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The Souls of Cyberfolk: Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory by Thomas Foster
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At the turn of the century and early into the new century, the city became the symbolic locus of mobility and self-transformation even as in reality it was the industrial engine transforming the nation into a modern economic entity. The city represented anonymity, danger, autonomy, and possibility for young women. The industrial city was also sold as a site of economic and political opportunity to immigrants and migrants. Reynolds elides the contributions of Kay Boyle and Meridel LeSueur, who, I would argue, straddle the Modernist aesthetic of the ss with the later realist concerns of proletarian or interwar social problem novels, and demonstrate the inextricable nature of gender, sexuality, class, and geography in identity formation.
Perhaps literary scholars need to consider the work of feminist geographers such as Linda McDowell, who argue that "space and place are gendered and sexed, and gender relations and sexuality are 'spaced' … places are contested, fluid and uncertain. It is socio-spatial practices that define places and these practices result in overlapping and intersecting places with multiple and changing boundaries, constituted and maintained by social relations of power and exclusion" McDowell 65, 4.
Women became increasingly visible in public urban spaces since the end of the nineteenth century, their physical bodies imbricated in larger material conditions and power relations that tested and reset social, psychological, and physical boundaries. Paul, Minnesota, as the geography negotiated by female protagonists coming of age in two strikingly similar novels. Paul in and spent a nomadic childhood before her father opened a garage in Cincinnati, in Spanier , 8. She was a prolific writer, a member of the avant-garde literary expatriate movement, and a social activist after returning to the United States in A prolific writer and activist, Le Sueur set her bildungsroman in St.
Paul, a city of almost , in the s. The novel is usually read with a feminist lens, celebrating the maternal power of women, or in the context of the Communist Party USA and proletarian literature, with comparison to Tillie Olsen or Agnes Smedley. I question, however, his separation of class from identity and sexuality.
Boundary-crossing is evident in the domestic space above the family business, a garage where Kerith works as an unpaid switchboard operator. Kitchen, lounge, and bedrooms occupy the same building as the shop in a neighborhood of shuttered and defunct factories. This home-space also serves as the location for political meetings. This does not seem to be the home of laborers or political activists, with its attention to comfort and aesthetics. Domestic, economic, and political boundaries are crossed, disrupting expectations of activities and bodies belonging to specific locations.
Heat rolling up with the dust fell on the naked floor, full and unspent. Work and home are conflated with the physical body in sensuous language that evokes anticipation and claustrophobia. Rather than a retreat from the grit of capitalism, Boyle implicates the domestic in the economic and political institutions constraining Kerith. The descriptive language instantiates the merging of physical space and bodies that feminist philosopher Elizabeth Grosz claims is endemic to urban space:"The city is made and made over into the simulacrum of the body, and the body, in its turn, is transformed, 'citified', urbanized as a distinctively metropolitan body" In Process and in The Girl, this article will demonstrate, the city organizes and influences physical experience, family life, and sexual relations.
It is economics that instigate her migration to the city; although she is leaving a home-life of poverty and abuse in the countryside, her lonely move to the city is not her choice.
Simply, there are too many mouths to feed at home Rural home life is never romanticized to contrast against an alien city. Paul in search of work and creates, eventually, an alternate home and family. Paul is a dangerous environment for a poor young woman. While the German Village provides a stable job, it is sufficient only for survival. Her friend and co-worker Clara prostitutes herself for extra money in a vain effort to save for her middle-class dreams. It is a physical space containing more than biological family, where customers and other relationships occur.
Yet they are the vital lifelines of a city, connecting and creating access, marking boundaries and neighborhoods. Young women must leave domestic space to enter the public sphere in search of work and freedom. If home is a site of patriarchy, constraining the realization of individual identity for young women coming of age, do the city streets offer relief? Home offers a sense of belonging in her intimate relationship to her mother, a physically weak but politically radical figure.
But her father and grandfather embody alienating patriarchy. Kerith opposes their wishes by taking a paid job outside the home.
Her growing independence is fed by her physical escape from home and linked to sexual awakening. She wanders the city and surrounding countryside in her car. From Mount Auburn and the University, to Eden Park, to the industrial buildings and tenements, the city is exhausted, dissipated, and dirty.
This is not a productive urban landscape, bustling with activity and opportunity, industry filling the land with goods, but rather the empty and despairing shell of concrete and failure. This freedom is aided by her car and her involvement with the radical labor movement. Kerith drives organizers of the Farmer-Labor party, attends meetings and hands out leaflets. When not working or involved in politics, Kerith exploits her automobility to leave the city.
But this automobility does not enable an escape from what the city represents. In the countryside, a small mob of men with guns and dogs disrupt the picnic to throw them off private property, revealing the reach of capitalist patriarchy. The scene briefly offers sexual threat premised on land ownership; Kerith is trespassing and has no rights, the men suggest, or power Paul Minnesota are also controlled by power relations imbricated by gender and class.
As a young woman, the Girl is viewed as a sexual object and commodity when displaying herself in public. That is, if suspected of prostitution and immoral behavior she can be physically detained, sentenced, and potentially sterilized.
Later in the novel the Girl is subjected to testing and threatened with sterilization by a social worker, a government representative. In our opinion sterilization would be advisable Rather, her physical body is exposed on the city streets. Even Belle and Hoinck, owners of the German Village bar, are unable to escape the city in a car even though they own one; they joke about leaving St.
Lacking a comfortable home-space or money for excursions, roaming the city is one of few free entertainments available. The novel is peppered with references to St. Paul landmarks like the University Club and auditorium where Clara picks up men, Rice Park, the Garrick movie theatre, the tenements on Seventh, and the river levee. Escape as the physical movement out of the city and the oppressive systems it represents is not possible until Kerith achieves what Kevin McCabe has called a "sensual emancipation" Claiming a mature identity entails recognizing her desire and acting on it.
Her quest for identity is also a search for the alien and unknown. An encounter down by the river merges natural objects and images pines, wave, flame, roots with physical touch and the transformation it promises knowledge, voice, silence. Kerith felt the slow prescient movement of his fingers. His room closed about them like a fist. Words could open the fingers of the room, uncurve them separately from the palm.
But Soupault did not speak. She thought of words that could uncurve the future, sounding them in her throat. And then she set herself in silence in the moment with him, immutable, willing against any beyond knowledge, accepting the solid grace of the closed moment. Rather, the language of awakening is an awakening into the unknown, the indifferent, into will itself. Much as in the description of intercourse above, the focus is on fingers and hands, capable organs of production as well as reception.
The institution of marriage is secondary to the physical mobility it allows them. The bare winter landscape in which this scene is set reinforces the cold logic of this freedom. The trope of marriage becomes an act of rebellion and hope, a rejection of patriarchy and an evolution of identity. As it comes to them, to drop the tools and slowly evolve anew way of life.
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It is Nora who hints that self-realization is not to be found in a physical location, but is rather a psychological process. Where else can you go? When she becomes pregnant, Butch urges her to get an abortion, illegal but readily available in St.