Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Response to New Yorker Article

The photo of Sabrina Harman is of an average looking woman. She is not dressed in her military, but civilian clothes. The caption under the photograph reads: “Specialist Sabrina Harman took hundreds of pictures, she says, to “just show what was going on, what was allowed to be done.” While I feel that this is true, I think that she also took the photos to force herself into believing what was happening before her eyes. To the world, she is just an average American citizen, fulfilling her duty in Iraq, but to Sabrina, she was living a nightmare. People are looking down on her actions, but to her it was a way of coping, a way of making sense of her immediate reality.
Self-preservation seems to be an important theme in both Suite Francaise and the New Yorker article. The first four lines of Suite Francaise give the impression that the Parisians do not feel threatened by the war going on in the distance. “Hot thought the Parisians. The warm spring air of spring. It was night, they were at war and there was an air raid. But dawn was near and the war was far away” (3). Though the war is ever-present, it is easier to focus on the hot night air than impending doom. It takes the Parisians being forced to flee their homes and their known world to make the war a reality. Likewise, it takes Sabrina Harman experiencing the worst in humanity in order to realize the brutality of war.
Sabrina Harman reminds me of one of the refugees despite being a soldier doing her job. Her living conditions and her work environment were the worst. She lived in constant fear of being shot at to the point that she didn’t shower. Her daily routine was disrupted, just like the Parisians lives were. The main difference between Sabrina and the Parisians was that she chose the life of a soldier and was not forced to flee in order to protect herself. However, her job was not the “glamorous” life of a soldier that she thought it would be. Just like the Parisians lives were motivated by the need to survive, Sabrina took pictures as a witness to herself. Suite Francaise demonstrates several ways that humans cope with crisis and Sabrina Harman’s story is another example of this. There are several ways of coping with disaster one is not better than the other.


I would have sworn I had already made two posts last week, but now they aren't on here, so I will try to repost approxamately what it is I said (atleast in the first one for now).
And now, of course, I can't find the sorce for what troubled me, but I will try my hardest to have this all make sense.
There was a line in the very beginning of the book that has stuck with me while I have continued reading. I feel that it shows how the author really viewed what was happening. We discussed that is class. Everyone who is rich doesn't seem to understand what is going on and they end up fine (atleast to the point that we were discussing). How could the author write something like that when she herself was hiding from the nazis? Well, near the beginning she described a scene in which "you" are dreaming. You are walking around in Paris, but it is all a dream. Nothing is real, and then you wake up, and you are in Hell. To me, that's what is happening to a lot of the people in this story. Nothing seems real, it's all just some bizzar dream, but when they wake up to reality....
I can't help but look back on that line everytime I pick up this book and read more, because I almost feel that it is a mini map of what is going on. It's like the key.
For me, it sheds a lot of light on the discussion we had in class Tuesday because, the more I think about it, the more I see how it fits into every aspect of the story.
It was such a small thing that it would have been easy to read past, and I can't even go back and find it, but it was so startling when I read it. Things in the story seemed almost pleasant up until that point and then to hear HELL so loud in my ear, I had to stop and reread and consider it repeatedly when I continued to read.
Hopefully this one posts, eh?
It is very interesting to me to see how well the author has managed to show so many different types of people and how they deal with such a tragic situation. The difference in thresholds of endurance that the different characters have (for instance Gabriel and Florence vs. the Pericands). One of the most interesting characters for me to follow is Hubert. One of the most amusing instances of Hubert was when during the church service for his brother and grandfather, he has this huge spiritual awakening and a new outlook on life. It's a very powerful moment for him and then after the funeral, on p. 154, the women only see his cheeks and baby fat and not that "he hasn't changed at all" (155). No one respects this guy at all but he seems to be the least selfless of all. Everyone does seem selfish though in their own way. It also seems the more selfish they are, the less they seem to be aware of it. The back to back war situation was put into perspective for me when men who had already fought in the first war in 1914 were seeing their sons go off and fight in the second war in 1940.

There seem to be a lot of war-like happenings within the setting of the larger war. The cat and its night hunt, Phillipe and his wards. The way they are written, the smaller battles seem almost more tragic than the larger war.

On page 160, Corte worries if his art will appeal to people now that their views of things may have changed since their experiences during wartime. This seems really funny to me since he seems to have no depth at all. How impacting could his work be to begin with? It reminds me of our shallow pop stars when they try to be political. Like Fergie who announced that to do her part for global warming she was going to sell (not keep it off the road) her Hummer and then donate the money to help global warming.

