Having read the recent post at Rough Theory I am offering this for consideration. I tend not to work in the specific arena of gender but I was editing a earlier post and was reflecting on the usefulness or value of gender specific (though perhaps not biologically specific) language in the service of theory and reflection.
Please comment and criticize as needed. I understand that for some of you my initial "religious" context may already be an issue (though I would continue to contend for its conceptual significance).
Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter traces the movements of conception, gestation and birth. The setting of the story is the seventeenth century in a Puritan community in New England. A newcomer, Hester Prynne has an affair with the local minister Arthur Dimmesdale. Only Hester is charged with adultery because she becomes pregnant before her husband arrives from Europe (the townspeople put two and two together). The identity of her lover, however, remains unknown to the community. In judgment on Hester the community orders that she wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest.
In Hester Prynne the physical body carries and births their act of passion. In Rev. Dimmesdale, however, their action finds no transformative womb as is found for Hester in the birth of Pearl. In the man all remains buried and cancerous in the heart. Hester continues to live with her act through her child and on her chest. And here too the judgment of the Scarlet Letter ultimately finds fertile soil. She is drawn inward judged by the world and by herself for seven years. In those seven years we read about a “new purity” that replaces what was lost. Hester emerges, made strong by the “stern and wild” teachers of shame, despair and solitude.
Arthur is only weakened. Though he finds greater communion with the sin of the world with no child and no letter Arthur remains the model of fierce righteous preservation. Arthur has no space for conception. Historically men have received or accepted few spaces for their “sin” to be transformed, to conceive new life. Men have worked externally entrenching laws and erecting towers. What women have not already naturally bore in their bodies men have imposed on their bodies. They have carried for many the long road of transformation and new birth. It is perhaps only the monks in their cells who have hoped to find a womb from which to heal their soul.
Is more attention needed towards the historically feminine aspect of bearing?
Mother Mary bore the Messiah within her womb and she also pondered within her heart. Hester and Mary are structurally made with cells that monks seek to reside. Intellectually this carried into a reflective nature which growth and substantive expression. We find the spiritual dimension of this perhaps most fully developed in Teresa of Avila’s exploration of her Interior Castle.
In her opening discourse she writes,
I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions. If we reflect, sisters, we shall see that the soul of the just man is but a paradise, in which, God tells us, He takes His delight.
Let us imagine, as I said, that there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.
Listen then to how a man, St. John of the Cross in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, sets out on his path of communion with God.
Wherein the soul sings of the happy chance which it had in passing through the dark night of faith, in detachment and purgation of itself, to union with the Beloved.
On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings — oh, happy chance! —
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised — oh, happy chance! —
In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.
In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.
There is of course much that overlaps the two writers but the initial images are striking. Teresa understands implicitly that she carries a space to bear communion with God and life. John of the Cross must flee in the night to find his lover. The imagery is darkness, dislocation and passion. Though John experiences this as joy it is often not a well understood and potentially dangerous combination. There is a type of homelessness that many struggle with. This is perhaps a historically masculine experience (though of course unprejudiced in its specific expression). As I just alluded to there remains a volatile and often violent intersection of love and hate in the masculine desire for the feminine (or however one might characterize that communion). This is the rage against not having a home and not knowing how to be received as a guest (or lover). So there remains the siege of borders and staking claims though internally (and existentially) all remains in strife (I am thinking now of my recent viewing of Platoon and the internal vs. external strife explored there). There must first be a peace, and intimate communion apart from (and perhaps sometimes in response to) the judgment of the world. As Hester understood we cannot overcome the world in judgment. There must first be an acknowledgement of the home that is us and acceptance that we may be received as guests. And possibly the hope that new life is possible.