being completely devastated by its power"- Toni Morrison
Any responses? I feel like holding my tongue after writing such a crazy response, but I would love to hear what you all have to say!