The women in this novel surprised me a couple of times. First, Mrs. Pericand with her traditional roles and the way she embraces those boundaries. It reminded me of my grandma and how she is always trying to get me to understand that men and women need to be married and follow the roles in place for them. She is really caught up in that but she always reminds me that some women don't mind and even embrace the idea of dedicating their lives to their husbands and children rather than finding their own talents and self. Mme. Madeleine another one. On page 133, she explains that she wants to be a nun unless a boy comes along. It's interesting that she sees these options as her only two.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gendered Characters?

In class on Thursday, we asked if this novel was gendered. On the surface it seems to be a pretty straight novel, there are no traces to homosexuality that I am aware of. However, there seems to be this weird role reversal in some characters.

Charles Langelet possesses this opposition to war that makes him girlish. If I am not mistaken, he is the one that packed up all of his precious statues and artistic pieces before leaving for Paris . His heart condition is what kept him from fighting in both wars. He is a creature of habit and therefore did not flee as early as he should have. Charles would not trade his “fragments of beauty” for a blood and death and incessant fighting. It seems to me that Charles Langelet runs from fighting in the way that a girl runs away in fear. He protects his statues by giving them the same attention a mother would give a child. Gabriel Corte is similar with his manuscript. He is a self-centered writer whose child is his manuscript. These two men bestow love and attention on inanimate objects.

Some of the orphans that Father Pericand takes to safety are described as having girlish features. They are small, which also implies a girlish physique.

Corbin’s dancer, despite being self-centered and a typical female gives what she has to Hubert at the motel. Her sacrifice is small, but she is transformed from this self-centered female character, to one that is able to give. (She retains her beauty despite the war going on with her American makeup. That is a bit farfetched, but perhaps in a perfect world.)

Madame Pericand takes on the saintly role of head of household as her family flees Paris. Since her husband is left behind, she is forced to take care of her father-in-law, her children, and her servants. You don’t see her breakdown until she has found out that she has lost two sons and her father-in-law to the war. It takes a multitude of disasters in order for her to let her emotions down—the news of three deaths.
The characters in Suite Francaise are gendered compared to characters in other books we have read this semester. The characters do not fall into this role reversal by their own choice, but rather by circumstances beyond their control. World War II had a way of changing people.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Too Perfect?

I am really enjoying Suite Fran├žaise. It is the perfect book to end the semester; an easy read. However, as I continue reading, I am wondering if this book is too perfect. It seems like most of our understanding of WWII is centered around concentration camps, namely Auschwitz. Nemirovsky has an unusual way of writing; she is able to capture various snapshots of the war without being bitter and full of resentment. This novel could have focused more on the negative aspects of war, death, Nazi invasion, walking from Paris to wherever in the June heat, etc. However, even though people die there is still a nice story underneath. Right before Father Pericand is killed by the orphans, he sees a world untouched by war.

“Philippe thought he had never heard so many vibrant, joyous songs nor seen so many swarms all around him. Hay, strawberries, blackcurrants, the little sweet-smelling flowers in the borders, each flower bed, each lawn, each blade of grass gave off a soft buzzing sound, like a spinning wheel. All these small plots had been tended with care; all of them had an archway covered with roses, a tunnel where you could still see the last lilacs of the season, two iron chairs, a bench in the sunshine” (138-139).

Even though Philippe is a man of God, he is still not free from the confines of war. Philippe is able to see the serene world around him, but he dies a death that is not noble by any means. In many regards, Philippe becomes a victim of war, the orphans representing the invasion that Philippe falls prey to.

I am most surprised with Irene Nemirovsky’s ability to see the world in such a serene way despite being Jewish. The fear that must have been felt trying to keep her family safe is not present in the novel. Rather than experiencing emotions that the general public felt during this terrifying time of invasion, Nemirovsky focuses on the most minute of details. For instance, the cat catching the bird and the feelings of the Michaud’s leaving their home with all of the memories still intact. No one seems to experience an extreme degree of emotion. Madame Pericand had placed her faith in God, Philippe is a man of God, Langlet is focused on himself and ignores the reality of the war. Every person has their own personal reasons for behaving the way that they do.

I can’t decide if I like that all of the characters become interwoven in the same fabric or if I think it is trite. It demonstrates that people experience the same threatening manner in similar ways although it may not be apparent to others at the time. However, it just seems to be kind of forced. I am beginning to think that Nemirovsky wrote this novel as a way of coping, I may not understand it, but it made sense to her. Suite Francaise is different from other WWII books, there is both triumph and tragedy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

And the people were like cattle. And the cats were like cats. And the rich were, like, jerks.

