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Wrap Up/Not

2009 March 18
by Anne Dalke

Okay, so, I’m now regretting my promise to Cat, that Laura and I will provide “wrap ups” for each class, tying all the overlapping together and refreshing our understanding of what we’re trying to explore…

As interim, and promise, here are my notes from today. I realize that’s not what Cat was asking for (or what I was intending). By Monday, I promise, some sort of “summation” forthcoming; in the interim, enjoy the program written by some of the comp sci majors….

Notes from our first day’s discussion of The Handmaid’s Tale
On the technology of clothing→
psych majors:
form of containing individualism, enforcing a role,
isolates women: keeps them in, others out
importance of red: fertility, fruitfulness, lust, warning sign
vs. white: purity–what to make of the contrast?
a sexual tension always surrounds the issue of clothing
she is tempted to show more, others are tempted to look
during the ceremony everyone is clothed
nudity is forbidden: no skin

bio majors:
clothes define status, identity; cf. sexualized clothing of the tourists
in this place where desire is forbidden,
red signifies that the handmaids are objects are desire
used as part of brain washing

On the body (hidden by the clothing)→
math majors questioned Offred’s question:

she sees men using their nakedness to prove their manliness
perhaps it determines a pecking order, best body, etc.
men are more comfortable with semi-public-nudity(cf. female shame?)
pecking order is revisable: joking, cruelty shared w/in the category
imagine two different locker room scenes: what is different, what does it say?
women have been taught that they more to expose:
more to look @, be ashamed of, to compare
“You are rare, therefore more precious.”
women are separated, not allowed to talk (=power not allowed)
cf. vision of the way men interacted before;
they are also now kept separate, kept from putting hands in pockets
not clear what the men want, what they do after their shift
our only reporter is one woman

Move now inside the body→
undeclared majors:

Offred now simply an instrument for having babies
female bodies now owned by society;
mind locked w/in cage that is the body
body and actual self are separated
often feels disembodied, disconnected from physical being
Cf. Metropolis: body a commodity, technology
“mind separate from the hand”
body not even an instrument: just a basket to hold the baby
a testtube, very passive, a tunnel, a passage
once took her naked body for granted;
no longer a sense of it as a pleasureable thing

comp sci majors:
women and men are ‘trying each other on’ (like clothing, instruments, technology)
representative of restrictiveness of whole society: there are no choices
regimented: even the commander doesn’t get to select his handmaid
men also regimented: in apparent position of power, still have none
as in Metropolis: everyone is a slave

On the ceremony→
visual culture majors:

appropriation of sex by state: comfortable ritual made hollow
as bodies of people having sex: hollow receptacles/channel for state power
how are subjects relating to objective positions they are put in:
what are commander, wife feeling, in activity “they have all agreed to”
Offred is above scene, watching herself in “this thing she has to get done”
surprising environment of bed, comforter: but “not warm in this room”
(clinical tonality, sense of medical intervention)
violent interaction was between the wife and handmaid;
man’s position was mechanical, limited: had to control his impulses
very different from most contemporary media:
he does not dominate, is as passive as the handmaid
ceremony all about unseen state power, that people in room are not aware of
Commander one of top official, part of force that constructed state apparatus,
but is still subject to its power; he is being tried on as much as the women are

On medical technology->
comp sci majors wrote a program,

to illustrate the perspective of the unnaturalness of the process/
the medicalization of childbirth

def natural (time):
if time==olden_day:
return creepy cyborg
e/if time==ht_time
return cult performance

On the anti-technological dystopia→
social science majors:

is not a dystopia: is functioning
is not a step backward in time, a regression:
was not passive, but an active changing of society
judgment dependent on perspective: is anyone thriving?
ongoing cycle of society constructing/deconstructing/dismantling itself

English majors on the reasons behind the change:

environmental destructive led to poisoning/infertility
use of technology caused destruction: dsytopic vision
but rejection of technology also perpetuated the destruction
common in techno-dystopias like 1984
confusing: they (inconsistently) accept some, reject some technologies:
are those decisions related to gender?

One Response
  1. Cat Durante permalink
    March 19, 2009

    Anne, you completely did not break our promise. The lists of topics discussed for each major does really help and it’s a component of the summation I was requesting. You know how my mind works and lists work really well for my need to be organized and I can get a started on making the connections myself (I’m thinking possibly a matching column exercise with this?) Also, I forgot a lot of the key concepts and didn’t have time to write all of the ideas many of the groups talked about down and its nice to have the individual ideas stated somewhere. Thanks for the hard work!

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