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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fairy tales in the pin factory

This has been the spring for the Gothic strain of specters that Derrida stirred up in Marx in the bloggysphere; yet, so far, nobody has mentioned the name, Jack Zipes. Zipes is famous in the folklore field, or rather, literary folklore field, for applying a Marxist analysis to his study of the Grimm Brother’s Märchen. Zipes, who has also translated and written about Ernst Bloch, seems to have taken Bloch’s sympathy for grassroots peasant radicalism and applied it in a field where, usually, research tends towards a Freudian or Jungian end. Well, archetypes r us has a large American market – and perhaps I shouldn’t laugh. The softening of the American imago – stoic, a loner, a killer – owes a lot to an earnest search for a spirituality that isn’t so persistently shadowed by the cross – and don’t we all want a less wifebeater friendly, a less “God is a bullet” national culture? Sometimes, crawling in this mire of shit and sperm through the valley of the shadow of death that I laughingly call my life, I sure the fuck do. At the same time, let’s not pretend there aren’t losses, vast losses – of, for instance, that improvisational scrambling with which the escaping prisoner is supernaturally gifted. I take the escaping prisoner traversing the terrified countryside – Huck and Jim, before the hounds - to be as much an emblem of our psyche as the leatherstocking scouts that were the object of D.H. Lawrence’s remark.

Which gets us back to the violence and hope captured in fairy tales, à la Zipes. LI has been insinuating that as we entered a pin factory at the beginning of the Wealth of Nations, which inaugurates the science of economics, we are entering a fairy tale haunted place. The path of pins leads to Grandmother’s house. But pins are also an integral part of the economy of spinning, as Zipes makes clear in his analysis of Rumpelstiltskin in Fairy Tale as Myth. As he also makes clear, the patriarchal readings of Rumpelstiltskin – a tale classified under the motif of Helper’s Name in the Aarne-Thompson index – are, to say the least, misleading. Helper is the wrong name for Rumpelstiltskin – “he is obviously a blackmailer and an oppressor,” according to Zipes. Well, “obviously” is a strong word to use about any character in a fairy tale: he could be seen, as obviously, as the accursed share, rejected by the ennobled Miller’s Daughter who is seeking, above all else, to elevate her child above the status she was raised in, all the while keeping that status system intact to gain the benefits of it. Much like the American CEO, usually the product of student loans and state funded colleges, seeking to ensure the radical diminishment of public investment so that others are much more burdened down by student loans in less funded universities competing with the Ivies where the CEOs send their own children.

Still, Zipes is right to draw attention to the woman in the story. The Grimm Brother’s version of the tale is something of a disappointment in comparison to the version published by Madame L’heritier in the Cabinet des fees, Ricdin-Ricdon, since the character of the Miller’s daughter is not very developed in the former, while this character, Rosanie, the daughter of a peasant in L’heritier, is an acute psychological portrait of upward social ambition.

Zipes claims that the spinning motif in the Grimm Brother’s tales is, in a sense, a valedictory to the enormous injury done to women in the 18th and 19th century as their cottage industry of spinning and weaving was wrested from them and centralized in male managed factories.

The very first literary form of Rumpelstiltskin, Mademoiselle L’Heritier’s Ricdin-Ricdon, demonstrates that spinning was cherished by the aristocracy at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century. The queen is most eager to employ Rosanie as a spinner and cherishes all the articles that Rosanie magically produces. We know that numerous French courts had constructed spinning rooms for women to produce much needed cloth, and there was a great demand for gifted spinners at the time that Mademoiselle L’heritier wrote her tale. Interestingly, her model spinner, Rosanie, takes possession of the devil’s magic want (i.e., phallus) to create an image that satisfies if not exceeds society’s expectations. She does not spin straw into gold but rather flax into yarn and thread. ...
(67)