Heheh, well. After reading something like Querelle, Suite Francaise is almost jarringly normal. The prose is simple without being oddly minimalistic or nebulous, but it's still descriptive.. more like something we'd expect from popular novels today? And it's about families during war, women thinking about their sons, young lads eager to fight for their country. The upper class bean mean. Cats catching birds. All that good stuff. I don't exactly hugely dislike this novel, but.... Well, part of it is I just tend to avoid war books/movies as I always expect just this sort of thing from them (in the case of stuff about civilians, anyway), and even if it IS well done I don't really want to hear it again (mind, really, that could be just an unjustified generalization based on insufficient information, as I've done well enough avoiding such stories that now that I think about it, my contact with them lies mostly in the form of history classes and movie previews). So it's partly just a matter of personal preference. And if it had been before Querelle, I would probably found it's normalcy a sort of blessing instead of a slight let down.

Still. I see “national bestseller” on the cover, and I wonder what the big deal is? The more compassionate/humane/moral poor, the more self centered/shallow/superficially kind rich. Boys wanting to fight. The good having to steal to survive. Don't we see this stuff a lot? Looking on imdb, it seems there's a movie in the works. Unsurprising. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was specifically made to be one. For a war story it's so...inoffensive? ...Mild? Nice for a dramatic but not-too-upsetting night at the movies. Oh, and the multiple stories that barely relate to each other? Gosh, people love those these days! Chapter from the point of view of a cat? Great! Nice change of pace!

Not everything has to be hard-hitting to be good or anything.. But I spent last semester in post-colonial lit, up to my back end in books about refugees. Not all those books were hard-hitters either, but they all did feel like they had something to add or say about this story. This one is just so tame and usual. The only really surprising thing, of course, was Huberts oddly homoerotic thoughts on men. I'm...wondering if these will be followed up by something or what...

(No, really, what the heck with the cat? Was that supposed to be funny? It felt kind of out of place to me. ...Maybe I just don't have the right sense of humor? ^_^;)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

war novels

Looking at other novels published about world war 2, The thin red line, the bridge over the river kawi, good Shepard, from here to eternity- you find a lack of both female writing and female perceptive. Authors wants to write about heroes, and the easiest to portray this is though soldiers.

SF is important because it inverts the male authorship, but also because it highlights the role of families. I believe that it is easier to handle war when all you think about is battle. But when you start thinking about families, children etc, war becomes human.

Howard Zinn gave a speech in 2004 about World War 2

: "World War II is not simply and purely a 'good war.' It was accompanied by too many atrocities on our side--too many bombings of civilian populations. There were too many betrayals of the principles for which the war was supposed to have been fought.
"Yes, World War II had a strong moral aspect to it--the defeat of fascism. But I deeply resent the way the so-called good war has been used to cast its glow over all the immoral wars we have fought in the past fifty years: in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan. I certainly don't want our government to use the triumphal excitement surrounding World War II to cover up the horrors now taking place in Iraq. : The Progressive

Does the American public like SF because of its sappy war time theme? In the book, Germans are really so bad, people can still go to spas, they can still have a loving relationship and the kindness of the human spirit perseveres . Does SF glorify World War 2 though its treatment of war? Is the novel helping making war.. permissible?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

gay or not?

Well, Is Querelle gay?
(Does it really matter?)
I like what Peele said in class one day when he described Querelle as a sexual opportunist. I think that is probably the most accurate description of his sexuality. I don't know that it matters to the story that much if he is gay or straight. He wants intimacy and he enjoys sex. Does it make a difference who he is going to to find these desires fulfilled?
I think most people watch Scrubs, so I will relay a portion of one episode to you all. Todd is a sleezy surgeon that hits on all the girls. A couple of the girls deside maybe he is doing this because he is gay and uncomfortable with it. There is much situational comedy throughout the rest of the episode, but it ends with him hitting on the girls, then them walking away discusted and the janitor walks up in time to see this followed by him checking out a male nurse. Janitor asks him what exactly he is (being that he is checking out male and female employees) and he simply says "I'm the Todd."
That's kinda like Querelle, in distant yet distinct ways. If sex feels good, why not get it from whereever you can? Don't limit yourself.
I guess the more I think about Querelle, I think that his preference doesn't matter as much as the fact that he seems to be trying to fill some void. We focus so much on labels and catagories that we miss the big picture, or what is really behind people's actions.
Is Querelle gay or not? I don't know. I have an opinion, but I don't know for sure. In fact, I don't think it really matters. A lot of people struggle with the question of whether they are gay or not, but it doesn't change who they are or what they want out of life. The sudden realisation that your sexuality is not what you assumed it was, does not instantaniously change the fundamentals of who a person is or what they want/represent.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Not 10 mins coming from the archivist presentation.. and remembering all the b/w pictures of boys teams.. this was posted to my Facebook.
A very different take of what
consists men in sports.