I think Zipes is correct to front the spinning in this tale as at least equivalent to the story of the name of the “helper” – but to make this a tale of spinning as an affectionately perceived craft is a bit of a distortion. He writes: “Throughout the entire tale, spinning and female creativity remain the central concern and are upheld as societal values that need support, especially male support.” This is a reading that fails to capture the irony in Rosanie’s story – to say the least. In L’Héritier’s tale, Rosanie has one abiding characteristic: a total abhorrence of spinning. When she is first spotted by Prince Prud’homme (and surely these bourgeois names for the royals – Prud’homme and Queen Laborieuse – are meant to ironically), she is being dragged around the back yard by her evil hag of a mother, who demands that her daughter spin more. In a crafty move that reproduces the comic gesture from Moliere’s Medecin malgre lui, when the hag is interrupted by Prince Prud’homme – who is taken by Rosanie’s looks and wants to know why she is being mistreated by the hag –she tells him a lie, a neat inversion of the truth – that she is punishing her daughter for spinning too much. Thus, under false pretences, Prince P. takes Rosanie back to the court, where his mother is delighted to receive a top flight spinner. Rosanie, horrified by what her mother has done but unable to face being expelled from the court if she confesses the truth, is going through the park to cast herself off a pavilion set on a cliff and end her life – so much does she hate spinning - when she meets the strange man – a big man, in the tale, with a dark face, but oddly amused face – to whom she tells her tale.

About which, more later.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

LI, I want to add a comment to this post, so as to continue the thread of your previous posts on A Wolf Shall Lead Us and Precarious Beasts.
(And those passages you quote from Angela Carter, in the comments below, are amazing. Alice-Wolf!)

Your mentioning a Gothic strain of specters that Derrida stirs up in Marx has me thinking of Derrida's Feu la cendre. I also think of it as you mentioned fire in these posts, which reminds me of your earlier posts on Théophile and writing in fire.

I want to cite or rather recite a few passages from Feu la cendre, rather than comment on them. But, a couple of remarks before doing so.

- The text or the book of Feu la cendre comes with a disk of Derrida and Carole Bouquet reciting the text (accompanied with Stockhausen's piece of of music called Stimmung). So if I attempt to cite or recite the text here, how could I give the text and its experience: "c'est l'experience de la cendre et du chant qui cherche ici son nom." [it is the experience of cinders and song that here seeks its name.]

- There is a name in the passages I am going to quote that is never named as such. Cinderella. Cendrillon. Or as her step-sister calls her, Cucendron. The one who is covered in ashes. And the one who does all the dirty work in the house, and whose place is in the remains of the fire amidst the cinders in the hearth. Except when she slips away to go dancing.

-Qui est Cendre? Où est-elle? Où court-elle à cette heure?
[...]
- ...Une incinération célèbre peut-être le rien du tout, sa destruction sans retour mais folle de son désir et da sa ruse (pour tout mieux garder mon enfant), l'affirmation disséminale à coups perdu mais aussi tout le contraire, le non catégorique au labour de deuil, un non de feu. Comment accepter de travailler pour monseigneur le deuil?

- Comment ne pas l'accepter? Il est cela même, le deuil, l'histoire de son refus, le récit de ta révolution, ta rébellion, mon ange, quand elle entre en histoire et à minuit tu épouses un prince. Quant à l'urne de langue, fût-elle de feu, ne la crois pas si friable. Et ne mens pas, tu sais bien ce qu'une phrase est solide. Par sa disparition même elle résiste à tant et tant d'éclipses, elle garde toujours une chance de revenir, elle s'encense à l'infini, c'est beaucoup plus sûr au fond que le placement de l'archive dans un bêton surnamé à destination de nos neveux extra-terrestres. La phrase se pare de toutes ses morts. Et si mieux tu te ravales, dit la grand-mère et le loup pour qui tu travailles, c'est encore au bénéfice du deuil.
[...]

-Un murmure parfumé. le pharmakon désigne parfois une sorte d'encens...

....

Who is Cinder? Where is she? Where did she run off to at this hour?
[...]
An incineration celebrates perhaps the nothing of the all, its destruction without return but mad with its desire and with its cunning (all the better to preserve everything, my dear), the desperately disseminal affirmation but also just the opposite, the categorical no to the laborious work of mourning, a no of fire. Can one ever accept working for his Monseigneur Mourning?

How can one not accept it? That is what mourning is, the history of its refusal, the narrative of your revolution, your rebellion, my angel, when it enters into history and at midnight you marry a prince. As for the urn of the spoken tongue [langue], even were it [fût] a tongue of fire, do not think that it breaks up easily. And do not lie, you well know how solid a sentence is. By its very disappearance it resists so very many eclipses, it always has a chance or returning, it incenses itself [elle s'ecense] to infinity. This is so much more certain finally than placing the archive in a reinforced beam destined for our extra-terrestrial cousins. The sentence is adorned with all of its dead. And all the better to eat yourself with, say the grandmother and the wolf for whom you work; it is still to the benefit of mourning.
[...]
A perfumed murmur, the pharmakon sometimes designates a kind of incense (encens)...
....

A little after this passage, Derrida (re)cites Virginia Woolf.

No guinea of earned money [money earned by women] should go to rebuilding the college on the old plan; just as certainly none could be spent upon building a college upon a new plan; therefore the guinea should be earmarked 'Rags. Petrol. Matches.' And this note should be attached to it. 'Take this guinea and with it burn the college to the ground. Set fire to the old hypocrisies. Let the light of the burning building scare the nightingales and incarnadine the willows. And let the daughters of educated men dance around the fire and heap armful upon armful of dead leaves upon the flames. And let the mothers lean from the upper windows and cry, Let it blaze! Let it blaze! For we have done with this "education"!'

Amie

roger said...

Amie, what a beautiful comment! Perhaps I could entice you someday to do a post drawing out the figure of Cendrillon. Hey, LI pays in honeycakes dedicated to Persephone herself - surely you can't resist such inducements!

It is one of the major weaknesses of my happiness book that the sisters, wives, spinners, stepmothers have so far so little place - well, except for Ninon Lenclos. I've noticed, doin' my research, that there has been a lot of interest in Perrault's niece, L'Heritier, and her collection of fairy tales - Marina Warner has claimed that a story of hers preceded Barbe-bleu, and was a likely source for Perrault (they are always trying to find sources in Maerchen research - it is an inexhaustible search for new springs and wells).

Now, coincidentally, I happen to be reading Natasha Wimmer's translation of Roberto Bolano's 2666 - which is an immense novel, a real cosmos/factory. At the very center of the factory, as at the center of the book, is the killing of the women of Santa Teresa, aka Juarez. Each body found is described in the poses and clothes it is found in. Each body comes with the marker, anally and vaginally raped. And of course, most bodies are shelved, forgotten, the investigation of how they got to the place they were found mishandled, the wrong suspects locked up or none at all, the footprints that lead to the bodies are trampled out by the discoverers. An immense maquilladora, this world, in which, as the factories produce boxes, plastic wrap, car parts and appliances, they also produce piles of garbage, old tires, tossed out paper boxes, and women's corpses - or rather, corpses that range from the eleven year old to the fifty year old. Bluebeard's house has expanded here, but then again, the bloody chamber always was of an uncertain dimension. A closet that seems to hold an indefinite number of women who magically continue to bleed after their death, forming a pool or a lake of blood in which they are reflected.

Anonymous said...

LI, who could refuse or resist honey cakes dedicated to Persephone! Honey cakes and cinders, from honey to ashes. You'll hardly be surprised that Feu la Cendre also addresses and "relates" la cendre to le don. And to la dédicace.
Your above post on the key with a spot of blood reminds me that sang is of course a homonym of cen-dre.

I hope you will write further on L'Héritier's tale of Ricden-Ricdon, when you get a chance. It is quite a tale, Rosanie the Belle Fileuse (as she is named by the court) who hates filer. Or to be more precise, she has an insurmountable aversion for the métier of filer and finds it a frightful torture to give and spend hours at this work. Moreover , even when she makes an effort she is excessively slow:
elle avait pour le métier de filer une aversion insurmontable qui lui faisait regarder comme un affreux supplice l'obligation de donner quelques heures à ce travail. Il est vrai que, quand elle avait le courage de faire un assez grand effort sur elle pour s'y occuper quelque temps, elle s'en acquittait avec une adresse infinie. Son fil était d'une finesse et d'une égalité parfaites; mais elle filait avec une lenteur si excessive que, quand même elle aurait pu enfin gagner sur elle de se tenir assidue du matin au soir, elle n'aurait qu'à peine pu parvenir à filer une demi-fusée de fil par jour.

The magic wand - that piece of wood - that she is given doesn't just help her filer, but also dress up and do her hair, something she is no good at, at least in terms of the court. Rosanie whose hair is beautiful and ash blonde: Ses cheveux, qui étaient du plus beau blond cendré.

Amie

roger said...

Hey - That's the very passage that made me puzzle about what Zipes is saying! I like Zipes, I like applying a materialist analysis to fairy tales, but to claim that this is some kind of celebration of women spinning is... odd.

And as odd in another way is how this blends in with my reading about the maquilladoras and the murders. Which, I confess, is really starting to weigh upon me. Spirit of Bolano, what are you doing to me???

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